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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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):
- 10 Romance Novels You Should Read
- 10 Contemporary Romance Novels You Should Read
- 10 Regency Romances You Should Read
- 10 Erotic Romance Novels You Should Read
- 10 Paranormal Romance Novels You Should Read
- When Historical Goes Hot: Best in Erotic Historical Romance
- 10 Fantasy Novels You Must Read
- Top 5 Sex Scenes in Contemporary Romance
Learn more about the books mentioned in this post:
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.