I’m sometimes sad I will in all likelihood never see a romance set in my hometown. The publishing market in Germany being what it is, there are not many German-set romances printed at all, and those that are tend to be chick lit books set in cool places like Munich or Hamburg or on Sylt. The only novel I have come across that set in the area where I live is a historical novel set during the period when they were burning witches, and I have no wish to read about that. There are a couple of mysteries set in the town I was born in, and I remember the fun I had, while reading them, tracking the detective’s steps and comparing my own vision with that presented in the book.
I’m more fortunate with places I have been to on holiday. When I can, I pick at least one romance for my holidays that is set in the exact place I am visiting. It’s a great way of enhancing my enjoyment of the atmosphere, and if it’s a well-researched historical novel, also a great way of learning about the history of the place. Thus I love reading books set in Cambridge, England, because my sister lived there for a number of years and I visited her often. I was delighted to discover the Regency and early Victorian romances by Michelle Styles that are set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and surroundings, as I spent some months there as a student. And I absolutely adore everything Mary Stewart has ever written, as she absolutely captures the atmosphere of the places she describes, be it Provence (Madam, Will You Talk), Delphi (My Brother Michael), or, again, Northumberland (The Ivy Tree).
The downside, of course, is what happens when you are not happy with the descriptions of a place you know so well, or if the descriptions are downright inaccurate. When I first read A Lover’s Victory by Caroline Courtney, which is set in Vienna, I was really annoyed by the fact that the heroine crossed the Danube when she arrived. I had been to Vienna the year before, coming from the West as the heroine did, and you just don’t cross the river. It’s on the North and East of the road you travel. So that was one book spoilt for me through faulty geography.
Now I sometimes wonder about books set in places that I have never been to that convey a strong sense of place. My all-time favorite mystery series is Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series, set in San Francisco. I love the atmosphere she creates but now and then I can’t help wondering what a San Francisco native would make of it. The same applies to the New York described in Meg Cabot’s books, and the New England of Charlotte MacLeod’s mysteries.
How do you like reading books that are set where you live? Have you got any examples of books that perfectly capture the place, or others that go horribly wrong? Do you try to read books set where you go on holiday? Any recommendations here? And does inaccurate geographic detail spoil a book for you?