What's a romance?
According to the Romance Writers Association of America, a romance is a book that has "a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." For most romance readers, that means we expect a happily ever after.
This often leads romance readers to ask if romances are too formulaic--after all, you know how it's going to end! Well, everyone knows the crime is going to be solved on Law & Order, and it's been on the air for over 20 years. For most romance readers, it's the emotional journey that's satisfying.
Romance is a genre dominated by women at every level. I read romance because I love strong heroines and books that value the experience of women in the world. And romance delivers that every single time. (unless it's M/M, of course!)
Isn't there a lot of sex in romance?
That depends on your reading tastes! Rest assured, there are romances with various levels of heat, and if you're interested in the genre, you can find a romance with a sexiness level that works for you. Entertainment Weekly posts reviews with "fire" levels, and often Goodreads and Amazon reviews will hint at the amount of sex.
There's a lot of lingo. What does it all mean?
Yes, there's lots of lingo, and it can be a bit daunting when you first dive in. Here's some of the most common phrasing/terminology you will come across.
1NS: One night stand. A common enough plot device in romance that it has its own acronym.
Closed Door: a romance where the sex happens off-page. Sometimes readers might refer to this as Kisses Only, or Fade to Black. Just please don't use the term "clean" to describe a book where the sex happens off page. Romance is a sex-positive genre, and let's not fall into the trap of thinking sex is dirty.
DNF: a book you don't like and stop reading. Stands for "Did Not Finish"
HEA: Happily Ever After
HFN: Happy For Now
M/F: a novel with a male/female romantic pairing
(Other combinations are easy to derive from here. Just remember that it's about the romantic pairing in the book, not the character's identity. So a bisexual man who falls in love with a woman would still be classified M/F)
Romancelandia: The name for where authors, bloggers, and readers meet virtually on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram all have robust and interesting romance conversations.
How did you decide which categories to use?
Obviously, especially once you get into the contemporary recommendations, books could easily go in multiple categories. Maybe at a later date, I'll do a better job sorting the books into secondary categories.
One big area of overlap is the difference between fantasy, paranormal, and science-fiction. For the purposes of simplicity, I went with these definitions, which I made up. Feel free to fight me, I just wanted a wide variety of books:
Fantasy: magic exists, or magical worlds exist.
Paranormal: the characters themselves are magical, or can change/shift.
Science Fiction: Set in the world of advanced technology and/or the future.
I'm hooked! Where can I go to find more romance recommendations?
You should definitely check out Smart Bitches Trashy Books. They have fantastic reviews and a robust and passionate reader community.
An exceptional resource that I use all the time is The Women of Color in Romance website. The "browse books" tab has a great sortable index
Romance author Sarah MacLean keeps a curated list of recommended romances here.
A few blogs I follow:
Sense and Disability, which reviews romances with disabled characters
Love in Panels, which has a whole section on romance comics
Girl, Have You Read, which focuses on romances by black authors
Smexybooks is a strong "overall review" site that also posts links to reviews by other bloggers, so it's a nice way to hop around and find other reviewers you might like.
You should also visit the websites of America's two romance-only bookstores:
Have any audiobook recommendations?
Audiofile magazine has this great primer about how to start with romance audiobooks.
Author Adele Buck also has a list of great audiobook recommendations.
What about romance podcasts?
Oh, there are plenty! If you're interested in authors interviews, check out the Wicked Wallflowers Club podcast. Both the Heaving Bosoms podcast and the Whoa!mance podcast focus on in-depth discussion of a book per week.
And, of course, you can listen to my podcast, Fated Mates, which I co-host with author Sarah MacLean. Weekly episodes include romance novel read-alongs and discussions of the work of the genre, highlighting the romance novel as a powerful tool in fighting patriarchy…with absolutely no kink shaming.
The Smart Bitches of course have their own great podcast, but they also made a great list of romance podcasts, and you will definitely find something to suit your needs here.
About this Site
The links to books on this site do provide me with a small kickback from the Amazon Affiliates links program.
The only thing I get if you buy something from the Ripped Bodice or Love's Sweet Arrow is the extreme joy of knowing I've introduced new readers to amazing romance-only bookstores.
I've read most of the books here, but lots of people on Twitter also made suggestions, and I'm grateful to everyone who helped me with ideas. The book descriptions and blurbs are from Amazon. I did not write them myself.
Jennifer Prokop's lifelong romance habit began in 7th grade when she found a bag of remaindered romance novels in her grandmother’s basement.
Jen is the romance correspondent for Kirkus reviews and co-host of the romance podcast Fated Mates. You can find her on twitter and instagram @jenreadsromance