One summer, when I was visiting my Great-Aunt Jinsey (is that not the greatest name ever?) I discovered her stash of Harlequin romance novels. She belonged to a the publisher's book club and they sent her, I think, 12 books a month. She devoured them like chocolates. Aunt Jinsey had had a very hard life. My Uncle Bill had been a hard-rock miner in Appalachia and things haven't really changed much in mining since the 19th century. It's still men hacking coal out of the living earth, back-breaking labor that leaves you old before your time. My Uncle died of black lung (or "the black lung," which is how everyone always refers to it). Black lung is the common name for a nasty disease known medically as "Coal workers pneumoconiosis." It's not a pretty way to die.
Aunt Jinsey was not one to complain--her generation didn't--but that summer she sat in her rocking chair and rubbed her arthritic hands together and told me, "Honey, I'm just plumb wore out." She was living in sunny Pleasanton, California by then, where she never had to face another harsh winter ever again. And she had time to read. And what she wanted to read were ... romance novels.
I was already reading crime fiction by then--devouring Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries (although, I have to be honest, I didn't really love her). I wasn't really interested in romance novels.
Then one afternoon as my great-aunt napped, I picked up one of the books with their distinctive white covers and read it. It was all right--an easy, undemanding read. I picked up another and read it too. It was okay.
And then I picked up a book by a writer named Sara Craven. I read the book in something like two hours. And I LOVED it. I went through the shelves picking out all the other books by Sara Craven (there were quite a few). I read them too and loved them.
What was different about Sara Craven's books was that she had interesting and exotic backdrops for her stories and the characters seemed more real and less ... wimpy...than the usual romance heroines. I probably read 40 or 50 romance novels during my visit (seriously, they're short with big margins) and the only writer's name I remember is Sara Craven.
Romance novels have changed a lot since Sara Craven (real name Anne Ashurst) began writing them back in 1975. I spent a year reviewing books for Rachel Smith's wonderful bittenbybooks site, and I was shocked (SHOCKED!!) at how clinical a lot of romance novels had gotten.
And I am not easily shocked. And the thing that's weird is that I have a number of romance writers and romance readers among my friends and not a one will cop to enjoying the more ... anatomical books. And I wonder, who's reading them?
But I digress.
Sara Craven began publishing her novels when she was 37. She has written dozens of different series, both her own and those with multi-authors. She has written more than 61 stand-alones (the latest, Wife in the Shadows, was published this year). She has two new books coming out in January and February.
Her books always have Happy Endings and here's an interview where she explains why.
If you read only one romance novel, read one by Sara Craven.