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The Best Romance Authors (And Their Must-Read Book)

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Brandi Bailey

Staff Writer

Brandi can be found writing about books and dreaming up outfits on her blog, Book Style. She'll probably be reading something with mythology, Brits, unicorns, a feisty heroine, or (ideally) all of the above. She has lived in too many cities, but has settled down in Portland with her awesome husband and almost-as-awesome cat. Follow her on Instagram @PinkBBWhiskey.

Welcome! Why don’t we go ahead and get a couple of things out of the way? You’ve clicked on a link to find out who the best romance authors are. Let’s start by addressing the obvious elephant in the room: the word “best.”

As used in this list, it does not necessarily mean “bestselling.” While many of the authors including in this list are bestselling authors, I didn’t compile these 22 authors based on their all-time sales. “Best,” for simplicity’s sake, means the best collection of authors for newbie romance readers to get started on and for seasoned romance readers to branch out with; a subjective judgment, I’m aware.

If you’ve been reading romance for some time, the names on this list will probably be familiar to you, and if you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to read at least one book by each of them. I’ve also included the one book you should definitely check out by each author; some obvious choices, others less conventional.  Essentially, if I was still a bookseller, this is the list I would be working from if you approached me with “I know my friend likes romance but I have no clue what to buy for them,” or “I really like romantic comedies and I want to read something like that.”

Furthermore, some of you may will end up disagreeing with me and my list. That’s okay. Not all of these authors, or must-read books, are pure romance. Some are more women’s fiction, fantasy, or erotica. Some are more mystery or thriller. Some of you will be incensed I didn’t include Jane Austen. To these complaints I say:  I don’t abide by hard genre rules. Sorry, not sorry. Also, I didn’t include anything considered “classic.” There are more than enough lists recommending Austen to you. If you really feel like I missed one of “the best” drop your choice in the comments. Having more great books to choose from is never a bad thing! Now, without further ado, and in no particular order, the best romance authors (& their must-read book):

Alisha Rai

Rai got her start writing Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fanfic and if that doesn’t make you love her, I’m not sure I can help you. Seriously, Rai is not only a standout author of some very steamy romances, but she is also doing huge work toward addressing the lack of diversity in Romance publishing and the larger industry. Also, and not that this should matter, but I think Rai has some of the best covers in all of Romance.

Must Read Book: A Gentleman in the Street—It’s Rai’s self-professed sexiest book; dive into the deep end feet first.

Nora Roberts

The indisputable queen of the romance genre. She was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame and now has the Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award named after her. Roberts is the pen name of Eleanor Marie Robertson, but it’s not her only one. She writes under a few different pseudonyms, including J.D. Robb.

Must Read Book: Naked in Death by J.D. Robb—The In Death series blends a few genres, but the romance between Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke is always the star.

A Western Novel For Every Occasion: Topaz by Beverly JenkinsBeverly Jenkins

Jenkins is another queen of romance. Once thing I love about Jenkins’s bibliography is that she’s got something for everyone. If you like series, she’s got you. If you like stand-alones, she’s got you. If you like historical, western, contemporary, or suspense, she’s got you!

Must Read Book: Topaz—Despite it being a western, which is not typically a genre I prefer, this is still one of my favorites by Beverly Jenkins. It’s a great introduction to her style, her strong women, and stands alone, so no series commitment out of the gate.

Dead witch walking by Kim harrisonKim Harrison

Harrison is probably a surprising addition to this round up, but I stand by it. Maybe it’s because I like my erotic romance to be heavily supernatural, but anytime anyone asks for sexy books, I start with The Hollows series featuring Rachel Morgan, the sexiest witch and bounty hunter ever written.

Must Read Book: Dead Witch Walking—Seriously, The Hollows will scratch so many itches. Sexy! Supernatural! Dark! Suspenseful!

The blackbirds by eric jerome dickeyEric Jerome Dickey

Dickey writes some steamy smut and I love it all. His focus has always been on contemporary African American stories. He writes women well, he writes sex well, he writes life well.

Must Read Book: The Blackbirds—Perfect introduction to Dickey’s steamy style and I love the sisterhood in this book.

Also Must Read Book: Astonishing X-Men: Storm—Dickey wrote my bible for Storm/Black Panther romance in the Marvel canon and I kind of wish he’d write more comics.

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine HeathLorraine Heath

Heath is one of the dominant names in historical romance these days. I’m partial to her England-set series, but she has some great, salacious American West–set series also. When I think of pure romance, Heath’s repertoire is what comes to mind first.

Must Read Book: Falling Into Bed with a Duke—The first in The Hellions of Havisham series.


beasting beauty by Madison FayeMadison Faye

Definitely not your grandma’s romance, unless your grandma is was far more open-minded than mine ever was. Extra-steamy, and often featuring threesomes (and foursomes) and daddies, Faye’s books will definitely get your blood pumping.

Must Read Book: Beasting Beauty—I’m partial to a good fairy tale retelling and so the vague fairy tale outlines of the Possessing Beauty series are a must-read for me.

permanent ink by avon gale and piper vaughnPiper Vaughn

Vaughn has carved out a niche for themselves in the queer romance community and for good reason. Their novels are sultry, smutty, and play into some great M/M fantasies. The diversity in Vaughn’s books make my heart extremely happy and the variety of sub-genres means that there’s something for everyone.

Must Read Book: Permanent Ink (written with Avon Gale)—It’s really hard to choose amongst Vaughn’s books, but Jericho McAslan makes this one my must-read. It’s not my fault that Poe and I have the same type.

a-rogue-by-any-other-nameSarah MacLean

MacLean is another oft-seen name on romance shelves these days. Her historical romance novels are perfection and MacLean herself is a leading advocate for the romance community and genre. You’ll often find her talking about romance’s intersection with gender studies.

Must Read Book: A Rogue by Any Other Name—The first in the Rule of Scoundrels series, it’s just the perfect example of the lady’s-honor-is-being-protected-but-it-turns-out-she’s-pretty-naughty-herself trope.

Lauren Willig

For some reason Willig’s books always end up firmly in historical fiction instead of in romance, which is absurd because oh my! the romance is real. Whether set in France, New York, Kenya or England, Willig manages to transport the reader. She’s tackled contemporary, but her strength lies in her Regency-era and Roaring ’20s tales.

Must Read Book: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation—This is where I fell in love with Willig’s writing. It’s the perfect combination of romance and historical mystery. With a touch of modern romance running through this book and the rest of the series. Spies! Enticing bosoms! Scarlet Pimpernel references!

Sonali Dev

Dev writes modern Indian romance novels. She writes them well. Always a mix of romance and cultural examination, these books are transportive.

Must Read Book: The Bollywood Affair—I like a stubborn woman—which is honestly why I like so much romance!—and Dev delivers the perfect independent woman in Mili.


The wanderer by robyn carrRobyn Carr

Carr writes contemporary romances, with the occasional foray into historical. Her novels are so popular that they have actually been studied by academics in an attempt to understand their success. The answer seems to lie in Carr’s knack for making us all feel so good with her utopian-worthy settings that feature communal, I’ve-got-your-back neighborhoods.

Must Read Book: The Wanderer—Her Virgin River series might be more well known, but I prefer the coastal Oregon setting of the Thunder Point series.

Alyssa Cole

Cole is another author who writes in more than one sub-genre. Historical (check out “That Could Be Enough” in Hamilton’s Battalion, and 2017’s award-winning An Extraordinary Union) makes up the bulk of her writing, but she also dabbles in contemporary and SFF romance.

Must Read Book: Radio Silence—This is the first book in her Off the Grid series which pairs romance with dystopian thriller.

Courtney Milan

Milan is another primarily historical romance author who’s been known to dabble in contemporary. She has five series under her belt plus a handful of stand-alone novels.

Must Read Book: Trade Me—Milan writes phenomenal historical novels, but it’s actually her one contemporary series that is my favorite. The diversity in the Cyclone series is amazing and the Trading Places-made-sexy vibe of the first book is so satisfying.

first lady by susan elizabeth phillipsSusan Elizabeth Phillips

First off, Phillips’s website has the tagline “Because life’s too short to read depressing books” and if that doesn’t sum up what makes romance so beloved, I don’t know what does. Her wheelhouse is contemporary romance, with her sports-centric Chicago Stars series reigning supreme.

Must Read Book: First Lady—This stand-alone features a widowed first lady trying to avoid the spotlight and it’s sort of the grown up version of Chasing Liberty and I am here for that.

Nalini Singh

Singh writes paranormal romance and I really wish more people would latch onto this genre. Her world-building is superb. Her characters are complex. Her sex is salacious.

Must Read Book: Slave to Sensation—The first in the Psy/Changeling series, it’s dark, smutty, and delightful.

nights in rodanthe by nicholas sparksNicholas Sparks

If you don’t know Sparks’s name, that’s a mighty big rock you’ve been living under. When it comes to big screen adaptations of romantic novels, no one has Sparks beat except for maybe Jane Austen, but Sparks has had 11 novels translated to screen and Austen only published 7 novels (even if they have had multiple screen adaptations each). If you’re looking for sappy, feel-good romance, Sparks is your man.

Must Read Book: Nights in Rodanthe—Pure sex appeal. Plus, it’s nice to see romance between two older, divorced adults. Nubile twenty-year-olds don’t get to have all the fun!

duck! by kim dareKim Dare

Dare is another standout of the queer romance genre. She has written over 100 erotic tales, ranging from short stories to full novels, in her relatively short career.  If you’re in the mood for kinky or queer or fantastical or any combination thereof, Dare is the author for you.

Must Read Book: Duck!—The first in the Avian Shifters series (who says canines get all the shapeshifting fun?!) is pure naughty fun and remains one of Dare’s most popular titles.

laid bare by lauren daneLauren Dane

Dane has written more than 60 novels. Six-zero! Prolific doesn’t begin to cover it. She really has something for every  taste: contemporary, science fiction, urban fantasy, traditional romance, erotic romance.

Must Read Book: Laid Bare—Book one of The Brown Family series, a contemporary, Seattle-set series featuring tattoos, taboos, and threesomes.

addicted by zaneZane

For years Zane, pen name of Kristina Laferne Roberts, has been considered the queen of erotica. (I also once confused her with Zane Grey much to great embarrassment on my and the gentleman seeking a classic western tale’s behalf.) Her erotic romance titles were extra steamy and her novel Addicted was adapted into an equally steamy feature film in 2014. Unfortunately she ran into some tax trouble in 2014, too, but she’s published at least two books since, and her penchant for steam remains.

Must Read Book: Addicted—It’s just the best. Psychological and sultry.

goddess of the hunt by tessa dareTessa Dare

Classic bodice rippers are Dare’s modus operandi and she does them well. The sexual tensions simmers in her historical romance series until you feel like you could burst. These are fun romps with debonair dukes, lusty lords, and, er, engorged earls.

Must Read Book: Goddess of the Hunt—The first in the Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy will transport you the beginnings of a passionate love affair.

cover of Romancing the InventorGail Carriger

Carriger writes some of the best supernatural/steampunk/romance novels out there. I fell in love with her Parasol Protectorate series originally, and then happily branched out into her companion novellas, the Finishing School series, and the Custard Protocol series. Her writing is original, her love of tea renowned, and the romance will entice without making you feel overly excited, like the long burn of two television series protagonist keeping you tuning in eight seasons later.

Must Read Book: Supernatural Society Novellas, Romancing the Inventor and Romancing the Werewolf—F/F and M/M respectively, they are companion novellas to the Parasol Protectorate series and allow Carriger to get just a little naughtier with some of my favorite characters from the books.

If you want more romance, check out these resources: Our podcast When In Romance & our Romance/Erotica archives!