Good starter romances masterlist

Have a friend you think would love romance, but when you think about where to start recommending, your mind goes blank? Below is my own shortlist of proven starter romances, plus I asked for recommendations on Twitter and have compiled the answers.

See this post at Delilah Devlin’s blog for why this list came to be, tips for pimping friends into romance, and detailed commentary on my shortlist. If you just want the list, you’re in the right place!

ETA: This is an extremely non-diverse list overall. Alisha Rai has compiled a fabulous list of diverse starter romances, read it!

[Image credit: Patrik Neckman via Wikimedia Commons.]

My list of go-to books to loan to non-romance readers (mostly historical):

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Regency historical. (Please warn for anti-Semitism.)
Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. Contemporary. (Or Bet Me.)
Fall From Grace by Megan Chance. Western historical.
Loretta Chase (historical, Regency and early Victorian). Lord of Scoundrels or Miss Wonderful are my picks but Mr. Impossible got the most Twitter votes.
A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant. Regency.
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan. Victorian.

Now here is the full list of Twitter recommendations plus some of my own. Thanks to everyone who shared their tried-and-true conversion tools! I apologize if I’ve mis-sorted anyone; I did my best, but I haven’t read most of these books. I also have not included content warnings because figuring out which books included dubcon, etc., proved to be way more work than I could do. Please recommend responsibly!

Corrections, suggestions, and additions welcome.

Continue reading “Good starter romances masterlist”

New contest: “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels” by Sarah Wendell

This contest is now closed. The winner is Kim!

I’m giving away a signed copy of Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels!

This book is exactly what the title says—it talks about what romances have to teach us about love, and not just in the abstract. Sarah has brilliantly edited together hundreds of quotes from romance writers and readers into a hilarious and touching (I cried a few times, not gonna lie) celebration of reading romance and the community of romance readers. Reading this book brought home for me how proud I am to be part of this community, and how much romances have given me throughout my life.

Smart Bitches was one of the first sites I regularly spent time on, when I was discovering the romance community. I’d been reading romances for years and years at that point, and even written one, but apart from one or two friends and my mom, I’d never known anyone else who did. And I was so thrilled to find out there were loads of us out there and that I could talk to them! (And that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like “forced seductions”! Man, this was a long time ago.) So this book felt like coming full circle for me. Thank you Sarah and Candi for everything!

I’ve been posting some of my favorite quotes from the book over at my tumblr (and I still have plenty to go)…here’s one of the best:

Reba, a fan of the genre, says that one thing she enjoys “about romance novels is the [depiction of a] woman struggling for independence in a world that does not recognize her value. Historicals are especially good for this, but I think they only highlight things that women recognize exist to this day. To wit, even our literature is seen as ‘less than,’ despite strong writing, compelling storytelling, and regular inclusion of universal truths (or as universal as truths can get, anyway).”

Just comment on this post to enter, and make sure you enter your e-mail address—it won’t show up to other commenters, but I’ll get it and then I can easily notify you of your win. As always, if you want to be alerted when a new contest goes up, I recommend signing up for my newsletter.

NB: this is a copy I got signed at the RWA National Conference. Ms. Wendell isn’t involved in the giveaway and the book isn’t personalized. So if you want to tell her how much you loved her book, this isn’t the place. That would be her website. (But this IS the place to tell ME how much you loved it!)

I'm nobody special.

Drove back from a friend’s wedding on Whidbey Island this morning. Very romantic occasion! Sometimes I just need a wedding, and people going on and on about their feelings for each other, and reading vows, and singing each other songs, and dancing, and feeding each other cake, to restore my faith that romance, the kind I write about, is real. Congratulations, guys!

This afternoon, Sonia and I went to Captain America. Overall, I loved it. Two big pluses and a small minus:

1+) This was a movie that really lived by “Show, don’t tell.” A lot of stories tell me that the hero is the hero because he’s a good person, and that the villain is the villain because he’s evil, all the way to the bone.

I’ve been rereading some of the later Harry Potter books, for instance. I adore the books, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very eager to tell me that Harry can defeat Voldemort because unlike Voldemort, he loves deeply. The problem is, when Harry is actually described feeling an emotion, it is almost consistently anger, hatred, or a desire for revenge. I don’t object to that per se, but it doesn’t sell the story I’m being told.

In this telling of Steve Rogers’s origin story, he was chosen to be Captain America because he’s a good man. Because he puts others first, because he always tries to do what’s right, because he hates bullying, because he never gives up. Because he cares, deeply. And we are shown that again and again.

He isn’t just decent when it’s time for the big things: in every interaction Steve has, right down to his first scene–an interaction with a disrespectful movie patron–he shows that same decency, courage, and willingness to put himself on the line for others. And it’s clearly shown that it’s his history of being a good guy when it comes to the small stuff that makes him able to be a good guy when it comes to the big stuff.

We’re also shown the Red Skull consistently, in every interaction, being arrogant, selfish, greedy, and pointlessly cruel. So when we got to the big power moment where the Red Skull says, “What have you got that I don’t?” and Captain America says, “I’m nobody special”…I was cheering! Because I had been shown exactly what the Cap had that the Red Skull didn’t.

2+) A lot of superhero movies focus on the single superhero whose name appears in the title, and his personal heroism. The same goes for action movies in general–there’s a tendency to focus on one man, and his ability to single-handedly defeat much greater opponents. Captain America has a team! And friends, and superior officers, and allies from other Allied countries…the list goes on.

Captain America is a symbol. He has the ability to inspire others, to bring out the best in people. In almost every shot that featured him doing something amazing, his team was right behind him, backing him up, making what he did possible. He’s a leader, but not a lone wolf.

This movie was full of heroes of all kinds: not just the Cap, but his best friend Bucky, his army unit, the scientists who modified his genes, every Allied soldier who volunteered to fight the Nazis, the women who bought war bonds, the girls who entertained the troops…every single character in this movie who wasn’t a Nazi, the Red Skull or one of his men was a hero in their own way.

Even the little kid taken hostage by a Hydra agent for Captain America’s good behavior and then thrown off a dock was a hero: “Go get him!” the kid yells. “I can swim!”

3-) The romance. Why can’t action movies seem to get romance right? I loved Agent Carter, don’t get me wrong. She was a great character. But the romance was definitely a weak link in an otherwise very strong movie. First they trotted out some tired “I’ve never talked to a woman before” clichés. Then they ignored several opportunities to have the Cap and Agent Carter discuss potential real connections between them (for example, they both had to struggle to be allowed to do their part for the war effort, him because of his physical weakness and her because she’s an attractive woman) in favor of run-of-the-mill flirtation. They threw in some meaningful looks, and then they told me that it was a betrayal for him to kiss another woman and that their love was epic.

I want to think, “Man, if they can plan an attack on a mountain fortress this well together, imagine what they’d be like in bed!” Instead, most of the time, all I’m given is “Wouldn’t they be good in bed?” If you want the romance to work, if you want me to really believe that these people love each other deeply and belong together, the relationship has to have other things besides romance in it.

So often the relationships in action movies that really sell me are the ones between the hero and his best friend or sidekick. They have a history. I see them understanding how each other thinks, working together to solve problems. I see them risking their lives for each other, trusting each other absolutely in a tight spot. I see them giving each other strength. I even see them hanging out, sharing private jokes, enjoying each other’s company.

Of course, sometimes the relationship that sells me is between the hero and his nemesis. They have a history. They can’t focus on anything but each other when they’re in the same room. They define who each other is, motivate each other to be the best and the worst they can be.

I believe that those relationships mean something to the characters.

But when it comes to the hero and his girlfriend, most of the time all there is is the romance. Those speaking glances, snappy comebacks, and sizzling attraction are the only thing drawing the characters together.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a relationship that starts with casual attraction, moves to dating, and builds from there. It happens all the time and it’s great. But if you want me to believe that when the hero thinks he’s going to die, the person he wants to spend his last moments talking to is the heroine, even though they only met a few months before–then you have to do better.

Which is why I love romance, of course. Because it gives me the whole package.

Have you seen the Captain America movie? Did you like it? And what’s your favorite full, complex h/h relationship?


My friend Sonia has brought something awesome to my attention! Okay, I don’t know how many of you read/have read fanfiction, but there’s a common trope in the genre called a “high school AU,” or “high school alternate universe,” where the characters are transposed into high school students (assuming they aren’t already).

Example: “Junior Lizzy Bennet is sure that only her family is holding her back from total social success. How embarrassing to have a mother who teaches at your school and tries to set you up on blind dates, not to mention a freshman little sister who’ll date anything in trousers, including the older boys from the local army base! Then Charlie Bingley transfers to their school along with his two popular sisters and his friend Fitz Darcy, the richest, handsomest boy anyone at Meryton School has ever seen–and Fitz publicly snubs Elizabeth at the Homecoming dance!” &c., &c.

Someone (Ty Roth, to be exact) has written one for the Romantic poets!

High school junior John Keats was never a close friend of schoolmate and literary prodigy Gordon Byron. At his best and worst, Keats was a distant, envious admirer of Gordon’s talents, fame, and “player” lifestyle. That changes when their mutual friend, Shelly, mysteriously drowns. After stealing Shelly’s ashes, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie Island where Shelly’s body had washed ashore and to where, according to Gordon, she wished to be returned. As they navigate obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly’s and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her premature end.

Shelley has been chosen to be genderswapped! I’m curious why the author picked him. I hope Keats and Byron have to learn to work together and discover that really, they’re not so different from each other, and that Byron also learns that it’s not nice to be a snob about Keats’s accent…

In other news about awesome things, I was at Barnes & Noble the other day and saw these in the YA section:

Twilight-inspired cover for Pride and Prejudice, with blown roses on a black background and the tagline "THE LOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL"
Twilight-inspired Jane Eyre cover with the tagline 'LOVE CONQUERS ALL'

Harper is putting them out, looks like. How great is that??? “THE LOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL”! Most of the blogs I’m pulling these images from (I’m having trouble finding official versions) seem to be mad about this, but I think it’s fantastic.

I am pretty sick of all this “Twilight is crap, Jane Eyre is what you should be reading, silly teenage girls,” stuff I see around. It’s snobby and anti-commercial-fiction and it sure isn’t making anyone want to read Jane Eyre. I think “If you liked Twilight, you would probably also like Jane Eyre” is not only less rude, it’s much more productive—and also true! Brooding, obsessive, and possibly dangerous men attracted to much younger ordinary-but-special women by a timeless soul-bond FTW!

(I’m not sure it will work as well for Jane Austen since it’s such a different kind of romance, but hey, I loved both Brontë and Austen as a teenager, so.)

What do you think? And have you seen other Twilight-inspired covers for classics running around? Link me!

Corinthians vs. Aliens

Overheard at various RWA workshops/speakers/conference functions:

Brokeback Mountain is tragic. Titanic is merely sad.” (I should point out this was NOT a comment on their respective quality! It was about the story structure.)

“The Regency is a shared world fantasy like Star Wars or Star Trek.” –Mary Jo Putney. Hell yes! That is one smart lady.

“Our ‘voice’ emerges when we embrace that exposure [the stuff about ourselves that authors reveal in their writing] and allow the barriers between ourselves and readers to become porous.” –Madeline Hunter. Yes! That!! This is what I was trying to say in this blog post and couldn’t quite express.

New genre concept created by my table at the Keynote Lunch: Space Regency! I think this is a great idea. I can see it now: the short but tough emperor of Beta Gaul IV out to conquer the Europa galaxy! Many planets have fallen under his sway. In his way stands tiny Albion Prime, ruled by a decadent Regent, protected only by its natural asteroid belt…(All roads lead to Nathan Fillion wearing a Rifleman’s uniform, that’s all I’m saying. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, go to Susanna Fraser’s blog here. Wow, time for a sidenote: when I first read that post I was NOT as into Ian Somerhalder as I am now. He’d make a great James! So compelling and adorable.)

Did you know if you google image search “Jane Austen goggles” you find nothing? NOTHING! What is that? …Sorry, I think my brain is falling out my ears a bit from all that conference and I’ve gotten a bit scattered. Which leads me to:

I started researching Sussex for the WIP. I am stealing this parish church: “Above the tower clock is a figure of Father Time, who, according to legend, jumps down from his perch at midnight and scythes the churchyard grass; the legend is said to have been started by a former rector, who could not afford to pay for the grass to be cut and did the job himself under cover of darkness. Another rector left a unique and useless addition to the fittings of the church—the tall stone ‘tub’ for total immersion, standing against the south wall and reached by a flight of steps. This was installed in 1710 in an attempt to lure Baptists back to the church on the grounds that ‘anything you can do we can do better’; but it was only used once.”

What’s the smartest or funniest thing you’ve heard someone say recently? Also, can anyone photoshop me some Space Regency images?

Redemption arcs ftw

I went to see Thor yesterday! I really loved it. Among other things, I thought it did a fantastic job of creating established relationships and a sense of history—I really believed Thor and Loki were brothers, that Thor and his friends were lifelong friends, &c. It really felt like people knew each other.

Also, not surprisingly, I fell madly in love with Loki.

I just wanted Thor to give him a big hug and make everything better! And it made me realize something else I love about romance: in a superhero movie, when there’s a person who’s sweet and good, and a person who’s angry and troubled, they’re probably going to end up archnemeses. In a romance, they’ll end up married.

(Speaking of superheroes, you all need to see Kate Beaton’s Lois Lane comics! While I actually really love Clark and Lois as a couple, these made me laugh hysterically.)

The characters are real in their world so the world needs to be real for those characters.

Yesterday, I went to Emerald City ComiCon with some friends. I brought with me a friend’s copy of Elektra & Wolverine: The Redeemer to get it signed by the author, Greg Rucka. I had borrowed it after reading my friend’s awesome review at, but never got around to reading it because my TBR pile constantly rages out of control.

Greg Rucka was incredibly nice and friendly and wrote “BELIEVE IN HER” in my friend’s Wonder Woman comic. I was won over, and this morning I sat down and read the book. It’s just as awesome as the review said, but I think the part I love the most was actually the author interview at the back of the book. It’s about writing comics in an emotionally resonant way, but I think it applies to writing any genre fiction, including romance.


JL [Jennifer Lee]: Right. So how do you build the characters convincingly, especially in a story setting like modern New York, where there are constant signposts reminding you of the real world?

GR: It’s a two-part answer, but the first part is that you have to be emotionally honest. I believe that all art lives or dies at its emotional connection with its audience. If the connection is not there it’s worthless. For any story to work there has to be a level of connection. You have to be able to, if not sympathize, at least empathize with what is going on. And consequently you can take the most ridiculous character (and by ridiculous I meet unrealistic) and make it believable. Take Wolverine: If you look at him, on his face he’s just ludicrous. He’s a short little guy who now is apparently over 100 years old, who has claws that pop out of his body, which he can control and retract, and he smokes cigars, and he may have been a Canadian secret agent, and he’s a samurai, and has a mutant healing factor… If you look at that from a realistic abstract sense, you go “Oh my god, what a load of garbage!” but everybody believes that he’s been cold. Cold is something we’ve all felt. Everybody’s been cold. Everybody’s been lonely. Everybody’s been lost. Almost everybody has felt love. Those are real things. Those are honest, true things. We all share them. So you take a character like Wolverine and you give him that. Kiefer insults him. We’ve all been insulted, and we all know that frustration of really wanting to belt someone in the mouth but not being able to. How many of us have had employers we’ve wanted to do that to, for instance? So, I really do think that that’s the key. And if you do it right, you can, in theory, take any background, any story, and make it resonate.

Aside from the emotional connection, the other part is making it realistic is that I think you have to be unapologetic. Comics suffer from this a lot because comics, in many ways, is embarrassed of itself. There are lots of fans who have been looked at like “Oh, you’re reading super heroes” and super heroes is so derogatory. In the narrative, it is really important to just be straightforward and honest. You don’t nod and wink and go haha mutant healing factor hahaha. It’s matter of fact. That’s the nature of the world. The cab is yellow, the street is dirty, the sleet is cold, and the healing factor is active, and all of those go together. The narrative refuses to make them extraordinary outside the narrative. In that universe, that extraordinary event makes sense, so that the logic of the universe is consistent, and it maintains the realism of that world. And I think that’s the key. It’s not saying it’s New York, but it’s not really New York. We say this is New York. Take it or leave it, it’s New York, and take it or leave it, the woman is a ninja. And if you don’t like it, don’t read it. But we’re not going to sit there and apologize for it, and we’re not going to say, okay this is where it gets cool. It just needs to be what it is. The characters are real in their world so the world needs to be real for those characters.



It's open for discussion

I recently linked to a post by Cecelia Grant about rock ‘n’ roll and the importance of reader reaction in romance. It indirectly got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while.

I’ve mentioned my favorite band, the Headstones, a couple of times recently because I went to their reunion concert LAST WEEKEND!!!! It was one of the best experiences of my life. I was telling my uncle about how great it was, and he said, “Well I’m glad, you had built it up so much that I was worried it would be a letdown.” That was not actually something I had ever been worried about. I had worried it wasn’t going to actually happen, that it would be canceled at the last minute or the Toronto airport would be closed due to snow or that it was all some kind of horrifying trap to steal Headstones fans’ organs for the black market, but I knew that if it did happen it would be amazing, and it was.

I was right in the front near Trent, the guitar player, and the band was on. Being with so many other fans and hearing those songs live just felt like adding a whole new dimension or sixth sense to how I was experiencing them, like there had been this other layer to the songs all along, made up of how energy was flowing between members of the band and between the band and the listeners, and I could finally see it.

Anyway. The lead singer, Hugh Dillon, is one of my very favorite lyricists in the world, and I love it when he writes about writing. On his most recent album, Works Well with Others , the song “Reel to Reel” has some of the absolutely best stuff in it about the writer/reader (or writer/listener, in this case) relationship I’ve ever heard. One of the verses says:

It’s open for discussion
My heart’s on that machine
You can turn it up or down
Delete or let it bleed

There’s a perennial argument over whether a book is an author’s child or a product created for money. One side of the argument goes, “A book is like an author’s baby, she has poured her heart and soul into it, and therefore it should be treated with respect and spoken about nicely.” The other side goes, “A book is something in author produces for money, and once it is purchased it belongs to the consumer and can be treated however he or she wishes. If an author doesn’t want people to write bad reviews of her work, she should not make it publicly available.” You see the same basic argument showing up in discussions of the ethics of fanfiction as well.

Hugh Dillon says there is no distinction. I’ve written this song with my blood, he says. I did it for you. Do whatever you want with it. (At least, that’s what those lines mean to me. They could mean something totally different to Hugh! But I bet he would support my right to interpret them this way.)

I love that. Does it upset me when I read unfavorable things people have said about my work? Of course. Does that mean no one should write them? No.

Okay, I’m going to maybe get a little melodramatic here, but as Hugh Dillon also once wrote: “Buried in my heart, you know it’s heavy-handed.” It’s hard to sound cool and detached about something that matters so deeply to me.

To me, the reader’s freedom to react is part of the romance of writing, its mystique and its beauty. I put a part of myself on paper and then I give it away. You can trample on it or you can love it, that’s your choice, but either way I want you to have it. And it’s the risk that somebody could choose to trample on it that makes that gift so powerful. It’s like that moment in a romance on the hero or heroine chooses to say “I love you” for the first time, not knowing if the other person will say it back but wanting them to hear it anyway.

I write because there’s something I want to tell people. There something I want to communicate. It’s a weird, one-sided relationship of trust and vulnerability, but it’s worth it to me. Because I know that someone, hopefully a lot of someones, will hear it and it will mean something to them. Even if it’s not what I thought it would mean. A good review is a phenomenal high.

I’ve been an avid reader since I was small. I’ve read a lot of books that I loved, that I connected with on a fundamental level, that I had a relationship with. I’ve also read a lot of books that I hated, that I found boring, laughable, or that made me deeply angry. But I will always be grateful to all of those writers for having the courage to put part of themselves out there for me to react to, to love and admire and argue with and make up alternate endings and trash-talk and laugh at.

I’m giving away a copy of Works Well with Others at my website here, and since I’m in such a Headstones mood after the concert, I’m including a used copy of their fantastic album “Teeth & Tissue.” Go enter! They’re both wonderful albums. You can listen to all the songs on WWwO on Hugh’ s website, including “Reel to Reel”–just click “launch music player.” And the music videos for the singles from T&T are up on YouTube: Hearts, Love & Honour and Unsound (which has one of the greatest basslines ever).

A link

Cecilia Grant just made a fantastic post about the importance of the reader’s input in genre fiction. Here’s my favorite bit:

They played this one number – a quieter love song that had been a radio hit – and the audience, most of whom seemed to be young women and all of whom seemed to know the words, sang along. And when the chorus came around for the second time, the singer stepped back from the mike and the audience kept on singing by themselves.

I suppose this isn’t uncommon in rock concerts, but in that moment, it just seemed like such a clear and lovely illustration of the audience’s role in realizing – completing – a piece of popular art. The artist writes the song, records it, sends it out into the world, and it’s not really complete until it’s received by someone to whom it means something. The audience gives it that last little spark; makes it real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

Readers and my imagined audience and my experience as the audience of other people’s stories and my connection with other writers/readers are a HUGE part of my creative process so this post really resonated with me.

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die! (Also, some news.)

So first, some news: the release date of A Lily among Thorns has been pushed back to September.

I know it sucks to have to wait longer, and I’m sorry to tell you this so late in the game. But this means that the e-book and the paperback will come out at the same time, which I think in the end is good for the book. And I really want this book to have the best chance that it can, so I’m actually pretty happy, but I do apologize to folks who were excited about getting the book in the next couple of months. I really appreciate your patience through all of the changes that have happened with this book! I can only hope that you’ll find it worth the wait.

And now for something completely different! Yesterday I was working on a post for about The Persuaders! and watched this British TV special about Roger Moore. There was a quote that stuck with me:

“Sean [Connery as Bond] played the throwaway line not quite as deliberately as I do. I sort of tip the audience off and say ‘here comes a joke.’ It was a surprise coming from Sean. That was the difference between us.”

This one took me a while to work out. At first I was dubious. Their Bonds are so different! How could this one tiny thing be the key? But I shouldn’t have doubted Roger Moore.

Because this one tiny thing turns Bond from a guy who laughs in the face of danger into a guy who laughs at his own dumb jokes in the face of danger. Which to me is exactly what’s so great about Moore’s Bond and (of course this is purely a personal preference) ratchets him up from “moderately sexy” to “someone please fetch my fainting couch.”

I’ve realized over the past few years how important it is to me that a hero enjoy himself. Because for me, a huge part of the romantic fantasy is feeling like I would enjoy myself with him.

Which doesn’t mean he has to be happy. I love angst as much as the next girl, I just prefer that my hero take some time out to have fun in between his moments of self-doubt/ennui/crushing remorse/whatever (e.g. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

(If you want me to love a hero who doesn’t have fun, the easiest way to do it is to make him so broody/serious that I enjoy affectionately laughing at him, e.g. Angel from Buffy. Or Batman.)

Who is your favorite Bond? Why? Does that correspond to your favorite type of hero in a romance? (Just please, don’t insult Roger Moore’s acting skills in your comment! There seems to be a lot of that going around and I’m starting to feel a wee bit protective…)