Jul 11, 2012

The Ultimate Romance Reading List

by Michelle Douglas

I have a degree in English Literature. I also have a Master of Philosophy (English). I’ve studied Renaissance Drama, Romance and Realism in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Romantic Poets, Modernism and Colonial Fiction. I’ve read Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Proust, Joyce and Hemingway. Occasionally even the odd female has made the reading lists and I’d study them too – Austen, the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolfe.

But it recently occurred to me that although I have been an avid reader of romance novels since I was a teenager, there are some serious holes in my romance reading education. For example, I have never read anything by Laura Kinsale or Loretta Chase (or Jayne Ann Krentz or Linda Howard or Stephanie Laurens or…oh, there are so many!). And it’s started me thinking…

If I were ever going to teach an academic course on “Reading The Romance” what novels would I chose as my set texts? What romance novels do I think best capture the spirit of romance? Which novels do I think display all the best that the romance genre has to offer? This is what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (though any of her novels would suit)

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I’d choose these because they became the pattern for so many romances that followed. Plus I love them.

3. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale
4. Mr Impossible by Loretta Chase
5. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve not read any of these, but I desperately want to. They do seem to be seen as ideal examples of The Romance by a lot of readers (and academics) too.

6. Something (anything!) by Jennifer Crusie – Bet Me, perhaps, or Welcome to Temptation?

I’ve read the first—loved it!—but I’ve yet to read the second. A Jenny Crusie novel is such fun.

7. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (or, frankly, anything by Heyer)

Oh how I love her regency romances – they’re real comfort food for the soul. Her characterisations are impeccable.

8. Something (again anything!) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – Ain’t She Sweet or Match Me If You Can.

In my opinion, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is the mistress of romantic comedy. The two novels I’ve named are the only ones of hers I’ve read so far, but I seriously want to glom her backlist.

I’d like to have 10 books for my reading list, but I’m not sure what else I should add. I expect The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss should make the list, but I’ve tried to read it and just can’t get into it. E.M. Hull’s The Sheik isn’t there, and I’d definitely be interested in reading that. Oops, and there’s no Nora there yet.

So…what do you think I should slot in for my final two places? Are there books you’d remove from my list? Hmm…and should I make this a list of 12?


  1. Oh, gosh, I came to see what I should be reading... but no one's left any other suggestions yet :(

    I have enough reading to do to get through your long list, Michelle!

    Good luck compiling it. I hope everyone smothers you with suggestions soon.


  2. LOL, Cath, the compiling of such a list is no easy matter. It can mean much pondering, crossing out and the consideration of possible additions. I suspect there are a few LoveCats out there currently mulling over their own choices, wanting to be sure before they put them forward. :-)

    If you read any of my suggestions, I hope you enjoy them!

  3. We had a discussion at the Auckland meeting of NZ Romance Writers around this in June. As well as Bet Me and Cross-Stitch, some of the other books I wrote down that I needed to read in my own education of the genre were Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens; The Bride by Julie Garwood; Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer; It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

  4. Hi Jo,

    You certainly have some excellent suggestions there! Devil's Cub is fab, and I'm applauding the SEPPIE suggestion. Hmm...yes, I really need to read Stephanie Laurens, and I'm adding Julie Garwood to the list as I've yet to read her too.

    You've reminded me that another author I want to read is Eva Ibottson. I've heard The Countess Below Stairs is brilliant. Must add that to my list too.

  5. Hi Michelle,

    I love the idea of a romance reading list. What a treat - even for people who've already read lots of romance. hmm, I see quite a few of the books I'd automatically suggest you add to the must read list.

    However I can see a glaring gap. What about the category romances? Category romances are a huge and, I'd say, vital part of romance. It's the way many of us got hooked on romance and the way millions still enjoy there romance once hooked! I actually think you need more than 2 spots to cover category romance properly. How could you not include Susan Napier or Liz Fielding or Marion Lennox or Lynne Graham or, going back a little, throw in a Violet Winspear for instance? There are so many wonderful category stories I'm afraid that if I start to name some I won't stop.

  6. Hi Michelle

    I love your list. And i definitely agree with you on including Jennifer Cruise's works. I have read her entire works and its brilliant. It contains the right mix of humor, romance and sass.

    I agree with Annie West that category romance should also be included but there so many great authors, that i wouldn't know whose works to recommend

  7. I'm with Annie, Michelle, how wonderful it would be to have a romance reading list and all in the name of study! But to stop at two authors to add to your list... now that's going to be tough!

    There's Nora Roberts! You'd have to have one of Nora's books... or perhaps one of her series? The MacKade Brothers? Or the MacGregors?

    And how about Australia's Queen of Romance, Emma Darcy? She started the EDA to foster DownUnder romance writers.

    And from a historical point of view, what about Ida Cook who wrote as Mary Burchell and worked to save Jewish refugees during the WW2.

  8. Annie, you must've been reading my mind re: category romances. If one was to ever run an academic course, it would have to include at least one week of category...and this week I'd choose 2 from the Rita list -- Sarah Morgan's Doukakis's Apprentice and Barbara Hannay's Rancher Twins: Mom Needed (nothing like a Sexy and Sweet for comparison.

    But honestly, how can one do justice to category romance in just one week. It would have to become a course all on it's own:
    Susan Napier -- Secret Admirer
    Liz Fielding -- The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella
    Marion Lennox -- Christmas With Her Boss
    Lynne Graham -- An Arabian Marriage
    Violet Winspear -- Darling Infidel
    Annie West -- The Billionaire's Bought Mistress :-)

  9. Hi Sonali,

    The category romance question is hard, isn't it? There are just so many fabulous category romances to choose from.

    Ooh, you're a Jenny Crusie fan (I've just finished Agnes and the Hitman), so now I'm wondering which one is your favourite.

  10. Sharon, I agree -- Nora is such a phenomenon that she would have to make the reading list. And I definitely like the sound of a series. :-)

    Emma Darcy would absolutely make my category romance course. It'd be interesting to do an early work and then a later one, methinks.

    Ida Cook is an interesting choice. I wonder how hard it would be to get hold of copies of her books? Yep, in my (admittedly imaginary) category romance reading course I could structure it historically, in which case Mary Burchell would definitely get a look in.

    Excellent suggestions, Sharon!

  11. Hi Michelle

    What a great list! I came very late to romance, so I've got a huge amount of catching up to do! I'm scribbling down all the names you have up there. I see a large amazon/kindle bill in my future!

    I adore Jenny Crusie- not sure which is my favorite- Bet Me? Charlie All Night? Trust Me on This?

    As for category- where to begin? there are just so many fabulous authors out there! LOL! Lots of fun choosing!

  12. Louisa, I predict you'll have much fun catching up!

    Ah, another Jenny Crusie fan. I recently finished Charlie All Night. It was just soooo much fun, but I haven't read Trust Me on This yet. I'm really looking forward to reading Welcome To Temptation when I get the time.

    I have to say, this kind of list making is lots of fun!

  13. You mentioned the Bronte Sisters, so am thinking Wuthering Heights is a must. To think of that scene - where Heathcliffe holds a dead Cathy and growls when the poor husband comes in - still gives me goosies!
    I've been informed by my daughter that SEP is the absolute best ever!!! She adores Nora too (like the rest of the world).
    Just received a copy of Jennifer Cruisie's Maybe This Time, via Brenda Novak's auction. Cruise *and* ghosts...can't wait!

  14. Ooh, I'm going to be controversial, Robbie, and say that I don't consider Wuthering Heights a romance -- romantic, yes, but a romance, no. I think Cathy a narcissist and Heathcliff unhealthily obsessed. That said, there are some of the most beautiful passages in the book.

    Ooh, Maybe This Time sounds excellent! You must let us know what you think of it.

    P.S. Your daughter has excellent taste. :-)

  15. Such fun! I think you have most of my must-reads - the Crusies, the SEPpies (though I'd vote for Natural Born Charmer or Call Me Irresistible over the others), Jane Austens, Mr Impossible, etc. I agree with Sharon about Nora Roberts, but I'd vote for the Three Sisters Island trilogy. I'm also quite fond of Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor trilogy and Julia Quinn's When He Was Wicked. I could probably go on for hours!

  16. Ah, the SEPpies -- I'm so happy there are so many to chose from. And it was very polite of you to not point out that I made a mistake above -- because I know you know that it's Natural Born Charmer I've read and not Match Me If You Can. :-) (Oops, a slip of the fingers)

    Jill Shalvis and Julia Quinn, huh? Okay am jotting the names down and will go and investigate. Thanks for the suggestions!

  17. Michelle, I just dropped in again to read more of the discussion and I'm absolutely thrilled you have one of my books on your list. Rafe and Antonia would be chuffed too!