An environmentalist myself, I like to read about other environmentalists. Folks who care about nature and who are prepared to adapt their lifestyle so as to deal with it more carefully are almost automatically likeable to me. Which is why I really enjoy them as heroes or heroines in my romance reading. Considering how big a topic the environment is in real life, it is quite astonishing, however, that environmental protection does not play a particularly large role in the world of romance. Now one might argue it is not sexy – after all, what’s sexy about getting double glazing or riding a bike? – but protecting the environment is caring, is looking beyond one’s own pleasure, and that to me is one of the core themes of romance.
Where has green thinking found its way to romance? The most obvious example is that in contemporaries, sometimes the better-off characters drive a hybrid car. Supporting a particular environmentalist cause or working in an environmental field is quite rare, though. Possibly the authors worry including such topics might place them too much in a particular corner, but from what I experience here in Germany, and have read about regarding the USA, by now green ideas are not limited to one part of the political spectrum, instead they are shared by people from quite different backgrounds and opinions.
Beyond hybrid cars, I can envisage environmentalism in romance in a number of ways:
–Biologists and park rangers as main characters. This is kind of obvious, since these people, due to their training, know enough about how endangered nature is to be prepared to fight for it.
–Scientists, inventors and engineers. To save energy, which is vital, new machines and procedures are needed. Why not have the hero or heroine be one of them?
–Early conservationists. In historicals, and among these particularly western romances, characters who live on the frontier see the wholesale destruction that the railway and the settlements bring, and try to oppose this. They might be Native American characters, trappers, or visionaries. Yellowstone Park was established as early as 1872, which means that the movement to protect such natural resources must have begun much earlier.
–Business. Cars are the most obvious example, but in many fields green ideas are developed into new business models, and in many areas in the real world new businesses are founded and existing ones overhauled, reacting to the consumers’ changed demands, so why not in the romance world?
– Courts of law. Preventing the destruction of a nature reserve or enforcing new regulations for waste often requires legal proceedings. John Grisham has used this background for some of his protagonists, so can romance authors.
– Politics. Real-life politicians fight of green causes, and lobbyists provide them with the background information they need for that and/or put pressure on them to get them on their side. In fact, the first green romance heroine I have ever seen in a movie was Annette Bening in The American President.
– Billionaires. After all, they could refuse to own a private jet and do not have their huge hunting lodge fully heated all winter in case the whim takes them there. Well, I can dream, can’t I? Seriously, whenever I read about the super-rich in a contemporary romance and see them acting irresponsibly as regards the environment, my reaction is not delight in the fantasy of infinite riches, but irritation at the characters’ thoughtlessness.
–Characters who act to protect the environment in small ways. For many of us, small ways is the only thing we can do, so reading about such folks just warms my heart.
I am sure that there are many more ways in which green thinking has found (or is finding) its way to books, but these are a few that I have come up with, and that I’d like to see more often.
Considering how much I like green romance, it’s a bit discouraging how few titles of this sort I have actually come across. Here are some I like particularly:
Set the Dark on Fire by Jill Sorenson. The heroine, Shay Phillips, works as a researcher for the Department of Fish and Game at a state reserve in Southern California and gets involved in one of the sheriff’s cases when a woman is killed by a mountain lion. Working and moving around in the state reserve is described with great vividness, and the heart-rending dilemma between raising and caring for the mountain lions on one hand and having to kill one when a human has been attacked tore at my heart-strings, too.
Stranded with her Ex by Jill Sorenson. This time both hero and heroine are marine biologists who work under extreme conditions on a tiny piece of rock in the Pacific Ocean. The privations of the scientists’ daily lives are shown, as are the dangers involved at observing sharks at close range. What also impressed me in this novel is the dilemma the protagonists find themselves in: As strange things happen on the island, it becomes apparent that one of the people who they share their living space with, and who in spite of differences they thought they had an overall goal in common – observing and protecting animals –, must be a villain.
Shipwrecked with Mr. Wrong by Nikki Logan. Another island, and another marine biologist heroine. Honor Brier lives in complete isolation for months at a time on a tiny tropical island off the Australian coast when a boat is stranded on the reef surrounding it, and she must extend hospitality to the skipper, a spoiled playboy. The contrast in lifestyles and attitudes is hilarious at times, and the setting is rendered just beautifully. But the author also present Honor’s work with great sensitivity, and with Rob’s eye the reader learns more about it.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. This is young adult literature, and the series features the most unabashedly environmentalist heroine I have ever come across. From the first volume onwards, Mia is a firm supporter of Greenpeace and other environmentalist causes. Although the individual projects that her enthusiasm causes her to engage in are sometimes regarded with gentle irony, her overall commitment to the green cause is dealt with with respect and understanding.
Friends have told me that quite a number of shapeshifter romances contain green ideas, but I have read few of these and am not yet familiar enough to list any titles. To start a new Special Titles Listing, we’re going to need more titles than the few above. That’s where you, our readers, come in. Can you very kindly name those romances that you have read that feature protection of the environment? It does not matter which subgenre, they are more than welcome. I am keen on discovering new titles first of all to read them myself, but I would also like to make a list of Green Romances available to all AAR readers. Please bring ‘em on!
– Rike Horstmann
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
Interesting topic. I avoid romances which try to preach a message. Taking note of these mentioned.
Including mentions of concerns which matter to millions of people is not invariably the same thing as “”preaching a message.””
Yeah, it is. Especially when one considers these “”issues”” as non-issues at best, propaganda at worst, and pure silliness most of the time. I am not a fan of calls to preach environmentalism in my pleasure reading. That said, I’ll read any romance as long as its good. Heck, I ‘d be a fan of a romance betwren a global warming activist and an evil oil pro-fracking Arctic oil developer, as long the hero was a hunky alpha male. Do any of the romances mentioned work as a romance??? Truly, this is the only thing I care about in my romance reading.
For the Green Romance list, the same rules will apply as for all the other Special Titles Listings as regards quality. The rules can be found here:
So yes, the romances will have worked for reviewers and readers, or they won’t be included.
As for equating environmentalism with preachiness, I don’t see that. By this time, environmentalism has become an everyday way of thinking for many, and it being part of their everyday lives and something they care about, they (like me) want to see it in their romance reading, too.
It’s like romances with pets as important characters: Some people are passionate about pets, others don’t care much, some people have pets, others don’t. While pet lovers don’t demand all their romances to include pets as a topic, they will gladly pick up good romances of this sort, and most readers by far who are not much into pets won’t automatically refuse books with them. This new lists’s purpose is no more and no less than spreading the word about good-quality books that contain a certain theme.
My book, ‘The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh’ features a marine biologist sheikh struggling to preserve his country’s environment and balance it with their need for the money that comes from oil. I think it would fit in the category of ‘green romance’.
I enjoyed Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (have tissues at the ready) and Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas.
My Shelter Bay town is a US certified “”green town,”” the same as the one in WA state where we chose to build our new home. There’s an organic farm, plastic bags are banned to save lives of sea birds, buildings, like Lavender Hill farm restaurant, are required to use green construction, and there’s a character who makes furniture from reclaimed wood. (Which my sweetie, in real life, uses for his woodworking.)
It’s just a normal way of life for residents, which we’ve personally found rewarding, except for those rainy gray winter mornings while waiting for required energy saving fluorescent lights to brighten. I will admit I’ve yet to give a hero a Prius. :)
Summer of the Wolf by Patricia Gardner Evans. Despite the title, I THINK the heroine is researching whales.
Well, this is an aside, but I get so annoyed when characters throw paper products in the trash — you know, letters, postcards, bills, etc. Every time I read one of those sentences, I think “”Trash?!?! Don’t they have a recycle bin?”” And yes, a few authors do mention recycling, but not as many as I think should, which makes me wonder if the authors themselves don’t recycle.
I know, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill but it does seem surprising because I know recycling is pretty much mandatory in most cities, where a lot of these characters supposedly live.
LeeB — I think it would be great for authors to make an effort to show their characters recycling, but there’s a surprising number of places where it doesn’t exist and sometimes it exists in unexpected forms. For example, when my husband and I visited New York, I was disgusted at the lack of recycling, til he told me the way they did it was to separate out the garbage afterwards. (Very sensible in a city where living space is a major issue.)
The only book I could take seriously that would deal with environmentalists is one where the main characters would be vegetarian or vegan. If people are serious about saving the planet they can’t support factory farming which is where 99% of the meat eaten in America comes from. It matters a lot more what you choose to eat than what car you drive to the enviroment.
So, do any of these books address factory farming or have any veggie characters? Anybody know of a romance with an animal rights heroine or hero?
Great idea! I’m always interested in these ideas in romance. I read an HP recently with a tycoon who actually tries to reduce his carbon footprint by not having a private jet. Sorry, can’t remember the name of it.
The Dragonfire Series by Deborah Cooke – especially the second book Kiss of Fate – has a major environmental theme. The Dragon shifters are elemental and their powers are derived from Gaia. In the second book, the heroine is a scientist who is developing a green car and the car and its development play a major role in the plot. While these books aren’t DIKs and the series takes a dive after the first few, the first three are probably B- reads….
Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s The Same Last Name the heroine is a park ranger. The only romance I’ve ever read where it discusses the difficulties of that profession for a woman.
Always and Forever by Farrah Rochon. The hero Jamal uses green technology to refurbish old homes. The heroine is a restoration specialist, which means bringing the houses back to their exact (or as close as possible) original state. Restoration often means using non-green materials. It was interesting to watch them wrestle with the question of the best thing to do.
Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox has some green elements. The hero took down his father’s company for its bad environmental practices. Also the plot itself, biking on the TransAm trail, and the hero and heroine’s “”epilogue”” are definitely green.
These books sound great! Samantha, could you (or anyone else who has read Call Me Irresistible) tell me what form the green ideas take there?
His Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. The hero is a marine biologist, and when they meet, the heroine has just finished volunteering in a project to count peregrine falcons. It’s an opposites-attract story, but the great thing about it is that it becomes clear quite soon that they actually share a worldview, and part of it is that both are passionate about the environment. It’s a lovely romance, too.
I agree, Rosario! This is a lovely romance. Good call!
Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Call Me Irresistible has green elements.
Lisa Kleypas’s “”Dream Lake”” has subtle green ideas. The hero, Alex is a contractor and has a certification to build green buildings.