In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked Agata, the queen of romance recommendations, to give beginner romance readers a few places to start. She proves there truly is a romance novel for everyone.
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Allow me to start this with a confession: I used to be a snob when it came to romance novels. Then stuff happened and my brain wasn't able to process complex, angsty literary fiction the way it used to, and it was romance novels that helped me retain my identity as a reader. The reason why I read them voraciously is because I crave stories with a guaranteed happy ending where women and marginalized folks are allowed to thrive and be cherished just the way there are. For many people this genre is a safe harbour during difficult times, and the Romancelandia community is welcoming, because we firmly believe everyone deserves a love story.
Trust me when I say there is a romance novel out there for every kind of reader. Here is a tiny sample of titles that might be a good introduction to the genre:
for fans of Marvel cinematic universe:
A blacksmith moves to a small town and meets a cute neighbor. Except everyone keeps on telling him to stay away from her, because she's bad news. Read this novel for a nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of an autistic woman who falls in love with real life Captain America over comic books :)
for fans of musicals:
A gay retelling of The Sound of Music? Yes, please! A grumpy sea captain comes back home to find out his children are being taken care of by a vicar who is a ray of sunshine incarnate. Touches on spirituality, parenting with depression, and a learning disability.
for fans of feminist writing:
A duke on a mission to right the wrongs of his father, because he actually gives a damn. A miss with a secret past concealing her keen intellect because of social anxiety. Can they work together for a common cause? Radically feminist to the core, yet also hilarious. A charming cast of supporting characters who all get their own love stories in subsequent volumes.
for fans of soap operas or family sagas:
An exquisitely crafted trilogy of family secrets and forbidden romances. The first volume tells a story of childhood sweethearts who got torn apart due to a messy family history and a business venture gone wrong. Except, unbeknownst to everyone they've kept in touch for the past ten years. Now she's back in town, and he needs to know why didn't she show up for their annual secret tryst. The angst is off the charts in this sexy series, but its main strengths are nuanced conversations about mental health and a cast of diverse characters.
for fans of spy stories:
Imagine if James Bond had a wife and they both had a crush on their personal assistant. Now what if they all go on a mission to take down a Serbian dictator together? This is that book. Pick up this novella when you're in a mood for a flirty, scorching hot read full of adrenaline.
for fans of theater:
A black heiress elopes with a famous actor she's admired on stage. They geek out about Shakespeare and read plays out loud together while on their way to Scotland; she blushes often. He is a fierce abolitionist and this story doesn't flinch away from the realities of an interracial relationship and class differences in a historical context. Meticulous research, gentle humour, and sweet sensuality are what make this book swoonworthy.
Our heroine works hard to make her community proud as she pursues a dream of owning a bakery. But now that the handsome man next door has a similar business plan, and the Cinco de Mayo celebration is just around the corner; things get complicated. Keep snacks on hand, this one will make you crave baked goods and chocolate!
Likotsi, an asistant to a prince, finally takes the weekend off work to explore New York City. As luck would have it, she runs into Fabiola—the fabulous woman who broke her heart months ago by ghosting her. Fabiola invites Likotsi to have just one more cup of tea together and suddenly lists and schedules don't seem to matter that much. This novella is equal parts a love letter to New York City combined with timely commentary on the current political climate.
The reason I selected this title is the gorgeous cover as well as the dreamy audiobook narration by Karen Chilton.
for fans of magic:
Back from an exile in China, Lucien seems to fall to the same curse that killed his father and brother. He has no choice but to call a magician to investigate. Despite his painful past with Lucien's family, Stephen, the investigator charged with the task, helps him to uncover the truth. An intricate magic system and a skillfully crafted plot will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter for personalized romance recommendations, and I will gladly chat books with you. :) You are also welcome to subscribe to a tiny letter we send out once a month with a group of my friends talking about upcoming romance publications. Read the previous issues in the archive.
Thank you to the Reading Women team for giving me a chance to share some of my favorite books and celebrate Valentine's Day with y'all 💙
Agata can be found tweeting about romance novels and cute baby animals while eating obscene amounts of dark chocolate over at @Aqueda_Veronica.