Does Kristan Higgins write romance novels? I'm thinking No.

I read my first Higgins recently, her 2009 release,  Too Good to Be True. I enjoyed it. I quickly read two others, Catch of the Day (2007) and Just One of The Guys (2008). And I’ve started — but haven’t finished (I need a break, for reasons I will explain below) Fools Rush In (2006).

You can hardly find a contemporary writer whose is more embraced by the mainstream romance community than Higgins. By my count, Kristan Higgins now has seven books in print, all with Harlequin. COTD won the RITA for best single title contemporary, as did TGTBT. The Higgins covers all feature romantic couples. Higgins books are reviewed in Romantic Times, on most romance blogs, etc.

But even though this defies all logic, I do not think Higgins writes romance novels. I think she writes women’s fiction.

Higgins novels (please understand this is the shorthand I am going to use for “the 3.5 Higgins novels I have read”) start with a heroine who is unhappily single. They are written from the heroine’s first person point of view. The heroine really wants to find (or, in cases where she has identified him already, get with) her true love, feels she is getting old, and envies her happy-with-spouse-and-children sister or brothers. She then hooks up with the wrong guy or guys — often comically, but sometimes with a fervor that takes her right into TSTL/unsympathetic territory. At the very end, she hooks up with Mr. Right.

And when I say “at the very end”, I mean it. Higgins heroes aren’t around much in her books.  The heroine spends so little time even thinking about the heroes that I don’t even get a sense of who they are through the narrator’s eyes. So, for example, in TGTBT, the hero went into business with his brother, to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, but the brother stole the money and ran, leaving the hero in debt, and in prison. In COTD, the hero had an early failed marriage and a teenaged daughter. In JOOTG, the hero had a troubled childhood, and, later, a broken engagement. These events are Very Big Deals. But the reader never gets to see, really, how these past events are overcome by the heroes. Higgins heroes have no – or almost no — character arc.

The journey to the HEA is hard to discern from the heroine’s journey toward self-acceptance, whether that means acceptance of her unorthodox or boring career choice, her unfeminine or otherwise unspectacular appearance, or something else. I believe it is this factor that has led so many to read these unquestioningly as romances. But I think it’s the heroine’s journey to self- acceptance that matters. It happens to involves, partly, a romance, but it could have involved anything else — scaling Mount Everest, fighting cancer, defeating negative influences, etc.. For me, a true romance novel convinces the reader that the ONLY way for that heroine’s character to grow was to fall in love, and specifically to fall in love with the hero.

All of the heroines have difficult families which pose the biggest barrier to their self-acceptance. These family relationships are, in my opinion, more central to the books than the romances. Higgins heroines have especially difficult relationships with their sisters. In TGTBT, the heroine’s sister actually stole her fiance. In COTD and FRI, the sister is the “beautiful/perfect” one, while the heroine feels inferior. There’s no sister in JOOTG (as the title implies), but it’s the relationships with the four brothers and the parents that delay the HEA.

One common way to define romance is to use the industry definition from RWA. According to that, first, a romance requires:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

In my view, there is a difference between the heroine’s search for love and “two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.” Higgins books are about the former.

Second, a romance requires:

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

I would say this condition is met, with reservations. As I’ve said, a lot of the Higgins books are about other relationships — the parents, the sisters, the brothers — and these are often going very, very badly. People are left at the altar, cheated on, and some of these marriages end in divorce. So while, as a reader, in feel optimistic about the hero and heroine, there is so much pessimism in the other important relationships, that it is hard to feel optimistic overall about love. This is perhaps more true to life, but less true to the spirit of the genre. I don’t know if “emotional justice” really triumphs in Higgins’ fictional worlds. In this, she reminds me of Jenny Cruisie.

So those are the formal elements of romance. But there is also a set of informal expectations readers have, to which I now turn.

One informal expectation is that contemporary romances which are not inspirational let the reader in on the developing sexual relationship of the h/h, with varying degrees of explicitness. Failing that, the reader is let in the sexual tension which builds in an unconsummated relationship. With Higgins, there is neither sexual explicitness, nor sexual tension. She closes the door on the hero and heroine when they enter the bedroom. Other writers, like Julie James, have done well with the more subtle approach to sexuality, but James excels at sexual tension, which serves just as well.

Again, while it is not a de jure requirement that the hero and heroine stop sleeping with others after they meet, it is uncommon to have, as we do in JOOTG, the heroine sleeping, regularly, with another man, and accepting his marriage proposal, 77% of the way into the book, while the hero is also sleeping with someone else, with whom he has a long term relationship. Again, in TGTBT, the heroine makes out with her former boyfriend toward the end of the book — after she has started sleeping with the hero — and kind of enjoys it. In FRI, again, the heroine is sleeping with another man regularly, well into the book, long after she has met the hero. This is probably more realistic, but less romantic.

Putting all of these things together, I contend that Higgins breaks both formal genre rules and unofficial genre expectations, and she breaks too many, all at once, to count as a romance writer.

So what is she? A women’s fiction writer.

Here is women’s fiction writer Marilyn Brant on the difference between Romance and Chick Lit:

I used to be a book reviewer for Romantic Times, and I read quite a few of both. My way of differentiating between romance and any other genre is that, in romance, there is one hero and one heroine. The protagonists may have had multiple relationships in their past, but neither of them becomes seriously involved with anyone else once they get together. The romance requires a relationship arc, which results in a happy ending, in addition to an individual character-growth arc. For chick lit or light contemporary women’s fiction, the heroine’s romantic interactions are often elements in the novel, and they may even play a major role on occasion. However, the main focus of the story is on her personal journey to greater self-understanding. Whether she ends up with a man or not is irrelevant, but she needs to have learned something from her experiences over the past 300-400 pages and, in my opinion, be in a better place (mentally, spiritually, etc.) than she had been at the beginning of the book.

For romance, the HEA is a necessary condition for everything else. In women’s fiction, while there may well be an HEA, the other elements of the book don’t require it — it’s contingent. Kristan Higgins is a very funny writer, a compelling writer, a writer I feel happy comparing to Jenny Cruise and Susan Elizabeth Phillips in certain respects. When she focuses on the romantic elements of her plots — that first kiss, the HEA — I am riveted. If she decided to write a straight romance, I am pretty sure it would be one of the best romances I ever read. But she hasn’t, in my opinion, written one yet.

29 responses

  1. I read All I Ever Wanted, Ms.Higgins’ newest HQN release, the first book of hers I’ve ever read.

    While I liked the story, I’ll agree with everything you said. She’s a funny writer, but the hero isn’t present; there’s a “big misunderstanding” toward the end of All I Ever Wanted that I didn’t like; at times I felt pulled more toward the secondary characters than the hero/heroine. And the heroine’s realization that she’s got it bad for the hero does happen like BOOM!

    Romantic elements, yes, but not a full-on, straight up and down romance.

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  2. Pretty much exactly what Mrs. Hanson said. I really enjoyed All I Ever Wanted, especially the heroine’s relationship with her grandfather. The writing is quite wonderful. But no, it’s not a romance.

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  3. For me, a true romance novel convinces the reader that the ONLY way for that heroine’s character to grow was to fall in love, and specifically to fall in love with the hero.

    That’s one strain of romance, but there are many romances that portray the heroine as fixing her life *and* falling for the hero (as opposed to requiring a concomitant relationship). Perhaps I’m missing the point and those novels don’t strike you as “true” romance. Or it’s possible that some of those novels were intended to portray what you describe but don’t succeed in integrating the two aspects.

    Either way, where I differ is that I tend to think of the heroine’s story, plus romance (often with cipher-like hero), as the common denominator of the genre. (I may feel that way because I read a lot in genres in which the heroine’s arc is conspicuously absent.)

    The journey to the HEA is hard to discern from the heroine’s journey toward self-acceptance, whether that means acceptance of her unorthodox or boring career choice, her unfeminine or otherwise unspectacular appearance, or something else. I believe it is this factor that has led so many to read these unquestioningly as romances. But I think it’s the heroine’s journey to self- acceptance that matters.

    This is strikingly similar to how I describe romance. To embroider on what I said above, I think the primary defining characteristic of the genre (which makes a romance recognizable as such) is the female character arc; the romance is a secondary characteristic. No female character arc = no romance (these days, anyway). Which brings me to:

    Higgins heroes have no – or almost no — character arc.

    I know these terms are partly marketing and partly a folksonomy, so it may be overkill to turn this into a full-blown thought experiment, but I do think that logic (1) gets rather annoying and (2) breaks down if you put it next to classifications of other genres. For example, assuming that romance figures as part of each plot, and ignoring some large areas such as M/M (hey, if it’s not a full thought experiment, I can be capricious):

    If I may put definitions in your mouth,

    * Female character arc, male character arc = romance

    * Female character arc, no male character arc = women’s fiction

    And then there’s the ringer:

    * Male character arc, no female character arc = general fiction

    Even if these *are* just marketing terms, in looking at the meanings of the labels I’m forced to conclude that general fiction is about men, for men *and* women, while women’s fiction is about women, for women. Yep, sure enough, I’ve annoyed myself. Experiment stage one a success, sort of, and lost all interest in stage two. Off to kick the cat now.

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  4. This is interesting! I have only read two books by Kristan Higgins, and they are not among the ones you list. All I Ever Wanted was the one I really liked, and I would say it is more of a romance than the ones you’re describing. More hero, and all the secondary relationships work out pretty well, too. The Next Best Thing didn’t work as well for me, and at least part of that was due to the extreme focus on the heroine.

    I’m at work, so I don’t have the books handy, but I don’t think of them as stopping at the bedroom door, either. In one, the couple is “caught in the act,” and in the other I seem to recall actual sex scenes.

    Most importantly, in All I Ever Wanted, I definitely felt that the HEA was necessary — the story really couldn’t have ended any other way and been satisfying. I mostly felt that about The Next Best Thing as well, but I felt manipulated into it. On one level, I could see that the heroine needed to choose the hero. On another level, I felt like she needed to walk away, and that he’d be better off if she did. As I said, that one didn’t work for me. I’m wondering if I would have liked it better if I wasn’t bringing romance expectations to it. Damn, you’re making me think. Again.

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  5. Completely agree. I was actually saying the same thing to someone the other day, they’re more chick lit, as much as I don’t like that term, than romance. I most enjoyed “All I Ever Wanted”, which had slightly more romantic development than her other novels (i.e. the romance happens in the last 20 pages instead of the last 2, heh), but I would still have preferred much more focus on the relationship between the heroine and hero. It was quite frustrating, really, because I really liked the hero, Ian, and it would have been much more satisfying had it been a “traditional” romance.

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  6. Like RfP, I was struck by your insistence on character arc. Personally, I think that one can very easily have romances about characters who don’t change much, if at all. Georgette Heyer’s The Nonesuch is a case in point. You have a mature, intelligent heroine and a mature, intelligent hero. They don’t need to change their personalities, and they don’t, but The Nonesuch is still very much a romance, because it’s about how these two people fall in love and get together.

    In fact, the idea that

    a true romance novel convinces the reader that the ONLY way for that heroine’s character to grow was to fall in love, and specifically to fall in love with the hero.

    is one I find rather worrying. It seems to restrict what the genre can say about love and the effects of being in love. Of course being in a happy relationship, or finding out that one’s loved, can make a big difference to a person, but it doesn’t always do so. Some people won’t need/want to change much, and other people may need to change, but won’t be prompted to do so by love.

    People are left at the altar, cheated on, and some of these marriages end in divorce. So while, as a reader, in feel optimistic about the hero and heroine, there is so much pessimism in the other important relationships, that it is hard to feel optimistic overall about love. This is perhaps more true to life, but less true to the spirit of the genre.

    I disagree with this too, unless what you’re saying is that something about the tone of Higgins’ depiction of these things is more depressing/less “optimistic” than other authors’ depiction of them. A lot of romances set in the Regency period include characters who are convinced that most married people are busily committing adultery; the intended effect of such depictions of Regency high society seems to be to emphasise the rarity of the love which the hero and heroine have found together. In contemporary romances there are plenty of divorced or widowed heroes and heroines. Sometimes the author goes through extreme contortions in order to make sure that the former relationship is depicted as utterly unfulfilling. Again, this seems to emphasise the specialness of the current relationship. So I don’t think a social context in which divorce and adultery are depicted is in any way “less true to the spirit of the genre.”

    One informal expectation is that contemporary romances which are not inspirational let the reader in on the developing sexual relationship of the h/h, with varying degrees of explicitness.

    But again, this isn’t necessary for something to be a romance, and in fact the whole of the Harlequin Romance line is non-explicit in its depictions of sexuality, and it’s not an inspirational line.

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  7. Hm. This is a really interesting post, Jessica. I adore Higgins, especially Just One of the Guys, which was my first by her. But I think you’re on to something here.

    My chief complaint about Higgins, as you know, is that the “I love you” always comes right at the end of the book. But maybe that’s part of it. The reason these books are chick lit is because the act of falling in love is almost incidental to the heroine’s development. Don’t get me wrong, I love Higgins’ books, but I’m always frustrated that the H/h don’t fall in love sooner.

    Huh. Now you’ve got me thinking and I haven’t even finished my morning caffeine.

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  8. I’ve only read one Higgins book, Just One of the Guys, and I didn’t really care for it for a variety of reasons. Part of my irritation, though, stemmed from what felt like chick lit being marketed as straight up genre romance.

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  9. I’ve only read Catch of the Day, but I think your arguments are good ones. Maybe she gets marketed as romance because her books are HQN, and if she’d been published by Mira, she’d be called women’s fiction!

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  10. I’ve only read one Higgins, Just One of the Guys, and I consider it a romance. The relationship, while undeveloped, is central. Even when the heroine is dating someone else, the reader knows who she is supposed to be with. (Right? Not sure this is true with all of her books) The character arc is about the heroine recognizing her true love. In WF, the arc is about the woman finding herself. When falling for the guy is *the* satisfying conclusion = romance.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard romance described as “the h/h being together or thinking about each other more than 50% of time.” WF w/ romantic elements is around 25% or less. By that def, I guess Higgins is WF-y.

    This discussion reminds me of a review I wrote on Goodreads for a lesbian romance. It read like WF to me. The couple spends very little time together on the page and that made the romance unsatisfying for me. I think that is the crux of it. I was very satisfied by Higgins’ romance.

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  11. Pingback: What I Read in August « Sonomalass's Blog

  12. After reading your post I had to go back and read my review of TGTBT, the only Higgins book I’ve read so far. I did find it different than the typical contemporary romance. And maybe because I read very little women’s fiction it didn’t occur to me at the time to categorize it that way. Turns out, I agreed with much of what you’ve said.

    Here’s what I wrote in my review ~

    Too Good to Be True is written in 1st POV. Most contemporary romances I read are written in 3rd POV so this took a little getting use to . It also, IMO, hampered the reader from getting to know Callahan O’Shea better. He’s the obvious hero of the story but maybe calling him Grace’s love interest is more accurate. The story is really Grace’s with Callahan almost more of a secondary character through at least the first half of the book.

    And this ~

    I did mention that this is more of Grace’s book than Grace and Callahan but there is a HEA. It’s just that I think of the book as Grace’s journey to Cal rather than their journey together.

    So now you’ve got me curious to read more Higgins and see if her other books hold true with this assessment. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

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  13. @Mrs. Hanson: @Phyl: @Victoria Janssen: @jmc: @Laura: @Kati: This is the group that agrees with me either in whole or in part. A few others chimed in on Twitter, and a few more when I mentioned this theory in Monday’s post. And you have all read Higgins, and you have also read a boatload of romance novels, so it looks like I am not totally crazy on this one.

    As for “mismarketing”, I do think these would be more accurately marketed as women;s fiction (but not, I think “chick lit” since I usually associate chick lit with upmarket, urban lifestyles of younger stylish heroines.) sometimes mismarketing does bug me, but I liked these books overall, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t bugged.

    @Leslie: Wow! I SWEAR I didn’t read your review before posting this. But you make exactly my point: of course true love is important to the heroine, but a romance is about the journey of two people, not one. This is why the RWA def says “the plot centers around two individuals.”

    In my reading — and I have to read all I Ever Wanted, obviously — Higgins writes about one individual, the heroine. The hero is a secondary character, and not just because we don’t get his point of view, but because he is not there either physically or in the heroine’s mind.

    @RfP:

    I tend to think of the heroine’s story, plus romance (often with cipher-like hero), as the common denominator of the genre.

    So I guess my question for you, then, if what is the difference in your view between women;s fiction and romance?

    @Laura Vivanco:

    It seems to restrict what the genre can say about love and the effects of being in love.

    I don’t think I have read a romance that lacked a character arc. Genre fiction is character (and plot) driven, so I am not sure what’s left after the character is established in the first chapter if it is fixed.

    Maybe I didn’t make myself clear: when I say “character arc”, I am using the word “character” in a literary, not a moral sense.

    So the character might be a perfectly good person, but still need to change in some way to accommodate this huge happening of finding their true love. In fact, one of my favorite character arcs is the perfect, dutiful nobleman who gets a bit of a comeuppance — and learns to loosen up — at the hands of a wayward heroine.

    I guess I will have to try that Heyer.

    But, despite my reservations, let’s assume you are right, that a character arc is not a requirement of a “love story”.

    I still don’t think the Higgins books I read meet the RWA’s first requirement. I just don’t think they are centrally love stories.

    A lot of romances set in the Regency period include characters who are convinced that most married people are busily committing adultery; the intended effect of such depictions of Regency high society seems to be to emphasise the rarity of the love which the hero and heroine have found together. In contemporary romances there are plenty of divorced or widowed heroes and heroines. Sometimes the author goes through extreme contortions in order to make sure that the former relationship is depicted as utterly unfulfilling. Again, this seems to emphasise the specialness of the current relationship. So I don’t think a social context in which divorce and adultery are depicted is in any way “less true to the spirit of the genre.”

    In the books you have described, I, as a reader, experience the HEA as — in Jo Beverley’s words from RomCon in July — “triumphant”. There is something very decisive about the HEA, regardless of what is happening with those other couples.

    Also, those other bad relationships are often not described in much detail. In Higgins, we really spend a lot of time with the couple — the brother and his wife, the sister and hero fiance, the parents — and my expectations as a reader are that they will work out, but they often don’t.

    My reading experience when I read Higgins (and, often Crusie), is more like the couple dragging themselves to shore after a shipwreck and looking around, shocked they have made it, rather than the riding off triumphantly into the sunset on gleaming steeds. The shadow of failure casts a very looming shadow that is much more important to the story — it IS the story — than a sketch of characters that serves merely as a convenient foil for the main couple.

    his isn’t necessary for something to be a romance, and in fact the whole of the Harlequin Romance line is non-explicit in its depictions of sexuality, and it’s not an inspirational line.

    No, it isn’t necessary, as I acknowledged in the post when I described it as an “informal expectation”. So consider this a buttressing argument to my main one (that Higgins violates the first necessary condition).

    Beyond the two necessary conditions in the RWA definition, I do think that when we get to subgenres, there is another layer of expectations that matter. I would actually like to see more work don eon this level of analysis. Yes, the hero and heroine have sex in Higgins books, but it doesn’t tend to have the same significance for them as sex does for couples in other books. To me, this is a departure from a norm I have come to expect, but, I agree with you, that this alone doesn’t make the books “not romance”.

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  14. I’m not sure what “women’s fiction” is, except I dislike a lot of books branded that way. I think what feels “chick lit” about Higgins is the nature of the humour–kind of slapstick and relying on the heroine’s embarrassment (this gets annoying, but I like that the heroines tend to be competent at their jobs, though dumb in other areas).

    I was nodding along with a lot of what you say (and with those who said All I Ever Wanted is the closest to real romance of her novels. But Jill’s comment brought me up short:

    Even when the heroine is dating someone else, the reader knows who she is supposed to be with. (Right? Not sure this is true with all of her books) The character arc is about the heroine recognizing her true love. In WF, the arc is about the woman finding herself. When falling for the guy is *the* satisfying conclusion = romance.

    I think this is pretty accurate about Higgins. But it could also describe, in a lot of ways Pride and Prejudice, another book with a lot of bad examples of marriage and a heroine whose main character arc is(OK, arguably) realizing she picked the wrong guy. Is P and P romance? Well, Pam Regis says so.

    I’ve just confused myself. But I still enjoy Higgins, except Next Best Thing. Hated the wallowing, also read it shortly after a friend was widowed way too young, and found it too depressing.

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  15. I just finished TGTBT and was having a hard time articulating why I didn’t like it. It was the second Higgins that I read, the first being Fools Rush In. I didn’t like that one either, but I had wanted to give her another chance before I wrote her off because so many people rave about her. Now I understand why she’s just not my cuppa. Much as I admire Higgins’ writing style, there just isn’t enough romance for me and her books are too much like chick-lit. The whole time I was reading TGTBT, I kept asking myself, “where’s the hero?” and “why aren’t they spending any time together?”

    I gave up reading chick-lit precisely because the focus of those stories was on heroines that I often found to be annoying, self-delusional, and TSTL. Higgins’ characters seem to share those same traits and since the primary focus of her books seems to be the heroine and not the romance, I think I’m done with her books also.

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  16. Even if these *are* just marketing terms, in looking at the meanings of the labels I’m forced to conclude that general fiction is about men, for men *and* women, while women’s fiction is about women, for women. Yep, sure enough, I’ve annoyed myself. Experiment stage one a success, sort of, and lost all interest in stage two. Off to kick the cat now.

    My first thought about this is that I am not sure there is (any significant amount of) fiction with a male main character that has analogous story lines to women’s fiction or chick lit. While I do think women are more likely to read about a male detective or male spy than men are to read about a female detective or female spy it is hard for me to compare this to the type of story arc in women’s fiction. I just don’t think there are a lot of men out there reading books about, for example, a man dealing with his insecurities, a difficult relationship with his more successful brother, and a love interest or two (that we know won’t really work out) and culminating with both a triumph over these issues and a relationship with “Ms. Right”.

    I understand the desire not to have women’s experience marginalized or seen as other but I don’t think the solution is to refer to what is now called women’s fiction as general fiction. The problem in my mind is that women’s fiction doesn’t (at least in my mind) just mean any fiction with a female main character that is not already in another genre. I actually have certain expectations for a women’s fiction book that I wouldn’t necessarily have for a book that I was told had a female narrator or main character and was general fiction. Although, to be honest, I’m not sure I can articulate what those expectations are.

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  17. I don’t think I have read a romance that lacked a character arc. Genre fiction is character (and plot) driven, so I am not sure what’s left after the character is established in the first chapter if it is fixed.

    Maybe I didn’t make myself clear: when I say “character arc”, I am using the word “character” in a literary, not a moral sense.

    You were clear enough, but in the Heyer example I gave I don’t think the protagonists have a character arc of the kind you’re expecting. The heroine is going to stop being a governess, but that doesn’t change her character. It just changes her expectations, and the hero doesn’t change either, apart from the fact that he’s now fallen in love and is going to get married. It’s a comedy of manners, so the interest does derive from the characters, but it’s because of how they interact with each other, not because they change. In False Colours, also by Heyer, you have another pair of sensible protagonists whose personalities don’t change, though there are external issues, such as false identities and money problems which need to be resolved.

    Persuasion by Jane Austen doesn’t involve a character arc for anyone except the secondary character who has a serious head injury part-way through the book. Anne’s personality doesn’t change (though obviously regaining Captain Wentworth makes her much happier) and Captain Wentworth doesn’t really change either. What has to be cleared up is the misunderstanding which kept them apart.

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  18. @Laura Vivanco:

    Persuasion by Jane Austen doesn’t involve a character arc for anyone except the secondary character who has a serious head injury part-way through the book.

    Perfect! We can put your theory (or my theory) to the test immediately.(but I still want to read some Heyer eventually).

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  19. Oh! I was going to add Victoria Dahl’s Talk Me Down to the character arc discussion. I don’t think Molly or Ben change much, if at all, over the course of the novel, and it’s one of my favorite romances. IIRC, you mentioned a lack of arc when you reviewed that one.

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  20. I read All I Ever Wanted since it was a Smart Bitches save the contemporary romance pick for August. And while I enjoyed her writing style and couldn’t help but laugh and cry through certain scenes. I have to completely agree with your assessment that she is more of a women’s fiction author not a romance author. It bothered me that the love scenes were closed door, not that I want or need them to be explicit, but they are a very important part in any relationship.

    I was planning on reading some of her other books to see if they were different than the one I read since she is so popular, but after reading your description of several of her other books…which all seem somewhat formulaic in a sense that I don’t think I will bother. After all there are so many true “romances” that I want to read that I already don’t have time for that I think my time would be better spent on those since I enjoy romances so much more than just women’s fiction.

    Interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. My Higgins experience is identical to Booklover1335’s. I have too many books in my Romance TBR pile to wander off into chick lit land.

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  22. I have been thinking about character arc. My romance bookgroup read and watched Princess Bride last month and in reading your review and the comments I realised why it didn’t mean as much to me as it did when I first read it. Buttercup doesn’t have a character arc! She is the same all the way through. Thinking about this I realise that I want a romance to be the story of two people’s journeys toward one another. Sometimes one person has more of a journey to make than the other – that is OK. Sometimes the journey is in coming to know that they are in love and worthy of love and not a major character change but it is still a shift in understanding of a person’s given reality.

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  23. Hm. I’ve read all of Higgins’ books except for The Next Best Thing for which I didn’t like storyline – the brother of the dead husband icked me out a bit. But, of the other books, I have enjoyed them all. I think that All I Ever Wanted is much closer to a romance than her previous books – there is more of the hero (although not as much as I’d like, but then I’m greedy) and we did make it into the bedroom this time. I’d really like to see Higgins write a third person POV novel and see how she tackles getting into the hero’s headspace.

    Even though I see your point Jessica, I think I’d still classify her as romance – each book I’ve read has been about the heroine’s journey to a HEA. Plus, I don’t read non-romance – that is to say, there’s a lot of great books out there that are non-romance but my preference is romance and I don’t have enough hours in the day to read my TBR as it is – so, on the basis that if I don’t get enough romance in a story, I’ll ditch it, I’d have to say that Higgins qualifies for me.

    I reviewed All I Ever Wanted a little while ago – Jessica I think that this book is much closer to a traditional romance than her previous books. I’d be interested to know what you think if/when you read it as to whether this is more of a romance or whether you think it is better categorised as women’s fiction.

    (Jessica – you’ve wanted links before, so here’s one if you’re interested – feel free to ignore!!) http://kaetrinsmusings.blogspot.com/2010/08/all-i-ever-wanted-by-kristan-higgins.html

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  24. I’m so late to this party — I hope it’s still OK to chime in. I agree completely — and that’s why I won’t read her anymore. “Maybe” if I get a book practically free at the UBS I’ll skim through it but I end up feeling cheated. The one I liked the best was Catch of the Day but the weakest part was the h/h relationship. Where was it? I forget the name of the other book but she sat on her roof looking at the guy next door — he sorta accused her of stalkery behaviour and I so got that. Just not the satisfying feeling I want after reading a romance. And comparing it to The Nonesuch? No, because altho Laura Vivanco is quite correct in saying their characters were formed and that they themselves changed little, their relationship with each other was front and center to the book. They were together, they thought about each other, other people noticed their relationship. It was a romance.

    I don’t care that much for labels, I just think readers should know what they’re getting into. I don’t dislike her writing — I actually think she’s a terrific writer — but those are not usually the books/plots that interest me. I see her in more of a Jennifer Weiner place on the shelf.

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  25. Pingback: REVIEW: Stepping Stones by Karin Kallmaker | Dear Author

  26. I’m coming to this post shamefully late, but I just read JOOTG last week, and found the relative absence of the hero to be as excruciating as an absent heroine would have been. My copy is pockmarked with e-highlights demanding to know why his engagement broke up, or why he honestly considers himself no good for her (in the face of repeated assertions to the contrary from her own mouth). As a matter of readerly taste, I feel uneasy whenever the false hero gets more face time (and, in some sense, I get to know him better) than the true hero.

    It recalled to me the most unhappy reading experience I’ve had in recent months, Harriet Evans’s I Remember You, in which (all of this happens fairly early in the narrative, and I’m blurring the parts that might spoil) the hero repeatedly forgets about the heroine, overlooking any sensitivities that might arise from their long, painful past together while he first hits on, then rambunctiously, audibly bangs HER HOT ROOMMATE for the ENTIRE BOOK. Between this and various other obnoxious behaviors, I had gotten to the point at the end of the book where I was actually holding out hope that the false hero would (in a generically impossible bait-and-switch) turn out to be the real hero. In a romance, I think, you shouldn’t feel disappointed when the heroine ends up with the hero, or disgusted by the obvious falsity of his claims that he’s been pining away for her all along.

    I tried to ask myself whether I was just experiencing a kind of genre vertigo, in which I was applying false and unfair genre expectations to a book which was written according to another set of conventions entirely. But it’s possible that the very nature of some of those generic conventions rub me the wrong way. In JOOTG it unsettled me to think of the hero as just a bit player or, er, tool, deprived of subjectivity and interiority, in a drama that was only interested in the heroine’s anxieties and triumphs. And in I Remember You, the unsettling failure of the romance led to a drastic lessening of my respect for the heroine, and an enormous escalation of my concern for her future. In other words, to its failure as women’s fiction. (I hasten to say that there was much to admire about I Remember You, and because it had me entirely, hopefully engrossed, the shock of the hero’s asshattery was all the more gobsmacking.)

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