The Case For The Romance Novel And How Its Enhanced My Life (+ 30 Of My Favorites)

Ladies, get ready to bookmark this post. This is more of a life/marriage rec/hack than it is a “book review”. These are romance novels, the ones typically relegated to “bored housewife” status, the likes of Hallmark movies and I have zero shame (nay, pride even) when discussing my love of these. And jokes on them, because these books have not only highly enhanced my/our life and marriage but are now sweeping the bestsellers lists. SWEEPING. And I’m here for the good versions of all of them. Some are bodice-ripping, many involve Dukes, some rom-comy, often erotic or steamy, always extremely enjoyable, easy to read, with a no-fail happy ending. Also, Mom/Dad (and my brothers), you can go ahead and click out of this post right now!

It’s full circle really. I grew up glued to romance novels, starting with V.C. Andrews graduating quickly to Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel. Years later, I got my degree in comparative literature and history and opted for Margaret Atwood and Paul Auster and the likes for decades. And yet here we are, reading historical romance novels called “Some Like It Scot” and telling the world about it, shamelessly.

Wait, Why Are Romance Novels So Great?

  1. They are extremely comforting, which is natural anti-anxiety. Think rom-coms like The Proposal or How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The formula requires a happy ending – so no need to worry AT ALL (like you do with some thrillers). You know the tropes and you know it will all work out therefore you can rely on them to put you in a good mood during stress. The good ones I’m recommending have a fresh (ish) take on the tropes while sticking within the formula. BTW you know what else is formulaic? All superhero stories, all action movies, or Patterson thrillers. So once again I think it’s hilarious that the male-run publishing industry thinks that these should be somehow relegated to just fluff because they mostly talk about relationships and feelings – there is so much skill and art in good story-telling, regardless of the genre.
  2. They help you sleep. These are highly enjoyable, but they aren’t as gripping or anxiety-inducing as many page-turning thrillers (which I also love) so I find that every night I SO look forward to snuggling into bed, but they don’t keep me up with a “But who dunnit??” rumination.
  3. They can take the place of a good TV show/social media and wine for me at night. I reach for both of those things after work, desperate to turn my brain off into “sleep mode.” But those things for me can be unhealthy if not moderated. So instead I opt for a novel after the kids are down (or before when it’s not my turn) because I’m so excited to get back to my book (will they or won’t they??). It’s dramatically reduced my TV/social media and wine consumption.
  4. They will put you in the mood and I can almost guarantee (from experience) that they’ll reignite your sex life. This is specifically useful for those of us in long-term monogamous relationships. You know what I’m talking about. All of these below recs are full of great chemistry, a lot of tension/buildup/almost kissing, and yes many have steamy descriptive scenes that will provoke a partner nudge that will likely not be rejected. Brian has totally endorsed this post, BTW. He’s a big fan of this hobby of mine.

Romance Novels Are Having A HUGE Moment

You don’t need to be embarrassed or feel shame if you read these – you are NOT alone. Women fiction writers and literal romance novelists are absolutely killing it right now on all the bestsellers lists and I feel such glee for all of them. DOMINATING. The publishing industry, like most, was/is run by men who I’m sure discounted the power of this female-oriented type of reading enjoyment, prioritizing the James Pattersons and Dean Koontz of the world (both of which I also love), but LOOK. AT. US.

My #1 Tip…

Also, you might want a Kindle. Some of these titles/covers can be embarrassing to buy from a store, open in the mail, or hold on the sofa/beach. I love my Kindle, but if you read in the bath/pool/lake then get the waterproof one (I wish I had the new one). The best part is that you can read at night without the need for a lamp, or waking your partner and you can immediately download the next book as soon as you wrap the last one. I was super anti-Kindle until lockdown where we couldn’t go to stores or get deliveries. I still buy hard copies of psychology/business books, but for all my fiction where I don’t think I’m going to reference it again, I’m full-Kindle now.

Contemporary Rom-Com Style

Think Dirty Dancing or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. These might be coming of age, first love, friends to lovers, enemy to lovers, roommates to lovers, fake boyfriends, workplace romance – all my favorite tropes are here – set in the last 5-15 years. Here are my absolute favorites:

Beach Read (Kindle + Local) | Happy Place (Kindle + Local) | People We Meet on Vacation (Kindle + Local) | Book Lovers (Kindle + Local)

Emily Henry: Let EmHen be your gateway romance novel drug – witty, smart dialogue, and a fresh yet relatable romantic perspective (Emhens unite). I loved her books in this order: Beach Read, Happy Place, People We Meet on Vacation, and Book Lovers. Also if you are anti-Kindle, these books don’t have bodice-ripping Fabio on the front and you can easily read them in public. With EmHen you’ll get nostalgia, romance, so much build-up, and a few steamy scenes (but not crazy graphic).

Every Summer After (Kindle + Local) | Meet Me At The Lake (Kindle + Local)

Carley Fortune: The PERFECT summer read/s. Carley sweeps you away with her first love nostalgia vibe that draws me in instantly and creates a really beautiful world you want to be in. She is a former publishing editor that took a stab at writing her own and then BOOM bestsellers list (I love stories like that). She only has two books but I loved them both SO MUCH. Brian actually read Every Summer After because the fiction book he is writing is set in a lake town with dual timelines. He admitted that he liked it. They are so good (and I’m not alone, all over the bestsellers list – her second is Meet Me At The Lake).

Something Wilder (Kindle + Local) | Love and Other Words (Kindle + Local) | The Soulmate Equation (Kindle + Local) | The Unhoneymooners (Kindle + Local)

Christina Lauren: Two friends (Christina and Lauren) who pound out (NPI) and write so many fun romance novels, seemingly so fast. I always enjoy them as extremely quick, easy reads. I think I’ve read 15 or so of their books now and counting. I loved Something Wilder, Love and Other Words, The Soulmate Equation, and The Unhoneymooners. You can’t not enjoy these books and you might finish one easily in two days (aka excellent vacation reads).

Colleen Hoover: It seems crazy not to immediately call her out because I’ve read four of her books and they are GREAT. I LOVE her own personal story and think that the themes in her novels are important to explore. However, they are dark and often make me feel unsettled (themes of domestic abuse, addiction, death) so they aren’t my go-to if I need a mood boost (but great for a plane trip – you won’t put it down and more gripping than others).

The Love Hypothesis (Kindle + Local) | Stuck With You (Kindle) | Love On The Brain (Kindle + Local) | Below Zero (Kindle)

Ali Hazelwood: Ali seemingly created a whole sub-genre called STEMenist fiction (women working and finding romance in the science fields). I’ve really liked these: The Love Hypothesis, Stuck With You, Love on the Brain, and Below Zero.

The Wedding Date (Kindle + Local) | The Proposal (Kindle + Local) | The Wedding Party (Kindle + Local)

Jasmine Guillory: Wedding Date Series (I think there are five, I loved the first three) – Entertaining from page one, so much “almost kissing” and steamy in such a good way. Also, I appreciated the inside perspective of what it might be like to be a black woman dating a white guy. I highly enjoyed them all.

Fix Her Up (Kindle + Local) | It Happened One Summer (Kindle + Local) | Hook Line and Sinker (Kindle + Local) | Secretly Yours (Kindle + Local)

Tessa Bailey: These are swift, fun, and steamy with brawny dudes if that’s your thing (it is mine). These lean more Hallmark movie-ish and I couldn’t put them down. Fix Her Up, It Happened One Summer, Hook, Line, and Sinker (lots of “the rich city girl meets the brawny small-town fisherman” – a trope I highly enjoy). I just downloaded Secretly Yours and I’m excited to start.

The Friend Zone (Kindle + Local) | The Happy Ever After Playlist (Kindle + Local) | Part of Your World (Kindle + Local)

Abby Jimenez: Former food network star (**Could this be my future, too?**). These are sweet, so fun, and feel like people/friends you know. The Friend Zone, The Happy Ever After Playlist, and Part Of Your World. I think I’ve read a few more and will continue to pick them up (not super steamy but lots of buildup). I just started Part Of Your World and am enjoying it a lot (but fairly tame so far).

The Spanish Love Deception (Kindle + Local) | Dating Dr. Dil (Kindle + Local) | The Hating Game (Kindle + Local) | The Roommate (Kindle + Local) | Seven Days in June (Kindle + Local) | The Bodyguard (Kindle + Local) | That Summer (Kindle + Local) | Big Summer (Kindle + Local) | Shipped (Kindle + Local) | Things We Never Got Over (Kindle + Local)

Others I loved: The Spanish Love Deception, Dating Dr. Dil, The Hating Game (LOVED), and The Roommate (LOVED, so steamy). Tia Williams’ Seven Days in June – So good, excited about her next book. The Bodyguard by Katherine Center, That Summer and Big Summer (both by Jennifer Weiner), Shipped, and Lucy Score’s books (I liked Things We Never Got Over, the first one in the series but couldn’t get through the second one).

You might wonder where is Sally Rooney, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Jojo Moyes, and Emma Straub. I’ve read almost all of them and love them, but I feel like the whole world recommends them and they don’t fall into the “romance genre” as much so they aren’t the focus of this list. But also Curtis Sittenfeld’s romantic comedy (huge fan here) was wonderfully written but missed a few romance marks for me (aka very little steam).

Historical Romance

Y’all. Get ready to be transported into a time where women couldn’t own property, dukes had to be tamed (such rakes!), and corsets came undone fast (warning – you may accidentally start calling your partner “my lord,” true story). I love living in this fantasy world and they are far more entertaining and fresh than they were in my youth (and more graphic in a fun way). I personally don’t love the long drawn out series (I loved Bridgerton the TV series, but not the books as much) and I kissed many, many a toad to wittle down this list. I learned a lot about the women’s suffrage movement, what it was like to not own property even as a woman of The Ton, and even a few new moves:) Yes, some of these can be problematic and hyper-cliche re: cisgender roles which is why I love the more recently written ones that take a more feminist bent.

Bringing Down The Duke (Kindle + Local) | A Rogue of One’s Own (Kindle + Local) | Portrait of a Scotsman (Kindle + Local)

Hands down my favorite – Evie Dunmore: SO GOOOD and if you are new to this genre start with this series. Her writing is so quick, smart, and totally feminist ( + very steamy). I can’t recommend this series more: Bringing Down The Duke, A Rogue of One’s Own, and Portrait of a Scotsman. I don’t think I’ve ever preordered a book before until this lady…

My Fake Rake (Kindle + Local) | Would I Lie To The Duke (Kindle + Local) | Waiting For A Scot Like You (Kindle + Local) | An Education in Pleasure (Kindle) | Forever Your Earl (Kindle + Local) | Scandal Takes The Stage (Kindle + Local) | From Duke Til Dawn (Kindle + Local)

Eva Leigh: This is where I started and I really liked these: My Fake Rake, Would I Lie To The Duke, and Waiting for a Scot Like You – ALL GREAT/fun/fast and hard to put down. Really good, steamy stuff. If you want to go straight to some mood-enhancing stuff, download An Education in Pleasure and try not to get turned on. I also read and liked: Forever Your Earl, Scandal Takes The Stage, and From Duke Til Dawn.

To Have And To Hoax (Kindle + Local) | To Love And To Loathe (Kindle + Local)

Martha Waters: To Have and to Hoax and To Love and to Loathe. Both of these were fun and rompy, but could be frustrating at times (so many set pieces that felt silly) but I still really liked them.

Bombshell (Kindle + Local) | The Rogue Not Taken (Kindle + Local) | One Good Earl Deserves Another (Kindle + Local)

Sarah MacLean: This lady can really write tension and love scenes: Bombshell (LOVED THIS SO MUCH), The Rogue Not Taken, and One Good Earl Deserves Another are all my favorites.

Who’s That Earl (Kindle + Local) | The Duke Undone (Kindle + Local) | It’s Getting Scot In Here (Kindle + Local) | Mr. Malcolm’s List (Kindle + Local) | A Lady’s Guide To Mischief and Mayhem (Kindle)

One-offs that I also loved: Who’s That Earl, The Duke Undone, It’s Getting Scot in Here, Mr. Malcolm’s List, and A Lady’s Guide To Mischief and Mayhem.

If you like the more drawn-out ones then yes, of course, Bridgerton or Outlander are good but I like the short fun fast ones that are less epic romances and more juicy.

For Those Ready To Dabble In Erotica

Now to the fun stuff – which are honestly at times can be problematic (think 50 Shades of Grey dynamic) so read the description to make sure you are up for it (I’ve started a few that were a bit too hardcore for me). It’s hard to say that I loved any of these, but did I enjoy them and couldn’t put them down? Yes. So there’s that.

Bared to You (Kindle + Local) | The Belle And The Beard (Kindle + Local) | The Rivals (Kindle + Local) | Off The Clock (Kindle + Local)

LGBTQAI+ Focused

One Last Stop (Kindle + Local) | Boyfriend Material (Kindle + Local) | Red White And Royal Blue (Kindle + Local) | Love And Other Disasters (Kindle + Local)

Y’all, I have such compassion for my LGBTQAI+ friends that sit through so many hetero-romantic comedies, but lately, there seems to be way more non-hetero rom-com books being published. Here are some that are meant to be really good that I have downloaded but not read yet: One Last Stop, Boyfriend Material, Red, White, & Royal Blue, and Love and Other Disasters.

What Else????

I have a huge summer reading list (not all romances, I’m starting The Guest after I finish my current novel) but I’d love any romance novels that I’m missing (which is likely A LOT). That’s the good news! It seems endless in a good way. Like just when I think I’ve read them all I’ll find a new writer who I love and dive in. I’ve read The Court of Thorns and Roses (the first one) and I’d be open to others dabbling in the fantasy genre if they are recommended. Let’s dish in the comments about others you love.

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