13 Romance Novels To Put On Your Bucket List

by Maya Rodale and K.W. Colyard
Originally Published: 
The Secret History of Pink Carnation and other book jackets

We all know that the best romance novels are fun, sexy and incredibly popular, but it can be hard to know where to begin with this genre. After all, in 2016, these novels made up 23% of the overall fiction market. Yes, you read that right.

And, even I can admit as a romance novelist myself that the titles and covers are often pretty similar. But daunting as it may be to dive in, there are plenty of excellent reasons to make the effort. Romance novels can rev up your sex drive, provide some real life love advice or just be a fun beach read — and there’s nothing wrong with that!

So, how do you know which paperback with a hot cover and feminist friendly love story is right for you — or better yet, a novel so great your life will be incomplete without it? You come right here. Start with these 13 romance novels that are all great reads and deserving of a spot on every woman’s bucket list of books. If you love these, don’t worry — there’s plenty more to love.

Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase

Loretta Chase is one of the best romance novelists of all time — and this book is one of her best. Benedict Carsington, Viscount Rathbourne is aloof, reserved, and perfectly controlled — except with Bathsheba Wingate, a smart, sharp, and stubbornly independent woman. They both know nothing can come of their insane attraction. But when her daughter and his nephew go missing, their obvious course of action is to chase after them, and surrender to lust and love along the way.

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Hot Head by Damon Suede

Hot Head is a sweet and raunchy male-male romance about two best buds and Brooklyn firefighters who are surprised and confused to find themselves falling in love. Griff has loved his partner at Ladder 181, Damon, since the days after 9/11, but Damon is a ladies man. For 10 years, Griff pines in secret — until Damon comes up with an unexpected plan to make money: appearing on a gay porn website called Together. This is true bromance.

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Again, My Lord by Katharine Ashe

Once upon a time, Calista Holland and the Marquess of Dare almost wed, but a series of misunderstandings kept them apart. Years later, the two find themselves at an inn together. Destined to make the same mistakes again, Calista now has a second chance... and third and fourth to make things right in this novel that is best described as Jane Austen meets Groundhog Day.

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R is for Rebel by Megan Mulry

Rebel heiress Abigail Heyworth has spent the past 10 years in a relationship with a woman and traveling the world doing good. Eliot Cranbrooke is a warm, funny, and sophisticated American businessman. As they keep meeting through family and friends from Paris to middle America, their relationship gets oh-so intimate and oh-so complicated. This is a sexy, flirty, humorous, emotional and epic contemporary romance.

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Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Shanna needs a husband in name only, so she weds Ruark Beauchamp, a prisoner in Newgate. As one does. What follows is a sweeping and epic romance that takes place in England, the Caribbean and America. This is a true classic, written by the author who basically launched the romance novel as we know it today.

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A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

This contemporary romance features mistaken identities, a thoughtful look at arranged marriages, and mouthwatering descriptions of Indian food. It centers on Mili Rathod, who is waiting for the man she believes to be her husband. However, he doesn't want to be married, and her brother, Samir Rathod, hopes to get her signature on divorce papers. Of course, it’s not that simple — love and lust never is — but they all live happily ever after in this wonderful romance.

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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

This romance — often described as “historical chick lit” — is a story within a story. Modern day grad student Eloise Kelly is researching spies of the Napoleonic era and stumbles upon the great mystery and even greater love story of the Pink Carnation, the elusive spy who helped save Britain from Napoleon. This novel is smart, romantic, and laugh-out-loud funny.

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Dark Lover by J.R. Ward

This novel kicks off the Black Dagger Brotherhood series about a family of powerful vampires battling the evil “lessers.” In upstate New York. Naturally. In Dark Lover, Wrath — the leader of the six vampire brothers and the only purebred vampire left on earth — must chose between the woman he loves and the woman he’s ordered to be with, all while getting revenge on the slayers who killed his parents.

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Captured by Beverly Jenkins

A hunky pirate rescues a captive damsel on the high seas? Yes, please. Of course, when he saves her life, a love story ensues — though not without complications. Clare Sullivan may have escaped slavery, but her children haven’t, and it’s no happy ever after without them. Dominic and Clare risk their freedom to rescue her children in this sweeping love story from one of the best romance writers of all time, Beverly Jenkins.

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At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

Mia Strong is a young med student with a passion for gaming, loads of debt, and a steadfast determination to remain single. The obvious solution is to auction off her virginity. Enter Adam Drake, the hot young CEO and founder of a gaming company. Their relationship should be quick and love shouldn’t be a factor — ha! This is an angsty, absorbing geek-romance set in stunning locales around the world.

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Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

Hello, Old School romance! Domineering ship captain? Check. Heroine disguised as boy? Check. Insane sexual tension between two people trapped in a confined space? Hell yes. Add boisterous and meddling families and two impossibly stubborn lovers and you have the makings of a very fine romance.

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Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

The hero of this historical romance is a total rake (and villain in a previous book!), but he will steal your heart. Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, embarks on a marriage of convenience with a wallflower of the first order. Evangeline Jenner is shy, has a terrible stutter, and stands to inherit a fortune if she can escape her unscrupulous relatives. Like the very best wallflower stories, this one is about one who finds strength and confidence from love — and who manages to reform an unrepentant rogue.

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Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s hate at first sight for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett but the story of how they fall in love is widely regarded as the first romance novel — and the best. Jane Austen's classic novel is beloved for a reason: It celebrates the complexities and challenges of love, and doesn't underscore just how difficult it can be to find your person.

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

After transferring to a new school, Amanda longs to have friends, companionship, and a place to belong, but she can’t afford to let anyone get too close. That’s why her burgeoning relationship with Grant is so scary. Relationships mean letting out your secrets, and Amanda can’t afford for hers to be revealed. How would Grant react if he knew why she left her old school?

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Hold Me by Courtney Milan

The second book in Courtney Milan’s Cyclone series, Hold Me centers on Jay na Thalang, a workaholic with no time for romance, and Maria Lopez, the blogger whose content he just can’t get enough of. By day, Jay and Maria despise one another, but by night they’re flirting it up in her comments section. Fans of 1990s rom-coms will love Hold Me’s angsty story about an Internet relationship between two people who can’t stand each other IRL.

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The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Monty is a swanky bisexual gentleman making the most of his youth, but the time to settle down and start a family is rapidly approaching. His grand tour is his last chance to really live it up, but the trip soon turns bittersweet as reality sets in. Monty will have to be a proper gentleman upon his return, and that will likely mean missing out on a chance to have a romantic relationship with his best friend, Percy. What’s a roving young man to do?

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Jaya and Rasa by Sonia Patel

A short and touching novel from Rani Patel in Full Effect author Sonia Patel, Jaya and Rasa traces a romance between an Indian-American trans boy and the Hawaiian sex worker he meets after moving to his new home. Both teenagers come from deeply unhappy and dangerous homes, but can they overcome their circumstances in order to make happily ever after happen?

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The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Autistic heroine Stella Lane hasn’t had much luck in life. She’s bad at romantic things and she much prefers math to kissing. But companionship is on her list, and so she hires an escort, Michael Phan, to educate her in the ways of love. Figuring out how to kiss without being grossed out by it was the plan, but falling in love with Michael? Not so much.

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The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Drew doesn’t have a date to his ex’s wedding, so he’s happily surprised when Alexa, the woman he’s stuck in an elevator with, agrees to accompany him. After one fun-filled night, the two professionals return to their high-pressure jobs, hours away from one another. But neither Drew nor Alexa can stop thinking about their wedding date...

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Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

America’s First Son and the UK’s dashing prince take center stage in this enemies-to-lovers romance novel. After their very public tangle makes the tabloids, Alex and Henry find themselves forced into a press tour by their families, both of which are eager to make the young men appear to be the best of friends. Spending so much time together makes Alex and Henry realize they have more in common than they once thought, and their emergent romance leads to new complications for the U.S. and UK figureheads.

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