Readers turn to romance novels in stressful times

With an out-of-work husband and two children to support, Christine Mead needs a cheap — and uplifting — break from life.

So lately she’s been escaping into sweet and heartening stories of love and passion, where heroines overcome insurmountable obstacles to find their happiness.

“I am left with a satisfied feeling at the end of a good book, a feeling of hope that all can, and will, be OK,” said Mead, who lives in the small town of Festus, Mo., and suffers from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

Mead, 41, rarely goes anywhere because of the price of gas, and the family has been relying on a food bank. Romance novels, she said, are “a distraction from not knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Love may not conquer all in real life, but its power in relatively inexpensive books is quite a comfort in this economy. Publishers are seeing strong sales in the romance genre as other categories decline and consumers cut back on spending.

Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., a global giant in women’s fiction, reported a huge increase in sales in late 2008 and this spring.

Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher for St. Martin’s Press, said romance is doing so well, the publisher is releasing 32 titles this year (more could be added), compared to 26 last year. Books from notable authors, including Lora Leigh, Lisa Kleypas and Sherrilyn Kenyon, are experiencing healthy sales, she said.

When life is more stressful, people need that escape even more, said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist in Wilmette, Ill.

She said movie attendance and alcohol sales are also up. Romance novels are affordable and you can easily get them from the library or purchase them used.

“It’s a healthy and positive coping mechanism,” said Judith Orloff, a medical doctor and author of “Emotional Freedom.” She said the stories help people find an oasis of calm.

Katherine Petersen, 43, of Menlo Park, Calif., said she feels more energized to resume her job search after she finishes a good romance. Petersen is blind and has been looking for work for about a year.

Before, reading was a hobby. Now, it’s her saving grace. She said it’s something she can do in Braille or by listening without the company of others and without spending a lot of money.

“When I’m reading, I’m thinking about something else,” said Petersen, whose background is in public relations. “I’m certainly not worrying about that job letter I just sent out or who I have to call or how I am going to pay the electric bill.”

But escapism is only part of the attraction, said best-selling author Janet Evanovich, who started out writing romance, then morphed into mystery. She likes romance because the characters are quirky, vibrant women who take charge, are tenacious and are able to overcome crises in their lives — characters women can identify with.

For Diane Pershing, president of Romance Writers of America, the recession-proof romance is a no-brainer. Romance novels offer “rich, complex stories about good people overcoming obstacles to achieve intimacy and an eventual joining of their lives,” she said.

“Along the way, they have great sex. What’s not to like?”

Isn’t it romantic?

Are you a member of Bodice Rippers Anonymous? Do you read romance novels in the closet with a flashlight? Well, step into the light with Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, who have turned their popular blog at into a book, “Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels” ($15 in paperback, of course). You can become best pals with the Terrible Twosome and their mass of followers by posting on the blog site.

10 tantalizing titles

“Knight of Desire” by Margaret Mallory: Olympia resident Margaret Mallory dumped her legal career and churned out this romantic adventure, which promises to be the first of a trilogy. It has all the requirements: a beautiful but beleagured heroine, handsome heroes, vindictive lords, castles and kings.

“The Duke’s Wager” by Edith Layton: A prolific romance novel author, Layton endows her damsel in distress with spunk and spirit as she fights to preserve her honor.

“Nauti Intentions” by Lora Leigh: OK, we have to admit we chose this for the punning title. It’s the fourth in Leigh’s “Nauti Boys” series, which follows the antics of the heart-stopping Marine Corp. Mackay men.

“Sugar Rush” by Elaine Overton: Sophie battles the big bad corporation (and falls for the handsome exec) to save her grandmother’s hometown bakery.

“Seduce Me at Sunrise” by Lisa Kleypas: Dark and brooding Kev must deal with the mysteries of his past before winning the winsome Win in classic Kleypas fashion.

“He Calls Her Doc” by Mary Brady: Maude DeVane returns to smalltown Montana to prove that the “local gal” is just as good a doctor as the arrogant Guy Daley. Think “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

“The Legend of the Werestag” by Tessa Dare: More and more romance novelists are straying into paranormal territory, such as Dare’s novella, which combines the fated love story with tramps through the deep, dark woods in search of the mysterious “werestag.”

“Night Pleasure” by Sherrilyn Kenyon: Vampires ride again in the second of Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series. Kyrian of Thrace walks the dark side alone until he becomes enthralled with modern-day Amanda, who’s in dire straits, of course.

“The Invitation” by Jude Deveraux: A collection of three novellas from one of the romance novel queens starring two lonely (but spunky) widows and a young woman who hires a husband to put off her parents. “Manhunt” by Janet Evanovich: Workaholic Alexandra heads north to Alaska liking the men-to-women ratio much better. This is Evanovich in her pre-Stephanie Plum days, pure romance genre.

See a review of Janet Evanovich’s latest in the Plum series, “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen,” on Page D3.

Herald staff

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