If there's one thing Fifty Shades of Grey has done for romance, it was to call attention to the romance genre, to somehow allow closet readers to own the fact that women legitimately love fiction whose only real stipulations are that there must be a happy ending and there is usually some degree of sex to be found.
In the wake of this, genre romance ebbs and fades in trends. For decades, historicals were the standard favorite, then with the new millenium came the surge of paranormals. Now BDSM has made waves. But throughout, contemporary romance has remained a popular constant, a reliable, steady comfort for readers who just need an escape. The fact is that for most of us, contemporary romance is the one element that can be completely relatable for us, when we can put ourselves in the place of the heroine without time periods or otherworldly creatures to distract us, when we can hope and dream that our own stories are as romantic as those in the pages we lose ourselves in.
In contemporary romance, we can become someone new, someone bolder and more exciting, who's willing to go for what she wants. Lacey Alexander writes the best women's fantasies I've ever found in romance. The women in her book are perfectly normal, everyday women who've always been a little predictable, well-adjusted but wanting something more. In the course of her books, the heroines learn to step outside of the box many of us find ourselves in, in order to live more fully, to experience relationships and sex and fantasy the way we'd imagine if we could lose our inhibitions. Alexander's books have jaw-dropping sex scenes but end with that happily ever after we crave.
She waited for something to happen, some odd feeling of revulsion, or just plain wrongness, because she'd never slept with a stranger before – she'd never even made out with a stranger at a party or anything like that; her life simply hadn't gone that way. Hell, she'd never thought of herself as prim, but maybe her actions didn't always reflect the woman she was inside. Maybe she'd let fear or propriety or appearances rule her life in some ways up to now.
But tonight, right now, she was completely ready for this, completely ready for him, her hot stranger. And she heard herself whispering up into his ear as his kisses spanned her neck, as his cock pressed into the juncture of her thighs. “I'm so glad you like bad girls.” (The Bikini Diaries)
Then there's that contemporary romance novel we happen upon in which whatever personal struggle or inner turmoil the heroine is going through mirrors our own at that moment in our lives, and occasionally art aligns with reality to make us feel like we really are her. In the past year, I've had a bit of a friends-to-lovers, good girl-bad boy experience in my personal life with a guy who's different than any I've ever been interested in before, and that's been full of elements straight from a romance novel. Then I read Toni Blake's Willow Springs, the fifth book in her popular Destiny series, one set in small-town America but that still allows even the worldliest of women to relate to the lives and romantic ups and downs of its characters. In the book, Amy falls for her best friend Logan, and once all her feelings change for him, she wonders if their relationship can become something more and how to even approach that with him.
“What is it I'm supposed to be going for, and how do I go for it?”
“The thing you're going for is Logan, of course,” Tessa said. “But the how part is something only you can decide.”
Amy just gave her a helpless look. “I hate to tell you this since I know you're trying to come to my aid, but... I have no idea what to do with that advice.”
“All I'm saying is... you have to do something. Right now. To change the way this is going. To change your life. You have to at least try. Because if you don't, well... I just have a feeling you'll always regret it.”
Many of Amy's fears and insecurities are the same questions I've had in dealing with my guy. Whether he ends up being my hero remains to be seen. But when we read the book, perhaps we can learn from the heroine's experiences, take the advice she's given, and if we're lucky, everything will turn out as well for us as it does for her.
Best of all, contemporary romance gives us what we really want—the alpha male in monogamous hero form, a woman's dream. These men are protective and possessive in all the right ways. They can be demanding and smoldering in that sexy way we love. And they're found in scenarios that we could potentially encounter ourselves. Only, in the stories, every look and touch is heightened, so it somehow enhances our own love stories. Lora Leigh gives a perfect example of over-the-top alpha heroes who coax and cajole their heroines in the Nauti series. Most of the couples have a history, and with that comes complications that we've all dealt with. But as the heroes and heroines give in, we can't help but fall a little ourselves.
“Now,” he growled. “I need you now.”
Crista stared up at Dawg as his fingers hooked in the loosened waist of her jeans and began to draw them, along with the thong she wore beneath, slowly over her hips.
Naked, aroused, his eyes glowing with unsuppressed hunger and raging need, he looked like a vanquishing conqueror. All the warriors and warlords that the best romances wrote about.
But this wasn't a story. It wasn't a book, and it wasn't fiction. It was the man blackmailing her into his bed and stealing her soul with his touch.
“Dawg.” Trembling fingers slid over his shoulders as she tried to force strength into her arms to push him away, to push herself away from the temptation.
“I dreamed of you, Crista.” The material slid over her thighs as he drew back. “I dreamed of your kiss, your taste. I dreamed of every wicked fantasy a man could have about his woman for eight years.” His voice strengthened as he tossed the jeans and panties to the floor, and his eyes sharpened with angry desire. “Eight years, damn you. One fucking night, and you didn't give me a chance to make up for it. You didn't give me a chance to prove you're fucking mine!” (Nauti Nights)
In my years of reading romance, I've noticed what I always come back to are the contemporary novels, the ones I can fall into, travel to real cities, meet girlfriends that I could actually know, and find heroes I can dream about having for myself. These are the books that are closest to our own lives, so they feel as if they could really happen to us, happily ever after and all.
Why do you love contemporary romance?
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.