Like many readers, I read more romance in 2020 than I ever did before. When real life is hard, a good dose of witty banter and swoon-worthy moments lightens my mood and helps me escape from reality for a few hours. Or, if I’m breezing through a whole romance series, I can extend my escape for one long weekend (or a whole month, depending on how I choose to stock my Kindle). It’s a comfort to get lost in someone else’s love story—knowing all the while that everything will ultimately work out and the characters will get their happy ending.
Today I’m sharing the romance series I’ve devoured—and occasionallyreread—when I needed an escape, along with some recommendations I haven’t tried yet from our team members. From meet cutes to fake relationships to enemies-to-lovers arcs, there’s plenty of variety on this list for brand new and seasoned romance readers alike.
Take note: the books on this list range in steaminess, something I find to be very subjective. My super-spicy might be someone else’s tame, and vice-versa. But here’s a helpful guide: if you prefer sex scenes to be minimal or only hinted at, look for “closed-door” romance; if you want your romance to be more explicit, then “open-door” romance is perfect for you. We’ve used these labels below to guide you.
There aren’t any “chaste” books on today’s list, that is, romance novels that don’t include more than kissing on the page. (Sometimes readers ask for “clean” books, but this is a term I, along with many writers and readers, prefer not to use, because it implies books with sex are then dirty— although plenty of authors writing along these lines still use the term.) If you have any “chaste” recommendations, we’d love to see them in the comments. I’d also love to hear your recommendations for historical romance, as this list contains mostly contemporary.
Readers, if you need the encouragement, consider this a nudge to dip your toes into the romance genre this season. I hope you find a love story among these romance novels to whisk you away for awhile.
When Drew and Alexa meet cute in a broken-down elevator, sparks start flying within seconds. Drew's in town to watch his ex marry his best friend (ouch). He doesn't have a date, so he asks Alexa to come along—and pretend to be his girlfriend. They have so much fun at the wedding, Drew and Alexa decide to see each other again. Between dates at the taco truck and meeting one another's friends, the fake relationship starts to feel surprisingly real. Can their unexpected romance survive long distance and complicated career choices? (It’s a rom-com, so you know they're going to see it through.) If you're looking for a lighthearted romance featuring delicious food, palpable chemistry, and savvy professionals, add this to your TBR immediately. Every book in this series can be read as a standalone and has open door scenes. More info →
I've read Parker's entire London Celebrities series more than once. The first book features Richard and Lainie, two actors in London's West End. Though talented, Richard's cranky off-stage antics are turning his fans against him, and the theater is worried they won't be able to sell tickets. Fan favorite Lanie is already stuck working with her cheating ex-boyfriend, and then it gets worse: she's asked to pose as his new girlfriend to help Richard clean up his reputation. Fans love nothing more than an on-stage/off-stage romance, so soon they're packing in the crowds, but then the lines between on-stage and off begin to blur. A fast, fun (and open door) contemporary romance with a keen sense of humor. More info →
Once I read the first book in Penny Reid's Knitting in the City series, I tore through the rest! This smart contemporary romance series follows a group of seven friends in Chicago, whose relationships blossomed thanks to Knit Night. They rally around each other no matter what's going on and their relationships continue to be a priority even as they each fall in love. In this installment, Janie, a walking fact machine, runs into Quinn, a walking dreamboat, on her very worst day. What follows is a fun and funny romance between an unlikely couple. Penny Reid's characters have distinct personalities and quirks, and it's delightful watching them grow. You'll wish you could be friends with them in real life! (Heads up: the first two books are on the chaste side, but the series grows in steaminess as it progresses and is considered "open door" after book 3.) More info →
Add one salty infertile heroine and one firefighter hero who dreams of having a big family someday and you have a friends-to-lovers contemporary romance you might stay up reading until the wee hours of the night. Josh and Kristen have some big things to overcome, but there’s no denying their chemistry from the moment they meet—in a fender bender, no less. This story will make you laugh out loud one minute and cry the next. It doesn’t shy away from the hard topics, which makes the happy ending that much more satisfying. There are currently three books in the series, so keep reading for more romance that hits you right in the feels. (Heads up for an open door scene or two.) More info →
The first book in Alyssa Cole's excellent contemporary Reluctant Royals romance series introduces Naledi, a stressed out grad student who relies on logic to guide her in every situation. When she gets an email from Prince Thabiso of Thesolo declaring his intentions to fulfill their childhood betrothal, Naledi writes it off as spam. She grew up in the foster system of NYC, not a faraway country she's never heard of. But when the prince shows up in the city with romantic proposals and a different version of her life's history, Naledi starts to follow her heart. What ensues is a modern day fairytale between a self-sufficient science nerd and a crowned prince who's determined to be a great leader. I loved reading their story and meeting delightful side characters who show up in subsequent books. Note: each book in this series includes open door scenes. More info →
After reading Clayborn's novel Love at First, I was in the mood to read more of her work as soon as possible. I tore through her Chance of a Lifetime trilogy, about three friends whose lives are changed over the course of one week, after they go in together to buy what turns out to be a lottery ticket! This series opener centers Kit, a steady scientist who, because of her peripatetic childhood, wants to use her winnings to create a home for herself and develop roots in her community. So when Ben shows up in his role as recruiter her to entice her to leave it all behind and move to Texas ... well, it's a disaster. But as they keep talking, their connection grows. I loved watching Ben and Kit work through their respective baggage over the course of the story, and the large cast of well-developed secondary characters give this series life. Heads up for some open door moments. More info →
Helen Hoang's heartfelt series opens with an unputdownable story about an autistic mathematician and a Vietnamese-Swedish escort who fall in love while navigating complicated family situations and miscommunications. Stella excels at work, where her math prowess allows her to create incredible predictive algorithms. But predicting human behavior outside of the office proves more difficult. Stella wants a romantic relationship but feels she needs practice to hone her dating skills. Enter Michael, a professional escort who accepts Stella's terms to train her in dating and intimacy. Both characters are endlessly endearing, and I kept rooting for them as they fell for each other and learned about themselves along the way. This book is steamy and the rest of the series includes open door scenes as well. More info →
This second chance love story is so much fun—and it gave me a new appreciation for the romance genre. Baseball star Gavin Scott is successful on the field, but at home? He's struggling to make his marriage work. Desperate for help, he turns to his best friends, who—unbeknownst to him—have a secret romance book club in which they read and discuss romance novels. The guys give him a historical romance to read, Courting the Countess, and tell him to use it as a guide to win his wife back. Through big gestures and fumbling attempts at vulnerability, Gavin learns how to love his partner better. Each book in the series follows a different member of the book club; I've enjoyed every installment! Heads up for a couple of open door scenes. More info →
I don't read much historical romance, but I am so glad I picked the Longhope Abbey series up at the recommendation of my friend and romance guide Leigh Kramer. If you're already on the outskirts of society, you might as well indulge in a little mischief. That's Thea Knight's philosophy, anyway, so she poses as her sister and plots revenge on those who cast her out. When this masquerade lands her in an engagement to Rafe, the Earl of Luxborough, Thea decides to keep deceiving him until she can make a clean break. The problem: Rafe knows she's lying and has a plan of his own. Another problem: in between witty barbs and white lies, they can't help falling in love with each other. Their excellent banter propelled me from page to page; this one is a lot of fun. Heads up for some open-door moments throughout the whole series. More info →
I breezed through the entire Chemistry Lessons series last summer. Each installment features a female protagonist who works in STEM, from chemists to biologists to engineers. When this first book opens, Melody is having a terrible night. First her date stands her up, then the creepy guy at the bar won't leave her alone. When a handsome stranger offers her an escape, it leads to one fabulous night—and that's all it can be, because the next day Jeremy has to fly home to L.A. But then three years later, Melody graduates and lands her dream job at an aerospace company—in L.A., where she reconnects with Jeremy and discovers not only is he as charming as ever, he's the CEO's son. And a billionaire. (This series—until this summer's new release—is closed door, but that's not true for all of Nix's work.) More info →
This series is only two books long (so far), but it's just too good not to include here! Book three is expected in 2022, so get started now. Opposites attract in the first novel, inspired by Pride and Prejudice. Darcy Lowell and Elle Jones had a disastrous blind date, but Darcy's brother will keep bugging her until she finds love. With a little convincing, she gets Elle on board for a fake relationship to benefit them both. The plot of this contemporary romance doesn't mimic Austen, but the characters do feel like Darcy and Elizabeth. Catching the subtle nods to Pride and Prejudice in this breezy, page-turner adds a delightful layer to the reading experience, but you don't need any prior knowledge of Austen's work in order to fully enjoy it. (There are some open door moments in this one). More info →
This LGBTQ+ historical romance series is on my TBR, thanks to another recommendation from Leigh Kramer, the Will Darling Adventures series combines murder mystery AND romance set in the 1920s England. Back from WWI and happy to lead a quiet existence in his inherited bookstore, Will Darling isn't prepared to deal with threatening visitors and ghosts from his past. In fact, he has no idea what they're after, so he teams up with Kim Secretan to uncover secret information. But Kim has secrets of his own to keep, and as tension rises between Will and Kim, so does the danger. Heads up for some open door scenes. More info →
Several of our team members love the Garnet Run series, calling it perfect for pet lovers and contemporary romance readers who enjoy a mix of serious and swoon-worthy moments. Jack is a children's book illustrator who fills his home with rescue animals to stifle his loneliness, but when he breaks his leg, he needs human help to care for his pets. Simon is looking for his own fluffy companion to ease his anxiety, so while he waits for his perfect dog, he signs on as Jack's dog walker. Both men get more than they expected as they grow to enjoy each other's company and fall in love while Jack recovers. This series is open door and is set to continue in September 2021 with a third novel, set during the winter holidays. More info →
Each book in Beharrie's One Day to Forever series takes place over the course of just one day, yet somehow manages to pack in just the right amount of chemistry, drama, and romance. The first story takes place in Caledon, South Africa, where Angie stops on her way to Cape Town and embarks on a whirlwind 24 hour adventure with Ezra. From faking a relationship at a wedding to participating in a holiday parade to improvising a nativity play, Angie and Ezra bounce from one unexpected surprise to another. All the while, they're each dealing with different forms of grief and the reality of what waits for them in Cape Town, where their families reside. Can one day full of fun lead to a lifetime of happiness? Angie and Ezra explore the possibilities in this tightly written romance. (This series is closed door.) More info →
When a terrible encounter between live flamingoes and a toppling tower of shrimp derails Margot Cary's career as a Chicago-based event planner, she's forced to rethink her entire life plan. A well-timed visit from an unknown distant relative takes Margot from the big city to a small southern town, where the rest of her family owns and operates the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. Margot attempts to find her footing in Lake Sackett, Georgia, where a less glamorous event planning job, a nosy small town community—and a romance with a local widower—await her. The Southern Eclectic series is more women's fiction than romance, but each installment features a sweet love story, subtle humor, and plenty of southern charm. This novel is closed door, though a few steamy moments take place on the page. More info →
Have you been escaping into romance novels lately? We’d love to see your recommendations in the comments!