I’m delighted to welcome Serena Bell to the blog again. She’s here to give us an all-new list of romance novels to delve into. Enjoy!
Last summer, I guest-blogged for the Write Now! Coach about romance evangelism. I’d recently rediscovered romance, which I’d loved as a teenager, and I had the new-convert’s zeal for my genre. I suggested a romance reader’s starter kit—several sure-fire books from big-name authors to lure the romance-wary into reading.
I’d also only just started writing romance and, over the year since then, I’ve met a community of amazing writers online (mostly via Twitter and Goodreads). I’ve discovered writers at every stage of their careers, from pre-debut through going mainstream through breaking out. Every day I discover someone new, and it’s a constant pleasure to have such a rich source of fresh, exciting voices and books that challenge and redefine the romance genre.
One of the first new writers I discovered, someone who has since become a friend, mentor, and critique partner, was Ruthie Knox, who gave me the her then-unpublished manuscript About Last Night. About Last Night came out this June as part of Random House’s Loveswept line. Loveswept is an old “line” that was shut down at the end of the nineties but as been revived digitally—Random House is bringing out old Loveswept classics and adding great new writers like Knox, Jessica Scott, and Elisabeth Barrett. About Last Night is the story of recovering bad-girl Cath and buttoned up London banker Nev, and it totally blew me away. I’d read plenty of smart, funny, well-written romances, but none as sensual, emotional, or moving as this one.
Knox quickly introduced me to other writers she admired, many of whom have become friends—including shining debut novelists Amber Lin (Giving It Up) and Gina Maxwell (Seducing Cinderella, now climbing USAToday, Amazon Kindle, and B&N Nook bestsellers lists), and incredibly talented writers poised on the brink of breakout like Del Dryden (The Theory of Attraction) and Meg Maguire (a.k.a Cara McKenna; Curio and the Curio Vignettes series). One of the first writers Knox pointed me to is Charlotte Stein, whose novel Sheltered has become my gold standard of romantic erotica. “Sheltered” refers to the existence of heroine Evie before she meets the punk Van, who shows her what life could be like out from under her father’s suffocating control. One of Stein’s many gifts as a writer is her ability to get deeply into the point of view of her characters. Reading this book was like being in a wonderful, long, sexy dream.
On the recommendation of my online network, I read Cecilia Grant’s historical A Gentleman Undone. A Gentleman Undone (the second in a series) is the story of Lydia Slaughter and Will Blackshear, two damaged people who find each other through their shared need to win money at blackjack and redeem their lost selves. Lydia is an extremely unusual romance heroine—a former whore and a current mistress and unrepentantly sensual—and I loved that Grant let her be exactly who she is, even though they’re unpopular choices for romance.
Three other writers I’ve recently discovered—and to whom I’m now permanently loyal—are Toni Blake, Sarah Mayberry, and Tawna Fenske. I couldn’t put down Blake’s One Reckless Summer. Blake’s books feel a bit contradictory—they’ve got white picket fences on the covers, which usually signify a “sweeter” book—more “home-and-hearth,” less sex. But Blake’s books couldn’t be hotter, and they’re on the dark side for home-and-hearth tales. In particular, One Reckless Summer’s hero, Mick, is an ex-con with an illegal secret that Jenny, the heroine, is forced to keep from her sheriff dad. I loved the combination of small town, fireside warmth, and deep, emotional (and steamy) romance.
I’ve read several of Sarah Mayberry’s books now, and they never disappoint. She has written for Harlequin’s Blaze and now writes regularly for the Super Romance line. If you’ve turned up your nose at category romance (those small, Harlequin books) in the past, you need to give it another look—not all the writers in the lines are equally good, but there are some terrific writers in there. (Remember, Nora Roberts got her start writing for Silhouette’s Special Edition line.) My current favorite Mayberry book is Her Best Friend, a simple, sweet story of buddies lurching toward romantic happiness as they repair a broken-down old theater.
Tawna Fenske is light and funny—wacky-funny—and such a delight to read. I howled over Making Waves. Somehow, Juli-the-misfit finds herself on board a modern-day ship full of goofy corporate pirates, where Alex alternates between wanting to throw her overboard and—well, you know. Loved it in all its silly, sweet sexiness. I’m looking forward to Fenske’s next book Believe It or Not.
Whether you read well-established writers or dabble in those newer to the scene, I highly recommend you give romance a shot this summer. It’s the perfect season for a steamy read, and when your friends demand to know if you’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ll have some recommendations to make in return.
About the Author: Serena Bell writes stories about how sex messes with your head, why smart people do stupid things sometimes, and how love can make it all better. She also blogs about writing and romance at www.serenabell.com. You can find her on Twitter @serenabellbooks.