It’s no secret that I love romance novels. Often derided, thought of as shallow and (or) ‘chick-lit’, the romance genre is as diverse as any other genre. I mean, it’s no secret that I’m a bookworm, and I’ll read anything so long as I’m interested, but there are a few genres that I’ll always read, and one of them is most definitely romance. Often, what people think of as belonging within the genre isn’t quite the reality. There are usually two things that you need for a romance novel – the happy ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN).
Romance is about relationships, about an author making us truly wonder how these characters will get to the HEA or the HFN, and whether the relationship is going to survive, or be healthy. Of course, the other things that go into a romance novel are as diverse as the authors. You can have fantasy romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi romance, regency or historical romance – you get the picture. Not to mention the recent influx of excellent representation – disability, LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous, and Asian, neurodivergent, diverse bodies, and mental health themes – basically brilliant own-voices representation.
In the past two years, I’ve read more romance than any other genre. Partly because I like happy endings. I like knowing that even if the world might be a mess, love can still prevail and people are still capable of good things. There’s a lot of hope and joyfulness in romance novels. No matter the trials characters might take to get to the end (or the beginning). Some people might think that romance novels give a false image of love and relationships to people or that they’re wish fulfilment – but on the contrary, I think often the best romance shows how messy human beings are and how hard relationships can be.
Learning to understand each other, communicate, and take care of each other isn’t easy. Sometimes it is, but often there’s a lot of growing to be done. Perhaps because the conflict is often (depending on genre) emotion and character-based, people assume that they’re boring. But even the lightest romance book is rarely shallow or without some insight. Maybe the reason people enjoy romance so much is because if they’re interested in relationships (romantic or otherwise), psychology, or sexuality, romance is saturated with those insights.
In some ways, romance saves me when I’m in need of a lift. It’s different for everybody, but we all find our comforts somewhere. Interestingly, romance, cosy mysteries, and character-focused sci-fi have buoyed me through the pandemic so far. I’ve discovered some wonderful authors, and stories that I actually want to read again and again. Places and characters that feel friendly and vivid.
The following are a few romance novels (and series) that I’ve loved over the past two years. They are generally contemporary romance, with a few historical and fantasy novels for good measure!
One Last Stop By Casey McQuiston.
This novel is about August and Jane, a chance encounter on the Q train in New York, and what happens when the woman you’re drawn to is trapped on a never-ending loop on the subway. I loved this novel – bisexual and queer representation, found family, and a strange mystery that needs to be solved before time runs out. There is a warmth to this novel, a nostalgia, but also a celebration of difference and love.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, and Act Your Age, Eve Brown, all by Talia Hibbert.
Three very different novels about three very different sisters – Chloe, Dani, and Eve. All of them lovely and interesting, all contemporary and tackling different themes and struggles. My favourites are Eve and Chloe, but I loved that Dani’s novel has bisexual rep and her character arc is great. It’s more a personal preference – Chloe has a chronic illness and Eve is autistic, so for me that felt like some very necessary disability rep in contemporary romance. I just love their family dynamics too, and that they all get their happy ever afters (eventually!).
The Lord of Stariel series (four books) by A.J. Lancaster.
Faeries, a magical fae-land human connection, and friends to lovers romance. I honestly haven’t read a series of books quite like this – I loved the world-building, the sort of regency-fae-romance-magic vibes, and a brilliant, well-drawn heroine, Hetta, who doesn’t take any nonsense from the patriarchal expectations of society and her family. A really great balance of romance and fantasy. There are currently four books, but a fifth is on the way, an exploration of another character arc and romance (and LGBT+ rep!). You can read all books on Amazon Unlimited if you have it, or order the paperbacks from Amazon (they’re indie-published).
The Custard Protocol series by Gail Carriger.
Beginning with Prudence, this series of four books follows on from Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (which I also love and recommend!). A dirigible, a cast of interesting and supernatural characters, and plenty of romance. It begins when Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama is unexpectedly given a dirigible and floats off to India with her friends to find the perfect cup of tea. Lots of fun ensues! If you like steampunk, tea, comedies of manners, will they-won’t they romance or slow-burns, and supernatural creatures, you’ll enjoy these books.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (the Kiss Quotient book 3).
I haven’t yet read the first two books in this series, but I loved this one. I read it first because it follows the story of Anna Sun, experiencing burnout, whose therapist suggests she may be autistic. It’s often common for women to be diagnosed as autistic when adult because the criteria for autism diagnosis is based on studies of boys and men (and autism often presents very differently in women and AFAB, non-binary people). The Heart Principle is a little dark and difficult to read in areas but it’s ultimately hopeful and the core romance is lovely. Great Asian-American representation too, and shows how some family dynamics can be harmful (even if not meant that way).
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade.
Spoiler Alert is an ode to fandom, cosplay, and creative geeky fat women everywhere. It made my geeky heart happy and also I really loved how body image and some trauma around that was handled by the author. The romance between the two main characters, Marcus and April, was realistic and pretty steamy, and their respective emotional development was great to see. I really do recommend this – it’s a fun read but also goes in-depth into what it’s like to experience fat-shaming and microagressions around being a fat woman. Olivia Dade also has a new book out, All The Feels, following two other characters in the same universe (which I’m currently reading).
The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi.
This book is a reimagining of Pride and Prejudice set at Longbourne University, following EJ and her friends, some of whom reside at Bennet House, the only all-women’s dorm. EJ is an ambitious Black engineering student, her friend Jamie is a newly out trans woman studying French and theatre, and their friend Tessa is a Filipina astronomy major with guy trouble. I loved this for its twist on one of my all-time favourites, but also for the character development, the blossoming romances, and the different contemporary issues tackled. Also, the characters and campus are so interesting!
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins.
A fun regency-adjacent novel about an intrepid and notorious newspaper columnist, Lady Katherine Bascombe, who gets tangled up in hijinks and murder, along with a rather dashing Detective, when she attempts to escape her notoriety by fleeing to a country estate for the weekend. It’s not particularly historically accurate but it’s fun, steamy, and joyful, even with the horror of murder and tarnished reputations.
Other romance books on my TBR list include:
- Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado
- Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto
- Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler
- Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane (also recommend any of her books, they’re really good!)
- A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
- Sweethand by N.G. Peltier
- The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
- Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey
- Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
- Payback’s A Witch by Lana Harper
- The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
So, do you read romance? What are your favourites? And do you have any recommendations?
“Nobody tells you how those nights that stand out in your memory—levee sunset nights, hurricane nights, first kiss nights, homesick sleepover nights, nights when you stood at your bedroom window and looked at the lilies one porch over and thought they would stand out, singular and crystallized, in your memory forever—they aren’t really anything. They’re everything, and they’re nothing. They make you who you are, and they happen at the same time a twenty-three-year-old a million miles away is warming up some leftovers, turning in early, switching off the lamp. They’re so easy to lose.”From One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston