GS vs. STA: Happy Parental Relationships

Melissa wrote to me about a specific type of romance relationship – the parental one:

I'm recently on a kick reading and writing books in which the hero and heroine have healthy, functional relationships with their living parents, but that sort of book is so hard to find in romance! Carrie Ann Ryan recommended Lauren Dane's Chase Brothers series to me, but I haven't gotten any other recommendations from my Facebook or Twitter queries. Perhaps a good topic for GS vs. STA or one of your fabulous editorials? Thanks for considering!

Yes, indeed! Parental relationships are so often the foundation of character drama, and there's no shortage of bad parenting in romance character land. Yet I love books where the relationships that the characters have with their parents or their parental figures shows their emotional maturity, and gives me more characters to like. I also really, really enjoy that the diversity of what makes up a family when it comes to raising children is portrayed more often now. Aunts, grandparents, cousins, unrelated adults, and foster parents have made appearances in romances. 

Two romances that I loved for their portayal of the family dynamic (and the variety therein) were Shannon Stacey's Yours to Keep (A | BN | K S ), and Exclusively Yours (A | BN | K S ) (I did not enjoy the middle book in that series). The family camping scenes in Exclusively Yours and the scenes with the aunt in Yours to Keep are emotionally deft and also hilarious. I also loved the adoptive family in Judith McNaught's Perfect. (A | BN)

So what books did you love for the romance, and for the relationships the characters had with their parents or caregivers? Which do you recommend – or not recommend? 

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  1. 1
    Marc says:

    I enjoyed Mari Carr’s Wild Irish Series for the healthy family (parents and siblings) atmosphere between the characters.

  2. 2
    mia says:

    I like quirky families so this might not be what you’re for, but I really liked Tilda’s family in Faking It by Jennifer Crusie.  Gwen and Eve may not be your average mother, but there was always so much love.  Also, not romance, but good stories, Marian Keyes has a few books that star the Walsh family: Angels, Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday. They’ll make you laugh and break your heart, the mother is a hoot.

  3. 3
    Fran says:

    I’m not quite sure if you’re only looking for contemporary recs, but here’s what I have by sub-genre (for the three I read):

    If historicals are acceptable, Julia Quinn has her Bridgerton series (My favorites are It’s in His Kiss and On The Way to The Wedding), What Happens in London, and Dancing at Midnight (I haven’t read Splendid in a while so I can’t remember if Emma gets along with her dad.  I’d tentatively say yes, but again not 100%).  Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens includes a good mother-son relationship, although I haven’t read any of the latter books in the Cynster series.  In Loretta Chase’s Not Quite a Lady the heroine REALLY loves her Dad and her Stepmother, although she is keeping a BIG secret from him. 

    Contemporary-wise, Heaven, Texas (a SEP) has a good relationship between the Hero and his mom, although there is some tension as the book continues (all resolved in the end).  It also happens to be my favorite Chicago Stars book :)  Call Me Irresistible also features a really good relationship between the hero and his parents.  In the Hot Zone series by Carly Philips the heroines all have good relationships with their Uncle and his Secretary/person he’s in love with.  She helped him raise them (their parents died when they were kids).  Continuing with the Contemporary sports theme, Fair Play by Deirdre Martin has a hero with a really good parent/kid relationship (if I remember correctly) and is close with his extended family as well (possibly minus his brother?  I don’t know if that would bother you). 

    Moving on to paranormal, in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning (Faerie/other), the main character has a really good relationship with her parents throughout the series, even if they don’t physically enter the action until much later.  She’s really close with her dad and mom, and I personally really enjoyed the books.  If I remember correctly, the Hero has a good relationship with his father in the Alpha & Omega series (werewolf) by Patricia Briggs, but I can’t remember how much exactly this influences the book.  On a really airy note, if you’re looking for very little conflict, you’d probably enjoy Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau series (vampires) which is filled with family dynamic (the books tend to be really similar though) but little in the way of the adventure that normally accompanies paranormal romances.  Jennifer Ashley’s Shifter Unbound series has two brothers as the heros of books one and two, and they get along well with their dad even if there is some tension there (for reasons revealed throughout the book). 

    Please excise the abundance of commas and parenthesis, and good luck in your quest!

  4. 4

    Have you read the Chesapeake Bay Brothers series by Nora Roberts?  The dad in that…well.  Fun.  :)

    The father doesn’t play as much driving focus to their current stories, but I’ve got a couple of RS, FRAGILE AND BROKEN, where the dad pretty much pieces the brothers back together, especially the hero of book 2. 

    It’s more in the earlier part of the books, but he made them who they were.  Heroine in the first book was adopted.

  5. 5
    Emily says:

    Okay a few Caveats on the Bridgertons series…
    While the Bridgertons themselves have a close relationship with their mother (more on that later) many of the spouses of the Bridgertons have bad relationships with their parents. Simon’s father in The Duke and I is my least favorite father of evey romance I’ve read. I Hate Simon’s father who gave up on his son when his son had special needs as a child.
    Now the matriarch of the Bridgerton clan can be sweet and is very warm and loving, but can also be pushy, manipulative and controlling. She is not my cup of tea. Still if you would like to see good parents try book 2 The Viscount Who Loved Me. All the parents are good even if some are dead.
    Now a parent relationship that may not be everyone’s cup of tea is Mina’s parents in the Iron Duke. The mother had to deal with the fact Mina was the product of the rape. Despite her initial bad reaction, she overcame her issues and was a loving mother to Mina during the story. The father is not her biological father but still loves her and claims her as his daughter despite everything. I loved the family in this book, it was one of my favorite parts of this book.
    Georgette Heyer does both good and bad families. The mother in False Colors is a heroine but so is her future daughter-in-law. The mother is complex but turns out to be loving in her own way. Her sons loves for who she is and she loves them. Arabella’s parents are sweet in Arabella and the scenes with the hero and his grandmother were adorable. Also both Charity Girl and Cotillion had good relationships between the hero and his parents. Cotillion the best of everything, actually showed the bond between parent and child develop. So to recap I recommend False Colors, Arabella, Charity Girl, and Cotillion all by Georgette Heyer. Their might be other Heyers those definitely somewhat fit the bill.
    If you like mystery the Russ and Rev. Clare series shows Russ has a good relationship with his mother and Clare has good relationship with her parents but off-screen. (As far as I’ve read.)
    I might be able to think of more. I am very excited about this post. I love seeing good relationships that come off as a genuine and not sappy, but with plenty of real feeling underneath. I am excited to see other suggestions.

  6. 6
    Emily says:

    Sorry I thought I edited it better. You can get get the gist of it, but still … my apologies.

  7. 7
    Lisa J says:

    The Changeling parents in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling books are always happy and supportive.  I know Nikita isn’t too maternal in Slave to Sensation, but Mercy’s parents are protective and loving in Branded by Fire.

  8. 8
    Winnie says:

    I haven’t read them in a while but I’m pretty sure Nora Roberts’ books about the Macgregor family portrayed healthy relationships between the three generations of Macgregors. Same goes for NR’s books about the Stanislaski family as well.

    Disclaimer: Can’t say for sure if the non-Macgregor/Stanislaski characters had good relationships with their parents.

  9. 9
    Alex says:

    @mia – I’m a big fan of the Marian Keyes books starring the Walsh family but personally I’d mark them up as something to avoid in this context.  There’s some lovely family banter and Mammy Walsh is hilarious but I think it’s pretty much established in Rachel’s Holiday and confirmed in the other books that they weren’t fantastic parents.  All of the Walsh girls have issues with them on some level.

    Cotillion is a joy from start to finish – I adore the Legerwood family.

    I’m struggling to think of many “normal” families in contemporaries.  I’ll consult the bookshelves later on and see if I can come up with anything.

  10. 10
    Sycorax says:

    I’d second (or third) ‘The Viscount Who Loved Me’. Emily is right about most of the Bridgerton spouses having horrible parents. Kate’s stepmother, on the other hand, is a total sweetheart. I love Julia’s eccentric family in Deanna Raybourn’s Silent series too. Oh, and there’s the Earl of Hargate in Loretta Chase’s Carsington series, who is especially wonderful in ‘Lord Perfect’. He’s only a somewhat terrifying influence in the background in the other books.

    Wow, other than the occasional sweet mother of a titled hero, most parents seem to be absent or nasty in historical romances.

  11. 11
    Jenny Dolton says:

    Maya Banks’ KGI series is the first that jumped to mind—on the heros’ side at least. The brothers have great parents and a loving relationship with them. The heroines, not so much.

  12. 12
    Brianne Sherwood says:

    I’m pretty sure most of the parental relationship d of the characters in the Virgin River series are strong – I’ve only read th4e first three books.  But really liked all 3.  the whole town is relatively happy.

    I also seem to remember goof relationships in JoAnn Ross’ Shelter Bay novels (I am in the middle of On Lavender Lane now)  Can’t swear to it thought, the memory is a little hazy

  13. 13
    Tam B says:

    Nora Roberts likes to give you (usually) a great mother / son relationship.  This is either grown men (hero) with a living mother or the mother of a son is the heroine. 
    Unfortunately the mother / daughter (heroine and her parent) relationships are typically the complete opposite.  Or you have absent or deceased parents and a fantastic aunt with whom the heroine has a fantastic relationship.  I’ve found this across almost all her books and it features most prominently in her trilogies.

    If you’d like to try a series that isn’t a romance but has romantic elements (and you can handle witches) I’d suggest Debora Geary’s A Modern Witch series and it’s spin off trilogy.  Every time I read this series I want to become part of this family.  They’re fun, loud, play jokes on each other and are rock solid supporting each other and whomever else needs it.  (Nb: I think this series is only available via Amazon and in e-book format, but if you need a non-kindle format email the author she is amazingly accommodating to her readers.)

  14. 14
    Carin says:

    When I saw the title of the post I thought of Shannon Stacey’s YOURS books, but you beat me to it, Sarah, by mentioning them in the article.  I highly recommend them.

    I’d never really thought of how few romances have a stable family for the main characters.  Almost any good family I think of has the parents killed off.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    It’s one of the things I remember most from those books: the main characters have loving families who are real (i.e. have flaws and aren’t sweet-perfect) and clearly love them.

  16. 16
    Amanda says:

    For the most part both sets of parents are loving in The Cynster Series by Stephanie Laurens. I love the first 6 dealing with the main male cousins and then the 2 books with the twins Amanda and Amelia. There are a few exceptions but never one of the Cynsters parents. In Victoria Alexander’s Effington Series all the Effington’s come from loving family’s.  My favorites are The Wedding Bargin, The Pursuit of Marriage, and The Marriage Lesson.

  17. 17

    I’ve read Shannon Stacey’s books, but had forgotten about them when I wrote my letter to Sarah. I loved the realistic families in Stacey’s books. Thank you for the reminder! And my thanks to everyone who commented with such great recommendations. My TBR list is now out-of-control in the best possible way.

  18. 18
    Jessi says:

    I’d also add For the Roses by Julie Garwood – which is a story about several (mostly) orphaned boys who adopt and raise a baby girl. Their attempts at parenting are at times hilarious and other times amazingly sweet. They also receive advice and support from one of the boys’ mother who can not be with them.

  19. 19
    CarrieS says:

    If you want to try sci-fi romance, Miles Vorkosigan in “A Civil Campaign” has awesome parents.

  20. 20
    Aspen says:

    I’m really fond of the family dynamics in Nora Robert’s Blue Smoke, The Villa, and High Noon.  Especially Blue Smoke—a complete and healthy family shown across several generations.

  21. 21
    Jessica_HookEm says:

    I really really love Lori Foster’s Buckhorn series: Sawyer, Morgan, Gabe, and Jordan.  Casey has his own separate book but the other four are being reissued in two books.  The mother doesn’t play a huge role but they speak of her warmly in the books and the brothers/heroes have great relationships with each other.  The reissued books are called Buckhorn Beginnings and Forever Buckhorn or you can do like I did and purchase the bundle on bn.com for your nook.

  22. 22
    garlicknitter says:

    In *To Die For* and *Drop Dead Gorgeous* by Linda Howard, the heroine, Blair Mallory, has a great relationship with both her parents, and the hero (whose name I’ve already forgotten) has a great relationship with his mother (father is dead). Family is a big deal in both these books.

  23. 23
    Donna says:

    I’ve always thought Jayne Ann Krentz had a deft hand with familial relationships especially in her earlier books. They can be disfuntional or non-traditional, but usually there’s some good parenting or good lessons from bad parenting.

  24. 24
    Samantha says:

    How ‘bout Judith McNaught’s books.  Everyone loves their parents in those books.  Until You has a nice family reunion at the end.  If I recall, the heroine’s widowed dad hooks up with the aunt/caretaker.  The heroine also has an Indian father figure who takes a boat to England.  I feel a little conflicted on that subplot, but I do love Judith McNaught.

  25. 25
    mschaub says:

    Patti Ann Colt’s Echo Falls series features an extended family by the name of Applegate. They’re small town Texas, headed by the grandmother named Olivia. Her grandsons/granddaughter get married off in each series book. Throughout the series a strong emphasis is placed on the role of family. Cozy contemporary romances with heartland and farming setting in the background.

  26. 26
    Sandy D. says:

    Kristan Higgins has a nice assortment of supportive, mostly sane family members – and not just parents. Siblings and grandparents figure into several of the stories. And they’re important to the plot, they’re not just *there*. Partially because of this, she’s become my favorite contemporary romance author.

    Sharon Lee & Steve Miller have some good parental units in their sf romances (though they’ve killed some parents off in later books).

    Wow, good parents are really scarce, aren’t they?

  27. 27
    Nadia says:

    I was going to mention Howard’s Blair Mallory books, but was beat to it.  “Mr. Perfect” also has functional families.

    Elizabeth Lowell’s Donovan series has, well, the Donovans, who are made of awesome.  Their romantic interests’ families?  Not so much.

  28. 28
    DONNA says:

    That was the first series that came to mind for me also.  I also love the way Stephanie Plum interacts with Grandma Mazur.  Always hilarious, but plenty of love and respect.

  29. 29
    Lynda Ryba says:

    Sharon Sala’s Remember Me has a hero who is very close to his parents. And his parents LOVE the heroine. The Heroine, however, was orphaned at a young age, but there’s no drama there with the parents. They’re kind of a passing mention, as they weren’t important to the story.

    I’d also agree with Lauren Dane’s Chase Brothers books, as well as Maya Banks’ KGI series.

    Catherine Anderson’s Kendrick and Coulter and Harrigan books (all related, but 3 diff families) family all plays a good role in the books. The Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan clans are all very close within their families, and with the other families, but the heroines all seem to have a serious problem (blindness, paralysis, aphasia, etc.) that makes her unloveable to all but THE WONDERFUL HERO WHO SEES PAST ALL THAT. Also, as the series progresses, catholocism plays a larger and larger role. Just FYI.

  30. 30
    Holly Gault says:

    Jill Mansell’s FALLING FOR YOU. The heroine has a delightful family; the hero, not so much.

    And, if I recall correctly, Carmen Reid’s DID THE EARTH MOVE? had a lovely single mother with older children by one father and younger by another, and everyone loved each other.

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