Sunday, May 19, 2019

#RomBkLove: Communities

Welcome to Day #19 of #RomBkLove.  The brain-child of blogger, book reviewer and librarian, Ana Coqui, is celebrating it's third year.  You can read all about the #RomBkLove movement and see this year's prompts over at her blog.  Also, when participating via social media, be sure to use the hashtag!

When Ana approached me about signing on again for this year I paused for more than a hot minute, took stock, and knew that even though my life and reading is kind of topsy-turvy at the moment, I couldn't say no. Of course the next question was: what theme did I want to discuss?  I thought about some of my favorite reads from 2018 and realized it had to be Communities.

I'd hazard a guess that the first thing that comes to mind when many of you think of communities in romance is Small Town Contemporaries.  Some readers love them. Some readers wonder why the heck they remain so popular.  And I'm here to tell you the answer: it's the world building.  It's the same reason why every flippin' romance novel is part of a series.  Readers LOVE to lose themselves in "a world."  They want to fall into a story and have the author create a world that they can lose themselves in.  And certainly while many Small Town Contemporaries do just that - with this theme I want to challenge Romancelandia.  Because there are many romances out there, not set in small town worlds, where the author creates a rich, full community for readers to lose themselves in.

Here are a just a few examples:
  • Beverly Jenkins is the Queen Mother of community-based romance.  I'm still working my way through her historical backlist, but every single one I've read features a support network, a community, around her main couple.  My favorite (so far) has been Indigo, where the heroine is part of the Underground Railroad network, along with many of her neighbors outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Another good Jenkins example?  Always and Forever.  A less successful book for me, personally, but one I always like to recommend to Small Town Contemporary fans.  Why?  Because a good chunk of the story involves a group of women on a wagon train traveling west to become mail-order brides.  That wagon train is essentially a small town on wheels, right down to the various personalities.  
  • Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist is set in New York City and finds the heroine taking a job in Louis Comfort Tiffany's glassworks (one community) and living in a boardinghouse (another community).  I LOVED the boardinghouse community in this one, filled with eccentric and interesting tenants, one of whom is the hero.
  • Off Limits by Vanessa North centers around a ladies social club that caters to LGBTQIA+ members. One heroine is a concierge at the club by day, and by night she's moonlighting as the singer of a punk band.  The other heroine is the only child of Hollywood royalty.  Set in New York City, I loved the world of the social club that the author builds. There's also the community between the punk singer heroine and her band mates.  Part fluffy, part angsty, I highly recommend this F/F romance.
  • Everything I Left Unsaid by Molly O'Keefe is the first book in a four-book series where a heroine running away from an abusive marriage holes up in a rundown trailer park.  It's the people she meets in that trailer park that form a community and change the course of her life forever.
  • Seduced by the Badge by Deborah Fletcher Mello is the first book in a romantic suspense series set in Chicago.  The community building here is part family, the cop hero's siblings all work in some form of civil service, and part nefarious, the center of the suspense action takes place at a local diner.  The diner, not unusual for many cities and towns, features regular clientele and staff who add richness to the story.
  • Passion's Song by Farrah Rochon is set in New Orleans' Ninth Ward post-Hurricane Katrina.  The successful hero has bought up some property where he envisions a gentrification project of housing and upscale shops.  The classically trained cellist heroine is volunteering at a local community-based organization working to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.  The city and the Ninth Ward add color, flavor and texture to the Friends To Lovers romance, and immerse the reader in the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans.
These are just a few examples, and ones that I hope illustrate what I'm driving at with the Communities theme.  "Community" doesn't just mean cutesy small towns and picket fences.  City neighborhoods, diners, coffee shops, "band of brothers"-type series - community is expansive.  So let's hit the #RomBkLove social media tag and expound on books that really hit us with that sense of community.


azteclady said...

So many hearts for this post. So many.

Kristie (J) said...

I love the whole idea of community, a close group that works as a cocoon for the hero or heroine or even ourselves. It’s a very lonely existence without one.

Kate said...

What great timing. I'm on something of a Harlequin medicals binge and just today read Sarah Morgan's High-Altitude Doctor which did a good job portraying the little communities that develop at the villages and camps along the route to climb Everest.

Thank you also for mentioning Deeanne Gist. I think she too often gets dismissed as an inspirational writer when it's really the attention to historical detail that shines though in her books. The first one of hers I read was The Measure of a Lady, and even though I grew up in Nor Cal and know a fair amount about San Francisco history, the portrayal of gritty everyday life, especially for women, was revelatory.

Wendy said...

AL: An interesting theme for me to go with for #RomBkLove this year since one of the reasons I love category romance so much is the "insular" feel to the romance. And while I'm not the biggest fan of small town contemporaries, I have come to realize that I do like it when the author world-builds a community around her romance. I just don't want said community to overpower the romance :)

Kristie: I agree. It adds a richness and depth to the romance - plus I like the idea that the new couple, fresh in their HEA, will have a support network to back them up. Because, hey - no relationship is all sunshine and roses.

Kate: I need to read more of Morgan's Medicals! I've only read Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? (or something like that?) and it also had this great community feel to it - set on an island off the coast of Scotland.

Gist's historicals are SO wonderful. She's such a great writer at adding those details that add richness but she doesn't bog the narrative down in history dumping minutia. I need to catch up on her backlist! I think I've only read 3 of her books? My first was Maid to Match - the one set at the Biltmore Estate.

Anna Richland said...

I think both of Jackie Lau's Toronto-set series establish an amazing community filled with restaurants, workplaces, multiple generations, just the very fabric of life in a city. I feel like I could walk into any of the places she describes, be it the hipster beer pubs or the construction sites, and actually find her characters. And it also somehow feels very Canadian to me. My spouse is Canadian and we spend a lot of time in urban parts of Canada, Vancouver to Ottawa to Edmonton, and Lau's stories ring so true.

Wendy said...

Anna: I still need to read Jackie's books! I know I have a couple in the Kindle TBR Pile of Doom.