Romance novels have the unique distinction of being one of the most popular genres, but also the least respected one.
To illustrate this point, a friend of mine once told me that she reads romances, but she felt the need to add an explanation — “I read romance novels – not just for the love story, but for the story line between the love scenes.” Here’s my take on it: You don’t have to justify your reading choices.
It’s OK to read romance novels for the love stories. Read what makes you happy. Originally introduced as Romantic Fiction several centuries ago as books that focus on the lives of female characters, the romance genre has evolved over the years to include many subgenres to appeal to a wide variety of readers.
One thing can be certain, however: to be classified as a romance by today’s library classification models, a book has to primarily focus on romantic love between two individuals, and have an optimistic ending. This is why some books that on the surface appear to be romances are not found in the romance section of the library – they may not fit the romance criteria.
The books of Nicholas Sparks, for example, aren’t found in the romance section because, despite their underlying love stories, they don’t always have an optimistic ending.
It’s easy to stereotype romance novels as books that have no character development and only focus on sex. While some romances may fit this description, many do not. Let’s take a look at some of the romance subgenres and what you can expect when you read them:
- Contemporary Romance – These are modern-day stories (meaning after the 1950s) with realistic storylines. Some authors to consider include Robyn Carr, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and the prolific work of Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts (though Steele and Roberts also write for the paranormal subgenre).
- Religious or Spiritual Romance – In these novels, religious beliefs play a big part of the storyline and these beliefs are held strongly by the characters. Typically, sexual content is avoided and language is mild. Tamera Alexander is a writer in this subgenre.
- Paranormal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance – When most people think of the paranormal/science fiction/fantasy genre, books about ghosts, aliens and dragons come to mind. And that’s true for paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy romances. Books that fit into this category may feature things such as vampires and werewolves, different worlds, or magic. So if you like books with those elements that also include a love story, this subgenre may be for you. Authors include J.R. Ward, Lara Adrian, and Lynsay Sands.
- Historical Romance – This subgenre focuses on stories set before 1950, so they could take place in the Wild West, colonial times, or medieval times. The language will reflect the time period as well. Authors include Eloisa James, Kelly Bowen, Diana Palmer and Catherine Anderson.
So, as we approach Valentine’s Day, consider picking up a romance novel. You’ll be guaranteed an optimistic ending – something we could all use a little more of after this past year.