Sometimes, readers want romance novels that are not a mirror for real life. At least, that’s my hope for why people seek out romances with mafia bosses and alien abductions. These days, I find myself looking for something a little less outré, a little mellower. I’m looking for romances with characters who are like the people I’d be hanging out with in real life—you know, if real life involved any hanging out these days. Many have characters who display what I’m calling infectious enthusiasm.
Infectious enthusiasm is a trait I prize in teachers, friends, and coworkers. It’s the ability to share one’s passions and make them more interesting and exciting than they might otherwise seem. For example, I took a class in college about “the ancient epic…and beyond” to fulfill a requirement. I was not expecting much beyond the box checked on degree requirements. My professor conveyed skillfully how fulfilling devoting thought and study to epics can be. And here I am in 2020, listening to a Patreon podcast dedicated to Paradise Lost and reading yet another translation of The Odyssey (this one, Emily Wilson’s, is a winner.)
Types of Enthusiasm
Sometimes characters with infectious enthusiasm share my interests. Then I’m in an amplification cycle, hyping myself up about why I love what I love. Other characters might love a new-to-me topic, and I’m eager to learn more. The best/worst is when that enthusiasm is for something that is only real in the universe of the book. I find myself wishing it were possible to get into it. Who else still really wants to hear music from Daisy Jones and the Six?
Competence porn is another trait many romance readers enjoy. It’s the satisfying experience of reading about someone who’s very good at their job, though they may need help in the relationship department. I think infectious enthusiasm can run parallel to competence porn, or it can be its own thing. Infectious enthusiasm doesn’t have to concern a job; passion can stem from a hobby or just an interest. In fact, I love that infectious enthusiasm can be an engine for plot in a way that doesn’t have to tie into the narrative of people’s jobs as their worth.
Have I sufficiently waxed poetic about infectious enthusiasm that it’s gone meta? Are you now enthused by my enthusiasm for enthusiasm? I hope so! Here are some romances to read!
Love Is a Rogue by Lenora Bell
Lenora Bell is a reliable historical romance author if you’re into infectious enthusiasm, and her latest book is no exception. Lady Beatrice Bentley is holed up in a Gothic mansion in Cornwall, devoting her life to creating a complete etymological dictionary of the English language. Stamford Wright is working on renovating said mansion and is very distracting indeed. This novel is a true delight, sure to be enjoyed by word nerds, lovers of antiquarian books, and wannabe members of the deceptively named Mayfair Ladies Knitting League. (It’s me, I’m the wannabe member of the Mayfair Ladies Knitting League.)
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
Speaking of knitting, Real Men Knit features great enthusiasm for one of my own hobbies. Now is a great time of year to get into it, by the way. What touched me about this story of a Harlem yarn shop is how accurately the novel portrayed knitting bringing a community together. When Jesse Strong and his brothers unexpectedly inherit a knitting shop, Jesse enlists his childhood friend Kerry Fuller to help save the business. Mutual pining and a slow burn ensues. I cried real tears reading this book, feeling affirmed by the acknowledgment of the power of my oft-derided hobby.
Natural Disaster by Erin McLellan
The tagline is simple: think Twister, but gay. Other than loving the movie Twister, tornadoes are distinctly not an interest of mine. Quite the opposite; they show up in my recurring nightmares! Nonetheless, I was so taken by that tagline, I gave the book a try. In it, Guthrie Gale is not eager to be part of the storm chasing team for his news station, but his boss insists. He’s teamed up with a rookie, Luke Masters, and there’s a lot of forced proximity in storm chasing! I genuinely feel like I learned a lot reading this book, alongside its very heartfelt romance. I also gained a new perspective on what would make someone chase a tornado in the first place.
Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Here’s one of these books with a fictional interest I wish was real. Gustave Nguyen and Regina Hobbs team up to create an escape room based on a fictional romance anime, only to find out they have some serious chemistry. Although this book is novella-length, it packs so much emotion and is immensely satisfying. It might even be my favorite of Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals book, which is saying a lot. The anime within the book is called Reject Squad Ultra, and it’s essentially a Sleeping Beauty retelling in a military academy. Despite it not being real, I’m a huge fan of Reject Squad Ultra! You will be too once you hear from Reggie about how good it is.
Documenting Light by EE Ottoman
Putting a passion for history to use is a theme in Documenting Light, in which Wyatt brings a photograph to Grayson at the local historical society, hoping to shed some light on what the relationship between the two people in the photograph might be. In the process of uncovering the history behind the photograph, the two also find joy in each other’s company, and a romance blooms. It’s a tender, heartwarming book that shows the connection that can be forged from a shared interest.
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
There are many romance novels where food may be the source of characters’ infectious enthusiasm. Here are a few. Courtney Milan’s latest features a reunion between Chloe Fong and her childhood sweetheart, Jeremy Wentworth. He’s back to woo her even though she told him he needs to get serious, and he knows that’s not really possible. Meanwhile, Chloe is helping her dad perfect the recipe for a sauce that is described with such love, it seems like tasting it would clear one’s skin, water one’s crops, and bring about general thriving.
A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare
This book is a classic in the infectious enthusiasm genre, and a forever comfort read of mine. Minerva Highwood, the main character, bears more than passing resemblance Mary Anning, a real-life early English paleontologist. Minerva finds a fossilized footprint in the fictional seaside village of Spindle Cove. She convinces roguish Colin Sandhurst to pretend to elope to Scotland with her so she can deliver a plaster cast of it to the Geological Society. It’s a road trip romance and also a look into the early days of fossil hunting. It’s got banter for days and is a great entree into the wonderful world of Tessa Dare and Spindle Cove, where many ladies with unusual interests tend to end up.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
I’ve talked about how good the cover of this book is, but the contents are just as good! In this book, Marcus stars in a big budget fantasy drama based on Virgil’s Aenead. (Remember my aforementioned ancient epics class? I want it!) He also secretly moonlights as a fan fiction writer for his own show. As a publicity stunt, he goes on a date with April, whose cosplay photo went viral. Little does April know she’s already got a connection with Marcus, or his online persona anyway. If you want a novel with such infectious enthusiasm that you might be inspired to launch a letter writing campaign to get the Aenead adapted to television, this is the one.
A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison
There’s something incredibly beautiful about an enthusiasm and dedication to knowing one’s own family and learning their traditions. In this novel, Sonja comes from a long line of conjure women. The book takes place in South Carolina, steeped in Gullah culture and history. When Sonja decides to invest in herself by taking an entrepreneurship class to jumpstart her natural apothecary business, she meets her match in the sexy instructor, Atlas. Sonja will absolutely sell you on her lotions and potions, and the atmospheric writing will have you planning a visit to Sonja’s small town.
Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon
I will conclude on a meta note. In Meet Cute Club, Jordan Collins is so enthusiastic about romance novels that he’s hosting a romance book club at his local indie bookstore. The new-to-town bookstore employee Rex mocks Jordan’s choice of reading material (too real), but he asks to join the club nonetheless. The two team up to reinvigorate the flagging club, and sparks fly. We’re in a real infectious enthusiasm whirlwind now: let’s be enthusiastic about books and book clubs and loving books about books and book clubs—and always, always, loving books about love.