“I don’t mean to bother you,” the question usually begins, “but I’m looking for my next book, and I just don’t know what I want to read.” Honestly, that question is one of our favorites to get in days that are often filled with new card sign-ups and telling people where the restroom is.
The most challenging requests are usually from voracious readers because, well, they’ve read most of the usual culprits already. And while sometimes we magically have the perfect title stashed in our figurative back pocket for just such an occasion, even our magic runs out sometimes. For those situations, we’ll often bring out the big guns: Novelist. Novelist is a powerful database that helps readers find books based not just on other books they enjoyed but by what particular aspects of those books they enjoyed. Patrons can access it from home, too, logging in with a library card and PIN, so use it at your leisure and then place holds through the library catalog if something sounds good.
For romance readers, Novelist can be particularly useful because we are some of the most voracious readers of the lot, driving some 34% of the total U.S. fiction sales, according to the 2015 Nielsen Book Scan, and reading, on average, at least a book a week. I certainly can’t afford to buy every book I want, so I rely on the library for a majority of my reading, and tools like Novelist help me find that next great read.
Just recently, I read Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I in preparation for the forthcoming Netflix adaptation of her Bridgertons series, and I fell in love with the large, warm family at its heart. When I plug it into Novelist, even the search result page is useful—I can see at a glance that it’s the first book in a series, click on the series name, and see a listing of the rest of the books in order, no more guessing at which book is next by publication year. Below the description and series information, I have some other options for read-alikes, including finding read-alikes based on the specific title, the author, or the series. In particular, the series read-alikes section is pay dirt, listing ten different romance series that feature similar sprawling, close-knit, wealthy British families all finding love over the span of multiple books. I’d be a happy camper with a holds list a mile long with that information alone, but clicking into the full record offers even more: a chance to see what some of the main appeals of the book are, and, if I scroll to the bottom of the page, a place where I can look for similar things based on those specific traits. I can select as many of those features as I want, but the more criteria a search has, the narrower the results are. However, using three of the broader criteria like “Regency romance,” “steamy” tone, and “banter-filled” writing style generates a list of 258 promising books to help my staggering to-read list wobble dangerously.
As a side note, Novelist’s inclusion of tone is a major asset for romance readers. We all have varying expectations when it comes to the sensual content in romance. Cover art can sometimes convey what level to expect in a book, but not always. I’ve picked up books with a woman in a gorgeous dress on the cover and surprisingly tame content, and I’ve seen books with cute, cheeky rom-com-styled cover art that pack a surprising amount of heat in their pages, so Novelist is a nice way to gauge the “heat” level. That information is in the tone descriptors of a book, ranging from chaste to mildly sensuous to explicit. If you’re not quite sure where on that spectrum your tastes lie, search for the last swoony book you enjoyed and see how it’s described so you can find books with a similar level of sensuality.
Novelist is always adding content and features, and one of my favorite newer additions is the inclusion of themes that span a wide variety of genres. These themes pull out specific plot and story elements, so readers looking for particular types of stories can find those in one handy spot. These themes even have a nice landing page to break the themes out by genre, accessible from the “Browse by” menu on the top left of the site. Some of the romance themes correspond directly to terminology romance readers already use, like “marriage of convenience,” “enemies to lovers,” or “secret baby,” but the rest are pretty clear. I often like stories where characters get a second chance at happiness, so I like poking around in themes like “second chance at romance” or “together again,” which turn up titles I’ve read and loved, like Alyssa Cole’s Once Ghosted, Twice Shy or one of my all-time favorites, Persuasion by Jane Austen, as well as hundreds of other compelling titles. On the other hand, Novelist was great when I realized I was on a “fake relationship” romance kick, which concluded with my putting holds on The Wedding Date, Fix Her Up, and A Prince on Paper, as well as grabbing a few other titles that were on the shelf already at my branch. Whatever your flavor of romance catnip, Novelist probably has it mapped out, and they add new content constantly.
Finally, bring it all together. Pick a theme you like, and browse those suggestions. Click on one that looks interesting. Does it still sound like something you’d like to read? Now scroll to the bottom of the book’s description page and mash up as many factors as you want. Cross-search the theme you want with, say, the era of romance you want, and narrow it by your steam level of choice. If that narrows things too much, try taking a factor out and running the search again. Chances are, your to-read list is going to hate you for the customized list that this specific search turns up.
These resources like searching by appeals and themes work across all genres, of course, and I encourage all readers to try looking up a book they loved recently just to play with the features, but I wanted to highlight their usefulness to romance readers. Whether you’ve read everything by your favorite author or want a good love story but have been burned before by a misleading cover, Novelist can help. After all, if there’s one thing romance has taught us, it’s that everyone deserves a happily ever after, whatever that looks like to you.