I've never done one of these yearly wrap-up posts before, but all my friends are doing it and you know what they say about peer pressure... YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CONFORM TO IT.*
Anyway, being the mod of a Goodreads romance group, I read a lot of romances, and I often have people who are new or unfamiliar with the genre(s) of romance come to me asking for romance recommendations. So for my yearly wrap-up, I'm going to share my ten favorite romance novels from a variety of sub-genres that I rated 4 stars or higher in 2017!
***drum roll pls***
10. AN UNNATURAL VICE by K.J. Charles
Genre: historical romance/M-M
Crossover appeal: fans of Ripper Street
HI MY NAME IS NENIA AND I AM K.J. CHARLES TRASH.
I love this author. She has such a great writing style, and even if I don't always love her books as much as I want to, I keep coming back for more. She reminds me of Lisa Kleypas when she was at the highlight of her game (think Gamblers and Wallflowers), except she writes M/M.
This is the second book in a series (yes, you have to read them all for continuity) set in Victorian-era England that revolves around murder, inheritance, and family secrets. Nathaniel is a journalist who wants to expose fraudsters and Justin is a morally grey cold reader who sees nothing wrong with conning people out of their money. Both of them end up getting involved with a huge family scandal that could very well mean their lives. DUN DUN DUN...
In my opinion, AN UNNATURAL VICE is the best book in the trilogy. Justin and Nathaniel are great characters, Justin especially. I loved the descriptions of cold reading because I wrote a paper on that in college, and I felt like I was "in the know." Also, this book features one of the best examples of hate-sex I've ever seen done in a romance novel, so there's that. #NotAPerv
9. BEGINNER'S GUIDE: LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS by Six de los Reyes
Genre/type: Contemporary/new adult
Crossover appeal: fans of THE ROSIE PROJECT
This is basically a gender-flipped ROSIE PROJECT, but with younger characters and set in the Philippines. The heroine, Kaya Rubio, is a graduate student studying molecular genetics. Being scientifically-inclined, she decides the best way to find a boyfriend (and get her meddling relatives off her back) is to do an experiment, weighing her findings against the most unsuitable person for her she can imagine: Nero, the artsy-fartsy owner of a bubble tea cafe.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK WAS SO CUTE. I don't normally like NA, but I loved this. It's got a super likable hero, a nerdy heroine of color who is neurodivergent and also involved in STEM, and a plot that seems like it came out of one of those adorably nostalgic teen movies that were so popular in the late 90s, early 2000s (why don't we have more of those? I miss them).
Apparently this is the first book in a series, and I series-ly (bad pun, sorry) can't wait for book #2.
8. TAKE THE LEAD by Alexis Daria
Crossover appeal: fans of Dancing with the Stars
I mean, the entire premise is based on Dancing with the Stars, so if you love that show and you also love romance, you should read TAKE THE LEAD. It's an #ownvoices romance about a Puerto Rican dancer named Gina who ends up falling for this sexy lumbersexual named Stone, who's part of another reality TV show (kind of like Survivor) that's based in Alaska. He and Gina are paired together and their evil stage manager is trying to force a showmance for ratings, which Gina resists because she thinks there's enough stereotypes about "sexy Latinas" out there and she doesn't want anyone to say that that was the only reason that she made it in her career.
Gina is a fantastic heroine - she's strong, she's interesting, she's proud of her culture, she's confident, she's a great dancer. Stone is a good hero, too, strong and protective without being domineering. Their sexual chemistry was off the charts, and the fun descriptions of the reality TV environment and energetic dances had me running to YouTube more than once to see the described dances in action.
This romance made several "best of 2017 new releases" lists for the romance genre, and it's not hard to see why. It's fun and sexy, with likable characters. (Do yourself a favor and skip the sequel though)
7. THIS OTHER EDEN by Marilyn Harris
Genre/type: bodice ripper/gothic romance
Crossover appeal: fans of THE FORSYTE SAGA
OH HEY IT'S A BODICE RIPPER -
Except, not really. Because THIS OTHER EDEN goes against a lot of the bodice ripper tropes. For starters, it's densely atmospheric with exceptionally beautiful prose. For another, it's extraordinarily researched, featuring many obscure historical details that hold up with fact-checking (and since this was written in the days before internet, one can only imagine the hours of library research Harris must have clocked in while in the research phase).
The story is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Marianne and the forty-year-old lord named Thomas Eden who wants her. It sounds creepy, and it is, but it's set in Georgian-era England, so it was slightly less creepy at the time. The book opens with Marianne trapped in a charnel pit (read: where they throw the corpses of dead livestock) awaiting her public whipping for defying her lord. The next five hundred something pages are an intense character study of truly flawed characters either trying to find their place, or else trying to escape the one they already have. There is suffering, and there is also redemption, and at the end there is something approaching if not romance, then compassion and understanding. The second book is even better than the first, and I strongly recommend this series!
6. THE LEOPARD PRINCE by Elizabeth Hoyt
Genre/type: historical romance
Crossover appeal: Downton Abbey
This is a really great romance about a noble spinster and a "common" land steward who find love. The romance is notable for several reasons - HRs with non-noble heroes are rare (dukes, earls, and viscounts aplenty, with a prince thrown in for luck) and so are happy spinsters. Georgina is perfectly content with her lot, and her happiness ends up transferring to the grumpy and decidedly unhappy Harry Pye. There's also a murder plot thrown in here, because why not, but it adds to the story.
It's book two in the series, but you don't need to read the first (in fact, I'd recommend against it).
5. HOLD ME by Courtney Milan
Crossover appeal: Fans of Legally Blonde or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Courtney Milan is one of my favorite authors, but I think I like her contemporary romances even more than her historical ones. All of her heroines are so empowered, and maybe I like her modern romances because it's easier to write a kick-ass heroine in the 21st century - which HOLD ME has.
Set in the Bay Area, HOLD ME is about Jay and Maria. Jay is professor and Maria is a science blogger. She is also very girly, and when Jay first meets her, he doesn't like her because he assumes she's one of those air-headed attention-seeking women. Hilariously, Jay follows Maria's science blog and is actually a little bit in love with her online persona - ONLY HE DOESN'T KNOW IT'S HER.
HOLD ME has so much going for it - transgender WoC heroine who is involved in STEM, MoC hero who is also involved in STEM, mistaken identity romance, slow burn, relationship based on mutual respect (y'know, once they stop hating each other) and communication. It's such a fun, feel-good romance with solid characters and just enough depth to make them feel real. I loved it.
4. THE BLUE CASTLE by L.M. Montgomery
Genre/type: classic romance
Crossover appeal: fans of COLD COMFORT FARM or The Last Holiday
This is a hilarious romance, although it starts off dark and depressing. Valancy lives with a cold and callous family that takes pleasure in abusing her emotionally, and she's the butt of all the jokes. One day, she finds out that she's going to die within the year, so she decides to tell her awful family to screw off and live life as her best self. It totally transforms her and she ends up meeting this guy...
I adored this romance. It's a clean romance, so there isn't much in the way of sexings or romantic interludes, but the character development is amazing and there's just so much snarky humor. If the author's name sounds familiar, it's because she was the author who wrote ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and EMILY OF NEW MOON. This is one of the few stories she penned for an adult audience, and oh, man, what wit! I highly recommend this for a rainy day read.
3. SURRENDER TO LOVE by Rosemary Rogers
Genre/type: bodice ripper/historical romance
Crossover appeal: fans of trashy 70s movies and V.C. Andrews
What has two thumbs and loves bodice rippers? THIS GIRL.
Okay, but seriously, this was the only bodice-ripper I straight-up gave five stars this year, and here's why: it takes place all over the world (because the author herself was raised all over the world), and features a feisty heroine and a truly dark and antisocial hero. The "romance" itself doesn't happen until very later in the book, and when the hero and heroine meet and interact, it's mostly encounters of the love-to-hate-you, hate-to-love-you variety.
SURRENDER TO LOVE is truly cinematic in scope, though, with epic scenes and passionate declarations, murder, torture, rape, and just all sorts of other unsavory elements that would never fly past the publishers of today. It's a fascinating snapshot of what the standard for the genre was at this time, and even if it makes for uncomfortable reading, it's still great (and grandiose) story-telling.
2. OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon
Genre/type: time travel romance/historical romance
Crossover appeal: fans of Game of Thrones
The author can say her book isn't romance all she wants, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em and I'm calling this one an R to the O to the mance. You're probably familiar with the TV show, but just in case you aren't, it's about an Englishwoman living in a post-WWII world, who ends up time-traveling back to Georgian-era Scotland after touching some magical standing stones. Who does she encounter but Jamie Fraser, the sassy, too-macho-to-function Scot himself, in all of his tartan-clad glory.
This book is long, but I managed to get through it in just a few days. I couldn't put it down, to be honest. Gabaldon is really good at putting you into the characters' minds and making you feel invested in their well-being. I think fans of Game of Thrones will like this book because it's very dark for a romance and in addition to having a ton of sex (like Game of Thrones), it also has a lot of gratuitous violence (like Game of Thrones). There's a truly awful torture/rape scene towards the end of the book that haunted me for days. That said, it's a truly wonderful book. It has a romance that unfolds gradually, a virgin hero, an older woman/younger man pairing, and also, the heroine, Claire, is a nurse in her time, so there's a lot of fascinating trivia about healing and medical treatments, too.
Crossover appeal: fans of X-Men or Brandon Sanderson's STEELHEART
Don't act surprised!!! IF YOU KNOW ME AT ALL, YOU TOTES SAW THIS COMING.
Oh my God, I seriously cannot fangirl enough about this series. I don't think a series has captured my attention and imagination like Hidden Legacy since the Harry Potter series or the Animorph series. Team Andrews breaks the paranormal mold with a truly interesting and innovative world in which certain humans manifest supernatural powers, ranging from control of the elements to psychic-like powers. The heroine is a PI who ends up getting sucked into the lethal politics of the highest-ranking mages when one of her cases brings her face to face with Mad Rogan, the deadliest of them all.
The world-building, kick-ass main character, slow burn romance, and hot-as-hell sex scenes made this number one on my list. I can guarantee you this will be on the big screen or the small screen within the next few years, and I can also guarantee you that I'll be first in line, cash in hand.