Romance, as some of you might have guessed by now, is probably my favourite genre. While horror disturbs and science fiction challenges, romance comforts. Even if there’s heartbreak and pain, which are inevitable experiences in romantic relationships, there is still enough of the good heart-racing stuff, where you sigh at the fantasy of it all, and wonder why real life can’t be like that sometimes.
Before I start on the list, there are some romance novels I reviewed this year that I simply have to recommend. They may not have made it onto the top 10 list, but that’s just because there’s too much good stuff out there. The books are: The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim and The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem. It’s great to see such diversity in the romance novels of today, and it keeps me hopeful that this is a genre I will continue to love and enjoy in future decades to come.
1. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (2013)
Don Tillman is a genetics professor who has never been on a second date. You see, Don has Aspergers, so he feels that maybe he just isn’t biologically wired for romance. This all changes when an acquaintance makes him realise there can be someone for everyone. So he embarks on The Wife Project, aiming to find someone who embodies a particular list of attributes.
He meets Rosie, who doesn’t fit the mold of what he is looking for, but we all know that love is far beyond what we want on paper, which Don starts to realise as he pushes aside The Wife Project, and starts to help Rosie with a project of her own.
Unless you were hiding under a rock in 2018, you most likely would have heard about Crazy Rich Asians, given that it was adapted into a movie starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding. As is always the case, the book is far superior to the movie version, with Kwan poking fun at the lives of the rich, giving us an Asian version of Pride and Prejudice.
Kwan’s writing is full of wit and humour, and was such an interesting read, given the Singaporean vernacular that inundates the book. If you’ve watched the movie but not read the book, you need to rectify this immediately and pick up a copy.
This wouldn’t be an authentic list without an inclusion of any David Nicholls’ novel. If you have yet to read any of the man’s books, I urge you to start with One Day. It is a love story I constantly return to, because he created such engaging characters in Emma and Dexter, and the humour in his writing is such a treat. One Day was released in 2009, so unfortunately, it is a book of a previous decade. The next best option is his novel Us, and while it cannot replace One Day’s place in my heart, it is nonetheless a very good romance novel.
After 30 years of marriage to Douglas, Connie thinks she wants to call it quits. This is an issue given how she has planned a month long trip in Europe in order to encourage their son Albie’s artistic interests. However, the trip accords Douglas a chance to show her that their marriage isn’t over, and he will not give up until he reminds his wife about the love they share and will always have. We toggle between the past and the present narratives, and it is so sad to see how time has shaken away the passion and fire that used to be there. Yet at the same time, we feel wildly optimistic because Douglas is.
Us is such a realistic depiction of marriage and relationships, and the tendency we have to let things slip. Relationships start to fall apart when we stop working on them, and this is a poignant reminder to always treasure and value the most important relationship you will ever have in your life.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is a legend. It is rare to see a writer tackle different genres with such ease. The novel she released this year, Daisy Jones & The Six, is told entirely through interview transcripts, taking us behind the scenes of the famous rock n roll band, capturing the essence and atmosphere of the 70s. Then we have One True Loves, which is a contemporary romance novel, posing to us a conundrum we have thought about but never experienced the way protagonist Emma Blair does.
When Emma’s husband Jesse goes missing, her life falls apart. With effort she puts it back together again, and finds love in an old friend. But then Jesse returns. Emma now finds herself in the position of having to choose between the two loves of her life. It explores a narrative that has been done before in movies like Castaway and Pearl Harbour, but that doesn’t matter, because Reid’s prose elevates everything.
If you have read books by Colleen Hoover before, then you know the drill. Going into any book by Hoover means knowing as little as possible before you dive in. This will ensure complete immersion in the narrative, and allow you to experience it in the best way possible. All you need to know is that our main character Lily feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon (Ryle), who seems to feel something for her as well.
The only catch here, and it’s a big one, is that Ryle seems to have an aversion to relationships. While she is still trying to work out where they are in their relationship, Lily’s first love comes back into her life again. Love lives get so messy in romance novels, but that’s the whole fun of it. We get to read all about it, and keep our own lives drama-free.
The Kiss Quotient follows protagonist Stella, who hires a male escort to teach her to get better at sex. You see, Stella has Aspergers, so physical intimacy isn’t the easiest thing for her. None of the guys she slept with made the effort to understand her needs and desires, until Michael Phan comes along. As Michael builds intimacy with Stella, she too helps him work through his emotional baggage, and eventually the two realise they are perfect for each other.
This is the second book on the list that explores a character with Aspergers building a romantic relationship, but I feel that while The Rosie Project plays up the stereotypical aspects of Aspergers, The Kiss Quotient doesn’t take the same route, which offers the reader insight into the nuances of the condition.
The Kiss Quotient is one hell of a sexy book, and it’s not just because of the smut. Hoang does such a good job of building their relationship, with Stella and Michael’s courtship gradually moving towards something real and tangible. You will find yourself smiling at the sweetness of it all, but you might also need a cold shower afterwards, because this is truly flammable stuff. The Kiss Quotient is book number one in a series, so if you enjoy this first one, book number 2 – The Bride Test – will be right up your alley.
I know what you must be thinking – isn’t this the title of a movie with Dermot Mulroney and Debra Messing? Yes, you are right, but that’s adapted from another book, also titled The Wedding Date, which is by Liz Young. It makes sense that this would be a popular title, since what’s a romance novel with no weddings? This The Wedding Date is by Jasmine Guillory, which involves two strangers getting stuck in an elevator together, ending with them agreeing to go to a wedding with each other – for purely platonic reasons, until it isn’t.
It’s fun, steamy stuff. The Wedding Date is a book with a cover that screams Valentine’s Day, but we all know you don’t need a particular day to enjoy a romance novel – they are meant to be read all year round.
Normal People isn’t quite the confectionary offering like some of the books on the list. Rooney simply gives us a truthful depiction of youthful experiences, without sentimentality or the glow of nostalgia that these love stories can sometimes have.
You feel miserable and even exhausted while reading this, because life can feel that way at times. There is no elevated sense of fantasy or a need to suspend one’s belief. It is simply a story about the characters Connell and Marianne, one that spans many years, about two people who are in each other’s lives but not really together. They spend the years trying to move towards other people, but always gravitate back to each other – after all, the pull of first love is a snare that never quite releases its hold on us, as the two soon begin to realise.
I knew Sophie Kinsella needed to appear on this list, though I had the difficult task of having to choose which novel to make the list. I Owe You One won out against Surprise Me and My Not So Perfect Life because the romance factor was just a tad stronger in this novel. Kinsella has truly perfected the art of writing a great romance novel, possessing this amazing ability to create scenes that are both humorous and sexy.
For example, the main characters in this novel end up tipsy dancing together, which they take so seriously that I imagine it to be some kind of Pulp Fiction moment, yet there is a palpable connection and chemistry between the two. Picking up a Sophie Kinsella book has never steered me wrong, and I hope she continues to churn out romance novels for a few more decades.
Do you feel that Tom Hanks’ character in Sleepless in Seattle is just the perfect guy? The way he speaks about his love for his wife is just swoon-worthy stuff, and it makes perfect sense to me that Meg Ryan’s character would go all the way to Seattle to have a look at him. This was before the invention of Facebook, mind you, so the stalking was not easy stuff.
Waiting for Tom Hanks is a tribute to romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle. Our main character Annie Cassidy is obsessed with rom-coms, but that has held her back from finding her own love story, since she compares every man she meets to the characters played by Tom Hanks. So when they start filming a rom-com in her neighbourhood, Annie finds a way to be a part of it, and by a stroke of fate, finds herself in her very own romantic comedy. This was such a fun, delightful read, perfect for rom-com fans like me.