20+ Romance Novels About Artists, Musicians, and Other Creative Types

   March 24, 2020    Comments Off on 20+ Romance Novels About Artists, Musicians, and Other Creative Types

— Hello, I’ve merged 2 posts into one and done a little freshening up. Happy reading! —

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! Dig in, and I hope you find something new to read and adore.

Before we jump in:

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Slow Moves by Elliott Junkyard (Amazon / Goodreads)

“After a tryst with the only other passenger in first class, pop star Zachary Allen is ready to focus on the real reason he’s in London: kicking off his tour and promoting his new album. The only problem is that he can’t seem to get Gabe out of his mind. Against his better judgement he gets in touch, and Gabe plans to meet him in at a gallery near his hotel. That’s should be safe enough, right? Their totally not-a-date makes Zach realize how much he wants to get know Gabe. After a year of being single, Zach might just be ready to put himself out there.

Gabe is smart, funny and hot as hell. He’s also out and proud and closeted Zach is struggling against the needs of his heart and the safety of his career. If pictures start showing up online, Zach will have more to deal with than just an angry PR manager.”

Sweet little m/m contemporary romance novella. Trans rep, bi rep, queer author. Zach is trans and bi, though it’s the bi part that he’s closeted about. Exactly the right size of story for the length of the novella, which is a difficult thing to pull off. Enjoyed this a lot!

Diversity note: Junkyard is queer.

The Young and the Lesbian by Q. Kelly (Amazon / Goodreads)

Fake dating + queer women in their late 40s / early 50s + critiquing the misogyny of show business + a wish-fulfillment epilogue that made me do a little dance of joy. Dash Bannon, a soap opera actor, decides that the best way to pump up her fading career is to come out as gay. Jane Knight, her frenemy co-star, really IS gay. Jane herself never intended to come out, but what if a fake relationship would get them both some attention (and bargaining power)?

I wanted to be annoyed with Dash for faking gay, but it was like watching a kid try some sneaky maneuver that you can tell they think is SO SMART and then they can’t figure out why it didn’t work. She’s an amateur conniver compared to Jane. Dash’s slow realization that um, wow, maybe Jane is kinda cute what does this mean? Priceless.

Diversity note: Kelly is a Deaf lesbian.

Alternate Endings by K. Sadeé (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

The Artist and the Devil by Shira Glassman (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Certainly, Possibly, You by Lissa Reed (Interlude Press / Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Jilted by Lilah Suzanne (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.”

It’s maybe as much Carter’s story of figuring out his own life as it is a romance, but honestly I appreciated that aspect. It’s a slower, quieter story about two creative main characters, with historical house remodeling.

Diversity note: Suzanne is genderqueer and “bi-furious.”

The Clockwork Menagerie by Elliot Cooper (Amazon / Goodreads)

An endearing rivals-to-lovers romance short story set in an alternate 19th century London where “automatons” (animal robots) are a normal part of society. Their creators are called autosmiths, and Clement Dyer is one of the best. He creates handmade automatons – exquisite works of art – which unfortunately means his business is on shaky ground due to competition from mass producers. The owner of his least objectionable competitor, Duke Godwin, is extremely persistent about a business merger, and since Clem made the mistake of sleeping with Duke a while back, it’s all very obnoxious and complicated. Until Clem finds out what’s been happening to many of the automatons he’s had to resell after customer returns…

It’s a short story that captures just the beginning of a relationship, which left some reviewers on Goodreads frustrated, but I thought it was charming. The worldbuilding and Clem’s character are beautifully done, and the automatons are delightful. If Cooper returned to this world, I’d throw money at that in a heartbeat.

Diversity note: Cooper is a bi trans man.

The Trouble by Daria Defore (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)

The Trouble is an entertaining new adult opposites attract / rock star story about the relationship between two Korean-American college students: Danny Kim, an exuberant aromantic singer poised to level up in his music career, and Jiyoon Lee, a serious accounting major.

They meet when Danny insults Jiyoon’s boyfriend as a way of hitting on him, resulting in a slap and a drink thrown in his face. (I could have lived without the slap.) It gets worse when Danny discovers Jiyoon is the TA for Danny’s accounting class. They do overcome Danny’s jackassery and Jiyoon’s scorn, ending up with a strong connection based on friendship and sexual attraction. However, Danny’s impulsivity and desire for fame don’t mesh with Jiyoon’s well planned future goals, so problems arise.

Love the diversity in this book! The entire cast of major characters is Asian-American, and the main couple aren’t the only queer characters. Danny’s aromanticism is only a problem insofar as people he was interested in have reacted badly before, so he worries that Jiyoon won’t accept him as a partner. Jiyoon is clearly falling for Danny romantically, but after logically analyzing the situation, concludes that Danny is offering him everything he wants in a relationship even if those specific feelings aren’t 1:1 reciprocated. (There’s a spreadsheet involved. I heart this guy.)

I also loved watching Danny and Jiyoon slowly getting to know each other, each revealing pieces of themselves to move them from their first bad impressions to mutual admiration. There’s a lot of cramming for tests and rock concerts here, but also a lot of quiet and sweet moments. Neither guy trades in his personality, but they find a middle ground.

Diversity note: Daria Defore is aromantic and bisexual.

The Spinner, The Shepherd, and the Leading Man by Kris Ripper (free to download, Goodreads listing has the link)

“Frazier Lane has wanted his roommate since the day they met — eight years ago. When Dom gets them jobs running a summer stock program in the sticks, Fraz thinks the time has come. He’ll kiss Dom, Dom will realize they’re meant to be, and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway. Until they meet Pete. Pete knows nothing about theater, is totally in the closet, and is one of the nicest guys Fraz has ever met. Unfortunately, Dom seems to think so, too. Fraz decides he’ll take one for the team and help Dom coax Pete out of the closet and into the light, even if it breaks his heart, but Dom and Pete have other ideas.”

Screamingly funny, this is a comfort re-read for me.

Diversity note: Ripper is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns.

Conning Colin by Brad Vance and Elsa Winters (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

The Love in Los Angeles series by Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

The Art of Three by Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese (Amazon / Goodreads)

An age gap polyamorous celebrity romance between two bisexual men and a woman. Famous British actor Callum Griffith-Davies and Spanish artist Nerea Espinosa de Los Monteros Nessim have had an open marriage for almost thirty years and raised three daughters to adulthood. When Callum meets 24 year old Irish actor Jamie Conway on a movie set, there’s an attraction, but both Callum and Jamie assume they’ll just have a fling. They quickly realize it’s not just a fling. Then Nerea comes to London and falls into a mutual crush with Jamie as well.

If you’ve never read a polyamorous romance, this is a great one to start with. The tagline for it is perfect: “Two men. One woman. No love triangles. Who says you only get one happily ever after?”

Maltese and McRae are experienced at writing multiple characters grappling with attractions and New Relationship Energy (with both other people and with jobs), and they bring their A game to this book. Conversations around consent and logistics reflect the specific personalities of whichever characters are having them, rather than sounding like passages from Polyamory 101. (Though Jamie does buy a book on the subject, to much merriment from Callum and Nerea.) The emotional process of the characters, the discussions, negotiations, and genuine emotional moments between the characters are so rich and in-depth. The connection between these three isn’t without bumps and snags, but the arc of the book is towards more caring, more understanding, and more compassion.

Diversity notes: (1) Nerea has discovered that her Spanish family converted from Judaism to survive persecution, especially the Inquisition, and Callum’s grandmother was Jewish – there’s some interesting discussion about that. (2) McRae and Maltese are both queer.

The Craft of Love by E.E. Ottoman (Amazon / Goodreads)

Gorgeous, kind low-angst historical between a cis bi woman and a trans man, really loved this! “Benjamin Lewis has created a life for himself as one of the most respected silversmiths and engravers in New York City. For Benjamin, his work is his passion and he has never sought out companionship beyond the close ties of family. Remembrance Quincy’s talent is as undeniable as her needlework is exquisite. She has made a name for herself crafting quilts and embroidery pieces for all the wealthiest ladies in the city. When soft-spoken, yet charming, Mr. Lewis comes to her with a particular project in mind she is intrigued both by his artistic design and by the man himself.”

Diversity note: E.E. Ottoman is a disabled, queer, trans man whose pronouns are: he/him/his.

Broken Records by Lilah Suzanne (Interlude Press / Amazon / Goodreads)

Angsty (in a good way) but ultimately very 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) Suzanne is genderqueer and “bi-furious.”

Gaudete by Amy Rae Durreson (Amazon / Goodreads)

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 (who has ADD), the son of a vendor at the market outside the cathedral.

It’s told in both 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 stronger than I am! The first thing I read by Durreson, and possibly still my favorite by her, though it’s hard to choose.

Relationship Goals by Christina C. Jones (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox (Riptide Publishing / Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

True Brit by Con Riley (Amazon / Goodreads)

Thank you, Con Riley, for this lovely bisexual revelation romance that avoids all the garbage often packaged in the gay-for-you trope.

True Brit is a fake relationship romance between two rivals on a televised singing competition called BritPop! Pasha Trueman is an extroverted half-Afghani Brit who quit his call center job for the show. Ed Britten is a stoic former British soldier who served in Afghanistan, so the show managers plan to set them up as enemies or boot them from the show.

Pasha convinces Ed that faking a romantic attraction is the best sabotage of that stupid plan. It goes wild on social media under the #TrueBrit hashtag. Pasha (who’s always thought he was straight but doesn’t deny media rumors he’s gay) and Ed (who’s gay but never says it outright) fall into day-to-day affection quite easily. Their stunt pisses off the show managers, though, so Ed and Pasha have to continually outsmart various attempts to undermine them.

This book is a triumph of showing rather than telling. Riley spends almost zero time inside either character’s head having them bang on about “OMG how could I be having these feelings? This was just supposed to be for the contest!” or in Pasha’s case “How could I be attracted to a man?” Their relationship evolves and is shown through actions, growing from loyalty and friendship rather than immediate sexual/romantic sparks or big schmoopy speeches. Yet this book has some of the sweetest moments, and I was 100% swept away by the romance. Ed and Pasha together once they fess up to each other is possibly the best-est thing ever. (For anyone who’s read it, “Ask me the same as your Dominic did” just about killed me dead.)

I was also delighted by how Riley lets Pasha readjust his view of his sexual orientation with a minimum of fuss. He doesn’t thrash around trying to deny his feelings for Ed, just takes the new puzzle piece and maneuvers it around a bit so it fits. In real life, it’s often more difficult than that, but it was so refreshing to read a bi revelation that was gentle and friendly, honoring that Pasha truly is bi, instead of having him agonize or retconning his past with women because Ed is his destiny.

There are some rough spots in the writing that I wish an editor had smoothed out. I’ve read the first scene at least three times, and I still don’t follow what Pasha was trying to do before he decided to mess with the stage lights. The radio interview is bizarre and reads too much like shoehorning in a character speech. Pasha’s insistence that they weren’t supposed to officially confirm or deny their relationship publicly is laughable in the face of their public behavior. Usually stuff like that bugs me. In this case, though, the artistry of showing these two people falling in love, without hardly being aware it’s happening, overrode those few weird bits.

Invitation to the Blues by Roan Parrish (Amazon / Goodreads)

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.

Take The Lead by Alexis Daria (Amazon / Goodreads)

Of all the romance novels I’ve read, this one best qualifies for the title “beach read,” and I mean that in a good way. It’s a passionate romance between two contestants on a dance competition reality show. Stone Nielsen is an improbably tall (see note below) star of an Alaskan outdoorsy reality show. Gina Morales a Puerto Rican professional dancer who will be his partner and dance teacher for his guest stint on The Dance Off.

If you’re looking for something lightweight and entertaining, this is a good pick, and Puerto Rican NYC author Alexis Daria is one to watch going forward. There aren’t any surprises here, and the characterization can be a little thin (why did Stone give up his whole life for his family’s show?), but I had fun reading the book. Gina and Stone have serious chemistry, and their dance lessons and performances were vivid and enjoyable. Gina’s conflicts over avoiding the “sexy Latina” stereotype were real, and I loved watching her succeed professionally in ways that were deeply meaningful to her.

HOWEVER, Stone is 6’7″, holy crow! Gina is 5’6″. The author makes a point early on about how it can be tough to choreograph for such a height difference, then seems to ignore Stone’s height for the rest of the book. Every time a new character walks into the room with Stone, they should be like DAMN YOU’RE TALL! And the couple shouldn’t be able to accidentally kiss so easily with all of their feet on the ground. Her head comes up to his shoulder!

Artistic License by Elle Pierson (Amazon / Goodreads)

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?)

Speechless by Kim Fielding (Dreamspinner Press / Amazon / Goodreads)

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, but has some language in it that I found kinda off re: trans folks.

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. Love that about it.

Muscling Through by J.L. Merrow (Amazon / Goodreads)

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!

Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl (Amazon / Goodreads)

A charming small town romance, with a side of suspense, about two unbelievable goofballs, Ben Lawson and Molly Jennings. Ben is the sheriff, and Molly is the girl who’s moved back to town, keeping her job as a romance novelist secret from curious townsfolk. Molly’s had a crush on Ben since they were teenagers, and she decides it’s time to go for it. Cue ridiculous levels of flirting leading to embarrassing sex misadventures and Ben’s bewildered brainstorming list for how a woman would make a living on the internet.

As you might have guessed, there are a couple of complications.

First, Molly is being stalked, presumably by her scary manipulative ex-boyfriend Cameron, although he’s way too good at not leaving any proof. This is SO much a “Believe Women” scenario, with Molly moving back to her small town in large part because her ex continually gaslights her friends and family about her, and they fall for it.

Second, back in the day, Ben’s father slept with an 18 year old high school student while he was the principal (ew ew ew) so Ben is hugely skittish about anything that even looks a sex scandal. Because of his past, he does a poor job differentiating – in his mind – between “Molly is possibly an internet sex worker” and “sex scandal in which people should be ashamed.”

There’s some legit scary danger – including threatened sexual assault – but the majority of the book is lighthearted, without taking away from the seriousness of what’s happening to Molly. She’s irrepressible and about getting her man, and I literally laughed out loud several times as she and Ben found out firsthand the risks (and benefits) of Sex While He’s The Sheriff. And at their roleplaying, because it’s just as funny as it is hot. Those wacky kids. As a bonus, Ben’s character arc is about taking Molly seriously for her choices, and untangling his own personal issues from her career, and that works for me.

Play by Kylie Scott (Amazon / Goodreads)

Fun contemporary F/M 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, while Mal is 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.

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Apparently you can’t throw a rock in my blog without hitting a romance novel with artists as the main characters. Here are more:

  • In my post about funny romance novels, Something Like Love by Christina C. Jones pairs a tattoo artist and a graphic designer, To My Muse by Nicola M. Cameron pairs an actor and a writer, and Sweet on the Greek by Talia Hibbert has a tattoo artist.
  • In my post of paranormal contemporary romances, Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson has a painter and The Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir pairs a musician and a musical instrument creator.
  • In my post of historical romances, A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Andres pairs two writers; in my post of fantasy romances, A Demon for Midwinter by K.L. Noone has a rock star; new adult romances has A Model Boyfriend by Clancy Nacht which pairs an art student with an aspiring filmmaker; and paranormal historical romances has A Most Unusual Courtship by Nancy M Griffis which has a leather craftsman.

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!