18 fresh and flirty contemporary romance novels for your TBR

18 fresh and flirty contemporary romance novels for your TBR

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.

On Episode 258: Reading for peace, joy, and escapism, I discussed the whys of romance reading with Jenna Lowenstein, a recovering English major with a system for rating spicy content—and just last week, Brigid Misselhorn told listeners about her many book clubs, including an online romance club on Episode 275: How many book clubs is too many book clubs?

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.

18 light-hearted contemporary romance novels

Neanderthal Seeks Human

Neanderthal Seeks Human

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Playing House (Uptown Book 1)

Playing House (Uptown Book 1)

Author:
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 →
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Headliners (London Celebrities Book 5)

Headliners (London Celebrities Book 5)

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
The Bromance Book Club

The Bromance Book Club

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Love Lettering

Love Lettering

Author:
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 →
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The Worst Best Man

The Worst Best Man

Author:
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 →
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The Boyfriend Project

The Boyfriend Project

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Remedial Rocket Science

Remedial Rocket Science

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Bookshop
You Had Me at Hola

You Had Me at Hola

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Bookshop
How to Catch a Queen

How to Catch a Queen

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
The Ex Talk

The Ex Talk

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 →
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Boyfriend Material

Boyfriend Material

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Spoiler Alert

Spoiler Alert

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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The Tourist Attraction

The Tourist Attraction

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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Like Lovers Do

Like Lovers Do

Author:
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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars

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 →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Something to Talk About

Something to Talk About

Author:
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 →
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Have you been reading romance lately? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.

P.S. Let’s reinvent the romantic comedy! Plus, 10 romance novels that are perfect for summer reading.

18 fresh and flirty contemporary romance novels for your TBR

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73 comments | Comment

73 comments

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  1. Ruth says:

    I’ve pretty much spent the whole of this last year reading romance. 🙂 I love the Knitting in the City series – Dan O’Malley, sigh! – and The Bromance Book Club series.
    I’d recommend The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang (very steamy) and The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez (very sweet and Jason is my new favourite literary crush).

    • Cindi Tagg says:

      YES! Love anything by Abby Jimenez. I got an ARC of her new book, Life’s Too Short, and it’s so good- Happy Ever After Playlist is still my favorite!
      I also love the Bromance Book Club- can’t wait for the Russian’s story!

  2. Barb says:

    For super chaste, Austen-style romance I love Georgette Heyer. Written from the 30s to the 70s, these books have the language and setting of Jane Austen, with a goofier twist. Heyer also wrote some historical fiction and some murder mysteries, but I think her Regency romances are her best work. Try Sprig Muslin or The Reluctant Widow.

    • KTC says:

      Agreed! If you want something chaste these are the best! A little learning curve with the historical slang, but it doesn’t take too long! And she was quite prolific.

  3. Kate says:

    I wish there was a ‘door ajar’ steam rating – haha! Open door can mean a lot of things…

    I, too, read a lot more romance this past year – it’s the best escape reading there is.

      • Nicole says:

        I always get the two mixed up anyway because I think about it like, “you wanna go ahead and close that door if you are doing that…” I need to get it straight in my head! Ajar may help me!

  4. I just finished “The Cul-de-Sac Wars” by Melissa Ferguson which is a chaste romance, slight (very slight) hunt to Christianity. It’s delightful and funny, laughter out loud. Also moving and tearful. The first in this loose series, “The Dating Charade” is also great.

  5. Sarah Burch says:

    I LOVED “Simmer Down” about two rival food truck owners set in Hawaii, between the streamy scenes about love and food, you couldn’t ask for more. (a few open door scenes)

  6. Tracey says:

    I would have previously said that I dabble in romance but I’ve read (and enjoyed!) five of these so I guess it has become more than a dabble! And I’m fine with that!
    I also recommend One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London, about a fat fashion-blogger who becomes the host of a bachelor-esque reality tv show. It’s so fun! And I second The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang. I also enjoy Jasmine Guillory’s books and Sandhya Menon’s YA romances! If you’re not in to royalty but want to try Alyssa Cole, I highly recommend her fun novella Can’t Escape Love!

  7. Kristen says:

    There’s not a “steaminess rating” for Love Lettering – it’s worth noting that while the first 2/3s or so of the book is pretty chaste and gives a sense that this is going to be a closed-door romance, near the end it becomes suddenly and graphically open-door.

  8. Brigid says:

    What a great list! I have read some of these with my romance bookclub and they were great plus I added more to my TBR. I am so grateful to the MMD blog about “10 Romances for Summer Reading” for giving me the push I needed to try romance!
    I would add One to Watch to the list since it has that same sort of unique structure as Spoiler Alert. (It is a mild open door if I remember correctly)
    Also, I have had friends say- “how can you be in a Romance Book Club and discuss the steamy scenes?!?” And the answer is we don’t go into detail on those scenes but anytime they are mentioned it all gives us a good smile!

  9. Beth Ann Ann Swinson says:

    In my reading, as well as my life, I need more than romance to feel whole. I love books that integrate humorous or intriguing romantic relationships within a broader plot line. Recently, thanks to you, I discovered Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher. Pilcher creates an unconventional late-in-life romantic relationship alongside that of a younger couple, but the story is much more about creating family and community than romance. There was an interesting budding romance in Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield, and a more traditionally romantic leading couple in the midst of Lisa Wingate’s lovely Appalachian book-within-a-book The Story Keeper. Oh — and mostly closed door for me!

    • Janice says:

      One summer, years ago, a friend of mine gave me a shopping bag full of Danielle Steel books. That was my Danielle Steel summer; I read every one! The downside is I never picked up another Danielle Steel( is she still considered a romance novelist?).

      I agree with you. I have stayed away from romantic novels just for the reason that I need more. Thanks for your recommendations.

    • Anne says:

      I also “discovered” Winter Solstice recently because of Anne, and it was just what I needed to get me through the dark days of January.

    • Lanne says:

      Yes! Winter Solstice was my first quarantine read in March 2020, and is on my ‘all time favorites’ list now. A chaste rom-com is The Blue Castle. Romance is seldom a genre I read. I need more than romance and sex scenes to carry a book for me. (Rom-com is often my movie go-to choice, though.) Even though no books were added to my TBR list today I enjoyed reading through the list posted today.

      • Megan says:

        Loved the Blue Castle. Kind of a redemption story as well. I also really loved The Ladies of Missalonghi (could be spelling that wrong) which is a romance but also a story of redemption as well.

    • Ann Antognoli says:

      Hi Beth Ann,
      If you appreciate romance within a more high-minded plot, consider my two novels as possible reads. “The Sunny Spaces” is a more conciliatory, forgiveness, and hope driven novel which alludes to other literature and history as the characters experience guilt and disappointment in life. “A Heart so Wide” is about loyalty and friendship, a playful romance intertwined with the ravages of child abuse that plague adulthood. The book is not as dark as the subject may suggest. Much of the novel unfolds through phone calls between childhood friends who have gone their separate ways as adults.
      Thanks for any consideration you may give my novels. May you enjoy reading whatever book that is in your hands.

  10. Missy G says:

    I’ve read all but a few of these, which I’m now adding to my TBR! My absolute favorite contemporary romance author is Claire Kingsley. From my review of a recent release: “She consistently delivers the best characters and quirks, the best settings, the best drama and hilarity, and I just love her writing so much.” And, of course, the best steam factor. I laugh, I cry, I swoon. Start with the Bootleg Springs or Miles Family series! All in KU.

  11. Lisa says:

    The terms open and closed door confuse me even though I get that it refers to whether or not the romantic scene is described in detail or not, ie occurs behind a closed door. My interpretation when I first heard the terms is that if I am in a steamy scene in real life I want the door closed.

  12. Danielle Diehl says:

    Definitely recommending The Blue Heron Winery series by Kristan Higgins! There’s 5 of them, great stories, great characters and she knows how to write dialogue, which I think is an underrated virtue!

    • Diana says:

      This year has also brought me to romance, which I’d not read much before (thanks WSIRN for opening my eyes to the joy of tearing through a comforting and predictably resolved genre). Thanks for the suggestions, I’d add The Switch by Beth O’Leary in which romance can’t flower until the protagonist addresses her grief over the loss of her sister (discovers some things about her seemingly established relationship). It has a charming senior citizen story along with a 30-ish storyline, a grandmother tries out belatedly living her dream of socially engaged work in her granddaughter’s London while the work-overwhelmed granddaughter takes on grannie’s village Mayfaire committee work and, of course they both meet guys along the way. The supporting characters are fun and the intergenerational friendships made me very aware of something that is missing in a lot of the novels I read. Pretty closed door if I remember correctly but I have a good tolerance for steam so it may not have made an impression on me (although somewhere in this piece Bromance Book Club, which I’d call open door, was characterized as not so much, so very subjective). Also really liked Love Lettering as a person who spent years with t-squares and rapidiographs at school the typeface design quest is real.

    • Rachael says:

      Kristan Higgins is always at the top of my list! Her books have so much humor and heart and never fail to give me the “butterflies”

  13. Mary Choate says:

    I simply must add Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This book is steamy and open-door (open window, open closet), but that doesn’t mean it lacks in character development. I love everyone in this book: the main characters, their friends and their families. I’ve heard it’s similar to Boyfriend Material.

    • Rachel says:

      I was coming to the comments to post this love Red White and Blue so much. It’s one of the few books I re-read immediately.

  14. Katie says:

    I’ve been reading a lot more romance than normal in the past year. I’ve realized that I love books that make me feel deeply and cry (looking at you Abby Jimenez). I also really enjoyed the love story in Where the Crawdads Sing. Do you think you could do a list of romances that are heavier? I’m not sure how to describe that haha. Some books I’ve loved recently: Beach Read (5 stars, a new fave), The Unhoneymooners (4.5 stars), Shipped, This Time Next Year (also 5 stars), The Happy Ever After Playlist (5 stars), The Friend Zone (5 stars, read this second even though it’s the first), The Royal We, The Wild at Heart series by K.A. Tucker.

  15. Katie says:

    A good chaste series is the Love Cliches series by Emma St. Clair (you can find her on Amazon, I read her books on kindle). The first book is Falling For Your Best Friend’s Twin. There are currently 3 books and a novella, with 2 more books coming. I would read them in order, to avoid minor spoilers, though you’d probably be fine not to. I binged all of these during the recent Texas Winter Storm. I’ve read other books of hers as well, all good.

  16. Janna says:

    Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers’ series are fun- I flew through them in the fall. Not necessary to read in order, but I did bc I am weird like that.
    I read all but one on audio- I appreciate a realistic Southern accent, and that’s what you get with these. Open door- wear headphones.
    (For fans of the series… I read that Jackson James is finally getting his own book soon, bless his heart!)

  17. Lizabeth Snell says:

    I have been immersed in romance for the last year. I am very much into the HEA and also into the strength of characters and ingenuity of plot lines. Highly recommend the following:(All are what I call hot romance, open door) and I have a new obsession with the narrators/performers of these books. I now follow them as well as the authors. JiffyKate, Finding Focus series; LB Dunbar, The Heart collection; Sarina Bowen, True North Series (there are spin offs from this series that are also entertaining); Meghan Quinn, many really hilarious stand alones. Oh and I’ll add Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers series, which is just awesome.

  18. Cassie says:

    I’m loving knitting in the city series. I also really enjoyed the ya romance dash and lily. I can’t wait to pick up tourist attraction. Romances with a strong sense of place (especially small towns) are the best!

  19. Emily KM says:

    Great new list! I had some of these on my TBR already and got some new ideas. I’m reading my first Penny Reid on audio right now, the first in her Winston Brothers series. I am loving it, the audiobook is so much fun and really brings it to life with the narrators’ Tennessee accents. I’m happy to hear her other series is good too!

    I added Written in the Stars. I’m a sucker for contemporary, Own Voices P&P retellings and hadn’t heard of this one yet!

  20. Heidi says:

    I really enjoyed the Hot and Hammered series by Tessa Bailey (Building houses, not getting drunk!). It’s three books: Fix Her Up, Love Her or Lose Her, and Tools of Engagement. The door is wide open in these!

  21. Amanda Lamb says:

    If you want some chaste romance, check out author Sarah M. Eden. She has multiple series. I have only read the Dread Penny Society series and it’s fantastic!

  22. Bee says:

    The Hating Game by Sally Thorne was a standout from this past year of escapist reading for me. Also enjoyed The Royal We by Heather Cook’s and Jessica Morgan and catching up on Sophie Kinsella, especially My Not So Perfect Life. (And I had to read the second Julia Quinn book after finishing Bridgerton on Netflix 😆)

  23. Mees says:

    I really appreciate the diversity of this list! Writers of color, queer romances, and ‘non-standard’ white straight ones. 👍

  24. KTC says:

    If you like this list try Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke and Cross-talk by Connie Willis. I don’t think they are super descriptive but they might be open door. I’m sorry I can’t remember.

    If you want something more chaste try older novelists… D.E. Stevenson, Rosamund Pilcher, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heuer, Victoria Holt. They have tried and true backlists.

  25. Cathy says:

    The best romance that I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot, is The Idea of You by Robinne Lee. It is extremely well written and it pulls you right in. Lee is a phenomenal writer; it’s had not become invested in the characters’ lives. Definitely open door, but not gratuitously so. Love, love ,love it!

    • Leigh Kramer says:

      Cathy, I haven’t read it but I know many people who have loved The Idea of You. However, it’s not a romance! There’s no HEA. I don’t want anyone to be burned by it, like my friend who texted me last week extremely upset because it was sold to her as a romance and she was unprepared for the sad ending.

  26. Meredith K Hankins says:

    I will say that 2020/2021 has been the year of romance novels for me. I’ve always leaned towards more escapism fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.) because of the heaviness of my job. An ensured HOA is a gift during these crazy times. I’ve tended to devour backlists for authors I’ve discovered and loved.
    -Penny Reid. Basically, I want to go out to dinner with Penny Reid. Her brain is amazing. She writes stories about real people that are smart, with flawed bodies and emotions. Many of her characters are just working class people. I love that. Her “Smarty Pants” world where she welcomes other authors to play in her character lands is stinking brillant. Most are on Hoopla and available at e-books in your library.
    Abby Jiminez-goodness gracious. Love her characters and they made me cry. She portrays some aspects of womanhood so very perfectly. Love her.
    Sally Thorne (Hating Game), Emily Henry (Beach Read), Abbi Wexman (Bookish Life of Nina Hill) all FANTASTIC
    I have really come to LOVE the backlist of Oliva Dade (Spoiler Alert). She writes about fun, flawed, forty-something smart women. And, if you have ever gone all Outlander/Game of Thrones crazy-this book is for you.
    Robyn Carr (Virgin River) got me through the early days of lockdown last Spring. It was just the sweet, predictable books that I needed.

    Bridgerton got me back into Regency but with some spice. I read almost all of Julia Quinn’s backlist. I particularly LOVED her Smith-Smythe books. They are so sweet and funny. Julia Quinn has propeled me straight into Lisa Kleypas, Suzanne Allain (Mr. Malcom’s List), Tessa Dare, and Evie Dunsmore (A League of Extraordinary Women).

    I used to feel that I should be reading something “more meaningful” or “more highbrow” but 2020/2021 has taught me that I should take my pleasure as it comes. Romance novels are a solid, needed genre with writers that have solid plots and inventive writing. Fire up your Kindles and start downloading!

    • Biz says:

      I work in academic publishing and used to belong to a copyediting e-mail discussion list. One year the topic of summer or beach reading (and how some of us read fluffy-type things such as romance or spy novels on vacation) came up; one of the people on the list said they’d be embarrassed to come back from vacation and tell people they’d only read fluffy novels. Argh. All I could think was “you must have NO stress in your life that you don’t need a mental vacation of fluff reading every now and then.” If ever there was a time for escapist fluff, it is NOW.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    Kate Clayborn’s latest “Love at First” is lovely. The main characters Will and Nora each have emotional baggage but are people you want to root for. The other characters are well-drawn and interesting. There is an open-door chapter in the last half of the book that could be paged through quickly if that’s not your thing.

  28. Melinda Kiefer says:

    During this past “Plague” year, along with reading classic literature, and recommended contemporary lit, plus non-fiction (I read about 50 books per year says Goodreads) , I needed some escapism (even as a female senior citizen!) and discovered a new author who writes beautifully in the romance genre (though definitely, “closed door.”) The author is SYLVAIN REYNARD and he’s written GABRIEL’S INFERNO (quartet: GABRIEL’s INFERNO, GABRIEL’S RAPTURE, GABRIEL’S REDEMPTION, GABRIEL’s PROMISE). The author, Sylvain Reynard, followed the Gabriel’s Inferno books with his FLORENTINE SERIES (human/vampire romance that takes place in Italy) with a trilogy: THE RAVEN, THE SHADOW, and THE ROMAN. Having done my major at college in comparative literature, I found all these books very well written and I couldn’t put them down. (Over the last year, I must’ve read all of them at least twice). GABRIEL’s INFERNO has been made into a very good movie, which one can access on Amazon Prime/Passionflix (R-rated); the movie director (Tosca Musk) has contracted to make the whole INFERNO quartet into serial movies. I was very surprised indeed at seeing how well the movies were done (beautiful photography of Florence!). Ms. Musk has also said that she’s going to direct and make movies on THE FLORENTINE SERIES (perhaps with actor Alexander Skargard as the male protagonist vampire ?). Anyway, enjoy, if you should feel so inclined.

  29. Debbie says:

    Anne, I just wanted to thank you for talking about Lucy Parker and Penny Reid in previous posts. I never would have known about them otherwise, and their books were my comfort reads last year (and continue to be). I think I read Headliners more than 10 times! (I recommend reading The Austen Playbook first.) You have truly made my reading life better by introducing me to their books. Thank you!

  30. Ashley says:

    Anything by romance author Maria Luis!!
    I also enjoyed some of Staci Hart’s books especially the flower shop series. And one of my all time faves is Christina Lauren (in particular The Unhoneymooners)

  31. Rachael says:

    I loved reading The Tourist Attraction based on your previous recommendation and I’ve read the others in the series as well – which were equally as good!

  32. Holly says:

    I just finished Float Plan by Trish Doller, and I absolutely loved it. Great escapist romance. It’s open door, but pretty tame, IMO.

  33. Lori says:

    Lauren Layne’s Central Park Pact are great fun and fairly closed door, as I remember them. They offer a great escape – I love reading books that take place in NYC, too! Layne has other series that are more open door. As mentioned above by many, I have found myself reading far more romance this year!

  34. Kathy Keenan says:

    My two favorite chick lit authors are Trisha Ashley and Katie Fforde. If you haven’t read them, run do not walk, to you nearest bookstore and buy them all. I think Trisha has written 13 or 14 books and Katie is in the 20’s! Good reading!

  35. Jody Czwartacky says:

    The very best were the books by Mary Stewart. Romance, mystery, international settings, and writing that is literate and inviting. Of course she later wrote the compelling Merlin trilogy.

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