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Hearts on Fire: Five Literary Romance Novels

Around when I started high school, I discovered a sparkly new world: romance novels. I spent the summer reading a set of Sophie Kinsella novels I scrounged up at the op-shop, followed by Marian Keyes and anything else I could find with a similar cover. My present-day equivalent is something along the lines of Taylor Jenkins Reid: juicy, binge-able narratives meant for reading by the fire.

I know that the pleasure of a good romance novel is usually undermined by a little derision, a little snobbery that says it isn’t quite serious enough. To that I say: just scratch the itch. This is my guide to well-written romance. From New York City’s ballet scene to World War 1, heterosexual and queer, these are my picks for all the feels.

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy will have you doing all the romantic yearning. Meet Sally, a writer for what is (essentially) Saturday Night Live, a kind of Tina Fey/Amy Poehler-type character. The biting pace of the weekly show is a pressure she works well under, finding her creativity spurred on by her huge team of writers. However when a fellow writer couples up with a ultra successful, beautiful celebrity guest from the show, she can’t help but feel that only accomplished women would ever date an average Joe. Every man, however, seems to believe he deserves to date a supermodel. Yet when the show hosts Noah, a heart-throb who sings cheesy love songs, Sally enjoys his company, finding him surprisingly down to earth and interesting. Completely pacey, fluffy but with believable dialogue. It’s near impossible to not get swept up by their mounting chemistry, making it perfect for fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid. 

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

Alice Winn’s In Memoriam is the most divine, heart-breaking debut novel tracing the love story between two soldiers in the First World War. Winn lamented the lack of good war writing and thus wrote this epic tale in lieu. Beginning in 1914, you meet Gaunt and Ellwood, two firm friends who share a love for Greek heroes and romantic poetry, attending the same dreamy British boarding school in the countryside. Eventually the pair, alongside their classmates, find themselves being pushed to enlist and do so. Finding themselves in dire circumstances in the trenches together, they are driven to finally realise their romantic feelings for each other. Interspersed with newspaper excerpts of the ‘in memoriam’ section of their school paper, we as the readers scan for their names just as desperately as we would’ve in war times. One of my favourite reads of the year and one I’d like to push into everyone’s hands. 

They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey

I chose this book largely because it’s about ballet (petition pending for more of these please). We follow ballerina Carlisle as she navigates the world of choreography, her skills of reimagining and revising being swept over the carnage of her personal life. Falling short of her career aspirations and estranged from both parents, she learns that her father is dying. Here comes the performance: tenderly unravelling a childhood with two parents in the ballet world, her father coming out as a gay man, the hellish AIDS crisis, an upending relationship, and, best of all, what exactly she did for her father to cut her off for 19 years. Set in part in glorious New York City, with dance and reading at the core, it’s bound to win over readers, whether they like ballet or not. 

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Lily King’s Writers & Lovers is my pick of the bunch. The writing is divine; crisp and witty. Aspiring writer Casey is stuck in a rut; grieving her mum whilst stuck in a narcissist’s garage, waitressing and cramming in trying to finish her (seemingly) unfinishable novel. She feels left behind and completely lost (paired with a mountain of student debt). When she meets two men who offer her two different life paths, she has to decide which to take. King pulls off a literary romance with ease.

Search History by Amy Taylor

This debut novel is hilariously uncomfortable. Protagonist Ana meets Evan (not on the apps, to everyone’s surprise) and so begins the series of dates. That is until she gets the itch, the niggling idea to have a thorough deep-dive into his social media, that leads her to his ex-girlfriend, who is… dead. Eventually she is so familiar with her feed and every last detail that can be found within it that she could sit an exam on it, yet Evan still won’t breach the topic with her. For fans of Diana Reid- this measures up well to ‘Love and Virtue’- which is high praise indeed from me. 

Written by Sarah