I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Susan Mallery is wrapping up her long-running and crazy popular Fool’s Gold series this month, when Best Of My Love releases on April 26:
To overcome her painful past and convince her stubborn psyche that men can be trusted, Fool’s Gold baker Shelby Gilmore persuades town Casanova and Adventure Tour Guide Aidan Mitchell to embark on a friends-only experiment, since he’s become a player even he doesn’t respect. Despite their best intentions, though, their obvious attraction fuels the Fool’s Gold rumor mill. If no one will believe they're just friends, maybe they should give the gossips something to really talk about!
Mallery fans may be disappointed to hear this news, but never fear, the prolific writer will have plenty of books on the shelves in the future, including her first-ever mainstream hard cover release, Daughters of the Bride, which comes out in July. (Also, Mallery is famous for her never say never philosophy, so a future Fool’s Gold title isn’t completely out of the question.)
Thinking about Fool’s Gold made me think of the many wonderful romance series that are created around communities—sometimes towns, sometimes sports teams, sometimes friendships, sometimes even families—but always a community bond that acts as sounding board and support group when necessary.
Mallery’s Fool’s Gold is one of the most popular traditionally published community series, along with Robyn Carr’s Virgin River, while her relatively new Thunder Point series has the same kind of following. (Both Mallery and Carr are moving into more mainstream women’s fiction storylines, and if you’re headed to RT next week, I heard through the grapevine that their joint Reader Appreciation event will have yummy snacks and wine, and special gift bags for the first 200 readers!)
Other popular series? Of course if you know me, you know I love Kristan Higgins’ Blue Heron series, which wrapped up at the end of last year (sniff, sniff), as well as Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars—with a new title (and quarterback) coming out in August: First Star I See Tonight. Gorgeous cover!
And there’s no question that Brenda Jackson has created her own cottage industry in community romance, with The Westmorelands and Forged of Steele.
Some indie pub favorites are Bella Andre’s Sullivans and Marie Force’s Gansett Island series; both writers are known for their ability to draw readers into their communities as much as the individual romances in each book.
However, I recently read (well, listened to) my first title by Radclyffe, a lesbian romance author who is considered one of the best in the field (and loves the genre so much that she started her own company, Bold Strokes Books, that mostly publishes lesbian romance. If you’ve seen the excellent romance documentary, Love Between the Covers, then you might be familiar with Radclyffe's story).
So I was happy to receive an audio copy of Radclyffe’s title, Prescription for Love (released November 2015), from Amazon and after reading it, I caught up with Radclyffe by phone to talk about her take on community—in life and in this series.
The books evolve around the Rivers, a medical family who run a small-town community hospital named after them in rural New York.
As a heterosexual reader very familiar with romance series set around families and communities, I was struck by the way Radclyffe created one that looked at community in a variety of different ways—family, friends, town, hospital—and also positioned this community in a way that is both ideal and natural for a set of stories that revolves around a number of lesbian couples.
The Rivers family consists of four sisters and their parents. The father and two of the sisters, Flannery and Harper, are doctors. Flannery and Harper are also gay, and books 1 and 2 are their romantic journeys. One sister is in a heterosexual marriage, and the youngest, Margie, is still in high school.
Prescription for Love follows Flannery, a bold, happily unattached surgeon who is both professionally irked and personally attracted to Abigail, a new surgical recruit at the hospital and the mother of a trans son, Blake. While Abby and Blake both miss the city, their move to a small town and a built-in community (in the hospital and the Rivers family, since Abby was friends with Harper’s partner Presley in college) seemed like a safe bet and a fresh new start for Blake, who was feeling out-of-place with friends who had always known him as a girl, and were uncomfortable with his new self-identification as male.
Blake becomes friends with Margie, who accepts him unconditionally, while Flannery and Abby explore an unexpected attraction and bond, despite their sketchy first impressions and initial professional rivalry.
The romance is both tender and sexy, and the sense of friendship, family, and community is powerful.
And of course it makes sense that a lesbian romance series would focus on strong lesbian couples, which is both idealized and realistic.
“Remember,” says Radclyffe, “even a generation ago, there weren’t really LGBT romances—not the kind that we have today, those that offer hope, happy endings and the idea that we’re out there and these are lives we can have. Successful, purposeful, and with love we don’t have to hide. So in that sense, LGBTQ romances might be idealistic in the same way that straight romances might be considered idealized.
“But it’s not unrealistic to have more than one gay child in a family; in fact, it’s common, especially if the family is large,” she continues. “And it’s not unrealistic to have a social group that’s completely, or almost completely, lesbian or gay. Finally, it’s not unrealistic to have a greater gay or lesbian percentage of professionals in any given group than you might think. When I was a practicing surgeon, it wasn’t unusual to be in the OR lounge and in a group of 12 or 13 professionals, to have 5 or 6 of them be gay. So while a community that is predominately gay or lesbian might seem odd to a reader used to communities in straight romance series, where the LGBT couple is kind of the token or more in the background, it’s not at all unrealistic to a gay reader.”
Which makes perfect sense to this reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed Prescription for Love, and I especially loved the way the author handled the secondary storyline between Blake and Margie, which wasn’t a young romance, but simply a growing friendship between two high school students—one of whom is trans—told through lenses of self-acceptance, support, and loyalty.
A lovely message, for sure.
What romance communities are you in love with?
Happy reading! xo