Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Romance Novel Reviewers Speak Out

I interviewed a few romance book reviewers to get a reader’s take on what she expects out of the genre. Some of the responses are expected: Romance readers want romance! Sizzle! Sparks! But some of the answers may surprise you.

Let me introduce you to some connoisseurs of romance: Joy Tamsin David of Edgy Inspirational Romance, Renee Chaw of Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot and Amber Stokes, of The Borrowed Book.

AC: What are the general ingredients of a love story?

Joy: A hero, a heroine, and a happily ever after. Everything else is negotiable.

Renee: A great hero and heroine, and, of course, chemistry! Without that sizzle it just fizzles!

Amber: Attraction, conflict, and hope. It has to end on a hopeful note. This can either be as obvious as a wedding and the beginning of a marriage, or as vague as a recognition of mutual affection and the possibility of more to come.

AC: What makes a great romance? What is the special ingredient that makes you want to keep the book instead of put it up as the next give-away?

Joy: Emotion, emotion, emotion. I need it to run off the pages and pour into my lap. When the emotion is done well, at some point I stop reading about the characters and become the characters. (And I give away all of my books- even my favorites. Especially my favorites).

Renee: I love a great romance but if there is no storyline to back it up I don't want to read it. If it's all romance and nothing else, no conflict, problems between characters it's not real to me and I just won't read it.

Amber: A combination of elements, including authentic emotions, a strong but caring hero, and an inspiring purpose. If the characters’ emotions are authentic, then I can relate to them better and become more invested in the story. If the hero is strong (someone who rescues the heroine, etc.) but also has an understanding heart, and reading about his interactions with the heroine causes tingles in my belly, then I’ll be more likely to fall in love with the hero and the book in general. And if the book overall is inspiring and points to an important theme/truth that is above just the one example of a literary couple, then the book will have a better chance of ending up as a “keeper.”

AC: How much does writing style/ability affect your decision?

Joy: Less than you'd think. I've absolutely loved some books panned by critics (cough-Twilight-cough). For most readers, I think story trumps craft. That's not to say we won't find the spelling mistakes in a novel you're selling from the trunk of your car. But if I get wrapped up in the story, I'm unlikely to notice stylistic faults in a professionally edited novel. And if I do notice them, I'm apt to forgive and forget.

Renee: It's a big time issue for me. If a writer changes POV ten times in the book I can get frustrated. If I have to keep flipping back to see who's talking I lose interest pretty fast. Also if I catch a lot of grammatical errors it irks me. I am by no means a grammar expert so if I catch a lot of errors it's a turnoff.

Amber: You know, I think writing style/ability can often be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker. If the book doesn’t invite me to join the characters’ journey through the writing style, I probably won’t love it. And I think writing style/ability really affects the author’s likelihood of creating authentic emotions, a lovable hero, and/or a powerful theme.

AC: What three things would make a book stand out among the crowd?

Joy: This is definitely a question of taste. For me, books that stand out contain one or more of these elements:

1. Lots of emotion/passion.
2. Humor
3. Relationship angst


1. The cover
2. Relatable characters
3. Originality: if an author can surprise me with a twist, I LOVE IT!


1. Powerful and authentic emotions
2. Beautiful descriptions
3. Accurate and interesting details

AC: And, on the flip-side, name three things that could make you put a book down and never touch it again.


1. Bad theology in Christian fiction
2. Spelling/punctuation errors- poor editing
3. Magic sex- I can't take credit for this term, I read it on someone else's blog and can't remember whose. It refers to when characters have sex and realize afterward that they're madly in love with each other. It's one of the reasons I don't read general market romance.


1. Language: I don't mind reading a book with an occasional swear word (which isn't usually a problem in CF) but if every other word coming out of a characters mouth is vulgar I don't want to read it. I usually want to relax and enjoy a story and for me cursing just takes away from the romance of it all!

2. Pacing: I prefer stories that move along at a normal or bit faster than normal pace. If I'm sitting there reading and wondering if the story is going somewhere or the hero and heroine are EVER going to come to the point where they realize they like/love each other it gets frustrating. On the other hand if the hero and heroine get together to fast it can be frustrating too. It's like, "Whoa, where did that come from?"


1. Fake characters/emotions
2. Too much “telling”
3. No purpose/moral

Romance is one of the hottest genres on the market. If you're trying to break into it, you can't do much better than to heed the advice and opinions of our panel of romance reading experts!
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