09/24/2009 02:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Reading For Pleasure: My Top 5 Favorite Authors

By now, most people know I'm a lover of romance novels. I've been trying for years to break down some of the stigma and erase the shame. The truth is, I need romance novels to survive, and if they didn't exist, I would have to invent them. The very reasons I need them all year round is what makes them so great for summer vacation beach reading: They take you away from your daily reality, they erase whatever little niggling annoyances are bouncing around your brain, and in the end they give you a shot of something strong (perhaps dopamine?) and empowering to send you back into the fray, recharged and ready to take on whatever challenge is before you.

So here are my top 5 favorite romance authors. Another truth: I don't care what the title of the book is, I just care who wrote it...because the author has created the world I am entering, and after reading a few of her books, I know her world. I recognize many of the characters and look forward to whatever adventures and scandals lie between the pages. I'm not putting my daughter Maya on this list (it wouldn't seem fair), but she does have a new book coming out this fall! From Avon! And her first two books were delightful as well. Suffice it to say she is my most favorite romance author of all.

1. Eloisa James -- Right now she's on the best-seller list with A Duke of Her Own, the story of Villiers -- which we have all been breathlessly awaiting. It's one of many books that are part of her latest series. The point is, books by Eloisa James (by day, Mary Bly, Shakespearean professor), are funny, poignant, sexy, and filled with surprises.

2. Julia Quinn -- She's funny, sparkling, and delightful. Her newest book What Happens in London is not my all-time favorite of hers, but honestly, who cares. They are all really great.

3. Loretta Chase -- I will never be able to hear the term "privy counselor" again without laughing (at least to myself). And her book Lord of Scoundrels is often hailed as one of the all-time greats.

4. Gaelen Foley -- I haven't read her latest, My Wicked Marquess -- but it's on my reading pile, right after I finish with a new author (who I won't recommend until I'm done reading). When you read more than 40 romances a year, as I do, you need new authors in the lineup all the time. Gaelen Foley is someone I might not run to, but when I finally do read her, I am always really glad I did.

5. Susan Elizabeth Phillips -- If you'd told me a few years ago that I would wait, with bated breath and longing, for contemporary romances about football heroes, I would have scoffed, laughed, and rolled my eyes. But she makes it all so over-the-top funny, and somehow interesting, that I can't help but love her stories.

My personal theory is that The New York Times separated its paperback bestseller list into two separate lists so serious literary fiction wouldn't have to get polluted by popular romance fiction (and other good stuff). And then they wonder why everyone is depressed all the time! My recommendation: Avoid pills, read a book with a happy ending instead. And they're available without a prescription right in your local supermarket!

For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria's Farm Country Kitchen.

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