We're still in a time in the world when so many LGBTQ character-focused novels are "Issues" books, centered on the negative or traumatic aspects of identifying as something other than straight and cisgender. Sometimes we just want to read a novel in which LGBTQ characters are in positive relationships, living the same kind of happy (or difficult!) lives that any straight, cis characters would, not relating to their sexual orientation. That's especially true when it comes to F/F romance novels. Can't we just get a little love here?
When you pick up a romance novel, you expect, sure, maybe some tragedies or difficulties, but you expect romance. There should be a passion and an energy, and just because the two leads are both women falling in love, their love doesn't have to be defined by the capital-I "Issues" of coming out or bullying, but by ordinary life struggles getting in the way. (As life tends to do.) These F/F romance novels hope to achieve that goal. Not all of them are perfect, but they're a definitive step in the right direction.
When there are LGBTQ-centered issues in these romance novels, such as coming out to an ignorant family, they are handled in unique ways, focused on cultural, religious, and other factors. Mostly, these stories are about some seriously hot, head-over-heels L-O-V-E love stories.
1. And Playing the Role of Herself by K.E. Lane
K.E. Lane's And Playing the Role of Herself is a fan (and critical) favorite when it comes to F/F romance novels, and for good reason. Caidence Harris plays a detective on the hot new TV show 9th Precinct, and she becomes infatuated with her glamorous, A-list costar Robyn Ward. The only problem? Robyn presents as straight, and she has a tennis star boyfriend. But when the script calls for a kiss between Caidence and Robyn, the chemistry is undeniable and Caidence learns that maybe things aren't always as they superficially seem. Though it's definitely more romance love story than erotic novel, it'll hit all the right feels you want.
2. Nightingale by Andrea Bramhall
Nightingale is a romance novel that tackles issues of culture, faith, and tradition while maintaining a nail-biting sense of tension, both romantically and suspense-wise. Hazaar is already betrothed to a man — her family's belief in the Sharia laws mean she's will be in an arranged marriage. But she forms a deep connection to another woman Charlie while in school. Hazaar makes a devastating decision to stand by her family's values and leaves Charlie, but that's not the end of their story. Years later, Charlie is working in Pakistan as a diplomat and her past with Hazaar becomes her present. Prep the tissues, trust me.
3. Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden
Hard-working performer Jenna McGovern spent her life training to be in the spotlight. So, when she's cast in a supporting role in a major touring Broadway play, she thinks things can't get any better. But they do, because she'll act alongside TV star Adrienne Kenyon. And (hey, this is romance after all) Jenna and Adrienne form a strong bond that moves from friendship to something more romantic. Meanwhile, both women learn about their hopes and goals and identity through performing. And if you're a theater geek, you'll be obsessed with Melissa Brayden's insight into the goings on backstage.
4. The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer
Kendall Bettencourt is only 19, but she's already Hollywood's hottest commodity. But you can practically hear her listening to Britney Spears' "Lucky" on repeat, because behind all the glitz and glamour she's just a regular girl who wants a life outside of the spotlight. To help ground her and pull her out of the funk, Kendall moves her best friend Payton to LA to live with her. Except Payton has been hiding something: She has always wished that she and her BFF were more than just friends.
5. Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler
Dahlia Adhler is a YA/NA force when it comes to romance. Her latest addition to the Radleigh University series was definitely highly anticipated by her legions of fans, and it did not disappoint. (And don't worry, it's not crucial that you read the stories in order.) This story is freaking adorable, and it doesn't rely on bullying or coming out as storytelling devices. Instead it allows the young women to be happy and in love, and it's a treat to read. Frankie Bellisario was never one for monogamy, but that might change once she meets a totally unexpected woman: Samara Kazarian, the daughter of a Republican Southern mayor.
6. Homestead by Radclyffe
The topics of the environment, sustainability, and organic farming make this romance novel particular pertinent in the modern era. Tess Rogers always imagined she'd inherit her family's pristine 600 acres of farmland to breed a line of organic dairy cows, but when the time comes, she sees her dream start to slip away. Meanwhile, R. Clayton "Clay" Sutter just wants to advance her career by helping NorthAm Fuel start up a new shale refinery in Tess' area. In a The Notebook-style way, Clay finds herself drawn back into the past and to Tess' farm, where she spent one magical summer with Tess, as teenagers in love and in lust. But can Tess forgive how Clay just disappeared all those years ago, especially now that their motives are so opposed?
7. I Can't Think Straight by Shamim Sarif
London's West End clashes with Middle Eastern high society in this sweet love story between two women who never expected their lives to take a path toward each other. Palestinian Tala is gearing up for her upscale Christian wedding when she meets Muslim Londoner Layla, who is dating her best friend. The chemistry is immediate and sizzling. But, um, Tala is supposed to get married. Needless to say, there are conflicts of tradition and culture and the whole should-I-get-married thing, but still it's a funny, romantic story at its heart about two women trying to find their way.
8. Making a Comeback by Julie Blair
What's awesome about Making a Comeback (well, one of the awesome things about it) is that the characters aren't struggling with trauma or identity issues as a result of being lesbians, as so many novels often fall into depicting them as as the crux of the story. Instead, the story is one that isn't contingent on them being women who are into other women, it just matters that they are human beings. Jazz pianist Liz Randall lost her wife to cancer; Jac Winters lost her sight in a tragic accident. Can these two people come together and help each other heal and find a new path in their lives?
Beginning on August 1, Bustle will host Romance Novel Month, a celebration and examination of the romance novel genre. But don't worry, romance readers: the coverage won't end in August. We're proud to support romance novels, and we will continue to do so all year long.
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