This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover, and since I've been writing about identifying the tropes and familiar elements of romance that you like, this week I'm going to talk about the ones you might not like. The ones you'd...pass over, if you will.
Hey, stop groaning!
Just as identifying the character types and storylines that you like is a powerful and useful tool for finding more romances you love to read, knowing what to avoid is also a powerful and very useful tool. There is nothing less fun than realizing you are not enjoying a book at all.
If you think about the books you really, really hated, the ones that made you angry, disappointed, or just plain bored, it's likely they have some common elements. Maybe all the heroines were very dim—or too stupid to live, as we often call them—or easily influenced by whomever is telling her what to do in that chapter. I personally dislike heroines who don't think for themselves, and who always do what they are told to do. Perhaps the other books you dislike all feature bookish, quiet heroes, and you prefer the take charge alpha-male-commando-badass hero type. Or maybe you really love mysteries and puzzles to solve alongside the hero and heroine, and dislike angsty, emotionally tense stories about people in tense arguments. These are all good pieces of information to help you identify the books you should avoid.
For example, I dislike romantic suspense. This is a shame because there are some terrific writers who publish excellent romantic suspense novels, with all different types of badass heroes and heroines, mysteries to solve and bad guys to vanquish. The problem for me is that, too often, romantic suspense novels feature two things I struggle with as a reader. First, I have a terrible time reading stories where there are entrails, gory scenes, bloody discoveries and body parts strewn about. I can't watch it on television either, but it's even worse when I read it because my imagination loves to provide too much detail for me, not only the sight and the sounds described, but the smell and the texture. I have a very good imagination—sometimes too good. Gore and bloody scenes are too much for me, especially since then my imagination is all, "Hey, remember that scene in that book that scared you witless? Now that you're going to sleep, let's think about it! In detail!" Nora Roberts' Blue Smoke featured scenes that were too much for my brain, especially the violence of the villain and the time spent in his point of view. I recommend that book to romantic suspense and mystery thriller fans, but when I talk about it I shudder.
The other feature of romantic suspense that I often struggle is the harming or hurting of children. For awhile, whenever I picked up a romantic suspense novel, young people were getting hurt or being targeted by menacing killers and I couldn't get over it enough to enjoy the happy ending. Sometimes I felt emotionally jerked around, too, as if the children in peril were only being introduced to create pathos and to emotionally connect me to the story, because there didn't seem to be any valid reason for them to be the victims except making the reader care more about the bad guy getting blown away twice as hard for his crimes. As a result, I tend to stay away from romantic suspense because too often I run into gore and children in peril.
But oddly enough, I do like adventure romance—light on the violence and gore, heavy on the adventure, faraway locations and suspenseful puzzles to solve. Cherry Adair writes books like these, such as her Cutter Cay series, which featured a boatload of treasure hunters—literally. They were all on a boat. Roxanne St. Claire has also written what I would call adventure romances, including one book I really enjoyed: Hunt Her Down (Pocket, 2009). Because adventure romances seem to focus more on the puzzle or the object of the mystery than on the psychotic kill-happy nut-job bad guy, I enjoy them more. I often compare adventure romances to movies like Romancing the Stone: There's a race to get somewhere or to something or someone, and disparate people are thrown together with romance and attraction to be dealt with. Treasure hunting for example, is totally attractive to me as a plot trope.
Unfortunately for me, adventure romance is often shelved and tagged as romantic suspense, though I think the two are very different. So, I have to remember authors and key words that show up in the cover copy to make sure the books are high on adventure, and low on entrails. The naked man chests on the covers all look the same, so I have to do my own investigation before I buy one. If there's a "chilling force" or "a menacing darkness" and a greater chance of entrails and imperiled children, I keep searching. But good adventure romance always makes me happy.
Do you like romantic suspense? Have you ever identified a subgenre that you don't like? Which one? And if you have adventure romances to recommend, please share!
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.