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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. This is the best! I’m a huge reader (over 300 books last year..and that was just on Amazon, not including what I checked out from the library) and I loooooove romance novels. They make me laugh, they make me cry and sometimes, you just need a happy ending. Outlander is one of my favorite series and I started reading them in high school! Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Outlander show recaps are a hilarious must read. I also love Penny Reid (The Winston Brother series..so good!), Kylie Scott (Dive Bar series), Alice Clayton (The Hudson Valley Series) and Lauren Willig who writes historical romance fiction (Pink Carnation Series). Beware..those first 3 can be somewhat smutty but they’re highly entertaining. I also love Joshlyn Jackson and Beatriz Williams. They’re not strictly romance but that’s always part of the story. They both write beautifully and I’m always sad to finish their books. So excited to see some authors I haven’t encountered!

    • Maire says...

      Huge fan of the Hudson Valley series here! Also Lauren Willig’s newest book, The English Wife was excellent.

    • Dalia says...

      Love Lauren Willig!

  2. Lacy says...

    So much yes. Thank you for this, Ashley! I absolutely read romance novels and am usually hiding it. Your post empowers me to embrace it! Right now, I find that listening to romance novels on Audible is particularly pleasant. ;-)

  3. Thivia says...

    Shit! This is so trashy but I want to read Hate To Want You now!!! That cover is atrocious though…but I think I’ll wrap it with pretty paper :) Ahhhh! I’m excited now!!!! Shall start tonight!!! Thanks Ashley! You are convincing!

  4. I made a happy little squeal when I read this as I sipped my afternoon tea, last thing I expected to see on my favorite blog! I’m a romance writer (I’m not a big name, you won’t have heard of me) but I absolutely love the genre for all the reasons mentioned here. It’s such a nice form of escape, and with the rise of self publishing we’re now giving a voice and a platform for all types of love stories to be told. There is nothing that makes me happier than when someone enjoys the chemistry between two people that I created, and I like nothing better than losing myself in a good romance myself (I’m currently reading a lot of romantic suspense). It’s a genre that gets a lot of unfair flack as “not real writing” so I appreciate when I come across people who embrace it.

  5. Laureg says...

    One of my favorite writers in this genre is Jennifer Crusie. Her women characters are strong, funny women, and her novels are humor-packed and entertaining as hell.

    • riye says...

      Yes! Jennifer Crusie is awesome! I hope she goes back to writing romances. (I’m not as crazy about her paranormal books.)

      People who get snotty about romance books have probably never even given them a try. There’s a huge range these days and something for everyone. :-)

    • Molly…between these comments and that thread: day made. Thank you!

    • Emma says...

      THIS KILLED ME! Soooo good.

  6. Colleen says...

    The Time Traveler’s Wife will always be one of my favorite romances <3

    • Me too! Any recommendations for more like that?

    • That is one of my favorite books. Mind blowing!

    • Steph says...

      Renees books are SO GOOD!!!!! So good! SO SO Good! :)

  7. emma says...

    Thanks for the tidbit: “If you’re looking for something that will affect you, but won’t wring you out to dry . . . “. YES, that’s what I’m looking for! I love romance novels, thanks for sharing!

  8. JMarie says...

    Love this. Reading should be an enjoyable activity!

    In the days pre-Kindle, my husband and I were checking out some reading material for our upcoming vacation. His selections included A Passage to India and Heart of Darkness. My selections were all romance novels fully adorned in magenta pink covers. The sales associate looked at our varied selections and asked me if I didn’t want some higher quality literature.

    My response: “As an avid reader who was also an English major in college, I’ve already read both of my husband’s book selections and I can assure you that I am going to enjoy my vacation reading time much more than he will.”

    • Hannah says...

      Lol! ??????

  9. I used to be a HUGE romance novel addict back in high school…I finally stopped because I was reading five at a time and figured I might have a problem haha! My favorite authors are definitely: Rosemary Rogers (considered one of the first successful paperback romance novelists) and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.

    Highly recommend: The Flame & The Flower + Sweet Savage Love.

  10. Liz says...

    I love this topic! I discovered reading romance novels about two years ago and found them to be a welcome escape. I wanted to read more but didn’t quite have the brain power to tackle heavy literature on a weekly basis. I can’t wait to check out some of the authors mentioned in the comments.

  11. Yulia says...

    Does anyone else feel the same way I do?

    I read tons and tons of romance novels as a teen, but after I had my own experiences with real-life love and romance I couldn’t get into them. Not because I think these books are too trashy or frivolous, but because most of the characters’ verbal interactions seem unrealistic even in the best of the genre. My own experiences–while swoony and electric and dramatic in their own way–made the verbal banter and emotional dynamics of romance novels seem both over-dramatic and formulaic.

    Last year I was recalling fondly how much I used to enjoy romances, so I found a few recommended by Kirkus Reviews (which reliably collects the best of any genre) and gave them an enthusiastic go. I could tell they were better than a lot of others, but they still rang hollow. Too bad for me!

  12. Tshego says...

    I read the blurb on Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai and was immediately upset lol. Aaaaand that’s how I know I’m going to be completely consumed by the novel. Ooooh we love a good,messy drama!

  13. Karin says...

    I never got into romance novels as a young woman. After having my first child in my mid-30’s, I found the endless quiet sitting of early motherhood was leading me down a dark spiral. In my pre-motherhood days, I DID things, I MOVED, I ACTED. And here I was just sitting, often in the dark, helping my daughter learn to sleep, feeding my daughter, feeling like I was getting nothing done. (Yes, in hindsight, I realize I was accomplishing a lot of important work, but in the moment it felt too, too sedentary.) Then I discovered that I could check out e-books from our library on my phone and that there was an endless supply of romance novels available with no waitlist. AND I could read them one handed in the dark. Suddenly I was doing something again. Finishing a book felt like accomplishment and reading about steamy passion and navigating relationships allowed me access to my femininity in my mind before I was ready to go there with my body. I credit romance novels for keeping me from falling fully into PPD. It is my number one tip for new moms — forget Facebook or the news, get yourself some romance! I’m still hooked, though I’m happy to be back to reading with both hands, in the light.

    • Meg says...

      What a great tip for new moms. I completely know what you mean about the frustration of being stuck not doing anything and how disorienting that can feel when you’re used to doing doing doing

  14. Claire says...

    Great post, and the comments, as usual, are gold. I am going to bookmark this for when I need some reading recs.
    I really enjoy book talk posts when they come up, and would be interested in reading posts to explore other genres too. Mysteries, historical fiction, YA (anybody else read YA books?)…anything at all.
    Also, it’s interesting to me that there is stigma around certain genres, and judgement about what people read. That ain’t right, IMHO. It’s good people are rising above it.

    • Meg says...

      I love the book posts too! I’m curious what the other staff love to read too

  15. I started reading romance a couple of years ago and now I’m obsessed. My go-to recommendation is the Fly Me to the Moon series by Genevieve Turner and Emma Barry. The series revolves around a group of astronauts during the 1960s space race. You get male leads like the playboy, the engineer, the family man, etc and the women leads are all really great and fun to read about. They’re fabulously written and the first one, Star Dust, is free on amazon. Get at it. ;)

  16. I do enjoy romance novels. We all need to escape from time to time. I love to listen to them too. For all of the Outlander fans, if you haven’t heard Davina Porter read Outlander books, you are missing out. She’s wonderful.
    Another good series to listen to is All Souls, starting with A Discovery of Witches.
    I recently listened to A Bachelor’s Establishment and it is a fun romance with a bit of mystery.

    • Alexis says...

      Davina is amazing and I agree the all souls narrater was excellent too. Totally transports you!

  17. Kristy says...

    Love this post.
    I was also a precocious romance book reader. Actually, the only book my entire family of seven has read is Bridges of Madison County! My mom, sister, brother, and I still trade romance book suggestions. My mom and I both tend to read romance books as a palate cleanser between books :).
    I may have every novel from Tessa Dare on my iPhone, haha. I’ll definitely have to look into your other recommendations – I would love to join your book club!!

  18. After watching the first season of the series I have to say I became a sucker for the Outlander books. I feel lucky; there are still so many of ghem to finish!

  19. As a romance author (and fan), I love this in so many ways! My one regret is that I am nowhere near your book club, Ashley.

  20. Cheryl says...

    Forget romance, my friend directed me to The Oyster series of books (written by an anonymous author) which were straight up erotica and I was a changed person for a whole year. It was not so perfect for that time in between relationships because the books are so horny I couldn’t wait to have sex with someone, anyone!

  21. Jessica says...

    This post came at the perfect time! My book club just decided to pick different genres we normally don’t read out of a hat and I got Romance. Didn’t know where to start looking into what would be a good one to choose! Now I have all these great suggestions, thank you!

  22. I love that so many women are talking about romance as a genre now. It took me a long time after college and my first years in a full-time job to find my way back to reading for pleasure and escape, but I think it’s so important, especially with how stressful the news cycle is for women right now, to (a) do something like reading that allows us to unplug from the digital world, and (b) engage in stories where women’s experiences and desires are centered. I love Jojo Moyes’ fiction, and although a lot of people know her because of “Me Before You,” that’s my least favorite of hers. “One Plus One,” “The Girl You Left Behind” and “The Last Letter from Your Lover” are all excellent stories and the heroines are so relatable.

  23. Lisa says...

    I read all the books in the FLowers of Attic series when I was … wait for … 9 and 10. No censorship by my parents! Lol. Slightly aghast as a parent myself.

    I just read The Wedding Date and breezed through it in one evening. Alexa is a woman of substance (and color). I loved that she had a career about which she was impassioned, a not perfect body, and great romance with a studly guy.

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Omg Flowers in the Attic. That was one of the biggest watershed moments in my young reading life. Thank you for reminding me of that!

    • I read all the VC Andrews books in middle school too, usually up all night under the covers as I couldn’t put them down. I would be totally aghast if my kids had read them, but alas, I didn’t really censor them either and they’re now adults. With the internet so available in all our lives, I have NO idea what all they’ve been exposed to. We had limits on their phone and computer time as they were growing up, but it takes no time to find things now. You just have to hope they grow up okay! Can’t control everything…

  24. Shannon says...

    I, too, could not get enough of Danielle Steel from ages ~11-12! I was reading at least one per week (bless her soul for writing so many books). Sometimes I still see them at the supermarket or some place it had me wondering exactly how many books she’s written. I Googled it, and Google’s answer was “at least 7.” Very helpful, Google :P

  25. Dania says...

    This is like a window into my soul! I stumbled on my first romance novel as a 15 yr old living in Damascus (Syria). It was in a garbage bin at home with the cover ripped off. I think this was my mother’s way of disguising her reading materials! #NOSHAME. It was a historical romance (HR) and I was hooked. I then passed it on to a friend and my classmates were hooked. Then my cousins were in. It taught many of us a lot of English and we started using words like ‘placate’ and ‘infernal’, much to our teachers’ ‘chagrin’. I still have a soft spot for HR. Many times I see blatant white supremacy, colonialism, orientalism, homophobia, and sexual assault (she said no but she meant yes) so I’ve developed some strategies to minimize my exposure to that. I now have a list of authors who I can enjoy relatively free of those disturbing -isms; some argue that my choices are not ‘realistic to the historical period’ (who cares?!? It’s a romance novel!). Tessa Dare is one. So are Julia Quinn, Courtney Milan (big feminist), Emma Wildes, Carola Dunn (she’s more of a ‘modern’ lady detective in the 50s with a hint of romance). I am quite the skeptic in real life so it’s nice to escape and latch on to a real page turner- life gives us enough sad endings and injustices!

    • Jessica says...

      Love this! Especially the cover being torn off and the book passed around!

    • Yulia says...

      Love that “placate” and “infernal” and “chagrin” started coming up your guys’ conversations, lolololol! :)

    • Quinn says...

      Oh I love this! You’ve mentioned some of my concerns about this genre — I’m going to make a note of the authors you mentioned. Thank you for sharing you story! (I will now probably think of your mom’s cover-less book every time I see a romance novel cover. :) )

    • Laurie says...

      Thanks for this post! I appreciate the concerns raised, recommendations, and love your romance origin tale.

      Anyone else read Georgette Heyer? That’s my go-to stress relieving chaste romance author.

    • Dania says...

      I do like Georgette Heyer! The heroines are quite witty and the stories are entertaining. Sadly my library doesn’t carry a lot from that author. Which brings me to my biggest recommendation: Get these books from your local library! Most librararies are aware that these are popular ticked items and you may be able to get them in ebooks and audiobooks too. “Public transit” + “HR audiobook” = “why did my 45 min commute have to end?!”

  26. Mary Beth says...

    I noticed that several commenters mentioned Smart Bitches, Trashy Books which is indeed a great source for romance readers. There are many websites devoted to discussion and review of romance books. Two that I would suggest are All About Romance and Dear Author.

  27. Liz says...

    So glad this is getting some positive press! I would highly recommend that all romance novel lovers check out “Heaving Bosoms: A Romance Novel Podcast” hosted by two long distance BFFs that reconnect each week over a new book. It’s part review part recap part camaraderie but all funny!! Read along with them or listen to get the gist of a book, it’s so good.

    • Masha says...

      Just started this because of your rec and I love them already!!

    • Kate says...

      Love this podcast! 100% also recommend!

    • nik says...

      Thank you so much for this recommendation, Liz! The ladies of Heaving Bosoms are hilarious!! I have turned several friends on to this podcast since your rec and we love chatting about it.

  28. miri says...

    HOT SHADE by Tamara Lush is awesome.

  29. Marcy says...

    Yes! I started reading romance books around the age of 14 and I thought I was the only one! My parents didn’t really monitor what I was reading and looking back, I think they would either be very surprised by what I was reading or I would be surprised if they did know and didn’t say anything. If my daughter wants to read books like this, I plan to use them as conversation starters about sexuality and relationships.

  30. Nicole says...

    I’m a LIBRARIAN and allow me to say this: who cares what you read or what you don’t read? If you like it then read it. No excuses. No “I was an English major” or whatever. Just read and enjoy.

  31. Amélie says...

    Love this! Ever since I had my second baby, I have not had the mental capacity to digest deep literature. Romance lit is my new fave. Put them all on my library wait list!

  32. Kate says...

    YES! What angers me most about the 50 Shades of Gray series is that there is SO MUCH BETTER ROMANCE WRITING OUT THERE. I understand that it came out in the age of the E-reader, making it easier for women to not feel shame about reading erotica, but come on, it’s terrible writing! What a fun post :)

    • Yulia says...

      Why would that make you angry? So terrible writing isn’t for you, that’s ok. Lots of readers enjoyed those books for the story and didn’t notice that the writing was elementary. People seek different doorways to escape into books–sometimes that door is great writing, sometimes it’s well-developed characters or a location that resonates or ideas that make you think. But sometimes it really is just raw forward-moving narrative power–which you can’t deny the 50 Shades books have!

  33. Maranda says...

    I’ve always been a big reader and will read pretty much anything as long as it holds my interest. I’m currently reading the fourth book in the Outlander series. I’m not as in love with the later books as I was with the earlier ones, however I think the relationship between Jamie and Claire has some great romance aspects and would highly recommend the series!

    • YES!! I could not agree more.

    • Lisa says...

      I had no idea that the first Outlander book would be so steamy. It caught me completely off guard and then I read all of them in short order (except book 4 which was such a grind). It has some issues, but I was still riveted.

    • I was going to mention Jamie and Claire in my comment. Love the earlier books.

    • Claire says...

      I just started the fifth book. I love them so much so I’ll read them all but Brianna and Roger are not my favorite lol

    • Sarah says...

      They really do become a slog the later you get. Love Diana Gabaldon, but boy does she need a harsher editor. That said, I’ve read all the books – found the second one in a book sale when I was in college and quickly found and devoured the others published at the time, and have eagerly awaited every subsequent book. Love the show, too, and have been impressed by how much they compressed into each season. I wonder if people who are watching but haven’t read the books feel like it’s moving too fast or missing details – I’m backfilling each scene I watch with the characters’ life story and internal monologue from the books.

    • Britney says...

      Yes! I always have to preface the books as “historical fiction with a heavy seasoning of romance novel” especially the first couple- just so I don’t catch anyone off guard lol! If you are on book five be prepared for a SLOW intro but it eventually starts moving. Now I’m just “patiently” twiddling my thumbs for the next one.

    • Gina says...

      I’m a huge reader – have three books on the go right now with one of them being the 3rd book in the Outlander series. I didn’t start reading the series until after the second season of the tv show, when I was by then, completely hooked! Watching the show I didn’t miss anything from the books, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy seeing this third installment play out on the screen once I finish reading :)

  34. Jenn I says...

    My absolute favorite author is Nora Roberts. I’ve read almost everything she’s ever written, and have been reading her books since I was a teen. My mom would read them and then pass them over to me, or we’d each get a different one and then swap. We called them out “airplane books” because they were always the perfect length fro a plane ride. I love them for the easy reading, for the interesting things I learn – from how to get a dog to stop jumping on you to what it’s like being a smoke jumper in Montana – and for the wonderful, mindless entertainment they provide. They also remind me so much of my mom, who died almost 6 years ago. They were something we shared, and that makes me happy. I’ve also realized they’re my comfort food. I reread her books when I’m having anxiety or going through something particularly rough in my life. And when I read a book I don’t like or are having a string of bad books, I read a Nora as a palette cleanser. I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to her tomes, and have most of them on my kindle too. It’s a lot. And I’m ALWAYS amazed at how she comes up with new names for her characters. It’s my favorite part.

    • Yulia says...

      I think this is really neat–they are clearly more than just beach reads for you. :)

    • Jessica says...

      This is great, thank you for sharing. It’s really lovely that you have this sentimental attachment to them and memories of your mom ❤️

    • Maire says...

      Have read so many NR books. Born in Ice is a major comfort read for me.

  35. Kendra Griffith says...

    How timely is this post! I was a HUGE romance buff in the teens (already a very early and voracious reader back in those days) and read every Danielle Steel I could get my hands on! My aunts had a large collection of Harlequin romances and I probably read every single one… and not once did anyone even attempt to filter me! I guess they were just so happy to have a reader in the family. LOL!

    My tastes then shifted to thrillers and sci-fi (Stephen King, Critchon, Koontz, Lee Child) and then mellowed back to the likes of Maeve Binchy, but I had all but given up romance as I felt so self-conscious reading it in public! That was until last year when I bought a couple on deals from Amazon’s Kindle store and I remembered how much I loved that genre.

    Reading romance makes me hopeful, happier, and more optimistic… and that’s never a bad thing! So this year I’m planning to make romance a bigger part of my reading goals! Thank you for this lovely reminder!

    • Kate says...

      Hah! Nobody censored my reading, either, so I read soooo many books that my mom probably would have been horrified by if she’d known!

  36. Heather says...

    Love this post! There has always been a fair amount of shame for me when it comes to enjoying a romance book. I love a good historical romance, but am always embarrassed for someone to find out what I read!!

  37. liz says...

    Romance novels aren’t my thing but I remember a woman I used to work with adored them. But her husband wouldn’t let her read them, so she would sneak out of bed after he fell asleep and secretly read them in the bathroom. I applaud your embracing your true interests. Bring reading out of the bathroom!

  38. Caroline says...

    Oh my gosh, this post is so timely for me! A few months ago I started the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren and became totally and completely hooked, but like so many others I am way too embarrassed to discuss my romance novel obsession with even my closest girlfriends. I also have become oddly obsessed with sports romance novels. I’m blushing even admitting that but Elle Kennedy’s Off Campus series, Sabrina Bowen’s The Ivy Years, and Kristen Callihan’s Game On series are some of my favs.

    If you haven’t read Christina Lauren’s Beautiful series though I highly, highly suggest!

    • Jenny says...

      Complete and total ditto. I love the Beautiful series. I think I have read Beautiful Secret over 10 times :)

    • Caroline says...

      Jenny, I loved Beautiful Secret too, but Beautiful Stranger was my fav. I love Max in a big way. Serious swoons over the Stella brothers!

    • Maire says...

      YAS! to all of these! I listened to the Beautiful series on audio and SWOON. I also agree that Max is up there in terms of book boyfriend-ness. Also glad to find fellow fans of Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, and Kristen Callihan. Check out Sawyer Bennett’s Carolina Cold Fury if you all are into hockey romance!

  39. Cait says...

    love this post, would love to see more of your book recommendations soon!

  40. Heidi says...

    Oh, this post is such a relief from all the Brene Brown, Self-Help, Aspirational Parenting Lifestyle, Minimalism, etc. book reviews that have overtaken my feeds lately. Thank you.

    Another genre that is similar to romance in that it represents people from all backgrounds is Young Adult (YA). I used to feel silly reading them, but when I realized there are usually such sweet lessons and insight to gain, I keep reading them. In fact, I read “Walk Two Moons” recently because Ashley mentioned it was one of her favorite books. It is now one of my favorite books, too!

    • Carly says...

      Walk Two Moons was my #1 FAVORITE book since reading it in 4th grade and I’ve been meaning to reread it as an adult.

    • Heidi says...

      Did you know there is a prequel/sequel to Walk Two Moons called Absolutely Normal Chaos? I have it on hold at the library now!

    • YES to YA literature! Would love to see a post on your favorite YA books. I just read “City of Saints and Thieves” which is considered YA and is absolutely fantastic!

  41. Jessie says...

    My mom gave me Danielle Steel’s The Gift when I was 14 (1994) and I LOVED it! Definitely a good gateway for tweens and teens into the romance novel genre. Such a great book, this makes me want to read it again! Ugh! So many memories of being 14 are rushing back to me thinking about this!

  42. This makes me so happy! I’ve been a romance reader for ages and am more open about it now than ever (even working on writing one myself currently, fulfilling my high school dream). I refuse to think of them as a guilty pleasure, because I feel ZERO guilt. No one should. Love and/or marriage is a big deal in the lives of most people, so why on earth is reading about it something to feel guilty about?
    A few people have mentioned reading them in the past and being turned off by things, and that’s totally fair, but I will say that romance has come a LONG way since the 70s/80s. Now when I occasionally stumble across a truly weak heroine or the hero is borderline rapey, it feels like such an anomaly. Today’s heroines are smart and strong in a million different ways, and the heroes have evolved just as much.
    I also want to add to the chorus of romance helping women deal with and embrace their own sexuality. The past few years have been really hard on me physically and emotionally with multiple miscarriages and no answers, and romance novels have both provided me with an escape and a way to reconnect to a body that I sometimes resent. I see so much of my sweet husband in the heroes, too, even though he’s definitely not an alpha-male duke with a massive fortune, and it makes me adore him even more.
    Long live romance!

  43. Katie says...

    Try Roxanne St. Claire if you haven’t yet! She’s a New York Times bestseller from my small hometown, and she’s a delightful person. I was friends with her son in high school and she gave a talk at our school once, and offered me some great advice for my own career path.

  44. JB says...

    No criticism for romance novel lovers, because my secret lit love is hokey detective mysteries.

    I am making my way through the Maisie Dobbs series now. She’s impossibly perfect: beautiful, thin, basically telepathic and the most empathetic, a maid that somehow becomes an independent, entrepreneurial private investigator in the mid-war years? I don’t care though, I’ll take it!

    • Claire says...

      great series! Love Maisie. .

    • A.M. says...

      I adore the Maisie Dobbs series and put them on hold at my library before the new one comes out! I only wish there were more mystery series of this caliber. I’ve tried so hard to find one as well done. The closest I’ve come is Lousie Penny. Completely different, but the whole package.

  45. Liz says...

    Read ALL of Sherry Thomas’ historical romances. They are beautifully written.

    • Patsy says...

      They are! And it’s even more remarkable when you realize she moved the the US and only started learning English as a teen.

    • Sara says...

      I second this recommendation! Love her books!

  46. ClareV says...

    Jilly Cooper was my entry to romance novels when I was a teenager. If you love the foibles of the British aristocracy and all things horses, you will adore her writing! Bit harder to find in the States, but start with “Polo”.

  47. Zoe says...

    Doesn my love for COJ have no end?!?! Ashley, what a refreshing post! And THANK YOU for the recommendations! FUN!

  48. Jesal Shah says...

    Love romance novels! You must read books by Judith Mcnaught.. They are lovely about women empowerment combined with romance & pleasure

  49. Camille says...

    Huge fan of Nora Roberts and JD Robb (yes, they’re the same person) over here! And for pure fun: Jill Mansell.

  50. Laura C. says...

    Ashley thanks for this post!
    I read my first romance novel ten years ago, I took a random book from my mom’s shelf, a Julie Garwood one. That was before my Kindle, so I assure you I spent a large part of my savings buying her books. Then I discovered Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Julia London, Nora Roberts and so on… Sometimes while reading those novels (Regency period) I feel like I was born in the wrong century. When did capes go out of fashion???

    • Ashley says...

      I got started on Julie Garwood too!

  51. Grace says...

    Oh, man! I thought I was the only one who eased myself into sexual discovery via romance novels. Starting at age 13 I became obsessed with Nora Roberts and read her novels almost exclusively for a year. I remember keeping it a HUGE secret because they were just too steamy ?

  52. Gemma says...

    I started reading romance novels 6 years ago and I can’t stop!!! And it’s true that I don’t talk a lot about this ’cause I think I look like a frivolous woman, but of course It’s not true. People think that this books are bad books. There are a lot of good romantic novel’s writers!
    Don’t miss Christina Lauren’s Beautiful saga!!!
    In Spain we have the incredible Lena Valenti’s novels. You enjoy it, but it’s not translated into English.
    I check your recomendations Ashley!

    Thank You!

  53. Emma says...

    I highly recommend Victoria Dahl – smart, funny, very racy contemporaries.

  54. Olivia says...

    Unrelated (I’m sorry!), but I was reading the bio page and noticed Megan is no longer on that page? Did she leave CoJ?

  55. Emma says...

    This post made me oh so very happy – Finally someone is speaking my language! In my neighborhood we have book share boxes and I find my delight and fancy for some cheap romance thrills there. I finally have an endless supply of racy, romantic fiction with no shame or judgement from the library or bookstore clerks. A dream come true!

  56. Danielle says...

    Excellent picks!! I’ll also add The Librarian and the Spy – being a librarian myself, this one was a delight to read :)

  57. YL says...

    Thank you for this.
    One of my most memorable life moments happened when I was training in a hospital. The head of the OB-Gyn department, this formidable woman who would send residents and med students scampering away with the mere sound of her footsteps, who spent decades as a Navy surgeon (!), whom no one dared look in the eye for fear of new onset incontinence, shared her love for romance novels.

  58. Ainara says...

    Thanks Ashley for writing this. I will post my first comment ever to support the importance of reading romance novels!

    My all time favorite (because of its strong female lead) that I have not found equalled is It Happened One Autumn (2005) by Lisa Kleypas. Lillian, the brash, tall, and intelligent protagonist, has totally absorbing chemistry and conflict with the perfect Lord Westcliff.

  59. Crispin says...

    Audio romance novels are my secret vice. It’s divine being read to and they are often funny as well as sexy. Bets watching rubbish TV to relax.

  60. Abesha1 says...

    Outlander… the show is pretty terrible, in my opinion, but the books were engrossing.

    Nobody mentioned the book Scruples, did they? My first exposure to the more explicit stuff, and I still can’t decide as an adult if I like it!

  61. Anna says...

    This post! I love romance novels – so fun, easy (HOAs – I get stressed in more serious books), and often if you search a bit – great female protagonists! I read fantasy, urban fantasy, and mystery too, but I find romance novels calming in a way I can’t really describe. I read a lot of English regency novels (my fav is Stephanie laurens). So happy you posted about this, love to know i’m not alone!

  62. Jess says...

    So happy to see romance novels come up on Cup of Jo! Can’t help but chime in with some recs!

    I love Julie James (her heroines are usually lawyers, dialogue is amazing). I think they read like a romantic comedy film, so they’re a good “gateway” book for non romance readers. Recently read and really enjoyed A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev. After a long reading slump last year, I DIED over Lucy Parker’s Act Like It, set on the West End stage in London. So good.

    For historicals, I love Tessa Dare, Julia Quinn’s whole Bridgerton series (delightful giant family with books following each kid), Elizabeth Hoyt (set in the slums of London). And some good starters: the way back classic giants of the genre, Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale and Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas.

    Thanks for the recs, Ashley! I’ll add them to my TBR pile along with Jasmine Guillory and Eva Leigh.

    • Laura C. says...

      Bridgerton series is gold! I LOVE them! I often find myself wondering about some tv film or series featuring them, it would be a great hit in my opinion!
      Flowers from the Storm is very meaningful. Dreaming of you is a good starter.

  63. jade says...

    I’ve never been a romance reader but these quotes are compelling. I resolved to read more this year and I think I’ve just found out how I am going to do it!

  64. Tracy Edingfield says...

    As an author of romances, you have officially made my WEEK! Thank you for the appreciation and validation that
    My work MATTERS to smart women.

  65. Crystal says...

    Yes! I love anything by Christina C Jones because they’re always modern and full of color.

  66. Katie says...

    Love this! I read “serious” and “literary” lit, fully own my love for sci fi and fantasy, but am so embarrassed when I enjoy a romance. I struggle to find romance novels with passable (much less good) writing, and often take issue with issues of gender, herteronormativity (so many queer villains), consent, etc., but a good romance is so fun and satisfying. I actually would love a romance book club of like-minded ladies. I will make note of these recs!

  67. Tara says...

    You have to read Susan Elizabeth Phillips! Start in the middle of her Chicago Stars series with Match Me If You Can. Growing up, I used to read my moms old Harlequins from the 50s so I love a good chaste romance novel too. I can recommend Marion Chesneys different regency series for that❣️

    • gk says...

      tara, you are speaking my language! i love susan elizabeth phillips, and i’m pretty sure “match me if you can” was the first of her books i read (either that or “heroes are my weakness”).

      ashley, thanks for the suggestions! i’ve just about made my way through the SEP collection and could use some fresh ideas.

    • Caitlin says...

      Me too ! Her books have gotten me through some pretty rough times. I love how rich the characters are and how spunky and intelligent all of the female leads are, they are always funny too! My favorites are the ones set in beautiful locations like The Great Escape and Breathing Room :)

  68. Jenny says...

    Holy crap- I identify so strongly with this post!

    When I was about the same age, my mom and grandma began giving me romance novels to read- I think partly because they loved them and wanted me to join in their passion, partly because they thought it was a nice way to introduce me to sex and relationships, and partly because we didn’t have anthing else to read (!)

    I read everything by Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, and Jude Deveraux from the ages of 11-16, I suppose. But I think that instead of forming a bond to these books- they made a different impact. My mother loved these stories; she wanted one of these scenarios for me to play out: strong, brooding man who has sworn off love for good falls helplessly in love with a spirited, sassy, intelligent, young woman. I don’t think I learned about healthy relationships from my parents, or other YA ish novels or these books, so I really struggled with dating and relationships in my late teens and twenties.

    I can look back on the fun of these books now, and how my friends at slumber parties would read the racy bits out loud for fun, etc. but in my early 30’s I was sort of pissed at this genre, and at romantic comedy movies, and myself and my poor choices.

    But they sure were good books at the time, filled with what I assume is accurate history(?!).

  69. MJ says...

    Virtual book club, please! Or, could you post a list of the books you’ve read recently for book club? I love all the books you mentioned, and would add Nalini Singh to the mix, but my favorite romance novel is Act Like It by Lucy Parker.

    • Jennifer says...

      +1 for a virtual book club!
      For historicals, I’m currently enjoying Lisa Kleypas’ Ravenel series – her earlier works are okay too, but the Ravenels feel more developed – and Julia Quinn! It’s so hard to find well-written, well-paced romance novels, and I’m a sucker for a strong feminist lead.
      In contemporary, I adore Mhairi McFarlane.

    • Katrin Davidson says...

      +1 too.

      There is a wonderful blog http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/ that is the best for recs as well. I would love a virtual book club.

  70. Jess Richardson says...

    Do you think the resurging popularity has anything to do with Jane the Virgin? I like to think so.

  71. Betty says...

    Anya Seton’s Katherine was written in 1954 and is based on the real 14th century love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Much of the British royal family since Edward IV was/is descended from them. The novel is beautifully written. A must read for both romance and historical fiction fans!

    • Carol Wayne says...

      My first romance novel and I still love it….I even made a special trip to Lincoln, England to see where she lived and her tomb. I also love Georgette Heyer…she had her facts down about the regency period and her heroines are very relateable..My favorite is “A Civil Contract”….not a lot of bodice ripping but a great way to learn English history.

  72. Tori says...

    Yes. This. Everything about this. I was an English major, and often felt snide judgment from my peers if I endorsed reading anything that wasn’t considered of heavy enough literary weight to them. But, to me, all books, even those we consider trivial or “fluffy” can have meaning or value if they take us in, transport us from our lives, capture our thoughts, and give us enjoyment. Life is short…read what makes you happy (or turned on!).

  73. Veronica says...

    This was wonderful, Ashley! I especially like your recommendation for “The Duchess Deal;” I love Tessa Dare for her playful take on historicals.

    I became a fan of romance (especially historicals) after college. I had a high stress job that was slowly killing me, and these books with their alpha heroes and HEAs was so soothing.

    However, I still read them secretly, on my kindle, and only admit it to my husband and closest friends. I should be able to own it; maybe I will be more confident in a few years.

    My recommendations for diversity include Courtney Milan for historicals and Sonali Dev for contemporaries (The Bollywood Affair) was amazing.

    • Yes, Courtney Milan is one of the best!

    • Carine says...

      Love Courtney Milan!!

  74. Kari says...

    I’m equally a sucker for romance! Loved every bit of this post!

    PS. Romance author- wise: Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my weakness!

  75. My guilty pleasure readings throughout my grad studies (PhD in Comparative Literature) were Marian Keyes novels and the Shopaholic Series from Sophie Kinsella. Just remembering this makes me want to go pick up one of those books again and get lost in that fun, easy, breezy world. I’m not sure if they count as romance novels specifically but they’re fun, and light-hearted, and there is always a good dose of romance, and they made the perfect escape from the heavier “real literature” that I was reading.

    • jade says...

      I love Marian Keyes – everytime I’ve seen her interviewed she seems so incredibly easy going.

    • Nina says...

      I am with you – I guess I must have read the Shopaholic Series like a million times!

  76. Sarah says...

    Girls…a tip for you…Ann Calhoun’s Liberating Lacy is a revelation! Enjoy! ;)

  77. Meg says...

    It was so amazing to read all these comments and know that I wasn’t alone in my love of romantic novels and films. So many of my favorites have already been mentioned. I love the connection between the characters that romance novels can provide, the build up of the romance and ultimate happy ending. So many show men as respectful and caring and women as smart and strong. As a teenager I loved Madeline L’Engle. Though they aren’t steamy I loved the Austin Family Series and her other teen romances she wrote. I’m excited to read these new titles that everyone has recommended!

  78. Natasha says...

    My mom handed me a romance novel during a family vacation (apparently my mom didn’t censor what I read either) and I LOVED it! It was Tiger Prince by Sandra Brown…one of me faves! Love this post!

  79. Christine says...

    I was also a big early reader and devoured the romance books that were available during my baby-sitting years (late 70s – early 80s). Not to tar them all by the same brush, but the very often repeated message that a good woman can fix a bad boy certainly damaged my youthful dating judgement. Not to mention the ridiculous age/power/wealth differentials and rapeyness that many (I know, not all) of these books espoused. I hope things have improved since then.

    • Things have improved since then! By a lot! Like any books, you just have to find the authors and sub-genres you like :)

  80. Hannah says...

    I love this so much! I’ve never read romance novels because I’ve always labeled them as low-brow literature (I’m an English major too :). But when I was a kid I used to secretly flip through The Notebook to find the sex scenes, which felt so forbidden. I’ll have to try some of these suggestions! Plus, you can find used copies of romance novels everywhere! I always see tons of them at used bookstores and thrift stores because I guess people are ashamed of them?

  81. MA says...

    This post is like Christmas – I’m super excited to read through all the comments for book recommendations! I loved how you described reading romance in high school. Me too!! I’ve come back around to romance a few years ago and I still love it… and definitely am embarrassed about it. But you are right, that is BS! It’s such a great take-your-mind-off-work distraction that’s not instagram. I still love reading other fiction genres, but romance are like my comfy sweats at the end of the day.

    One of my absolute faves is A Girl Like You by Gemma Burgess. I’m also really enjoying Mhairi McFarlane books too. Neither are as steamy, but super fun, romance stories, with great female characters (and male).

  82. Nicole Brant says...

    The more I read from you, Ashley, the more I like you!
    I love all sort of romance, especially the funny ones, like Sophie Kinsella. That said, I cannot put down Tiffany Snow’s books.

  83. Allison says...

    A fun review website I ran across is called “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books”. I personally love Georgette Heyer books (the original recency romance books with lots of adventure and romance but zero sex). I usually prefer hybrid books like Sharon Sinn who writes amazing sci fi and fantasy with a bit of romance on the side.

    • I LOVE THIS SITE! They’re amazing.

    • Sue says...

      THIS WEBSITE!!! IT’s the best. I love it and them.

    • I LOVE Sharon Shinn! Her world building is really well done and I love her blending of romance with other genres.

      I like Heyers’ books too.

  84. More Ashley please!

  85. Emily says...

    Ashley! Thank you for writing about this. I read tons of teen romance when I was younger and kind of abandoned that as I felt pressured to read more things that were more serious and literary. It’s so true that romance and erotic fiction help women explore what they want in sex and relationships. I want to get back into it.

    I’d recommend Uptown Thief by Aya de Leon. It’s part of a series about WOC running a women’s health clinic who also run an escort service AND execute heists when donations aren’t enough to keep the clinic doors open. It’s pretty wild. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30226188-uptown-thief

  86. Elizabeth says...

    I have a master’s degree in English lit, and grew up totally addicted to Nicholas Sparks and Lurlene McDaniel (she was the NS for young adult readers of my time). NO SHAME! Oh, I was so swoony over some of those male leads! In fact, now I’m wondering if such exposure to sweet, romantic, sexy, considerate male characters didn’t contribute to my insistence on having the same for myself? If Noah Calhoun could exist on the page—from the imagination of a man, at that—then he could exist in real life, and by God I was going to have him. Long live the romance novel!

    • Amy says...

      LURLENE MCDANIEL! I have not thought about that in 20 years- haha! I read so many of those. They were so depressing and yet you just kept reading more!

    • I was obsessed with Lurlene McDaniel (and lived close to Amish country, so that got weird real quick)!

    • Carrie says...

      Ha! Yes, I’d forgotten about Lurlene McDaniel, too! Read them all!

      Ashley! Thank you for this post! I’m starting a romance book club in SF and our first book is going to be The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, which was just published!

      Some of my favorites writers are Joanna Schupe, Sarah Maclean, and Sonali Dev. All time favorite romance is probably Devil in Winter by Lisa
      Kleypas!

      Long live happily ever after!

  87. Shirley says...

    Yes! Love this! How do I join your book club?!
    It always feels like something that I’m supposed to be a little embarrassed about, but really, I enjoy the escapism and like a happy ending. It’s as simple as that!
    I also recommend Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and the Winston Bros series and am adding the Elements of Chemistry series. Everything from Christina Lauren and Emma Chase are also must reads. If you have the time and patience and are into historical fiction, Outlander, Outlander, Outlander!

  88. Heather says...

    I’ve never read romance novels before but I’m interested. Do you (you meaning anybody who enjoys romance novels) also enjoy “Rom-com” movies? Would I still like romance novels if I do NOT like romantic comedy movies?

    • I don’t like rom-com movies/shows, but I love romance novels. They’re not all the same–some are more rom-com, some are scifi or fantasy or historical. Like choosing a tv series to watch you might want to try a few different varieties/genres. :)

    • Heather says...

      Thanks! :)

  89. J says...

    American Queen by Sierra Simone…that is all. *fans self*

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “fans self” = hahah love it!

  90. Jamie says...

    I basically read all of Judith McNaught’s books while I was in 7th grade… Paradise was the first one I read and I stayed up all night to find out what happened!

    • Lisa says...

      Jamie, I love Judith McNaught! Paradise is also my favorite of all time. I think she shaped my perfect man. And taught me to feel the current beneath my skin.

  91. Katie Larissa says...

    I read a bit of fanfiction. It’s definitely my guilty pleasure, and a lot of it is REMARKABLY well-written. I ship Hermione Granger/Severus Snape. (Yes, crazy, I know. But so good! I love an older man/younger woman dynamic.)

    • Katherine says...

      Fanfiction all the way! Some of it is amazingly written. AO3 is very useful.

    • I’m always amazed by fanfiction writers. Many are writers starting out, but many are really very, very good- just as or better than published writers I’ve read. Seconding going to An Archive of our Own (AO3)- they have fanfiction for just about every book, show, movie, song etc. you can think of hosted there.

  92. Rachel says...

    Growing up in a Christian school in the midst of 00s purity culture gave me a lot of harmful ideas about sexuality and womanhood (not all bad, but a lot of eeeeek), BUT my mom was a romance novel aficionado whose novels I’d sneak away to read when I was home alone (they weren’t banned, but I knew she’d likely have a few qualms). I’ve read some duds over the years, but I’ve also read some really gorgeous, healthy romances that have helped me come to terms with my love of love and feelings around intimacy and sex.

    These days I go down a romance rabbit hole every few months, where I practically inhale one novel every day or two. I’m in the midst of one right now–Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series. I definitely have my favorites, and some stuff makes me cringe (there can be consent issues in historical romances), but the happy endings and convoluted road to get there always get me good.

    Other authors who’ve had me hooked recently: Sarah MacLean and Tessa Dare (Her Spindle Cove series, specifically, is excellent. So many smart heroines! Leading men who don’t “change” because their partner makes them, but instead listen and grow as people. Like, one stars a heiress-turned-paleontologist and her nemesis, the rogue trying to marry her sister. They run away from home with a giant dinosaur fossil. Go READ.)

    • Rachel says...

      In my eagerness to talk about this, I missed that Ashley and I have some overlapping taste before hitting “post”–I can’t wait to check out her recs I haven’t read yet, and thanks for covering this genre, CoJ!

    • Crispin says...

      i love the spindle cove series especially the heiress-turned-paleontologist one – brilliant books

  93. KB says...

    Oh my goodness, I grew up reading all the Philippa Gregory books (The Other Boleyn Girl, etc) and loved them! I don’t know if they really fall squarely under the “romance” genre but I recently realized they were steamier & more explicit than I had thought. For someone who has always loved reading and views books (including fiction) as a way to learn about how others think & experience the world, develop empathy, and just generally expand one’s own experience, I’d never considered the point you make here about the role of romance novels for young adolescents. Thank you.

    P.S. Always a fan of historical fiction, I just have to throw out Gone With the Wind. What other romance novel has become such a true classic?

    • KB says...

      Just another note re: Gone with the Wind, I know it may be controversial for many reasons (it’s certainly not progressive by any means) and in many ways is not a romance novel at all. I brought it up not because I necessarily condone any of the controversial aspects about it, but because it was an important book in my preteen years and the romance aspect captivated me enough to stay engrossed for the rest of the content the whole book through. However, it’s probably not best for someone looking for a fun romance novel!

  94. Shirley says...

    Love this! How do I join your book club?!
    I also recommend Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and the Winston Bros series and am adding the Hypothesis series. Everything from Christina Lauren and Emma Chase are also must reads. If you have the time and patience and are into historical fiction, Outlander is a must! Be prepared for the o

  95. B says...

    Thank you! I have been a voracious reader of romance since I was a preteen, too. I have found it frustrating that it has sometimes been cast as a bit of an “embarrassing” genre — and I could not help but feel like perhaps that was in part because so many of these books have been penned by, and primarily read by, women. It is an expansive genre, in my view — from Nora Roberts to historical fiction (love Lisa Kleypas) to young adult (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a sweet love story), etc. And some of the best love stories are not “traditional” romance novels — the Bronze Horseman trilogy, set in Russia in WWII, is one of my favorites. Call Me By Your Name was striking and sensual and surprisingly relatable. PS I follow The Ripped Bodice on Instagram. Such a cool idea and the window displays are so whimsical! Will definitely visit the next time I am in LA.

  96. Emily says...

    What a great post. Look forward to reading these books! Virtual book club?

    • brianna says...

      This. I want to join Ashley’s book club.

  97. I’ve been reading urban fantasy (think werewolves and vampires) as my guilty pleasure for decades, and while I’d often admit to reading them it was with some amount of self depreciation. A couple years ago I came across this great romantic comedy author (Penny Reid) who bills her books as “smart romance.” I’ve become a huge fan of her work, but it was only in the last couple months that I’ve even admitted that I read “that” kind of book to anyone other than my best friend (who has been reading genre romance novels since we were in high school in the early 90s). There is just such a stigma to it.

    I really dislike the idea that certain genres have more merit than others. I’ve learned more about many subjects (bitcoins! OCD! literary devices! How to write compelling dialogue! SO MANY new vocabulary words) than I ever did reading the “worthwhile” books/classic literature. So many times I’d start researching something (like bitcoins) because they were worked in so cleverly in romance novels.

    I typically read between 100-200 books per year, and romance accounts for a good portion of that number. I’ve decided this year to own it. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      100-200 books a year?! you are my hero!

  98. annie says...

    2018 might just be the year I read my first romance novel. Great feature—Thanks, Ashley!

  99. J says...

    Would love a queer POC romance novel rec! Thank you in advance!

    • Sid says...

      Check out http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/ – you can search for posts that cover this topic. Their comment section is also a great source for recommendations.

  100. Lin says...

    Mary Balogh, who is Welsh, writes Regency romances, and I just love them! Most of her books are connected to 4 or 5 others in a series, so I read them in order, and feel like I have read one reeeally looong great book. The sex is slightly racey, but not wackadoodle, so I’m never embarrassed to leave them laying around. Thanks for the suggestions, Ashley!

  101. AMB says...

    I LOVE that you linked to The Ripped Bodice’s website to buy the books instead of linking to Amazon’s pages! Way to help support independent bookstores! I hope to see this on more book-related posts :) Thank you Ashley!

  102. Kris says...

    I’ve read them since I was in my early teens. I’m in my late 40s now and still read them, but don’t talk to many people about it because people are so judgmental! Like somehow I can’t be a smart, serious person because I like a good love story! My recent favorite is Kristen Ashley. She writes stories with some major alpha males and while they sometimes annoy me with their alpha-male ways, I keep coming back for the humor, emotion and overall hotness! Start with the Gamble and Sweet Dreams, and you’ll be hooked. Honestly, I envy anyone who is picking up one of these books for the first time!

    • Did you read all the Rock Chick books? Those got me re-hooked on romance a few years back.

    • Kris says...

      Yes, and the same thing happened to me. I kind of went through a funk where I wasn’t finding new authors that really enagaged me and then found the Rock Chick books and it got me interested again.

  103. Karen T. says...

    OMG. She described my pre-teen days to a T (I squirreled away a copy of Scruples I found on my mom’s bookshelf!) Love love love this! Yes to romance novels!

    • Jennifer says...

      Ha! Yes to Scruples. It opened a whole new world for me.

  104. J says...

    I love this post! I’m a high school AP English teacher, and I often feel guilty when I’m not reading classics. But as a kid, I would devour romance novels. It’s the stuff I truly like to read and wish I had more time to read them. I love that she embraces this genre. And I love that she provided us with a list! Maybe this summer, I will finally get back into reading some steamy romance novels!

  105. Jen says...

    I started reading historical romances when I got my first Kindle. Lisa Kleypas is my favorite: anything in her Wallflower series, Suddenly You, and especially Dreaming of You, which I reread every few years during stressful times; it’s my comfort read. I also loved Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, and Joanna Shupe’s Baron. Among many others…

  106. Emma says...

    It’s a little old now, but Janice Radway’s book, Reading the Romance is a FASCINATING look at the culture of romance novels and how romance readers are undervalued and stereotyped. It made me completely reconsider the genre and take it so much more seriously as “legitimate” writing (whatever *that* means), especially since it’s often by women for women.

    Here’s the link if anyone is interested in checking it out!
    http://www.strandbooks.com/women-s-studies/reading-the-romance-women-patriarchy-and-popular-literature/_/searchString/Janice%20radway

    • Jessica says...

      Yes! This. I’m a recovering English major like many here, and when I started to research why romance novels are so stigmatized and realized it was more patriarchy b.s., I fully embraced my love for them and started proclaiming it whenever books are discussed. They are no more shameful or formulaic than mystery novels, which do not carry the same stigma. No more “guilty” pleasures, like what you like, ladies!

  107. Jen says...

    Thank you so much for this post!! I’m totally that closeted romance novel reader and just love my happy endings!!!

  108. Kara says...

    I have been hopelessly addicted to Georgette Heyer’s regency romances for a long time. I think I have read and re-read all of them at this point. I only recently discovered steamy historical romances (thank you ebooks, I could never bring myself to browse them in a store!), and What Not to Bare by Megan Frampton is my hands-down favorite.

  109. Sarah says...

    Ha! I remember reading The Gift when I was younger-taking it from my mom’s stack. I too read early and without any limits. While I read romance my favorites were anything by John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell.

  110. Amanda says...

    Omg Nora Roberts forever!

    • Amy says...

      I admittedly read pretty much every single thing Nora Roberts wrote from ages 14-25. Loved her stuff (not as big into the paranormal direction she went).

  111. Molly says...

    You MUST read “Reading the Romance” by Janice Radway. It’s a feminist, academic analysis of readers’ experience reading romance novels that demonstrates how romance novels actually do empowering work in women’s lives.

  112. Emma says...

    I loved this post! I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the comments for even more suggestions. I’m sort of a closet romance novel reader – it’s a genre that really isn’t discussed enough! Outlander is sort of uncategorizable in terms of its genre, but it feels like the only romance series that’s widely acknowledged, at least in my peer group (20s).

    One request I have for future posts on this subject (because… I really hope there are more posts on this subject), is potentially a rating of sorts on how racy the suggested books are? To be clear – I’m curious because the racier the better :)

  113. Dani says...

    I read almost exclusively romance and never talk about it fully. My favorite genre is Paranormal Romance and almost all the books I read have some sort of romance involved. I especially love the paranormal side because science fiction and escaping this reality is my favorite. I’m also very behind on any sort of real life romance (seriously – I’m 30 and I’ve had one, short term boyfriend and I don’t date), so romance books are a way for me to explore that without doing it myself.

    My favorite paranormal authors are Patricia Briggs (The Mercy Thompson Series and Alpha and Omega Series) and Nalini Singh (Psy-Changling Series). I also like Illona Andrews different series. And for a real life story I love Penny Reid (Knitting in the City Series and The Winston Brothers Series). If it’s not obvious, I also love series haha I love getting to know all the characters with a continuous story. It’s like reading a never ending tv show! I’ve reread all those series at least five times a book, they’re just on rotate in my reading schedule like Will & Grace and Friends are on my tv-in-the-background schedule.

    • Sarah says...

      Those are my favourites too :) Penny Reid is so fun.

    • YES! Penny Reid is one of my absolute favorite authors and I’m a paranormal romance/urban fantasy reader too! Have you read Karen Marie Moning’s fever series?

    • Dani says...

      I think I read the first one, but I tried it as an audio book and it totally turned me off :/ A woman reading Jericho’s part with a fake, manly Irish accent *shudder* Now that there’s more to the series I may try again sometime though, especially since Amazon keeps recommending them to me haha I tried it when I was reading my way through her exciting Highlander series. Now those I can recommend :)

  114. Tina, nyc. says...

    Thank you Ashley! I needed these sort of book recommendations.

    I am In the middle of Evicted by Matthew Desmond and it is brutal and so incredibly heart wrenching. I’ve learned so much so far but I need to read something light.

  115. Growing up, my mom never let me read romance novels. “Too risqué,” she’d say. “You can only read them if they have a Christian theme.” (?)

    Well, my parents were visiting me for Christmas, and I woke up early to find my mom sitting happily curled up in the sun in my living room, reading something on her Kindle. I asked, “what are you reading, mom?” She looked up and said bashfully, “a romance novel.”

    It. Made. My. Day.

  116. Jodie says...

    I love romance novels, the steamier the better! I love the fantasy genre and my favourite authors are Kresley Cole, Kylie Scott’s zombie series (and her other novels are awesome) and Ilona Andrews (especially the Kate Daniels series, a love a strong female heroine that doesn’t need a man to save her, one of my biggest pet peeves).

    I also love historical romance novels and love the Wallflower series by Lisa Kleypas. I don’t mind Tessa Dare either.

    I have to say I hate it when the female lead is hopeless, such a turn off (and when they don’t use protection, it really, really turns me off)

    Would love to see what other’s are reading!

  117. Allison says...

    Jennifer Crusie’s books are just so much fun to read, again and again.

    • EmilyR says...

      I agree! Welcome to Temptation is my favorite reread when I’m stressing or sad about life events (or elections).

  118. Jo says...

    Oh my goodness, Ashley, if you haven’t already watched Jane the Virgin, you totally should! I’m on season 3 on Netflix and I’m loving it! Might be right up your alley :).

  119. Steph says...

    SAME x1000. From your discovery age to the college detour to now, SAME. Love the idea of a Romance book club. I pass by the Ripped Bodice store all the time, clearly need to check it out! A few favorite authors: Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick, Bella Andre (if you’re a sucker for a family saga), Maya Banks, and Sarah McCarty.

  120. Lynn-Holly Wielenga says...

    How delightful! I’ve had similar mixed feelings about romance novels- are they “not serious enough literature,” are they too racy for me, are the happy endings too unrealistic…? etc. But I’ve found that in different phases of my life, I’m drawn to different books. When I’m going through a particularly tiring work phase, I need something that will give me some mental downtime. Enter: romance novels.

    One of my all-time favorite series is Outlander. But I’ve also enjoyed books by Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. More recently, I really liked Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series, and Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City series, which was witty and fun.

    Happy reading!

    • E says...

      First, I love Outlander! But I also totally relate to the mental downtime that romance novels offer. I started reading them on vacation at my grandmother’s house (she loved anything that wasn’t too “smutty”), I would borrow them from her stack when I ran out of my own books that I had brought with me. Romance novels still take me back to lounging by the pool in the dry California heat with nothing to do but get lost in a story and it can be the perfect antidote to real world stress!

    • Tash says...

      I freaking LOVE the Outlander series. I’ve re-read the entire series many times. I turn to it when life gets full-on and I need a proper escape. It is beautifully written, complete,y immersive, full of historical detail and has two strong protagonists. If I know you liked Outlander, I will definitely look into your other recommendations, thank you :)

    • Maire says...

      Sarah Morgan’s series was great!

  121. Katie H. says...

    I too read a The Gift as a young adolescent! I like how you noted that romance novels were a way to explore sexual thoughts before you were ready to talk about them. Yes! I felt the same way!! Great article!

  122. Emilie says...

    I love that you own your romance enthusiasm, Ashley! I just read An Extraordinary Union and really enjoyed it. Now in the middle of What Happens in London. And guess what? I have an MFA in writing and read everything from literary fiction to biography to mysteries. I agree with other commenters that the romance genre is denigrated because it’s for women. I’ve read some really well written romances. And in this scary time with the news the genre has been a needed solace for me.

  123. Annie says...

    Um I don’t read romance novels… but I’m gonna start.

    • Melody says...

      Haha same!

  124. Alyce says...

    I am really feeling everything about you Ashley. I also love romance novels, and have been since I was a kid. I was so embarrassed to read them when I was in high school, I would steal them from the library because I didn’t want to be seen checking them out. I’d walk through the drive through book drop when I returned them so I wouldn’t be seen returning them either. I still think I have to hide them – it was one of the big reasons why I bought a kindle! I’m looking forward to checking out your recommendations, especially the POC suggestions.

  125. Patricia says...

    I loved romance novels as a teen! I might need to revisit this passion. My friend had the Clan of the Cave Bear series (not sure if that is really romance) and we used to skim for the sexy parts. We still jokingly call our lady parts “the mound of Venus” and it makes me die laughing even typing that.

  126. Ooh, I love this! Can’t wait to read your suggestions. Thank you, Ashley!

  127. Sarah says...

    OMG I used to read romance novels all the time when I was single living in my own appartment. I loved them! When I moved in with my now husband I donated all of them. Honestly I was too embarrassed to bring them with which seems silly now. Sometimes I don’t want to read something serious or “smart” you know?

  128. Elizabeth R says...

    ‘The Wedding Date’ is a romance novel that just came out and it is supposed to be amazing and diverse. I have not read it; but Roxanne Gay wrote a blurb for it and that is good enough for me! Thanks for bringing up novels that are not seen as literary by the larger public but can actually be really good and fun.

    • I was gonna say the same! I just heard an interview with her and it sounds great:)

    • brianna says...

      Right? Roxane Gay could tell me to read the phone book and I’d do it.

    • The Wedding Date is the March choice for my book club!

  129. Alison D. says...

    I feel like romance novels are having a moment right now. And honestly, I picked them back up after a long hiatus when the election got me down last year. Alyssa Cole and Alisha Rai have been two of my favorite discoveries this year. Sarah MacLean and Joanna Shupe are also favorites for history and I loved Sonali Dev as well!

    • Laura says...

      Maybe the election is WHY they are having a resurgence. I say, I’m all for it!

  130. Jessica says...

    Romance novels led me to erotic literature and that has been key to my happy sexual life both on my own and with partners. There are some good, free and non-porny websites with good erotic literature. Just FYI…

  131. Lilly says...

    Love these recommendations, thank you! I was such a snob about what I read in high school and feel like I missed out (while secretly devouring a boatload of fan fiction… et tu, past self? God knows what the logic was.)

  132. Ellen says...

    I love romance! Like you, romance novels were a window into the world of love, relationships, and sex, when I was too young to do anything on that front. My mom (a librarian) had shelves full of the things, mostly regencies. Among my favorite tropes is the “arranged/marriage of convenience” – cut to the chase!! lol

    It’s interesting to consider the appeal particularly during the “Me Too” movement, since it’s more than just enjoying happy endings. I love reading about fulfilling relationships, where a man not only desires, but understands and deeply values a woman. That has always been extremely satisfying for me.

    Interestingly, post-college I’ve gotten my romance fix mostly from YA novels and fan fiction, TV, and movies. Maybe it’s time to jump back into the romance novel arena!

  133. Haylie says...

    I was never that into romance novels, and then my best friend gave me a super erotic novel AND a vibrator (you guys, get a best friend like mine) and now I get it.

  134. Caitlyn says...

    YES, GIRL, YES. I almost exclusively read romance novels now – after years of forcing myself to read the latest depressing it book, I just want some escapism. Regular life sucks enough.

    If you’re a historical romance novel reader, Elizabeth Hoyt is SO GOOD.

  135. Colleen S says...

    I’m not fond of romance novels. I like romance in a book, but am not interested in explicit sex details and people doing it in whatever positions they end up in. Plus, I find most of the lines in them are clichéd and are overdone. I’d just like a book where the couple kids, and it doesn’t sound like some situation that happens in a Hallmark movie. I’m a tough sell on romance novels.

    • Colleen — I hear you, but….if you like something smart, witty, and not all about the sex, and you’re interested in giving romance a try, I would recommend Penny Reid –either her Knitting in the City or Winston Brothers series may be more fun than you expect. ~M

  136. Matilda says...

    This is great! I’ll have to check these out. I loved romance novels when I was in high school. I recently tried to re-read one of my favorites and was shocked that I had ever enjoyed it. The woman was so helpless and overly emotional, she just couldn’t do anything until that man rescued her. I couldn’t even finish the first chapter.

    The other problem that I’ve run into is now that I’m a mother, I don’t want to read stories about women who have lost husbands or children and that seems to be a general theme of romance novels too. I just want a happy and exciting (preferably historical) story!

  137. Kristi says...

    Oh so relieved to see this post!! I have always felt slightly ashamed about my love for a good romance novel… like they are not “real” books for some reason. But they are so enjoyable and such a shot of happiness, which is something we can all use these days. I may have read every book Nora Roberts has ever written. Some are better than others but all are perfect for an escape.

    Glad to know there are more of us out there!!

  138. KB says...

    If anyone is looking for a steamy audiobook, Armie Hammer does the reading of Call Me By Your Name and omg is it amazing. I’m practically having my knees buckle on the train during my commute – ha.

  139. Ali says...

    Ha, I too grew up reading my Mom’s Danielle Steele novels, probably starting when I was 11 or 12! I read a lot of different books, many of which seem to have dark themes or explore serious issues. Every so often though, a nice romance is just what you need to read solely for the enjoyment and relaxation of reading.
    I just found an old copy of the Nora Roberts Irish Born trilogy and it was a fun read!

  140. I love them, without question, and I write them too! The perfect genre, for women, by women, to talk about what they need in relationships.

  141. Susie J. says...

    I agree! I love the books you described – they sound fun and totally indulgent, like a literary soap opera.

  142. Andrea says...

    I love love. Not just with books, but movies and tv shows as well. I’m 30 years old and my guilty pleasure is still a good romance ‘insert medium of choice’. I just watched Morocco: Love in a time of war (new on netflix) – and stayed up the entire night to finish the series. I haven’t pulled an all nighter in a long time – the romance pulled me right in! I told my husband I want to be loved profoundly and his response: I love you, profoundly profoundly profoundly! =D

  143. Erin says...

    Omg love this — I too was a secret romance reader during high school. Ashley, I’m excited to see more from you on Cup of Jo!

  144. Mary says...

    I devoured the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Love, sex, history, time travel — I would actively look forward to going home after work to resume reading. The best part was that my girlfriends I were all reading the books at the same time. I learned so much about my friends, and myself, as we discussed the novels’ portrayal of relationships, feminism, and claiming our sexual desires. And I now know a thing or two about the Jacobites!

    • Claire says...

      I read Outlander last January and it definitely changed my life. I’m slowly working on the whole series now so I can savor them :) I love them! They really opened my mind to romance in novels. I also learned a lot about the Jacobites and Scotland’s history.

    • Katie Larissa says...

      I sort of named our son after Jamie in outlander. ? not completely “for” the character, but I fell in love with the name while watching season 1. (No, my husband doesn’t know that. ???)

    • Anne says...

      Control-F’d this comment section to see if anyone had mentioned Outlander!!! The best of the best!! I will never admit anywhere except on this anonymous thread that I re-read them alot and know where all the “good bits” are!!

    • Lisa says...

      @Anne – Same! It took me a long time to admit to my nearest and dearest that I had read and loved the Outlander series.

  145. Lucy in England says...

    I love romance novels. They sustained me through the hard academic writing of my PhD and are brilliant fun. I really feel that their denigration is a misogyny thing- what’s the difference between romance and sci-fi or fantasy as a type of genre fiction? Some are great, some good, some are poor, some are indifferent, but the snobbery is reserved for what women read. It makes me cross.

    Jo Beverley is my favourite author- her Company of Rogues and Mallorens series are great world builders. I’m going to get that Alyssa Cole book right now on Kindle!

    Have you seen the “Smart bitches trashy books” blog? Kindred spirits ahoy.

    • Andrea says...

      Thanks for the blog recommendation! Will check it out.

    • Amy says...

      You make a good point about romance/sci fi. I’ve purposely avoided romance novels over the last ten years, after growing up with “Amish romance books” in my church’s library as a teenager. They were trite and all very similar and I felt like the fact that they were all about Amish people was weird (what was with that anyway? Probably something to do with justifying romance through austerity?). But I do miss that element in the books I read now, so here I am putting “Hate To Want You” on hold at the library.

  146. Love this! Romance is a topic I haven’t covered on my book lists yet!