By its very nature, a Romance is suffused with positive attitude. The characters learn who they are, what kind of lives they want, and then proceed to go out and get them. The end result is effort rewarded (which is frankly more interesting than virtue rewarded, because virtuousness can be boring). We like to read about good things happening to decent people. On good days, that makes us feel even better.
But some days aren’t so good. Some days actively suck. And some don’t just kick you in the teeth, they also pick your pocket on your way down, ruin your favourite jeans in the process, and convince Revenue Canada to audit you while you lie there wondering what the hell just happened.
That, my friends, is the day you need a good Romance the most.
All Romances are uplifting, but some have an extra measure of boost. Here’s a list of titles particularly well suited to take you through the crappiest of times.
Archangel, by Sharon Shinn
This is one of my all-time favourite reads. It’s an SF novel dressed up like a Fantasy wrapped in a perfect marriage-of-convenience Romance (ka-ching!) The angels of Samaria are very real: they make direct intercessions to their god to bring sunlight or rain, to make seeds and medicines fall out of the sky. They are led by the Archangel, who must marry the Angelica (or Angelico) chosen by the God or face a world-altering retribution. Gabriel, who will become the new leader of the host very soon, is looking for his bride. But that bride, Rachel, has little interest in angels, and even less in averting a crisis. This is the book that made me a Shinn devotee. If nothing else, the way she writes about music will enchant you.
Read: when you have the flu, and everything aches, including your hair.
Quite simply, this is Beauty and the Beast, all grown up and with the background detail coloured in. The heroine is called Beauty, but her real name is Honor. The hero is strange and magnificent and, well, beastly but without being entirely monstrous. It’s a gorgeous version of one of my most treasured archetypal tales (McKinley later wrote a second, also beautiful version, called Rose Daughter). One of my favourite touches is how close and loving Beauty’s family is. There’s no vanity, or jealousy between sisters: instead, there is help and harbour and shelter.
I have a friend who keeps a copy of McKinley’s Sunshine on hand to re-read in the gloomy days of February when it seems like spring will never come. But she can’t beat my devotion to Beauty. I’ve a carried a copy across both hemispheres.
Read: when you need to know that sacrifice is worthwhile.
Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie
The snappy dialogue disguises some of the more serious aspects of this, one of Crusie’s single titles. Minerva Dobbs thinks what she wants is a ordinary guy. Instead, life keeps putting gorgeous, charming Cal Morrisey in her way. There’s an unwritten rule in Romance that any conflict that can be resolved with one conversation is not really a conflict at all. Crusie both uses and subverts that trope. Because crazy misunderstanding aside, Cal is still struggling with the effect of his childhood, and Min suffers from body image problems. As they move ever closer to one another, each begins to deal with the scarred and sensitive places inside. It’s also a pleasure to see family and friends so well written, and so integral to the story.
Read: when you need to know that change is possible. And when you need a good laugh.
The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley
I love all of Kearsley’s work, but something about this book resonates with particular intensity. Maybe it’s the main characters, Verity Grey and David Fortune, two archaeologists called to work on a dig in Scotland. Each is struggling against past disappointments, but both are hopeful about the future. Or maybe it’s the plot: archaeologists uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of Rome’s famous Ninth Legion! (also, smugglers). Maybe it’s the ghostly Roman sentinel who walks the site. Or possibly Robbie, the charming eight-year old psychic. Or heck, perhaps it’s just Kearsley’s gorgeous prose. Whatever the combination, the result is pure magic.
Read: when you need to believe in the possibility of second chances. And third ones, too.
Up Close and Dangerous, by Linda Howard
(If you’ve read this book, you’re probably thinking: ‘Um, pardon, how is a book about a plane crash either romantic or uplifting?” Bear with me.)
Bailey is a cool and composed financial advisor. Cam is a laid-back pilot who often flies her on business. They don’t get on particularly well. At least, not until their plane malfunctions mid-flight. Then their very lives depend on being able to work together. To the surprise of both, they’re a natural pair. Cam learns that Bailey’s reserve is just protective colouration. And Bailey discovered that when Cam wants something, ‘laid back’ doesn’t even come close.
But I think what I like best about the book is the details of just how they survive. I love the shelters they build with pine boughs and cushions; the fires they start with the plane’s battery; the way they improvise snowshoes and sleds and winter gear. It’s clever and fascinating, and their ingenuity and hard work really pay off. They crashed a plane into a mountain – and walk away not only alive but also in love. Really, can it get any better than that?
Read: when you need to know that you can make it.
When all else fails, Chris Szego reads Eva Ibbotson (especially since her books are no longer out of print!).