Romance Novels 101: The Infamous Book List That Changed My Life

05/27/2015 01:06 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

Romance Novels 101

by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels

When my mother insisted that I, the snobby academic, read romance novels, I demanded a syllabus to get me started (after I laughed at the ridiculous notion). If I was going to study the genre, I was going to do it properly. Of course, I ended up chucking the list and reading for fun. But the fact remains that Romancelandia is a vast place, and it's hard to know where to begin.

Alas, the original list has been lost, and though I certainly remember the first three titles, my mother and I can't quite agree on everything else that was on it. But here, recreated from memory, are some of the romance novels that my momma insisted I read and that made me fall in love with the genre:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

pride prejudice

Perhaps the first romance novel ever written and quite possibly the best one, too. You know the story: Mr. Darcy has £10,000 a year; Elizabeth is under parental pressure to marry. And after a bad first encounter, they spend a few hundred pages despising each other, then discovering the truth about each other, and finally falling in love with each other. Yes, you can just watch the movie, but then you'll totally be missing out.

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Windsor

forever amber

This book is EPIC. Sixteen-year-old Amber starts off 16 and pregnant in Restoration England, yet manages to attain the highest station possible at the time--mistress to the king himself, though her heart still belongs to her first love. This 1940s bestseller was banned in Boston (too sexy!). All I will say is that after finishing this book, I called my mother in a rage, and she said, "For lord's sake, read Kathleen Woodiwiss and call me in the morning."

Shanna or The Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen Woodiwiss

flame flower

My mother is a die-hard Shanna fan, however, I couldn't get into it at first. But once I picked up The Flame and The Flower, I never looked back. Published in 1972, The Flame and the Flower is the novel that launched the romance genre as we know it. The romance begins with a rape (!?! I know) when Captain Brandon Birmingham mistakes innocent Heather Simmons for a prostitute and forces her to have sex. They are forced to marry. Then they embark on an Atlantic crossing, and she finds out she's pregnant; they set up house in Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way, they fall in love and have consensual sex. It's all sunsets and roses until a villain from her past emerges to ruin everything. (Spoiler alert: He doesn't, and they live happily ever after.)

After Innocence, by Brenda Joyce

after innocence

This wasn't on the original list, but my mother suggested this title when I asked if there were any with heroines who were not physically perfect specimens of womanhood (as all the ones I'd read thus far had been). The heroine, Sofie O'Neil, is a talented painter and estranged from New York society due to a limp resulting from an accident. The hero is Edward Delanza, and the fact that I remember his name after all these years should tell you just how captivating he is. The big dilemma: Should Sophie remain an unwed mother or will she find herself stuck in a marriage of unrequited love?

Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase

mr impossible

Everyone always suggests Lord of Scoundrels as the first Loretta Chase novel to read. And indeed, it is one of the best historical romances of all time. But Mr. Impossible was the first one I read, and it introduced me to the phrase "privy council member" (take that, throbbing manhood!), which still makes my mom and me giggle. Set in 1820s Cairo, Daphne Pembroke is an expert in Egyptian antiquities (brains); Rupert Carsington is "shockingly masculine" (brawn) and totally trouble. They team up to rescue her brother. You can just imagine what happens next. This historical romance is exotic, sexy, and hysterical.

Note: The list is almost entirely historical romances because that's what my mom read. It was a few years before I discovered other subgenres of romance, like, oh, say, contemporaries or paranormals. For more must-read romance recommendations, check out my blog.

MayaRodalephotoMaya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother's insistence. She is now the bestselling and award winning author smart and sassy romances. Her latest book is Dangerous Books for Girls. Follow her on Twitter: @mayarodale





Dangerous Books For Girls bigIt's romance novel week at Maria's Farm Country Kitchen! This week, my mom has let me (Maya Rodale) and my romance-writing friends take over the blog to share personal stories about how these books have transformed our lives. They're best known for the naughty bits, but romance novels have so much to teach and inspire us about love, self acceptance, hope, and HAPPINESS...all ideas I examine in my new book, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, which looks at the secret history of why these books have been scorned, but also why they've been the salvation for millions of women readers.

For more from Maria Rodale, visit