I began reading romance novels at the age of fourteen, and though time has changed my views slightly on that first romance novel (Kathleen Woodiwiss’s 1972 breakthrough The Flame and the Flower, one of the original “bodice rippers), my love for the genre has only grown with time. While romance is now often generally (and unfairly) lumped as Fifty Shades of Grey knockoffs, what many of the genre’s critics do not see is the wide variety of sub-genres and niches within or the many important topics the authors are unafraid to tackle. Romance is a genre for those who wish to tag along on the journey to happily ever after and the trials and tribulations that the main characters encounter on that road.
To celebrate my love of the novels that have inspired me as a writer and person, I have compiled a list of the novels that still make me swoon no matter how many times I’ve reread them.
- Paradise by Judith McNaught (1991)
The ultimate romantic adventure follows Matt Farrell and Meredith Bancroft in a journey reminiscent of a sweeping romance of yesteryear, seemingly opposites attract when they meet and fall deeply in love. However, outside forces rip them apart in the cruelest of ways, but when the reunite a decade later, the spark still fly. The glamour of the Chicago society atmosphere, palpable chemistry between Matt and Meredith, and raw emotion of the intricately woven story thanks to McNaught’s enchanting prose. A must-read for lovers of an all-encompassing, classically romantic love story.
2. Perfect by Judith McNaught (1993)
McNaught’s follow up novel to Paradise was just as riveting as its predecessor, though much more driven by suspense. Wrongly convicted of murder, Hollywood actor/director Zack Benedict is desperate to clear his name, and in an effort to do so, he breaks free. He abducts school teacher Julie Mathison and forces her to drive him to his Colorado safe house where, in the midst of the snowy mountains and a cozy cabin, the two fall in love. However, their clandestine idyll cannot last, and when the law comes knocking, so do the devastating complications. The stakes are high in this romance, and through all 700 pages, the pace never slows, and the uncertainty of Zack and Julie’s future keeps you on edge until the last word.
3. My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson (2005)
Besides having novels with some of the most beautiful covers in the romance industry, the exterior of this sweet romance perfectly reflects the mood of the bubbly story within its pages. The plot follows Laura Townsend, a young woman whose life was forever altered by an accident that left her with aphasia, a condition that heavily affects speech. Ever the positive light, Laura is hired at a veterinary clinic, and she quickly catches the eye of Isaiah Coulter, her boss. However, someone appears to be framing Laura for mistakes made on her shift, therefore causing more than a little office drama between that and her burgeoning romance with Isaiah. Anderson’s characters are always endearing flawed, as evidenced in this novel by Isaiah’s absentmindedness, which also adds an element of realism. The pure endearment of this novel is its selling point, and likely the novel I have reread the most of any novel.
4. The Gabriel Series by Sylvain Reynard (2011-Present)
Reynard’s ongoing series draws inspiration from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, perhaps a most unusual source. The plot might seem a typical trope, an elusive professor and a student, but the intensity of the material enriched what could have been contrived or recycled, with an intertwined back story between the two characters and odes to Dante’s work. Both the hero and heroine are quite damaged, and over the course of the three published novels (a fourth is planned for release in December 2019), their scars are bared, healed, and created, each installment building on the depth of these charters and enhancing the humanity of the love story between Gabriel and Julia. This is definitely one of the finest and strongest romance series I’ve read.
5. Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (1979)
The tumultuous background of the American Civil War and Reconstruction sets the stage for this romantic journey of forbidden love between a Yankee doctor and a southern belle, who disguised herself as a boy to escape the travesties of war ravaging her home. The novel embraces the classic pitting of North and South in the context of love while remaining original, perhaps because of Cole and Alaina’s deep passion for each other and the lengthy, tragedy-filled road they take toward happily ever after.
If you have not read any of these novels, all of them are still in print and available in print and digitally.
Sound off on your favorite romances in the comments below!