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(Not So) Definitive Guide to Romance Novels

So, when I opted to write this article on romance novels, my first thought was that I had to ask for help. When I did so, I was swiftly told to hand in my ‘Man Card’. Uh-oh. What had I gotten myself into?

Curiously, one of the first responses I received was that the best romance novels were ones that weren’t entirely romance, that it wasn’t the focus of the story. That got me to thinking (dangerous practice): what defines a romance novel?

According to Wikipedia, romance novels place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. This is different from ‘chick lit’, which address issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.

Romance novels breakdown into:

  • Category romances are quick reads at about 200 pages and often with a short shelf life. They are typically numbered sequentially and have simple formulaic plots. Harlequin is the largest publisher of this kind.
  • Single-title romances are longer, 350-400 pages, and stick around on bookstore shelves longer. They may also be in trilogies and short series, as is one of many trends in publishing in recent years. The plots are more involved and span many subgenres, sometimes to the point of not being categorically a romance novel. These can have broad appeal beyond the traditionally targeted female demographic market.

Common subgenres include:

  • Contemporary romance
  • Historical romance
  • Romantic suspense
  • Paranormal romance
  • Science Fiction romance
  • Fantasy romance
  • Time-travel romance
  • Inspirational romance
  • Multicultural romance
  • Erotic romance

There has been a stigma associated with romance novels in that they were not considered to be respectable literature. Some readers feel embarrased to admit to reading them. Another criticism is that they reinforce negative relationship stereotypes and gender role inequality. Despite this, the genre continues to enjoy broad appeal and enormous popularity.

So, as it turns out, I read many romance novels and count them as some of my favourites. No, I don’t read Harlequins (sheesh, but it’s totally okay if you do). However, I read many novels and stories that could easily be categorized as subgenres of romance.

Here’s a very unscientific list of books and authors gathered from social media research. (thanks, peeps):

  • Kelley Armstrong, ‘Women of the Otherworld’ series
  • Suzanne Brockmann, ‘Troubleshooters’ series
  • Sandra Brown
  • Christine Dodd, ‘The Scandalous Evening’
  • Diana Gabaldon, ‘Outlander’
  • Gregory Godek, ‘Confessions of a True Romantic’
  • Sandra Hill, ‘Love Me Tender’
  • EL James, ‘Fifty Shades’ series
  • Debbie Macomber
  • Stephanie Meyer, ‘The Host’
  • Fern Micheals, ‘Vegas Rich’
  • Joy Nash, ‘Deep Magic’
  • Nora Roberts / JD Robb
  • Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Notebook’
  • Danielle Steel, ‘Kaleidoscope’
  • Robert James Waller, ‘Bridges of Madison County’
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley,’The Mists of Avalon’


NOTE: This article also appears in Reader’s Carnival.

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