Before we get into the best romance books of 2021, have you noticed any trends in romantic fiction this year, either in terms of subject matter or plot? Has 2021 seen any ‘love in the time of Covid’ romance books?
Romantic fiction has definitely been an escape for many during the pandemic. Book sales soared during the lockdown months because people turned to books for joy and comfort during an incredibly difficult year. And while a brand new Covid-romance genre has somewhat emerged in romantic fiction, I cannot say that it has gained much traction as most of us sought books set in a pandemic-free world. Sheer escapism seems to remain the overarching theme in romance, now more than ever.
You have a wide following for your site and the genre itself is hugely popular. Is it popular purely because it provides escapism, or do some people read it because they think reading romance books can help them with their love life—either finding the right person, or improving what they’ve got or, indeed, helping them to strike out for pastures new?
I can’t say I know many people who read romance because they hope to find a ‘relationship roadmap’ between the pages of a book. If anything, most people reading romantic fiction tend to enjoy characters and scenarios that are the very opposite of what they have or look for in real life. Those who read true crime books, for instance, are never seen as looking for a guide to becoming serial killers based purely on their reading choices, so there is no reason to expect romance readers to be any different.
People read romance because it’s a genre that is written mainly for women, it’s built on women’s voices and stories, and there is great comfort to be found in a guaranteed happy ending. People love to demean romance as a genre, all too often dismissing it as being fluffy and shallow, but romantic fiction continues to be one of the most sold genres in the world, so there is obviously value to be found in stories that celebrate people’s romantic fantasies and desires, and where love always wins.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang. Tell us a bit about the book and what makes it stand out.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang is an eye-opening and, at times, confronting book that tells the story of a young, Chinese-American violinist on the autism spectrum whose sudden fame has not only paralysed her creatively but also driven her to the point of burnout. She meets a man online, only looking for a one-night stand at first, but nothing goes as planned, and their temporary arrangement slowly begins to take on a life of its own. The very impermanent nature of their relationship, however, gives the heroine the freedom to show a man for the very first time in her life the chaotic, insecure, panic-attack-ridden side of herself—something she’s always kept to herself in order to please those around her. When tragedy strikes her family, she expects the hero to run for the hills. Instead, his unwavering support gives her the courage to free herself from the burden of expectations, and to find the person behind the mask she’s always worn. This book, more than any other book I read this year, is a perfect example of how powerful and multifaceted a story about love can truly be.
Next up is Tin Queen by Devney Perry. What’s this one about and why did it make your top five romance books for 2021?
Devney Perry is a consistent powerhouse in the ‘small town romance’ subgenre, and Tin Queen incorporates everything I love about her books: great writing, compelling characters, and a suspense-driven, emotionally-charged plotline that grips you by the throat from the very first page. It’s the final book in a series that’s consistently dazzled with its gritty storylines and intricately layered romances, and Perry saved the most jaw-dropping storyline of them all for last.
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It all starts with two apparent strangers meeting at a bar, followed by a night of wild sex and no names exchanged between them. One night turns into two, then three and four, and soon into a lot more, but what the hero doesn’t know until the very end is that the woman he’s fallen in love with is the daughter of his greatest enemy, and she came to town to ruin him. Perry takes the enemies-to-lovers trope and twists it away in the most unexpected of directions.
Let’s move on to your next 2021 romance book, Broken French by Tasha Boyd.
Broken French by Tasha Boyd came at a time when most of us were only dreaming of leaving our homes for anything other than essential shopping, and it took readers on vacation to the Côte d’Azur from the safety of our couch. It’s the story of a newly unemployed young architect from Charleston, South Carolina, who ends up jump-starting her life on a megayacht in the south of France, working as a nanny for a brooding, widowed billionaire. However, what was only supposed to be a summer gig while she looks for another job in her field turns into everything she didn’t even know she needed as she slowly falls in love with a broken widower who is afraid to open his heart again. It was the perfect book for anyone looking to soothe their travel cravings, or for anyone whose catnip just happens to be a curmudgeonly, dirty-talking Frenchman with a big… yacht.
Next is Gray Hair Don’t Care by Karen Booth. Will this reassure those of us who are well into middle age that the game is not yet up?
Ha! Well, as my own years begin to add up, I find myself gravitating more and more towards not only characters with some miles on them, but also towards stories that make us believe it’s never too late to find true love in life. So, I’m always on the lookout for emotionally satisfying stories with strong heroines over forty who are embarking on a ‘second act’ in their lives.
“Sheer escapism seems to remain the overarching theme in romance, now more than ever”
On the one hand, Gray Hair Don’t Care by Karen Booth is the ultimate Gen-X romance, as it centres on two college best friends who, after losing touch for more than twenty years, run into one another and have a single night of passion that ends badly in the morning. When they see each other again some years later, their new working relationship forces them to face their past and to deal with feelings that neither of them have ever truly gotten over. But, on the other hand, this is also a searingly personal tale of a woman navigating her way through middlescence, of finding herself after a lifetime of self-doubt, and of letting her natural sparkle shine even brighter. I’m always in the mood for empowering stories like these.
What about the final choice on your 2021 romance books reading list, The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan. What does the plot of this one revolve around, and why is it a great read?
The Intimacy Experiment is the most unique romance I have read this year, and this is due entirely to Rosie Danan’s impressive command of her characters, their voices, and their humanity. In this slow-burning, opposites-attract romance between two unlikely lovers—a cynical former sex performer and a forward-thinking young rabbi—Danan weaves a glorious blending canvas of faith, love, sex, and personal identity, making the reader truly believe that love conquers all.
The soft shimmering sensuality of her voice is intoxicating, subtle, yet bold in the way she makes the reader feel each tantalising increment of desire between the characters. But it is her ability to give them genuine emotional depth and complexity that leaves a lovely, lingering effect long after we close this book.
If you had to pick only one of these 2021 romance books, which would you choose?
Every book on this list deserves the top spot for best romance book of 2021. But if I had to pick only one of them to take with me to a desert island, that book would be Broken French by Tasha Boyd because, at a time when the pandemic was raging just outside our doors and one would have a panic attack just going to the grocery store, this story transported us to the sparkling blue waters of the French Riviera with a searingly passionate romance that made us escape real life for a little while.
Part of our best books of 2021 series.
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