Bridgerton on Netflix has given many reluctant Romance readers a taste of what modern Historical Romance novels can be. Beyond helpless damsels and questionable dukes, you can find love stories with People of Color, LGBTQ+ protagonists, and working-class folks that show us history in a different light.
The Duke and I, book one in the Bridgerton series, is over 20 years old. And that is ancient in Romance novel years! Romance is an ever-evolving genre and 5-year-old, let alone 20-year-old books might have problematic content that the author wouldn’t write again like that. The understanding of consent and representation has changed very much over the last 20 years and many authors of Historical Romance novels handle these topics differently now.
The Victorian and Regency eras were not very kind to most people, but a good Historical Romance manages to show beauty and love and how people might have found or created spaces to be themselves – the hopeful element that I love so much about the Romance genre. And while these types of books of course have an element of fantasy and.. well… are quite literally romanticizing the past, many authors do meticulous research and know much more about the actual lived reality of different groups of people than we usually get presented in the superficial (and biased) overview in school.
The Governess Game
Tessa Dare and her tongue-in-cheek approach to Historical Romance novels are ridiculously entertaining and Mary Jane Wells brings this perfectly to life in the audiobook version.
While I loved absolutely everything about The Governess Game, from the hilarious and heartbreaking little girls (that poor doll, omg), to the lovable working-class heroine, I got a particular kick out of the rake hero. He made a very specific decision about his womanizing that made me squeal a little because I have waited so long for a rake to do this!
This is book two in the Girl Meets Duke series, and while it is fun to read them in order (and the meet-cute between these two happens in book one, The Duchess Deal), it works perfectly fine as a stand-alone, or as your start into the series.
Related article: Why LibroFM is the best Audible alternative
An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler
This book is another second-in-the-series entry. I can wholeheartedly recommend A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, book one of Rogues & Remarkable Women. But I simply loved An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler even more!
A secret society for the protection of wronged women, an adorable toddler, a righteous barrister, and a reckless woman with a very mysterious and worrying past. This is a gripping story with lots of secrets and mystery, and the ending was absolutely beautiful and made me tear up a little bit.
The audiobook is narrated by the amazing Bahni Turpin!
A Lady Awakened
A Lady Awakened is without a doubt one of the must-read Historical Romance novels!
This is such an outstanding story that manages a beautiful balance for the heroine. Martha is very inexperienced in some ways, yet feels so worldly in others. Despite her young age, she takes on full responsibility for her servants and tenants. And it makes perfect sense that she is willing to go all the way to ensure her estate remains in her possession. To that end, she needs to present an heir. Very quickly. So she makes a deal with a rake who was sent to the country because of his questionable behavior in London. And yes, she pays him. This audiobook is an absolute delight!
The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting
While every single KJ Charles book would be a perfect choice for this book list, I picked her newest release, The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting. It’s about a brother and sister who enter the London season to find good matches and “marry up”. It was for me the first time I read about fortune-hunting and it discusses marrying a lord in much more realistic terms than we usually encounter in Historical Romance novels.
This is also, as the title promises, a very gentle story. The siblings are not what you would expect, and neither is Hart. The audiobook is narrated by Cornell Collins who always manages to portray KJ Charles’ characters perfectly!
Related article: The Best Romance Audiobooks of 2021 (So far…)
Not every Historical Romance novel has to be set in England. Rebel by Beverly Jenkins is a beautiful love story! The setting is New Orleans after the Civil War. While that brings with it many serious issues, this book balances it out with wonderfully light, sweet scenes. Drake and Valinda have such adorable, fun banter. I adored the way they talked with each other! And how could you possibly resist a hero with “pirate blood”?!
Drake’s mother was a wonderful side character as well. And the narration by Kim Staunton made me positively devour this audiobook!
The Duke Undone
I consider The Duke Undone somewhat of a “Historical College Romance”. Lucy studies art and tries to become a painter. But being a woman in a man’s world and going to school to work and not just to find a husband is not easy. And it gets even more complicated when she uses a dead person as inspiration… and he turns out to not be dead at all! He also is not particularly thrilled when he finds out about the painting…
This is the audiobook that cemented my complete love and adoration for Mary Jane Wells. No one can gasp like her!
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows
Olivia Waite writes beautiful Historical Romance novels.
In The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, we have a beekeeper who *gasp* wears trousers! Like a man! And a very down-to-earth widow who is set on keeping her business going. There is also a wonderful side plot about the widow’s son and his girlfriend.
The audiobook is narrated by Morag Sims who gave these two women wonderful, distinct voices.
The Duke Who Didn’t
Courtney Milan (Author), Mary Jane Wells (Narrator)
Get the audiobook on Amazon**
Courtney Milan is one of the best Romance authors. Unfortunately, many of her books don’t have an audio version. Of course, I was thrilled to find that her new series is on Audible. And it is read by the amazing Mary Jane Wells no less!
The Duke Who Didn’t is an adorable story about childhood friends, hidden identity, righteous revenge, and sauce. It is also utterly intriguing, well written, and the characters – the straight-forward Chloe and the funny Jeremy – are completely lovable, the perfect opposites-attract!
Unmasked by the Marquess
While Cat Sebastian is always a go-to for well-written Historical M/M Romance, her kind-of-M/F Unmasked by the Marquess is a particular favorite of mine.
I have always enjoyed old-timey stories about girls in men’s clothing (which is a vast simplification of course). Cat Sebastian weaves this theme into a beautiful, queer love story about gender identity and sexuality.
The audiobook is narrated by Joel Leslie who is also a particular favorite of mine! He is always such a pleasure to listen to and really brings all the characters to life.
To Love and to Loathe
Rakes are par for the course in Historical Romance novels. But a rake whose prowess was criticized? Now that’s something new!
In To Love and to Loathe we have a widowed Lady and a Marquess who have known each other since her debut. And they have been bickering ever since. Since the two are frenemies, she is the person he turns to after receiving devastating feedback about his skills in the bedroom.
This is such a sweet and fun Rom-Com. And I enjoyed the dual narration by Anais Inara Chase and Joel Froomkin very much!/