Of all the holidays, Valentine’s Day is definitely the most polarizing. If you love it, you’re sending chocolates and flowers (and hoping to get some in return.) If you hate it, Valentine’s is basically just the day before you can buy really good chocolate at clearance prices. People tend to fall into similar groups when it comes to romance fiction--either you’re an unabashed fan, or you try not to roll your eyes while your friends talk about Bridgerton.
Fans of romance fiction will tell you the stories reinforce the idea that true love exists, and that they’re sure to warm your heart. Haters will explain the story plots can feel formulaic--maybe even a little sappy and over the top. While both sides have solid arguments, there’s one facet people generally tend to overlook: According to Amanda Pagan, from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, “historically, romance novels separate themselves from other genres by being primarily written by women, for women, and about women."
Which is why, in the spirit of Galentine’s Day, we’re doing our best to bridge the gap between the romance novel lovers and haters by suggesting four books both sides are sure to enjoy. While they all feature couples hopelessly falling for each other, they also have realistic characters, complex plots, and a decided lack of sap.
Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date begins with Alexa Monroe climbing on an elevator at a San Francisco hotel. She’s got a bag full of fancy cheese, crackers, and champagne, and she’s expecting to spend the evening celebrating her older sister’s promotion. Her plans change fast, though, when the elevator gets stuck between floors. Luckily, she’s not alone--she is trapped with a stupidly handsome guy.
The longer they’re stuck, they begin to flirt (while eating all the fancy snacks). Alex talks about her job as Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Berkeley, and how her older sister is visiting from New York. Drew (the stupidly handsome guy) is a pediatric surgeon from Los Angeles. He’s visiting San Francisco for a wedding, and he’s honestly not looking forward to it--mostly because his ex is the one getting married. Just as the elevator starts moving, Drew asks Alexa if she wants to be his wedding date--just to help him get through the entire thing unscathed.
After having an amazing time together at the wedding, Alexa and Drew decide to burn some of their frequent flyer miles and start visiting one another on the weekends. The two of them fall hard for one another, but when the distance between them turns into the kind that frequent flyer miles can’t fix, Drew and Alexa have to decide whether or not their relationship is really worth the trouble.
There’s a different kind of trouble in Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. The story starts in the fall of 1999, when Lincoln accepts a job in system security at a midwestern newspaper. Since he’ll be working second shift (when the building is mostly empty), Lincoln assumes he’ll be building firewalls and helping with the Y2K switchover. Instead, he spends all of his time fixing printers and spying on the paper’s employees.
Lincoln’s in charge of WebFence, the software which monitors employee’s work emails. While everyone at the paper knows they aren’t supposed to be emailing anything personal or inappropriate, they still do--and when WebFence flags an email, it’s Lincoln’s job to send them an official warning. Most of his flagged emails are between two reporters, Jennifer and Beth. The majority of their emails have very little to do with work and are full of personal details. Instead of sending them a warning, though, Lincoln begins reading all of their emails, especially Beth’s. He’s smitten with the way she writes about her family, her terrible boyfriend, and all the movies she watches as the paper’s film critic.
When Beth starts writing about how she has a crush on the tall, cute guy who only works at night, Lincoln is beside himself. Even though Beth seems to be into him, Lincoln wouldn’t even know her if they passed each other in the break room. If he did get a chance to talk to Beth...how would he even start a conversation without slipping up and making everything awkward? Is it possible to fall in love before first sight?
Much like Lincoln, the lead character of Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown is much more comfortable dealing with computers than people. Chloe’s coding always works, but her body is a different story. Living with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, she sticks to a routine and stays firmly in her comfort zone. She has absolutely no intention of changing, until a near death experience makes her realize just how risk-averse her illness has made her--and just what she’s been missing.
Once Chloe decides she needs to make some big changes, her first step is to create a bucket list of things she absolutely needs to do as soon as possible. The list includes simple things (like riding a motorcycle) and harder to define things (like “doing something bad”). The problem is, Chloe isn’t sure where to start--and that’s when she crosses paths with the superintendent of her building, Redford “Red” Morgan.
To Chloe, Red is the definition of a bad boy, which is why she immediately asks for his help. The two make a deal--Red will help Chloe check items off her Life List, and in return, she’ll build him a website to show and sell his art. Once the two of them begin checking items off the list, Chloe begins to realize maybe she’s not so limited--and maybe Red isn’t such a bad boy after all.
The hero of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult graphic novel Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life isn’t necessarily a bad boy--but he’s not necessarily a good one, either. Scott is a twenty-three year old video game enthusiast, and the bass player for a pretty unsuccessful band. He’s content to be mostly unemployed, spend time with his friends, and count on his roommate Wallace to cover the rent. Everything changes, though, when a girl with crazy hair roller blades through his dreams. Scott is stunned when a few days later, she roller blades right by him on the street.
When he finally connects with Ramona the roller blader, the two of them hit it off instantly. Once they’re “official,” though, Scott gets a creepy email from someone named Matthew Pattel. As it turns out, Ramona's got seven evil exes, and if Scott wants to live happily ever after, he must defeat them all one by one. Maybe all those late nights playing video games will come in handy, because Scott will need every cheat he knows to defeat the seven--especially Gideon, the “final boss.”
Whether you’d rather face a final boss for the one you love, or just illicitly read their emails, these books prove not every romance novel is all bad. We’re as sure of that as we are that these books go perfectly with clearance chocolate (as long as you don’t get any on the pages of your library book). Find more romance novels on our list below:
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