I started reading romance novels when I was home from college on a break. My mother realized that I was investigating the pile of books she kept on her bedside table, and strategically placed one on the pile for me. I couldn’t help myself. It was about an archaeology professor, a cursed sword, and a Viking, the kind of story meant to entrance a gal who had all the preconceived notions about romance but none about adventure or science fiction. It was all the things I didn’t think the genre could be, and thus, I was hooked. I needed more.
I approached the genre with a particular frame. As long as the author made the characters and their story matter to me, I’d read it. It was their story, after all, not mine. I read so many — contemporary, paranormal, historical — and I loved them all.
Of course, the first time I read a Jewish character in a leading role of a romance novel? I cried. Before that, identifying with a character on a level beyond superficial details hadn’t been an option. And now it was.
But don’t just take my word for what an amazing experience reading a romance novel written by Jewish authors about Jewish characters is. Here’s a list of a few of my favorites, as well as a sneak peek of some exciting books being published soon.
1. A Candle for Nick by Lorna Michaels
This is the second Jewish-themed book written by the pioneering Jewish author responsible for the first “own voices” contemporary romance featuring Jewish characters. Let’s just say it involves a doctor, a secret baby, and a Hanukkah miracle. When I shelved this book in 2009 at the bookstore I was working at, I cried. Get it here.
2. Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer
The female protagonist of this book is a noble woman who searches for her larger purpose in life as she fights society to run a brewery left to her by her husband. In the meanwhile, she falls in love with a cowboy who always believed there was something more in life for him. Our central characters help each other find a place where they belong and find love without judgement.
The connection these characters have to Judaism is clear: our cowboy hero was raised by a Jewish goldminer in Colorado after he was orphaned; our heroine’s paternal grandmother was Jewish. Yiddish becomes their love language, which they revert to when they need to speak to each other without anybody listening. Originally published in 2006, this was groundbreaking for its time, and it’s still worth the read. Get it here.
3. Naked by Megan Hart
A strong Jewish heroine goes on an emotional journey, something that can easily be said about a lot of Hart’s books. Her stories are as gorgeous as her language, and her backlist features women’s fiction as well as science fiction, horror, and erotica. Get it here.
4. True Pretenses by Rose Lerner
In this, the second installment of Lerner’s popular “Lively St. Lemenston” series, a Jewish hero comes to the aid of a woman looking for protection in Regency England. She is a member of society; he is decidedly not. In fact, he’s made his living as a con man, a decision made to protect his younger brother. During the course of the story, as they deal with political scandal, our two protagonists find what they need in each other: love, and the ability to choose your own destiny. Get it here.
5. Imaginary Lines by Allison Parr
The book centers on a childhood friends-to-lovers romance between a sports reporter and a football player. The pair are home in San Francisco for Rosh Hashanah, investigating a scandal that could tear everything they know apart, but ultimately manages to bring them together (because romance!!). Get it here.
Extra Credit: Rush Me.
6. Hold Me Down by Sara Taylor Woods
This one tells the sensual, angsty, and funny story of a young Jewish woman coming into her own and falling in love with someone who gets her as she is. Get it here.
7. Dalliances and Devotions by Felicia Grossman
Our heroine is a proud, wealthy Jewish woman who writes a beauty column for one of the early Philadelphia newspapers. Our hero, a veteran of the civil war and a Jewish immigrant from Poland, is now a Pinkerton. This is a second chance road trip romance where our characters deal with past wounds and death threats. Get it here.
Extra Credit: Appetites and Vices
8. Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman
A warm hug in a book, this one’s about a small batch yarn dyer and the artist whose paintings serve as the inspiration for her most recent subscription set. At its core, this story is about two women who first bond, and then fall in love, through a mutual appreciation for fanfiction, art, and Jewish food (#relateable). Get it here.
9. Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West
West’s books can be both sweet and full of heat. This one sits on the sweeter side as two metamours realize they have feelings for each other while planning a birthday party. The story takes place around Passover time, so there is Passover prep on the page as well as a beautiful seder filled with found family. Get it here.
10. Once Upon a Bad Boy by Melonie Johnson
Stripped by Zoey Castile
The first romance book I read that contained a Jewish wedding. The wedding is for a secondary character, but the details are right and fantastic. Get it here.
Chasing Stanley by Deirdre Martin.
The first hockey romance I read with a Jewish heroine. Get it here.
Books to watch out for
Rebecca Crowley’s London Phoenix series, the first of which came out early this August, is about three Jewish brothers who buy a London newspaper to save it from bankruptcy. Book two in this series comes out on September 17.
Jennifer Gracen’s Holidays in Manhattan, which comes out this October 3rd, is the newest installment in her McKinnon Brothers series. It’s a book that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah.
The Anthology Eight Kisses, including Hanukkah stories by Mindy Klasky, Lori Ann Bailey and others releases on November 19.
Shira Glassman’s re-release of a short story called “Gifts of Spring” is coming this November, with a Jewish heroine — a mage and a stage hand — in a historical setting.
Xan West’s Eight Kinky Nights, which comes out this December, is a friends-to-lovers Hanukkah story that unfolds over, you guessed it, eight nights.
Rose Lerner returns with a spinoff to her Lively St. Lemenston series, The Sea May Burn, in early 2020.
Laura Brown has a Passover book, Matzah Ball Surprise, releasing in March of 2020.
Alina Adams, whose The Fictitious Marquee was the first #OwnVoices Jewish historical romance novel published in 1995, has The Nesting Dolls, about three generations of Soviet Jewish women, releasing next July.