27 Best Romance Novels—Your Ultimate TBR Pile

Choosing only twenty-seven books for this epic post was painful, but cuts had to be made! Below, LucyH and TanyaLK tackle the impossible and give a very opinionated opinion of the twenty-seven books they recommend romance lovers should read to fully experience all our wonderful genre has to offer.

Contemporary:

The Bollywood Bride (2015) by Sonali Dev

Why? The story of a Bollywood star with a hidden past and the man she let go in order to save. The combination of the Indian culture and the tension between our broken heroine and hero holds the reader captive.

On the Island (2011) by Tracey Garvis-Graves

Why? An improbable story of a seventeen year old cancer survivor, T.J., and his thirty year old tutor, Anna, who survive on an island after their plane crashes. It’s a beautiful love story without the ick-factor.

Kiss an Angel (1996) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Why? A marriage of convenience between flighty up-town Daisy Devreaux and humourless traveling circus entertainer Alex Markov is never going to work. Or is it? The unusual circus setting and the passion between Daisy and Alex make this book irresistible.

Cowboy/Western:

A Hearing Heart by Bonnie Dee

A Hearing Heart (2009) by Bonnie Dee

Why? Catherine Johnson is the new schoolteacher in the small town of Broughton, Nebraska. After saving deaf and mute Jimmy Kinney from drunken thugs, Catherine offers to teach him to read and write so he can communicate better with people. The chemistry between Catherine and Jimmy, and the way Catherine looks beyond the stigma of Jim’s disabilities, makes A Hearing Heart a must-read western romance.

MacKenzie’s Mountain (1989) by Linda Howard

Why? This is the story of how an outsider, Wolf MacKenzie—half Comanche and half Scottish/Celt—finds love and eventually acceptance in a town scarred by racism and fear. (Reader be warned: racially non-pc terms are used. However, the terms ring true of the bigotry experienced at the time, as well as the internalized and externalized oppression that unfortunately still occurs even today).

Erotic:

Girl Behind the Mask by Stella Knightley

Girl Behind the Mask (2013) by Stella Knightley

Why? Leaving the heartache of sexual betrayal behind, historian Sarah Thomson intends to make of the most of her research trip to Venice. But she soon finds her attention consumed by mysterious millionaire Marco Donato. Girl Behind the Mask is the first in the Hidden Women series. It is an intelligent erotic romance series, with compassionate and brave characters, and a wonderful central romance between Sarah and Marco.

The Siren (2012) by Tiffany Reisz

Why? If you want a book that includes a layered plot, gut wrenching emotion, and complex character development, this is a must read. A beautifully crafted story highlighting the cross section of control, vulnerability, love, and pain. 

Fantasy:

 The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Why? This fantasy classic is rich with folklore from the days of King Arthur. The Mists of Avalon is the story of Morgaine, Arthur’s sister, and unveils a tale of female strength and power, paving the way for the resilient heroines of today. 

Darkfever (2006) by Karen Marie Moning

Why? MacKayla travels to Ireland in search of answers regarding her murdered sister. Little does she know she’s about to enter the world of the Fae—filled with magic, danger, and the unexplained. What makes Darkfever and the whole Fever series like Belgium chocolate? It’s gotta be Barrons…Sexy, alpha, powerful, elusive, dangerous, and swoon-worthy all wrapped up in one.

Historical:

Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

Scandalous Desire (2011) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Why? Nine months ago ruthless river pirate Mickey O’Connor ruined Silence Hollingbrook’s reputation and marriage, and now he wants her to look after his daughter. Set in the slums of St Giles, Scandalous Desire is an opposites-attract romance full of endearing characters and a once in a lifetime love story.

Indigo (1996) by Beverly Jenkins

Why? First published twenty years ago, Indigo tells the tale of Hester Wyatt, a member of the Underground Railroad in Michigan, and Galen Vachon, aka the Black Daniel. When Galen is injured transporting slaves to freedom, he convalesces in Hester’s home. Galen eventually returns to woo Hester properly and his seduction leaves us wondering how we can reincarnate him to present day.

Regency:

Love Only Once (1985) by Johanna Lindsey

Why? When Nicholas Eden abducts Regina Ashton, he gets a little more than he bargains for. Written in a time when heroes were arseholes and the heroines loved them anyway, Love Only Once is the first in Johanna Lindsey’s fabulous Malory-Anderson Family series.

Nine Rules to Break when Romancing A Rake (2010) by Sarah MacLean

Why? Wallflower Lady Calpurnia Hartwell finally decides to live life and makes a list of nine rules for ladies and sets out to break them. When Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston, agrees to be her partner in crime, the chemistry sizzles.

The Rake by Mary Jo Putney

The Rake (1989) by Mary Jo Putney

Why? An alcoholic rake, Reginald Davenport, is on a road to destruction. The new Earl of Wargrave gifts him back the estate illegally stolen by Davenport’s uncle. Under the competent management of A. Weston, imagine Reggie’s surprise when he discovers A. Weston to be Lady Alys Weston. Let the courtship commence.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (2006) by Julia Quinn

Why? Falling in love with her best-friend’s older brother at the age of ten wasn’t Miranda’s cleverest move. Still loving the broken man he became ten years later was possibly her smartest. A wonderful regency romance about not giving up on the ones you love, even when they’ve given up on themselves.

LGBTQ+:

And Playing the Role of Herself (2007) by K.E. Lane

Why? Caidence Harris has just landed a leading role on a hot new police drama shot in LA. While filming she meets the magnetic and devastatingly beautiful Robyn Ward.  And Playing the Role of Herself is a wonderful lesbian romance with fantastic heroines and loveable secondary characters. With it K.E. Lane brings a refreshing new tone to F/F romances.

Hot Head (2011) by Damon Suede

Why? Griff Muir has been wrestling with his growing feelings for his best friend and fellow firefighter, Dante Anastagio, since 9/11. Yet Dante is a confirmed ladies’ man, or so Griff thought. The ultimate friends-to-lovers story, Hot Head is the perfect introduction to M/M romances.

New Adult:

Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens

Thoughtless (2009) by  S.C. Stephens

Why? Kiara thought her life and boyfriend Denny were perfect, but that was before she met local rock star Kellan Kyle. We hate love triangles, yet one cannot help but adore the entire Thoughtless series. The raw emotion of this book and the all-encompassing love Kellan has for Kiara make this series unforgettable.

Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young (2014)

Why? The third installment from the On Dublin Street series treats us to a best friends to lovers feast. If you want angst, character development, witty lines, butterflies in your stomach, heartache, steamy scenes, and all the feels, this is the book for you. It’s an all-nighter reading experience.

Paranormal:

Interview with a Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice

Why? Can we mention books about vampires without spotlighting the legendary Anne Rice? I think not. Interview with a Vampire is not your typical romance, but it is replete with lust, love, loss, suspense, and reflection.

Heart of Obsidian (2013) by Nalini Singh

Why? The twelfth book in the Psy-Changeling Series (Awesome series about a multiracial futuristic earth, where the differences in race are not based on color of skin but rather human, changeling, and psy abilities) leaves us consumed with the love between two psy characters, Sahara Kyriakus and Kaleb Krychek. After the cold-hearted, calculating, and too-powerful Kaleb extracts Sahara from her abusive prison, we witness the unfolding of a paranormal romance story conveyed to perfection.

Romantic Suspense:

Rip by Rachel Van Dyken

Naked in Death (1995) by J.D. Robb

Why? Eve Dallas is a New York Police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer when she meets Roarke. All her survival instincts are telling her not to get involved with the Irish billionaire but passion and seduction have rules of their own. The first in J.D. Robb’s iconic In Death series, this is a must read for all Romantic Suspense fans.

Rip (2015) by Rachel Van Dyken

Why? This is what we know…Maya is sold by her father to work for a year with a young doctor, Nikolai. Nikolai is connected to the mafia and is able to hypnotize and erase memories. Questions and physical contact between Maya and Nikolai are forbidden despite the sexual tension. Meanwhile, someone is killing women á la Jack the Ripper, and Nikolai prays Maya will never remember their past. Because when she does, she will hate him.

Science-Fiction/Steampunk:

The Iron Duke (2010) by Meljean Brook

Why? When Mina Wentworth stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone, she must race across zombie-infested wastelands with Rhys Trahaearn to undercover the truth. You’ll start reading for the imaginative and immersive world building and stay for the romance between Mina and Trahaearn.

Born of Night (1996) by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Why? Nykyrian is the most ruthless assassin the Ichidian Universe has ever seen, yet his latest mission to protect dancer Kiara Zamir might just be his undoing. Sherrilyn Kenyon is the queen of tortured heroes and writing heroines strong enough to love them.

Young Adult:

Isla and the Happily Ever After (2014) by Stephanie Perkins

Why? Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since first year. Yet it isn’t until the beginning of senior year that he finally starts to notice her. Stephanie Perkins perfectly captures the pain, wonder and beauty of first love. The entire series is wonderful but Isla and Josh steal hearts.

Eleanor and Park (2013) by Rainbow Rowell

Why? The story of an unlikely connection between Eleanor, a Caucaisan new girl at school with a broken dangerous home, and Park, a biracial (Korean and Caucasian) boy whose social existence floats in the space somewhere in-between. As we learn more about Eleanor and Park, we experience their friendship growing into so much more.

Do you agree with our list? If we’ve missed your favorite tell us down below in the comments!

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Read Your NEXT Favorite Romance of All Time 

When the options start to overwhelm you, we have a few lists you can turn to depending on your favorite subgenre(s):

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Learn more about the books mentioned in this post: 

The Bollywood Bride (2015) by Sonali Dev  
On the Island (2011) by Tracey Garvis-Graves  
Kiss an Angel (1996) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips  
A Hearing Heart (2009) by Bonnie Dee  
MacKenzie’s Mountain (1989) by Linda Howard  
Girl Behind the Mask (2013) by Stella Knightley  
The Siren (2012) by Tiffany Reisz  
The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley  
Darkfever (2006) by Karen Marie Moning  
Scandalous Desire (2011) by Elizabeth Hoyt  
Indigo (1996) by Beverly Jenkins  
Love Only Once (1985) by Johanna Lindsey  
Nine Rules to Break when Romancing A Rake (2010) by Sarah MacLean  
The Rake (1989) by Mary Jo Putney  
The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (2006) by Julia Quinn  
And Playing the Role of Herself (2007) by K.E. Lane  
Hot Head (2011) by Dameon Suede  
Thoughtless (2009) by S.C. Stephens  
Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young (2014)  
Interview with a Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice  
Heart of Obsidian (2013) by Nalini Singh  
Naked in Death (1995) by J.D. Robb  
Rip (2015) by Rachel Van Dyken  
The Iron Duke (2010) by Meljean Brook  
Born of Night (1996) by Sherrilyn Kenyon  
Isla and the Happily Ever After (2014) by Stephanie Perkins  
Eleanor and Park (2013) by Rainbow Rowell  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lucy can be found writing for her blog, Forget The Classics. Taking way too many photos for her bookstagram account lucyreadsromance. Sharing what she considers interesting things on Twitter @lucy_hargrave and fangirling the way only a romance reader can on Tumblr.


Tanya is a fanatic of all things romance, dabbles in Happily Ever Afters under the pen name of Lily Kay, and teaches sociology part time. You can follow her on twitter @tamushamu, @AuthorLilyKay, or on facebook.com/Authorlilykay.


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9 comments
Miss_D
1. Miss_D
Sienna Mynx's "Battaglia" Series is amazing and something I recommend to all my romance reading buddies (and to online strangers too!)
Laura Bracken
2. Night -owl
Great list!(loads of different types of love stories). I would never have been able to decide what to put on this list(I feel your pain).
I'm so happy to see MacKenzie's Mountain! I loved that whole series, especially Wolf's story. :-)
TanyaLK
3. TanyaLK
I'll have to add Battaglia series! Haven't read it yet. thanks for the rec :)
Jennifer Proffitt
4. JenniferProffitt
I will switch out Samantha Young's Before Jamaica Lane for Young's Down London Road as my personal favorite in the series! So great :)
Marcela Fandino
5. BookaholicCat
I don't think you should recommend books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Promoting the books of a child abuser is -in my opinion- immoral and inconsiderate towards victims of abuse.
TanyaLK
6. TanyaLK
Hi BookaholicCat, honestly, I had no idea that MZB was accused of abusing children. That is very troubling...and so disheartening. Especially as child abuse is a topic that affects me personally. I understand your position, yet also struggle because the book is still very influential in the science fiction/fantasy/romance world. And how do we, or can we separate the art from the person? Many artists' work transcend their personal morality, such as Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, Anne Perry...I'll chat with H&H...
Marcela Fandino
7. BookaholicCat
TanyaLK, I know her books are classics in the genre, I read them years ago and I used to recommend them but after learning what she did to her own daughter and to other kids I can’t in good conscience promote any of her books. Many of the authors that worked with her are donating the royalties of the books they did together to anti-abuse charities. They also said they will never recommend any of her work again. Some of them are Janni Lee Simner, John Scalzi, G Willow Wilson, Jim Hines, Deborah J Ross among others.
TanyaLK
8. TanyaLK
Hi BookaholicCat, I chatted with H&H and they have decided to leave the post- not to promote someone who has done terrible things, but rather to encourage open dialogue and discussion, to make folks aware through our conversation about MZB's personal life, and to let folks then decide if they wish to separate the work from the person.

I do so appreciate you letting me know, and again...I honestly had no idea. And it's fabulous to hear how other authors are donating the works they co-authored to anti-abuse charities. I would do the same. These authors are also folks I will look into as well and put on my TBR pile. I see this awareness as a positive. I am grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation with you, and in such a respectful manner. Thank you.
Marcela Fandino
9. BookaholicCat
Hi TanyaLK, thanks to you for taking the time to consider my point and for addressing it to H&H.
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