Likes, Loves and Influences: Nora Roberts

Yet again a post which really ought to have happened yesterday, but I felt it was more important to reblog my friend’s announcement of the publication of her second book. One of these days I’ll get back into the rhythm, but it won’t be until next year now. I’m taking a break over the holidays, so this will be my last should-have-been-Monday post for the year.

Anyway, this post is part thirteen in my 26-Week Book Challenge, and what I’m giving you today is a favourite author. Note that I don’t say my favourite author, just a favourite author. This distinction is important, because I’m sure you can guess that I don’t have just one favourite author, just like I don’t have just one favourite book.

Since I’ve already done a number of these LL&I posts and the last one was a while ago, I figured this was a good time to have a look at the ridiculously prolific Romance author Nora Roberts.

I remember exactly which was my first ever Nora Roberts novel: Entranced. It is actually the second part of a quadrilogy which centres on the Donovan family, and with that I was immediately introduced to a Nora Roberts staple: three or four novels about the same family, with each novel concentrating on one family member and their journey to true love.

Until this point I had read a lot of Romance, but it was all of the Mills & Boon variety, where the author doesn’t really matter. You read them once and then pass them on to a friend or a charity shop, and they never linger in the mind for more than a week after you’ve read them, often much less. This novel was not blow-your-mind awesome, but I realised that I had started in the middle and was intrigued enough to read the other two. (Something I ought to have done straight away, since I got given all three by a colleague, but my excuse was that I didn’t realise they came in a particular order.)

Anyway, the plot was quite unusual, in that the Donovan family all possess a certain type of magic. The fact that the books pull this off without coming across as contrived, ridiculous, convoluted or unbelievable is quite an achievement, and I actually really liked the way it was woven into the story, including a healthy dose of scepticism from the heroine, who didn’t buy the whole ‘I can see into the future’ claim from the hero.

Somehow I got my hands on more Nora Roberts novels, and I found them all very entertaining, with different plots from what I was used to from my old Mills & Boon trash. I read The Reef, which for some reason really gave me a gut punch and a book hangover that lasted weeks. Romance novels thrive on the reader’s ability to either identify with the heroine or fall in love with the hero (or both), and Matthew Lassiter in The Reef hit me right between the eyes.

As I mentioned earlier, Nora Roberts is ridiculously prolific, churning out something like three to five books a year (including her various pseudonyms), but she somehow manages to come up with different plots every time. That said, she also has quite a large number of recurring themes, some of which I like better than others, but they are the classic hallmark of a Roberts romance:

1) Characters with Irish ancestry, or who are plain Irish. Roberts has this fascination with Ireland which crops up in almost every book, and although I know it annoys some people, it’s never bothered me. I like Ireland, and if an author wants to make half of her characters Irish that’s her prerogative.

2) Magic or supernatural abilities. She has a lot of ‘straight’ novels, but quite often the characters possess some sort of magical ability, or a kind of clairvoyance, or they come up against some supernatural entity. the Sign of Seven trilogy is a perfect example of the latter, where three ten-year old boys accidentally unleash a malicious demon on their small New England town, so that every seven year the whole town goes totally crazy for a week every seven years. On their thirty-first birthday it comes to the final showdown, and the whole trilogy is fantastic fun, with the supernatural plot seamlessly woven into the romance.

3) Black-haired, blue-eyed heroes. This one is half and half for me. I’ll never complain about dark-haired heroes (especially when their hair is longer than conventional, because that’s also right up my street), but I’m a bit meh about blue eyes. She does have heroes with other hair and eye colours, but her clear favourite is the black/blue combination as shown most obviously in Roarke, the hero in the In Death novels (written under Roberts’ pseudonym J D Robb).

4) Several novels focused on one particular family or group of friends. I mentioned this earlier, but it is important because it’s something I really like. Usually a romance novel just ends and you never see or hear anything more of the protagonists. That’s fine, of course – a happily ever after is always assumed – but it’s nice to see the protagonists of the first book crop up in the second book and finding out they now have two adorable kiddies or something like that. It was also an important factor in the ‘design’ of my own trilogy, which is three stand-alone stories which are connected through the main characters.

5) Instant orgasms. This one is actually starting to annoy me. I’m all for sex in my romance, and I get that they’re so desperately hot for each other that everything feels three times as good as it might otherwise do, but every single bloody woman in Nora Roberts’ novels spontaneously combusts the moment the man puts his fingers on her clit. If anyone reading this has orgasms like that I don’t want to know about it, because as far as I’m concerned normal women need a bit more than that.

6) Focused, driven women who live for their job and run themselves into the ground for their photography/police work/journalism/artwork/book writing/whatever other profession you can chuck at them. I get that lazy heroines maybe aren’t as likeable as hard-working ones, but sheesh ladies! You don’t have to nearly kill yourself just doing your job!

What I like about Nora Roberts on the whole is that you can rely on her delivering an enjoyable, readable, often even memorable romance. They’re not earthshattering, they’re not shout-it-from-the-rooftops great, but they rarely disappoint.

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