Last weekend I read a historical romance that one of my favorite authors had declared was one of her all-time favorites. She did give the caveat that it was an old-timey romance.
I was familiar with the author's work. Years ago when I was still a (very) graphic designer, another designer twisted my arm to get me to read HER favorite author, and I did read, I think it was three, books by same. By the time I got to the third book (a historical), I knew when Our Heroine had struggled for half a book to rescue the dear beloved Hero, who coughed as she drew his nearly-drowned self into her beautiful arms, that he'd be dead by the end of the chapter.
I was wrong. It took him a page and a half to expire.
In another book (it may have been by the same author or not; I'm trying to be vague, thank you), Our Historical Heroine is strongly urged by Government Powers to go to the Middle East and join a harem. By then Our Heroine has had about twenty kids and six husbands. (She's between hubbies at this point iIrc.) The government shill informs her that she could easily pass (naked) for a virgin of 17.
I think that was the book I threw against the wall.
Anyway, I read this historical romance book. Copyright 1988 or so, though it seemed from a decade earlier. I dunno; I didn't read any romances back then except for Wicked Loving Lies and that other one. Oh yeah, Sweet Savage Love. (Thanks, Google.) Both were full of positive-outcome rapes and bodice-ripping, and the genre hasn't yet fully recovered to the public's mind.
(Here at Adam & Eve we aren't allowed to sell anything portraying positive-outcome rapes because it is a SICK SICK SICK concept!)
Also, the heroines of that era seemed to me to be quite stupid. I don't like books with stupid protagonists.
Anyway, here was a book written a decade beyond that era, yet still we had a stupid heroine. Her only goals were... Uh... I'm thinking... She claims her only goal is to be loved, but all men adore her and she came from a close-knit, loving family, so what was her prob? Cheez.
There's no real GMC (goals, motivation, conflict) here. The heroine flits from man to man and squirts out an occasional kid at times that are convenient to her.
The prose was so purple I could paint with it. However, this also allowed me to progress at a quick pace through the rather thick tome, as I could see the purple starting and then skip down paragraphs or even pages until the narration settled down to plot again.
Reading speed was also helped in that the book was repetitive. Let me give you an example—not a quote, but an impression. We'll call Our Heroine "Bella" and Our Hero of the Moment "Steve":
Bella and Steve raced on their magnificent horses across the meadows in the lush spring sunlight. The scent of lilacs and larkspur was thick, along with the other native plants, which were [skip a few paragraphs]. They stood and watched [listing of local fauna, skip a page], who bowed as if to Bella's beauty and then trotted into the forest.
Bella's amber eyes sparkled, the flecks of pure gold in them drawing Steve's lusty attentions. He couldn't bear to be apart from her. Her ruby velvet gown, stitched with pure silk embroidery floss to give a floral motif, and with underskirt of lavender [skip a few pages] and her shoes showed off her pretty feet.
"Bella, I must have you!" Steve uttered. "Your amber eyes with their flecks of pure gold inflame me!"
Bella blushed prettily. She knew the gold flecks in her beautiful amber eyes were the second thing men noticed about her, after her magnificent breasts.
"I hate you!" she flung at Steve.
"What? Where did that come from?"
"I have no reason to hate you. In the entire book, I will suddenly accuse you of being hateful for no reason, though I fall in love with loathsome men along the way. You're a very nice man and in addition, you are gorgeous and incredibly rich. But oh, I hate you, I hate you!"
"Ah, my dearest treasure, but I will love you and your amber eyes with their flecks of pure gold, forever!"
And so on.
I'm not going to say whether this particular author is still writing or not, or whether she's still a best-selling author. All I can say is:
I love modern romance. Well, for the most part. The good stuff. (This historical stuff I was talking about was The Good Stuff in the Seventies and Eighties.)
Modern romance contains solid plots. People in them have solid goals. These goals will almost always involve the characters having to rip themselves apart in order to find solutions, which involve finding their true selves. The characters are usually interesting people with dreams beyond finding enough security in order to raise kids and not die in poverty. They are interested in the world they live in and the people around them.
The women are strong. They are smart. They have layers of character that cement them into their world and make them readily recognizable in some fashion with their readers. They have aspirations. They are able to produce emotions beyond those needed in the bedroom. They do not meekly obey men without question.
The women have adventures, and quite often, they discover they have FUN in those adventures which earlier would have been so frightening to them. The women grow. They mature and shape their world through conscious intervention and determination.
Their men (or women, if they're so inclined) eventually prove to be worthy of them by themselves growing in character.
And of course, there's the Happily Ever After, or the possibility of same—a requirement. Positive personal growth gains the reward of love and security, basic human needs.
It's a great time to read books, isn't it?