Some look down on romance novels for their delightfully happy endings and abundant fantasy. But it’s high time we recognized those for the joys that they are. As a burgeoning romance fan, I understand that it can be overwhelming to throw yourself wholly into the genre, so I built this list with that in mind. Here you’ll find some seriously saucy regency romance alongside violent tales of racy royal rumbles and fantasy novels that just happen to have a love story at their core. There’s also an abstract sci-fi dalliance, a gothic trans rom-com, and more! Basically, something for everyone who’s looking to add a little romance to their reading list.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
Shondaland’s upcoming regency romance series Bridgerton is one of our most anticipated shows of the year. If you can’t wait until December 25 for the show to drop on Netflix, then we’ve got some very good news. The TV series is based on Julia Quinn’s books which begin with The Duke and I, which we recommend you check out in the meantime. The Duke and I centers on a young British debutante struggling to find love in high society, and a handsome reclusive Duke. It features a lot of sauce alongside a beloved shipping trope—fake dating—and a roster of characters that you’ll absolutely fall in love with.
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
Feiwel and Friends
If all that love and sexual tension seems a little too much for your intro into romance, then make sure to pick up this dark and delightful chiller. “They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart. And they never will.” And so begins Alessandra’s story. A bored, ambitious young woman who’s sick of playing second fiddle to her sister, Alessandra has a plan. She’s going to seduce the dangerous, maniacal Shadow King. Once they’re married, she’s going to kill him. But her dreams of being the Shadow Queen might be a little harder to achieve, as she begins to realize that her new fearsome foe might just be her perfect match.
Tempest by Beverly Jenkins
For iconic historical romance, you can do no better than Beverly Jenkins, who has been charming readers for decades. Tempest tells the story of Regan Carmichael, a mail-order bride in the Old West who greets her new husband by accidentally shooting him. (An auspicious beginning for the pair.) As they face an uncertain future, parenting, and the disapproval of the groom’s family, they find a special connection that will warm your body, brain, and heart this chilly season.
Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
St. Martin’s Griffin
Need some serious fantasy action with your love story? Then you’ve got to pick up Song of Blood & Stone, the first in L. Penelope’s Earthsinger series. Jasminda lives an isolated life, shunned from a community that fears her powers. When Jack stumbles across her cottage, their lives are changed forever. He realizes that she holds the key to saving his people and stopping the war that threatens both of their homes. The pair head into the wilds on the search for the truth, even as their secrets work to tear them apart. This is the perfect epic fantasy romance to lose yourself in this winter.
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
We love a woman who knows what she wants, and Chloe Fong certainly knows herself. In fact, three years before we enter her story, she told her childhood sweetheart to leave her alone until he was ready to get serious. Lucky for Chloe and us, Duke Jeremy Wentworth is back and he’s serious about Chloe… if not about anything else. There’s a problem, though. Chloe doesn’t know Jeremy’s a Duke and that he owns the small village where they grew up. Will she be able to handle the truth about her mischievous love match? Treat yourself to this delightful read and find out.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Matchmaking can often lead to the most dramatic and romantic of allegiances. In When Dimple Met Rishi, it also offers up some teen-movie-type feels. Dimple can’t wait to head off to a summer program for web developers, especially if it means her mom will stop trying to set her up. The only problem is that Rishi is headed to the program with a different agenda: to meet his future wife and charm her into falling in love. What on Earth could go wrong? This is already a contemporary romance classic and for good reason. It’s perfect!
Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
Decades before The Shape of Water, there was Mrs. Caliban. Rachel Ingalls’ surrealist romance tells the story of a lonely unloved housewife, Dorothy, and her unexpected relationship with a monstrous frogman, Larry. Ingalls creates something magical from the mundane here as Dorothy and Larry fall for each other and become embroiled in a hot and heavy affair. But Larry has secrets and Dorothy has a cruel husband, which leads to trouble for the star-crossed pair. If you’re looking for something strange and beautiful that you can read in one sitting, you’ll find love with this novella.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster
Lara Jean Song-Covey is a contemporary romance icon thanks to the Netflix adaptations of Jenny Han’s beloved series (and an incredible performance by Lana Condor). If you’ve never checked them out, then it’s the perfect time to dive into the books. It all begins with teenager Lara Jean and the five letters that she writes to her crushes. Of course, they were never meant to be mailed. When they are, her life is turned upside down, putting her on a romantic collision course with an old crush named Peter Kavinsky. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that kind of unputdownable read that you’ll want to start again as soon as you turn the final page.
Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas
Summoning a ghost rarely ends well. But in Thomas’ bestselling debut, it’s the start of something very special. There’s nothing Yadriel wants more than for his family to accept his true gender, so proving that he’s a brujo seems like a good start. The only problem is, Yadriel summons the wrong ghost and he’s suddenly stuck with the school’s bad boy, Julian Diaz. Looks like this unexpected pairing has no choice but to help each other out. And if they start to feel something along the way, then it has to be fate. Aiden Thomas broke ground and records with this stunning and spooky YA and it should be at the top of your to reading list.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Guillory is the undisputed queen of contemporary romance, and her holiday-themed Christmas love story proves why. Vivian Forest can’t believe her luck when her daughter, the official stylist for Buckingham Palace, invites her to England to spend Christmas with the Royal Family. Seeing as her daughter’s busy with work, Vivian has plenty of time to explore and connect with the Queen’s private secretary, Malcolm Hudson. Dreamy, romantic, and utterly magical, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this dynamic and delightful story.
Featured Image: Berkley, Swoon Reads, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Simon Pulse, Femtopress LLC, St. Martin’s Griffin, Avon Books, Feiwel and Friends