The best gateway romance novels for literary readers (and writers)

Who am I?

Although I currently write romantic women’s fiction, because I came up in the Literary Fiction community, I frequently have writer friends ask me to recommend well-written Romance. Leaving aside the subjectivity of well-written and the snobbery inherent in the suggestion that Romance—a category they’ve admitted to never having read—isn’t generally well-written, I first have to explain that Romance has rules: While we often associate Romance with sex on the page, technically, it’s not a requirement. There are only two requirements, according to the Romance Writers of America: the love story has to be the central storyline of the book; and there has to be a happily ever after (HEA). 

I wrote...

Thank You for Listening

By Julia Whelan,

Book cover of Thank You for Listening

What is my book about?

From the author of My Oxford Year, Julia Whelan’s uplifting novel tells the story of a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator—who has lost sight of her dreams after a tragic accident—and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel.

The books I picked & why

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The Idea of You

By Robinne Lee,

Book cover of The Idea of You

Why this book?

Start here, because: this isn’t a Romance novel. It wasn’t written as one, it wasn’t marketed as one. But it was adopted by the Romance community, even though it doesn’t adhere to HEA conventions, because it’s erotic, gorgeous, and brilliant. Come for the reverse age-gap/wanderlust/Anglophilic sexy-times, stay for the astute meditations on ageism, fame, and motherhood. Because you’re a Literary reader, you will embrace the ending; but also because you’re a Literary reader, I need to get you comfortable with sex scenes that are about pleasure, not merely some device to reveal the insatiable ennui of the main character (I kid, I kid).


Beach Read

By Emily Henry,

Book cover of Beach Read

Why this book?

Now that you’re acclimated to the s-e-x, you’re going to chuckle at how silly you were, thinking there was some massive divide between Books of Literary Merit and Books That Make You Happy. In fact, that’s actually the plot of the novel itself: a Literary author and a Women’s Fiction author challenge each other to write a book in the other’s category and sparks fly. A deliciously meta romp of, yes, impeccable literary merit.


The Luckiest Lady in London

By Sherry Thomas,

Book cover of The Luckiest Lady in London

Why this book?

You like your small, introspective, architecture-of-a-marriage stories? Well, here’s the Romance version. Nothing really happens, plot-wise. It is simply a masterclass of two characters matched in every way that matters, ready to destroy everything they could potentially have because they’re scared of getting hurt. Humorous. Hot. Nerdy. Incisive. Affecting. This will introduce you to the basic foundation of Historical Romance—essentially, “the marriage plot”—in the quiet way you’re looking for.


Mr. Impossible

By Loretta Chase,

Book cover of Mr. Impossible

Why this book?

While I could recommend any Loretta Chase novel and dare you to tell me you couldn’t spin at least a bread loaf-length lecture out of her style, I think you should start with Mr. Impossible, simply because the setting is as unique as her prose. We have a himbo and a genius running around Egypt in 1822 trying to rescue her kidnapped brother from the clutches of monument-thieving imperialists. Mind her character work. Note her humor. Her research. Her specificity. Her turn of phrase. Bring your highlighter. Or whatever instrument of self-loathing you use when another writer is so good at what they do it makes you want to give up.


Priest

By Sierra Simone,

Book cover of Priest

Why this book?

Look. I could tell you it’s a modern-day gothic. I could tell you it wields its heresy to illuminate the true meaning of God. I could tell you she writes with the clarity of an imprisoned martyr watching the pyre being assembled outside her window. But, really, I just want you to know that I read Sierra Simone with a goofy smile on my face, marveling at how she makes the bonkers believable. She’s a surreal realist. There’s an energy here that’s simply unmatched. The book vibrates. And if you make it through Priest, might I suggest her New Camelot trilogy, which tackles the only thing more sacred than the Catholic church: the American presidency.


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