Giving romance a go

Last summer I read a few books by the romance writer Candace Camp from her Matchmaker series. The series revolves around Lady Francesca Haughston, a widow who sets up young women in good marriages in 19th century London. I read three of the books: The Marriage Wager, The Bridal Quest, and The Wedding Challenge. Yes, those are book titles and yes I had to triple check that I got them right seeing as how the words are interchangeable.

I wanted to try reading a romance. It’s one of the most popular sections in the store and I was trying to be open-minded. They went pretty much how I expected. Whenever I think of romance books I think of the count and countess stuff, not the modern day plots that Nora Roberts writes. Well, that I assume Nora Roberts writes. (I’ve only read one romance author so far.) Candace Camp was a good place to start. The girl being set up in the first book was nervous and lacked money, the man was devilishly handsome and a bit of a rogue. If you ever peruse the romance section you’ll find that there are a lot of rogues out there. I knew they would end up together in the end despite whatever challenges arose. The sexy scenes were a bit vivid. (I admit I skimmed those parts.) I also don’t think that people behaved that way in 19th century London, but I don’t know for sure that ladies weren’t disrobing in horse-drawn carriages or at the tops of empty buildings.

In the end they lived happily ever after. The reason I read three of the books was because Lady Francesca has a bit of a love connection going with a duke from her past. He makes a wager in the first book that she can’t get an ugly duckling married off by the end of “the season” and there’s more to it than a friendly bet. They do not get together in the end and I have to admit, I wanted to know what happened with them next. In each successive book they get a step closer to admitting their feelings and forgiving past wrongs. I think it’s a great plan on the author’s part to have a subplot to carry the reader through to the next book. It worked on me and I was determined not to like romances when I started.

It’s the happy ending that kills me. You know right after the characters are introduced to each other that they will end up together. Sure there’s other action, hidden dead bodies or lies about money, but they work through it. Maybe they yell and decide not to be together but love prevails and nothing can keep them apart. It’s hokey and unrealistic and the whole idea bothered me. Why read a book when you know the ending?

In the more realistic general fiction section you get surprised. Sometimes, I’ll admit, you get disappointed. Not knowing if an ending will be happy or sad or if all the loose ends will be tied up is what we get in life. I like the intrigue in a good fiction book, I like wondering if two characters will get together instead of knowing. It’s closer to reality and easier to believe.

I read the romance books because sometimes people want a recommendation for that section and all I could do was shrug and say I never read any of it. I always mocked romance a little for its steamy covers and absurd titles. The Scotsmen and the vampires and the wild women were easy targets for eye rolls and sarcastic comments. I read good fiction. I challenged myself intellectually when I read books. I read the romance books to reassure myself of my position. Now when someone asked if I even knew what I was making fun of I could say yes.

I had also been thinking a lot about my favorite classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. I knew from the start that Elizabeth and Darcy would end up together. Jane and Bingley faced obstacles outside of themselves, but Elizabeth and Darcy were the only ones truly standing in the way of their own happiness. Yes, it was a comment on the times, a description of life for women and how they were limited in their choices without a husband or family money, the absurdity of marrying someone you hardly liked so you didn’t have to be a spinster, and the difference between the classes. But I go back to it for the love story. I see myself in Elizabeth, smart and strong and willing, hell excited, to say things that will hurt people’s feelings. I get all girly and silly when Darcy makes her mad and when they finally say how they really feel. Is that much different than a romance?

Life’s realities need escaping sometimes. I’m sure a lot of the time the plots could be better, the writing less tedious, but romances are a nice way to guarantee a happy ending. It can be enjoyable, on occasion, to know that the challenge facing a happy couple will be overcome, that they will be happy again in the end.

I’m not sure if I’ll expand my romance reading to different authors. But someday, when the husband is out of town again, I’ll have to read the latest installment in the Matchmaker series and see how much closer Lady Francesca gets to getting her own happy ending. I know she will eventually, I just don’t know how many books it will take to get there.

Kelly Hannon works in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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