Romance is one of the most popular genres of books. And since the pandemic began, romance novels are only growing in popularity. Whether it’s the escapism, the sexy scenes, or the comfort of knowing you will get a happily ever after at the end of the book, one thing is certain. Readers are gravitating towards romance novels right now in a very big way. For longtime romance readers, like me, this is fantastic news. Not only are there more people to talk about my favorite romances with, but there are more options to choose from than ever when picking a romance novel to read. However with so many romances available, there are many underrated romance novels that are hard to discover among the sea of options.
To bring together this list of underrated romance novels that you probably haven’t heard of, I set myself some guidelines. The books of course had to focus on romance as the main plot and have a happily ever after (or at least a happy for now) ending. They also had to have fewer than 1000 ratings on Goodreads. In fact, many of the books on this list have fewer than 500 ratings on the site. Most are self-published or from independent presses, but some of them are from larger publishing houses but still never seemed to find their audiences. I really hope you find some of your new favorite romance novels on this list. They might not have as much attention as other romance novels right now, but they are just as romantic, emotional, and downright sexy as the books we keep seeing on bookstore displays and bestseller lists.
Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang
Ian begins getting allergy shots to try to make a real relationship work with his cat-loving, casual girlfriend. But then he finds himself very attracted to Petra, his allergist. Petra definitely feels the chemistry between them too. But she doesn’t want to risk her new solo practice or her medical license by dating a patient. Somehow, though, the universe keeps pushing them together. Eventually, Petra’s professional ethics and moral standards begin to crumble underneath the weight of her feelings for Ian.
After Hours Redemption by Kianna Alexander
In this musical romance novel, Eden is a singer and a songwriter who thought she had the perfect relationship with the head of her record label, Blaine. But then he broke her heart by choosing to save his label instead of their relationship. Now, seven years later, he’s back. And he wants to revive their professional and sexual relationship. Eden promised herself that nothing romantic will ever happen between them again. But being around him in the studio reminds her of all the things about him she’s missed over the years.
Along Came Love by Tracey Livesay
Four months ago, free spirited India and strait-laced Michael had a two-day affair. When India found out she was pregnant, she resolved to keep the baby a secret from Michael. But when India ends up in jail after an impulsive misunderstanding, there is no one else she can call. Michael is busy trying to pull off the business deal of a lifetime. But he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about India. And when he bails her out and discovers her secret, he insists she live with him at least until the baby is born.
Along for the Ride by Mimi Grace
This is a superb enemies-to-lovers, road trip romance. Jolene is trying to be supportive when she agrees to help with her sister’s cross-country move. She’s supposed to be driving their stuff across the country with her dad. But when he bails, she’s stuck with Jason, a family friend (or frenemy in her case) who is holding a grudge against Jolene for an argument they got into five years ago. The journey includes some very searing back-and-forth banter and all of the best road trip romance tropes. The sexual chemistry between them is undeniable, but it’s not clear if that’s enough to sustain a real relationship between them.
Appetites & Vices by Felicia Grossman
Despite being a banking heiress, Ursula has never been fully accepted into Philadelphia society because of her Jewish background. She decides an engagement to one of the insiders is just the thing her reputation needs, even if it turns out to be a broken betrothal. Jay is a blue blooded rake who decides a broken engagement is the perfect way to justify his dream of running away to Europe. The two enter into a fake engagement in order to accomplish their separate goals. But their mutual feelings threaten to get in the way of their plans.
Black Witch Magic by Mila Nicks
Selene comes from a cursed family of witches. She is an outcast in her small town. They all remember her as the descendant of the evil witch Luna, Selene’s grandmother. Selene is content to leave them all alone and keep to herself inside the library where she works. Books make better friends than people in her opinion (one which I share from time to time). But her cozy status quo is upended when paranormal investigator Aiden comes to town asking questions about Selene’s grandmother. She wants to keep her family’s secrets. He wants to uncover them. And they both want to tear each other’s clothes off.
The Billionaire’s Boyfriend by Robin Knight
Matthew is a struggling romance writer. When he’s working his side gig as a flower delivery person, he ends up saving billionaire banker Calvin from being hit by a truck. The paparazzi capture the moment, and Matthew is suddenly thrust into the public eye. However, it’s the instant lust and love between Matthew and Calvin that propels the story forward. What follows is romantic comedy, heavy on the use of slapstick humor and fairy tale, happily ever after theme. This is a very sweet, very funny romance novel with an interesting twist on the billionaire romance trend.
Bookends by Brenda Murphy
Amari is a university librarian who is totally focused on taking care of her daughter. Thalia is a plumber who dreams of opening a bookstore and has given up on love after a string of bad relationships. But after what is supposed to be a one night stand, both women find themselves wanting more. This is a sweet and sexy romance with some light BDSM scenes that push against expectations.
The Do-Gooder by Jessie L. Star
Three years ago, while her brother was dying, Lara wasn’t with him. Instead, she was having sex with Fletch, her longtime crush and her brother’s best friend. The guilt Lara feels is overwhelming. And now that she’s in college, she tries to feel better by promising to do one good deed for anyone on campus who asks. But Fletch just wants Lara to move on and stop beating herself up about what happened. The two now have a love/hate dynamic full of witty banter and simmering sexual tension. And, eventually, the slow burn romance escalates giving Fletch and Lara a second chance at love and self-forgiveness for the mistake they made in high school.
Drag Me Up by R.M. Virtues
I don’t love all the heat-based metaphors for romance novels (steamy, sizzling, etc), but this Black, queer Hades and Persephone retelling is every single one of those things and more. Seriously, consider yourself warned. Hades is a casino owner and Persephone is an areal performer in one of his casinos. She is on the run from a mistake she made in trusting Zeus. The chemistry between them is instant and intense. And the connection they forge together is beautiful to read about. Plus, if you like this book you can continue with sequels featuring Aphrodite and Hephaestus along with Athena and Dionysus.
Free Fall by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
This historical romance takes place in the 1960s Space Race. After an accident takes place, the astronauts are instructed not to have sex until the end of their next mission in order to cut down on distractions. Dean wants more than anything to be the first man to walk in space. But he has a new shotgun marriage to Vivy, the daughter of a wealthy business man who is pregnant after a former fling between them. And Vivy is not settling for a sexless marriage. This is book 5 in the authors Fly Me to the Moon series, so if you are a completionist, you could also start with the first book in the series, Star Dust.
A Good Dose of Pleasure by Zuri Day
After her mother’s death, Anise moves to L.A. to complete a prestigious art internship. One of the first people she meets while out walking her dog is Gregory, an ER doctor waiting to hear about a research grant. The attraction between them is instant. And things are going very well, until they discover Gregory’s grant will mean demolishing the artist community building where Anise works to build a medical research center. Neither plans to give up on this building or their professional dreams. Can their relationship survive this battle between art and science?
He’s Not My Boyfriend by Jackie Lau
Jackie Lau is one of my favorite romance writers, but so many of her books are still very much under the radar. Iris is the last single grandchild in her family. Despite her family’s many matchmaking attempts, Iris doesn’t want to settle down. She prefers casual relationships and single life. Then Iris discovers that her latest one night stand, Alex, is now the new construction supervisor at her job, and everything changes. Not only are things super awkward at work, but she also gets to know Alex and develops feelings for him. And it seems like he might have feelings for Iris too.
History of Us by Stacey Agdern
Anna is an assistant at the Manhattan Museum of Jewish History who dreams about becoming a curator. When her boss offers her an opportunity, she’s over the moon. She must travel upstate to help a wealthy Jewish family create an exhibit for their town’s summer festival. Hopefully, she’ll be able to talk them into parting with a piece of family history for an upcoming exhibit at the museum. There’s just one catch. The family includes Anna’s ex-boyfriend, Jacob. And he doesn’t trust Anna or her boss with any part of his family’s past.
The Lady’s Champion by Marie Lipscomb
In this Medieval romance, Lady Natalie is excited to meet the champions when the Grand Tourney comes to Blackmere. Brandon the Bear is one of the most famous, but he fears he’s past his prime and unable to keep competing. When bandits attack the town, Natalie escapes with the champions, but must keep her identity a secret. She and Brandon work together to save the town. But if Natalie reveals she’s actually a lady and not a local barmaid, their mission and their budding romance will be at risk. This book gets major bonus points for featuring a love story between two fat characters.
Luck on the Line by Zoraida Córdova
Lucky jumps from thing to thing, never settling and never settling down. When her celebrity chef mother asks her to manage the launch of a new restaurant she’s investing in, Lucky agrees, even though it means working this the egotistical head chef James. He’s a former bad boy who is trying to clean up his reputation in the culinary world. They both have a lot riding on the success of this restaurant. But will their hate to love sexual attraction make them willing to risk the restaurant’s future in order to be with each other?
One Week to Claim It All by Adriana Herrera
Everyone is surprised when Esmerelda inherits her father’s billion dollar media empire. This includes the company’s board and Rodrigo, Esmerelda’s ex-boyfriend and her father’s protege who expected to take over the business. Esmerelda is given one week to prove herself to the board by creating a five-year plan for the company. This means working with Rodrigo, who also wants the top CEO spot. But over the week, old feelings and old history get dredged up. And discovering a secret of Rodrigo’s makes Esmerelda think about their relationship in an entirely new way.
Rising from Ash by Jax Meyer
When Phoenix is fed up with her life, she jumps at a the chance to move to the South Pole as a cook for a small group of scientists. The only catch is that she’s asked not to engage in casual sex for the good of the community. Ashley is an astrophysicist who’s thrilled to be working in the South Pole. Most of the people she’s dated haven’t understood her asexuality. So she’s excited to take a break from the whole thing and focus on her PhD. The pair instantly clash and trigger each other’s insecurities. But this book offers forced proximity to the max (in the best possible way). Slowly, they begin to understand each other and fall in love.
Unscripted by Claire Handscombe
The unconventional romance is written by Book Riot’s own Claire Handscombe. It features so many tropes, including second chance romance, friends-to-lovers, and a love triangle (err love quadrangle). Libby believes it is her fate to be with her celebrity crush Thomas. She will stop at nothing to meet him in person and convince him they are perfect for each other. Not their 20-year age gap. Not the fact they live in different countries. And definitely not the fact that Thomas is famous, while Libby is…not. Meanwhile, Thomas has a ex-girlfriend looking to start over and Libby has a friend back home who’s been pining for her for years. With four points of view, two countries, and one extreme celebrity crush, it’s not always clear who is going to end up with who. But, as this is a list of romances, I can 100% guarantee a happy ending.
Winner Takes All by Sandra Kitt
Sandra Kitt is groundbreaking romance author, but she’s still way too under-recognized and under-read. In this story, Jean’s job is to call the latest lottery winners on television every week. She’s stunned when she discovers the latest mega winner is Patrick, who happens to also be her unrequited high school crush. This one in a million chance brings the teenage friends back together. And as Patrick faces a whole new life where it seems like everyone wants something from him, Jean is the only person he can trust.
I hope you love these underrated romance novels and find something amazing to read off this list. For more romance suggestions, take this quiz on what indie romance to read or peruse this list of queer Black romance novels.