Yesterday I wrote a bit about my experience over the past year of engaging more with the genre of Romance fiction. Below are some quick elevator-pitch-style summaries of a few of my favorites from the past year. (Note I’ve definite the genre loosely here. I’ve included any novel with a good love story whether or not it might truly qualify as ‘Romance’ (e.g., in a couple the romance wasn’t always the biggest element of the plot and one decidedly does not have a happy ending):
- Harry’s Trees (Jon Cohen): This made my year’s Top Ten books list overall. What I appreciated about this book’s romance (which is not the central plot element) was that it was earned. The two characters had a lot of grief, fear, and blame to work through and they did the work. (Also: Bonus points for having a child character who was not annoying!)
- Duke to Remember (Season for Scandal #1, Kelly Bowen): Picture this: a stereotypical Regency novel, only the heroine is, anachronistically, the upper crust’s Fixer, the person they pay to make their scandals disappear. Delightfully written and equally faithful and subversive to the tropes it plays with, this book and its two sequels are far more than the guilty pleasures they seem like they should be at first glance.
- Widdershins (Whyborne and Griffin #1, Jordan L Hawk): This is another “this has no business being as good as it is” book. In this series, which currently has nine books, Hawk weaves together various pieces of Lovecraftian lore as the backdrop for a really beautiful male-male love story. These are fun and work great as paranormal adventure stories, but at the heart is the relationship between the two heroes. What is particularly great about the series is that rather than ending with a happily ever after or with the series moving on to new couples in each book, we get to see the relationship between Whyborne and Griffin as it grows and deepens over time.
- History Is All You Left Me (Adam Silvera): This is a book about young love, lost love, and the intense grief that goes along with it. It tells the story of the first love of its troubled hero, who has to deal with the death of his first, now ex, boyfriend. Silvera writes fascinating and quirky love stories — not really romances, because they never end with happily (I mean, one is literally called They Both Die in the End) — that always leave me in tears but always with a lot to think about too.
- The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living (Louise Miller): This should not have worked for me. I’m pretty cynical about the “city girl moves to rural America and learns what life is really about” trope. But despite this, and the fact that the heroine is a little unsympathetic to me and the hero is a bit of a Mary Sue (or whatever the male version of that is), this one worked for me because of the strong themes of finding family and connection. The heart of the book is less the two main characters than it is about the the three parent figures, who are full of depth and love in their own unique ways.
- Carry On (Rainbow Rowell): This book takes a bit of explaining. In Fangirl, Rowell wrote about characters who write fan fiction about a beloved fantasy series. This book is the final book in that (non-existent) series. This was one of my favorite books of the year; while the universe Rowell creates here winks heavily toward the Harry Potter series, it stands surprisingly well on its own and is actually probably a more nuanced and interesting world than J.K. Rowlings’. This is a great read for anyone, but a must read for anyone who ever wondered why Harry and Draco were so obsessed with each other….
- The Wedding Party (Wedding Date #3, Jasmine Guillory): Guillory has written four books now in this series and they’re all good (and the first three are all excellent). On the one hand, they are unremarkable in that they are just excellent versions of the standard Romance tropes (this one is the ‘from enemies to lovers’ trope); but on the other hand they are remarkable for the diversity of the protagonists, shattering the genre’s overwhelming whiteness and youthfulness. While the books are all great, this one stood a cut above for me because its climax was not only romantic but also one of the funniest scenes I’ve read in a long time.
- Well Met (Jen DeLuca): This is one is just a great version of a classic romance novel. And I’m a sucker for the best versions of existing things (cf., my taste in beer 😉 ). The only real quirk about it is that it’s set at a Renaissance Faire, which adds some humour but doesn’t take a way from the story itself.
- Counterpoint (Twisted Wishes #2, Anna Zabo): This series is a real stretch for me because it explores BDSM, which couldn’t be further from ‘my thing’. But it has provided an interesting opportunity to learn more about what makes other people tick and how people in this world understand and articulate their kinks. Despite the significant barrier to my interest, there’s something about these books that has really resonated with me; I think mostly it’s that the characters find home in one another in ways that make them stronger than they were alone: not the “you complete me”, two half persons coming together nonsense of Hollywood romances, but whole (if lonely and haunted like all of us) people coming together to become so much more than they are on their own.
- A Fortunate Blizzard (L.C. Chase): While I don’t generally like the love-at-first-sight trope, I genuinely loved this story of two lonely and isolated men who find love during what should be the Worst Christmas Ever.
For more book suggestions, head over to my ‘real’ blog for my Top 11 books of the year.