One of the reasons I am a romance advocate is because I believe women (anyone, of course, but especially women) should be able to read whatever they want, without shame or society’s judgment.

I realize there are people out there who have no desire to ever read a romance novel, and I get it. Sometimes the romantic relationship isn’t interesting to people, or the sex in romance novels is too much.

But I do get a little annoyed at the many people who’ve told me they love THE BRIDE TEST or (ugh) FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, but they’ve never read a romance novel.

What exactly do they think they’re reading?

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I’d have a hard time picking a top-ten list of authors, but if I did, it would probably be half traditional romance, and half women’s fiction with high romantic elements.

Sherry Thomas is probably the author I most admire, because she is an absolutely breathtaking writer, and she crosses genres with the ease of an Olympic gymnast flipping through a floor exercise. The woman can write, and tell a story, and tell any story, with beauty, flexibility and aching romanticism. 

Consider. In the past decade she’s written some of the most celebrated romance ever, a YA fantasy trilogy, a contemporary romance, has taken a gender-bending twist on Sherlock Holmes (THE ART OF THEFT, book 4 in her Lady Sherlock series, releases 10/15) and in September will release THE MAGNOLIA SWORD: A Ballad of Mulan, a retelling of the classic Chinese legend. If I haven’t convinced you that she’s the quintessential writer, be sure to read them all. You’ll understand!

Joshilyn Jackson’s writing and storytelling are so lovely, clever and thought-provoking I can’t get enough of them, and only wish she could write about ten times as fast. I know, know, vintage wine and all that, but it’s so hard to wait! I couldn’t even tell you where to start with her books—they’re all wonderful!—but some recent faves were GROWN UP KIND OF PRETTY and THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE. (Another reviewer at) Kirkus has called her “an admired writer who deserves to be a household name,” and I absolutely concur!

Her next book, NEVER HAVE I EVER, releases in late July.

Julia Quinn has an effervescence and wit that makes for a perfect romance novel sigh. Susan Elizabeth Phillips matches characters that you absolutely can’t see together, and wraps them up in grace, forgiveness, respect (and self-respect), in ways you don’t see coming and twists and turns you don’t expect. Kristan Higgins makes us laugh and cry every damn time. Jayne Ann Krentz surprises and intrigues us, whether we’re in another time, on another planet with dust bunnies, or simply trying to capture a serial killer. Julie James ratchets up sexual tension among smart attorneys and FBI agents like nobody’s business. Tiffany Reisz manages to make erotic romance next level—lovely, lush and fascinating.

These are just a few authors worth mentioning. 

Meanwhile, the romance market is changing. More and more, we’re seeing romance novels wrapped up in trade packaging, which I think is really smart. Lately I’m on pages where I’ve seen the women who’ve looked down their noses at romance (while never having read one) rave about novels that have cute covers. Yes, Jasmine Guillory is a great writer and deserves the praise and bestselling status she’s received (and she has two more great titles coming up, so keep an eye out)—but many of the women I’ve seen rave about them would never read those books if they didn’t have a cute modern romance cover.… 

I’m conflicted by this. I’ve often wondered if romance novels would be taken more seriously if they had better covers or less sex. But shouldn’t women who like those books be allowed to read them without going to facebook pages where someone who raves about Helen Hoang or Alexa Martin is sneering at Julia Quinn or Julie James?

I don’t know the answer, but I know that some great writers who were previously distinctly in romance have shifted.

Kristan Higgins’ Blue Heron titles are among my favorite romances ever, but her last few titles are definitely women’s fiction. I highly recommend her upcoming LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES—the Kirkus reviewer called it “funny, heart-wrenching, insightful, and lovely.” I agree—and isn’t she always? (Full review here.)

Fix Her Up I thoroughly enjoyed Tessa Bailey’s The Academy series, and I’m totally looking forward to her first trade-packaged romance, FIX HER UP. The reviewer (review here) says, “Don’t let the cover fool you: This romance is as steamy as it self-empowering.” 

Harper Collins is following up Alisha Rai’s remarkable Forbidden Hearts series (which all romance fans should read!) with THE RIGHT SWIPE - the first in a contemporary series releasing with a cute trade cover. The review (here) summarizes the book: An ex–football player woos an entrepreneur in a high-tech romance that proves respect is the most potent love drug, and says, “Rai addresses heavy issues without sacrificing passionate sensuality or emotional connection. Although Rhiannon seems more guarded, Samson is just as fearful of vulnerability, and their path to lasting love is a slow but satisfying one.”

Finally, Berkley is taking the trade route into historical romance with Evie Dunmore’s September release, BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE, which not only has an amazing cover, but also is getting incredible industry buzz. (It comes out on my birthday, so I’ll definitely get my hands on that one!)

Gimme Some Sugar Meanwhile, I continued my obsession with Molly Harper’s Southern Eclectic series with GIMME SOME SUGAR:

Lucy Brewer would never have guessed that her best friend, Duffy McCready (of McCready’s Bait Shop & Funeral Home) has been in love with her since they were kids. Fear of rejection and his own romantic complications prevented Duffy from confessing his true feelings in high school, so he stood by and watched her wed Wayne Bowman right after graduation. Wayne had always been a cheapskate, so it comes as no surprise when he suffers a fatal accident while fixing his own truck.

Even as her family and friends invade Lucy’s life and insist that the new widow is too fragile to do much beyond weeping, Lucy is ashamed to admit that life without Wayne is easier, less complicated. After all, no one knew what a relentless, soul-grinding trudge marriage to Wayne had been. Only Duffy can tell she’s hiding something.

In need of a fresh start, Lucy asks Duffy to put his cabinet-building skills to use, transforming the town's meat shop into a bake shop. As the bakery takes shape, Lucy and Duffy discover the spark that pulled them together so many years ago. Could this finally be the second chance he’s always hoped for?

I love, love, love this series and every single line sparkles with deep-fried humor and Southern attitude. If you have discovered it yet, it’s a gift waiting for you. I’ve experienced them in audio, with Amanda Ronconi narrating, and oh my does she just hit the perfect pitch for these amazing books!

And yes, they’re trade covers, too.

So what are you reading, and are you a strict romance reader or do you blend all genres? (I find many romance readers are more eclectic than they’re given credit for.)

#HappyReading #SummerOfBookLove