Novel Openings: Romances

Okay, so, a little while ago, I picked up a bunch of samples and a couple full ebooks based on this post about gentle romances and related comments, so let’s take a look at how some of these romances begin and check out what kind of immediate impression they may make.

I should add, I’m not reading ANYTHING right now. I don’t have time. The second Gael and Keir book? I stalled out, not for any fault in the book at all, quite the reverse — because I hit a particularly engaging scene and thought, I don’t have time to read the whole thing right now, so I better stop.

Ditto for An Immense World, which I trust you are all enjoying. It’s really good! But I don’t have time to read it!

ALMOST ditto for Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. I’m at an exciting scene — various people summoned The Left Arm Demon, I’m not sure what that will turn out to be, but various apprentices are collapsing left and right, and Wei Wuxia leaps in to fill the breach, and … I don’t know! I haven’t had time to find out what happens next! (To be fair, I will read the rest of that particular scene tonight.)

But MOSTLY all that I’m reading now are the Murderbot novellas and bits of the second What If? book by Randall Monroe, which dropped yesterday, by the way, so if you didn’t preorder it, there you go, have a link. It’s just about perfect for reading one short essay and then putting down, so I’m delighted to have it. It couldn’t have hit the shelves at a better time.

I REALLY do not have time to read actual books because (obviously) Tasmakat, and (equally obviously) this dratted General Biology class are taking up my time. I particularly want to focus on Tasmakat and therefore I specifically do not want to get drawn into somebody else’s book.

However, I have no objections to expanding my already huge TBR pile and moving titles up and down the immense virtual stack, so, since I hadn’t yet looked at these romances, let’s look at just a few of them now.

In no order:

`1) When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

September 21, 1808

Dear Captain Logan MacKenzie,

There is but one consolation in writing this absurd letter. And that is that you, my dear delusion, do not exist to read it.

But I run ahead of myself. Introductions first. I am Madeline Eloise Gracechurch. the greatest ninny to every draw breath in England. This will come as a shock, I fear, but you fell deeply in love with me when we did not cross paths in Brighton. And now we are engaged.

I’m instantly drawn in. This is totally charming. also, historical, so that’s a plus. I enjoy epistolary formats. This book offers just snippets of the letters Madeline writes to her fictitious beau. Tessa Dare is very well known, of course. I expect her to be good, and this beginnings suggests that she is. The title is ridiculous. But setting that aside, I like this a lot.

2) Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

I am up in the clouds now, drumming my fingernails on a countertop.

Outside the window, in an ever-swirling fog, there’s a pink neon sign that spins at an all-the-time-in-the-world tilt, which reads MAYBELL’s COFFEE SHOPE AU. Beneath, with one of the letters blinking out: Open 24 Hours.

My AU (alternate universe) café has taken years to build, the past three months being its busiest season yet. I’ve put up fairy lights and aqua tiles, floppy houseplants and red vinyl booths. A jukebox comes to life whenever I glance its way, spontaneously playing one of my favorite songs. Maybell’s Coffee Shop AU is the most beautiful place I can imagine, and I’ve imagined lots of places.

The fog breaks on cue. I glance up, on high alert, knowing what happens next because it’s happened before a hundred times. A story with a scripted beginning and boundless possibilities for how it might end.

I’m intrigued and baffled. Is this literally an alternate universe? Surely not? And yet? Let me go back to the description on Amazon and take a look …

Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.

Okay, so she’s daydreaming! This is a fantasy of hers! Okay, good to know. I bet people who read only romance and not fantasy aren’t going to have that Could it be? reaction to the opening. It’s just such a concrete, detailed daydream! I really wasn’t sure.

3) The Best Man by Kristen Higgins

On a beautiful day in June, in front of literally half the town, wearing a wedding dress that made her look like Cindarella and holding a bouquet of perfect pink roses, Faith Elizabeth Holland was left at the altar.

We sure didn’t see that one coming.

Wow, I didn’t see that coming either! I think this is a good opening, but not necessarily inviting. This is a prologue, by the way. I didn’t flip ahead to look at Chapter 1. The prologue is long enough that I just thought fine, let’s start here.

Did you notice how the protagonist is buried in a first person plural “we”? When does that shift? I’m flipping ahead through the prologue and the whole thing is first person plural! For pages and pages of backstory! That’s certainly … daring. Does it work? I don’t know; I haven’t settled down to actually read it. Okay, I’ve flipped to the first chapter and it looks like Faith is indeed the third-person protagonist. I wonder what the point of starting with second person plural backstory was? Is the person thinking “we” and “our town” and so forth ever going to be identified? I have no idea.

4) Digging Up Love by Chandra Blumberg

Alisha’s car wouldn’t start — again. She growled and hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. Why was she surprised? Every penny she earned went straight to her bakery fund, not upkeep on her run-down ride. But she did not have time for this tonight, not when she needed every second to get ready to share her big news.

Before she could head back inside to ask for a jump, her phone lit up. FaceTime with her little sister could either brighten her mood or send it spiraling south — Simone did nothing by halves, and resisting her whirlwind was as futile as taking a stroll in a hurricane. But Alisha never dodged her sister’s, calls even on her busiest days.

This is … okay. It’s contemporary, while I somewhat prefer historicals. But besides that … it’s just okay. Let me think about why. Is that metaphor in the second paragraph not working for me? Maybe it’s not. “Nothing by halves” doesn’t really match the whirlwind metaphor. Come to think of it, “brighten” and “heading south” don’t really match either. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. Not that I’d stop with just these two paragraphs. But I’m not instantly drawn in.

Okay, for this set of romances, I definitely go first for (1) When a Scot, and then (2) Twice Shy. For me, the beginning of (3) Best Man is interesting, but it’s making me think about the stylistic choices, not about the story. And (4) is the least immediately engaging.

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10 thoughts on “Novel Openings: Romances”

  1. I read WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT last week and found it frothy, implausible, but enjoyable. I’m willing to suspend disbelief for fun. :)

    I think your #1 on the list of examples is actually missing though—we’ve got SCOT at #1 and then skip straight to 3.

  2. I read both the Tessa Dare and the Kristan Higgins mentioned here, because of the same earlier post about gentle romances.
    At the moment I prefer the Kristan Higgins, where though there is sex it is more off screen. I get bored when the book gets too physical, too much about the sex. “When a Scot” is more explicit, though not bad (the writing is a bit more lively than the Higgins, I think); so though I’ve got a few more of Tessa Dare’s books in my TBR pile I went and got the rest of this Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins and continued with that instead.
    I prefer more family dynamics instead of more explicit sex, and apparently a livelier writing style does not tip the balance the other way for me, at least for now.

  3. I 100% agree with Hanneke. Family dynamics works for me. Several people here have recommended Beth Brower, and I’m now obsessed. Her gentle romance novellas (Emma) are terrific, and engaging, and it’s easier to suspend disbelief when there are obviously supernatural elements involved. Despite some misspellings.

  4. Mary Beth, I’m baffled. For the first time ever, the post that I typed and that IS STILL THERE when I go to “edit post” is radically different from the post that is appearing on the blog and that is visible when I hit “view post.”

    #1 is RIGHT THERE. But it’s not showing up.

    I’m going to take another look at this and see if I can fix it, but I have no clue why this is happening.

    I agree with both Hanneke and Alison, of course! Family dynamics WAY above explicit sex. I think two romance authors have written explicit scenes I actually enjoyed reading. Usually I just tolerate those scenes.

  5. Okay, that was highly weird.

    Step one: cut the part of the post that isn’t showing up and paste it back in. Republish. Nope, still invisible.
    Step two: cut the part of the post that isn’t showing up and past it back in at a different location, as #4 rather than #1. Nope! Still invisible.
    Step three: remove the link and replace the link. Nope! That also isn’t working.
    Step four: hit “unpublish.” Hit “publish immediately.” Finally! That did it.

    This is a new one on me, but since everything that’s supposed to be in the post is now visible, I guess I’ll just ascribe the problem to the whims of technology and move on.

  6. Hmm, still something strange going on here; maybe I need to figure out how to clear my cache.
    This post earlier today used to show:
    1 When a Scot
    3 Twice shy
    4 The best man.
    Now it shows:
    1 When a Scot
    3 Twice shy
    4 Digging up love
    4 Digging up love (Yes, twice, while losing The best man, and still not showing a no.2).

    This might be a problem with a cached version on my phone, though it does show more comments and the new no.4 text, compared to when I first replied.

    Anyway, I’ve not read the new one, so I have nothing substantive to add.

  7. For heaven’s sake, Hanneke. Really? Looking at it again… definitely not your phone or cache, it’s looking weird here too.

    Okay, that took about four MORE iterations of trying to fix the post by removing links, then adding links and removing text and putting the text back in, then unpublishing and publishing one more time, but it DOES LOOK FINE TO ME NOW. I wonder if it will still look fine in ten minutes, or to someone else? What a strange problem.

  8. I have also read a few books by both Tessa Dare and Kristan Higgins since your original post, and I also prefer Higgins. For me, the most distinguishing factor was the setting.
    Dare’s books are not as solidly historical as I prefer; the mood of the book and attitudes of the characters aren’t really embedded in their time period, and the language uses to many modern colloquialisms. There also weren’t any interesting historical details that I didn’t know before. Still, her books are fun and easy to read, if a bit fluffy.
    My favourite author of historical romance is Jo Beverley, now sadly passed. Her books are fun and satisfying, but there’s a bit more adventure, so they might not qualify as gentle reads.

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