I‘m a romance addict. That is… when it comes to fiction. In my real life, I’m very aromantic. And more. Here are the dirty details… I’ve never cared about anyone romantically, apart from a crush. I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve never held hands. Never kissed. It’s not that there haven’t been opportunities, sometimes with great people who were also good looking. But no. It never happened because I don’t give off “kiss me” vibes. I don’t want to be kissed.
When I hit college, I began to get concerned. Because college is where all the “late-bloomers” seem to sexually activate en masse. But even with thousands of fantastic boys my age surrounding me, I wasn’t interested in dating a single one. At first I thought I was traumatized from a sexual harassment debacle from my first job. But that wasn’t it. Other people told me it was because I took antidepressants. But the symptoms of a low sex-drive don’t match my full behavior. Worst of all, some super helpful people told me, “you just haven’t found the right guy.” The folks who tell me that think having sex before marriage is a sin and that God picks out our spouses for us… Right.
But it turns out, there are plenty of people like me. We sometimes march in Pride parades under a monochromatic flag (with a dash of purple to represent our allies).
Sierra, my co-blogger and real-life bestie, was the one who helped me understand and come to terms with my orientation. It took me about a year from her introducing the concept of asexuality to me, to me nodding my head and taking the title for my own. Before that coming-to-terms, I was extremely resentful that my brain wouldn’t just fall… in… love… already. I even briefly dated someone as a last ditch attempt to be normal. I’d tossed around the word “asexual” before then, in a joking manner and to push away unwanted attention, but then a flat fifth date and an upfront conversation with Sierra happened to help pound in the nails.
The more I reject feelings of romance in my personal life, the more I’m drawn to experiencing those emotions through fiction.
Strangely though, as I was wrestling around with my identity, there was a distinct uptick in my consumption of romance novels. I’ve always loved a good love-plot in books, but not until recently have I picked up romance-centered novels again and again, to the point of some irony.
I think I know what’s going on, though. The more I reject feelings of romance in my personal life, the more I’m drawn to experiencing those emotions through fiction. This actually makes perfect sense to me. Many people read to fill some sort of vacuum in their lives.
It’s like a friend I once had who had no sense of smell. Because of it, she’d eat straight wasabi paste. To our gobsmacked expressions, she’d shrug and say, “I enjoy the tingle in my nose.”
I can’t think of a better analogy for my reading romance novels.
Now, having read hundreds of romance novels, I’m beginning to feel some familiarity with the genre. On my smutty mission, I’ve come across some fantastic books, and I’m ready to share.
Note: Not every book on this list is a full-blown romance. But every one has romance on a sub-plot level at least. Because there are so many different types of romance out there, I’ve separated my favorites into categories.
My Favorite Sports Romance
Sports Romances are are common sub-genre within romance for a few reasons. For one, it gives the sports star in question a reason to have a hard body. Second, it gives him or her (usually him) money. Third, there is the fame element that romance writers love to explore. A lot of times, authors use the athletics angle as a prop, but don’t dig into any detail. When done right, though, a sports romance can be an incredible mix of the physical and emotional.
WINNER: Kulti, by MARIANA ZAPATA
A soccer player navigates an unexpected friendship with her new coach, who is an international sports icon and her former idol.
RUNNER UP: Ride With Me, by RUTHIE KNOX
Two cyclists with opposite genders and philosophies reluctantly team up for a cross-country expedition.
My Favorite Historical Romance
Historical Romance is a huge sub-genre, and reading a love story set in another era adds a dimension to “a tale-as-old-time,” AKA “falling in love.” The rules of romance were completely different in the past. But you know what they say — rules are meant to be broken.
WINNER: Lord of Scoundrels, by LORETTA CHASE
The manners of a feral duke are challenged by the machinations of a clever, beguiling spinster.
RUNNER UP: Any Duchess Will Do, by TESSA DARE
A steady, working-class girl gets caught up in a wager between a former hedonist and his mischievous mother.
My Favorite Fantasy Romance
Fantasy is the ultimate escape, so it would make sense that romance would go hand-in-hand with it. Unfortunately, though, because the standard of the fantasy genre was laid by dusty, academic men, classic, “high fantasy,” tends to not get carried away with love sub-plots. It’s a shame, because a good romance can be made epic by a sweeping, fantasy backdrop. However, there are a few writers out there who combine romance and fantasy in a great way.
WINNER: Graceling, by KRISTIN CASHORE
A girl “graced” with an extreme talent for violence accompanies another “graceling” on a mission to overthrow a serial killer.
RUNNER UP: Froi of the Exiles, by MELINA MARCHETTA
A brusque former street urchin, now a royal ward, is sent on a secret mission to assassinate a foreign princess.
SECOND RUNNER UP: The Scorpio Races, by MAGGIE STIEVFATER
On an isolated island, two determined adolescents vie to win a race run by deadly horses.
My Favorite workplace Romance
There are few romantic tropes that annoy me more than the insanely wealthy CEO who never actually goes to work. If a character in a romance has money, I like to get some insight and detail into what he or she does to earn it. Surprisingly, when done right, descriptions of work can add wonderful dimension to a romance.
WINNER: Pretty Face, by LUCY PARKER
A stony stage director takes an unprecedented risk in casting a beautiful actress with a problematic voice.
RUNNER UP: Tangled, by EMMA CHASE
A privileged man is boggled when an attractive woman is hired in a competitive position to his own.
SECOND RUNNER UP: Heart-Shaped Hack, by TRACEY GARVIS-GRAVES
The simple life of an unassuming woman is upended by her romance with a daredevil hacker.
My Favorite YA Contemporary Romance
The YA Contemporary Romance is about young people falling in love without any vampires or World Wars to get in the way. Naturally, the sub-genre can get pretty boring, but some authors find away to let a simple love story shine without the bells and whistles.
WINNER: Sea of Tranquility, by KATJA MILLAY
Two teens who have experienced overwhelming tragedy are drawn to each other despite their psychological trauma.
RUNNER UP: You Against Me, by JENNY DOWNHAM
A young man plots revenge against his sister’s rapist, but forges a strong connection with the rapist’s sister.
SECOND RUNNER UP: Anna and the French Kiss, by STEPHANIE PERKINS
Against her will, a teenager is sent to a Paris boarding school, only to meet her soulmate, who is already in a relationship.
My Favorite Non-HEA Romance
Every now and then, I stumble upon books that don’t have a happily-ever-after for the romantic plot. These kinds of stories can really stay with you, because you wonder about what could have been and what will happen going forward.
WINNER: State of Wonder, by ANN PATCHETT
A scientist must travel down the uninhabited Amazon River to retrieve her missing research partner.
RUNNER UP: Prodigal Summer, by BARBARA KINGSOLVER
Three people discover that human love isn’t far removed from nature, in the deep country of Kentucky.
My Favorite Second-Chance Romance
Many romances detail how two people meet, fall in love, and get together. Other romances pick up after disaster has hit and the couple needs to find their way back to each other.
WINNER: The Scarlet Pimpernel, by EMMUSKA ORCZY
The wife of a notorious buffoon begins to suspect her husband is actually a secret vigilante.
RUNNER UP: Persuasion, by JANE AUSTEN
Having turned down his offer of marriage many years before, a defeated spinster is rocked when her former love returns from his military position at sea.
My Favorite In-My-Own-Head Romance
Every now and then, you’ll read a book and think two characters definitely should have been together, even though there is no hint of actual romance in the pages.
WINNER: A Northern Light, by JENNIFER DONNELLY
A numb, yet brilliant hotel maid from the Adirondacks uncovers evidence that a guest was murdered by her swain.
RUNNER UP: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by ROBERT C. O’BRIEN
With her home in danger, a field mouse turns to a colony of escaped lab rats for help.
My Favorite Explicit Romance
Known as “erotica” some romance novels distinguish themselves by having extremely explicit sex, and lots of it.
WINNER: Him, by SARINA BOWEN and ELLE KENNEDY
A young hockey player, in love with his best friend before he cut ties, takes a second chance to rebuild their friendship.
RUNNER UP: Transcendence, by SHAY SAVAGE
After a solitary caveman discovers a strange and fearful woman, who is actually a time-traveler, he decides she will be his mate.
My Favorite Clean-As-a-whistle Romance
Although sex spices up a romance, some writers are talented enough to write love stories with no consummation involved.
WINNER: Pride and Prejudice, by JANE AUSTEN
Shocked by the proposal of a man she despises, a young woman is forced to reevaluate her preconceptions of him.
RUNNER UP: Along For the Ride, by SARAH DESSEN
A cold, yet brilliant girl spends a summer with her father, step-mother, and their new baby, while hiding her severe insomnia.
My Favorite Romantic Short Story
They say that short stories really test the chops of a writer, but they can be maddening to read if you want the story to keep going. Especially with romantic short stories, you’re left wanting more.
WINNER: Starting Over, by RUTHIE KNOX
While the recession forces a young entrepreneur into bankruptcy, she takes her sole comfort in a sexual relationship with a similarly down-on-his-luck man.
RUNNER UP: Silent Blade, by ILONA ANDREWS
Once tied together by an arranged engagement, an assassin and a businessman meet again in a galaxy far away.
My Favorite Romantic YA Short Story
The YA short story is much the same as a short story written for adults, but if they have a romantic bent, they are always sex-free.
WINNER: The Vampire Box, by TESSA GRATTON
A young woman has a special bond with the man her father keeps captive in the basement.
RUNNER UP: Inertia, by VERONICA ROTH
Informed that her former best friend is near death, a girl agrees to a mind-linking procedure that will allow them to travel through their shared memories.
My Favorite Enemies-to-Lovers Romance
Nothing ignites passion quite like strong feelings, and in an enemies-to-lovers romance, that passion often ignites from frustration and anger. When the couple flip-flops and turns hate to love, that intensity is still there.
WINNER: Under the Never Sky , by VERONICA ROSSI
A young woman is kicked out of her survival-dome into the outdoors, where she meets a rough man, mutated by the harsh environment.
RUNNER UP: Summer Skin, by KIRSTY EAGAR
To get revenge on her friend’s victimizers, a college girl publicly humiliates one of their number, only discover her attraction to him.
My Favorite Lovers-Through-Time Romance
Some people believe in soulmates. Some people believe in reincarnation. When you put the two together, you get a romance through time that must overcome tragedy, separation, and loss. Over and over again. It’s all worth it for the reunion scenes.
WINNER: The Georgina Kincaid Series, by RICHELLE MEAD
Having made a bargain with hell, a woman is forced to work as a succubus, which is made complicated when she falls in love with a mortal man.
RUNNER UP: My Name Is Memory, by ANN BRASHARES
Freaked out by a fellow student who makes a bizarre come-on to her, a young woman later discovers that they are reincarnated lovers.
My Favorite Slow-Burn-Throughout-a-Series Romance
If a writer is working with a multi-book arc, what’s the point of having a happy ever after in book one? For this category, I selected my favorite slow-burn romances that develop over multiple books.
WINNER: The Emperor’s Edge Series, by LINDSAY BUROKER
When a police officer stumbles upon an enormous conspiracy, she must assemble a group of vigilantes who seek to free their empire from corruption.
RUNNER UP: The Vampire Academy Series, by RICHELLE MEAD
In a secret society of vampires, a half-breed girl must protect her best friend, an endangered noble, while fighting her attraction to a forbidden man.
My Favorite Romance Mixed with Tragedy
In real life, the good times mix with bad times. I don’t always like reading romances mixed with tragedy, but they can be a good palate cleanser.
WINNER: Raw Blue, by KIRSTY EAGAR
The survivor of a terrible sexual assault tries to build a new life centered on surfing.
RUNNER UP: Sisterhood Everlasting, by ANN BRASHARES
To conclude a popular Young Adult series, a group of friends try to discover what happened to one of their number.
My Favorite Neighbors Romance
It’s an interesting concept… how couples meet. In some cases, a person’s true love is right next door. A surprising amount of romances use this trope
WINNER: Wait For It, by MARIANA ZAPATA
A woman who took custody of her three nephews struggles to raise them while navigating an interest in her older neighbor, the boys’ baseball coach.
RUNNER UP: Neighbor Dearest, by PENELOPE WARD
A young woman, battered by heartbreak, fights an intense attraction to her new, secretive landlord.
My Favorite Ensemble Romance
Why stop at one couple? Some authors choose to pack in multiple romances into their books, making for an ensemble romance.
WINNER: Six of Crows, by LEIGH BARDUGO
Young members of a street gang are tapped to break into a high security prison and extricate a brilliant prisoner.
RUNNER UP: Quintana of Charyn, by MELINA MARCHETTA
In the final chapter of a fantasy trilogy, a stony young man attempts to find his pregnant girlfriend with his parents and uncle along for the ride.
My Favorite Middle-Grade Romance
Middle Grade romance has a lot to do with suggestion, but kids pick up on it. For many young readers, stories are how they get introduced to romance.
WINNER: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by ELIZABETH GEORGE SPEARE
A spirited girl is sent to live with distant family in a witch-hunting, Puritan settlement in America.
RUNNER UP: Mara, Daughter of the Nile, by ELOISE JARVIS MCGRAW
A talented street girl is tapped to contribute in a royal conspiracy by an attractive handler.
My Favorite LGBTQ Romance
Love isn’t exclusive to male/female couples. That should go without saying.
WINNER: The Captive Prince Series, by C.S. PACAT
Trussed up and sent to his political rival as a slave, a warrior prince’s escape is complicated by his growing love for his captor.
RUNNER UP: The Abyss Surrounds Us Series, by EMILY SKRUTSKIE
After she’s kidnapped by dystopian pirates, a young trainer of sea monsters must raise a leviathan to do the criminals’ dastardly work.
That’s all. What are your favorite romances?
What are your favorite romance books, romantic sub-genres, and romantic tropes, readers? Share in the comments!