Dolly R. Sickles

LA may be a city of smoke and mirrors, but this trio of romances is a friendly reminder of how important it is to delve beneath the surface and get to the heart of the matter in, well, matters of the heart.

Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell

Taj McCoy’s debut romance isn’t interested in superficial Hollywood glitz; rather, it’s an exuberant story about a relatable Everywoman whose shine has lost a bit of its luster. The title may be Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell, but it takes Savvy a while to bounce back after her boyfriend, Jason, breaks off their six-year relationship over dinner after announcing he needs an “upgrade.” Her tightknit group of gal pals squad up for Savvy’s sake, encouraging her plan to overhaul her life. On the docket are goals like getting a promotion, writing a cookbook, renovating her grandparents’ house in Los Feliz and losing weight. Absent are the things that really count, like bolstering her self-confidence and learning to love herself as she is. A key moment in her journey comes early on, when she epically misjudges handsome Spencer Morgan. Because of his dusty clothes, she assumes he’s experiencing homelessness and brushes off his flirting, only to learn that he’s actually a contractor. It’s the opposite of a successful meet-cute, but it does result in a profound moment of self-reflection. Savvy feels constantly judged for her weight, and she projected that sense of constant negative scrutiny onto Spencer. Moments like this drive the plot; McCoy is less focused on romance than she is on thoughtfully constructing her heroine’s journey to enlightenment. Luckily, Savvy is a particularly zeitgeisty heroine: a woman on a quest to improve both her physical and mental well-being.

Funny You Should Ask

Young adult author Elissa Sussman may be poised for a breakout hit with her first novel for adults, Funny You Should Ask. This tightly written romance follows a successful writer and a Hollywood A-lister who previously crossed paths during an interview that changed the trajectories of their lives. Chani Horowitz is now a writer of essays, profiles and commentary, but a decade ago she was just kicking off her career. She was thrilled to land a profile piece of the next James Bond, a wholesome Montana boy named Gabe Parker. He was handsome and dazzling, and Chani was totally crushing on him. They clicked immediately and then spent a momentous weekend together in LA, roaming from Gabe’s house in Laurel Canyon to a high-profile movie premiere to a gay club, reveling in the city’s culinary scene and endless supply of things to do and places to see. But afterward, Chani returned to New York City with her boyfriend, Gabe married his new co-star, and neither of them were happy. Funny You Should Ask bounces back and forth between Chani and Gabe in the present and during their lost weekend. There are a ton of details to unpack, with a lot of different characters in a lot of different times and places. But Sussman’s smart writing and firm control over the narrative steadily lead you on to the next page, and the next page, and the page after that. She also uses the dual-timeline structure to great effect in support of the eventual happy ending. 

Business Not As Usual

Dreamy Daniels, the heroine of Sharon C. Cooper’s latest contemporary romance, Business Not As Usual, truly lives up to her name and will charm the pants off readers (and off her love interest, too). Dreamy’s personal mantra is that anything is possible if you believe. She plays the lottery every week with her grandfather, confident with her whole being that she’ll be a big winner one day. A hard worker with a vision for starting a nonprofit for aspiring female entrepreneurs, Dreamy makes do in the meantime by working as a secretary for a tech guru. But then she meets venture capitalist Karter Redford who, despite being the son of acting royalty, turns out to be a kindred spirit who sees the value in a little intellectual elbow grease. He appreciates both her shiny, wild exterior and the resilient, creative thinker beneath it. To Karter, the fact that Dreamy lives in one of LA’s underprivileged neighborhoods doesn’t matter. But his mother thinks that Dreamy isn’t cultured, sophisticated or educated enough to be a good match for her son. Cooper, however, doesn’t fall back on such stereotypical characterizations. Dreamy and Karter are intelligent, mature adults who root for each other, which in turn makes the reader root all the harder for them in this flirty, fun and refreshing romance.

Los Angeles may be a city of smoke and mirrors, but this trio of romances is all about getting real.

Kenya Davenport is the ideal contestant for “Cosplay or No Way,” a reality competition show that follows cosplayers as they construct elaborate ensembles based on their favorite fictional characters. She’s smart and funny, with pop culture savvy, a passion for anime and quips for every situation. Her nerdy interests may not overlap much with those of her engineer parents, but she’s fine with that. So is her BFF, Cameron Lassiter. Cam’s her ride or die, her partner in crime. He’s not into cosplay like Kenya, but he still agrees to pose as her boyfriend r in the final round of the show, where the contestants enlist their real-life partners in the construction of their final costumes. It’s both more and less awkward than it should be, because Cam’s secretly been in love with Kenya for years.

Author Seressia Glass displays a talent for natural dialogue and effortless humor, which shine in the interactions between Cam and Kenya. Cam is particularly lovable: He seamlessly integrates into his role of fake boyfriend and proves time and time again, even outside of the demands of the show, that he’s there for Kenya. His steady, unerring support bolsters her inner strength, and he always lets her know that she’s remarkable, with or without a costume or mask.

Glass touches on a handful of real-world issues without slowing the forward momentum of the central love story. Yes, Kenya is fat. Yes, Kenya and Cam are an interracial couple. Yes, her parents whittle down her confidence. But Kenya dances to the beat of her own drummer and knows that she’s all the better for it. She doesn’t expect or want Cam to protect her when the show’s judges make snide comments about her weight and physical appearance; she’s more than capable of either doing that herself or choosing to ignore these types of slights. Glass constantly strikes the right balance in these moments, acknowledging the problems Kenya would face on reality TV or in her relationship with her parents while maintaining The Love Con’s exuberant, hopeful tone.

Kenya and Cam’s partnership proves that while plenty of things in life are a con, their love isn’t one of them. The Love Con is a unique glimpse into the world of cosplay that will lighten your heart and make you smile uncontrollably. 

Seressia Glass’ The Love Con is a unique glimpse into the world of cosplay that will lighten your heart and make you smile uncontrollably.

With her latest contemporary romance, K.M. Jackson will win the hearts of any reader who loves Keanu Reeves (especially if they’re a Gen-Xer).

Bethany Lu Carlisle is a 40-something artist on the brink of a breakout—and a Keanu Reeves superfan. Her Keanu fixation is how Lu copes with life’s stresses: There’s a Keanu role out there to suit any mood, ready to provide a cathartic pick-me-up. So when news of the star’s forthcoming wedding hits the tabloids, Lu hits the road with the lofty goal of confessing her love to him.

Riding shotgun on her cross-country dash is BFF Truman “True” Erickson, a great guy and even better friend. A college economics professor, True recently wrote a popular book and is making the rounds on local talk shows, but his friendship with Lu keeps him humble and grounded. He’s loved Lu for years, but since he started out as her brother’s bestie, his affection has gone unnoticed. She’s his Keanu.  

Lu and True have the familiarity and intimacy of lifelong friends, but true to the friends-to-lovers trope, their communication stinks. They may have decades of life experience and disappointments behind them, but they are still their own worst enemies until they give in to the inevitable spark. Their journey is quirky and full of misadventures, while being poignant and heartfelt and full of emotion. 

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is charming even when it’s working through heavier emotional issues like grief and healing. Jackson brings a light-hearted and personal touch to the smallest of details, from the chapter titles echoing the names of Reeves’ movies to the pointed moments when True uses Lu’s full name to get her attention.

Is Keanu Reeves the perfect boyfriend? Answers may vary, but Jackson has definitely written an extremely enjoyable friends-to-lovers rom-com. How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is a fun story with humor and heart, and a supremely satisfying conclusion.

Is Keanu Reeves the perfect boyfriend? Answers may vary, but Jackson has definitely written an extremely enjoyable friends-to-lovers rom-com.

With Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words, Annika Sharma kicks off a new contemporary rom-com series about four South Asian friends living in New York City. Four besties make up the Chai Masala Club, also known as the CMC. Kiran, Payal, Akash and Sonam are as varied and vibrant as the Empire State, which Sharma has imbued with a heartbeat and perspective to rival the story’s other secondary characters. The city is more than just a place; it’s the foundation for everything that happens to the CMC.

A perfect literary companion to the author’s popular podcast, “The Woke Desi,” this romance focuses on Indian immigrant Kiran Mathur, a biomedical engineer and dynamic woman raised by traditional, conservative parents. She often feels the pull of opposing obligations among her family, her culture and herself, but her list of things she’d like to accomplish before turning 30 is her own, for the most part. The things that were quickly crossed off, like seeing the Empire State Building and a Broadway play, were fun and easy. Riding a horse, playing games at an arcade and dancing under the stars are so far unchecked but, again, fun and easy to accomplish. The things that really matter, like falling in love and reuniting her older sister, Kirti, with Ma and Baba . . . those are more serious. More daunting. 

Kiran’s new neighbor, Nash Hawthorne, is a fellow big-city transplant whose goal is to become a child psychologist at a hospital downtown. He’s handsome, tempting and as interested in Kiran as she is in him. But whereas he lost his parents as a child, Kiran grew up in the shadow of her family. Not only does Nash have to learn about Kiran’s Indian parents, he has to learn about the obligations any child feels toward their parents.

Sharma packs every sentence with information in this book. And every bit of information hints at important decisions the characters must make. Nash is uninformed about Kiran’s culture, but he works hard to learn about and understand her. Where he sees disapproval and isolation, Kiran sees tradition and responsibility. Kiran has to take into consideration the fact that Kirti was disowned for falling in love with a man her parents didn’t choose, and that her parents would be devastated if Kiran didn’t marry an Indian man.

It’s a lot of responsibility, and the heaviness of tradition weighs profoundly on Kiran’s shoulders. She works hard to stay present, but her wants and desires are constantly in battle with her parents’, and with her own reluctance to step out of line. Sharma poses the difficult question of how younger generations can evolve while still observing the practices of generations past. How lenient should we be with our parents and grandparents about their outdated opinions and practices? Are they even outdated? Should we try to teach them to be better? More future-thinking and progressive? How do you move forward if everybody stays on pause and never grows?

There’s a lot to think about in this forbidden love story, chiefly how brave someone must be to follow their heart. Falling in love is terrifying, but in the end Kiran and Nash find their four-letter word.

In this dynamic rom-com, Annika Sharma explores how younger generations can evolve while still observing the practices of generations past.

Enemies to lovers is a favorite romance trope, and two new titles up the ante by making their central couples not just personal rivals but professional ones as well.

The prolific Meg Cabot is an expert in matters of the heart, having written love stories between characters from middle school to middle age. In No Words, the third book in her Little Bridge Island series, readers are once again whisked away to the lovely Florida Keys for a little sun, fun and romance.

Jo Wright is a children’s author who recently received an invitation to speak at Little Bridge Island’s first book festival. She’s successful and beloved by her legions of young readers, not just for the adventures in the books she writes but for the way she interacts with and treats them.

The lure of good money is hard for Jo to resist, but she wants nothing to do with one of the festival’s other invitees: arrogant novelist Will Prince, the man who once maligned Jo’s work to the New York Times. When she hears that Will is going to be out of the country that week, visiting the set of a film adaptation of his new book, she agrees to attend. Too late she discovers that not only does Will own Little Bridge Island, he is bankrolling the festival and very much in attendance.

Worshipped by the legions of women who read his angst-filled dramas, Will’s the Nicholas Sparks to Jo’s Judy Blume. She’s not interested in an apology, but the Will she meets on Little Bridge Island is awkward and sweet, and willing to go to great lengths to make amends. In a refreshing twist on the trope, he’s an enemy who begins the book hoping to change their status and ready to put in the work.

No Words doesn’t have much in the way of tension or conflict, making it a quick, easy and lighthearted read (despite the huge cast of side characters). Cabot is a whiz at writing dialogue that’s both charming and believable, and she riffs on her years of experience in the publishing industry in snarky, silly ways that will bring readers plenty of laughs alongside this love story.

Julia London’s It Started With a Dog is a fun rom-com full of dog puns and good-natured, never mean-spirited competition that pits two like-minded coffee aficionados against one another.

When Harper Thompson and Jonah Rogers accidentally swap phones, neither knows that the trajectory of their life will be changed forever. In the process of getting the phones back to their rightful owners, Harper and Jonah learn that they have much in common, from favorite movies and food to their love of dogs and coffee. Both even have professional nemeses: each other.

Harper’s shiny new coffeehouse, Deja Brew, is bad news for the Lucky Star coffee shop, which is owned by Jonah’s family. The town isn’t big enough for two coffee shops, and something must be done. Harper and Jonah decide to organize a delightful battle of the baristas, but one for a good cause. As a way to raise funds for a local dog shelter, each shop will foster a rescue dog and urge their patrons to vote for their adorable new mascot to be named King Mutt.

London does a great job of developing characters who are likeable, engaging and relatable. Harper’s Type A personality is tons of fun (in London’s capable hands, she’s never irritating or unbelievable), and Jonah’s ability to step in and save the day for his family is a perfect example of how attractive sheer competence can be. It Started With a Dog is almost as good as a lavender latte.

Enemies to lovers is a favorite romance trope, and two new titles up the ante by making their central couples not just personal rivals but professional ones as well.

The stakes are high, the danger is imminent and the sexiness is through the roof in this trio of romantic suspense novels.

Author duo Kit Rocha is back with the second installment of the Mercenary Librarians series. The first, Deal With the Devil, introduced librarians Maya, Dani and Nina, who brokered a deal with a group of AWOL supersoldiers known as the Silver Devils to survive in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta. The Devil You Know is another exciting dystopian adventure packed with danger, sexy romance and fascinating world building.

Maya may not have the combat skills of her fellow librarians, but she’s got as much grit, determination and intelligence in her self-described “soft and squishy” body as anyone in her squad. Raised with the wealthy and well educated, she learned to speak dozens of languages and mastered advanced mathematics, astronomy, programming, cryptography and biochemistry. Now Maya uses her brilliance to help her small community learn to freeze-dry food while building a repository of information more useful and practical than any 20th-century library.

Gray is the consummate sniper—stoic, determined and laser-focused. The Silver Devils, who were once a private security group for medical and tech conglomerate TechCorps, were granted superhuman abilities by implants. But now those implants are deteriorating, and Gray has begun to experience seizures. Despite the secret kernel of affection he keeps buried in his heart for Maya, he’s more interested in keeping her alive and safe than in his arms.

Rocha’s writing is tight and purposeful, keeping readers on their toes as they, along with Maya and Gray, try to figure out who they can actually trust. There are moments of both gasping surprise and laugh-out-loud humor in this fun and totally unique romance.

Alexandra Ivy’s Faceless will ruin any preconceptions readers may have about safe, sleepy small towns.  

When Wynter Moore was 4, she witnessed the murder of her mother in a robbery gone wrong. Despite that trauma, she’s grown into a peaceful woman who lives a quiet life. For the past 25 years, Wynter has returned annually to her mother’s grave in Pike, Wisconsin, and Wynter’s longtime friend Noah Hunter is there waiting for her every time. Loyal, kind and dependable Noah has loved Wynter from afar ever since they met in grief counseling as teenagers, but he’s been hesitant to take things further because he knows that good friends are far more valuable than lovers. 

But then Wynter receives an unexpected envelope containing a still shot from surveillance footage of her mother’s murder, a clue that could unlock the killer’s identity. She turns to game warden Noah, who has been trained in observation and security, to help her investigate.

Ivy ably balances Wynter’s overwhelming emotions upon revisiting her mother’s death with the addictiveness of unraveling the truth. There’s a lot of details to unpack in this book, along with a lot of characters, which unfortunately turns down the slow burn of this friends-to-lovers romance to a simmer. It would have been nice to see a little more of Wynter and Noah’s romantic progression, but in the hectic world of romantic suspense, Faceless offers a breather: It’s a love story with a gentler pace, despite the life-threatening danger the main couple finds themselves in.

Adriana Anders ratchets up the tension to stratospheric heights in the highly anticipated follow-up to 2020’s Whiteout, Uncharted. Set in the Alaskan wilderness, this forced proximity romance delivers a suspenseful TKO.

With staccato-style sentences, Anders brings new and returning readers up to speed on the ruthless Chronos corporation, which has deployed a team of mercenaries and scientists to gain access to a deadly virus. The only thing standing in Chronos’ way is hotshot pilot Leo Eddowes and the other members of her secret military unit. 

Leo and her team have traveled to Alaska in search of a scientist who stole a vial of the virus from Chronos. When the daring Leo decides to follow a lead without the rest of her team, she ends up crashing her plane in the wilderness after being attacked by Chronos’ goons. Leo is saved by the mysterious Elias Thorne, who has his own tortured history with the evil corporation.

Uncharted is ultimately a romance about trust and instinct. Who can you trust? When should you let down your guard? Anders has created two great protagonists who are equally skilled and equally wary of one another. Every sentence, every scene, is packed with emotion, and readers can feel Leo and Elias falling in love as they team up to make it out alive. The landscape provides as strong a foe as the enemies who are pursuing the pair, which makes the story all the more stressful. This is an exhausting book, but in the best possible way. It’s like the literary version of a Bruce Springsteen song, one that’s meant to be sung loudly and reverberate from every pore into the universe.

The stakes are high, the danger is imminent and the sexiness is through the roof in this trio of romantic suspense novels.

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