5 romance novels to cure your pandemic loneliness

Oct. 21, 2020, 7:46 p.m.

When I first started reading romance novels, I was a high school student looking for something to distract me from the dreariness of trigonometry. I found refuge in romances from dozens of distinct subgenres and tropes, which included historical, LGBTQ+, royal and contemporary stories. Each subgenre satisfied a different desire at that moment in my life. Contemporary romances, for example, allowed me to imagine a put-together and exciting adult life beyond the many stresses of academics, particularly on those days when it felt like the assignments would never end. Now, in quarantine, my years of escapism have come in handy. Romance novels have become a way for me to revel in the carefree connections that are so difficult to come by nowadays. 

In the past, I would often find the meet-cutes and little dramas associated with budding romance almost overwhelming. To some degree, I felt like they presented an overly vivid picture of life. This exact quality that is inherent to romances, however, draws me back to them now. Each book that I have listed below is both a great introduction to the world of romance novels and a bittersweet remedy for quarantine loneliness. Sweet, because they bring the joy of carefree romance and connection back to our lives. Bitter, because they remind us of what has been missing these past few months. 

  1. “The Bromance Book Club” by Lyssa Kay Adams

This book brought me back to the romance genre in quarantine. The premise is wild: a professional baseball player from Nashville, Gavin Scott, attempts to fix his marriage by joining a secret romance book club founded by other prominent men. At the same time, his wife, Thea, rediscovers her own passions and reclaims her agency by returning to her art and setting healthy expectations in her marriage. “The Bromance Book Club” provides a lighthearted but realistic picture of the work that goes into earning a second chance at romance. To me, the highlights of the book are the hilarious interactions of the book club, as the men debate the literary merits and feminist potential of romantic fiction.    

  1. “Hold Me” by Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan crafts a compelling romance between Jay na Thalang and Maria Lopez, two online friends who are blissfully unaware of the fact that they have already met — and that they hate each other. Set in Berkeley, California, “Hold Me” is perfect for Stanford students who are missing the Bay Area. Maria and Jay are wonderfully complex characters whose relationship is a perfect example of the thorny path from enemies to lovers. Courtney Milan’s work stands out because of the diversity of her characters, which contrasts with the generally very white, cisgender and heterosexual world of romance novels. She treats her characters with care, highlighting their identities without reducing them to caricatures. 

  1. “Do You Want to Start a Scandal” by Tessa Dare

If you’re looking for an introduction to historical romances, Tessa Dare’s books are the classic place to start. This Regency era historical romance features a fake marriage, a spy and a straightforward heroine who wears her heart on her sleeve. When Piers Brandon and Charlotte Highwood are caught in a mildly compromising position, Piers proposes to Charlotte to help her avoid social ruin and provide himself with a cover for his career. A free spirit looking for love in her marriage, Charlotte drags Piers along on her attempts to solve the mystery that compromised them the night of the Parkhurst Ball. All the while, the two must navigate their growing romantic connection. Tessa Dare’s knack for crafting ridiculous scenarios and dialogue that will play on repeat in your mind for days afterwards makes “Do You Want to Start a Scandal” a true comfort read.   

  1. “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

I have a difficult time explaining the emotional rollercoaster that I went through when I first read this book. Even though “Red, White & Royal Blue” is one of the longer romance novels listed here, it flies by. The story encompasses the shift from a public relations “friendship” to a real, secret romance between First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz and the British Prince Henry, creating a lovely, hilarious and tear-inducing read. Alex and Henry’s love story develops against the background of Alex’s mother’s reelection campaign, and it poses a stark contrast to the present state of the world. I can’t recommend it enough.   

  1. “A Prince on Paper” by Alyssa Cole

The love story of Nya Jerami and Johan von Braustein is perfect for lovers of royal romances. A friend’s royal wedding brings the two together as they decide to create a mutually advantageous fake engagement. “A Prince on Paper” is quite a long book, but it makes up for its length with plenty of intrigue and deep emotional themes. Both Nya and Johan’s stories go beyond their relationship with each other, as Alyssa Cole deftly deals with grief and the aftermath of abuse. While I would recommend reading the first two books in the Reluctant Royals series first, this book is still enjoyable on its own — although some of the emotional beats hit much harder if you have some background information.

In quarantine, it is easy to lose sight of the twists and turns of emotional connections and to focus solely on the loneliness induced by social isolation. These books will remind you of the wonders associated with a whirlwind romance and make you want to seek one out for yourself. Hopefully, they will also lead you to reflect on the kind of connections you want to form in your own life, even if those connections seem difficult to form nowadays.

Contact Mara Stojanovic at marasto ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Mara Stojanovic '22 is from Berkeley, California. She has an affinity for Public Policy and Creative Writing, and can most often be found stress-drinking green tea.

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