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#Respectromfic! In praise of romance, with ten of my favourite romantic novels of the year

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.

Image courtesy of silviarita, Pixabay

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!

Eight Perfect Hours, by Lia Louis

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!

*

Last Tang Standing, by Lauren Ho

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’.

*

All the Lonely People, Mike Gayle

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.

*

The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren

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.

*

Last Night, Mhairi McFarlane

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.

*

Get a Life, Chloe Brown, by Talia Hibbert

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!

*

Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold

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!

*

The Fall and Rise of Sadie McQueen, by Juliet Ashton

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?

*

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

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.)

*

The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne

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!

13 thoughts on “#Respectromfic! In praise of romance, with ten of my favourite romantic novels of the year

  1. Well done for championing romantic fiction so well, Helena. I haven’t read any of these so far – think I’ve been reading more cosy crime this year! However, I did love your novella, Come Date me in Paris, which had somehow got lost on my kindle until recently. Also really enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Things for its subtle romance and characters. I did read several romances on my kindle off and on throughout the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words about Come Date Me in Paris, Rosemary. I enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Things, too. I just wish I’d had more time to read this year, as I still have lots on my Kindle I’m dying to get to. I have a few books on order from Father Christmas, too :) I’m really looking forward to a quiet hour or two over Christmas and reading to my heart’s content.
      Wishing you and family a very happy Christmas x

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  2. Well said Helena! thanks so much for that brilliant defence of Romance and author’s pick. I’d only read one book on your list but downloaded two for Xmas reading during another COVID Christmas. One of my favourite authors is Marius Gabriel who writes in different genres, but his novel ‘The Designer’ set in 1940s France won the RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year Award -totally immersive! Joyeux Noël to you and your family ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Laurette, thanks so much for your comment and the recommendation. I just checked out The Designer on Amazon and I see it’s available to Prime readers at the moment, so downloaded. I can’t wait to sit down with some Christmas reading!
      Wishing you and family a very happy Christmas and much better times for all of us in 2022 xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. On a personal note, I recently got an email from our old neighbour asking if I wanted two of my late mother’s Erica James novels. I politely declined, not because I thought James was a “lesser” writer, but because I’d had to downsize massively when moving home and had been concerned that my new flat was beginning to look a bit too much like an old museum…

    And you can’t keep everything; but I did keep an Erica James novel, partly in memoriam and partly because I’d read it myself and I thought it was extremely good.

    There was also Katie Fforde, who was maybe a bit formulaic but an excellent writer. So while I tend to think there’s no delightful escapist romance which can’t be improved with the help of a howitzer and an army of the local undead (see PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES), I certainly don’t consider romance fiction to be any less valid than any other genre.

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    1. Hello James, thanks for your lovely comment, which made me laugh out loud. I sympathise with having to restrict the book collection in your new, smaller flat. We downsized a couple of years ago and I ‘culled’ my books by two thirds. I now bitterly regret the loss of some old friends. But as you say, you can’t keep everything :(
      Wishing you a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2022 xx

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  4. Kudos to you for recognizing how important romance is in readers’ lives. I have made a list from your list. Thank you. I noticed how many of the book covers are created in a cartoonish style. I wonder what that means. (There is probably a proper name for this design, but I don’t know what it is.) This fall, I read a book that is not what one thinks of as a romance, but this one is intriguing in its presentation, The Heritage Garden by Viola Shipman. The author is actually a man who honors his grandmother using her name as his pen name. The story takes place in West Michigan and parallels the lives of two women who deeply love their husbands. With garden in the title, I loved it and so will anyone who loves flowers and gardening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello JQ, thanks so much for that recommendation. I love that the author has taken his grandmother’s name for a pen name, and Viola is a lovely (and apt!) name. My granddaughter is named Ivy after her great-grandmother. The names for flowers were very popular in Victorian times and it’s lovely to see them come back in fashion now.
      The cartoon style is very popular in romance in the UK at the moment. I believe it was Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game that set the trend.
      Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your great comment. Wishing you a very happy Christmas!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your post, Helena. I just downloaded two of the novels you recommended. They will be perfect for the holidays. I always feel that people are very dismissive when I say that I write romantic fiction and it is very frustrating and very annoying!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Marie, it’s very frustrating. Romantic fiction revolves around relationships. I think people don’t appreciate how hard it is to make a page-turning and involving story out of two characters getting to know each other. We don’t have things like crime, murder and suspense to fall back on to raise the tension. It’s all done through the characters.
      I hope you enjoy the novels. Happy reading over Christmas x

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  6. Hey, Helena. What a good post as always. Love how you shined the spotlight on these varied romance books. It’s too bad romance gets such a bad wrap and thank goodness the readers don’t care about that! Merry Christmas to you and your family. :)

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