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Canada is sexy now, thanks to wave of romance books set in unlikely locales

The quaint, pastoral setting for Anne of Green Gables may not be what comes to mind when you imagine a steamy, sex-filled romance novel. But that's what bestselling author Carley Fortune has done with This Summer Will Be Different, and it's part of a changing tide in Canadian romances.

Carley Fortune's newest bestseller, This Summer Will Be Different, takes place on P.E.I.

Composite of author Carley Fortune and one of her book cover that reads: This Summer will be Different.

The quaint, pastoral setting for Anne of Green Gables may not be what comes to mind when you imagine a steamy, sex-filled romance novel.

Same goes for a coffee shop on the busy streets of Toronto, or a lakeside cottage in Barry's Bay, Ont.

But that's exactly what buzzy Toronto author Carley Fortune has done with three best-selling romances: make classic Canadian locations sizzle. Now, fans from around the world are clamouring to learn more about places that, to the Canadian reader, might seem familiar but not necessarily sexy.

Industry experts note that may be because traditionally, romance novels written by Canadian authors tend not to be set in Canada. Even books published by Canadian publishing company Harlequin — a destination brand for romances — typically feature exotic or foreign locales, like a villa in France or Italy's Amalfi Coast.

But Fortune's massively popular books are helping to turn that tide, as she features locations like Barry's Bay, Toronto and now, Prince Edward Island.

This Summer Will Be Different, set in P.E.I., was released on May 7 and is already the No. 1 New York Times bestseller for paperback trade fiction.

"Lots of people write about where they're from or write about Canada if they're Canadian writers," said Julie Rak, a professor in the English and film studies department at the University of Alberta who researches literature and publishing.

"But this is new. This is a romance genre where you see that. These are romance books; they're not romance-adjacent. These are the real thing. And it's really unlike Harlequin, which could be set anywhere."

Unique settings

Fortune's fans seem to love the specificity of the settings, whether they're travelling to cottage country for an Every Summer After-inspired getaway, vying for a plate of Sneaky Dees nachos like Will and Fern in Meet Me at the Lake or planning a trip to P.E.I. to try some Cows Creamery butter, a favourite of Lucy, the main character in This Summer Will Be Different.

"Omgggg the book actually makes me want to move to PEI and I haven't even stepped into a single square space of Canada," one fan wrote in a comment on one of Fortune's Instagram posts about Point Prim Lighthouse.

There's been a lot of hype and excitement about Fortune's latest book among locals on the island, and the tourism industry is expecting to see an uptick as readers visit to seek out their favourite locations from the novel, said Corryn Clemence, the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island.

"I think it will help to pique people's curiosity and really do what Anne of Green Gables did so many years ago, which is really excite people about coming to Prince Edward Island," Clemence said.

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Canada as a trope

Romance books have been enjoying a surge in popularity in recent years, driven largely by Gen Z readers, according to NPR. On TikTok, the tag #RomanceRecs has more than 390 million views, industry group BookNet Canada notes.

BookNet Canada's research shows romance book sales in Canada jumped 54 per cent in 2022, and continue to climb. Most of the top-10 selling fiction books in Canada in 2023, according to BookNet Canada, were romance titles and "romantasy," a genre that combines romance and fantasy. (Fortune's Meet Me at the Lake made their list, the only book by a Canadian author.)

All three of Fortune's books have been bestsellers, and in June last year, both of her previous titles were on the New York Times Bestsellers list at the same time.

"The idea for all three of my books was born out of the setting, and each is a love letter to a place," Fortune told CBC News in an email.

"I want to give readers an escape. My hope is that they can see, smell, and taste each of these books — that they feel as though they've taken a trip, whether they're laying on the beach or curled up on the couch in their apartment."

Until recently, Canada has rarely appeared in the romance genre, said Duncan Stewart, a consumer-forecasting analyst for Deloitte who lives in Toronto and specializes in media and technology, including book publishing.

But that's changing, he said, pointing to the rise of romance books where the male characters are hockey players as one example of how the genre is shifting. There's Helena Hunting's The Toronto Terror romance series and Stephanie Archer's Vancouver Storm books, for instance.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me and Canadian Boyfriend, while not set in Canada, also have Canadian (sport-playing) love interests.

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Lovers of the genre say it’s more than spicy smut. They argue romance novels are an important educational tool to promote conversations about healthy sex, consent, acceptance and equality.

Part of this may be due to location fatigue and authors looking to do something fresh, Stewart said, noting there are only so many books you can set in Provence or Georgian England.

But he also suspects Canada may be benefiting from the "big city burnout" trope popular in Hallmark movies, where a stressed-out, typically female main character in a big city returns to a small town… and falls in love. Canadian locations, he suggested, are the perfect venue for this kind of escape.

"It's a setting where people are friendly and comfortable and perceived as fit and outdoorsy," Stewart said. "It's exactly like a Hallmark movie, except we also have moose."

Details matter

Rak said what's unique about Fortune's books isn't just the Canadian setting, but the level of detail she provides — like with the red cliffs of P.E.I. and its clay beaches.

This stands in contrast to some previous books in the romance genre, where the location is more generalized and a beach could be a beach in Nantucket as easily as it could be the French Riviera, Rak said.

"She really wants to make sure people know where these places are," Rak said. "Certainly this is new in terms of mass market-style romance, or genre romance."

In this way, Fortune reminds Rak of author Alice Munro, who didn't write romance but was famous for her precise on-location work, where every detail is accurate. Louise Penny has done the same thing for the Eastern Townships of Quebec with her mystery novels, Rak pointed out.

One of Canada's most famous pieces of literature is Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved Anne of Green Gables, which focuses on precise location details, and is connected to an entire tourism industry in P.E.I.

After so many years of being associated with the classic series, it's exciting that people are also seeing P.E.I. through a different, steamier lens, said Clemence with the Tourism Industry Association.

"Even the foggy days or the rainy days, there's still that air of romance about the island."


Natalie Stechyson

Senior writer and editor

Natalie Stechyson is a senior writer and editor at CBC News. She's worked in newsrooms across the country, including the Globe and Mail, Postmedia News, Calgary Herald and Brunswick News. Before joining CBC News, she was the Parents editor at HuffPost Canada, where she won a silver Canadian Online Publishing Award.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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