Ten easy reading romance novels that are hard to put down

Fashion, glamour and desire collide with passionate love affairs and complex stories of revenge in these best-sellers

Top titles by genre masters. Photo: Grove Press, Dell Publishing, Pocket Books, Bantam Press, Bookrags, Penguin Books, Griffin, Littlehampton, Northeastern University Press
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There is nothing like a book you can’t put down. Especially when it is full of action, suspense, fabulous fashion and powerful women paving their own way in a world determined to use them.

The genre is pulpy romance, which first had its boom in the 1980s thanks to authors such as Jackie Collins and Sydney Sheldon. The stories involve strong, determined and beautiful heroines burdened with a secret or are on a journey to forge their future. Often set in urban metropolises they are escaping to or from, their stories are riddled with passionate love affairs and complex stories of revenge and desire.

Full of glamour and melodrama, these books aren’t often praised for their prose but for their specific quality in entertaining the reader while touching on important themes such as class, society and gender.

From Hollywood wives trying to make it in the world of entertainment to servant girls who build billion dollar empires and are still on a path of vengeance, here are the 10 mushy romances that are you will find hard to put down.

Lucky by Jackie Collins

Perhaps the queen of the genre, Collins was instrumental in solidifying pulpy romance through the glamorous lens of the 80s and 90s. One of her most famous novels from the genre is Lucky.

Set in the early 1980s across Las Vegas, Hollywood, Greece, New York and Paris, the story introduces readers to the smart, strong, beautiful and hot blooded Lucky Santangelo.

She is the heiress of her father’s hotel empire and determined to make him proud as she fights her enemies, who include a calculating Hollywood wife, a power-hungry business tycoon, a spoilt billionaire and a dangerous criminal hungry to kill. All the while, Lucky is not only making a name for herself but must come to terms with her complex past, family and love life.

Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins

Collins once again delivers an entertaining insight into the lives of a very specific sect of people – this time its Hollywood wives. Privileged and obsessed with status, three women in Hollywood – Elaine Conti, Angel Hudson and Montana Grey – are each trying to make their mark in Beverly Hills, no matter the cost.

From navigating through a male-dominated industry to weaponising their charm to get what they want, the women must learn the hard way that Hollywood eats up those who don’t keep their eyes wide open.

Lace by Shirley Conuran

One day, four glamorous friends – Judy, Kate, Pagan and Maxine – are invited to the New York apartment of Lili, the beautiful and temperamental Hollywood star. None of the women know why they are there and things take a surprising turn when Lili asks which one of them is her real mother.

When the women refuse to answer, Lili makes it her mission to discover their secrets and their true identities. She travels around the world, meeting the rich, famous and discreet characters of the women’s past, learning about the beginning of their friendship at a Swiss boarding school in the late 1940s, to the various paths their journeys take and where they intersect.

A Woman of Substance by Sara Taylor Gilford

In a humble Yorkshire village, Emma Harte is a resourceful servant girl at Fairley Hall. It is in this tyrannical environment that she learns to survive and promises herself that she will never be poor again.

After an unspeakable tragedy, Emma rises from poverty into a world of magnificent wealth of her own making, creating Harte Enterprises, her vast business empire.

However, becoming one of the richest women in the world comes at a price – the love of her life is always out of reach. And so it is up to Emma and her iron will to maintain an empire throughout two wars and against detractors while not loosing herself in the battle for love and money.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Anyone who has not read Valley of the Dolls has probably heard of it. Susann’s novel is one of the best-selling books in publishing history and was equally beloved and criticised.

The story follows the lives of three young women – Anne, Neely and Jennifer – struggling to make it in New York City after the Second World War using their beauty and charm to achieve fame in the entertainment industry.

The story explores themes of friendship and the challenges women navigate in a male-dominated world while also illustrating extra martial affairs, sexism, struggles with addiction and the dark side of fame.

Master of the Game by Sydney Sheldon

Spanning five generations and the rise of an empire, Master of the Game is centred on one of the richest, most powerful women in the world – Kate Blackwell.

Despite her privilege, Kate is surrounded by many unanswered questions from her past. Her father was a diamond prospector who, through sheer luck, became unbelievably wealthy. Her mother was the daughter of a corrupt merchant. Their union and her birth was, as Kate discovers, an act of revenge.

The consequences of how she came into the world sets off a series of events that places Kate face to face with the past which is threatening her present and future. From ghosts of friends and enemies, to blackmail, murder and blind ambition, Kate must make sense of the past in order to protect her family’s name and empire.

The Other Side of Midnight by Sydney Sheldon

Another bestseller from Sheldon, The Other Side of Midnight is a rags-to-riches story with a twist of revenge. Noelle Page may be a woman born into poverty in Marseille, but through the sheer power of her beauty and by training herself in the art of manipulating men, she reaches heights of power and fame that she never imagined for herself.

But there is something else that fuels her ambition – revenge. Noelle is on a quest to destroy Larry Douglas, the dashing American pilot who betrayed her. Set between the two world wars, the novel weaves together themes of love, betrayal and power, as Noelle makes her way in the world with beauty and cunning at her disposal.

Rivals by Jilly Cooper

In the cut-throat world of television there is a lot happening on screen and behind the scenes. Successful, charming and married family man Declan O’Hara is a beloved TV personality. However, for some reason, he is not getting along with his gorgeous new producer Cameron Cook.

Declan has also discovers that the managing director of their company, Lord Baddingham, is a crook he cannot trust. Set in the fictional English county of Rutshire, Rivals is full of affairs, scandal, witty writing, humour, romance and social commentary.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

A bestseller and extremely controversial at the time of its publication in 1956, Peyton Place is one of the first contemporary archetypes of the genre, and in particular the trope of housewives with secrets.

Set in the fictional town of Peyton Place, the story follows three women each coming to terms with their identities. There is Constance MacKenzie, who returns to her hometown after living in New York with a daughter and no husband. Her daughter Allison, meanwhile, fantasises about the father she never met and has big dreams for herself. And then there is Selena Cross, Allison’s new friend who comes from a dysfunctional home and has a secret.

The story explores themes of adultery, lust and murder set against a small conservative town where secrets eventually become everyone’s business.

Scruples by Judith Krantz

The high-end luxurious world of high fashion, film and Hollywood is on display through the life of Billy Ikehorn and her ultimate transformation story.

Born into the wealthy Winthrop family, Wilhelmina is raised by a distant father and a housekeeper and develops a habit of turning to food for comfort. After graduating high school she escapes to France and undergoes a full transformation of the body and mind, returning to America as Billy, shocking her family and friends.

Despite being a “better” version of herself Billy feels lost and moves to New York. There she meets bewildering characters all of whom want her for their own selfish reasons and Billy must learn how to trust her instincts and find her true calling.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 3:05 AM