And in the End

6a00d83451c1bb69e2010536073786970c-640wiPersonally, if only given one choice I’d far prefer a bad beginning to a bad ending.  The beginning sets the stage and opens the book, but who are we kidding?  We’re romance readers.  The ending’s the clincher.  The ending’s our couple’s future.  It’s the reader’s conviction that everything we just read is legit.  If I don’t believe in the happy ending, then the story is sunk.

I’ve read hundreds of romance novels now, and I’ve got them pretty well sorted out.  Many romance novels end in a big sexfest, but I’ve never liked these – the book feels like it’s celebrating hormones rather than hearts.  Then there are Hallmark endings – you know which ones I’m talking about.  They melt in each other’s arms.  They declare undying love eternal.  They become Lord Virile and Lady Fertile.  They are, in fact, so busy being in love I’m more certain they aren’t.  Saccharine endings do not appeal to me because they dwell in fairyland, and I like my stories dosed with reality.

Overall, I’m definitely a fan of “less is more”.  No epilogues, thank you very much – I prefer to leave the future to my imagination.  Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught sticks out as one of the few mushy epilogues that works for me.  But then, Ian and Elizabeth are larger than life and need an emotional, soaring, music-swelling-while-waves-crash happy ending.  With their story, I can dream for a while and leave reality for mere mortals.  Their ending embodies the fairy tale happily-ever-after.

Generally, though, the endings I favour are the last step in the development of the romance, the ones that provide character resolution and closure.  Grovels fit very nicely here – witness Bobby Tom Denton in Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Grey in His Comfort and Joy by Jessica Bird.  (I haven’t read Lady Gallant by Suzanne Robinson but I’ve heard the grovel there is excellent.)  These heroes have wronged their heroines and they need to apologize for their idiocy before she leaves forever.  And so they’re left doing things like jumping onto running trains and proposing in public, or begging forgiveness while an entire Texan town troops out to see an ex-footballer on his knees.  Both scenes are so gloriously over the top, I can’t help but sigh, but they also close the character arc – and very satisfactorily too.

But if I’m going to be picky (and clearly I am), I can only think of three endings that I’d call unique.  Many readers have cited Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me as one of the few romances whose couple remain childless and happy, and it seems right that Min and Cal would be so.  Many people like children and get along with them, but don’t need them to be complete, and I hear of more and more people deciding to remain childless unless through adoption – and I mean real people, not celebrities.  Blood may still be thicker than water, but in some ways it’s thinning as humans gather in families that cross borders and cultures.  Bet Me’s ending strikes me not only as unconventional in romance, but also more indicative of reality than the hyper-fertile heroines we normally encounter.

The second ending I remember well is equally unique, but for a different reason.  Long before I read Connie Brockway’s All Through Night I’d read Marianne Stillings’s review, and she clearly loved the last page so much I had to read the book myself.  And my reaction as an immature, uncomplicated teenager was that it was underwritten, slightly depressing, and more than a little weird.  Where was the big kiss?  Where was the coital bliss?!  Where were the kids and the former couples all living happily ever after??!!  Then years later I re-read it.  Underwritten became sparse, depressing became poignant, and weird became wonderfully atmospheric.  It’s about as un-romance novel-y as you could get, and it’s the perfect closing to damned fine book.  I could not picture anything else for Jack and Anne.

But I have to say, when it comes to one-in-a-million endings, I take my hat off to Lady of Conquest by Teresa Medeiros which has hands down the worst last line of any romance I’ve ever read: “The waves crashed on the rocks below in giggling rhythm, like the laughter of one hysterical dwarf.”  Now, this book was bad enough without paying tribute to a homicidal, maniacal dwarf.  If the author had chosen to end on a conventional “I’ll love you ‘til the end of time, kissy kissy smooch smooch,” I’d have scoffed and then forgotten about the book.  As it is, my reaction was the same as the book’s reviewer, Blythe Barnhill : I chucked it at the wall.

That’s the thing about endings – it can make or break the book.  I can forgive slow beginnings or dragging middles, but I could never forgive an ending that ruined the vision of future happiness.  You don’t ever mess with a happily-ever-after.

What are your favourite last lines or endings?  Least favorite ones?  Do you care for epilogues?  Are there particular ending types that strike your romantic bone?

- Jean AAR

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21 Responses to And in the End

  1. tjf says:

    I have to agree that a bad beginning does not necessarily ruin the book for me. Sometimes, a book gets off to a rough start, but ends up being a fabulous read in the end. For me, it’s what’s in between the beginning and the end that is important – the journey to the HEA and, even if the ending is somewhat anticlamtic, if how they got there pulls you in and has you believing, then

  2. tjf says:

    Had to repost since I lost the last part of my post.

    I have to agree that a bad beginning does not necessarily ruin the book for me. Sometimes, a book gets off to a rough start, but ends up being a fabulous read in the end. For me, it’s what’s in between the beginning and the end that is important – the journey to the HEA and, even if the ending is somewhat anticlamtic, if how they got there pulls you in and has you believing, then I am usually satisfied, although not always.

  3. Victoria S says:

    First, I want to say that books I don’t like are longer in my house, so I cannot comment on any crappy endings, as I have removed them from my house and my memory. Some of my favorite happy endings are by
    Linda Howard–After The Night..I loved the scene in the diner
    Cry No More–you can’t tell me you didn’t cry
    when her son showed up at the door on the
    very last page
    Mary Balogh–More Than A Mistress–I loved the scene at
    dinner when they reveal the marriage
    Slightly Dangerous–Christine and Wulf talking
    about their son’s christening–loved it
    J.D.Robb–Remember When–Nora wrote an entire seperate
    book as an Epilogue ,ya gotta love that:)

  4. Lucé lo says:

    For me epilogues are very important to tie loose ends and to let me enjoy the hero and heroine’s happiness, especially if they had a hard time getting their HEA. For example, in Liz Carlyle’s latest, “Wicked All Day”, I would have appreciated an epilogue to see the other characters’ reactions to the resolution of the romance and to enjoy for a little while longer the happiness of the couple once they are free to admit their love for each other.

    However, there are some epilogues that go too far. For example, I did not like some of the epilogues in Lorraine Heath’s westerns and European historicals. In my opinion, these epilogues offered too much information, some even took the story so far as the deaths (from old age) of the hero and heroine. I remember feeling let down and promising myself that if I ever reread those books I would not read the epilogues.

  5. Katie Mack says:

    I’m also a fan of the less is more. One of my pet peeves is when authors throw in the de rigueur “let’s get married and make babies” ending when it doesn’t fit the characters’ journey to that point. Maybe they’re just not ready to be engaged at the end of the story, and that’s perfectly fine. I don’t have to have pronouncements of marriage and babies for an HEA; I just want to believe that this couple will stay together and be happy.

    I loved that Cal and Min planned to remain childless in Bet Me. Just about the only thing I didn’t like about that ending is when Cal puts a donut on Min’s finger in place of a ring at the end. Seriously, just…no. I hated that part. But other than that it was wonderful.

  6. mingqi says:

    The ending that stood out the most to be was the Heaven, Texas one you mentioned. That was the best ending ever! I really like epilogues but I have to admit that there were times when I found that they detract from the story for me. Most recently were the epilogues to Julia Quinn’s Mr.Cavendish I presume and Teresa Medeiros’s Some Like it Wicked- seriously-why the cliffhanger?!

    In a series, I like the epilogue/ending to bring together all the characters from the rest of the series. I thought Sabrina Jeffries did her epilogue pretty well with Wed Him Before You Bed Him. With Lucas from book 1 finally meeting Lachlan from book 3 and was wondering why his voice sounded so familiar (you see, Lachlan was the highwayman who had kidnapped him in book 1….). Lachlan’s response was something like”i daresay we Scots all sound the same”. =D

  7. Ell says:

    I agree that it is the ending of the book that makes it work or not for me (unless, of course, I can’t make myself get that far). On the other hand, I like the epilogue. When I feel like I have struggled with the H/H to the happy ending, I like to enjoy a bit of their happiness too. Eloisa James does, I think, a really good job along those lines.

    On the other hand, I am clearly reading the wrong books, if everybody but me is reading about the virile/fertile aftermath. I have read, I can’t tell you how many books lately where the possibility of ANY children at all is very unlikely….and even when the kids are mentioned, there is invariably a politically correct amount, and no more. One point two, or two point one, and the novel may well be set in the Middle Ages, or the Regency, or the American Revolution. It doesn’t matter, these folks all have a politically correct number of children and then stop. Min and Cal did seem like the kind of people that wouldn’t have kids, although most of Jennifer Crusie’s characters strike me that way. But not everybody, surely.

    Somebody name a (good) book that has the main characters ending up with more than two children, please…..

  8. tjf says:

    Somebody name a (good) book that has the main characters ending up with more than two children, please…..

    I may be remembering wrong, but didn’t the hero and the heroine in The Duke and I (Julia Quinn) end up with more than 2 kids, with another on the way in the epilogue? Julia Quinn is hit or miss for me, but I really liked that book.

    It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the hero and heroine end up with 4 kids, I believe.

  9. JennyMoo says:

    I like a bit of story to follow the declaration of undying love, so some books benefit from an epilogue (for example, I recently read Temptation and Surrender by Stephanie Laurens (Oh, SL, I wish I could quit you!) and felt like it was a very ending to the story) but sometimes it seems like you get this complex story and then a super-mushy, out-of-character epilogue that makes me roll my eyes at these complex characters I spent so long getting to know.

    However, I will make a confession: I tend not to like the epilogues that focus on the Lord Virile and Lady Fertile aspect because, I will admit, it makes *me* feel inadequate. It’s personal, I admit; my husband and I will likely remain childless for a variety of reasons. And we don’t *dislike* children — that’s just not our personal take on a happy -ever- after, though I know it is for a lot of people. So the epilogues and last chapters I like the most are the ones that are really more of an extension of the story itself and are not the ones that seem solely to exist to prove that they managed to get her knocked up. :)

  10. JennyMoo says:

    Oops! I said that the ending of Temptation and Surrender was a very:

    “I love you!”
    “I love you, too!”

    ending. But I used some tags or something and it disappeared!

  11. Sandy C. says:

    The worst ending I’ve ever read to date is “The Secret Lover” by Julia London. The heroine dies of old age in the epilogue! Of course, she dies with the hero by her side, reflecting on their many years of love together, but it means that this book ends on a very down note that I hadn’t expected and certainly didn’t want! I am in full agreement that a bad beginning can be overcome, but a bad ending stays with you.

    Sometimes it’s better when a book ends with no epilogue. I’m good with that! Do we really need to know the names of their children? “Bet Me” definitely had one of the best epilogues. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

  12. maggie b. says:

    Right now I am still burning from the ending of “Splendor” by Anna Godbersen. It was awful! Two characters did not get their HEA”s. Neither were worthy but still. One character, whose HEA has taken four books had less than a chapter given to her big declaration of love and her marriage. The final character was made to sleep on the rather bad bed she’d made.

    This ending, book four of four, moved four A books from rereads into “Will never read again territory”.

    maggie b.

  13. xina says:

    My favorite ending is from Heart Of The West by Penelope Williamson. Clementine sees Zach, in the distance, riding back to her. Loved that.
    The worst ending I have read is from an Anita Shreve novel, The Last Time They Met. It is a cruel joke on the reader. Horrible.

  14. MarissaB says:

    Epilogues. A very few I like; most I could do without.

    I am especially not a fan of the Bridgerton epilogues by Julia Quinn. I loved most of the H/H, but the epilogues took away from that. Made them look silly or frivolous. All except Francesca, who kept her pregnancy secret and presented her mom with a baby. I had trouble liking Francesca, and I liked her less after I read the epilogue.

    Which epilogues did I like? The ones that showed characters I loved being content with their lives together, with or without children. I just can’t think of any to enumerate here, so I guess they were really gratuitous.

    What I do remember is wanting epilogues for books that ended too soon, i.e., there was too much left unresolved. I feel this most with Georgette Heyer’s books, but not with the H/H so much as with the secondary characters. She draws all of them so well, that I really want to know that they ended up happy (the good guys) or cast down (the bad guys). Sometimes, imagination just doesn’t do it.

  15. tjf says:

    Lucé lo says:
    November 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm
    For me epilogues are very important to tie loose ends and to let me enjoy the hero and heroine’s happiness, especially if they had a hard time getting their HEA. For example, in Liz Carlyle’s latest, “Wicked All Day”, I would have appreciated an epilogue to see the other characters’ reactions to the resolution of the romance and to enjoy for a little while longer the happiness of the couple once they are free to admit their love for each other.


    I wasn’t impressed with Wicked All Day and I usually love Carlyle’s books. The ending was particularly abrupt, given that there had been so much angst throughout the book about preserving Zoe’s reputation, the need for a marriage between Robin and Zoe, their relationship as friends, his sudden realization that he loved his mistress, Mercer’s and Zoe’s sudden realization that they had been in love for years, her and the two sets of parents not doing a particularly good job and navigating and dealing with the issues. It was just a bizaare, unresolved and unfulfilling ending. But, for me, the whole book was off-putting, so I really didn’t expect an ending that was going to make me believe in their HEA or that either of them had truly grown as individuals.

  16. Ida says:

    I actually love epilogues, especially when we we get a glimpse of couples who have married for a few years. To me it shows that the passion and love that built up in the book is continuing. The biggest pet peeve I have on endings though is when a ending is rushed, especially with any type of romance that has a mystery or suspense or major plotline that needs to be resolved other then the actual romance. If that side plot cannot be resolved well, it kinda ruins the book for me, even if there is a HEA. This ties in with my more recent complaint that its harder to find a straight romance (not including Harlequin here) that doesn’t have those side plotlines.

  17. Lusa says:

    It’s funny that this topic came up just as I finished reading “Secret Lover” by Julia London. As an earlier poster noted, the epilogue details various deaths and births, and most poignantly the death of the heroine. I am still on the fence about how I feel about it. My initial reaction was that of discomfort, but as I think about it a little more I find it touching that the hero and heroine had a marriage that spanned 50 years, and that their love endured. Up until the epilogue that book was destined for exchange at my local bookstore but because of my unresolved feelings about the ending, I am going to keep it and re-read it in a few months, and see what I think then.

  18. Linh-e-Pooh says:

    TO ELL…

    Here is a short list of novels [of the hundreds of novels that I own/read] to which the H/H has more than 2 offspring:

    The Last Hellion – Loretta Chase [Ending With: 7 children]

    The Widow’s Kiss – Jane Feather [Ending With: 1 daughter from both the H/H; 2 daughters from the heroine]

    MacKenzie’s Mountain – Linda Howard [Ending With: 2 sons and 1 on the way from both the H/H (with the hint of 1 more child afterwards); 1 son from the hero]

    This Duchess of Mine – Eloisa James [Ending With: 1 son and 2 daughters]

    Push Not the River & Against the Crimson Sky – James Conroyd Martin [Ending With: 2 sons and 1 daughter from both the H/H; 1 son from the heroine]

    It Had to Be You – Susan Elizabeth Philips [Ending With: twin daughters and 1 on the way]
    *** Notice: In “This Heart of Mine” it was made known that D&P has 4 children in total [3 daughters and 1 son] ***

    The Duke and I – Julia Quinn [Ending With: 3 daughters and 1 son]

    The Vicar’s Daughter – Deborah Simmons [Ending With: 4 sons and 3 daughters]

    ***** Special Case: HINT OF MORE CHILDREN TO COME *****

    In Susan Elizabeth Philips’ “Nobody Baby But Mine” the ending did leave hints that beside Rosie, C&J would be having boys! “… pesky little brothers to welcome into the world…” – from Rosie “Nobody Baby But Mine”

    And since I’m at it, there are also a number of novels previously read that, though ends with the H/H having only one to no offspring, there are “sequels” or “related books” by the same author that include the H/H’s cameo in which presents the H/H having 2 or more kids… Here are some examples:

    Bedwyns’ Family Series – Mary Balogh [Some of the Bedwyn siblings has 2 or more children; made known as the stories progress]

    The Bride – Julie Garwood [Though the Book Ends With: 1 child, from “The Wedding” we know A&J has 2 sons and 1 daughter]

    Secrets of a Summer Night – Lisa Kleypas [Though the Book Ends With: NO child, from the other Wallflower series we know that each of the wallflowers had at least 1 child; but in “Seduce Me at Sunrise” it was made known that S&A has 1 daughter and 2 sons]

    Bridgertons’ Family Series – Julia Quinn [Most of the Bridgerton has 2 or more children; made known as the stories progress or if you’ve read the 4 “second epilogues”]

    There are more where that came from but I can’t remember too much at the moment, but I’m sure you got the jest of it! ^.^

  19. Linh-e-Pooh says:

    To go along with the topic of “THE END” – I do agree that books with bad/boring beginning and good ending surely beat books with good beginning and bad/boring endings. Romance novels, IMHO, like life in general, should, if given the choice, always end in the “best way possible” even if it means having to go through the first half of pestered with horrid events [which granted, is constantly present in all novels as well as reality].

    Being an “avid” romance reader [despite my only beginning earlier this year], I’ve read many great endings, not to mention terrible ones [but let’s not dwell on that]! Truthfully speaking, I love reading epilogues, especially ones involving children, though I must admit not all books needs an ending with children to leave a lasting impression. As said by many, “Bet Me” being one of my most favored contemporary romance, has one of the most impressive ending where C&M has no children; which is perfect, because neither one ever intended to have any. IMO, whether or not the endings should involve children or not highly depends on whether the H/H proposes to have children or not [in most cases, historical novels do involve children because of their preconceive notion of having children to provide an heir].

    *** Side Note: As a female, I think it’s entirely delectable that any male would go ‘gaga’ over a new baby, especially his own flesh-and-blood. It is hard not to love a man who loves his own child and coo after him/her despite his ‘masculine’ ego! ***

    Speaking in general, I hate novels that end with the H/H acting out of character or losing an important characteristic… In other words, I dislike reading about heroes who are arrogant/mischievous/comedic/etc from the beginning and throughout the entire novel, but in the end turns into a complete SAINT [meaning, he’s PERFECT]. I hate seeing either the hero of the heroine losing the sense of who they are because of this so-call “love of their eternity.” I am not saying I hate reform rakes/criminals/bad-boys as a whole, I’m just saying, sometimes a hero/heroine’s “laws-made-lesser” are his/her most distinguishing characteristics [for example, Sebastine St. Vincent from “Devil in Winter” he is an arrogant and extremely charming/flattering hero, he never loses sight of his charming and playful character, despite falling in love with the most shy Evie Jenner.]

    “Have he reformed dear?” – Annabelle
    “Just enough…” – Evia Jenner

    Overall, it is very hard to love or hate any “formula” for what should be called a “good ending” because like any beginning, middle or ending, any portion of a novel should be dependent on the characters within the novel. One formula can never work for all couple’s HEA! Because of this, whether an ending is a good ending or not depends entirely on the author’s ingenious imagination, the characters’ own fabrication of who they want readers to see they are, and the readers’ willingness to accept the characters’ goods as well as flaws.

    Due to my unwillingness to dwell on horrible books, I won’t list my least favorite endings; simply because I don’t really remember them. =]

    Instead of listing a long list of my most beloved endings, I’ll just list one that always pops into my head when asked “what novel/s do you enjoyed most thoroughly in the ending chapters?”

    Dancing with Clara – Mary Balogh
    - Reason being, throughout the novel and even until the end, M.Balogh continue to present Fred as a struggling male lead, though flawed, is a genuinely kindhearted man and ‘inspiring’ good husband. Instead of being conventional and ever predictable, M.Balogh doesn’t obliterate the fact that Fred is STILL, very much, an alcoholic and somewhat ‘skirt-chaser’ but instead she continue to let us view Fred’s vulnerability and his struggle to be a better man… Even until the end, Frederick is emotionally pulled apart and blaming himself for his inability to IMMEDIATELY disregard his flaws and become one of those saintly husbands we see so often in the last chapters of romance novels, but shows the willing Clara helping her husband gradually accept and rediscover his strength and worth through HARD WORK by her own display of accomplishment [her ability to stand up without held through intense and painful rehabilitation]… By-the-by, the last chapter of the novel really took my breath away; it’s definitely one I’ll remember for an impossibly long time!

    *** To me, “Dancing with Clara” is a wonderful representation of reality, in that it hints the continual struggle of the alcoholic disease and the struggling presence of being humanly and morally ‘imperfect!’ ***

  20. tjf says:

    TO ELL…

    Here is a short list of novels [of the hundreds of novels that I own/read] to which the H/H has more than 2 offspring:


    I just remembered another where the hero and the heroine end up with more than one kid to add to the list: To Love A Dark Lord by Anne Stuart. They end up with, IIRC, 4 or 5 kids in the epilogue, with another on the way. Loved that book!

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