Happy Valentine’s Day! As a special Valentine’s treat, we’ve compiled a list of books that emotionally wrecked us. The ones where, when we put the book down, we were wrung out, exhausted…and so, so satisfied.
Whether you’ve already binged all of Bridgerton or are watching it slowly to savor every moment or are still unsure about this whole watching romance novels on TV thing, I think we can all agree: it was about damn time. In a recent interview with the NYT, Shonda Rhimes remarked that she was surprised more romance novels haven’t been adapted to television. After all, “Romance novels really lend themselves to the TV genre. They’re visual; they’re well paced; they have great plots.”
Shonda, we are right there with you. And now that Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series is getting the star treatment, let’s keep that momentum going! Here are six other historical romance series that we’d love to see adapted to television.
Note: We stuck with historical romances here to give us some parameters. And because we love costume dramas. Click the titles to go to the series’ Amazon pages.
This series has ALL THE DRAMA! Aristocracy! Fashion! Class conflict! Suffrage! Workers’ rights! Scientific discovery! (I mean, sexual reproduction?!?! GASP!) Uptight old men who make excellent villains because they refuse to GET WITH THE TIMES! And I know they’re not going to put in on TV, but the protagonists of the first book having awkward sex because they’re both virgins is also absolutely a draw.
Honestly, who doesn’t want to watch a TV show about Union spies during the Civil War? Even better, the books in the series are really well-paced; the tension ratchets up as the story progresses and the stakes get higher, so they would work really well in an episodic format. Bonus points for whip-smart characters who have wide-ranging conversations about things like poetry and privilege. But really: I’m in it for the spies. Kicking ass. In costume.
On Monday… A comedy, if you please. Spindle Cove is a quiet seaside haven for women who just don’t quite fit in…until the militia moves in, and prompts a battle of the sexes. But these fierce women get up to all kinds of hijinx and take no prisoners as they seek to live their best lives. Bonus points: there’s a crossover with the Castles Ever After series, so the show need never end!
Thanks to The Queen’s Gambit, chess is having a moment – so why not tap into the sexy side of that chess energy? But with way more elaborate costumes, because holy cow are Georgian clothes something else. Powdered wigs for days! We will admit that not all of the books in this series are created equal, and therefore propose a focus on the dueling chess matches (and the sort of but not really at all love triangle) played between Jemma, Elijah, and Villiers, as their complicated relationship grounds the rest of the series.
For the Outlander fans who are really bored now that Claire and Jamie are in North Carolina, Julie Garwood’s highlander books are excellent Ye Olde Hottie MacScottie fare. Please see: Highlanders with tree trunk thighs, enormous swords, mysterious villains, clan alliances and rivalries, and lots and lots of plaid.
And something for the mystery crowd! How about some edge-of-your-seat absolutely gripping murder mystery romances? Which happen to be set in the pleasure quarter of the capital city of Tang Dynasty China. We’ve got lots of cross-class forbidden romance stuff going on as characters from all walks of life interact in the liminal space of the pleasure quarter, which you know makes for all kinds of fun possibilities.
Let’s start with: these two protagonists have ignored each other for years and then decide to have a fake relationship, so the only way for them to go is up. What with court(ish) intrigue and a fake relationship, there’s plenty of room for these protagonists to jump to conclusions and have misunderstandings, but they don’t. They demonstrate trust and kindness all the way through. It’s heartwarming and steamy.
Yes, it’s a best friend’s sibling, small town romance, but Break the Rules digs deep to take us past all the standard romance noise and get the protagonists to ask the question: Is this relationship important enough to me that I stop thinking about what’s good for “me” and start thinking about what’s good for “us”? And I mean that in a healthy, relationships-take-compromise way, not in a subjugation way. Also, the sex scratches on his back are what give it all away to his brothers. Yowza.
Age gap romance is generally an Erin thing, because she likes paternalistic heroes, but Holly really enjoyed this one – mainly because the (much younger) heroine called out the (much older and also more powerful) hero on his paternalistic bullshit all the time. Especially when he thought he was “acting in her best interest.” Watching these two fight their lust for each other, and then build a true partnership among equals despite their different socio-economic and cultural statuses was deeply satisfying. And very very sexy.
These two protagonists have some not great history, but the way they get to know each other again as adults is delicious. Both protagonists have some emotional baggage, but they manage to communicate with each other and not jump to wild conclusions when the going gets tough, which was lovely to read. Also, when they finally hit the bedroom, I was DED.
Eden is extremely sheltered and has had her entire life controlled by her father. So when she trades tutoring for lessons in seduction from the steamiest guy in class, one would THINK Eden would be in for a world of trouble–and a broken heart. But no. Not from sexy, swoon-worthy, thoughtful, supportive Jake. This book is a delicate, slow burn of appreciation for unappreciated skills and open communication. You’re going to think it’s almost TOO relaxing and enjoyable, but don’t get too comfortable–these lessons will get your heart racing.
Here we have a sexy and complicated book featuring a SUPER sexy reality TV show carpenter who is also trying to figure out how to deal with PTSD after a traumatic incident, and a chef who is trying to rebuild her life after getting her hiney handed to her in a break up. Sounds like a hot mess, right? Well, yeah. Kind of. They are a mess, but they’re also human beings who are thoughtful and self-aware and who melt the walls with their chemistry.
It’s Halloweekend! We had a fun few minutes talking vampires and witches and demons (oh my!) on our text chat, so we thought we’d share some fun, possibly suspenseful, probably delightful, definitely a little bit ridiculous, but not especially spooky books today. If you’re in the mood to read for the holiday, we present The Smut Report’s 2020 Halloween recommendations without further ado.
As usual, clicking the title will take you to the Amazon page…
Belial knows that he’d be a natural as the Chief Executive Demon of Hell…all he has to do to prove his worth to Satan is sway God’s chosen one to the path of darkness. Easy, right? Wrong. Dara immediately knows that Belial is not really a sexy doctor. The back and forth between Belial and Dara as they navigate the path between good and evil makes for a really satisfying romance. Bonus points for a hilarious depiction of hell as the worst corporation ever.
This is a classic, sexy fated mates but with lots of corpses and limbs being torn off and blood squirting and stuff. There’s a sort of mystical world being built here with plenty of interwoven backstory and darkness, but there’s also a lot of rebirth and love. If you like everything paranormal and adore your happily ever after with a side of despair and a sprinkling of neck snapping, you’ll love this spooky, sexy story.
Alexia Tarabotti’s lack of a soul has always been a real trial to her, in no small part because it keeps her under the eye of Lord Maccon, gruff and messy alpha of the local werewolf pack and head of BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry). When a vampire tries to bite her without consent, violating all the rules of appropriate vampire etiquette, Alexia finds herself in the middle of a BUR mystery. Read for the most nonsensical and entertaining voice in a steampunk Victorian world.
If you’re curious about the Immortals After Dark series but aren’t ready to commit to a full-length book, start with this one! It’s book .5 in the series and features a vampire who really wants to find his bride (who will start his heart beating again) and a valkyrie who kills vampires as a hobby, so she’s got no problem getting all the sexytimes she needs from him and then ending him (maybe literally?) when the time comes. Things get spicy when immortal takes on immortal.
So this one isn’t your usual ghosts and goblins type fare, but we do have a book packed full of absurdity and steamy scenes. Riley is divorced (and completely screwed over), living in a house with a bunch of elderly roommates. Plus, one of her elderly roommates gets murdered, and here’s where it gets absurd–she’s psychic, and because she tried to warn the guy AND the police, she’s now on the murderer’s radar. Enter Nick Santiago, private investigator. (I so want to make a joke here, but I’m a very strong woman.) Nick’s job is to solve the case, but he can’t really do it without Riley’s help–and he ONLY works solo. This book is absolutely hilarious, and so well done…it’s a completely fresh and sexy romance packed full of wild capers, perfect for a stress-free Halloween.
This book is utterly ridiculous. The hero is a ghost named…HARDWICK DE STUDLY. And he makes a deal with the devil that means he can finally rest from his hundreds of years of haunting the earth, if and only if he can manage to not get a single boner for a year and a day. Too bad Cilla shows up at the castle he has decided to haunt. Is this book very silly? Yes. Are there glaring plot holes and bits of complete nonsense? Yes again. Has Holly been using it as an in-joke with her husband for the past five years because it is just that delightful? Yes, yes, YES!
If you’re feeling election fatigue…we get it. 2020 has lasted approximately a million years, which means that the 2020 election has lasted approximately two million years. But it’s not over til it’s over, so if you’re feeling the need for some inspiration to get more involved in participatory democracy…We made a smut list for that!
But first, a personal note.
Why we vote
Holly: The first election I was really aware of was 2000 – and boy, was it a doozy. So my sense with electoral politics is not only that it’s outrageously important but that you might have to fight like hell to get your voice heard. I honestly can’t imagine not voting.
Erin: My mother taught me to take it seriously. When I was really young, I learned that my Grandfather lost a local election by a super small margin, which taught me that every vote really does matter. I also was made aware very young that there are many countries in the world where people don’t get to vote, or if they do, the government is so corrupt that it doesn’t matter. My whole family takes voting super duper seriously. So I vote because it’s my job as a citizen to do so.
Ingrid: I also have to say that my earliest memories of voting involved my Grandpa–really everyone in my extended family was raised with a strong conviction that serving the community is not an optional value and that voting is one of the best things you can do to serve your community. Also though–I vote because it feels good to do the right thing, and it’s satisfying to know you’re doing your part to help your community.
If those answers don’t sum up our personalities in a nutshell, we really don’t know what would.
Without further ado, here are some of our favorite romances that get us in the mood to head to the ballot box. There are a lot of suffragette romances on this list. (As always, click on the titles to go to the book’s Amazon page.)
This is one of the most politically engaged romances Holly has ever read. Agatha and Penelope go to a peaceful protest, participate in a not-so-peaceful protest, print seditious pamphlets, and take on an anti-vice society. While also falling in love and spending a lot of time beekeeping.
The entire Brothers Sinister series is rooted in Victorian politics, but The Suffragette Scandal in particular is aces because Frederica Marshall (who’s been a firecracker in other books, mistake not) is a wonderfully constructed political activist heroine. She runs a political newspaper and readily engages in protests, and is marvelously fierce. Although this lands her in hot water, the relationship drama stems from the fact that the hero meets her with a deception, not from Free’s activism.
Annabelle receives a scholarship to study at Oxford from a Suffragette society, and because of this, she’s required to participate in suffragette pamphleting and so forth. Ergo, Annabelle is an activist because she has to be, not because she’s all fired up to be, which is a fun take. Even beyond the suffrage aspect, this book is chock full of politics, and the way that Dunmore deconstructs class and feminism is also great.
Ok, so this is mostly about a Gilded Age Lady Boss starting a make-up company, but there’s a thread of activism running through the novel. Daisy Swan and her suffragette friends push the boundaries of woman’s space both literally (by going to lunch without a male escort) and figuratively (by mutually supporting each other in their goals of financial independence). Bonus points for a suffrage rally where everyone wears bright red lipstick.
This anthology of black suffragette romance is awesome. It’s got great love stories, but it’s also really rooted in history. The authors tackle not just black women’s place in the struggle to win the vote, but also explore questions of race, passing, respectability, and intersectional politics. In a non-nerdy, absolutely swoon-worthy manner.
A contemporary romance! McQuiston wrote this book after the 2016 election and filled it with people who are woefully underrepresented in our current political landscape. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the president’s son, and he plans to be elected to Congress as soon as he’s old enough. But the realities of ugly biases tarnish not only his dream, but his mother’s reelection campaign when he begins a same-sex relationship with a prince of England.