Best Romance Novels To Challenge The Way You Think About Love

The romantic genre is wide, historic,and often timeless. From Romeo and Juliet to Twilight, there are so many novels out there, as well as theater in the first instance, that shine a literary light on romance.

Romance Novels To Challenge The Way You Think About Love

What’s more, the romantic genre label is applied in other sub-genres, such as Twilight, a work of vampire fiction, as well as young adult fiction, science fiction, and more – but there are many other examples of romance in pretty much every other genre.

With that said, as there are so many romance novels, it can be hard to find good recommendations or hear which novels actually shaped the genre, and which break the mold.

In this article we’re going to do our best to cover some popular, some classic, and some that we feel are important, as well as covering those which cross into other genres.

We hope that within this list you can find a new romance novel to read, so keep reading to hear our list and learn more about the romance genre at large. Find out what we chose below!

Romantic Fiction Novels

Below is our list of the best romance novels out there.

Twilight (2005) By Stephanie Meyer


We mentioned Twilight – so why not cover it first. This novel was arguably the first vampire novel to successfully breach the mainstream romantic novel stream.

Many people read Twilight purely for its love story, which arguably isn’t young adult fiction in essence.

In any case, the story revolves around the romance between Edward Cullen, an ancient vampire stuck in his 17-year-old body, and Bella a seemingly normal Midwestern girl.

Meyer uses the metaphor of Edward’s vampirism to demonstrate his insatiable love for Bella.

He literally wants to eat her and suck her blood, which is a romantic dream for some, but he ultimately loves her and his willingness to be with her, while he is ultimately in a lot of physical pain, like a cat in heat, is quite romantic.

Equally, Bella pines for Edward too and is quite happy to consent him to turn her into a vampire and be his vampire bride, but Edward even refuses this to her, not willing for her to suffer the same affliction and curse he does – so romantic.

There’s even a romantic love interest and somewhat of a triangle between Bella, Edward, and a werewolf named Jacob.

Jacob really loves Bella and is an interesting antithesis to Edward, who helps her get over the latter lover.

Although that’s in the following novel New Moon, another advantage of this book, if you enjoy it, is that there’s a whole series written by Meyer detailing basically all of Bella and Edwards love story and vampire adventures.

If you want a soppy love story that has more to it than just your domestic romance, try Twilight. The metaphor of their vampirism is much more than just visuals but is an intriguing way for us to conceive love.


  • Interesting take on your generic love story
  • Full series to enjoy and watch the romance play out
  • Fun settings, filled with more than just romance tropes, but action and fantasy too


  • Some won’t enjoy the vampire angle
  • Perhaps more ideal for a slightly younger audience

The Fault In Our Stars (2012) By John Green

The Fault in Our Stars

Okay, if you want a good cry, this book is both incredibly sad and also really life affirming in many ways, with a romance story like no other, that kind of gets to the heart of love, romance, and relationships itself – by the end.

The story is narrated by Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs.

She attends a cancer support group after being basically forced by her mother. Yet, through attending these meetings she meets Augustus Waters, a recovering cancer patient who lost his leg to cancer, they are supporting a friend.

Together the two bond over their love of death defining books, particularly one by a Dutch author.

Musing on both death and the ending of the novel itself, Augustus writes to the author of the book, and both he and Hazel get a chance to go to Amsterdam and meet him through the Make a Wish Foundation.

There they realize he was not all that it seemed, but they get a great weekend in Amsterdam where their love really bubbles over.

After confessing their love, their illnesses both change and color the rest of their relationship, making things harder than it should be for the two.

Without ruining what occurs, the two love each other throughout their periods of illness and they choose to spend what feels like their final moments together, which really gets to the heart of romance.

They chose to be with each other knowing they will soon be apart forever, and the whole novel is very poetic and sad in this way, but gets to the heart of why we have romantic relationships, why we let people get close to us, and fundamentally helps you rationalize death, and endings more generally.


  • Framing of the romance gets to the heart of relationships and why they exist
  • Frames love story is interesting and challenging way


  • Particularly sad and dark, deals with topics like death.
  • No happy endings here

The Seven Husband Of Evelyn Hugo (2017) By Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel

This is a quite interesting work of romantic fiction that can be quite meta, dealing with the representation of love in actual fiction, particularly films, but also being unique in that the romantic side of the story is told to us from the character, rather than through first person point of view.

Moreover, the novel deals with love in all its forms, abusive relationships, heterosexual relationships, homosexual relationships, and much more.

The main character is Evelyn Hugo, but the narrator interviews her. Her story of romance, her seven ‘husbands’, are recounted to the narrator in an interview format.

Aged 79 Evelyn, an old Hollywood actress, is particularly willing to tell all, with Monique, our narrator, an eager ear.

The scrapes Evelyn gets herself into cover love in all its facets, and while a particularly interesting piece of historical fiction, the way romance is dealt with is particularly interesting.

I particularly enjoy how some earlier husbands are framed within the films that Evelyn starred in, in classic romance films such as Little Women, Anna Karenina, and more racy romances really show nuanced understandings of romance and its depictions in art, as well as its nasty realities in our lives.

For something really entertaining, gripping, but also an original representation of love that can provide some reflections on how love is depicted in art itself, as well as what romance really is in real life, this book from Reid is one worth giving a go.


  • Reflects on the representation of love in art itself
  • Fundamentally about romance, but is framed in a gripping drama
  • Original story telling


  • Some quite dark topics discussed
  • Quite sad at points

Things We Hide From The Light (2023) By Lucy Score

Things We Hide from the Light (Knockemout Series, 2)

This novel is part of Lucy Score’s Knockemout trilogy, and this delves into the relationship of one couple. That said, you don’t technically need to read the other novels unless you enjoy this one.

This novel follows Nash, the male protagonist, who is recovering from being shot, suddenly becoming a shell of his previously charismatic self.

While Nash is married, he has become besotted with his new neighbor, a young and attractive woman who has seemingly rejuvenated his previously damaged ego.

Yet, Lina, his neighbor, has her own secrets, her own goals, and Nash is only at her whim. If Nash finds out why she’s really in the city, then he may not forgive her, but Lina’s only in it for the fling with a local policeman anyway.

When Nash’s plans change and he decides to go steady with Lina, truths are revealed and their relationship reaches its climatic end.

For your classic contemporary romance, Score is a great writer and does well to draw her readers in with compelling characters and entertaining stories, ideal for those who enjoy a simmering romance novel they can really sink their teeth into without too much frill.


  • Generic contemporary romance novel
  • Good for a simple romantic narrative
  • Good amount of material to sink into


  • Some find it a little slow burning
  • It can be a bit too run of the mill and lacks a little nuance

If You Still Recognize Me (2023) By Cynthia So

If You Still Recognize Me

This is a heartwarming tale of a bisexual, British-Chinese girl in a coming of age tale, a perfect piece of young adult fiction that deals with love in a tender way, a book that any adult would enjoy too.

In the first-person narrative we follow Elsie in a summer of discovery.

A self-proclaimed romantic, Elsie just wants to be her unadulterated self, but her relationship to identity can be skewed by others, both her national identity and her sexual identity.

Elsie is a proud bisexual, but her family’s traditional outlook makes her feel atrophied from it.

Elsie has to experience her identity freely in online spaces where she makes friends in her unadulterated form, free from other’s influence, and is where she meets Ada.

Ada understands Elsie and presents a relationship where she can genuinely be herself. Yet, Ada lives oceans away from Elsie, and while they can be as honest as they want over the internet, it feels like it will mean nothing until they meet in person.

Just when things feel normal, Elsie’s long time best friend Joan comes back into her life and previous feelings she had for Joan also enter the fray.

In this summer of love we see Elsie deal with old fires while new ones start, she has a choice to make and there is suspense as she sees where Elsie’s heart truly lies.


  • Great representation
  • Deals with identity as well as romance
  • Great accessible book for a younger audience
  • Written well enough that adults will easily enjoy


  • Not too heavy on the drama
  • More risks could have been taken in terms of narrative

Indigo By Beverly Jenkins (1996)


This is a classic novel from Beverly Jenkins that blends romance with historical fiction successfully.

As a child Hester Wyatt herself was a slave, and after successfully escaping herself she is now a dedicated member of the Michigan Underground Railroad, an organization offering free passage to other slaves who have escaped.

The novel starts as she is introduced to another man who requires hiding, another smuggler known as ‘Black Daniel’, a smuggler himself from the North, Hester has to hide him.

She finds him pretty arrogant and annoying to start with and questions her own safety when asked to hide him.

Galen Vachon, or ‘Black Daniel’, is also questioning his safety when he awakes under the care of Hester, and realizes she is much more feisty and hard handed than her small and young frame may suggest.

What she doesn’t realize is what Galen has left behind, turning his back on his lavish life in the North to help provide freedom to those in the South.

As Galen recovers under the watchful eye of Hester, he realizes her innocence and strength balances her into a powerful woman that Galen can’t help but deny feelings for.

But Hester has trusted her own heart before and it has led her into even more dangerous places.

As they both search for freedom for others, can they find the love in this dark setting that will ultimately set them both free, beyond what they may imagine.

There’s lots of classic and thrilling angst between the two who are resistant to love and have been made hardened to its charms.

But the setting itself provides a lot of suspense as they are both in positions of danger. It’s great to see Hester in the role of captor or leader as Galen pines for her, but both make for compelling characters.


  • Quite a boundary pushing novel for when it was written
  • Compelling characters keep interest in the narrative
  • A great romance story told in an unnerving setting.


  • Can feel a bit drawn out for some readers

It Ends With Us (2016) By Colleen Hoover

It Ends with Us: A Novel (1)

Lily Bloom has just graduated from college and is moving to Boston with the hopes of finally starting her own flower shop.

Yet, as she becomes an adult she finally has the chance to really deal with the death of her father who was recently revealed to be abusive towards her mother.

Lily resents them both for supporting the abuse in the relationship and not letting her know about it.

She read her childhood diaries as a way of processing what it was like, and became interested with her first love, Atlas Corrigan who left her but promised to return to her.

Lily ends up meeting Ryle Kincaid during this tender period of rationalization and their mutual attraction turns into a relationship.

Things begin to fall short as it seems Ryle doesn’t want something long term while Lily, still processing her mother and fathers issues, wants something for the long term.

Yet, they continue to meet as Lily opens her floral shop and starts a proper relationship.

One night Ryle actually hits Lily in a rage filled episode, deciding they are different for her parental relationship, Lily forgives him and says if he hurts her again then it’s over.

Lily runs into Atlas by accident, but interested in his return into their life they secretly start an affair.

As Ryle continues to abuse Lily in rage fuelled episodes her relationship with Atlas grows.

As Ryle finds out about Atlas, Lily finds herself in her mothers shoes and has to now deal with her own abusive relationship as she also deals with potentially truer feelings with Atlas.

The novel is particularly suspenseful, full of love, but also quite dark with its subject. Hoover tells of how hard it was to write the book as it was essentially about her own mother and father, being ‘the hardest book I’ve ever written’.

There is lots of suspense and angst as we see Lily trying to stop a cycle of abuse, while also trying to remain open to love herself.


  • Suspenseful while also dealing with romance
  • Compelling characters clearly taken from real life
  • Desire to know what happens


  • Some critical of how it deals with abuse
  • Dark subject matter, trigger warnings necessary.

Seven Days In June (2021) By Tia Williams

Seven Days in June

This is a fun novel from Tia Williams that details the love affair between two broken authors who both have to deal with their own traumas to rekindle an old love affair that was always meant to be.

Eva Mercy is a Brooklyn native and also an erotica writer. She runs into an old love affair Shane Hall, also an author who was known for being a recluse, with it being a surprise he had shown up to the literary event they unexpectedly meet at.

When they do unexpectedly meet, old sparks fly again from that week of romance they spent years earlier.

While they try to act cool, both can’t deny their own chemistry or the fact they have secretly been willing each other to meet through their own books, seemingly writing their meeting right into existence.

In the middle of this love affair, they have to ensure that this isn’t another fling again.

In order for things to work they both have to deal with previous traumas they need to get over to be together, such as the reclusive Shane breaking her Eva’s heart all those years ago.

So before Shane seemingly disappears again, Eva needs answers so that she can move on, whether that includes him or not, or will this just be a repeat of those romantic seven days in June once again.

This is a keen observation of how love occurs for many. It’s a story of how love always comes back around, but also how love is affected by many other relationships and identity crises, as well as a story of Blackness in modern America within the Arts.


  • Lots of emotions
  • Many can relate to the love story
  • Seems like a real depiction of what life is like
  • Well written, realistic characters


  • Lots of cultural reference that can go over some people’s heads

Book Lovers (2022) By Emily Henry

Book Lovers

This is a fun little meta novel that is almost a direct message to many book lovers themselves, which makes for many witty moments and clever reflections.

Ora Stephens is the female main character in the book, she herself inhales books and is constantly nose deep in at least one, making her the perfect fit for her job role of a cut-throat literary agent.

Like many bookworms, she is quite insular, and often compares herself to the female characters she enjoys reading. But is she bookish enough to become a strong female heroine herself?

Her sister, Libby, puts this theory to the test by forcing her sister to agree to go on a sister’s holiday together to Sunshine Falls.

Nora is determined to become a female heroine in her own story, but rather than romantic settings with a farmhand, as she imagines, she is instead greeted constantly by a book editor she knows from the city.

As she keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra in coincidental and unlikely ways, as if someone is weaving him into her own narrative, she must decide whether Charlie can be the hero to her heroine, whether the world is trying to tell her something by their constant meetups, or if literary romance is just a mirage, and she should settle for the reality that affronts her.

This is both a fun and strangely real novel, with its many meta references to the act of writing a novel itself the novel proves to be quite fun and witty and in that way creates some real reflections on literature, book readers, and how stories actually play out in reality, as well as romance.


  • Is both chick-lit and quite a complex piece of literature in its references
  • Witty and funny as well as emotional and romantic
  • Effects interestingly on book lovers themselves, which many will relate to


  • The level of meta reference makes it a little too self reflexive and non-immersive for some

Goodbye To Berlin (1939) By Christopher Isherwood

Goodbye to Berlin

This is an interesting novel that is a celebration of the Weimar Republic in the days before the Nazi Regime.

It follows semi-autobiographical events that truly happened to the author in real life, albeit with the characters names changed, while Christopher Isherwood is the character we follow in the book and also the novel’s author.

Christopher takes a literary sojourn into Berlin from England during the years of 1929-1932.

While working on a novel in Berlin, Isherwood explores the taboo nightlife of Weimar Berlin, being interested in this alternative nightlife himself as a gay man.

He lives in a boarding house where he meets many people, such as a brazen and proud prostitute, a Japanese man, and also the English ‘flapper’, a type of burlesque dancer, named Sally Bowles.

Sally and Christopher soon become roommates after they both mutually lack the funds for a single room. Here he learns of her performing life, her sexual life, as well as the lovers she meets.

Sally soon becomes pregnant as a result of her sexual activities, and Christopher facilitates an abortion. They soon part ways amicably after sharing a large part of their year together.

In the summer, Christopher spends his time in a beach house where he meets a gay couple, Peter and Otto, struggling with their own sexual identities in pre-Nazi Berlin.

Christopher ends up living with Otto’s parents back in Berlin and during this time he meets a Jewish girl named Natalie who owns a department store.

As the Nazi regime gains traction in Germany Christopher is forced to leave after learning Natalie’s brother was killed by Nazis, and the novel reflects on how most of Christopher’s friends are dead.

“This evening is a dress rehearsal of a disaster. It is like the last night of an epoch.”

The novel is very interesting for many reasons. Firstly, it’s a very pro-choice, pro-homosexual and anti-fascism novel, which is arguably very original for a novel that was written in 1939.

A gay man himself, Isherwood is documenting how love itself is found even in the embers of the Weimar Republic where Nazism would eventually grow without resistance.

The novel effectively documents how love has an unyielding factor, and occurs even in the darkest corners of our society, in the quiet before some of the darkest times of our world.

Isherwood himself seems to deal with whether love itself exists, and the novel shows that it clearly does even in this dark time that Isherwood documents for us.


  • Different take on romance
  • Gets to the heart of why love itself exists
  • Historical narrative as well
  • Truly interesting recounting of true events that you can’t really get anywhere else
  • Uniquely left leaning and liberal for such an old book


  • Some dark subject, trigger warnings necessary
  • Some cultural context necessary that some won’t be interested in

They Both Die At The End (2018) By Adam Slivera

They Both Die at the End (They Both Die at the End Series, 1)

This is a really fun speculative fiction novel that frames a quite interesting LGBTQ+ romance within it. The book contains a captivating essay as well as a behind the scenes look at the actual book’s original idea and how it was fleshed out, which many will enjoy.

This novel is part of a wider world created by Adam Silvera where a corporation called ‘Death-Cast’ predicts when you are going to die and lets you know in advance.

This alternate reality of speculative fiction allows Silvera to explore the connections of love in these final moments, and this story is simply one love story within this world.

This story is about Rufus and Mateo, two Latin American non-heterosexual men who have been told in this alternative reality that they are going to die, and this is their final day on Earth.

Neither want to spend it alone, but luckily there is an app that brings those told they are going to die, together, on their ‘End Day’.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers but end up brought together by fate and plan to have the best final day of their lives, experiencing a lifetime of love within this final day.

As Silvera details the tour de force of their final day together, those who they meet, and the connections they make as two lovers, he also provides interesting backstory in various chapters to the corporation Death Cast itself.

The novel is quite wide-ranging and can make some wider reflection on life and death, while also creating some fascinating reflections on love with the unique romance narrative Silvera tells of Mateo and Rufus.

For those who enjoy romance and stories of love, but want a little more than your generic ‘boy meets girl’ story this is worth a read.


  • Unique weir story that frames the romance narrative
  • Romantic story itself is touching, unique, and boundary pushing
  • The wider narrative that Silvera tells can make reflections that go beyond the romance genre


  • Some won’t enjoy the wider narrative stuff
  • Some, ironically, feel the story isn’t as poignant or emotional as it should be

The Love Hypothesis (2021) By Ali Hazelwood

The Love Hypothesis

If you love a romance story and you also love a bit of a STEM theme in your novels, then this could be a worthwhile read.

It can be quite sultry and saucy on the surface but underneath it’s actually quite a well fleshed out frame for the romantic story it houses, that reflect on how we look at love and relationships themselves.

The novel follows Olive Smith, a PhD student, after losing lots of loved ones in various ways she is skeptical about true romance, and has a hard time with long term relationship and commitment.

After breaking up with a previous boyfriend who helped her avoid conversations about love, her best friend Anh is asking the uncomfortable questions about her love life once more.

In order to prove her friend Anh wrong, and show her she has moved on into another relationship, Olive kisses the first person she sees which turns out to be Adam.

Adam is your classic love interest, brooding, intelligent, handsome, buy a tyrannical lab partner everyone avoids.

He agrees to support her in her lie, but Olive soon falls a little too much for her pretend lover. The comedic situations are thick and fast, until Olive has to deal with genuine romance without self sabotaging herself.

The only thing more complicated than her degree, and harder than actually admitting to Adam that she genuinely fancies him, is putting her own issues with love under the microscope.

But in the end Olive has to really face her past traumas and issues as an adult if she really wants to have any actual relationship with anyone in the future, let alone Adam.

If you want a silly, entertaining, funny, romantic story that has an undercurrent of seriousness but is ultimately just a romp to read, then Hazelwood’s story could be for you, especially if you love the context of STEM.


  • Easy to read
  • Silly and funny parts that keep it light
  • Entertaining scrapes
  • Not overly serious


  • Not serious enough for some
  • Too much chick-lit and not enough genuine story
  • Some just really dislike the twee characters and surface level plot

The Spanish Love Deception (2021) By Elena Armas

The Spanish Love Deception: A Novel

This novel has gained a lot of attraction among TikTok book clubs, and has proved a successful Young Adult fiction novel that is entertaining and has everything you could want in a romance novel, both for adults and younger readers.

It’s your classic romantic conundrum, you need a date for your sisters wedding, roll opening credits – Cataline Martín is a Spanish woman who lives in NYC, and she’s excited for her sister’s wedding back in Spain, until she realizes her whole family and ex partner will be there, waiting to see what she has achieved in life across the pond.

Unwilling to disappoint them all, she needs to convince someone to take the long flight to Spain so that she can show her family she has moved on in the world.

Enter Aaron Blackford the attractive but generally insufferable co-worker of Catalina.

She’s desperate and with Aaron her only chance at getting a date, she indulges Aaron in a trip to Spain in a classic enemies-to-lovers story.

Suddenly, when they are in Spain, it seems she had underestimated Aaron who seems to be using the trip to prove he actually loved Catalina the whole time.

Aaron seemingly knows everything about her, in a cute way, and she can’t tell if he is serious or just taking the fake love story a little too far.

Some find this novel quite mind-numbing, the characters are written in a way that either endears you toward them in a fandom way, hence TikTok book clubs, or you are an adult and you can see through to their obvious and occasionally raging character flaws.

For some it is overwritten, excruciatingly long, and a little strange at points, whereas others enjoy the pacing, the tension, the kitsch love affair that unfolds.


  • Light reading
  • Classic enemy to lover story
  • Paced out into a longer story for those who want it


  • Some poorly written and explicit sexual content
  • Plenty of trigger warnings necessary
  • Weirdly stylized characters
  • Some find it very drawn out and pointless; it’s over 500 pages
  • Divisive

Where One Goes (2015) By B N Toler

Where One Goes

This is quite an unconventional romance novel that goes beyond the genre to comment on things outside love and even life itself, but is rooted in your classic love triangle romance with all the tropes fans of the genre will want to see.

The novel follows Charlotte, when an accident results in her being able to speak to the dead.

She can’t summon them or transcend into the ghost realm or anything but is left to communicate and be haunted by the death in transit, those left waiting to cross over until their unfinished affairs find resolution.

In order to pass them, and stop them haunting her life, Charlotte has to help these ghosts purely for peace of mind.

This is no glamorous gift, Charlotte’s life sucks and is quite dark. By helping the dead she has no time to herself and is running out of money, with little promise for her own living life.

Suddenly Ike McDermott, a dead soldier, enters her life and things seem more hopeful.

He somehow brings joy into her life, helping her smile more, and while he is the best man she’s ever met, a dream lover, he’s unfortunately quite dead.

Ike refuses to pass into his next life as he isn’t at peace with his own death. His own brother George has fallen apart since he died and he needs Charlotte to help him finally reach peace and pass into somewhere hopefully better.

When Charlotte meets George he too is in tatters just as Ike told her, but George is alive. While Ike loves her and she loves him they can’t do anything about invisible worlds of life and death that separate them.

Equally, while George has his own promise as a lover, being pretty similar to his brother, he has his own ghosts in the closet he needs to exhume before he can be an actual relationship with Charlotte could even be considered.

Each relationship, with the dead and the living, presents its own issues and reflects its own comments about romance and much further beyond this.

In truth the novel proves to be really nuanced and complex, with loads of interesting points and reflections.

It blends the paranormal with romance in a way that is true to both genres and avoids the obvious pitfalls that may come with this territory.


  • Unique story and plot
  • Well written characters that are likable
  • Reflects on life and death as well as romance
  • Some equally poignant, enchanting, and harrowing moments throughout the book


  • Some won’t enjoy the paranormal elements
  • Can be a little too dark for those who want an easy read

The Enchanting Life Of Adam Hope (2013) By Rhonda Riley

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope: A Novel

This is a unique and fun take on your generic romance novel.

While it starts out as a generic romance novel and seemingly pushes to be as normal as possible, the actual main characters and plot are like something from a sci-fi novel, but the sci-fi label is actively fought here in the much more suitable generic label of romance novel.

The novel focuses on Evelyn, a young woman who is suddenly left in charge of her rural farm.

Everything is normal until she comes across what seems to be a badly burned soldier. When Evelyn takes them back to heal up, it becomes clear that this soldier isn’t what she or the reader thinks at all.

Firstly, the gender is ambiguous but more pertinently it seems to heal very quickly, and when recognizably humanoid in its features, the creature starts to look like Evelyn.

Without divulging the entire plot, they become inseparable, and the creature becomes Adam.

Adam and Evelyn fall in love and do all the classic romance stuff, but only the reader and the main characters know at least part of the truth.

It’s important to point out this isn’t really a sci-fi novel, although it sounds like one.

While Adam’s origin and being is really confusing, never really explained, and a bit spooky to say the least, it’s actually quite a complicated metaphor about love.

Adam’s mysterious being and background is ultimately a metaphor about the things we can never learn about our partners.

In the most extreme circumstances presented to us in the novel, we don’t necessarily need to know everything about someone to love them, and those who are closest to us can often be complete mysteries.

The novel is written well and is extremely nuanced, requiring a little cognitive dissonance and indulgence from the reader to really extract the important bits of the novel.

If you enjoy a challenging read, that transports the reader into a hyperreal setting and situation with literary prose and narrative that is really stellar.

The novel will surprise many readers, ideal for those who want a little more from their romance novels.


  • Unique plot
  • Different take on romance genre
  • It is very concerned with making a larger statement about romance and love.
  • Eloquent and enchanting writing that really transports the reader


  • Some dislike the plot device of mystery
  • If you want succinct answers and a hand holding narrative, this isn’t it, it’s a thinker and challenging read

A Change In Altitude (2009) By Anita Shreve

A Change in Altitude: A Novel

This is a unique romance novel that ultimately deals with how trauma is rationalized and dealt with in relationships.

A newly-wed couple from the US decide to make a trip to Kenya from their home in New England.

The trip coincides with the female character Margaret realizing she’s perhaps overestimated what it takes to traverse this African country, and has also realized she doesn’t actually know her husband as well as she thinks.

Nonetheless, a British couple invites them to join a climbing expedition of Mount Kenya, which sounds like just the kind of reason why they took the trip to Kenya.

Climbing Mount Kenya is not a great idea for beginner climbers, of which Margaret is one.

She ends up holding the group up and her husband leaves her behind in this heightened situation.

As you can imagine some drama unfolds that leads to a tragedy.

The couple leave the mountain completely changed, and the novel details their lives in the year after the tragedy, detailing how they continue after such a tragedy and occasion occurred in their lives.

The novel is half historical fiction as it details a lot of the history of Kenya at the time, using it as a metaphor for the wider novel, and also details the wider history of America as it was up to the 70s when the novel was set.

Ultimately some find the metaphor and novel to be compelling, perhaps relating to its main character.

But for many they don’t understand the nuances of climbing enough to really empathize with the novel main action, or understand its true meaning inside the context of climbing.

Overall it is an interesting novel and something slightly different for those who want more from their romance novels, but does have a fun setting, interesting characters, and is ideal for those who enjoy historical fiction.


  • Unique plot
  • Intoxicating setting reader is transported to
  • High tension at points
  • Has a wider message about trauma and how we deal with it


  • Context of climbing isn’t familiar to some readers
  • Characters can fall flat and not be too realistic

The Hand That First Held Mine (2011) By Maggie O’Farrell

The Hand That First Held Mine: A Novel

This is a really spellbinding story about two women connected in ways they could never imagine, seemingly from completely different times periods.

As a result the story is part historical fiction, and part romance with two romance stories going on, but ultimately love is the main theme here, both familial and romantic.

The novel starts with Lexie Sinclair, who dreams of an extraordinary life from her genteel upbringing in the country.

She soon escapes to London in the post-war period where she seeks out life actively.

This leads her to meet Innnes Kent, a magazine editor who shows Lexie the bumbling and sprouting world of post-war Soho where Lexie herself can spread her wings and take life by the horns.

She lives her life she wishes, with stories to boot, but when she finds herself pregnant she is determined to have the baby on her own.

We then shift to present day London where a young painter named Elina is starting her own journey in motherhood. One that is fraught and not as easy as she thought.

Forgetting little things like her shoes, proper eating times, and even the actual labor that birthed the child, she is struggling to do the basic things let alone raise another human life.

Similar, but different, afflictions curse her husband, the baby, and his fatherhood seem to uproot certain memories that were lost to him, with images he cannot place.

Suddenly, these two stories of Lexie and Elina seemingly weld themselves together and it seems that the two women of the novel have a connection neither of them would expect.

O’Farrell is an extremely skilled author with the ability to tell these uniquely different stories in different ways and somehow threading them together, with little crumbs of hints and clues along the way, is a truly masterful act.

The book itself is enchanting to boot, certain passages send a chill down your spine purely in their description of an environment, and when the stories come together, if you hadn’t worked it out, it’s a really poignant moment and a clear message about love and romance that spreads across time itself.


  • Masterful storytelling
  • Gripping mystery
  • Love in every corner
  • More than just classic boy meets girl romance
  • Enchanting writing


  • Some won’t enjoy the breadth of the novel
  • Does a lot in one novel, which some won’t enjoy
  • Some may find it a little too poetic

The Post-Birthday World (2008) By Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World: A Novel (P.S.)

The novel details the life of a woman whose life changes drastically under the influence of two different men.

The main character is Children’s book author Irina McGovern, she enjoys a regular settled life in London with her partner, an American, Lawrence Trainer.

He’s smart and loyal, an intellectual man and academic. Together they have close friends but not everything is as perfect as it seems.

Suddenly Irina is submerged in action as she is desperate, loin-clenchingly under the spell of their old friend, the stylish, extravagant, and passionate snooker player Ramsey Acton – she decides she must kiss him.

As she gives into her temptations she doesn’t realize how her decision could affect every root she currently has, her work, her marriage, her life.

Shriver affords the reader a narrative we often wish we could have in our own lives, but the impossibility of such a narrative is what makes it so compelling to readers the A and B narrative.

We get to see how life unfolds for Irina, with new man Ramsey living in the darkness of her hotheaded romance, and how it unfolds in the domestic bliss she and her husband have created.

Shriver presents some interesting mirroring in the narratives and in the men who dominate them, but these counterpoints become a little obvious and predictable at points, albeit demonstrating a certain philosophical point.

Moreover, Shriver is easily sidetracked by politics, often leading to her characters making unnecessary and obviously biased political swipes that usually don’t accurately depict their characters, but their author.


  • A clever mirroring of an A and B plot
  • Executed pretty well in terms of a literary idea
  • Puts a magnifying glass on how temptation affects our lives.


  • A and B narrative mirror each other a little too well, and become predictable for some
  • Often unnecessary political diatribes from the author
  • Not everyone will agree with the author’s understanding of temptation and its consequences.

Standard Deviation (2017) By Katherine Heiny

Standard Deviation: A novel

This is another funny and interesting examination of love that shines a light on other relevant topics as well as your generic heterosexual relationship, told from an interesting point of view of the male here.

Graham Cavanugh lives with his Asperger’s suffering son, Matthew, who is part of an origami club that he and his second wife, Audra, try to take part in as much as they can.

Audra and her enthusiasm are everything Graham’s first wife wasn’t. She talks and talks, even through an epidural pregnancy, takes part in literally everything, is outgoing, passionate, and invites everyone into their home, leading to many funny scrapes for the couple.

In the middle of his mundane life with his overly outgoing wife, and the endearing life of raising someone who navigates life with Asperger’s, Graham’s first wife enters his life again.

Elspeth, his first wife, is a quite standoffish lawyer – she is organized, ice cold, and often emotionless. Which was ultimately what led Graham to cheat on her with Audra, the latter being the opposite.

As Audra in her characteristic way, is very glad for Graham to befriend his former wife once more, it leads Graham to reflect on his relationships, why he and his first wife didn’t work, affair aside, and what Audra actually brings to his life in comparison.

The novel reflects on love itself, why we love people, and how we love people. If you want a compelling narrative with enough wit and one-liners, but also enough poignant moments, this is the one for you.

If you want something that is full of drama and action or a generic love story, this might not be worth the read.

Overall, it’s a heartwarming tale with an intimate narrative, one bound to make you both laugh and cry, Heiny is full of wry insight into love and life and everything in between.


  • Very funny at points
  • Heartwarming story
  • Intimate narrative
  • Reflects on love in a general way
  • Unique plot


  • Some may find it a bit dry
  • Might lack drama or action for some

Fifty Shades Of Grey (2011) By E. L. James

Fifty Shades Of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey Series, 1)

Fifty Shades of Grey is a novel you have probably heard about, and has become a crowd splitter, but is still one of the highest grossing romance novels out there today.

It was turned into a huge feature film, but if you haven’t read the original there are plenty of nuances and complexities to the novel that aren’t in the film.

The novel follows Anastasia Steele, an English literature major in WSU.

Her friend Katherine writes for the college newspaper, but when she is sick one day Anastasia fills in for her and she gets the chance to interview wealthy Seattle entrepreneur Christian Grey.

She finds Grey both attractive and intimidating leading her to give a poor interview.

She meets Grey the next day at the hardware store she works at, she takes the opportunity to ask him for a photo for the article and they arrange a time to do so.

They continue to cross each other’s paths as they are clearly attracted to each other, and do go on one date where Grey tells her he isn’t romantic, abruptly ending their date.

Soon Ana agrees to a sexual relationship with Grey, the latter making her sign a strange amount of paperwork regarding their relationship, one an NDA, and another a contract of sexual dominion, explicitly unromantic.

As their relationship seems to blossom, Christian’s history arises, as well as Ana’s own, and the novel reaches its head and cliffhanger, awaiting the following two novels to clear the relationship up.

Look, if you have never heard of this story before this may seem a little weird and intense, and it is, but Fifty Shades of Grey is actually a lot more than just explicit scenes and taboo language, but is actually quite a delicate love story at its heart.

The book certainly has its explicit parts but not without reason and requisite, it is part erotic fiction.

Some think the novel is just poorly written and the BDSM in the novel is taboo and unnecessary, while others praise James for her willingness to put the explicit on the table.

As James is comfortable to expose the explicit it soon works in favor of the love story and in many ways frees the characters to have more intimate and emotional conversations about love, consent, relationships, as well as sexual freedom.

A lot of the criticism of Fifty Shades can depend on which genre you frame it within.

Sure, as a romance novel the breadth of this genre means that many will dislike it, with many romance novels avoiding explicit content.

Whereas if you view it as an erotic novel and compare it to that genre it’s arguably one of the most successful in making some real comments about love and relationships by using erotica as a tool or pathway into these subjects.

No matter what you think of it, Fifty Shades is one of the highest selling novels of all time, eclipsing even that of Harry Potter.


  • Very intriguing plot many read out of curiosity
  • Uses erotica and explicit material as a way into subjects such as love
  • Does have a wider message about love
  • Challenging, worth of discussion


  • Explicit material some will never enjoy
  • Covers some triggering topics
  • A tad overly serious; lacks irony occasionally

Final Thoughts

As you can see, romance novels vary greatly some project your heteronormative stuff that people often enjoy the classic boy girl love story, the love triangle, and many people often just want easy books to read that satisfy that voyeuristic and fetishized part of us that enjoys drama and its often unpredictable unfolding, all without any effect on our actual lives.

In over cases many modern readers pine for stories that target other parts of love that have been less documented in recent years, those taboo relationships that aren’t bothered with coyness, novels that cover homosexual relationships and everything in between, and those novels that successfully achieve all of that and can present it to the youths of our day in a way in which they can ingest and understand it responsibly.

Any of us will simply want romance novels that are as intimate as they are challenging and present reflections of love in ways that we may not have expected, through utilizing other genres, or by simply creating unique plots that frame romance within them.

No matter what you are looking for we hope you can find it within this list, whether that is classical romance, something a little different, or something that challenges your conception of love right down to its core – this list has it all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The ‘Best’ Romance Novel?

Of course, these discussions are an issue as anyone’s opinion on this is going to be skewed and subjective to say the least.

As we mentioned, romance is a pretty broad genre, covering a huge amount of different genres. But there are stats out there that can provide a more objective look.

For example, as mentioned in the list, Fifty Shades of Grey has a number of accolades such as being the fastest selling paperback of all time in the UK, one of the highest grossing novels internationally, with Amazon even stating that it had sold more than any single Harry Potter book, the former selling near 150 million copies worldwide.

In other discussions, many will suggest that Pride and Prejudice, or even Wuthering Heights, can be considered the best romance novels of all time.

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Anna Davis