Good Small-Town Romance?

mainstreet Okay. I know small town romances can get a bad rap online sometimes. And it’s not totally without reason. After all, we’ve all read more than one (probably WAY more than one) book about the spunky gal who fled the evils of big city living, sought refuge in the wholesome world of Toadsuck, where she married the hunky sheriff. There were probably a bunch of sheriff’s deputies waiting for sequels in which they could marry their own true loves and then everyone could raise armies of wholesome children. If you know the sorts of books I’m describing, you may also agree that they tend to need treacle ratings rather than sensuality ratings.

Even so, I have to admit that there are some types of small-town settings I will seek out. I was at a family wedding in a tiny town recently, and being there helped me remember why I do like these settings on occasion. There’s just something about the sense of community and being in a place where almost everyone has a shared history together. The pastor at the wedding knew the couple’s family all the way back to their great-great grandparents, and all of us couldn’t help feeling tied together by that shared history. It was comforting somehow – and a peaceful escape.

Authors who capture that bond and that sense of community without falling into ridiculous cutesyness or city-bashing create a world that feels rather like that peaceful escape. Everyone knows that the people involved aren’t perfect, but you love them anyway. And in the best small town books, people also realize that there’s a larger world out there without feeling the need to bash it.

Take Miller’s Kill, New York for example. In Julia Spencer-Fleming‘s series, we get to meet characters who have grown up there as well as those, like Rev. Claire Fergusson, who came from elsewhere. The town is peopled by a wide mix of personalities, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them as I read the books. I love how the author shows readers her characters, warts and all, and lets readers into the life of her town. Despite the grim things that can happen there, the town seems to have a warm heart to it and does not feel cliched at all.

And then there’s the Wishful, California of Jill Shalvis’ most recent series. First of all, these books are NOT about marrying the sheriff! I read Instant Temptation for review, and then went back and read the other books this weekend. These have their cute moments, but again, I didn’t feel like I was reading one cliche after another. I also didn’t come away from her writing feeling like I had been fed any heavyhanded propaganda of the small towns=good, cities=bad variety. In a way, after reading Instant Temptation, I almost felt like I had been to a wacky family reunion. And I mean that in a good way.

If you read inspirationals, I’ve also had good luck with the “Love Finds You in…” series from Summerside Press. The line includes both historicals and contemporaries, and features actual small towns around the country. One thing I like about the books in this line that I have read has been the absence of cliches that tend to get associated with small-town romances. The characters don’t seem to have anything against city life, they’re not knee-deep in secret babies, and I haven’t read any sheriff heroes yet. My favorite of the ones I’ve read, Love Finds You in Romeo, Colorado, focuses on a professor who left Colorado for Arkansas but then returned home to her grandmother’s ranch following the death of her husband. It’s just a sweet, second-chance-at-love story between her and a town doctor, devoid of well-used cliches and actually refreshingly honest at its best moments. I especially appreciated the author’s take on the town itself. It felt homey, but not idealized. I could relate because that’s exactly how the small towns I know well feel to me. I feel at home there and most people are at least somewhat familiar to me, but I know they’re not all sunshine and rainbows. It doesn’t have to be sunshine and rainbows to feel like home.

So, when I’m looking for warmth and comfort, I find small-town romances are nice for reminding me what that sense of community and family is like and why I treasure it so much. That being said, I also tend to be very careful about which books I pick. After all, there is a fine line between heartwarming warmth and saccaharine treacle.

– Lynn Spencer

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14 Responses to Good Small-Town Romance?

  1. Tee says:

    I don’t necessarily seek out small-town romances, but I’ve found some that have worked very well for me. Robyn Carr, with her current series, does a great job with people coming from all over into a small area in northern California. Debbie Macomber has a couple of series going that occur in the Washington state area and they appear to be small townish, rather than in the large city areas. I guess it all depends on the author again. Some do it better than others. If not done right, the story can be too confining and restricted, which isn’t all that bad once in a while, though. I don’t think I’d like a steady diet of any certain kind of locale. But really, it’s something I don’t think about a lot. I go for a good story, wherever the author places it.

  2. I like small town books as comfort reads, too:) Even though I live in a small town and it’s NOTHING like the fictional ones I read about, it’s nice to pretend that there are such places.

    I’ve really enjoyed Toni Blake’s forays into small town life. From her stand alone LETTERS TO A SECRET LOVER to her first two in the Destiny, Ohio series, ONE RECKLESS SUMMER and SUGAR CREEK. And one thing you can rely on with Toni is some serious steam!

    One of my favorite recent finds was Samhain author Meg Benjamin’s Konigsburg, Texas series. I do not normally think of digital publishers as my go-to source for straight up romance reads, but a friend recommended VENUS IN BLUE JEANS to me and I adored it. There are three, soon to be four, books in the series about four brothers from Idaho who end up in this small town in the Texas hill country. They’re pretty beta. One is a veterinarian, one a lawyer, one an accountant, and one works for the sheriff’s department. They’re quirky and sexy and fun and I just adore them. And I’m telling everyone I can about them, so feel free to ignore if you’ve already heard my spiel:)

    One book that totally puts the whole “small town-good/big city-evil” trope to shame is Nora Roberts’ DIVINE EVIL. If ever there were a small town that is NOT warm and fuzzy, it’s that one!

  3. May says:

    I know I’ve read a few Nora Roberts ones that were great, but the first thing that popped to my mind was Victoria Dahl and her trilogy that was set in small-mountain town Colorado. Yeah, first one was ‘marry the sherriff’ but not like you’d think, and definitely great reads all of them.

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  5. SarahT says:

    If small town romances are done well, they’re my favourite type of contemporary romance. I’m currently enjoying Helen Brenna’s SuperRomance series set on Mirabelle Island. They have their cutesy moments, but the depiction of life in a small town is less saccharine than some.

    I second May’s recommendation of Victoria Dahl’s trilogy. They are on the spicy end of mainstream contemporary romance, though, which might not suit all readers.

  6. Jill says:

    Well, I love “Welcome to Temptation” by Jenny Crusie of course. But I’m going to cheat and go things that are not technically romances.
    Of course there’s “Northern Exposure.” I hate cold weather, but I’d live there if I could!
    I always thought L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame) really “got” small towns. I think one of her best minor characters was the older neighbor lady, Rachel Lynde. Rachel was a bossy gossip who could have pretty rigid ideas, but she was also the type of person that would give the shirt off her back to a neighbor.
    Another great small town love story is the movie “Doc Hollywood.” That is the movie that best captured what I felt my own small town experience felt like.

  7. Lynn, I’d also recommend Jodi Thomas’s contemporaries. They do small Texan towns really well.

  8. jftee says:

    I’m a newbie with regard to reading romances. I considered the “pulp” below my standards. Then about 18 months ago a friend challenged me to read Kinsale’s “Flowers from the Storm” and I’ve been hooked ever since. I read through comments here both for the topical interest and to get recommendations for good books to add to my list when I go second-hand book shopping. So with that in mind …

    Recently I read “Morning Glory” by LaVryle Spencer. It is set in a small town in Georgia during World War II. Neither the setting nor the time period are my favorites but this book is so wonderful, deep, and rich with emotion and characters that I wanted to mention it. Since I loved Morning Glory I picked up “Hummingbird” by Spencer, small town Colorado during the early railroad era. Again, not my normal, but she delivers with another outstanding book with original characters and a well-drawn setting.

    I love unconventional plots and quirky characters and both these books deserve their DIK rating.

  9. Carol/Mo says:

    How about Curtiss Ann Matlock’s Valentine, OK? I love her depiction of small town eccentrics. Cold Tea on a Hot Day is one of my all time favorite books and I also love Robyn Carr’s Virgin River and all the denizens therein.

  10. xina says:

    For me, it all depends on the writing and the story telling. I have nothing against small town romances and I haven’t got to the point in my romance reading where I am sick of them. Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series is enjoyable to me, for the most part, although the last book I read in the series seemed to pack in the whole town and the main storyline seemed very diluted. I just want to read about the hero and heroine, not the whole population of the town. Thinking about it, my favorite small town romance is probably the Lucy Hatch series by Marsha Moyer. Love those books and Lucy and Ash and the rest of the town.

  11. msaggie says:

    I would second Xina’s recommendation of Marsha Moyer’s Lucy Hatch books – the first two were reviewed here at AAR by Rachel. Wonderful story-telling and it goes beyond the standard HEA. Pamela Morsi and LaVyrle Spencer are two Americana authors who wrote many very good small town romances. A more recent small town romance I can think of is Jo Goodman’s Never Love a Lawman (it’s more of a western).

  12. Jenningsjf says:

    I am rereading Marilyn Pappano’s Bethlehem series. It takes place in Bethlehem, New York and the characters receive assistance from Angels to achieve their HEA. The books are charming and the characters confront realistic problems and the cast of recurring characters contribute to the small town atmosphere. Marilyn Pappano is a definite auto buy for me and I highly recommend any of her books.
    Take Care,

  13. Pat Henshaw says:

    Well, the queen of small town romance has got to be Charlaine Harris. No, not neccessarily Sookie Stackhouse. In fact, I think I like her Shakespeare series better sometimes.

  14. Love Dougherty says:

    No one, and I mean NO ONE does these better IMHO than Robyn Carr. Her books are just incredible and they bring me in, usually from the very first page. They always leave me as if I’ve actually visited — people I actually like… If you haven’t read one of hers, I strongly recommend them. I started with the Virgin River trilogy (although it is much more than a trilogy now :) ) and I’ve never looked back!

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