3 Romance Novels for Sub-Genre Skeptics

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

I’m an avid romance reader, but there are particular sub-genres I shy away from. In some cases, I’m conscientiously trying to avoid objectionable subject matter within a sub-genre. There are some romance archetypes, especially those I believe are steeped in toxic masculinity, that I simply don’t know how to navigate as escapist fantasies. Other times, I’m assuming a romance sub-genre just isn’t to my taste. I’m always very grateful to have good book recommenders in my life, though, because without them I would have politely passed on the following books as not my cup of tea. So I’m paying it forward with these romance novel recommendations. Think of me as that person who tells you that Friday Night Lights is a great show even if you don’t like football. (Hot tip: it’s true!)

I reserve no judgment for people who love romances with paranormal shifters, sports teams, or motorcycle clubs; I encourage you to read what you like. Take these books as recommendations in sub-genres you already enjoy! And then have some more sports romance and shifter romance recommendations on the house! For everyone else who, like me, has some skepticism when it comes to certain romance sub-genres, here are three spectacular books that defied my expectations.

cover of lord of the last heartbeat by may petersonLord of the Last Heartbeat by May Peterson

I rarely read paranormal/shifter romances because the “fated mates” trope comes up a lot. I don’t think the trope is toxic necessarily, but it’s just not my jam. Talking about Lord of the Last Heartbeat, however, makes me feel a little like Bill Hader’s Stefon from SNL. This book has EVERYTHING. Magic opera, a gothic haunted house, a vampire bear shifter, and so much more, including a queer romance with a nonbinary main character. The prose is lush, the characters original, the action nonstop. I felt plunged into the world instantly and details spooled out perfectly as I was reading. I never quite felt on steady footing, in the best possible way. It is a propulsive, compulsive read.

cover of Long Shot by Kennedy RyanLong Shot by Kennedy Ryan

I’m generally not a big fan of the most popular sports in the United States; in fact it took me waaaay too many years to realize the reason I liked tennis and the Olympics so much was that those were my main opportunities to see women athletes on television. I’ve also been suspicious of sports romances where white authors have written many white characters into sports where the majority of players are not white. These concerns are not at play with Long Shot, a stunning, RITA award-winning basketball romance. If depictions of abusive relationships, including intimate partner violence, are difficult for you to read, skip this book. If, however, you can ride with a strong heroine who goes through absolute hell to get the most deserved and triumphant happily ever after, it’s an unforgettable romance. Although the book has harrowing details, the author handled the content extremely sensitively. It can also help those who haven’t experienced an abusive relationship understand the slow, sinister moves that lead to situations that seem inescapable.

cover of Tikka Chance of Me by Suleikha SnyderTikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder

Motorcycle gang romances are expressly not for me, or so I thought. I don’t particularly care about motorcycles, and moreover, motorcycle gangs sometimes have links to white supremacist organizations, which are abhorrent right on the face of it. Tikka Chance on Me remedied any apprehensions I might have had. Being a Hoosier myself, I appreciated the setting of an Indian restaurant in a rural Indiana town. This novel underscores the fact that immigrant families and communities of color are everywhere and it’s the small town romances with only white characters that are actually unrealistic and problematic fantasies. This novella is short, and hot. I don’t want to spoil how the motorcycle gang storyline resolves, but it’s very satisfying. And did I mention hot?

There are some romance plots that are beyond salvation: slave/master romances and Nazi romances, to name a couple. For almost everything else, there are ways to subvert patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and white supremacy through romance. The way the most talented authors can upend tropes and archetypes is a constant source of delight to me. Now who can show me the hidden gems among billionaire (hoo boy, so toxic!) and cowboy (not my taste!) romances?