Romance novels get a bad rap. They’re not taken seriously. Some of it (okay, most of it) has to do with the formula.
The formulaic covers, titles, and premises. Covers featuring busty heroines embraced by bulgingly-muscled heroes, and never quite enough fabric to cover everything. Titles like The Sheikh’s Impatient Virgin and Hide and Sheikh (sheikhs were very big a couple years ago). And premises involving marriages of convenience and more secret babies than you can count (often the marriages of convenience are because of the secret babies). And what about those scenes? Aren’t they the only reason women read romance novels?
So I get it. The bad rap doesn’t come from nowhere. There’s no lacking in silliness in the genre, and a sense of humor is a must if you’re going to say things like “time-traveling Christmas cowboy romance.”
But here’s the thing that surprised me the first time I read a romance novel: it was good. (Really good. Great even!)
So great, that I couldn’t wait to get back to it to see what happened next even though I knew how everything would turn out. One of the strictest elements of the romance formula is the happily-ever-after (HEA in romance-speak). From the moment the couple meets, the reader knows they will be together. I explained this one time, and my friend couldn’t understand the appeal of a book where the conclusion is foregone from the very first page. Before the first page even! You know it just from reading the cover copy. Where’s the tension in that?
But there’s so much! It’s incredible—the palpable-have to put some serious muscle into it to cut through it-tension—and a testament to the true talent of romance writers. These are not hack writers, relegated to the genre because they couldn’t make it writing “serious” books. They have studied and mastered the craft, the serious art, of storytelling, and have created nuanced, textured, very real characters. The execution of the seemingly-silly premises can be fantastic, made to feel new and fresh, rooted in reality in ways you never thought possible, with strong, heartrending emotional undercurrents. And those scenes can be just as emotional as the rest.
I’m continually left breathless in how much I end up caring for the characters.
Imperfect, flawed characters who discover the greatest joy there is. I ache for them, cheer with them, and am blissful when they achieve their hard-earned HEA. That takes some serious skill to take a reader on that sort of journey.
Yes, it’s genre fiction that makes for quick, escapist reading. But that’s why we keep coming back, because in the course of an afternoon, we can experience a range of emotions—from the highest highs to the lowest lows and back up again—and close the book with a contented sigh, a smile on our face, with a renewed faith in goodness. There’s nothing like being in love. There’s especially nothing like new love. And romance novels capture what makes life good, the very best thing in humanity, again and again, telling a familiar tale that never grows tiresome.
There’s nothing silly about that.
Want to give reading romance a try now? Here are 100 swoon-worthy romances to get you started ;)