Updated: Dec 21, 2021
The genre of romance is, in my opinion, a difficult genre to write for two reasons. 1. the books in this genre often come across as cheesy and while some do not mind that, many hate to read a cheesy romance book and prefer a more realistic romance. 2. Many books include romance but would more often be placed in another genre thus it makes it hard to write a book in which the main plot revolves around the romance (and not some other conflict).
Most romance books are what is called "realistic fiction." Realistic fiction is, in itself, a genre and generally refers to books that could be (but are not) non-fiction. It is important to recognize that these books are fake even though nothing about their stories would indicate that they are so (except for them being labeled "fiction"). There are realistic fiction books that are not romances which is why I say it is a genre on its own. Books that would fit into this category would be things like Moxie, My Sister's Keeper, and even Confessions of a Shopaholic. While some of these books may still have some romance in them (or even, might not), the plot is not centered on the romance but rather on something else such as the feminism in Moxie, the story of cancer and individualism in My Sister's Keeper, and overcoming addiction in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
While most romances are set in realistic fiction, there are some that are not. There are many historical fiction romances like The Hamilton Affair. Some fantasy books could also be classified as romance such as Sarah J. Mass's A Court of Thorns and Roses. Even Marissa Meyer's most recent book Instant Karma, while set in the real world, has fantasy elements. The Selection Series, and Matched of the Matched, Crossed, Reached trilogy are dystopian romances, and The Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter is a spy novel with enough romance it sits on my romance shelf. Many of these books could be classified as either romance or the other genre which they fit in but most often, will be shelved on shelves other than romance. This leaves the romance shelf lacking in fantasy, mystery, and the excitement that some other genres provide. It does not, however, lack in love, hope, and, often, life lessons.
So what really makes it romance? What makes me classify it as romance as opposed to anything else and shelf it on my romance shelf (which in fairness is the "romance and/or realistic fiction shelf in my room to save space and aid in sorting)? More romance than anything else. A theme of romance that runs deeper than any other theme that may be present in the book. Romance books may be trying to tell readers something about life, love, or the inevitable end to high school crushes but if the theme of romance runs deeper than the moral of the story or any other plot the character is involved in, I believe the story can be classified as romance above all else.
With the genre of romance thoroughly defined, here are a few books I would classify as romance that I have enjoyed:
Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I confess, 2/3 of these books I watched the movie of before reading the book. The Time Traveler's Wife is one of those. I bought this book at a library book sale and it sat on my unread shelf for quite a while because I simply was not interested enough in the description of what happens in the book to read it (not to say I wasn't interested but other books beat it out and I read those instead). That's until I watched the movie.
In general, I am a believer that the book is always better than the movie and that waiting to see the movie until after reading the book can encourage one to read the book. However, I also believe it can work the other way around. Good movies can spark interest in good books making you want to read them. Also, if you wait to see the movie until after reading the book, you may end up hating the movies of any book-to-movie adaption because they will never be perfect. If you watch it before, though it won't be perfect (and you will realize this after reading the book) it will stay a beautiful movie in your mind. The one downside is it limits your imagination. Books allow you to imagine and dream. They let you picture what the characters and world they live in looks like and when you watch a movie, all you picture when reading is the actors and scenes from the movie.
All that being said, this book is excellent. It is a more mature romance (not for children who have not had the talk of the birds and the bees yet) but the romance between the two characters is still, at times, playful. There are some parts of the book that are questionable (it is implied that a much older man has sex with an 18-year-old from my memory). There are definitely parts that are not my favorite but I do like the way that the author explores time travel and felt that the author did an excellent job of setting limits on the capabilities of time travel. One should be warned that the book is sad at parts but can find hope in the fact that the book has humor, happiness, and commentary on the world as well as romance. I also love that the book (aside from the parts where there is a romantic relationship between the older man and young girl and aside from the time travel) generally shows the romance as real and raw. It is not all happiness and butterflies. The characters face struggles within their relationship and you see what they face (it is not all time travel-related). It is a good book. I would suggest it to any mature readers who enjoy drama and/or romance with a side of time travel.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I saw two people read this book before I finally picked it up at a library book sale and read it myself. And before that, I watched the movie (though in this case, I do believe I can use the excuse of the book not being available to me as it was always checked out at the library and until I found it at the library book sale I just could not get my hands on it).
This book is an excellent book. It feels light-hearted all the way through. It is not too intense like some romance books can be but it makes you long for a sweet romance like the one the two characters in this book share. The plot is well developed and exciting. The book keeps you on your seat longing for more and yet, it is not blood, guts, and action that keeps you reading into the next scene nor even intense physical love but rather a sweet teen romance. It is truly a beautiful book and not the only one by Nicola Yoon that is similarly beautiful, and sweet, making you constantly long for more from this author.
Read if you like romance and need a break from the stress and pain of the real world,
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Don't read this book if you need a break from the stress and pain of the real world. It is itself, a very painful book and a very unpleasant read. I cried. A lot.
This book does also have a movie which I watched after reading the book (good on me, right?). If you want some warning about when the painful parts are coming up, you could always watch the movie first. But, as always, the book is better.
This book beautifully captures the way joy can be found in pain, something that has been a huge part of my own life as I have lived with a nervous condition that leaves me in pain daily. I did not like the way the book ended and felt, though it seemed to be a political statement by the author, it was not the way it should have been taken after the rest of the book. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book. The development of the characters, in particular, was spectacular to watch from beginning to end of the book.
I have just recently discovered that this author wrote two more books in this series (which you can bet your bottom I will be checking out) but she also has other books that have done well particularly in the romance world so you could check those out too. When I looked her up to see a list of her books, google told me she was a journalist. Perhaps her abilities in journalism lend to her ability to write the book not as if it were a whirlwind romance where the girl is swept off her feet by a millionaire prince, but as if it were a true story (it's not) about a girl trying to bring a little light into a boy's life when he suffers from extreme pain.
Read if you don't mind sad stories, if you enjoy enemies-to-lovers stories, and if you appreciate finding joy in the darkness or need to learn how to do so.
Runners Up: More Than Just a Pretty Face (read the review here), Instant Karma, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars