I got kicked out of art school myself, but I love a good romance novel about creative people falling in love while making awesome art. So here’s a list of my fave romance novels about various kinds of creators: artists, dancers, actors, musicians, and filmmakers! I’m so delighted with how diverse this list came out. So dig in, and I hope you find something new to read and adore.
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A deeply introspective romance with such a nurturing vibe, between filmmaker Toussaint Henri and musician, fashion designer, and filmmaker Summer Robinson. Both these folks are immensely successful African-American creatives, but Summer is the mega-star… which I’ve just realized might mean this is effectively a billionaire romance and she’s the billionaire, nice! The book starts in a surprising way, with the breakup of Toussaint and Summer’s ill-defined affair. The story is about them finding their way back to each other in a more honest, connected way, and it’s just gorgeous. Both main characters are profoundly thoughtful people, so we spend a lot of time in their heads. It was almost as much a meditation on relationships as it was about the relationship itself. It was really different from most of the romance novels I’ve read, and I loved that about it. I also loved how queer people exist in this universe, unlike in so many het romances, and how social and political issues are woven into Toussaint and Summer’s personal and professional lives.
This is the third book in a series, but I hadn’t read the others and I didn’t feel lost in any way.
Diversity note: Sadeé is a black woman.
Seriously interesting short story about late 30’s high school art teacher Noah, who sees a hot businessman dude and for various reasons, decides the guy is Satan. Glassman keeps you guessing for most of the story about whether you’re reading a regular contemporary story about a man jumping to conclusions left, right, and center, or a paranormal story where the guy actually is the devil. I can’t say much more about it without spoiling, but I found it so entertaining. The message at the end is set up well by the events, so it doesn’t feel tacked on, it feels like a necessary conversation about Noah’s future.
Diversity notes: (1) Noah’s crush is a fat black man; that is not why Noah thinks he’s evil. (2) There is positive bisexual and pagan rep. (3) Glassman is Jewish and bi.
THANK GOODNESS for this falling-in-love story between two women of color who just like each other SO MUCH. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it, because I see people wanting more and diverse F/F all the time!
Sarita Sengupta, a lesbian Bengali-American philosophy grad student who works as a bakery decorator, wakes up after a party surprised that she’s in bed with near-stranger Maritza Quiñones, a bisexual Puerto Rican ballroom dancer who works at a pizza place. They were so drunk they passed out instead of sleeping together… and a few hours after Maritza leaves, she realizes she doesn’t even know the other woman’s name. Slightly awkward.
They sort things out and start to untangle their already-packed schedules to find space for each other, but both women have significant life drama that quickly starts to undermine their new relationship. Maritza holds back that she’s possibly moving from Seattle to Los Angeles, and Sarita doesn’t want to be candid with goal-oriented Maritza about her own lack of direction. Each is also facing hostility from someone close. Maritza is being harassed by her ex and dancing partner who she feels unable to dump. Sarita’s sister is toxically homophobic (and I’m angry at their parents for asking Sarita to be in the same room as this woman!) All combined, they’re both under so much stress, it’s not surprising they run into trouble, even if they hadn’t been keeping secrets from each other.
This book nails that feeling of recognition between two people, that “Oh, it’s YOU” moments that pull characters together like there’s a string between them. Maritza and Sarita quickly become each other’s comfort, the person you run to when you need care, and it’s just as warm as a sleepy kitten. The ending of this book is a Happy For Now instead of a Happily Ever After, but it’s so satisfying to see these two gals basically start over on an even, honest footing. I have a good feeling about where they’ll end up. :)
(A couple of things I could have lived without, though minor: (1) Sarita has what she herself terms a “stupid moment” when Maritza says she’s bi, though it’s brief and resolved properly. Did Reed just want the prejudice against bisexuals acknowledged somehow? (2) Sarita slaps Maritza on the backside fairly hard early in the book, at Maritza’s place of work, and I found it startling and somewhat off-putting.)
This is technically the second book in a series, but you really don’t have to read the first book first as it’s about a different couple.
Diversity note: Lissa Reed is queer femme nonbinary.
A wildly underappreciated gay romance following a divorced NYC-based voice actor, Colin O’Neil, who hires high-end escort Hamilton (the alter ego of aspiring screenwriter Henry Davis) for a combination of sex and confidence coaching in being a gay man, since his orientation is a recent revelation.
As Colin and “Hamilton” spend more time together, both Colin and Henry struggle with the serious growing affection between them, complicated by both men being unclear about how much of Hamilton is an act. I was fascinated to see the “behind the scenes” of how Henry patches his financial life together, borrowing the right “Hamilton” clothes from a friend in the fashion industry, getting into character (and the consequences when he falls out of it), and assuming a completely different persona for low-budget porn. All these jobs are in service to a good cause, but Vance and Winters never cast Henry’s sex work as a tragic burden due to his economic circumstances.
Despite the complicated and increasingly mutually uncomfortable relationship, Colin does gain confidence, in part by using Hamilton’s strategy of stepping into a role. He’s able to overcome his stage fright enough to audition for live roles instead of only accepting voice roles. And that’s where things get really messy for these guys. I loved how Vance and Winters were willing to make and keep these characters uncomfortable without papering over their past together, but letting the genuine connection between the two men shine through.
A note on the Kindle ebook formatting: It’s confusing. The first thing is a long excerpt from the middle of the book, I guess as a teaser? And for quite some time, the authors have been including a whole second book at the end, so there are two complete Tables of Contents at the beginning. I think it’s been throwing some readers off, so make sure you find the real beginning of the first book before you dig in.
Diversity note: Vance is a gay man.
A complex, messy, often emotionally wrenching queer celebrity romance series that’s so far beyond what the phrase “celebrity romance” brings to mind that I’m almost not sure that’s the right term for it. It starts with Starling, in which Alex Cook, 21, is plucked out of the crew on a hit television series and given a starring role. Alex is a deeply private person, scarred from growing up gay and poor in a small, unfriendly Midwestern town, so his life in the media spotlight turns out to be just as comfortable as you’d expect. His sudden fame puts major stress on his co-occurring new relationship with Paul, a gay writer on the show, who has his own issues.
Paul and Alex’s relationship happens within a social circle / found family that includes Carly, Paul’s ex, a bisexual woman who is in a committed open relationship with Alex’s co-star Liam, a closeted bisexual man (who initially seems possibly non-neurotypical), who also has a somewhat ill-defined romantic/sexual relationship with frighteningly manipulative showrunner Victor, who is asexual (and Latino, though that doesn’t play much of a role in the story).
What sucked me into this series is how it honors the reality that relationships can be really hard and painful, especially when people have experienced trauma, while also supplying meet-cute, sexy, and heartbreakingly tender moments. These characters do hurt each other, make terrible mistakes, and damage their relationships. Paul and Alex even break up/separate more than once. But the authors clearly love every single character, even and especially when they’re being self-destructive, and so they give each one people in their lives who have a deep capacity to understand and care for them in various important ways. That caring is one of the most significant characteristics of this series IMHO, even when it’s a case of the thought being what counts because the execution is a mess.
The second and third books, Doves and Phoenix, broaden the focus to the relationships among Paul and Alex and those other people, though Alex and Paul are still the central couple. (Paul and Alex consider themselves monogamous in terms of being each other’s only primary partner, but if you need your central couple to only sleep with each other once they’re together, this isn’t for you.) Reduced to a plot summary, this series could sound like a soap opera, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s about the deeply strange experience of a personal life being public, how to even figure out building relationships in a culture that prescribes only one type, and how to fix things with other people after fucking up. Sometimes so hard to read because characters you’ve come to love are flailing, but well worth it.
Diversity note: McRae and Maltese are both queer.
Angsty (in a good way) but ultimately sweet celebrity romance between bisexual country music star Grady Dawson, who lives in Nashville, and gay Japanese-American stylist Nico Takahashi, who lives in Los Angeles. Nico’s a workaholic, suspicious of the celebrity limelight because of what he’s seen in his career, uneasy with Grady’s bisexuality which in Nico’s mind is wrapped up with the rumors that Grady sleeps around too much to be interested in something serious. (I am bi myself, and I thought this engagement with the stereotypes around bisexuality was handled very well.) Grady has well-earned abandonment issues and tends to disappear silently when he’s feeling threatened.
Suzanne makes both characters so real: passionate, loving, flawed, scared, and too often getting in their own way. The “click” between them also feels very real, with Grady’s open adoration for Nico and Nico’s conflicted but very strong attraction to Grady. If you want to hang out in the world of country music stars and the people who dress them in super fancy clothes, but also get a genuine love story, this is the book for you.
It’s the first book in a series, but the second IMHO contains only a minor and not crucial piece of the Grady and Nico story. The third felt more like a book-length epilogue to me, focusing on Grady’s family issues instead of the relationship between them, but it does move them from the Happy For Now ending of Broken Records to a true Happily Ever After. It was nice to spend more time with the characters.
Diversity notes: (1) Nico is Buddhist. (2) Lilah Suzanne is genderqueer and “bi-furious.” (I can often relate to that last bit.)
Every time I think back to this novella, I end up smiling. It starts with an airport meet cute between social media maven / lifestyle writer / self-care advocate Noah (female) and hotshot filmmaker Nick, where their kiss is caught on camera and goes viral. They live in different cities, but Nick is convinced the spark is enough to buy a plane ticket and meet Noah properly. Their long-distance love affair runs into some snags, the first being when Nick cancels a date without explanation. We learn later that he has sickle cell disease and he’s been dumped before over it. Noah is IMHO emotionally high maintenance and overly dramatic in some ways, but not about Nick’s health, so now these two have to figure out what a long-term future looks like given both of their careers.
I love how these are two creative grown-ups who know themselves, struggling with real concerns, and the heart of the novel is them becoming each other’s best cheerleaders.
(For anyone who’s read the book, I am SO MAD that the short film Nick makes with Noah isn’t real. I want to see it!)
Content warnings: (1) Nick initiates the meet-cute kiss without explicit permission, but it’s clear in the text that he pauses long enough for Noah to say no, and later he does acknowledge that it was a gray area. (2) Noah discusses, at a high level, growing up with abuse, including sexual abuse.
Diversity note: Jones is a black woman.
This quiet, deep M/M book is a falling-in-love story between depressed musician Jude and laid-back painter and tattoo artist Faron (POC, yay!), with #ownvoices mental health rep. Jude has a lot of internalized self-loathing around his depression, even though he’s not at his lowest point, but to me the overall arc of the book is how finding someone who truly accepts you can help support you in continuing to do the work of helping yourself. I like how it pushes back on the gross adage that no one else can love you if you don’t love yourself first, that only people who are 100% together can find love. Roan Parrish is a ridiculously talented writer, her prose is always lush and gorgeous, and she’s become an auto-buy author for me. This is the second in a series that was a spinoff from her first series, but you can read it alone if you want, it works fine.
Content warnings: References to past suicide attempt, past abusive relationship, and an on-page encounter with an ex who is verbally abusive.
A fascinating though sometimes slightly unsettling novella about the relationship between two gay men, one of whom is an intellectual and one who might be identified as having an intellectual disability. Larry Morton is a Cambridge professor, and Al Fletcher is gifted painter who makes a living doing manual labor. I’m never completely comfortable reading it, though I enjoy it, because (a) since it’s told through Al’s POV and he often misses social cues, there are times when Larry relishes uptight people’s reactions to Al, but Al doesn’t realize he’s being mocked, and (b) Al is portrayed as a kind man with a heart of gold and no particular flaws, which is borderline trope-y for disabled characters and not in a great way.
That said, this pair has a lot in common, including their appreciation for art and slapstick comedy, and tender hearts for anyone who’s scared or hurt. Al isn’t the only one who misses social cues, either – two major events in the plot happen because of Larry misreading situations: when they meet, drunk Larry misinterprets Al’s concern as a threat (this scene is hilarious because they’re both equally missing the point), and later Larry mistakenly suspects Al of cheating on him. Being in Al’s head when he’s processing the world means seeing him react to situations without bringing in the context the reader does, but he draws the right conclusions from the information he works with, and when he’s lacking information, it’s usually because someone else didn’t fully explain themselves.
The love story works because Al clearly sees Larry as someone precious and desirable in a way that gives Larry relief from the relentless professional pressure he’s under, allowing him to be a different version of himself that’s as real as his job persona. The story, unlike some of the characters, treats Al as a fully capable adult who’s entitled to have relationships and want what he wants. Because Al is generous and lovely and wanted Larry, I wanted him to have Larry, even if Larry isn’t perfect and could sometimes use a raised eyebrow from his own conscience.
If you’ve read it, I’m interested to know what you think!
Fun contemporary M/F rock star romance that begins when cash-strapped Anne meets charismatic, wisecracking drummer Mal at a party. He was her teenage crush, but she couldn’t have foreseen that Mal would publicly declare they were together within an hour of meeting her and move into her apartment the next day. The deal he offers retroactively? Pretend to be his stable girlfriend for reasons unspecified, and he takes care of her financial problems.
Mal was my favorite character in the first book of this series, and I was so happy that his book gave his quirky personality room to shine. He’s completely absurd and over the top, leading to hilarious conversations between him and Anne. Scott’s choice to only use Anne’s POV works really well because it quickly becomes clear that underneath the jokes, there’s something really wrong in Mal’s life, but both Anne and the reader are in the dark about what. Anne struggles to share enough of her own secrets to build trust between them, Mal’s self-destructing, but they manage to work it out because duh, romance novel. Recommended if you want just enough angst without drowning in it, plenty of banter, and a rock god falling for a hardworking, responsible gal who deserves a little luxury.
And that’s the list of my favorite romance novels about artists, musicians, and other creatives! 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!