– Words by Tim Collins
Not too long ago, the mention of romance novels would evoke images of books that were, well, not considered real literature.
The covers of these books, epitomized by the monthly offerings of Harlequin, had covers that invariably featured a muscular man, usually with a mane of windblown hair, clutching an enraptured woman against his bare pecs.
It helped if he were at the wheel of a ship or riding a horse.
It’s not surprising that many fans of these romances kept their reading choices private.
But all that has changed. The sales of romance novels jumped some 36 per cent in 2022 and the genre now generates annual sales of about $1.5 billion a year (yes, that’s billion, with a “b”).
Colin Holt, the manager of Bolen Books, attributes the change to the fact that romance novels have become much better.
“If you look through our romance section, you see books with far more depth in them. The writing is much better and it’s good escapism. Romance novels are generally happy and don’t feature the violence and mayhem that some fiction tends to have,” said Holt.
Over at Munro’s Books, Ali Navarro, the bookstore’s events coordinator, agreed.
“Many of the romance novels of today have exceptional literary merit. They’re beautifully written and they don’t reduce the female character to someone in love being pursued and that’s all. The stories show that love is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing,” Navarro said.
Navarro pointed to the internet as having played a role in the shift to more serious romance fiction.
“Take Colleen Hoover, for example. Her book, It Starts with Us, was originally self published and picked up on TikTok. She’s moved from that to a publishing deal with some two dozen books to her credit,” Navarro said.
Moving to film has also helped the genre flourish.
Holt pointed to author Robyn Carr’s move of her book series Virgin River to Netflix as an example.
“We now have people who have seen the series on TV and come in wanting to read the books,” he said.
The important thing, Navarro pointed out, is that romance books are a perfectly valid form of literature.
“The shame is gone, and well, it should be. These are good books with real stories to tell,” she said.
Here is a sampling of only a few of the favourite romance novels recommended by the staff at Munro’s and Bolen books.
Return to Virgin River
by Robyn Carr
Kaylee Sloan is suffering from prolonged grief over her mother’s death. As an author, she finds that she can’t overcome her feelings and has incurable writer’s block. She borrows a cabin in Virgin River where she hopes that the isolation will help her writing.
But her plans are derailed when she finds that the building has gone up in flames. She heads to the local watering hole, Jack’s Bar, to plan her next steps, where she is embraced by the people in the town who are more than willing to help a stranger in need.
Her world expands in ways she never felt possible, and she comes to realize that Virgin River may be the perfect spot to start over, in more ways than she expected.
It Starts with Us
by Colleen Hoover
Lily has just developed a co-parenting rhythm with her ex-husband when she runs into her first love, Atlas. She hasn’t seen him in two years but, despite the fact that her ex is still a big part of her life and he does not want Atlas to be any part of his daughter’s life, the attraction can’t be denied.
Hoover reveals previously unknown parts of Atlas’ life as Lily embraces a second chance at true love. But to do that, she’ll have to deal with a jealous ex-husband. It’s an emotional and pulse-pounding ride.
Call Me By Your Name
by Andre Aciman
A powerful romance blossoms between an adolescent young man and a summer guest at his parents’ mansion. The setting is the Italian Riviera and the attraction between the two young people seems inevitable, though consequences of that attraction pose problems.
Their passion smoulders over the summer weeks that follow and the range of emotions that tests their young love over the six-week romance will mark them forever.
Will they ever find total intimacy like this again?
Act Your Age, Eve Brown
by Talia Hibbert
No matter how hard she tries, Eve Brown’s life always tends to take a wrong turn. So, she’s given up.
She finally crosses the line at an expensive wedding where liberating some poor doves sees her parents lay down the law.
Eve comes into contact with Jacob, the owner of a bed and breakfast, a perfectionist who needs help and hates it. Before long, Eve has infiltrated Jacob’s work, his kitchen and his B&B.
Although this unlikely pairing is not something Jacob has any time for, the longer these two spend together, the more their animosity evolves into something else.
by Emily Henry
Nora Stephen’s life is all about books.
But she’s not like the heroines in her books. She’s not the adventurous one, nor the dreamy debutant, and definitely not the sweetheart.
But she is a great literary agent and a much-loved older sister.
Her little sister plans to transform Nora, however, and talks her into a summer in small town North Carolina. But those plans don’t come true and instead an unlikely couple find that it might be the lack of heroism that could lead to love.
Red, White & Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
Alex Claremont is the first son in the White House and part of a marketing strategy for his mother, the President. But Alex derails that strategy when he has a confrontation with a long time nemesis: British Royal, Prince Henry. And there are pictures for the tabloids.
As his mother kicks off her election bid, Alex finds himself in a secret relationship with Henry that could cause havoc on both sides of the ocean.
Is love worth it?