It’s February, and drugstores are doing a brisk business in boxed chocolate and stuffed teddy bears, but for those looking to fill their Valentine’s Day with something a little more heart-pounding and breathless, look no further than your nearest bookstore. Here are some of the most romantic novels of the romance genre, perfect for valentines of all sorts.
Lisa Kleypas’s long career has delivered some of the genre’s most beloved books. Her 1994 novel “Dreaming of You” introduces hardened scoundrel Derek Craven. On the streets of Victorian London, enemies are everywhere, and Derek’s have found him — luckily, so has Sara Fielding, a shy, retiring writer researching the dark corners of society. Sara has a kind heart, a noble soul and a working pistol, and she uses all three to save the cynical Derek. What follows is a near-perfect romance, with love unlocking both characters, until they are remarkably changed for the better. The story is filled with splendid world-building, dastardly villains and superior love scenes.
Beverly Jenkins’s magnificent “Indigo,” from 1996, begins with a letter from a free black man who has sold himself into slavery after falling in love with an enslaved woman. “To be near her, I would carry water in hell,” he writes before tragedy strikes, and with that, Jenkins begins the story of Hester, the daughter of these separated lovers, who was sold away from her parents and then escaped to become a conductor on the Michigan Underground Railroad. Hester is tasked with hiding Galen Vachon, a legendary conductor on the railroad network, while he heals from a brutal attack. What ensues is a deeply romantic adventure story with life-or-death stakes and strong, noble characters who fight for every bit of their hard-won happily ever after.
The excellent Immortals After Dark series, by Kresley Cole — featuring every paranormal creature imaginable — is at once delightfully bonkers and incredibly sexy. Despite its contemporary setting, 2008’s “Dark Needs at Night’s Edge,” the fifth book in the series (and easily read as a stand-alone), is gothic romance at its best, matching Conrad, a 300-year-old vampire sick with bloodlust, with Néomi, a ghost from the 1920s who haunts the abandoned New Orleans manor where he is sent to dry out. Their romance is stunning — full of empathy, partnership and adoration, all before they are able to touch.
Set against the London BDSM scene, Alexis Hall’s “For Real” (2015) is a nuanced, emotional look at the way love can overcome even the most hardened cynic. Laurie, a 37-year-old sexually submissive surgeon has it all — academic pedigree, townhouse in Mayfair, money, privilege, power. When his decade-long relationship ends, he closes himself off to emotion — until he meets Toby Finch, a young dominant who is struggling to find himself in all areas of his life. Hall flips all the standard tropes with this superb erotic romance that, while tremendously sexy, reminds readers that sometimes we find precisely what we need when (and with whom) we least expect.
Kristen Callihan’s “Fall” (2018) is the third book in her VIP series, following the members of a rock band after the lead singer, Jax Blackwood, attempts suicide. Two years later, Jax, still battling depression, meets Stella in a Manhattan grocery store during a blizzard. In a charming improbability worthy of the best of rom-coms, Stella is cat-sitting for Jax’s neighbor. What follows is the delicious alchemy of a perfect match: Stella is a lovable oddball who has no trouble making friends (in fact, she works as a professional friend) but has difficulty making deep connections, and Jax is a talented genius who cannot seem to accept that we are all works in progress. Callihan’s masterful treatment of Jax’s depression only adds to the richly nuanced romance.
Sarah MacLean is the author of historical romance novels and host of the romance podcast, Fated Mates. Find her at sarahmaclean.net.