Two people meet, fall in love, and then live happily ever after—that’s romance.
But is that really all romance is about? Love songs and romantic comedies may be feel-good entertainment, but for readers of the genre, these describe a lot more than just two people falling in love.
“I read romance to feel connected to other women and to experience the world from a perspective other than my own,” said Sabrina Flemming, editor assistant at Forever (Grand Central Publishing). “These books make me realize that I’m not alone in the hardships I experience.”
Women and teenage girls may form the primary readership for romance fiction, but the audience has expanded because of the genre’s newfound coverage of diversity and other significant topics.
“People think that romance readers are mostly teens and stay-at-home moms, but I’m a male who reads romance,” said 26-year-old Noel Hernandez. “I was raised by women who read these books, and growing up, I thought their only purpose was to give women unrealistic expectations.
“But then I started high school and had no idea how to talk to girls. These books taught me the importance of consent and how to make my partner feel good. Sex is about the woman just as much as it is about the man, but when you’re 18, it’s easy to forget that.”
For decades, romance novels focused heavily on consent, sexuality, and women’s empowerment, but the conversation has widened to include the discussion of such topics as infertility, menstruation, mental health, self-worth, assault, and domestic abuse—topics that were long associated with shame or even weakness.
Books such as The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover address abuse in relationships, mental health, and self-worth. While It Ends with Us focuses heavily on physical abuse and self-worth, The Flatshare discusses mental health as well as emotional abuse, manipulation, and verbal assault in relationships.
For a long time, domestic abuse was mostly associated with physical maltreatment, but the romance genre has shown its readers that emotional and verbal harm are just as destructive.
“When I picked up The Flatshare a couple of weeks back, I was expecting a really sweet romance,” said 21-year-old April Aungle. “But after only a handful of chapters, I was completely floored by the heroine and her experiences.”
This recent release, though heartwarming and even comical at times, tells the story of Tiffy Moore, a young woman who’s struggling with self-esteem and mental health after leaving an abusive relationship.
“I had always thought about abuse as something physical, but The Flatshare made me realize that emotional abuse is just as common and should not be overlooked,” said Aungle. “Belittling someone with words is just as awful as putting a hand on them.”
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez is another romance novel that recently addressed various significant yet stigmatized topics. The book follows the story of Kristen Peterson, a young woman who suffers from uterine fibroids and extremely heavy periods, as she struggles with the decision of whether to undergo a surgery that could affect her ability to have children.
Like other feel-good stories in the genre, Jimenez’s USA Today bestselling novel serves to educate readers and give a voice to the women who might be experiencing similar situations. As a matter of fact, the reason readers feel a strong connection to the heroine is because the author based her protagonist off her best friend’s real-life experiences with uterine fibroids.
Apart from addressing abuse and women’s issues, romance novels also focus heavily on consent, sexuality, and empowerment.
Fan favorites such as The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey, and Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher are loved for spotlighting these issues.
“I grew up in a home where we never talked about sex. We were definitely NOT discussing female pleasure and how to feel empowered,” said Estelle Hallick, Publicity and Marketing Manager at Forever (Grand Central Publishing).
“There are so many romance novels I now wish I would’ve had when I was younger. I think they would’ve helped me feel a lot more comfortable with my body and sexuality,” said Hallick. “Nonetheless, these books are constantly reminding me that I am resilient, that I am in charge, and that I have a voice.”
Other readers love Guillory’s and Christopher’s novels for their representation of diversity, POC characters, and body positivity. For millions, getting to know the characters in these books who share their traits, characteristics, and hardships, gives them the confidence to feel strong and empowered.
“The Wedding Date truly is a wonderful, modern love story. It celebrates love, color, and individuality,” said O Miami Intern Gabrielle Alexis. “I related HARD to Alexa—A black girl with curls, confidence, and a little meat on her bones.”
Like The Wedding Date, Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston captivated the heart of thousands and gave a voice to an underrepresented group of romance readers—the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike most romance novels who focus on white male-female relationships, this novel tells the story of Alex and Henry, two young men who are learning how to navigate their romance while living heavily in the public eye.
“I remember bawling in my room and thinking about how good it felt to have a voice,” said 19-year-old Roberto Casas. “While I wish that I would’ve had this book in middle school, I feel good knowing that boys now have Alex and Henry to make them feel less scared and alone. Coming out, especially in the Latin community, can be so frightening.”
There is no doubt that the genre is about love. But besides finding it in a partner, romance advocates for readers to find it within themselves.
“What I love about romance novels is that they teach readers to love themselves first,” said bookstagrammer Jasmine Brown (@diaryofaclosetreader). “The characters in these novels have to fall in love with themselves—to confront the things that are holding them back, to face their fears—before they can find their happily ever after with someone else.”
While millions love the genre for its hopeful love stories, one thing is certain: for readers, these books are about more than just two people falling in love.
“These stories are about the journey to the happily ever after, about confronting obstacles and overcoming the challenges,” said reader Luis Padrille.
The romance genre is about the “meet cute” and the first kiss… but it’s also about finding light at the end of the tunnel and holding on to the hope that no matter how hard the journey is, it will all be worth it in the end.
Liked the piece? Here's a chat between me and Kamrun Nesa, Associate Publicist at Grand Central Publishing and half of the duo behind @literallyuspodcast. In the interview we discuss what romance means to her and some of our favorite books.
A big thank you to Kamrun for taking the time to chat with me and to Estelle Hallick, Sabrina Flemming, Gabrielle Alexis, Jasmine Brown (@diaryofaclosetreader), and Morelia Garcia (@strandedinbooks) for participating!
Hi again book friends!
Today, I'll be discussing Lisa and Liz's latest novel, The Two Lila Bennetts.
The Two Lila Bennetts by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
Lila Bennett’s bad choices have finally caught up with her. And one of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.
In one life, she’s taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.
Lila’s decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line. She must make a list of those she’s wronged—both in and out of the courtroom—to determine who is out to get her before it’s too late. But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive? And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die? Because one thing’s for certain—life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.
Hello friends! So sorry that it's been a while.
I finished The Two Lila Bennetts a couple of weeks back but have had no time to write any reviews. Luckily, I've had plenty of time to think about Lisa and Liz's latest novel. Let's break it down, shall we?
I wasn't sure that I'd connect with this story, but after reading Girls' Night Out, I figured I'd give it a chance. We all know that I'm a sucker for a good thriller, but the concept of Lila's life breaking in half had me feeling a bit hesitant. I'm all for a bit of sci-fi in my mysteries, but as suspected, it just didn't work for me in this particular book.
On the other hand, I really appreciated the fact that Lisa and Liz created such an authentic set of characters. The cast was real and flawed (which was great at first), but unfortunately, aside from two or three cast members, they were all so UNLIKEABLE. I struggled with this the most because to me, characters are the base of a story, and if I can't connect with them then I can't connect with the story that's being told.
I tried (I REALLY tried) to empathize with Lila and all her mistakes, but it seemed like she couldn't stop making bad decisions which led me to not feel bad for her at all. This was really crucial because Lila's redemption is the objective of the story, and nothing in me believed that she was was worthy of my time and the benefit of the doubt.
This could've been a great novel—the plot was a great idea and kept me reading until the very end. But at the end of the day, it didn't really matter because I just couldn't get behind Lila Bennett.
Did you read Lisa and Liz's latest novel? What did you think?
Welcome back to AZE
Today, I'm discussing one of the most anticipated thrillers of the year, The Turn of the Key.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
When Rowan Caine stumbles across the ad, she is looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when she finally arrives at Heatherbrae House, Rowan is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.
Today, I'll be reviewing one of my most anticipated reads of the year...
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen's new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.
As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story—until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.
Searching for the truth about Ingrid's disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building's hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.
THE KING IS BACK!!!! And this time, he's bringing readers a goosebump-inducing, hair-raising mystery.
After months of waiting, Lock Every Door is finally here. I couldn't be more thrilled to add it to my Sager collection, but must say that I'm a little bummed to have read it in August. This book is the PERFECT autumn read.
I love Riley Sager for many reasons, and one of those is that none of his books are alike. Lock Every Door is a completely different monster than Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied. Sure The Last Time I Lied was creepy and heart-pumping, but Sager's latest brings a whole new meaning to CREEPY AND EERIE.
Lock Every Door is dark, twisted, and truly terrifying. And like Sager's previous books, the writing is impeccable, the cast of characters is captivating, and the plot is absolutely magnificent. Nonetheless, the most fascinating component of this book is the author's attention to detail. The characters are perfectly imperfect and the Bartholomew—the building where the story takes place—is truly horrifying and authentic. As a matter of fact, a part of me is certain that a version of the Bartholomew exists somewhere in the world today.
Despite my love for this story, I must confess that I'm not all that crazy about the ending. While it seems modern and quite likely, a part of me wishes Sager would've taken another route.
Nonetheless, Lock Every Door is a novel that I'll be recommending to readers and friends for years to come. I'm so sad that I have to wait a whole other year for Sager's next novel, but I can't wait to see what he does next.
Have you read Lock Every Door?