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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Best Romance Novel (or Series) [NOTPoll]

What is the best romance novel (or series)? 

It's time to start a new conversation (remember we are not doing polls anymore). We've never done romance here on Writing About Writing and with Singles Awareness Day/Hallmark Holiday so close that I thought with EVERYTHING that's been written in the genre, it is time to recognize that even though a Harlequin Romance with a triple digit number on the spine might not, in a manner of speaking, be the literary event of the century, there's still some good stuff there over the years that deserves to be celebrated.

For those still getting used to NOTpolls or who remember the years and years of more traditional polls we ran here, there are still rules (below). But instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a good chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths"), but all that will determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

One thing to note is that much of the romance genre (and a lot of the best of it) is cross genre. So while I won't police this, it's up to you to keep an eye on whether you're nominating a Romance Sci-Fi or just some Sci-Fi that happens to have a strong romantic subplot.


The Rules

  • Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list.
  • TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK (or series ) although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable. 
  • For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  • As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate The Thorn Birds as romance (even though it's probably better placed as family saga), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "If I may…"
  • You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  • Did I mention two?
  • You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  • Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  • You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought Bridgerton was a great Netflix show, but never really could get through Quinn's written version, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.)
  • Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  • TWO!

Hopefully, we all get some great book recommendations out of this new format. 

42 comments:

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is good because there is so much more to the story than the erotic bits.

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    1. I got lost trying to read later books...all that bouncing back and forth in time. I had to put it aside. Drove me nuts. But I did REALLY enjoy the first book.

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  2. Okay, my hands down favorite series that I go back to again all these years later is the Skye O'Malley series. The main character is thinly veiled version of Grace O'Malley who goes on more adventures. Why? For several reasons, one it gave me a beginning of my fascination of Elizabethan England. Two, OMG so much sex....so much different sex. For 15 year old me it was eye opening. Three, the main character was strong. She didn't put up with shit from nobody.

    Now...30 years later? Yeaaaaa. It all hasn't aged well. But when I do read it I still remember 15 year old me. Which is likely why I still read it on rare occasion today.

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  3. Second Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, the series.

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  5. These Old Shades and the sequel Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer have been my go-to favorites for over 40 years. I don't know how many times I have read them over the years!

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  6. I’ll throw Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series into the mix

    Werewolves,vampires and comedy of manners romance in Victorian steampunk London

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    1. She has a bit of YA flavor (which I like, that's not disparaging) and the comedy of manners was so much fun. I'll second.

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    2. Those books were great! I loved the whimsical humor.

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    3. I love them so much! B & L are my favorite pair.

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  7. For historical romance I super recommend Elizabeth Hoyt. She does an amazing job writing emotions and using high stakes. Her Four Soldiers series is solid Georgian period romance, The Raven Prince is the first book. It's got enemies to lovers, sarcasm for days, a tough heroine. All cool things.

    For contemporary romance I always recommend The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. It's the best enemies to lovers I've ever read, hands down. So good.

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    1. I love Elizabeth Hoyt as well <3 I have a whole shelf dedicated to her books.

      The Raven Prince was a part of the Princes Trilogy. I only know because I've read it almost 5 or 6 times now. >o< So amazing <3 The Four Soldiers series was the one that she wrote after the Maiden Lane Series (another one of my favorites).

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    2. Yes! The Raven Prince is always a re-read. To be honest I love the Four Soldiers series a *touch* more than Maiden Lane. The fairy tales woven through the chapter headings are my favorite, favorite thing in that series. Although it's like comparing sapphires to diamonds, LOL.

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  8. This may sound silly, but the undersung hero in my opinion is a YA novel, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

    It's a bit mooshy gooshy, but it's still got a lot of great elements to it, I feel.

    It deconstructs the usual YA tropes. The narrator, and de facto main character is a boy, but he doesn't have any powers, or importance, in fact, the role he plays in the narrative is the role of the love interest to the great hero.

    Ad to that biting satire of the rural, white, American society, and how it detests anything that's different.

    Lastly, the two characters that fall in love with each other are just adorable, and lovable, and I think that's very important in a romance story, you want to see them be happy, and be together. They're not whiny, or defined by their relationship with each other, each of them has their own problems, insecurities and issues to overcome, but like any healthy relationship, they support their partner, and try their best to help each other.

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    1. I haven't actually read it, but this sounds amazing. I love a good mooshy-goosh and adding biting satire of rural America to it? SOLD.

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  9. Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series. It has black main characters getting HEA. I'm not usually one for contemporary romance, but due to the royalty aspect it has something of a historical feel. Excellent ADHD rep and disability rep. I especially loved the second book, A Duke by Default. It made me feel so seen.
    The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan. Historical romance set in a town full of Chinese immigrants. Lots of loving descriptions of food. The perfect cozy romance, very low drama but written in a way that nevertheless kept me interested in the story, which can be hit or miss with my ADHD.

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    1. Seconded! I liked “Duke By Default” because I also have ADHD, but I think I loved Johan and Nya as a couple more in “A Prince On Paper.”

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    2. Both so good. I'll second both. Courtney Milan is so good at writing low drama with, somehow, still high stakes? High emotional stakes, I guess, or else she's just very good at characters. I don't know how she does it, I just love it.

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  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is my nomination. I have adoryes this book since the first time I read at age 11. Suspense, intrigue, lies, true love, redemption, and enough sexual tension to start a fire (bad joke intended). Bronte uses Jane as a mirror, reflecting questions about social issues, morality, gender and human need that plagued her personal life. The desperate desire to love and be loved in return is ripe in this book.

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  11. The Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon is and will always be my favorite trashy romance series. I adore it.
    Remixed mythology, mainly focused on Greek but also branching into other pantheons, shape shifters, and plenty of badass ladies who love their partners but don't necessarily need their help. From Acheron to Zeus, there's a little bit of everything in the Paranormal Romance department here.

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    1. Second! This was my first foray into romance and I enjoyed every one I read.

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  12. Cecile by Frances Burney. Jane Austen was a huge fan and the whole thing read like a soap opera (seriously it was as fun as watching Jane the Virgin). The premise is girl who's loaded can't marry guy unless he agrees to change his last name to hers (otherwise they'll be destitute). But hero is from old aristocratic family and changing his name was a huge no no. It's basically an extended conversation with Lady Catherine (gives you a whole new appreciation for Elizabeth's piss off sphill. At the same time it doesn't take itself so seriously and that's the greatest thing.
    For something contemporary, the Tairen Soul Series by C.L. Wilson. It's a largely unknown fantasy work with all the tropes (good vs evil, true love, destiny etc). The chemistry is there as well as the intrigue and the politics and the truly terrifying, infinitely sadistic villain.

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  13. I know that someone mentioned Elizabeth Hoyt, but I need to throw in a nomination for her as well.

    #1) The Raven Prince (Elizabeth Hoyt)

    My all time favorite historical romance novel of all time. There was so much that stood out to me in this book. First, the main male role is flawed both physically and emotionally. He's not perfect, and neither is the main female character. I loved the way the main female character was infuriated by society's double standards regarding women and took things into her own hands. The raw emotion felt by both characters was just so... palpable. I really REALLY want to talk about it, but I don't want to give spoilers.

    #2) When a Scot Ties a Knot (Tessa Dare)

    Another historical romance. I'm nominating this because I loved the premise behind it. A woman, wishing to avoid marriage, tells her family that she fell in love with a man that went off to war. She spends several years writing to her fictitious lover, remaining "faithful" to a man that she thought didn't exist, not realizing that her letters were making their way to an actual person.

    This book is my second nomination instead of the first, because the MC is kind of a royal jerk earlyish- middle of the book, but he winds up coming around in the middle / later half.

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    1. I also recommended Tessa Dare below, though “Romancing the Duke” is probably my favorite. Doubt not!

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    2. I can't second Tessa Dare enough times. When a Scot Ties the Knot is so beautiful. I will never look at lobsters the same way, for starters ;)

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  14. So honestly I almost strictly read M/M romance at this point so my nominations will stick with that theme.

    A series I come back to all the time is the Cut & Run series (9 books) by Abigail Roux and the first 4 books are co-authored by Madeleine Urban. I have the entire series on Audiobook and love re-listrning to them. The series follows one couple, Zane and Ty, through initially hating each other, getting together, their struggles being FBI agents and co-workers in a time where being gay was less accepted than it is now. They have many adventures and cases they solve together and they have quite a few struggles romantically and professionally that seem fairly realistic and everything is not always smiles and roses. Out of the series my personal favorites are Cut& Run (book 1), Fish & Chips (book 3), and Stars & Stripes (book 6) but be sure to read them all in order.

    My other nominated romance series (and one of my favorite authors) is the Temptation Series (6 books) by Ella Frank, it's another series I highly enjoy on Audiobook as it's read by one of my favorite narrators. This particular series also only follows one couple, Tate and Logan. It begins with the troupe of turning the straight man gay but I think it's fairly well done and has the "straight man" actually questioning things and struggling to accept his attraction instead of jumping in and being okay with everything immediately. The series goes through lots of life's everyday struggles and some more heartbreaking moments that can happen when someone "comes out" to their family. I highly recommend and if you like audiobooks I definitely suggest giving this series a listen. With this series my favorite books are probably Try (book 1) and Trust (book 3) but definitely should be read in order.

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  15. I write romance myself so this is a genre dear to my heart. The series that got me into romance starts with Love Only Once by Johanna Lindsey. It starts you off with a loving family dynamic that leads into a whole series of books. I love her as an author because of the characters she creates. You can't help but love the Mallory clan. My second nomination would have to be for the second author that pulled me into reading this genre, The Lion's Bride by Connie Mason. Its a completely different writing style but a pleasure to sink into. Both of these authors shaped me as a writer and hold a strong place in my heart. All books are meant to be enjoyed for any reason.

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    1. Johanna is a staple of the genre for very good reason :) What a great recommendation!

      I've seen the cover for The Lion's Bride, it's beautiful, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I really should!

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  16. These two books are super popular right now, but I promise you they live up to the hype. Both are m/m and just make me so happy.

    Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinton. Lots of graphic sex, if that isn't your thing. Within the story are absolutely gorgeous love letters (emails) back and forth. I bought the book as a paperback after reading it as a library ebook just so I could flip through the letters. Not much suspense, which can be a nice respite these days, mostly the two men falling madly, passionately, literately in love and deciding how to manage their relationship in light of the political climate.

    The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. He wrote on the Tor blog that many of his readers describe his book as a hug. It's the story of a well-meaning but beaten down bureaucrat who literally lives under a gray cloud (a very dreary London) and is never able to make a difference to the children in the orphanages he inspects. Then he's sent to said house, which is full of "dangerous" magical children (the Antichrist, a homicidal gnome, the cutest little wyvern etc) and a delightful quiet man with a big heart. The children are at least as much of the focus, and it's just . . . wonderful. A hug is exactly what it feels like.

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    1. Oh yay another m/m romance reader! I haven't read these 2 yet, but they're on my tbr list though.

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  17. The Psy/Changeling Series by Nalini Singh (15 books in the main series, 10 novellas within those 15 storylines, 5 in the Psy/Changeling Trinity series, 23 short stories and 8 deleted scenes). She and the series are absolutely prolific. The series focuses on the Psy (people who have conditioned themselves to live without emotion because of the Silence Mandate that they thought would save their race), Humans, and Changelings (shapeshifters).

    My favorite book, by far, in the whole series, is Kiss of Snow (Psy/Changeling #10). It is broody but emotional men mixed with very strong, fiery women and how their worlds change and coincide.

    Underdog? Oh, gosh. I think Caressed By Ice (#3) is quite possibly the most heartwrenching. I will also say that the whole storyline that follows through all of the books is worth the read too.

    But the first book, Slave to Sensation -- It grips me every time I read it. Rereadable, emotional, funny, insightful -- Nalini Singh is by far one of my favorite authors and this series shines a spotlight on her talent in the most beautiful way.

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    1. I'm finding many favorites on this comment thread and now I'm fighting the urge for a re-read marathon. I think I should just give in and read Caressed By Ice yet again, haha.

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  18. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (and the whole Sevenwaters series, really) is a beautiful historical fiction/fairy tale retelling/romance. Whenever I think of my favorite love stories, this one comes to mind.

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  19. I second Nalini Singh. Her Guild Hunter series is my absolute favorite, with the Psy/Changeling series a quick second. My favorite book of the first series is Angels Blood, and the second is Heart of Obsidian. Both beautifully written.

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  20. Gotta go with three beloved authors with their most beloved series:

    Tessa Dare and her Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After series
    Lisa Kleypas with her Wallflowers and Ravenels series
    Mary Balogh with her Bedwyns and Survivors Club series

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  21. Second Mary Balogh, even though I'm not usually fond of historical romance, for her complicated men

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