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.

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