May 3 2013 8:30am

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Small Town Romance

The Second Chance Cafe by Alison KentUntil some friends commented on my book choices, I didn't realize I could be seen as an expert on “small town romances.” Up to this point I had never thought of the books I read as so easily being classified. So I looked back over what I had been reading, and yes they were right—I do read a lot of small town romances. But I wondered, am I am picking these books because of the appeal or is it because that is what is being released?

(Listed at the bottom of this post is just a sample of some of the small town romances that either have been released in the past three months, or will be released in the next 90 days or so. You can tell that this subgenre has really taken off.)

Alison Kent, who just released her own small town romance, Second Chance Café, in March of this year talked about the exploding popularity of this subgenre in her article, Small Town Romances Make it Big, previously published here at Heroes and Heartbreakers in March of 2011.

Alison mentioned that either authors are gravitating toward these type of romances or their editors are asking them to submit these kinds of stories.
Referenced in the article is a poll by Sue Grimshaw (now editor at large for Ballantine, Bantam, Dell, Loveswept at Random House), where she asked readers what they liked about the books. Some of the responses were:

• I love them because they're usually about coming home (as opposed to leaving home), and that really strikes a chord with me.

• I love small-town romances. It's something about everybody knowing everybody and life being so peaceful and simple that makes the love story so powerful.

• I like the depth of character . . . the time to spend really getting to know more than just two people in a community. I like seeing the good and the bad, too.

In the same article, Alison asked readers:

Is society and a severed sense of community at the root of this sub-genre’s resurgence? Is it escapism, or fantasy, and readers are then happy to return to their real lives where the corner Starbucks awaits and instant gratification is a mouse click away? Or is it a wish for something more, something lost as technology takes us forward? With multi-tasking the order of the day and gadgets ruling our lives, are these books a message that slowing down can’t be a bad thing?

The sense of community and time spent getting to know the characters appeals to me. Rather than Facebook or Twitter, the characters in the story interact with each other on a personal level. Like the old barn raising days of old, people are there when someone needs help. Still, I don’t think you need a small town for that. Authors who have written books with settings in large cities connected the books through siblings, best friends, soldiers in the same unit, teammates in sports or groups like knitting clubs. Rachel Gibson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips have written books with both small and large town settings, and I have enjoyed them both equally.

Authors as well as readers could be driving the small town trend as well. For example, while the setting of small town USA is not new,the whole series concept is. Connecting books through individuals or groups can be self-limiting. I know of one author, never dreaming that her created family would be so popular, ran out of immediate family, so she branched off to cousins. Now, with the concept of community, the series can go on for years, as individuals either return home, or newcomers move to the town.

Depending on your viewpoint, a long ongoing series can be either a positive or negative. Sometimes the town is too cloying and the characters too outrageous, that after three or four books, the stories seem clichéd and insipid. Other times, the character deal with authentic issues like poverty and death, and that keeps me returning for more.

(Many of the series books are in double digit numbers—which is another whole article).

I like small town books because they are character driven. But as much as I like a community, I am drawn more by the author’s skill than the setting. Numerous authors have written both books with large city settings and I have liked them as much as the smaller locale. Authors can create a sense of community and hospitability in larger metropolises. While I have loved several communities, I almost always reach a point when I am ready for the author to move on to new world building, and characters.

What do you think? Do you hope that your favorite small town series never ends? Or are you ready for your favorite author to explore something new? Do you buy small town romances because of the setting or is there another reason?

Some Like It Hot by Susan AndersenSmall-Town Books Recently Released or Coming Soon:

1. One Day in Apple Grove by C.H. Admirand (Apple Grove, Ohio)
2. Haven Creek by Rochelle Alers (Cavanaugh Island, North Carolina)
3. Some Like It Hot by Susan Andersen (Razor Bay, Washington)
4. A Shot of Sultry by Macy Beckett (Sultry Springs, Texas)
5. Half Moon Hill by Toni Blake (Destiny, Ohio)
6. Cowboy Seeks Bride by Caroline Brown (Texas Ranch)
7. The Newcomer by Robyn Carr (Thunder Point, Oregon)
8. Anything But Love by Beth Ciotta (Sugar Creek, Vermont)
9. Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
10. Sweet Spot by Laura Drake (Texas Ranch)
11. Cowboy Take Me Away by Jane Graves (Rainbow, Texas)
12. Blackbird Lake by Jill Gregory (Lonesome Way, Montana)
13. The Best Man by Kristan Higgins (Manningsport, New York)
14. Carolina Girl by Virginia Kantra (Dare Island, North Carolina)
15. The Second Chance Café by Alison Kent (Hope Springs, Texas)
16. Heart of Texas by Debbie Macomber (Promise, Texas)
17. Just One Kiss by Susan Mallery (Fool’s Gold, California)
18. Reflection Point by Emily March (Eternity Springs, Colorado)
19. Whisper’s Edge by LuAnn McLane (Cricket Creek, Kentucky)
20. Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller (Parable, Montana)
21. Once Tempted by Laura Moore (Arcacia, California)
22. Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi (Rural Kansas)
23. Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak (Whiskey Creek, California)
24. A Hero to Come Home To by Marilyn Pappano (Tallgrass, Oklahoma)
25. A Perfect Fling by Carly Phillips (Serendipity, New York)
26. Last Chance Book Club by Hope Ramsey (Last Chance, South Carolina)
27. Love Shack by Christie Ridgway (Crescent Cove, California)
28. What She Wants by Shelia Roberts (Icicle Falls, Washington)
29. Castaway Cove by JoAnn Ross (Shelter Bay, Oregon)
30. 'Til Death by Sharon Sala (Rebel Ridge, Kentucky)
31. Barefoot in the Sun by Roxanne St. Claire (Barefoot, Florida)
32. It Had to Be You by Jill Shalvis (Lucky Harbor, Washington)
33. Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart (St. Dennis, Maryland)
34. Chance of a Lifetime by Jodi Thomas (Harmony, Texas)
35. Love at First Sight by Lori Wilde (Cupid, Texas)
36. Sea Glass Island by Sherryl Woods (Sand Castle Bay, North Carolina)


Leigh Davis, Blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lee Brewer
1. LeeB.
I like reading small town romances because I live in a large city and so it's like visiting for cheap. I do find it strange though that some of these small towns have many large city amenities yet everyone still knows everyone else.
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
I follow the writer rather than the setting. I find some of these small-town romances anoying because of the need for meddling seniors and pushy friends to drive the story. One positive thing is the sense of community that they have. I love Robyn Carr, for instance, and her Virgin River series.
3. scarlettleigh
@bungluna - I agree. Meddling seniors/pushy friends are okay in one or two books, but after that it gets old.

@LeeB - I have lived in what I considered a small town and I sure didn't know everyone.
Maggie Boyd
4. maggieboyd66
I lived in what amounted to a village (pop 2,000) that was a bit like Virgin River and the reality is far different than what Carr paints it. Your medical care is subpar. Your life is made unnecessarily hard by shopping limitations (everything closes at 6). Teens tend to run a little wilder because they have no real outlets for their energy. Movie theaters are sometimes hours away. The people around you may know your name and your buisness but that doesn't mean they care about you. The schools are problems. I could go on forever. :-)

That said, the right author can sell me on the books with good writing and great characterization. And I think they ring true for people because they read like "neighborhood" books. For example, I live on the west side of my town of 10,000., we are a bedroom community to a town of 230,00. I don't even know the border, it probably happens in the middle of roads I travel all the time. However, because I have lived here awhile and frequent the same places I know the folks at the grocery store, library, bookstores - even the folks at walmart and Sam's club. So I live in a small town in terms of knowing lots of the people around me. The nice thing is though I don't have to drive 2 hrs. to a theater (they know me there too)
5. scarlettleigh
Interesting that per Heather Waters (@redline_)- now at RT13 - Harlequin is:

Cosmo/Harlequin line set in big cities, romance is icing on cake for strong heroines -- line launches in August.
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