Sometimes you need a romance that makes you say “awwww how cute!” This list will NOT disappoint. Here are ten of my favorite romance novels, novellas, and short stories with adorable characters falling in love.
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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, and this is what really got me about it, 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: Rhoda Baxter is a woman of color.
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: Kris Ripper is genderqueer, using ze/zir pronouns.
Lovely little short story 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.
A foodie enemies-to-lovers romance that even this non-foodie adored. Beck Douglas, gay comfort food fan, and Duncan Walters, bisexual molecular gastronomist, have inherited a culinary rivalry from Beck’s uncle and Duncan’s father. A PR mess results in both chefs being strong-armed into co-hosting a cooking show challenge. As they get to know each other, an attraction develops, but complications abound. Beck’s uncle is controlling. Duncan’s father is virulently homophobic. Both of our heroes are frustrated in building the careers they really want. Beck doesn’t do casual. Duncan isn’t comfortable dating because of his damage from his father’s hostility.
The beauty of this book is how out of that swirling mess, Beck and Duncan start to see past their initial impressions of each other – and that gift of being truly seen is so important to each of them. It has one of the best scenes I’ve ever read where someone defends their lover from a jackass. Totally satisfying, and then to watch Duncan start opening his heart to Beck even though he’s totally unsure how to go about it… sigh. No idea why this book isn’t better known. I’ve read it three times and loved it every freakin’ time.
I especially enjoyed how Baker undercut the stereotype of bisexuals as promiscuous. Duncan’s lack of serious dating has given a rep for banging culinary groupies, but it’s clearly established to be untrue. His reservations about dating are grounded in homophobia, not inherent to his sexual orientation. Refreshing.
This is the romance novel equivalent of a blanket straight out of the dryer on a cold night. Corporate dude Ben Tucker is supposed to be recruiting materials scientist Kit Averin. Instead, he falls for her. Unfortunately for Ben, (a) Kit won the lottery a while back, so she doesn’t have to take a job she doesn’t want just because it pays better, and (b) the hangover from his recruitment attempt might tank their relationship before it has a chance to get going. The conflict is agonizing because they are amazing together, not the least of which because Kit, the adult child of an addict who grew up poor, has just purchased a historical fixer-upper for her first home, while Ben is technically on leave from his job to help out at the family business which salvages and sells restoration building materials. Kit is a fantastic STEM heroine, Ben is adorably conflicted, their personal and career-related character arcs are deeply satisfying, the cast of secondary characters is perfection, and I have to stop talking about this book now or we’ll be here for days. Loved it, pre-ordered the next book in the series, wrote Kate Clayborn a fan email.
(But really, how can you not want to read a romance novel that includes the phrase “high angle annular dark field node”? Just sayin’.)
Diversity note: Ben has ADHD, and it’s not just incidental representation.
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, the son of a vendor at the market outside the cathedral. This short story is told both in 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 not me. The first thing I read by Durreson, and possibly still my favorite by her, though it’s hard to choose.
Diversity note: Callum has ADD.
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.
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 and they’re both fine with it. Love that about it.
And that’s the list of my favorite adorable 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!