Readers, behind the scenes at Modern Mrs. Darcy we have a team of avid readers with incredibly varied tastes, which means that after nearly every team meeting, my desk is covered in sticky notes full of book recommendations. Lately, we’ve been talking more about one genre in particular: romance.
We’re not the only ones leaning into romance for comfort and escape these days. I’ve enjoyed chatting with several readers who are looking for light-hearted love stories on my podcast, What Should I Read Next.
If those WSIRN episodes increased your interest in the romance genre, our resident romance enthusiast Leigh Kramer recorded an episode for you. She shared a TON of titles and romance-y terms like “closed door” and “HEA” in Patreon bonus episode #86: A guided tour of the romance genre. We heard from many listeners who appreciated Leigh’s tour, whether they’re new to the genre or have read romance for years.
Working with a handful of devoted romance readers has its perks—my bullet journal is full of swoon-worthy titles, and my Kindle is well-stocked, too. Today, I’m sharing a mix of contemporary romance titles that I’ve enjoyed myself, that team members have raved about, and that I immediately logged in my book journal as to-be-read.
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.
There aren’t any “chaste” books on today’s list, or 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.
In today’s blurbs, I’ve indicated a “steam rating” when possible to help you find the romance novel that’s right for you. (And please note: some of our team members choose steamier selections than I typically do!) Whether you’ve devoured romance novels all year or you’re just warming up to the genre, I hope you find a good-looking book (or six) for your TBR today.
I can't help but include Reid's full series here. Once I read the first book, 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. Penny Reid's characters have distinct personalities and quirks and it's delightful watching them grow individually and as a group as the series progresses. 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 →
When I found out there was a romance novel that featured two urban planners falling in love, you can bet I was all over it: I'm fascinated by urban planning, yet this topic never comes up in fiction! In this short book—just over 100 pages—two professional planners get to know each other by touring homes all over NYC's Uptown. I so enjoy a book that makes me google locations, and this one had me searching for Strivers' Row and Forest Hills Gardens. This was fast and fun, with a few extra-spicy open door scenes. More info →
Lucy Parker is one of my favorite authors for fast and fun romance. In her latest novel in the London Celebrities series, two rival tv presenters who hate each other's guts suddenly become colleagues who must not only work side by side, but act like they like it. This novel isn't super-explicit but is considerably more open door than the early books in this series. (It's not essential that this series be read in order, but if you want, go back and read the first, Act Like It, it just might be my favorite.) I'm also excited to read Parker's newest release, a romantic comedy about contestants on a British baking show (YES, please) coming out in July 2021. More info →
This rom-com is laugh-out-loud funny and excellent on audio. Narrator Adjoa Andoh makes the witty banter between the heroine, Chloe Brown, and her landlord, Redford "Red" Morgan crackle and spark. After a near death experience, Chloe comes up with a to-do list to help her "get a life," including things like "ride a motorcycle," "go camping," and "do something bad." When she enlists Red to help her accomplish the list, their flirtation quickly escalates as they learn more about each other. Readers, take note: this book is charming, delightful, and VERY steamy—if you do go for the audiobook format, wear headphones! The second and third books in the Brown Sisters series are out now (and they keep getting spicier). 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. There are a few open door scenes, but I personally found this one to be on the less steamy end of the scale. The series continues with its newest installment in July 2021. More info →
Hand-letterer Meg designs custom journals and sees the world in fonts and signs. She also sees the signs other people miss, like the time she wove a secret message into a doomed couple’s wedding invitations. She didn’t count on Reid to notice—or for him to track her down one year later and demand answers. Meg’s in need of inspiration, as well as forgiveness, and so she and Reid embark on a tentative journey. Meg first fell in love with NYC by walking every inch of it and finding custom signs, and she wants Reid to do the same. Funny and moving, this contemporary romance is not only about love but friendship and the ways we make a place home. More info →
Would you hire a wedding planner who was left at the altar? Despite the irony of her past, Carolina Santos dreams of being the best wedding-coordinator in the DC area. When a huge career opportunity presents itself, she leaps at the chance to prove her skills...except it means working with her ex-fiancée's brother. Equally motivated by this big opportunity, Max Hartley is ready to put any awkwardness aside to get the job done. Of course, that's tough to do when your new colleague hates your guts. Over the course of their work, Max and Lina start to see each other in a new, more flirtatious light. They try to ignore sparks between them as they finish their work, but it proves impossible in this sassy, laugh-out-loud open door rom-com. More info →
I devoured this fun and thoughtful romance. After witnessing many live-tweet moments on Twitter over the years, Farrah Rochon decided to turn live-tweet-gone-viral into a fabulous rom com premise: her heroine Samiah Brooks catches her three-timing boyfriend after reading about his date with another woman—on Twitter. When the three “girlfriends” Samiah, London, and Taylor go viral, they meet up, become besties, and vow to focus on their single selves by not dating for six months. With her newfound free time, Samiah pours herself into developing her passion project. But just as her dream app starts to take shape, she meets a sexy coworker who seems like he could be perfect boyfriend material. Steamy, smart, and centered around friendship, I’m so glad Rochon is continuing the series with books for London and Taylor, too. More info →
Each book in this fun romance series features a female protagonist who works in STEM. 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 is closed door, but that's not true for all of Nix's work.) More info →
A fresh, fun, and flirty romance novel about a soap opera star and a telenovela hunk who are both trying to catch their big break with their brand new bilingual TV show. Jasmine and her sisters come up with some rules to guide her on the path to success, calling it the "Leading Lady Plan." One principle: "leading ladies do not rebound with their co-stars." This shouldn't be difficult. Ashton is banking on this new series to make his career, too. He's perfectly professional...but of course, despite their reluctance to let romance get in the way of their dreams, these two can't deny their chemistry. Heads up for a few spicy scenes and open door moments. I enjoyed the audiobook version narrated by Seraphine Valentine (with headphones on!). More info →
I thoroughly enjoyed this slow-burning, sexy, and socially engaged series opener, with cameos from some Reluctant Royals characters, featuring a whip-smart queen and a shy but sexy king. When Shanti Mohapi marries the king of Njaza, he tells her that they're to be married in name only, with no relationship and practically no contact with each other. But when he realizes that he needs to make changes to the fabric of his country, Shanti is the best advisor and partner he could ask for. As they work together to create new beginnings for Njaza, they can't help but fall in love. Cole has a well-deserved reputation for writing intelligent, inclusive novels, and also for writing open door romance, so heads up for several such scenes. More info →
How could this podcaster resist a novel about podcasting, set in the world of public radio? In this enemies-to-lovers romance, Solomon takes the familiar fake dating trope and gives it a fun twist: in order to advance their respective careers, Shay and Dominic say “yes” to their boss’s not-quite- legit plan to co-host a tell-all podcast, where they’ll pretend to be exes and deconstruct what went wrong in their relationship. But to convince their listeners it’s real, they need to get to know each other—and that’s when it gets complicated. I loved the Seattle studio setting and sense of humor in this breezy read. Heads up for an open door scene or two. More info →
If you enjoy the "fake dating" trope and British humor, this charming romance novel is for you. Our resident romance expert Leigh Kramer recommended it to me, and I particularly enjoyed it on audio, as narrated by Joe Jameson. As the son of big time rockstars, Luc O'Donnell is reluctantly famous-by-association. Known as a "bad boy" in the press, Luc has seen his fair share of trouble—but he's put that lifestyle behind him. Now that his estranged father is making a big musical comeback, Luc is back in the media and needs to clean up his image in order to maintain his career. Enter Oliver, a straight-laced, super responsible (and handsome) barrister, vegetarian, and all-around good guy. Seemingly polar opposites of each other, Luc and Oliver start fake dating...and if you've ever watched a rom com, you can guess what happens from there. Full of heart, humor, and endearing side characters, this closed door romantic comedy is completely swoon-worthy. More info →
MMD team member Chelsey recommended this rom com in our Best Books of the Year event, and as soon as she said "unique structure" I wrote it on a sticky note. Olivia Dade weaves television and movie scripts, fanfiction excerpts, and a modern day romance together in her latest novel about fandoms, friendship, and fame. Marcus Caster-Rupp stars on a popular TV show by day and writes fanfiction about that show under a pseudonym by night. April Whittier has hidden her hardcore fangirling from friends and coworkers for years. When she finally works up the courage to post a photo of her cosplay online, it goes viral and lands her a date with the hottest star of her favorite show: Marcus Caster-Rupp. The real plot twist? They've been talking to each other on the fanfiction forums as writing partners and friends for years. Marcus discovers this first, but he can't reveal his identity without risking his acting career, leading to some serious fictional drama. Dade writes romance with realistic characters, a balance of serious and sweet moments, and open door scenes. More info →
Donna, our MMD spreadsheet guru, enthusiastically recommended Morgenthaler's Moose Spring series for cozy rom-com reading. Set in a small Alaska town populated with charming side characters, the first book features a romance between a grumpy diner owner and a smitten tourist. Graham owns The Tourist Trap, the aptly named diner where his customers come and go each season. He barely notices when a new face enters the restaurant, until Zoey Caldwell shows up. Zoey has been saving for a trip to Alaska for years, and she quickly falls in love with Moose Springs and its beauty. Of course, when she crosses paths with Graham there's even more of a pull to stay there, forever. Fun, witty, and low on the steam scale—pick this one up when you need a quick feel-good read. More info →
Surgeon Dr. Nicole Allen finds her hard-earned career in jeopardy when she scolds an out-of-line hospital intern, only to find out he was a powerful donor's son. With her prestigious fellowship in the balance, Nicole turns to her hunky just-a-friend roommate to see if he and his powerful family can help. They strike a deal: Nicole will pretend to be Ben's girlfriend on his family's trip to Martha's Vineyard and Ben will pull some strings to see if his wealthy family can intervene with the hospital. Faking a romance comes easily to Nicole and Ben, maybe too easily, but a week away from the world can't be the foundation for a real relationship, can it? Perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory, Livesay's Girls' Trip series is full of friendship, romance, and open door moments. This is the second novel, but you don't need to read them in order. More info →
Opposites attract in this Pride and Prejudice-inspired debut novel. 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 →
When Hollywood showrunner Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh at a red carpet event, it sets off a chain of paparazzi-fueled rumors about their relationship. Mindful of their precarious position in Hollywood, Emma and Jo resort to "no comment" when asked about their romance, but as they spend more and more time together, they realize that they get along really well and might even have feelings for each other. The author navigates complicated office romance with care in this slow-burn debut novel. Heads up for an open door scene at the very end of the book. More info →
Have you been reading romance lately? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.