Valentine’s Day is Over, but Romance is Year-Round

I used to scorn romance novels. Until I read one. WOW. They were not what I was expecting. Well, I mean, they were kind of what I was expecting. But they were also so very much more.

I decided to give one a try after I’d heard an interview with a romance author on a writing podcast. How could someone so witty and smart write something …. like that?

When I mentioned these thoughts to a fellow author she laughed. “Look,” she said. “If you want to learn how to write about relationships you need to read a romance book. They’re all about the emotional arc of a relationship. All books–mysteries, thrillers, chick lit, literary tomes–deal with relationships and romance novels do it best.”

So, I downloaded one onto my kindle. Then another. And another. And another.

Today’s romance novels are about creating relationships and building connections–emotionally as well as physically. They are deeply heart-felt stories and showcase universal messages about the human condition. Authors are breaking every stereotype you can name and are at the foreground of diversity representation in literature. In fact, as I scan my list, 7 of the 10 are either written by a BIPOC author or they feature a BIPOC, a non-neurotypical, or a non-traditionally represented lead character. (That was an accident. I simply listed out my legit favorite romance novels and here’s where we ended up. Enjoy!)

Common themes are: Not feeling good enough for love. Finding out you have more in common with that person you initially hated. Being afraid to follow your instincts/heart because of what your family wants for you. Allowing a past trauma to define who you are. Overcoming what’s blocking you from being happy.

Here are 10 of my favorites that I think you will also enjoy.

This is a classic opposites attract romance where two authors who write in completely different genres happen to be staying at neighboring beach houses. She writes romance. He writes Serious Literary Fiction. Their prejudices keep them isolated from each other until they learn they’re both struggling with writer’s block the size of icebergs. This common struggle thaws the icy wall between them as the commiserate and then challenge each other to write in the other’s genre. The result is a fun and satisfying read that will have you rushing to your cozy reading chair and forgetting about your phone.

Courtney Milan is one of the queens of Romancelandia. (The top queen is Ms. Beverly Jenkins and don’t you forget it.) Courtney’s books are rich in detail and deep in emotion. In The Duke who Didn’t we have a Duke who would rather fly under the radar in the town his family happens to own. Which means he can never actually marry the girl of his dreams because that would mean admitting he isn’t who she thinks he is. Our heroine, Chloe, is a stubborn, loyal, gentle friend and daughter who wants to secure her family’s future by crafting the perfect sauce for dumplings.

This book is so much fun. Clever dialogue, a witty premise. I sailed through this book and am a fan for life.

A woman catfished by a three-timing jerk who busts his ass to all the women he’s hustling? Yes, please. The three women become friends and swear off men for at least 6 months. She’s taking that time to work on herself and the app she’s always dreamed of creating. It’s all going great until our heroine Samiah’s new colleague Daniel shows up. Sparks fly. Samiah is thinks Daniel could be falling for her, but he is also hiding something that gives Samiah doubts as to his motives (no spoilers).

This book feels so real. It has a BIPOC woman in a white male dominated field and it doesn’t shy away from the conflict and issues that arise for smart Black women in STEM careers. This one stayed with me and I will pick up anything Farrah Rochon writes.

Helen Hoang’s first of three books (so far) is a heart-aching tale of a Stella who just can’t quite find love. Stella’s form of autism makes her more comfortable in a world of numbers, figures, and patterns. She has zero experience in love–emotionally or physically–and figures she won’t ever have a relationship unless she gets some experience.

She hires male escort Michael Phan to help show her the ropes. Michael has insecurities of his own and is using all the money from his time with Stella to pay for his mom’s medical bills. Together they find they are worthy of a partner’s time, patience, and understanding. A true love story about loving one’s self and one’s partner.

A coming out romance from Sarina Bowen (who I will talk more about below) and Elle Kennedy. The description on the book jacket ends with this warning– “Warning: Contains sexual situations, hotties on hockey skates, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV, and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition.” That pretty much says it all!

I recommended this romance to a friend who had recently come out in their mid-life. They texted me back saying this was the exact book they needed to read. This is a tale of love re-found and of self-discovery. Sweet, steamy, and heart-twisting.

If you’re a Reece Witherspoon devotee the name Jasmine Guillory will be familiar to you. If not, you are in for a treat. The Wedding Date is such fun. A stuck-in-an-elevator meet-cute turns into so much more when Alexa agrees to be Drew’s fake girlfriend at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding.

Alexa is the chief of staff for the mayor of Berkeley. (If I hadn’t already been 100% in this would’ve done it. It’s always fun to read books set in places you’ve lived.) Drew is a pediatric surgeon in LA. A great story about two people trying to see if sparks can bloom into something long lasting while addressing their dreams, fears, and long-held misbeliefs. I loved it so much I’ve just picked up Party of Two to read during this month of romance.

Where do I even begin with my love for Olivia Dade? Spoiler Alert felt like a breathe of fresh air when I read it deep into the pandemic lockdown. It has an opposites attract trope and chapters of fan fiction and text chains interspersed throughout the book for a cleverly told tale of Mr. Perfect falling for a women who society sees as less than because of her weight.

It turns out Marcus and April both have people around them that make them feel “less than.” This and other challenges help them form a team–a pair that has each other’s back no matter what, and when a secret is revealed that puts that trust in jeopardy I legit cried. The skillfully written emotions they feel when they start to doubt each other squeezed my heart and the pay off at the end had me sighing with contented joy. Her second book All the Feels is equally as delicious.

Alyssa Cole is a master at storytelling. She’s recently become known for her thriller When No One is Watching, but she’s been a romance novelist for years. A Prince on Paper is one of my favorites in her Reluctant Royals series–a series that showcases Cole’s suspense writing along with her steamier scenes. We have a wild-child prince wooing a woman looking for the life of her dreams that does not include being a princess. One of the tropes I’m a sucker for.

When Prince Johan learns of political machinations that threaten his brother’s throne a fake engagement with a friend is the perfect way to distract the press from the royal turmoil. Nya agrees to help protect Johan’s brother and ends up discovering Johan isn’t the callous playboy everyone says he is. A beautifully told story that had me rooting for the couple.

My gateway books. Also the books I recommend to everyone who might want to read a romance, but aren’t sure about the genre; however, they like Vermont and/or hockey. Bittersweet begins the True North series while Brooklynaire is the start of the Brooklyn Bruisers hockey series. These books are smart writing, great character development, and steamy scenes. The series continues grabbing characters from previous books and helping them find their true loves covering all the tropes. It’s like seeing your friends finally meet the partner of their dreams.

Lost and found love, undeserving of love, instant sparks, enemies to lovers, one bed. Plenty of satisfying reading is in your future.

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