Wondering what to load onto your kindle for that week-long vacation under swaying palm trees (or maybe you need to escape the laundry pile for just a few more hours)? Here are some of Jennifer’s favorites:
Catherine Anderson– A prolific writer of both historical westerns and contemporaries set in rural Oregon, Anderson is the master of deeply flawed characters. Phantom Waltz about a young woman in a wheelchair is an incredible read, as is Baby Love about a single mother with a newborn and a train hobo saving one another.
Joanna Bourne- The absolute queen of writing a French accent! Bourne’s Regencies include intricate spy games with France, and every book is perfection.
Emma Chase– Her Legal Briefs series about sexy lawyers is written entirely from the male point of view, a rarity in the romance world. Readers feel as if they have actually crawled inside a guy’s mind and are privy to all his thoughts—many crude but hysterical—and feelings.
Loretta Chase– Everything Chase writes is magic, but her best is the Regency classic, Lord of Scoundrels, picked by NPR as the number one romance novel of all time. The scene where he slowly peels her glove off in the French café will raise your temperature at least ten degrees.
Alice Clayton- Farm to table never looked as sexy (or laugh out loud fun) as it does in Clayton’s Hudson Valley series about a hot organic farmers and cheese mongers. Start with Nuts… which is about a walnut farmer. Geez, what did you think it was about, you dirty bird?
Alyssa Cole– The chemistry between her hero and heroine in Cole’s Civil War spy romance, An Extraordinary Union, is anything but ordinary. Both spies for the North, he’s posing as a Confederate soldier, and she’s undercover as a slave. Beyond the compelling tale of their mission , Cole deftly examines the affects that race and power exert on their romance.
Victoria Dahl- Author of both contemporaries and historicals, Dahl’s heroines are always perfectly imperfect. Her Donovan Brother’s series about siblings who own a brewery is terrific, especially Bad Boys Do with several memorable, steamy scenes. All I’m going to say is “hottub” and “mirror”.
Lauren Dane– Her small town Chase Brothers series is capped with the terrific Making Chase about a plus size heroine with an oversized heart.
Tessa Dare– If you haven’t read The Duchess Deal yet, shut your laptop right this instant and run to the bookstore or library to get this book. It’s that good.
Alexis Daria– Her Dance Off series, inspired by Dancing with the Stars, kicks off with Daria’s RITA finalist debut novel Take the Lead.
Jasmine Guillroy– This contemporary romance begins with a “will-you-be-my-fake-girlfriend-at-my-ex’s-wedding?” premise but moves into something much more intense and complicated with an interracial couple dealing with long distance romance. The Wedding Date is a book to root for.
Helen Hoang- Her debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, has gotten tons of acclaim, and it’s all deserved. This unique tale of an autistic woman who excels as an economist and the male escort she hires to teach her about intimacy is beautifully written and full of heart.
Jenny Holiday – A tale about a pop singer-songwriter who wants to escape her life to write in peace for a summer and the art professor she met years ago who is so unconnected to pop culture that he doesn’t know who she really is, Famous stuns with a slow-burn, the powerful emotional connection of the hero and heroine, and great cast of supporting character.
Elizabeth Hoyt– Her Maiden Lane series is known for emotionally complex characters, earthy love scenes, and unconventional heroines. An absolute must read.
Beverly Jenkins– Ms. Bev, known to her legion of fans as the Slayer of Words, crafts compelling romances, both historical and contemporary. Known for her detailed historical research, she began writing groundbreaking romances featuring Black heroes and heroines back when POC where rarely seen in romances. Indigo about a former slave who hides travelers on the underground railroad and the mysterious, injured conductor who she must nurse to health is a good place to start in her lengthy book list.
Lisa Kleypas– Her Hathaway series puts you in the heart of this eccentric family. Love in the Afternoon’s letters between a dreamy animal lover and a soldier at war will squeeze your chest (in a good way), and Seduce Me at Sunrise will give you all the feels with the story of a fragile consumption patient and the taciturn gypsy who loves her from afar. One of her contemporaries, Sugar Daddy, doesn’t introduce the hero until halfway through the book, but it absolutely works.
Christina Lauren– The pen name for a duo of writers, their novel Hating You Dating You is a workplace romance where our hero and heroine, just days after their meet cute and hook up, must compete for the same job when their two talent agencies merge. Snappy dialogue and characters to root for. Lauren’s recent foray into women’s fiction, Love and Other Words, is also a compelling read.
Julie Anne Long– Her tales about the feuding Redmond and Eversea families and their adventures in love make her readers wish they lived in picturesque Pennyroyal Green. Never before has a vicar been as sexy as in A Notorious Countess Confesses. And Long’s new contemporary series is just a good. The chemistry between a sexy movie star and a wounded waitress in Hot in Hellcat Canyon was off the charts!
Courtney Milan- Although she’s recently ventured in the realm of new adult, Milan’s staple is historical romance. Her characters are diverse and often flawed in unique ways. Lots of heart.
Sarah MacLean– MacLean’s Regency The Rules of Scoundrels series about four co-owners of a gambling den has some deliciously tortured characters, including a mystery that is not revealed until the final book.
Kate Noble– Her Winner Takes all Series starts off with an aristocrat and his secretary switching places, and the most recent addition explored the blooming love between a shy botanist and a duty-bound physician.
Susan Elizabeth Philips– SEP’s fans are a loyal bunch and for good reason: her complex characters are compelling, original, and easy to fall in love with. Her Chicago Stars series will make even non-football fans clamor for more.
Julia Quinn- JQ is the titan of Regency romance. Her Bridgerton series has sold a million zillion copies, and for good reason. Her writing is witty, funny, and full of heart.
I recently met the wonderful JQ, and she signed my copy of her latest book. Clearly, we are BFFs now.
Alisha Rai– Her novels live up to her motto, “All the heat, all the heart”. Her Forbidden Hearts series will keep you up all night, and Rai handles complicated issues like depression, loss, and isolation within her steamy tales.
Avril Tremayne-Her RITA nominated novel, The Dating Game, is a contemporary set in Sydney with sparkling dialogue, intense chemistry, and characters to fall in love with.
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss– Her books are oldies but goodies. Considered one of the mothers of the modern day romance novel, her historical novels are long, engrossing, and although not very PC, they fit the bill as the original bodice rippers.
Recommendations in Other Genres
Romance readers are a very loyal bunch, but sometimes we like to explore other shelves at the library. Here are a few suggestions in popular fiction.
Fredrick Backman – His Swedish novel, A Man Called Ove, begins as the tale of a curmudgeonly old man half heartedly attempting to end his life. However, the intrusive new neighbors keep interrupting his plans, and Ove’s flashbacks to his younger years explain the cause of his depression. Ultimately, a hopeful and uplifting tale.
Anthony Doerr– All the Light We Cannot See, a novel set in France during WWII, interweaves two stories: a blind French girl entrusted with a museum treasure by her missing father and left in a small town with a relative who soon passes away, and also a German orphan boy who is taken into a Nazi school when he shows aptitude with the science behind radios. Eventually, the two tales converge. The prose is elegant, the story gripping, and the ending will gut you.
Jeffrey Eugenides– The easy description of Middlesex is that it’s a story about a hermaphrodite, but that’s like saying the Mona Lisa is a painting of a woman with a little smile. Covering three generations, this novel travels from a tiny village in Greece to the Motor City and ends with Calliope discovering the reason why she’s never felt at ease in her own skin.
Gillian Flynn– The writing technique of the unreliable narrator is an oldie but a goody (see The Great Gatsby), and Flynn’s Gone Girl ratchets up the suspense in the tale of a missing woman and her husband who comes under suspicion with each chapter.
Jamie Ford– Based the real story of Seattle’s Panama Hotel where the stashed belongings of Japanese family’s were found years after the forced internment of WWII, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes the reader on a journey through both boyhood and golden years as Chinese American Henry reflects on his friendship and budding love with a Japanese American classmate who was placed in a camp.
Neil Gaiman– His debut novel Neverwhere, an urban fantasy set in London, follows an average bloke whose act of kindness to an injured young woman plunges him into a shadowy parallel world beneath the great city. Gaiman’s descriptions are both vivid (an evil smile described as a a mouth full of crooked tombstones) and engrossing.
Robert Galbraith– Writing under a pen name, J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike books, beginning with Cuckoo’s Calling, are British mysteries. A slightly overweight, disabled war veteran with frizzy hair and a keen eye for solving crimes has opened his own detective agency. His secretary from the temp agency, Robin, proves herself an able assistant as they work to unravel the mysterious death–assumed to be a suicide by many–of a celebrity. Clever and addictive.
Andrew Sean Greer– The Pulitzer Prize winning novel Less dives into the life of Arthur Less, a novelist of middling renown whose lover is marrying another man. Accepting every two bit literary invitation he receives, he travels the world, trying to flee his sadness and self-perceived failings. By turns humorous and profound, the ending will surprise and satisfy.
P. D. James– A delicious dive into the world of Pride and Prejudice after our beloved Lizzie and her Mr. Darcy have been married for several years. A body is found on their estate in Death Comes to Pemberley, and the wretched Wickham is accused of the crime. He’s guilty of many things, but is he a murderer?
George R.R. Martin– Everyone worships Game of Thrones on HBO, but most haven’t dived into Martin’s massive series, A Song of Fire and Ice. With over a thousand named characters (!), the world building going is epic, but the characters, conflict, and unseeable ending have fans clamoring for his latest installation.
R. J. Palacio– His middle grade novel Wonder explores both the challenges and moments of grace for the Pullman family whose son Auggie has a facial difference. Auggie is placed in school for the first time, and must navigate stares, whispers, bullies, and new friendships. Moving, uplifting, and ultimately, a triumph.
Ann Patchet– Bel Canto is that rare book where the beautiful quietness of the setting almost eclipses the shocking plot premise. A party of well healed foreigners in an unnamed South American country is taken hostage by a liberation terrorist group, but as the languid days pass, boundaries dissolve. A beautiful novel that will stay with you for a long time.
Lisa See– Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story of women’s friendship. Set in 19th century China, two young girls are bonded together as “old sames”, sending coded messages about their lives along the spines of fans. The description of the ritual of foot binding poses the wrenching question- would you break all the bones in your daughter’s feet to ensure she does not become an outcast?
Graeme Simsion– Set in Australia, The Rosie Project explores the life of Don, a scientist likely on the spectrum, whose clueless descriptions of his many gaffes causes the reader to both cringe and laugh out loud. Don’s scientific approach to finding a wife quickly rules out Rosie, a bright, bohemian bartender whose search for her biological father soon has Don as her detective sidekick. Delightful.
Alexander McCall Smith– Somehow, this Scottish male author channels the grace and insight of a traditionally built, bush tea drinking, crime solving woman from Botswana, Precious Ramotswe, who opens The Number One Ladies Detective Agency with the modest inheritance from her father. Each book in this series is magic as Precious and her friends not only unravel the clues but also imbue the reader with a love of Botswana.
Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows– The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (what a mouthful!) is a post-WWII epistolary novel connecting a young woman writer from London to a pastoral group (including a taciturn, hunky farmer) from the island of Guernsey, only recently liberated from the Nazis. An ode to the power of books, even in times of darkness.
Leah Stewart– A searing exploration of both the joy and comfort found in a deep friendship and the power to be hurt by the one who knows you best, The Myth of You and Me follows historical research assistant Cameron as an assignment from her recently deceased boss and mentor sends her on journey to revisit her own history.
Katheryn Stockett– Her blockbuster novel The Help, set in Mississippi during the early 1960s, delves into the complex relationship between white ladies and their black maids through the perspective of both a young white woman who mourns the sudden firing of her family’s beloved maid and the group of brave black women who agree to tell their stories of both abuse and connection in the homes of their employers for the book she’s writing.
Angie Thomas– Her YA novel, The Hate U Give, explores the seismic changes in a black teenagers life when she witnesses her childhood friend’s murder at the hands of a police officer. Powerful, timely, and coming to the big screen soon.
Winifred Watson– Miss Pettigrew Lives for Day occurs over one day–an important day!–of a recently fired governess whose pockets are empty in 1938 London. She falls down a rabbit hole with an accidental job as an assistant to a lounge singer, and despite the glitz of her new surroundings, she maintains her common sense and innate dignity, earning her a Cinderella worthy ending.
Andy Weir– The Martian has a lot of science, but even a casual fan of space can sink into this incredible tale of a lone astronaut stranded on the red planet. With irreverence, derring-do, and brains, the hero tries to “science the f@*k” out of his dilemma.