I was interested in Amazon’s list of the top romances of 2023. (Of these, we’ve reviewed Fourth Wing, Iron Flame, Happy Place, Hello Stranger, Love, Theoretically, Forget Me Not, The Love Wager, The Blonde Identity, and Tastes Like Shakkar.) While this is not a list that AAR readers would have generated–not enough m/m or historical romance–it’s fascinating to see what Amazon, the definer of book sales, picked as the best.
I was thrilled when Amazon reached out and asked if I had any questions about their list–there’s pretty much NOTHING I don’t have questions about. When I said yes, hooked me up with Amazon senior editor, Kami Tei.
Our conversation, conducted via email, is here:
Dabney: In what ways do these top romance novels represent diverse perspectives and identities? Were there particular stories or characters that stood out in this regard?
Kami: The romance list this year is very diverse, with Lauren Asher’s Love Redesign representing Hispanic heritage, Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon representing the Jewish community and The Build Up by Tati Richardson celebrating Black love. Dahlia and Julian from Love Redesign stand out to me the most because these characters portray wealthy professionals who still have close ties to their families and hometown communities which I think is not a perspective we see frequently represented in diverse stories.
Dabney: Romantasy seems to be a popular genre among readers. Can you highlight some unique elements or themes from these novels that blend romance and fantasy?
Kami: I believe romance readers in general are looking for stories they can get lost in. The mix of fantasy and romance takes the romance getaway to the next level by providing entirely new worlds for readers to get lost in. Many readers have been deep romantasy fans way before the new term was coined, but for readers new to this sub-genre, I think many will be surprised how easy it is (and how talented these writers are!) to be sucked into these worlds, that almost feel real as you get more and more immersed in the story—and to then add a love story to top it all off provides a superb reading experience.
Dabney: Alpha males are often a focal point in romance. How have these novels approached and portrayed the concept of the alpha male, and did any of them challenge or redefine this archetype?
Kami: There are definitely alpha males portrayed in some of these titles: Lucian from Things We Left Behind by Lucy Score, Will from Practice Makes Perfect by Sarah Adams, and of course Xaden from Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing and Iron Flame, however, all of these men have women who are all forces to be reckoned with and I wouldn’t cross any of them!
I see more and more romance novels focusing on women and their journey to finding who they are so they can find the right type of love for themselves. I’m also seeing less alpha male, and more stories about just regular people who are trying to find love. I really like this trend because I feel like it makes the characters more relatable. One story that does stick out to me that turns the concept of alpha male on its head is The Marriage Auction series by Audrey Carlan. At first glance I totally though this series was going to be alpha male/dominant heavy, but I was pleasantly surprised on how the four women in this story are depicted and their background and motives that drive their stories.
Dabney: Diversity in authors is a crucial aspect. Could you elaborate on how these novels have contributed to showcasing diverse voices in the romance genre?
Kami: I agree, diverse authors are really important, not only for the stories they bring, but also because it allows others to see that writing is open to anyone, regardless of race, background or sexual orientation. One of my favorites on the list this year was Dragged to the Wedding by Andrew Grey—the deuteragonist in this story is Daniel who is in drag as Lala Traviata for a wedding weekend. Daniel is one of the most comfortable-in-his-skin characters I have read in a long time and I think this diversity of voice is so important for both those who can and can’t relate, to be able to see the truth in other’s stories. This truth is how we, as a collective, learn how to really see and accept the differences that make up who each of us really are.
Dabney: Were there any standout titles or narratives that pushed the boundaries of traditional romance storytelling, either in terms of structure, character dynamics, or plot twists?
Kami: Yes! The concept of the strength of friendships and found family is a theme we have seen in our overall top 20 Best of the Year list. In romance we typically see a romance between two people, but in Emily Henry’s Happy Place even though there is a second chance romance storyline between Harriet and Wyn, the bigger element is the dynamic between their close-knit circle of long-time friends. Happy Place is more than a rom-com—it is about the beauty, pain, and joy that comes with biological families, chosen families, growing up and apart, and how as adults we handle and deal with this thing called life. I believe this broadening of traditional romance storytelling makes romance appealing to a wider group of people, bring more interest to the genre, which I love.
Dabney: Looking at the overall selection, are there common threads or trends that emerge across these novels that define the romance landscape for 2023?
Kami: 2023 was a great year for romance. The rise of romantasy was for sure a highlight of the year, but I also have been seeing more and more LGBTQIA+ romances as well as more offerings from diverse authors. I have also seen a trend of authors creating characters who are dealing with different types of anxiety or neurodiversity and how this affects their lives and how they approach relationships. Excluding the worlds of romantasy, romance seems to be shifting and changing to reflect the changes in the world around us, while also still providing a pathway to a happily ever after, which I think is what we all really want in not only our stories, but in real life too.
Dabney: Thanks! This was super interesting.
About Kami Tei: Kami Tei spent her adolescent years journeying with her mom from library to library, roaming the shelves to find her next great read. During college, Kami hid novels in her textbooks during class to read “just one more page.” Now there’s no hiding it! As an Amazon Editor, Kami spends the majority of her time reading romance, historical fiction, and pretty much anything else she can get her hands on.