Fed up with serious books? Us too. A rise in popularity for romance novels across the globe shows that people want low-stakes, high romance books, so we look at why that might be and suggest some great reads to get started with.
I’m not sure whether it was having a baby, or the general state of the world, but somewhere in 2023 I became the cliché I was trying to avoid – I became a romance novel reader.
And you know what? I have not looked back.
Sure, I’ve loved a crime novel, a real-life read, something that gets the nod of approval on ‘Best Of’ lists and a clever little ‘bookshop approved’ handwritten note. I’ve struggled through a book that is described as ‘important’ (written by a wizened academic man) or ‘gritty’ (contains violence, probably against a woman or child).
But now? No more. The only grit I’m looking for is the sand stuck between the pages of my ‘will-they-won’t-they (of course they will)’ novel.
Turns out, I’m not alone. The return of the romance novel has happened globally – in America, book sales are declining but the numbers for romance novels are booming, up 52% in 2022 alone. Why? Well, firstly they’re predictable – and in a world of truly nightmarish variables, predictable is now a big plus.
Then there are the big screen adaptations of romance novels like Bridgerton, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Heartstopper on Netflix, and Red, White And Royal Blue, and The Summer I Turned Pretty for Prime Video.
In these shows, the faces are pretty, the stakes are mostly low, the jokes are fine and the music is nostalgic – and seeing the streamers put serious money into adapting romance novels has given the genre some credibility.
Perhaps it’s because we’re getting more and more into watching or reading people falling in love, thanks to reality shows like Married At First Sight and Love Is Blind, and romance novels are a nicer, simpler world where no real feelings were harmed in the making of that love story.
And maybe it’s become romantic comedies seem to have died a small death on the big screen, and now we want to find that wholesome joy elsewhere (although, not too wholesome, as thanks to Bridgerton, a lot of romance novels now come with a lot of sex!)
So if you’re tired of reading about yet another book set in serious greyscale, and you think you might want some more colourful fun on your reading shelf, perhaps you too need to welcome in the return of the romance novel.
Come, join me. It’s a simple world.
Best Romance Novels To Read This Summer
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
With a plot line that reads like romance novel bingo – this is a compliment – this delight of a book follows Drew, who is left without a date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding (bingo) and wants to find a fake date (bingo) to show that he’s moved on (bingo). Enter, Alexa who gets stuck in a lift with Drew (bingo) and agrees to attend the wedding… but will this fake relationship end in real fireworks (BINGO).
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Truth time: this won a Pulitzer and that is the kind of detail that would 100% normally put me off, sorry. But actually, it’s like Eat Pray Love only instead of a young writer in her 30s, it’s a gay writer about to turn 50 who decides to leave the country to avoid attending his ex partner’s wedding. What follows is a list of humorously disastrous trips across Europe, South America, India and Africa, as Arthur Less works out the story of his life and the one that got away. Starring perhaps one of the great leading men of our times, Less is super romantic and a delight to read.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
You know how in so many holiday movies, the smart hunk from the city takes a trip back home to his small home town to visit the family, realises that his ambitious city girlfriend doesn’t share his from-the-heart values and ditches her for the humble girl next door? Well, this book is told from the perspective of the ambitious city girlfriend who has just lost yet another boyfriend to his high school crush. A great premise, right? So what happens when she goes back to her small home town to visit her pregnant sister and, woah nelly, her super handsome publishing nemesis happens to also be there???? Pray tell, what will happen???
You Make A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
After losing the love of her life to a car accident, artist Feyi Adekola is finally learning to feel joy in her life again – the joy of dating, of romance and of sex. When her new fling takes her home to meet his father, the last thing she expects is to fall head over heels in lust with him – the dad, that is. Written by New York Times bestselling author Akwaeke Emezi (they/them), this book is a beautiful look at reclaiming happiness after profound loss. So why is a book that contains so much grief considered a romance novel in this list? Because it has the BEST SEX SCENES I HAVE READ. Sorry to get low-brow, but it needed to be said. This is a HOT book.
The Breakaway by Jennifer Weiner
For most of her life, Abby Stern has had a love-hate relationship with her body, brought on in part by her diet-obsessed mother and now, her diet-obsessed fiancé. The one thing that brings Abby total freedom is cycling, so becoming the last-minute tour guide for a cycling trip is providing the break she needs to think about whether or not she really wants to marry her nice-but-dull boyfriend. But, hang on – who’s on her tour? Why, it’s only the suuuuuper sexy guy she had a one-night stand with a few years ago. Whoops, and her mum has joined the trip as well. What could go wrong (everything! But in a fun, low-stakes way!)
Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis is the writer behind the excellent Prep, and the great-but-jarring Rodham, which is a Sliding Doors type of book about what happened if Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton (jarring because the sex scenes are… plentiful). Her latest book, however, is exactly what it sounds like – a romantic comedy about a writer on a Saturday Night Live style sketch show who ends up having a fling with the extremely famous musical guest that week. The whole ‘what happens when a very famous star dates a civilian’ plot-line is always good value, and this is a funny, clever and romantic book.