When legendarily cool-headed people like former first lady Michelle Obama are admitting to feeling depressed after the past five months, you know the collective psyche has hit a new low. Clearly, we all need to something joyous to hold on to, that will allow us to see past a present mired in disease and unrest to a golden-hued HEA.
Romance novels, despite their reputation for bursting bosoms and throbbing manhoods, are uniquely suited for helping us through periods of despair. The most recent books in the genre are concerned with really difficult issues — mental illness, disability, misogyny, race, gender and sexual identity — and host a diverse range of characters who have to navigate social and personal roadblocks to find the kind of happiness that one passionate kiss alone can’t provide.
The results are enthralling stories with complex characters and a cathartic fusion of real-life issues and fantasy sex. Do yourself a favor this week and give in to the pleasure of stories where hard things are overcome, in more ways than one. We’ve got nine to get your started.
Talia Hibbert’s enchanting Take a Hint starts with an (unnecessary) rescue gone viral and ends (where else?) between the sheets. Academic Danika Brown wants a no-strings-attached affair with the hot ex-rugby-playing security guard at her office building, but beneath his muscular exterior, Zaf Ansari is a romantic softie. We love that Take a Hint starts with mutual desire rather than mind games or scandal and were really impressed with Hibbert’s willingness and skill in engaging with difficult topics like mental illness and British Muslim identity through humor and heart-fluttering prose.
The first two books in Sarah MacLean’s Bareknuckle Bastards series are smart and hot (Dickensian rooftop sex? Yes, please!), so it’s no surprise that the third standalone book, Daring and the Duke, builds on her rich world-building and suspenseful, strong female-centered storytelling to deliver a fantastic novel about one of the series’ most compelling characters, Grace Condry, crime queen of Covent Garden. Betrayed years before by a childhood love turned villain, Daring and the Duke brings the two lovers together with fiery results.
While it’s always nice to watch two young, nubile people fall in love, sometimes you want a sophisticated Regency-era story about smart, middle-aged women discovering themselves — and each other — at the intersection of politics and desire. Olivia Waite’s romantic and lively The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows delivers the tender story of beekeeper Penelope Flood and printer/artist Agatha Griffin, who find themselves increasingly immersed in politics and passion as the pivotal trial of Queen Caroline draws near.
Anyone who has spent time in the theater or film industries knows the co-star trap:
it’s just too easy to fall in love with the gorgeous actor already pretending to be gaga for you. So when tabloid darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez and press-shy telenovela star Ashton Suarez feel sparks fly on the set, both work hard to deny their feelings. With a subplot involving Suarez’s son, who lives in Puerto Rico with his grandparents, and Jasmine’s ongoing struggles with an exploitative press, Daria builds complex characters whose conflicts and histories require major compromise. With perfect percentages of Hollywood escapism, realistic dilemmas, and steamy scenes, You Had Me at Hola will have you dreading adios.
Cat Sebastian gives Regency romance a twist with Unmasked, which explores gender nonbinary relationships, and the real work of overcoming societal and personal expectations to fulfill emotional needs and desires. Proper aristocrat Alistair de Lacey’s intended life path is thrown into arrears when he is introduced to the alluring Mr. Robert Selby (née Charity Church) and his sexy sister, Louisa. Sebastian allows Robert and Alistair to navigate their mutual attraction without surrendering their authentic selves in this anachronistic but funny and charming LGBTQIA spin on the historical bodice ripper.
Boyfriend Material provides a funny, sweet, and slow-burning take on the “fake boyfriend” trope. Luc, the messy but mostly together 28-year-old son of estranged, famous musicians, enlists the help of an uptight barrister (Mark Darcy, anyone?) to pose as his boyfriend for a nonprofit fundraiser Luc is organizing on behalf of dung beetles. The dung beetle organization (CRAPP) is a clue that you’re in for a silly read, but Hall adds depth by allowing her characters to take their time falling in love and by focusing much of the book’s attention on Luc’s attempts to resolve his family’s problems.
Note: We’re waiting for this popular new release to be back in stock. Wishlist this title on Powells.com or make your ears burn with the audio book.
It’s hard to overstate how excited we are about this forthcoming novel. As a young girl, Azere promises her dying father that she will marry a Nigerian man and thus remain tied to her culture, despite emigrating to Canada. Her mother has remained steadfast to Azere’s promise, but her terrible match-making skills unexpectedly drive Azere into the arms of Rafael Castellano, a white lover. Igharo writes sensitively and feelingly about Azere and Rafael’s interracial relationship, and Azere’s musings on the possibilities of remaining Nigerian while dating outside cultural and familial expectations take a sexy romance and turn it into a thought-provoking but still titillating read.
This sweet YA romance is perfect for teen readers who like to binge on rom-coms like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and The Sun Is Also a Star. When Saoirse and Ruby begin a summer fling, Ruby suggests they reenact a list of romantic comedy clichés like skinny dipping and staring adoringly into each other’s eyes for uncomfortably long periods of time. Saoirse is reticent to get too involved — with an ill mother, cheating father, a bad breakup, and more, she has plenty to think about — but Ruby’s antics lift her spirit and might just make not falling in love impossible.
Layla Patel returns home to her extended San Francisco-based family after a devastating and very public breakup and firing. Her father, who owns a Michelin-starred restaurant, offers Layla the office space above the restaurant so that she can start an HR firm (he also signs her up for a dating app); unfortunately, the space is already occupied by uptight CEO Sam Mehta, who dislikes Layla’s sloppiness and the fleet of meddling relatives and would-be bridegrooms who start parading through the office. In an effort to get rid of her, Sam agrees to be Layla’s chaperone on a slew of hysterical, awful blind dates that ultimately reveal Sam and Layla’s growing attraction to each other. If your comic sensibilities reside at the intersection of Bollywood and Jane Austen, Sara Desai’s witty, silly, enemies-turned-sexy, sexy lovers novel is for you.