Sometimes I feel like I came to romance novels late. I didn't have an older sister who would sneak me her battered dog eared books when our mom wasn't looking. My friends were more likely to read Tolkien. I went straight from reading Nancy Drew and the Babysitters Club to epic fantasy and then I lived there for a long time.
I didn't actually pick up my first romance novel until I was probably 27 or 28. I didn't even know it was a romance novel. It promised me vampires and I was still riding the Twilight wave (I know, I know. We'll talk about that some other day. Along with the time I had to buy the complete series of 50 Shades of Grey, even though I've never read it to this day). I bought what I thought was a vampire novel, and by page 50 there were blow jobs, and by page 178 I was hooked.
All this to say that Goodreads published their list of Top 100 Romance Novels and I have read exactly 24. Not a stellar record, but not bad given my late start. If you're looking for well vetted titles, I have a few recommendations.
Twenty-four books is lot. I'm not going to review them all here. A few (like Wallbanger which I really liked) were also in this earlier post of best rom coms. Some, while I did read them, I honestly just don't remember well. But there's enough here to keep you going through the our long winter nights.
Beyond the Highland Mist, Karen Marie Moning
KMM is my homegirl. Okay, we don't actually know each other, but I love almost everything of hers. Her Fever series consumed my life when I read them, and if you like urban fantasy, dark broody alpha heroes, and slow burn (seriously slow. I'm still not 100% sure they're really together), read that series now.
If you like slightly more traditional romances, the highlander series is lovely. I like the later instalments with the Keltar men, but might as well start at the beginning and bask in all the tartan, no?
The Bride, Julie Garwood
This one, along with Julia Quinn's The Duke and I, is like historical romance 101. Sadly, I still haven't read The Duke and I. But I did read this one! It has all the tropes. Misunderstood youngest daughter. Highland laird. He wants her. She doesn't want to want him, but maybe she does, just a little. We all know what's going to happen, but it's all so frigging sweet I bought in before the end of chapter 3!
Cut and Run, Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux
I've already talked about Ty and Zane. I talked about this exact book in fact. But I love there are queer romances on Goodreads' list, and I'm still working through my re-read of this series. The first instalment is still problematic from a writing perspective. There are too many adverbs. Too much lip licking. The plot doesn't follow anything approaching convention. But Ty and Zane are so compelling as partners, as lovers, as men and ultimately, as characters, that I can't tell you enough to read this series.
Dark Lover, J.R. Ward
The Black Dagger Brotherhood were not my gateway to vampire romances, but they followed close on the heels of that initiation. Yes, the language is a little goofy (everyone talks like a gangster). The spelling is weird (there are names like Rhage, Zsadist, Tohrment and well....you get the idea). But the sex is hot, the writer is committed to her world building, and there's enough angst in later instalments to keep me engaged. Also, Dark Lover refers to its hero as being so ripped it looks like he's hiding paint rollers under his t-shirt, and I live for descriptors like that.
Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
I'm getting older every day, and that means I struggle with NA as a genre more and more all the time. But Fallen Too Far hits all the buttons that used to keep my nerdy epic fantasy-reading teenage self awake at night thinking about boys, for better or worse. Hardworking girl with no allies left in the world catches the eye of the hot bad boy, toils away like a Disney princess until the hot bad boy is finally won over by her innate goodness, love follows. 15-year-old me is salivating. Also, just go ahead and buy the sequel up front, because this book ends on a giant cliffhanger and you're going to want to know what happens next.
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
Don't read this. I mean you can. I love the story. But I can't get through it. There are just too many damn words. I feel bad as both a reader and a writer to say it, but there it is. Thank god they don't make 'em like they used to.
Do, however, watch the BBC mini-series. It's 4 hours. It always seems to be on Netflix. It features Richard Armitage in a stiff collar, standing in a snowy courtyard, begging the woman he loves to look back at him as her carriage pulls away. Also, there's a young Brendan Coyle in a pre-Downton Abbey role, but we're all here for Richard Armitage.
Promises, Marie Sexton
This is the first gay romance I ever read and it will be one of my favourites forever. It's contemporary romance at its best. Matt and Jared are just guys. There are no vampires. No bad boys. No serial killers. No tartan. Just two people trying to find their way to love. I don't even know what else to say, besides read this book.
So there's seven recommendations for the next time you are looking for something old-but-new-to-you to read. Like all lists, I would debate some of the winners, and some of my favourites aren't there. What about you? How many of the hundred have you read? What's not on the list that should be?