Romance novels have a tendency to be dismissed as "trashy," which makes readers feel like they need to hide the fact that they read them or otherwise feel embarrassed that they enjoy reading them. The romance genre, however, as well as the kinds of books that readers think of as romance novels, has changed a lot over the years. It's no longer all books with covers of shirtless men, women with ripped bodices or explicit sex scenes (though, of course, those books still exist). There are some "trashy" romance novels with a cult-following that are actually brilliant so you can read for the romance as well as for the character and plot development.
The definition of a romance novel has changed. While some still write off the entire genre as trashy and not worth reading, some of those so-called "trashy" books are, in fact, worth reading, even if romance isn't normally your thing. Plus, it's hard to deny the fact that people are, in fact, reading lots and lots of romance novels. According to the BBC, romance novels outsell science fiction, mystery, and literary books. The genre is so successful that, as the BBC article mentioned, there's now a romance-only bookstore in Los Angeles called The Ripped Bodice. Whether you're new to the genre entirely, or are a seasoned romance reader looking for things you may have overlooked, there are plenty of books that fall under the romance umbrella that are worth a read.
1. Valley Of The Dolls
Valley of the Dolls certainly isn't a new book, nor is it a romance novel, at least, not in the traditional sense. That being said, it's more than worth a read. According to Jezebel, it's as much of a must-read now as it was in 1966. No trashy romance novel collection is complete without it.
2. Everything I Left Unsaid
Both Everything I Left Unsaid and its sequel, The Truth About Him, made Prevention's list of must-read romance novels. Sarah Wendell, co-founder of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, told Prevention, "Both of these novels are emotional, powerful, and very sexy." Each revolve around heroine Annie McKay who answers a cell phone that isn't hers that leads to quite a bit of excitement and adventure courtesy of the male voice on the other end.
3. The Other Side Of Midnight
The Other Side of Midnight got an A when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books reviewed it back in 2015. The story is about a psychic named Ellie Winters in World War I-era England. In this romance novel, the romance isn't necessarily front and center, so it might be a good one to jump in with if you're not usually a romance reader.
4. Act Like It
This book is about two London stage actors who have to pretend to be together in real life to help promote their play, which isn't doing so well. They don't like this idea because, well, they don't really get along all that well. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this one an A-.
5. A Rogue By Any Other Name
This book won the 2013 RITA award for Best Historical. It's about a young woman, Lady Penelope, who was previously engaged and then the engagement was broken off, who marries the Marquess of Bourne so that he can regain his inheritance (he's kind of a troublemaker). Marriages of convenience can get complicated. Readers at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this an A.
6. In The Distance There Is Light
This book is the story of Sophie, whose boyfriend dies, leaving her understandably devastated. She ends up connecting with and feeling drawn to her boyfriend's stepmother, who'd lost her own husband to cancer. It's the story of a lesbian romance that's also very much about grief. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books reader Tara Scott gave it a "Squee," which is the website's highest-possible rating.
7. An Extraordinary Union
This story is about a romance between a Union spy, Malcolm McCall, and Elle Burns, a fellow spy that's living in a Confederate household. If you like historical fiction — and especially historical romances — chances are, you'll like this book. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this Civil War romance an A-.
8. Unforgivable Love: A Retelling Of Dangerous Liaisons
You might not have known that you needed yet another retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, but you do. This retelling, set in Harlem in the 1940s, tells the story of Mae Malveaux and Valiant Jackson. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this retelling an A — and cast Hamilton stars Leslie Odom Jr. and Renee Elise Goldsberry as the two main characters in their make-believe movie adaptation.
9. The Duchess Deal: Girl Meets Duke
This book is about another marriage of convenience. Emma, kicked out of her family home by her father for having premarital sex, accepts a marriage proposal from the Duke of Ashbury, whose fiancée breaks off their engagement after seeing his war injuries and who knows that he still needs an heir. There are rules to their relationship, but, of course, things get complicated. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this historical romance an A, which means it just might be worth picking up.
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