Could anything be more comforting this time of year than curling up with a good romance novel and a cup of coffee? As the winter chill fully sets in, settling in with a cozy cowboy tale or alternately, a rom-com featuring LGBTQIA+ themes and characters may be just the thing to light a fire in your heart.
If you’re wondering if these two subgenres could be any more different… you may find it interesting to know that some of the most successful romances on the market today either possess the more traditional themes of western romance, or the relatively new lighthearted romance that are featured in queer rom-coms. The cowboy literature of the past has actually helped pave the way for LGBTQIA+ romance today. Read on to learn about some of the best cowboy and queer romance books available now, as well as how these two seemingly opposite subgenres now proudly reside together on the shelves that celebrate love.
Since March of 2020, romance book sales have increased in both print and e-books, proving that this warm-hearted genre serves as solace to many readers looking for an escape from the stress and anxiety of pandemic life. And among some of the most popular on the market today are western romances by authors such as Kari Lynn Dell, June Faver, Joanne Kennedy, Jennie Marts and Carolyn Brown.
In 2020 , The Best Cowboy Christmas Ever by June Faver, Blue Sky Cowboy Christmas by Joanne Kennedy, and Christmas at Home by Carolyn Brown, were published. Jennie Marts’s holiday-themed novel, Wish Upon a Cowboy was published just a year ago in 2019, and Kari Lynn Dell’s Mistletoe in Texas was released in 2018.
Although all these great titles were published within the last two years, cowboy romance isn’t anything new; it’s legacy stretches as far back as the 1800s. For as long as there has been western literature and its theme of rescuing—or winning the favor of—the heroine in question, there has been cowboy romance.
According to romance novelist, Sarah Wendell:
Cowboys have been a perennial part of romance, in terms of romantic archetypes. One of the reasons they’re a mainstay is because there is an inherent nobility in the idea of being a cowboy. England has dukes and earls and various forms of nobility; the United States has cowboys…. There is something very sexy about knowing that at four in the morning, if it’s twenty degrees below zero, that a guy’s going to get up and take care of things.
“The development of queer romance as a literary subtype emerges both parallel to and [are] intertwined with trends in mainstream romance literature,” states Katherine E. Lynch, Ruth E. Sternglantz and Len Barot in Queering the Romantic Heroine: Where Her Power Lies. The turn from strictly heterosexual cowboy romances to male/male (m/m) westerns in the early twentieth century followed the steadily burgeoning open-mindedness and acknowledgment of homosexuality in society at the time. These early works showed support for the queer community, as well as opened a door for LGBTQIA+ literature to be written and published.
“M/m romance is evolving at the same time that more types of queer romance stories are being told,” reported Slate, and the proof is certainly in the pudding. Two recent m/m romance novels of 2020 include Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert, and Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. Both popular novelists take familiar themes that readers love and use exceptional character development to elevate their stories to incredible new levels. While the surface of Albert’s story follows an enemies-to-lovers plotline, the true foundation of her novel involves her characters exploring identity and self-acceptance. Hall enjoys playing with the beloved “fake boyfriend” trope and throws in laugh-out-loud British humor; but the true heart of the story revolves around two young men struggling with their ideas of perfection and what their lives should look like. All these characters are given the opportunity to learn that love may not always be perfect; however, true love allows you to not only accept another person, but to accept (and love) yourself as well.
From western romance to m/m cowboy stories, and from modern m/m to the wider world of LGBTQIA+ romance, this love-filled genre has certainly become more inclusive and evolved for the better.
“Now, as opposed to a handful of years ago,” exclaims Wendell, “I can readily think of romances with transgender characters, romances with bisexual characters, YA with lesbian characters, or stories with polyamory in contemporary, historical, or matriarchal fantasy worlds.”