Books

Recommended Historical Romance Novels

As a recovering book snob, romance is a new genre for me. But with the help of amazing, open-minded readers at Book Riot and a former co-worker who was a big fan, I’ve become a convert, and am not an unabashed romance reader.

Here are my favorite romance novels.

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The first romance novel I feel in love with was A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacClean. Everyone at Book Riot was raving about it, even self-identified romance newbies.

I devoured it. In retrospect, it was not only because the writing was clever and fun. But I am also a fan of childhood-friends-to-lovers stories and what I love best in romance is witty banter. So fortunately, I had a perfect introduction to romance.

I continued reading all of the Rule of Scoundrels novels, which were all good, but my favorite was One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, which featured a heroine who is a scientist and seeks a lover to introduce her to the art of sex as scientific inquiry, but ends up falling in love with the rogue she pursues as a partner in her experiments.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, the final book in the series, reveals the identity of the elusive fourth partner of the gaming hell owned by the other heroes in the series, and features a woman who has carved out her own path in life.

Not only is the Rule of Scoundrels series sexy as hell, it’s also feminist as fuck.

Turns out, romance as a genre is full of feminist writers and readers. My previous misconceptions about romance novels—that the writing would be flowery, that all the heroines would be women who needed to be rescued, that the heroes would be misogynistic, controlling bastards—were unfounded. The best romance is well-written, just like the best of any genre. The category is full of women who defied the social conventions of their time, and the best stories are where the hero and the heroine save each other.

The next series I fell in love with was The Bridgertons by Julie Quinn.

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They follow the most endearing family, and what I love is that Julia Quinn focuses as much on the relationships between the siblings as she does on the romances between them and their intended partners. My favorites was When He Was Wicked, about a rogue who falls in love with his cousin’s fiancé just hours before their wedding, but when she’s widowed, he’s given a second chance at love.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton was  also delightful, as it shows a scene from another book in an entirely different perspective, picking up a different thread. In this story, Colin, one of the Bridgerton brothers, falls for his younger sister’s best friend when he finally begins to see her in a new light (like I said, I like the childhood friends to lovers stories).

Julia Quinn has begun writing about a previous generation of Bridgertons in Because of Miss Bridgerton, and these take place in the late 18th century. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.

I’d also recommend Tessa Dare’s Castle Ever After series and Spindle Cover series.

Any Duchess Will Do is a rags-to-riches, Cinderella story. A Duke’s mother insists he marry and he must pick from the ladies of Spindle Cove, a seaside retreat populated mostly by upper class spinsters, insisting she can make any of them a perfect Duchess. Of course, the Duke wants to show his mother how wrong she is, and picks the woman who works in the tavern, and she agrees to participate in the game. Of course, it backfires, and they fall in love (and have lots of hot sex).

Say Yes to the Marquess is similar to When He Was Wicked. The heroine has been engaged for eight years to the hero’s brother, and wants to break the engagement and save her pride. She inherited a castle and now doesn’t need a husband to live comfortably. The hero tries (and fails) to plan the wedding for his brother and his fiancé, and they fall in love and turn the castle into a brewery (so much fun). Bonus: if you’re a dog lover, there is the most adorable and rascally aging bulldog.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is the latest in the Spindle Cove series,  but also features a cameo from Say Yes to the Marquess. The plot is a mystery loosely inspired by Clue. And it’s a delight to read.

I’ve also enjoyed Temptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh, Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden, and One-eyed Dukes are Wild by Megan Frampton, though I had less luck with other books by those same authors.

I’m still a very picky romance reader. I like witty banter, unconventional heroines, books fairly high on the heat scale but without euphemisms that make me cringe, and believable barriers on the road to happily-ever-after.

I’ve also discovered I have more luck with certain tropes. Second chance, later in life romances are a good bet (I’m not the age of a blushing debutante anymore, so naive 19-year-old heroines can annoy me). Friends to lovers will always be a favorite.

Though I’ve tried contemporary romance and paranormal romance, I haven’t had as much luck with either. In contemporary, the obstacles to the couple getting together often seem so slight I find the couple ridiculous and just keep saying, “get over yourself already.” In historical, the social conventions that kept people apart feel less contrived.

Given my love of urban fantasy, I figured I’d love paranormal romance. Generally, there is a lot of overlap between the categories. But I’ve found that I prefer action and humor and a slow-burning romance in my paranormal stories.

I’ll still explore these subgenres, but I mostly gravitate toward historical romance.

Reading romance novels has been a lot of fun for me. These are quick reads, and I’m guaranteed a happy ending, which is comforting when I’m stressed out. I’m really glad that I’ve been able to get over the stigma of reading romance and expand my reading horizons.

Are you a romance reader?

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  • I am indeed, and the Bridgerton series are among my all-time favorites. I also recommend Lisa Kleypas (particularly the Wallflowers series and the Hathaways series) and Mary Balogh (particularly the Slightly series and A Summer to Remember. Balogh doesn’t go for the witty banter as often, and her dialogue and situations are more attuned to the Regency era, but her characters and their emotions feel real and deep.