Dolly R. Sickles

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.

This pair of enemies-to-lovers romances takes readers on a bicoastal journey from classic Los Angeles showbiz glitz to sleek Manhattan high-rises.

LA-based YA author Bridget Morrissey hits the ground running with her first adult novel, Love Scenes. Morrissey’s Angeleno bona fides shine through in this sweet and thoughtful rom-com that tackles real-world problems of addiction, sobriety and second chances with wit and wisdom.

Told in first person, Love Scenes follows Sloane Ford, actor and second-generation Hollywood royalty, as she contemplates retiring from the industry following the disastrous demise of her longtime gig on a TV crime procedural. But she’s quickly roped in to being the consulting producer of a new movie written by her stepfather, directed by her sister, co-starring her mother and starring Joseph Donovan, a fellow actor she never wanted to work with again after his difficult behavior during the one and only movie they made together.

Sloane’s gigantic family, with parents and siblings and steps galore, has the potential to overwhelm everything else in this romance—particularly since, in true Hollywood fashion, everyone is involved in showbiz. But they’re well rounded and secondary to the real focus of the story: Sloane and Joe. Despite the professional, generational and financial privilege Sloane could easily fall back on, she works hard and recognizes all the ways she’s been given a leg up in her career. She also recognizes, eventually, Joe's genuine effort to make amends. He was an emotional wreck and struggling with alcoholism when they last worked together, but now he’s sober and dedicated to keeping it that way. What follows is real emotional growth, true friendship and a satisfying love story.

Lauren Layne proves once again that she’s the queen of contemporary New York City romance with To Sir, With Love. Her breezy dialogue and delightful characters will fully immerse readers in this dreamy and sophisticated love story.

It’s easy to connect with Gracie Cooper right out of the gate. She’s an earnest, hopeful character anyone would love to call a friend. She’s crazy about her best friend’s baby, names the pigeons she feeds in the park, blurts out everything and blindly gives herself over to the attraction she feels to “Sir,” the mystery man she’s been chatting with under the name “Lady” through a dating app called MysteryMate. All of that, and she’s set aside her own dreams to keep her late father’s champagne shop, Bubbles & More, in business.

Gracie thinks she’s fallen in love with Sir. But if she has, how can she also be so drawn to Sebastian Andrews, the man whose company wants to buy out Bubbles & More’s lease? At first glance, Sebastian is the villain in this fairy tale, but the more Gracie learns about the businessman, the more the goodness in her recognizes the goodness in him. Sebastian is kind and supportive and recognizes the community impact his business decisions could cause. And the more time they spend in one another’s company, the more he suspects the possibility of Gracie being the Lady to his Sir.

This hopeful, happy love story sparkles with fairy dust, even as Layne makes it clear how high the professional and personal stakes are for her main couple. The superb characterization of Gracie and Sebastian and the parallel journeys they take toward one another make To Sir, With Love a wonderfully satisfying romance.

This pair of enemies-to-lovers romances takes readers on a bicoastal journey from classic Los Angeles showbiz glitz to sleek Manhattan high-rises.

Kerry Winfrey’s Very Sincerely Yours is a sweet and lighthearted rom-com that will appeal to readers who prefer stories that focus more on character than conflict.

Teddy Phillips spent the last six years believing that being in the background was just as important as being in the spotlight. At least that’s what her boyfriend, Richard, was happy to let her believe. She built him up, letting his needs take precedence in their relationship, and he let her. Because he was a doctor and therefore important, and she just worked at a vintage toy shop, which was unimportant, he was also happy to let her shoulder the weight of making their life easier. Orderly. Maintained. Boring.

It isn’t until Richard asks Teddy to move out that she realizes she’s lost herself along the way. She’s put more focus on making the people in her life happy and content rather than focusing on what she wants to do and to be. Bolstered by good friends, a bucket list and a resolution to “find her thing,” Teddy reaches out to Everett St. James, the host of "Everett’s Place," a local children show that’s gone from one of Teddy’s guilty pleasures to a treasured comfort watch. That’s due in large part to Everett, who is soothing, kind and focused on building up his young viewers' self-esteem.

Everett is a technicolor man who lives in the spotlight that Teddy has shunned. He’s doing exactly what he wants and is happy to offer advice to the children who write to his show. So when an adult woman writes in to get advice, he answers. Teddy and Everett begin a truly satisfying epistolary relationship through email, which is one of the most enjoyable elements of the book. Their personalities and humor shine through their notes to each other. Everett, in life and in epistolary prose, is a wonderful creation. Next to his rich, full characterization, Teddy can feel a bit lackluster and unsure, but it’s hard not to relate to her all the same. Who hasn’t felt less important, less settled, less driven . . . just less, at some point?

Very Sincerely Yours is a reminder of how important it is for you to focus on you—on the things that make you happy, that make you feel good, and on all your goals and hopes and dreams.

Kerry Winfrey’s Very Sincerely Yours is a sweet and lighthearted rom-com that will appeal to readers who prefer stories that focus more on character than conflict.

These five queer romances are the perfect blend of swoon-inducing and serious, balancing delicious escapism with examinations of thorny issues such as family expectations, the grieving process and the corrosive influence of the British class system.

 The Queer Principles of Kit Webb

Set in Georgian-era England, Cat Sebastian’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb takes a charming, gratifyingly original perspective on love across the class divide. The titular Kit is a gruff retired highwayman-turned-coffee house proprietor who truly despises the aristocracy. Edward Percy Talbot, Lord Holland, is one of the British class system’s greatest beneficiaries. A dandy and marquess, Percy is the heir to a prosperous dukedom held by one of England’s most notorious abusers of aristocratic privilege and power.

Kit is skeptical when the conspicuously costumed and brazenly flirtatious popinjay starts to haunt his coffee shop on a daily basis. Percy’s position in the world is more precarious than one would expect, however, and he approaches the disillusioned highwayman to do one last job. Their mission: steal a book that Percy’s father keeps on his person at all times, one whose contents will provide leverage and financial security for Percy, his stepmother and his infant half -sister.

Kit retired after his last job went wrong, incurring a serious injury and losing his best friend and partner. Because of this, he trains Percy to take the main role in the heist, putting them in close physical proximity.

Their sexual tension is a living, breathing thing on the page, but mercifully, Sebastian doesn’t leave them in want for long. And there’s plenty of sparkling dialogue to go with their physical connection. Kit has very clear opinions about the privilege Percy is fighting to protect, and their conversations about class and politics are uniformly excellent and fascinating. Kit Webb will surprise and delight not only fans of Sebastian and queer historical romance but also readers who are new to both.

—Carole V. Bell

Hard Sell

Hudson Lin’s intricate, weighty Hard Sell follows the ramifications of a sexy one-night stand. A business acquisition reunites private equity investor Danny Ip and finance guru Tobin Lok seven years after the childhood friends finally gave in to their mutual attraction. Danny is interested in buying and shutting down WesTec, a buzzy tech startup. As an independent financial consultant, Tobin has been tasked with helping WesTec avoid bankruptcy, or at the very least, making sure Danny doesn’t undervalue the company in order to make a profit. The spark between them remains despite the time and distance—but so do the complications around their potential romance, which extend beyond Tobin’s tricky professional position.

When they were growing up, Tobin’s tightknit family was big and meddlesome, but it was also a bastion of safety and belonging to Danny, who was Tobin’s older brother’s best friend. As an only child whose single mother was constantly working, Danny thought the Loks’ house was heaven. But for Tobin, the youngest son with a desperate crush on Danny, his family’s “well-intentioned smothering” was and remains difficult.

Lin creates a loving, traditional family with the Loks, but she also shows their tone-deaf attitudes toward Tobin’s life as a gay man in a very real, palpable way. Tobin’s mother calls regularly, and his brother sends photos of Tobin’s nephew. Tobin yearns for acceptance beyond superficial inclusion, but he has no idea whether a potential relationship with Danny would make things better or immeasurably worse.

Much is at stake for these men, who have banked their love for one another for nearly a decade. But when Danny and Tobin finally give in to their hearts, the result is euphoric.

—Dolly R. Sickles

 Satisfaction Guaranteed

When Cade Elgin travels from her New York City home to Portland, Oregon, for her aunt’s funeral, she’s totally unprepared for her inheritance: her aunt’s sex-toy store, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Cade is a careful, conservative businesswoman, with no room in her life for shenanigans or the wacky gold lamé preferences of her fellow funeralgoers. Fortunately, her new business partner-in-inheritance, Selena Mathis, has the passion and whimsy to balance Cade’s business prowess. Having taken a self-imposed oath of celibacy after some relationship troubles, Selena doesn’t want anything to do with the unexpected attraction she feels for Cade.

Oregon writer Karelia Stetz-Waters employs humor like a finely trained chef, sprinkling in lighthearted moments precisely when heavier topics require a little levity. Death, inheritance and responsibility are weighty conversations for any new romantic duo, but Cade and Selena’s ability to synchronize with one another is remarkable. Satisfaction Guaranteed is a standout romance with humor, heart and two characters who step out of their comfort zones together.

—Dolly R. Sickles

How to Find a Princess

Alyssa Cole returns with the second installment of her Runaway Royals series, How to Find a Princess, and it’s just as fun, smart and challenging as last year’s How to Catch a Queen. Readers can count on this series to deliver total immersion into a sweeping, romantic alternate reality and intelligent, complicated female characters.

Beznaria Chetchevaliere is an investigator for the World Federation of Monarchies, and she’s searching for Makeda Hicks, the lost heir of the idyllic kingdom of Ibarania. Decades ago, Makeda’s grandmother had a hot summer fling with the then-heir to the throne, Prince Keshan. The pragmatic Makeda is thrown by this information, which reveals that a family tall tale is not only true but also potentially life-changing. She’s already reeling from recently losing her job and her girlfriend, so seeing the magic in her potentially royal lineage feels impossible; rather, it seems like a solemn, daunting duty she never asked for.

Cole’s allusions to the animated 1997 film Anastasia will delight fans, and anyone fascinated by the story of the Romanov princess will be tickled, but Cole’s take on the lost heir mythos is a more mature tale with hefty stakes.

—Dolly R. Sickles

 Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake

In Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Alexis Hall (Boyfriend Material) explores contemporary class and societal expectations through believable characters who struggle with substantial pain and self-doubt.

Rosaline is a bisexual woman with a privileged pedigree. Both of her parents are highly successful doctors, and she grew up in one of London’s most affluent districts. But after a surprise pregnancy during her time at Cambridge, she’s now a doting mom who makes delicious baked creations with her precocious 8-year-old daughter, Amelie.

Competing on the BBC’s popular baking competition show “Baked Expectations” could be Rosaline’s ticket out of financial disaster. But even though she rejected the path her parents chose for her, Rosaline hasn’t managed to throw off the values and expectations they inculcated in her. When she arrives at the competition to find it full of potential love interests, she sees them through a class-based filter. Rosaline may stand up to biphobia, especially around her daughter, but she also repeatedly, reflexively upholds class and gender biases. For example, she deems her lovely co-star Harry off-limits because of his working-class accent and profession.

Despite the heavy subject matter, this rom-com provides a cornucopia of cringey, laugh-out-loud moments. Its combination of social insight and comedy makes for a surprisingly twisty tale. (Rosaline has multiple love interests, and it’s not clear who she will choose for large swaths of the story.) This complexity also means that the central romance doesn’t get as much page time as one would expect. The scenes between Rosaline and her eventual soul mate are gorgeous but scarce, which might leave some readers wanting more. Nonetheless, Hall’s creation is a joy—a deeply emotional and ultimately rewarding story about a woman finding her true path and true love, surrounded by delicious baked goods on a BBC soundstage.

—Carole V. Bell

These queer romances have the perfect balance between sweet love stories and substantial issues like grief and class.

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