An illustration of a turquoise-coloured book, spine facing upwards, with letters and hearts falling out of its pages onto an outstretched hand, against a pink background.
An illustration of a turquoise-coloured book, spine facing upwards, with letters and hearts falling out of its pages onto an outstretched hand, against a pink background.

At least once a week, I think to myself, I am so grateful for romance novels.  I’ll be sitting in the sun, smiling to myself over a good book, and it will occur to me how thoroughly everything else has melted away. No worrying about the future, no stressing over the minutiae of daily life. When I’m basking in a great love story, for a while I feel entirely safe, warm, happy.

Alongside I am so grateful for romance novels, there’s another thought: I wasted so much of my life not reading romance novels. I came of age in the heyday of the quintessential romance cover – a woman in a falling-lower-by-the-second dress wrapped around a shirtless man named Fabio – and while I was aware of how popular these kinds of books were, I was also aware of the way the greater culture sneered at them, along with the women who read them.

So maybe I was too ashamed to pick one up, or maybe I was just intimidated by those lusty covers, but either way, the end result was the same: I never read a single romance novel until 2016, when I picked up Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game. My life has been so much better since. 

Whenever I’m anxious, melancholy, or overwhelmed, I pick up a romance novel and feel an almost instant reprieve. No other genre offers such a safeness, a world in which things may go wrong but, in the end, everything will be all right. So if, in this time of extreme uncertainty, you find yourself longing for that happy ending, then maybe now’s your chance to fall in love with a good romance novel.

Three perfect meet-cutes* with the romance genre

*A ‘meet-cute’ is the term given to a particularly unlikely if endearing encounter between two people who go on to fall in love. Which is to say: these are the books to start with.

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent

Lizzy Dent’s The Summer Job is the perfect read for those looking to dip their toes in the romance pool. Dent’s story follows Birdy Finch, a relatably chaotic woman in her late twenties who takes a job as a sommelier at a Scottish resort for the summer, where she begins a whirlwind romance with a handsome chef. The Highland setting is gorgeous, the cast of quirky hotel employees is entirely lovable, and Birdy would be in for an amazing summer – if not for the fact that she’s not really a sommelier. She’s not even the woman they hired – that was Birdy’s best friend, and Birdy’s been posing as her ever since she arrived. It’s not only a highly compelling comedy of errors, but also a sweet love story and a coming-of-age with a lot of depth.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

So many new romance readers discovered their love for the genre via this book about Josh and Lucy, two coworkers who hate each other, competing for the same promotion. Thorne’s writing is delightfully playful, bright, and clever. Reading her books gives me the feeling of walking into a nicely air-conditioned sweet shop on a sweltering summer day. There are borderline slapstick paragraphs right alongside heart-swelling, tears-in-your-eyes sentences, and I’m honestly not sure which Thorne does better. She’s a star.

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Dunmore’s brilliant debut follows destitute scholar and activist Annabel Archer as she attempts to win over the famously cold Duke of Wellington to the cause of women’s suffrage. This book is incredibly sexy, but it’s also impeccably researched. Rather than using time period as set dressing, Dunmore roots the story into the history. The suffragist movement – and the early days of the women’s colleges at Oxford – are integral pieces to Annabel and Wellington’s love story. Once you read this one, you’ll be be hooked on historical romance and ready for a deep-dive into the subgenre.

Three absolutely essential romance novels

The must-read, unputdownable heavy-hitters.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This instant classic follows Laurie, her best friend Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Jack—who just so happens to be the man Laurie fell in love with at first sight a year earlier during a brief moment at a bus stop. Laurie resolves to let her (secret) feelings for Jack go, but her heart isn’t quite as committed to that decision as her mind is. The writing is atmospheric and charming – cosy but with immense amounts of tension that keep you turning the pages. This is a love story with depth, humor, and heart. There’s also a fair chance it will make you shed a tear or two.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Once you’ve been inducted into the world of historical romance, you must pick up this gripping story about Elle Burns, a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War, who – while posing as a slave in the Confederate South – meets Malcolm McCall, a detective trying to infiltrate the confederacy. Cole’s writing is sheer perfection, a seamless blend of gut-twisting action and heart-swelling romance. This will give you a new appreciation for the immense amount of work and talent required to write within this genre.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Hoang’s debut is largely agreed upon to be one of the hottest books in the last 10 years, in multiple ways. Stella, a woman with Aspergers syndrome, who works in STEM, decides to take charge of her sex life. She hires Michael Phan, a handsome escort, to teach her the ropes, but it’s not long before emotions enter the equation. It’s a racy premise and a decidedly sexy book, but it’s also emotionally complex and full of heart.

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

  • You and Me on Vacation

  • 'A gorgeous romance' BETH O'LEARY, The Flatshare
    'Our generation's answer to Nora Ephron' SOPHIE COUSENS, This Time Next Year
    'So warm and funny' PAIGE TOON, The Minute I Saw You
    'A pitch-perfect balance of loveable characters, hilarious wit and steamy sexual chemistry' LAURA JANE WILLIAMS, Our Stop

    *From the bestselling author of Beach Read comes a new sparkling novel sure to leave you with that post-holiday glow, also known as People We Meet On Vacation*

    TWO FRIENDS
    TEN SUMMER TRIPS

    THEIR LAST CHANCE TO FALL IN LOVE

    12 SUMMERS AGO: Poppy and Alex meet. They hate each other, and are pretty confident they'll never speak again.

    11 SUMMERS AGO: They're forced to share a ride home from college and by the end of it a friendship is formed. And a pact: every year, one vacation together.

    10 SUMMERS AGO: Alex discovers his fear of flying on the way to Vancouver.
    Poppy holds his hand the whole way.

    7 SUMMERS AGO: They get far too drunk and narrowly avoid getting matching tattoos in New Orleans.

    2 SUMMERS AGO: It all goes wrong.

    THIS SUMMER: Poppy asks Alex to join her on one last trip. A trip that will determine the rest of their lives.

    You and Me on Vacation is a New York Times bestselling love story for fans of When Harry Met Sally and One Day. Get ready to travel the world, snort with laughter and - most of all - lose your heart to Poppy and Alex.

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT EMILY HENRY

    'The hottest book of the summer - the pages simply sizzle!' JOSIE SILVER

    'Full of banter, heat, and sexual tension. A gorgeous page-turner of a novel' LAURA JANE WILLIAMS

    'Full of sexual tension and tantalizing possibility. I fell head over heels for Alex and Poppy, and loved travelling all over the world with them both' BETH O'LEARY

    'Emily Henry is my newest automatic-buy author . . . a heartfelt, funny, tender escape that you wish could last forever' JODI PICOULT

    'A compulsively readable book full of sparkling wit, dazzling prose and a romance that grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let me go. Absolutely my favourite read of the year, and probably one of my favourite books of all time' ABBY JIMENEZ

    'Funny, and seriously sizzling' BEST

    'Original, sparkling bright and layered with feeling. If whipcrack banter and foggy sexual tension is your catnip, you'll adore this book' SALLY THORNE

    'What an absolute flipping triumph of a novel!!! I LOVED it ' EMMA COOPER

  • Buy the book
  • Beach Read

  • 'The hottest book of the summer' JOSIE SILVER
    'A great love story' JODI PICOULT
    'The perfect escapist romp' LAURA JANE WILLIAMS

    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 2020

    Binge-watched Normal People and Love is Blind and now looking to escape into another suitably steamy love story? Look no further...
    ______________________________

    TWO WRITERS, ONE HOLIDAY. A ROMCOM WAITING TO HAPPEN...

    January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she's the lead in a blockbuster movie.
    Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

    But January and Gus have more in common than you'd think:

    They're both broke.
    They've got crippling writer's block.
    And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

    The result? A bet to swap genres and see who gets published first.
    The risk? In telling each other's stories, their worlds might be changed entirely...

    Set over one sizzling summer, Beach Read is a witty love story that will make you laugh a lot, cry a little and fall head over heels. For fans of The Flat Share and If I Never Met You.
    ______________________________

    WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

    'Reader, I swooned! Beach Read is a breath of fresh air. My heart ached for January, and Gus is to die for - a steamy, smart and perceptive romance. I was engrossed!' Josie Silver

    'Full of banter, heat, and sexual tension, I felt the thrill of falling in love right alongside January and Gus. A gorgeous page-turner of a novel' Laura Jane Williams

    'Funny, and seriously sizzling' Best

    'I absolutely loved this book! This has easily become one of my favourite romance reads. Their tension was phenomenal and the angst so well-done. This read is gorgeous and heart wrenching in the most wonderful way ever' Safa, Netgalley

    'One of the most perfect love stories of the year. Someone has to make this into a film!'Prima

    'Original, sparkling bright and layered with feeling. If whipcrack banter and foggy sexual tension is your catnip, you'll adore this book' Sally Thorne

    'What an absolute flipping triumph of a novel!!! I LOVED it . . . definitely one of my favourite reads of 2020' Emma Cooper

    'I really needed this book. I didn't realize how much I needed it until I was giggling along with all the awkwardness and banter and feeling like I'd been taken away' Emily, Netgalley

    'Touching and heartfelt . . . I closed this book with a satisfied sigh' Jasmine Guillory

    'Clever and funny, this is a tender love story' Woman & Home

  • Buy the book

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