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Summer Reading: Romance Novels

Full confession I’ve been writing about and recommending books for years, but there are whole genres I do not read. For example, I do not read romance novels. Well, not really. I will admit to spending some wonderful days with chick lit novels like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Katie Fforde’s Wild Designs. Still I am not the person to ask about recent or best releases in the field of romance fiction.

A few weeks ago, while hanging out with writers on Twitter, I met Serena Bell and read her blog post on Romance Evangelism. I knew that she was the one to tell you about what to read in this genre. Thankfully, Serena accepted my plea for help.  Enjoy her take on the romance market. And, if you like what you see, subscribe to her blog where she talks about romance novels regularly!

Romance Evangelism by Serena Bell

When a devoted romance reader wants to convince a pal to join the club, she puts together a “starter kit.” There’s no one-size-fits-all starter kit, because the romance market is too huge and diverse. There are books that’ll singe your hair and books with no sex at all. There are flowery historicals and hard-boiled novels of romantic suspense, books whose lyricism rivals literary work and books with zero pretension towards art. Romance novels can be hilarious, deadly earnest, or anywhere in between.

This starter kit contains a cross-section of my favorites. Not all these books will appeal to all readers, but my hope is that you can find a book in this starter kit to spark your interest in learning more about the romance genre. For more, check out All About Romance at for an advanced search that will let you slice and dice the market to your tastes. Also, spend some time on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at because, well, they’re smart, and funny.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Outlander was my first romance novel as an adult reader (though strictly speaking, it’s not exactly romance and utterly resists classification), and it was also the first novel that I’d read since childhood that completely and utterly transported me. The story of an Englishwoman cast back two hundred years into Scotland while on her honeymoon, it’s gorgeous and historically accurate. It’s also too violent for many readers (but not me).

The Duke & I by Julia Quinn I went straight from Outlander to The Duke & I, and it was like having romance whiplash. The Duke & I is a light, chipper, and funny historical, the first in a long series about the Bridgerton family. Many romance readers feel like the Bridgertons are old friends.

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie This was the first romance novel that one of my friends, now an addict, read. She’s re-reading it now and loving it again. It might be the presence of Fred the Bassett Hound, or it might just be that Jennifer Crusie is so riotously funny and honest and sweetly sensual that it’s hard to resist her.

Dream Man by Linda Howard Romantic suspense isn’t suspense/mystery/thriller. It’s a romance novel with a suspense plot, and the suspense takes second place to the romance. (You read a lot of reviews on Amazon by grumpy suspense-lovers that say, “This was just a bodice-ripper!”) And yes, Dream Man is primarily about the love and trust that develops between a cop and a psychic crime-solver thrown into a serial-killer scenario. Oh, yeah, and the heat.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas I think it should be illegal to create a romance starter kit that doesn’t include at least one book by Lisa Kleypas. Some people probably think the same thing about Nora Roberts (and I don’t disagree). This is a terrific (serious) historical about a prim-and-proper lady and a bad boy. I can’t get enough of that particular romance cliché.

Have you tried any of these? If you do, let me know what you think! And if you have suggestions for a romance starter kit, I’d love to hear.

About Serena Bell. Bell recently wrote her first romance novel, Illegally Yours, the story of an undocumented woman who has been relegated to the shadows and a man who won’t be satisfied until he knows all her secrets. Serena has been a journalist for fifteen years and spent two years reporting on bilingual education and immigration, the inspiration for her heroine’s dilemma. You can follow Serena @serenabellbooks or visit her blog at



17 Responses

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  3. Ah, Outlander. So flawed, but so full of wonderfulness. And then the exciting discovery, once you’ve finished reading it, that there are SEVEN MORE OF THEM. I think by the time I’d caught up completely with Claire and Jamie last summer, my husband was ready to confiscate my Kindle, so completely had I been absorbed and for so very long.

    I haven’t read the others — and historicals aren’t, generally speaking, my thing — but I’ll definitely check out Kleypas. Yours is the second recommendation for her I’ve seen in two days.

    1. writenowcoach

      I love this: “My husband was ready to confiscate my Kindle.” Good to know that this is a series. I love series novels.

    2. I loved the Outlander series so much that I deliberately paced myself through it — I forced myself to read at least a couple of other books between each of the Outlander books and in that way managed to stretch the experience over several months. It was still pretty heartbreaking to read the last one that’s out. Looking forward to the release of the new one next year.

    1. writenowcoach

      I love the idea of a romance antidote. How about a chaser? I really like Sara Lewis’s novels. Any others like her? Or Katie Fforde? I was thinking today that I need to read some books that are not so dark.

    2. The Tudour Court Novels, By Phillipa Gregory-The Other Boleyn Girl-The Constant Princess [so sad!}-The Queen’s Fool-The Virgin’s LoverThe Twilight Series, By Stephenie Meyer-Twilight-New Moon-EclipseThe Luxe, By Anna Godbersen – Set 1899Atonement – Ian McEwan [I bought it a few days ago as I’m a big fan of the movie, and I wasn’t dispaointed] Set 1930 s, 1940 s and PresentNorth and South Elizabeth Gaskell Erm, during the British Industrail Revolution, in the mid-1800 sPride and Predjudice Jane Austen Early 1800 s, I think. I may be wrong.

  4. Like you, Serena, my first romance was Outlander by Diana Gabeldon. It was so well written (and I had such an erroneous and snobbish opinion of romances at the time) that I had no idea I was reading a romance novel until I was well into the sequel! LOL

    I’m so glad I got over my stupid prejudice. Romance novels have provided me many hours of healthy escapism and sheer entertainment. I feel it’s a privilege to write this genre and pay it forward.

    1. My daughter’s 1st grade teacher, who I liked tremendously, convinced me to read Outlander. I was coming from a snobby place at the time, and it took me a LONG time to come around to the idea. But once I did, there was really no turning back for me. And I feel the same way you do: Romance novels have given me so much pleasure, and now I feel like it’s my privilege to give back!

    1. Oh, I *loved* Lord of Scoundrels. And I’m a huge Sherry Thomas fan (your books remind me a lot of hers!) Delicious isn’t my favorite Sherry Thomas, though–I think Not Quite a Husband would be my pick!

    2. I think you’ve got the basic outline right. One thing I’d add, ulalsuy in a romance the hero (it’s more usual that it’s the hero, but you can have it be the heroine) is somewhat tormented. There’s something in his/her past that has wounded him emotionally (like his wife cheating on him; his girlfriend dumping him for his best friend). To be together, the heroine has to break through the barriers the hero has put up to keep himself from being hurt again.BTW: When it seems that the protagonists are going to get together, a usual plot device is to have some misunderstanding occur between the two of them. Sometimes it’s caused by a third person perhaps even the man’s wife/girlfriend coming back into the picture and trying to get him back something like that. Or it could be that’s there’s been some hidden agenda on the part of one of the two. For instance, the man knew the woman had possession of a certain artifact that he’s been after but when he met her he never let her know that. Then, after she breaks through the wall he’s built around his heart (and they seem ready to get together), she finds out about the seeming betrayal another obstacle must be vanquished!

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