Grace asks: It occurs to me from the activity on this forum that its not a particularly popular genre at the moment - I suppose vampires have taken over.
What do you think, is HR still alive and well?
From my own personal perspective:
I'm in my forties now and had stopped reading romance by my 20-something years. I read a lot of Gothic/Romantic Suspense and Historical Romance when I was young but after a while they suffered from the formula and I moved on. I thought I was done, but then I picked up one of those epic romances looking for a good adventure novel this year and became curious how much the genre had changed (or stayed the same) since I last really paid attention to it. I began sampling more and more, and discovered it's like most other genres with its share of good, mediocre and completely forgettable books. You have to do your due diligence to find what you like, which is true of all the other genres. Is there any other genre that has to cater to such a wide range of tastes? Relationship-focused novels can strike us so personally. Finding a good one can be like finding a good friend or the perfect mate... it's a highly selective process and a lot will depend on your personal chemistry with the characters or interest and knowledge of the time and place. That said, there are some commonly used romantic tropes I just can't stand, such as lust--mistaken for love--at first sight and plots that exist for no other reason than to throw characters together for the purpose of foreplay before getting down to the penultimate act. I don't want to feel like I'm reading a how to guide for the sexually uninitiated or like I'm watching the cast of American Pie in period costume. I also hate the fast-track to love where the characters have not been given enough time to really know one another. I do often enjoy character-driven novels, and there are some romances that accomplish it quite well.
But to answer your question, is it still alive and well?
Yes, I think so. I don't, however, think that people who read outside the genre are comfortable admitting they read romances when the genre itself is treated so derisively by those who don't read much of it... Quite frankly, I've read some excellent love stories in romance that could equal anything in literature, but admit they are few and far between. I also think, though I am by no means an expert and others here know far more about the business, that Romance publishers have been quite savvy about jumping on the ebook bandwagon and romance readers have really embraced that medium. The books are easy to come by and usually quite cheap. If you read one you don't like, you haven't invested a lot of money in it, esp if you are just looking for some popcorn to read between the heavy meals.
Re favorite authors within the genre: I've really enjoyed several of the books I've read by Jo Goodman, Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale and Mary Balogh. I've only read two by Kleypas and they were a little too melodramatic for my tastes but I understand her appeal. Julia Quinn can be very funny and charming, for all that they probably typify the common complaint of history as mere wallpaper in genre romance. I can accept that if the author completely charms me with her characters and the plot itself is well thought out rather than just a tool to throw the characters together.
So, after that long-winded explanation, what books would you recommend by Eloisa James? I've only tried one by her and wondered what others would be good to start with.