Design

Let’s Talk About Romance (Novels)

The Best Romance Novels

When I was eleven, my two favorite books were…

…Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and The Gift by Danielle Steel. Yes, I was an early reader, and my favorite subject was love. Any book with a falling-in-love element was a book I wanted to read, and romance novels always fit the bill. My mother didn’t censor my reading materials, so I was free to read whatever I wanted as much as I wanted. Up until my senior year of high school, I read one new romance novel per week.

Romance novels were page-turners, they always ended happily, and most important, they were a way for me to be exposed to and explore sexual or erotic thoughts before I was actually ready to talk about them. And unlike other books where the act of sex was either inferred or stated plainly, romance novels introduced me to a whole other language about getting down and dirty. It was a decadent language where your love touching your arm might be described as, “A strong hand, hot with desire, stroking my forearm, and making direct connect with the white hot current running just beneath my skin.”

I loved them.

Still, when I left for college, I donated or packed away the majority of my romance novels. I decided to get serious about the literary merits of real novels and leave what I had been told was a childish attachment to happy endings and heartstrings behind. While I studied the classics as an English major, I mostly avoided the romance genre, but every once in a while I’d indulge and become privately obsessed with some new series. I didn’t talk about these books to anyone except my best friend, but I got so much enjoyment from them.

Then, last year inspired me to do something that was just for me.

I started a romance novel book club. Something in me knew I needed this. In a room full of people who were also suckers for happily-ever-after, I needed to talk about relationships, pleasure and SEX. Now, 10 to 15 brilliant women (and one awesome dude!) meet me at Greenlight Bookstore once a month. These folks range in age from early twenties to fifties, some are writers, some are executives, others are neither, and it may be the most racially diverse group I’ve ever been part of. The only thing we all have in common is our love for the romance novel, and our deep desire to discuss, critique and celebrate the genre.

Because I’m back in the romance reading game, I’m finding there is much more to these books and communities than I’d ever imagined. Just last week, I visited a romance-only bookstore in Los Angeles called The Ripped Bodice. I met Leah Koch, who co-owns the store with her sister, Bea. Leah showed me around the store pointing out all they had to offer, including many, many books with LGBTQ and POC protagonists. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Leah Koch said, “People who are not straight, white and Christian are not adequately represented in romance novels.” Which is something I’d noticed even before visiting their store, but was delighted to find they had already strongly addressed.

Now, I know there are others like me out there, women who are afraid of being taken less seriously because we read romance novels, but let me assure you: that’s bullshit.

Depending on your tastes, here are a few of my faves:

IF YOU LIKE History and spies
READ An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT Set during The Civil War, Elle Burns is a free black woman who returns to the South as a spy for the Union Army, and soon finds herself working with and falling for Malcom McCall, an undercover detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. It’s an intense story, but incredibly satisfying.
QUOTE “Her lips were a dusky rose, slightly parted, as if blooming for him, and the sight sent a jolt through him. His mind ceased functioning, and for a moment all that existed for him was her.”

IF YOU LIKE Independent women and family dramas
READ Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT Olivia Kane and Nicholas Chandler were childhood sweethearts, bound by close family business ties — and their love. Then everything fell apart. Now, they’re both back in their old hometown, and tensions are rising, but so is the heat between them. I’ve read the first two books in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, and am eagerly awaiting the third.
QUOTE “You don’t have to trust me completely right now, but watch me. Watch me fight for you this time.”

IF YOU LIKE Stories set in the past that are still hilarious and sexy
READ The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT I picked up this book on a whim, and it ended up being one of my favorite reads in 2017. Emma Gladstone and The Duke of Ashbury find themselves in a marriage of convenience, but their feelings begin to grow. This book is pure pleasure and hilarity from beginning to end. If you’re looking for something that will affect you, but won’t wring you out to dry, pick up this compelling novel.
QUOTE “’You’re here,’ he repeated, taking her hand and drawing it against his chest, right above his pounding heartbeat. ‘In my heart. Somehow, you crashed your way into it when I wasn’t looking. The same way you barged into my library, I suppose. But you’re here now, inside. Emma, you’re the very life of me.'”

It’s already feeling a little steamier in here, and I like it. And more important, I’m not afraid to say I like it. Do you read romance novels? Share your thoughts in the comments! I can’t wait to hear from you all.

P.S. More about books, including an articles club and the most beautiful thing we ever read.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

  1. e. Moore says...

    i know that i am really, really late commenting on this post, but i came across this article the other day and now just finished reading your more recent post “15 great reader comments on books.” the comment from J. Marie reminded me of this article. as an avid closet reader of all things romance, it really made me thing. i regular review and share books i’ve read on my goodreads account, but not the many, many romance novels for fear that people might judge and question my intellect. how shameful! please, check out this article. https://bookriot.com/2018/05/03/misogyny-around-romance-novels/

  2. Laura says...

    Thank you for the recommendations. As I read your posting. You remind me so much of myself as a teen. I love romance. I love the story of falling in love. I am a happily married woman but these novels bring a newness to my relationship every time. I would recommend Lynn Austin’s Candle In the Darkness. Beautiful literature.

  3. Anne says...

    So glad I found this post! European winters can be long and dark. So there is nothing better than a good romance novel to warm you up.
    I got hooked up by a friend who gave me Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby but Mine to read. I was also obsessed with the Stephanie Plum series as a teen.
    I really enjoyed the latest Christina Lauren novel Love and Other Words. Their writing gets better with each book. Tessa Dare is also my go-to author for historical romance. I absolutely loved Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Carry On. There’re definitely a lot of great Young Adult romance novels out there! Colleen Hoover’s books can be a hit or miss for me, but It Ends With Us is definitely worth a read.
    That being said, reading romance novels has also been an eye opener: There’re still a lot of toxic tropes, slut shaming and internalized misogyny in some of these books and most of them get rave reviews. I came across a lot of novels, where a harmful relationship was portrayed as something romantic.

  4. Kris Bauers says...

    I love this site, I dabble in the romance world as well but I crave a well written good story, it just can’t be too cheesy! Thank you for this list I appreciate some of the recommendations and will be adding them to my TBR list! I just finished Palpable Passions by Tom Corbett, the title threw me off a bit but I am so glad I persevered. Well written love story with so many other worthwhile elements. I highly recommend it.
    I found it here, http://www.thomascorbettauthor.com

  5. Cindy says...

    I too am a closet romance book reader (thank you Kindle). My favorites are Kate Meader (firefighters and hockey!), Catherine Bybee, Georgia Cates (loved the Sin series), Emma Chase, Rosalind James (big fan of the All Blacks now), Jamie McGuire, Kristen Proby, Nora Roberts, Cherise Sinclair (erotic) and Tara Sivec (hilarious books).

  6. o. says...

    For lovers of fantasy/sci-fi and smart, independent, can-do women, Sarah Maas’s trilogy called “A court of thorns and roses” is just what the doctor’s ordered. Steamy, empowering, inspiring.

    • Stace says...

      The entire series is downright steamy – with a strong female lead, who comes into her own by the end of the trilogy. And Rhysand…. Oh Rhys. I keep re-reading it :-)

  7. K Chou says...

    I love Mariana Zapata and Penny Reid. Mariana’s books have a realistic timelines of a relationships. Penny’s books are funny and features strong, smart women.

    • K Chou says...

      Wow, that sentence did not make sense. Mariana’s books have realistic timelines of relationships. None of the instan-love that is so popular now.

  8. Emma says...

    Ashley — THANK YOU for this post! You’ve given me permission to unapologetically read and enjoy romance novels. If someone as smart, well-read and thoughtful as you can enjoy them, so can I! The world is so complicated right now — I’m grateful to escape to something simpler, with a guaranteed happy ending. And to all of the lovely women who have commented: I will be following many of your recommendations.

    Ashley — please post again from time to time with new recommendations! I’ve already read “Hate to Want You” and “The Duchess Deal” and both were fabulous.

  9. carmen says...

    I read all the comments and now I have 23 books in my amazon cart
    : )

  10. Anna says...

    OK, so I have not read many romance books, but I started The Duchess Deal today and it is just *Italian chef kisses fingertips* amazing! Hilarious and lovely, thank you Ashley for the recommendation!

  11. Chantal says...

    Check out the “Heaving Bossoms” podcast! In each episode these two friends do a “deep breakdown of a particular romance novel”.

  12. Katrina says...

    This just made me remember that clip in A League of Their Own when Madonna’s character is teaching the girl to read with a romance novel. “What difference does it make? She’s reading, okay?” ?

    https://youtu.be/d0YyuppDBJw

  13. A.M. says...

    I wish I could hang out at a romance book club. I got hooked on Regency romance novels when I was in middle school, and they have always been my guilty pleasure. I was a book editor at a “serious” imprint for a long time and I never would have admitted to anyone there that I read romance novels. They would have been appalled! Ha. I still love romance but I find there are varying levels of writing and it’s hard to find authors that can give you decent writing, good characters, and believability. I’m fiercely loyal to Mary Balogh, Eloisa James, and Sarah MacLean. I’ve also recently binged on Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series. They are hot and full of adventure.

  14. Abby W. says...

    I have loved romance novels since middle school when I would read the steamier books for an hour a day at the public library but wouldn’t ever check them out.

    When I finally took one home, my dad started reading one. Definitely a cringey-er moment from my middle school years! After the requisite, “You’re much too young to be having sex,” conversation, and me assuring my awesome parents that I had no interest in sex, I just liked the books, I’ve been reading romance novels ever since.

    I love Nora Roberts’s The Bride Quartet about four awesome friends running a wedding business and falling in love along the way.

    Sarah MacLean’s The Rules of Scoundrels series is a great regency quartet. DON’T READ THE TEASERS in the back of the books for the upcoming ones!! It ruins the most perfect surprise in the fourth book!

    I went through all of Sarah Morgan’s books this December–I love her sexy scenes! If you read twelve in a row, you do start to detect some patterns though.

    And one last thought, I love that 50 Shades brought romance novels to the slightly-more-mainstream, but there’s more domination being written that’s not my favorite. I don’t want authors writing scenes where their characters say they don’t want it and say no as part of dominating sex. I’m very much a ‘no means no’ person, and I don’t find that sexy or fun at all. Write domination with clear boundaries, a safe word, and lots of communication please!

    • The Quartet are amazing!!! As is the Inn Boonsboro trilogy! Love a good bit of Nora Roberts! Also Emma Chase is sexily sublime!

  15. Julianna says...

    Maybe it’s just me, but now that I’m well into my 30’s I struggle to enjoy the romance novels that I used to. In earlier decades, I was all for the dreamy ideals of everlasting love and self sacrifice, but these days I find myself looking for novels in which love leads to a sense of contentment and self-care. Can anyone recommend something like this?

    • Sarah says...

      I would recommend “A Bend in the Road” by Nicholas Sparks or any of the modern day fiction novels by Judith McNaught. (“Perfect” and “Paradise” are good, but any of them are a good read.) The Inn Boonsboro series by Nora Roberts also features women with real lives who meet men that are dreamy but also realistic (i.e. the plot doesn’t allow them to suddenly drop all their responsibilities to spend a week in bed together).

  16. Savannah says...

    I just tried to borrow An Extraordinary Union from my library and a book about Stalin and his daughter was the only option. Not exactly the day off read I was expecting!

  17. Christine says...

    love romances! I even did research on them while in graduate school!
    Eloisa James is great for historical
    For teen romance the Paper Princess Series by Erin Watt
    Susan Elizabeth Philips for contemporary

    Love me my happy endings

  18. I finally just started putting romance novels on my Goodreads, which is very scary! But I’m not going to be dishonest about it any more. I adore Meljean Brook’s steampunk romance. So good. Can we talk about men NOT reading romance though? My husband acts super prim and superior about it. WHY?

    • Danielle says...

      My husband’s mom told him to find a girl who liked romance novels because it meant she valued relationships. So while I think there is a stigma out there, I also think we can influence people around us by not acting like its something to hide. Also, my husband did read Fifty Shades of Grey purely out of curiosity. So maybe you could get your husband to read something only for the shock factor?

  19. MB says...

    I read the Outlander books when the series started, and LOVED them, but for some reason they didn’t really feel like a “romance” novel to me. Maybe because the history and mystery aspects made them more complex. I think I actually learned more about Scottish and periods of US History from these than I did in high school.

    I fell into the romance genre earlier last year when I read an interview with Audible narrator Andi Arndt, who voices several romance novels, and started with the Royally Series by Emma Chase. This series was great, and I quickly jumped into other Emma Chase novels. Royally Matched is great for any fans of the Bachelor. Basically a bad boy prince (think Prince Harry before he met Meghan Markle) going on a dating show and actually falling in love.

    So far I am really loving listening to the audiobook versions better than I do actually reading the book. Andi Arndt is great one to look for, as well as Zachary Weber and Sebastian York.

    • Kelly says...

      You should try The Royal We if you want a William/Kate type one!

  20. Kate says...

    I found a copy of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson on the table of free books in my university English department. The narrator is not given a name or a gender. It’s an amazing book, my copy is annotated in pencil. My family made fun of me for reading it on the beach last year but it was AMAZING. I’d like to read more of her work, like The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. I think she writes pure poetry and always with a thought-provoking twist.

  21. Jennifer says...

    I love it!! Thanks so much for sharing, borrowing them from my library now!

  22. Steph says...

    I LOVE romance books and I’m a voracious reader, I read 11 books in January. I call romance girl books but they are so much more than that. I have many many “one click” authors in the genre.
    I think I was born a reader though. My mom used to tell me that my favorite thing ever a a little child was to be read a story and once I could read on my own I always had my nose in a book.

  23. Carol Gruzinsky says...

    Aloha and Mahalo for this post. I enjoyed reading romance novels when I was a teen and I believe that encouraged my love for books. Then, a teacher saw my choices of books and discouraged me from reading crap and instead read the classics. I never forgot that moment. Your post gave me validation for reading these kind of books and will definitely check out the titles you recommended. How do I go about starting a romance novel book club? I’m sure there are others in my community of friends, coworker, etc. who enjoy reading these novels and would love to get together.

  24. Effie says...

    So glad I came across this! I too have always loved reading romance, and though I have also read more serious fare, it’s the romance novel that I crave reading more than anything. I must admit, I’m often too embarrassed to admit that it’s my genre of choice, perhaps because many are apt to look down their noses at you when you do. :)

  25. Greta says...

    A lovely post, Ashley! I, too, was a closet romance novel reader. I was secretly ‘borrowing’ the novels from my grandmother (she was a big fan, too). I agree with all the comments saying that romance novels bring joy. However, I do believe that they could be damaging because they give young girls (and boys?) an unrealistic idea of sex. It took me years to shake off some crazy notions that were planted in my head by the novels. Or was is just me?

    • Nora says...

      My grandmother was a great romance novel lover as well! Whenever she would give me money for Christmas, she would package it in a romance novel. I loved the novels more than the monetary gift inside! She got me absolutely hooked as a teenager. I can still remember her handing over a particular steamy novel with the words „read this, you might learn something, girl“.

  26. Kristina says...

    I came here to say one thing: Audible Romance package. Unlimited binging on romance novels. Thank me later.

  27. Lindsey says...

    I read some of the Outlander books this summer and while I think the love-making scenes are well written, the books as a whole left me feeling drained. Between the very frequent sexual assault plots to just being very aware that the crazy I’ll-time-travel-for-you-into-terrible-18th-century-Virginia isn’t necessarily a real type of love, I always left them feeling more depressed than when I started!

  28. witloof says...

    HAHAHA I’m reading The Duchess Deal and came across this paragraph:
    “Forgiveness requires penitence. She was warned. Given every explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted in her sinful behavior, and she would not repent of it.”

    DYING WITH LAUGHTER.

  29. Em says...

    YES. So happy about this post! More of this please Cup Of Jo!! First got hooked on Nora Roberts, and always had a soft spot for Katie Fforde’s earlier novels. Graduated from Georgette Heyer to Stephanie Laurens and Mary Balogh. Now I love Lauren Layne, Bella Andre and Erin Nicholas.

  30. Jessie says...

    I love this post! I’ve kind of always scoffed at romance novels, but your line, “most important, they were a way for me to be exposed to and explore sexual or erotic thoughts before I was actually ready to talk about them,” YES. I never really put it together until now, but reading excerpts from romance novels in magazines was totally how I explored sexual and erotic thoughts and feelings as a teenager. Thank you for your recommendations and widening my perspective!

  31. Laura says...

    Yes like sometimes I just want to read something that doesn’t involve a murder, rape, suicide attempt, etc. No shame.

  32. Hannah says...

    I LOVE ROMANCE NOVELS. And I love this post and the comments. It’s kind of sad that it’s a guilty pleasure, isn’t it? There’s a whole lot of cheese in the genre but I’ve read some really, really good ones too. My favorite romance writer is Mary Balogh. She writes really beautiful, complex characters set during the regency. Many of her have heroines or heroes with physical disabilities. Definitely worth a read!

    • Ann says...

      Yes! I loved Mary Balogh as a teenager and bought ALL her books, especially the older ones. I’m not sure what it is about the newer ones (new as in 2009 and later), but I just can’t seem to connect with them. I’ve read the Slightly series many times over the years and still love them to this day!

    • Megan says...

      Thanks for the rec on Mary Balogh! I just read a few of hers and have loved them.

  33. naomi says...

    I have a 14 year old son who is a bit of a late bloomer and could use some inspiration in the area of dating, etc. Can you recommend some gentle young-adult romance books that have strong female characters but also good guy role-models? With a little spice thrown in that has nothing to do with vampires or violence? Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks, all.

    • Luz says...

      Hi! The Sea of Tranquility is a beautiful book. Also, Eleanor and Park.

    • Naomi says...

      Thanks! I’ll look into both. That’s very helpful.

    • Emily says...

      I’m a teen librarian, and I think Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss series, Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi or any YA by Jen Bennet fit your description. They’re some of my favourite, feminist contemporary YA romances that are very popular with my teen readers.

    • Shivani says...

      Making Faces by Amy Harmon (or anything by this author) is SO amazing, I’ve read it 6-7 times. Some of the best character development, a “clean” romance (perfect for a young teen), and I laughed and cried (yup, I do both every time I read it). Then I read A Different Blue by the same author….she is an auto buy for me for sure!

    • naomi says...

      Thank you! I will definitely check those out.

    • Katherine says...

      My middle school students of both genders got really into Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and it lead to some awesome conversations :)

    • MAry H says...

      The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a good one.

  34. Jessica says...

    Wow, I love love loved reading this post and all the comments. I’m also a closet Romance reader (for years!) and it’s always bugged me. Mostly because books about twisted murders, dark mysteries, etc. (Girl with a Dragon Tattoo or The Girl on a Train) are completely mainstream. But I’d much rather read a great love scene than an explicit murder, right? We all have sex, we’re not all murders. ;)
    Anyway, I love books by Lisa Kleypas (she writes historical and contemporary, and I tend to reread them after a few years) and all the new books from Sarah MacLean. Kylie Scott is my favorite for contemporary romantic comedies. She’s hilarious!
    Going through the comments now and adding recommended books to sample on my Kindle.
    Thanks!

  35. Mo says...

    Love this post! A romance series I love that I wish got more attention are the Practice Perfect series by Ruby Lang. About a trio of women doctors and their various love stories—smart, flawed (and diverse!) women, the hot men who love them, their careers (!), families—all taking place in Portland. They are also *steamy* af!

    • Steph says...

      I bought it :) Thank you!

  36. Thoa says...

    Love this post! Makes me want to read one!!

  37. Bee says...

    Romances have always been my anti-depressents. Have brought me through hard times again and again. Respect!

  38. Aisha White says...

    I love romance novels! Still read them always–they’re my escape! My husband teases me saying,
    “oh no! is she going to get her man?!” Lol! I love a happy ending. Who wants a book that ends in heartbreak like real life. haha!
    My favourite authors are Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward and Alessandra Hazard. I never miss anything those ladies write!

  39. Jennifer says...

    I love this post and all the comments! I love that so many readers have connections to books from their parents/grandparents. My grandpa used to read these ridiculous military fiction/non-fiction books that I would read along with him and we would discuss together. It taught me a lot about reading what makes you happy!

    I’m currently home on maternity leave and am re-reading the entire Suzanne Brockmann Troubleshooters series. Its based around a team of sexy, smart Navy SEALs. The stories are less grim than most of the “military” style books out there, although the books do have their moments. Following the relationship of Sam/Alyssa throughout the series is really a lovely treat!

    Eloisa James for historical romance readers as well! Her books are reliably wonderful.

    Also want to recommend a self-published author Rosalind James. Her most popular series is set in New Zealand about the national rugby team – the All Blacks. Her stories are fun, real and make you fall in love with the people and New Zealand country as well! (Seriously, I dragged my husband to an All Blacks game in Chicago after bingeing these books.)

    • Colleen says...

      Yes! Suzanne Brockmann!! My college roommates and I passed those around to each other for years!

  40. gfy says...

    I also read them as a preteen, specifically historical fiction romances, those big fat page turning paperbacks, all with the same cover, lol. Eventually, the recurring theme of “intelligent woman falling for the moody, domineering yet irresistible alpha male” just began to feel unhealthy and I moved on to searching out only literary award winning novels.

    Later, as an adult who had read exclusively non-fiction for pleasure for years, I realized I wanted to read something lighter for a minute, lol, and somehow came across a Jill Shalvis book called “Out of This World”. My mother was too much of a literary snob to enjoy it, so be forewarned, it is a VERY light, irreverent read, but super fun.
    https://www.amazon.com/Out-This-World-Jill-Shalvis/dp/0758214936

    Really appreciate all the excellent suggestions, especially for the more evolved versions of this genre! Thanks!

  41. Christen says...

    Soooo… I LOVE this blog post so much. I am a massive fan of romance novels, have you considered doing an online book club? Or monthly recommendations?!
    Ps. Kresley Cole Immortals after Dark series… I die. So good.

  42. My best friend and I LOVE young adult sci-fi and fantasy and we’re very familiar with book shame! We learned to lean into it long ago and are very vocal about our favorites (like Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments, and The Darkest Minds). This year we went all in and started a podcast (youngadultaf.com). Everyone should read what they love and live in whatever imaginary worlds make them happy! Thanks for sharing this.

  43. Anne says...

    I tried reading the Outlander series after becoming quickly obsessed with the TV show, but I couldn’t get into it. That might be because I watched the show first which in other similar situations tends to ruin the book for me. I thought I had given up on the genre completely, but now I want to give it a try again. Thanks for the recommendations!

  44. I need to be involved with this book club! Please let me know how to do that. On the store website it says to email you but there is no contact info. Thanks so much!

  45. Jane says...

    I, too, was a closet romance reader, but several years ago at Purim, my community encouraged people to reveal our true selves by writing an unknown thing about themselves on a white board and posing for a photo. So I did – I wrote “I read romance novels” like it was a confession and haven’t looked back. I’m a big fan of Julia Quinn, whose novels are deeply satisfying and well-written. I’ve also read the entirety of Stephanie Laurens’ oeuvre and have gotten into some authors who write contemporary as well. In 2018, amid the crazy politics and the world going to hell basically, I’m committed to reading things that make me happy, and romance lit certainly does.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a cool exercise, jane!

    • Kelly says...

      I did a similar thing! I was always shy about it, but I decided this year I’m going to be authentic.

      I. LOVE. ROMANCE.

      This year I read every Lisa Kleypas, every Jennifer Ashley, and every Alisha Rai! I think I’ll work my way through the back catalogues of Julia Quinn, Tessa Dare, Beverly Jenkins, and Sarah McLean!

      I read a book I picked up at the Ripped Bodice called Dangerous Books for Girls, which is all about the stigma around romance (which is a $1B a year industry, btw!) Romance and female sexuality and consent are all things this world needs more of.

  46. Gabriella says...

    This post is just great!!!! Thank you so much and keep this coming: based on the post and comments I already made my order for next month’s new readings, but a regular post on this subject would be awsome!
    I’d add Alice Clayton and Julie James to the recommendations: thoroughly enjoyed all of their books.

  47. Love this! I always get so angry whenever someone talks down about romance novels and it turns out they’ve never read a single one. It’s just another way our culture disparages things that are directed toward women.

    I love historical romances, and my favorite author in that genre is Courtney Milan. She has a great style of writing that breaks a ton of bad romance novel tropes (no dark, brooding heroes with zero communication skills). Plus she tackles some serious feminist historical issues, like labor unions and the way female scientists have not received credit for their work. Highly recommended!

    • Jo says...

      Yes, yes and YES to this!

  48. Sam says...

    I have to recommend a local author, Victoria Barbour, because she’s not only from my province but writes great romance novels set within the towns and cities here. I’d recommend the Heart’s Ease series – definitely worth checking out!

  49. Diane says...

    You guys!! It wasn’t until after college that I picked up my first romance novel, Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the genre by a very dear and very intelligent friend. 20 years and many novels later, reading romance is undoubtedly my favorite vice. Please, oh please, make your romance recommendations a regular here on COJ, I’m furiously copying all the recs in the comments!

    • Devil’s Bride was one of the first ones I read too! It felt pretty dated when I picked it up for a reread two years ago, butt he nostalgic love was still there. And Stephanie Lauren’s writes epic sex scenes (like, actually epic, I think I counted one at 26 pages in one of her books!) Quite an education back when I was in high school. ?

  50. Anna says...

    I highly recommend the Masters of the Shadowlands series by Cherise Sinclair if you’re interested in kinkier romance novels – the leading ladies are all strong, interesting women and she writes about different aspects of the lifestyle in a refreshingly open, non-judgemental way.

  51. Nigerian Girl says...

    Do I love this thread or what? I come from a family of readers. I started reading and writing very early, and I’m not ashamed to announce that I started reading romance novels at an age when I had no business reading them :).

    When I was growing up in Nigeria, Mills and Boon, Harlequin and Silhouette romance novels were readily available. My sisters and I ‘devoured’ them all. We read everyone from Penny Jordan, Judith McNaught and Judith Deveraux to Barbara Cartland (No comment), Betty Neels (Again, no comment) and LaVyrle Spencer who was my favourite writer at some point. I’ve read all her books and I remember being heartbroken when she stopped writing. I also loved Danielle Steel, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jackie Collins (If her work can be called romance), Shirley Conran and so many others.

    Then I went off to college to study English Literature first, then Creative Writing. My work began to get published and I told myself that I was on my way to becoming a ‘serious’ writer, that reading fluffy romance novels would tamper with my ability to craft great sentences. So I avoided romance novels for a long time. About 10 years, I think.

    Then two Christmases ago, I read The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and I gave myself a hot slap for being such an idiot. How could I have denied myself the glorious pleasure of great romance? Anyway, I’m back to my senses now. Here are the romance novels I’ve read and loved in the last two years:

    1) The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: My favourite romance novel and one of the best in that genre. The End. It’s an engrossing, hilarious spin on the enemies-to-lovers/office-romance trope. I laughed out loud a lot while reading this, and I fell terribly in love with the super hot Josh. Plus, ‘that’ sensuous sex scene was so worth the long, spine-tingling wait. If you love quick-witted banter, a crazy funny heroine, and flaming sexual tension, this is a must-read. Hollywood, what are you waiting for? Make this a movie already.

    2) The Knickerbocker Club Series by Joanna Shupe: Four great historical romance novels set in New York’s Gilded Age. All four books (Tycoon, Magnate, Baron and Mogul) are immersive, well-written, and can be read as standalones. But let me add that once you read one, you’ll want to read the rest. The characters are fully-formed, and the heroines in particular are strong, feisty and in control of their own lives. The sex scenes are, um, really sexy so be mindful about reading these in public. Enjoy!

    3) Pretty Face and Act Like It by Lucy Parker: A series set in London’s West End. It was refreshing to read about non-Hollywood-y, A List celebrities for a change. We don’t get to hear their stories often. Both books are funny (especially Act Like It), engrossing, and oooh so sexy. Dive right in and thank me later…if you like.

    4) Love’s Persuasion by Ola Awunobi: I very much enjoyed this heartwarming story set in Lagos where I live. In this book, a confident, working class girl falls in love with the big boss’s son who is to become her own boss. If you’ve ever wanted to read about a Nigeria slightly different from the Nigeria in highbrow literary novels, give this charming book a go.

    5) The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory: I pre-ordered this last year and it finally landed in my Kindle two days ago. I’m loving it so far. Great storyline and realistic characters. Before this, I’d never read a romance novel featuring a black woman and a white guy in the lead, so it’s a delectable first for me. I ‘m doing my best to read it slowly, but alas I’m almost done.

    • Mandy says...

      Thank you for such detailed recommendations! Adding them all to my TBR list. Do you have any other Nigerian authors you’d recommend (romance or otherwise)? I’ve read and loved everything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I’m not sure where to go next!

    • Kelly says...

      I just finished The Wedding Date! I follow Jasmine on Twitter, and my favorite part was the way the careers of both characters were treated. They felt so real.

      If you’re looking for more PoC representation and interracial relationships, Beverly Jenkins, Alisha Rai, and Talia Hibbert are all excellent! Beverly had a book come out on Tuesday called Tempest that is the third in a western series.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      @Mandy You’re welcome. Re other Nigerian authors, I wholeheartedly recommend Ayobami Adebayo (Her debut novel Stay With Me is amazing), Lesley Nneka Arimah, Lola Shoneyin, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Akwaeke Emezi.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      @Kelly Thanks a lot. I’ll check out your recommendations.

    • Ellen says...

      I just finished The Hating Game yesterday after reading your recommendation and WHEEEWW, I’m fanning myself! So good.

    • Mary says...

      Thanks for The Hating Game recommendation, @NigerianGirl. I stayed up all night reading it! It was basically my first romance novel (outside of the lighter, less steamy chick lit variety) and I think I’m addicted! Can anyone recommend more contemporary romance novels like The Hating Game by Sally Thorne?

    • Megan says...

      Just finished The Hating Game on your recommendation and I loved it! Will definitely check out the others. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Anne says...

      @Mary: Dating You/Hating You and Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren and Tangled by Emma Chase are similar to The Hating Game. If you are interested in the Love/Hate dynamic I would also recommend A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare, See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson, maybe also Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen and Hollywood Dirt by Alessandra Torre.

  52. M says...

    here’s a good one: few people know there’s a carefully honed criteria for romance novels, how the finished product should look. for example, there’s a controlled vocabulary for what words the characters should use when writing dialogue. it is preferred to use “chirped” instead of “said” if the person who speaks is a woman, to accentuate her smouldering presence but generally innocent allure. and if you’re describing someone’s eyes, it’s suitable to compare them to a deep well (fuck thy summer’s day!), or a particularly beautiful lake. and then, similar to movies, there’s a dramatic structure that the plot must follow. – ie. girl meets boy, obstacles arise, boy tackles aforementioned obstacles with a kind of bravery previously unknown to man, boy is rewarded with the girl and there’s probably a horse and also a sunset. as you can tell, there’s quite the craftmanship behind these so called “shitty novels”! (i only know this because a friend of mine once, as a joke, applied to become a harlequin writer. information of this caliber is very hard to unlearn).

    • Roo says...

      Uh, speaking as an editor I can say that I highly doubt that those criteria have been in use for at least 20 years.

  53. Jacki says...

    Has someone mentioned already the smartbitchestrashybooks.com blog? Great site all about romance novels and the industry. They have a podcast as well that‘s lots of fun! It’s hard to find people who (admit to) love romance novels in real life. Their site def makes you feel less alone and they regularly address the problem of underrepresentation of lgbtq or POC characters.

  54. witloof says...

    reading The Duchess Deal at your recommendation and enjoying it thoroughly!

    I have a terrible weakness for Irish and British chick lit { Isabel Wolffe, Katie Fforde, Jane Green, Maeve Binchy, Penny Vincenzi, Joanna Trollope, Marsha Willet, Cathy Kelly, Sophie Kinsella}. Favorite novel of all time: The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.

  55. Cynthia Miller says...

    Tessa Dare’s novels are great fun.
    I realized that I just like not having any stress when I read. I get so involved in the emotions of the characters and I really feel them. I can’t do suspense or thrillers mostly, but I do love a good mystery novel or romance- especially regency. I get that they are hokey- but they are comfortable. (After a while it’s like eating too much sugar, though, and I need a break. That’s when I switch genres).

  56. Maggie says...

    I now need to run up to attic and find some old favorites…
    Authors I have enjoyed:
    Jude Deveraux
    Julia Quinn
    Judith McNaught
    a bit of a throw back and I don’t know if she is even read anymore
    The grand dame of romance novels….Barbara Cartland!
    G rated, formulatic, predictable but I have turned them in times of stress for mind unbending read…
    Read a few of these books and you too will know the difference between an phaeton and a curicule!

  57. Daynna Shannon says...

    I need to just say that my heart leaps when I see an Ashley Ford post! And I’m never disappointed. The content and the writing is unquestionably top notch effing aces. I seriously love you and your writing and your outlook. Pretty please write your own book..?

    I used to adore romance novels and read them throughout my teens and twenties. There was an imprint called Little Black Dress, I think? And it was all these great books for women in their 20s about women in their 20s. They had new books coming out all the time and god, I loved them all so much. I’ve drifted away from them and have preferred psychological thrillers and suspense for almost a decade and a half now, but this is inspiring me to pick up a good romance book! Thank you!

    • Daynna Shannon says...

      WAIT!! It was Red Dress Ink books, not little black dress. Oops!

  58. Olivia says...

    Not certain these necessarily fall in the romance novel category per se, but Nancy Thayer writes great beach reads, all with similar themes of women in Nantucket. They almost always reinvent themselves in some way, do great things, and have a happy ending with a love interest (though not many steamy scenes). They just make me so happy.

  59. I have been a Nora Roberts fan since I was a freshman in college and picked up a book at a 7-11 while in Florida during a two-week rowing camp. Since then, I have read nearly all her books! I studied playwriting at Brown and wrote my final thesis play based on her themes of Ireland, coffee, and independently wealthy crime fighters (among other things). It was called Brute Passion Beyond the Hudson, and I loved writing it! It was really out there, and my friends teased me about reading romance novels (even leaving obscene sticky notes inside of them), but it’s who I really am. I am SO happy to see this resurgence and embrace of romance novels. I’ve felt like I’ve had to hide my love of them, and even block myself from writing one, but I’m feeling a little bolder lately and hope to start on a few short stories. I’ve written one REALLY short one on my blog, to kind of warm up to the idea (if anyone wants to read it, it’s here: https://www.shessobright.com/2017/08/24/a-romance-among-the-roses/), but I’d like to write a few more soon.

    Also, so excited for your suggestion of the Dutchess Deal – I’ll definitely be checking it out. And is your book club open to anyone who wants to show up? I live outside of New York but would love to attend.

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  60. Alexis says...

    Outlander is such good historical romance/time travel. Such a good story! I’m obesessed

  61. Jennyg says...

    This post brings back memories of reading Clan of the Cave bear and the VC Andrews books (a bit more scary but had a sinister romance) I too was way young when I started reading romance. Thanks for the suggestions!

  62. Marlena says...

    I am in a book club where we read a lot of serious novels, and occasionally some light fluff. Sometimes, I just want to be whisked away to another time and place with witty repartee and beautiful costumes. Jane Austen never fails to entertain and delight me! Also, I highly recommend the smart bitches trashy books website! You don’t even have to enjoy romance to appreciate the sometimes hilarious reviews of books. All books are reviewed by Grades-and the most entertaining are the D’s And F!

  63. Ahh, this is so refreshing to read about, thank you!! As a young girl I found one of my mom’s romance novels, kept it hidden in my room and would read it over & over again. It was the most erotic thing I had ever experienced at the time, and remember feeling aroused for the first time in my life. It was truly eye opening. I have to believe that my mom, who was quite conservative and never really gave me the “the talk,” knew that I had it and was happy I was figuring it out on my own!

  64. Andrea says...

    I also snuck reading my parents romance novels as a tween and teen. If only the covers weren’t so obvious (with my school-age kids about) I would probably go around reading more!

  65. sasha says...

    Your book club sounds like so much fun!

  66. Jenn says...

    I do!!

  67. Jess says...

    THANK YOU! I’ve been wanting a new romance book to read and this is perfect!!!

  68. Christine says...

    Okay this was a post after my own heart – I used to get in trouble in middle school for sneaking Nora Roberts into my room. I’ve bookmarked ALL of these on my wish list already, and have one to contribute:

    The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne

    It’s like reading a warm cup of tea (with a shot of whiskey), and I find myself going back to it over and over.

    • Jodie says...

      Loved the Hating Game!

    • Elizabeth says...

      I loved The Hating Game, too. The book I’d recommend based on that one is Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren!

  69. Maire says...

    Ashley, you are my romance novel soulmate! I second all three of these recs, and would also mention that the second book in the Alisha Rai series is (I thought) even better than the first!

    I would also recommend Sally Thorne’s Hate To Want You, which is a great workplace romance. I also enjoy books by Sawyer Bennett, Sarina Bowen, Lauren Blakely, and Kristen Callihan.

    • Maire says...

      Edited to say, Sally Thorne’s book is called The Hating Game. :)

    • Maire says...

      Also all four of Sonali Dev’s Bollywood books are fantastic!

    • Olivia says...

      Omg yes. Sonali Dev. The one with the main characters Millie and Sameer? My heart!

  70. Mary says...

    This amazing. When I was younger, my sister and I would borrow our Grandmother’s copies of Danielle Steele and read them over and over. We weren’t allowed to read anything racy from her collection, like Jackie Collins. I didn’t get into the more steamy covered books until college, when I was given one as a joke. I read it on a whim and was totally hooked but kept it undercover.
    Now, I notice when I get really stressed or anxious with life, I tend to read the romance novels as a good guilty pleasure/brain candy reading. So I will definitely take a look over your list and see what I can find at the local library. Thanks for a great post.

  71. Ramona says...

    There is NOTHING wrong, silly, or embarrassing about reading for pleasure (and I say this as an editor, former English literature major, and full-on member of the literati). Buying a trendy postmodern novel to stick on a shelf or carry around in your bag so you can look smart is very silly. But reading something that transports you to another place, that sticks in your heart and mind so that you can’t wait to finish it? That’s what reading is all about! People in the publishing industry know that romance novel lovers read way more than anyone else, at the average pace of a few books a week. That’s loads more than your average literary fiction or nonfiction reader.

    I’m not much of a romance novel lover, but I am an unashamed lover of YA fiction and a subgenre that I refer to as “cozy British mystery novels.” Once when asked to go around a room of literary bigwigs and say what we thought was the greatest contribution to literature of our era, I even said Harry Potter. People thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t! Seriously, what got more people into reading than Harry Potter??

    • Emily says...

      I love this perspective! Can you give some recommendations for “cozy British mysteries?” I really loved the JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith books, and I’d love to read more in that genre!

    • sasha says...

      Emily, I love the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Wry, clever, full of heart.
      Also the Vera Stanhope series, maybe less cozy, also an addictive TV series.
      And Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody series. Also not that cozy, but less grim and violent than many other mysteries.

    • sasha says...

      Also, if you love Harry Potter try British author Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone series, about a group of magically endowed children, descended from a magical King, at a sinister school full of intrigue. I actually love them even more than Harry Potter!

    • Emily, I’ll gladly give a few! Agatha Christie is great for cozy mysteries (particularly the books featuring Miss Marple or Tommy and Tuppence). I also like the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy Sayers, and I like Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. These are all the kinds of mysteries that you can read before bed without spooking yourself (they are also all set in England). Slightly less cozy, but no less enjoyable, are the mysteries by Mary Stewart, like The Gabriel Hounds, My Brother Michael, Madam Will You Talk, Nine Coaches Waiting. Mary Stewart’s books are always set in glamorous foreign locales, and usually involve a young female detective who also winds up having a romance (although weirdly in more than one the romance is between first cousins, so you kind of have to ignore that aspect…). And totally not cozy, but one of the best mysteries I’ve read lately is The Likeness by Tana French. All of her mysteries are good, but The Likeness is my favorite. She’s an Irish author and her books are all set there.

    • Emily says...

      Thanks, everyone! Adding a bunch to my list! Ramona, I love the Tana French books – I’ve read them all! “The Likeness” was my favorite as well.

    • Kelly says...

      How about something in-between? Sherrry Thomas writes romances as well, but her Lady Sherlock series are unputdownable. Seriously riveting, my favorite Sherlock homage. Try A Study in Scarlet Women!

    • Susan Cloutier says...

      Maybe not cozy but Elizabeth George has a fantastic British crime/mystery series featuring a Detective Linley(not sure if correct spelling). She is my fav author. As far as romance authors go, have to choose Jo Beverly but Amanda Quick is not far behind.

    • A.M. says...

      Oh, cozy British mysteries. I discovered them after leaving an editing job at a literary publisher, where reading mysteries would’ve been frowned upon. If you have not read Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, you are missing out. Amazing Post WWI setting and a great arc through the whole series. Also, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books are delightful. Mary Russell is a protege of Sherlock Holmes. My standard for mysteries is pretty high, and these two and the Louise Penny series, are my gold standard.

  72. Emily says...

    What a refreshing topic! As a young girl, I remember staring at the racy covers of the romance novels in our tiny town’s library (saucily on display near the checkout), and I was so drawn to them but never have I picked one up! Thanks for inspiring me to check out something that has always intrigued me, and helping me overcome the stigmas that held me back <3

    • Elizabeth says...

      Read The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (mentioned in many of the comments). It’s such a fun read – I really hope she writes more!

  73. Fun topic! Love the recommendations! My cousin-in-law, Stacy Gold, just published her second steamy ski romance novella, In Deep, about ex-lovers/ski patrollers. If you’re an outdoorsy gal, this might be right up your alley! I’m not very outdoorsy and I’m definitely not a skier, but I still enjoyed her first novella and I’m excited to start this one! http://stacygold.com/books/indeep/

  74. Kellyn says...

    about 10 years ago when I rode the subway everyday to work, I thought of making book covers so I could hide whatever I was reading from nosey onlookers….and not feel any shame in my reading :-)

    • Elizabeth says...

      It’s the best part about reading on a Kindle/Kindle app! I remember reading a story about how many women were reading the 50 Shades series on their Kindles, and what a game-changer that was. (And just to say it, I love romance novels but those books were godawful.)

  75. Jessie Buckmaster says...

    My mom reads romance and I would sneakily steal from her in high school. I was always embarassed about them, but the past couple years I’ve begun to embrace my love for the genre. I LOVE Leah and Bea at the Ripped Bodice. I discovered their kickstarter and visited a few times before I moved out of LA. I love that it’s a feminist, sex-positive bookstore, I’ve brought friends who don’t read romance but still find something to read and just enjoy the vibe of the shop in general – it’s such a safe and welcoming space. I recommend everyone sign up for their newsletter, even if you are never in LA (and you can order books directly from their website to support a great indie bookstore!). I also love the inclusivity and diversity among romance writers these day!

    • Kelly says...

      Also how cute is their dog?? Fitzwilliam Waffles forever!!

  76. Tess Williams says...

    I LOVE this post. I have felt ashamed of reading romance novels in the past because I felt like I should be reading serious books- but reading should be a pleasurable, fun escape in my free time! My absolute favorite right now is the Outlander series- I actually have been avoiding watching the show because I don’t want to ruin the way the characters seem in my head!

  77. Ioana says...

    I cannot express how much I LOVE this post! I got into romance novels in my twenties and go through a couple a month. The thing is that I listen to them on Audible rather than read them, and I seem to enjoy them much more in that format. They are just the best on a long commute, grocery shopping and doing laundry.

    I have a couple of recommendation for those into historical romance novels (I only listen to this particular genre) the Pink Carnation series for Lauren Willig (think spies in Napoleonic era in Paris and London) and Sarah MacLean (fun and hilarious novels that have some action and adventure in the them, also comments on gender roles quite a bit).

    Always looking for more suggestions!! I already got The Duchess Deal lol

  78. Meg says...

    SO awesome that you started a book club! Best way to make new friends is to share what you love and find others who love it too! I picked The Marriage Date for my book club’s February get together and I hope it’s a fun one I read together ?