Romance novels actually are often (according to sociological research) favored by those who live very busy lives and have a lot of stress in their work. Ranching certainly qualifies for that with its ups and downs. Nurses, those with high pressure jobs, as well as someone in finance or anything where there are many demands, and they want a break from pressure.
Based on research, most readers of romance novels are in committed relationships with no intention of running off with anybody except their partner. They read them for the same kind of escape they get from movies-- as well as some spice that they wouldn't want to live but enjoy the break from reality. Some hide the fact they do read them for fear others will consider them inferior.
Whatever the reasons for reading romance novels, the following is for those who are writing them, do read them, or are open to finding out what the heck their appeal is since they sell better than any other genre. After doing some looking around for what others felt made for a great romance novel, I found some suggestions that sounded quite similar to a great book period.
Play to our common humanity
Personal sacrifice as a powerful emotional act
Book opens with a hook
The story flows and there is sexual tension between hero and heroine
Conflict and friction must be believable
Characters are likeable and we care about them
All of those has been broken by some best selling romance novel that totally blew readers away despite having at least one of the leads unlikeable, no personal sacrifice, no opening hook, sexual tension only at the end, and/or totally unbelievable friction to the point that it seemed ridiculous those two people couldn't get it together sooner.
Because I think actually what makes a good book is more subjective than objective, I thought about the things that have made one great for me. Most of my beloved romances were not written by best selling authors and were never bestsellers themselves. By now they have been mostly forgotten, certainly are not for sale in any new bookstore. But they still sit on my shelves for a reason-- they speak to me personally.
What I want are strong personalities in hero and heroine. If the blurb talks about a feisty heroine, I'm outta there. I don't want obnoxious hero or heroines but they should not be perfect either. The last straw for me would be some weak little flower of a woman who goes from one stupid mistake to another disaster, from which the hero, for reasons beyond logic, is willing to save her. If he has to save her, it should be from a situation that even a strong woman could have fallen into. I like it where hero and heroine are capable of saving each other. I am not into Wonder Woman or Superman type hero and heroine.
Then there has to be a real problem to prevent these two lovers from making their relationship into the happily ever after sort. No way can that be some mickey mouse misunderstanding. My favorite books have two people who realize they are in love but they simply cannot find a way to make a life together. Will they overcome the obstacle? If it's too easy then it's not worth taking the time to read.
Personally I like to have danger as a strong element. I am not into romances where the people sit around and talk or work through the kinds of problems I could find in my own life. I don't need a book for that.
Generally speaking, the land and nature will be part of the story. It will be another character where I can feel the terrain, the problems it might present. It might be places I have been or simply have read about. It should register as real although I don't care that it's like a Louis L'Amour where I could go to that place and find the waterhole. I'm fine with some fantasy but it should feel it could have been there.
Back when I had the time to read romances, I enjoyed both contemporary and historical novels. For me, a really good romance I will want to read again. That means I want to own them if at all possible. I have quite a few really old books, those written in different time periods many of which I spent hours in used bookstores to find. I think the oldest publishing date for one of those old ones is 1899-- Janice Meredith, A Story of the Revolution by Paul Leicester Ford); that one I got as a child and still have my address written in the front (the farm where I grew up and our phone number in case it got lost apparently) No, I didn't buy it new ;)
In historical romance, I will mention two favorite authors both of whom wrote series. First is Roberta Gellis. I fell in love with her books Bond of Blood and Knight's Honor after checking them out of the Lake Oswego Library when my children were small. I wanted them so badly, but they already were not available in bookstores; so I found her address-- not as easy before the internet, wrote her and she sold me hardbound copies of both which had a slightly musty smell from being stacked in her garage, unsold. Not long after that her books started appearing as paperbacks in the bookstores and I bought most of them. Like so many authors, I can't say I love all of her romances but considering she's published 25, meticulously researched, set in various periods of English history, it would be too much to expect every one of them would meet my needs. Her stories do have sex in them.
When I looked, Patricia Veryan currently had only two of her books on Kindle but others are still available to purchase used. It's not easy to come by all her titles (30 historicals set in England). Likely those who buy her books keep them. She wrote quite a few series with characters who might've been in earlier books as secondary. When possible, I bought them when they came out but she wasn't well-advertised and sometimes I had to find them used or through online searches. They are historical romances with suspense, adventure and sometimes mystery involved as different characters worked to save England from villainous plots. Love, danger, dashing heroes, interesting heroines, often humor, and zero sex.
I could go on but it doesn't really matter what I have loved as the truth is we are all different. Some of the books I've liked best are no longer available anywhere. Some people talk about Kindle as a short-lived way to be published but in reality it could last longer than novels in paperback or hardbound which, unless by big name authors, are usually a store for a few months before you can only find them in used stores-- if there. eBooks have the potential of allowing books to be available for as long as the internet keeps working (or places like Amazon, Nook and Kobo find it profitable). Finding the ones you don't yet know are great, now that is the trick especially with books which won't be in libraries or in bookstores-- generally.