So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

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The Complete Reading List by Author

Short Version: Recommended books are in bold, reviewed books are linked, these are ruthlessly streamlined recommendations lists –

So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance
Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started
Plus just for funsies: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

I have more content based lists over there on the right  –>

Annual Reading Tallies & Author Commentary 2012 – 2017
On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on double-secret probation right now actually)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

-A-
Albert, Annabeth Waiting for Clark (Bryce/Clark)
Albert, Annabeth Save the Date (Randall/Hunter)
Alexander, R.G. Ravenous novella (Declan/Trick/Jennifer)
Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/ Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Alvarez, Tracey In Too Deep (West/Piper)
Andre, Bella The Way You Look Tonight (Rafe/Brooke)
Ann, Jewel E. When Life Happened (Gus/Parker)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
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Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful

Shortcuts:    

I have more lists over there on the right—>

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on double-secret probation right now, so not an autobuy, but still an autoread)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long – historicals
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

2019 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2019

The (Shameful) Tally 2019

  1. Bowen, Sarina Brooklynaire (Nate/Rebecca) DNF
  2. Bowen, Sarina novella Studly Period (Pepe/Josephine)
  3. Bowen, Sarina novella Yesterday (Graham/Rikker)
  4. Kelly, Carla The Unlikely Master Genius (Able/Meridee)
  5. Kennedy, Elle The Risk (Jake/Brenna)
  6. Kleypas, Lisa Devil’s Daughter (West/Phoebe)
  7. Lang Ruby Acute Reactions (Ian/Petra)
  8. Lang, Ruby Hard Knocks (Adam/Helen)
  9. Long, Julie Anne Lady Derring Takes a Lover (Tristan/Delilah)
  10. Milan, Courtney Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure (Violetta/Bertrice)
  11. Morton, Lily Rule Breaker (Dylan/Gabe)
  12. Parker, Lucy The Austen Playbook (Griff/Freddy)
  13. Thorne, Sally 99 Percent Mine (Tom/Darcy)

2018 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2018

  1. I managed ONE book in this category in 2017.

The (Shameful) Tally 2018 

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The Palace of Rogues Series: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Huzzah, Julie Anne Long has returned to Regency historical romances. Granted, the cover is displeasing, but the contents are not.

Delilah, Lady Derring is not only recently widowed, she’s also discovered she is virtually penniless, and had the delightful experience of meeting her husband’s mistress, Mrs. Angelique Breedlove, immediately on the heels of the first two shocks. Showing disregard for the notion that they are competitors,  and demonstrating intestinal fortitude and chutzpah, Delilah and Angelique take the jewels they have from the erstwhile Earl Derring and invest them all in the only thing left to them – a derelict townhouse and former brothel called The Palace of Rogues.

Renaming the dilapidated building “The Palace on the Thames” and down to their last farthings, Angelique and Delilah open a boarding house on the London docks. One of her first patrons is Captain Tristan Hardy. He claims to be retired and working in trade, but in reality is working undercover to ferret out a tobacco smuggling ring. He’s not sure whether Delilah and Angelique are involved, but all roads lead to their new business. I cheered Long’s choice of making Captain Hardy fight the Regency version of organized crime. Criminals aren’t dashing or particularly appealing to me and acknowledging their frequent ruthlessness was bonus in my reading experience.

Long brings her trademark wry sizzle to Lady Derring Takes a Lover. The humour is quippy, the writing dry, and the connection between the lead characters carefully built and believable. Long is especially good at portraying even the most jaded hero finding himself in over his head emotionally.

There was nice steam in the build up, in particular Captain Hardy’s realization that while he might be all tough’n’stuff, he rather likes his creature comforts, including the company of a pseudo-family, and especially Delilah. For her part, she is strong arming her way to a new life without ever losing her innate kindness and desire to make a home for everyone around her. She’s a bit naive, but that’s hardly a crime and it’s what helps her succeed. Having spent her life in the roles created for her by other people, her self-discovery leads her to a carefully reckless and droll version of the woman her parents and husband thought they created.

But.

(Did you know there was going to be a “but”? I debated between it and a “however” and decided that “but” conveyed a weaker objection.)

But while the romance is solid, there just isn’t enough of it in Lady Derring Takes a Lover. Always a liability in the first book of a new series, I found the love story took too long getting started and wrapped up rather quickly. It needed more of either conversation and connection in the build up or in the period after they formally get together; however, none of this changes Long’s historical romance status as an autobuy for me, and the tease of the next book piqued my interest and I look forward to reading Angelique’s story Angel in a Devil’s Arms.

A complete summary of Julie Anne Long’s catalogue, with recommendations and a ranked order of the Pennyroyal Green series, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author and Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful, or on my  streamlined recommendations list.

 

 

La Vie en Roses: A Kiss in Lavender by Laura Florand

Short Version: I liked Laura Florand’s A Kiss in Lavender, though it felt more serious than other books in the La Vie en Roses series. The love story was heartfelt, the happy ending earned, and it had a substantial, forthright hero and a deeply vulnerable, but assertive heroine with the heart of a lion. I’ve read it twice now and while it’s not as swoony as some Florand, it has a kind of grounded solidity that I appreciate.

Long Version Including Discussion of a Book in a Different Laura Florand Series:

Before going on a well-earned sabbatical, Laura Florand had three book series running concurrently: L’Amour et Chocolat, La Vie en Roses, and Paris Nights. As with any writer, I preferred some books over others, but A Kiss in Lavender is the first Florand in which I felt she managed to resolve character issues from a previous work. Not for the original characters themselves, but for similar ones.

From my review of The Chocolate Heart:

They are two wounded people hiding behind false fronts and suffering from painful miscommunication. Elements that had been successful in the preceding books reached an intensity that left me uncomfortable. Luc is so busy being in control that he becomes almost clinical and Summer is so vulnerable that it feels like she is being used.

In A Kiss in Lavender, Lucien Rosier is visiting his family for the first time after a 15 year self-imposed exile. He joined the French Foreign Legion after learning something that challenged his entire sense of self. Assuming a true nom de guerre, he disappeared and built a new life for himself of which he is justifiably proud.

When Lucien’s Tante Colette hired Elena Lyon to track Lucien and assorted other scattered family members down and bring them into the Rosier fold, there’s a good chance she knew or hoped sparks would fly. Without a functional family of her own, Elena has resolute strength, but a tenderness where relationships are concerned. She has learned the hard way what happens when the adults meant to protect you fail to do so and the lasting impact it can have on your life. The results of all-too-human caregivers are a frequent theme in Florand’s books, and I find that in contemporary romance especially, building a new family is a recurrent motif.

But back to Luc and Summer:  I have recently reread The Chocolate Heart and Shadowed Heart to cope with Florand’s publishing absence. The author seems to both have a soft spot for their broken, loving persistence, and for the characters themselves. She wrote them a book, a novella, and a bonus story. Luc and Summer were genuinely messed up people and neither of them had any business being in a relationship, especially since their personal demons were guaranteed to cause each other maximum stress. In contrast, Elena and Lucien clash, but learn and grow into each other to move forward as a unit which is pretty much the essence of a romance novel.

In A Kiss in Lavender, it’s like Florand has written Lucien and Elena as the psychologically healthier version of Luc and Summer. Lucien, like Luc, is very much in control of himself, but in this case, it’s a quality that nurtures his partner. He is proving his trustworthiness and reliability. When Elena is vulnerable and shuts down, she does so by drawing on inner strength rather than lashing out as Summer does.No longer painfully miscommunicating characters finding moments of bliss between rounds of angst, this alternate story has two people falling in love and persisting, then insisting on working towards shared happiness. None of the four are exactly happy-go-lucky, even in their insistent pair bonds, but at least Lucien and Elena seem like they are united in working towards a stable future.

La Vie en Roses Series:

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La Vie en Roses: A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand

I miss Laura Florand! She’s been taking a well-earned break from a prodigious output of swoon-inducing and charming contemporary romances set in the worlds of pastry, chocolate, and perfumery. Her great gift as a romance writer is in creating the heady intensity of small romantic moments, as well as portraying elements of sexual tension and anticipation. Creating characters, she excels at people who balance each other out, often providing a security or grounding that one of them has lacked.  I’m hoping Florand will return with her final book in the La Vie en Roses series, but I am rereading and reviewing some of her other works in the meantime.

A Crown of Bitter Orange

Tristan Rosier and Malorie Monsard have known each other their whole lives. They both come from old Provencal families devoted to the perfume trade, but while Tristan is grounded by his history, Malorie is torn at by hers.

Living in the same place for centuries means the sins of ones forebearers are sometimes carried by descendants. With scurrilous family members having acted shamefully during World War II and, admittedly, more recently, the marks born by Malorie caused her to leave home immediately upon finishing high school. After the death of her grandmother, she’s back to either finally shutter her family’s landmark company or settle in Grasse permanently.

All of this means nothing to Tristan Rosier. Well, not nothing, he wants to see the Monsard business restored to its former glory, but he doesn’t care about the negative aspects of her family, what he really wants, what he has always wanted, is Malorie. After being seated together to help keep him and his bouncy distractedness in line at school, he was quietly and awkwardly devoted to her for years. Not that she noticed. Malorie liked him well enough, but considered him a bit of a charming pest and was oblivious to anything more because, well, Tristan is lovely to everyone.

Beloved by his protective clan, nurtured in the family trade, and aided by his own hard work, Tristan’s challenges have always been managed. Hard work has brought him incredible success as a “Perfume Nose” for their perfume dynasty. His only major professional setback was when Malorie, in her role as a firm accountant (pun intended) suggested less expensive substitutes for the ingredients in a perfume Tristan created.

With all of that set up in place, the story begins and moves, as Florand often does, very quickly to a romantic alliance full of joy and delightful vignettes with an assortment of family members.  A Crown of Bitter Orange was never less than enjoyable and Tristan continues to be amiable and appealing, as he was in the other series books, but the story never really grabbed me. I liked and understood Malorie, but her relationship with Tristandjust kind of moved along nicely and reached its anticipated and sought out conclusion.

La Vie en Roses Series:
Turning Up the Heat (Daniel/Lea) – prequel novella
A Rose in Winter (Raoul/Allegra) – prequel novella –  Florand can and has done better
The Chocolate Rose (Gabriel/Jolie) – prequel novel I *really* like
Once Upon a Rose (Matt/Layla)  – fun, great light escapism
A Wish Upon Jasmine (Damien/Jess) – not her strongest, it had a lot of promise
A Crown of Bitter Orange (Tristan/Malorie) – not memorable, he’s charming, see above
A Kiss in Lavender (Lucien/Elena) – good, recommended

Laura Florand’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works — of which I recommend many. I adore her particular brand of romance. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Practice Perfect Series: Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang

I feel so on trend! It’s another love story with a concussion plot point as I continue to recover from one.

Acute Reactions was a well-written romance with some comeheregoaway issues in the plotting. It’s looking like a consistent issue with Ruby Lang, but it’s a minor quibble, I really enjoy her dry, funny style, and will be looking for her books. Hard Knocks has less of the vacillation issues and, from what I’ve read of the third book, Clean Breaks, it’s stronger still.

Transplanted Canadian Helen Chang Frobisher is a reasonably newly minted neurologist who has gone into practice with her friends Petra (Acute Reactions) and Sarah (Clean Breaks). When Helen consults on a concussed hockey player from Portland’s sad-sack Oregon Wolves team, she meets Adam Magnus. He’s not the concussed player, he’s at the hospital with his teammate. Helen and Adam are into each other and they share an incendiary one night stand.  She bolts, he’s disappointed, and they move on.

Except that Helen’s visits her family in the Okanagon Valley where her father is sick and declining from Atypical Parkinsons disease. Distressed and aware of the negative impact of repeated head injuries, though she is unable to confirm this is what happened to her dad, she decides to write an editorial suggesting Portland ban hockey for player safety. Adam responds and the two find themselves in public forum discussions about the issue at the same time as Helen is fighting her attraction to him for all she’s worth.

While he’s not fighting the attraction, Adam is dealing with his declining career and what to do next with his life. He’s a really great guy, seemingly perfect at first, but Lang provides excellent background details to let the reader understand how he has gotten where he is. He knows he’s not one of the greats and his hockey playing days are numbered, but he needs to keep his job as he figures out what he’s going to do with the next phase of his life.

Ruby Lang’s writing is really strong when presenting the reality of getting a career/adult life going and the distraction that falling in love can represent. Love, like life, finds a way, but it’s nice to see work being an obstacle to togetherness and emotional availability.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author and Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful, or on my  streamlined recommendations list.

London Celebrities Series: The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

YAY! Lucy Parker is back with another wry, gratifying, and witty romance featuring a difficult man and a delightful woman.

Freddy Carlton is theatre royalty, descended from generations of performers and the granddaughter of the playwright of a seminal masterpiece called The Velvet Room. Poised to move into the highest ranks of Serious Acting, she’d rather do work that brings joy to herself and others. We met her as a late teen in Pretty Face and she is now a full adult, though only 23. With her father strong-arming her career from youthful roles towards mature glory, a showdown is coming.

J. Ford-Griffin (Griff) is a theatre historian, critic for one of the serious London papers, and family gatekeeper for a cluster of privileged eccentrics. Acerbic and observant, the reader first meets him as Freddy overhears his incisive and insightful review of her latest stage turn. She can enjoy his wit, even as she is discomfited by his seemingly innate understanding of her ambivalence towards the state of her career. Her exuberance makes him equally uncomfortable, but he gets used to it.

Conveniently, Freddy gets cast in a Jane Austen murder mystery/choose your own adventure play to be performed at the family manor Griff is trying to save from ruin. The live broadcast will provide income for the estate and the weeks of rehearsal mean Freddy and Griff will get lots of chances to find themselves thrown together.  Running alongside this marriage of convenience is a subplot involving a passionate affair between Griff and Freddy’s grandparents. Family secrets and discoveries play a large role in bringing the leads together and complicating the hell out of their relationship to threaten their public and private lives.

Particularly good at both prickly banter and showing the soft underbellies of her characters, Parker provides sparkling acrimony and intimate recognition between Freddy and Griff.  One moment I really enjoyed was Freddy telling Griff not to be so high-handed when speaking to her. Arch verbal repartee is all well and good, but  a real relationship requires sincere interaction.

The live televised theatre production and family histories provide a ready supply of potential strum and drang  throughout The Austen Playbook. As Freddy and Griff become a couple, they move themselves into the eye of the storm and an entertaining relationship.  I sometimes find it hard to believe that a man this high in the instep could be quite so demonstrative in his affections, but that’s the wish fulfillment part of the genre.

London Celebrities Series:
Act Like It – SO GOOD!
Pretty Face – EVEN BETTER!
Making Up – Good, I’ll get to a review, I have re-read it
The Austen Playbook – see above

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author and Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful, or on my  streamlined recommendations list.

The Ravenels: Devil’s Daughter – The Ravenels Meet the Wallflowers by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series by Lisa Kleypas series has turned into “Sebastian and Evie’s Kids Get Hitched” and I am not complaining, Devil’s Daughter has the trademark Kleypas elements of wit, charm, a compelling hero, and delightful smolder. I’m just going to  assume you are familiar with all of the books and characters that feed into this one. 

Readers first met Phoebe, Lady Clare, as squalling infant in one of my favourite Sebastian, Lord Saint Vincent moments from any of his appearances: “There, darling,” St. Vincent had been known to coo into the infant’s ear. “Has someone displeased you? Ignored you? Oh, the insolence. My poor princess shall have anything she wants…” 

Phoebe has grown up, married, had children, and been widowed by our next encounter with her. She’s stayed with her parents for two years while she grieves and is about to move back to her son’s estate and start dowagering for all she ‘s worth. She just needs to get through her brother’s wedding at her sister-in-law’s family estate which is managed by [cue trumpets] West Ravenel.

First introduced as a dissolute charmer, West was a spoiled and bored man-child who found unexpected redemption in a purpose in life. His is the book I have most looked forward to in the series and Kleypas has done very well here. Phoebe is instantly impressed by West as a lovely bit o’crumpet, but soon recognizes him as the bully who beset her husband at school. He’s sorry, she forgives, he performs protestations of unworthiness. and the dance begins. Sebastian makes frequent appearances remaining and perfect into his sixties. Evie is around, too, being all serene, maternal, and irresistible to her husband.

I don’t know if Kleypas was consciously responding to criticisms of the previous Ravenel entries, but Devil’s Daughter is BY FAR the best of the bunch and most successfully abandons the outdated tropes in the four previous novels. Any problems I had investing in the story  because of disappointment brought with me from the previous installments, was likely entirely my issue and not the story or writing. Sebastian and West are a bit too idealized, but Kleypas is gonna Kleypas. It’s a genre based on hot men and wish fulfillment, and, let’s be honest, I am going to keep buying her books. This is was the first book in the series I have revisited or exclaimed “YAY!” at the end of.

I would love to visit more of the Wallflowers, surely I’m not the only one who would gladly climb Simon Hunt like a tree, but there is another Ravenel daughter who is up next with a mystery man and ruthless, self-made gazillionaire Tom Severin. He’s floated on the periphery in Ravenels books and even his closest friends don’t trust him so it should be interesting.  I’m getting a Harry Rutledge/Tempt Me at Twilight vibe from him and that is very promising.

Captious Aside: There is no way on God’s Green Earth that Sebastian would allow himself to be called “Gramps”.

Ravenels Series:

  1. Cold-Hearted Rake – I can’t remember anything about it. Wait! She has dark hair.
  2. Marrying Winterbourne – Self-made man who  physically intimidates his beloved.
  3. Devil in Spring – Best to this point, but there’s a scene of questionable consent.
  4. Hello Stranger – Dated tropes

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations (two classics and one of my personal favourites), can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

Practice Perfect Series: Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang

Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve read a contemporary romance that featured neither so-called new adults, nor athletes?

There is so much to like in Ruby Lang’s Acute Reactions that I could get past what I thought needed work; however, I would like some reassurance that the same structural problems  aren’t found in all of her books.

Instead of starting out with an established medical group, allergist Petra Lale has opened her own practice right after completing her training. Ian Zamora co-owns a successful restaurant and needs allergy shots to cope with his girlfriend’s cat. Things go sideways for him when he visits her practice and is instantly captivated by Petra. She has the same reaction, but her Hippocratic oath provides a road block.

Establishing their careers, Acute Reactions’ leads are driven people. It is their main priority and Lang reflects just what that means for their home lives and romantic entanglements. Ian and Petra are likable, upright, engaging characters in their early thirties. Their motivations and backstories are clear and, while not belaboured, do well to explain their personalities and reactions. Petra should be horrified and distracted by becoming involved with a patient. Ian’s counterbalance is that, as a product of discord, he tries to resolve issues for those around him, acting as peacekeeper.  Their stumbling blocks are significant and believable, but being young and healthy,  love, like life, finds a way.

Lang’s writing is charming and she creates excellent smolder. My challenge with Acute Reactions was the plotting issue of Petra’s repeated comeheregoaway response to her relationship. New couples can go through ups and downs, but she had a retractable leash tied to Ian. He’s smitten, she’s wary, they collide, she runs away. It got old. I shouldn’t be thinking, “maybe these two should just move on”,  while reading a romance; in fact the conceit was repeated enough times, that I was reluctant to start on the next two books in the series Hard Knocks and Clean Breaks . I did because I bought the Practice Perfect trilogy as a set, but I’m giving each of them some side-eye.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.