Romance Novel Guide
BYT at large | Feb 13, 2017 | 1:00PM |

Words by Trisha Brown, Kaylee Dugan

According to every CVS, website, and restaurant in D.C., this is the most romantic time of the year. From the aphrodisiac centered meals and chocolate specials to the weird sales on pink and red and heart stamped clothing, every industry is getting in on the mayhem. But why go out and spend all your hard earned cash on oysters when you can cuddle up at home with a cheap ass Kindle book? Between small town romances and erotic romps, here’s a thoughtful (yet not super overwhelming) list of romantic novels worth your time (and much cheaper than a multi course meal).

Where everyone has known each other forever and the romance is often precipitated by the arrival of an outsider or the return of someone from the past. Also, these small towns are usually pretty full of white people.

When Love Happens

The story: Tori and Sean met, fell quickly in love, and got married after five weeks. But the day after they married, her brother committed suicide and things ended up in a tailspin. Now they’re estranged, but the only way for Sean to keep his job is to convince Tori and her family to star in a revival of their 15-year-old reality series. And as we all know, nothing can save a marriage like reality TV. Besides, Sean really needs to keep his job because he supports his adorable English parents and has to pay for his father’s hip surgery (a minor storyline that becomes a weirdly specific commentary on the English medical system).

How’s the sex? In terms of frequency and graphic detail, the sex in When Love Happens is middle of the road. Burke uses the fairly common approach of building up to the sex scene, spending a chapter or so detailing it, and then just alluding to the sex for the rest of the book. It’s an approach that works out here because by the time Tori and Sean are finally getting it on in a cabin on snowy Mt. Hood, readers are so wrapped up in the career and family drama that we don’t care so much about who puts his/her mouth/hands where the second time around. Buy it here.

Virgin River

The story: Mel moves from LA after answering an ad to work in a clinic in Virgin River, CA because, after probably reading lots of romance novels, she has determined it’s the best way to handle her grief following the murder of her perfect doctor husband. Upon arriving in Virgin River, she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake – it’s dark (at night), it’s raining (in northern California) and there are birds living in the oven of the cabin she was promised for lodging (which admittedly is gross). She’s determined to turn right around and head back to LA (becoming the first person in history to ever think things will be better in LA). But just as she’s about to leave, she finds an abandoned newborn baby who needs her care. And also… there’s Jack. Jack, the retired-after-20-years Marine who built, owns, and runs the local bar/serves as caretaker of the town. Jack, the charming man’s man who is an expert in both shooting guns and holding babies (but not at the same time). Jack, who struggles with post-traumatic stress but still washes his clothes with fabric softener. Oh, and he can fish. There’s kind of a lot of fishing.

How’s the sex? Worshipful. No, really. Mel is still grieving and Jack is impossibly patient (perfect, remember?), so by the time they consummate the relationship (they seem like the kinds of people who would use the word “consummate”), they’re in love and full of tender emotion. Also, as a fun bonus, since this is a romance novel, Jack in no way performs like a guy who’s been waiting months to have sex. Buy it here.

Hot In Hellcat Canyon

The story: J.T. is in Hellcat Canyon to do some scouting for the television project that’s going to resurrect his acting career (a prestige series on AMC about the gold rush, since I know you were wondering). But while in the area, he gets distracted by his broken down truck and the pretty, clever, quirky Britt. Sure, as a handsome and talented movie star, he could be pursuing more beautiful women, but he’s grown bored of the beautiful people of Hollywood. Plus, his beautiful ex-girlfriend is terrible – as beautiful ex-girlfriends tend to be – so he’s looking to go in a different direction. And he and Britt happily move in that different direction, which includes porch-building, delicious burgers, working through troublesome past issues, and gaiety of all kinds. Until the terrible ex-girlfriend shows up to mess everything up. As they tend to do.

How’s the sex? Risky, in a couple of ways. First, there’s never any mention of condom use or even a quick conversation where the pair decides not to use a condom. Believe it or not, that’s fairly uncommon in romance. For all of the pieces of reality the romance genre leaves behind, safe sex isn’t one of them. Also, the second time Britt and J.T have (unprotected) sex, they have it outside in a public place, which is especially risky if one of you is a TV star who gets recognized all over town. The idea that neither Britt nor J.T. has any reason to be worried about STIs or pregnancy is actually more believable than the possibility that TMZ wouldn’t track down a celebrity having public sex, even in Hellcat Canyon. Buy it here.

Just A Kiss

The story: Riley was totally going to tell Paige he was in love with her when he got home form the Marines. BUT he’s lost a leg during his tour in Afghanistan, and his plans for telling are ruined because in his mind, she deserves better than an amputee who can’t go lobstering. I know that sounds silly and that she should get to decide for herself, but the degree to which he believes it is really the crux of the whole book, so just go with it, ok? Anyway, Paige is helping to take care of him while he recovers, which is terrible because Riley thinks she pities him and that he looks weak. There are a lot of feelings in this book to cover up the fact that the story is a little weak. Paige has a job where she helps animals, and the animal shelter is in financial trouble. This is partly so that Paige has something to do besides realizes she’s in love with Riley, and partly so that there’s an excuse to have a bachelor auction. Romance writers love bachelor auctions.

How’s the sex? Well, obviously, no one’s getting past first base in this book. Romance novels are known for their sex, and most do have some sex scenes included. But not all of them do, and many of the ones that don’t aren’t Christian. So what’s the difference here? Allow me to explain.

There are three ways to avoid sex in a romance novel: 1) Wait to get the characters together until the very end so they essentially don’t have time for sex before the end (your Jane Austen, your Disney movies, etc); 2) insinuate that the characters are having sex, but “fade to black” and skip to the next morning instead of writing those scenes a’la PG-13 movie; or 3) have your two characters who are in a romantic relationship behave as If they are teenagers in a 90s sitcom and just never have sex. Just a Kiss and many other Inspirational romances employ option 3. They’re waiting for marriage because they’d rather get into heaven than get laid. For some reason. Buy it here.

 

This is your soapier, Nicholas Sparks-style romance. High drama and usually some unique twist – mistaken identity or a secret father who may or may not be trying to murder someone. That kind of thing.

Test Drive

The story: Johnny likes Lara, but he has a bunch of abandonment issues from all of his father’s broken relationships. Lara is interested in Johnny, but is trying to focus on getting her degree, and she can’t be doing the whole “girlfriend” thing. So it will never work. Except that then Lara’s terrible asshole former brother-in-law attacks her, Johnny saves her, and they decide to start dating. Don’t worry, it kind of makes sense in context. But they still have all of the baggage, so it’s not smooth sailing. It never is, friends.

How’s the sex? Inevitable. There’s a pretty common trope in romance where two people decide to be fuck buddies – pardon my language, friends with benefits – and then accidentally develop feelings for each other. The opposite happens here. Early on, Johnny and Lara keep trying to not have sex so they can build their relationship, but they end up having a lot of sex anyway. A REAL lot. It’s almost like they’re not really trying that hard to hold off on having sex, if you can even imagine such a thing. Buy it here.

Mended

The story: This is the third book in the series and the completion of Luc and Lia’s story, so a lot has happened already. Not to worry, though. Author Sydney Landon catches readers up by splashing exposition all over the first two chapters, which include lines like “Neither woman could live in a building where Lia’s stepfather had attempted to rape her” and “Never in a million years could I have imagined a meeting with my college advisor would inadvertently trigger the revelation of my biological father’s identity.” So, even if you haven’t read the others, don’t fear getting lost in the subtlety.

By the beginning of this book, Luc and Lia are in love and have been dating awhile, through few good times and bad. Despite a fight that served as a cliffhanger between books, the relationship between the two is never really in question. The conflict here comes from the possible release of Luc’s former fiancé/attempted murderer from a mental hospital, Lia’s possible pregnancy, the emergence of Lia’s billionaire biological father, and the ongoing dramatic struggle/mysteries of their small but loyal friend group. They, obviously, will continue their dramatic struggles in the next two books.

How’s the sex? Not nearly as interesting as it should be, given that Luc is a self-proclaimed sex god. These people have a lot of sex, and they have it for a lot of reasons – apologies, celebrations, boredom – but by this point in the series, they’re an established couple and the sex has gotten pretty boring. For the reader, that is. Luc and Lia still enjoy it very much, and good for them. Buy it here.

A Bollywood Affair

The story: Twenty years ago in India, four-year-old Mili was married in a mass wedding ceremony to a twelve-year-old named Virat Rathod. Shortly after, Virat’s mother took him and his brother Samir far away from their terrible grandfather, and Virat’s (too) young wife never saw him again. Years later, upon reaching an appropriate age, Virat fell in love and, assuming that any marriage involving a four-year-old probably wasn’t valid, married an adult woman. Alas, he was eventually confronted with a letter indicating that his first marriage might not be technically dissolved, and at the beginning of A Bollywood Affair, Virat dispatches his devoted brother Samir to procure a speedy annulment. Apparently brothers do this for each other?

At the same time, Mili has just moved from Jaipur to Michigan to study sociology. Samir finds her, finds that things are not exactly what they seem, and doesn’t quite get around to telling her who he is or why he’s there (don’t judge, we’ve all lied to our in-laws). Samir gets increasingly tangled into Mili’s life, they have a surprising number of adventures given that it’s Michigan, and the web of deceit grows as quickly as their love for one another. And that, as you can imagine, eventually leads to some problems.

How’s the sex? Scandalous. Do the math, people: Mili is Samir’s sister-in-law. Plus, she doesn’t know during the one sex scene that he’s her husband’s brother AND since she hasn’t seen her husband in decades, it’s her first time. But the outrageousness continues: they get it on in the woods UP AGAINST A TREE. A woman losing her virginity with tree bark jammed into her back is, along with the child marriage situation, something you shouldn’t think too hard about in this story. Buy it here.

Walk Through Fire

The story: High has spent twenty years being really, really angry that Millie broke up with him when they were in their early twenties. They were both so in love and devastated that neither has ever gotten over the break-up. Well, he got married and had two kids, but he never really loved his wife, so…I guess that’s ok? Anyway, after coming across High in Chipotle, Millie tracks him down and they reunite, have a bunch of angry sex, and then she tells him the secret behind their break-up, which totally blows everyone’s minds and leads to a lot of feelings, angst, and even more sex. The two work on figuring out how to rebuild their relationship, while also dealing with some pretty serious bad guys targeting the motorcycle club. There’s also some kidnapping and disgruntled children, so it gets pretty real.

Also, quick note for context: the Chaos story started in earnest about five books ago with Motorcycle Man, the last book in a different series, and continues through Walk Through Fire, the fourth and most recent in the Chaos series. You can follow this one without reading the others, but you might consider starting further back in the series to get a sense for the history of the secondary characters.

How’s the sex? Fan-fucking-tastic. It’s unbelievable even by romance novel standards. Specifically, the sex in this book is earth-shattering that the men can do literally whatever they want and the women essentially respond with “well, the sex is amazing, so I guess it makes up for all the other stuff.” Most importantly, the sex in this book is so spectacular that as a reader, you kinda get where those women are coming from. Buy it here.

Bane

The story: After five years of separation and secret marriage, Bane, who is on leave after a particularly difficult mission, decides that it’s time to “claim his wife,” and goes to find Crystal. The minor problem is that he hasn’t seen or spoken to her in five years. The major problem is where this story takes a turn towards AMAZING in the way that only romance novels can. It turns out that bad guys are hunting Crystal because she is working on secret technology to make things invisible. Let me reiterate in case you missed that: 23-year-old PhD student Crystal, who almost dropped out of high school, is the chief researcher working on “obscured reality.” Which is making things invisible. And she is the only person who knows all of the making-things-invisible secrets, so some nefarious people (who I guess want invisible things) are after her. Luckily, her Navy SEAL husband arrives just in time to protect her and her genius brain from the bad guys.

Quick public service announcement: if five years of celibacy can turn someone from a would-be high school dropout to a genius who can make things invisible, our middle schools are teaching sex education all wrong.

How’s the sex? Jackson loses a few points for describing Crystal’s breasts as “twin globes” twice in a two-chapter span. That description is so awkward that it even stands out in a romance novel. But generally she does a nice job of capturing the relationship between two people who have a history but who have also been apart for long enough that there’s still some uncertainty and timidity related to their physical relationship. Buy it here.

Stone Cold Cowboy

The story: Sadie spends most of her time getting her brother Connor out of trouble and working extra jobs so she can pay back the stuff he’s stolen from other people. Connor’s a grown-up, he’s just the deeply flawed and drug-addicted kind. He eventually goes too far by helping to steal over a hundred head of cattle from Rory. It seems hard to imagine that a small group of people with drug problems could sneak away with 100 cows, but Montana is awfully big, so maybe it’s not as hard as it seems. Anyway, Sadie goes after Connor and ends up in a life-threatening situation. Rory goes after his cattle and finds/saves Sadie. Over Rory’s protests – and, frankly, mine – Sadie goes to work for his family to help pay off her brother’s debts, which serves an effective mechanism for keeping them in each other’s lives for a few weeks while they fall deeper in love and Connor falls deeper into drugs and cattle theft.

How’s the sex? Well, there was no sex in a barn, if that’s what you were hoping for. (That’s what I was hoping for.) In keeping with his noble ways, Rory tends to make love to Sadie when she’s in need of comfort. Which is sweet, and since Sadie’s life is kind of a mess, it means he has a lot of options.

The book version of a classic Hollywood rom com, but hotter. Like if Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant had sent more time getting it on in Notting Hill.

Truth or Beard

The story: Jessica moved home after college to save up money so that she could spend the rest of her life traveling the world far from Tennessee. She inconveniently develops feelings for Duane, who’s actually had feelings for her for a decade (despite her crush on his twin brother). Duane is tied to Green Valley by the small business he’s partly owns, his five brothers and sister, and the fact that he likes it there. So, we have our romantic conflict. Sure, you’d think they could just sit down and work out some kind of compromise, but they keep getting distracted by all of their angst and feelings. Plus, Duane is trying to deal with the fact that the local biker gang (motorcycle club if you’re classy) is trying to blackmail him and his brothers. And there’s the evenings sucked up by racing cars, and the time Jessica has to spend sorting out some unexpected family issues. Plus, the reader is pretty well occupied with the task of sorting out which of the other five Winston brothers is which, so really, everyone is much too busy to be problem-solving how Duane and Jessica can live happily ever after.

How’s the sex? It gets the job done, and that’s not a dig. The sex isn’t really an anchor of the story, but that works. The chemistry between the characters is well established, and there’s clearly a physical connection as well. Even though the sex scenes are lower priority than the characters, relationships, and humor in the book, they’re effectively steamy and move the plot along efficiently. Yes, this probably the first positive romance novel review of all time that describes the sex as “efficient.” Try to stay open-minded. Buy it here.

It Had To Be You

The story: Phoebe’s father dies, leaving her in temporary custody of his professional football team, the Chicago Stars, and in permanent custody of her teenage half-sister and some pretty serious emotional baggage about what a terrible father he was. Phoebe only keeps the team if the wildly mediocre Stars manage to win a championship game, which everyone agrees is pretty unlikely. But losing the team means it would go to Phoebe’s cousin Reed, who is even more terrible than her father. So, Phoebe and Dan set to work using coaching, flirting, and a heavy dose of magical thinking to make their rag tag Stars into champions. All while doing a little scoring of their own (I’m sorry).

How’s the sex? Susan Elizabeth Phillips uses the sex in It Had To Be You to add depth to the story more successfully than romance authors usually manage. Perhaps most interestingly to a reader in 2015, the 1994 setting of the book means the AIDS crisis plays a role in a way that I haven’t seen in romance novels written more recently. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to stories of today, wherein everyone uses protection without really having to discuss why. Buy it here.

Nothing Like Love

The story: The thing about the plot in this story is that there isn’t really a plot in this story. To be fair, a lot of things happen in this book. There’s a wedding shocker! A theatrical emergency! A story of unrequited childhood love! A trip to Ireland! But none of those pieces are major components of the plot, and some of them are actually wrapped up in a chapter or two. This book is almost entirely about two people deciding what they do and don’t want from their relationship, and it’s a little bit about other things along the way to keep it engaging. In typical romance fashion, a lot of those other things have to do with how loved ones keep accidentally derailing Simone and Zach’s plans to have meaningless sex. The couple’s devotion to their friends and neighbors is great, but I’d like to think I’d be the kind of jilted bride or Alzheimer’s-plagued neighbor who would want my friend to take 20 minutes and get herself taken care of by a hot English thespian before she came to tend to me. But don’t worry. They do eventually “make the beast with two backs.” (Thanks, Shakespeare!) Speaking of which…

How’s the sex? There were a couple of sex scenes, but the more interesting one came first  [ed. note: Heh]. I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the time these two are finally far enough away from their needy loved ones to get any level of “fulfillment,” one person is getting the other person off on a plane in order to distract that person from her fear of flying. It was both a fun way of working some sex into the story and also a strategy that I hope nervous fliers everywhere don’t take to a runway near me. Buy it here.

Between a Rock and a Hot Mess

The story: Riley is a person who is generally happy, but she’s a little discouraged that she’s the only single one left in her friend group. She’s also annoyed that all of her friends keep bailing on girls night. During one of these “girls” nights turned “girl” nights, Riley gets a little drunk and decides to use an app inspired by her favorite TV show to shake up her life/look so that she can successfully pursue the handsome suit-wearing man whom she has been admiring from afar. That goes fine for a while, but soon we realize that handsome suit guy is super boring and pretentious. That realization comes right around the same time Riley catches on that her arch-nemesis Hudson is super hot and into her, but she’s too stubborn to just dump boring guy for Hudson, and chaos ensues. Sexy chaos.

How’s the sex? Although the sex between Riley and Hudson starts with a contrived skirt-accidentally-rips-entirely off moment, the “pipe-laying” (construction sex pun!) between the two of them is so crazy hot that she doesn’t even bother seeing what boring buttoned-up suit guy is like in bed. Which is too bad, since I bet Bourne could have written an awesome awkward sex scene. But at any rate, great sex eventually leads to a lifetime of happiness for Riley and Hudson, and good for them. Buy it here.

Royally Screwed

The story: The fact that it’s 2016 doesn’t keep charming Prince Nicholas’ grandmother/queen from deciding she’s going to arrange-marriage the hell out of him, so he decides to spend his last months of freedom drunkenly screwing around. The screwing around takes him to NYC, and the drunkenness leads him to Olivia’s pie place late one stormy night, where he promptly offends her and she tells him to fuck off. But the charming prince wins over the spirited American, and they live happily, though not ever after. Nicholas’ arranged marriage is hanging over their heads, as is the fact that Olivia is not of Wessconian descent. In case you’ve never seen or read or watched any sort of story dealing with fictional royalty, I’ll warn you: that’s a real problem.

How’s the sex? The sex is mind-bogglingly amazing. Which…fine. Constant earth-shattering sex is an unrealistic feature of romance novels that readers have come to know and love – or at least make our peace with. But, if I may quibble just a bit: there’s something about an heir to a throne who is also a sex-god that feels especially unbelievable. I mean, sure, it’s likely Nicholas has a ton of sex, but if you’re the crown prince of a country, it seems unlikely that your partners will give you an honest assessment of your ability to meet the carnal needs of the women across the land. But, given that a character in this book has sisters named Bibbidy, Bobbidy, and Boo, I have to believe that author Emma Chase made the conscious decision to lean hard into the fantasy aspects of the story. So I guess an inherent aptitude for sex is just part of the deal. Buy it here.

Catch of the Day

The story: Maggie has stumbled upon her third-of-life crisis. She’s a near-perfect diner owner, sister, and neighbor, and her proclivity toward accidentally embarrassing herself provides the town some much-needed entertainment. Maggie is happy, but she wants to get married and have children and realizes that to do that, she’s going to need to expand her romantic interests beyond the local Catholic priest. Along comes the tall, dark, and handsome Malone, who has subtlety come to her rescue a few times, but who is so quiet and gruff that it’s hard to deduce his level of interest. Maggie decides to try to find out, and in the process publicly humiliates herself a few more times. But she’s charming and good-humored, and it all works out. That’s a spoiler I guess, but only if you’re new to the concept of romance novels.

How’s the sex? Absent, actually. Romance novels are known for sex scenes, and especially for the use of sex-part synonyms like “nub”, “button”, and “knot”. If you don’t know which sex-part I’m referencing, the bad news is that your tenth grade health teacher has failed you, but the good news is that you won’t be confused by this book; Higgins doesn’t bother with any of that. Readers know when the main characters are having sex, but the exact details of who touches who where and in what position are left to the imagination. The story as a whole is well rounded enough that nothing seems missing, and if you’re looking for something more graphic, ask your local librarian for erotica recommendations. Buy it here.

The books with your dukes and earls and horses and whatnot. Lots of social expectations and conflict leads to higher stakes than some contemporary romance. As does the lack of reliable birth control.

The Rogue Not Taken

The story: While attending a party with lords and ladies as far as the eye can see, Sophie finds her sister’s husband in the middle of – to put it delicately – totally banging another woman. She tosses her brother-in-law in a fishpond, as any good sister would do. Unfortunately, in addition to being a total garbage human, the brother-in-law is also a duke, and if there’s anything I can tell you about reading historical romance, it’s that being a duke is a really big deal. Anyway, Sophie is instantaneously cast out. She’s actually pretty ok with that, since “out” is generally where she prefers to be. But in the midst of making her grand escape, she encounters Eversley, who hurls a boot at her (unintentionally), insults her and her family (intentionally), and refuses to help her. Being smart and spunky in the way that 19thcentury literary English heroines tend to be, Sophie still uses Eversley’s carriage to extricate herself, inadvertently tying her story to his and creating a fortnight worth of drama. For those who don’t know, a fortnight is two weeks. This is less essential information than knowing that dukes are important, but still a fun fact.

How’s the sex? Consequential. Very consequential. This is England in 1833, so accidentally having too many pints of lager and making a regrettable decision leads to far more serious problems than a headache and a $16 early morning Uber. But MacLean makes the heightened stakes work in the favor of the story. Once Sophie and Eversley stop hating each other, the sexual tension builds in a way that wouldn’t be as realistic as a contemporary romance. Don’t worry though; much like today’s middle school students, English nobility seem to ascribe to pretty specific definition of sex, so things get pretty hot and heavy even before the couple finally goes “all the way.” Buy it here.

Outlander

The story: We open in 1945, and Claire is in the Scottish Highlands enjoying a post-war second honeymoon with her husband Frank. One day while exploring herbs and stones and whatnot, she stumbles through time and ends up in the 1743 Scottish Highlands. As one does. Unfortunately, in that particular time and place, Highlanders are not on great terms with the English and everyone is immediately pretty sure the “Sassenach” Claire is either a prostitute or a spy. Claire wisely chooses not to explain that she’s actually just a nurse from the future, and as the clan keeps her around so that they can watch her, she builds a friendship with Jaime that eventually turns into “something more.” Which means they have great chemistry and a lot of sex. Anyway, a bunch of stuff also happens related to Jamie’s tenuous relationship with his family and his outlaw status, but since this is a romance novel review, let’s set that aside and circle back to the sex.

How’s the sex? For all of my winking and nudging, in Outlander Gabaldon helped to set the modern standard in the literary world for effectively using sex to add dimension to relationships and stories. A complicated set of circumstances push Claire and Jaime into physical intimacy before they’re entirely comfortable with one another. Sexually, they connect quickly and easily, but it doesn’t suddenly make them more comfortable with each other when they’re out and about with their clothes on. Still, it provides them with a foundation upon which to build the kind of trust and familiarity that makes them an epic romantic pairing. And great sex makes for a way more fun foundation upon which to build relationships, as opposed to stuff like following the same sports team or a shared dedication to veganism. Buy it here.

Forbidden

The story: Eddy is bound and determined to get away from her life in Denver and open a restaurant. She believes her best shot to do so is in California, so she saves up her money and heads west. She’s a tough woman who knows it’s going to be tough going, but it gets way tougher – excessively tough, one might argue – when a fake priest who offers her a ride through the desert steals her money and leaves her for dead. Incidentally, posing as a priest who helps fake orphans and then leaves a woman for dead after trying to sexually assault her is pretty much as evil as you can get, even in a romance novel. Rhine comes across a nearly dead Eddy, saves her, cares for her, falls in love with her, and starts second-guessing some of his life decisions. Eddy falls in love too, but still keeps her eye on her long-term dreams because she’s an independent woman who wants to pursue a career that she loves (in addition to wanting to be with the man she loves). Is that so much to ask? Maybe. Read onward!

How’s the sex? If you’ve ever doubted whether romance writers are feminists, allow the sex scenes in Forbidden to set you straight. There’s not a ton of sex in this book, but of the sex there is, Eddy is having WAY more than Rhine. Rhine, god bless him, is involved (very involved) every time. But in that 1870s gentlemanly kind of way, he leaves his needs unmet out of chivalry and lack of birth control. And that’s the kind of romantic heroism that trumps firefighters, cowboys, or Navy SEALs any day of the week. Buy it here.

Romancing The Duke

The story: The Duke of Rothbury is shocked to find that his shitty dilapidated castle, which is essential to his life as a cranky shut-in, has been willed to a spirited young woman characterized by her wild hair, sexual innocence, and fierce ability to fend for herself. He insists he never sold the castle, but she has nowhere else to take herself and her pet weasel, so they’re forced to live together while they sort out who has double-crossed whom and what to do about it. Luckily, they have the help of the duke’s manservant and Izzy’s father’s adoring fans. Because you know what they’re always saying about the 1800’s: they were full of weasels and rabid fans of children’s stories.

How’s the sex? Boy, there are a lot of clothes in historical times. But despite the need to strip through all of the many layers of archaic clothing, author Tessa Dare does a nice job of working up to the sex in the book. Izzy is exceptionally innocent, but she’s also incredibly bored with her own virginity. The story realistically builds to her deflowering, while also not waiting too long to cut to the chase. (It’s the 19th century, you guys – I’m allowed to call it “deflowering.” In fact, I specifically read this book so I could use the term “deflowering.”) Buy it here.

Usually featuring a couple thrown together by dangerous circumstances who work off the adrenaline by having sex.  The damsel in distress trope tends to show up in a lot of romantic suspense, but in the good ones the heroine can hold her own.

Slave To Sensation

The story: This sci-fi plot seems to pride itself on defying a pithy summary, but here goes: Sascha is part of a race that rules pretty much everything because they have no emotion at all – the Psy are like Vulcans, but way more evil – and Sascha is the daughter of a member of the ruling oligarchy. The problem is Sascha doesn’t feel nothing. In fact, she feels A LOT OF THINGS, and she’s pretty worried that someone will find out and lobotomize her. She has even more feelings once she meets Lucas, a shape shifter, or “changeling,” with whom Sascha and her appropriately unfeeling mother are working on a construction project. And that’s just the first chapter. To further complicate things, Lucas is super busy leading the pack of his fellow changelings and dealing with a (probably Psy) serial killer. Also, all of the Psy can communicate telepathically, and the changelings touch each other a lot, but not always in a sexy way. But sometimes in a sexy way. There are also wolves and a complicated psychic web called PsyNet, but this column can’t be 10,000 words long, so let’s just let some things be a surprise.

How’s the sex? Not as weird as you’d think based on everything I’ve written so far [ed. note: lame]. Author Nalini Singh’s tying together of physical desire and emotional intimacy is surprisingly nimble given than we’re talking about a book in which the good guys are likely to shed on the furniture. She also does a nice job of playing up the relatable human characteristics of Sascha/Lucas, and as a result, the relationship between animalistic Lucas and emotionally naive Sascha never feels predatory. Yes, that’s a pun. Buy it here.

Safe At Last

The story: Boy meets orphan girl. Boy falls in love with orphan girl (and vice versa). Boy goes off to college and visits girl on weekends until one day she disappears. For 12 years, boy searches for girl and pines for girl and is devastated by loss of girl (and when he has some extra time after searching, pining, and being devastated, plays in the NFL for a couple of years and then joins a badass Houston security firm). A coincidental convergence of factors bring the boy and girl (now a man and woman) back together, but the girl is terrified of the boy and wants nothing to do with him. Lots of introspective internal monologues ensue (like, really, a stupid amount of introspective internal monologues are in this book). And then in the last 50 pages or so, there’s a big deal violent action sequence between good guys and bad guys. And everyone lives happily ever after. Well, not the bad guys. Duh. This book is bizarre, but it’s still a romance novel.

How’s the sex? It’s weird, you guys. Not like, kinky weird – Maya Banks has written that kind of weird (which was actually more fun), but that’s not what’s going on here. It’s “let’s wait until we’re married even though we’re 30 years old” weird. It’s “there’s so much pressure because this is the first time even though we’ve known each other for a decade and a half” weird. There’s emotional crying and a long white nightgown. Perhaps you’ll find the romance. I found it weird. Buy it here.

Flash Fire

The story: Clara, who has an exceptional record for recovering victims of international kidnapping, is given an unofficial assignment to find a kidnapped teenager who’s awkwardly connected to her family. Her boss connects her with a local facilitator, who she assumes will be something of a hippy travel guide. Turns out, her guide is the savvy yet terrifying pile of muscle and tattoos that is Light Walker. It’s a hilarious misunderstanding right up through the moment when he disembowels a local thug. After that, they run through the jungle. Then they go to the bordello where Walker lives. Then it’s back to the jungle. Then a drug lair, then jungle again, drug lair, bordello, at one point there’s a missionary, then back to a drug lair, and so on and so on.

How’s the sex? Good god, what is wrong with you? These people are trying to cripple the drug trade and recover victims of kidnapping, and you think they have time for sex? They’re pretty busy saving the world, so maybe you should try to refocus on priorities.

But seriously, though – don’t buy this book for the sex. There is almost none. The tremendous amount of lust is held at bay by reality and time constraints. For what it’s worth, it’s sexier than “time constraints” make it sound. Buy it here.

Think of England

The story: Curtis lost his friends/fellow soldiers and also a few fingers as a result of defective guns his team was sent during the war. He’s been told it was sabotage, and he’s trying to get to the bottom of things at the house party. His amateur detective work leads him to the same trail of clues that da Silva is following while trying to solve a different mystery, and the two decide to work together. That partnership necessitates them getting naked together within about 24 hours, which is one surefire way to make sure your budding crime-fighting partnership doesn’t get stuck the “friend zone.”

How’s the sex? Important. The sex is usually at least slightly higher stakes in historical romance because of ineffective birth control and people being ruined and whatnot. But sex between men was illegal up until the very recent past – until 2003 in parts of the U.S., as mind-boggling as that is – and in the early 1900s, the threat of being jailed for homosexual activity was very real. Author KJ Charles makes that fact central to the story, and the illegality/associated blackmail become especially important at the (ahem) climax of the book. Buy it here.

Seconds To Sunrise

The story: This whole thing starts when April’s inspirational, altruistic website gets hacked so that people can steal the identities of both the widows on the site and their dead husbands, because the world is terrible. James had been secretly protecting April until the first chapter in the book, when she gets attacked in a parking lot, and suddenly he’s not-so-secretly protecting her. They team up to fight bad guys with April’s computer skills and James’ shooting/punching/stabbing skills. Between chasing the hackers and running from the bad dudes trying to kill April, the two end up on a pretty epic road trip. They travel well together,  essentially guaranteeing a happily ever after. I can’t even travel with people I like, much less people I met after being almost murdered outside a grocery store.

How’s the sex? Great. And then awkward, in the best possible way. There’s not a lot of sex in this book – though there’s plenty of chemistry, and eventually there’s even a very flirty reloading-the-guns scene (not an innuendo) that is adorable and a little odd. But both James and April have reasons for holding back on their attraction, and not just the normal “staying alive” kinds of reasons. A mutual attraction with someone doesn’t make you cool and suave around them, despite what a lot of action movies and books would have you believe. This couple isn’t relatable because of their barely contained sexual tension; they’re relatable because their awkwardness doesn’t disappear after one night of great sex. It’s endearing and real in a way that romantic suspense often doesn’t bother with. Buy it here.

Much the same as regular romance, but the sex is usually kinkier, more frequent, or (in an ideal world) both.

Be My Fantasy / Stay My Fantasy

The story: Elizabeth and Luca went on some dates a few years back, but both of them were just trying to be the person they thought the other was looking for. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t the road to relationship success, and they called it off. Their paths have crossed once in awhile since then because of Luca’s connection through the family business, but mostly they fantasize about each other privately and ignore each other publicly. This works out great, right up until the moment Luca catches Elizabeth leaving Club Prestige in disguise. He calls her out on her sexy high jinks, she asks him to keep her sexy high jinks a secret, and as a result, the two engage in sexy high jinks together.

How’s the sex? Well, it’s a little extra naughty, but you probably guessed that from all the stuff I wrote above about the sex club. The sex isn’t that shocking though, and it’s surprisingly vulnerable and uncertain for two people so in touch with their sexual desires. Turns out kinky sex can be as intimate as boring sex – maybe even more so, since you really have to trust someone before you ask them to come join you in the secret room of your sex club. Buy it here.

Harlot

The story: Caleb and Jessica are childhood sweethearts who plan to marry once Caleb returns from California with a bunch of gold. Unfortunately, while he’s gone, Jessica’s father dies, leaving her impoverished and desperate. As we all learned from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, in olden times Colorado women can only be doctors or prostitutes, and since Jessica has no medical degree, she becomes a whore. Caleb has been in no contact because of some issue with dyslexia or possibly bad handwriting, so he doesn’t know any of this. When he comes back to Colorado and finds his refined sweetheart is selling her body, he gets super mad and decides to punish Jessica by purchasing a bunch of sex from her. Because nothing says “I’m angry” like giving someone multiple orgasms.

How’s the sex? Graphic and frequent. As mentioned before, a romance novel in the “erotic” category usually has a bunch of sex in it, and this book is no exception. Dahl doesn’t let the fact that the book is short hold her back, and if you’re looking for a steamy read, you’ll find it in Harlot. But Dahl is also working a little deeper here (no pun intended but also no regrets) in using all that sex for character and relationship development. Through the intimacy tied in with the sex, Jessica and Caleb learn the depth of their feelings for each other. They also learn the world of sex isn’t just a black and white dichotomy between pristine, marital lovemaking and dirty, sinful prostitution. And they find a lot of satisfaction discovering all of the stuff in the middle. I’m talking about sexual satisfaction. There is really a lot of sex in this book. Buy it here.

If you need some different romantic page turners, consult some of our previous sexy features…