My greatest joy in life (well, one of the greatest) is when someone says, “Oh, I haven’t read much romance. What should I read?” This is because, like any other shameless drug pusher, I have a stash of gateway drugs all ready for you – books to show you how diverse, smart, funny, and moving romance can be.
So, you want to try out the romance novel genre? Try these out:
Contemporary: Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie
Bet Me is moving and hilarious and sexy and wonderful. Interestingly, however, I’ve loaned this book to many friends, all of whom liked it enough to read another book by the same author, but one called me later to say, “Bet Me was good, but I just finished Faking It, and it was even better!” and another person said the same thing about Fast Women.
Romance is all about emotion, and different books hit different people’s emotional buttons very differently. Bet Me deals a lot with body size acceptance and trust. Faking It is perfect for anyone who feels they have to pretend to be something they are not in order to make other people happy. Fast Women deals with the aftermath of divorce. The books have solid emotional heft to them, but they feel light because they are so funny and joyful. Crusie’s books are notable for featuring a variety of happy ever afters (marriage, dating, contented single life, babies, no babies), heroines of various sizes and ages, and fast, witty dialogue.
Science Fiction: A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Regency romance and crazy comedy set in space. Features the greatest dinner party ever written (Jennifer Crusie tends to feature insane dinners in her books, too). Part of a series, but you can jump right into this book – I did. Then you’ll want to read every thing Bujold has ever written – and she’s written quite a bit. Do not miss this!
Steampunk: Riveted, by Meljean Brook
Steampunk is something of an esoteric genre, and yet I can’t imagine anyone not liking Riveted, regardless of their interest in steampunk, or, for that matter, romance. This book has wonderful world-building, beautiful use of language, and tons of action. Riveted is part of the Iron Seas series, and you can jump right into it. The first book in the series, The Iron Duke, is also excellent, but features a brooding, domineering hero who I, personally, can’t stand even though I think his character is well-written and developed. The hero in Riveted is a kind, brilliant scientist who is thoughtful, respectful, good at communicating, and also quite the action guy. Love him, love the heroine, love the setting, LOVE this book.
Historical: anything by Courtney Milan
Really. Anything. She’s wonderful. Look out for some serious angst, but also humor and humanity. My second choice would be the hilarious Regency novel What Happens In London, by Julia Quinn, which features some of the best, and funniest, dialogue I’ve ever had the immense pleasure of reading.
And the runners-up:
For crazy old school cheesy adventure: The Windflower, by Tom and Sharon Curtis. This insane and delightful book features the convoluted adventures of a group of pirates. They have a pet pig named Dennis. Either that sells you on the book (which is a historical, sort of) or it doesn’t.
For seriously well-done angst that will make you cry: Flowers From the Storm, by Laura Kinsale. I sobbed over this book. I also cackled hysterically when I discovered that the original cover of this serious, delicately written historical features Fabio. Fabio! Try to forgive it.
I’m planning to run several posts along these lines, so if you have suggestions for gateway drug books in the genres of mystery, science fiction, YA, and science writing, let us know!