8 Romance Novels With Cranky Characters Who Need Love Too

I adore a good cranky character in a romance, especially if they stay on the cranky side even after falling in love. These books have some of my favorite misanthropes, anti-social pessimists, and suspicious cynics who would NEVER have let this annoying person into their lives if they knew what would happen. Hope you find something that looks good for your next read! (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)

Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.

Farm of Fancy by Julianna Thorn (Amazon / Goodreads)

I haven’t had time to review this, but I adore it. Gabe is our crankypants in this one. Here’s the (condensed) blurb: “Gabe Byrne likes the simple life. Quiet, coffee, and the company of his horse are all he needs. David Meloy might be new to small-town life, but after the sudden passing of his husband, a fresh start is exactly what he needs. With his own vet practice and a new dog to keep him company, life is starting to feel good again. If only Gabe Byrne would stop insulting him in public. David’s a professional, so when the call comes about Gabe’s sick mare, David answers — even if it means getting stuck in a blizzard. Trapped together by the storm, can they look past their arguments to find a connection? Or will David’s conflicted feelings, Gabe’s insecurities, and the hard realities of small-town life rise to stand in their way?”

Gays of Our Lives by Kris Ripper (Amazon / Goodreads)

An opposites-attract romance between two very different gay men: Emerson Robinette, an often-caustic, depressed teacher with MS, and Obie Magovney, a cheerful hipster who rides a motorcycle and sells handmade ties. Emerson isn’t even a year out from his diagnosis, and he’s NOT in a good place with it yet. He’s given up on relationships, especially since he’s convinced his body won’t allow him to live out his BDSM fantasies with a partner. Obie, however, doesn’t see any reason why Emerson can’t have what he wants. He accepts Emerson as-is and helps him start exploring both his kink and the possibility of being happy.

Even on a second read, I never got a great feel for Obie except as a plot device to coax Emerson out of his shell. The story beats are there, so it may be my problem. But as someone who’s had chronic pain interfering in her life for over 20 years, I treasured this depiction of a healthy relationship where Emerson’s physical ups and downs aren’t seen by his partner as a big problem.

This was my first romance novel with narration that breaks the fourth wall, and I quite enjoyed that aspect of it.

Small Change by Roan Parrish (Amazon / Goodreads)

Dear Universe, I would like more high quality M/F queer romance, please, and soon. Please see this book for an example.

It’s about Ginger Holtzman, a prickly, stressed-out bisexual Jewish tattoo shop owner and painter, who does NOT trust cute, friendly sandwich shop owner Christopher Lucen, even though he’s clearly smitten with her. Well, it’s clear if you’re not Ginger, because she doesn’t trust even the idea of smitten. Also she’s far too busy working her ass off managing her business (and being rightfully pissed off about how the world treats anyone who deviates from the allocishet white man “norm.”) But, uh, Chris is quite sweet… and he does seem awfully forgiving of her rough edges…

What follows is a reversal of common romance tropes, and it’s so refreshing. Chris feeds Ginger, tries to understand her even when she doesn’t understand herself, and does his best to be patient even when she lashes out. The woman gets the aloof, suspicious role, and the man is the nurturer who coaxes her out. In addition, part of Ginger’s character arc is rethinking what professional success means before the consequences of her overworking irreparably damage her relationship with Chris. There’s such a great mix of charming sweet moments and deeper, challenging emotional conversations here, mixing the budding romance with Ginger’s individual journey towards trust and also re-balancing her life.

As a bi woman who’s married to a man, I really appreciated how Ginger’s queer identity and her connection to the queer community are always central for her though she’s in a M/F relationship. Also loved how Parrish showed the conflict between Ginger’s experience with sexism and Chris working to understand and manage his male privilege. Parrish is GREAT at writing romances that engage with big themes and issues by showing how they play out in people’s lives, and she does that here in a deeply satisfying way.

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant (Amazon / Goodreads)

“After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.”

Simple After All by Yolande Kleinn (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Noah Fiore, contracts attorney and dedicated curmudgeon, spends every Christmas with his family on the shore of Lake Superior. It’s practically tradition for his sister to invite some lonely acquaintance along for the festivities.

But this year’s guest is no pity case. Riley Coto is a friend, whose warmth and charm instantly win over the collective hearts of the Fiore family—all except Noah, who remains as dour and unapproachable as ever.

Riley finds himself inexplicably drawn to Noah. Something tells him there’s more to the man than stubborn work ethic and bad attitude. With Christmas fast approaching, Riley is falling for Noah, and there’s nothing simple about that.”

The Music and the Mirror by Lola Keeley (Ylva Publishing / Amazon / Goodreads)

One of my fave F/F romances, between a younger bi gal and an older lesbian. Aspiring ballerina Anna catches the attention of demanding ice queen Victoria, the prima who retired due to disabling injury and now directs the company. That attention is at first professional. Victoria is chafing to do something more adventurous with the company’s next season, and she thinks Anna’s raw talent can help her get there. As the two women work together, though, neither can deny the mutual developing crush. I adored how so much of it was based on mutual admiration for each other’s talents and accomplishments, not just physical spark. It’s delightful to watch Victoria fumble around with her new and unfamiliar feelings, because she gets so cranky and fussy when she’s off-balance.

I’m normally wary of boss-employee romances, and I’m not sure the characters’ eventual framing of it as within the artistic tradition of a creator/choreographer and a muse/performer would resolve my concerns in real life. However, Keeley is quite willing to give both characters career options that don’t include each other, so it doesn’t feel like a situation where Anna will pay a high price if she decides Victoria isn’t for her. It felt much more grounded to me than the boss-employee romances that never ask the questions.

Note: This book includes a Harry Potter reference; it was published in 2018.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian (Amazon / Goodreads)

An opposites attract gay Regency romance between Jack Turner, a perpetually grumpy (he would say realistic) lower class “fixer” who helps women with difficulties they need kept secret, and disabled war veteran Oliver Rivington, a gentleman who usually sees the world in black and white.

Blended with an interesting mystery is a love story that can be summarized as Oliver thinking “Oh HEY I really like this guy, could I actually have a relationship and not just occasional sex? What a startling idea. And maybe I should try having it with this guy here because I really like him?” and Jack thinking “What the hell are you thinking, that would never work, we’re from two different worlds, get away from me, you, you… rich guy who doesn’t know anything about he the world works! Wait, I guess you could stick around for another day or two…” It’s so SWEET. Both characters move from resignation to hope in their own way, even though Jack won’t admit it’s happening, because he’s Jack.

As many Goodreads reviewers have pointed out, it’s also a deeply feminist book. Part of Oliver’s character arc is learning what Jack already knows, that women don’t have the same power men do to control their own lives, and thus the solutions to their problems can’t always be the same. Love that about it.

If you like that, then I also recommend Sebastian’s next book, The Lawrence Browne Affair (Amazon / Goodreads).

Winning Move by Skye Kilaen, who is me (Amazon / Goodreads)

“No dating. That’s longtime divorcée Gina Kersey’s rule, and she’s sticking to it. Comfortably settled in her hometown of Clover Hill, she’d rather play board games than risk getting played herself. For company, she has her beloved if slightly meddlesome Great Aunt… who’s somehow made Gina promise to break her rule. She has to ask someone out. On a date. Maybe she could skip town instead?

Outgoing video game translator Marek Haas flew across the country to pick up the sports car of his teenage dreams—to celebrate getting over a breakup from the absolute worst boyfriend, not because he’s having a midlife crisis at thirty-five. In his automotive fantasies, though, the car didn’t break down in the middle of small-town nowhere.

Marek’s not a damsel in distress, but when Gina comes to his rescue on the side of the road, she can’t believe her luck. He’s handsome, charming, and most importantly, just passing through. Promise, meet loophole! When he turns out to be adorably nerdy as well, they skip drinks at the pub for a fun-filled night in Gina’s bed.

The problem? Marek’s vintage car needs parts the garage doesn’t have, so he’s stuck until they’re found. Meaning every time Gina turns around, her hot one night stand is still in her town, being all cute and friendly and sometimes taking his shirt off. Even worse, he seems to be falling for Clover Hill… and Gina might be falling for him.

Can Gina overcome her fears and take a chance on a geeky sweetheart who makes her weak at the knees, or will their unforgettable one night stand end up as nothing more than a memory?”

And that’s the list!