Writing A Romance Novel For Dummies by Leslie Wainger (2004)
I don't read as much romantic fiction as I used to, but I still enjoy the occasional novel now and then, and this (which isn't about writing for dummies, by the way) is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of such books. They aren't formulaic, as anyone who has actually read more than a couple knows, but there are standard - required - components. Having them articulated is an interesting exercise and I'm going to have fun looking out for them in the next romantic novel I read. The book also has plenty to say that applies to novel writing generally.
Where The Bodies Are Buried by Chris Brookmyre (2011)
I love Christopher Brookmyre's books but on this evidence "Chris" Brookmyre isn't going to work for me. Gone is the comedy and satire and in its place is a routine police procedural. Speculation in the Amazon reviews section that it was deliberately written with at least one eye on TV serialisation may be a little unfair - after all, a man's entitled to change and he's gotta eat - but it's too dull for me. I didn't finish it.
The Rancher And The Redhead by Allison Leigh (1998)
I've read this before and enjoyed it (which is why it's still with us rather than back at Oxfam), but this time I was reading with an eye on technique, as described in the For Dummies book (see above). This is a Silhouette Special Edition, that is, it's a category romance, written to specificguidelines and word count. The romantic tension and emotional conflict is generated primarily through the hero's distrust of commitment (caused by his mother's early death and a betrayal by a previous girlfriend) and the heroine's lack of belief in her ability to survive life on a ranch. The emotional journey feels a little forced at times and the heroine's sudden illness towards the end appears to be there in order to achieve the required word count. But the characters are engaging and believable and you want them to end up together. I don't think I'll be giving away too much if I tell you that it ends happily!
Bad Boy by Olivia Goldsmith (2001)
This is a reverse Pygmalion story, reversed in two ways. Firstly, that the woman (surname Higgins) is remaking the man (surname Delano - hey, close enough). Secondly, the remodelling is to change a perfectly nice man into the title's Bad Boy: a heart-of-ice heart-breaker with a series of notches on his bedpost. A romantic comedy with most of the expected components but with some twists, not least that it is the woman who takes longest to realise she loves the hero (romantic convention is the opposite). This may be why the last few chapters don't really work for me.
The Week (20 July 2013 / Issue 929)
Heiress Apparent by Kayla Daniels (1993)
This is another, earlier Silhouette Special Edition (from when they used appropriately illustrated covers instead of generic photos). The heroine is a free spirit who doesn't ever want to settle down and who is secretly afraid to love; the hero never did settle down as a child and values steadiness above all. Mostly it is a gently comic romance but it takes a sudden, brief swerve into drama towards the end, which is less believable. It's sweet and funny though - and, like most category romances, a short, easy but satisfying read.