Iread a lot of romance novels. Almost every night, in fact.
For the most part, I like all kinds. I’ve savored supernatural stories of seductive faeries; delighted in royal tales of dukes falling in love with fashion designers; devoured vampire men beguiling other vampire men (all of whom, in one particular series, wear lots of leather); and, yes, on occasion I’ve sampled the sagas of frustrated businessmen who shed their many shades of angst — well, you get the drift.
The stories help me escape.
Except for when they’re set in my hometown.
Take Samantha Young’s book “Hero,” the tale of a Boston businessman who falls for a forbidden love. It started off fine — until it wasn’t.
I first muttered “ew” at page 40, when we got to the sexy leading man’s Arlington Street penthouse. Then there was that Fenway Park scene. And a mention of Congress Street.
I can’t see those places as sexy. They’re where I do my errands, parallel park, and get sinus infections.
I’ve always hoped I could get past this and see my own city as a place for romance. With that in mind, and with Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, I approached a handful of writers who’ve set stories here in the hopes that they can tell me how.
Best-selling author Colleen Hoover lives on many acres of lonesome land in Texas, so it’s easy for her to romanticize a city. She says she first got the idea for a local book while on tour, and “one of the ladies [at an appearance] begged me to write the next book and base it in Boston.” So Hoover spent a few days walking around the city alone, looking for inspiration. It resulted in 2016’s “It Ends With Us,” which begins with a solo rooftop reverie — interrupted by a tall, broad-shouldered stranger.
Carla Neggers tells me she’s set books in Boston (notably, her suspense series “Sharpe & Donovan”) because it’s a romantic walking city. She notes a particular scene where art-crime expert Emma Sharpe and deep-cover agent Colin Donovan find themselves strolling through the Public Garden. Then there’s the beauty of the Wharf area, where her characters live. “I can just see them on the Wharf. It’s almost like England. I couldn’t just take these characters and plop them in another city.”
Samantha Young, who wrote the romance-thriller “Hero,” tells me that if I liked her “On Dublin Street” series set in Scotland (and I did), I should be comfortable with the books she’s set here. “Boston seems to have multiple personalities,’’ she tells me, via e-mail. “And there is definitely an element of Boston that straddles the line between earthy sexiness and elegant sexiness.” Witness the first sex scene between our heroine Alexa and Caine, a businessman used to having his way, in a Financial District office. “There’s so much pent up romantic tension in their relationship that the scene still goes down as one of the most passionate and explosive between any of my characters.”
Author Ashlyn Chase says that as a supernatural romance fan, I should adore books set in Boston. I’ve been partial to vampire sagas set in New Orleans, Canada, and even New Jersey, but Chase tells me that magical creatures, especially the ones that hail from Ireland and Italy, would naturally be drawn here. In her “Boston Dragons” books, where hunky firefighting men turn into mythological beasts, magical creatures are drawn to an apartment building, on, of all places, Beacon Street. “They feel comfortable there,” she says, which I admit does pique my interest.
Still, I’m not entirely sold. Boston just doesn’t inspire those feelings.
Leah Koch of the Ripped Bodice — the only all-romance brick-and-mortar bookstore in the country — says my feelings are normal. From her Culver City, Calif., shop she tells me over the phone that place does affect readers. So does occupation.
“It’s not that different from lawyers who don’t like to read romances about lawyers. Or nurses who don’t like to read romances about nurses. It’s just whatever’s in your real life that you don’t want to bring in.”
For the record, Koch notes Boston is not the most popular setting for the books sold in her shop. Many are set in New York City, and she’s seen an increase in New Orleans and San Francisco stories. Fifty percent of all romances, she estimates, take place in fictional towns — which removes any geographic impediments to losing yourself in the story.
There is, however, one romance category that does tend to be placed in Boston, Koch says.
“With Boston in particular, I don’t know if you know this, but hockey romance is really popular. I have read a couple [featuring] the Bruins.’’ For the hockey-romance curious, Koch mentions author Elle Kennedy.
I’ve decided her Boston hockey book, “The Mistake,” will be my next attempt.
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