When 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?