I didn’t used to read romance, largely because I (wrongly) assumed serious readers didn’t. And it’s true the genre is (sadly) much aligned. But a few savvy readers with great taste convinced me that a good book is a good book, good writing is good writing, and romance writers are some of the best writers out there.
A romance novel isn’t just a love story. If you like love stories, good news! The first category in this year’s Summer Reading Guide is “Wholly Unexpected Love Stories.” But a romance goes a step further, in that to meet the conventions of the genre, it must have a central love story. And, according to the conventions of the genre, it must have a happy ending. Must. (My friend Leigh Kramer wrote a great post that I now think of as Romance 101: read it here.)
I’ve come to admire the way romance writers excel at plot and story. It’s no wonder romance readers are some of the most loyal and passionate out there!
When I mention romance novels, people often ask about the heat level. I hear this, because I don’t read much that is, shall we say, spicy. Yet I’ve learned that’s a very subjective question. What I find steamy, someone else might find 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. And if you don’t want there to be anything more than kissing, then look for romance described as “chaste.” (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.)
Today’s list of romance reads includes some titles I enjoyed but didn’t find right for the guide, some much-buzzed books I haven’t read yet, and some that come out too late in the season to include in the guide. I can’t vouch for these titles the same way I can for those in the guide. With these, I’m just a hopeful reader, excited about the books on her stack, hoping to find something great.
Enjoy today’s list and let me know in the comments section about your relationship with romance novels and which of these you’ll be reading this summer. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
I fell in love with Lucy Parker this year; this book—which revolves around a Jane Austen-based tv adaptation filmed on an English estate—is the one that inspired this post. Parker brings us back to the London theater scene by way of The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV murder mystery where viewers at home determine the outcome for Austen's beloved characters. Actress Freddy finds herself distracted by grumpy critic Griff, whose home is hosting the event. And Griff? He's distracted right back but there's a secret in their respective families' histories that might undo everything. (This series need not be read in order.) More info →
What happens when a good girl finds herself up close and in person with the bad boy prince she loves to hate? Johan is no stranger to using the paparazzi to his advantage and decides a fake engagement with Nya is the best way to protect his brother, the heir to the throne. Nya may have given up on the existence of Prince Charming but Johan just might change her mind. This is the third book in the Reluctant Royals series and for the best reading experience, you'll probably want to read the first two books first. Spoiler alert: they're amazing. If you're not already reading Alyssa Cole, you're missing out. More info →
In this unputdownable romantic suspense, two covert operatives have 48 hours to neutralize a lethal bioweapon. There's just one small problem: the only person who can help Maddox stop the pandemic threat is the former love of her life who believes she betrayed him. Cole may want to hate Maddox but he can't ignore the looming crisis. And when these two find themselves working side by side and racing against the clock, who knows what sparks will ignite? More info →
The follow up to Hoang's smash hit The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test follows Michael's autistic cousin Khai who avoids relationships at all costs because he believes he's not made for love. His mother disagrees, to the point of heading to Vietnam to find Khai a bride. Esme can't turn the chance to come to America and meet a potential husband but nothing goes as planned. Esme and Khai only have so much time to see if their relationship has a shot. Make sure you read the Author's Note at the end! More info →
Christina Lauren is back with an enemies-to-lovers romance. Bridesmaid Olive steels herself to get through her twin sister's wedding, which forces her to spend the day with her sworn enemy best man Ethan. But when the rest of the party falls prey to food poisoning, Olive and Ethan find themselves on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon trip to Hawaii, determined to leave each other alone. Until they wind up pretending to be newlyweds to save Olive's job. Sometimes pretending can be a whole lot of fun. (Fun and funny, this one had me fondly reminiscing my own tropical honeymoon.) More info →
Adriana Herrera is quickly establishing herself as an author worth reading by giving us diverse characters we can’t help but root for. The second book in her Dreamers series, American Fairytale pairs a social worker with a billionaire and explores their differences beyond the financial gap between them. Thomas tends to wine and dine his lovers but Milo couldn’t be less interested in that; he just wants Thomas. They’ll both have to figure out how to overcome bad relationship habits in order to get the fairytale they deserve. More info →
Add one salty infertile heroine and one firefighter hero who dreams of having a big family someday and you have a debut friends-to-lovers contemporary romance you might stay up reading until the wee hours of the night. Ahem. 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 and it makes the happy ending that much more satisfying. Publication date June 11. More info →
Can I just say how much I love this title? Alisha Rai's new series pits rival dating app creators against each other. Rhiannon is focused on her career. But when past hookup Samson reappears a few months after ghosting her and is in league with a business rival, she's wary of giving him a second chance. The angst! The intrigue! The possibilities of risking it all for love! Early readers say they adored the characters and are wishing the next books in the series were already available. Publication date August 6. More info →
Alexa and Drew's wedding (the couple from 2018 Summer Reading Guide pick The Wedding Date) is around the corner and there’s just one problem: Alexa's best friends Maddie and Theo hate each other. But there can be a thin line between love and hate and what was supposed to be a one-night stand quickly turns out into “hooking up until this wedding is over” situation. And if they're disappointed when the wedding suddenly gets moved up and it means their time together is coming to an end, surely it doesn't mean anything. Surely. Publication date July 16. More info →
When real estate broker Devyn is called back to her hometown, her only focus is on how soon she can leave. And on just when her old high school classmate Elizabeth got so pretty and interesting. Elizabeth wrote Devyn off as shallow back in the day but suddenly their grown up selves are looking at each other in a brand new light. Melissa Brayden is one of the best authors around when it comes to FF romances for a reason. Publication date July 16. More info →
What new romance novels are you most looking forward to? Any old favorites you’d like to share?