Lately, I’ve found that when I finish a novel that I love – one that has left me breathless and immediately wanting more just like it – I tend to try to pinpoint exactly what it is about that novel that I loved. Was it the trope? If it was how it made me feel – what specifically triggered that feeling?
In doing this, I came up with a list of – for lack of a better word – things I love that happen in romance novels.
I created a video about this topic, but I also thought I’d share that list here on my blog.
I’ve paired each of the topics with a book recommendation or two, however, I do hope to create separate posts and videos for each of these with their own recommendations.
Of course, if you have any recommendations that pop into your mind as you are reading this post, please leave me a comment!
I didn’t realize this was something I loved in romance novels until I read Archer’s Voice. There is something about a hero who has some innocence about him, whether it be because he is a recluse like Archer or had a traumatic past like Zsadist from Lover Awakened by JR Ward or Zachariah from Keepsake by Sarina Bowen. There is something swoony about watching the couple fall in love and seeing the hero experience epic firsts.
For the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was in books that ripped my heart out of my chest when I’d read books that had this element in it until I read Truth or Beard by Penny Reid recently and realized that I am so attracted to desperate longing – particularly from the hero. Especially when the hero is like Duane who doesn’t want to rush anything because he has been waiting so long for the heroine. He’s not willing to cross any lines if it means that the long term isn’t an option.
This element goes hand in hand with the previous one. One of the best parts of forbidden romances is the longing. It’s almost guaranteed. As someone who, before meeting my husband, was extremely fickle, I’d always love the chase more than actually catching. When something is forbidden, it’s that much more attractive and in romance novels, when that HEA finally happens, it’s so, so satisfying. (Or it should be!)
I actually had trouble thinking of a book that did this really well, so please give me recommendations. I think a couple of the most recent books I read that did this really well were The Best Thing by Mariana Zapata and The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. For me, I much prefer the hero do all the groveling as opposed to the heroine. And, of course, whatever it is that he did to require groveling better not be too unforgivable, but also not something that should be easily forgiven. There absolutely has to be a good balance.
I’ve only found EPIC romances in fantasy and paranormal stories, I think because it is those magical/paranormal elements that come into play and take the romance to another level. It’s not just love, it’s absolute fate. The type of romance that is truly once in a lifetime, one in a million. The ultimate will always be A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas, but The Caraval series also has a pretty epic romance as well.
All the Swoon
Many of the things on this list can cause lots of swooning, but nothing quite had me swooning as much as Leo Loves Ares by Anyta Sunday. Swoon can be found in super sweet, simple moments like those found in Leo Loves Ares. Of course, in order for this to happen, you have to adore the couple and the romance has to be incredible to begin with. If a romance is good enough, almost any interaction between the characters is swoony.
I am so here for the moments in romance novels that make me cover my face and fake cry with humiliation for the character. I live for the moments in which the main characters make fools of themselves in front of their love interests. This happens in epic proportions in Wrong and Fling by Jana Aston and The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.
This, much like swooning, is basically guarantee if the romance novel is good enough. There are so many moments – some of them so seemingly small – that can send butterflies swirling like crazy. Honestly, everything on this list elicits butterflies. This is the #1 thing I hope for in romance novels when I read them. An example of a small moment that sent a million butterflies swirling was in The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata when Aiden is massaging Vanessa’s leg after one of her long marathon training runs. It is the build-up to this moment that made the butterflies go crazy, and if it wasn’t built up right, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but this moment was so huge in the slow burn of the entire book.
I love it when romance novels manage to break through predictability (which isn’t always a bad thing, btw!) and make you truly wonder how the hell the couple is going to ever end up together. This happened so many times in My Darling Duke by Stacy Reid. So many times in romance when there is something that is keeping the couple apart, the solution seems so simple, so I really appreciate it when a romance novel can keep you on your toes and truly make you worry that things won’t work out – even though we all know it wouldn’t be a romance novel without a Happily Ever After or Happy For Now.
I love this the most when the love interest is wonderstruck by the main character. Those moments when they just can’t believe how lucky they are. That it is really or finally happening to them. This often happens in tandem with longing – like when a hero has been pining after the heroine.
This, like forbidden romance, is probably one of the most popular on this list. I mean, obviously, my go to for a guaranteed amazing slow burn is Mariana Zapata. She is the queen. Slow burns pave the way for such an incredible pay off in the end. You are taken on a journey with these romances. And, best of all, you are given the opportunity to slowly fall in love right alongside the main character.
Of course, I adore this in the romance, but I also love loyalty from side characters as well. But, since we are talking romance specifically, I absolutely adore when the characters are loyal even when there are big obstacles between them, even when they are angry or betrayed, they still will be there when they are needed. I’m looking at you, John Ambrose McClaren from PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han.
I get the draw of dark romances, I really do. I even sometimes can understand the draw of the bullying trope… sometimes. But, man, do I appreciate an incredibly healthy relationship. One where the characters communicate beautifully, they support each other, they motivate one another, and, yes, they are loyal. I know, it’s hard to create conflict when the couple’s relationship is healthy, but I promise it can be done. Check out Misadventures of a College Girl by Lauren Rowe for proof.
I know, the obsessive hero has been done incredibly poorly many times and, yes, it can easily be creepy – especially if you imagine someone acting that way toward you, but in a romance novel? Give me a well-written romance that has a hero that holds such deep reverence for the heroine like in With Visions of Red by Trisha Wolfe. I mean, Colton calls Sadie a “goddess,” and goddammit, she is. That’s probably the most important part of this working in novels – the heroine or whoever is the object of this feeling needs to be damn deserving. I better be obsessed with them, too.
This is very similar to Impossibility, however, it’s less… umm… impossible and more that you’re just not sure how things will work out, no necessarily IF they will work out. You don’t feel like the ground is solid beneath your feet as your reading. Everything seems like it could fall apart at any moment because things are so precarious. I’m thinking of an upcoming release, That’s Not a Thing by Jacqueline Freidland. The entire time I was anticipating everything falling apart and it kept me on the edge of my seat wondering WTF was going to happen.
This is one that I feel like I didn’t realize I appreciated so much until I read about it in The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and Marriage for One by Ella Maise. When you get to see the vulnerability of one character alongside the love interest stepping up (or vice versa), it strengthens the relationship and your belief in it significantly.
This is particularly great in romcoms. I mean, you can’t really have a great romcom without it, but honestly, it can be pulled off in any genre that has romance. Particularly if the romance is a hate-to-love. If it is a romcom and done well, it’ll have you laughing out loud (hey, Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, I’m looking at you). If it is in any other genre, it can make you grin from ear-to-ear.
Chemistry is a must in any romance. Period. Without it, it just doesn’t work. There is no buy-in, no rooting for the characters if you don’t feel like they need to be together. This is what separates bland, meh, romances from the ALL THE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE romance novels. But when a romance can throw in burning chemistry from the second the characters meet? All the yes. And I’m not talking about having the characters just constantly thinking that the love interest is SO HOT (in fact that annoys the crap out of me – stop. I get it. They’re attractive. Please move on.) I don’t want to be told about the chemistry. Show me. With conversation, with body language. I feel like Lauren Rowe does this so well in all of her books. She throws so much chemistry into her romance novels, she’s like a damn scientist.
Much like longing, the buildup and tension between two characters makes endings so much more satisfying. The Hating Game and Birthday Girl has some of the best tension.