About six months ago, I accidentally read a book by Robyn Carr. It wasn’t bad. I’m not necessarily well-read in the “romance” genre, or at least I wasn’t until I read her novels (more on that later), but I felt intrigued. There was a solid story line, and what I found is that I didn’t necessarily love her stories, although I definitely wanted to keep reading them and keep learning about each character. What I loved was her world building. I finished the Virgin River Series (21 books- the longest series I’ve read EVER) and the Thunder Point Series (9 books- might be the second longest series that I’ve read), and I kept reading them because of the towns.

These novels were traditional romance novels in that there was a love story that was central to the story. What went beyond for me was her ability to make me care about the town. Maybe it reminded me of growing up in a small town with our own mix of good and bad, but I kept reading because of the bar where everyone met, and the way that they assembled Thanksgiving Boxes for their locals who didn’t have enough, and the way that characters went to and supported those who were in need. I am typically a character driven novel reader. My friends who read the books I choose can attest to that. But this time, I wanted to read to check on the towns that I had come to know and love.

By the end of both series, I can say that I’m a little tired of the Romance genre. Some of the story lines are a little too predictable, even if I do like the fact that there is always a happy ending. As always there were some negatives for me. I didn’t like that at the end of almost every novel there was a marriage proposal or a baby, but I think that might be an expectation when you are reading and writing romance novels. Towards the end of the Virgin River series, there were definitely fewer marriages and babies and more couples making sure they were right for each other, and I appreciated that. Even though I saw some cons in these novels, I have to say that I’m glad that I read them. I think I learned about the value of building a solid place and I think the escape from reality factor was high.

Right now, as I’m prepping for my overly busy summer and my own plans to write a novel in the coming months, I’m wondering if it is possible to build a world in one novel where characters are important, but where the setting is a character of its own. Novels like Sarah Addison Allen‘s Garden Spells, First Frost, and Lost Lake all accomplished a similar feeling for me. (If you’re interested, I reviewed a couple of her novels that I’ve read and I even made the Fig and Pepper Bread that makes an appearance in First Frost). I loved the characters, but I loved the place almost as much.

What about you guys? Any books where the setting spoke to you as much as the characters?

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