‘Tis the season for those warm and fuzzy feelings.
Romance novels are my antidote to hard news and harder reality. Want to shut off the loop of climate change, coronavirus, air quality, death, and terror? Pick up something by a romance novelist, and let them weave a story that will give comfort and hope.
The assurance of a happy ending is a balm to the soul. I remember reading Nicholas Sparks’ Message in a Bottle as a young teen and getting disenchanted by the romance genre because his book bruised my heart. But I’ve since discovered that there are sub-genres in romance and they don’t make you cry for days on end. The opposite, in fact, is true. A good happily ever after (HEA) will make you giddy, and a well-written protagonist will cause a flutter of butterflies in your stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, the romance genre is not fluff at all. There are emotional scars, deep backgrounds, character arcs, angst, and everyday issues that complex people go through in these novels. It’s a powerful genre and one of the best selling around the world.
In this list, I’m suggesting a few common tropes such as office romance, enemies to lovers, second chance romance, marriage of convenience, and fake relationships. These feel-good romance novels will be great companions this winter season, so bring out that weighted blanket and fluffy socks, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate. Things are about to get mushy.
Top Picks for You
The Kiss Quotient
In The Kiss Quotient, Stella Lane is a successful econometrician, but her love life leaves much to be desired. She can come up with algorithms to predict how customers behave, but intimacy isn’t her strong suit. So, she makes a lesson plan and hires an escort to teach her the art of lovemaking. The compassionate and thoughtful Michael Phan fills that role and thus begins a beautiful partnership. He’s patient and sweet and understanding, but he comes with his own baggage that holds him back.
Author Helen Hoang, who was diagnosed with autism herself, tackles Stella’s Asperger’s with sensitivity and hopes to create a positive representation of the condition with her books.
The Bromance Book Club
In Lyssa Kay Adams’ Bromance Book Club series—the latest book was released this July—men show vulnerability, accountability, and recognize toxic masculinity. The first book is about a baseball player Gavin Scott who is having marital troubles. Why? Because he moved out when he discovered his wife, Thea, had always faked it in bed.
Enter his friends who have a secret book club. They read romance novels to help them express themselves better and understand their partners. It’s not just about the books; they discuss emotional labor, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal power structures. Gavin realizes Thea has been unhappy in her marriage for a long time and he hasn’t noticed the toll it has taken on her and on them. Now he has to do the work to save his marriage and return home to his wife and twin daughters.
It’s refreshing to have men in a book club reading romance novels and learning how to treat women from them. Gavin’s story is followed by three other stories of men who are soft, sweet, and romantic—straying from the stereotypes of what an alpha male should be.
One Last Stop
Casey McQuiston’s romance One Last Stop has a time-travel angle. The story takes place in New York, where 23-year-old August meets mysterious Jane on the subway. Where August is cynical and reclusive, Jane is lively and charming. There’s one obstacle standing in the way of these two women: Jane is displaced from the ’70s and she’s stuck on the train.
The book introduces interesting characters, including August’s roommates: the psychic Niko, his girlfriend Maya, and tattoo artist Wes. They’re all on this journey together and this circle of misfits shows that love can come from different places.
The Worst Best Man
Mia Sosa’s protagonist Carolina Santos of The Worst Best Man was jilted at the altar. She moves on from that embarrassing episode and dedicates herself to her job as a wedding planner. She is making strides in helping her clients realize their dreams when an opportunity to climb up the professional ladder lands at her feet. There’s only one small hitch: she has to work with her ex-fiance’s best man, who convinced him to dump her.
Max Hartley, the worst best man, hates to be second fiddle to his elder brother and he’ll do anything to prove his marketing prowess, even collaborate with the woman who hates his guts. A few weeks of working together and they find out how much they respect and desire each other, but Max isn’t ready to be the second choice again.
Food, dancing, wedding, sibling rivalry, capoeira, and a broken-down car all conspire to bring them together. No spoilers here, it is a happy ending.
The Hating Game
Fun-loving and helpful Lucy and brash, unsmiling Josh share an office and it’s established early that they don’t like each other. They play petty games in the office with lots of banter and insults, and plan to one-up the other. Stakes get higher when a promotion is announced, but only one of them can win it—Lucy decides she’ll quit if he becomes her boss.
Love blossoms over a paintball game, a wedding, an elevator kiss, and more office games. It’s a funny, light read to give you the feels.
The Love Hypothesis
Ali Hazelwood’s contemporary romance The Love Hypothesis was released this September. The story is about a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith, and a professor in another department, Adam Carlsen.
It starts with a fake relationship between the two because Olive wants to reaffirm to her friend Anh that she’s over her last date who’s interested in her instead. Enter Adam, a stern professor who has earned an unflattering reputation of being an ass. She kisses him one night in a panic and he plays along as her fake boyfriend.
Olive has a heart-breaking backstory about how she came to Stanford to research pancreatic cancer and Adam is a softie beneath that tough (yes, six-pack abs) exterior. On their weekly Starbucks dates as Olive orders sugary, creamy concoctions, Adam shows her unflinching support over his black coffees, and they form a teasing, flirty friendship–something that shocks everyone on campus, including their friends.
There’s hurt, loneliness, doubts, and lies, but this book will make you smile as two scientists fall hard in love in the backdrop of lab equipment, lectures, and scientific evidence.
Playing the Palace
How about a whirlwind royal romance this winter? In Playing the Palace, New York City event planner Carter Odgen is heartbroken due to his cheating ex. Things start to look up, however, when he meets and falls for the Crown Prince of England Edgar at an event.
The whirlwind romance is filled with unflattering headlines, media interviews, and public scrutiny that royals go through. The cherry on top? The Queen doesn’t approve. But Carter and Edgar are willing to make it work despite it all.
The Duke and I
Julia Quinn’s bestseller has now become a Netflix series, Bridgerton. The Regency-era romance of The Duke and I is the story of Daphne Bridgerton and her brother’s best friend Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings.
Daphne wants to be married for love and yearns for a loving home such as the one she grew up in. While she’s well-liked by the ton, she is not desired by eligible bachelors and considered a friend by potential suitors. Meanwhile, newly returned to London, Simon has sworn off marriage and children due to his troubled past. The devilishly handsome and charmingly stand-offish duke is, what the society calls, a rogue. They meet, they fake a courtship to increase her prospects and decrease attention on him, and they grow fond of each other. But it’s our heroine who has to fight for her happily ever after to avoid a loveless marriage.
This is another romance series. Julia Quinn wrote eight books, one for each Bridgerton sibling (from A to H) and then some.
Netflix is coming back with another season of the show; this time, the focus will be on the eldest brother, Anthony. In case you want to get a head start, his book is The Viscount Who Loved Me.
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor/Christmas With Holly
Lisa Kleypas published Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor in 2010 and Hallmark turned it into a movie, Christmas with Holly, in 2012. (The book has also been republished under the new title.) The contemporary romance centers around six-year-old Holly, who has lost her mother in an accident and hasn’t spoken since. Her bachelor uncle, Mark, gets the guardianship of the little girl with a simple instruction from his sister: start with loving her.
So, he builds a home for her with his brothers, all of whom have been impacted by their tragic childhood. He meets the kind owner of a toy shop, Maggie, who completes the family picture.
This book is sweet, poignant, and hopeful. The series continues with the stories of Mark’s siblings, but this one is my favorite. It’s my tradition to read a Christmas-themed book and watch You’ve Got Mail in December. Another lovely Christmas read is Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley.
Devil in Winter
It’s the third book in the Wallflower series, Devil in Winter, by Lisa Kleypas, and a prime example of the marriage of convenience trope.
The books are historical fiction set in London, where four women scheme to find themselves husbands. Evie Jenner is the third to have a go at it. In order to escape her abusive relatives, she goes to Lord Sebastian St. Vincent with a proposal: to elope with her and save himself from financial ruin.
He’s a rogue of the first order with a terrible reputation and she’s deemed shy and timid. But the stammering wallflower shows legions of strength and courage when she bars her husband from her bed until he can prove he can remain faithful to her.
There’s more to the story than that—helpful friends, vengeful relatives, and life-threatening challenges. The couple will reappear in Devil in Spring and Devil’s Daughter as their children find their happily ever after.
The Rosie Project
What do Bill Gates and I have in common? We both loved The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
Professor Don Tillman is a genetics professor in Australia. Efficient, physically fit, but socially awkward, he sets out to find a partner for himself by drafting a questionnaire that will help him determine if someone suits him: this is his evidence-based, sensible Wife Project. He meets Rosie, who is not his ideal mate on paper, but decides to help her find her father through DNA testing in his lab. Working on the Father Project, they become friends, she disrupts his life with her spontaneity, and attraction blooms.
The book is followed by The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Result, and the series is a punch in the gut as you feel for the logical man who doesn’t believe he is wired for love.
Pride and Prejudice
“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
Jane Austen’s classic romance novel Pride and Prejudice is a beloved book. It was published in 1813 and in over 200 years, it has inspired shows, movies, books, plays, and sequels. It also earned a mention in Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s You’ve Got Mail!
So, the story takes us to England in the early 19th century, where Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters live with their parents. A rich, eligible bachelor arrives in the village and their mother schemes to put the eldest, Jane, in his path. Mr. Bingley is enamored of her, but his two sisters and his best friend Mr. Darcy don’t approve.
Elizabeth is intelligent, well-read, and quick-witted, while Darcy is handsome, quiet, and just a bit snooty. Both err on their way to find love—she judges him harshly and he does a disservice to her sister. As they spar with words, sparks fly. The dialogue is clever and the book has humor. Every character serves a purpose and it’s a darling novel that deserves many, many reads!