Romance novels for beginners

Plus why fiction matters and underrated books you (almost definitely) haven't read

Hey, readers!

This week I was a guest on the wonderful Laura Tremaine’s podcast 10 Things to Tell You! I absolutely adore Laura and we’ve enjoyed discussing books online for a while now. So when she offered to have me on to share more about the roots of FictionMatters and to discuss why we read fiction, I leapt at the opportunity. There’s truly no greater topic of conversation for me than learning about why people read and hearing about the books that have shaped their perspectives, their opinions, and their lives. On the podcast, Laura and I each shared five things we’ve learned from reading fiction. It gets pretty personal and we each get to describe some of the books that have mattered to us as readers and as people. I hope you’ll listen and I also hope you’ll let me know why you read fiction!

This week in books.

This week I read…

  • Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. I skipped book three in the Bridgerton series and went on to this one because Penelope Featherington is one of my favorite characters from the show and I wanted to read her love story. This novel is a charming tale of long unrequited love that’s also a friends-to-lovers story. While I very much enjoyed the romance element of this book, I was even more invested in the main characters’ journeys as individuals and the way Julia Quinn expanded her characters’ social world. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert. Talia Hibbert is a truly gifted romance writer and this book was a delight. I absolutely adored Eve and Jacob. To me, Hibbert is particularly skilled at beginning her novels with protagonists who verge on stock characters and then rounding them out for the whole of the novel. This not only leads to really enjoyable romances where you can see why these two specific people truly work together, but also makes for a wonderful demonstration of character depth and nuance. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman. This book is was not exactly what I wanted it to be, which it not at all the author or book’s fault, but nonetheless made for a less than satisfying reading experience. I was hoping Women and Other Monsters would be a nerdy, scholarly exploration of classical and mythological depictions of female monsters and how we see those archetypes at work today. Instead, the book is almost more of a memoir exploring the ways Zimmerman herself feels monstrous at times because of the ways she doesn’t fit into society’s standards of what a woman “should” be. She does use mythical figures to organize the book and frame her thinking on expectations of femininity, but those figures themselves weren’t explored with the depth I was looking for. I actually think this makes for a book that more readers would really enjoy, but it was a bit of a miss for this mythology nerd. Amazon | Bookshop

Now I’m reading…

3 romance novels for beginners.

I was on a bit of a romance kick this week, so today I’m sharing a few romance novels that are (in my non-expert opinion!) good introductions to the genre. All of these are open door—meaning we see some bedroom activities on the page—but none of them are super scandalous.

  • Beach Read by Emily Henry. For a romance novel that reads like contemporary fiction and includes discussions between characters about what romance is and why it matters. Amazon | Bookshop

  • The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan. For a Regency romance novella that’s steamy and swoon-worthy, but not a major time commitment (bonus: it’s often available for free on Kindle). Amazon

  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. For a book that demonstrates just how inclusive and progressive romance can be and the start of a series that just gets better and better. Amazon | Bookshop

Links I love.

I was a guest on Laura Tremaine’s awesome podcast, 10 Things to Tell You! We talked about how reading fiction has changed and shaped us and shared some of the books that have mattered most to us as readers. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

I enjoyed learning more about Yaa Gyasi and the books she loves in this Guardian interview.

Sometimes LitHub’s underrated books lists come across as a bit snobby. And while this one is no exception, it includes several books that I haven’t read and admit I now want to.

5 unusually structured speculative fiction novels

Learn about the indie bookstore in Kansas that’s fighting against Amazon’s monopoly of the book industry.

I love Constance Grady’s book reviews, and I also appreciated her analysis of the Oprah interview with Meghan Markle.

I’m still very invested in the unfolding Reply All story. This article provides a great breakdown.

End notes.

Watching: All of the Pride and Prejudice adaptations after living in the novel these last few weeks.

Listening: I always love the Literary Therapy episodes of From the Front Porch and was so happy to get a new one this week.

Making: Instant Pot meatballs to keep us warm and cozy through this massive spring snow storm.

Loving: This waffled Henley is so perfect I just ordered it in 2 more colors! And my favorite sweatshirt from Madewell is on sale.

Readers, I hope you’re reading something that brings you joy. For questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing or responding directly to this newsletter. I love hearing from you!

If you’re looking for more book recommendations and delightful bookish community, consider supporting FictionMatters on Patreon.

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Happy reading!


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