Is there a genre with bigger stigma than romance?
It’s just smut, it’s not real literature, it’s problematic, you’re not a feminist if you read it… Raise a hand if you have heard something along these lines at least once.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a reader or a writer: you will be shamed for dealing with romance literature.
That’s why #WhyIReadRomance challenge by Parajunkee spoke to me immediately. See, I’m shameless when it comes to romance. As in, I probably won’t read a book if it doesn’t have any romance in it.
Does that mean I don’t have problems with romance genre?
No, it does not. I fully acknowledge that some aspects of it can be problematic. And yes, I do frequently groan about certain tropes.
But judging an entire genre based on a few examples? Worse, judging its readers and authors? Well, that’s just stupid. Especially when the criticism comes from people who don’t read romance. Ignorance, much?
(If you do read romance and still scoff at it… Congratulations on being a hypocrite.)
The truth is…
Romance alone doesn’t sustain me. I’m greedy. And picky. So what I want is fantasy and romance together. If you can have it all, then have it, am I right?
But why do I need to have some kind of romance in the books I read?
Well, because of feels. Obviously, a lot of things can give you those. Friendship, for example, is a wonderful beautiful thing for which I would sell pieces of my soul. There is, however, something extra special about romantic feels. (If your OTP has made you lie on the floor in tears, you’re welcome to come cry about it in the comments. We understand.)
Then, there is the happy ending.
When a certain author released the next book in her very popular paranormal romance series and it ended in character death, a lot of people were, mildly put, upset.
Because when a romance junkie picks their next fix, they expect a happy ending. It’s a guarantee. It’s why we often reach for romance when we’re down: because the ending will be good, we can trust in that.
Most of the time, anyway.
That’s the interesting thing about romance as a genre: even though we know the ending, technically, it’s still an exciting journey. It’s not about how the story ends, it’s about how the characters go after their happy ever after.
That is why I read romance, why I crave it, why I need to have it in the books I read.
And to celebrate my love for the genre, I give you a list of romance novels that gave me the most and the best, to convince you that yes, you can find a romance perfect for you and your tastes.
1. Romantic Adventure
Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat may not sound like an epic adventure from the back blurb, but it is one hell of a journey from one country to another, filled with political intrigue, hurtful betrayal and sexual tension. The characters of Captive Prince, especially the main leads, are complex and fascinating, living in a world that is rich and lush.
Best of all, it is narrated from Damen’s POV, which is at times naive, at times unreliable. And it most certainly turns Laurent into an absolute enigma.
That said, this is a book that contains mature content that can be triggering, including rape and violence.
Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series through its incredibly lively and entertaining characters rebirthed my love for historical romance in one evening. The combination of daring, enchanting French sisters and wealthy, reckless English gentlemen is explosive. Topped with witty dialogue, atmospheric language and absolutely swoon-worthy romantic scenes.
Not to mention the incredible portrayal of the time period: the story manages to be criticising while still staying true to the time and society. Especially when it comes to views and ideas about men and women.
3. Fairy Tale Romps
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh may not be explicit (indeed, it is YA) but it does read like a fairy tale. Something about the language and the story itself is just pure magic that captivates from the first line. The style of it screams fairy tale, supporting the fairy tale plot.
There is also something indescribable about the atmosphere: that heady, colourful desert world. And the murders that come with every sunrise. Also, food.
If you like A Thousand and One Nights, this is a must-read.
Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is something I scream about a lot (and am not sorry about doing), especially when it comes to its female characters. But hear me out.
These days we place a lot of value on being a #girlboss and kicking ass in whatever it is you choose to do in your life. But being a Boss or a Queen or hell, even a Dragon is not easy. Maas shows that in her books.
For example, Celaena’s multiple love interests throughout the series. I see it as something important and well-done. Celaena is powerful, both in magic and personality. And as Dorian once said, you can’t love just some parts of her and ignore or hate the others. You have to love the entirety of her, including the girlboss-ness and the ugly truths. Not everyone can do that, nor should they. Just as Celaena shouldn’t change to fit a relationship.
For me, that’s one of the most valuable lessons in Throne of Glass. (And there are many.)
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr is part of a series (and not even the first book in it), but… It is the part that did give me feels. Oh, such feels!
First of all, it is a darker kind of fae romance. And rather than being a love triangle, it is more of a threesome. Where everyone loves each other yet can’t actually be happy with each other, for one reason or another.
And that is what I love about Ink Exchange and the feels it gave me: the complexity of emotions. The hurt. The pain. The love.
This book is not explicit, but it does contain themes of violence, abuse and drugs.
6. Emotional Destruction
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas has given me much grief. And much happiness. I don’t like some parts of it, but some I just adore to death. Relationship status: complicated.
But the wait for A Court of Wings and Ruin, the last in Feyre’s trilogy, destroyed me. Then the book itself destroyed me. And then I was emotionally unavailable for a month or so.
I call that a success.
The Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning features a variety of modern strong-willed women who accidentally end up in medieval Scotland. Occupied by sexy highlanders. Sometimes they literally fall into their laps. Time travel is awesome (and useful) like that.
Time travel also means that happy end is not easy. Because achieving it means sacrificing a lifetime, then starting from zero in another century. Just because the world has magic doesn’t mean that life in it is easy.
Karen Marie Moning, though, makes it all so very worth the struggle.
8. Kick-butt Female(s)
Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews is at the very top of my favourite urban fantasy list, that’s no secret. Kate herself is also one of kick-assest females I have ever encountered in books.
And not just because she can kick ass literally. Though yes, she can, oh how she can!
It’s also her approach to life, to love and to relationships. How she views the world. How she reacts to it. And not just her, either. The world of post-apocalyptic Atlanta is filled with kick-ass women from all sides of the spectrum, from nerdy Dali to trigger happy Andrea.
All For The Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic owes a lot of its thrills to Neil’s mouth, let’s be honest. And yes, I know how that sounded.
But that boy is something else. As is the series. At times unrealistic and blatantly self-indulgent, that’s precisely how it manages to give those thrills, and chills, and feels. I mean, mafia families? Boys so obsessed with a sport they can – and will – kill? A team of misfits? I have no idea how it works, but it so, so does.
And the characters… I just have no words. For either Neil Josten, or Andrew Minyard, or any others, to be honest. But a word of caution: these books do contain explicit violence, less explicit sex, and allusions to past sexual and child abuse.
Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series by Kay Hooper is not for the weak of heart. The heroes might have their psychic abilities, but the villains are human and for that, that much scarier.
The psychic stuff not only adds to the already grisly FBI behaviour analysis routine but also adds a little something extra to the romances. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it makes communication that much harder. But one thing I do adore about Kay Hooper is how adult and real her characters always feel. And so do their relationships.
I recommend the entire series, but I do understand that it’s giant so my top pics would be Out of the Shadows (which can be counted as the first real book about the unit) and Wait for Dark (which does focus on familiar characters, admittedly, but has a very interesting plot). Also, the Blood trilogy.
Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series has been featured in almost every post of mine for a reason. It is hands down my favourite series of all time. And yes, I can pick. That’s how much I love it. And why it is my ultimate escape.
There is something indescribably beautiful and terrifying about Moning’s rainy Fae-infested Dublin where Barrons Books and Baubles store stands like a bastion, beaconing with its gaslamps. That’s how Mac Lane stumbles into it, and that’s how I fell in love with it.
And where I stay to this day.
12. Emotional Roller-Coasters
Lover at Last by J. R. Ward was the book I waited for most in the series. Blay and Qhuinn, the stars of it, had been torturing me and my emotions since their first appearance, and I do mean torturing.
90% of their relationship is pain. Either theirs or yours. Depends on the situation.
When their book came out, I… was not happy with it. It wasn’t the case of expectations raised too high. But maybe it was too much glorious build-up ending in a much less glorious (and emotional) resolution.
But then I reread it, years later. With different eyes on the genre, on the series, on the couple. And I loved it.
It made me cry so, so many times.
13. Book Boyfriends
Will I ever tire of singing praises to Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney series? Probably not. And for a reason!
Honestly, I could include this one in every category of this challenge.
But I’ll stick to the book boyfriends. Because aside from fantabulous sassy heroines and healthy shoe obsessions, Julie James does know how to write swoon-worthy men. Sexy men. In suits. Often carrying guns.
I would 100% marry all of them. Immediately.
Do you read a lot of romance? Or maybe write it? Have you felt the stigma and the judgement of others? Have you read any of the books mentioned? Would you agree with my opinion?