Last November, on a trip to Los Angeles, I went to a bookstore that was a literal dream come true: The Ripped Bodice. When I heard about the independent, sister-owned, exclusively romance bookstore, I knew I had to get there someday. And, readers, it lived up to my every expectation and more, from the Mary Shelley quote by the door to the antique pink couch to the large cut outs of Megan Markle and Edward Cullen I could—and did—pose next to for selfies.
And most important, I got to meet Leah (one of the sister, co-owners of The Ripped Bodice) and have her give me a nice big stack of new-to-me romance authors she recommended. I told her I was primarily a fan of contemporary and historical romance and that I was especially interested in reading more diverse, PoC romance authors. Here are the ten books she recommended.
The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham
After telling her I loved Sarah MacLean and Tessa Dare, Leah pulled this book first…which is probably why I started reading it first. The Duke of Westmead needs an heir to protect the family estate he’s just rescued from ruin. But he thinks his submissive desires will keep him from ever truly be accepted and loved. When a scandal arises with the charming botanist, Poppy Cavendish, a marriage of convenience seems like a solution to both their problems. But what happens when both think they want more? This recommendation from Leah was a home run! Highly recommend for hilarious hijinks and seriously steamy love scenes.
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
Solène Marchand is a 39-year-old single mom who gave up on the idea of true love and romance a long time ago. But when she takes her daughter to meet August Moon (a One Direction–style boy band) and meets 20-year-old band member Hayes Campbell, Solène’s life starts to get very complicated. Hayes is funny, soulful, and so so earnest. But their lives are almost as different as their ages. And their love won’t just change Solène’s life, it also affects the people she loves most—especially her daughter. This book didn’t read as strictly a romance novel to me, but I still enjoyed it. Although the premise is so fun, the tone skews a little angsty. But it was very refreshing to read about an older woman and a younger man!
Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon
When Leah asked if I’d read Rebekah Weatherspoon and I said no, she squealed with delight. Then she asked if I wanted something serious or a little tongue in cheek. I chose the latter and was rewarded with this hilarious and surprisingly sweet story. Sloan Copeland is a heart surgeon, single mother with adorable twin daughters. When she gets into a childcare jam, Rafe comes to the rescue. He’s an experienced nanny who loves kids but isn’t sure what to do with the rest of his life. The attraction between them is undeniable. The way they navigate an interracial relationship and build a family together is both thoughtful and full of emotion. I will be reading all of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s back list for sure!
From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
When Leah asked me if I liked the 1992 figure skating romcom “The Cutting Edge” and then handed me this book, I knew it would be something special. (I answered with an enthusiastic yes, for the record.) Jasmine Santos is a talented couples skater, with a harsh reputation that’s made it impossible for her to find a reliable partner. Her childhood nemesis, Ivan Lukov, is looking for someone to replace his partner for a year. She wouldn’t say yes, except for the fact he’s the current world champion and she has no other options to make it to the Olympics. A slow-burn enemies to lovers figure skating romance that will have you swooning for pages.
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
This book is by a romance author…but not technically a romance! Instead it is a mystery that gender-bends the Sherlock Holmes canon and asks the question: What if Sherlock Holmes was really a woman? Charlotte Holmes makes a gamble to win her own independence and clear her family’s name of three recent murders, by using her observational talents to masquerade as a male detective named Sherlock. Of course, there is an amazing female Watson character waiting in the wings to help. Along with a very handsome—and, unfortunately, very married—Lord Ashburton in the story as well! The first in the Lady Sherlock series, which will delight mystery and romance lovers alike. I know I want to keep reading to find out if anything ever happens between Charlotte and Lord Ashburton.
Pretty Face by Lucy Parker
This romance novel brings us to the theater world in London. Luc Savage is a respected but notoriously temperamental director. He initially misjudges soap opera actress Lily Lamprey, as most people do, based on her breathy voice and huge boobs. But the producers want a big name to help with ticket sales. Luckily, she has some serious acting skills. But a romance between them could jeopardize both of their careers. Following reading this steamy, hilarious story, I immediately bought two other books from Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series. A new favorite romance author!
Sweatpants Season by Danielle Allen
The title of this book and the jacket copy are very tongue in cheek. But the themes explored in this romance novel are important and serious. Akila Bishara is more focused on establishing her career as a photographer and writer than finding a boyfriend. But she can’t ignore her attraction to Carlos when they are paired up in a photography class…especially when he’s wearing sweatpants. The only problem? Carlos is part of an incredibly sexist podcast that Akila hates. Is this a misunderstanding or does Akila have to help her heart get in line with what her brain knows is wrong for her?
If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker
Jane Austen fans, rejoice! This is a queer surfer Emma retelling set on a tropical island in Hawaii. And it is exactly as good as it sounds. Theodosia Sullivan loves matchmaking and hates change. She loves living with her father, helping run his popular surf shop, and annoying Kini, the woman who owns the local bakery who’s basically family. But when a clueless tourist becomes Theo’s newest matchmaking obsession, her friendship with Kini and reputation on the island may be jeopardized.
If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman
Diverse cast? Check. Fat heroine? Check. Fake relationship? Check. Legitimately, what else could you want from a romance novel? Nothing. Especially because this on is ADORABLE. Martha Aguas is great with number and less good at finding a bra that fits or a boyfriend. This hasn’t bothered her in the past. But when her cousin announces she’s marrying Martha’s longtime crush, her friend Max steps in to pretend to be her date and save her from nosy, meddling family members at the wedding.
Love Will Always Remember by Tracey Livesay
Tracey Livesay is the one author on this list I *have* read before, but when I saw a book from her I didn’t know about, I pounced. And I’m glad I did. It is full of delicious romance novel tropes and genuine character-driven romance. Leighton has amnesia and doesn’t remember the last six years. Jonathan is pretending to be her fiancé as a favor to his estranged brother, her real fiancé who’s away on a business trip. But when Jonathan and Leighton fall in love for real…well, you can guess. Drama and sparks ensue in equal measures.
The Verdict: The Ripped Bodice is the Bookstore of My Dreams
Visiting this romance novel mecca and getting to talk to Leah were the highlights of my visit. Her suggestions were varied, specifically tailored to me, diverse, and filled with a mixture of traditionally published and self-published authors. I enjoyed reading every single one of these. But for me, Lucy Parker and Rebekah Weatherspoon are the two that have become must-buy authors for me!