New to the genre? Here are the best romance novels to pick up right now.

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Romance novels get a bad rap. Though they account for about a third of all fiction sold in the U.S., according to Nielsen BookScan, people still describe them as "trashy," "lowbrow," and any number of demeaning terms. But here's the thing: romance novels are not all grocery store paperbacks (no shame if those are your thing, either!). You can find plenty of books with rich characters and language and can't-put-it-down plots.

If you're interested in exploring the genre, but feeling embarrassed—don't be. We asked sisters Bea and Leah Koch, co-owners of The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California, the country’s only bookstore solely dedicated to romance novels, to share their favorite picks for first-time romance readers.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“If one of the most magnetic and sought-after old Hollywood film stars marries 7 times, one of them has to be the real deal… right? Evelyn Hugo has lived a life, and now she wants to tell someone about it, but the truth might not be exactly what everyone always thought.”

To buy: $17;


Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton

“In this gorgeous, deftly written tale of historical and modern Cuba, a granddaughter reckons with her grandmother’s departure from the country decades earlier and is faced with the reality that sometimes the person or place you truly love is destined to break your heart.”

To buy: $11;


Unforgivable Love, by Sophronia Scott

“This sumptuous Dangerous Liaisons retelling—set in 1920’s Harlem—is a familiar story of love and revenge made new by a fresh setting and perspective.”

To buy: $11;

Penguin Random House

A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women is a gender-flipped story featuring that most beloved of British detectives, reimagined as a young woman named Charlotte Holmes. The mystery will have you guessing until the last page, and Charlotte will steal your heart.”

To buy: $10;


Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner

“How do our lives change us and those we love? Told over decades, Weiner’s novel follows two people, who encounter each other over and over and fall in and out of love, with life and sometimes with each other.”

To buy: $11;


Impossible Saints, by Clarissa Harwood

“In early 1900s England, a suffragette who doesn’t believe in marriage and a man of the church who very much does find themselves with very confusing feelings for each other. This true examination of two people trying to reconcile their different beliefs and love for each other feels refreshing in a time when so few people truly seem to know how to listen.”

To buy: $17;

Penguin Random House

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

“Set in Victorian England amongst the dark streets and glittering theaters of the time, Water’s modern classic explores the way our sexuality can shape our lives and the choices we make.”

To buy: $16;