What’s your favorite personality-based trope in romance novels? There’s always a good, old fashioned Opposites Attract, or its weird younger cousin, Sweaterboy/Absolute Disaster. Great dynamics that allow authors to play around in their romance sandboxes in the best of ways. But the one I can’t help but come back to over and over is that delightful favorite, Grumpy/Sunshine romance books.
Grumpy/Sunshine is a longstanding dynamic in romance novels. For decades, we’ve been drawn to romances that involve a stern, staid, or legitimately grumpy protagonist and the sunshine person they’ve found themselves falling for. In many circles, including the ones who decided to throw a “reverse” in front of a gender-neutral term, the grumpy one is usually the man and the sunshine one is usually the woman. This, of course, leaves out not only the opportunity to have a great grumpy woman and her sunshine male love interest, but any other kind of relationship besides a heteronormative one.
Many of the books I’ve listed here fall under the most common Grumpy/Sunshine archetype, in which — if the protagonists are a man and a woman — he is the grumpy one and she is the one with a more sunny disposition. But I’ve tried to also gather some that go against the grain, while still offering up the usual opposing dynamic. And of course, there is a range of grumpy and sunshine, and some of these folks are grumpier and happier than others. But for the most part, you’ll be able to enjoy all the grumpy grumps and sunshine kids (of any age) your heart desires.
The Replacements by Shae Sanders
After Savannah discovers that her husband has been cheating on her, she gets all her ducks in a row to be able to support herself after she serves him divorce papers. The first step? Get a job. She hasn’t worked in over a decade, but that makes her perfect for assisting grumpy business owner Taurus. No matter how much he tries, she won’t let him get her down.
It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
So. You know The Sound of Music? You know the personalities of Captain Von Trapp and Fraulein Maria?
That’s this book. But with ducks.
Ben is a vicar who isn’t necessarily hired to take care of the kids at the estate up the hill, but somebody has to corral the hooligans that are driving away their caretakers. So he does that, until their widowed father returns from being at sea. And then…well. You know the story. Minus the Nazis.
Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Maybell is…a dreamer. Literally. When we first meet her, she’s living in her daydreams, building her own coffee shop AU. But when she inherits land and property from a relative, reality comes crashing straight down. It doesn’t help that her inheritance isn’t just hers; she has to share it with the estate’s groundskeeper, Wesley. He’s reserved to a fault, and very much has A Way To Do Things. But if they want to be able to move forward, they’re going to have to figure out how to get along.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
Mika loves making videos on social media, where she pretends to be a non-witch being a witch. But she actually is a witch, and she is down on her luck. When she gets a mysterious invite to care for and teach a group of young witches at a remote estate, she isn’t certain what to think, but takes the job. And then she meets the surly librarian who doesn’t trust outsiders.
The Worst Guy by Kate Canterbary
There are doctors like Sebastian, and there are doctors like Sara. They don’t get along, and that leads to consequences neither of them expected. When an incident at their hospital leads to them having to see each other even more regularly in counseling…and reluctantly learning more about each other and what they want.
The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan
Grayson and Amelia couldn’t be more different. She is a little flighty, and uncertain about many things. He knows exactly what he wants, and can be exacting in his quest to get it. When he seeks her out to come work for him on his telegraph, she can’t help but say yes. And as they learn to understand each other, nothing will be the same for them.
The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
Joy is the epitome of her name. She finds joy in everything and is a joy to be around. Then she ends up on a long weekend vacation with her BFF (who she is secretly in love with), BFF’s new hopefully-girlfriend, and hopefully-girlfriend’s BFF — the last of whom is the grumpy one. Fox knows that there are multiple reasons for him to be on this trip with three other people, but he would love to just…not be. Unfortunately, Joy is there to wear him down — and convince him to pretend they’re becoming an item to make Malcolm realize the one for him has been right there all along.
Fire Season by KD Casey
Charlie is more quiet than grumpy, but the dynamic between him and his new fellow pitcher, Reed, is a close variant. Charlie doesn’t know how to tell people that he’s getting a divorce. In the meantime, there is a very not-quiet relief pitcher who needs a place to stay and a friend. The two become fast buds and also other things that surprise them.
Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins
When Garrett arrives in Wyoming, there’s snow falling and even more on the ground. If it weren’t for Spring, he might not have made it anywhere near his destination. The grumpy, fascinating woman, who wears trousers and owns her own ranch, allows him to convalesce at her home while he waits for her brother, doctor Colton Lee, to come back to town, but there are a lot of things that could get in the way of his recovery…including Spring herself.
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
Lucy Parker has a few great Grumpy/Sunshine pairings, but Battle Royal stands out. Sylvie was kicked off of the popular baking competition show where Dominic is a judge after a minor incident with a flying unicorn cake. Now, that same show has invited her to be a guest judge, on top of her regular duties as the owner of a bakery…right across the street from Dominic’s own shop. And when they discover that there’s going to be a royal wedding, they’re both ready to get the commission. (It sounds like there’s a lot going on, but it actually reads pretty seamlessly.)
Yes & I Love You by Roni Loren
When Hollyn’s work reviewing entertainment blows up to the point that her bosses want her to start making videos, her social anxiety goes into overdrive. She has Tourette Syndrome, which causes her to have visible tics that she is incredibly self conscious about. But if she doesn’t go in front of the camera, she loses her job. Luckily Jasper, who is excellent at improv, is there to help her.
The Missed Connection by Denise Williams
This is the second in Denise Williams’s connected novella trilogy, featuring two academics who spend quite the layover together. Months later, they discover that not only will they be working together, but they’ve had a rivalry for ages before. Still, a call to work together on a long-term college tour means they have to figure out how to get along.
Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston
When you hear that a book is about a honey badger shifter and a bear shifter, you think you know which one is going to be the grumpy one.
You would be wrong.
Grizzly shifter Berg is a sweetheart. Charlie is…an unholy terror, to put it lightly. She will do anything for her family, including blow shit up at the drop of a hat. It also includes accepting help from someone nowhere near as feral as she can get, all to ensure the safety of people she loves more than anything else in the world.
That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
Mercy is a maid working for Eliza Hamilton, helping her to organize the stories she’s collecting from soldiers who fought and otherwise worked with her late husband during the Revolution and establishment of the country. She is prepared for almost anything — except Andromeda, who comes to New York in her grandfather’s stead. The woman is everything Mercy isn’t, and the two of them have to overcome more than expected to try for love.
(If you want more of a growly type of grump from Alyssa Cole, check out A Duke By Default.)
One of the interesting things about a character clash like Grumpy/Sunshine is that a lot of the times, one or the other reads (to me at least) as some form of neurospicy. Sometimes it’s the “grumpy” one who likes things how they like them, takes some things more seriously than others, and is direct in all things. In their mind, they’re not particularly grumpy, but they seem like it when you place them against someone like their sunshine counterpart. Sometimes it’s the sunshine one, who, whether they say it or not, probably has ADHD. It’s not a requirement for a sunshine-y person, even if they’re a total mess, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t latch onto some of those types in the path to self-diagnosis.
Either way. Grumpy and sunshine are a spectrum, but hopefully the characters in these Grumpy/Sunshine romance books will show you what the range of those personalities look like when thrown together in romance.