Two emotional romances wholeheartedly embrace their protagonists’ complications and complexity. Classic romances often tell us that finding love will fix the parts of ourselves that aren’t as they should be. Love will turn the mousy girl next door into the prom queen, the shy wallflower into a confident seductress, the browbeaten stepchild into the princess. Love will save us from ourselves and make our problems melt away—but these contemporary romances know better.
Charlie Matheson doesn’t initially come across as a mess in Roan Parrish’s wonderful Best Laid Plans. On the contrary, Charlie seems like someone who’s poised to sweep in and make someone else’s messes go away, which is what he tries to do for Rye Janssen, the Seattle transplant who comes to Charlie’s secluded Wyoming town with a tiny cat, a death-rattling car and a truly massive chip on his shoulder.
Rye has inherited a house he doesn’t know to fix from a grandfather he never met, and the renovations are causing a whole host of problems that he doesn’t know how to solve. Charlie is very, very good at solving problems. He’s also very, very good at ignoring his own issues—like the anxiety he feels over how to handle his attraction to Rye because he’s never been in love before.
Charlie and Rye are wonderfully endearing creations, as is their terrific, lovingly crafted community. Parrish’s Garnet Run is a small town where individuality and nonconformity are celebrated. If you need someone to hug you and tell you you’re appreciated exactly as you are, pick up this book—it’s just the embrace you need.
Equally warm, satisfying and conformity-defying is Yes & I Love You. Set in a New Orleans coworkingspace, Roni Loren’s novel takes the classic idea of a workplace romance and rebuilds it into something entirely fresh and unexpected.
Freelance writer Hollyn Tate might fit a casting call for the pretty-but-doesn’t-know-it heroine. She also has Tourette syndrome, which has left her with deep anxiety about interacting with a world she’s sure will judge her. Meanwhile, Jasper Deares, a struggling improv actor and the new barista in the office space’s coffee bar, is gorgeous and charming but wrestles with his own fear of failure in an entertainment industry that’s been quick to dismiss him. When he learns that Hollyn is the undercover entertainment critic known as Miz Poppy, he knows that her influence could turn his career around. At the same time, her own career is at risk due to her editor’s demand that she overcome her camera shyness and start vlogging.
The story starts out with Hollyn and Jasper needing each other—she needs his training to become camera-ready, while he needs her status to back his act—but it quickly becomes so much more. Loren’s depiction of Hollyn and Jasper’s mutual attraction is lovely and natural, and she continually highlights how rare and special their connection feels to both of them. And they’re always honest with each other—which is near-revolutionary in a genre that’s always leaned hard on misunderstandings. Instead of zany hijinks, Yes & I Love You features real issues, honest struggles, inspiring growth, scorching love scenes, fantastic side characters and hilarious moments of improv gold. This isn’t the office romance that Hollywood has taught you to expect—it’s better. Instead of telling us that love can fix us, these romances embrace the liberating idea that we can be who we are and find happiness, success and love.