I’m 100% a book reader on a plane, not a movie person. And while my book tastes run the gamut, my *airplane* book tastes fall firmly in the romance and happy books category. Why is that, you ask?
Well, I used to read whatever on planes. And then I went through a several-flight stretch where every book I was reading was at the most stressful, panic-inducing place. Like “A Song of Ice and Fire” Red Wedding, end of Outlander, basically everything that made me cry. On a plane. I hate crying, and I really hate doing it in front of people, trapped in a pressurized metal cylinder hurtling through the air.
Note, if you’re into more serious fare, head over to the Books section for recommendations!
So this is not simply a list of my favorite books (though some of these would be included on that list). Instead, these tick all the boxes for my new rules for airplane reading—zippy dialogue, kick-ass main characters, dudes to fall in love with, and light on intense angst.
I’ve broken them out by overall category: urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and historical romance.
Also, putting this post together made me realize how TERRIBLE most of these book covers are. Since I read these books on my purple-covered Kindle Paperwhite (which is my true life partner and I couldn’t travel without), I hadn’t seen most of them and I’d just say please don’t judge these books by their cover 🙂
Just a note before we dive in—these are affiliate links so I may make a small commission from any Amazon sales that come through clicks (which I greatly appreciate, and at no extra cost to you). You can read more about this here. All opinions are, as always, completely my own!
Best urban fantasy books & series
Kate Daniels series (first book is Magic Bites) by Ilona Andrews
Yowza. I LOVE this series. It’s set in Atlanta, but not too far in the future where magic and tech both vie for supremacy and the society has crashed and had to kind of start to re-form as a result (imagine if technology doesn’t work whenever a magic wave hits unexpectedly…).
As with most books of this series, the first book has a decent amount of world-building in it as well as character development, but it’s not too heavy-handed and the main character is kick-ass. This series also showcases my #2 male literary true love, for what it’s worth 🙂
Hidden Legacy series (first book is Burn for Me) by Ilona Andrews
Her world building is so good, I can’t not feature her twice (actually, not a “her”, it’s a husband and wife writing team). This is a newer discovery for me, just finished the last book. Great, vivid characters, the stakes feel real, and the heroine is no pushover.
Another world with magic, but very different from her other series. Here, magic is hereditary and very specific in terms of what each magic user’s skills are. Totally fascinating how magic skills that you wouldn’t think of as combat-specific can be used that way too.
This bills itself as a trilogy, and the whole thing is out—I can’t imagine her not writing more though, because while there was some closure at the end of the third, there were still some major plot points left out there. So who knows…
Another major favorite, though the angst level is definitely a bit higher here as the series wears on. After MacKayla’s sister is murdered, she goes to Dublin to investigate and finds out she can see the Fae, the first of many revelations and life changes. She tries to navigate this new world as the walls between our world and Faerie crumble, aided by some and undermined by others.
It’s way cooler than I’m describing it. I will say that I had a little trouble getting into the first book, mostly because Mac’s character early on is…well, not for me. But I’d say stick with it, it’s totally worth it and by book two I was all-in.
This one might be a bit polarizing…Nava isn’t really a likeable character (I mean, it’s in the title). Honestly I didn’t think I’d finish the first book. But somehow it really pulled sucked me in and its combination of sarcasm, absurdity, and bizarre world building. It’s hard to resist.
Nightchaser series by Amanda Bouchet
I really liked the combination of space/sci fi, gritty heroine, not knowing who you can trust, and great chemistry. There are two books in this series, not positive whether she’s planning any more (but I hope so!).
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Best contemporary romance books
It was hard to narrow this list of best romance books down, because I’ve found a lot of really good ones lately. I am particularly hard on contemporary romances…see, in historical romance I’m willing to be a little more forgiving if the dialogue feels a bit stilted or people act a little oddly. Because, old-timey people (and a I have a slight tolerance for cheesy there).
But it’s a lot harder to find contemporary romances because I need them to feel REAL. I want main characters who are smart and funny and have sizzling chemistry—and dialogue is a huge part of that.
Act Like It by Lucy Parker
This book is awesome. A fun, lovely read. Despite the main characters being “celebrities” (of a sort), they’re incredibly real, relatable, funny, flawed, and tug at my heart. Great dialogue, great chemistry.
There are now I think 4 in the series/world, and they’re all super charming, quirky, and full of heart.
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruisie
Rather like the previous entry, charming is the word that comes to mind with this book. Minerva and Cal both go into their relationship with preconceptions and hidden agendas, and life has a funny way of completely ignoring that. Loved this book, and I’ll mention that for people who like their romance novels lighter on graphic sex this should be a great fit for you.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan (aka the Go Fug Yourself girls)
This one is the least romance-y romance in the bunch of contemporaries. A thinly veiled (fictional) telling of the romance of Bex and Nick (a.k.a. Wills and Kate), the blogger duo’s first foray into adult fiction is totally great. Funny, real, sad at times, but sticking in the happy genre for sure, Bex’s story shows the highs and crazy lows of being involved with the royal family and that it might be worth it for true love.
Highly recommend, a great beach read (I read it the first time on the beach in Costa Rica and could NOT put it down!).
The Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts (4 books)
These have been on my “favorites” list for years. The books follow four lifelong best friends who go into business together planning and creating weddings, and about their relationships with each other and the men in their lives. While they’re romances, the women’s relationships to each other are front and center and a highlight of the series.
I’d definitely recommend reading these in order, but the third and fourth are my faves by far (I identify more with Laurel and Parker personally), so your call. The first is Vision in White.
The Hooker and the Hermit by Penny Reid & L.H. Cosway
(note, rugby hooker, not…you know)
Another author collaboration, and a fun one for sure. I’ve somehow developed a penchant for sports-based contemporary romances, and this was one of the first that really hit for me. The romance and dialogue between Ronan and Annie are fun and real-feeling, and I’m a sucker for a big, hot, flirty, good-hearted handsome athlete. Note, this is the first in a series, but all can be read standalone.
Finding Fraser by kc dyer
Again, charming is the word that comes to mind. This one is definitely lighter, both in tone and light on physical intimacy or graphic sex (as I recall at least). As a massive Outlander fan for over a decade, I appreciate the tribute to my #1 literary male love as well. Just a happy little contemporary time travel story.
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
I was a little iffy on this one at first, but I totally fell in love with Rhiannon and Samson’s story…life’s all about timing and this is a fun, modern read with dialogue and chemistry that sizzles.
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
The premise of this book is kind of silly (a bunch of alpha male athletes and such) turn to romance novels to save their rapidly deteriorating marriages. It’s really just sweet and funny and altogether great. This is the first in a series of 4 (I haven’t read the others yet).
Well Met by Jen Deluca
A contemporary romance novel with a Renaissance Faire backdrop shouldn’t work. It should be cheesy and dumb. BUT IT ISN’T. This book is so charming, and the chemistry is great.
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Best historical romance books
There are a lot of *good* but not a lot of FAVE in this category so I’m just going with one author and series…I absolutely love them and they’re some of the best historical romance around.
The Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long
There are probably 8-10 books in this series, and I use “series” loosely—you don’t have to read them in order, except maybe the Lyon Redmond one (read that last!). I couldn’t even tell you what the order is. I love some more than others, but maybe start with What I Did For A Duke.
The dialogue here is so tight and simple, and evokes such sweetness and tension while you’re reading it, it’s kind of amazing how she does it. Lovely, sweet historical romances that aren’t too cheesy, but feel real. Getting great dialogue in a historical is kind of amazing.
This is just the start, but this covers almost 50 books…which should keep you busy for a while! But I’d love to hear what other happy book recommendations you’d make, your go-to airplane reads. Hit me up in the comments, I’m always looking for new Kindle fodder so send me your best romance books and the urban fantasy/romance series you love!
Now that entertainment’s covered, here are other things to get you through a long flight!
- 20+ Tips to Survive & Thrive on a Long Flight
- The Ultimate Gift Guide for Frequent Travelers
- Epic Trip Planning 101: Free E-Book Download
- My Favorite Summer Beach Reads
- The 10 Best Books I Read In 2022
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