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The Changing Focus of Romance Novels

Hello, and welcome back! I hope you all had lovely, romantic Valentine's Day celebrations. We spent a full day digging ourselves out from under the huge snow that fell here in the northeast this week, and then a little longer helping to dig out neighbors, then snow days for the kids, so not much reading time in the last five days. Guess it's a good thing I'm always ahead on my reading.

If you're a regular romance reader, you can't help but notice the shifts in the tone of the books on the shelves in the last year or two--whole new lines devoted to "chick lit-" type stories of the "Bridget Jones" variety. More women's fiction. And lots of it taking up shelf space in the Romance section of the bookstore. Considering the figures I read recently from Romance Writers of America about the enormous sales of romance novels--jumping from $1.23 billion in 1999 to $1.52 billion in 2001, 54.5% of all paperback book sales in 2001, and 35.8% of all popular fiction sales--I'm not sure why this seeming move to push romance into a smaller corner. Is it that romances are women's books and publishers are usually headed by men? Or maybe that the powers-that-be want more income? Heck, I'm thinking that $1.52 billion dollars isn't too shabby.

Whatever it is, I'm finding more and more books coming to me for review that simply aren't what I consider romance. Yes, I know we've had this discussion previously, but I also know I'm not the only reader disturbed by these changes. So, for the sake of anyone reading who hasn't heard this before, romances are traditionally considered to be a book about a hero and heroine and their relationship, resulting in a guaranteed happy ending. There can be subplots and secondary characters, but the majority of the story focuses on the romance. Frankly, if I wanted to read something else, I'd know to look in a different section of the bookstore. I feel deceived and annoyed when I get a book home and realize once I get partway into it that it isn't really a romance, yet the publishers are marketing it as one. Just as bad is when I get books for review that aren't romance, and aren't even being marketed as such, yet my site here is plainly about romance novels, not women's fiction or just plain fiction, but romances.

That said, I have one of those this week, a book by Robert Rosenblum called Afterlove (NAL). Kate Weyland has lost her family and now feels lost herself, and the book is her journey to get to the other side of that. There is a love interest, but this is really Kate's story, a tale of loss and faith, and also morbidly depressing in places. Not my choice of reading material.

Moving on, I do have two real romances to share with you this week. First up is Sandy Hingston's The Affair (Berkley). We return to Mrs. Treadwell's Academy for the Elevation of Young Women, and this time, Christiane, Countess d'Oliveri, comes face to face with Gannon Finn, Lord Carew, the man whose adoration and love she'd snubbed years ago. He's brought his recently-orphaned niece to the academy, not knowing that Christiane would be there, and unprepared to deal with the woman who broke his heart. Christiane and Gannon are both strong-willed, and though they're fiercely attracted to one another, she can't let down the walls around her emotions to risk falling for this man. Gannon has secrets, though, and they could do public damage to his family, so clearly, falling for Christiane again is out of the question. Ha! This is the second of Ms. Hingston's books I've read, and I enjoyed this one even more than the first. I'm borrowing four of Cupid's arrows for this one. I wonder if we might see the academy show up again in another tale?

Then we have Deirdre Martin's Body Check (Jove). Janna MacNeil has taken on the onerous task of changing the image of New York's bad boy hockey team, the Blades. Since he's the team captain, Ty Gallagher knows his team will follow his example, but he's not interested in kissing the butts of the corporation who recently bought his team. He just wants to play hockey, but Janna's there all the time, in his face, asking him to do this, that and the other thing. I'll say right up front, I hate hockey, so I read this one with a definite bias. If you like watching grown men beat each other with hockey sticks, you might feel differently. (Joking, guys.) Ty is one bull-headed man, even more so than most. I couldn't work up any sympathy for him, despite his past, and it took him way too long to admit to his feelings. This one gets only three of Cupid's five arrows.

Join the discussion in the forum to find out how other romance readers feel about this subject. Until next time, happy reading!

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