Jul 6 2015 3:30pm

Community as Family, and the Appeal of the Small Town Romance

Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne

Today we're thrilled to have RaeAnne Thayne at Heroes and Heartbreakers. RaeAnne excels at many things, and creating small towns that we all want to live in is one of them, like the town of Haven Point in her latest release, Redemption Bay. RaeAnne is here today to talk about small towns, community, and the sense of family one gets when surrounded by both. Thanks, RaeAnne!

“In little towns, lives roll along so close to one another; loves and hates beat about, their wings almost touching. On the sidewalks along which everybody comes and goes, you must, if you walk abroad at all, at some time pass within a few inches of the man who cheated and betrayed you, or the woman you desire more than anything else in the world. Her skirt brushes against you. You say good-morning, and go on. It is a close shave. Out in the world the escapes are not so narrow.” – Willa Cather, Lucy Gayheart

Small-town contemporary romance series continue to be as popular as ever with readers. I love reading these books because I find something so appealing about the quieter pace, the intertwined lives, the neighbors who chat across the back fence–and the intense drama inherent in communities where you can’t avoid interactions.

These series resonate with me and other readers, I believe, because many people crave that sort of connection–a place they can feel that intangible sense of belonging, of being part of something larger than themselves.

With the plethora of connected stories out there, what makes certain communities resonate so strongly with readers? In the hands of deft wordsmiths, I believe some communities have become more than just a collection of geographically connected people but a substitute family of sorts for characters who might otherwise be isolated and alone.

We recently returned from a trip to Hawaii and I was struck by how in the culture, all older women are respectfully called Auntie and older men are referred to as Uncle. Everyone is a “cousin”, whether sharing common ancestry or not. Blood or not, the members of the community consider themselves ohana—family.

When I posed the question to my readers about which fictional communities they love best, they immediately chimed in with many contemporary powerhouses: Robyn Carr’s iconic Virgin River series and Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, the wit and tenderness of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor, Susan Mallery’s wonderful twenty-book strong and counting Fool’s Gold series, Brenda Novak’s deeply emotional Whiskey Creek series.

All of these authors do a masterful job of showing those links that can be forged between often unrelated people sharing more than just a zip code. However, the community-as-family theme is not limited to small-town contemporary romances.

Julie Ann Long’s Regency Pennyroyal Green series is about more than simply two actual families in the midst of a feud. Each charming story features intertwined lives, from the barmaid to the shopkeepers in town to the gorgeous vicar.

Mary Balogh’s beautiful Survivors’ Club historical series features unrelated people who have all been traumatized in various ways by war. Their shared experiences have brought them together to lift and support each other as they try to heal.

While it’s not a series that might immediately come to mind when discussing community-as-family stories, I would posit that J.D. Robb’s In Death series provides the same sense of connection, albeit amid the gritty undertones of murder and violence. Eve Dallas once considered herself alone, an enigma without memory or connections. Since meeting Roarke, however, she has forged her own family–Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Dr. and Dennis Mira. All have become hers and provide those necessary connections some would consider vital to the human experience.

This theme is also certainly not limited to the romance genre. From Harry Potter to Anne of Green Gables to Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford books, many beloved series have created communities where people develop their own extended families connected more by friendship and love than by blood.

All of these community-as-family series have many elements in common with actual extended families.

1)    Like most families which can’t escape hard times – illness, divorce, children who take a wrong turn – the most compelling fictional communities are not perfect, idealized utopias where nothing bad ever happens. In Kristan Higgins’ lovely book In Your Dreams, book four in her Blue Heron series, a car accident turns Jack Holland into an unwilling hero who must deal with his own guilt that he couldn’t do more to help. In my own Hope’s Crossing series, a terrible tragedy creates ripple effects with implications for everyone in town. Life is pain and heartache and loss. The challenge – and triumph – is to survive and thrive in spite of the inevitable sorrows and these communities are no different.

2)    These community-as-family series frequently feature characters who cross generations and demographics, with older members imparting their wisdom and the strength gained through experience and younger members infusing the community/family with new energy and enthusiasm. Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series is enhanced greatly by the quirky older ladies who provide heart and humor.

3)    Differences of opinion and goals provide spice and interest. It’s a rare family that doesn’t have conflict and drama once in a while (and sometimes more often!) and fictional communities are most memorable when mirror those real-life situations. The feud in Julie Ann Long’s Pennyroyal Green series runs through each of the stories and strengthens the tangled continuity threads running through the series.

4)    Above all, and despite their differences, members of strong extended families are there for each other, just as these fictional communities rally during difficult times. In Redemption Bay, the second book in my Haven Point series, the entire town, from teenagers to senior citizens, rushes out in force when a natural disaster threatens their neighbors.

This last point resonates most with me, on a personal level. When my husband and I moved to our little Utah town a quarter-century ago, we had no idea how much we would come to rely on our neighbors and friends until we had our second child, who was born with severe disabilities. In the years since, our community has rallied around us in remarkable ways, with countless acts of kindness and support. They have, indeed, become our family over the years and we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else  – even though Hawaii is certainly tempting during our cold winters!

What about you? What are your favorite community-as-family series? Why do they draw you in?


Learn more about or order a copy of Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne, out now: 

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New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including four RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and a Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews magazine. RaeAnne loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at

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1. Scarlettleigh
I read many of the authors you mentioned. I have probably read Robyn Carr's books the longest. I discovered her when she was writing mainly women's fiction in the early 2000. I don't think you mentioned Mariah Stewart. She creates a wonderful sense of home. Recently I have discovered Donna Alward's books --the Jewell Cove series.

Laura Moore doesn't write many books in a series -- usually just three --a trilogy, but I always look forward to reading about the family she creates.
2. PhoebeChase
I love the South Carolina island community in Carolyn Hart's "Death on Demand" series.
3. Janga
I once counted more than fifty small-town series on my keeper shelves, some of them published several decades ago. All but one of the series you mentioned are represented in that group. I loved Robyn Carr's Grace Valley trilogy before I became a Virgin River fan. Others I would include among favorite small-town contemporary series are Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas, Anchor Island by Terri Osburn, Dare Island by Virginia Kantra, Konigsburg by Meg Benjamin, Harmony by Jodi Thomas, Eternity Springs by Emily March. I'd add Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove and Pamela Morsi's Marrying Stone to JAL's Pennyroyal Green on the historical side. And I can't leave out Beverly Jenkins and her Blessings books. And then there are the beloved communities in mysteries like Margaret Maron's Colleton County and Julia Spencer-Fleming's Miller's Kill. I trace my love of small-town series all the way back to childhood and repeated visits to L. M. Montgomery's Avonlea, Prince Edward Island and Maud Hart Lovelace's Deep Valley.

And I'm enjoying the Haven Point books. I look forward to Devin's book.
4. lauralee1912
I also have the Anchor Island and Dare Island series on my keeper list, along with Robyn Carr's Thunder Point series. Other favorite small towns of mine are Mariah Stewart's St. Dennis MD in the Chesapeake diaries series and Nancy Herkness' Sanctuary WV in her whisper horse series. I'm drawn in by the sense of community in the small town series. I live in a fairly tight neighborhood in a larger city, so it is almost like a small town, especially when we go to our local farmers market on Saturday!
5. Rebalynne
I am enjoying The Extraordinary Days series by Polly Becks set in Obergrande, NY. The first one is set in 1991, but the rest are contemporary-the stories of the girls (now women) who survived a tragic flood in No Ordinary Day, the first book.
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