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17 Must-Read Romance Novels for Aspiring Authors

It's a tale as old as time—Two lovers meet and sparks fly. They face seemingly insurmountable odds, yet find a way to be together despite them. Outside forces seek to tear them apart but they find a way to live happily ever after.

From Jane Austen to modern retellings of Jane Austen, the romance genre has encountered many changes but the formula of the story—in many cases—remains the same. With this in mind, we've compiled a list of 17 must-read romance novels, both newly published in 2019 and works of the classic romance canon, for aspiring authors of the genre.

Aspiring authors in the romance genre should read the classics, along with newly-published novels to see what publishers are accepting
Aspiring authors in the romance genre should read the classics, along with newly-published novels to see what publishers are accepting. Photo by nic on Unsplash

Newly Published

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera (March 26, 2019)

American Dreamer tells of the unlikely romance between two men from different worlds. Nesto Vasquez is a workaholic Dominican American who decides to move Afro-Caribbean food truck from New York City to upstate New York—a move that forces him to return to a day job he hates. Jude Fuller is a quiet librarian who enjoys the safe life he has built on the shores of Cayuga Lake, but knows a loneliness that even his amazing friends can't completely cure. That, in addition to being ostracized by his family after coming out make it hard for him to let down his guard. When he tries Ithaca's most-talked-about new lunch spot, he meets Nesto. Can the two find the happily ever after they've both dreamt of, but never found before?

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms (May 1, 2019)

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler begins with a predictable scenario that's far too common in real life (and in chick lit). Having been abandoned by her husband, who left her for a younger woman and moved far away, the overworked, stressed out single mother of two teenagers gets a needed break from the same man who broke her heart—the chance to reinvent herself and spend some quality time alone in New York City.

With shopping sprees followed by nights out on the town with friends and a few blind dates, Amy meets a man who melts her heart. However, she knows she must return to her former life in rural Pennsylvania, and to her kids who she loves dearly, leaving her newly discovered self behind in the city. Or does she?

One reviewer writes:

Amy's journey was poignant, touching, and at times, hilarious! …There is a seriousness to this book, too, as Amy struggles with guilt and angst over her kids, and somehow trying to do the right thing for everyone, at the same time realizing how much she likes this new Amy that she discovers in NYC. As a certified bookworm, I loved that a lot of the book was devoted to books; the love of books, and getting kids to love books, and I loved that they used the word "unputdownable" to describe a book, because that's exactly what this book was—unputdownable!

Susan Peterson, Amazon reviewer

For any woman who has tried to put the pieces back together after feeling the sting of lost love and abandonment, Amy's story is the exact type of book that makes for an excellent escape from the ordinary—for the protagonist and reader alike.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (May 7, 2019)

A theme that seems to be running through many of 2019's newly published romance novels is diversity, and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors manages it beautifully. Written by award-winning author Sonali Dev, this novel begins the story of the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family—once descended from royalty, but now building their lives as Americans in San Francisco.

The protagonist is Dr. Trisha Raje, an acclaimed neurosurgeon, who also happens to be the black sheep of her influential immigrant family. She's always been taught to never trust an outsider, never do anything to jeopardize her brother's political aspirations, and to never, EVER defy her family—rules that she's broken before.

Enter chef DJ Caine, a man who has known judgement from the "upper class" and whose pedigree is far from prestigious. It's a clash of cultures and classes, but something in DJ's desserts make Trisha forget about those insignificant hurdles.

This story is a gender-swapping, intercultural retelling that will impress any aspiring author seeking ways to retell old love stories with a modern spin. After all, if love doesn't break boundaries and pull the carpet from beneath stubborn tradition, what good is it?

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (May 7, 2019)

True love knows no boundaries and Helen Hoang, USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient, knows how to tell a story to prove that point. The Bride Test is about love that crosses international borders and obstacles of disability, showing that there is always someone out there that's perfect for you, even when you see imperfections in yourself.

The Bride Test is the story of Khai Diep, who feels defective because he has Autism, and avoids relationships for that exact reason. When he meets a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, he realizes that there is someone else who feels out of place in a world that seems to work against her. Her name is Esme Tran and she hopes to seduce Khai in order to move to the United States and be his bride—a challenge she isn't quite prepared for, as she learns what it means to love someone who processes emotion differently.

For anyone who considers themselves to be broken and unlovable, this endearing story will reassure you of how love with the right person will make you a better version of yourself.

Rebel (Women Who Dare) by Beverly Jenkins (May 28, 2019)

If you're a fan of historical romance, be sure to read Beverly Jenkins' new novel portrayal of the turbulent and violent atmosphere of Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Jenkins has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature and has been playing a significant role in bringing a multicultural cast of characters to a genre that hasn't always showed such diversity.

Rebel is the first novel in the Women Who Dare series and it follows the life of a Northern woman, Valinda Lacy, living in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. As Valinda works to help build her newly emancipated community, she becomes the target for thugs set on refusing to allow change.

Enter Captain Drake LeVeq, an architect from an old New Orleans family who was raised by strong women. Their passion makes an already heated city burn hotter and begins a series sure to appeal to readers of the subgenre.

Prince of Killers: A Fog City Novel by Layla Reyne (June 10, 2019)

As book one in a new romantic suspense series written by Layla Reyne, Prince of Killers tells the story of Hawes Madigan, the soon-to-be king of an organization of assassins that goes by three rules: No indiscriminate killing, no collateral damage, and no unvetted targets.

When the devilishly handsome, confident private investigator Dante Perry enters his life with the news that someone within his own organization is out to kill him, chaos ensues. Hawes falls for Dante hard and depends on him for protection, but he's also harboring a secret that could get him killed for telling. It's romantic intrigue full of sweetness and passion, against a backdrop of betrayal that you won't see coming.

Fix Her Up: A Novel by Tessa Bailey (June 11, 2019)

What happens when the town clown decides it's time to focus on herself and her life and finally get a date? Fix Her Up happens, and its's for anyone who has ever been treated like the "kid sister" of far too many potential lovers.

It's the story of Georgette (Georgie) Castle, whose family runs the most well-respected home renovation business in town, but she's just not interested in continuing the family tradition. She'd rather make people laugh but she knows that if she's going to ever have a decent love life, she needs to do some self-renovation of her own.

Enter the town's favorite sports star and tabloid favorite, Travis Ford, an ex-major league baseball rookie who now flips houses for a living due to an injury that ended his sports career. Georgie is his best friend's sister who tells him she wants to pretend to date, to shock her family, and help him land a new job. What could possibly go wrong?

This romantic comedy is full of hilarity, steamy passion, and a blueprint for aspiring rom-com authors who want just the right mix of love and laughter.

One reviewer writes:

This book had it all - definitely the sizzling romance between Georgie and Travis, but also a sense of finding and believing in yourself, messy family dynamics and a great girls club to bond over. Thank you, Tessa Bailey for writing an amazing book and for giving me a new author to binge read.

Readaholic19, Amazon reviewer

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez (June 11, 2019)

Lauded as one of the Good Housekeeping Best New Books for Summer 2019 The Friend Zone is as hilarious as it is a tear jerker, and a story that discusses the realities of infertility with a lot of heart.

Kristen Peterson will undergo a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children. When she meets Josh Copeland, the best man at her best friend's wedding, she knows she's met her perfect match—a man who doesn't get offended at her sarcasm and who even her dog seems to adore. However, there's one catch. Josh wants a family—a large one in fact—and it's the one thing Kristen can't give him.

This debut novel from Food Network champion Abby Jimenez deftly explores the realities of infertility and takes readers on a heartfelt journey into the laughter and tears surrounding the topic. For aspiring writers who want to tackle difficult topics with a fresh, modern perspective, it's a great example to follow.

One reviewer writes, Abby Jimenez has mad writing chops for reducing me into an utter pile of useless feels rooting for each and every character. I loved every single moment Kristen and Josh were in the pages.

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics: Feminine Pursuits (July 23, 2019)

Regency romance has its own decisive place within the romance canon, but The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics shows a side that's rarely observed although desperately needed in an attempt to revive a popular, yet stifled, subgenre. One Amazon reviewer writes, This was poetic and lovely, full of beautiful descriptions that knew exactly how to leave you breathless and then stop just before tipping into tedious. That it also was about two women who loved each other and strived to make a place for themselves in male-centric Regency England made it all the better.

The love story follows the lives of the widowed Catherine St Day, Countess of Moth, and Lucy Muchelney, a translator looking for a fresh start after suffering through her ex-lover's sham of a wedding. In the process of translating a groundbreaking French astronomy text, written by the Countess' late husband, Lucy finds a challenge in the work, as well as attempting to avoid the allure of her employer. It's a tale of star-crossed lovers that is as old as the trope itself, and sure to inspire any aspiring romance novelist who doesn't care to stay within confined boundaries.

A tale of star-crossed lovers is a romance trope that still stands the test of time.
A tale of star-crossed lovers is a romance trope that still stands the test of time. Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.

The Classics

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

No true romance list would be complete without the epitome of a star-crossed love affair in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

This classic tale of love is set in the middle of violence and generational conflict, as two young people fall in love despite their parents' status as sworn enemies. The Montagues and the Capulets maintain a blood feud while their children, Juliet and Romeo, attempt to leave the bloodshed behind and bask in the love they have found in each other. Their plan almost works, but fate has another plan.

In a time when most romance requires a feel-good ending, Romeo and Juliet remains the perfect tragic love story and should be read by anyone hoping to publish a bestselling romance novel. It's still the standard by which all great love stories are set and alluded to often in modern-day storytelling because of its solid place in the genre.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

As a Pulitzer Prize winner and nominated as one of America's best-loved novels by PBS's The Great American Read, Gone with the Wind is an epic love story that follows the lives of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler—two of the most famous lovers ever imagined since Romeo and Juliet. With haunting scenes from the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Gone with the Wind is a timeless story of survival and family drama caught in the whirlwind of a war that would forever change them and the landscape they call home.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

If you like your romance on the dark side, Wuthering Heights might just be the classic for you. It is the story of the tragic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan adopted by Catherine's father. When Heathcliff wrongly assumes that Catherine doesn't return his love, he leaves their home doesn't return until years later. By this time, Catherine has married the wealthy Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff has married Edgar's sister to inherit her money.

As you can imagine, the story doesn't end well. It's a story of unrequited love and the tragedy that ensues when two lovers who are destined to be together cannot do so.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Set in rural England in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice is a classic story about the differences between marrying for love and marrying for money. While her sisters are quite content to be wed to a man with means, Elizabeth Bennet, the headstrong one, insists on marrying for love instead.

Written as a "novel of manners," Pride and Prejudice is among the most well-known in the regency romance subgenre, as well as one of the most-read books in the English canon, having sold over 20 million copies. Beyond its significance as a classic, it contains enough comedy, irony, and endearing characters to keep any romance enthusiast turning pages.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

As an epic love story that spans generations, The Thorn Birds is a passionate love story set on Drogheda, a sheep station in the Australian Outback. It tells of the tragic romance of Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph de Bricassart. a Roman Catholic priest who has known her since she was young. Following one idyllic weekend, their love is consummated and the result is enough to turn their worlds upside down.

To understand this love story, one must only look at the title. It refers to the legend of a bird that sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other, but only at the cost of great pain.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

In writing this article, it becomes clear that many of the classic love stories involved tragedy and ill-fated love. Anna Karenina is one such story.

It is a tale the unhappily married Anna Karenina, her refusal to accept her fate in a loveless marriage, and her tragic and passionate affair with Count Vronsky. While much of the novel deals with the scandal they create in social circles, other themes addressed are betrayal, faith, family, marriage, Imperial Russian society, desire, and rural vs. city life. Any romance novelist seeking to explore these same themes should return to this masterpiece to understand how the book became such a worldwide classic.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

First published in Italy in 1957, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life of a poet/physician during the Russian Revolution. Despite the embarrassment it caused the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it won the author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

While the novel focuses on themes of loneliness and disillusionment with revolutionary ideas, as Pasternak's alter ego, the protagonist's life is interrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. It contains beautiful, romantic poetry and focuses on a love story that is swept up in political and social changes that threaten its fate. As an example of the beauty and romanticism throughout, here is part of a poem in the novel:

Take your palm off of my breast,
We are high-tension wires,
Watch out, or by accident we may be
Thrown together again.

Years will pass, you will get married,
And forget all this disorder.
To be a woman is a giant step,
To drive men mad - heroic.

While at the miracle of a woman's arms,
Shoulders, and back, and neck,
I've stood in reverence all my life
Like a devoted servant.

But howsoever night may bind me
With its anguished coil,
Strongest of all is the pull away,
The passion for a clean break.

Excerpt from "A Final Talk"

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is a classic gothic romance set in Northern England. Jane, the protagonist, accepts a position at Thornfield manor, where she teaches a young French girl named Adèle. The girl's father, and Jane's employer, is a dark, brooding man named Rochester, with whom Jane falls in love.

However, there are secrets at Thornfield manor that Jane could not anticipate, and when she's thrust into the middle of them, it's a struggle that costs much for the love of her life. For anyone who enjoys gothic tales of family secrets and ghostly apparitions, Jane Eyre is a classic that doles out much of it.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

While more recently published than the other classics in romance I've listed, The Notebook holds its own against the rest. Set in post-World War II North Carolina, it tells the story of socialite Allie Nelson and the man who lost her a decade earlier, Noah Calhoun. Although Nelson is getting ready to marry her wealthy fiancé, she can't forget the boy from long ago who captured her heart and wouldn't let it go.

For any aspiring romance novelist who wants to weave a tale of heartbreak and finding one's true soulmate, while telling a story that spans decades and shows love that just won't quit, The Notebook is one you shouldn't miss.

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