Happy day after Valentine’s Day! I’m taking a much-needed break from my recent Vampire Diaries binge to bring you a special edition book post, and what better day to discuss the merits of romance novels, the literature of love, than today, the day after the
corporate-sponsored holiday of love?
P.S. For those who are interested, I’m on season 5, episode 19 of TVD. This means that, in three and a half weeks, I’ve watched (gulp) roughly 71 hours of the show. Lord help me. #stelenaforever
Okay! Back to a different kind of unreality.
In 2016, I read 115 books. Unlike in years past, where I’d typically read one romance out of every 10 books, last year I reversed that ratio. Yes, you calculated that correctly. I read 103 romance novels last year, and I like to think that I did it for science.
I’ve always loved romance novels. In fact, when I was young, I’d sneak over to my grandma’s hidden bookshelf, selecting the book with the most windblown, chest-bared, ruggedly handsome man I could find, and furtively rifle through its pages to read the juicy parts. (Interestingly enough, those more traditional types of romances typically include phrases like “juicy parts,” not to mention “heaving bosom” and “swollen loins.” They’re not all like this, I promise).
Nowadays, I find myself turning to romance novels when I need a pick-me-up. Last year was heavy, politically and socially, and I found myself more and more attracted to them (no pun intended) for this reason. I decided that by reading over 100 romances in one year, I’d be conducting a bit of research to help you, dear readers, discover what it is that is so delicious about reading a sultry romance novel, and why you shouldn’t discount the genre based on your assumptions or what you may have read in the past.
Listen up. If you haven’t already delved into the world of romance, you’re missing out.
Attention family members, this might be where you want to tap out. Our relationships will probably be better off if you don’t know too much about my love of romance novels.
5 Reasons to Read a Romance Novel
Today’s world of romance novels is very different from how it used to be. The proliferation of e-readers and self-publication has allowed the genre to explode (not to mention the success of erotic–albeit poorly written–fiction like Fifty Shades of Gray; trust me, my recommendations are much better). If you dig the old-school Fabio-esque covers, by all means continue to read them. But if you’re looking for something a little more updated in terms of relatability (read: less “petal-soft folds” (shudder) and more literally anything else), there are so many good reads available to you.
Why should you take the time?
1. They provide a wonderful escape from reality
Seriously, romance novels whisk you away to a fantasy land where awkward situations actually make you smile, fictional hotties make your heart flutter, and any bad or cringe-worthy thing that happens to the characters doesn’t actually affect you in real life. Really any fiction could do this, but romance novels are a much sexier and more pleasurable (again, no pun intended) escape than, say, a drama set in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. Which leads me to my next point…
2. They make you happy
Reading romance novels allows you to experience the feeling of falling in love over and over again. You know, that feeling that makes you warm and fuzzy all the way to your toes, that warms your heart and makes you swoon, and that makes you smile like an idiot, in this case down at the pages? Who wouldn’t like to experience that?! Bitter over a breakup? Read a comedic romance and believe in love again. Happy in your relationship? Read a steamy romance and skip to #4. No matter your life story, a romance novel is almost a sure-fire way to cheer you up.
3. They are short and easy to read
It seems like most romances today are between 200 and 300 pages. The language used is also very approachable and easy to understand (and many times very well-written!), making them perfect candidates for a fast read. Plus, they almost always follow a predictable arc: couple meets, couple falls in love, couple experiences some heart-wrenching moment that almost or does break them apart, couple comes together with a love stronger than ever. You know what you’re getting into with a romance novel, and that kind of predictability is especially nice in a world that generally isn’t so.
4. They are great for your own romantic life
Romance novels are great for your sex life. There’s nothing like reading about other people getting it on to make you want to as well. As a bonus, you’ll also have some fun new ideas to try out at home (or wherever the mood strikes, that is). Trust me. Read a romance and you and your partner will thank me (and if there is no partner, nothing’s stopping you from enjoying the mood by yourself).
5. There’s a genre (and recommendation) for everyone
Unless you are asexual, you cannot tell me there is no genre of romance that appeals to you. Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but Google or Goodreads can help you find more titles than you could possibly imagine. There is something for everyone (and no judgment here how dark you get; I’ve read some bizarre ones myself).
Contemporary romance is a blanket term for any romance that takes place from about 1950 to today, and there are several subcategories within it. If you start to dig around, you’ll also see the term “new adult” romance used quite a bit, which really just means a romance that takes place between 20-30-somethings. Since that’s mostly what I read, you’ll see a lot of crossover with my recommendations and those lists.
Right by Jana Aston
This is the second, and my favorite, book in the Wrong series (Wrong is listed below, but I really liked all four books), so I’d recommend not reading it first. The hero is a successful and confident businessman, but unlike others in the alpha male category, he is simultaneously sensual and sweet. The heroine, meanwhile, is a know-it-all who thinks she’s destined to be with someone else. Though she’s irritating at times, I was quickly won over by the story and his rather exhilarating efforts to prove her wrong.
Blurred Lines by Lauren Layne
Two friends who decide to embark on a no-strings-attached relationship is a trope that’s been done time and time again, but this one included just the right mix of friendship, romance, conflict, emotion, and sexual chemistry that it kept me turning the pages until I finished.
The Hookup by Kristen Callihan
There are a lot of sports romances, and I usually tend to avoid them because the characters can be so meathead-y, which isn’t really my thing. This book (and the subsequent books in the series, The Friend Zone and The Game Plan, both of which I also really enjoyed) took me by surprise because the jocks turned out to be fleshed out, intelligent, and thoughtful characters. Shame on me, perhaps, for thinking they’d be otherwise. In this friends-to-lovers, opposites attract book, the heroine tries her hardest to resist her attraction to who she assumes is nothing more than a cocky football god. She finally relents, they hook up, and the chase that follows is funny, heartwarming, and incredibly sexy. This entire series was enjoyable and well-written.
The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
Friends-to-lovers is perhaps my favorite category of romance, and I already wrote about this one in my Fall 2016 Reading List. It made me cringe, laugh out loud, and feel warm and tingly all at the same time.
With a Twist by Staci Hart
This is the first book in the Bad Habits series (the second, Chaser, is listed below). It tells the tale of a ballerina and a doctoral student who have been friends for a long time, but have never thought of each other as anything else. Once they start to consider their potential as something more, you’ll feel the slow burn of realization and desire, and will probably laugh a bit along the way.
Yours and Mine by Lacey Silks
Whereas the aforementioned recommendation made me laugh, this one made me cry some big ol’ fat tears. It’s a heartfelt yet tragic romance about two childhood best friends who become lovers. Yes, it still contains some nice sex scenes, but it’s a far deeper story than I expected and it left a mark on me in a very good way.
Friends without Benefits by Penny Reid
Also mentioned in my Fall 2016 Reading List was the Knitting in the City series. This is the second of the series, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. The heroine is a stubborn and sarcastic doctor who begrudgingly decides to let a hotshot comic back into her life after years of despising him. While she tries to resist it, the chemistry between the two is off the charts and the hero (a family man to boot) will have you hot, bothered, and swooning.
Idol by Kristen Callihan
This one can technically go in the rockstar subgenre, but since I don’t read too many of those, I put it here instead. Like some of the others on this list, it was another romance that surprised me by how much substance it contained. Sure, it included several titillating moments, but like The Hookup (above) before it, I was impressed by how well the author developed the characters and their relationship. I also loved the second book in the series, Managed.
I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
While this one doesn’t have any steamy sex scenes, it does offer adorably quirky (and not surprisingly British) characters, a far-fetched but fun plot, and a delightfully engaging budding romance.
The Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons
This one is kind of a friends-to-lovers book because they befriend each other to stave off unwanted marriage pacts, but because they are royalty, it gets lumped into this category. Perhaps their friendship is why I enjoyed it so much, but regardless, I loved their chemistry (you feel the heat pretty immediately), banter, and overall love story.
Some Like It Royal by Heather Long
This is a pretty classic rags-to-riches Cinderella story, where the heroine is actually a long-lost princess and is persuaded by the handsome and intelligent self-made billionaire to act as his fiancée so he can use her royal heritage to successfully enter the European market. Naturally. As wonderfully unbelievable as the plot is, the romance between the two feels genuine, sexy, and sweet.
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
I don’t read a lot of historical romance, and this one reminded me that I probably should. Its heroine was snarky, smart, and self-sufficient (especially rare in this genre), and its hero was strapping and headstrong, making for quippy dialogue and a fiery seduction.
There are several subgenres in the forbidden romance category, but these are some of the more interesting ones I read last year. You’ll quickly learn what you like and what you don’t if you start down this path. For instance, I learned I can’t stand infidelity, Stockholm syndrome, or abuse, so I’ve learned to steer clear of those.
Best friend’s brother or sister (or brother’s best friend)
Chaser by Staci Hart
Here’s another comedic romance, this one about a scorned heroine who finds solace (if you want to call it that) in her brother’s best friend. The hero of the story is kind of a playboy, but ends up being incredibly sweet and charming as he tries to convince the girl that what they have is forever. This is the second book in the Bad Habits series (With a Twist, above, is the first).
Mr. O by Lauren Blakely
Don’t let the title of this one mislead you. Yes, it refers to the main character’s cartoon alter ego (he illustrates the dirty adventures of Mr. Orgasm), and yes he is a little sure of himself and his abilities to please women, but he’s secretly so charming and lovable. Told from the hero’s perspective, this book about a man falling for his best friend’s sister is the perfect combination of sizzling and dreamy.
My Best Friend’s Brother by Hazel Kelly
Another super common subgenre, I’ve read several iterations of this story. This is one of the ones I enjoyed the most, especially because it’s not just the best friend’s brother, but it’s also one of the main character’s best friends. And we all know I love that category of romance. The realization of their attraction and resulting sneaking around behavior adds to the sexiness and overall appeal.
The Sexy One by Lauren Blakely
This was one of the most charming romance novels I read last year. Simon, the boss, is sexy, sweet, and smoldering, and, even better, a true gentleman, which isn’t something that can be said of all romance heroes nowadays. This one made my heart swell and my chest (and other areas) ache in the best ways.
The Ground Rules by Roya Carmen
This is about as far as I could go in terms of taboo romance genre and still enjoy it, and I’m glad I tried it. The jealousy that resulted from the swap made me a little on edge because, as stated above, I really don’t like any infidelity. But reminding myself that it was consensual, not under-the-table, and, of course, fictional, made it easier to enjoy. There were some pretty sexy scenes in there, after all, even though the writing was not all that great. I wouldn’t bother with the sequels.
Wrong by Jana Aston
Okay, stay with me. The doctor/patient relationship is quickly removed because of the obvious ethical dilemma it presents. What’s left is a powerful upper 30-something doctor and a younger 20-something student with scintillating chemistry. As stated above, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in this series (the others are Right, Fling, and Trust).
Losing It by Cora Carmack
This was the first really good professor/student romance I read, where the dynamic wasn’t abusive or creepy, but just really sexy. Sure, it’s still a taboo relationship, but the chemistry and tension add so much to the overall reading experience. The other books in the series (Faking It, Finding It, and the novellas in between) were okay, but I enjoyed this one the best by far.
Pushing the Limits by Brooke Cumberland
It’s surprisingly hard to find teacher/student romance novels that don’t take place between a high school student and his or her teacher (which I’ve read, but feel weird about), so I was pleased to find another great story that takes place in the college setting. After acknowledging but trying to deny their instant lust, the art student heroine has the unexpected opportunity to post nude for her class (and professor) and the heat that follows is reason enough to check this one out.
Roomhate by Penelope Ward
Don’t be fooled by the Roommates title above; that was actually about stepsiblings who room together. Another popular subgenre, though, is actual roommates who become lovers. This one surprised me with its complex character development and overall story arc. While it’s as sensual as the best of them, I also really respect this romance because of how honest the characters are with each other; there are no unnecessary and immature games here like there are in so many other romance novels.
Roommates by Hazel Kelly
This is a very common subgenre (don’t be so shocked!), and there are some really bad ones out there. But there are some pretty hot ones, too, and this is one of them. The being-forced-to-live-together factor upped the tension and the resulting chemistry was really enjoyable. The second one in the series (My Best Friend’s Brother, above) was also worthwhile.
Need more recommendations?
Let me know what you like and I’ll help you find one!
4 Ways to Get Started
The above list of recommendations is long (and by no means extensive) and the lists you’ll find elsewhere are even longer. Don’t let that intimidate you! Here are my tips for how to start.
1. Use your e-reader
I am ALL FOR supporting local bookshops, but I’ve found that with the amount of romances I read, it’s fastest, cheapest, and easiest to read romance novels on my Kindle or Kindle phone app (which is free, by the way). Plus, you’ll be able to read those erotic scenes on public transportation without fear of embarrassment or judgment. Only your flushed face will give you away.
2. Check out the library & sign up for Kindle Unlimited
Romance novels rarely cost more than $5-7 apiece, but you’ll quickly realize how fast that adds up if you read as many of them as I did last year. My suggestion to curb the cost is to check out your local library to see if they have any e-reader licenses for the titles you want to read. I also recommend signing up for Kindle Unlimited, which has several romance titles and allows you to download as many of them as you want for $10 a month.
3. Be open-minded
Start with one of the suggestions above and go from there. You’ll learn quickly what you like and what you don’t, similar to what I mentioned about forbidden romance. I’ve been known to go down several subgenre or author rabbit holes because I’m temporarily intrigued by a particular style of writing or topic.
My favorite romance novels include some hot scenes, but also offer a good amount of substance and romance, too. Others just want to read about sex and that’s okay. Still others don’t want to read about any sex at all and just want the love stories. You’ll figure out what kinds of books you enjoy, how you like them told (POV is a big deal in the romance novel world), and what level of spice you want. Like I’ve said repeatedly, there is something for everyone. There’s even Christian romance!
4. Don’t settle for terrible writing
Many romance authors write beautifully, some write a little less beautifully, and some are just plain terrible. Don’t read the latter! If you start a book and you’re appalled by its writing, stop! Life is too short to settle for crappy quality. The nice thing about the Kindle is that you can return a title after you’ve started it. I’ve done this on more than one occasion and I don’t feel guilty in the least.
The Last Word
While I don’t plan to read another 103 romances this year, I do openly acknowledge that I love the romance books and will continue to read them for as long as I can read.
It really irritates me when people discount the entire genre, because it seems awfully presumptuous and close-minded to believe there is no good literature in such an enormous category. If you fall into this group of people, then I hope to have given you a little motivation to at least try to change your mind.
If you are a little more excited about the prospect of reading a romance, then welcome to the club. I hope you can find something here that suits your fancy.
As always, I’d love your recommendations. Please feel free to comment with your favorite romance novels; I’m always adding to my list.