Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and I have to admit…I’ve never been a huge fan of straight-up romance novels or movies.  On the other hand, my husband enjoys watching the occasional “Rom-Com.”  When he asks me to join him, my typically response is, “are there aliens in the movie too?”  Now if you want to sit down and watch Star Trek, Star Wars, or an episode of MST3K, count me in!  But when romance is the central theme…meh.  Bookish-wise, I’d say I’m more of a feminist reader.

There are novels I adore which have light romance in them, so I thought I’d share a few recommendations during this month of romance.  And while the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books are obvious choices, I’ll be highlighting some lesser-known options. So here are a few novels and/or series for those readers who prefer their romance as a side dish instead of as the main course (in no particular order):

Death on the Sapphire by R.J. Koreto

If you’re looking for a charming Edwardian-era mystery with a witty female lead, you’ll enjoy this book.  While trying to locate a missing manuscript, our main character is courted by two very different men, one in her social class and another who society considers ‘below’ her rank.  But our main character has never let society dictate her morals.  With its memorable heroine, rich atmosphere, light sprinkling of romance, and intriguing mystery, this is a highly-entertaining story.

The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood by Henderson Smith

Smith does a brilliant job exploring the meaning of beauty.  One of the author’s main points is to illustrate that people can and should be seen for their deeds over outward appearances.  The main characters are not the most attractive people in the lands, and the story is made more compelling because of that.  This book is rare in the way it balances magic, adventure, royalty, beauty, and (in the end) true love.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

There was a beautiful blurring of magic and reality within the pages of this book. The main character is driven by love for her family and a desire to protect her sister.  When her sister and other members of her desert clan begin praying for her spirit, as they fear an untimely death awaits her at the hands of her new husband, our main character develops special magical abilities.  Her husband, Lo-Melkhiin, has been possessed by a magical being who feeds off other people’s souls while Lo-Melkhiin himself has become an observer trapped in his own mind. In the end, this is a story about a woman’s strength of spirit with a very satisfying ending.

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

This book will please readers who enjoy elements of steampunk, alternate reality, historical fiction, magic wielding, revolutionary spies, and/or romantic adventures with a dash of Jane Austen flair thrown in.  But what’s most alluring about the plot is Swendson’s exploration of the-end-justifies-the-means methods and how issues are not merely black and white in nature.  A charming read with a magic vs. steam power struggle!

Death by Darjeeling (A Tea Shop Mystery #1) by Laura Childs

I thought I’d add a cozy mystery to the list for fun!  Childs kept a good balance between the main character’s personal life and her movement within the murder mystery.  This is not an edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller, but it’s cute and will keep you guessing.  Plus, Childs knows her teas, and I love my loose-leaf teas!  Dive into some Southern hospitality with this well-steeped story.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Stop thinking Twilight.  This is nothing like Twilight except in the fact that Meyer has once again created an impossibly-torn supernatural love triangle.  Actually, this book is a love quadruple (triangles are too simple for this story).  What was interesting for me was how Meyer approached the story from the perspective the aliens rather than using a human POV, an interesting twist on typical alien-takeover stories and, despite its length, had me hooked from beginning to end.  Meyer effortlessly weaves through many moral issues viewed from both sides of the fence (alien vs. human).  Plus: No vampires.

How To Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

I’m now noticing there is a lot of “Death” in my title recommendations.  Honestly, my bookshelf is not filled with murder books!  But I couldn’t resist this choice.  It contains mystery, witchcraft, humor, and a little adventure.  Noser has penned a powerful character drama with lots of surprises and a unique twist on paranormal romance.

Core (Core #1) by Teshelle Combs

Combs creates a new and original exploration of dragon lore. Through the author’s two main characters, a dragon-rider pair, readers get a beautiful look into a different sort of love: platonic. It wasn’t love that got in the way of situations or created unnecessary misunderstandings. The plot is driven by the unique characters and their growth both individually and together as a platonic couple.  Plus: Dragons!

SERIES: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Okay, this is a popular choice (going against what I said above), but these books were a personal favorite of mine growing up.  Anne blazes a trail as a girl with a purpose in a time when female ambition was considered “unwomanly.”  Anne’s smart, imaginative, self-sufficient, and didn’t let society tell her what she could and couldn’t do.  I loved her independent spirit but was so happy when Anne finally said yes to Gilbert because they were definitely made for each other.  You had me at carrots!

I hope you’ll add a few of these delightful books to your ‘to read’ lists.  Feel free to share some of your favorites with me on Twitter using the tag #SideDishRomance.