Romance novels—with their moonlit trysts, sculpted muscles, and throbbing you-know-whats—are the Rodney Dangerfields of the literary world: They get no respect. But undaunted sisters Bea, 26, and Leah Koch, 23, are ready to give the much-maligned genre its due at their new frisky-fiction bookstore, The Ripped Bodice.

As kids, Bea and her little sister cut their teeth on passion-filled paperbacks and never looked back. "There's a stigma surrounding romance," says Bea. "But love stories have been around forever—almost as long as there have been printed books!" When Leah graduated from college last year, the two decided to go into business. "We knew we wanted to sell books," says Leah. "Then we thought, what if we opened a bookstore that sold only romance novels? So we tried to research similar stores and couldn't find a single one in the country." That lack intrigued them, given the category's appeal: In 2013, romance generated more than $1 billion in sales.

This spring, after raising more than $90,000 on Kickstarter, the sisters set up shop in Culver City, California. The Ripped Bodice's shelves are filled with "everything from rock 'n' roll bad boys brought down by love to Regency-era parties gone terribly awry," says Bea. "If someone asks for erotica with cowboys and threesomes," says Leah, "we've got suggestions"—because more than anything, the sisters want their store to be a place that embraces all fans into its (heaving) bosom. "Romance is incredible because it can make you laugh, make you sigh, and make you cry," says Bea. "It's so much more than a turn-on."


3 swoon-inducing titles handpicked by the Koch sisters:

Vision In White by Nora Roberts

"The first book in a series that centers on four friends who are also partners in a wedding-planning business. Plenty of drama and, of course, romance."

Jewel by Beverly Jenkins

"The author takes a classic trope—a fake engagement turns real!—and infuses it with fresh energy."

Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren

"This story focuses on a modern woman who has a stellar career without losing its hot, page-turning chemistry. Bonus points for the English love interest (we enjoy thinking about filthy things said in a British accent)."


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