When days are short and skies are gray, a comfy chair, warm blanket, and a good book become essential.  No book warms you up better than a great romance novel. It’s clear that millions of people agree, as romances consistently top bestseller lists across the country. With winter settling in and Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get lost in a wonderful romance.

Difference Between a Love Story and a Romance Novel

The battle for love has been at the heart of great books since, well, the beginning of books. Heroes and heroines on the pages sacrifice and overcome tremendous odds in the name of love across all genres of literature. From ancient to modern stories and from sci-fi epics to classic novels, the quest for love plays a prominent role.

That said, romance is a specific fiction genre with very specific rules. Not every novel featuring a love story qualifies as “romance.”  In order to qualify for this literary designation, a novel must include the following:

·         A female protagonist who tells her own story

·         A central conflict that must be overcome for the relationship to succeed

·         A clear focus on the development of the relationship with very few outside issues to distract from that focus

·         An aspirational tone

·         An adherence to the moral idea that unconditional love is a reward for good behavior

·         A happy ending

Within the romance genre, you’ll find numerous subgenres defined by the setting, time, and various plot elements, but whether the story takes place in outer space, a 17th-century castle, or a dystopian war zone, all true romances focus on romantic relationships and will always have a happy ending.

Love stories, on the other hand, are much more complicated. They feature a variety of well-developed minor characters as well as other challenges outside of and unrelated to the relationship that the heroes must face. It’s not a romance if one of the main characters dies or the love story ends.

Romantic Beginnings

Romance novels are a more “modern” phenomenon. Yes, there are a handful of ancient Greek stories that have survived that meet the requirements of romantic fiction, but romance novels (as defined above) didn’t start to appear until the 1700s and didn’t become widely popular until the nineteenth century when works by Jane Austen and others captured the imaginations of readers. Since then, the romance genre has skyrocketed to become the most popular fiction genre.

While the basic definition of a romance novel has remained consistent, character development and plot have evolved over time. Today’s heroines are more independent, and heroes are softer and more nuanced. You’ll also find varying degrees of sensuality, with some books remaining on the strictly chaste side of things, while others go for full, open-door erotica.

Category versus Single Title

When you picture a romance novel, the first thing that comes to mind is a slim paperback with a cover that features a passionate embrace. In the world of romance fiction, there are two categories:

·         Category Romance

Category romance, sometimes called series romance, are numbered books released by the same publishing house (Harlequin being the largest) at regular intervals. Books in the series will often share a common thread, such as characters, themes, or settings. Category romances are short and very tightly focused on the romance with minimal subplots and few minor characters; these are the ubiquitous slim paperbacks you associate with supermarket romance books.

·         Single-title Romance

A single-title romance is a stand-alone book, though it may be a part of a single author’s longer series. These longer novels still offer a love story as the central feature, but it offers more detail and backstory on the main characters. Even though these novels are richer and deeper, they still focus on the love story and have a happy ending.

Ready for Romance?

Reading about romance novels and love stories is not nearly as fun as actually reading them. If you’re ready for a bit of romance in your life, here are 10 favorites to get you started:

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

Any list of great romances would be woefully incomplete if it didn’t include something by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is Ms. Austen’s second novel, published in 1813, and remains one of English literature’s most popular novels ever. Elizabeth Bennett is the heroine, Charles Darcy is the hero, and their love story is all about overcoming the consequences of hasty judgments. It’s a romantic clash between two extraordinary characters that has delighted readers for almost 200 years.

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy

In 2007, Far from the Madding Crowd finished tenth on The Guardian’s list of all-time greatest love stories, and for good reason; the romance between Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak is simply unforgettable. Thomas Hardy’s writing is beautiful, and his prose will capture and pull you in from the very first words.

An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde

This play by Oscar Wilde is a delightful commentary on what it really means to be an ideal husband. Mr. Wilde’s flawed characters learn how to love unconditionally in a tale that involves blackmail and political intrigue amidst themes of hypocrisy and forgiveness. The story is witty, clever, and thought-provoking, all while being wildly romantic.

The Grand Sophy

Georgette Heyer

This Regency historical romance is a laugh-out-loud story about a Sophy, a diplomat’s daughter, who sets out to solve everyone’s problems. Sophy is tall, chic, independent, and a bit bossy. When she clashes with her responsible cousin Charles, chaos ensues. This romance is light and fun, a perfect antidote to cold, dreary, winter days.

The Duke and I

Julia Quinn

This is the first installment of Quinn’s Bridgerton series that chronicles the lives of the eight children of Viscount Bridgerton. The story features an elaborate plot to fake a relationship in order to game the London social system and avoid meddlesome matches. When reality gets involved, things get complicated.

Outlander

Diana Gabaldon

Gabaldon’s Outlander series began in 1998 and includes 8 books so far, with number 9 on the way. It features Claire, a modern woman thrown back in time to 18th century Scotland, and her romance with a Highlander named Jamie Fraser. These are big, meaty historical fiction books laced with an unforgettable love story.

Come from Away

Genevieve Graham

This winner of the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award is an engrossing read from page one when you meet Grace, a Nova Scotia girl who’s keeping the home fires burning while her three brothers are fighting Nazis overseas. With German U-boats lurking a stone’s throw from home, Grace learns truths about herself, her family, and a handsome stranger named Rudi.

The Designer

Marius Gabriel

You’ll find yourself completely submerged in the world of post-occupation Paris in 1944 as you read this brilliantly told tale about Copper Reilly (a newly divorced American woman) and a middle-aged fashion designer named Christian Dior. As the opulence of Paris begins to resurface following the destruction of WWII, Copper rebuilds her own life and love after the tragedy of divorce. This book is another winner of the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, and you’ll quickly see why.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Lauren Willig

Past and present romances pepper this delightful book that sets out to answer the question “ Are romantic heroes only a thing of the past?” Modern-day Eloise discovers the secret history of the Pink Carnation, an elusive British spy who worked to save England from Napoleon, during her research into the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian plants. Ms. Willig satisfies both lovers of historical fiction and romance in this (and all the books in the series) with her meticulous research and memorable characters. You might find yourself more surprised by the facts in these books than the fiction!

A Princess in Theory

Alyssa Cole

Grad student Naledi Smith has no time for fairy tales, and Prince Thabiso of Thesolo has no patience for gold diggers. You’ll love this grown-up tale of a reluctant princess featuring a smart, African-American heroine who’s passionate about STEM education and her own independence.

Every Last Breath

Juno Rashdan

Romance plus the imminent threat of a pandemic? What’s not to love about this romantic suspense novel about two former loves thrust into an impossible situation requiring them to overcome past betrayals in order to save the world?

Find the Books You Love

At Discover Books, you’ll find romances and love stories in abundance. Discoverbooks.com carries millions of gently used books starting at $3.85 with free shipping on orders of $9 or more to the lower 48 US states. Shop today and put some romance in your life!

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