Confession time: I read. A lot. Sometimes up to 3-4 books at the same time. I get completely absorbed in a good story and like many other avid readers (and writers), over the course of a great book, I often feel as if my favorite characters are genuine, in-the-flesh human beings.
I discovered at a very early age (7-8) that I love a good scare and a mystery to unravel. But at 13, I read my first historical romance novel, Sweet Savage Love, by Rosemary Rogers. Ms. Rogers’ debut novel was among the handful of 1970’s bestselling “bodice-rippers” that ignited the force known as the modern romance novel (the romance genre represents more than 1/3 of fiction sales and generates more than $1 billion in sales annually, according to Romance Writers of America).
Looking back at those early romance classics, including “the” classic, The Flame and The Flower, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, the heroes were a little too dark and definitely too inclined to rape the heroine. They were everything I probably had no business reading at that age, yet I was hooked. Some 40 years later, I’m still an avid reader of romance, and although my tastes have evolved over the years, the attraction has not. For me, the allure of the romance novel is all about the characters. It’s the clash, the chase, the chemistry. And of course, that first kiss.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I started compiling a list of some of my favorite romances. I honestly have no idea how many I’ve read – certainly dozens every year for at least the last 20 years. The nine titles below include historical, contemporary, paranormal, (and two aren’t strictly in the romance genre.) But they do share the necessary ingredients that create a great romance: compelling stories, conflicts galore, a heroine that makes me want to sometimes yell but mostly cheer, and a hero with whom I could fall a little bit in love.
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy. Sigh… Not sure if there’s anything to add.
Suzanne Brockmann – The Unsung Hero – the first of Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, I was hooked on the duel love stories in this novel, one set in the present day US and the other set in World War II.
Deborah Harkness – A Discovery of Witches. In the continued werewolf-vampire debate, I am decidedly in the vampire camp. And is there anything sexier than a vampire/genius who’s a professor at Oxford University? This novel is the first in the All Souls Trilogy, a winning combination of historical romance, mystery and fantasy.
Eloisa James – Pleasure For Pleasure (Essex Sisters series). It’s all about the character, and in this case it’s a flawed bad boy, the Earl of Mayne. I loved watching him evolve over the course of the series.
Julie James – Just the Sexiest Man Alive. My favorite contemporary romance. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly re-readable. If you’ve ever for a moment imagined falling in love with a movie star, you will love this novel.
Karen Marie Moning – The Fever Series. You need to read the entire Series, starting with Darkfever, to fully experience the relationship of MacKayla and Jericho. Set in a universe of Celtic mythology, this dark paranormal/fantasy series is compelling and intense.
Julia Quinn – Romancing Mister Bridgerton – The entire Bridgerton saga is an enchanting 5-Star Regency romance series. But I have a soft spot for heroine Penelope Featherington, who fell in love at 16 and then waited years for Colin Bridgerton to even notice she was in the room.
Nora Roberts – Valley of Silence. Book 3 in The Circle Trilogy. I’ve read so many of Roberts’ novels and most of her Irish Trilogies. For me, this paranormal series was a stand-out, all because of the vampire Cian, and one of my favorite scenes in any romance novel.
Maya Rodale – Seducing Mr. Knightly – Shy, talented and determined heroine. Brilliant yet clueless hero. Set in the world of Regency-era tabloid journalism. There’s so much to love about Rodale’s entire Writing Girls series, but Annabelle Swift makes me want to cheer.
While all of these titles are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, if you have a local independent bookseller nearby, by all means, go buy them there.
And readers, I’d love to see your favorite romances in the comments.