6 Contemporary Romance Novels I Adore

I never expected to become a romance reader, but I should have! After all, I have a passionate love for the X-Men, which is basically a soap opera. (With people shooting lasers out of their eyes.) Romances withOUT people shooting lasers out of their eyes are great too, so here’s a roundup of some of my favorite contemporary romance novels that don’t quite fit into any of my other posts. Happy reading!

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.”

McRae and Maltese are both queer.

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.

Into the Blue by Pene Henson (Interlude Press / Amazon / Goodreads)

A lovely, gentle, friends-to-lovers surfing romance novel that happens within a found/created family. It’s a really quiet book at times, which was striking and different from many other romance novels I’ve read.

Ollie Birkstrum is a gifted surfer on his last chance to go pro after an injury. Tai Talagi is his gay best friend. They’re both part of a group of roommates that has become a family over the years. When Ollie needs Tai’s continued coaching (and social support, see diversity note below) to make his comeback, Tai puts his life on hold to travel with Ollie. Ollie finds himself wanting more than friendship with Tai, though he’s rarely or never experienced sexual attraction before. (I and some other readers interpret Ollie as demisexual or something similar.) This new development is hella awkward for Tai, who’s devoted like 20% of his waking energy for years to suppressing his crush on Ollie.

The “we’ll just have sex while we’re on the road” decision causes some significant complications, the resolving of which require more honesty than either is used to, and quite frankly they’re both kind of terrible at it. Even when they’re hurting each other, though, it’s within such a context of caring that you’re confident they’re going to work it out. At the end, after watching facet after facet of Tai and Ollie’s lives change and then click together, I had such a feeling of peace.

Diversity notes: (1) Tai is Samoan. To me, Ollie read as either on the autism spectrum or having social anxiety, but it’s never labeled explicitly. (2) Henson is a queer woman.

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!)

Playing to Win (and its sequel Playing Dead) by Avery Cockburn (Amazon / Goodreads)

An opposites attract M/M Scottish football (soccer) romance novel that I now love, but didn’t finish the first time I tried reading it! On first read I loved Colin MacDuff, the grumpy, activist footballer from the slums of Glasgow whose family survives due to government assistance. But I hated conservative, judgmental, wealthy Lord Andrew Sutherland with a fiery passion. I didn’t know writer Avery Cockburn well enough to trust her to bring Andrew around, I just couldn’t get past his ignorant anti-welfare opinions and general privileged ignorance about Colin’s life.

Lucky for me, I tried again, because Cockburn was in fact setting the stage for Andrew to grow.

Set during the referendum for Scottish independence, another political issue that divides Colin (pro) and Andrew (anti), this is an intensely political book, and I love it for that. I also love how she takes two men who are gunshy about making themselves vulnerable beyond sexytimes and finds authentic ways for them to open up emotionally to each other. It’s complicated, messy, and not always comfortable, but that was true to the characters.

The sequel novella, Playing Dead, is about Andrew dealing with the fallout from some difficult events in Playing to Win, and I adored it too.

I liked the first book in this series, Glasgow Lads series, it was fine, and the third one was also good (I trusted Cockburn to bring her gay character who didn’t believe in bisexuality to a place where I didn’t want to smack him on the back of the head). But so far Playing to Win is the series standout IMHO. Any full-length novel in the series can be read as a standalone, but the #2.5 and #3.5 novellas wouldn’t make much sense out of context.

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie (Amazon / Goodreads)

This novel was published when I was a freshman in college, 1993, and it’s definitely a bit dated in its attitudes towards gender and sexual harassment. With allowances for the time period, though, it’s screamingly funny and I will definitely be re-reading it. Successful executive Kate Svenson goes to a resort with a business plan to find a husband. Former high-powered city type turned slacker Jake Templeton watches in astonishment as her procession of dates each meets some kind of accident. In between her disastrous dates, Kate and Jake end up hanging out in his boat, for reasons that are 100% platonic… right?

It’s a romance with older main characters (yay!), the dialogue is witty, and the secondary characters are fantastic. I can definitely see why Crusie became popular, and I’m looking forward to working through more of her backlist.

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!