I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I could never get into all the 50 Shades hype. 50‘s way too reminiscent of old-school bodice ripper romance novels, where the heroines were basically cardboard cut-outs come to life, wearing antebellum gowns and constantly fainting and needing their bath salts.
Personally, I’d prefer a Scarlett O’Hara type any day, because at least she had chutzpah (and she always knew what she was getting into, no red room required). Plus, let’s be real, ladies (we’re all friends here)– there’s no way in hell some twenty-something bazillionaire playboy smokeshow who’s equal parts DTF and interesting exists, and is inexplicably obsessed with a fall-on-your-face plain Jane. As someone who wipes out regularly when alcohol’s involved (and, full disclosure, even when it isn’t), I can tell you it’s not cute, and my skinned knees aren’t exactly attracting suitors up the wazoo.
I’ve swiped through Tinder time and time again, which means I know for sure that Christian Grey is not a living, breathing human being, because science. You know who he is IRL? A creeper with a sex dungeon, and *spoiler alert* there may be someone locked up inside there.
The upside of 50 Shades making sexcapades an accepted plot point? There’s no need to hide more risqué reading on your Kindle, and it provides a welcome break from class requirements. If you sometimes (okay, always) feel like every dude you know doubles as a douchenozzle, it’s understandable that you’d want to escape to a world where dating exists and Noah from The Notebook is alive and well. After all, Noah wrote Allie every day for a year, and you’re busy crossing your fingers that your not-boyfriend responds to your midnight text.
If you’re searching for a book that has the characters getting down and dirty (preferably with a dash of romance, and maybe even the tiniest touch of realism) here are 5 authors far more talented than someone who gets her jollies writing Twilight fan fiction. (Real talk: does Christian Grey sparkle in sunlight? Asking for myself.)
1. Susan Elizabeth Phillips
While I might not be into sports, that doesn’t mean I don’t like quarterbacks. SEP writes fairytale romances with a modern twist, so there aren’t any simpering heroines or dodo bird Alpha males. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll be into her hysterical stories, because they’re actually LOL-worthy (unlike sparkle vamps).
Start with: Match Me If You Can (especially if you’re a fan of the Millionaire Matchmaker‘s mentality), Ain’t She Sweet (perfect if you think Ezra and Aria’s relationship on Pretty Little Liars is a normal human activity), or This Heart of Mine (for the girls who mostly watch football games for the eye candy — no judgement).
2. Lorelei James
If your favorite part of 50 Shades involved whips and chains (I assume that’s what he kept in his sex hazement, based on the trailer alone), Lorelei James has a whole slew of hot cowboys for you. Like 50, it’s bondage lite, so there’s no reason to be too scared. You may want these books on Kindle, though, because the titles alone will have people giving you funny looks if you bring one to class accidentally. While you’re on Amazon in the L section, try Lora Leigh, another writer who puts E.L. James to shame.
Start with: The Rough Riders series (Yes, it sounds extra dirty, but it’s about cowboys, I swear… and it’s dirty).
3. Lisa Kleypas
Sometimes it’s hard to read about modern-day C. Grey’s when you’re surrounded by guys who think breakfast is the epitome of a romantic date. For a blast from the past, and a reminder that actual courtships used to exist, turn to Lisa Kleypas. Just because she’s mainly a historical writer doesn’t mean her female characters are archaic — most of them would fit in perfectly well on your college campus, once they ditched their ball gowns.
Start with: The Wallflower Series (if you’ve ever felt just a little bit out of place at the campus bar, you’ll fall in love).
4. Maya Rodale
Maya is young, hip, and won’t make you feel like these books are limited to the 50+ set, because let’s be honest, 50 Shades is called mommy porn for a reason. She writes funny, smart historical novels and, as a bonus, she has a whole series where she sets the books in the modern world, which is especially helpful if you’re starting to think that real life happy endings no longer exist (other than the icky kind). Here’s to proof that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover– while they look like bodice-ripping Harlequins at first glance, they’ll having you addicted in no time. This isn’t your grandmother’s romance novel.
Start with: The Wallflower series (wallflowers are pretty and popular as far as historical novels are concerned).
5. Jennifer Crusie
Jennifer Crusie writes rom-coms in book form. Once you’ve exhausted all of your romantic comedy options on Netflix (they seriously need to up their game), grab your Kindle. If you’re looking for main characters that you would actually be friends with, Crusie’s got your back. Plus, while her books always have a happy ending (spoiler alert), they don’t exactly start that way… and sometimes a little realism in writing can be a good thing. But hey, if that’s not what you’re into, Edward Cullen is always waiting.
Start with: Bet Me (kind of like a real life 10 Things I Hate About You) or Welcome to Temptation (only if you’re into authority figures).