6 Romances For the Rest of Us by Alys Murray
My journey to falling in love with romances is a bit of an unconventional one. While I always loved a good love story, I actually didn’t really fall head-over-heels for romances until I was in college. During a film studies lecture, a fellow student declared that the reason studios didn’t distribute or produce more stories by and about women was that the general public, “just didn’t buy or spend money,” on “stories like that.”
Out of that conversation and some examination of my own purchasing practices, I made a pledge to myself: For the next year, I would only purchase and read books by female or nonbinary authors. Quickly, I discovered that the most reliable place in the bookstore to find books my female authors—and, frankly, the most reliable place to find books that I would actually, you know, enjoy—was the romance section.
For a year, I basically spent all of my free time devouring romances. And when I’d thoroughly picked over the selection in my local bookstore, I turned to both the brick-and-mortar library and the digital library to help feed my voracious appetite.
But after about four months of running through book after book on my commutes to and from school and during my pre-bedtime reading hour, I discovered some patterns that bothered me.
The bookstore and the library had some troubling similarities in their purchasing practices. Almost all of the books I’d bought or checked out were about thin, white, able-bodied, Christian or Christian-adjacent, cisgendered, young, American or British, heterosexual people falling in love within the confines of a typical heteronormative story.
Because of my own privilege (being white, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, etc., myself), I first noticed this in the way the thin heroines were framed. Stories would talk about heroes running their hands along the “flat planes” of the heroines stomach or villains would be characterized as fat, as if being fat were a reflection of one’s inner moral failings. As a fat woman, these small literary tics not only threw me out of the story, but in effect, made me feel as if the author herself didn’t necessarily like or care about people like me.
From there, I started looking more critically at who were—and importantly, weren’t—being given happy endings. What were the books I was choosing to buy and read and celebrate saying about who I, as a reader, felt was deserving of having their stories told? I didn’t like the answer. I was ashamed of the answer. In effect, I was contributing to the very problem I’d set out to help solve. Only, instead of marginalizing women by not choosing to listen to their stories, I was marginalizing marginalized voices by choosing to not listen to their stories.
So, I decided to change my reading and purchasing habits yet again. With the help of the internet (#ownvoices, WOCinRomance, etc.,), I tried to find what I started calling, “Romance for the Rest of Us,” the books that reflect the world as it really is and centers voices who have traditionally been underrepresented in our romance landscape. And in honor of my first novella, Tea and a Cowboy, which features a plus-sized heroine like me, I wanted to share six of my favorite romances for the rest of us.
Which is to say, romances for the majority of us.
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
When I first started to diversify my reading list, I found that one of the hardest niches to fill was the plus-sized heroine in Regency romances. While “curvy” and big-breasted heroines abound, finding a woman who looks like me but in a Jane Austen get-up was incredibly difficult. Enter Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner. With sharp comedy, political intrigue and a romance to swoon over, this book hits all of the right notes. The tagline is, Contains elections, confections, and a number of erections. What’s not to love?
Heartbeat Braves by Pamela Sanderson
The entire Crooked Rock series is beautiful, but it must be read from the start. And boy, is Heartbeat Braves one excellent way to start a trilogy. Heartbeat Braves is a deeply felt #ownvoices story revolving around the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center, and it’s perfect for everyone who loves rich, contemporary worldbuilding and a dreamy Beta-hero.
Soft on Soft by Em Ali
I love that this f/f contemporary romance has a teacup on the book cover, because sometimes, you need a book that’s just like a good cup of tea: warming, comforting, and completely satisfying. Soft on Soft is a slice-of-life romance with more focus on character-building than plot, and to its credit. By the time this book closes, you’ll thoroughly miss the characters and wish you could spend even more time in their company. This book is a soft, gentle joy, perfect for a rainy afternoon and a cup of tea.
Burning Bright: Four Hanukah Love Stories (Megan Hart, Stacey Agdern, K.K. Hendin, Jennifer Gracen)
As a certified Hallmark Movie Connoisseur (and Hallmark Publishing author), my favorite kind of romance is any kind of romance that features a holiday. There’s something about the joy and closeness of celebration that seems to bring out the best in people and the romantic in stories, and the four novellas in Burning Bright are no exception. In particular, Stacey Agdern’s tale of an impulsive interior designer planning hero Jon Adelman’s Best Hanukah Party Ever is an absolute joy, one that I come back to again and again when I’m in need of a sweet, joyful fix.
Love Game by Maggie Wells
Love Game by Maggie Wells has so many of my favorite things: sports, public feuding that results in private smooching, a badass woman doing her job better than any man ever could…The list goes on and on. This book is competence porn at its best, with a heroine hell-bent on demanding respect for her incredible work as a coach, and the sparks that fly between her and the hero are absolutely spicy. Romance novels with characters over 40 are pretty rare, and this book reminds us what a shame that truly is.
The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert
What is there to say about Talia Hibbert that hasn’t been said already? The woman is one of the greatest authors working out there today, and The Princess Trap is one of my Desert Island Reads. To get a bit personal, I found this book when I was in the depths of my eating disorder, at a time in my life when the phrase (inspired by Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle), “Fat girls don’t become princesses,” was a rallying cry on many of the pro-bulimia forums I visited. With its plus-size, badass black heroine and its absolutely dreamy leading man who fall hard and perfectly for each other, reading The Princess Trap was a revelation in self-love. Oh, and it’s really sexy. I mean, really, really sexy. And who doesn’t love a sexy royalty romance?
All of these books are a treat, and I’m so excited to get to share them with you! As a community, Romancelandia can and must embrace diverse voices and perspectives. Remember, happy endings are for everyone! Read all of the happy endings that you can and celebrate happy endings for all.
Happy reading, everyone!
Tea and a Cowboy - A Ridgewood Ranch Romance Book 1
Cliff Masters could not be more different from his best friend's younger sister Bridgette Shaw. While he's out roping cattle at his family's ranch, she is running a tea parlor in the town square. He loves jeans and dirt; she loves hostess aprons and proper etiquette.
But when Cliff's latest flame breaks up with him because of his rough attitude and lack of sophistication, he enlists Bridgette to help in hopes her lessons in refinement will win his girlfriend back.
However, the more time he spends with the curvy brunette, the less he's thinking about his ex and the more he's imagining Bridgette in his future.
Alys Murray is the author of The Christmas Company, soon to be released as a Hallmark Countdown to Christmas movie, as well as the upcoming Tea and a Cowboy novella from The Wild Rose Press and Society Girl from Entangled Publishing. She has an undergraduate degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and a Master's from King's College London. https://alysmurray.com/