8 Contemporary Romance Novels I Adore

Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite contemporary romance novels. Usually I organized books into more topic-related posts, but I also like having a space for some books to just hang out. :)

The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. So some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all. Enjoy!

Before we jump in:

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The Opposite of Drowning, a novel by Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Harry Sargent hates his job in publishing, his life in New York City, and his motley collection of disreputable best friends. Making everything worse? He’s about to turn 50 and has a crush on the much-younger woman his company just hired to move them into the digital age.

At 27, Elizabeth Anne Abgral loves her job, her life, and maybe even her fiancé. But no one can have it all, and as long as she does everything her old-fashioned, high-society New England family expects of her, she’ll probably be happy. Right?! But when she meets a handsome – and mischievous – older man at her new job, that illusion shatters.

As she and Harry bicker their way through industry events around the world, Elizabeth finds herself tossing rationality – and her plans – to the wind. But just because Harry has long wished his life were different, doesn’t mean he’s ready to risk his heart on a passion that frightens him… or a peculiar young woman with the uncanny ability to make cities flood every time they kiss.”

Diversity note: McRae and Maltese are both queer.

Femme Like Her by Fiona Zedde (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Nailah Grant only dates studs, races her Camaro for therapy, and believes in leaving her exes in the past where they belong.

But, with a layoff looming and her retired parents about to take a life-changing step Nailah isn’t ready for, her world becomes far from stable. Enter Scottie, the only femme she’s ever allowed close enough to touch her heart. They say trouble comes in threes, and this femme is one with a capital T.

Scottie is an ex though, and somebody Nailah never should have been with in the first place. Yet, when the foundations of her life collapse, Scottie is the one Nailah finds herself clinging to. Just as things settle into a semblance of something Nailah could only dream about, a shattering secret from Scottie’s past threatens to destroy everything the two women have built together.

Will Nailah stay the course with Scottie, or allow her fears to ruin her chance at a real and passionate love?”

Diversity note: Zedde is a queer Black author.

Falling Into Place by Sheryn Munir (Ylva Publishing / Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

The Hate Project by Kris Ripper (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Oscar is a grouch. That’s a well-established fact among his tight-knit friend group, and they love him anyway. Jack is an ass. Jack, who’s always ready with a sly insult, who can’t have a conversation without arguing, and who Oscar may or may not have hooked up with on a strict no-commitment, one-time-only basis. Even if it was extremely hot.

Together, they’re a bickering, combative mess.

When Oscar is fired (answering phones is not for the anxiety-ridden), he somehow ends up working for Jack. Maybe while cleaning out Jack’s grandmother’s house they can stop fighting long enough to turn a one-night stand into a frenemies-with-benefits situation.

The house is an archaeological dig of love and dysfunction, and while Oscar thought he was prepared, he wasn’t. It’s impossible to delve so deeply into someone’s past without coming to understand them at least a little, but Oscar has boundaries for a reason—even if sometimes Jack makes him want to break them all down. After all, hating Jack is less of a risk than loving him…”

Diversity note: Ripper is genderqueer and uses ze/zir pronouns.

Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl (Amazon / Goodreads)

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!)

Pansies by Alexis Hall (Amazon / Goodreads)

Alfie’s a successful Londoner, having escaped his hometown for upward mobility. When he’s forced to visit, he has a one night stand with a gorgeous stranger named Fen… who, as it turns out, isn’t a stranger at all. Alfie bullied him throughout high school, back in Alfie’s closeted self-hating days. To make things more complicated, Fen is grieving his mother’s death from Alzheimer’s, which put his theater career on indefinite hold and destroyed his last relationship, so between all that and his resentment of Alfie’s past actions, one would not think these two a likely pair.

Alfie, though, feels strongly compelled to fix things between them, even though he doesn’t have a clue how and honestly has very few skills for relationships. There is a mutual attraction, but not very much else in common, so this ends up being a romance because both parties decide on it rather than being swept away by uncontrollable forces. It’s work to undo the damage between them, construct something else in its place, and then fix *that* whenever someone makes a mistake that damages it. Alfie has to grow tremendously as a person, which I always love to see in a romance, and Fen has to find a way to let some of his pain rest so he can move forward.

Alfie’s friends are great secondary characters who kick him in the ass when he needs it. The Britishness is strong. All in all, very satisfying.

Diversity notes: Fen says bisexual is the closest label for him, though not a perfect fit. Hall is a gay male author.

Only Love by Garrett Leigh (Amazon / Goodreads)

If angst were alcohol, this book would be 99 proof. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s so emotional that I teared up a couple of times at scary/sad parts even on my THIRD read, and I love that about it. Garrett Leigh is not afraid to mess a reader up, y’all.

It’s the story of Jed Cooper, a soldier who was thrown out of his house as a teenager for being gay, developed a chronic health condition while enlisted, then got shot and burned and had his best friend die. Jed leaves the Army and ends up rooming with Max O’Dair, a black British expat (Mom was from the Congo) whose sister married Jed’s asshole brother. Max also has a tragic backstory I won’t spoil, but has a good life now in his lakeside cabin, managing his epilepsy with the help of his service dog Flo. (All the treats for Flo, she is precious and wonderful.)

What follows is Jed quietly enduring various kinds of agony, then finally cracking under the weight of grief and letting Max in just a smidge… until he finds out some of Max’s secrets and flips out, ending up in the hospital. That is a huge reality check for both of them about how much they mean to each other and need to communicate, but downside, Jed is now really sick.

It’s a book that shows you can write an effective falling-in-love story without lots of stars, hearts, and romantic tables for two. Jed and Max get closer primarily through the daily routines of living together. Max offers Jed a safe place to heal, both physically and emotionally, and Jed repays that with work, not flowery speeches. It does feels like the story jumps around a little bit once Max and Jed start hooking up, and there are a few scenes that I’m not sure why they’re there, so it could have used a little tightening IMHO. However, the overall relationship arc is solid, and the emotional depth of the hospital chapters (about 40% of the book) always leaves me in awe.

I have a chronic/episodic health condition similar to Jed’s, I really appreciated how he’s portrayed as not wanting to discuss his symptoms with his doctor not because he’s stubborn, but because he’s so burned out on talking about it and then never seeing any improvement. This is SO real.

(Also SUPER interesting here too: Jed’s relationship with his straight best friend Paul. Though Jed says later in the book that falling for Max made him realize he wasn’t in love with Paul, I kinda don’t believe him. Jed and Paul had a non-sexual partnership/romance, and it’s pretty clear to me that Paul’s widow thinks so too, and she’s fine with it. Kinda want an alternate take where Paul did survive…)

Diversity note: Leigh is bi.

His Cocky Valet by Cole McCade (Amazon / Goodreads)

An age-gap D/S romance between the party boy son of a dying CEO, Ash, who is drafted into his father’s job, and Brand, the hyper-competent older man he hires as a valet and personal assistant. Written in approximately a week, the book focuses tightly on the growing attraction and affection between the two men, leaving some areas without detail. (For example, why would an acting CEO never have meetings with other staff, or consult with general counsel, and why would he do his own research?) But the emotional core of the story is so damn compelling, such excellent hurt-comfort and compassionate wish fulfillment, that I could handwave that away.

The writing is dramatic and lovely, and the characters are distinct and compelling. I particularly appreciated how both characters explicitly think about the issues inherent in boss-employee relationships, and Ash struggles to act ethically, because a workplace romance is DNF for me when those dynamics aren’t even addressed.

Diversity notes: Ash’s mother is Japanese, his father white American. McCade is Native AmeriBlAsian POC and demibisexual.

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!