Recently I saw a tweet by The Ripped Bodice (a romance only bookstore) bemoaning customers that come in with their noses in the air asking for “a well-written romance novel.” Oh boy. As if that’s some kind of mythical beast, a unicorn hidden in a field of trash-eating raccoons.
We’ve got news for you folks; there are a lot of talented authors who happen to write romance! Sure, there are some stinkers out there, but isn’t that true of any fiction genre? So I thought I would spend this post sharing the love for a few of my favorites. These are organized by sub-genre.
Historical: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Recipe for a typical historical romance novel:
- Take one Viking/ Highlander/ Earl/ Duke/ Cowboy.
- Add a dash of Fiery Wench/ Prim Regency Lady/ Sturdy Pioneer.
- Mix in some semi-boring stakes such as fear of disappointing a rich aunt, losing a farm, or ruining a reputation.
- Bake until happily ever after.
There’s nothing wrong with this formula. I’ve gobbled up the story-cakes of many authors using this recipe. But let me tell you why An Extraordinary Union is different. Copious exclamation marks ahead.
- The setting! (Civil War but without any Southern belles or Confederate rakes)
- The heroine! (A former slave turned Union spy. She willingly re-enters slavery and uses her photographic memory to collect intel as a mute house slave.)
- The hero! (A Scottish detective spying for the Union disguised as a good ol’ Confederate boy.)
- The stakes! (Freedom! Equality! Forbidden love!)
- The history! (Both the hero and heroine are based on real people.)
- The sensitivity! (The author does not gloss over the realities of slavery or make it seem romantic. The unequal power dynamics between a white man and a black woman are addressed too.)
Loved it. My next step: seek out more historical fiction from authors of color featuring marginalized characters. Also, read everything else Alyssa Cole has written.
Paranormal: Dark Skye by Kresley Cole
Paranormal romance is my preferred sub-genre so of course, my all time favorite romance author specializes in paranormal. Queen of the slow burn attraction and author of the Immortals After Dark series: I present to you, Ms. Kresley Cole. There are five of her books vying for #1 in my heart, but today I will tell you about just one.
Dark Skye is a paranormal romance between a sorceress and a winged warrior, following the “childhood friendship turns to love” trope.
What I liked most about this book was the unconventional characterization. The hunky hero is a virgin and a full-on prude who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage. The heroine is a lusty hedonist who has been around the inter-dimensional block a few times, if you know what I mean. Hero tries to slut-shame the heroine, but she is NOT having it. Growth and change occur and old wounds are put to rest. Happily ever after.
LGBTQ: Shelter the Sea by Heidi Cullinan
Every time I talk about this book I say these words: reading it made me a better person.
On paper it sounds a bit bleak: a romance between a man with clinical depression and his autistic partner as they struggle against the evils of privatized health care. But it’s written beautifully, with rich, compelling characters and a plot that tugs at the heartstrings.
It’s incredibly well researched too. Before reading this, I knew very little about autism since no one in my life has been affected by it. This book opened my eyes to the challenges people with autism face, and how caring people can support them. All that from a lil’ ol’ romance book!
Fantasy: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Technically this is not a romance, and the Internet can’t decide if it’s considered a Fantasy or Young Adult. But when you have heart emoji eyes for this book as much as I do, labels are irrelevant.
If you are a fan of any of these things, you will LOVE this book.
- Star-crossed lovers
- Harry Potter books
- Victorian costume dramas
- Neil Gaiman books
- Black and white color coordination
- Tim Burton movies
- Beautifully written setting details
- Steampunk costuming
- Magic that isn’t confusing or uses weird, author-invented words
- ACROBATIC KITTENS
Contemporary: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
I had heard a lot of good things about author Alisha Rai so when I saw her latest book on the free table at the RT convention I grabbed it. I don’t usually like contemporary romance because they can be a little too Hallmark movie* for me, but this one? I couldn’t put it down.
Second chance at love meets deep, dark family secret. Heroine is a spunky, but not annoying, tattoo artist. The hero has a serious weakness for sugar (the dessert and the Def Leppard kind, wink-wink). I just got the two other books in the series and I can’t wait to read them.
*Apologies to my dad, a Hallmark movie super fan.
Heavy Metal Romance Involving a Female Megadeth Tribute band: Kissing Vicious by Brooklyn Ann
No jokes, this book was a lot of fun! It had a realistic rock chick-turned-roadie heroine
and a cool, but not pretentious rock star hero. Another contemporary that surprised me by how much I liked it. I guess I find guitar playing, heavy metal babes more relatable than the small town cupcake bakery owners of many contemporary plot lines.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what other well-written romances should I check out!