Over at Kirkus: Must-Reads in Romance

Which books do you adore, recommend, and try to entice people to read romance? Which books have made someone reconsider their opinion of the genre, or created a new romance fan who book shops with you? Which books Hold The Power of Awesome? That’s my topic at Kirkus today: Romance Must-Reads.

These are the books that set the bar for the genre, or one of its subgenres, the novels that are so amazing you go back and re-read, unless your copy is lent out to someone who hasn’t returned it yet because they are busy re-reading it for the eleventieth time.

Regardless of which book it is, every now and again, the very best romances can turn heads and force people to reconsider “those books,” and perhaps reform their opinion about romances. Often, those books that do the converting are the ones in continual reprint, have an audience that is everlastingly positive about the book and that are, frankly, really freaking good.

Which books are your must-reads? Which are the ones you want people to read, even if it means lending your only copy and living in fear that you might not get it back?

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  1. 1
    joanne says:

    The Price of Desire by Jo Goodman
    Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase
    Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts
    Diamond Bay by Linda Howard
    Ravished by Amanda Quick
    Ceremony in Death by J. D. Robb

    even if it means lending your only copy and living in fear that you might not get it back?

    I will hunt you down like the dog you are if you don’t return a book I lend you.

  2. 2
    Aimee M says:

    I loved Montana Sky by Nora Roberts – the Lifetime movie stank, but the book was awesome!

  3. 3
    ReganB says:

    To paraphrase: Everything I learned about romance, I learned from this site.  So, honestly, most of what I recommend is what you’ve already mentioned like Bet Me and Lord of Scoundrels, but definitely The Duke and I by Julia Quinn would be in there as well.  If someone is a paranormal or fantasy fan, I’ll recommend Patricia Brigg’s Alpha Omega series.

    Mary Balogh sometimes hits things out of the park, but it’s usually here and there for me.  Devil’s Cub, of course, by Heyer is on the list for those that love a good historical.

    I recently got my sister to break out of her romance rut and read Laura Kinsale’s Midsummer Moon because it’s so good (she loved it).

  4. 4
    Isobel Carr says:

    My list is totally different:

    I start with Georgette Heyer, Julia Ross, Pam Rosenthal, and Tracy Grant (ok, I know she’s really historical fiction). I then hit the “straight” genre romance in round two with Candice Hern, Loretta Chase, Jo Beverley, and Sabrina Jeffries.

  5. 5
    Brooks*belle says:

    Mine’s not terribly unique—but here it is:

    Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
    The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
    Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
    His at Night by Sherry Thomas

  6. 6
    Hannah says:

    I feel like my lists of recommendations are so quirky compared with others. I think this is because I’ve only been reading romance seriously for a couple of years (not including what I read as a teen). I wonder if anyone else feels this way.
    Having said that, I’ve recently recommended books by Meredith Duran and Laura Kinsale to non-romance readers (or those who read romance only occasionally).

  7. 7
    Willamae says:

    I got some of my best friends hooked with Mr. Impossible (Loretta Chase, of course!) and Bet Me. (No. I’m not even going to insult the bitches and say that they don’t know who wrote this.)
    I too have been recommending Meredith Duran recently, but all of her titles are so damn generic I can’t tell any of them apart.

  8. 8
    Nadia says:

    Well, recently I got my mom so hooked on Lisa Gardner that all she wanted for Christmas was the rest of her backlist.  I know these are more mystery/suspense with romantic elements, but Gardner did get her start with categories.  If I know someone pooh-poohs the idea of romances, I might slip it past them like that.  Early Tami Hoag single titles, Elizabeth Lowell, Iris Johansen, they work as “romance in mystery/suspense clothing” recs.

    I’d also use La Nora as the gateway drug.  You can easily tailor to someone’s taste by choosing straight contemporary, mystery, or paranormal elements.  That’s how I lost my copy of “Daring to Dream,” but at least it was only paperback.  If I know someone liked action, I might show them Roxanne St. Clair or Cindy Gerard, and of course Brockmann – once you start, you have to read them all!

    Historical, I’d probably go with Chase, Bourne, or Quinn depending on which I thought suited the person.

  9. 9
    MelB says:

    Lisa Kleypas’ historicals, especially the Hathaway series. Amanda Quick, Gaelen Foley… Gayle Feyrer’s Prince of Cups- no one has ever, ever written a better book set in Italy in my opinion, historical or contemporary.

  10. 10
    EC Spurlock says:

    I seldom reread books (I don’t have a lot of reading time and there are SO MANY NEW BOOKS I have to read!!) but the ones I always go back to are any and all of Georgette Heyer, my particular favorite being The Talisman Ring, which just has everything (suspense, mystery, comedy, romance, and TWO sets of lovers!) I spent one summer rereading all of her books in the order in which they were written, which was a real eye-opener, watching her develop and change as a writer.

    Probably next on the reread list will be Quinn’s Bridgerton series, since I originally read them out of order. I also like Lauren Willig as a nice bridge between contemporary and historical, since she has both running concurrently in her books. For contemporaries I always reccommend Suzanne Brockman; even guys get into her Troubleshooter series! (My husband refers to her as “the female Tom Clancy”.)

  11. 11
    Carolyn says:

    Books that rocked my romantic world:

    Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews (and all the books in this series, but this is THE book, ;-) )
    Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsdale
    Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
    Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan
    Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
    Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, because I’d already read:
    Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
    Silent in the Grave by Deanna Rayborn (that opening!)
    Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie
    Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight
    The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
    The Mercy and Anna books by Patricia Briggs
    The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase. Fell in love with Vere ?
    The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook, the newest one to blow me away.

  12. 12
    Jan says:

    I’ve given up on converting people to romance, and settled for not caring who judges me. But the one book I still forced on all my girlfriends during University was ‘Just a Litlle Fling’ by Julie Kistler. It’s just incredibly funny and quirky, and my instant need to feel better go to book. Some of the villains might be slightly cardboard, but the humor makes up for that big time.

    Everyone I gave it to loved it, but as far as I know, no one actually converted to reading romance. Not sure any of them still read at all at the other hand either.

    Anyways, that copy fell apart a couple of times, got glued together again, but is now lost to an evil non book returner. And currently no money to buy crazy shipping costs, so no Lu and Ian for me….

    I’m also still leering from The Iron Duke, so I’m pretty sure that might end up being the Steampunk Romance all future Steampunk romances will have to live up to.

    I still prefer Mr. Impossible by Chase above her other work, so I’d recommend that one.

  13. 13
    Chat says:

    I got some of my best friends hooked with Mr. Impossible (Loretta Chase, of course!) and Bet Me. (No. I’m not even going to insult the bitches and say that they don’t know who wrote this.)
    I too have been recommending Meredith Duran recently, but all of her titles are so damn generic I can’t tell any of them apart.

  14. 14
    Betty Fokker says:

    Bet Me by Jenny Crusie. Anything by Crusie, really … but especially Bet Me.

  15. 15
    Karenmc says:

    This morning I brought in half a dozen books for a friend to chose from for the long holiday weekend. One of the three she’s taking home is Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband. I love Sherry Thomas books, especially NQAH.

    Another friend has my copies of a Meredith Duran and a Julie Anne Long. She’s been swamped with work and hasn’t had time to read anything, but I already got her into Lord of Scoundrels this past summer. Now I just need to think of the right persons to try a Kinsale, Gaffney or Ivory book.

  16. 16
    Kinsey says:

    The Windflower and Lord of Scoundrels. Not just great stories, but really, really good writing as well. No romance writer surpasses Chase for elegant wit, and no reader can resist Rand Morgan and his crew (and yes, Cat and Rand are both a lot more interesting than Devon.)

    I seriously need to read more contemporary romance. What’s the first Brockman book I should start with?

  17. 17
    Stephanie says:

    Lisa Kleypas Wallflower Series:

    Secrets of a Summer Night

    It Happened One Autumn

    Devil in Winter

    Scandal in Spring

  18. 18
    DianeN says:

    I’m one of those contrary readers who loves Jennifer Crusie but didn’t really care for Bet Me. (Yes, I know you’re round, Min. Yes, I know you love chicken marsala, Min. Yes, I know you’ve got a hottie boyfriend, Min, and yes, he really does seem to love you even if you can’t believe it.) My favorite Crusie? Probably Welcome to Temptation. And I didn’t think Don’t Look Down was nearly as bad as the rest of the world did. Also, I loved Lord of Scoundrels when I first read it, but the second time, not so much.

    However, I really do belong here in Romancelandia, and here’s why—I’ve loved Laura Kinsale for years (For My Lady’s Heart is a true gem) and Georgette Heyer for even more years (The Grand Sophy with a side of These Old Shades, and Devil’s Cub for dessert, please!). I’ve gotten positive results from non-romance readers when recommending Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady (and sequels) and Brockmann’s The Unsung Hero (and sequels), and the first 3 J.R. Ward BDB books—but I warn them that for me the series goes downhill sharply after the sublime Lover Awakened.

    Also, I have an unexplainable passion for Kristan Higgins’s Just One of the Guys. It’s one of a handful of romances I’ve willingly read over and over again, and it still makes me cry every time.

  19. 19
    P. Awful says:

    Flowers from the Storm; Laura Kinsale.  I don’t even know how many copies I’ve bought of this book! Totally worth it.

  20. 20
    DianeN says:

    @Kinsey—re Suzanne Brockmann, skip her earlier series even though they’re being rereleased right now with snazzy new covers, and go right to the Troubleshooters/SEAL Team 16 series which started with The Unsung Hero. I’d read them in order if I were you because some of the plot lines thread their way through several books and you won’t want to miss a single minute of Sam and Alyssa’s angsty romance, to say nothing of even angstier Robin and Jules!

  21. 21
    Lisa J says:

    I’ve been tempting my sister with Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series.  I love those books.

    Depending on how steamy I think they want, my other suggestions are:

    Nora Roberts – pick one, they’re all good
    Meljean Brook – The Iron Duke
    Shiloh Walker – Hunter series
    Lora Leigh – Breeds (Mercury’s War is my personal fave)
    Dana Marie Bell – any of her books

  22. 22
    Bri says:

    you all are just adding and adding to my TBR list!  And i love that there have been a lot of suggestions of series and books with action or mystery aspects aslo, those are really my favorites b/c it comines two genres i like :)

    i really liked the dialogue in Bet Me.

  23. 23
    Kinsey says:

    Diane – thanks! I just ordered it.

  24. 24
    sugarless says:

    Agnes and the Hitman.

    I adore the book. I’ll read it over and over again and sitll chuckle.

    Most of the people I know appreciate the sense of humor, and it’s a great example of a book with lots of romance, some suspense and violence, and LOTS of what I consider most important: wit. It’s sort of my acknowledgment that romances can be seriously good without taking themselves too seriously.

    For a second recommendation, I’ll usually recommend one of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books – which one depends on who I’m talking to, but it’s usually The Duke and I, Romancing Mr Bridgerton, or An Offer From A Gentleman, because those are without a doubt my favorites.

    Depending on who I’m talking about, I may also recommend Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband. Just to show that romance novels can be more serious and emotional and still be good.

    Of course, I lot of these are historicals, and I’d prefer to get new romance readers into contemporary – hence Agnes and the Hitman being my first recommendation. I might throw some Nora in there, maybe another Crusie (Welcome to Temptation) before I start in on historicals. It depends on the person.

  25. 25
    zinemama says:

    I try to entice people to read Georgette Heyer. Because come on, how could anyone resist the Duke of Avon? Not to mention willful Sherry and hotheaded Wrotham from Friday’s Child, the arrogant Sylvester (or The Wicked Uncle), or sensible heroines like Mary Challoner and Frederica? And the slowly developing affection between Adam and Jenny in A Civil Contract is one of the best depictions of marriage I’ve ever come across – in romance or out.

    certain39: I’m certain to read These Old Shades at least 39 times – if I haven’t already.

  26. 26
    Cat says:

    Anything by Sherry Thomas (so sad she only has 4 books out, and not 40!)
    Loretta Chase, the Mr’s and Miss’s series (Mr. Impossible, Lord Perfect, etc)
    Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier – at least once every other year I crave a day in bed with hot tea and this book!!  A classic that never gets old.
    The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee – a sci fi romance novel that is absolutely stunning!  One of my long time favorites that NEVER gets lent out because I couldn’t bear to be without it!
    And, I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t admit I love Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart.  I think I’ve read it at least 30 times in my life, and sometimes, when I just need a good love story, this one does it for me.

  27. 27
    DiscoDollyDeb says:

    I’m with the person above who said they’ve essentially given up trying to convert others to romance reading.  I find that most of the people I know well enough to make recommendations to are at the age where they’re pretty set in their reading ways.  On the other hand, if anyone asks for a romance recommendation, I always direct them to historicals first and I generally recommend writers as opposed to specific books:  Heyer (of course), Edith Layton (whom I love, but is an acquired taste for some), Mary Balogh (almost anything by her, but especially the Bedwyn series which I just loved, loved, loved), and Jennifer Blake (anything written up until the mid-1990s, after which I felt she essentially started re-writing her previous books).

    If I’m asked to recommend a contemporary romance, I usually say to start with Nora—but that if they choose a book from a series, it’s best to read the series in order.

  28. 28
    jean tallman says:

    I read every single day and often read a book a day.  My favorite books that I have read over and over are He Loves Lucy and The Kept Woman both by Susan Donovan.

  29. 29
    ah-ha says:

    I have a lot of favorites, but my all time favorite is Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald.  I re-read this book almost once a year and I’ve worn through many copies.  It’s not a very well-known book.  It’s set in India over the time span of the Mutiny.

  30. 30
    Melissandre says:

    Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson (not really a romance novel, but I don’t care)
    Goddess of Spring and Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast
    Anything by Elizabeth Holt, but especially the Prince series
    Mr. Impossible and Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
    This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland

    And a special soft spot in my heart for A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux

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