Elizabeth Mazer

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Before I picked up Sarah Adler’s debut novel, I had no idea that what I needed in life was a love story about grounded flights, olive oil spills, broccoli trivia, precisely three tablespoons of cremated remains and that weird thing where you always run into people you know at the airport. If you’re in the mood to giggle helplessly while falling in love with absurdly endearing characters, then Mrs. Nash’s Ashes will be just what you need, too.

Former child star Millicent Watts-Cohen left acting behind years ago, but she is still famous enough to get asked, “Hey, don’t I know you?” by an endless string of people—some sweet, some obnoxious and some just plain gross. One might expect Millie to be cynical or jaded, but she stubbornly insists on being pure sunshine, open and optimistic. Her wholehearted romanticism leads her to transport the titular bag of ashes to Florida. Mrs. Nash was Millie’s roommate and, despite their decadeswide age gap, her best friend. The love of Mrs. Nash’s life was Elsie, a nurse she met during World War II. Because a future together seemed impossible, they went their separate ways, and Elsie reportedly died 10 years later. But after Mrs. Nash dies herself, Millie discovers that Elsie is still alive, in hospice at a retirement center in Florida. As a last gift to Mrs. Nash, Millie decides to bring her ashes to Elsie, reuniting the two women at last. 

Unfortunately, that mission hits a snag when a technical snafu grounds swarms of airplanes. But luckily, the world’s grumpiest white knight rides to Millie’s rescue. Hollis Hollenbeck, a friend of Millie’s ex, might grouse and grumble, but he saves Millie starting with the very first scene of the book, in which he fends off a particularly icky fan. After the rental cars are snapped up, he offers her a lift with him to Florida. Hollis insists that he’s only helping her for his own peace of mind (he’s convinced Millie would cheerfully assist some creep in kidnapping her if left to her own devices), but she has him pegged right from the start. He’s not nice—not at all. But he’s kind. And also really hot, of course.

Opposites attract plus a road trip isn’t a new combination. In the reader’s guide, Adler references the O.G.: It Happened One Night, Frank Capra’s classic 1934 rom-com. Many have followed in Capra’s footsteps, but the familiarity of the plot doesn’t take one iota of pleasure away from watching Hollis and Millie come together. Millie’s a delight, quirky and sweet without ever seeming saccharine or insincere. And Hollis is almost more endearing for how hard he tries not to be sweet. He’s doing everything he can to keep from being charmed, but all his defenses fall by the wayside whenever Millie needs him. Romance readers will know that Millie and Hollis’ story has a happy ending, but it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey—and this journey is an absolute treat.

This grumpy-sunshine romance is an absolute treat, and a superb debut from Sarah Adler.
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When ghostwriter Chandler Cohen has a wildly disappointing one-night stand with actor Finn Walsh, she chalks it up to the perils of casual sex and moves on. But then she finds out that Finn is her new client—and he’d really appreciate it if, when they’re not working on his book, she taught him how to satisfy a woman properly.

Sex in romance novels is often idealized and aspirational, but you absolutely turn that on its head in this book! What made you want to create a handsome, charming, appealing hero who’s genuinely awful at sex?
I love subverting tropes whenever I can, and while I adore romance novels, the sex can sometimes feel a bit airbrushed. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s exactly what I want to read. Other times, though, I’m eager to see more varied, more realistic sexual experiences on the page—and those can absolutely still be hot. I would argue that sometimes they’re even hotter. 

There’s a reason I only ever write beta heroes: I love the awkwardness and fumbling and blushing. It’s far sexier to me to read (and write) a spicy scene between two people working together to learn what each other likes, especially because this lends itself to significant character and relationship growth. Communication is crucial in these scenes, and when the sex is bad, there needs to be a lot of communication to make it better. That journey makes the end result all the more satisfying.

With Finn, I wanted to challenge myself: Could I redeem a hero who’s bad in bed? Would readers still root for that character? (I hope so! He’s quite sincere about wanting to improve, and he is a very good listener.) That’s also why I made his most famous role a nerdy scientist type who wasn’t the main character of his show: I didn’t want him to be typical leading man material. 

“There’s a reason I only ever write beta heroes: I love the awkwardness and fumbling and blushing.”

I was intrigued by the comparison Finn made between ghostwriting and acting—how both are a chance to escape from your own story for a little while and live in someone else’s. Is that something you enjoy as an author?
It’s truly my favorite thing, and it’s why I studied journalism. I am so curious about people, and journalism gave me a noncreepy way to ask them questions about themselves. In all seriousness, though, it’s such a privilege to get to learn about what someone loves and then to try and bring that passion to the page.

Book jacket image for Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

As you note in Business or Pleasure, there are countless different ways to approach writing a memoir. Did you read a lot of them for research? Do you have any particular favorites?
I’ve read plenty of celebrity memoirs over the years, so in a way, I was researching before I started writing! I also spoke to a few ghostwriters about their experiences, which helped me add more depth as I was drafting. I will admit that the first memoir I read post-Business or Pleasure happened to be Prince Harry’s Spare. I found myself trying to determine which turns of phrase might have been massaged by the ghostwriter and which ones might have been exactly as the subject had spoken them. That was the first book where I felt I could really see the ghostwriter. 

As for favorites, Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now? really struck a chord with me. I also loved both of Mindy Kaling’s books and Judy Greer’s I Don’t Know What You Know Me From.

Outlines and planning of all sorts are very important to Chandler. Is that a trait you share? What did that add to her character for you?
Perhaps to my own detriment at times, but yes! My process usually begins with some character work, learning their backstories and what brought them to the places they’re at when the book opens. Then I outline. I recently started using Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat and can’t believe it took me this long to pick it up. Total game changer.

The outlines Chandler uses were my editor’s idea. In my first draft, Chandler’s sex-ed instruction was interwoven with the “practical” portion of her lessons, and it messed with the flow of the intimate scenes—they’d be getting into it, and she’d pause to give him a lecture on anatomy. The outline suggestion was great because it speaks to how Chandler is a planner who’s spent years chaining herself to a career that isn’t giving her what she needs. She takes the job with Finn in hopes of getting out of a professional rut, and it wrecks her plans in the best possible way. 

“My characters don’t love each other in spite of whatever else they happen to be dealing with. They simply love each other, full stop.”

In Chandler’s lessons with Finn, she talks about how movies and TV tend to focus on the male gaze. It could be said that heterosexual romance tends to focus on the female gaze. Do you agree?
I agree to an extent, yes. But I think this can get tricky because the male gaze so often sexualizes women, and just as I’m not interested in media featuring women as sex objects, I never want to write men as sex objects either. That’s not progress. While my books center women’s desires because I’m mainly writing from a single point of view, my heroes’ desires are still present, and my hope is that these relationships feel healthy and balanced. 

The Lord of the Rings books were deeply formative for Finn. Was there a series like that for you? One you connected with as a child or a teen that still holds a lot of resonance?
Yes, absolutely! The Princess Diaries books were my comfort reads, and they always feel like slipping back into conversation with an old friend. I have distinct memories of sitting in an aisle of Borders (RIP) with the latest volume, trying not to read the whole thing before I could bring it home but unable to stop myself from turning the pages.

You render the world of fan conventions so vividly! Do you have much experience with them?
Thank you! I’ve been to Emerald City Comic Con a few times, and I’ve always loved the energy there and how cons are a place where people can be unashamedly passionate about what they love. One of my early ideas for Business or Pleasure actually sparked at a con many years ago at a panel with a few “Buffy” actors. I found it fascinating that their careers mainly centered on the con circuit and wondered what that might be like—to be most well known for something you did two decades ago.

I’m this weird combination in that I studied journalism, which revolves around interviewing strangers, but I also have moments of intense shyness. Most of my con experiences were with my now-husband, and he’d always have a joke or anecdote ready for a celebrity, while I’d give an awkward smile and struggle to make eye contact. Essentially, I’d be terrible at Chandler’s job!

Read our starred review of ‘Business or Pleasure’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

I loved the specificity of your portrayal of the Jewish experience, from looking for matzo ball soup when you’re sick, to seeking out menorahs in holiday movies, to going to services and realizing you still remember all the words. Why was it important that Chandler and Finn shared a Jewish background?
While all my protagonists are Jewish, I tend to go back and forth with my heroes. For Business or Pleasure, I wanted another point of connection between Chandler and Finn. They’re coming from two different worlds, but they have more in common than they initially realized, from a shared feeling of imposter syndrome to mental health to religion. 

You don’t shy away from serious topics in Business or Pleasure, including mental health and abortion. What made you decide to include those subjects? What story possibilities did they open up for you?
I never want my writing to feel didactic, but mental health tends to play a key role in my books because it’s often at the forefront of my own mind, and it’s been a long journey for me to feel comfortable and safe in my own brain. 

I want to test the limits of what we can call a romantic comedy, because I still consider my books rom-coms even when they deal with depression or grief or any number of “heavier” topics. And I put that in quotes because while those things might seem heavy for a rom-com, they’re so much a part of our regular, nonfictional lives, and humans still manage to fall in love all the time. My characters don’t love each other in spite of whatever else they happen to be dealing with. They simply love each other, full stop.

Photo of Rachel Lynn Solomon © Sabreen Lakhani.

The author of Business or Pleasure wants realism in her rom-coms.
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Chandler Cohen has reached rock bottom. Her dreams of being an author have deflated into a career as a ghostwriter. Her dreams of a relationship with her longtime crush died with a whimper when he gave her the “It’s not you (except it’s totally you)” talk after they finally hooked up. And the cute, fun guy with whom she had a spontaneous romp turned out to be the worst lay she’d ever had. The cherry on top? An interview for a new ghostwriting gig—the memoir of a former second fiddle on a hit supernatural show from 10 years back—reunites Chandler with her horizontal tango partner from her one-night snafu. He’s her new client.

Finn Walsh, better known as Oliver Huxley from “The Nocturnals,” has been working steadily since he was a nerdy Lord of the Rings-obsessed kid, desperate to lose himself in make-believe to distract him from his emotionally abusive father and his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. “The Nocturnals” was the highest his star ever rose, and he’s now settled into made-for-TV movies and paid appearances at fan conventions. Lots of fan conventions. After Chandler agrees to write Finn’s memoir, she crisscrosses the country by his side, helping him figure out how to tell his story, figuring out what she wants her own story to be—and teaching him better bedroom technique.

Why Rachel Lynn Solomon wrote a hero who needs to learn to be better in bed.

Rachel Lynn Solomon has a lot to say in Business or Pleasure, analyzing the hierarchy of celebrity culture; the way even liberal, urban, educated adults find it hard to talk about sex, especially bad sex; and the mysterious allure of monthly subscription boxes. Fortunately, she says it all very, very well. Her voice is sharp, funny and penetrating, describing her characters with warmth and affection without letting them off the hook. 

Finn is an appealing and charming hero who is open to improving himself, especially when it comes to his performance in bed. His experience with OCD isn’t a gimmick but an important aspect of his life that Solomon explores through thoughtful details such as Finn’s day-to-day fixations on cleanliness in restaurants and living quarters, and the microaggressions he hears from the more toxic people in his life.

Chandler, meanwhile, is also supremely relatable: a former “gifted kid” who was constantly told she’d be a big success. Over the years, she whittled her dreams down to size, but it’s still uncomfortable for her to realize this is where she’s landed. She may be the leader when it comes to Finn’s sexual education, but she’s still the follower in other situations, as Solomon avoids making her either a waif needing to be saved or an angel come down from heaven. She’s real and flawed and likable and fun.

Solomon dives wholeheartedly into the messiness of life and emerges with a beautiful, moving, truly romantic story about characters readers will appreciate and understand on a deep level.

Rachel Lynn Solomon’s sharp, funny and penetrating Business or Pleasure dives into the messiness of life and emerges with a truly romantic love story.
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Cruel Seduction

Think you know your Greek myths? Think again, and keep thinking, because Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series is a twisted web that keeps getting twistier. Cruel Seduction, the fifth entry in the series, starts with a wedding, a shaky alliance . . . and a rabid populace that has just learned that they could potentially become powerful beyond measure if they’re willing to get their hands a little bloody.

The gods are here, but not quite in the way you might expect them: The modern city of Olympus is ruled by the Thirteen, who are headed by Zeus, but that’s not actually his name; it’s his title. All of the Thirteen are titles, and some of them were won fairly recently. The new Aphrodite, Eris Kasios, has only been in the position for about a year, but she’s been heavily involved in politics all her life as the daughter of the former Zeus and the sister of the current one. And the new Hephaestus, Theseus Vitalis, is an even more recent arrival who won the title by taking advantage of an obscure rule and killing his predecessor. The rest of the Thirteen have agreed not to end his life in retaliation, but only if he marries Aphrodite so they can gain some control over him.

Longtime fans of the series will appreciate the way Robert keeps raising the stakes. Tensions are cresting, and multiple assassination attempts, complex plots to undermine the city’s stability and hints of a dangerous new adversary lurking in the shadows create a palpable sense of impending doom. Mixed in with all of that is a heady, barbed romance full of lush encounters and sharp edges. Hephaestus and Aphrodite try to use sex to one-up and control each other, and things get heated in a hurry, especially when extra players join the game. Aphrodite seduces Hephaestus’ foster sister, Pandora, a calculated move that leads to a startlingly genuine connection. Meanwhile, Hephaestus is stunned to find himself bonding with—and falling for—Aphrodite’s ex, Adonis. The four characters come together in sensual detail in many permutations, and Robert contrasts the growing tenderness between them with the building chaos outside the bedroom.

If you like easy, escapist romances, this series may not be for you. In just about every way, Dark Olympus is a lot: a lot of varied, explicit sex, often with light BDSM elements; a lot of tense, violent conflict; and a whole lot of story to keep up with. Readers who haven’t read the first four books in the series will come in feeling like they’ve transferred schools as a high school senior, with three previous years of relationship sagas, messy in-group fighting, complex hookups and breakups, and gnarled family trees to sort through. But for those looking to experience something heated and dangerous, Cruel Seduction will be just right.

Marry Me by Midnight

The Cinderella story has been tackled from dozens of different angles. The Brothers Grimm took a crack at it, Rossini based an opera on it, the first film version dates back to 1899 and various remakes include multiple Disney versions, Jerry Lewis’ Cinderfella and plenty more besides. It’s a testament to the enduring strength of the story that there always seems to be another way to put a fresh spin on it. The latest is Felicia Grossman’s Marry Me by Midnight, a Jewish, genderswapped Cinderella set in 1832 London.

Grossman’s “prince” is Isabelle Lira, a Jewish heiress with marriage on her mind. Her father has recently died, and she aspires to honor his legacy by taking his position in his surety company. The problem is that the Berabs, her father’s partners, are threatening to upend the business if she does not agree to marry one of them. To get a better position at the bargaining table, she needs a husband who’s a force to be reckoned with. So Isabelle goes all out to find him, holding a series of three festivals and inviting all the eligible Jewish men in the community. To stack the deck in her favor, she decides to dig up some dirt on her potential suitors and hires Aaron Ellenberg to assist. This Cinderfella’s plight isn’t due to an evil stepmother, but rather a lack of family and resources. A poor orphan, Aaron works as a custodian at the synagogue, leading a quiet life until Isabelle sweeps in and changes everything.

It’s remarkable how genderswapping a story can totally shift the balance of power. Isabelle is as elite as any fairy-tale prince, and yet simply because she’s a woman, her husband hunt takes on a new and far more urgent tone. Likewise, Aaron, as a man, has much more agency than your typical Cinderella. He’s able to live independently, chart his own course, even contemplate the idea of starting over in America. But he faces a different kind of judgment, too, with his low social status treated as a personal failure rather than a result of his circumstances. Meanwhile, Grossman’s choice to set Aaron and Isabelle’s romance at a particularly delicate time for the Jewish community in the U.K.—when legislation was being debated that would eventually guarantee Jewish men the same rights as all English men—adds a special poignancy. For all the wealth and privilege that most of these characters possess, there’s still a sense of otherness, of striving for acceptance that might be coming . . . or might be delayed yet again. In this troubled atmosphere, Aaron and Isabelle’s decision to choose love, courage and kindness over everything else resonates that much louder and feels that much sweeter.

The messy relationships of Greek mythology get messier and the fairy-tale love story of Cinderella gets genderswapped in these two books.
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Recently divorced Gillian Armstead-Bancroft has returned to Freedom, Kansas, with two kids, no money, seriously dented self-respect—and a curse that’s robbed her of her magical powers. Nothing in life has turned out as this always-good girl (and secret bruja) thought it would. And when a good girl is under a curse that turns all her good intentions to ash, the obvious fix is to try out being bad. Preferably with her childhood friend, Nicky Mendoza, who is now a successful artist and still the only man who has ever satisfied her in bed. Meanwhile, things are changing in the town of Freedom. The run-down East Side is getting a boost, and Gillian’s noisy, nosy family is leading the charge. There’s a role there for Gillian, if she’s willing to take it . . . and if she can let go of the idea that success looks like the life she left behind, which was all big-city sparkle, name-brand luxury and soul-crushing emptiness.

Angelina M. Lopez’s Full Moon Over Freedom, her sequel to After Hours on Milagro Street, delivers on all expectations. It’s both powerful and sweet to see Gillian and Nicky rekindle their romance. They’ve lived separate lives for the past 13 years, but from the moment they reunite, Nicky is once again the only person Gillian lets herself be truly honest with. And when it comes to her sexuality—her needs, her desires—their compatibility is off the charts. If you’re a reader who enjoys the “healed by the magic of great sex” trope, you will absolutely love this book. Mixing in with all of the classic plot elements is actual magic, which in Lopez’s hands is tangible, present and beautifully imperfect. Refreshingly, it doesn’t solve all of Gillian and Nicky’s problems and it also results in contact with the spirit realm, moments that are alternately unsettling and enchanting—sometimes both at once.

Gillian’s Mexican American identity, which Lopez shares, radiates throughout the book. Full Moon Over Freedom unpacks the Latinx history of Kansas, showing how the struggles of women in the past trickle down into the prejudices of today through an infuriating heartbreaker of a historical story based on a real court case. This is the work of a writer who knows and celebrates her community and her culture. It’s also a love story that embraces the unusual, celebrates the unsung and makes you believe the words of another famous Kansan: There’s no place like home.

Full Moon Over Freedom celebrates the unsung Latinx history of Kansas while telling a second-chance love story that’s powerful, sexy and sweet.
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Who doesn’t love a good renovation story? Whether it’s the experts of “Queer Eye” making lifestyle improvements, Marie Kondo organizing clutter, the beloved hosts of “What Not to Wear” upgrading a wardrobe (still waiting on that reboot, TLC) or the “Property Brothers” giving a home a much-needed tuneup, we all like to watch professionals take a mess and rework, renew and restore it into something beautiful. There’s a hopefulness to renovations, too, in the idea that everything has hidden potential just waiting to be brought to light. And the main couple of Ashley Herring Blake’s Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail? Well, let’s just say they could use some touch-ups. 

Carpenter Jordan Everwood has been spiraling since the abrupt, heartbreaking end of her marriage. On top of that, the place she loves most—her beloved grandmother’s historic Everwood Inn—is on the verge of closing. Their only hope is a renovation covered by “Innside America,” a popular TV show. But filming the show means working with glamorous, ice-cold designer Astrid Parker, with whom Jordan has a disastrous meet-ugly. Astrid is beautiful, composed, organized, efficient—and also desperately unhappy, locked in a life that doesn’t bring her any joy. And now, to save her stalled career, she’ll have to work with the exasperating, sarcastic, gorgeous, immensely talented Jordan, who thwarts and upstages her at every turn.

Far from being a match made in heaven, Astrid and Jordan seem more like a lit match and a fuse. It takes time for them to let down their walls, reveal their vulnerabilities and allow themselves to be seen and valued for who they really are. While Astrid is the eponymous character, Jordan’s journey actually proves the most moving. Practically from page one, it’s clear that Astrid’s relationship with her mother is toxic and that she’ll only find happiness when she learns to stand on her own. Her discovery of what truly brings her joy is sweet and satisfying (satisfying in every way—this is a romance novel, after all), but the plot threads feel fairly familiar. On the other hand, the lessons Jordan has to learn are not as immediately clear. I felt like I discovered along with her what she needed to hear someone say to her, what she needed to uncover about herself and, ultimately, what she deserved from life.

Why do we like renovation stories so much? Maybe because all of us are works in progress, too. There’s always the hope that, like Astrid and Jordan, we might end up renovated and restored into exactly who we’re meant to be—with exactly the partner we’re meant to have.

Ashley Herring Blake’s follow-up to Delilah Green Doesn’t Care is a hot and hopeful renovation romance.
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Readers who loved the spunky, charming witches of St. Claire, introduced in Ann Aguirre’s previous Fix-It Witches romances, Witch Please and Boss Witch, will be thrilled to have a chance to dive back into her madcap world of magic and romance with Extra Witchy

Having had two marriages end in divorce, Leanne Vanderpol may be twice burned, but she’s not remotely shy. When she meets Trevor Montgomery, she asks him if he’s interested in being her third husband. It’s a teasing pickup line at first, but it soon becomes a serious question—and a careful plan. After working in public relations for the slimy mayor, Leanne’s ready to emerge from behind the scenes and make a difference by running for city council. But she knows single women struggle to get elected, especially ones with divorces in their past. A sweet, charming, supportive husband could provide just the bump she needs to win over voters.

Trevor is certainly sweet and charming, but he’s also a little lost. He was popular in high school but never quite managed to find his footing afterward, and now he lives in his parents’ basement, working odd jobs and spending a lot of time getting high. A devastating breakup years earlier damaged his confidence, and his harshly critical family discourages him from seeking treatment for his depression. At first, he’s stunned that a beautiful, successful woman like Leanne would have any interest in him, but she’s equally surprised to find a kind man who has her back, supports her and values her for her mind as much as for her lovely face.

An accomplished woman and a more relaxed guy is always an appealing couple dynamic, and Extra Witchy is a perfect example of why. Trevor’s magnificently endearing without seeming unrealistic, and Leanne is a fantastic heroine: smart, strong, refreshingly frank and far more relatable than you’d expect, with carefully hidden vulnerabilities. They’re both immediately likable individuals who make a truly adorable couple. Fans of the series will be delighted to see more of the community set up in the previous books, from Leanne’s wonderful coven of witches to Trevor’s friends. The story does cover lots of ground, and as a result, some plot threads feel a bit rushed: The campaign starts the plot spinning, but then it’s over and done in what feels like just a flash. However, that’s just another sign of how engrossing Extra Witchy is. Even when I reached the end, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters.

Ann Aguirre's latest paranormal romance is magnificently endearing, with two likable main characters who make a truly adorable couple.
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Think life is full of bureaucracy? Try death! According to Therese Beharrie’s A Ghost in Shining Armor, there’s a whole system at work once someone dies to help their soul move on to whatever comes next. For some, this means lingering as ghosts, visible only to rare humans like Gemma Daniels who help them resolve unfinished business. For others, death comes with an opportunity to take on an assignment . . . and maybe change their fate. This is what happens to Levi Walker: If he succeeds as a guardian angel, he”ll come back to life. And the person he’s been assigned to help just happens to be Gemma. 

Gemma’s not freaked out at being approached by a ghost, given all the spirits she’s helped since she saw her first ghost at age 18. But unfortunately, her and Levi’s first meeting goes a little off the rails. If Gemma doesn’t acknowledge ghosts, they stay insubstantial and invisible to everyone but her. But if she acknowledges the spirit—touches them, talks to them or points them out to someone else, they become corporeal and visible to everyone. And because she accidentally acknowledges Levi, not realizing he’s a ghost, he now appears alive, leading to great confusion from her friends and family about the new man in her life. That scrutiny is the last thing she wants as she grapples with new information about her past: She has a twin sister (the heroine of Beharrie’s previous romance, And They Lived Happily Ever After). Levi was sent to help Gemma process the discovery that her twin was left in foster care while Gemma was adopted. 

If this premise sounds a little zany, that’s because it is. There are plenty of hijinks, starting with Gemma and Levi’s impulsive meet cute kiss and continuing through fake dates, awkward cohabitation moments and all the banter and snark you’d expect from a rom-com. But Beharrie includes deeper character insights that balance the fluff. A Ghost in Shining Armor is as richly imagined as it is deeply moving, while being quite a lot of fun, as well. The tone can be a bit uneven in spots as Beharrie balances the humor and the pathos, but her characters are endearing enough to carry readers through.

A Ghost in Shining Armor is as richly imagined as it is deeply moving—and quite a lot of fun, as well.
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Lizzie Blake knows that she’s a lot. A lot of energy and enthusiasm. A lot of creativity and vibrant warmth. But also a lot of mess and chaos. Her attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can make things difficult, given that she lives in a world built for people whose brains don’t function like hers. After a lifetime of being labeled a disappointment by her stuffy, judgmental parents, it’s clear to her that “a lot” translates to “too much” for most people, particularly when it comes to long-term romance. She sticks to one-night stands until a birth control screw-up during a fling with Rake, a gorgeous Australian on vacation, results in a very permanent relationship—with the baby she decides to carry to term. When Rake insists on moving stateside so they can coparent, Lizzie knows that the smart move would be to avoid getting attached to him. But that proves trickier and trickier when they start living together, then sleeping together and then falling in love in spite of themselves.

Mazey Eddings’ Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake doesn’t shy away from the very real problems that the titular character’s ADHD causes. You understand why Lizzie’s boss gets aggravated with her chronic lateness and her habit of losing track of important projects. You flinch a little on behalf of her roommate when Lizzie admits to losing yet another borrowed item. But Eddings also explores the depths of shame that Lizzie feels every time she’s made aware of another mistake. It’s easier for Lizzie to dwell on what she’s doing wrong instead of what she’s doing right, and it takes a lot of soul-searching—and a lot of encouragement from Rake—for her to realize that the ratio between her wrongs and rights isn’t what she thought.

Mazey Eddings wants a happily ever after for every brain.

Despite his own internal conflicts, including a commitment-phobic approach to romantic entanglements, Rake’s main role in the story is to open Lizzie’s eyes to all she has to offer. Even when she sees herself as a mess, he sees her as beautiful, charming, clever and endearing. Is he a little too perfect? Perhaps. But readers turn to romance novels because we want to believe that there are men like Rake out there: gorgeous, kind men who will come through even when things get messy; thoughtful and insightful men who will love their partners the way they deserve to be loved. Though the romance is a bit unbalanced—Lizzie doesn’t spend an equal amount of time showing Rake that he deserves to be loved as well—it’s hard to complain about seeing a woman who doubted her own value get showered with love, appreciation and respect.

Mazey Eddings’ rom-com situates readers deep within the point of view of her main character, letting them share in the highs and lows of her experiences with ADHD.
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So, you made your way through not only “Bridgerton” but every other historical miniseries you could get your hands on, and now you’re faced with the daunting task of picking out a Regency romance novel from approximately one million titles. Don’t worry—we’re here to help. There are tons of terrific books out there, and because the subgenre has more variety than you might expect, we’ve added a complementary television series to each recommendation below to help you scope out the vibe.

A Duchess by Midnight

Miss Drewsmina “Drew” Trelayne is determined to make a name for herself as a guide for young debutantes embarking on their London season in A Duchess by Midnight by Charis Michaels. When her newly royal stepsister, Cynde, uses her connections to secure Drew’s first paying client, Drew has her work cut out for her. How can she teach the Duke of Lachlan’s troubled nieces proper deportment and etiquette when she can’t seem to stop herself from breaking all the rules with the irresistible, scandal-ridden duke?

Read if you loved “The Baby-Sitters Club”

Yes, we’re really comparing a Regency romance to a TV show based on a series of chapter books, and here’s why. Both A Duchess by Midnight and the recent Netflix adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s popular series, which launched in 1986, take a story that had grown a bit stagnant in our imaginations and make it feel fresh without losing the magic of the original. Drewsmina is a Regency version of the stepsisters from Disney’s Cinderella, and through her, Michaels breathes new life into a slightly dusty fairy tale. Far from being a two-dimensional figure, Drewsmina becomes the fully realized heroine of her own story by being willing to grow and change. Her less-than-perfect past makes her the ideal person to reach the lonely, isolated duke and his two wary girls in this charming twist on an age-old story.

Nobody’s Princess

Kunigunde “Kuni” de Heusch is determined to become the first Royal Guardswoman of Balcovia. She can’t get distracted by anyone or anything—not even Graham Wynchester. But when Graham interferes with her mission at the beginning of Erica Ridley’s Nobody’s Princess, Kuni ends up falling in with the astonishing Wynchester clan—going on adventures, learning acrobatic skills and discovering a brand of heroism and service that is like nothing she’s ever known. Her time in England is limited, and the future of her dreams is waiting for her in Balcovia. She’ll soon have everything she ever wanted . . . except for a certain remarkable man.

Read if you loved “The Umbrella Academy”

Unlike the characters in the comic book-inspired Netflix series, the Wynchesters don’t have supernatural powers, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to make the world a better place. These adopted siblings use their fortune to right wrongs and protect the innocent. They bicker with and tease and aggravate one another, while still coming together when there’s an enemy to face. It’s lovely to see Kuni fall for not only the eminently lovable Graham but also his entire family and their appreciation of and support for one another. Ridley’s take on the Regency period is quirkier and broader than the norm, but that just makes Nobody’s Princess all the more compelling and fun.

The Rake’s Daughter

In Anne Gracie’s The Rake’s Daughter half sisters Clarissa and Isobel Studley have no one but each other—and if their father had had his way, they wouldn’t even have that. Isobel is the illegitimate daughter whom the unscrupulous baronet had no interest in raising, and only Clarissa’s stubborn loyalty kept the girls together through childhood. They cling to each other even tighter when their father dies and they are sent to London to live with their new guardian, Leo Thorne, the Earl of Salcott. Because his opinion of Isobel stems from her father’s viciously cruel descriptions, Leo is appalled by his instantaneous and fierce attraction to her. As they both try to shepherd Clarissa through her first season, the fiery Isobel challenges Leo to see past his preconceptions.

Read if you loved “The Good Place”

Gracie takes a warmer, sweeter view of Regency high society; there are still challenges and prejudices, but there are also examples of extraordinary kindness, devotion and compassion. Like Eleanor and Michael in the afterlife-set TV show, the characters in The Rake’s Daughter have vibrant, rich personalities that make it easy to root for them. Leo has a particularly impressive character arc, starting off almost as an antagonist before becoming the hero he always had the potential to be. And it’s not just the lead characters who will steal your heart: Loyal, kind, insightful but insecure Clarissa is reminiscent of Chidi from “The Good Place,” and one can only hope she gets her own book soon.

★ A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting

Kitty Talbot, the heroine of Sophie Irwin’s A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, is left with four sisters to care for and an ocean of debt after her father dies and her fiancé jilts her. The only thing left of value is herself, so it’s off to London and the marriage mart to find a rich match. Luck seems to be on her side when she’s able to catch the eye of sweet, easily manipulated Archie de Lacy, but her hopes are punctured when his disapproving older brother, Lord Radcliffe, comes to break up the match. Desperate to the point of recklessness, Kitty manages to convince Radcliffe to make a trade: She’ll leave his brother alone if he helps her find another match. But what starts out as a grudging alliance blooms into something more, something built on growing respect, admiration, attraction—and maybe even love.

Read if you loved “Inventing Anna”

If you loved the high-wire tension of the miniseries featuring Anna Delvey’s con artist exploits, then this is the Regency romance for you. But unlike Anna, Kitty is a heroine you can genuinely like, even as you marvel at her audacity. She’s clever and cunning, but she’s also wry, funny and refreshingly honest, with admirable reasons for her manipulative fortune-hunting. From the start, her sharp mind and ruthless practicality make the story relentlessly readable, charging scenes with terrific tension and biting wordplay. Crucially, however, there’s so much more to Kitty than her diamond-hard facade. She’s not a cipher but a vivid and relatable character. The more Radcliffe understands her, the more he loves her—as will readers.

Overwhelmed by the amount of Regency romances out there? Let us be your guide to this season's best reads.
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If you enjoy the soap opera-esque twists and turns of the British royal family, especially if you’re entertained by the scandals but secretly hoping for happily ever afters, Tracey Livesay’s American Royalty is the romance for you. It’s what would happen if someone took Harry and Meghan, Charles and Di, Fergie of the British royals, Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, Notting Hill and a couple of seasons of “The Crown,” then dumped them all in a blender.

In an alternate version of the U.K., the stately, commanding Queen Marina II has decided to hold a concert to honor her beloved late husband, Prince John—and to distract the public from the misbehavior of her scandalous sister and children. Responsibility for the event rests on the shoulders of her grandson, Prince Jameson, the only child of Marina’s younger son. Jameson’s father was infamous for his disastrous marriage, which ended when he died in a fiery car crash along with his mistress. Jameson has spent most of his life withdrawn from the public eye and working as a professor, but just when he thought he was out, the queen drags him back in. 

How the love story of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex inspired Tracey Livesay’s latest romance.

On top of the royally mandated responsibility of managing the event, Jameson will also host the concert’s star, American rapper Danielle “Dani” Nelson, on his private estate. The U.S. tabloids have been hounding Dani about a made-up feud pushed by a fame-chasing one-hit wonder, and the bad press is endangering not just her celebrity but also the financial prospects of her skin care company. Taking a break in the English countryside during the weeks leading up to the concert seems like a good way to unwind . . . right up until she falls into bed with a gorgeous prince who provides a much more fun way to release tension. Dani’s and Jameson’s lives don’t align, and any discovery of their affair would be disastrous to them both, but how long can practicality hold them back when the draw between them is so strong?

Whether you’re looking for echoes of Charles and Diana’s broken fairy tale, Harry and Meghan’s defiant love against the odds, Queen Elizabeth’s clenched fist around her family’s marionette strings or the British tabloids’ gift for making everything worse, this story delivers. American Royalty is also full of beloved romance tropes that are familiar to the point of predictability, but fortunately, the characters ground the story with personalities that break free from cliche. Dani in particular shines: She’s a boldly sensual, compelling performer who rattles the aristocracy just by being unapologetically herself. The story doesn’t shy away from the challenges of her life—including blatant misogyny and barely veiled racism—and there’s plenty to admire in her grit and determination. Jameson’s inner struggles are poignantly drawn as he tries to honor the grandfather he adored while also figuring out how much he’s willing to sacrifice to save his family from itself. The joy Dani and Jameson find together feels like a reward for all they’ve had to overcome. In a world where so much goes wrong, it’s satisfying to see this royal couple get it right.

If you enjoy the soap opera-esque twists and turns of the British royal family, Tracey Livesay's American Royalty is the romance for you.
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A cozy small town. A quaint Main Street lined with quirky family-owned shops. Community events—farmers markets, pumpkin carving contests, Christmas tree lightings—attended by everyone. A plucky, adorable heroine finds love with the gorgeous guy who drove her crazy, right up until their nonstop sparring turned into love.

We all know the formulas. Like receiving a gift-wrapped bicycle, the joy doesn’t come from wondering, “Whatever could this be?” but rather from the instant recognition that you’ve gotten exactly what you want. Sweetness? Check. Warm fuzzies? Check. Happily ever after? Checkmate.

As Seen on TV

In Meredith Schorr’s debut, As Seen on TV, Adina Gellar has let made-for-TV movies convince her that everything wrong with her big-city life could be cured by a small-town romance. Of course she hasn’t found love in superficial, fast-paced New York City. What she needs is a down-home everyman who will offer her steadiness and commitment—something she craves both personally and professionally.

In a last-ditch effort to kick-start her freelance journalism career, Adina pitches a story about Pleasant Hollow, a nearby small town about to be forever changed by the addition of a huge housing tower. She anticipates being welcomed to Pleasant Hollow by a grandmotherly bed-and-breakfast owner, befriended by a spunky waitress and charmed by a small-town Romeo, all of whom will confirm that the interlopers are ruining the character of their adorable town. Instead, the B&B owner is curt, the waitress is impatient, the town is bleak and no one cares about the development or Adina . . . except for the tower’s project manager, Finn Adams. Despite being absolutely gorgeous, city boy Finn’s lack of interest in a picture-perfect HEA is a red flag for Adina.

Nevertheless, Adina remains plucky to the max and continues trying to fit everyone else into the parts she wants them to play. The relentlessness of her search for quaintness and charm is admirable, if at times exhausting, while her struggle to find a simple, straightforward romance in a way-too-complicated world is relatable. Schorr provides an interesting foil for Adina in Finn, who encourages and frustrates her in equal measure as he helps her realize that love doesn’t have to be neat and tidy to be right and real.

★ Nora Goes Off Script

Nora Hamilton, of Annabel Monaghan’s Nora Goes Off Script, lives on the other side of a romance fixation—not as the addict but as the dealer, churning out scripts of sweet, interchangeable stories for the Romance Channel. But when her spoiled wastrel of a husband leaves her and their two kids, and she realizes she’s secretly, guiltily glad to see him go, she ends up pouring her own story into a new screenplay.

That screenplay gets turned into a serious Hollywood movie, starring Hollywood’s most gorgeous star, Leo Vance, who comes to Nora’s house to film on location and then . . . doesn’t leave. Leo has looks, talent, fame, fortune and a smolder that could melt glass. But after a recent personal loss, he’s floundering to figure out who he is, and Nora’s historic home in a low-key small town seems like the right place to find his footing. Will love ensue? Romance readers know it will, but their mutual feelings manage to catch both Nora and Leo totally off guard.

The plot—big-city hotshot finding his real self with help from a small-town sweetheart—may be a classic formula, but not a single thing in Nora Goes Off Script comes across as predictable. The characters seem to genuinely discover their story as it unfolds, always digging for something authentic and rejecting stereotypes (at least, the ones that Monaghan doesn’t gently lampoon before employing). Nora and Leo’s struggles are honest and poignant, Nora’s children are genuine and nuanced characters who are never treacly or smarter than the adults, and the romance takes its time while taking its main couple seriously. Warm, witty and wise, Nora Goes Off Script tells the truth about all of love’s ups and downs: family love, friendship love, romantic love that comes to a wrenching end—and love that triumphs so beautifully, you’ll still be smiling over it long after you’ve put the book down.

Are you a sucker for a made-for-TV movie? Then you'll love As Seen on TV and Nora Goes Off Script.
Review by

What’s worse than being stood up on Valentine’s Day? Siobhan’s morning coffee date with her standing hookup was supposed to test the waters of them becoming more than just a good time. Miranda’s fancy lunch with her new beau was supposed to reinforce the seriousness of their relationship. And Jane’s date—well, Jane’s date was with a friend who agreed to play the part of her boyfriend at a social event so her nosy co-workers would stop matchmaking. The man hurts all three women with his absence. Yes, man, singular. Because the guy who ditches them all is the same person, one Joseph Carter.

It sounds like a premise for a French farce. In fact, anyone familiar with the play Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti—or the movie adaptation with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis—might think they know where the story is going. But if you’re expecting an absurdist comedy in which everything is played for laughs, you’re in for a surprise. While Beth O’Leary’s The No-Show is frequently funny and playful, it’s never silly or frothy. O’Leary digs deep into the stories of these women: They’re three-dimensional, thoughtful, challenging people dealing with real problems and real feelings that are absolutely no joking matter. They also have great friends, who are fleshed out and fantastic characters in their own right, giving the story not just a sense of place and community but a genuine feeling of warmth. Each woman gets only a third of the book to herself, but O’Leary manages to convey intimate knowledge of each woman and her loved ones . . . with one exception. Joseph remains something of a cipher. O’Leary never steps inside his head to understand what he’s thinking or feeling.

O’Leary cleverly uses literary smoke and mirrors to keep Joseph’s motivations mysterious, and to keep the reader invested regardless. But the fact that such a pivotal piece is missing for most of the novel may leave readers cold, especially those looking for a more traditional love story. Siobhan, Miranda and Jane are painted so vividly that it’s frustrating to have their mutual love interest merely sketched in. When the romances aren’t center stage, The No-Show is a terrific read, filled with people who are enjoyable company even when the story goes to dark places, including struggles with doubt and insecurity and past traumas involving sexual manipulation and a miscarriage. O’Leary is a great storyteller, with keen insight into all the phases of romance, even falling out of love.

The No-Show is sweeter and sadder and deeper and lovelier than I expected, and I enjoyed reading it. But I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t constantly been questioning “whydunnit.”

The No-Show is a terrific read, with keen insight into all the phases of romance and three very compelling female characters.

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