Maybe you're surprised to see a Recommended post for romance novels. Well, I hope you can get over your shock and keep an open mind for this post. I feel no need to write a think-piece on reading romance novels, though. There's a lot of stigma related to the genre, just as there's a lot of stigma attached to anything relating to female pleasure, or female fantasy, or female-centred stories in general. But I'm not going to be the one to tackle that issue, except to say that it’s idiotic and sexist.
My philosophy when it comes to reading is to read anything and everything. Yes, sometimes I need to be challenged by literature. But sometimes I just want to indulge in something sweet and fun. Lately, I've been choosing the fun, fluffy reads over the serious ones, specifically historical romance novels. I sometimes cringe at describing a book as 'fluffy' or 'frivolous' - it's not my place to make sweeping judgments on the merits of different reading material or genre; it's all down to personal preference, and different readers find different things in their reading. Who's to say what's 'deep' or 'serious'? That said, for me, romance novels are definitely fun reads.
And anyway, just because a book is fun to read doesn't mean there's not something worthwhile to discover in the reading experience. As you may have guessed from my absence from blogging, 2016 has been busy and stressful. Reading romance novels hasn't just been a fun escape, it's also been a therapeutic experience when I’ve needed it. Romance stories are stories of love, yes, but the stories are also ones of courage in the face of vulnerability and characters discovering their agency in their relationships. And while the stories are addictive and formulaic, I’ve also found that they're filled with some real stuff, real feelings. I think the clichés of the genre are pretty great, too. The swoony bits, the ridiculous drama - kidnapping, fire, crazed ex-lovers and nemeses. I love it all.
Romance novels aren't for everyone, of course. I'm not going to go on too long trying to convince you to read them, but if you've been thinking that maybe you'd like to give a good historical romance a try - I am here to help!
Also, for any of my fellow writers out there, if you've ever been a little lost when it comes to creating romantic tension between your characters, reading romance novels has really helped me with this. I've learned the clichés to avoid, which is definitely worth the research. But I've also learned how the best writers of romance create that exciting, irresistible feeling of attraction and tension. So many writers just push two characters together and hope the readers just believe that they like each other without spending any time developing any real attraction and heat in the relationship. Even if romance isn't the focus of a story, it can be really impressive when done well, especially as it's often a great tool for character development.
So. Are you looking for a fun, swoony, devilishly good historical romance read?
First things first - Lisa Kleypas
These are the books that first grabbed me and I quickly fell under the spell of Kleypas’s storytelling. Her characters are wonderfully drawn, especially the friendships and family relationships. Lisa is particularly creative in throwing some drama in before the HEA (happily ever after in romance lingo). Kidnappings are quite common, but I won’t spoil some of her more exciting disasters. I love the drama—you know, my favourite episodes of Grey’s Anatomy are the annual tragedies/disasters. In the romance world, Lisa Kleypas novels are seen as good intro reading. The heroes are dashing, often troubled, and the feels are very real. The swoony bits are just steamy enough, but not too racy or distracting. I also love how the stories often feature self-made heroes and families from outside the ton (Regency-speak for the aristocracy/upper-crust). I will be sharing my favourite Lisa Kleypas characters and couples in a separate post because that’s how much I love her books. For now, I highly recommend both her Wallflowers and Hathaways series. Like many historical romance writers, Lisa Kleypas has created a large cast of characters that populates the world of her books so you’ll usually see familiar faces in the different books. If you want to start at the beginning, to make sure you’re introduced to all the characters before spotting them in later appearances, start with the first Wallflower book Secrets of a Summer Night. I started with the Hathaways series (first book Mine Till Midnight), though, and I don’t think it spoiled anything to see some of the Wallflower characters before I read their books. And although I love both series, the Hathaways definitely stole my heart. I love to see sibling relationships represented, especially in big families, and the Hathaways are my favourite family in 19th-century England by far.
My very first romance novel ever was by Tessa Dare, one of her Spindle Cove series. I didn’t return to her books and become a proper fan until I picked up When a Scot Ties the Knot, though. Now, I’m going back and reading all of her other books because how did I miss out on them?! Tessa Dare’s books are all just so utterly charming. Her heroines are witty and headstrong and just my kind of gals. As much as I appreciate some good drama and heart-ache, I also really appreciate Tessa Dare’s humour. Her books always put a silly smile on my face. The banter is top-notch, people. When a Scot Ties the Knot is definitely the place to start, especially if you’re fond of the trend for swoony Highlanders…apparently that’s a thing? I can get behind the trend if all the romantic Scots are like Logan MacKenzie (the cover is quite classic - not sure why that Scot is shirtless, but that sash definitely isn't going to keep him warm in Scotland).
I am in the midst of a read through of Sarah Maclean right now. So far I can say with certainty that her Love By Numbers series is one of my new favourites. I’m reading her second series The Rules of Scoundrels and it’s really darn good. I love when a scoundrel falls in love, perhaps even more than when rogues fall in love. Side note: how great are scoundrels and rogues? If only modern-day scoundrels and rogues weren’t actually just unbearable jerks (that said, I would never actually recommend anyone to have a romantic relationship in real life with anyone even remotely similar to most of my favourite romance heroes). Anyway, Sarah Maclean’s books are perfect for those of us who like our heroes to be properly tortured and brooding. Her heroines are also gems and it’s great to see some representation beyond the usual 21 year old beauty—30 year olds can fall in love, even in Regency England and even if they’re tall or curvy or plain. I’m especially fond of Eleven Scandals to Start, but I admit some bias for Italian heroines given my own family background.
These three writers make a great historical romance starter pack. If you’ve ever wondered what the heck is so great about romance novels, just check out these books. And if an English PhD says romance novels are good reads, I hope you can take her word for it.