7 Romance Novels That Aren’t Cheesy

If you’re a frequent visitor to this blog and/or my Instagram feed, you know I’m a huge fan of romance novels. But you might not know this is a relatively new affinity for me.

Last month, BeYourself published an essay I wrote about my journey away from romance novels and back again. Please give it a read. I’m really proud of that piece and I bet you’ll find it relatable.

Instead of repeating that whole story here, I can break down its core to explain why I’ve grown to appreciate romance novels: Everyone deserves to be loved. Regardless of their gender, age, race, religious belief, or romantic history, every person deserves a chance to give and receive love.

When I realized that’s what the romance genre is truly about, I saw it through a different lens.

A romance novel must have a love story central to the plot and an emotionally satisfying resolution (aka happy ending.) That doesn’t mean everything is roses and rainbows, or that everything is tied up neatly with a bow at the end.

Here are some of the romance novels I’ve appreciated most because they tackle some tough issues and they feel real.

7 Romance Novels That Aren’t Cheesy

1. The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Historical

Minnie is an independent minded woman with a painful past. Robert is open minded and willing to let go of societal expectations. Both are fabulous characters with strong back stories. I enjoyed watching their pasts and present come together. While the story does demonstrate some antiquated gender roles, they make sense in the time period without being forced on the reader. Over all it’s wonderfully sex positive, and their relationship felt realistic. 

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Historical

Elle Burns is a former slave who returns to the South to spy for the Union Army. Malcolm McCall is a detective risking his life to infiltrate Rebel quarters. The two undercover agents with a common cause develop an indisputable attraction, but must put the Union first. This is a powerful story in a unique setting.

3. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Young Adult

Libby Strout, the girl once named as “America’s Fattest Teen.” No one seems interested in knowing more about her than that, and she is struggling with her mother’s recent death.  Jack Masselin has a severe no one knows, he can’t recognize faces. When he and Libby are victims of a cruel game at school, they are forced to go to counseling and serve community service. The more time they spend together, the less alone in the world each feels.  There is a lot of heartache along the way, and also joy. It’s a romance, and also a story of family and friendship, forgiveness and acceptance.

4. My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmerman

Young Adult

Oh how I wish I had books like this to read when I was going through adolescence. It strikes me as a powerfully realistic look into the mind and body of a teen girl. Greer has felt out of control since the summer before freshman year, when her breasts began to grow but never really stopped. Now her bra size is 30H and she feels out of place everywhere. Jackson Oates is a new guy at school and the first one who seems more interested in her brains than her chest. There’s a romance aspect that’s quite sweet, but the most prominent thread in the book is Greer’s journey from being ashamed of her body. 

5. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Contemporary LGBTQ

 This was my first LBGTQ romance. I wondered if I’d be able to relate to the characters, since I’m a straight woman, and I absolutely did. The storyline is a bit improbable – the son of the first female President of the U.S. falls in love with a Royal Prince, but you just have to go with it! This is their love story, AND it’s about so much more. There’s family relationships, societal pressure, and self doubt. It’s about not only loving another, but believing YOU are worthy of love too. It was so easy to get swept up in the story and I couldn’t put it down. The two men’s social status made for a lot of interesting speed bumps along the way. 

6. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Contemporary

This was one of my top reads in 2019. While it meets the criteria for a romance novel, it’s about so much more. Evvie is recently widowed, and rarely leaves her big house. Dean is a former Major League pitcher who can’t throw straight anymore. He’s renting the apartment at the back of Evvie’s house for a change of scenery. This novel is ultimately about adulthood not looking like we pictured it, and trying to figure out what the hell to do about it. It’s a wonderful story all around about being human and taking care of ourselves.

7. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Contemporary

Several of McFarlane’s novels would work on this list. She writes with a different style than what I’ve seen in the genre. While the love story does weave in and out throughout the plot, the focus is more on Georgina’s life and her personal journey. She loses her job and finds out her boyfriend is cheating all in the same day. Feeling desperate, she takes the first job she’s offered which is at a pub owned by two brothers. One of them is a boy she fell in love with at school. This is a story about learning to trust yourself and stand up for yourself, and learning to let go of what other people think of you, even when that’s family or a romantic partner.


What do you think? Have I convinced you to give romance novels a try? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


1 Comment

  1. Bev Baird

    October 21, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    Great list. I so enjoy romance as well – and agree with you. Everyone deserves to be loved. I’ve read Evie Drake and Red, White Royal Blue and loved the, Will check out the others.

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