Category Archives: Contemporary Romance

Talking About Contemporary Romance – SE-RART Meeting Oct. 7, 2015

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The Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable launched our 2015-16 combined Romance / Women’s Lives & Relationships genre study on Oct. 7th at the Brockton Public Library. Sadly, the group had to struggle through without Miki who had done the bulk of the prep work for the meeting, but, still, there was more than two hours’ worth of stuff to talk about between the RA readings, the benchmark title, and the second titles.

(By the way, please don’t forget to write up and post about your second titles, everyone!)

Thank you to Paula, who hosted the October meeting at the Brockton Public Library with a fabulous array of food and beverages!

We started by going around the room and talking briefly about our experience with the romance genre both from a reader’s advisory perspective and personally. There were a few who grew up reading romances, but not many who read in the genre currently; many said they were surprised to learn about the range of the genre, and most said, like Jessie, they have joined the group hoping to be able “to offer more nuanced recommendations, rather than just ‘the romances are over there.'”

We talked about the Romance chapter from Joyce Saricks’ book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed., especially her emphasis on the emotional pull that readers of romance want to experience:

Romance appeals first to our emotions. This is one of the reasons fans find this genre (as well as Women’s Lives and Relationships, Gentle Reads, and Horror) so difficult to talk about: it is almost impossible for them to characterize what it is that they enjoy. How does one describe the effect of that satisfyingly evocative, romantic tone?” – pp. 132-3

Also, although there is a huge variety of frames in the romance genre, believable and honorable characters (and a happy ending) – not realism or plot twists – are what romance readers want from their favorite authors:

“Romances are fantasies, and their readers recognize them as such, just as readers of Mystery, Science Fiction, Western, Thriller, and other genres recognize their favorites as fantasies.” – p. 153

We also talked about sections from Kristin Ramsdell’s book, Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, 2nd ed., including parts of Chapter 2 (“The Appeal of Romance Fiction”) and Chapter 5 (“Contemporary Romance”). Since we are reading contemporary romance and talking about it with the aim of expanding our ability to help contemporary romance readers find similar titles, it was helpful to read how this subgenre has changed and also remained the same over the years.

“Although there are certain exceptions, a committed, permanent, monogamous relationship – one that often includes marriage and possibly a family – is still the ultimate goal for this type of romance.”–p.47


“The plots are also varied, dependent to a large extent upon the physical settings and occupations of the main characters; however, the basic boy-meets-girl, boy misunderstands-and-therefore-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl structure (or its reverse) tends to remain more or less the same.” – p. 48

We also talked about the required characteristics of the hero and heroine (in the case of heterosexual romances) and how the main characters, Phoebe and Dan, in It Had to Be You fit these requirements.

It seemed that many in the group were pleasantly surprised to find they enjoyed the benchmark title, It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The author says the books in her Chicago Bears series can be read in any order, so for extra credit, you might want to read her Natural Born Charmer, which we originally thought of choosing as the benchmark title, but which “breaks the romance mold” according to at least one reviewer.

We went on to discuss second titles in the contemporary romance subgenre that we read, including:

  • Still the One by Jill Shalvis (audiobook edition) – #6 in series, humorous rom-com, good readalike for Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves – fast-paced, humorous, see it as a rom-com movie, crossover with chick lit
  • Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie – Jennifer Crusie is mentioned as an author to know for Contemporary Romance in our readings
  • Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins – Fast-paced, snappy dialogue, written in first-person instead of the more usual third-person
  • The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins – Part of a series, fits the contemporary romance subgenre criteria, including first kiss being “the most amazing thing in the world” and good character development
  • The Bachelor by Carly Phillips (audiobook edition) – Small town characters come from different worlds but get together. Steamier than It Had to Be You.
  • Playing the Odds by Nora Roberts – First in MacGregors series, very quick-paced, strong family ties, crossover with family saga genre
  • Still the One by Jill Shalvis (audiobook edition) – Oops, no notes on this one, watch for Second Title post, hopefully!
  • Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber – a “cozy” contemporary romance with main characters being a group of women of a certain age
  • Mad, Bad, and Blonde by Cathie Linz – also an author to know, hilarious, character is a children’s librarian, lots of sex, hero and heroine “hate each other but work well together”. And there’s Scattergories!

Click here to see the Contemporary Romance meeting agenda, and here to see the RA-focused discussion questions the group used to talk about the benchmark title, It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

SE-RART members are encouraged to listen to the recorded 1-hour webinars available through MLS, especially the Genre Overview: Romance webinar by John Charles and the Genres that Appeal to the Emotions webinar by Joyce Saricks, as well as to join the Massachusetts RA GoodReads group!

The next meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Holmes Public Library in Halifax to talk about Historical Romance. Don’t forget to register!