At the Back Fence Issue#117

 (May 15, 2001)



Romance Novel Titles:
The Good, the Bad and the Forgettable

A Guest Column by AAR Reviewer Maria K

Recently there was a discussion about both great and boring book titles on the Reader to Reader Message Board, which inspired me to ask AAR reviewers about their likes and dislikes. The general feeling seems to be there are a lot of unimaginative titles, and truly great, distinctive ones are few and far between. Not surprisingly, when I asked for examples of great titles, many AAR reviewers found their examples in other genres. I’ve occasionally bought a book mainly because of a clever title, although I usually rely on reviews, and this discussion made me analyze my own title preferences. I looked at my bookshelf, titles reviewed by AAR and the list of May releases and asked myself if the title intrigued me and if it made me want to read the book and why. Some titles did – but mostly I was overwhelmed with a sense of sameness.

Most authors don’t get to choose their own book titles. For some unfathomable, incomprehensible reason the publishers often want to change some perfect, working titles for bland, boring, sentimental drivel. AAR Reviewer Heidi Haglin attributes this to the condescending attitude of publishers “who think romance readers don’t know the difference between the books they read anyway, so why not name them all the same thing!”



Is Title Recycling Ecological?
Even though I’m just 26 I have trouble remembering which books I’ve read and consequently I own some books in duplicate. I worried about early dementia but recently I read A Dangerous Love by Sabrina Jeffries and A Dangerous Love by J.M. Jeffries back to back and I’m now convinced it’s not my fault. What else can you expect when the same titles get recycled over and over, and almost every book has the same guy on the cover? I’m sure it’s too much to ask for the publishers to check that the same title hasn’t been used before. But would it really be such a hardship to check the web sites of the authors with the same last name to see if they’re planning to use the same title soon? Apparently there are thousands of books and only a hundred titles to go around.

For all I know the publishers may search for reusable titles in the lists of past publications. Hey, if it worked before why wouldn’t it work for this book? For example, the May releases contain Meet Me at Midnight by Jacqueline Navin and Heartless by Kat Martin. Please don’t confuse them with the books by Suzanne Enoch and Mary Balogh. I wonder if Rules of Engagement by Selena Montgomery will be followed by the sequels Rules of Surrender and Rules of Attraction like the recent Christina Dodd trilogy? One month saw the publication of two books called Scandalous (Ronda Thompson and Karen Robards). Oh well, recycling is beneficial for the environment so maybe we are supposed to be grateful. Still I think there should be a closed season of at least ten years between publications using the same name. But copyright doesn’t seem to apply to novel titles. Amazon lists so many books titled Promise Me Tomorrow or Forbidden that calling them novel titles seems a stretch.

Recycling or imitating the names of well-loved books irritates me the most. Cynic that I am, I always suspect that the author/publishers hope that the prestige of the well-known book will rub off on their own and hope to increase their sales if people mistake the new release for the famous book. Pride And Prejudice by the new author Wanna B. A. Classyck, anyone?



Pick Any Name from the Hat?
Another reason for the difficulty in remembering romance novel titles is that they are for the most part generic and interchangeable. The relationship between the plot and the title is vague at best and nonexistent at worst. You know that the book is probably a romance but beyond that the titles don’t distinguish the books inside the genre from each other.

Just about any book with a headstrong female lead could be called Rebel Bride. Almost any hot romance could be called Forbidden Passion or Seduction. Most regencies could be titled The Rake’s Proposal, except, of course, the ones that are called The Lady’s Secret. Any book with a Gothic hero could be The Taming of the Dark Lord. Worse yet, almost every single romance book could be called Wild Heart, Beloved, Wicked Love, Waiting For You, Because of You or some such thing. Examples from May releases include:

  • Beyond Tomorrow
  • Now and Forever
  • Now That You’re Here
  • The Heart’s Desire
  • Against the Odds
  • No One But You

None of these titles are actually offensive, but you couldn’t say they are original or memorable, either, and it does a disservice to the books whose titles these originally were, don’t you think?

AAR Reviewer Lori-Anne Cohen uses as an example a title like Only You. “Well, yeah…that’s the whole point of a romance isn’t it? Two people finding the only person they could ever be with?” Heidi also mentions the Only series by Elizabeth Lowell. “Great books, I’ve read each about a million times, and couldn’t tell you which was which by name.” And AAR Editor/Reviewer Marianne Stillings adds, “The generic titles such as Shadows Of Anything or Forever My Anything or A Dangerous Anything (love? man?), Lord Whatsizname’s Bride or Only In My Anything (arms? dreams? heart? you fill in the blank) are so overused, that I never internalize them and therefore, never remember them.”

Luckily, bland titles do not always mean bland books. I love Lisa Kleypas’s writing but her books are repeat offenders in the generic titles area and I still can’t tell the books apart by the titles even though I’ve reread most of them:

  • Love Come To Me
  • Where Passion Leads
  • Midnight Angel
  • Prince of Dreams
  • When Dreams Begin
  • Only In Your Arms
  • Only With Your Love
  • Then Came You
  • Dreaming of You
  • Give Me Tonight
  • Because You’re Mine
  • Suddenly You

Most of these titles could be tacked on any romance and you wouldn’t notice the difference. Forever My Love is used so often by different authors they should start naming the books Forever My Love I, Forever My Love II and so on.



Someone Ban These Words, Please!
Longtime AAR reader LFL was one of those who participated in the discussion on the RTR MB. She wrote, in part:

“I am not wild about titles loaded with adjectives. Thank God “Sweet Savage Love” and “Love’s Wild Embrace” went out of style. Frankly I wouldn’t mind seeing any title with “Sweet” or “Tender” retired too. “Dangerous” can go also, because like others here I am bored with the bad boy titles that use words like “Rogue,” “Rake,” and “Devil.” When these get paired with each other, i.e. Gentle Rogue or Angel Rogue, I start to feel like I’ve eaten too much candy corn on Halloween.”

I don’t eat candy corn but I know how she feels. AAR Technical Editor Sandi Morris did a search on BYRON for titles containing the word “Rake” and found 70, from The Abandoned Rake to The Widow and the Rake. As to “Rogue,”, there are about 120 titles, with several duplicates – ie, Lady Rogue appears four times while The Rogue’s Lady appears five times. Furthermore, there are over 450 titles with “Baby” in them, over 250 with “Cowboy”, and over 800 with “Lady.”

Other overused words mentioned by our readers include:

savage, desire, rapture, ecstasy, Texas, seduction, love, prince, tycoon, passion, lord, dream, secret, baby, forever, pirate, bride, remember, wicked, fire, storm, rose, beloved, dark, perfect, kiss, embrace, heart, golden, star, moon, man, marriage, woman, wedding, engagement, Highland, temptation, Irish

Can I say boring? I’m also tired of “dragon,” but that comes from reading too much fantasy fiction.

“I don’t care how good a book is, if it’s got cowboy, baby, pregnant, surprise, or virgin in the title, it’s not a book, it’s a doorstop,” says reviewer Marianne Stillings. In Katarina Wikholm’s opinion: “Any book title referring to a noble title, or cowboys/babies/virgins and it’s a mark against the book before I’ve even opened it. Ditto for seasons: Christmas, Valentine, etc. But since I’m into dark, harsh romances I go for words like “Dark” and/or “Dangerous.”

I’m sure unattractive titles hurt book sales and I wonder why the publishers don’t make more of an effort for originality. “I did not even look at Anna de Forest’s Cowboy For Christmas when it first came out because of the terrible title and cover, but I did pick it up at the UBS, for lack of anything better and discovered a very, very good book,” says AAR Editor Ellen Micheletti. Her current un-favorite title is The Virgin Bride Said “Wow”.

Earlier this year I snickered at titles like, Have Gown, Need Groom, Follow That Baby, Tex’s Exasperating Heiress, The Tycoon’s Instant Daughter, The Not-So-Secret Baby, Excuse Me? Whose Baby? and. . .(drum roll, please). . .I Waxed My Legs for This? They are endearing in their silliness, and the books may be great for all I know, but I wouldn’t be be caught dead reading such a foolish title. Have to think about my street credibility, you know.

These are Trite-O-Matic titles, generally used in series romances. To begin creating your own titles, you need a box which contains the words Wedding, Texas, Rancher, Cowboy, Dad, Millionaire, Heiress, Bride, Baby and Secret plus a few choice adjectives and you just close your eyes and pick any two or three. I suspect more advanced publishers use a computerized version of this instant random title generator.

Some Trite-O-Matic examples from the May releases include:

  • The Cattleman and the Virgin
  • The Billionaire is Back
  • Cowboy’s Secret Child
  • Morgan’s Secret Son
  • Cinderella’s Secret Agent
  • The Overlord’s Bride
  • Warrior’s Bride
  • The Warrior’s Damsel
  • Tycoon Warrior
  • Heart of a Warrior
  • Baby at His Door
  • Millionaire Boss
  • The Wedding Secret
  • Mistress to a Millionaire
  • Taming the Duke
  • Whitelaw’s Wedding
  • Texas Forever
  • The Impossible Texan
  • The Lady’s Proposal
  • Cowboy with a Secret
  • Kiss a Handsome Stranger

Sigh. The less said about them the better.

Before leaving this brief discussion of series titles, even though we’ve heard it and said it all before, let’s eavesdrop on some of our readers:

  • Amy: I swear, every other category title these days includes “Cowboy,” “Baby,” or “Bride.” I refuse to buy them just on principal; if the titles are that unimaginative, what must the stories be like?
  • Deb: You forgot virgin and amnesiac!
  • Lancene: I know! I must be an amnesiac virgin whose father wants me to marry a cowboy with a baby! No wonder I’m confused.

Finally, have you ever wondered why everybody in the McWorld seems to be called Mackenzie? Please, could someone write a book about an O’Hoolihan for a change? Among the May releases there are The McKenzies: Zach by Ana Leigh, MacKenzie’s Magic by Debra Dier and also McKinley’s Miracle by Mary Kate Holder. Does Linda Howard come to mind, anyone?



Other Pet Peeves
One of my pet peeves are astronomical or meteorological titles. Examples from May releases are plentiful and include Evening Star, Winter Solstice, Summer Storm, Whispers on the Wind, The Endless Sky, Moonshadow, Stardust, Fly Me to the Moon, Spring Rain, and Gemini Moon. I’m sure I won’t remember any of those tomorrow, and they make me wonder whether the characters spend the whole book staring at the sky and chatting about weather conditions. However, for some obscure reason I kinda liked Storm Warning, Stranger in the Mist and Imminent Thunder. Reader LFL says she dislikes cataclysmic titles containing words like “Storm,” “Fire,” or “Flames” because they’re hyperbolic and often clichés; maybe that’s part of it for me as well.

I also dislike titles that start His or Her, e.g. Her Ideal Husband, His Arranged Marriage and His Blushing Bride because I don’t know who the heck the possessive pronoun is supposed to refer to. Just blame my grammar teacher who always insisted that one should not begin with an ambiguous reference. Most husbands belong to “her” so it isn’t terribly informative. Another thing I don’t care for are titles like Wed in Whitehorn: Nighthawk’s Child; Code Name: Prince; Kids + Cops=Chaos.; and Just Say Yes! Most special characters are clumsy and exclamation marks seem too emphatic to me.

LFL says her least favorite titles are the euphemistic ones such as The Wolf and the Dove, The Flame and the Flower, The Shadow and the Star, The Hawk and the Dove, The Panther and the Pearl. ”Besides sounding like one of Aesop’s fables (anyone for The Tortoise and the Hare?), these just seem really silly. Sometime I’d like to see one titled The Hyena and the Vulture, or even The Porcupine and the Nettles.” Her examples seem bland to me too, but I do like the alliteration of some of them. These titles may work if I’ve read the book and the two things mentioned are central symbols or themes, but I won’t be drawn to them in and of themselves in a bookstore. Still, I have to admit the title of The Sword and the Ringintrigues me but it may be just because it rhymes with The Lord of the Rings.

Speaking of doves, there are thousands of bird species in the world so how come the only five that ever come up in romance titles are dove, swan, hawk, eagle and raven? Aren’t sparrows, robins, seagulls, pelicans and cranes romantic? Why not A Bullfinch Maiden, or A Company of Chickens?

LFL also dislikes the titles starting with “The,” such as The Wild One, The Reckless One, or The Defiant Hero. “These titles create an instant resistance in me to believing the character is defiant or ravishing or rebellious. I want to be shown and not told.” I like these titles more than LFL, but the adjective had better be fitting. If the character isn’t wild, reckless or defiant enough I get the feeling the author didn’t understand her own book.

Worse than that, there are some titles that are completely off, and don’t seem to have any relationship to the content of the book. Why Joan Wolf’s book Someday Soon was given its title I haven’t a clue. AAR Managing Editor Blythe Barnhill suggested that perhaps a more appropriate title for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Love, Cherish Me would be Love, Win Me in a Card Game, Save Me from Countless Rape Attempts, Cherish Me for a Couple of Pages, Separate from me for Over a Hundred Pages, Call Me Demeaning Names, and Get Back Together with Me on the Last Page. “Oddly, the publisher did not take this suggestion and rename the book. I can’t imagine why.”

Blythe mentions another problem: “I hate when an author uses the title throughout the book, as if she’s trying to remind us why it is appropriate. Margaret Mitchell uses the words ‘gone with the wind’ only once during the book, and it’s effective.” But constant repetitions of the title inside the book soon start to annoy.

Jennifer Schendel dislikes anything melodramatic, and titles with Lord so and so or Miss such and such. I do like some of them, such as Miss Westlake’s Windfall, Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind, The Unsuitable Miss Martingale. For some reason I don’t care for first names as much, go figure.

Votes are divided on puns. Ellen says cutesy mysteries with punning titles have done her in for that. Blythe likes cute puns and confesses to reading a lot of bad mysteries just because they had great titles. I like puns as long as they are not the same old, same old but I have come across the occasional boring pun repeatedly. My favorite pun titles do not come from romance, though. I like the Austenesque episode titles in the Regency set British comedy series Blackadder: Sense And Senility, Amy And Amiability, Nob And Nobility, Ink And Incapability. (Of course, Austen had some good titles too.)



Taming the Temptation
I wonder if Shakespeare knew what he was starting when he tamed the shrew. Books reviewed by AAR have tamed Rowen, Rowan, Ben, Angelica, Rafe, Jessi Rose, Shaw MacCade, a renegade, a rogue, a Highland warrior, a Texan, “the wolf,” and even “the night.” Untamed things include “time” and “love.” There are also Untamed Heart, A Heart Untamed, Tame Me Not, Untamed. I saw the Shakespeare play The Taming Of The Shrew when I was twelve and thought it was a very depressing and unromantic view of a chauvinistic power struggle. The word “taming” still evokes /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages of a disgustingly confident male bent on humiliating the female and bending her to his will. I’m sure all these romances aren’t like that but I can’t make myself read them because of the titles. I might try Taming And Housetraining An Alleycat, however.

“Temptation” is starting to bore me too. The Temptation of Rory Monahan, The Temptation of Sean MacNeill, Tempting Harriet, Tempting Janey, and so on. I’m sure these titles were great when someone first used them but frequent use has worn the temptation out of them.



The Science of Building an Exact Temporal Framework
Blythe hates “anything that sounds like it’s generated by the romance-o-matic computer. Stuff like Wild Texas Bride (a great book, sadly – by Dana Ransom), anything with ‘Wild,’ Secret,’ ‘Ecstasy,’ and lately, ‘Midnight.’ ”

Yeah, and midnight. It’s starting to grate on me, too. I searched AAR reviews for night or midnight and found at least seventy. For example, Midnight Sun, Midnight Enchantment, Midnight Honor, Midnight Waltz, Midnight Shadow, Midnight Mistress, Midnight Pleasures, Midnight Kisses, Midnight Rainbow, and Midnight Fantasies. There are also It Happened At Midnight, It Happened One Night, Just Before Midnight, One Moment Past Midnight, After The Night, The Midnight Hour, In the Midnight Hour and no less than three books called Night Whispers – as written by Judith McNaught, Leslie Kelly, and Karen Sandler. And let’s not forget One Wilde Night, One Lonely Night, One Summer’s Night, One Moonlit Night, and One Texas Night – I’m waiting for One New Hampshire Night to be published any time soon.

Apparently romance characters are nocturnal creatures since nobody’s even thought of publishing Early Morning Jitterbug, Lord of 5.40 A.M, It Happened Just Before Seven O’Clock, Noon of Fire, or One Goddamned Monday Afternoon.

Night is not a complete turn off, however. More than one person said they liked poetic titles that, rather than seeming repetitive, were evocative – such titles as Beauty Like the Night or Midnight in Ruby Bayou. In the Midnight Rain evokes film noir-ish /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages or bluesy atmosphere. E.L Swann’s Night Gardening attracted me with the unusual title.

(It Came Upon) A Midnight Clear turned out to be the pet peeve of several AAR reviewers. Every Christmas there’s at least one book with the words “Midnight Clear” in the title, and usually it has nothing to do with the plot. Maybe it’s easier to market than “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Last year, two books called All I Want For Christmas and one called All I Want For Christmas Is You were published. Even I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus would be more interesting. I’d like to read a Christmas regency about the recovery of an alcoholic viscount titled Rudolph the Rednosed Rake, Dear.

For some readers, titles based on marriage vows or rote phrasing like Dearly Beloved, To Love and to Cherish, I Do, I Do, I Do, Mirror Image, Saving Grace, and The Way Home can be a bit of a turn-off. Some of them do get a bit cliché-like due to repetition. Ellen loves the Carla Kelly book With This Ring despite the unoriginal, bland title shared with twelve other books. Says LFL, “Sometime I would really like to see one titled Forever Hold Your Peace.”



Songs and Movies
Some titles remind me of songs (Can’t Stop Loving You, Someone to Love, Second Star to the Right, Under the Boardwalk, Just The Way You Are) or movies (Never Been Kissed, Something About Cecily, The Matchmaker, Moonstruck). These titles fall into my “it depends” category. I might be tempted to read a book titled after a favorite of mine but I will be disappointed if the book doesn’t have the same mood as the song or the film and if the plot has nothing whatsoever to do with the title. Never, ever name a tearjerker after my favorite romantic comedies.

Kelly Parker dislikes these titles because when the title of a popular song is used, she feels like the author’s trying to coast on sentimental value the song may have rather than relying on her own work. “The series books are the worst at this. She thinks there’s at least one book a month where the title is taking from a song or movie that it has nothing to do with.” True, there is likely a connection to the book itself, but when there is such synergy between the various segments of our popular culture, it can get very confusing. I’m waiting with trepidation for romances called Casablanca, The Godfather IV or Jurassic Park and a secret baby book called All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You. And yet, hasn’t Susan Elizabeth Phillips gotten a lot of well-deserved mileage out of Dream a Little Dream, Lady Be Good, and It Had to be You? Speaking of SEP, although no longer of song titles, Teresa thinks that Fancy Pants and Glitter Baby are clever and imaginative.



There’s Just Something About that Title!
I’ve got five words for you: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Heidi gave it as an example of a great title and I have to agree. The title is clever, memorable and pertinent to the contents of the book, and if there’s another book that could have the same title it’s probably a plagiarism. I like titles that convey what is unique about this book. Connie Willis’s title Doomsday Book perfectly reflects the dark mood of the book, and To Say Nothing Of The Dog refers to a Jerome K. Jerome classic – a fitting title for a novel full of literary references. Teresa mentions Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Jane Jorgenson recalls The Thread that Binds the Bones and a Dennis Lehane mystery called A Drink Before the War.

Notice that none of these great titles are romances. Contrast them with the generic romance titles that are twenty-four to a dozen. Unfortunately, it seems that in the romance genre great titles such as these are much scarcer.

I don’t want to be thought of as a grouch so I had to dig up some good romance titles too. May releases I’m tempted to read on the basis of the title alone include, Back When We Were Grownups, Something to Talk About (yes, I know it’s a song title!), In Close Quarters, After the Vows, Prince Charming in Dress Blues, Broken Promises, Fast Women, Familiar Lullaby, The Last Good Man, Almost Innocent, Wait Until Dark, and A Proper Affair. I have no idea whether any of these titles fit the content but for some reason or another they sound interesting and make me want to read the book.

Someone’s Baby appeals to me because with the abundance of books called Someone-Or- Other’s Baby it reads like a private joke. Two Across, Two Down sounds fascinating, maybe just because I’m an avid crossword puzzle fan. Race to the Altar sounds comical although I would probably be too embarrassed to read it in public. And oh, Back in Kansas is way better than Back in Texas would be. Abandon, Standoff, Flashback, and The Listener create intriguing /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages with just one word. Uncle Sarge is simple and elegant and makes me wonder what the uncle has to do with the romance. The Second Silence is such a mysterious title I’d have to read it just to find out what was the first silence and why have all the noises stopped again. I like the sound of A Way With Women, and Sex Appeal and Marrying Money seem so straightforwardly honest about what the book is all about I can’t help but like them as titles.

To end this segment, let’s check in with LLB and find out what she has to say about titles.

I think I’m a very sensorily-oriented person – I look for titles with a strong visual impact and titles that convey things that would be pleasant to touch. Because I’m such an old movie buff, I always enjoy seeing movie titles reflected in books. Just for the heck of it, I went through BYRON and sorted on romances I’d graded B- or above and narrowed downward from there. Bad titles are probably a dime a dozen, so I didn’t choose to focus on them at all. Here are some titles I found in my library that are worthy in and of themselves (in addition to belonging to some good and/or great romances):

  • Jillian Hunter’s Indiscretion because I happen to love the Ingrid Bergman movie of the same name
  • Nora Roberts’ Jewels of the Sun because not only does it connote strong and vibrant color, but because it is so descriptive of the book itself
  • Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams because the title conveys that the book would be a medieval romance with a fairy tale-like plot
  • Anne Stuart’s A Rose at Midnight because it is simply very romantic with the imagery of roses and the dark of night
  • Anne Stuart’s To Love a Dark Lord because it simply tells you what you are going to get, and with this author, what could be more delicious?
  • Catherine Archer’s Velvet Bond because of its tactile associations
  • Christina Dodd’s A Well Pleasured Lady because I’m a closet hedonist
  • Rexanne Becnel’s A Dove at Midnight because of the imagery the title implies and the romanticism of it
  • Peggy Webb’s Angels on Zebras because of the whimsy
  • Nora Roberts’ Born in Fire and Born in Ice (although not Born in Shame) because of the contrast of the two titles – considered separately they aren’t nearly so striking
  • Christina Skye’s Bride of the Mist because of the mystery behind the mist
  • Amanda Quick’s Dangerous and Rendezvous, among others, because they are succinct and somehow classy (no cheesy romance novel titles here!)
  • Deborah Simmons’ The Gentleman Thief because it reminded me of Cary Grant
  • Ruth Langan’s Highland Heather because of the romance, the Highlands, and the purple
  • Samantha James’ His Wicked Ways because it appealed to the sybarite in me
  • Sue Margolis’ Neurotica because it combined neurotic with erotic, which conjured up some great mental /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages
  • Patricia Oliver’s An Inconvenient Wife because I adore marriages of convenience
  • Kat Martin’s Innocence Undone because of the juxtaposition of those two words (it reads almost like an oxymoron)
  • Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy because it implied an epistolary relationship
  • My Only Love by Katherine Sutcliffe because it had an air of desperation to it
  • Jayne Ann Krentz’s The Pirate just because
  • Portrait of my Heart by Patricia Cabot because of the painting reference
  • Haywood Smith’s Secrets in Satin because of the wonderful feel of satin next to the skin
  • Linda Madl’s A Whisper of Violets because it sounds so lovely and because I love purple

So, there you have it – the reasons why certain titles have been appealing to me. Weird, huh?



Favorite Authors and their Titles
Ellen loves the title of Prince Joe (and the story too). “The main character is Joe and he has to impersonate a prince, it’s simple but all the elements work.” She also likes the titles Meant To Be Married by Ruth Wind and Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly – “The title says it all.” One of her favorite authors is Paula Detmer Riggs whose titles are “a mixture of the sublime (Tender Offer to the ridiculous (Mommy By Surprise) to the generic (Taming The Night).” Ellen says the PDR title Rough Passage fit the book perfectly as the book was one of the best angst-fests she’s had in a long time but ended with a hopeful note.

Teresa agrees with Ellen when it comes to Prince Joe In fact, she thinks eight of the nine Team 10 Navy SEALS books by Brockmann have great titles. Namely, Prince Joe, Forever Blue, Frisco’s Kid, Everyday, Average Joe, Harvard’s Education, The Admiral’s Bride, Identity: Unknown, and Get Lucky. She adds:

“They’re all memorable because they’re somewhat unusual (how many romance novels called “Harvard’s Education” have you read?), and almost all of them feature the name of the hero (Joe, Blue, Frisco, Jones, Harvard, Admiral, Lucky) in the title of the book which makes them perfect fits. As Ellen said, the stupidest one by far is It Came Upon A Midnight Clear which is about Crash Hawken and was supposed to be titled “Hawken’s Heart” (MUCH better IMO). In fact, ALL of those books with Christmas-y titles (Navy SEAL or not) are next to useless. There are many books called “Upon a Midnight Clear” or some such drivel and they don’t say a thing about the plot and all blur together in my mind.”

Blythe likes some of the Maggie Osborne titles (I Do, I Do, I Do, The Brides of Prairie Gold) and some Nora Roberts’ trilogy titles such as the Born in series, and those for the Chesapeake Bay and Gallagher siblings trilogies. She also mentions Suzanne Brockmann and Julia Quinn, adding, “I loved how the cover of The Viscount Who Loved Me looked like a nineteenth century James Bond movie poster.”

According to Marianne Stillings, Linda Howard’s titles are imaginative, pertinent, and often contain a double-entendre, and aren’t recycled as much as so many others. For example, Mr. Perfect could be the villain or the hero. Ditto Dream Man as the heroine “sees” the villain in her visions. Kill and Tell is a pun on Kiss and Tell and indicates both suspense and romance. Heart of Fire refers to a large red ruby, but the heroine and hero also have hearts afire. In Shades of Twilight all the characters are shady. Mackenzie’s… Anything also appeals to Marianne. “Mountain implies where he lives and that he’s got a mountain to climb to get to his HEA.” In A Game of Chance the title contains the hero’s name.

It helps to have read the book to truly appreciate the double entendres of Howard’s titles, as I would probably dismiss at least Heart Of Fire and After The Night as boring titles. Almost Forever and The Cutting Edge sound generic to Teresa. I never understood where Midnight Rainbow came from; if there was a reason I completely missed it when reading it. But I’m itching to read All The Queen’s Men just because of the title.

Sandi Morris mentions a series romance called Magic in a Jelly Jar as an example of a title that fit the book perfectly. There’s a seven-year-old who collects baby teeth in a jelly jar hoping that the tooth fairy can grant him a really big wish. Sandi also admits to buying books on the basis of the titles sometimes, such as The Daddy Clock and The Clairvoyant. Another favorite title is Morsi’s Wild Oats about a man than would like to sow some with the scandalous divorcee.

Jennifer Crusie’s titles do have something going for them. Crazy for You is pretty generic but Tell Me Lies, Welcome To Temptation, Anyone But You, Sizzle, Manhunting, Getting Rid Of Bradley, Strange Bedpersons, What the Lady Wants, Charlie All Night, The Cinderella Deal, Trust Me On This and Fast Women manage to raise my interest. Just what it is about them I can’t tell – maybe it’s just that they show some imagination.

Heidi enjoys patterns like Lowell’s Donovan gemstones series (Amber Beach, Jade Island, Pearl Cove, and the aforementioned Midnight in Ruby Bayou) and Catherine Coulter’s Bride series (The Sherbrooke Bride, The Hellion Bride, The Heiress Bride, and The Scottish Bride). In terms of non-romance, she likes the titles of Sue Grafton’s alphabetical titles and the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony (which includes On A Pale Horse and Tangled Skein, among others). Heidi adds:

“David Edding’s Belgariad series features titles which all refer to chess moves or pieces, and considering the series is about the ongoing battle of good and evil, it definitely works. Then there’s Bertrice Small’s Skye O’Malley – one name, that’s all. And since it’s about her life, rather than strictly about a romance, it really works. The Diamond Tiger is another excellent Lowell title. In non-romance, if you don’t mind modern classics, how about The Hobbit? I mean, think about how much moxie, chutzpah, cajones, or whatever it takes to name a book about a mythical creature that you made up? And not even sounding like a mythical creature anyone’s heard of, like dragonwitch or some such. I think that’s a brilliant title, and I’d have to say it’s worked out well. I’ve been wanting to read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for years, just based on the title. 1984 is another brilliant title, and I think Frankenstein, to go back a bit further, is equally intriguing – just a German surname, nothing more. Other titles I love are One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Handmaiden’s Tale, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and Pigs In Heaven, and Stephen King’s The Green Mile, The Stand and Shawshank Redemption.

Rachel Potter felt tempted to read How to Marry a Marquis, How to Trap a Tycoon, and 50 Ways to Lure Your Lover on the basis of their titles. “I guess I just wanted to know how you do that.” Other interesting titles she mentions are Don’t Forget to Smile, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Bad Boy, Mr. Commitment, Blood and Chocolate, The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman and Much Ado about Prom Night.

Short and succinct descriptive titles with something quirky in them appeal to Jennifer Schendel, for example Laurell K. Hamilton’s The Laughing Corpse, The Lunatic Café and Narcissus in Chains. She also mentions the book titles for Julia Quinn, J.D. Robb and Diana Gabaldon. Kelly Parker brings up Putney, Dodd, and a title that recently caught her fancy – The Mermaid of Penperro.

Titles that bring to mind unusual visual /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages can create a strong impact, according to reader LFL. She points to A Company of Swans, A Bed of Spices, and The Butler Who Laughed as examples. Other words that make an impression on her include certain verbs such as The Night Remembers, Waltzing in Ragtime, and Falling For Chloe. Then there are those titles she describes as having a “bit of shocking darkness, such as The Fortune Hunter and The Price of Innocence. And, in her opinion, even the most common, clichéd and boring romance-title words like “Devil” or “Desire” are easier tolerated in a one word title. Though those words may work better alone, even better are single words that have an “elegant but slightly negative connotation,” such as Indiscreet, Beast, or Heartless. Ahhh. Those just make me so happy.” They do seem more interesting than words like Passion since they convey a sense of conflict.

According to another long-time AAR visitor, EP, a memorable title contains many layers of meaning. One of her favorite examples of this is Balogh’s Longing, which seems rather bland at first glance but has lots of intricacies if you’ve read the book. Vivien feels that way about Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star, and is attracted by poetical titles which combine words in intriguing ways, such as A Whisper of Roses, The Sound of Snow, Winter Garden, The Morning Side of Dawn, or ones that evoke a sense of mysticism, such as Through a Dark Mist, Keeper of the Dream, or Once in a Blue Moon.

Something for everyone, right?



Something to Hope For:
A good title for me should be distinctive and memorable, never a cliché. The less melodramatic the better. It should convey something significant about the contents of the book, even if I haven’t read the novel, and it should intrigue me enough to pick it up. The best titles grab me: “What the heck is that book about? I have got to read it to find out!” And after I’ve read the book, I don’t want to look at the spine and think: “Whoa, where did that title come from? It’s just so not what the book was about.” Some truly great titles have multi-layered meanings.

Or else it just has that undefinable something.



Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are the questions we’d like you to consider. As always, we’ve not hit them all, but these should provide an interesting framework:


histbut The Importance of Titles – How important are book titles, and more specifically, romance titles, to you? At one end are readers who don’t pay much attention to the titles, any more than they pay to the covers. At the other end are readers who strongly consider the titles before they buy a book.

histbut Best and Worst – What is your favorite book title of all time? What is your favorite romance novel title of all time? What about the reverse (your least favorite title and least favorite romance novel title)? What did you love, what did you hate, and why?

histbut Title Recycling – Does it seem to you that romance novel titles are recycled over and over again, that the same words are used nearly as often as Fabio used to show up on covers? What’s up with that?

histbut The Good and the Memorable – Each of us have preferences in terms of titles. For instance, LLB mentioned words with tactile imagery while for other readers alliteration might do the trick. What does it for you?

histbut The Bad and the Forgettable – What are your romance novel title pet peeves? Are there more egregious titles in historical romance, contemporary romance, series romance, or paranormal romance?

histbut Authors and Titles – Though we’ve heard that many authors have their titles changes by their publishers – particularly in the arena of series romance – are there any authors whose titles you most admire? Who and why?


— Maria K



histbutPost your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

histbutNews Index

histbutAAR Home

Click here to join aarmaillist
Click to subscribe to AAR’s twice-monthly mailing list