Happy Bookstore Romance Day, friends!
In honor of one of our favorite holidays, we're sharing some serious romance reading inspo from two awesome Hartfield customers, Mary and Nick Ramey. I mean, seriously, look how cute they are!!
Earlier this year, while they were browsing in the store and we were chatting about books, as we are wont to do, Mary mentioned that she and her husband Nick were doing "a summer of romance." I was immediately intrigued! She explained that they were going to spend the summer reading romance novels together and, you guys, maybe my corset was too tight, but I swear I swooned!
Now, as summer is drawing to a close and the high holiday of romance is upon us, what better time to catch up with them and find out how it went?
While Nick was relatively new to the romance genre, Mary is old hat. "I actually read romance year-round," she said. "It is one of my favorite genres because authors are becoming more and more inclusive. Readers can find a romance that includes characters from various races, ethnicities, body types, and gender and sexual orientations. I love it. I think the best authors out there are doing a fantastic job of depicting their characters discussing consent and sexual health. Love, healthy relationships, and amazing sex are for EVERYONE, and romance is capturing that!"
Prior to this summer, Nick occassionally read romance novels that Mary recommended to him, but his typical go-tos were thrillers and science fiction. "For me, summer has always been a time to try something new," he explained. "Plus, it was a great way to bond with my wife! Mary is always so enthusiastic about romance novels, I just wanted to see them through her eyes." (At this point, I pulled out my dance card and frantically began fanning myself with it. The cuteness, you guys. I can't!)
And after the summer of romance? "I can say that I genuinely enjoy reading romance. Before I would read them because Mary did, but now I have an honest appreciation for this genre. I could probably pick out a book on my own without Mary’s recommendation. I know that men reading romances is still pretty unexpected even in 2021, but it has taught me so much: about relationships, sex, and my wife. I still can’t pick up a book with a bare-chested man on the cover though…"
Fair enough! Luckily for us, there's something for just about everyone in terms of both covers and content.
If you're not a regular consumer of romance novels, you may not realize how much the genre has expanded. There are many, many subgenres under the romance umbrella, so if regency isn't your thing, you can try a contemporary. If you love 19th century detectives, post-apocalyptic dystopia, reality TV baking competitions, time travel, espionage, blood feuds between ancient families of vampires and werewolves — there's a romance for that. And, if you adore a classic Lord/Duke/Earl/Viscount/insert your preferred title here, you can find some great ones! As Mary says, "A sarcastic duke whose thighs look great in his breeches? What’s not to love?"
"I love that in historicals the situations are so outlandish: because of a bizarre stipulation in an obscure relative’s will we need to get married. Or, we need to go to this ball because reasons. So fun!" Mary enthused.
And you can find modern versions of those same outlandish situations in the contemporaries. "I like when the characters are in bizarre situations together," Nick agreed. "Like, they have to play paintball together (as they do in The Hating Game) or need to go on vacation together because of some crazy reason." And you know where there's a forced vacation, there's a hotel with only one room left and that room only has one tiny bed!
This genre has tropes a plenty and romance readers often have their personal favorites — from fake dating to 'we're just friends, guys, we swear!'
"I am a big fan of enemies-to-lovers," said Nick. "I like good banter and healthy, fun sex. I remember reading The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and enjoying it so much. The tension and frustration between the characters is fun because you, as the reader, know that they like each other."
But, no matter how delightfully outlandish the scenario, or how warmly familiar the trope, the success of a romance novel often hangs on the relatability and likability of the characters, and the chemistry between the main couple. "I really like when authors create an 'extended universe,' like Jasmine Guillory," said Nick. "I like how she creates multiple characters and stories for each." Many romance authors write multiple novels that take place in the same universe where side characters from one novel become the main love story in the next. There's something fun and comfortable about returning to the same town, the same family or friend group over and over. Romance authors, in particular, seem to have figured out how to do this really well.
Nick also shouted out Jasmine for writing relatable male characters. "Out of the authors I have read, I think Jasmine Guillory does the best job of writing a realistic male perspective. I always read her books and enjoy them," he said.
Of course, we had to know which books they read during their summer of romance and their lists (which you can find below) did not disappoint! If you're overwhelmed with options and not sure where to start, we asked both Mary and Nick to give us their top three.
"For me, it was Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (The. Best.), One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston and The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan," said Mary. "I would also give an honorable mention to The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon."
"My top three would be Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (I would recommend this book to anyone, especially men, who think they wouldn’t like romance), The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon and The Lady’s Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everitt (a really good historical novel)," said Nick. "I would re-read any of these books again."
So, what did a relative novice take away from a summer immersed in romance? "Romance characters go on the most fun dates, have the most interesting jobs, and eat awesome food," Nick observed. "It did surprise me that women are still most often the ones that are sexually inexperienced, even in the contemporary books I read, and it surprised me that some books are so full of drama. There was always another reason why these two people couldn’t get together. No one would put up with that in real life (would they?). It also surprised me that some authors did a better job at depicting condom use than others. For example, in one book I read, the characters didn’t have a condom, so they just stopped everything. No fun sexy time at all. End of chapter, end of date, bye. And, as the male character, it was his responsibility to have the condom. I think that’s problematic. But, in another book I read, the characters didn’t have a condom, so they thought of other fun, safe, and sexy things to do. Safe sex was both of the main characters’ responsibility."
While I personally enjoy a healthy dose of drama in my fiction (better there than in real life, right?), many of the issues that Nick rightly points out are exactly the kinds of things that people in the romance community are talking about and in the past few years, I have definitely noticed positive change in a lot of those directions. There is absolutely more to be done, but I have found some of the most authentic, empowered, badass, female protagonists in romance novels (and some of the most enlightened, unabashedly feminist male characters, too!).
"I am still surprised that romance novels are considered 'guilty pleasures' or 'fluff,'" said Mary. "These are the books that you aren’t supposed to tell anyone you read (which is why I am so excited to do this for Hartfield Books). But, if you ever read a romance, then you’ll realize these characters are going through so much to be together. They are processing trauma, dealing with mental illnesses, family expectations, and financial problems. This isn’t fluff! Plus, they are trying to be there for each other and have AMAZING SEX! We should tell the world about this genre. IT IS THE BEST."
Couldn't agree more, Mary, and no better day than Bookstore Romance Day to shout it from the rooftops!
We really can't thank Mary and Nick enough for bringing us along on their amazing summer reading journey. Now go out and celebrate Bookstore Romance Day by grabbing one of their suggestions from your local independent bookstore or library! A guaranteed happily ever after (HEA, for those in the know) is just one of the many things we love about romance novels and who couldn't use one of those right now?
Mary also recommends several of these authors' previous novels:
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
Beach Read by Emily Henry
And, for anyone who wants to try out romance, but might not want to commit to a whole novel, she recommends the following anthologies:
Naughty Brits (featuring stories by Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, Louisa Edwards, Tessa Gratton, and Sierra Simone)
Duke I’d Like to F… (featuring stories by Sierra Simone, Joanna Shupe, Eva Leigh, Nicola Davidson, and Adriana Herrera)
He’s Come Undone (featuring stories by Emma Barry, Olivia Dade and Adriana Herrera)
Here are EVEN MORE fantastic recommendations from Mary:
For anyone who is interested in historical romance, I would recommend what I call the 'big names': Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Julia Quinn, and Sarah MacClean. I would also recommend Evie Dunmore, Maya Rodale, Manda Collins, and Elizabeth Everitt. Heroines are suffragettes, scientists, and reporters!
For any readers interested in historicals featuring LGBTQ+ characters, some of my go-tos are Cat Sebastian, KJ Charles, and Olivia Waite.
Some great contemporary authors/books I would recommend: The Brown Sisters Trilogy by Talia Hibbert, The Bromance Bookclub series, anything by Sonali Dev, Jasmine Guillory, Olivia Dade, Kerry Winfrey, Jen DeLuca, Alisha Rai, Alexis Daria, Helen Hoang, Adriana Herrera, and Abby Jimenez. Just to name a few!
I read several books from Sarina Bowen’s Heart Eyes Press. This series prioritizes LGBTQ+ main characters. I also read several books from Penny Reid’s Smartypants Romance series.