|LOL by Lilyofthevalley|
I’m a fan of Small-Town Romances. The main reason why I like them is because they tend to be character-oriented stories that mostly focus on the romance. They deal with a variety of subjects that go from the hilarious to the dramatic. The secondary characters are interesting, as they should be considering their main role is to keep us interested to read the next book. And overall they feel like comfort food; they make me feel good and, well, comforted.
However, the same reasons why I love Small-Town Romances are the reasons why I dislike them: the characters can be repetitive; the lighter tone means that the subject remains underdeveloped; the secondary characters overtake the story; and comfort food becomes boring after eating it repeatedly. I've noticed that these issues tend to develop when the series extends beyond the third book. What starts as a trilogy, becomes a sextet, and in Robyn Carr’s case, twenty books and counting.
One example of this is the Fool’s Gold series by Susan Mallery. The first book was fantastic, and even though the next two weren't as good, they had fully developed characters and interesting, albeit incredible, stories. But the series kept growing and the stories and characters started to blend in together. And the last set of books was so appalling that I decided to quit the series.
After reading all of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River books, I've come to the conclusion that I have a love/hate relationship with them. Some I loved, some I hated. But Ms. Carr knows how to deliver a surprise outstanding book form time to time, which makes it impossible for me to say goodbye to the series. She infused it with a much needed new blood when she introduced a whole different set of characters and took the limelight away from the original cast. She reinvented the series, refreshed it and allowed new readers to jump right in without having to go back and read more than 15 books to catch up. The stories still feel familiar, but the characters are (slightly) different. But then again, the extreme familiarity doesn't come only from characters and plotlines.
One of the problems I have with long series is that the author’s voice becomes more and more recognizable until all I hear is the author instead of the different characters. The heroes and heroines become interchangeable. They all sound the same but with a different background or profession. The storylines blend in together -- how many times can a commitment-phobe hero and a perky, hopeful heroine, engage in a no-strings-attached temporal relationship, just to have the heroine fall in love and be brokenhearted throughout half the chapter that it takes for the hero to realize that he loves her and is ready to commit? I've seen it here, here, and, oh yes, here.
However, these series increase their popularity the longer they get. Jill Shalvis just announced that she’s not done with Lucky Harbor. Her next trilogy will feature a cop and a fireman; just as the previous books were about a forest ranger, a doctor and a SEAL. As much as I love the Lucky Harbor books, this announcement makes me worry about the future of a series that is very good, but it also begins to show the first signs of decline. I have a feeling that the new series will be just more of the same: manly men finding love in the arms of a sweet woman without much effort or real conflict. A new set of stories filled with interchangeable characters that feel like I've read them before.
Ms. Shalvis isn't alone. Susan Mallery plans to continue with Fool's Gold, there's no end in sight for the Virgin River books and Shannon Stacey is writing more Kowalski books. But success comes with a price, and its name is pressure. Simply Irresistible was published in October, 2010; the second book, The Sweetest Thing, in April 2011; and Head Over Heels in December, 2011. That’s over six months between release. The books in her latest trilogy were released in May, June and July of this year. You do the math. With so much pressure to deliver on time, it shouldn't come as a surprise the fact that the author takes shortcuts, and that the final product lacks the quality we have come to expect from the author. Using a popular formula and stock characters takes less time than creating brand-new stories with layered characters.
What I can’t deny is that Small-Town Romances are beloved parts of the genre. I keep coming back for more, so the magic works for me as well. As I said, these books are comforting, entertaining and, when done right, part of the reason why I love Contemporaries. But I feel like we should demand better quality, new characters and stories that rely on reality and authenticity instead of fluffiness and fantasy (or at least more balance between the two). To me, it all comes down to moderation because as much as I love these stories, we shouldn't exploit them. When it comes to small towns, the magic number should be closer to three than to twenty. As nath says, maybe it's time to say hello to big city romances and take a vacation from small towns.
|LOL by d.incantalupo|
How about you? Are you a fan of Small-Town Romances? Have you noticed a decline in your favorite series the longer it gets? Or on the contrary, do you feel like they get better and better with each new book? What is it about these books that make them so popular? I would love to hear your thoughts.