Once upon a time, I used to be a hopeless romantic little girl waiting for my Disney prince (and then my Mr. Darcy) to come sweep me off my feet so we could live happily ever after. And now I’m in my thirties and am honestly kind of glad that never happened, because it’s not exactly realistic. That little girl turned into kind of a skeptic, and I’m okay with that. I know romance and love isn’t all fairy tales and rainbows. But that also means my reaction to those stories isn’t exactly the heart eyes emoji.
Despite the fact that I don’t totally believe it, I still do enjoy reading romance novels and watching rom coms. They’re a fun distraction, and sometimes that’s just what I need. And over the past few years, I have been branching out and reading more romance novels. Unfortunately, there are far more of them that make me roll my eyes and/or mentally slap the protagonist than there are books that give me a fun escape. One where I am not distracted by mediocre writing and unrealistic relationship tropes where everyone plays games and acts like they’re still in high school.
Like I said, I do actually enjoy reading romance. But since I wouldn’t really call myself a hopeless romantic anymore, I just enjoy romances that are a bit more mature than so many of the ones I’ve read. I’ve also fairly recently discovered that I’m not a huge fan of romances where all the characters are pretty white people – I like books with some sort of diversity or feminist message (with a few exceptions). So, today I wanted to talk about a few that I thoroughly enjoyed, in case you’re looking for some good romance reads this Valentine’s Day.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Since I already said romances starting pretty white people are not my favorite, I figured I’d start with one that I actually really enjoyed. I’ve read a few Christina Lauren novels, and while they’re all petty fun, this one was my favorite. Not gonna lie, I kind of enjoy the fake dating, enemies to lovers, and “there’s only one bed” tropes sometimes. They’re definitely a little overdone, but sometimes they just work well, and this is definitely one of those books that has them all. If I am going to read straight, white romance, it has to be really heavy on the snark, and this book has it in spades. It’s also pretty steamy and a little cute.
This is one of the very few romances I’ve read that have inspired me to read more books by the same author (in this cause, author duo). I also liked that Christina Lauren doesn’t really do that thing where all their books are about couples or characters featured in the books that came before. I like being able to read standalone romance, without feeling like I’m missing anything or that I have to read books I’m not quite as interested to fully understand/appreciate the books I am interested in reading.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Honestly, I don’t really count this as romance in my head, but it kind of is. It’s a classic, but it definitely follows a lot of the romance tropes and plot lines that many contemporary romances do. It’s basically the original enemies to lovers romance novel. And I’m guessing Mr. Darcy was the inspiration for a lot the of tall, dark, and broody love interests that have come about in the past few centuries. And we all know the original is the best one.
This book is what ignited my love of classic literature. It’s my all-time favorite comfort read, and it just makes me really happy. I also very much identify with Elizabeth Bennet (minus the Mr. Darcy part, because I am single af). I like to read, I have two kind of annoying younger sisters and a mother whose favorite hobbies are complaining and gossip (and living vicariously through her children), and I generally feel like the sensible one in most situations. So this book just speaks to me. And I love it.
It is also – if anyone cares – a great example of Romantic literature (capital “R”, as in the artistic movement). So if you want to read Romantic romance, here you go!
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
This is the last book on this list that features the traditional, straight, white protagonist and love interest. But I personally love it because it has really strong feminist themes (the main character is a suffragette and getting women the right to vote is a major plot point). It’s kind of like if Pride and Prejudice was set sixty years later. Which is super fun.
But I also like this book in particular because it changed the way I think about historical romance. Which, before I read this one, I’d pretty much avoided. The only modern historical romance I can think of that I’ve ever read is Outlander. Oh, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But, really, I don’t read historical romance. Or at least I didn’t until this book. n
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about this book, but it is well worth the hype. It’s about the son of the (female) American president and the British prince. They’re forced to pretend to be friends after some not-so-great run ins with the media. And they maybe start to become more than friends. And it is the absolute cutest thing ever. Also, there is an awesomely adorable seen with some pardoned turkeys that I will remember forever. This book is just one of those fun, happy romances that that will just put a smile on your face.
I loved the diversity in this book (both in regards to the main characters and just in general. Just talking about this makes me want to read it again. Also, I was lucky enough to meet Casey McQuiston and get my book signed, and it was a great experience. She’s so lovely and nice and funny, and it made me want to support her books even more. I cannot wait for One Last Stop, which is coming out very soon.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
As a fat girl with a chronic illness, I have never seen myself in romance books. There are several times I remember reading romance and actually thinking “that’ll never be me”, because no one is going to be interested in dating a fat girl with a chronic illness. And it wasn’t until I read this book that I realized just what I was missing. It was a bigger deal than I thought it would be to read a romance novel featuring a main character who is both fat and chronically ill. For me, this was more than just a fun read, and I love it so much for giving me a character I identify with so much in a romance.
If you haven’t read this book yet, and you enjoy romance, I highly recommend it. It is the book that made me realize just how much diversity I was missing in the romances I was reading. And why straight, white, pretty people romances don’t hit the same as they used to for me. This one is quite literally a game changer, and I am so glad I read it. It has prompted me to explore more diversity in romance novels, and I think I actually enjoy them a lot more now.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that you maybe found a book or two to read (if you’re looking for some new romance novels). I can honestly say these are my favorites, but they’re also the books that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes. Or slap the main character. Or want to scream because there’s some maybe not-okay things going on. Some of these have an appropriate amount of cheesiness, but they’re also sweet and fun (and sometimes pretty steamy).
Do you enjoy reading romance novels? Are they’re any you’d recommend to me? Any diverse romances you love?