Can we talk about chick lit? What about chick lit lite?
I stumbled on Jennifer Crusie because Audible.com was having a sale, and one of her books was available on audio for super cheap. "Welcome to Temptation" which sounds rife with possibilities. Her two heroines are a pair of video making sisters, hired by a B list (or C list, or lower) actress to make a promotional video of her return to her home town of Temptation (North Carolina, I think--generic Southern state may be substituted at no extra charge). There is a hunky town mayor, an equally hunky sheriff, missing/embezzled money, and a body or two. There is a lovely but deteriorating house the heroines are trying to renovate, a reluctantly ex husband, and an inappropriately pornographic version of the video played on cable access which was actually required viewing by the town's students--until somebody realized just how pornographic the video was.
It was fun, there was some snappy dialogue, at least three happily ever afters, and no filmy residue on skin or tongue. So, I picked up another one. "Agnes and the Hitman" had a lovely but deteriorating home that the heroine was determined to renovate, a slimy fiance, quite a few bodies, a bad boy turned good, and a mystery. Subsequently, I read "Crazy for You," which involves a woman with a slimy boyfriend, a bad boy turned good, a lovely but deteriorating house which the heroine is determined to renovate, and a dog. No mystery and no dead bodies, but a cute conceit in which the heroine decides to do one selfish thing and have a dog--which sets off a chain of other changes in her life and everyone around her as well.
"Getting Rid of Bradley" involves a creepy ex-husband, a bad boy turned good, a lovely but deteriorating house, embezzled money, scary threats to the heroine's life which were not meant to be fatal until the end, and (here's where this one breaks the pattern--okay, not really) THREE dogs, with a fourth one added at the end for good measure.
"The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes" is a collaborative book, written by Crusie and two other romance authors, starring three sisters with psychic powers they can't control, living in an obscure Southern town in a lovely but deteriorating house, at least one bad boy gone good, two dead bodies, an evil aunt, a 29-ish virgin, and three happily ever afters.
"Fast Women" stars a woman whose husband walked out on her, leaving her a ghost in her own life, until she gets a job with a bad boy who is actually good, her slimy ex, an apartment in a duplex that is lovely but not deteriorating, hush money paid in diamonds and a Porsche, and quite a few bodies, mostly inside basement freezers.
Are you seeing some repeating elements? Me too. This is what makes this "genre fiction." There is a little bit of character arc for one, sometimes two characters, lots of plot, very little description or any sort of trauma caused by traumatic events, and a couple of sex scenes. While ostensibly contemporaneous stories, there is quite a lot that is very retro. The women, for example, are nearly virginal, if not actually so. Several have only had just the one man--either Mr. Wrong, or Mr. Right, or have been celibate for years before the story opens. They tend to fall for "bad boys" who aren't really as bad as they look. Despite insisting on living their own lives as independent women, they mostly just move from one (wrong) man to another (right) one, with very little indication that they really are independent. You could hardly be any more gender stereotypical if you were Barbara Cartland.
And yet, I've clearly been devouring these as if they were potato chips. What is it that is so appealing about them? The experience is not unlike reading Agatha Christie novels--sure, the books are littered with corpses, but nobody really is too bothered by them. And they mostly deserved it. There is some chaos, but it all is comfortably reordered and resolved by the end and we (the readers) can feel that the social order is always going to win out over disorder. The good guys win, and get the girl, and the lovely but deteriorating house, and a happily ever after, while the bad guys go to bad ends.
Can I recommend them? Not really--would you actually recommend Twinkies? Same thing. Junk food literature, to be consumed quickly and forgotten, but enjoyable while they last.