There's a Romance Novel for Every First-Time Reader

This genre is so much more than damsels in distress and Fabio.
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Annette Christie
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This genre is so much more than damsels in distress and Fabio.

A lifetime ago, I was dealing with a pretty arduous commute. To battle daily road rage, I started signing out audio books from the library. For fun, I picked them at random, sometimes not even reading the book blurb before popping the disc in my car.

One day, I mistakenly borrowed a romance novel.

I had always avoided that section of the book store, scoffing at the man-nipples and the bodices that practically heaved as though they were paintings at Hogwarts. Romances were trashy, I believed, only written for the desperate and the lonely — people who weren't familiar with Margaret Atwood and Dostoevsky.

Despite my reservations, I listened to that audio book and found myself laughing and sighing throughout. I looked forward to my commute more than ever as I fell in love with the characters and the story.

My addiction to audio books, those free-from-the-library treasures that made my drive to and from work enjoyable, unlocked my love for romance novels, hooking me on the whole genre.

At first I read them quietly, never daring to take one on a plane or recommend one to a friend for fear of judgment. Then I realized how many great characters live in the genre, how the community is bursting with witty writers, and how the plots work through so many universal frustrations and fears. A good romance novel is like the best movie Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks never made, with extra steam.

For me, reading is about getting lost in a new world and becoming emotionally entangled in the fictional lives of layered characters. The romance genre has granted me hours upon hours of joy and dizzying heat, maybe even a few tears.

If you aren't reading romance, it's time to start. There is so much more to the genre than damsels in distress and Fabio. We can and should wave our paperbacks proudly. If you're still cautious about openly reading a romance, however, never fear: e-readers have made purchasing and reading with abandon easier than ever. Onlookers be damned!

But let's get one thing straight: if you really do want to read romance, chuck that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey your college roommate's mom keeps trying to lend you. Take my hand. I will guide you through this glorious grove that will satisfy your head, your heart, and... you know, everywhere south of your heart. The apex of your thighs, if you will (and once I'm done with you, you definitely will).

Putting Fifty Shades of Grey to good use. [IMAGE: IMGUR/PENGUINSAGUINE]

Putting Fifty Shades of Grey to good use. [IMAGE: IMGUR/PENGUINSAGUINE]

Disclaimer: all of these suggestions are of the M/F genre. That isn't to say that great M/M and F/F books don't exist — they're out there. I'm just not as familiar with them.

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If Your Type is: A beefy football player with a wry sense of humor and plenty of brains under his perfect head of hair

Then You Should Read: Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Deal: This was my first favorite romance novel and the audio book I mistakenly checked out so many years ago. After listening to it (three times) and reading it (more than three times), I fell down the SEP rabbit hole, devouring pretty much everything she's written. I would recommend the majority of Susan Elizabeth Philips' books, most of which are filled with witty banter and lovable characters.

This one starts when a spunky woman in a beaver costume meets an NFL player on a dusty road. It's a hate-to-love story with a handful of glorious little subplots. There's a road trip! House renovations! Quirky secondary characters! And a bowtop caravan! In other words, there's much to adore.

Sweetness Rating: Five of those pink emoji hearts with the hearts within the hearts. Sizzle Rating: Four men in tight football pants.

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If Your Type is: A boxer with a bleeding liberal heart

Then You Should Read: Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

Genre: Historical Romance

The Deal: This book takes place in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in 1961. The female protagonist, Sofie, is a WOC who is sick of being prim and proper. She's ready to speak up and speak out. The male protagonist is a Jewish boxer who has loved Sofie from afar his whole life. We get to watch the lead characters defy their parents and fight injustice as they fall in love. It's heartwarming without being cheesy, deftly handling the heavy setting.

Sweetness Rating: Four love notes written on scented stationary. Sizzle Rating: Two showers with the temperature turned way up.

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If Your Type is: A smart, lusty man who likes to feed you

Then You Should Read: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Deal: Jennifer Crusie is another author who knows how to write banter. She has a penchant for crafting brassy female protagonists who, if you don't relate to them, you definitely want for a best friend. Her characters often scoff at tropes and the idea that happily ever after has to mean marriage and children.

Bet Me is a good place to start in the line-up of Crusie books. It's funny and salacious, starting with a bet and ending with good Italian food and true love.

Sweetness Rating: Four sugar Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Sizzle Rating: Two and a half spicy Italian sausages.

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If Your Type is: A wanderlusty Channing Tatum with loyalty to spare

Then You Should Read: Chasing Crazy by Kelly Siskind

Genre: New Adult Romance

The Deal: This is Kelly Siskind's debut novel, but she's got a trilogy underway. Already I know she's going to be another one of my go-to favorite romance writers. And, hot damn, can she pen a sex scene!

Chasing Crazy has a protagonist who battles drowning in the humiliation of a viral video by hopping on a plane to New Zealand. She finds confidence and, as an added bonus, an incredibly sexy and sweet companion. I couldn't put this one down.

Sweet Romance Rating: Five ballads penned by a singer-songwriter. Steam Rating: Four campfires threatening to burn down the forest.

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If Your Type is: A hot nerd who doesn't know how hot he is

Then You Should Read: Until It's Right by Jamie Howard

Genre: New Adult Romance

The Deal: A wrong number and a new job ignite this lovely story about two people learning to trust and heal from their past. It's an altogether engaging and heart-melting journey of two friends unable to deny the heat between the two of them, only there's a huge misunderstanding swirling around their new relationship. Hot Nerds FTW.

Sweet Romance Rating: Five emails from your crush. Steam Rating: Three NSFW forwards.

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If Your Type is: A brooding Brit with a career on the stage

Then You Should Read: Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Deal: Live theatre and London are two of my great loves, so reading this one was a no-brainer for me. It's a hate-to-love story between two West End actors. The female protagonist is whip smart and delightful. The male is grumpy and handsome. The result? Squishy feelings in my chest.

Sweet Romance Rating: Five long-stemmed roses thrown during curtain call. Steam Rating: Three salacious sonnets.

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If Your Type is: A reclusive, smoldering writer who is also very outdoorsy

Then You Should Read: Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Deal: A tabloid journalist maneuvers her way into getting an interview with a notoriously private best-selling author... who also happens to be her high-school boyfriend. The catch? If she wants the interview she has to go camping with his entire family. For every day she gets through, she can ask one question.

This one is great for those of us who have struggled to balance a career and a love life, a topic which is not glazed over in this book.

Sweet Romance Rating: Four gooey s'mores. Steam Rating: Three gooey s'mores eaten naked.

These seven suggestions should get you beginners started. If you tear through them and need more, I highly recommend checking out smartbitchestrashybooks.com. They have a newsletter you can sign up for that gives you a list of the best deals on the best romance novels every week.

Now, my romance novel newbies, go forth and fall in love (and/or lust) over and over again. Because it's absurd to think that if we aren't reading high-brow literature, we shouldn't be reading at all.