Romance (as per the RWA definition)
17. Rebellion by Nora Roberts - my first adult historical romance. TW for rape in the prologue. Enemies to lovers trope with a Scot heroine who is a badass and the half English/half Scot hero who is trying to bring Bonnie Prince Charles back to the throne and fights in the battle of Culloden. They move to America to start a new life and the start the MacGregors series.
18. With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale #1) by Sarah Sundin. Hero and heroine fall in love via a pen-pal scheme while both serve in the North African campaign of WWII. Faith-based but not preachy. Heroine is half-Filipina, hero is the son of infamous murderer; great cast of side characters that are blended into the story very well.
19. Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole - an American historical romance set in the very early 1960s. Heroine is African-American, hero is Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor. The short story that follows the couple post Loving decision and into the thick of late 60s/early 70s rights movements and should be read with the original novella.
20. Unclaimed (The Turner series #2) by Courtney Milan - hero is making his name via his writings on male sexual purity in Victorian England, heroine is blackmailed into seducing him to discredit him. Angsty to the hilt, but I love this book out of all of Milan's historical romances.
21. The Dragon and the Pearl (The Tang Dynasty #2) by Jeannie Lin - again with the enemies to lovers with a hero and heroine who are not squeaky clean typical romance characters. The setting, the details, it is all so different and refreshing from the glut of historical romances. Some of the best sex scenes because of the sensuality of the writing and not the graphicness.
22. Beverly Jenkins - seriously, just anything by her. Ms. Bev does so much research and then seamlessly blends that real historical detail into a great romance. Just can't go wrong with a Jenkins historical romance.
23. Drifting to You and A Radiant Soul by Kianna Alexander and The Lawyer's Luck (Home to Milford College #0.5) and The Swan: The Seventh Day (The 12 Days of Christmas Mail Order Brides #7) by Piper Huguley - I feel these authors in general and these books in particular need to be on anyone's essential romance list because they defy an ugly and false myth that constantly circulates around romance writers groups and bloggers - certain characters can't have a happy ending when their story is set in certain times - or to put it more bluntly, black woman can't have HEAs at any time in American history prior to 1955. Alexander and Huguley prove you most certainly can have your black heroine have a HEA in any historical setting if you approach your writing with sensitivity and knowledge of the era and area you set the story in. Basically, do your homework.
24. True Colors by Kristin Hannah - story of three sisters and how they dealt with growing up without a mom and with an mentally/emotionally abusive man. The youngest sister marries a Native American man who is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and goes to jail and how the Innocence Project-like organization, along with his sister-in-law, got his name cleared and him back at home with the family.
25. Naked in Death (In Death #1) by JD Robb - a futuristic-ish police procedural that is about to publish #49 in September and #50 in February 2020. It was originally slated as a trilogy and this is where it all started. The more recent ones have been hit or miss for me, but yet I keep coming back to spend time with the NYPSD gang because the specialness of this series comes via the relationships between the recurring characters and the main characters.
And that's my essential 25-ish books.