A Guide to Speed-Dating Some Romance Novels
Photos via Amazon.
I’ve been a romance reader for pushing two decades, hooked by
their unapologetic commitment to women as main characters and
endless interest in the fine-grained specifics of human
emotion. But the last year has only deepened my appreciation
for the genre, which has provided a refuge from political
turbulence, even as I’ve taken on the responsibilities of
becoming a parent. I’m certainly not the first new mother to
have been kept company through nighttime feedings by these
books. They’re a means to claw back some time that’s purely my
own; settling in with one of these books feels like drawing a
heavy velvet curtain around myself. And yet, they’re also
deeply engaged with the most pressing issues of the wider
I know lots of highly intellectual arguments about the cultural
importance of romance—primarily, its value as a place to
sex and women’s
experiences in the world—which I completely believe. But
truthfully, I’m a fan because at their best, they give me the
buzzy, bubbly feeling of hearing a wedding band segue into an
Earth Wind and Fire hit, or unexpectedly spotting a dear friend
across a crowded room, or eating a fully loaded hot dog at a
baseball game. Pure, pure pleasure.
So! Think of this like speed dating. I’ve curated this
admittedly somewhat idiosyncratic list with an eye to books
that I think make good introductions specifically for the
audience of Jezebel; many of them are relatively new releases.
I have tried very hard not to let my personal obsessions
overtake this post—I could read a Regency romance a day for the
rest of my life and never get tired of them—and consequently,
I’ve left out some of my very favorites. And there are some
authors, books, and series that are just more fun when you have
more familiarity with the tropes, which are legion. By the same
token, my gaps are this post’s omissions, hence the poor
representation of small-town contemporary romance, a popular
and beloved subgenre that I’ve never quite learned my way
around. I hope that fans will provide some suggestions in the
Have seen every costume drama available on Amazon Prime
(twice): Frankly, I’m not sure why you aren’t already
reading historical romance? Anyway, it’s not too late to remedy
that. While it’s the subgenre that perhaps suffers most from
the “bodice ripper” stereotype, it’s my personal favorite, and
it’s full of avowedly feminist writers. Courtney
Milan’s novella The Governess Affair
acknowledges that the vulnerable position of these women who’ve
become such a popular trope, spinning that awful reality into a
beautiful story about recovery. (Free
on Kindle!) Sarah MacLean’s latest series,
Scandal and Scoundrel, started out riffing on modern
celebrity gossip and concluded with a book where she
rewrote the hero in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape.
Lady Be Good and
Luck Be a Lady are closely tied, weaving between
the British upper crust and the East End.
If you’re looking to ease in a little more slowly,
Sherry Thomas, who writes a lovely historical
romance, currently has a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes
series going, which is maybe slightly more romance adjacent
and would be a good way to test the waters. Though, honestly,
if you’ve seen and enjoyed North and South at least
twice, you could probably grab almost any historical from the
last five to ten years and enjoy it. They are almost certainly
extremely your shit and you don’t even know it yet.
Read loads of American history: Beverly
Indigo, which follows a woman who’s honored to
have an Underground Railroad hero recuperating in her
home—until she realizes that he is a handsome pain in her ass.
(Don’t worry, they come to an understanding that culminates in
a speech at church referencing the Song of Solomon.)
When die-hard romance readers start rattling off the
preeminent writers in the genre, one of the…
Are actually dying for Hollywood to get back
into rom coms:
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa
Cole is just delightful and a perfect read for the
#RoyalWedding2018 frenzy. It follows a mostly charming prince
who arrives in Manhattan from his prosperous African nation to
reclaim the betrothed who disappeared as a child. I knew I’d
love the STEM-working heroine when she first encounters a real
tool who works in her lab:
“How are you this morning?” she asked him in the tone she’d
heard secretaries use on old syndicated TV shows use to
placate their sexist bosses. Brian smiled; he’d watched the
same reruns it seemed.
“Actually, I’m a little behind in my work after getting back
from the Keystone conference.” That was when Naledi noticed
the sheaf of papers in his hands.
This motherfucker, she thought.
I’ve been completely charmed by Lucy Parker’s
series, featuring a bunch of theater pros with extremely
good banter. And Jasmine Guillory’s
The Wedding Date, which is everywhere right now,
opens with the lead couple getting stuck in an elevator and the
hero attempting to wheedle some cheese and crackers out of the
heroine in the most charming way possible.
book one features medieval
LARPers of the Regency era, while another has a plot twist
involving a lobster.
I’m also putting Tessa Dare here, even though
one typically associates romcoms with contemporary settings,
because her books so totally crack me up. I personally
recommend the Castles Ever After series; book
number one features medieval LARPers of the Regency era,
another has a plot twist involving a lobster.
Enjoy movies and TV shows about politicians, but GOOD
ones: The thoroughly sweet
Coffee Boy by Austin Chant; one
of the heroes begins his journey from apparent stick-in-the-mud
when he brings the proverbial hammer down on somebody
consistently misgendering his love interest, the
coffee-grabbing intern of the title, at the campaign where they
Related: You want something that acknowledges how
miserable the news is making you but also provides some
escape: Try the
Rogue Desire anthology series, which is a great way to
sample a lot of good authors with liberal politics who are also
sick to goddamn death of the orange menace.
Like watching reality TV—almost as much as learning the
secrets behind reality TV:
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria,
which follows the romance of a professional dancer on a So
You Think You Can Dance style competition with one of the
new entrants—a gruff bearded giant who grudgingly stars in an
Alaskan survivalist show with the rest of his family. The
heroine, while very capable, is prone to occasionally getting
overwrought, something to which I deeply relate, and
it’s also a very nice depiction of IRL New York City, as
opposed to pop culture New York City.
Are a sci-fi/fantasy fan who is
romance-curious: Several years ago I very much enjoyed
the first couple of Parasol Protectorate books by Gail
Carringer, but had fallen off—until I spotted
Romancing the Inventor, about a mathematically
inclined maid and troublemaking French inventor Genevieve
Lefoux. There are vampires and werewolves and also steampunk,
but with a light touch, and they are written in the archly
formal old-school Regency romance style that I particularly
love. Also good is Mary Robinette Kowal’s
Shades of Milk and Honey, which is like Pride
and Prejudice but if accomplished young ladies were
expected to have just a touch of magic along with their drawing
and singing (but never enough to make a career on the stage,
Want more werewolves and vampires,
specifically: I’m not the best authority on paranormal
as it currently stands because I read so many vampire
novels as a teenager that I burned out and can barely stand a
casual ghost anymore. However! I recently revisited a book from
the middle of Kresley Cole’s
Immortals After Dark series, which has been running for
several years, and I really enjoyed that it features a house
full of Valkyries who love each other and also scream at each
other constantly and I can’t tell you how deeply such an
atmosphere speaks to me right now. Nalini
Singh is also thoroughly beloved, specifically her
Psy-Changeling series, about psychics and shape-shifters.
Are interested in the IDEA of Fifty Shades of
Grey in THEORY, but not as it was executed: The
great news is you have loads of choices, because Fifty
Shades opened the floodgates for lots of better books.
Start with Alexis Hall’s very cheeky Arden St.
Ives trilogy, which is a very deliberate riff on the
billionaire dom trope in general and full of references to
Fifty Shades in particular. The third book isn’t due
out until later this year, sadly, but the first,
How to Bang a Billionaire, was very fun
and there is no better way to get totally hooked than hunting
for an in-the-meantime fix.
Wished Fifty Shades were the other way
around: Start with
Have Mercy, by Shelly Ann Clark.
A couple of touring musicians with too-good chemistry.
Enjoy Shondaland levels of angst: Frankly,
SAME. Definitely start with Alisha Rai. Her
current Forbidden Hearts series, which starts with
Hate to Want You, is really wonderful, and if you
like that, you can move onto her lady billionaire in A
Gentleman in the Streets. Angsty but you DO get the happy
Constantly dream of moving to a small town out west but
also you need to know the Tinder situation is good:
Definitely Victoria Dahl. I particularly like
Girls’ Night Out series, one of which features a mom in her
40s and another of which features a sort of prickly medical
illustrator and yet another which features a biker and
a kitten and a librarian.
End your day with SportsCenter: Santino
Hassell’s series following fictional New York football
team The Barons starts with
Illegal Contact, about Gavin, a famously grumpy
star player who gets stuck on house arrest in his mansion in
the Hamptons after brawling with a frat boy who planned to
blackmail his teammate and friend with a sex tape, and Noah,
the not-particularly-interested-in-football personal assistant
hired to help him out.
Love wild internet stuff and you enjoyed Chuck
Tingle: I’ve got three words for you:
Ice. Planet. Barbarians.