Originally published: May 10, 2020; updated: December 28, 2020.
Update: I wrote Bridgerton recaps!
Bridgerton, a historical romance tv show about love, lust, and uhh more lust, has arrived on Netflix — and I got to write recaps of each episode for Vulture! Here’s how to find the recap for episode 1.
Books to Get Fanserviced By
These days, more than ever, the world needs fun (read: horny) book recommendations. Here at fanserviced, we’re working hard to recommend the books and masks that will keep you hydrated.
Too often, people in need of a quarantine-appropriate, fine dirty book are being recommended something dusty, sad, and heavy on non-consensual sex (note: Bridgerton‘s source material, The Duke and I, features a non-consensual sex scene that I hate, which is why I’ve never recommended it). The classics and works by 20th-century men have their place, but the publishing world is bursting with books that are as delicious as your favorite essence.
I’m going to take you through my recommendations, starting with historical mysteries that feature slow burn or no romance, continuing with hot contemporary romances, and wrapping things up with historical romances of various steam levels up to and including erotic romance. To gain the fanserviced seal of approval, a book needs to delight — whether it’s due to characters that pop with life, swoony plots, incredible period-correct details, or hot sex scenes. Finally, to keep your skin quenched and the blog nominally on topic, I’m going to give you some sheet mask recs.
Please read books you enjoy
People can get all kinds of weird when confronted with the idea of reading for pleasure. We have ways of justifying and minimizing those books to ourselves and others: beach reads, guilty pleasures. I mean, do that if you must, but we’re living through a plague: maybe this is the time to throw off shame?
I’m a historian of early modern Europe, so believe me when I say that straight up pornographic books have contained some of the most radical ideas; what looks like “just porn” is usually very much not just porn. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read or watch anything R-rated, so I did what all lunatics do: checked out the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom from the library since literary stuff flew under the radar. It was awful and I don’t recommend it, but it certainly cured me of the notion that sex began with the release of Dirty Dancing. As a professor, I assigned Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, which is shocking and hilarious because the characters are negotiating what goes where while engaging in long, detailed revolutionary discussions about politics and culture.
But my world really turned when I read Thérèse Philosophe, a novel from 1748 probably written by the Marquis d’Argens. Thérèse experiences all sorts of things that allow her to see sex happening and to understand the arguments of the French philosophes (Enlightenment thinkers who helped inspire the French Revolution and the American Revolution). The book ends with Thérèse overcoming her resistance to sex when her lover promises to take certain precautionary measures to make sure that she doesn’t become pregnant. The idea that an 18th-century man — imagined by a male author — would come to the relationship with the knowledge of how to prevent pregnancy in order to protect the health and life of his lover was astounding because I don’t think that’s necessarily standard irl male programming even today. If it were, women wouldn’t be doing most of the swinging in the fight to protect access to contraception and abortion in the U.S.
I’ve seen people dig into the Western canon to share recommendations for horny books because I guess reading sex books isn’t something people are doing regularly? Portnoy’s Complaint??? Fucking LOLITA?! I’m not here to kinkshame, but the culture keeps holding up, over and over, stories written by men that contain a whole fucking lot of non-consensual sex as hot, “literary”, and valid while simultaneously trashing stories about connection and mutual pleasure mostly written by women. For more on that bullshit, check out this smashing article by Jennifer Prokop on how romance writers are maligned and dismissed even in their obituaries.
The romance genre has been been written off by people who haven’t deigned to touch a mass market paperback since the 70s, but after reading Thérèse, the next time I saw a fictional man take major interest in contraception to protect the health and happiness of the woman he loved was in Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy, a historical romance novel. The romance genre — especially in recent years — has taken readers to some radical places while still delivering the promised Happily Ever After (or Happily For Now). That’s not to say that romance has reached the unproblematic promised land (and my own reading, including this list, needs some work), but I’ve been impressed by how authors and readers routinely fight it out to advance the field. It’s worth taking a chance on if you’re at all interested.
How to get books now (without breaking the bank)
My local libraries use the wonderful Libby app for distributing e-books and audiobooks; I’m even able to borrow free library books in Kindle format. Hoopla is another app that offers access to free library e-books, as is cloudLibrary. Many libraries allow you to sign up for e-book access online, so you may be able to get into the library borrowing game from home.
You can also join me on Bookbub, which has a huge list of free and sale e-books. I’m slowly getting my shit together on Goodreads, so let’s be friends there if you want to keep up with where my reading goes next? (Goodreads also hosts lots of book giveaways.)
Historical Mystery Recommendations
I love historical mysteries, and I agonized over which ones should make the cut here. Ultimately, I went with the series that have gotten stuck in my head: the ones with characters that pop with life and change over time, period quirks that I find interesting, and cases that keep my attention. I read a lot of mystery, and I think that these ones have the most binge-y momentum that will keep fans hooked.
The Winter Queen, Boris Akunin (Erast Fandorin series)
If you want mystery, but you’d like to see the romance go up in a literal cloud of smoke, go with Akunin’s Erast Fandorin series. It starts with The Winter Queen, where we meet an Imperial Russian civil servant named Erast Fandorin at the start of his career, before he acquired the distinctive silver sideburns and slight speech impediment. This series is virtually unknown in the U.S., but it’s a monster hit in Russia, where it resurrected middlebrow genre fiction after the fall of the USSR.
A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell series)
If you like sexy banter with a HOT and loyal male partner and a heroine with big “step aside, pops” energy, Veronica Speedwell is my pick for you. The series is exuberant fun.
A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas (Lady Sherlock series)
If you like the torture of slow-burn romance, a London setting with lots of interesting and period-correct details, and a Sherlock that’s incredibly feminine, I’d recommend Charlotte Holmes. My husband, an inveterate snob and fellow historian, loves this series and feels like Charlotte is the most me heroine on the page.
Slippery Creatures, KJ Charles (The Will Darling Adventures)
This trilogy (books 1 and 2 have been released so far) features wary WWI vet Will Darling and total hot mess aristocrat Kim Secretan battling an unknown force in the style of Golden Age pulp fiction. The best part is seeing the two men figure out the biggest mystery of all: how to come together as friends and lovers without killing each other.
Contemporary Romance Recommendations
I was struggling with reading contemporary romances even before the lockdown, but these picks are so fun that I think they can be enjoyed even now, when the idea of holding hands with someone new seems very transgressive.
I’ve arranged the picks from sweet and steamy to erotic romance.
A Prince on Paper, Alyssa Cole
You want the joy of a Netflix or Hallmark movie about royalty set in a made-up country? This is your catnip. Nya Jerami is back in the kingdom of Thesolo for her friends’ wedding and she keeps running into playboy sorta prince Johan von Braustein. Who has a teddy bear. Named Bulgom Pamplemousse von Bearstein. Good girl Nya’s heart doesn’t stand a chance.
The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
Brilliant Stella Lane hires male escort Michael Phan to teach her the ways of romance. Stella has Asperger’s, and none of this relationship stuff comes easily for her. Until Michael, and then she gets it (and gets it).
The Rose, Tiffany Reisz
When recent college grad Lia drinks from an enchanted cup, she experiences detailed sex fantasies. Ancient! Greek! Sex! Magic!!! This book is like nothing I’ve read before; if you think that a book needs to push boundaries of consent in order to be scorching hot (and it’s not your thing), let a real master show you how it’s done.
Sweet Agony, Charlotte Stein
Sweet Agony is a light BDSM book with feels. It’s theoretically a contemporary quick read, but it could have easily been set in the gothic 19th century if the heroine’s Beetle was a carriage.
Historical Romance Recommendations
I’ve read historians’ attempts to write fiction about the periods they study and it tends to be excruciatingly unfun — there’s a reason I go to the fiction pros for my story fix.
As with the list of contemporary romance picks, the further you go on the list, the more explicit the sex scenes (only the first book skips the shagging).
The Matrimonial Advertisement, Mimi Matthews
I love how Mimi Matthews deploys her knowledge of Victorian fashion to make Helena’s character come to life. This Beauty and the Beast story features believable relationship growth, an interesting (and pretty gothic!) setting, and no on-page sex. It’s a lovely story.
Lady in Waiting, Marie Tremayne
A rich woman disguises herself as a servant in an Earl’s household in order to avoid marriage to an absolute monster, but soon she and her employer are about to rip each other’s clothes off — but they can’t! Because he’s honorable and won’t corrupt his servant! She knows she’s lying, so she won’t further deceive him! This ends up being a slowwww burn of the best sort. If you like mutual pining and barely contained love/lust: you need this book.
The Countess Conspiracy, Courtney Milan
A love story about partnership, science, and (content warning!) off-page miscarriage. The stakes in this book feel incredibly real, which might make it a tough read. Spoiler alert: there’s no miraculous solution at the end, no baby-epilogue, just a faux rake who takes responsibility for his dick, which further elevates this book in my mind.
Dark Prince, Eve Silver
I spent most of this book thinking “omg he’s bad. Is he bad? I think he’s bad? But I like it?” and that’s pretty much what I’m looking for from a gothic romance, given my love of Jane Eyre and literary asshole Rochester.
A Matter of Class, Mary Balogh
This is one to read without looking at reviews or seeing spoilers. The narrative structure delivers stupendous payoff at the end, and I was crying (in a good way) for the last 20% of the book. A good book for when you want to feel all the feels.
Waking Up With the Duke, Lorraine Heath
A duke owes his cousin a debt of honor, and the price is impregnating the cousin’s wife. !!! This sounds like a set-up for a novel that would mostly be a collection of sex scenes, but Lorraine Heath manages to take a porny trope and make it the most wrenching, romantic journey to hell and back imaginable. This one destroyed me, in a good way.
Ravishing the Heiress, Sherry Thomas
This book nearly broke me. It’s about a marriage of convenience between an industrialist’s daughter and an impoverished earl. They agree at the outset of their marriage that they won’t consummate their union for eight years. We see them grow closer over the course of those eight years while never acting on their desire for each other. Sherry Thomas splits the narrative so you’re going between the past and present, and wow that seems to be how to destroy me (also used in A Matter of Class and periodically in the kdrama Signal); I barely slept so I could keep reading.
The Duchess Deal: Girl Meets Duke, Tessa Dare
The Beauty and the Beast trope is everywhere in historical romances, and this is my favorite version. The romance gets very hot, but the best part of any Tessa Dare book imo is the jokes. If you want a book that’s as delicious as cake, you shouldn’t miss this. If you’re having a wretched day, aren’t sure about reading romance, and just need the softest, most delightful thing, read The Duchess Deal.
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, Sarah MacLean
This was among the first romance novels I read, and it’s one of the works that really opened my eyes to how refreshing and modern the field is now. Lady Calpurnia is a 28-year-old spinster who is tossing off years of bullshit and going after the things she wants — including her crush, the rakish Marquess of Ralston. It’s hot, funny, and full of heart.
Untamed, Anna Cowan
This isn’t going to be for everyone, but hear me out because I’m obsessed with this book: to get the Duke of Darlington to quit romancing her married sister, Katherine Sutherland agrees to take him into her household as a visiting lady. The Duke, who is bi (we see him flirting with several men), spends most of the book in dresses. Kat’s a strong country woman, and she’s the top in the relationship (literally the top, at the end). This book did things with historical romance AU gender that I absolutely love.
Dreaming of You, Lisa Kleypas
If you’ve ever heard of the legendary romance hero Derek Craven, here’s his book. He’s the self-made owner of a gambling club completely losing his shit over what he feels for sweet author Sara Fielding (it’s love. LOVE.) This book was originally published in 1994 — when I was eleven — so I was expecting, you know, heaving bosoms and awkward euphemisms, but this book was STEAMY and so sweet. Totally deserves the continued popularity.
The Duke I Tempted, Scarlett Peckham
This book about a ducal marriage of convenience has a twist: the buttoned-up hero belongs to a whipping club and enjoys being spanked.
Teach Me, Cassandra Dean
This is a STEAMY book about a widow who wants to learn about all the sexy stuff she’s been missing out on. A madam hooks her up with a cold nobleman teacher, and he takes her from A to Z, but they start to have feelings along the way.
Surrender to Sin, Nicola Davidson
The current top Amazon review’s title is “Basically porn,” which in my opinion, is all the endorsement a book needs these days to get my eyeballs on it! Lady Grace Carrington is going to be married off again to another trash nobleman, so she asks Lord Sebastian St. John to ruin her. As I’ve yelled in my Instagram Stories many times, if a love interest’s name is Sebastian, the heroine is going to be getting dicked down, I do not make the rules.
The Scandalous Diary of Lily Layton, Stacy Reid
Stacy Reid is the one author who has never let me down. The incredibly loving and passionate bonds between her characters set her novels apart. In this story, Lily Layton loses her secret diary, only for it to be found by the Marquess of Ambrose, who realizes its owner is the only woman he’s sexually compatible with. He just has to figure out which woman wrote it.
“My Dirty Duke” by Joanna Shupe in Duke I’d Like to F…
I never thought that “dad’s best friend” was a trope I’d read, but 2020 has taught us a lot of things about ourselves and tbh? No regrets! A wallflower wants a rake, which: yeah, ok, all normal there in the world of historical romance. The problem is that he’s more than double her age and her dad’s best friend. PHEW! I read a lot of romance and fanfic, and the sex in this story was so exceptionally hot that I thought my brain would melt down like an unattended nuclear reactor.
Markham Hall Series, Sierra Simone
Sort of Jane Eyre minus the tiresome childcare responsibilities plus a whole lot of banging. And when I say banging I mean: house orgy, sex in something like that sexy pond Mr. Darcy walked out of, a threesome that begins in a restaurant. The Markham Hall series exists in the same time period as Sweet Agony: time to fuck.
Very wet masks to wear while reading
Papa Recipe Bombee Honey Mask
The mask to beat, in my opinion: thin sheet, essence that sinks in easily, and a divine fragrance.
23years old Black Cavidiol Mask
The big standout feature of these masks is a sheet design that purposely covers your lips. It sounds so weird, but it’s great if you’re having a dry lip situation.
DUFT&DOFT Pink Milk Mask
A soft pink sheet with a milky essence; I discussed it here.
Abib Gummy sheet mask Milk sticker
A slinky sheet that clings to skin, finallllly available in the U.S. for less than a million bucks. Reviewed here.
Naruko Snail Essence Intense Hydra Repair Mask
If you’re new to snail and want to slide over, these Taiwanese masks will deliver the slime without leaving a gummy residue.
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