I'm here today to claim responsibility for my failure (I should say: my failure so far -- I still have proposed CKC books to read!) to find a keeper among recent series contemporaries. Here are two specific examples of that:
re-read The Perfect Neighbor, which is virtually the same book in one sense: they are both second-generation romances in sprawling family sagas. In Considering Kate, our heroine is a retired prima ballerina, returned to her hometown, a college town in West Virginia. (I may know the real-life prototype for that town; Ross has a cousin living in Buckhannon, home to West Virginia Wesleyan College where her husband had been a professor for decades. However, there are other candidates, as you can see here.) She purchases a property to convert to a ballet school and needs a contractor to handle the work.
I suppose it's not fair to suggest that it's a stretch for anyone who has ever hired a contractor to believe that a romance can flourish in an atmosphere of missed deadlines and cost overruns. In any case, that wasn't a real obstacle for me. I think I disliked Kate too much to care that she was philandering with the hired help. I know there are those readers who would particularly appreciate her confidence in making the first move in the mating dance with Brody, but her moves came across to me as being on the wrong side of the self-confident & I-know-what-I-want versus slutty & I'll-go-after-anything-in-trousers divide.
Like I said: It's me, not you. Really.
I gather one reason Considering Kate is a classic is because Brody is a devoted dad to his son, Jack. There is a scene late in the book in which Jack does something so gosh-darn-adorable that it melts the hearts of many readers. I had problems with that scene as well. Once again, I'm far too cranky for my own good.
As between Considering Kate and The Perfect Neighbor, I'd have to pick The Perfect Neighbor: I liked the characters more and enjoyed their romance. But it's back in the box waiting to be swapped, and I'm afraid Considering Kate is going to join it.
Here's the other example of why it's me, not you, really. I read Bought: Damsel in Distress by Lucy King. It has been well reviewed elsewhere, and I can see why. It's got a nice set-up (Emily needs a way to get to the South of France for a wedding, and Luke just happens to be heading that way in his private jet) and the characters are enjoyable enough. Add some high-end accommodations, jewels, and pottery, plus the obligatory hot-hot-hot sex, and it's all frothy & fun.
So why wasn't it a keeper for me? While it was fun to read, I don't think it would be fun to reread. That's what a keeper is: the book you finish and think, "I will want to read that again someday."
Bought: Damsel in Distress worked as a keeper for other readers, so what's wrong with me? I suspect the fact that I'm trying to write a contemporary romance is very prejudicial to this process. But is it an absolute bar? I have a test for that. I was at a book sale the other day (25 cents/paperback, or 6/$1.00 -- I got 18 books for a cool $3.00!) and bought two Harlequin Temptations from the 1980s. They're both by favorite authors (Gina Wilkins & Kristin James) but I didn't recognize either book. I probably read them back in the day, but I'm deliberately not checking to see if I still own them, i.e., they were deemed "keepers."
I'll read them and see if either one is a keeper for me today. This makes sense to me, as I have keepers from series contemporaries published back then, and when I reread those I still think, "I'm going to want to reread this book yet again." So -- is it that I'm just too curmudgeonly today, or have series romances lost their keeper qualities over the past 25 years?
I'll keep you informed!
Edited to add:
bafriva has pointed out that Shepherdstown is a real place -- which I could have seen if I'd looked on the very list I linked to. My bad. Here's a photo of Reynolds Hall on the Shepherd University campus:
Thanks for keeping me honest -- and it does look like a lovely place to visit, so thanks for the travel recommendation!