If you haven’t read much romance and want to ease your way into the genre it can be intimidating. There are literally millions of options in every possible genre you can imagine and some you may not know exist.
Historical romance, paranormal romance, Young Adult romance, contemporary romance, western, fantasy, mystery, Sci-Fi romance, time travel, shape-shifting, erotica. How do you know where to start?
Which author out of the hundreds claiming “Best Seller” status are actually worth a try? And how do you avoid the total bombs that make you want to take an eraser to your brain?
One good way to begin is with the top authors from the genre and explore their works to see which sounds worth a shot.
*Like any other type of reading, romance is subjective.* One person’s favorite author is an author someone else can’t stand. I’ve done my best with this list to find ten authors who are generally agreed to be the top choices by reader votes from many different websites. Happy reading!
1. Nora Roberts
(Contemporary, some Historical, Mystery as J.D. Robb)
Roberts is the acknowledged Queen of Romance. Her characterization is flawless, her dialogue snappy, her settings vivid, and she’s famous for her series based around different families. Her best have loving, involved, quirky families that you can’t stop reading about.
The romances are hot, but she keeps it tasteful and never describes with too much detail. She’s an excellent starting place for any reader who wants to fall in love with the genre. With over 200 books in print (that’s not counting her J.D. Robb In Death series) there’s plenty to chose from, but here are four ideas for you.
2. Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh is a Duchess of Regency romance along with Georgette Heyer (Heyer wrote Regency decades before Balogh, in the 1920s).
She’s a sneaky author. At first the books seem to be moving slowly and you wonder why you’re still reading. All of a sudden you’re laughing while you read the main characters exchanging some witty banter and then somehow you can’t put the book down.
Regency is a super popular period to set romance in, exclusively in England from 1810-ish to 1820. Her romance is always sweet, never explicit, although she does work sex in more than you’d expect for the 1820s. If you can’t get enough of Jane Austen period dresses, balls, manners and dialogue then Mary Balogh and Regency romance is for you.
3. Julia Quinn
Another Regency author, her fans can’t rave enough about her characterization. No simpering, gullible, weak characters, every single Quinn heroine is smart and self-assured.
Sneaking in the feminism level=boss. Her heroes are complicated, kind men who aren’t cut out of the Alpha cookie cutter mold other authors use. Readers also enthuse about her fast-paced plots (all this without explosions or ninjas or super secret spies) and the natural way she infuses her books with humor.
Heat level = spicy. If you like Jane Austen period conventions with a more modern, fast-moving story this author is for you.
4. Lisa Kleypas
(most well-known for Historical, she’s branched out into Contemporary)
Readers love this author for her highly charged emotion and her ability to draw you in with her writing. Her loves scenes are fairly explicit, just to warn you, but she doesn’t fall into clichés.
She’s also all about the strong, passionate heroines. She can write a tortured hero like nobody’s business and if you like redeemed rakes then this is the author for you.
5. Bella Forrest
Finding a top author who doesn’t come from the super popular historical or contemporary camp is difficult. Bella Forrest rises to the challenge with her fantastical settings and driving tension.
Her books contain more angst than some other authors on this list, and lean towards a more young adult audience. There’s starting to be quite a bit of crossover between YA and romance lately (and by crossover I mean “99% of YA books contain a romance and 80% of those contain the dreaded love triangle plot”).
Heat level=warm to hot. If you lean more towards YA and want your romance somewhat blood-spattered Forrest is the author for you.
6. Carolyn Brown
(Women’s Fiction, Historical & Contemporary)
Brown writes cowboys. She’s made her name with her Texas cowboy stories and they span all eras of history. Readers love her rich descriptions and strong, complex relationships.
Heat level for this author is spicy, be warned. Hard-working heroes, fiery heroines and a quirky sense of humor make this author a fun read if you love Westerns.
7. Julie Garwood
(Historical, Regency, Contemporary/Romantic Suspense)
Best known for her historical novels, readers rave about Garwood’s settings and humorous dialogue. And she manages this while setting her books far back in history. So far back they’re considered medieval.
Heat level-medium to hot without being too explicit. If you’re into the Highlands, Scottish Lairds, and arranged marriages to antagonistic English brides this author is for you.
8. Jude Deveraux
Considered a “classic” romance author (she started writing in the 1980s) readers love Deveraux’s complicated characters and again, the dialogue. It seems to be a theme that if you write the great dialogue their hearts and minds will follow!
A word of warning, the 1980s was a period of sometimes over-the-top explicit sex scenes in romance so go into her books with that caution.
9. J.S. Scott
(Contemporary, Paranormal, Erotic)
Without apology, Scott writes super steamy romances and guess what, sex sells. She’s on the list because her readers defend her fiercely and insist that her writing is about more than just bedroom scenes.
They love her redemption stories and the intense emotion she infuses her relationships with. She’s also one of the authors who have ushered in the recent trend of billionaire romances (along with, yes, E.L. James).
If you like lush settings, private jet dates to Paris and straight-up sex with no vague wording this author, and possibly a cold shower, are for you.
10. Melissa Brayden
A relatively new niche in mainstream publishing, LGBT romance is growing and changing every year as more authors are added and the established ones up their game. It’s difficult to pick a “best” author in this kind of shifting territory.
Brayden has lasted more than six years in this pressure environment and continues to write, just getting better. She writes lesbian romances and her readers love her sweet (not syrupy) love stories, smart dialogue and richly detailed settings.
A lot of her books have to do with the theater/dancing, so if you like sweet F/F love stories and the theater this author is for you.