Eloisa James is not only one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s also one of its most fascinating authors. She's an English literature professor specializing in Shakespeare, and her serious historical and literary credentials shine through in her romances. And with over two dozen published romances—including the recently released Midsummer Delights and Too Wilde to Be Wed coming in May—there’s a lot to love.
Given the quality and quantity of her work, it's nearly impossible to pick a list of favorites. Instead, I thought I'd try and illuminate what makes some of her most popular books such standouts.
Below, I've broken down what makes some of her most well-known novels — as based on the most popular (read: most reviewed) of her books on Goodreads — so compelling. Whether it's great characters or a stand-out house party, each of these books features something particularly pleasurable. Prepare to be smitten by these stories of romance, rogues, and unforgettable heroines.
Has James already captured your heart? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
When Beauty Tamed the Beast
Eloisa James’s most popular book on Goodreads is not only a 2012 nominee for the Romance Writers of America RITA award, but won an All About Romance reader poll for “Biggest Tearjerker.”
It’s also a very amusing read, as charming Linnet vows to make a grouchy, wounded earl fall in love with her in a matter of weeks. If you’re like me, you’ll swoon at seeing a formerly jaded, wounded hero — Piers Yelverton, the titular beast — be struck by love.
Piers is a doctor, and despite his prickly countenance, he has a good heart and uses his talents to help countless patients at his castle-slash-hospital. As Linnet and Piers grow to become friends and more, the hospital setting provides them with many opportunities to come together in the face of tragedy.
A Kiss at Midnight
A Kiss at Midnight is a fairy tale retelling with a Cinderella you can root for—and a plot you’ll hoot at. Katherine has the requisite mean stepmother and vapid stepsister, but of course finds her way to a ball where she encounters Prince Gabriel. But this Cinderella doesn’t want any marriage, royal or not, and her witty character together with some truly delightful plot elements make this a regency with crackling humor.
We all know Cinderella and her prince get a happily ever after, of course, but the joy in A Kiss at Midnight comes from watching Katherine and Gabriel's lively sparring on their bumpy road to bliss.
Best Friends-to-Lovers Romance
The Ugly Duchess
Friends-to-lovers romance is one of the most popular tropes in the genre, and it’s sweetly used in this retelling. Theodora and duke-to-be James have been friends since childhood. But James’s selfish and greedy father makes him promise that he will marry Theodora to secure the family wealth—even though James sees Theodora more like a sister, and worries that she'll be hurt when she learns their union is for purely financial reasons.
To James’s surprise, passion grows between them—but then Theodora learns of the duke’s plot and considers their marriage over. She blossoms on her own over a period of years while James becomes a pirate (yes, a pirate; it was that bad of a breakup) and realizes just what he’s lost.
Best Vicarious Thrill
Paris In Love: A Memoir
The only nonfiction book on the list, this 2012 memoir is just as transporting as James’s historical romances. In it, she chronicles a year (after a diagnosis with cancer and her mother's death) in which she took a sabbatical from her academic career, sold her house, and moved her entire family to Paris.
If you’ve got wanderlust or adore the city of love, you’ll delight in vicariously exploring the European city—and its sights, food, and beauty—through her short, sweet, and funny vignettes expanded from Facebook posts. It even got a thumbs up from Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, who said it was, “like wandering through a Parisian patisserie in a dream."
A Duke of Her Own
This sixth book in the Desperate Duchesses series features a reader favorite, Leopold Dautry, the Duke of Villiers, who evolves over the series from a self-centered aristocratic chess star to a complicated, more sympathetic man. In A Duke of Her Own, he's come to see himself as too ugly and too acerbic to be loved, but he longs for a wife in order to provide a more complete home for his six illegitimate children.
Initially, he thinks Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's daughter, is the most suitable woman. But he’s undeniably drawn to another duke’s daughter, the outspoken Lisette. The ending to this one is satisfying, if surprising, and the Duke of Villiers' transformation from insufferable to lovable is great.
Much Ado About You
The first book in Eloisa’s Essex Sisters series is a delightful introduction to four sisters who each get their romance in turn. In Much Ado about You, it’s the eldest sister — responsible Tess — who finds herself falling for a man she shouldn’t, an intense rogue by the name of Lucius Felton.
The romance is enjoyable, but so is the camaraderie and bickering among the young women. I’m a huge fan of novels with close, conflictual relationships between siblings, and the Essex sisters fit that bill perfectly.
Best House Party
Duchess By Night
House parties are common in historical romances, but few are as fun as the one in this third Desperate Duchesses book, where recently widowed duchess Harriet disguises herself as a man to attend a party held by Lord Strange without damaging her reputation.
Lord Strange’s parties are full of all sorts of disreputables who engage in tawdry activities and are exactly the kind of people most of us would like to hang out with. But Harriet mostly enjoys the freedom from behaving like a lady all the time, savoring the freedom of wearing looser clothing, fencing, and saying whatever the hell she wants—not to mention falling in love with Lord Strange himself.
Weirdest Celebrity Cameo
The Duke Is Mine
The third book in James’s Fairy Tales series, The Duke is Mine puts a witty spin on the classic tale The Princess and the Pea. Duke Tarquin—or, more importantly, his controlling mother—thinks Georgianna would make a perfect wife for him, but it’s her curvier sister Olivia who drives Tarquin wild. The book is notable for not only this complex love triangle laden with forbidden lust, but for its surprising cameo. James named a character, Sir Justin Fiebvre, after superstar Justin Bieber, her daughter’s crush at the time.
Best Supporting Characters
Roberta is after a rakish chess player, but on her way to learning what she needs to know to make him hers, she falls for her teacher, Damon Reeve.
Set against the backdrop of chess, Desperate Duchesses has a lot of witty and wonderful characters to love between the heroine and hero, including the rakish Duke of Villiers and Jemma, a married duchess who chafes against her marital bond and position in society. Roberta's father, a poet spurned by society for his emotional, dramatic verses, is another lovable player. James dedicated this book to her own poet father, Robert Bly.
Pleasure for Pleasure
The fourth book in James’s Essex Sisters series, Pleasure for Pleasure has a fantastic female character in Josie, the youngest sister and a bold and outspoken heroine who’s convinced she’ll never find a proper suitor because she’s been given a cruel nickname for being curvaceous.
Enter Garret, the Earl of Mayne—and a supposedly reformed bad boy—who offers to help teach her the art of seduction … but then becomes jealous when his lessons work a little too well. The pairing of an unconventional-heroine-with-a-vulnerable-side and a reformed rake is golden here.