After a self-care break of my own, we are back with new entertainment self-care recommendations , because we all need a goddamn mental vacation every now and then. This time, we’ve got reading recommendations for you, and yes, my break entailed re-reading a lot of romance novels. That’s our theme this month: romance. It’s fall, and if Nora Ephron taught me anything it is that fall is a deeply romantic time of year. It’s a time for cuddling and cozy blankets, fleece socks and fireside reading breaks. Or, if you’re like me and you don’t have a fireplace, it’s time for fleece socks and reading breaks near a WoodWick candle. Romance novels are a staple of beach reading, but they are great for cozy reading on a blustery fall day, too. Here are a few of my favorite romantic reads, and please, share your recommendations, too.
My all-time favorite, go-to romance recommendation is Georgette Heyer, mother of the Regency Romance. Heyer is the bridge between Jane Austen and Julia Quinn, though you should know, these are NOT horny books. In the tradition of Austen, it’s a big deal if the romantic pairs even exchange kisses in the end. But oh my GOD, the writing is SUPERB. Heroes drop devastating put-downs and heroines tear off scathing reads at a spanking pace, and the characters are so well drawn you’ll feel like you’re in the ballroom with them. It’s a tragedy of modern cinema that Heyer hated the idea of adaptation so much her estate blocks every attempt to bring her works to the screen, because her dialogue is made to be said out loud. For beginners, I recommend Arabella, Heyer’s riff on Pride and Prejudice, featuring an irrepressible do-gooder heroine and her resigned beau who picks up all her stray projects. There’s a puppy! And an urchin! And a dowager duchess! Other great reads include The Grand Sophy, Frederica, Venetia, and These Old Shades. There is a steep age difference in that last one, but also two of Heyer’s best characters, and a rich, long-simmering revenge plot, too. You literally cannot go wrong with Georgette Heyer.
Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series
Speaking of Regency Romance, Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series is a standout of the sub-genre. Centered on the vast and spirited Bridgerton family, this series ranges from light, funny romance novels to somewhat more realistic looks at finding love in an age of expectation and arranged marriage (Francesca Bridgerton’s story is especially poignant). The Bridgerton Series also features excerpts from the gossip sheets of the mysterious Lady Whistledown, which gives these books a fun gossipy twist. Bonus: Shonda Rhimes is adapting the Bridgerton Series into a movie, Bridgerton, due on Netflix in 2020. Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan is set to play Penelope Featherington, which if you know, YOU KNOW HOW GOOD THAT CASTING IS. The Bridgertons are great old friends to keep around for those cozy inside days.
Is contemporary romance more your thing? Then you have got to try the works of Katie MacAlister. The best thing about MacAlister is that there is something for everyone. Into paranormal romance? Cool, she’s got series about vampires, dragons, and time travelers. Looking for YA romance? She’s got that, too. And her contemporary romances are charming and funny, perfect escapes for when bad weather keeps you inside. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, and in her paranormal romances, she has built several interesting alternate universes. Personally, I love the Dark Ones series, for vampires that are broody and hot and super into consent.
The Twilight fanfic community is most famous for spawning EL James and Fifty Shades, but do not miss the other erotic fanfic writers who got a book deal, Christina Lauren (the pseudonym of the writing duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings). These ARE horny books, with plenty of sex scenes and hot lead characters everywhere. Start with the Beautiful Bastard series for erotica, and then try stand-alone contemporary romances like Roomies—which Jenna Dewan is adapting—and Dating You, Hating You. Lauren balances romance and humor with characters often facing real life challenges, like sorting work-life priorities and, in LGTBQ romance Autoboyography, confronting expectations of a conservative family. Lauren’s books are witty and sexy and can unexpectedly hit you in the feels. (Lainey: my personal favourite and go-to by Christina Lauren is Dirty Rowdy Thing. Finn is really, really HOT.)
If you love romantic mystery and want an LGBTQ twist, pick up Selina Kray’s terrific Stoker & Bash set. There are only two books so far (The Fangs of Scavo and The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree), but Kray brings us into the hidden life of LGBTQ Victorian London through the eyes of a repressed Scotland Yard detective. Stoker & Bash reads like Sherlock Holmes meets The Mentalist, with a flashy con man hero and his staid and steady partner. Fair warning, this is not historical fiction that imagines the past got suddenly cool with the LGBTQ community. Stoker and Bash contend with period-typical homophobia and internalized fears. There is a streak of realism in their dealings, but Kray turns necessary prevarication into a source of tension and passion. Plus, the mysteries are damn good.
Kade Boehme and Yolanda Wallace
The LGBTQ romance market grows every year, and two stand-out contemporary authors are Kade Boehme and Yolanda Wallace. Kade Boehme’s Trouble and the Wallflower is a classic opposites attract romance, but Boehme digs into the seemingly stereotypical dynamic of an outgoing-vs-shy couple and tells a story that is as much about grief and loss as it is about romance. As a result, Trouble works not only as a romance, but also as a (slightly delayed) coming of age story. It also has one of the strongest supporting casts I’ve read in recent memory.
And if you like food porn with your book porn, try Yolanda Wallace’s Month of Sundays, which features women loving women loving food. Celebrity chef Griffin has to win over her reluctant lover, Rachel, with a once-a-week culinary trip around the world. The food descriptions are as enticing as the sex scenes, which makes Month of Sundays a particularly memorable read, and also makes it a perfect book to read while the crockpot simmers with that cold weather comfort food.