Dear Ravenous Readers,
I have been averse to reading romance for most of my life, but all of my friends are excitedly reading them and I’d like to know what all the fuss is about. I don’t like reading about weak women and don’t really have any interest in dukes, rakes, or any of that. What’s left for me?
I usually stick to the classics, or read modern literary fiction. Recent favorites have included Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Reluctant Romance Reader
Dear Reluctant Romance Reader,
Your friends are excited for a reason! Romance is great. It covers a range of locations, themes, time periods, tones, and characters, so there is definitely something for you to find in its extensive ranks.
While you’re not into Regency, it looks like your tastes do run towards historical fiction. An Extraordinary Union is a potential parallel to The Underground Railroad for you to consider. Set during the Civil War, it tells the story of Elle, a free black woman posing as a slave in Richmond in order to spy for the Union. Born with an eidetic memory, she uses the anonymity of slavery to her advantage to collect all the information she can, and ends up reluctantly falling for her partner as they uncover a Confederate plot. As a romance, it has the parameters of having a love story with a happy ending, but nevertheless does not hold back on exposing the truths of slavery.
If you're more interested in strong women of the present, Courtney Milan's Trade Me might be of interest to you. There's not a duke in sight, just a young woman trying to work her way through school. When she challenges the billionaire (yes, sorry, there had to be at least one) who has taken time off to finish his degree to trade living situations with her, he surprisingly accepts.
And since it appears you enjoy a little magic in your stories, and maybe some fun, you might consider Connie Willis’ Crosstalk. Connie Willis is known for her well-researched science fiction, but this is her first go at romantic comedy. In the not-so-distant future, couples can have an operation that makes them more emotionally attuned to each other. What the heroine, Briddey, doesn’t expect, is to be connected to a different person after the operation, and instead of emotional, their connection is...telepathic! It’s more farce than Life After Life’s dark humor, but will take you on quite the journey.
Finally, it’s probably safe to say that you wouldn’t mind a dark, gloomy and angst-filled romance (that still has a happy ending). Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders occasionally reads like literary fiction, while still living firmly in the parameters of a romance. And if you like the Anders, you'll definitely be fascinated by the lead characters in Alisha Rai's Hate to Want You. And if you're interested in exploring outside the heteronormative world of romance with a less-dark, but still really angsty universe, I'd try Santino Hassell's Five Boroughs series (starting with Sutphin Boulevard but I'm more partial to Sunset Park). If you find that these are more your style than the lighter Crosstalk or the historical Extraordinary Union, there’s a whole world of dark romance and suspense/thriller romance for you to explore.
Romance is a prolific universe that can yield results for almost any kind of reader. Unless you don’t like your stories to end happily, there is a book for you there. If you do find that happy endings aren’t for you...I hope you enjoy the journey anyway.
JP from Ravenous Readers
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