A comprehensive guide to: (mostly contemporary) Romance Novels.
The one's I've read that I think you should, too.
Romance is the biggest sector of the publishing industry, but I think romance novels have a less than positive reputation. There are a few reasons for that:
People don’t actually know what this genre is, and when they hear “romance novel” they only think about books with Fabio on the cover.
The target demographic is women, so no one takes them seriously.
I think a lot of people feel shame or embarrassment for enjoying this genre. I am here to free you from that patriarchal nonsense! Books do not have to be serious literature to have value. Reading should be fun! I think a lot of people who “don’t enjoy reading” are just reading the wrong things. You do not have to only read high brow books to be a serious person, these books are not dumb, you should read whatever you want to read.
If this is not your genre, that’s fine! Everyone can’t like everything. I’m just saying, if the reason this isn’t your genre is because you think it’s embarrassing or stupid, that is a fake reason and I’d encourage you to try something on this list.
I have been reading contemporary romance novels since 2018, and I cannot recommend them enough. I find them so comforting, a true joy. Sometimes it is just nice to sit down and read something that you know will have a happy ending. I’m a pretty fast reader, so I will often sit down and just read one of these cover to cover in a couple of hours. A lot of them also focus on serious issues— I have read romance novels about autism, infertility, a variety of social and political issues, domestic violence, chronic illness, etc.
I also think they portray sex in such a healthy way. Women are never shamed for embracing their sexuality, and consent is always at the forefront without feeling like the author is purposely trying to make a point of it. Romance novels are feminist, everyone!!
If you are new to this genre, I would start with The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Jasmine is my favorite rom com author. The Wedding Date is the first in a series of six books that all take place in the same universe, but also work as standalone stories. I love them all. If you like her books, this genre is for you.
With that, here is a comprehensive list of all the romance novels I recommend:
My all time favorites:
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee: This is one of the most addicting books I have ever read, and two years later I still think about it all the time. It’s about a 40 something year old woman named Solene who takes her preteen daughter to a boyband concert, meets the band backstage, and starts dating Hayes, one of the members of the band. This is essentially a Harry Styles fan fic, but its SO well written and I could not put it down.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: An enemies-to-lovers story about Lucy and Josh, two assistants who share an office and hate each other. Then some things happen, and they don’t hate each other anymore. It’s very good.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: This book was written for me, specifically. It is about Alex, the son of the first woman to be President, who falls in love with Henry, the Prince of England. Royals + progressive politics + rom com? This is all of my interests. This is so funny, so cute, just a true joy. I cannot express enough how good this book it. I love it so much.
The Kiss Quotient series by Helen Hoang: These all feature characters who have autism spectrum disorder. The Kiss Quotient was the first contemporary romance book I ever read, and I forced it onto many of my friends. I LOVED that book. The second book in this series, The Bride Test, is my least favorite of the three, but still good. The third one is very good, but different in tone from the other two and quite sad. A good overview of all the things this genre can be.
If you want to read a series:
Well Met series by Jen Deluca: These all take place in a small town and center around the Renaissance Faire that takes place every summer. I do not care at all about Renaissance Faires, but these make them sound very fun. The first book, Well Met, is one of my favorite rom coms ever. I thought the second one, Well Played, was just fine. The third one comes out in October and I have high hopes.
The Brown Sisters trilogy by Talia Hibbert: This trilogy is the BEST. They are so good. Each one is about a different sister, and I loved them all. They all have such fun personalities.
The Roommate series by Rosie Danan: Loved these as well. These are very sex positive, even more than a typical rom com. Super NSFW, I can’t even really describe the plot without giving important things away. Just trust me, read these.
Playbook series by Alexa Martin: These are so fun! They are about a group of NFL wives/girlfriends. I actively dislike the NFL and do not care at all about sports but I really liked these.
The Friend Zone series by Abby Jimenez: I enjoyed all three of these. They all touch on some serious issues (infertility in the first one, death and depression in the second, chronic illness and drug addiction in the third), but they still manage to be cute and fun. They are pretty over the top, and require more suspension of disbelief than normal, so maybe not for someone who isn’t sure about this genre.
If you want a stand-alone story:
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: Evvie Drake is a recently widowed woman who rents out a spare apartment in her house to Dean Tenney, a former professional baseball player and a friend of Evvie’s best friend. This one is a little more serious and a little more substantive than a typical romance novel. Very good.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A British rom com about Tiffy and Leon who work opposite schedules, and therefore have never met each other despite living in the same flat. Touches on some serious issues towards the end, but overall very uplifting and cute.
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London: Bea is a plus sized fashion blogger who, in a moment of frustration, publishes a rant on her blog about how a very popular dating show called Main Squeeze is not at all size inclusive. Then, she gets cast as the lead on the next season. This is basically The Bachelorette in book form, without all the problematic parts.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria: LOVED this one. Jasmine is an up and coming actress, fresh off a recent high profile breakup, who gets a big break as the lead of a very high profile rom com. Ashton is a telenovela star trying to make it in America. This has Jane the Virgin vibes. Very good.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon: Shay and Dominic are coworkers at a public radio station who, in an attempt to bring in new listeners, start a new show where they talk about dating topics and their previous relationship. But, they never actually dated and it’s all a lie. A fun twist on a fake dating trope.
I will read anything these authors write:
Emily Henry: Maybe I should caveat that she has books in other genres I have not read, but her two romance novels, Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation, are two of my all time favorites. Huge recommend.
Mhairi McFarlane: She writes British rom coms that are all a delight. I’ve read several, but she still has quite a deep back catalog that I am working through. Haven’t read a bad one.
Christina Lauren: This is a writing duo with a very deep back catalog of very good rom coms. I am still working my way through them all. Of the ones I’ve read I’d skip Twice in a Blue Moon, but thats it.
Historical Romance! I am slowing wading into these waters. I have liked:
The Bridgerton series: I have read the first three. I don’t think these have as universal appeal as the show does, but if you like reading and you like romance, they are worth your time.
To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters: I have only read this one, the first of a series, but it was good! I plan to read the next one. Set in Regency Era England, so very similar to Bridgerton.
A League of Extraordinary Women series by Evie Dunmore: LOVED the first one, thought the second one was boring. Have yet to read the third one, which will be the tie breaker. Set in late 1800s England, the women in these stories are feminists, fighting against a lot of the patriarchal norms of the time.
If you’re looking to cry a lot:
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan: Ella studies abroad in Oxford, where she meets and falls in love with Jamie, who has a very sad secret. This is so good but also made me weep like a baby.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle: If you could have dinner with five people, dead or alive, who would you pick? Sabrina shows up to her 30th birthday dinner to find her answer to that question has come true. This is so good.
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves: This takes place in two timelines— in 1991, when Annika and Johnathan are in college and dating, and in 2001, 10 years since they have last seen each other. Very SAD.
Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane: A woman named Eve has had the same group of three best friends for years. Then something horrible happens, and Eve and her friends have to pick up the pieces. This was so emotional, but also uplifting and empowering.
To read during the holidays:
One Day in December by Josie Silver: On a day in, you guessed it, December, Laurie makes eye contact with a man at the bus stop and is convinced its love at first sight. She spends the next year thinking about/looking for him, and then at a Christmas party the following year she finds out her best friend’s boyfriend, Jack, is the man from the bus. Very wintery and lots of drama.
This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens: A New Years theme! Minnie and Quinn share a birthday, New Years Eve, and become friends after meeting on their 30th birthday. It also flashes back to different years throughout their lives. Cute!
If you want a royal theme:
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: The story of Will and Kate, if Kate had been an American student studying abroad. Nick and Bex fall in love at university, and it’s complicated because he is gonna be the King of England. The sequel, The Heir Affair, is also good.
Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole: These are all about regular people who fall in love with someone who is a royal. They are cheesy and pretty trashy (this is not a bad thing, trashy is often very fun), but I loved them.
American Royals by Katharine McGee: What if George Washington had been the first King of the United States, instead of the President? That’s the premise of this YA book. This is fluffy and fun and very much about teenagers. Also read the sequel, Majesty, which ties up some loose ends from the first one.
The Selection series: I cannot in good conscious tell you to read these without saying very clearly that these books are terrible. They are not at all well written and honestly, very dumb. BUT, this series was incredibly addicting and I read all of them. Plot is The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games, this society is a caste system and when it is time for the Prince to marry someone, one girl from each caste is picked to participate in The Selection, where the Prince will select a wife. DUMB. STUPID. Terribly written. I read every single one.
If you want a YA book:
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy by Jenny Han: Everyone knows about these movies, but I think the books are fun to revisit as well.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Natasha’s family is about to be deported to Jamaica, and on her last day in NYC she meets Daniel. It follows them through her last 12 hours in New York.
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord: I saw this described as “You’ve Got Mail for the Twitter age” and was immediately on board. It is exactly that. Very cute!
The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy by Jenny Han: I think this is the superior Jenny Han trilogy. High school me LOVED this, and I think they held up in a recent reread. They are about a girl named Belly who is in a love triangle with Conrad and Jeremiah, the two sons of her mother’s best friend. Big beach town vibes here as well.