Age-gap romances are a whole category of their own inside the romance genre. I can either eat them up like candy or sneak a peek and run the other way. It depends on the specific constellation in the book in question, but maybe some of it depends on my own biases, too. It’s a complicated relationship.
Next month, my 20th anniversary with my husband is coming up. As my kids like to remind us (frequently, with the judgement only teenagers muster over their parent’s life choices), we have a little age gap. All things considered, a seven-year difference isn’t the world and hardly even counts as a contender in the age-gap romance category. But given my barely legal age of 18 when we married, I get why my kids find it gross. I would blow a gasket if one of them started seeing an older person at their current age. Do as I say and not as I do and all that.
But isn’t that rather judgmental and hypocritical?
Bringing up kids is hard. The internet is full of predators now (unlike twenty years ago, lol). The problems of adults going after much younger people and grooming tactics kids are likely to encounter are themes we had to tackle. Part of raising self-aware and confident kids is teaching them to use that block button. Use it liberally.
But predators going after their victims on the internet is not the same as an age difference in a relationship. Outsiders often assume a skewed power dynamic, considering that both partners can be at very different stages in their life financially or career-wise, for example. One partner making significantly more money doesn’t automatically mean the other one relinquishes their independence at the door.
Jess Amy Dixon writes about the scrutiny age gap relationships face in this article, which had me examine my own prejudices. The common tenor seems to throw shade at the woman in a heterosexual relationship no matter which side of the equation she’s on. If she’s older, she’s a cougar; if she’s younger, she’s after his money. However, I’m always more suspicious of the man in question.
That’s my personal bias hard at work there.
After confronting my biases, I’m not any closer to figuring out why I like the trope in romance novels. What is it about May December romances that lures me in? Maybe it’s not the age difference, but the power dynamic in those fictional relationships after all. A real-life relationship doesn’t have to have a skewed power dynamic, but a fictional power imbalance is like catnip to me. I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers, and sometimes I dip my toes into the dark side of romance.
Looking at the books on the list below, I see a lot of angst. I guess that’s just my brand: Angsty AF, with a capital A. But maybe that’s another reason I’m drawn to age difference stories, too: they have the potential for delicious, emotionally deep conflict. No one is as aware of the age gap as the couple in question, after all.
The following list contains some of the best age difference romance books I’ve read and enjoyed. There’s even one I wrote and published last month! It contains all my weaknesses: older hero, feisty heroine, a little friendly blackmail among rivals, and enemies turned lovers with a Happy End.
Maybe you find something that tickles your fancy on this list as well!
1. Kinky Age-Gap Romances
Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfield
Why I loved this book: Wonderful writing and lovely, deliciously twisted kink. Plus, roller derby. The characters are layered and real; Ty a grumpy curmudgeon who tries to do the right thing, and Kate the quirky ray of sunshine with ADHD (hello, sister) who wants to befriend his penis. And the rest of him, of course. This books delivers the whole bandwidth of emotions, and Eve Dangerfield is an auto-buy author for me.
Content Warnings: grooming (not by the hero), attempted date rape/drugging (not by the hero).
For Her Own Good by Tamsen Parker
Why I loved this book: Tamsen Parker’s writing is just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Angsty and intense and kinky. I love to really get in the head of the characters when reading a kinky story, and Parker gives me that and more. Daddy kink is always tricky for me, but this books works so well. Plus, she goes the extra mile to take a highly problematic premise and make it good – that’s real skill.
Content warnings: mental illness, depression, suicide
Let The Wrong Light In by Avon Gale
Why I loved this book: God, there’s so much wrong between these two disaster babies. Like. So much. I wanted to smack them, and then smack them some more, but holy shit, the emotional depth. I was choking on ugly tears all the way through. Note the content warnings, however. For a while, what they do isn’t kink. They have no idea WHAT they do. Everyone is concerned. I was concerned. (It’s what makes this book so good, though).
Control Freak by Brianna Hale
Why I loved this book: A grumpy Scandinavian hero? YES, please. The kink is rather mild in this one, but the content warnings are heavy: The heroine deals with an eating disorder and self-destructive thoughts.
His Lady by Jane Henry and Maisy Archer
What I liked about this book: Blake is resisting so hard. The age difference is a much bigger thing for him than it is for Elena, something that seems so real. Plus, I’m a sucker for friendships that start online and turn to more.
Content Warnings: domestic discipline, loss of a spouse
2. Historical May December Romances
Pleasure for Pleasure by Eloisa James
Why I loved this book: Seriously one of the hottest, sexiest, most sensual first kisses. I sometimes reread just this kiss, because it gets me every time. This book has actually two age-gap pairings in both constellations, woman-younger and woman-older. Like often with James’ books, it’s not immediately clear who’s whose love interest. Her books can be hit or miss; she’s written some romances I absolutely loathe, but also two of my absolute all time favorites, and this is one of them. Plus, if you like to listen to your pleasure, Susan Duerden is a stellar narrator. Her heroes are some of the sexiest intonations. Her voice is like sex for the ears.
Content Warnings: attempted assault. Body shaming. Kind of cheating? The synopsis doesn’t make it quite clear, but the rake it speaks of is NOT the hero of this book.
A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James
Why I love this book: Because this is the other one. Also, Villiers. That’s it. One of my favorite heroes. Plus, Eleanor is a feisty heroine who knows what she wants. And despite the premise putting her in opposition to the mentally ill Lisette, there’s no ill will between the two women and no “catfight.” The love triangle gets drawn out much too long, but the depth of emotion between Villiers and Eleanor makes up for it. Plus, the audio narration by Susan Duerden is outstanding.
Content Warnings: Mental Illness, animal cruelty, child abuse and neglect.
3. Contemporary Age-Gap Romance Novels
A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison
Why I loved this book: From the first page, it put a big, goofy smile on my face. Sonja is 40, and it’s a whole thing for her that Atlas is nine years younger. A Taste of her own Medicine also has what makes a feel-good romance really good: friendships and family.
After Ben by Con Riley
Why I loved this book: The loss of a spouse is written with so much empathy here, and the influence the experience has on Theo’s decision not to start anything with a younger man is poignant and real. I’ve cried a lot during this book, ergo, I love it.
Content Warnings: Loss of a spouse, domestic abuse.
Force Her Hand by Jo Henny Wolf
She wants to expose him.
Emma Hardwick has one goal in life; okay, maybe two: provide for her family and expose the man who launched his career with her grandmother’s words. But just when she’s about to broadcast the truth about one of America’s most beloved literary giants, she runs into one pesky obstacle: his son. And he’s not about to let her ruin his father’s legacy.
He wants to own her.
Harlan Michaels wants only one thing: a child. And, ideally, a family. When Emma threatens something very dear to him, there’s one easy fix to get rid of the threat and gain a wife to mother his children. Everyone has a weak spot, and Emma’s weakness is almost too easy to find. But once he has her in his grip, the problems only start.
Who could have known that falling for your wife would be so complicated?
This is a steamy age-gap novella (20K words) with a clueless alpha hero blackmailing a stubborn heroine into an inconvenient marriage with a HEA. After all, revenge is tempting, but so is hate banging.
Why I love this book: Well, I wrote it. You can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited here.