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"I was born in a small town..."

house porch
With the publication earlier this week of Best of My Love, number 20 in her Fool's Gold series, author Susan Mallery has brought the most extensive and popular small-town romance series since Robyn Carr's Virgin River to a close.  With 22 novels (two Christmas titles were considered "in-betweeners"), 6 e-only novellas, and a storified cookbook, Mallery has given us plenty of opportunities to get to know the residents of Fool's Gold, California, that small (fictional) town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that couldn't seem to hold on to its men... until they started falling in love with them.  To my surprise, I discovered that Fool's Gold hasn't actually been around that long-- Mallery only started the series in 2010, but made up for lost time by publishing an impressive 4 to 5 titles per year. 

So, what is it about small towns?  They're one of the most popular series tropes in contemporary romance.  (Not that they don't show up in historical romance, too-- Tessa Dare's Spinster Cove being a perfect example-- but tying series together by families seems a lot more common in historicals.)  What is it that makes small towns so attractive to romance authors and their readers?  Who wants to read about a podunk little town where nothing ever happens, and nothing changes?

The truth is, plenty of things happen in small towns.  People are the same everywhere-- they grow up, they fall in love, they have rivalries, they succeed, they fail.  They stay, they leave... and often, at the worst point in their lives, they go back home to the place where people know them best.  City dwellers may have the opportunity to do these things on a bigger stage, in a more spectacular fashion... but they have an even greater chance of becoming a statistic, of being just another nameless ant in the urban swarm. 

You're never anonymous in a small town.  Everybody knows their neighbors, everybody looks out for one another.  In a small town, everyone knows your name.  (They also know your business, your family, who you went to school with, who took you to prom, and that horrifically embarrassing thing you did back in high school.  It's kind of a double-edged sword.)    Some readers may look for happy little all-American utopias (and some authors may provide them), but don't be fooled-- a small town can have just as much of a seedy underbelly as the big city.  Gossip, jealousies, shunning, secrets... all part and parcel of small-town life.

To an author, a small town represents an opportunity for some (small-scale) world-building, a ready-made cast of characters, and a wealth of potential romantic leads and plots.  Anyone from the chief of police to the town librarian to the small-business owner has the potential to fall in love.  It could be the wounded warrior returned home, or the reformed mean girl, or the big-city dreamer who's come back to flaunt his success... or escape her failure.  A stranger with a past might seek a quiet place to make a fresh start.  An entrepreneur might be looking for an opportunity to build up the town... or exploit it.  A Hollywood star could see the town as the perfect place for her next film.  (That last one happens more often than you might think.)

For the reader, the small town is a familiar, comfortable setting with a group of characters you can grow to love, root for, and catch up with throughout the series.  Everything happens at an easier pace, and that's not such a bad thing.  Lead characters are allowed to be ordinary people; they're even allowed to be past their prime on occasion.  (Small towns can be a good source of mature romances, even if they're only between secondary characters.)

What I really like about small-town romances is the chance for long-term plot development.  Hints of a growing romance might thread through several books before it becomes the lead story as the widower copes with his grief, or the shy girl works up the courage to ask her long-time crush out to dinner.  The leads from book 3 may show up in the background of book 6 with their toddler in tow.  Couples don't just get their HEA-- they're given an opportunity to live it.  The reader is given room to care for the people of this community, to cheer their successes and weep for their losses.  If you're a fan of redemption stories, second-chance romances, the girl next door, or the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, a small-town romance series might be a good fit for you.

small town main street shops

Would you like to visit to a small town?  I've listed a number of small-town romance series below with the First Title in Series, Author, (town name), and call number (please note, town name is not always the same as series title!).  Whether you're just stopping in for a drink at the local watering hole or wanting to stay for awhile, any of the towns below will welcome you.

A Wedding in Apple Grove by C. H. Admirand (Apple Grove, OH) (PbkRomance Admirand)
Sanctuary Cove by Rochelle Alers (Sanctuary Island, SC) (PbkRomance Alers)
House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward (Jewell Cove, ME) (PbkRomance Alward)
Sultry with a Twist by Macy Beckett (Sultry Springs, TX) (PbkRomance Beckett)
All of Me by Jennifer Bernard (Kilby, TX) (PbkRomance Bernard)
Jaded by Anne Calhoun (Walkers Ford, SD) (PbkRomance Calhoun) (note, this is book 2)
Just A Summer Fling by Cate Cameron (Lake Sullivan, VT) (PbkRomance Cameron)
A Town Called Valentine by Emma Cane (Valentine Valley, CO) (PbkRomance Cane)
The Wanderer by Robyn Carr (Thunder Point, OR) (PbkRomance Carr)
For the Longest Time by Kendra Leigh Castle (Harvest Cove, New England) (PbkRomance Castle)
A Girl's Guide to (Man)Hunting by Jessica Clare (Bluebonnet, TX) (PbkRomance Clare)
Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl (Jackson Hole, WY) (PbkRomance Dahl)
The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux (Summer Hill, VA) (Exp Fiction Deveraux)
Sworn to Protect by Jo Davis (Sugarland, TN) (PbkRomance Davis)
Sea of Love by Susan Donovan (Bayberry Island, MA) (PbkRomance Donovan)
To Scotland with Love by Patience Griffin (Gandiegow, Scotland) (PbkRomance Griffin)
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins (Manningsport, NY) (PbkRomance Higgins)
Pelican Point by Donna Kauffman (Blueberry Cove, ME) (PbkRomance Kauffman)
Cure for the Common Breakup by Beth Kendrick (Black Dog Bay, DE) (PbkRomance Kendrick)
Undeniable by Alison Kent (Crow Hill, TX) (PbkRomance Kent)
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas (Friday Harbor, WA) (Fiction Kleypas)
Something to Prove by Kimberly Lang (Magnolia Beach, AL) (PbkRomance Lang)
Bringing Home the Bad Boy by Jessica Lemmon (Evergreen Cove, OH) (PbkRomance Lemmon)
The Fiddler by Beverly Lewis (Hickory Hollow, PA) (Fiction Lewis)
Montana Actually by Fiona Lowe (Bear Paw, MT) (PbkRomance Lowe)
16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber (Cedar Cove, WA) (LP Macomber)
Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery (Fool's Gold, CA) (PbkRomance Mallery)
Angel's Rest by Emily March (Eternity Springs, CO) (PbkRomance March)
Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear (Butternut Creek, WI) (Fiction McNear)
Start Me Up by Nicole Michaels (Preston, MO) (PbkRomance Michaels)
Mistletoe on Main Street by Olivia Miles (Briar Creek, VT) (PbkRomance Miles)
A Hidden Truth by Judith Miller (East Amana, IA) (Fiction Miller)
When Lightning Strikes by Brenda Novak (Whiskey Creek, CA) (PbkRomance Novak)
Serendipity by Carly Phillips (Serendipity, NY) (PbkRomance Phillips)
Undone by Shannon Richard (Mirabelle, FL) (PbkRomance Richard)
No Better Man by Sara Richardson (Aspen, CO) (PbkRomance Richardson)
Take My Breath Away by Christie Ridgway (Blue Arrow Lake, CA) (PbkRomance Ridgway)
Barefoot in the Sand by Roxanne St. Clair (Barefoot Bay, FL) (PbkRomance St. Clair)
Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis (Lucky Harbor, WA) (PbkRomance Shalvis)
The Summer He Came Home by Juliana Stone (Crystal Lake, MI) (PbkRomance Stone)
Temptation Bay by Anna Sullivan (Windfall Island, ME) (PbkRomance Sullivan)
Meet Me at the Beach by V. K. Sykes (Seashell Bay, ME) (PbkRomance Sykes)
Anything But Sweet by Candis Terry (Sweet, TX) (PbkRomance Terry)
Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne (Haven Point, ID) (PbkRomance Thayne)
Ransom Canyon by Jodi Thomas (Ransom Canyon, TX) (PbkRomance Thomas)
Picture Perfect by Janice Thompson (Galveston Island, TX) (PbkRomance Thompson)
Headed for Trouble by Shiloh Walker (McKay's Treasure, MS) (PbkRomance Walker)
Love at First Sight by Lori Wilde (Cupid, TX) (PbkRomance Wilde)
Seaview Inn by Sherryl Woods (Seaview Key, FL) (LP Woods)
Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates (Copper Ridge, OR) (PbkRomance Yates)

(Thanks to John Mellencamp for providing both title and inspirational music for this blog entry.)

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