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The Enduring Appeal of The Small Town Romance


Who doesn’t love a small town Romance? Given Jane’s observation in her 2011 RWA wrap-up that small towns remain very popular, apparently a lot of readers do. Given the comments to that post and various lamentations from readers online, there are many readers who absolutely despise the small town Romance.

While all genre devices have advocates and critics, the divide over the small town device seems especially wide. Critics charge it with being anti-feminist and reactionary, not to mention candy-coated fantasy. Advocates point to the strong family and community bonds, the often quirky characters, and (sometimes) a focus on more traditional social values.

I admit that I tend to avoid the most saccharine of the small town books; I’ve been wary of Robyn Carr’s books, for example. But among those I do read, I find some true diversity. For example, I’d put Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor and Sunshine, Idaho books in the candy-coated category. Lucky Harbor seems a very idyllic small town, with the reunited sisters/heroines elevating domesticity to an epic level by deciding to refurbish and re-open the inn their deceased mother owned. The protagonists may have wild, difficult, unloved, even abused pasts, but somehow the current incarnation of the town seems to polish up even the roughest edges of life. It’s a bit like Lucille Ball meets Frank Capra. The insularity is rendered as charming rather than dark; community as a source of strength, support, and outstanding baked goods; and love heals all. It is, after all, Lucky Harbor.

But I’ve also read a number of small town Romances that have more of an edge. Victoria Dahl’s Talk Me Down, for example, brings heroine Molly Jenkins home to Tumble Creek in an attempt to escape her stalker ex-boyfriend. And while the town offers her a delicious diversion in the chief of police’s uniform (Ben Lawson),  Molly can neither escape her ex nor the scandalous implications of her secret career as an erotica writer. And who can forget Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation, where Sophie Dempsey hopes to make a name for herself with a documentary featuring an old-time actress and ends up in a battle between her very warm feelings for the handsome mayor, Phin Tucker, and his mother’s feelings for her, which are much cooler and more disapproving. It’s pretty much a meta-novel on the small town Romance, where the “family values” aren’t always what they seem.

Still, the small town Romance seems to have a big reputation for being over-idealized, anti-feminist, and dangerously blind to the real problems that too much insularity can breed.

Part of the issue may be that inspirational Romances often make use of this device, as well, blurring subgenre boundaries. I know many love the Robyn Carr books, but the imagery of the “Virgin River” and the whole love and healing motif have kept me from reading the series. And I think we’ve all read those small town books in which the heroine seemingly inexplicably throws off the chains of her ambitious career and chic urbanity for the SAHW+M role, with the small town world idealized to the point where the heroine’s motives for choosing that life apparently don’t need to be carefully considered and explained to the reader.

The more traditional books in the small town panoply reminds me of some of the books within the sentimental novel tradition, characterized by novels like Fanny Burney’s Evelina and even Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and the domestic fiction tradition of the mid-19th C. Books by women like Catherine Sedgwick and Harriet Beecher Stowe, which portrayed women learning how to make good choices, especially a good choice of marriage, which, as Cathy Davidson notes in Revolution and the Word, was probably the most important decision a woman could and would make in her life. These novels glorified domesticity as the ideal realm for women, motherhood as the pinnacle of a wife’s service, and reasonable sentiment as the greatest power for women to cultivate in themselves [recklessly simplifying all through this paragraph]. Novels like Eliza Wharton’s The Coquette demonstrate the perils that can befall women who ignore their good judgment in favor of unreasonable passions (unwed pregnancy, social humiliation, poverty, death, etc.), giving the sentimental novel a general ethos of moralism that may or may not be subtly subverted within the text itself. And some of those values have moved straight into a number of small town Romances.

Which, when you think about it, makes a certain kind of sense, especially given the social conservatism of marriage. And by conservatism, I don’t just mean in terms of moral values, but also of preserving a coherent, lasting social structure, which the West considers to be rooted in the nuclear family.  Combined with the small town motif, which brings to mind myriad cinematic and popular media fantasies (Frank Capra, Norman Rockwell, and Thomas Kinkade, for example), especially for Americans, there is a tendency, perhaps, to idealize and naturalize social conservativism. When you add a benign insularity to the mix, it can feel both comforting and claustrophobic.

In many of the small town Romances I’ve read, while the heroine’s life simplifies in some ways once she moves into the small town environment, it becomes more complicated in others. Often, the other ways involve a developing romantic relationship. I’ve enjoyed a few books that feature a hero’s return to a small town, notably Theresa Weir’s Bad Karma and Jill Shalvis’s Instant Attraction, both of which feature men who are grappling with deep emotional trauma. Victoria Dahl’s Good Girls Don’t features a hero who has returned to small town life from Los Angeles with deep physical and emotional wounds to heal. More often, though, it seems that it’s the heroine who is the focus of the small town idealization, which may add to the difficulties some readers have with this device.

Despite the difficulties protagonists may face from the small town environment – everything from criminal activity to nosy neighbors, interfering eccentric family members, and cute dogs – there does seem to me to be a benign fantasy element to most of the small town Romances I’ve read. Many of the overwhelming choices the heroine has to make have been stripped away; her priorities change to be more emotionally and romantically charged; and the romance seems to play a significant role in resolving some or all of the problems plaguing the heroine in her “old” life. What I’m not sure about is how many of these fantasy elements are exclusive to small town books and how many are Romance genre staples, magnified in a different way when combined with the small town device (economic prosperity comes to mind here).

In fact, the small town fantasy reminds me quite a bit of Nancy Friday’s theory on the submission fantasy, namely that it’s “a chance to relieve ourselves of all responsibility for the delicious, forbidden sex we crave” (Beyond My Control: Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age, 2009). Instead of being forced to submit sexually as a way of feeling free from the burden of responsibilities and choices, the heroine submits to a new life, which is often undertaken with great reluctance or even active resistance, and which strips her of many of the previous responsibilities and choices she previously had. It’s a submission fantasy of another type, more emotional than sexual.

My own view is that it is definitely possible to create a small town fantasy that does not look like a somewhat reactionary idealization of life before second-wave feminism, although it may be difficult to do that without satirizing the small town fantasy. Not that it isn’t possible, but for me that possibility is exercised in well-crafted romantic development that enhances rather than substitutes for other priorities in the heroine’s life. Or, if the heroine chooses to leave her big city life behind, I need to feel that her choice is as independently and intelligently made as we would expect of a choice to pursue a position as a NYC corporate CEO.

But what do you think: is there a dividing line for you in what small town books you love versus those you despise, or are you an unabashed lover or hater of this subgenre of Romances, and why? Do we overgeneralize small town books in the genre? Can/should small town Romances should be more socially progressive, or is the benign community ethic and the fantasy of the simpler, healthier life the necessary appeal?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. SHZ
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 04:41:41

    I enjoy the odd small town romance – based on the author (definitely Jill Shalvis, but not so much Victoria Dahl) rather than the subgenre. However I don’t love small town romance per se – and it makes up about 98% of the contemporary romance market these days! One of the reasons I read more romantic suspense.

    Where are all the normal, modern women? Why are cities so evil (I’m looking at you Robyn Carr!) and why are women worthless unless they give up their dreams to move to Boganville to give birth twice a year, every year, in Auntie Maud’s cow shed and then celebrate with cookies?!

    This is a huge generalisation, but having been to Robyn Carr’s online discussion group, almost all the fans contributing were grandmothers. I’m not saying all readers of these books are older readers – I’ve read them and I’m nowhere near that age – but small town romance seems to be an extremely popular subgenre with women who are – ahem – rather out of touch with how twenty and thirty-somethings of today actually behave.

    Maybe especially because I’m not American, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies from reading about baking and the Pentecostal community or whatnot that makes up the Americana of small town romance. This section of Romancelandia is freakishly conservative compared to the society I live in, and unless it’s an author like Linda Howard (or the occasional Toni Blake, Kay Stockham or Janice Kay Johnson), authors just can’t pull it off in a way the draws me in and makes me give a damn (oh, sorry “darn” or “heck”) about the characters.

    Robyn Carr is very occasionally capable of writing more exciting stories set in smaller towns. But that woman can write about a woman’s pelvic region and the joy and beauty of natural childbirth (even the men cannot shut up about it!) until the cows come home, and I often finish her books feeling queasy rather than satisfied.

  2. Mary Anne Graham
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 05:48:32

    Lucille Ball meets Frank Capra? Sounds like my kind of series. I haven’t read any of Shalvis’s books but I’m surely gonna have to check ’em out.

    Over the top is a great place to be – especially considering today’s doom and gloom.

  3. joanne
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 06:14:02

    The main reason I prefer paranormals & historicals is that it is easier (not caring too much about historical accuracy helps) for me to suspend belief than with contemporary small-town romances.

    Small town books seldom if ever address the normal concerns that occur in every town and city in America. If they do then they’ve probably crossed over into, or teetered on the edge of, Women’s Fiction or Chick Lit and lost me as a buyer anyway.

    And if the author stays true to what is real then all the realities of modern life make for very heavy going. What about health insurance or the lack thereof? Where is the unemployment? Where are the funds for housing and transportation coming from?

    How many stories about run-away heiresses can we believe?
    Does everyone own a ten thousand acre farm or have the capability of opening a successful book store in under a week? Do local doctors have no interest in getting paid with anything but homemade jam? Are all the attorneys curmudgeonly?

    Yeah, for me contemporaries are a hard sell and the mention of cutesy neighbors or matchmaking Aunts or Moms will send me searching for a read in the mystery section.

  4. SHZ
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 06:36:04


    LOL – the homemade jam is Virgin River in a nutshell. Not only does God-awful Mel accept that as payment from most of her patients, but then her husband feeds and waters the entire population of the town and doesn’t take money from half of them. It’s like a commune.

    Don’t rule out other contemporary subgenres (I struggle with historicals because I hate all the Americanised British culture, and the unsanitary conditions and endless childbirth terrify me!).
    There’s romantic suspense – which is often fantastic – and then there’re authors like Julie James, who write excellent contemporaries set in cities, with heroes and heroines who have established careers. Despite what’s going on at the moment with all this small town crap, contemporary romance is doing fantastically well for a reason.

  5. GrowlyCub
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 06:55:05

    I live in a small town in the good ole USA and I don’t read contemporaries any more, which basically says it all, doesn’t it? ‘Barefoot and pregnant is what all women ought to aspire to’ don’t do a thing for me.

  6. Maili
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 07:07:24

    I’m dense because I really don’t get the connection between small town fantasy and 19th-century sentimental/domestic fiction. I don’t see the connection between them.

    The US’s small town genre and the UK’s village novel have a lot in common. Both focus on four things: setting, community, familiarity and comfort zone. Small enough for anyone to know almost everyone and say good morning when passing each other, but big enough for anyone to lead a reasonably private life and not to answer to anyone.

    I also don’t agree that it’s a “submission fantasy of another type, more emotional than sexual.”

    I feel that, as you suggested, it’s a fantasy of having life – and its challenges and dangers – on a micro-management level. But I don’t necessarily agree with your implication that it’s as simple as that, e.g. fewer responsibilities. Rather, it’s about preferring a specific type of psychological warfare of an everyday life.

    A city or major town can be a place of intense psychological warfare, ranging from negotiating with strangers – at work, home, streets, shops, everywhere – every day to be acutely aware of self’s street and home safety. On top of that, there is a constant stream of noises, from car honking to people talking and shouting, and pockets of quietness.

    In a small town, all that are still there, but on a much smaller scale and sometimes, on a completely different level. Not everyone could handle long bouts of complete silence, eerie noises at night and sometimes isolation. You really do have some toughness to handle those. I grew up in an isolated village and even I couldn’t handle the silence and those bloody creepy noises. I’m more comforted by a continual stream of noises and activities, e.g I’m a city girl at heart.

    Different strengths, different skills, different mindsets. And I believe that’s why readers prefer small town setting while other readers prefer city setting.

    In addition to that, both also features a hierarchical social pyramid. For the US, the tip would be the wealthiest family in town, a/the town-founding family or a preacher. For the UK, the tip’s a member of the nobility (an aristocratic family, member of the landed gentry, judges, wealthy family, M.P. (Parliament) or a very influential vicar).

    All cities have that, too, but the difference is that in a small town, you know the names and faces of all in that pyramid, which is not the case with a pyramid of people in a city as those people are largely anonymous. A cynic may say readers prefer village/small town novels/romances because of a saying: “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer” and another saying about being aware of who have influence or power over your life.

    And both UK/US village/small town novels thrive for simplicity (regardless of how complex or complicated life is for some of its residents) and openness (even though it can be deceptive as not everyone is that honest nor truthful, and there can be family secrets).

    Linda Howard’s After the Night, LaVyrle Spencer’s November of the Heart and other small town romances have more in common with the likes of E.M. Foster’s A Room With a View, Thomas Hardy’s Tess and Ian McEwan’s Atonement than Bronte’s Jane Eyre (not a village novel) and other sentimental/domestic novels of 19th-century, IMO.

    It’s more about finding home within an established community than endorsing domesticity, I feel. Because of all these stories featuring returning home, seeking redemption, coming to terms with the consequences of being with a bad boy, and blah blah.

    I’m wondering if we should recognise that there are actually two types of American small town romances depending on setting?

    Because the domestic fiction of the 19th century does have a lot in common with Americana and western romances (historical and contemporary), which does focus on domesticity (cooking, canning, house cleaning, motherhood, etc), womanhood and femininity, such as Pamela Morsi’s Heaven Sent and Diana Palmer’s numerous western and contemporary romances.

    Of course, I could be talking out of my elbow. :P

  7. farmwifetwo
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 07:08:46

    When you live in a 5000 person Municipality, where the villages are 500 people, small town romances are fantasy’s. The reality isn’t the same at all. Except for Carr’s, I’m trying to think if I read small town romances… and the answer is… I can’t think of one. Probably for their very “unrealistic” view of rural life.

    I do have to remember when I read the US books that your police/political system is different than ours. Some of your issues would never exist here. That also causes an issue when I read those books.

  8. cecilia
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 07:41:45

    I’m a city person, and even when I travel I want other cities, with historical sites and galleries and museums. Preferably a good metro system. When I read romances, I like to read about people who have a good education and an interesting career. And I don’t like it when the woman’s goal seems to be to give up the career for babies.

    However, nevertheless, occasionally I’ll read a small town romance, especially if I’m in a frugal mood, and the library ebook selection is limited. I read a couple of the Virgin River books, and while they’re definitely bathing the small town in a warm rosy glow, there is also some sense of the reality of poverty and isolation, etc. On the whole, though, idealized-small-town or gritty-reality-small-town isn’t my thing. (And with family who farm, I’ve spent enough time on a farm to have some sense of what that actually is like).

    I sometimes get the sense that the writers of small-town romances probably would not agree with me in my political views, but one that I read not too long ago actually felt like it had a political agenda. That was by Emily March, and holy Dinah, it was beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

  9. Estara
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 07:50:16

    I really liked NR’s small town romances, especially her category books, because the people always combined love with work. That’s what I like about Meg Benjamin’s Konigsburg series, too – the girls are all actively looking for a job, or having their own business, or trying to reform their father’s business, etc.

    And all of them keep on working even after the happy end.

    Having said that – if we’re talking about the percentage of small town romance that I read, I read more historical or sf&f fantasy than small town romance these days.

  10. Julia Spencer-Fleming
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 07:58:25

    I wonder if at least part of the issue is that other genres have largely claimed cities and suburbia. Urban settings tend to say “chick lit” or “urban fantasy,” while the suburbs, planned communities and gated communities where so many Americans actually live have been the preferred feeding ground of literary fiction since John Cheever.

  11. Angela
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:05:03

    I’m trying to think of the last small town romance I’ve read…though honestly I can say that I haven’t read a contemporary romance (other than a couple NR) in years. I think, for me, it’s hard for the author to hit the right mix of believability and fantasy that I need to enjoy the book the most. In any setting.

    Having lived in mid-sized and large cities, small towns, and the middle-of-nowhere, with my nearest neighbor over 2 miles away, I’m pretty comfortable in all of these places and the inherent differences that are natural to each. It also means that I have my own ideas on how life operates in these settings, based on my experiences. Which may or may not be someone else’s experience.

    I think my problem with most contemporaries is that they’re too diluted. Too idyllic – no matter the setting.

  12. Alley
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:19:43

    I’m pretty wary of small town romances, and they need to be highly, highly recommended by people I trust for me to pick them up. I think my problem is that I cringe, personally, at the thought of living in such a small area that everybody knows my business.

    I can’t stand the attitude in some small town novels that the big, bad city is an awful place–as if people don’t have friends, and tight-knit communities in cities. Some of the towns in novels I’ve read would make me crazy, especially ones depicted with one main street of tiny shops and an hour’s drive to anywhere interesting. My automatic revulsion to such a place makes it hard for me to root for any heroes or heroines (I wind up all “Yay,you’re in love! Now move somewhere less creepily incestuous!”).

    I’m definitely turned off by some books wherein the heroine gives up her career, especially when it’s portrayed her as unfeminine, if I don’t get a very good reason why she would suddenly change her entire life and personality like that. I’m also driven insane that there doesn’t seem to be anything between books set in giant cities and books set in tiny, tiny towns: I live in the suburbs! There’re 100,000 people in the surrounding area (though, only 12,000 in my zip code)! Yes, I know a few people when I bump into them in a grocery store or bar, but mostly my neighbors aren’t offering me jam or asking me to the local women’s club, so I have difficulties relating, at times, to both those subgenres.

  13. Lori
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:33:24

    I haven’t read Robyn Carr but I’ve read a number of small town romances and it’s a trope I love. I do tend to think of small town romance more along the lines of Kristan Higgans where the heroines have jobs and are an active part of the community they live in.

    The idea of a small community being a safer community is appealing. I also enjoy (especially in Higgan’s worlds) how the idiosyncracies of the heroine are known but not treated by the bystanders as a negative thing. The heroine needs to go through her journey and usually part of it is publicly seen and acknowledged but she isn’t held up for ridicule or ostracized by the community for screwing up.

    Part of the trope I also love is that oftentimes it’s very much the girl/boy next door romance. Personal preference but I like those a lot.

    I’m an urban dweller and it’s appealing to imagine a life where people aren’t all so spread out. Where going out for dinner isn’t a choice of 100 known chain restaurants but rather the diner, the bar or the slightly nicer place that’s a 10 minute drive (I know, in real life it probably isn’t like that at all but we’re talking romantic fantasy, right?)

    I guess for myself though, the small town trope is just a perfect redemption story choice. I wrote a small town romance where a returning porn star came home and for the most part her life before was just “that nudie stuff” and she was still treated as a hometown girl. Not that she wasn’t judged by strangers but the small town was like an extended family. Most will forgive you for your choices once you learn to forgive yourself.

  14. cead
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:34:45

    I grew up in a semi-rural town of about 8000 people; it was the largest town in the county. It was claustrophobic and depressing, and when I left for university I knew I wasn’t going back. I’m not against small-town romances in principle, but I am more than slightly offended by a lot of the messages that they so often seem inclined to bludgeon me with. I love Victoria Dahl’s contemporaries, despite the small-town setting, because hers are refreshingly free of that not-so-subtle subtext (and because that woman sure can write sex scenes), but I’m otherwise pretty wary of the sub-genre. Most of the contemporaries I read are Harlequin Blazes, and there’s a reason for that.

  15. joanne
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:35:00

    @farmwifetwo: Huh?

  16. joanne
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:35:43

    @joanne: Sorry, I meant to reply to @Maili:

  17. Cady
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:38:15

    Oddly enough, rather than finding that small town books require woman to walk away from everything. I often feel they allow a career woman the best of both options. In many small town books, the lawyer can be a mom whose kids are watched by some friend when they are little and then walk to the office. It seems to me, there is often more acceptance of woman working. As a full-time working mom, the thought of a community that supports me and helps me do both of my jobs is an idealized community, but truthfully one I wouldn’t mind visiting.

  18. Avery Flynn
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:40:08

    I’m eclectic reader but for me what draws me away from many small town romances is the sweet factor. The idealized perfection presented in some small town series drives me batty because it’s so false to reality. For a non-fiction take on the complete opposite of perfect for small towns try Methland by Nick Reding (not that every midwestern town is a meth haven). That said those small town romances that get it right – showing the light and dark sides of a small town are great. A flat setting is just as bad as a one-dimensional heroine.

    *Small Print: I grew up in a small town and am biased in their favor. I write a contemporary romantic series based in a small Nebraska town.

  19. Maili
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:44:01

    @joanne: Sorry. It’s a carry-over from a discussion Robin and I had about small town romances and village novels a while ago. My fault.

  20. Tina
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:45:03

    Critics charge it with being anti-feminist and reactionary, not to mention candy-coated fantasy. Advocates point to the strong family and community bonds, the often quirky characters, and (sometimes) a focus on more traditional social values.

    I think a lot of the small town romances that have glutted the contemporary scene do strike me as somewhat reactionary. They are coated in signifiers that point to a nostalgic past that simply didn’t exist. I also take exception to the idea that strong family & community bonds exist only in small towns. I can see why some readers buy into that because it is a very successful piece of propaganda that gets trotted out every election season –‘Small town hard-working, salt of the earth Americans, who understand the importance of traditional family values’ — but really all it is a divisive mechanism that encourages people to feel morally superior and somehow better than others.

    I have lived in a NYC and I currently live in small town. I found overall that people are the same no matter where you live. When I lived in NY, one thing that was very clear to me was that people didn’t live in ‘New York City’ they lived in neighborhoods. If you asked someone where they were from. they would say ‘I live in Cambria Heights’ or Hollis, or Jamaica they didn’t claim the city. And their friends, families, schools. churches, shopping areas were all in these same areas.

    The people who lived where I did married, had kids, went to church, gossiped with their neighbors, argued over local political leaders, knew everybody else’s business in the neighborhoods, had families that went back generations who all lived in the same neighborhood, and rallied together when a tragedy occurred. But they also cheated on their wives, drank, fought, threw their kids out the house for doing questionable stuff, some were unemployed, some were gay, some were homophobes, some were married interracially, some were racists…and so on.

    Right now live in a small town. I live in the village of the small town right in the middle of the New York State Fingerlakes wine country. The people where I live right now are married, have kids, go to church, gossip with their neighbors, argued over local political leaders, know everybody else’s business in the town, have families that went back generations (my husband’s family goes back so far that there is a whole part of town named after them and his grandfather used to be the mayor). But you know what else, they also cheat on their wives, they drink, they fight, they throw their kids out the house for doing questionable stuff, some are unemployed, some are gay, some were homophobes (actually we just had a serious gay-bashing incident here), some are married interracially, some are racists etc.

    Contemporary romances are my favorite of the genre, but I tend to dislike ‘sweet’ anything in books I read, no matter how they are classified. Honestly I find I need to go off-genre to read stuff that feels more grounded in reality to me.

  21. Avery Flynn
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:47:18

    @Tina: Exactly!

  22. Emily
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:48:56

    I grew up in a suburb that people refered to as a small town. Its my emotional home so I won’t say too much negative stuff about it but the truth is that I don’t want to live here forever.
    The best thing about my small town is the local produce which is awesome. There is a growing movement to grow locally but that’s my home.

    Despite loving my hometown, I see the disadvantges of small town living. First of all small towns tend to be homeogenous. In much of small town fiction there are a few diverse people who are accepted by the community but mostly they seem to be white people. Are they that scared of diversity which cities seem to offer?

    One thing I dislike about small town fiction is that they tend to leave out there is usually nothing really to do in most small towns. It gets really boring. People tend to have children so they have something to do. Also there is a limited pool of available men in most small towns but no if the heroine shows up she gets the most available guy in town while her friends? oh the guy who moves to the town in the next book? This has been going since P & P the difference is P &P made it seem like this was their only hope in unfair system versus a ideal model of society.
    @ Maili
    yes there is less noise in a small town. however most heroines have to do “Psychological warfare” in small towns on much more hideous level. They have to battle against preconceived notions and judgment about who they are and battle against people who hate them for reasons that often unfair and have nothing to do with heroine. If they are well loved in the small town they have to submit to the meddling of their neighbors who scheme to keep them in the small town and force them to be stay at home moms. I have yet to see a small town heroine who isn’t on some level being either manipulated or abused by the residents. Usually she’s fighting a losing battle.

    The reason for a lot of this is that a lot authors live in small towns and are SAHWand Ms. This is all they know. Its natural for them to try to glorify it.

    I am actually going to end on a positive note. I am reading an Inspirational series set in a small town. I am liking this book more than I would have thought. Part of that is a) the heroine likes where she lives and chooses to be there. b) She is exploring to leaving the town and in general is open to new experiences. c) She has friends and in general they’re supportive of her making her own decisions.

    @Janet Who is Eliza Wharton?

  23. Maili
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:56:42

    @Emily: Yes, I’m well aware of that aspect. My mother became a single mother at 15. Not much support for her there, regardless of the actual circumstances that put her there. That aspect is one of reasons why I would rather stab my eyes than live in a village again. :D

    I’m also not keen on small town romances that feature those scenarios you’ve just described, e.g. manipulating heroine (or hero) into becoming a whatnot in accordance with the town’s decision on what s/he should be.

  24. Las
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 08:58:49

    I recently downloaded a sample of a small-town romance. By the end of the sample I was still wondering if it wasn’t a historical. So, yeah, not a fan. Historical is actually my favorite subgenre, but I most definitely do not want to see the values and personalities that would be expected in a historical setting in what’s supposed to be a contemporary.

    I actually have a real-life aversion to the romanticization of history (yeah, makes no sense considering my reading preferences), so when I’m reading a contemporary that does just that, I’m turned off.

    I’m also not a fan of “cute” and “sweet.”

  25. LoriK
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 09:01:48


    The way Carr writes about natural childbirth also bothers me. I swear if I never see the phrase “field of birth” again it will be too soon.

    If I weren’t largely dependent on the local library for my reading material I wouldn’t have read past the first book because it’s not really my cup of tea. However, having gotten pretty far in the series I don’t see her books as being strictly a “city bad/country” good fantasy though. Many of the characters have fled something terrible in the city, but plenty also manage to have awful things happen around Virgin River. I give her credit for the fact that she actually acknowledges the existence of real poverty, which is pretty rare in modern romance.

  26. DianeN
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 09:49:20

    I think at least part of the small town romance series boom has occurred because publishers and authors love, love, love series–publishers because of the presumed guaranteed future sales aspect and authors because it’s more work to write 3 or 6 or 10 standalone books than 3 or 6 or 10 titles in series. Once the world is built it’s a matter of telling the stories it contains.

    Note that I’m not saying it’s EASY to write a series! Nothing about writing is easy, and just as with any other trope (and with single titles as well), quality varies greatly. When I’ve enjoyed small town titles, it generally turns out that the author has managed to avoid cliches. I will happily never read another book in which the high school bad boy-turned-local sheriff/police chief pulls the down-on-her-luck heroine over for speeding or the big city heroine reluctantly returns to her home town to help save the family business!!

    I do wonder, though–are small town cliches actually what attract some readers? Do we all secretly dream of getting a second chance with the high school quarterback?

  27. SAO
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:00:41

    I think many readers have a Rockwell image of small town America. I was in an on-line critique group and we had a number of members who lived overseas. Did they write about the exotic places they lived? No. They wrote about charming little towns with clapboard houses where everyone knew the neighbors.

    When actually, many expat communities are a hell of a lot closer, smaller, and more claustrophobic than towns.

  28. Isobel Carr
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:00:43

    I don’t discriminate by setting, but I will say a lot of small town romances turn me off because they so blatantly vilify city life. Life in a small town can be every bit as fun as life in a big city, and it can be every bit as dangerous and disturbing, but the bottom line is that I want to feel like that life was really the heroine’s CHOICE, not what she got stuck settling for with love as the bonus that makes the settling ok.

    @Tina: When I lived in NY, one thing that was very clear to me was that people didn’t live in ‘New York City’ they lived in neighborhoods.

    OMG, THIS! San Francisco is the same way. It’s like each neighborhood IS a small town. I think authors who’ve never actually lived in places like this miss this aspect of big city life.

  29. Sunita
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:11:05

    Great column and comments!

    When I was a child in India I loved reading small-town books. I lived in Bombay and literally couldn’t imagine what it would be like to ride your bike on the street, leave stuff in your front yard, know everyone, etc. So the small-town setting was a really strong draw; for me it *was* the exotic alternative.

    I think that the fantasy resonates for readers the way Regencyland and Ochlassieland resonate in historicals. It’s a fully self-contained world that readers can lose themselves in. I think the books can be progressive and make the characters’ life and career tradeoffs more realistic without losing all their readership. But they will definitely lose some, just as Regencyland books which emphasis non-canonical aspects lose some readers.

  30. farmwifetwo
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:14:11

    Tina – my kids live in their great-great-great Grandparents house. Which didn’t stop the shunning when I tried to join a local parents group when they were small. It didn’t stop the gossip – which I got warned about by a family support worker I had that told me what had happened – kids are on either end of the autism spectrum, FSW comes via Community Living nor Children’s Aid. One woman tried to pump the FSW about what we were doing and even said to her “they don’t get out enough”… huh?? We never socialized with this woman, her kid is in the same grade as mine and that is all. She’s one of those that did the shunning.

    You forgot to mention the drug problems. The crappy school’s. The lack of health care. The going to the village grocery store and they are talking about everyone else and what’s on their facebook pages. NOW, if nothing stops you from using facebook… that will. We refuse to have facebook and my online life is completely separate from the real world. You forgot to mention the seniors and others that come from the cities where their voices are muted yet, in the small town they think they are the “be all and end all”.

    We go to the local diner. We shop at the village grocery store – prices are comparable to town. We are friendly and polite to our neighbors. But we have no friends locally. We simply cannot trust them to keep our business… our business.

    Rural living is like a neighborhood… with a lot less privacy. I grew up in the city. I am happy to be on a farm out of the village. I’d rather move back to the city, than move to the village.

    Oh… and whoever said villages were quieter… Ummmmmm… no, they aren’t. It’s even more fun when the noise echo’s up and down the ravines.

  31. Angela
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:33:03


    You forgot to mention the drug problems. The crappy school’s. The lack of health care. The going to the village grocery store and they are talking about everyone else and what’s on their facebook pages

    I see, in real life, no more prevalence of these things in the city versus in the small towns. Granted, I may be slightly out of the loop on actually living in the small town as I’ve been outside one for the last 7 years, but I don’t think I’m that behind.

    There are drugs in the city and the country. Crappy schools everywhere. Nosy neighbors abound…

  32. Jeannie
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 10:56:43

    “The reason for a lot of this is that a lot authors live in small towns and are SAHWand Ms. This is all they know. Its natural for them to try to glorify it.”

    Wow! This is all they know? Really? As a writer who lives, loves and has a career (yes *gasp* I work for a living) in a small town, I’m offended by that generalization on so many levels.

    And my books may also be set in small towns but they’re by no means idyllic, nor or they cute and sweet. Well, maybe a few parts …

    I would comment further but I think the success of the genre and its authors speaks for itself.

    @Maili I agree with your elbow.

  33. Maili
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 11:23:30

    @Jeannie: LOL. Fair enough. :D

  34. Sarah J
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 11:36:26

    With a few exceptions, small town romances don’t do anything for me and sometimes make me feel claustrophobic.

    Julie James has already been mentioned but can anybody recommend contemporaries set in cities? I think Nora Roberts wrote some too.

  35. Liz Talley
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 11:41:58

    I think it is what it is. Are there badly written stereotypical small-town romances? Yeah. Just as there are stereotypical badly written urban contemporaries. The bottom line is there is a market for them. Someone likes reading about jam, whoopee in the hay and growing Big Boy tomatoes cause those books are selling for whatever reason. And we must remember that we’re talking about fiction. No one wants to read about Farmer Billie’s corns and how the lovely milkmaid Bonnie rubs them every night for him. No need to discuss STDs, warts and Aunt Mae’s yeast infection. Or the deputy that smells like ham and has missing teeth. That’s reality. No matter where you live. So readers of small-town romance are looking for what every reader of romance is looking for – a gingham-bow escape from their real life.

    It’s not about feminism. Small town women aren’t running around wearing barefoot, wearing aprons and minding kids. Come on. Small town romance is as much as a fantasy as a hot vampire with a ten inch, ahem, …ponytail?

    My .02 (which might not be worth the time it took to for you to read this)

  36. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 12:01:40

    @Sarah J:

    can anybody recommend contemporaries set in cities?

    At the risk of being seen as a whore (well, okay, so I am), two of my books are in cities: The Proviso (Kansas City, Missouri) and Magdalene (half takes place in NYC and half in Bethlehem/Allentown, Pennsylvania).

  37. Sarah J
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 12:06:21

    @Moriah Jovan

    Thanks! I’ll check them out. Also, fantastic cover for Magdalene!

  38. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 12:10:42

    @Sarah J: Thanks! I’ll pass that along to my artist. He did the lovely interior illustrations too, by hand, in stipple.

  39. Lori
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 12:18:45

    @Liz Talley I don’t think anyone could have said it better.

  40. Kate Hewitt
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 12:54:37

    A very interesting discussion and particularly relevant to me since I just moved from Manhattan to a village with a population of 1,700. I tend to avoid small-town romances because they seem overly quaint, and as other people have said, vilify urban life. I’d love to write a series with a cast of characters like that of small-town books, but set in the city. In some ways the small town aspect that people are drawn to–primiarly a sense of community and intimacy–can, I think, be found anywhere, including some of the biggest cities in the world.

  41. Tina
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 13:11:38

    So readers of small-town romance are looking for what every reader of romance is looking for – a gingham-bow escape from their real life.

    But I think that is the point. Not everyone wants “ginghan-bow” escapism. Some want a “cashmere twinset with mother-of-pearl buttons” escapism, while others want a “black-turtleneck with smart pencil-skirt” escapism.

  42. library addict
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 13:16:36

    I enjoy some small town romances such as Meg Banjamin’s Konigsburg series, many of NR’s triliogies and early categories, the Shalvis books already mentioned, the first 6 or 7 books in Rachel Lee’s Conard County series, Marcia Evanick’s Misty Harbor series, and many of Jayne Ann Krentz’ single titles before the Arcane Society theme started.

    The thing they all have in common is a sense of community and quirky characters, but where the big city isn’t treated as some horrible place that must be escaped from. And while the couples do marry and start families, it’s implied/shown the women continue to work and don’t rely on motherhood/being a wife for their sole source of identity. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a SAHM, but it’s not the choice everyone makes.

    I’ve also read plenty of romantic suspense set in small towns where one wonders how anyone could continue to live there after the fact there’s a serial killer is revealed. So small towns aren’t always shown to be so idealized in contemporary romance.

  43. Robin/Janet
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 13:27:13

    @Angela: The drug issue struck a chord with me, especially in combination with @Tina‘s reference to nostalgia. My dad is one of those ‘good old days in a small town’ kind of guys. And while he was living in a small Midwestern town that I found to be extremely white, conservative, and fundamentalist, he bragged about how wonderful and innocent, etc. the place was. Turned out that the town was also one of the most active centers of crystal meth production (I found this out by talking to some kids who lived there) and forced “conversion” of gay kids.

    Now I grew up in a small town and live in one now — both of which I adore — but neither place is idyllic, although I’ll bet my father still thinks the place we grew up was all shiny and innocent, too. And frankly, that creeps me out, because it can mean turning a blind eye to racism, sexism, poverty, etc., which is what I think some people object to in a number of these small town books, especially those that demonize urban life.

    @Maili: One thing I’ve come out of this column with is the belief that the small town device is used with a good deal more diversity in the genre than is always recognized (and I’m not exempting myself from the overgeneralizations). I really need to think a lot more about that, and about specific classifications within the large cohort of examples.

    Still, I’d count Howard’s After the Night and Shades of Twilight as gothics, and would argue strongly against the Western connection for a number of reasons. First, IMO the Western Rom came out of the captivity narrative just as the Western dime novel did. Sentimental fiction also emerged from the captivity narrative, so there is definitely a relationship among all those subgenres, but I don’t see the similarities the way you do. Also, the American West has historically been characterized by an ethos of novelty and progressivism — in fact, the Western states are still widely perceived as socially and politically more liberal than those on the East Coast. But many small town Roms invoke nostalgic looking back and represent established communities and benign cooperation with the natural environment.

    Among the things I think make many small town Roms more aligned with the domestic novel are the way they share the ‘people and society are fundamentally good’ philosophy and the social engineering aspect — that is, the elevation of the domestic (not only in terms of women and the home, but also in terms of taming the land, animals, and other hallmarks of “civilization”) and the idea of a “moral good” that is grounded in “right conduct” and produced and aimed primarily at women.

    Are there differences and divergences? Sure. And I agree with you that there are many small town Roms that align strongly with the village novel. In fact, it may just be an issue of which novels we’re focusing on within the broader category.

    As for the submission fantasy, one of my first responses to the small town Rom was that it seemed like the rape fantasy without the rape. But since I didn’t want to chance generating a whole comment thread about the rape fantasy, I decided to hold back on extending that argument. So I completely understand your objections, which, I realize, might be completely unaffected by any longer argument I would make on the issue. Still, I wanted to put it out there because my own response to the two devices was so similar and I had to think about why that was. Obviously, it may not work for others. ;D

  44. Robin/Janet
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 13:43:47

    @library addict: Your comment reminded me of my ambivalent response to Sister Wives and similar polygamous arrangements. OTOH, I admire and envy the collective that the women have constructed, and I can see why that lifestyle would be an appealing approach to creating different options for the women in the family (e.g. SAHM or working). OTOH, I find the concept of sharing a single husband so reactionary and patriarchal that at a visceral level, I don’t understand how the women tolerate it.

    My response to certain small town books is the same — I am comforted and reassured by certain elements of the device but recoil at others. And because I’m not sure those elements can ever be completely separated, I’ll probably always be somewhat ambivalent about the device as a whole.

  45. JacquiC
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:01:51

    I am someone for whom small town romances seem often to work. But I also really like contemporaries that are set in cities (Julie James comes to mind and a lot of romantic suspense). I think for me, as a partner in a big city law firm who is also a mom, the small town trope works as an escape when it is reasonably well-written because there is a whole side of me that misses open spaces and a quieter pace of life, even if the romantic small-town environment is an idealized version of what it would be like to actually abandon my big city life and choose to live in that type of place. I have no actual intentions of abandoning my career or my big city life, but I sometimes need to feed the part of my psyche that dreams about what it would be like. Also, I am fairly “crunchy” as big city women go (I grow veggies in my backyard, had two kids with midwives/natural births, etc), so books like the Robyn Carr ones actually resonate with me. I don’t classify hers as overly sweet (I don’t really like overly sweet or cute books) — there are some real issues that come up in the Carr books (spousal abuse, date rape, teen pregnancy, drug abuse), and most of the women seem to have reasonably well-rounded lives. I can see how it wouldn’t work for some people — and I honestly can only take a limited amount of it at once before I have to switch genres. In any event, I recently gobbled up all of the Meg Benjamins in a week and am anxiously awaiting the next oen. I guess I’d just say that I choose my romance depending on mood — times of high stress/exhaustion lead me to choose something small-town like or (conversely) something raunchy. I read books with more challenging themes or complicated worlds when my husband is in town and work is not too crazy. Maybe that’s simplistic view of things, but thought I’d see if I could give you an example of a person who likes small town romance who you might not expect to like them…

  46. Jody W.
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:15:07

    I grew up in a small town. My mom used to make jam. That was some good jam. The cheese logs were better.

    I like some small town romances. I dislike some small town romances. Same as most tropes. I like a little grit and realism in any book (grits are good too!), and also humor and a variety of character types. Not so much stereotypes and overly neat HEAs. I have not read enough small town romances lately to agree or disagree that they represent conservative values, though.

  47. Angela
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:40:40

    @Robin/Janet: Meth in the country, while not exactly a small town, is a problem that hit especially close to home for me once. And I do think that it’s more common for meth manufacturing to be in less urban areas.

    However, I also know that those drugs made in the country are sold just as much in the cities.

    The idyllic painting of small town life is what my biggest problem is. Though it goes beyond just small towns in contemporaries, IMO. What I was trying to say with my comment is that I don’t see any reason to villify small town/country living either.

    Now I grew up in a small town and live in one now — both of which I adore — but neither place is idyllic, although I’ll bet my father still thinks the place we grew up was all shiny and innocent, too. And frankly, that creeps me out, because it can mean turning a blind eye to racism, sexism, poverty, etc., which is what I think some people object to in a number of these small town books, especially those that demonize urban life.

    Absolutely agree. It creeps me out too, and worries me. This is a reason that I think the idyllic picture painted in some small town romances is a problem for me. I think it would make me enjoy the story more, as well as be more hopeful, if the characters had to deal with some of these issues – just as I do in real life.

    @Jody W.: My grandma used to make some of the best rasberry jam. I’m down to my last 3 cans. I’ll be sad when it’s gone.

  48. Amber
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:49:32

    The small town romances I have read lately(both Jill Shalvis and Victoria Dahl)seem to offer a more balanced approach to the city versus rural issue. I don’t see either author celebrating the domestic or vilifying cities. But then, I live in a small town and happily save those cities for visiting.

    My own personal pet peeve is when small town life is idealized to the point that nothing negative happens there. Then it becomes a storytelling failure. Flat. Lacking in authenticity. And if I can’t trust an author’s voice or feel she’s selling an idea I just can’t buy into, I stop reading.

    And, at least with Dahl and Idaho-set Shalvis books, those towns don’t exist in a vacuum. Larger towns or cities are a car ride away. And the characters in the stories visit them.

  49. Ridley
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 14:58:35

    I ascribe much of the appeal of small town contemporaries to privilege, actually. They appeal largely to grandmother-aged white people who are uncomfortable with the country’s growing multiculturalism. Open up your average STC and you have a fantasy world where everyone’s white, straight and Christian and problems are solved by applying Good Old Fashioned American Values.

    Whenever I read one, I think of a comment my BFF made back in high school. She was applying to a small Catholic college that was 98% white and when I asked why she’d do such a thing she said, “I’d just like to go somewhere and have everyone be just like me.” I should note that our high school was 35-40% white but the Catholic school we attended for k-8 was 99.9% white.

    I see her attitude reflected in small town romances. It’s a way for those with diminishing privilege to imagine the Good Old Days actually happened.

  50. Ridley
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 15:08:16


    And I do think that it’s more common for meth manufacturing to be in less urban areas.

    However, I also know that those drugs made in the country are sold just as much in the cities.

    The reason meth is a rural phenomenon is that it’s cheaper to procure in rural areas than other hard drugs. But, while it’s true that you can buy meth in the city, and people make it here too, heroin is still cheaper, so heroin is our major drug abuse problem.

  51. sarah mayberry
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 15:32:21

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, but I think the thing that small-town romances offer is a promise of community. Everyone knows everyone, people pull together when the chips are down, etc, etc. Rightly or wrongly, I think there’s a sense that that kind of community isn’t possible in the big smoke. At least that’s what fiction tells us. I think it’s supposed to be a return to a simpler, more genuine way of living. Which is of course a huge sugar-coated load of horse hockey,since people are people wherever they go. We see the same thing here in Australia in TV shows – the fond nostalgia for TV shows of yore that were set in rural communities. It feeds up a fantasy to city-dwellers that there is another way of living, I think.

  52. Isabel C.
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 16:01:29

    I grew up in small towns, now live in a big city. I like it for the most part, and I actually have no desire for marriage and kids *or* knowing all my neighbors, but there is some appeal in the idea of…I don’t know, having a garden. Not having to fight through crowds to get to work. That sort of thing.

    On the other hand, I do like being in range of a thousand good takeout places, being able to buy milk without getting in the car, and generally being within walking/subway distance of almost everywhere I want to go. It balances out: I occasionally do like quirky-small-town romances, but I like quirky stuff in general.

  53. Lily
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 16:35:54

    Wow. When did small town romances become a subgenre? I’ve been inundated with dystopic paranormals the past several years and did not notice this trend (I did know about the Amish fantasies). In a paranormal, food is infrequently of interest and typically scarfed down from fast food joints, if food is available at all. No homemade jam. Nobody knits. They wear skintight tank tops and leather. Nobody scrapbooks. They polish their enormous knife-and-sword collection. The friendly neighbors are gargoyles and the unfriendly ones are demons. Our heroine has a sense of community with an out-group of witches/demons/werewolves/vampires whose struggles will consume her entire multicultural (half-fairy, half Guardian of the Galaxy) life.

    Seriously, small town fantasy is the reverse of the paranormal world view and it sure makes sense in a time of economic downturn that both of these are popular book trends. Some readers want to bathe in a vision of a simpler life and others want to conquer an even worse world.

  54. Lynn S.
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 17:57:10

    Harbors, lakes, rivers, and bays. A girl doesn’t need to be Ishmael to understand the power of the water.

  55. DS
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 18:39:15

    As for all this grandmother stuff– I’m starting to feel like maybe I should take up jam making and knitting and reading Robyn Carr’s books as fitting for my age.

    Except I’ve never made jam, can’t knit or crochet and if I read books set in villages there is usually something nefarious going on– ghosts or villains.

  56. cleo
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 19:54:32

    Seriously, small town fantasy is the reverse of the paranormal world view and it sure makes sense in a time of economic downturn that both of these are popular book trends. Some readers want to bathe in a vision of a simpler life and others want to conquer an even worse world.

    @Lily: Exactly. And you made me laugh.

  57. JMM
    Nov 08, 2011 @ 21:04:15

    “They are coated in signifiers that point to a nostalgic past that simply didn’t exist.”

    Thank you, Tina. I think that puts it in a nutshell, at least for me. People love to look at the past as some sort of wonderful oasis of purity – let’s ignore child labor, lack of medical care, etc.

    I can’t do the sweet, small town romances where everything is wrapped up in a sugar coated bundle.

    “Oh, life is perfect! No crime! No prejudice! No Evil Big City Career Wimmin!”

    The only small town romance I really, REALLY like is “Crazy for You” by Crusie.

    In “Crazy for You”, the heroine’s lunatic ex-boyfriend is allowed to stalk her BECAUSE they live in a small town and thus Bill (the high school coach) is viewed with the reverence of a celebrity and a Nobel prize winner all in one. Almost NO ONE believes he’s insane – they think it’s sweet that he loves Quinn (that ungrateful cow who dumped such a sweet man!) so much.

  58. Kari Lynn Dell
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:13:54


    Here, here on Kristan Higgins. She’s the first author that comes to mind when I think of small town done right.

  59. Libby
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:16:39

    I think “Small Town Romance” is more of a feeling than a physical setting. Robin Kaye writes a great series that, in my opinion, is the perfect example of s STR. Only problem? Her series takes place in NYC. In the series, there were cases of mistaken identity, missing siblings, money issues, illness, over bearing parents, women playing match maker AND everyone knowing everyone else. But again, in NYC.

    A few years ago Millie Criswell also published a large number of STR that took placein NYC.

  60. Kari Lynn Dell
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:34:23

    @Kari Lynn Dell: And I totally just mistyped hear hear. Argh. Must be cuz I’m a small town girl ;)

    Oh, wait. I don’t actually even live in a town. That’d be an hour from here.

    Yes to Crusie also, who creates wonderful communities both in small towns and in cities. And Nora also. And a whole lot of other wonderful writers who create realistic worlds in towns and cities of every size. And isn’t it awesome that every kind of reader can find the kind of book they want and sometimes NEED even if they didn’t know it until they opened the cover?

  61. cleo
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:49:31

    @Lily: Apparently your comment really stuck with me. Lying in bed this morning, half awake, I remembered reading a small town paranormal romance – the yarn shop owning heroine (the only non-fey resident of a small New England town populated with vampires and witches etc) comes into her latent powers as a sorceress and has to defeat the forces of evil. And she knits. And gets the cute human guy. It’s Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton – it’s the first in the series but I haven’t read the rest. It’s more funny than dystopian, but it def combines genres that normally don’t go together.

  62. Kari Lynn Dell
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 14:52:53

    Sheesh. Can’t believe I failed to mention Karen Templeton. I consider her The Best at small town romances. Her heroines have ambitions that they don’t compromise and her settings are never overly idealized. I highly recommend her Rita-award winning Welcome Home, Cowboy as a starter.

  63. shaheen
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 04:46:44

    i agree with you JacquiC

    books like the Robyn Carr ones actually resonate with me. I don’t classify hers as overly sweet (I don’t really like overly sweet or cute books) — there are some real issues that come up in the Carr books (spousal abuse, date rape, teen pregnancy, drug abuse), and most of the women seem to have reasonably well-rounded lives
    I am someone for whom small town romances seem often to work. But I also really like contemporaries that are set in cities

    i am sold on a book if the H/h/story is reasonable…how the author convinces me that yes it is possible..i am not much in favour of those raw sex genres.. for me it has to involve a good story and with underlying emotions… and i hate romances with virgins h’s and super rakish H’s..though i can be bought if its written well and not much is made of it and the H feels previous experiences are nothing or kinda feels sorry for such paltry experiences…all depends.
    i hate stories with infidelity,wishy washy heroine or hero,way too alpha male etc…
    me i love sweet and cute as long as it isn’t saccharine..i also love contemporary with city stories,western both old and new,historicals – both medieval and regency,scottish, irish , paranormal ,classics etc (am eclectic) as long as i can get into thee authors style..the writing,the hero and heroine and the story also those parts where we have to switch of brains…as long as i feel it, its ok…

    i liked robyn carr’s virgin river series..did not read all the books but have read most and some i didnt like the review…esp brie’s and Luke’s..
    Sean’s, Vanni’s did not like the review so much(dint read)
    or jack’s (dont know why ,but dont like Mel much)

    am vary of second chance esp where H/h doesn’t beg properly/ where the h/H has to accept being second best

    i also like nora robert’s chesapeake bay series..loved it actually

    so also mariah stewrat’s home for the summer

    jayne anne kretz’s truth or dare/light in shadows, eclipse bay series , dreams part 1&2…

    shannon stacy’s kowalski books esp all he ever dreamed

    jill gregory’s lonesomeway series esp sage creek

    lisa kleypas’s christmas harbour series esp dream lake

    these are all that comes to mind at present..

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