Romances sometimes get a bad rap for being too formulaic and predictable. Just the other day at a dinner party, someone asked me what type of books I liked to read. Despite knowing there was nothing wrong with my choice in reading material, I hung my head in shame and mumbled out “romance” with my checks aflame. But today, I’m here to make up for that breach in personal fortitude by reiterating what I’ve always argued: the romance genre is full of diverse stories from diverse points of view told in new and creative ways. We all know what the naysayers say: romance novels require a main couple, sex, and a happily ever after. But for me, a romance novel is any story where the main journey in the book involves two people finding and falling in love—regardless of who they are and how their story unfolds or ends.
So the next time someone tells you all romance novels are formulaic, just point them to this list of 6 romances with unexpected twists on the genre.
Sinner’s Creed, by Kim Jones
Twist: Non-traditional Plot
The first in the Sinner’s Creed Motorcycle Club series, this book will take you for a real emotional ride. I can’t tell you what makes this book so different from most books without revealing major spoilers, but it breaks the mold so hard, that many have argued it’s not a romance at all. Real life includes love and tragedy, and this book has both in spades. It follows Dirk, a troubleshooter for his MC, and Saylor Samson, who has always been drawn to the mysterious Dirk. Fate brings them together over and over again, but now fate has a new test for them, and it’s absolutely gut-wrenching. You’ll fall in love right along with this couple as they face the types of challenges you never expect to see in a romance. A book that deals with similar real-world issues, albeit in a fantasy setting, is J.R. Ward’s The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood #13).
Flowers From the Storm, Laura Kinsale
Twist: “Imperfect” Hero
A common complaint I hear about romance novels (from the uninitiated, of course) is that they all feature “perfect” heroes, who are successful, smart, traditionally handsome, and physically able. While that may have been true traditionally, the genre has been moving towards more diverse heroes for years now. And you just can’t make a list like this without including Laura Kinsale’s groundbreaking Flowers From the Storm (published in 1992), a historical romance following Christian and Maddy. Towards the beginning of the book Christian suffers from a stroke, leaving his speech and his ability to move affected. To society, the once brilliant mathemetician transformed into a raving madman overnight, but his mind still works, making him increasingly frustrated at dealing with being imprisoned inside his own body. For a more contemporary romance, Christie Walker Bos’s The Write Man for Her features a smart and compelling hero, who just happens to be paralyzed from the waist down.
Tangled, by Emma Chase
Twist: All-Male POV
A common format for romance novels is alternating perspectives between the main couple, usually in third person. It’s almost expected at this point, which is what made Emma Chase’s Tangled different when it hit the shelves in 2013. You see, it’s written entirely in the male perspective. Drew Evens, one-time player and current sufferer of unrequited lust (or maybe love?), tells us readers just how he came to meet Kate (and how she came to be his downfall) in his own, hilarious words. And at times, it feels like Drew is right there in the room with you, as he directly addresses the reader. For another male only point-of-view romance, check out Shay Savage’s Surviving Raine. Additionally, books like Jamie McGuire’s Walking Disaster and E.L. James’s Grey tell the heroes’ stories after the heroine has already had her say.
Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
Twist: Absentee Heroine
Another book told almost exclusively from the hero’s perspective is Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, but is has another added twist: we (along with the hero) get to read the heroine’s emails. You see, Lincoln is the “internet security officer” at his company, which means he’s the person in charge of monitoring employee e-mails. Everyone knows he’s there, reading their e-mails, but friends Beth and Jennifer either don’t care or forget, because they continue to send each other incredibly personal (and incredibly hilarious) e-mails. Lincoln knows he should report them, but he can’t seem to stop himself from being drawn to Beth. Until he finally realizes he’s in love with her, despite the fact that neither he (nor the reader) has ever had contact with her outside of reading her e-mails.
Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay
Twist: Epistolary Format
Written mostly in one-sided epistolarly form, Dear Mr. Knightly is a modern re-telling of Jean Webster’s classic, Daddy-Long-Legs. An unknown donor dubbed “Mr. Knightly” offers to pay Samantha Moore’s way through graduate school on the condition that Sam write him regular letters updating him on her progress. The more Sam writes, the more her letters start to sound like a diary, and we see her journey from scared foster child into an adult who can no longer hide behind her fictional favorite characters. Eventually she starts to allow people into her life, including getting into a relationship with successful novelist Alex Powell, all of which readers learn about through Sam’s letters to Mr. Knightly. If you’re interested in other romances that unfold through an epistolary format, pick up Meg Cabot’s The Boy Next Door, which takes place exclusively through e-mail communication, and Ceclia Ahern’s Love, Rosie.
Autumn Spring, by Shelley Thrasher
Twist: Non-traditional Heroines
Sometimes, when you read a romance (especially a historical), the heroine is twenty-six and “too old to marry.” But romance and love can arrive at anytime in someone’s life, not just when they’re a sweet young thing, which is what makes Autumn Spring so refreshing. It features two women in their sixties, Bree and Linda, as circumstance bring them together in a small East Texas town. The romance between these two women is slow burn, and while they might not have sex in the book, this is undeniably a love story. But if you’re looking for a more fast-paced romance between a mature couple, another excellent book is Jennifer Crusie’s Fast Women, featuring a forty-two-year-old divorced women. Like all of Crusie’s books, it’s funny and sexy, with plenty of female empowerment.