What Do You Look For in a Romance Novel?

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RITA AwardThe RITA Award is the premiere award given to romance novels each year and is sponsored by the Romance Writers of America (RWA) association. As a published member of RWA, I get to participate in the process as a judge. A couple weeks ago I received a box full of seven novels ready to be read. We are instructed to score the books in 4 major areas: The Romance, The Plot/Story, The Writing, and The Characters. I keep these elements in mind as I read, but truly what influences my score most of all is the experience I have as a reader.

If you read as much as I do, you’re bound to come up with some favorite elements. Perhaps a favorite type of heroine (feisty, bookish, tomboy, impulsive, etc.) or a favorite plot (marriage of convenience, beauty and the beast, Cinderella story, secret baby, etc.). You probably also have a few pet peeves. I, for example, am not a big fan of love triangle stories. I prefer my hero/heorine to have no other love interest competing for them while they are falling in love with each other. However, other readers might have this scenario on the top of their favorite plots list.

Reading is subjective. But that’s what makes it so fun. Everyone has their own preferences, and there are authors available to fit each reader’s list.

Since we focus on western romances here at the Junction, I thought I’d share some of my all-time favorite western romances (not including those written by my sister fillies – that would make this post waaaaay too long).

Favorite Christian Western Romances:

Redeeming LoveBride in the Bargain










Favorite General Market Western Romances:

Texas Destiny Series
I loved this 3 book series – Texas Destiny, Texas Glory, and Texas Splendor
Another fabulous historical series - 4 books: The Man From Stone Creek, A Wanted Man, The Rustler, and The Bridegroom
Another fabulous historical series – 4 books: The Man From Stone Creek, A Wanted Man, The Rustler, and The Bridegroom
Jodi's Whispering Mountain series helped inspire my Archer brothers. Loved them all, but my favorites are the first 4 - Texas Rain; Texas Princess; Tall, Dark, and Texan; and The Lone Texan
Jodi’s Whispering Mountain series helped inspire my Archer brothers. Loved them all, but my favorites are the first 4 – Texas Rain; Texas Princess; Tall, Dark, and Texan; and The Lone Texan













Any of Catherine Anderson's historicals. Her wounded characters always grab me by the heartstrings.
Any of Catherine Anderson’s historicals. Her wounded characters always grab me by the heartstrings.


So if you were a judge for the RITA contest, what elements would you be looking for?


What type of characters and plots are your favorite to read about?


What are some of your favorite western reads?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

27 thoughts on “What Do You Look For in a Romance Novel?”

  1. That’s so funny because I don’t care for love triangles either haha. Some of my favorite western reads are:

    1. The Jodi’s Whispering Mountain series

    2. I really do love your archer brothers series! I have read short straw bride like 50 times!

    3. Everything by Mary Connealy or Margaret Brownley

    4. And I am a big fan Diana Palmer and Jillian Hart

  2. Karen, love your blog because I LOVE talking books. Seems we have the same tastes. Jodi’s, LLM’s, and Lorraine Heath’s westerns are all on my keeper shelf and I guard them zealously. I do not loan them out, no matter what. But, now Kaki Warner’s books have joined them. I’m a big fan of Kaki’s work and have been ever since I read PIECES OF SKY. And then I have to mention LaVeryl Spencer’s. WOW! Great books.

    I, too, am judging RITA books this year. Some are good and some not.

    Like Cori, I still remember SHORT STRAW BRIDE. Such an excellent story filled with lots of humor and deeply touching moments.

  3. Some of my favorites themes are: marriage of convenience and I have loved you for years from afar.

    My favorite authors are Karen Wittemeyer, Donna Alward and Carolyn Davidson
    I like sexual tension and that is rare to display without opening the bedroom door.

  4. No love triangles here!
    What I do look for is a spunky, confident heroine and an alpha male (tough on the outside but a softy for the people he loves). That usually leads to some good angst. For there to be passion on many levels. Passion for God, for the work they do, for one another when the timing is right. Not to say that there can’t be feelings right away, just none of that insta-love or lust that becomes dirty and cheap. I want it clean but still feel sexy and romantic. When I close the book, I want to sigh.
    Karen, your books are some my favorites. I think Levi is in my top 5 of fictional heroes.

  5. The blog won’t let me log in. I’m not sure why. So posting as me only not! I’ll say for some reason, I am a sucker for Self-Sacrifice. Someone giving up on their dreams for others. A mother giving up a child for it’s own good. A man stepping back because he thinks he will ruin his woman’s chance at happiness.

    Nothing gets to me as much as that kind generosity, that kind of ‘laying down his life for his friend’ story line. And of course in the end, everyone is happily ever after, right? So go ahead and sacrifice your happiness, you KNOW he’d going to come around and say, “My child needs a mother. Marry me!”

  6. In a good romance our goal is to stick the hero and heroine together physically while shoving them apart emotionally. Thus, two enemies with a common purpose. The frightened witness and the controlling cop who stands guard over her.

    The hero hired on to a cattle drive run by the heroine.
    And that most beloved of all plots, the marriage of convenience.

  7. Hey, Lis! You have just been initiated into the No Triangles Book Club Cori and I started. Welcome! 😉

    I love what you said about the multiple levels/types of passion. So true! And thanks for mentioning Levi. I have to admit he’s one of my favorites. (But, shhhh. Don’t tell the others.)

  8. I just finished your Archer Brothers series, Karen, and absolutely LOVED them…….great books!!
    Have also read several of Tracie Peterson’s books this year….another fave of mine!
    Love to read Christian fiction.

  9. Hi, Mary – only not? Self-sacrifice can be so powerful. Although I have to admit I’m more fond of the put-myself-in-front-of-a-bullet-for-you type than the I’m-going-to-let-some-other-guy-have-you-because-I’m-not-good-enough type. But maybe that ties into my aversion to love triangles.

  10. Hi, Jackie. So glad you enjoyed the Archers. I had so much fun giving each of those ornery men a spunky woman to keep them in line. 🙂

    And Tracie Peterson is great, isn’t she? I’ve met her in person at writers events and she is just the most down-to-earth lovely person. She really has a heart for what she does.

  11. Hi Karen – I usually like to read a tortured hero story. I also love a heroine who is more innocent, but feisty. I also love a story about redemption, either hers or his. So many…but I’m really drawn to any story if I enjoy the author’s voice and way of telling the story.

  12. What makes a book successful for me is if I can actually feel the emotions of the characters, not just read about them. My favorite books of yours that did that for me are To Win Her Heart and Short-Straw Bride. (Btw I’m totally looking forward to your new book!!!) A book I read last year that I absolutely fell in love with is Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson. So. Good. The publisher synopsis doesn’t do justice in my opinion. Such a great example of how romantic and sexual tension can be more powerful when it’s clean.

  13. OOooo – I LOVE the tortured hero, Charlene. That’s probably why I adore Beauty and the Beast type stories. Great call.

    Heidi – I’m with you on the emotions. I want to live vicariously through the characters not just listen to someone tell their story. I’ve never read Edenbrooke. I’ll have to check it out. 🙂

  14. I read A LOT!! A book a day can be done. So, if the story doesn’t grab me by the first paragraph, I put it down for another look another day. If that doesn’t grab me, then, it goes into the pile to recycle at the Senior Center.
    I have to have conflict and a mystery along with a love story or conflict with the love. Anyway, story is a biggie for me and strong characters. Yesterday, I opened 2 books that I had gotten in the mail. Both I read the first 2-3 pages and put them into the ‘to-go’ pile. There was nothing there to keep me interested. Maybe if I didn’t read so much it might have been different. But, I wasn’t interested.

  15. No love triangles here either, but me love those Mail Order Brides and marriages of convenience tales. And I love tortured heroes –mostly outlaws who need redemption.

    Enjoy judging, Karen! I was very disappointed that not enough YA entrants submitted this year, so my YA The Circle Girls was sent back. Boo.

    I enjoyed the post and covers!

  16. Hi Ladies!
    Hmmm let’s see…I don’t really have a type that I prefer. I’ll read just about anything.
    But I know what I DON’T want, and that is a book that leaves nothing to the imagination in the bedroom. I’m not stupid, I know what goes on, so I don’t need to read it. Besides, truth be told, reading it always embarrasses me a little bit anyway, like I’m spying on my neighbors or something. Ew!

  17. Some of my favorite Western authors including those already mentioned:

    LaVyrle Spencer FORGIVING,first romance book I read
    Elizabeth Lowell,
    Sandra Brown,
    Linda Howard,
    Joan Johnston,
    Karen Kay,
    Elizabeth Lane,
    Cheryl St John,
    Kat Martin,
    Julianne MacLean
    Linda Lael Miller

    mail order brides,
    loner who falls for the new lady in town
    woman moving west for her inheritance
    rancher falling for her hard headed neighbor neighbor
    woman on the run needing a protector

  18. Karen, I have skimmed through some of the other posts and I have to say a lot of them are what I look for too. I don’t really like the love triangle thing either. I don’t like the “Oh look, I think I love you immediately” thing either. It gets me interested if maybe at first glance or encounter they don’t like each other and eventually decide that the other isn’t so bad. Strong heroes, feisty women with a little tomboy in them and just good clean stories. Yes a little romance but none of the bodice rippers stuff. I like a clean story, no cussing or just say they cursed not be explicit and what goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom for me. I love your books Karen and I love Mary Connealy, Cathy Hake and Margaret Brownley as well. There are more but those are the ones that come to mind. I have read so many books of different kinds and find with my experience with life I don’t like cruel stories. I’ve seen enough real life cruelty to know I don’t want it in my fiction. I know it’s out there but I need escape not necessarily realism. Make it just real enough for entertainment.

  19. I love reading everyone’s comments! As a writer myself, you all give me good insight on what you prefer to read.

    And Mary Connealy, I just read The Husband Tree again just yesterday. I’ve read the Montana Marriages series several times. I just love Belle and her daughters! (Everyone- This is the hero hired by the heroine on the cattle drive story Mary mentioned.)

  20. So many great responses!

    Mary J – I remember the days when I could read a book a day. Before kids and before writing, but I have the same issue you do. Because I have so little time to read, I hate to waste my time on a book that I don’t enjoy. I try to be really pick selecting them in the first place, then give them at least 50 pages to engross me. If it doesn’t happen, they go into the pile for library donations. Although, I find that if I paid money for the book, I’m more likely to force myself to read it even if I don’t love it. If it came from the library or was a freebie, it can end up in the giveaway pile much more quickly.

  21. Tanya – Welcome to the no-triangle book club! You are member number 4. Ha! I’m bummed that your category got cancelled due to lack of entries. That stinks. The books I received to judge are a very mixed bunch. Some have been fun, but the one I’m reading now is a chore. Hope your category makes next year!

  22. Hi, Stephanie. I appreciate your comments and I support your sentiment completely. Thanks for sharing.

    Laurie G – You’ve named some top notch authors. I’ve read many of them and agree that they are fabulous.

    Connie – I agree with you about not enjoying books that make me go to cruel, ugly places. I read to escape as well, and would rather go somewhere fun and beautiful. I still like adventure and danger, but not the truly ugly stuff.

    Linda – You’ve guessed my secret motive – tap into the reader’s brain to see what she loves and take notes. 🙂 Mary Conneally books are always so much fun. I love her stories.

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