by Adult Services Librarian Leann
Romance books are hitting the mainstream like never before. Have you ever heard of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton book series? No more do we shame people for reading delightful little paperbacks with scantily clad pirates or kilt-wearing-Scottsmen! (Or rather, we shouldn’t.) “Romance” is for everyone. Don’t believe me? Ask bestselling, blockbusting series like The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or Outlander. Try to name a popular TV show, movie, or book that doesn’t include some sort of romance intrigue or love triangle. Even highfalutin literature is mostly about love or love lost or unrequited love. Let’s face it people, Where the Crawdads Sing is a romance novel and that’s okay.
In literature there is a bias against Romance. There is a pervasive belief among readers that a novel, where the driving plot device is a romantic relationship, cannot be considered Literature and is therefore unworthy of their time or critique. Readers often call books with romantic elements their “guilty pleasure.” I’m here to assure you, however, that it’s actually extremely fine to really like romance books. Liking romantic stories and reading romance novels actually does not correlate with intelligence levels among readers. Nor does it discount a book from being well written, plotted, and researched.
Likewise, while there are loads of paperbacks with heaving bosoms queens or 12-pack-ab cowboys taking up a lot of space in the romance zeitgeist, not every romance novel is based on Twilight fanfiction. Romance as a genre is just as varied as any other and we’re here to celebrate it!
Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the warm sultry waters of romance fiction or you’ve been camped out on the banks of Lake Romance for years, here are some of my top romance novel recommendations:
Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
For readers who are romance-curious and looking for political escapism.
If I were choosing a best-in-show for romance, this would be it. This book is all the gay romance you’ve ever wanted wrapped up in a compelling, lovely, spicy package. The set up is a classic rom-com scenario: extremely handsome and quintessentially charming First Son of the United States is in a public feud with the devastatingly gorgeous and properly polite Prince of England. A phony friendship-for-publicity’s-sake ensues and leads to, well, you guessed it, romance.
Red, White, and Royal Blue is for readers who love a bit of drama and lots (and lots) of kissing but also want the story to be well plotted, the characters to be developed, and the writing captivating. Quality does not have to suffer just because a story might be a little outlandish or, in the case of Royal Blue, a fantasy paradise of inclusivity.
Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft
For readers of historical fiction, star-crossed lovers, and people who like to cry during movies.
Jenny Ashcroft creates gauzy worlds based on real historical times and places. Meet Me In Bombay is the second-latest in her oeuvre of heart wrenching historical love stories where the characters’ interior lives are disrupted by the devastating consequences of circumstances beyond their control. In Meet Me in Bombay, on the eve of 1914 in British occupied India, a young couple falls in love. He’s a soldier and as war unfolds across Europe, he’s shipped off to fight. The woman’s wealthy family encourages our young heroine to move on and forget her soldier. Will the lovers be able to reconnect? When the soldier is injured in battle and loses his memory, that question becomes even more complicated and the answer even more harrowing.
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
For readers of thrillers and those who enjoy when the main characters fall in love during their adventure.
We know that gentrification is scary, but is it also…sexy? True, this book is actually a thriller, but Alyssa Cole was previously best known for her work as an author of paperback romances! In When No One Is Watching a Brooklyn neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and Sydney, who was born and raised there, finds the prospect disorienting and almost frightening. When Theo, a handsome stranger she’s not even a little bit interested in, butts his way into her research for a historical walking tour, Sydney realizes that not everything is as it seems in the old neighborhood.
When No One Is Watching has all the elements of a modern psychological thriller paired with adroit social commentary and, you guessed it, plenty of steamy romance. This book is in the same tradition as Get Out, in the vehicle of Rear Window, with a classic odd-couple romantic intrigue.
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
For seasoned romance readers and new-to-the-genre readers who want something that’s light but still grounded in reality.
Can romantic comedies centering a straight relationship feature strong, capable, career-driven women who have a realistic and supportive network of friends and families? Can they have a main character who views romance, not with either cynical skepticism or dogged devotion, but as an enhancement to life? Can romantic comedies be light-hearted and heart-warming but also offer nuanced representation of multiracial relationships and modern love? Let me introduce you to author Jasmine Guillory. You might know her for her 2018 work, The Wedding Date and she’s been churning out lovely, readable, steamy, upbeat romantic comedies ever since.
Party of Two features an independent young black woman who moves to LA to start her own law firm. She meets a cutie at a bar and, oops, it turns out he’s a well-known senator. Party of Two follows the lovebirds as their initially secret romance hits the front pages and their bond is tested by intense media scrutiny, and the pressures of celebrity and politics.
The Awakening: The Dragon Heart Legacy, Book 1 by Nora Roberts
For readers who want a bit of fantasy with their romance or a bit of romance with their fantasy.
Nora. Roberts. Does. Dragons. Now. Yes, that Nora Roberts! You can’t do a romance list and not include Nora Roberts and lucky for us in the same way that steamy romance is becoming less declassé for the masses, so too has fantasy risen from the murky depths of nerdom to claim its rightful place at the front of the Popular Media race. It doesn’t really even matter what the story is about exactly, because as previously stated: Nora Roberts + dragons.
Here’s what you need to know: The Awakening involves two worlds—one with magic and one in Philadelphia, there is a young woman in her twenties who discovers some real wild secrets about herself and her family. Then, we go to Ireland, a place we all know is lousy with magic portals and fairies, etc. Oh, and she’s been dreaming about a silver-haired elusive man who she’s never met who calls her by a different name and tells her to “come home.” That sounds like an excellent set-up for a steamy paranormal romance to me!