— This January 2018 post is being republished with many new picks, while I re-organize my romance recs. Please forgive any construction dust! —
I never expected to become a romance reader, but I should have! After all, I have a passionate love for the X-Men, which is basically a soap opera. (With people shooting lasers out of their eyes.) Romances withOUT people shooting lasers out of their eyes are great too, so here’s a roundup of some of my favorite contemporary romance novels, novellas, and short stories for you to enjoy. Happy reading!
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I would be 100% on board for a movie of this friends to lovers / slow burn / out for you F/F romance novel set in contemporary India, specifically the city of Delhi. For a first novel, it’s quite well done, though judging from Goodreads I’m not the only one who felt it was a bit choppy in the beginning before smoothing out. It’s worth hanging in there!
Tara, an introverted closeted sports journalist, connects by chance with outgoing Sameen, who works in publishing and lives with her long-time boyfriend. Tara’s sworn off romance for life because of her fears about the anti-gay climate in India, but after spending more and more time with Sameen, she’s horrified to discover that romantic feelings have found her anyway. It’s very Hollywood in its use of the classic romantic story beats, including longing looks across the room at fancy parties, an unplanned first kiss, and a “can this really be happening?” accidental reunion at a hotel after everything’s gone to hell. It’s very sincere with its characters feelings, even the messy ones, and I liked that.
Really looking forward to Munir’s next book! She was born in Lucknow, then grew up and lives in Delhi, and I’m so glad she dove into writing romance and gave those of us from elsewhere a window into life in her neck of the woods.
This is the most precious novel, a fluffball of age-gap opposites-attract domestic bliss and cheeky innuendo and good guys having unexpected crushes and watching geeky tv together. It’s adorable.
It starts when flamboyantly gay 24 year old David Greenlake loses his London job in a fairly embarrassing way, resulting in a relocation to the small town of Shamwell. He ends up rooming with divorced postman and devoted father Rory Deamer, whose kids visit every other weekend. David and Rory get on like a house afire, David bonds with Rory’s kids, Rory accepts that David has a teddy bear without so much as a blink, and soon the two are basically a couple… but Rory, in his 40s, has always assumed he was straight.
None of which turns out to be that big of a deal, really, because as stated above, it’s precious fluffball of a book. Rory is pretty ignorant abut gay people and has SO many stereotypes in his head (gay men are into grooming and musicals, though neither of which bothers Rory), but once he’s living with David he starts thinking really hard about his best friend’s raging homophobia (conclusion = bad) and his own assumptions (conclusion = mistaken). David has to flail around for a bit nursing what he assumes is an unrequited crush, served with a side of “no one takes me seriously,” but once Rory proves it’s not unrequited and he DOES take David seriously, all is well.
Content warning, though! That best friend’s raging homophobia I mentioned above? There’s a LOT of it. It makes sense for the story, but if that’s going to grate on you, give this one a pass.
Spun is the fourth in a series of loosely linked books, all set in the small British town of Shamwell, but it’s totally fine to read as a standalone.
A lovely, gentle, friends-to-lovers surfing romance novel that happens within a found/created family. It’s a really quiet book at times, which was striking and different from many other romance novels I’ve read.
Ollie Birkstrum is a gifted surfer on his last chance to go pro after an injury. Tai Talagi is his gay best friend. They’re both part of a group of roommates that has become a family over the years. When Ollie needs Tai’s continued coaching (and social support, see diversity note below) to make his comeback, Tai puts his life on hold to travel with Ollie. Ollie finds himself wanting more than friendship with Tai, though he’s rarely or never experienced sexual attraction before. (I and some other readers interpret Ollie as demisexual or something similar.) This new development is hella awkward for Tai, who’s devoted like 20% of his waking energy for years to suppressing his crush on Ollie.
The “we’ll just have sex while we’re on the road” decision causes some significant complications, the resolving of which require more honesty than either is used to, and quite frankly they’re both kind of terrible at it. Even when they’re hurting each other, though, it’s within such a context of caring that you’re confident they’re going to work it out. At the end, after watching facet after facet of Tai and Ollie’s lives change and then click together, I had such a feeling of peace.
Diversity notes: (1) Tai is Samoan. To me, Ollie read as either on the autism spectrum or having social anxiety, but it’s never labeled explicitly. (2) Henson is a queer woman.
Sexy, fun romance between a kick-ass gal and a hot guy who needs to get his act together – and does. Advice columnist Veronica Chandler moved back to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after a stint in New York City convinced her that she’d never make it there as a writer, and also that she didn’t like New York City. Mountain-climbing librarian Gabe MacKenzie loves his new home in Jackson Hole, but it’s only temporary, because eventually he’ll be moving back to Manhattan to take over his family’s business…
…which he doesn’t tell Veronica. Yeah dude, good move.
Dahl always does a great job of creating fully developed characters. Veronica’s carrying some substantial insecurity from childhood, which fuels her empathy, but also keeps her from living her best life. I adore 1000% watching her grow both personally and professionally in this book. I would have read her book even if there was no romance, just to see her rock the mic at her live advice events.
Gabe is both sides of the Generous / Self-Sacrificing coin, one side of which makes him a good lover (when he’s being honest), and the other side of which almost destroys his chances with Veronica. And I was SO PROUD of Veronica for standing up to his b.s. and for what she needed to be happy. Strong woman + compassionate second chance = Gabe lucked out. He really does adore Veronica, and they have so much fun together, so I was quite glad he got with the program.
(This book has been released with a new cover. I’m leaving the old one in this post because that’s what I’m used to seeing!)
An opposites attract M/M Scottish football (soccer) romance novel that I now love, but didn’t finish the first time I tried reading it! On first read I loved Colin MacDuff, the grumpy, activist footballer from the slums of Glasgow whose family survives due to government assistance. But I hated conservative, judgmental, wealthy Lord Andrew Sutherland with a fiery passion. I didn’t know writer Avery Cockburn well enough to trust her to bring Andrew around, I just couldn’t get past his ignorant anti-welfare opinions and general privileged ignorance about Colin’s life.
Lucky for me, I tried again, because Cockburn was in fact setting the stage for Andrew to grow.
Set during the referendum for Scottish independence, another political issue that divides Colin (pro) and Andrew (anti), this is an intensely political book, and I love it for that. I also love how she takes two men who are gunshy about making themselves vulnerable beyond sexytimes and finds authentic ways for them to open up emotionally to each other. It’s complicated, messy, and not always comfortable, but that was true to the characters.
The sequel novella, Playing Dead, is about Andrew dealing with the fallout from some difficult events in Playing to Win, and I adored it too.
I liked the first book in this series, Glasgow Lads series, it was fine, and the third one was also good (I trusted Cockburn to bring her gay character who didn’t believe in bisexuality to a place where I didn’t want to smack him on the back of the head). But so far Playing to Win is the series standout IMHO. Any full-length novel in the series can be read as a standalone, but the #2.5 and #3.5 novellas wouldn’t make much sense out of context.
This novel was published when I was a freshman in college, 1993, and it’s definitely a bit dated in its attitudes towards gender and sexual harassment. With allowances for the time period, though, it’s screamingly funny and I will definitely be re-reading it. Successful executive Kate Svenson goes to a resort with a business plan to find a husband. Former high-powered city type turned slacker Jake Templeton watches in astonishment as her procession of dates each meets some kind of accident. In between her disastrous dates, Kate and Jake end up hanging out in his boat, for reasons that are 100% platonic… right?
It’s a romance with older main characters (yay!), the dialogue is witty, and the secondary characters are fantastic. I can definitely see why Crusie became popular, and I’m looking forward to working through more of her backlist.
NOVELLAS & SHORT STORIES
Perfect little gem of a novella about the wedding between Londoner Kim and her Brazilian expat fiancée Gabi. (It’s unfortunate that this was published under the generic cover of the collection, and so it reads as two generic white gals. Yes, I know many Brazilians are white but you know what I mean.) Everything you can think of goes wrong: the weather, the traffic, the rental car, the rest stop, the catering… and lurking behind it all, Gabi’s fear that her not-so-accepting parents won’t show up. When they finally make it to the Scottish castle where they’re supposed to marry, more problems arise, but friends and even strangers jump in to help them save the event.
Through it all, it’s so clear that these two women have each other’s backs. Whatever happens, even when they’re annoyed with each other, they’re a team. I am not a big crier when I’m reading, but I did tear up a couple of times here. In fact, I’m getting a little misty just remembering it while writing this. So tissues might be a good idea!
A fun meet-cute short story about Aasha, whose Sri Lankan family lives in London, getting fixed up by her mother at a party. She’s been living a double life for years: good Sri Lankan girl in front of her parents, doing whatever she wants on her own time. She does NOT wants to go to this Sri Lankan party or meet this parent-approved Sri Lankan guy, who will obviously be terrible, ugh, why does everything have to be so complicated?
Figuring out the twist to the fix-up doesn’t spoil the entertainment value of this lighthearted look at the beginning of a relationship that just might be the perfect fit.
Diversity note: Baxter is a woman of color.
This Halloween short story is a meet-cute / meet-sexy. Genderfluid pansexual man Drew is answering his mother’s door for trick-or-treaters, when who should be on the other side but a handsome stranger. That would be bisexual dude David, whose niece has corralled him into trick-or-treat chaperoning.
Later that night, they meet up for dancing, and then another kind of dancing, so to speak. Drew worries about David accepting his identity, Drew worries about his family being jerks (because they are), but they fumble through it together and agree that hey, yeah, maybe this is the start of something.
It may be a Halloween romance, but you don’t have to wait until October to read it! Any time of year is just fine! ;)
Diversity note: Blackburn uses she/he/they pronouns.
Sweet, adorable short story that begins when Astrid -literally- runs into a gorgeous blue-haired woman. She apologizes, hands over a gift card to make up for spilling the woman’s coffee, and goes on with her day. But on a hike with a friend, Astrid sees the woman again… is it a sign? Then again, Astrid has terrible luck, so who knows whether she’ll be able to make a real connection?
I really enjoyed the humor and misadventures here, as well as the zingy feeling between the characters. They just like each other so much, it’s so cute, aahhh! Well worth the read.
Diversity note: Grandin is a lesbian.
I loved this low-angst novella about the evolving mutual crush between widowed President of the United States, Miriam West, and the first trans man to serve on the President’s Secret Service protection detail, Ram Ruiz. The story interweaves political events from Miriam’s term in office with the growing affection and attraction between Miriam and Ram.
Ripper does a fantastic job covering multiple years in one short story by highlighting key events that move the relationship forward. I particularly enjoyed how straightforward the story was about Ram being trans, Miriam’s brief but real insecurities about being older than him, and how much care both characters took to behave professionally despite the mutual attraction. She gives them moments of friendship, moments of lust, ridiculously satisfying crush moments, and finally the freedom to be together. Yay for this!
Diversity note: Ripper is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns.
Lovely little novella about two men in their 40s falling quietly in love. Gil Donaldson is a literature professor whose husband divorced him after they learned Gil had MS. Warren Masters is a retired firefighter who lost his boyfriend to a heart attack after fourteen years together. Their neighborly relationship starts turning into more when Gil wakes up one morning to find his vision all screwed up, and calmly goes next door to ask Warren for a ride to the hospital.
Gil is intellectual, acerbic, and quite used to managing his own life, but he finds Warren’s quiet presence comforting. The daily rituals of sharing meals, reading together, and going for a drive just to enjoy Gil’s beloved Alfa Romeo just seem more satisfying with Warren around. It’s a comfort that the author conveys to the reader so well that I’ve re-read this when I needed that literary warm blanket feeling. Totally satisfying to see Gil’s sister give him a metaphorical whack on the back of the head for not taking things further with Warren, and heartwarming when they finally do.
The most lighthearted romance short story about a rentboy and an assassin that you’ll ever read.
(I feel like somebody just went and bought this based on that sentence.)
Levi Barron is a literature graduate student who pays for school by working as a prostitute. He likes his job. When his client doesn’t show up and scary assassin Sinjin breaks into his room to use his window to shoot someone, they end up sleeping together. Because reasons. The story is so short that I’m not going to tell you anything else, but let’s just say that the ending had me smiling with delighted hope.
Diversity Note: Gale is queer
The Gentlemen’s Rentboy Service is a series of interconnected novellas, four out so far. The format is a little unusual, which each novella being the first installment of a story about a different young man working as a prostitutes for the same high-end service.
In the first story, Shane, a business student paying for college, is sent to a dorm room at a more prestigious college. It’s mostly about the menage sex that ensues… yet by the end of it, both Shane and the geeky, grumpy Brandon have some kind of connection that may go beyond the one night.
Wayne, an indie punk rocker, gets the second book, where he’s sent to wealthy silver fox Kevin. All Wayne was hoping for was enough money to keep his band on the road, but he doesn’t expect his instant attraction to Kevin or not being able to put the guy out of his mind afterwards.
The third book is about bubbly, generous Marti being sent as a gag gift to the office of panicking businessman Victor, whose brother is trying to destroy his company. Marti’s mission in life is to make others happy, so he wrangles a solution to the business problem (with a cameo by Shane) before also, you know, relieving Victor’s personal stress. Job well done!
In the fourth book, former street prostitute Peter is sent to Elias, a billionaire who seems to want a… date? Like, dinner and talking and watching a movie on the couch and stuff? Peter is confused and skittish, struggling with what the Gentleman wants him to learn from his first job with this gentle, gorgeous client, and his emotional arc in this one is just beautiful.
I’m delighted by how Luxe starts her stories with a sex-based plot, but then takes them to a different emotional place. This is true within each novella, but also a progression across the four, from the lightness of Shane’s sexy spark with Brandon to the emotional depth of Peter’s personal revelation from his date with Elias. Luxe hasn’t told the same story twice; each set of characters gets their own unique personalities and arcs.
I’m anxious that she won’t keep going, because each of the books in this series is clearly just the beginning of the characters’ story. Signing up on her mailing list got me a free bonus after-story for Wayne’s novella that clearly points to there being a next installment in his story, though, so I’m hopeful.
Hope you found something interesting here! If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!