NoveList is a service you can find at your local library. It’s a reading recommendation database most libraries subscribe to. You can enter the name of an author you like, and NoveList will recommend similar authors. It’s called a “Read-alike” page. You can access it from your library’s web site. Here’s the entry for yrs truly. I really like Lynne Welch’s insightful analysis. Thank you, Lynne, wherever you are!
Women’s Lives and Relationships
Susan Wiggs tackles the tough issues, and she has the awards to prove it. Wiggs, winner of both the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award and the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, lives on an island in Puget Sound (Washington) settled by hardy immigrants who lived close to the land and appreciated its value, and many of her stories reflect that nature-centric culture in some way. Her special focus is a woman’s journey to self-awareness, usually within the context of a romance or at the very least, with a romantic subplot. Poignant and tender, her stories focus more on the sexual tension between characters than on its explicit physical resolution, and she describes any personality quirks sympathetically, inviting the reader to join her in gently laughing at the characters’ foibles and follies.
Her protagonists are invariably intelligent, socially awkward, emotionally vulnerable women with a strong core, self-reliant to a fault because they have never been able to depend on anyone else for their security, whether financial, physical, or emotional. By contrast, their male foils — and often nemeses, at least in the beginning — may be bad boys or pillars of the community, but all have generally grown up to be strong, self-confident men who enjoy the women in their lives even while they expect them to fall in line with their plans and their timetables. Wiggs employs character to good effect in building high-stakes conflict within the confines of these relationship dramas. Her readers care deeply about her characters, and Wiggs takes both readers and characters on an emotional roller-coaster ride as the novel develops. Although the storyline centers on the woman’s journey to growth and personal fulfillment, Wiggs enriches the experience by chronicling the perspectives of other male and female characters during pivotal scenes as well.
Setting varies across time and place as well as genre, but is generally limited to the United States in her more recent work. Her Contemporary Romance Lakeshore Chronicles series is set in a fictional small town of the New York Catskills region, while the Historical Romances which form the Calhoun Chronicles and the Chicago Fire series are set in pre-Civil War Virginia and late nineteenth-century Chicago, respectively. Others, such as her contemporary fiction stand-alone title The Ocean Between Us, are focused on Women’s Lives and Relationships and set in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever the location, setting plays an important role and is evocatively described in lush, vivid terminology, creating a world of color, sensation, smell and taste for the reader’s enjoyment.
Pacing is leisurely, as befits these explorations of self-awareness by the protagonists. In many cases, the issue they face is one of having been carried along unresisting on a tide of family and career obligations for too long without stopping to draw breath, and now they are faced with a turning point which offers them a choice. Then the conflict arises because they are not in the habit of examining their own motivations and expectations: Wiggs’s heroines are caught without a plan and must pause to re-group. Description of the interior landscape while the characters mentally thrash out their dilemmas is vivid as well, adding depth and extra dimension to these tales.
The Lakeshore Chronicles, starting with Summer at Willow Lake, are a good introduction to Wiggs’s work for any reader. Avalon, NY, is a former resort for the rich, and the Bellamy family’s long-vacant summer home is now being readied for a Golden Anniversary party. During the course of renovations, daughter Olivia and former bad boy Connor, now the contractor in charge of the project, meet again for the first time in years and, of course, immediately clash. This series has several older heroines struggling with their place in the world to interest readers who enjoy relationship dramas centered around Women’s Lives and Relationships, and the skillful melding of past and present may also intrigue readers of both Contemporary and Historical Romances.
Debbie Macomber is another author who writes Contemporary Romances and relationship dramas focused on women’s issues, with a very strong appreciation for the world around her as one of life’s blessings. Her long-running, immensely popular Cedar Cove Contemporary Romance series is set in a fictional small coastal town in Washington State, and each title in the series builds on previous installments but focuses on the lives and loves of mature residents. Start with 16 Lighthouse Road to read them in order. Readers who prefer more emphasis on Women’s Lives and Relationships may want to consider her Blosssom Street series, starting with The Shop on Blossom Street, in which Lydia Hoffman opens her yarn shop in Seattle and starts by teaching a class on How To Knit A Baby Blanket to three women.
Sherryl Woods writes stories of Women’s Lives and Relationships as well as Contemporary Romances centered on family life. She has a gift for capturing the ambiance of Southern living through her multi-faceted characters and her multi-dimensional storylines, all couched in a leisurely, evocative narration deeply appreciative of the loveliness afforded by the culture and landscape of the South. Suggest the Sweet Magnolias series for a heart-warming peek at the lives of three friends, all of whom have grown up together in the same small South Carolina town and now, as they approach 40, are blindsided by changes which will affect not only their own but their families’ and friends’ lives as well. In Stealing Home, the first in the trilogy, Maddie Townsend discovers that her husband has been cheating on her for years, and she’s the last to know. But kicking him out results in her children exhibiting behavioral problems, and when her oldest son starts skipping baseball practice and failing his classes, she finds herself turning to his coach for more than one reason.
Award winning author Deborah Smith is another author who writes Southern-set romantic novels of Women’s Lives and Relationships, but her stories focus on the proud people of Appalachia, their history-rich culture, and the mountains shaping their characters. Both Sweet Hush and The Crossroads Cafe would make good suggestions for fans of Wiggs. In the humorous, easygoing story of Sweet Hush, Hush McGillan lost her husband a long time ago, and now with her children grown she is ready for a second love. By contrast, the emotionally riveting Crossroads Cafe introduces Cathryn and Thomas, both grieving recent losses. Cathryn’s cousin Delta, along with various other supporting characters, uses tactics ranging from the pathetic (requiring their support), to the strident (annoying them into making an effort) to prod them into living and loving again.
JoAnn Ross is well known for her Romantic Suspense, but she also writes emotional tales of Women’s Lives and Relationships. Homeplace and its sequel, Far Harbor, are set in the picturesque, unspoiled small town of Coldwater Cove, Washington. Sheriff Jack O’Halloran and corporate attorney Raine Cantrell tangle for the first time over the fate of her grandmother Ida’s three foster children when Ida ends up in the hospital with dizzy spells. Together with her free-spirited New Age mother Lilith and half-sister Savannah Townsend, Raine must propitiate the judge and welfare worker, while riding herd on three teenagers not predisposed to trust any adult, and dealing with Jack’s unsubtle attempts to involve her in a relationship. A romantic subplot featuring Lilith and Cooper Ryan, the forester who arrests her for indecent exposure when she and her coven celebrate Beltane by dancing around a fire in an old-forest area of the Olympic National Park, adds another layer of complexity to the storyline.
Jerri Corgiat‘s O’Malley sisters series provide another good match for readers who enjoy the women’s emotional journeys in which Wiggs specializes. From the first pages of Sing Me Home, when Corgiat introduces the entertaining, exasperating antics of the O’Malley family and the small town laid-back atmosphere of Cordelia, nestled in the picturesque Missouri Ozarks, the reader is steeped in the mystique of the country-rock music scene, contrasted with the down home practicality of a family trying hard just to make ends meet. Jonathan Van Castle is used to being recognized, admired, and pursued, and it’s a real let-down when Lily isn’t at all impressed. But between his estranged children and her meddling family — not to mention his best friend Zeke, the bass player in his band — he soon realizes that Lily has what he wants most: true love, a home, and a family. Lily, on the other hand, is not yet ready to re-enter life, preferring to sequester herself in her late husband’s bookstore in an attempt to carry on his dream, and this story details her journey to self-awareness and a new level of maturity.
Lynne Welch is an Ohio librarian specializing in Readers’ Advisory and Electronic Reference Services.