Do you like your romance mixed with monsters or magic? This is the list for you. Magic powers, ghosts, vampires, fae, and even a cat that controls minds (really!) If any of this is your jam, read on, because I enjoyed all of these books so much and I hope you find something new to read here.
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An anthology of nine stories about gals falling for gals, ranging from what I think of as paranormal contemporary to fantasy. There were two paranormal contemporary standouts for me, and even better, they led me to new authors.
The first is Dance With Me by Michelle Frost. It’s a classic grumpy PI meets bombshell client tale, except the PI is a motorcycle-riding werewolf and the client is a vampire heiress. Frost uses tropes so well without falling into cliche, and the worldbuilding is so intriguing that I’d definitely read more from her in this world.
The second is By Candlelight by Ziggy Schutz. Zoe is a young adult who passes away after a long illness. A ghost, who Zoe names Clotho, shows up to help Zoe finish any last tasks, such as comforting her family. As Zoe stays on Earth longer than Clotho wants her to, their relationship starts to change. This is a gorgeous story, so well crafted, I can’t possibly say enough good things about it. I especially love how Zoe uses a gender-neutral pronoun for the ghost until she gets more information.
Diversity notes: Schutz is queer. Both Zoe and Clotho are women of color.
Black Magic Glitterbomb by Sage C. Holloway (out of print due to publisher closure, will update when it’s available again! / Goodreads)
Black Magic Glitterbomb is NOT a metaphor but an actual thing, and also there are evil cupcakes in this novella, so I’m not REALLY sure I need to say more. In case that’s not enough to sell you, though… This story begins when Benji Seung, a Korean-American dark magician with slightly more ethics than his colleagues, begrudgingly takes in Kit, a homeless younger man who was about to get murdered by dark(er) wizards. Kit is the upbeat practicality to Benji’s grumpy pessimism (he’s probably my favorite cranky guy in all of romance), and Benji can’t resist feeling… something… for his new ward. Something he might want to explore, maybe possibly, if they weren’t so busy avoiding the people who are trying to KILL THEM.
It’s fluff, kinda spoofy, not too complex, and exactly the short, fun read I was hoping for. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all and I found that delightful. Holloway doesn’t try to give her characters their One True Love Forever, just connects a couple of guys who find each other attractive, get along, and end up boyfriends after evading evil. In a bakery.
Diversity note: Kit has depression, and Holloway has mental illness, so this is #ownvoices.
Grey Jean-Marcelin, a bisexual Haitian-American artist who practices vodou (i.e. that is his religion), meets EMT Saint when Saint responds to Grey’s suicide attempt. Saint is a fae who survives by feeding on artists’ life force. Grey is losing his lifelong battle with depression. Saint can offer Grey the final relief he craves after years of failed treatments haven’t led to peace.
It’s a romance, so there’s a happy ending, but this is a dark book. Magical bargains with your life, doomed love, and the heartbreaking truth that we don’t yet know enough about mental illness to effectively treat it. Not an easy read, but powerful and beautifully written, with a desperation to the love story that makes the resolution such a relief. (And to reassure you, the resolution does not include a magic wand for depression.)
Sanders has just released a new remastered version, and I’m so excited to dig in! If your library has the older version, I’d still recommend you skip it and go for this version, because remastering it gave him the opportunity to make this book much truer to his vision.
Diversity Note: Sanders is Native AmeriBlAsian POC and Demibisexual.
A totally satisfying paranormal romance with a woman of color as the lead character, written by a woman of color. And it’s a SERIES YAY! Selene Vanream is a necromancer, here meaning that she can see and communicate with ghosts, working for a private agency that handles paranormal crimes and problems so the regular cops don’t have to. When she meets Ethan, a seeming ghost who claims he was kicked out of his body while still alive, which is totally not normal, both her job and her personal life start to go haywire. Micah, her one-night-stand from last year who’s hated her ever since, is assigned to be her partner, and the case they’re working points back to her ghostly evictee. Since Selene is ill-advisedly sleeping with her married boss and she’s using proscribed powers (punishable by mind wipe) to handle Ethan’s problems, things are going to get more complicated before they get better.
It’s by turns funny, sexy, spooky, and heartfelt in all the right places. Selene’s rebelliousness against bureaucracy mixed with dedication to getting her job done was a satisfying combination. I would have preferred that Selene’s explanation to Micah for having sex but not relationships had been “because I like sex” and not “because I didn’t feel worth being loved,” since I thought it would go better with her personality, but I’m willing to overlook it in the face of Selene’s general awesomeness.
The second book has just as much action and snark. I really enjoyed it, but content warning for some fairly harsh language around mental illness. Content warning for books 1 and 2 for attempted sexual assault and stalking.
Diversity Note: Locke is a woman of color.
A sweet M/M romance blended with a suspenseful ghost story about queer history, set in a seaside British village. Siôn Ruston is a gay actuary and amateur artist whose depression and insomnia led to a suicide attempt three months ago, so he’s on medical leave and renting a cottage to recover and paint. It’s going fairly well until the morning he sees a ghost in his bedroom.
At the village museum, he’s shocked to see the ghost again… but it’s not the ghost, it’s his descendant, gay college student Mattie Jopling. Outgoing Mattie flirts like other people breathe and immediately takes a shine to Siôn. Siôn has no idea why young, vivacious Mattie would be interested in him and tries to resist so he won’t get hurt later, but Mattie’s irresistible, especially with the two spending all this time together researching the ghost. What they discover is a tragic secret from the past that threatens Siôn and Mattie’s possible relationship, as well as their lives, because omg drama scary stuff no spoilers but y’all, Durreson knows how to creep me out.
She’s also a darn good writer of people. Mattie is so young emotionally, not in a bad way, but this is so realistic in his perceptions and relationship skills. The characters are “only” nine years apart, but the contrast between them is striking, heightened by how isolated Siôn has been since college. Siôn’s mental state is still a little shaky, but he has some tools, and Durreson writes his rough days with respect for the work he’s done and without melodrama.
This is my favorite Amy Rae Durreson book so far, but after reading several, I can say that it’s hard to go wrong with her work.
I’m hooked on this series, an opposites attract vampire-human romance between a very unlikely couple. Thaddeus Dupont is a hundred year old undead creature of the night, deeply Catholic, tormented with guilt for becoming possessed (and for being gay), and devoted agent of the Church in its fight against demons. Sarasija Mishra is a gay 22 year old college graduate, Indian-American, raised-Hindu-but-agnostic, who loves technology and desperately needs a job even if it means working for a recluse in a swamp.
Sarasija, who goes by Sara, is also not a girl, which Thaddeus thought he was when the employment offer was extended. Because the real job is to feed Thaddeus, and being fed on by a vampire is erotic, and Thaddeus doesn’t want temptation, so he only employs women…
Okay, yes, it sounds cheesy when you put it like that. BUT this is a fun, suspenseful series about two guys who have to renegotiate their professional and personal relationship in a hurry while being stalked by demons. I usually frown at boss-employee romances, because OW the ethics, but Sara is careful and deliberate enough with his own boundaries and also this is fiction, so okay. Thad really needs Sara’s reality check on his guilt and subservience to the Church, and Sara becomes a valuable member of the demon-fighting team.
My only complaint is the switch from first person POV for Thad to third person POV for Sara. I kinda get what the authors were going for, but at times, I have started reading a chapter thinking I was reading Thad thinking about Sara, and instead I was in Sara’s POV. I could probably read a little slower and fix that for myself.
So far there are two books and one novella, with more planned. It’s not necessary to read the novella Bonfire in between Vespers and Nocturne for plot reasons, but if you enjoy the characters, you’ll enjoy hanging out with them there too.
Content warning: Self-harm due to internalized homophobia and religious guilt.
If you’d told me three years ago that I’d read and adore a romance novel involving a cat that can control people’s minds, I’d have laughed at you. How times have changed! The cat in question uses his powers for good, influencing his new owner Emerson – introvert, music store clerk, and apprentice instrument maker – to finally connect with his crush, once bitten twice shy musician Lola.
Unfortunately, having to bring a cat on dates isn’t a workable long-term strategy, so things get pretty complicated before Emerson and Lola get to their HEA. Recommended if you like adorable courtship involving handwritten letters, heroines moving past scars from previous relationships, and dramatic musical+romantic gestures. Really sweet.
Second chance romance between FBI agent Rain Christiansen, currently on a watch list by his department after claiming he sees ghosts (which he does, but he never should have told anyone), and his ex-lover Daniel McKenna, a major crimes detective who still doesn’t really know why Rain left him years ago. They reconnect when Rain’s sent back to their Florida hometown to help Daniel’s department on a cold case, and wow do they still have both ridiculous chemistry and very little ability to communicate openly with each other.
Rain’s narration is acerbically hilarious, though he can sometimes be a real jackass. He can’t even get through Daniel picking him up at the airport without making a mess. Part of that is his loneliness and misery around the ghost thing, since he still suspects his visions are mental illness (for which he is medicated as our story begins). As Rain accepts that reality does in fact include ghosts, that somewhat untangles his brain and heart, but there’s still a murder to solve and damage between him and Daniel that seems impossible to undo.
Rain’s voice is so damn funny, but it never undercuts the very real feelings here, so I’m hoping that Harmon will return to these characters. They make a good team, and the end of the book leaves it wide open for a sequel or series.
I feel weird thinking of a book with some fairly serious threats of violence as “lighthearted,” but that’s where this vamp romance sits in my brain. No angst on the relationship front, a mystery that I was always confident would be solved, and plenty of entertaining insults between concierge-to-the-undead Iris and vampire investigator Cal. The tone is snappy and humorous, and the secondary characters are super enjoyable, especially Iris’s teenage sister Gigi.
Content warning for attempted sexual assault (don’t mess with Iris, skeevy vamp), but if that’s not a barrier and the plot looks fun to you, go for it.
Nevada Baylor is a private investigator with low-level magical abilities. Connor Rogan is a walking weapon, a heavy hitter magic user and head of one of the most powerful magical families. He’s also a former POW who came out of that experience with a very different moral code than Nevada’s. Their paths collide during one of Nevada’s cases, so they end up working together, and Connor makes it perfectly clear that he’s attracted to Nevada and intends to have her. What follows is a three book thrill ride of suspense, danger, magical attacks, political conspiracies, betrayal, and intricate worldbuilding that made me want at least 20 more books in this universe.
Two things in particular made this series a standout for me.
One, how difficult the path is for Nevada’s and Connor’s relationship. They are very different people in ways that can’t just be shuffled aside because they want to bang. For a decent chunk of the series, Nevada actively rejects Connor because she thinks he’s amoral, and he really cannot wrap his mind around what her problem is. They both have to work so hard at understanding each other and make compromises, especially Connor, because the way they see the world and other people is fundamentally different. Fascinating and quite distinctive among romance novels I’ve read.
Two, Nevada’s amazing family! She lives in a converted warehouse with her mom, grandma, sisters, and two cousins. Every single one of these characters is fascinating and wonderful and should have their own book. It was such a pleasure to read about an ass-kicking female character who isn’t a lone(ly) wolf.
And that’s the list of my favorite paranormal contemporary romance novels! Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!