I’d recommended some romance novels about artists and other creatives back in July, but you know what? I found a bunch more of them lurking in some old posts that weren’t very well organized (bad Virgo, Skye!). So I did a little shuffling, added a couple new titles, and here we are with a second roundup of love stories featuring actors, painters, sculptors, rock musicians, and more. Hope you find something new to read here, and let me know if you have any reading suggestions for me… since this is apparently one of my fave sub-genres!
Before we jump in:
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Fake dating + queer women in their late 40s / early 50s + critiquing the misogyny of show business + a wish-fulfillment epilogue that made me do a little dance of joy. Dash Bannon, a soap opera actor, decides that the best way to pump up her fading career is to come out as gay. Jane Knight, her frenemy co-star, really IS gay. Jane herself never intended to come out, but what if a fake relationship would get them both some attention (and bargaining power)?
I wanted to be annoyed with Dash for faking gay, but it was like watching a kid try some sneaky maneuver that you can tell they think is SO SMART and then they can’t figure out why it didn’t work. She’s an amateur conniver compared to Jane. Dash’s slow realization that um, wow, maybe Jane is kinda cute what does this mean? Priceless.
Diversity note: Kelly is a Deaf lesbian.
The Trouble by Daria Defore (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / GoodReads)
The Trouble is an entertaining new adult opposites attract / rock star story about the relationship between two Korean-American college students: Danny Kim, an exuberant aromantic singer poised to level up in his music career, and Jiyoon Lee, a serious accounting major.
(In case you’re not familiar with the term aromantic, it describes a spectrum where folks rarely or never feel romantic attraction, and aren’t generally interested in having a romantic relationship, though they may be interested in forming close, committed non-romantic relationships. So why am I putting what Defore describes as an “aromantic comedy” in a post about romance novels? Because it’s about a dating relationship, and it has all the story beats a romance reader is looking for, even if Danny and Jiyoon’s relationship is configured a little differently than some folks are used to.)
ANYWAY :) They meet when Danny insults Jiyoon’s boyfriend as a way of hitting on him, resulting in a slap and a drink thrown in his face. (I could have lived without the slap.) It gets worse when Danny discovers Jiyoon is the TA for Danny’s accounting class. They do overcome Danny’s jackassery and Jiyoon’s scorn, ending up with a strong connection based on friendship and sexual attraction. However, Danny’s impulsivity and desire for fame don’t mesh with Jiyoon’s well planned future goals, so problems arise.
Love the diversity in this book! The entire cast of major characters is Asian-American, and the main couple aren’t the only queer characters. Danny’s aromanticism is only a problem insofar as people he was interested in have reacted badly before, so he worries that Jiyoon won’t accept him as a partner. Jiyoon is clearly falling for Danny romantically, but after logically analyzing the situation, concludes that Danny is offering him everything he wants in a relationship even if those specific feelings aren’t 1:1 reciprocated. (There’s a spreadsheet involved. I heart this guy.)
I also loved watching Danny and Jiyoon slowly getting to know each other, each revealing pieces of themselves to move them from their first bad impressions to mutual admiration. There’s a lot of cramming for tests and rock concerts here, but also a lot of quiet and sweet moments. Neither guy trades in his personality, but they find a middle ground.
Diversity note: Daria Defore is aromantic and bisexual.
An endearing rivals-to-lovers romance short story set in an alternate 19th century London where “automatons” (animal robots) are a normal part of society. Their creators are called autosmiths, and Clement Dyer is one of the best. He creates handmade automatons – exquisite works of art – which unfortunately means his business is on shaky ground due to competition from mass producers. The owner of his least objectionable competitor, Duke Godwin, is extremely persistent about a business merger, and since Clem made the mistake of sleeping with Duke a while back, it’s all very obnoxious and complicated. Until Clem finds out what’s been happening to many of the automatons he’s had to resell after customer returns…
It’s a short story that captures just the beginning of a relationship, which left some reviewers on Goodreads frustrated, but I thought it was charming. The worldbuilding and Clem’s character are beautifully done, and the automatons are delightful. If Cooper returned to this world, I’d throw money at that in a heartbeat.
Diversity note: Cooper is a bi trans man.
An age gap polyamorous celebrity romance between two bisexual men and a woman. Famous British actor Callum Griffith-Davies and Spanish artist Nerea Espinosa de Los Monteros Nessim have had an open marriage for almost thirty years and raised three daughters to adulthood. When Callum meets 24 year old Irish actor Jamie Conway on a movie set, there’s an attraction, but both Callum and Jamie assume they’ll just have a fling. They quickly realize it’s not just a fling. Then Nerea comes to London and falls into a mutual crush with Jamie as well.
If you’ve never read a polyamorous romance, this is a great one to start with. The tagline for it is perfect: “Two men. One woman. No love triangles. Who says you only get one happily ever after?”
Maltese and McRae are experienced at writing multiple characters grappling with attractions and New Relationship Energy (with both other people and with jobs), and they bring their A game to this book. Conversations around consent and logistics reflect the specific personalities of whichever characters are having them, rather than sounding like passages from Polyamory 101. (Though Jamie does buy a book on the subject, to much merriment from Callum and Nerea.) The emotional process of the characters, the discussions, negotiations, and genuine emotional moments between the characters are so rich and in-depth. The connection between these three isn’t without bumps and snags, but the arc of the book is towards more caring, more understanding, and more compassion.
Diversity notes: (1) Nerea has discovered that her Spanish family converted from Judaism to survive persecution, especially the Inquisition, and Callum’s grandmother was Jewish – there’s some interesting discussion about that. (2) McRae and Maltese are both queer.
A delicate holiday second chance romance short story between two men who were friends as pre-teens, until an argument separated them. Quiet, reflective Jonah Lennox returns to Aylminster Cathedral, where he attended boarding school as a child, trying not to hope that he’ll reconnect with energetic, artistic Callum Noakes (who has ADD), the son of a vendor at the market outside the cathedral.
It’s told in both the past and present, showing how Jonah and Callum met and separated, and if you can watch them reunite without a little tear in your eye, then you’re stronger than I am! The first thing I read by Durreson, and possibly still my favorite by her, though it’s hard to choose.
An endearing opposites-attract romance, with a side of art theft mystery and class difference, between quiet asexual artist Vaughn and brash insurance investigator Jonah, a gay former foster child who deals with stress by having quasi-public and often rough sex.
This book has positive reviews on Goodreads from people on the ace spectrum, and Cass Lennox is ace, so yay for #ownvoices and good ace rep. Plus, this book has two of the most interesting, well-developed character growth arcs I’ve seen. Vaughn doesn’t find the asexual identity that makes sense of his underwhelming sexual experiences until partway through the book. It’s a lightbulb moment for Vaughn that gives him confidence to negotiate for what he wants with Jonah. Baffled Jonah has to struggle to accept that someone might value him as a person, and freely give him affection and comfort. That’s more of an emotional barrier for him than his and Vaughn’s different sexual preferences. So proud of both these guys! Who are fictional characters, yes, but still!
Content note: If you are not cool with the idea that leads in a romance novel might have sex with other people, this is not the book for you, for various reasons.
Thank you, Con Riley, for this lovely bisexual revelation romance that avoids all the garbage often packaged in the gay-for-you trope.
True Brit is a fake relationship romance between two rivals on a televised singing competition called BritPop! Pasha Trueman is an extroverted half-Afghani Brit who quit his call center job for the show. Ed Britten is a stoic former British soldier who served in Afghanistan, so the show managers plan to set them up as enemies or boot them from the show.
Pasha convinces Ed that faking a romantic attraction is the best sabotage of that stupid plan. It goes wild on social media under the #TrueBrit hashtag. Pasha (who’s always thought he was straight but doesn’t deny media rumors he’s gay) and Ed (who’s gay but never says it outright) fall into day-to-day affection quite easily. Their stunt pisses off the show managers, though, so Ed and Pasha have to continually outsmart various attempts to undermine them.
This book is a triumph of showing rather than telling. Riley spends almost zero time inside either character’s head having them bang on about “OMG how could I be having these feelings? This was just supposed to be for the contest!” or in Pasha’s case “How could I be attracted to a man?” Their relationship evolves and is shown through actions, growing from loyalty and friendship rather than immediate sexual/romantic sparks or big schmoopy speeches. Yet this book has some of the sweetest moments, and I was 100% swept away by the romance. Ed and Pasha together once they fess up to each other is possibly the best-est thing ever. (For anyone who’s read it, “Ask me the same as your Dominic did” just about killed me dead.)
I was also delighted by how Riley lets Pasha readjust his view of his sexual orientation with a minimum of fuss. He doesn’t thrash around trying to deny his feelings for Ed, just takes the new puzzle piece and maneuvers it around a bit so it fits. In real life, it’s often more difficult than that, but it was so refreshing to read a bi revelation that was gentle and friendly, honoring that Pasha truly is bi, instead of having him agonize or retconning his past with women because Ed is his destiny.
There are some rough spots in the writing that I wish an editor had smoothed out. I’ve read the first scene at least three times, and I still don’t follow what Pasha was trying to do before he decided to mess with the stage lights. The radio interview is bizarre and reads too much like shoehorning in a character speech. Pasha’s insistence that they weren’t supposed to officially confirm or deny their relationship publicly is laughable in the face of their public behavior. Usually stuff like that bugs me. In this case, though, the artistry of showing these two people falling in love, without hardly being aware it’s happening, overrode those few weird bits.
Of all the romance novels I’ve read, this one best qualifies for the title “beach read,” and I mean that in a good way. It’s a passionate romance between two contestants on a dance competition reality show. Stone Nielsen is an improbably tall (see note below) star of an Alaskan outdoorsy reality show. Gina Morales a Puerto Rican professional dancer who will be his partner and dance teacher for his guest stint on The Dance Off.
If you’re looking for something lightweight and entertaining, this is a good pick, and Puerto Rican NYC author Alexis Daria is one to watch going forward. There aren’t any surprises here, and the characterization can be a little thin (why did Stone give up his whole life for his family’s show?), but I had fun reading the book. Gina and Stone have serious chemistry, and their dance lessons and performances were vivid and enjoyable. Gina’s conflicts over avoiding the “sexy Latina” stereotype were real, and I loved watching her succeed professionally in ways that were deeply meaningful to her.
HOWEVER, Stone is 6’7″, holy crow! Gina is 5’6″. The author makes a point early on about how it can be tough to choreograph for such a height difference, then seems to ignore Stone’s height for the rest of the book. Every time a new character walks into the room with Stone, they should be like DAMN YOU’RE TALL! And the couple shouldn’t be able to accidentally kiss so easily with all of their feet on the ground. Her head comes up to his shoulder!
Low angst, feel-good romance that begins when Sophy James, a graduate art student who values her independence and alone time, meets “ugly” security consultant Mick Hollister by having a near-fatal asthma attack. That wasn’t her plan or anything. She was just sketching him, totally engrossed in his artistically beautiful face (Picasso would have loved it!). And then there was a terrorist with a smoke bomb, and she, uh, got in his way and he knocked her over? Totally humiliating. And let’s not even TALK about what came out of her mouth when he showed up in her hospital room.
This isn’t quite a romantic comedy, but the narration is profoundly funny, and each character has their own distinct voice.
Sophy’s narration is rich and vibrant. Instead of “She felt shy around him” we get “She wasn’t sure what it was about the man, but he reduced her from a shy person with manners to the walking personification of a blush. On her personal scale of social terror, he was more intimidating than the senior art lecturer, a man who drove most of his students to drink or copious amounts of cake.”
Mick’s dry style is best reflected by his first lines, describing Sophy: “The girl had the reflexes of a suicidal turtle and some serious art chops. She had captured his ugly mug with a stick of charcoal – and the worst attempt at covert surveillance he had witnessed since his days of pubescent Army training.”
I kept wanting to highlight my favorite passages until I realized that would be half the book.
The conflict in their budding romance is fairly straightforward: Sophy is wary of surrendering her independence to a relationship, and Mick is insecure about his appearance but able to get over it if Sophy would just get on board. They essentially end up dating without Sophy being willing to admit it, pushed together even more closely when they realizes she’s possibly being stalked, but it takes some unscrambling in her head for them to achieve Happily Ever After. I was so glad they did, because patient, generous, loyal Mick totally deserved it. And I was glad for Sophy too, haha. (She just didn’t need it as much as he did, you know?)
A precious novella about two men who feel disconnected from the world finding happiness together. Travis Miller is a machinist who’s been unsuccessful in love. Drew Clifton is a former novelist who lost the ability to speak and write after a brain injury. When Drew starts wooing Travis with a combination of guitar playing, body language, and notecards, they find that communication isn’t really a problem. What is? Money, specifically for Travis, because his job isn’t stable. He has to make difficult choices about how to survive and what he can afford to sacrifice.
Some reviewers on Goodreads wish that this novella was longer so they could spend more time with the characters, and I would want that too… except that I can’t imagine how to make it longer without adding drama just for the sake of drama. Lack of (manufactured) drama is one of the things I appreciated about this story. The other is the easy, affectionate bond between Drew and Travis, including the various ways they have (often very entertaining) conversations.
The followup short, The Gig, is also charming.
Diversity note: Both characters are disabled (Travis lost an eye in an accident), but that’s not the point of the story or an obstacle to their relationship. It just is. Love that about it.
A charming small town romance, with a side of suspense, about two unbelievable goofballs, Ben Lawson and Molly Jennings. Ben is the sheriff, and Molly is the girl who’s moved back to town, keeping her job as a romance novelist secret from curious townsfolk. Molly’s had a crush on Ben since they were teenagers, and she decides it’s time to go for it. Cue ridiculous levels of flirting leading to embarrassing sex misadventures and Ben’s bewildered brainstorming list for how a woman would make a living on the internet.
As you might have guessed, there are a couple of complications.
First, Molly is being stalked, presumably by her scary manipulative ex-boyfriend Cameron, although he’s way too good at not leaving any proof. This is SO much a “Believe Women” scenario, with Molly moving back to her small town in large part because her ex continually gaslights her friends and family about her, and they fall for it.
Second, back in the day, Ben’s father slept with an 18 year old high school student while he was the principal (ew ew ew) so Ben is hugely skittish about anything that even looks a sex scandal. Because of his past, he does a poor job differentiating – in his mind – between “Molly is possibly an internet sex worker” and “sex scandal in which people should be ashamed.”
There’s some legit scary danger – including threatened sexual assault – but the majority of the book is lighthearted, without taking away from the seriousness of what’s happening to Molly. She’s irrepressible and about getting her man, and I literally laughed out loud several times as she and Ben found out firsthand the risks (and benefits) of Sex While He’s The Sheriff. And at their roleplaying, because it’s just as funny as it is hot. Those wacky kids. As a bonus, Ben’s character arc is about taking Molly seriously for her choices, and untangling his own personal issues from her career, and that works for me.
I haven’t had time to write reviews of these, but I adore them just as much. One of them may be a perfect fit for you! (Blurbs may be condensed.)
Gorgeous, kind low-angst historical between a bi woman and a trans man, really loved this! “Benjamin Lewis has created a life for himself as one of the most respected silversmiths and engravers in New York City. For Benjamin, his work is his passion and he has never sought out companionship beyond the close ties of family. Remembrance Quincy’s talent is as undeniable as her needlework is exquisite. She has made a name for herself crafting quilts and embroidery pieces for all the wealthiest ladies in the city. When soft-spoken, yet charming, Mr. Lewis comes to her with a particular project in mind she is intrigued both by his artistic design and by the man himself.”
E.E. Ottoman is a disabled, queer, trans man whose pronouns are: he/him/his.
“Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.”
Suzanne is genderqueer and “bi-furious.”
The Spinner, The Shepherd, and the Leading Man by Kris Ripper (free to download, Goodreads listing has the link)
“Frazier Lane has wanted his roommate since the day they met — eight years ago. When Dom gets them jobs running a summer stock program in the sticks, Fraz thinks the time has come. He’ll kiss Dom, Dom will realize they’re meant to be, and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway. Until they meet Pete. Pete knows nothing about theater, is totally in the closet, and is one of the nicest guys Fraz has ever met. Unfortunately, Dom seems to think so, too. Fraz decides he’ll take one for the team and help Dom coax Pete out of the closet and into the light, even if it breaks his heart, but Dom and Pete have other ideas.”
Ripper is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns.
“After a tryst with the only other passenger in first class, pop star Zachary Allen is ready to focus on the real reason he’s in London: kicking off his tour and promoting his new album. The only problem is that he can’t seem to get Gabe out of his mind. Against his better judgement he gets in touch, and Gabe plans to meet him in at a gallery near his hotel. That’s should be safe enough, right? Their totally not-a-date makes Zach realize how much he wants to get know Gabe. After a year of being single, Zach might just be ready to put himself out there.
Gabe is smart, funny and hot as hell. He’s also out and proud and closeted Zach is struggling against the needs of his heart and the safety of his career. If pictures start showing up online, Zach will have more to deal with than just an angry PR manager.”
Zach is trans and bi, though it’s the bi part that he’s closeted about. Gabe is black, though I don’t think that’s indicated in the book until fairly late. Junkyard is queer.
And that’s the list of my latest favorite romance novels about artists and other creative people finding love. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!