What’s Your Catnip?

An old fashioned metal key tucked inside the cover of a hardback bookWhen you're a romance reader, it's both empowering and helpful to learn what plot devices, tropes, characters and familiar elements of romance constitute your particular catnip. If you know you like May/December romances, or stories about characters who struggle with speech impediments, and you know those make the mental prairie dog poke his head out and say GIMME READ NOW, it gets easier to shop or find books that will make you and your mental prairie dog happy. 

Oddly, it took me awhile to figure out what my catnip was when I started reading romance. I shopped by dress color on the cover, and I did in fact harbor the idea that they were all the same. OH HOW WRONG I WAS. Arranged marriages are very different from guardian/ward romances, and an arranged marriage in historical Scotland (ACH LASSIE) is different from an arranged marriage in Regency London. Identifying your catnip means you can find the books that will make you most happy and find them faster. Win! 

I asked the posse here what combination of plots or tropes constitutes their catnip, and here are their answers.

Sarah: One of my biggest: forbidden or resisting romance. Forbidden, like, not because someone's big brother will have a poutypants problem (feh), but because there are real reasons why those two being together would be problematic – but not so big that I have to accept a happy ending that's entirely made up for farted rainbows.

A close cousin is the resisted, e.g. I'm not supposed to like you/I don't wanna like you/I don't want to like you/ I can't stop thinking about your hair DAMMIT romance. Oooh, I love that.

And the hero who keeps his feelings to himself not because he's angry that he has them, but because he doesn't think the heroine would welcome his attentions, or that his feelings for her are good for her. 

The obvious example of that last one is The Heart of Devin MacKade by Nora Roberts ($1.99: A | BN | K | ARe). When I was tweeting about it being on sale last week, so many people had that same reaction – the transcription of Good Book Noise®. Devin is a caretaker and a strong dude, and has deep feelings that he's comfortable with having, but not comfortable with sharing because he doesn't think it would be good for Cassie to know how he feels. Oooooh, I love that. A hero with a strong and fixed inner moral compass and comfort with emotions can make up a lot of my catnip.

Elyse: I'm a sucker for fairy tale tropes. I don't care how old I am, I want songbirds to braid the heroine's hair. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite, probably because my second favorite trope is a non-traditional hero.

Book When Beauty Tamed the Beast

I like it when the hero is different: a virgin, painfully shy, nerdy, scarred, younger than the heroine, other-abled etc. It sounds like I'm a jerk to the hero, but I think I like it when the traditional power dynamic between the hero/heroine is subverted.

And I love a broody, wounded hero thanks to all those gothics…

Too Wicked To Tame by Sophie Jordan ( A | BN | K | ARe) has a great gothic hero.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James ( A | BN | K | ARe) is probably my favorite tale romance.




Carrie: I like scientist heroes and heroines – in general, I like people who are funny and smart.  I love a kick ass woman but I love them whether they use martial arts skills to beat people up or their brains to figure things out – I like the idea that there are many ways to be strong.  I love an omega hero – someone who is secure without being an alpha, someone respectful and nurutring.  I love clear communication and I love it when two people can depend on each other.  I love it when the heroine saves herself.  I think the crux of romance is when two people accept each other for who they are, help each other grow, and have one another's back.

Book Bet Me I also love it when one person has some sort of disability — for instance, dyslexia in Bet Me ( A | BN | K | ARe), or the leg wound in Sum of All Kisses ( A | BN | K | ARe) — and love doesn't fix it – but the support of the other partner DOES help the person better take care of themselves, help the person maximize their health, and better appreciate their strengths.  And I have to admit that as someone with serious body image issues and tons of scar tissue, I adore it when one partner is scarred and the other parter treats the scars as a sign of strength and endurance – not in a fetishist way, but as part of acceptance and appreciation for who the person is and what they've survived.

I wouldn't say Sum of All Kisses is the pinnacle, because of the problems the ending, but Bet Me, What Happens in London ( A | BN | K | ARe), Skies of Gold, ( A | BN | K | ARe) and Riveted ( A | BN | K | ARe) are good examples.  Actually Sum of All Kisses is a perfect example of how sometimes your personal catnip can overcome other problems with the book – I REALLY liked the banter and the treatment of the leg injury, so much so that when things got weird I was willing to gloss over it. (Carrie's grade: A-  | Sarah's grade: C+)

Above all, I love humor!  Snark, bring me snark!  Even the most angsty story can employ humor and I love banter and wit.


RedHeadedGirl: We all know that, like a 16 year old boy being told “This is SO GROSS.  Try it!” I can't resist “This book is SO AWFUL, no one should read it.” (stuffed plushie erotica notwithstanding). 


Plus sassy heroines with have that “Slap slap kiss” (without actual slaps) dynamic as demonstrated by Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing.  I love that.  I love quick, snappy dialogue and sassing back and forth at each other.  They don't need to have known each other previously, but when the sparks fly from minute one and they're both sniping while not being able to stop thinking about the other one's hair, dammit (or abs, as the case may be)….  that's a happy sigh book.


Amanda: Oh god, this is like trying to pick my favorite Girl Scout cookie.

Second chance romances: I have a thing for couples who either can't get their crap together or realized they missed out, way back when.

Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson ( A | BN | K | ARe) is one.

Hot Finish by Erin McCarthy ( A | BN | K | ARe) is a good example of the first. I love the Fast Track series, though I desperately need to catch up. I just want to shake the characters and yell at them (in a totally supportive and constructing way) that the man/woman they need is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR FREAKING FACES.

Warrior from Tangled tapping nose of tiny unicorn and horse together and smiling when they touch

Book Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night

Love/Hate or Enemies to Loves:

Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night by Kresley Cole ( A | BN | K | ARe) is my everything! Werewolves and witches are enemies. Naturally. And said werewolf can't possibly fathom that his mate is a witch, especially when he was already mated in the past. Seriously, it's the perfect book for this trope and, for me, it's all about the tension.

Also, in my honest opinion, these sorts of plots have the best sex scenes.




So, what about you?  Which books are the best example of your absolute favorite tropes and characters? What parts of romance are your catnip?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Pheebers says:

    Is it strange that I’ve never really thought about this before, but now I’m realizing that there are some books I have to read, even if they’re reviewed as train wrecks?

    One of mine is when the hero rescues her from something in the first chapter – being auctioned off to cover an uncle’s gambling debts, about to sell herself to buy a dowry for a sibling, etc.

  2. 2

    There a lot of tropes that I enjoy, like the fake-relationship-that-turns-real trope in books like Yours To Keep by Shannon Stacey.

    I also like a good marriage-of-convenience story like in Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman, and books where the heroine/hero dislike each other but are forced to work together anyway, like in Something About You by Julie James.

    Not sure what you would call that last trope—close and dangerous proximity, maybe? LOL.

  3. 3

    I love angst, which means I also like second chance romances and friends to lovers because there’s a reason the couple isn’t together now and they have to work through that (angstily) before they get their HEA. I just read “His Until Midnight” last night, one of Harlequin’s Kiss line, and it was great. Also “The One That Got Away” – a Kiss as well – and “Snow-Kissed” (that’s a lot of kissing in two short sentences!). “Cry No More” doesn’t follow the same relationship trope, but it definitely gives me the angst and feels I love.

    That’s probably my favorite for what can be characterized as a trope. Beyond that, I love snappy writing and dialogue – Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Julie James, Victoria Dahl, all the usual, awesome suspects :)

    And like Elyse, I love when a trope or characterization is turned upside down – Cara McKenna’s anti-heroes, a kickass heroine who is the spy and saves the day in a romantic suspense, the heroine as a billionaire CEO, a younger hero.

  4. 4
    Cary Morton says:

    I’ll admit, my catnip is bad boys… and not just slightly bad boys, we’re talking 90% chance they’re going to kill everyone and destroy the world bad boys. That other 10% is the peek of actual humanity and squishy goodness that makes them redeemable. I can’t explain why, but I always fall for the villain. Secondary catnip: broody, angsty men (as long as they don’t whine), and definitely a spit-fire heroine—usually with a short temper, snarky commentary, or at least someone who’s ready to roll up their sleeves and join the fight.

  5. 5

    Hmmm…I never realized I liked certain tropes more than others until this moment. I like Enemies to lovers, arranged marriages, out-of-the-ordinary heroes (He’s younger/submissive/short/working class/etc.)

    Billionaire dominants seducing wide-eyed virgins? I’m so over that! I want to read about a billionaire dominatrix and her boy toy who loves her!

  6. 6
    kkw says:

    Any trope can work for me if it’s handled well. Things that I can’t avoid even when I know I should: fuschia/hologram covers, librarians, marriage of convenience, Vikings (I finish like 1% of Viking novels yet I persist in picking up new ones), and anything utterly implausible.

  7. 7
    E. Jamie says:

    Oh so very many of mine listed above!!! Marriage of convenience, I’m there! Second chance romances, I’m there! Friends to lovers, I’m there! Pretend to be lovers turning into real lovers, I’m there! Forbidden love, I’m soooo there! One of my fave forbidden love stories of all time is The Bronze Horseman where the heroine and hero meet and it’s insta love but neither is aware at first that she is the sister of girl he’s currently dating (who feels a lot more for him than he does for her) and oohhhh the angst. That whole series is one big dripping, beautiful angst fest. I think I remember Jane mentioning she loved the series during a podcast and I almost squeed out loud on the bus.

  8. 8
    ohhellsyeah says:

    I love all three of the tropes Sarah mentioned.  I am also a fan of pining heroes.  There are so many books where the bluestocking/wallflower has loved the sluttiest rake since FOREVER.  I prefer it when it is mutual pining or the hero who has loved the heroine since the dawn of time.  My last two reads where The Love of Devin MacKade and Wrecked by Shiloh Walker.  MORE PLEASE.

    I am also a fan of the angst monster, but there has to be real relationship-driven reasons for the angst (forbidden romance, etc) and not just angst for the sake of angst (every NA ever written).  Forbidden romance and second chance romances are great at this.  Sherry Thomas does it very well and so did Laura Florand in Snow Kissed.

    I also like historicals that are routed in, well, actual history rather than the romancelandia regency.  I really loved At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran because it was a book that you could not have plucked out of its historical context and set somewhere else.  The Jacobite Rebellion was so central to making the book and the characters work.  I enjoy regencies, but finding well written books that are set either outside of England or at least outside the regency really makes me happy.  I read As You Desire by Connie Brockway and Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase back to back and was disappointed that there weren’t other totally awesome romances set in Egypt floating around.  Speaking of history, I wish Loretta Chase would stop with the Dressmakers and go back to writing awesome, believable romances again.

    Apparently I like lots of things.

  9. 9
    Hannah says:

    I like librarians and smart/bookish heroines too, especially ones who are into archaeology/antiquities. Because that often leads to teh awesome adventures! Also inter-ethnic romances that parallel my marriage. I feel weird about this sometimes, like I’m fetishizing my SO, but in general I think that Asian men are underappreciated :)

  10. 10

    For me, it’s fish-out-of-water situations that most often indicate that I’ll enjoy the book. Many paranormal/time travel romances fit into this trope for me: Kenyon’s Fantasy Lover, and Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander books, for example. The second romance novel I ever read was Knight in Shining Armor, by Jude Deveraux, with two-way time travel that placed both the hero and heroine in this situation.

    Basically, take a big, strong, alpha hero and stick him in a situation so incomprehensible as to render him virtually powerless and at the mercy of the heroine; add some well-written, humorous situations and banter, and I’m a happy reader.

  11. 11
    pet says:

    I’m really attracted to strong heroines.
    Not thick headed or sassy but strong. Im sick of sassy heroines who turn out to be just stupid It was so bad- to the point when I read sassy and Im thinking Oh really I think Ill pass.
    Second I love forbidden romance-enemies to lovers/boss-secretary/long time friends
    But Im choosy and very few are done right.
    I love strong passion between h/h.

  12. 12
    Lostshadows says:

    I love a wounded hero with a deep, dark secret for the heroine to ferret out.

    Since I prefer historicals, I also like it when the heroine hasn’t just hit 18 at the beginning of the story and has had the chance to live a little.

  13. 13
    Cassie says:

    My boyfriend thinks I’m weird for this, but I go apeshit over the ‘gender bender’ plot device. When I found ‘Almost a Scandal’ by Elizabeth Essex, I flipped, haha.

    I also love any nerdy/dorky/awkward heroines, particularly in historical romances. Bonus points if she’s also NOT breathtakingly beautiful. These are mercifully much more common than my gender bender love. ‘One Good Earl Deserves a Lover’ by Sarah MacLean and ‘The Duchess War’ by Courtney Milan are recent loves of this trope.

  14. 14
    Vasha says:

    I like it when the couple is kept apart by extrrnal circumstances (like, say, being on opposite sides of a war) so that you can have plenty of apparently unfulfillable mutual longing, and negotiation of conflicting obligations and values. Works better in historical or fantasy settings on the whole. Or with same-gender couples; the slow build of thwarted attraction was what made me love Tamara Allen’s Downtime even though the book was problematic in a lot of other ways.

  15. 15

    Oh MAN, is a hero amnesia plot my catnip. COMPLETE AND UTTER SUCKER for this trope. I blame this squarely on how all my favorite shows when I was a teenager would have at least one amnesia episode. Remington Steele did it. Knight Rider did it. Hell, MacGyver did it TWICE.

    Bonus points if it’s done with at least a passing nod in the direction of medical plausibility. OR if it’s magically induced, which bypasses that problem entirely. And if you’ve got the heroine reluctantly having to decide “oh well SHIT I guess you’re not an axe murderer despite how you can’t even remember your own name so hell for all I know you might BE an axe murderer and YET YOU HAVE THE PUPPY DOG EYES”, yep. Sold. ;)

    Other tropes which are my catnip: scientist heros OR heroines. Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody series is my biggest example of this, in which the Emersons are all over the archaeology! Give me lead characters who are drawn to one another in the course of mutual pursuit of science, and I’m VERY happy.

    ALSO, let’s talk musicians. I love, love, LOVE me a musician hero. Doesn’t even have to be an active part of the plot. If he plays something, piano, violin, guitar, whatevs, and he plays it with passion and skill, I love it. Hell, he could play the tuba for all I care. If he plays it well, that’s what counts! (Though I’d LOVE to see a romance where the hero is a tuba player. ;) NOT a standard Sexy Hero Instrument, and if an author can present a swoonworthy tuba player, I’d eat that right up.)

    Also, speaking as the only author to my knowledge who currently has a bouzouki-playing male lead, if anybody else out there writes a novel with a bouzouki player? ESPECIALLY if that hero is from Newfoundland or Quebec? Yo, market to me, because I AM your target audience.

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:


    I am also a fan of pining heroes.  There are so many books where the bluestocking/wallflower has loved the sluttiest rake since FOREVER.  I prefer it when it is mutual pining or the hero who has loved the heroine since the dawn of time.

    YESSSS. The pining hero.

    I just I can symbolize him with the badge that identified my Girl Scout troop when I was a kid:


  17. 17
    Sarina Bowen says:

    Ooh! Ooh! My catnip is external conflict. I want to get REALLY depressed in the middle of the book, and wail at the gods for disallowing the obviously perfect love to go on.

    If the whole middle of the book is just internal waffling (he loves me… he loves me not…) then I’m throwing that thing across the room. (Metaphorically, of course. Because Kindles break.)

    Also, I worked on Wall Street for a dozen years, so rich guys in suits bore the crap out of me. I have yet to make it through a billionaire book, no matter how well written. Give me tough guys who work with their hands! I want the hockey player with the broken nose! I want the reclusive woodworker who knows how to use his, er, tools.


  18. 18
    Beatrice says:

    Let’s see.. Enemies to lovers: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, Unveiled by Courtney Milan. Heroes with some sort of disabilities: Unveiled once again (dyslexia), Flowers From The Storm by Laura Kinsale. Virgin heroes : Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt, The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. I like humour and good banter: A Week To Be Wicked by Tessa Dare. Forbideen love because of huge and real impediments: Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson (Old School but so good and such a lush writing). Crazysauce: Virginia Henly is my catnip.

    All those for historicals. I am not sure about the contemporaries. I’ll. Be.Back

  19. 19
    Alina says:

    The “already married” trope is my particular favourite. I know the couple is going to end up together in the end, that’s the point of the book, so I prefer books that dispense with the pretense that this won’t be a happy ending and concentrate on the reason I read the books in the first place – the journey, the “how they get there.”

    “Brother’s best friend hero” is my least favourite trope, it makes me roll my eyes so hard. “Oh noes, we love each other, but my best friend will kill me for being a loving, devoted boyfriend to his sister, therefore we must keep this a secret!” There go my eyeballs, rolling on down the corridor.

  20. 20
    Heather says:

    I love a romance where the hero is rough – leads a violent life, is unused to gentleness, has to use his power to survive, etc., especially if paired with a heroine who requires physical or emotional softness, and doubly especially if he teaches her to be fierce.  Seducing Cinderella by Gina Maxwell is an example, as is Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown.

    I also love romances with humor.  Any time I can laugh along with the characters is a good time.  I love Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City series for this reason. 

    And any story with longing/secret desire is catnip for me (Beautiful Wreck does this amazingly well), especially when it’s self-doubt that creates that longing (the whole “I’m-not-good-enough-to-touch-you-damnit” line.  Mrow).

    Great question!

  21. 21
    Beatrice says:

    I forgot: Bad boys redeemed but not quite: Dreaming of You and Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas and most of Anne Stuart’s bad boys. Heroes with firmly ingrained and unbendable ethics: Unraveled by Courtney Milan

  22. 22
    Jennifer in GA says:

    I’m a sucker for mail-order brides, although I can’t think of any that I LOVED off the top of my head. (Perhaps reading Sarah, Plain and Tall at an early age set me onto this catnip!)
    Humor between the hero and heroine is definitely catnip for me. Julia Quinn does this really well.

    I also love it when a hero and a heroine are working together to solve some mystery or problem and fall in love over the course of the “investigation”. Even though it’s not a traditional romance, Dorothy L. Sayers does this SO WELL with Lord Peter and Harriet Vane.

  23. 23
    Kate says:

    Ok, I’ll spill. The books that got me back into romance reading were VAMPIRE romances. Specifically, Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince (tho I discovered it years after it was first published) and Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey series. Very different writers but still you’ve got blood-drinking immortals who operate in a hidden-from-the-humans, highly politically charged world where the threat of war hangs over our heads.

    I gave those two authors up, but still I think the fish-out-of-water trope does it for me every time. The best versions remind me of Hitchcock classics, where there’s a handsome, smart lead who suddenly find himself thrown into a international espionage threat. The leads in these romances have to have spines, and they have to be observant, learn quickly, and above all communicate.

    These days my auto-buy click habit is driven by vampires/werewolves. But, for a while there, I was hooked!

  24. 24
    maybeimamazed02 says:

    Beatrice/Benedick dynamic: YES. An author friend and I were just talking about this – we’re not so much about “soul mates from the get-go”, but we’re all about BANTER and WIT before, during and after the smooches commence.

    Bet Me is the first romance I remember really getting into, because I loved Min and Cal’s back-and-forth dynamic (also the body acceptance angle really touched me). Also, Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James made me a fan of that author for life. The rivalry turned steaming hot passion, YES.

    James also sets her books in Chicago, which I love – this city is my home and my heartbeat. It’s a big reason why Stacey Ballis (she’s more women’s fiction than romance) is a favorite. I love knowing exactly where the characters are, or where the author may have been while she was writing the book! (I still remember a few years ago when James and I would frequent the same Barnes & Noble. It was SUCH a rush to see her at work! I had to try not to stare like a creeper.)

  25. 25

    I looooooove forbidden romances and also fake betrothals (the kind where the hero and heroine tell everyone they’re betrothed, but OF COURSE it’s all a ruse and they’re not really in love or planning to really get married…except that oops, by the end of the book they really are). I can’t even explain WHY the fake betrothals trope works so well for me…but it really, really does!

  26. 26
    Lina says:

    Ooh.. Definitely the older brother’s best friend angle, forbidden love, and enemies to friends….gets me every time for Historicals. 2nd chance romance or they knew each other in the past is also a particular catnip Rachel Gibson or Kristan Higgins are stellar.
    So done with the billionaire into bondage angle…. Ugh just stop :)

  27. 27
    laj says:

    I like the rake and the bluestocking trope. I just like smart heroines period. Elizabeth Thornton, Loretta Chase and Elizabeth Boyle have penned some good ones.

    I love Waterloo romances! Regencies with friends like the Compass Club by Jo Goodman or Jo Beverley’s Rogues and Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels.  An Infamous Army and The Hourglass are terrific Waterloo romances.

    I like the lawyer romances too…..especially Julie James’ stuff. Again the smart heroine is very enjoyable.

    Kate Daniels and Eve Dallas books are my true catnip. They’re evolving Urban Women Warriors. I just love the way they kick-ass. It’s empowering how capable they are in a tight spot. They’re survivors and they get the job done. I love the motley crew of friends and well Curran and Roarke are just the best partners ever…..gorgeous, supportive, loving and loyal. “sigh”

  28. 28

    Friends to lovers, fake fiancée, and marriage of convenience are all my catnip. I’m not a huge fan of alphas – someone mentioned heroes who pine and I love those guys. Also, I like it when the hero has some quirk and isn’t 6’6 and completely gorgeous. Charlotte Stein does this really well, her first description of the hero will make him sound like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but as the heroine falls in love with him, he suddenly becomes the most perfect example of male pulchritude. At least for her. Perfection!

  29. 29
    regressing says:

    My catnip is Male and Female Detectives Fall in Love While Fighting Crime. I even have a Goodreads tag for it: MFDFILWFC. :-) I blame my formative middle school years spent obsessing over the X-Files.

  30. 30
    Heather says:

    I love bad boys who are really good at heart. And I love silly circumstances that put characters in close proximity.  I am a sucker for fake dating turning into real love!

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