[DISCUSSION] Is the Romance Really Necessary?

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And I’m back with another discussion for the month of February! Valentine’s Day has long since passed and love has most likely dissipated from the air, but since it’s still the month of love, I thought I’d center my discussion topic around it! I was also supposed to post this on Friday, but I posted my last discussion post around this time, so why not do it again?

Imagine you’re reading a book. It’s a thriller, a fantasy, a sci-fi, a dystopian, pretty much any genre except contemporary. You’re completely entranced in the world the author has created. The main character is the perfect main character, tailored just for you, a character you’ve always dreamed of. The writing is absolutely stunning. Literally everything about this book is perfect, every element is coming together so wonderfully…and then the Generic Love Interest enters the building and entrances your hero/heroine into insta-love. You sigh, you scream, you throw your book against the wall, because, damn it, why does EVERY YA book have to have a stupid romance in it, when there doesn’t even need to be one? Can there ever be a YA book without a romance? Is that possible?

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Pictured Above: Everyone Reading Insta-Love

Which introduces the discussion topic: Is the Romance Really Necessary in YA Books and Why is It There in the First Place?

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that I just hate when romance comes in and ruins a perfectly good premise. It’s one of my main problems with YA mysteries/thrillers: it’s so damn good, so gory, but the author decides to focus more on the angsty backstory between the heroine and the love interest rather than, you know, solving the mystery. But this isn’t even just a problem in the mystery/thriller genre. This is basically a problem in all different types of genres, whether it be the assassin that’s too busy falling in love to actually do anything in fantasy or the revolutionary symbol who can’t choose between two hot guys in dystopians. 

I definitely am not against all romance that takes place in a different genre other than contemporary. Take Sarah J. Maas, for instance. I know some people hate her books, but I’m a huge fangirl of them, and if you know anything about her books, you know they create the biggest shipping wars the world has ever seen. Both Feyre and Aelin go have at least two different love interests in each of their respective series – the ACOTAR trilogy and the TOG series – but never have I ever felt that that the romance has gone first before the plot. The world-building is epic, the plot is complex, and the characters all shine in their own respective ways, and, yeah, there are hot sex scenes going along with that. Same with series such as the Raven Cycle, where even though the entire premise of the series is surrounding a forbidden kiss, relies more on friendship and magic than romance, or the novels These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner and The Program by Suzanne Young, that both feature gorgeous romances, but also take the time to deliver on their promising premises and push them to their full potential, even beyond what I thought I’d be given.

But with the good, comes the bad. There are two series that I think would’ve been absolutely fantastic if not for the romance – the 5th Wave trilogy by Rick Yancey and The Selection by Kiera Cass. My love for the 5th Wave trilogy waned as the books went on, and, unfortunately, completely halted once I finished The Last Star, and I remember that when writing my review, I realized that the series could have done without the romance. Evan and Cassie weren’t the adorable ship they had been when they first met, instead fighting and partaking in one of the worst sex scenes ever, and Ringer and Ben came out of absolutely nowhere (and you guys know how much I hate ships with zero build-up). And concerning The Selection, it’s probably one of the best examples of a dystomance I’ve seen in recent years. During the rise in popularity of books like The Hunger Games  and Divergent, most authors decided to write their own dystopian novels, where they basically all ended up being about a world where a basic right is taken away and a sixteen-year-old girl has to serve as both a revolution symbol and a love interest at the same time, but focuses more on the romance than the world-building or the plot or basic realisticness, hence dystomance. The Selection could definitely have potential, as expressed much better than I ever could in this Goodreads review from a user named Kiki, but is instead wasted on an infuriatingly stupid heroine and a love triangle between the Boring Prince and the Boring Ex.

This goes without mentioning other popular and extremely loved series whose premises were ruined by romance, in my opinion, namely the Shatter Me trilogy, the Mara Dyer trilogy, and the Winner’s trilogy. All series that had such amazing plots and a great cast of characters, but ruined it with love triangles, crappy love interests, and boring forbidden love subplots.

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And then you have to wonder why it’s there in the first place. And the answer is consumerism, that’s why! We, as readers, usually consume these types of books, hence every new debut that comes out that now explicitly states that we’re in for a “steamy” or “forbidden” romance with a “mysterious stranger.” And though it might be met with snarky pre-reviews or eye-rolls, it really doesn’t matter when it comes down to the sales. It’s sort of the same thing when reviewers complain that books are super cliche, so why are they still being published? Well, of course they’re being published when there are five-star reviews for the book plastered everywhere on Goodreads. 

To conclude this discussion, I thought it’d be nice to include some books that have no romance at all, or little to none to the point where it doesn’t really affect the plot. I haven’t read all of these listed here, most of them have good reviews, and even if they don’t, I believe in reading it for yourself because you never know what you’ll like, so feel free to explore! There are a lot of genres included, so no one should feel left out!

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Vicious, The Giver, Illuminae, 172 Hours on the Moon, and Red Rising

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This Savage Song, Half A King, The Darkest Corners, The Women in the Walls, and Everybody Sees the Ants

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Wonder, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Stranger Game, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

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Two Boys Kissing, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, All American Boys,  The Book Thief, and Scythe

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MARY: The Summoning, The Merciless, The Call, Bird Box, and The Detour

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Dangerous Girls, With Malice, Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, A Monster Calls, and Scary Out There

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And if you want even more recommendations, here’s Cait @ Paper Fury’s post recommending YA books without romance! I haven’t read many of those either, so, obviously onto the TBR list they go!

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This wouldn’t be a proper discussion post without asking your opinion, so here it is: What do you think about romance in YA books? Do you prefer romance or plot? What are some series that you think balanced the romance well or did it horribly?

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46 thoughts on “[DISCUSSION] Is the Romance Really Necessary?

  1. I love this discussion. I agree that romance isn’t always necessary, and sometimes completely ruins a book. I really love a good romance, I’m not going to lie, but sometimes it just feels SO unnecessary, it makes me so mad ahah. I would totally recommend Alice Oseman’s books, Solitaire and my favorite, Radio Silence: both are without any romance and really, really good! 🙂

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    1. Yes, exactly! I LOVE me some romance when it’s done right, but sometimes I read a synopsis and I’m so excited, and then they talk about a mysterious stranger, and I just grown. 😂 And, yes, I totally forgot Alice Oseman! I think Radio Silence is coming out next month in the U.S., so that’s exciting!

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  2. Great post!! I think romance needs to be done very carefully, especially in YA. If it seems natural and adds to the storyline, I’m all for it! But far to often, I come across romances that seem to be added just because. In these cases, I find that the romances actually take away from the story.

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    1. Thank you! And, yeah, exactly. There are so many romances that feel as if they’re forced, and I can name a couple of books that I would have loved if it was just platonic or if there wasn’t a romance at all! It only takes a little bit of insta-love to ruin a good book.

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  3. This is a great discussion Mikaela, and actually there is a lot of romance in YA contemporary, in fact I can’t really remember too many books that don’t have some kind of romance in, and while some of the books you mentioned actually work in the romance alongside the plot (I think Sarah J. Maas is amazing at this, developing her characters, their relationships and the story itself) there are a few too many books out there that really you could take or leave the romance couldn’t you?
    Also the books you featured at the end, and there’s a lot of them, are some of my favourites as well so it just goes to show you don’t always need romance to create a popular and successful book do you? 🙂

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    1. Yes, there is SO MANY CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES. It’s gotten to the point where I immediately assume every contemporary has a romance, which sucks because there are contemporaries that could easily have none and focus on family and friends. And, yeah, I think SJM nails it; everything just works together so wonderfully in her books. But, yes, I could name so many books where if the romance wasn’t there, is wouldn’t have cared. 😂

      And, yep, definitely! Especially since it seems like so many readers prefer less romance. I wish more authors gave it a try but I think it’s harder to sell to publishers probably. 😝

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      1. There are a lot out there, there are a few where the romance angle either isn’t at the foreground of the book or where it isn’t in there at all which kind of makes for a nice change doesn’t it?
        I don’t normally like love triangles by SJM does it really well. Her books don’t feel like love triangles more like her characters growing and realising they don’t want the same people they once did you know?
        Probably but there’s got to be a market for books with little or no romance, I’m sure there’d be quite a few readers interested in that side of things.

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      2. Oh, yeah, definitely! I don’t really hate love triangles, per se, but I love how SJM handles her romances. I know most people seem to HATE it, but I prefer the fact that its more realistic since most YA romances sort of push this, “The first boy you run into is your soulmate” message. And her character development is on point!

        And, yeah, obviously there is, but I don’t know if publishers know that, but it’s certainly interesting!

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      3. I think by this point I’ve read more well written love triangles than not so they’re a trope that’s improving a little in my mind. Still I can’t deny that I prefer books without them.
        Yeah that is definitely unrealistic in YA fiction, it can happen, but not as often as they make it seem you know?

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  4. This is such a great discussion post! ❤ I'm never one to reject a well-developed romance, and I love having my ships in YA books aha but I definitely don't think they need to be in every book! It's horrible when it's just included without any development (instalove ugh not the biggest fan there) or takes away from the story and is unnecessary. It definitely sells, but is so not necessary sometimes!

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    1. Aw, thank you, Analee! 😄 And yes, I don’t like insta-love either. It kills it for me every time. And, yes, I love my well-developed ships; they give me life. And, yep, it definitely gets people to buy books (and probably publish them, too), but it’d be great for platonic relationships to shine. 😄

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  5. A really great post! I don’t read that much YA anymore, but I feel like in so many of the books I read the romance overpowered the plot, which is so annoying. However, when the romance is executed well, I think it can definitely add to the reader’s involvment. For example, I love the romance subplots of Six of Crows or Truthwitch and they made me appreciate the books even more, but those romances in no way outshine the rest of the book for me. So is it necessary? Of course not. Can it ruin the book? Absolutely. But can it add more to the experience? Definitely. 😊

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    1. Haha, yes, it’s definitely a YA thing! I mean, there’s romance in my adult thrillers sometimes (Into the Darkest Corner is the first example), but it’s usually done well and incorporates into the story, while I feel like YA is just ~there~. And yes, all the ships in Six of Crows; that’s another fantastic example? And yeah, I agree, it can definitely ruin a book, but also help it! 😄

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  6. I agree! Sometimes romance will just ruin a series or book. And sometimes You’re like AGH KISS ALREADY JUST KIIIIIIIIISS. And noooo what have you done, Mikaela? NOW MY TBR IS EVEN BIGGER. *bursts into tears* Also, I’m reading Scythe right now and I’m so glad there’s no romance in it because, while I’m only on like Chapter 3, it doesn’t seem like a book to have romance??? GREAT POST, AND I’M HITTING MYSELF FOR NOT FOLLOWING YOU LIKE HOW???

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    1. LOL, completely accurate. How many times have I screamed “JUST KISS ALREADY SKSJAKSJ” in my head? Like, a bajillion. 😂 AND I’M SORRY; I LOVE GIVING RECOMMENDATIONS. And, yep, Scythe has minimal romance between the two main characters; they don’t interact too much, and I actually thought it was cute. AND AWW THANK YOU. ❤😊

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      1. I know right? I’ll just be like “WHY ARE YOU TAKING SO LONG??? JUST. KISS.” IT’S OKAY. I’ll just sit here and rot as my TBR eats me. XD I LOVE SCYTHE SO FAR(aday) IT IS SO AMAZING AND AGALSDHGLASDHG. And you’re welcome! 🙂

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  7. I do like romance in a book but I like believable romance. I can’t stand insta-love and I don’t want the relationship to be the main focus of the book. It should come second to the plot for sure. If there’s great world building, an interesting plot and great characters, then sure throw some romance in there if you want, but don’t make it overpowering. Even though I don’t mind it I also don’t think it absolutely HAS to be in a book in order for the book to be good. Sometimes I really enjoy a no romance book. One’s about friendship or family. It’s a nice change! Really great post!

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    1. Yes, all this! 🙌🏾 I can’t stand insta-love either; it drives me absolutely nuts. I always prefer romance to come second in a non-contemporary book just because I’m usually there for the romance, not the love interest, personally. And, yeah, I love diving into a book with no romance! Thank you! ❤

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  8. I’m usually fine with some romance on novels but a high fantasy/dystopian book with love triangle trope is quite a no-no for me. And those books that give me both romance and emotional blackmail are just blah… But yeah, romance isn’t really necessary sometimes.

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    1. Haha, I haven’t read too many books with a love triangle in them, but I’ve read a lot with insta-love, and it always sucks. 🙈 I definitely agree; I wish more authors wouldn’t include it.

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  9. I’m one of the biggest shipper out there so yeah I’m all for romance in books hahaha HOWEVER, it has to be realistic, necessary, and actually does something for the plot instead of just being there just because. With fantasy, I’d prefer the romance to take the back seat because the stakes are high and in my opinion it would be so, so stupid for the characters to prioritize their romance over their quest. Yet I enjoy slow burn romance like Penryn-Raffe in Angelfall, mainly because both of them know their priorities haha I love the romance in ToG and ACOTAR but I don’t understand why every single characters had to be paired off. I think it’s unnecessary for [SPOILER] Manon/Dorian and Lucien/Elain and god forbid SJM will create a love interest for Amren.[SPOILER ENDS] Sorry! But don’t worry I still ship Feyre/Rhysand and Mor/Az hahaha 😛 great post!

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    1. Yeah, I’m the same with fantasy! I feel like nowadays, with Throne of Glass becoming so huge, pretty much all fantasy debuts are including love triangles and cheesy romance and it’s not necessary at all?? Like, I’ve read too many YA fantasy books that are just becoming the same thing over again, and it’s not like it’s their fault because if they published it years ago, I probably would have loved it, but now eh. And, yes, Penryn and Raffe were so cute together. I love romances where it takes books to happen. The slow-burn is worth it. Haha, I know some people HATE that, but I love it when all the characters are paired off. 😝 I loved it in Six of Crows, The Lunar Chronicles, and The Mortal Instruments series. It’s cheesy, but it’s so much fun. 🙈

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      1. Yeah, I saw your reviews for that series! Sucks that it had a love triangle. AND YES TO CRESS AND THORNE AND WINTER AND JACIN. They’re my babies. 😍 I think my favorite SOC ship is Jesper and Wylan, for sure. ❤

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  10. This is such a great discussion topic! Truthfully, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I definitely think that romance is way too prevalent in YA literature, a lot of the time I think author’s just throw it in because the publishing market sort of requires it. But I’ve read several YA books without romance (or with very little), and thought that they could’ve used a love interest in order to spice things up. For me, a good romance is often what will keep me flipping pages. But a bad romance can often kill an entire book or series (like with The Winner’s Curse). So I’m not really sure is romance is always necessary, I definitely think it mostly depends on the book! 😅❤

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    1. Oh, yeah, I agree with the publishing thing! I want to get into the publishing industry as a job so it really interests me how much influence they have over what authors include and don’t include in books. Now I’m wondering what the rejected novels are like. 😂 And, ooh, that’s interesting. I have yet to read a book with no romance that disappointed me. And, yeah, agree with The Winner’s Curse; everything was on point except that boring romance. 🙈 And, definitely, it depends on the book! I’ve read some YA thrillers that have a good romance, so it’s not all bad!

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  11. I’m really loving your discussion posts – you put so much thought into them! I definitely don’t think that romance is necessary in YA. In a romance I understand it – because it’s a romance. But, in a normal YA it is rarely necessary. I think that publishers and authors have got it into their heads that we want a romance in every book that we read. Personally, while I love a good romance (and I mean good, not half of the stuff in YA books) I do think that a friendship can be even more impactful and important.

    Especially, with some High Fatasy novels, where the world and the complex characters take up so much of the pages already. And then on top of that there is always the actual plot so romance seems a little unnecessary.

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    1. Aw, thank you so much! That’s so sweet! 😊 And, haha, they probably do! I think publishers probably find it easy to market as well, because I’ve noticed that when authors blurb YA non-contemporary, they always talk about “the steamy romance” and about literally nothing else. 😂 And, yes, I’m all for friendships! I don’t think The Raven Cycle would gave the same impact of not for the Gangsey. ❤

      Ugh, fantasy with romance is such a treacherous mix. I feel like so many people are writing YA fantasy-lite books that aren’t too complex and are more focused on the romance, which is always disappointing!

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  12. Some really good points here, Mikaela! I actually really love romance, but I dislike it when it overtakes the plot… unless it is marketed as such. Like I have no problem reading NA/Romance, but books promoted to be “a high fantasy with lots of adventure!” (for example) need to deliver exactly that with romance as an addition.

    Some of the books that you mentioned as having little to no romance – Vicious, Red Rising, This Savage Song, Me and Earl – are some of my most enjoyable reads. I actually feel like VE Schwab, especially, writes romance in the exact way I want it: ship-worthy, but the actual plot takes control first that everything else feels like a gift instead of a given. 😛

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    1. Oh, yes, I have a habit of reading cheesy gay romances when I’m in a slump because they’re so easy to read, so I feel you on that! But, yeah, I hate that as well! I said in someone else’s comment that it feels like blurbs are being overtaken by romance, so at least they’re being more honest? 😂 But I definitely hate mis-marketing; that’s always annoying.

      I love Red Rising and Vicious as well! I’m reading This Savage Song and Me and Earl is on my TBR! And, yes, V.E. Schwab is one of my favorites; she’s just so good! 😄

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  13. I love this discussion, Mikaela! Truth be told I have to admit that I do tend to like the romance aspect of books, be it fantasy or any other genre. But, like you, I also don’t like it when it overshadows the plot. I’d rather a book, especially fantasy, have incredible characters, world building, plot, and backstory going on with romance as the side treat more than anything. I see it as if I want a romance-centric novel then I’ll look for it in the YA or NA romance genre but I don’t want it everywhere. And I completely agree with you on SJM! I’ve only read ACOTAR and ACOMAF at the moment but I love how the romance never takes over the story. It’s there and it is definitely fangirl worthy but there’s always so much more to it than just the romance. Another series that I adore (as in favorite series ever) that puts the romance on the backseat is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon! It has one of my top ships but it isn’t the main focus at all. Great discussion!! 😁💕

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    1. Thank you so much, Melissa! 😄 Oh, no shame in that; we all love and hate different things! And, yeah, same thing for fantasy; I’m more into plot and characters than the romance. And yes, exactly! Her books are always the type I’ve been wanting in NA, since I feel like there’s not enough where there’s a balance between the plot and romance, it’s just sex? 😂 But that may be personal opinion. And you talk so highly about this book; it makes me want to read it! 😄 Thank you! ❤

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      1. You’re welcome!! 😁
        I completely agree with you about the lack of balance in NA between the plot and romance. Though I do expect it from the contemporary side of the genre but I’ve noticed the same in several NA fantasies that I’ve read. ACOTAR really does have more of that plot romance balance that I wish was more often in NA fantasy too. But it kind of sucks how they aren’t always classified as NA but rather YA. I’ve always found that weird lol.
        You so should! If you’re big into fantasy then I definitely recommend The Bone Season. 😊💕

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      2. Yeah, classification is weird. Books are usually classified by the main character’s age range, but we have Harry Potter and Percy Jackson who grow up to be 17, but are still considered Middle Grade, and then we have Fangirl, which takes place in college, and both of SJM’s series start out with characters 18+ (Aelin is 18 in the beginning of TOG), yet they’re all counted as YA? It’s weird. 😂

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      3. It really is weird! I think with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson it’s more of the content being Middle Grade and up appropriate. There isn’t any explicit content or situations (though I never finished PJ). And then the fact that the main characters are younger in the beginning. With Fangril there also isn’t anything explicit so it fits YA. But with SJM she definitely does not shy away from NA level sexual content in her books. I’ll never understand the YA classification for them. 😂

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  14. These are some accurate lists you’ve put together here, nice job! I’ve read A LOT of these books, and I can totally get every point you made in this discussion…I mean the last time I read a book without romance was ummm the dictionary? Ahahaha.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much! 😄 I thought it’d be a good idea to give out recs since there’s no point about having a discussion about books and at least give out some recommendations! And haha, I haven’t touched a dictionary in so long! Probably since the third grade? 😂

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  15. Great post. I like how you did your post including books that have the romance and those that don’t. I loved the Book Thief and it was just perfect. I really don’t like romance especially in thrillers. Sometimes its so random and adds absolutely nothing to the story. Other times, it ruins a good story. For instance; I really hate it when the detectives and the suspects ‘fall’ in love in the middle of an investigation. Its just weird and unnecessary and unrealistic in some cases.

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    1. I actually need to still read The Book Thief! I’m not a huge historical fiction fan, but I’ll probably pick it up (eventually). And, yes, I feel the same way! Not a huge fan of the whole “he’s a guy, she’s a girl, they’re investigating and fall in love” thing. It’s always come off as cheesy to me, and can be completely unnecessary when we’re trying to solve the case of the serial killer going around slaughtering kids. Like, how do we have time for this??? 😂

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