It’s time for another post in praise of romantic fiction. If you’ve been following my blog for a while you might say, ‘Not another article explaining why romance novels are worthy of respect. Do we really need one?’
Sadly, it seems we still do! :(
At the end of November, Andrew Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, published an article on ‘The Best Books of 2021 – in Every Genre’. Every genre except romantic fiction, apparently – even though at the time, two members of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association (Phillippa Ashley and Millie Johnson) were in the top ten in The Sunday Times‘ bestsellers list.
There’s been lots written in the past couple of weeks about this ‘oversight’. Millie Johnson has a brilliant post on her blog: Nothing to See Here, Folks. Just Women Writing Fiction. Do Move Along…
The RNA wrote an open letter to Andrew Holgate, pointing out the exclusion of romantic fiction from the end-of-year list of ‘every genre’. The letter received no reply, but the words ‘in Every Genre’ have since been removed from The Sunday Times article.
Over the time I’ve kept this blog, I’ve written several posts in defence of romantic fiction. Why I’m Fed up of Defending Romance Writing, Why Romance Novels Are All So Predictable, and Why Romance Writers Are Frittering Their Talents Away Writing a Predictable Genre are just a handful of them. It’s sad to feel it necessary to keep on with this defence.
To sum up these posts, I’m quoting Millie Johnson, in a recent article for The Bookseller, called Choose Love.
‘There seems to be a misconception in the industry that romantic fiction books are somehow “lesser”. We sell by the millions, we financially underpin the publishing business and yet the pickings are slim for us in press features or arts programmes… Fluff, chick-lit, cheesy, mushy, fabulously predictable, formulaic. Is Miss Marple not predictable then? Is a reader not assured that the villain will be apprehended? Formula exists in all genres and yet we are picked on like the class scapegoat.’
And now in praise of romance! Let’s let the books speak for themselves :) Here are ten of my favourite romantic novels of the year. (Not every one was released this year, but they were all new to me.) Far from being predictable and ‘generic’, these books are massively varied in style, they reflect the authors’ inventiveness – and they’re all a cracking read!
I loved the invention in this narrative, and the clever way the coincidences hang together. On the surface a charming read, like so many romance novels, but this plot took some thought and working out. Respect!
This novel shows a slice of life in Singapore. It’s funny, perceptive, and I loved the flawed heroine and her flawed family. Naoise Dolan, beloved author of the ‘real’ critics, called it ‘both joyfully entertaining and socially perceptive’.
Mike Gayle was the first male writer, and the first black writer, to receive the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award. This was one of my favourite books of the year.
Two really nice, kind people find the love they deserve. Everything critics call ‘predictable’. See MJ’s comment above about crime / Miss Marple. The enemies-to-lovers plot made me laugh out loud, I loved the scenario, and the characters were believable, funny and charming.
I don’t know how many books Mhairi McFarlane has written now, but I’m in awe of her ability to keep her stories fresh and engaging. Marian Keyes called her ‘brilliant on relationships, friendships and emotions.’ All the strengths of romantic fiction.
This was published in 2019, but I didn’t get round to reading it till this year. Too many excellent romance novels, too little time! K.J. Charles – another favourite romance author – called it ‘a pure exuberant delight’. Delightful and exuberant are descriptions associated with few other genres!
At one time there used to be a lot of snobbery around sci-fi as a genre, too. This novel came out several years ago, but I only recently discovered that Lois McMaster Bujold is a massive fan of Georgette Heyer – one of my all-time favourite romance novelists. The novel that follows this in the Vorkosigan series is called A Civil Campaign and is an homage to Heyer’s A Civil Contract. I’m really enjoyed Komarr, and I’m looking forward to reading the next!
I loved how well-written this book is. There’s a large cast of characters, each with their own distinct personality, and all of them beautifully linked around the main romance. Once again a novel about emotions, relationships and community – what’s to be snobbish about?
Another sci-fi, and another series I’m late to, but I absolutely loved this engrossing futuristic take on the Cinderella fairy tale. The heroine, Cinder, is a gifted mechanic and a cyborg. I fell in love with her resourceful and witty character. (This is the first in a series and just a warning, if you do pick it up, that you’ll need to read the rest, as it ends on a cliffhanger. But if the rest are like this, I can’t wait to read them.)
I bought this novel when it first came out and re-read it again this year for a course I was running for the RNA. If anyone thinks writing a romance novel is easy, try doing what this author does: for at least the first third of the book all we see are the hero and heroine in their office. No car chases, no murders, no explosions or plot twists. Instead, Sally Thorne makes a page-turning and really funny read out of the dialogue and interior thoughts of a brilliantly witty heroine. Respect!
I came across many of these novels through bookbloggers who take the time to review, and through word of mouth on social media. Maybe one day romantic fiction will get the ‘literary’ recognition of every single other genre.
I hope you enjoyed my selection! What’s been your favourite romantic novel of the year? If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!