It's called Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap.
I took 3 days off last week, resulting in a 5-day mini-vacation in which I've gotten a surprising amount of work done in just about every area of my life, meaning that it's difficult to see any changes because there's so much to do in so many different places. But during my rest breaks I have managed to read 3 books. (Okay, the last one hasn't been finished yet.)
The first book turned out to be erotica. Why can't publishers post erotica ratings so as to warn readers who only want so much and no more? You won't be able to tell what book this is because it resembles so many others, but it was recommended as summer reading by a major publication, as were all 3 books discussed here.
The book begins as Our Heroine dresses stupidly (the obvious reason so she can shed her clothes more quickly) and goes off on a stupid trip to a forbidden, isolated midnight place she hasn't been to in years, a place obviously reeking with danger. There she stumbles across Our Hero, who says, "It's you," for they'd known of each other only by reputation in high school. To which Our Heroine says, "You!"
He was the school Bad Boy and she was the Good Girl, daughter of a cop or preacher or politician with high standing in the community. So of course she throws all that background to the wind and without further ado, they Go At It. Of course he makes sure she is pleasured first before he achieves his own (this is romance fiction after all), but it's the best, hottest sex either one has ever, ever had. They go their separate ways after angry post-coital words are exchanged. Well, at least they've started to talk to each other now.
This is within the first 10 pages of the book. Our Heroine quickly returns home and does five Incredibly Stupid Things that will lead her back into the arms of Our Bad Boy Hero. At this point I put down the book, make a note of the author's name, and determine never to buy anything from her again.
This kind of unfeeling, completely unromantic romance seems to be what sells the best. Why is that? It makes me feel dirty instead of excited when I read it. Besides, it requires stupid heroes/heroines, and I DESPISE reading about stupid people doing stupid things.
Book #2 had promise. At first I thought it was something that I'd helped shape the query synopsis for in our local group, but the author's name wasn't familiar. After a while, the plot diverged from that other one and I was intrigued, wondering where this would go.
But it was formulaic. I'll give it points in that it plunked one extra layer onto Our Heroine, but everyone else in the top tier of characters was by the book. The author must have realized that because she added over a dozen others to the secondary and tertiary tiers, all part of the big family (another hallmark of too much romance fiction, usually to allow for sequels that involve the other members being brought up to primary status for their own books). The trouble was, they were all alike and I had no idea who was who, what differentiated them from each other. They all had the same relationship problems, all had characters with no depth at all, and all spoke in interchangeable pseudo-psychologist patter. The climax to the plot was dealt with quickly (and questionably, as in huh? How did that happen?) in order to wrap things up for everyone and deliver a HEA without going over the publisher's required page count.
Formula. I realize that there is a basic structure of romance fiction, but must it be simplified so much? Where's the zing in reading a plot that we've read a hundred times, be it set in contemporary, historic, fantasy or sf setting? Yawwwwn. Next time, put a little thought into it, please.
With two books down I reached for my third, done by an author who rarely disappoints. Why is this? She may follow the basic fiction tell-a-story structure, but she's brought to the table an interesting and clashing mix of unique characters who come from unique situations, who reveal new layers of themselves as the plot continues. Almost every chapter brings a surprise of some kind, a twist that makes the characters work to sort themselves out while learning more about themselves.
The story bounds forward with zest. Sexual elements are gradually folded in, and when they arrive they come with humor, disappointment, a possibility of things getting better in the future... a sense of reality that fiction does so well in giving us in its own unrealistic way. Haven't finished the book yet, but if it's like her others, the sex scenes will occur only after the characters start to relate to each other in ways that frighten them and force them to deal with their own innermost secrets. When that final sex scene comes they'll be interlinked not only in body but in mind and purpose. And it'll finally be the best sex they've ever had because they're with the best person for them. I know I'll need a Kleenex to get through the end of this, and I know that I'll remember the characters long after I finish.
Hooray for the 10 percent!