Quirky Is as Quirky Does: When Romance Doesn’t Follow the Formula

kinsaleThe formula: Boy meets girl; girl meets boy. They fall in love. A complication or two, or a misunderstanding or two separate them. The complication or the misunderstanding is cleared up. They live HEA.

That about sums up the typical romance, right? But what if that’s not exactly what happens? What if the plot and/or characters, the tone or voice are so different from the usual romance that for a while the reader might wonder if what’s being read really is a romance at all?

Then we have what I call a quirky romance, the kind of romance story I seek out and love. Laura Kinsale’s historical Flowers from the Storm, one of the best known representatives of this type of romance, features rake and mathematician Christian Langland, Duke of Jerveaux, as the most unlikely of romantic heroes, especially since he suffers a stroke rendering him incapable of speech at the beginning of the book and is clapped into a madhouse.

His avenging angel, Maddy Timms, is even more improbable since she’s a Quaker whose father, another mathematician, regards Christian as extraordinarily talented in the field. Since romance demands a believable path between the lovers, finding that path for Christian and Maddy turns out to be a work of brilliance by Kinsale and the book has become much discussed in romance circles.

But what about other quirky romances?  Without giving spoilers, these books top my list of those kinds of romances:

In Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining, Low Down is a big, strapping, Colorado woman prospector who dresses, curses, and acts like a man. When she nurses her fellow prospectors during an epidemic, they promise to give her anything she desires thinking she will ask for gold or land or something they can get easily. However, what Low Down wants more than anything in the world is a baby.

Ack! That means one of the prospectors will have to marry and impregnate her. They draw lots. Unluckily Max McCord, engaged to a beautiful girl back home, is the guy who must put up or shut up. What ensues is at times funny, at times sad, and always quirky. About mid-book, I had to ask myself if this was really a romance or if Osborne was just playing with me.

Cheryl Reavis’ The Older Woman features a romance between an early-30-something, convalescing Black Hawk pilot and a 40-something nurse. What makes it even more quirky is that the novel’s only voice is that of the pilot who’s a down-home boy on the rebound from the woman he thought was his one true love.

Calvin “Bugs” Doyle’s relationships with his landlady Mrs. Bee and her posse of church ladies and the nurse’s nephew who’s being picked on by a bully in school are delightful in this story of love being found where it’s least expected.

Sarah Mayberry’s She’s Got It Bad revolves around two people in Australia’s middle class, a rock-and-roll tattoo artist and a motorcycle designer. This is a pebble-in-the-pond story in which one action taken for the right reasons has disastrous effects. Mayberry maps a harsh route between the two, a road that they both must walk to get together.

Sharon Shinn’s Archangel riffs from the Bible in this fantasy novel. The Angel Gabriel finds his predestined mate in a slave girl named Rachel, which should be the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning since Rachel doesn’t bow to angels as everyone else does and isn’t sure she even likes them at all. Gabriel, who believes his own press, can’t understand anyone not being enamored with him. Chaos nearly ensues. Shinn, meanwhile, gives readers entirely new definitions of empowerment and love.

In Susan Kay Law’s Marry Me, two city people battle over the same piece of Montana in probably the quirkiest land claim story around. Neither newspaperman Jake whose wife has just died nor Emily has the first idea of what to do on the prairie. Consequently their fights over who owns the land are less important than surviving another day and another season in the unrelenting sea of grass.

These are just a few of the quirky, different, slightly off romances that I love. Do you enjoy collect different romances too?  If so, what are your favorites?

- Pat Henshaw

17 thoughts on “Quirky Is as Quirky Does: When Romance Doesn’t Follow the Formula

  1. I just finished reading “Deadly Heat” written by Cynthia Eden, and have now put this author on auto buy ( this is par for the course for me to read the most recent and then go backwards on booklist). I got wrapped up fast as Lora Spade the firefighter and Kenton Lake Special Elite agent with Special Services Division work together to bring a serial arsonist to a deadly end. Wow, watching their relationship develop, hers from the ashes of a former lover and his from being too dedicated to get involved. All the while the arsonist plays puppermaster.
    Would not consider this story quirky but CE has that writing talent to draw you in and hold your attention to the last page.

  2. Julie Garwood’s books were considered unique when they were released with her quirky heroine. MaryJanice Davidson, Charlaine Harris, I definitely associate with the beginning of the vampire trend. J.D. Robb with futuristic, Kelley Armstrong with her world building and alternate reality. Further back is Constance O’Day Flannery with time travel.

    I not sure I associate any authors that I read now with quirky. I will have to think on it more.

  3. I love Laura Kinsale – absolutley love her and Flowers from The Storm is an amazing amazing book, but I stay up at night worrying about those two characters… I believe in thier Happily Ever After but for how long, really, can that work? In fact with most of her books I want a fifteen years epilogue proving to me that they got over everything and are still happy. I guess that’s the power of Kinsale… I just want more.

    That Osbourne book is one of my favorites too – I had forgotten about it. Must dig it out….

    Outlander is the quirky one I’m thinking about now.

  4. Hi Pat! Great post…I love “quirky” stuff! My favorite quirky read has been Almost Like Being In Love by Steve Kluger. This is not your typical romance novel, but it is charming, clever and sweet. The construction is quirky: memos, letters, announcements, etc. instead of a typical narrative. The story is quirky: a sweet (not erotic) love story between two men. The story has laugh-out-loud humor, awesome secondary characters, and a very satisfying HEA. Best quirky book out there.

    I am looking forward to reading some of these books on your list…I think I’ll start with Archangel.

  5. Wow! You know, I had been thinking of Flowers from the Storm a lot recently, except all I remembered was the plot. So glad I happened upon this. It’s a book I wanted to reread badly. Thanks!

  6. I did a huge cleanout of my historicals TBR the other day.. you make me glad that I kept Marry Me, which was on the “maybe” pile.

    I’d pick Angelica as an even more unusual romance… but of course, it’s my favorite Shinn.

    • willaful: I’d pick Angelica as an even more unusual romance… but of course, it’s my favorite Shinn.

      LOL Picking ONE Shinn was a problem! Truth be known, I’d put all Shinn books in the quirky pile. I picked Archangel because it was the first of that series.

      Leigh, you’re right about Davidson, Harris (although her Shakespeare series is even more quirky than Sookie and the Grave books are definitely in the quirkiest category especially with the love interest!), and Armstrong. But I tired of Davidson and Armstrong after a couple of books and am even turning away from Sookie since the vamp summit.

  7. Lisa Jewell’s older books (One Hit Wonder, Vince and Joy, Thirty-Nothing, and Ralph’s Party) might qualify as quirky romances–more towards the chick lit side.

    I’d consider Jane Green’s ‘Good in Bed’ quirky.

    Another one, is ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ by Jennifer Ashley. Very odd.

    Another series I love is Ruth Downie’s. The first book is Medicus. It’s historical mystery but the love story through-out the series is definitely quirky.

    I love quirky romances and seek them out! Thanks for the recommendations.

  8. Quirky, to me means writing out-of-the-box. Jennifer Ashley’s, The Madness Of Lord Ian McKenzie. A hero with Asperger Disorder is quirky to me because the hero is unpredictable. Another title.Broken Wing by Judith James where the hero has been a prostitute. One more, like it or hate it..Death Angel, with a hero who is an assassin and very unpredictable.

  9. Don’t have any other suggestions, but I *love* Flowers from the Storm for its richness and quirkiness as you said, and will definitely look for the others you mentioned.

  10. Deidre Knight’s, BUTTERFLY TATTOO would certainly fit in the category of quirky. Normally the main characters are not the type whose story would interest me.

    Michael is a bisexual male who is struggling to recover from the loss of his partner of twelve years, while trying to be a father to their increasingly hostile daughter, Andie. Rebecca, is a withdrawn former Hollywood sitcom actress who has seemingly moved on with her life after being physically and emotionally scarred at the hands of a crazed stalker. Definitely not my usual pick for a romance.

    The author, however, has managed to write a beautiful, tender love story about two lost souls, who eventually reach out and find each other. I went through a box of tissues reading this one.

  11. Pat, I loved the Grave books by Harris. . . .and I am a big fan of Shinn’s too.

    I don’t read vampire anymore, so I am not currently reading the vampire books by Davidson, Harris, or Armstrong. But I do remember when they were released. They seemed so unique.

    I guess I associate quirky with groundbreaking. . . I not sure that I consider Cheryl Reavis’ books quirky, but they are excellent. I wish she had a new one coming out.

    I do like groundbreaking but not too outside the box. . . Too much of a traditionalist romance reader.

    Great topic. . . .

  12. I just realized that Sarah Addison Allen’s books could be called quirky. Love her books. . .

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