Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the Road Again

Road romances have been around as long as I’ve been reading romance--and that's a l-o-n-g time. AAR lists more than 180 in various subgenres. But I’ve never thought of road books as a particular favorite trope until recently when I realized that I had read and enjoyed three in the first quarter of 2011.

After thinking about the trope, I realized that the road book keeps the focus on relationships, and that’s a plus for me. In real life, I've found there’s just something about people alone in a vehicle that fosters a sense of intimacy. Some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had have taken place on road trips, and I’ve heard many parents say that they have their most revealing exchanges with their kids, particularly teens, as they are driving with them. Even the silences can be meaningful. These real life qualities are part of road romances too.

My most recent road book read was Debbie Macomber’s A Turn in the Road (Mira, April 26), Book 8 in the Blossom Street series. Three women, each confronting a turn in her life’s road, drive across the country together. The occasion for the road trip is the 50th high-school reunion of Ruth Hamlin. Ruth, who has been widowed for many years, has never forgotten her first love, and the reunion offers the possibility of seeing him again.

When Ruth’s children express concern about her driving from Seattle to Florida alone, her former daughter-in-law, Bethanne, agrees to accompany Ruth. Bethanne was devastated six years earlier when her husband confessed to an affair and asked for a divorce, but in the six years since the divorce, she has rebuilt her life, enjoying great success in the party business she started and close, loving relationships with her son and daughter. Grant, her ex, has shed wife #2 and is trying to persuade Bethanne that he deserves a second chance. She’s not so sure their reunion is a good idea. Annie Hamlin, a young grad student who works in her mother’s Parties business, thinks her boyfriend is about to propose. Instead he informs her that he’s off for a year in Europe, and she’s not invited. Angry and hurt, Annie decides to join her mother and grandmother on their trip.

The trip that includes stops in Las Vegas, Branson, MO, and New Orleans, is filled with adventures, laughter, arguments, and changes for these three women. Car trouble brings another complication into Bethanne’s life—Max, a hero on a Harley who is more than he appears to be. The end of the journey offers Ruth more than she dared dream, and Annie discovers how much fun life can be when one is free to explore all the possibilities.

I liked the interweaving of the stories of women in three different stages of life, each of them vital and growing. I found Annie the least sympathetic character.  She sometimes seems immature and more than a little selfish, but ther times, she comes across as young and endearing. I loved Ruth story, especially the prom redo, and I delighted in the twist in Bethanne’s story. Debbie Macomber fans and readers who like their women's fiction served with a generous helping of romance are going to love this one.

Reading A Turn in the Road led me to consider other road books I’ve enjoyed. If you know me, you know I’m a compulsive list maker. So it should come as no surprise that thinking about road books led to a list of my top 20. Here they are in chronological order.

1. Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle (1957) by Georgette Heyer

A Regency romp by the much imitated but rarely surpassed Heyer, this road book has Miss Phoebe Marlow fleeing and, of course, falling for the arrogant Sylvester, Duke of Salford amid scandal, kidnapping, and assorted revelations.

2. "Miracle on I-40" (Silhouette Christmas Stories, 1988) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

A Christmas story I reread every year, this road book features a bundle of Christmas clichés—family reunion, adorable kids, cute animals, a visit from Santa himself—and it also offers an unusual heroine and hero (a waitress and a truck driver) who travel in a truck with lights on the grille spelling out “Bah! Humbug!” and the kind of transformation the spirit of Christmas should bring.

3. Silk and Secrets (1992) by Mary Jo Putney

This is a book that merits more attention. It’s not only a superlative road book but also one of the most memorable reunion romance I’ve ever read, with a flawed heroine, a hero who is the stuff of legends, an exotic setting (Middle East), and an emotional conclusion that packs a knockout punch.

4. My Lady Notorious (1993) by Jo Beverley

The first book in Beverley's beloved Malloren series, this Georgian romance boasts a cross-dressing heroine, a sexy food scene, true treachery and evil, and the introduction of a secondary character who stole the hearts of readers who spent years “waiting for Rothgar.”

5. Crooked Hearts (1994) by Patricia Gaffney

An American historical set in 1880s San Francisco, this tale of two con artists begins with the heroine as a Catholic nun and the hero as a blind Spanish aristocrat, and the trip from that point on is sexy and fun.

6. One Perfect Rose (1997) by Mary Jo Putney

Connected to MJP’s Fallen Angels series (The hero, Stephen Kenyon, Duke of Ashburton, is the brother of Michael Kenyon), this book has a duke in disguise, a foundling brought up in a family of actors, and a journey that includes a visit to heaven.

7. I Do, I Do, I Do (2000) by Maggie Osborne

Three very different women join forces to hunt the man who married all three of them. A  trek that takes them to Alaska and Canada leads them to self-knowledge and, along the way, to their soul mates.

8. First Lady (2000) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Take a widowed First Lady who has gone AWOL, a curmudgeonly journalist who is allergic to commitment, and two of the best kid characters in romance fiction; mix them up in a rattletrap motor home and end up with a terrific blend of SEP’s usual laughter, love, and irresistible story.

9. Tallie's Knight (2001) by Anne Gracie

The hero is an earl known as “the Icicle” whose cold heart is melted by a toddler who fires him with an ambition to be a father; the heroine is a poor relation whose innocence is equaled by her wise and loving heart; traveling from Dover to Paris to Italy gives them time find the proverbial journey’s end--true lovers’ meeting.

10. The Wedding Journey (2002) by Carla Kelly

Another of Carla Kelly’s stories of transcendent love amid the horrors of war, this novel gives readers a shy captain and surgeon in Wellington’s army who rescues his secret love from a sadistic bully and turns a military retreat into a honeymoon.

11. The Runaway Duke (2004) by Julie Anne Long

JAL’s first book features a head groom who turns out to be a duke, an almost bride who runs away from what she knows will be a loveless marriage, a pair of villains who are a mix of moral flaws and sympathy-evoking vulnerabilities, and a journey that offers humor and pathos. JAL was added to my autobuy list with this one.

12. Lord Perfect (2006) by Loretta Chase

The third book in Chase’s popular Carsington series, this is the story of the controlled and lordly Benedict Carsington, the Viscount Rathbourne, the scandalous Bathsheba Wingate, and their two spirited charges, her irrepressible daughter Olivia and his logical nephew Peregrine—one of those thisclose to perfect tales that seem to be a habit with Loretta Chase.

13. The Perfect Stranger (2006) by Anne Gracie

In the third book of Gracie’s Merridew Sisters quartet, Faith is on the run from her great love who turned out to be a bigamist, from a trio of would-be rapists; she runs into the arms of an ex-soldier who saves her, marries her, and falls in love with her—in that order.

14. A Rather Curious Engagement (2008) by C.A. Belmond

Another light-hearted romance that follows Penny Nichols and her not-really-a-cousin boyfriend Jeremy on a second adventure, ARCE takes the pair to the French Riviera, Lake Como, and Corsica, most of the journey in pursuit of Jeremy’s stolen vintage yacht. Sheer fun that feels like a 1940s romantic comedy even though it is contemporary!

15. The Spymaster's Lady (2008) by Joanna Bourne

This is the book that persuaded me I could love a book about spies, gave me a hero and heroine who are richly layered characters individually and even more intriguing together, held me breathless through their journeys—literal and metaphoric, and added a title to my all-time top romances.

16. The Perils of Pleasure (2008) by Julie Anne Long

JAL introduces the Everseas and the Redmonds, the two families who will supply the characters and conflicts for her Pennyroyal Green series. This first book begins with Colin Eversea’s rescue from the gallows by a woman hired for the task. Their journey to discover a common but unknown enemy becomes a journey toward trust and unexpected love. This was my favorite of the series until it was recently displaced by What I Did for a Duke.

17. Surrender of a Siren (2009) by Tessa Dare

Book 2 in Tessa Dare’s debut series pairs a runaway heiress with a rogue determined to reform, a goal made nearly impossible by the presence of said heiress on his ship. I loved this book—and Gray is a hero to be treasured through rereading after rereading.

18. Not Quite a Husband (2009) by Sherry Thomas

The heroine of this book is an overly serious doctor who practices medine in Germany and America before setting up practice in India; the hero is a mathematician and writer who charms everyone; the primary setting is late Victorian India. The only predictable things about this book are Thomas’s lyrical prose and richly developed characters.

19. Softly and Tenderly (2011) by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck

An inspirational that proves readers who dismiss the subgenre merely as “preaching books” are selling the subgenre short, this novel is the tale of Jade Fitzgerald Benson, her mother Beryl, and her mother-in-law June, whose road trip in a 1966 Fleetwood Eldorado convertible (pale pink) is filled with tensions among the women and with bonding and humor as each woman must come to terms with the upheavals in her life.

20. My One and Only (2011) by Kristan Higgins

Another book that combines road trip and reunion motifs, this one gives readers a cynical divorce attorney and the husband she divorced twelve years ago on a cross-country trip following the wedding of her step-sister to his half-brother. That description is enough to know that the book is filled with Higgins’s trademark humor. There were many moments that made me laugh, a few that left me teary-eyed, and a dog that seemed so real I could almost pat her head (Coco, a Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix with a split personality).

How do you feel about road romances? How many of my favorites have you read? What would you add to the list?


Anonymous said...

Janga, you have the best lists! As well as the most thorough and extensive reading recommendations! I wouldn't have thought there were so many "road trip books", but now I'm glad I've got so many to track down. :)


Janga said...

Thanks, Donna. I was surprised at how many road books were on my keeper shelves. I probably would never have thought about them had I not read A Turn in the Road so soon after reading Softly and Tenderly and My One and Only.

quantum said...

Only 20 Janga? :lol:

The only one on your list that I've read is 'The Spymaster's Lady' which I thought superb.

You include historicals so I guess your definition of 'road books' is fairly loose about the mode of travel. In that case I would want to add some of Catherine Anderson's books. 'Baby Love' where Rafe Kendrick meets Maggie on a traumatic train journey. 'Cherished' where Race rescues Rebeca from an ambush and they travel together on a cattle drive. The two Comanche books involve long journeys on horse back.

If I had to choose one it would be 'Cherished'. Perhaps because it was the first of her novels that I read.

I know this is impossibly difficult but I wonder whether you could shorten the list to a 'top three'? So that I have something to grasp for starters.

I have added the list to my 'Janga favorites' folder *smile*

Janga said...

Q, Baby Love is a terrific book, a real tearjerker though. According to AAR, the site where I first encountered the term "road romance," a road book is one that "devotes large sections to journeys, either by land or by sea." So, yes "road" is defined loosely. I think the length of the journey rather than the nature of the road determines whether a book can be classified as a road book.

Hmm, a top three? How about a top five? In no particular order, I'd choose Tallie's Knight, The Runaway Duke, My Lady Notorious, Sylvester, The Wedding Journey."

quantum said...

Thanks Janga.

I have raided Mrs Q's Heyer audio collection and found Sylvester narrated by Richard Armitage.

That will do nicely to get me on the road! *smile*

irisheyes said...

Great list, Janga.

I've read 13 of the 20. It's hard to pick a favorite but both of MJP's contributions were really great. Not only great "road" books but great overall and unusual stories. I loved her Silk series. And One Perfect Rose is just sigh worthy due to Stephen.

The Wedding Journey was another Carla Kelly gem I discovered only last year and is on my keeper shelf!

SEP's First Lady is one of those books I haven't picked up and re-read in quite a while. I know I liked it - she hasn't written anything I haven't liked, but the details escape me. I just remember Lucy and Buttons! They were quite unforgetable.

Julie Garwood's The Gift comes to mind. I believe that's a road book but it has been so long since I've read it I forget if the voyage is most of the book or just part of it. I know that has to be a few more out there I've read. I'll have to check my lists and check back if I find any.