kinsaleThe formula: Boy meets girl; girl meets boy. They fall in love. A complication or two, or a misunderstanding or two separate them. The complication or the misunderstanding is cleared up. They live HEA.

That about sums up the typical romance, right? But what if that’s not exactly what happens? What if the plot and/or characters, the tone or voice are so different from the usual romance that for a while the reader might wonder if what’s being read really is a romance at all?

Then we have what I call a quirky romance, the kind of romance story I seek out and love. Laura Kinsale’s historical Flowers from the Storm, one of the best known representatives of this type of romance, features rake and mathematician Christian Langland, Duke of Jerveaux, as the most unlikely of romantic heroes, especially since he suffers a stroke rendering him incapable of speech at the beginning of the book and is clapped into a madhouse.

His avenging angel, Maddy Timms, is even more improbable since she’s a Quaker whose father, another mathematician, regards Christian as extraordinarily talented in the field. Since romance demands a believable path between the lovers, finding that path for Christian and Maddy turns out to be a work of brilliance by Kinsale and the book has become much discussed in romance circles.

But what about other quirky romances?  Without giving spoilers, these books top my list of those kinds of romances:

In Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining, Low Down is a big, strapping, Colorado woman prospector who dresses, curses, and acts like a man. When she nurses her fellow prospectors during an epidemic, they promise to give her anything she desires thinking she will ask for gold or land or something they can get easily. However, what Low Down wants more than anything in the world is a baby.

Ack! That means one of the prospectors will have to marry and impregnate her. They draw lots. Unluckily Max McCord, engaged to a beautiful girl back home, is the guy who must put up or shut up. What ensues is at times funny, at times sad, and always quirky. About mid-book, I had to ask myself if this was really a romance or if Osborne was just playing with me.

Cheryl Reavis’ The Older Woman features a romance between an early-30-something, convalescing Black Hawk pilot and a 40-something nurse. What makes it even more quirky is that the novel’s only voice is that of the pilot who’s a down-home boy on the rebound from the woman he thought was his one true love.

Calvin “Bugs” Doyle’s relationships with his landlady Mrs. Bee and her posse of church ladies and the nurse’s nephew who’s being picked on by a bully in school are delightful in this story of love being found where it’s least expected.

Sarah Mayberry’s She’s Got It Bad revolves around two people in Australia’s middle class, a rock-and-roll tattoo artist and a motorcycle designer. This is a pebble-in-the-pond story in which one action taken for the right reasons has disastrous effects. Mayberry maps a harsh route between the two, a road that they both must walk to get together.

Sharon Shinn’s Archangel riffs from the Bible in this fantasy novel. The Angel Gabriel finds his predestined mate in a slave girl named Rachel, which should be the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning since Rachel doesn’t bow to angels as everyone else does and isn’t sure she even likes them at all. Gabriel, who believes his own press, can’t understand anyone not being enamored with him. Chaos nearly ensues. Shinn, meanwhile, gives readers entirely new definitions of empowerment and love.

In Susan Kay Law’s Marry Me, two city people battle over the same piece of Montana in probably the quirkiest land claim story around. Neither newspaperman Jake whose wife has just died nor Emily has the first idea of what to do on the prairie. Consequently their fights over who owns the land are less important than surviving another day and another season in the unrelenting sea of grass.

These are just a few of the quirky, different, slightly off romances that I love. Do you enjoy collect different romances too?  If so, what are your favorites?

– Pat Henshaw

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