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A Shore Thing

In Joanna Lowell’s Victorian romance A Shore Thing, dashing bicycle store owner Kit Griffith teams up with botanist Muriel Pendrake for a multi-day biking contest to prove that women can ride as well as men. While this premise is delightful enough on its face, the story gains complexity and poignancy when the reader learns that Kit is trans, having recently left a sisterhood of female artists behind to live life true to himself. Muriel is surprised, but that doesn’t stop her from falling hard for the charming Kit, who swears he’s an affairs-only kind of lover. Through discussions of art, nature, community and identity, these fascinating characters grapple with the obstacles of their time and circumstances—all while on a one-of-a-kind road trip. Thought-provoking, heartwarming and possessing an entertaining cast of secondary characters, this romance is a winner all-around.

Just One Taste

Just One Taste by Lizzy Dent is a love letter to Italy and its cuisine as much as it is a love story between two Brits on a research trip to the sun-drenched country. When Olive Stone’s estranged father dies, he upends her world by leaving her his Italian eatery in London and the task of finishing his cookbook. That means a four-week trip alongside her dad’s sous-chef, the gorgeous Leo Ricci, who had reason to expect the inheritance to come his way. Dent takes the readers on a sensual vacation to four regions of Italy as Olive and Leo absorb the sights, smells and tastes of their surroundings while mulling over what to do about the struggling restaurant and their growing feelings for each other. This pleasure-filled, delicious romance will inspire dinner reservations at a fave Italian place—if not a food-centered trip abroad.

The Au Pair Affair

Tessa Bailey offers up another smiley, swoony and supremely sexy romance with The Au Pair Affair. Readers of Fangirl Down, the previous entry in Bailey’s Big Shots series, will already know pro hockey star Burgess Abraham, who enjoys his reputation on the ice as “Sir Savage,” his relationship with his 12-year-old-daughter, Lissa . . . and not much else. That is, until the titular au pair—Tallulah Aydin—enters his life. Grad student Tallulah is 11 years younger than Burgess, and has big trust issues for a very good reason. But Bailey makes the pages burn as usual, with a gruff, rough-talking man who surprises the heroine with the lust he inspires—and the love. In order to find their happy ending, the pair must consider Lissa’s feelings, whether the non-sporty Tallulah could ever become a rabid hockey follower and, most of all, if Burgess can envision a full, adventure-filled life off the ice. The Au Pair Affair is an energetic romp with wisecracking friends, but it also has a sizzling, distinctly sexual energy. Don’t be surprised if you need to fan yourself.

Plus, two swoony trips (a Victorian seaside bike ride! a food tour of Italy!) round out this month’s romance column.
STARRED REVIEW
June 25, 2024

The 15 best romance novels of 2024—so far

Surprise, surprise: Rom-coms still dominate. But moodier contemporary romances are on the rise and historicals are venturing into less-commonly seen eras.
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Book jacket image for My Season of Scandal by Julie Anne Long

My Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal, a love story between an innocent debutante and a notorious politician.
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Book jacket image for Funny Story by Emily Henry

Funny Story

Featuring laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.
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justforonesummer

Just for the Summer

In Abby Jimenez’s superb Just for the Summer, two people cursed a la “Good Luck Chuck” try to break their unlucky streaks by dating each ...
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Book jacket image for Canadian Boyfriend by Jenny Holiday

Canadian Boyfriend

Jenny Holiday’s engaging, introspective Canadian Boyfriend is everything a romance novel should be.
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Book jacket image for A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde

Tia Williams broke out in a big way in 2021 with her emotional second-chance romance, Seven Days in June, and her follow-up novel sounds like ...
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Recent Features

Surprise, surprise: Rom-coms still dominate. But moodier contemporary romances are on the rise and historicals are venturing into less-commonly seen eras.
Apples Never Fall jacket

Apples Never Fall

Challengers was all about competition and the drive to be the best. Competing with lovers and friends is one thing, but what if the conflict was within your own family? Apples Never Fall stars a tennis dynasty, made up of two retired stars—Stan and Joy—whose four adult children also played professionally. When Joy disappears, Stan is suspected, and Amy, Logan, Troy and Brooke must decide if they believe he’s innocent. No one does drama like Australian author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret), and this apple is as juicy as it gets. Bonus: You can get this one on a screen too. The TV adaptation is currently streaming on Peacock, and stars Sam Neill and Annette Bening.


Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto would definitely understand Tashi Duncan, and by that we mean they would immediately try to destroy each other. (They’d probably become friends eventually, but only after almost reducing each other to rubble.) The ferociously determined tennis player at the center of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel decides to come out of retirement to one-up Nikki Chan, the new star player who just broke Carrie’s record amount of Slam titles. If you came away from Challengers wanting more Tashi, this is the book for you.


The Divine Miss Marble

If Challengers made you want to know even more about what it’s like to be a woman in tennis, Robert Weintraub’s biography of Alice Marble, one of the very first tennis greats, can scratch that itch. The Divine Miss Marble chronicles the ups and downs of her life in thrilling detail. Marble won 18 Grand Slam championships between 1936 and 1940 and rubbed elbows with Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but her influence extended into the late 20th century as she coached greats like Billie Jean King.


Sudden Death

Did you leave the theater thinking, that was fun, but I wish the tennis matches were weirder? Have we got a book for you. Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy, bizarre tennis novel kicks off with a match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, and just gets weirder from there (at one point, they’re playing tennis with a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair). The author interjects metafictional asides that skewer the conquest of Mexico and other topics, and the book doesn’t shy away from violence, either. We can guarantee one thing: You’ll never read anything else like it.


Wicked Beauty jacket

Wicked Beauty

Let’s be real: The steaminess of the Challengers trailer, and the chemistry among its three stars, was a huge contributor to the film’s successful opening weekend. If you’re looking for a read with a similar spark, Katee Robert is the author for you. Start with the third installment in her Dark Olympus series, which reimagines Greek mythology. Wicked Beauty puts the Iliad’s Achilles and Patroclus into a polyamorous relationship with Helen of Troy. The sex scenes are scorching hot (a Robert trademark), but as in Challengers, the emotional connections are equally complex and valued.

Couldn't get enough of Challengers, director Luca Guadagnino's sophisticated and steamy story of a tennis pro love triangle? We've got some reading material for you.
24 LGBTQ+ books for 2024.
STARRED REVIEW

June 1, 2024

Your Pride reading list for 2024

Call your queer bookclub—we’ve rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!
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The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin—dubbed the “Nazi Olympics” for providing an international platform to the genocidal regime—produced lasting memories, including the triumphs of Black American track and field star Jesse Owens and the “Boys in the Boat” rowing team that beat Germany in a dramatic upset. Less remembered is the wide speculation at the games that Helen Stephens, a U.S. runner who won two golds, might actually be a man.

She wasn’t. But the phony controversy was symptomatic of a panic in the Olympics establishment. Not long before the 1936 games, two top track and field athletes who had competed in international competitions as women said publicly that they were men (we would say now that they had come out as trans). A handful of Olympic leaders, including Nazi sympathizers, immediately drew the wrong conclusions and called for mandatory medical exams to determine sex prior to sports competitions.

In The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports, author Michael Waters sensitively tells this forgotten history and reveals its modern resonances. The book connects the struggles of those two athletes, Zdenek Koubek of Czechoslovakia and Mark Weston of Britain, with the relatively open attitude toward queerness in pre-Nazi Central Europe, the resistance within the early Olympics movement to women’s sports, and the failed effort to boycott the Berlin games.

The Other Olympians is full of surprises for contemporary readers. For example, anyone who mistakenly thinks Christine Jorgensen was the first person to have gender affirming surgery will learn very much otherwise. But Waters’ detailed description of the outspoken Koubek’s life before and during his transition is the heart of the book. He emerges as an overlooked pioneer.

Koubek, Weston and other trans and queer people profiled here never wanted to compete against women after their transitions. Yet an entire regimen of sex testing was built on the unfounded belief that men were somehow masquerading as women to participate in sports contests. Decisions made in the late 1930s created sports competition rules that still exist today, as debate over trans athletes rages in school board meetings, courtrooms and legislative sessions. Waters doggedly chronicles where the debate originated and calls for what he believes is overdue change.

The Other Olympians doggedly chronicles the lives of pioneering trans athletes and the historically fraught 1936 Olympic Games.
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Mike De Socio loves the Boy Scouts. In Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ+ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts—and America, De Socio, an Eagle Scout, details how Boy Scouts gave him, a nerdy misfit, the space to thrive. He is also queer, coming out while in college in 2015, the same year that the Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders and two years after it had lifted the ban on gay Scouts. De Socio learned he was not alone: Boy Scouts had provided a safe haven for many other queer Scouts, a haven that was repeatedly taken away because of a policy that they had no idea even existed.

Taking its title from the Boy Scout Oath, Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders. It starts with the story behind Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, the 2000 Supreme Court case that allowed the Scouts to discriminate against queer boys and men.

At the heart of De Socio’s book is the work of Scouts for Equality (SFE), an activist group formed in 2012 after the Scouts expelled lesbian den leader Jennifer Tyrrell. Headed by Zach Wahls and Jonathan Hillis, two straight Eagle Scouts, SFE evolved into a broad-based alliance of LGBTQ+ and straight Scouts, parents and supporters that eventually persuaded the Scouts to rescind their policies.

Under Wahls and Hillis’ leadership, the SFE became a juggernaut. In their early 20s, both men  were uniquely qualified to take on the BSA. The son of two lesbian mothers, Wahls was already a LGBTQ+ activist and the author of My Two Moms. Hillis was a prominent youth leader at the BSA’s national level. Ironically, both credit the Boy Scouts with developing the moral courage and leadership skills that made SFE possible.

Morally Straight is both clear-eyed and optimistic. BSA is now a broader tent, accepting gay, trans and even female Scouts. But, as De Socio’s own experiences show, it still grapples with how to give its members the space and tools to remain true to who they are.

Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and author Mike De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders.

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.
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A romance is all about the final payoff: After pages of will-they-won’t-they teasing, readers anticipate the moment when everything falls ecstatically into place and our lovers end up together. Kate Young’s Experienced takes this model and twists it, leading readers on a wholehearted, fun exploration of dating and love in the 21st century. After her girlfriend Mei suggests they take a break so the newly-out Bette can casually date and get the full single experience, Bette goes on an awkward odyssey of first dates. Her journey is silly and relatable, and stays away from romance cliches—although that isn’t to say that the book doesn’t end happily.

Bette tries to be chill about the break. After a bit of confusion and hurt, she decides the best course of action is to actually get some dating experience. With her roommate Ash and Ash’s token straight-guy boyfriend Tim, Bette begins crafting her dating app profiles. They choose the best pictures—though Ash and Tim have to convince Bette that she really does look hot in some of them—and write cool, ironic responses to the prompts. Soon after, Bette starts dating a lineup of strange, sexy characters running the gamut of British lesbian baddies. The most memorable is Bette’s first date, Ruth, a PhD student and experienced casual dater who gives Bette the recipe for success and, in a twist of fate, helps her realize what she really wants from a relationship.

Chapter titles that count down to the date when Bette and Mei are supposed to get back together lend Experienced a sense of anxiety and longing that will be all too familiar to 21st century daters. Young’s charming British English pairs with a young millennial’s quirky, anxious interiority for a fun, surprisingly profound read. Romantics, if you’re lonely or even if you’re happily in love, this novel will be a treat. 

Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.
Review by

Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s debut novel is a quiet but profoundly moving coming-of-age story about a young gay man in mid-2000s Nigeria. It’s an at first straightforward novel that deepens as it progresses, building toward an ending befitting its protagonist—a young man continually moving through different versions of himself.

Blessings opens in 2006 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. When Obiefuna’s father catches him in a moment of tenderness with another boy, he immediately sends him away to boarding school. Life at school is strictly regulated and often violent. Older boys abuse and terrorize the younger boys without consequence. Obiefuna, fearing that his sexuality may be discovered at any moment, does what he thinks he has to in order to survive.

Though the novel continues to follow Obiefuna through his early years at university, his time at the boarding school takes up the most space and carries a hefty emotional weight. At times it may feel as if the story drags, but the beautiful and complicated third act reveals that Ibeh knew exactly where he was going all along. He captures the uneven importance of memory and experience, the way certain events can haunt a life without our knowledge. Obiefuna’s relationships to himself, his family, his lovers and his country change dramatically over time, a shift that Ibeh weaves almost invisibly into the prose.

Interspersed between chapters from Obiefuna’s point of view are ones told from his mother Uzoamaka’s perspective. These feel less immediate and vivid, but do add a poignant narrative layer, giving readers a glimpse into what goes unspoken between mother and son.

Blessings is an excellent work of queer fiction, full of characters who are neither good nor bad, but simply human beings in constant flux. Ibeh writes cruelty onto the page alongside tenderness, crafting scenes of domestic gay love with the same attention and detail he gives to scenes of emotional and physical violence. He offers us a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy—but worth living in and telling stories about.

Blessings offers a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy, but worth living in.
Review by

The Safekeep, Yael van der Wouden’s debut novel, is set in 1961 rural Holland. At 30, Isabel is living in the house where she was raised after the death of her father forced the family’s move from the city and into a furnished house their uncle Karel found for them. Isabel lives a circumscribed and watchful life, guarding her dead mother’s things, suspecting the maid of theft and fending off the attentions of a flirtatious neighbor. Of her brothers, Louis and Hendrik, she is closer to Hendrik, although she disapproves of his friend Sebastian, suspecting a deeper connection. Of Louis and the steady stream of girlfriends he introduces to her, she thinks even less. Until Eva.

The siblings meet Eva at a dinner out. With her clumsy manners and brassy dyed hair, she hardly impresses, and Isabel is shocked when Louis brings her to the house, telling Isabel that Eva must stay there while he goes away on business and showing Eva to their mother’s room. Even under Isabel’s watchful eye, things begin to disappear—a spoon, a bowl, a thimble. More alarming to Isabel is the overwhelming attraction she feels to Eva, an attraction that spills into an obsessive, intensely depicted sexual relationship.

Van der Wouden may be familiar as the author of the 2017 essay “On (Not) Reading Anne Frank,” which explored what it means to be a Dutch Jewish writer and her complicated relationship to Frank’s legacy. As Isabel and Eva’s connection unfolds, Van der Wouden’s true subject comes into view: how ordinary people were implicated in the ethnic cleansing that took place during World War II. Even in peacetime, Isabel and her peers are quick to notice people who appear different, with a fierce disgust that Isabel risks turning on herself as she comes to terms with her sexuality. A novel of redemption as much as revenge, The Safekeep has the pacing and twists of a thriller, while delving into the deeper issues laid bare by the Holocaust.

In Yael van der Wouden’s mesmerizing debut, The Safekeep, Isabel lives a circumscribed life in her dead mother’s house until her brother’s girlfriend comes to stay, alarming Isabel when an obsessive attraction develops between the two.

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Recent Features

Call your queer bookclub—we've rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!
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Birding With Benefits

Birding with Benefits by Sarah T. Dubb is a refreshing love story about growing, changing and the natural resistance to both. Fortysomethings Celeste and John are a bit tattered by life. They’re prepared to walk their paths alone until a mutual friend asks Celeste to partner with John at a bird-watching event. On a whim, Celeste decides to continue doing so for the entire six weeks of a contest John’s entered. He’s undeterred by her inexperience and delighted by her enthusiasm, and the commitment-wary pair grow closer, finally succumbing to their attraction. Can their friends-with-benefits relationship end painlessly once the contest is over? Filled with everyday moments and a marvelous sense of place—the author’s hometown of Tucson, Arizona—readers will lose their own hearts to playful Celeste and solid John, both authentic, well-meaning people you’d like to join for a coffee or a hike. Middle-aged characters don’t star in a lot of romances; how fabulous that these two get top billing in this top-notch romance.

Wake Me Most Wickedly

Felicia Grossman’s Wake Me Most Wickedly is a genderswapped spin on Snow White set in the Jewish community of 1832 London. Hannah Moses has dedicated herself to giving her younger sister a better life, and is building a sizable dowry for her by selling secondhand goods and information to unsavory characters. Simon Weiss is similarly loyal to his brother, a banker trying to secure a spot in the gentile world through baptism and marriage. When Hannah and Simon meet, sparks fly and trouble begins. Simon is sure of himself and his feelings, but Hannah knows she can be nothing to him beyond an occasional lover thanks to her criminal activities. Grossman’s second Once Upon the East End romance is a wonderful story filled with adventure, love and, above all, passion.

All’s Fair in Love and War

A Regency governess gets a man in Virginia Heath’s All’s Fair in Love and War. Continually passed over for employment due to her plain-spoken ways, Georgina Rowe can only say yes when a desperate naval officer needs someone to watch over his rambunctious nephew and nieces. Harry treasures order and stability and Georgina provides—well, not that. Not only does she have unconventional views about how children should learn, she’s personally challenging his vow to never fall for a woman again. After a career-disrupting engagement years before, Harry savors his solitary state and how it allows him to pursue his ambitions unfettered . . . until he realizes how much he enjoys family life and the irrepressible Georgina. Readers never tire of a down-on-her-luck heroine and a hero who needs to lighten up, and Heath provides both in this entertaining romp along with puckish children, busybody servants and mischievous dogs.

Sarah T. Dubb’s charming, mature romance delights our columnist, plus the latest from Felicia Grossman and Virginia Heath.
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Filled with fun tropes, disability representation modeled after the author’s own experience and beautiful writing, Out on a Limb is a love story so sweet you want to squeal with glee. Originally self-published, Hannah Bonam-Young’s lovable rom-com is a must-read gift to the genre. 

Winnifred “Win” McNulty is used to forging her own path. Not one to tolerate being coddled for her limb difference, Win has spent most of her life trying to prove to everyone around her that she can make it just fine on her own, thank you very much. But that all changes one very steamy night at her best friend’s annual Halloween bash, when Win hops into bed with the very handsome Bo. Caught up in the moment, they rely on Win’s irregular use of birth control and find themselves facing a surprise pregnancy. Bo recently lost the lower part of one of his legs to cancer (he’s now in remission), and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to have children. So he’s elated at the news, shocked but genuinely excited. Meanwhile, Win decides to view her pregnancy as a way to level up into adulthood after spending her 20s flailing. The two plan to navigate pregnancy and parenthood as friends only, because that’s what good, responsible future caretakers would do. But if Win and Bo have learned anything, it’s that things rarely go according to plan. 

Here is my romance hot take, the absolute hill I will die on: I love a surprise pregnancy. That’s right, I said it. Out on a Limb perfectly deploys this tricky, often unpopular trope with two of the best main characters a reader could ask for. All the while, Bonam-Young winks at the reader, letting us know not to worry since Win and Bo secretly have big, tenderhearted feelings for each other. Both are softies who’ve had a bit of life thrown at them and, as a result, are scared of the possibility of a good thing. We watch them unlearn past hurts, often from time spent operating in an ableist society, and be seen for the very first time by a partner. It’s an incredible thing to bear witness to, and it makes for a powerful love story.

“Isn’t that all we ever want? To be seen and heard?” Win says at one point. “Validated, even when we’re not able to ask for it?” Out on a Limb allows readers to feel all of those things alongside its characters, and the romance world is better, kinder and more expansive for it.

Hannah Bonam-Young will make you a believer in the oft-loathed surprise pregnancy trope with Out on a Limb.
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What happens when the characters in a romance know that they’re in one? Rom-coms are screenwriter Molly Marks’ bread and butter, so she’s already well aware of the tropes at play when she sees Seth Rubenstein at their high school reunion. He’s her first love, high school sweetheart, the one who got away, the one whose heart she broke. She’s the snarky cynic who runs from anything that looks like love, and he’s the wide-eyed dreamer who throws himself headlong into relationships because he still believes in true love, despite his highly successful career as a divorce attorney. They’re hitting every beat for a second-chance, opposites-attract romance, but Molly thinks she’s too smart to fall into that trap. She makes a bet with Seth: They’ll pick five couples and use their expertise to predict whether they’ll last or fail by their next reunion. Whoever makes the most correct predictions is the one who is truly right about love. But the fifth couple Seth picks to go the distance? It’s them.

In Just Some Stupid Love Story, author Katelyn Doyle takes her time with her characters. This isn’t a romance where perfect love is achieved in a matter of days. The timeline goes from Molly and Seth’s 15-year reunion in 2018 all the way to their 21-year one in 2023, including the height of the pandemic—which Doyle folds into the story very effectively, showing how COVID-19 acted as a pressure cooker for personal relationships. Seth and Molly’s relationship develops in fits and starts, often moving two steps forward and one step back even as their feelings for each other endure, sometimes painfully. Love doesn’t come quickly or easily in Just Some Stupid Love Story, and when it comes, it doesn’t fix everything. These characters legitimately struggle to overcome their fears, let go of their worst tendencies and show compassion even when faced with situations they don’t fully understand. While there are plenty of stories out there that say love conquers all, this one actually shows how and why. And that’s as surprising as it is satisfying.

Katelyn Doyle’s wise and satisfying Just Some Stupid Love Story follows a potential couple as their relationship develops in fits and starts over the span of five years.
Review by

A romance is all about the final payoff: After pages of will-they-won’t-they teasing, readers anticipate the moment when everything falls ecstatically into place and our lovers end up together. Kate Young’s Experienced takes this model and twists it, leading readers on a wholehearted, fun exploration of dating and love in the 21st century. After her girlfriend Mei suggests they take a break so the newly-out Bette can casually date and get the full single experience, Bette goes on an awkward odyssey of first dates. Her journey is silly and relatable, and stays away from romance cliches—although that isn’t to say that the book doesn’t end happily.

Bette tries to be chill about the break. After a bit of confusion and hurt, she decides the best course of action is to actually get some dating experience. With her roommate Ash and Ash’s token straight-guy boyfriend Tim, Bette begins crafting her dating app profiles. They choose the best pictures—though Ash and Tim have to convince Bette that she really does look hot in some of them—and write cool, ironic responses to the prompts. Soon after, Bette starts dating a lineup of strange, sexy characters running the gamut of British lesbian baddies. The most memorable is Bette’s first date, Ruth, a PhD student and experienced casual dater who gives Bette the recipe for success and, in a twist of fate, helps her realize what she really wants from a relationship.

Chapter titles that count down to the date when Bette and Mei are supposed to get back together lend Experienced a sense of anxiety and longing that will be all too familiar to 21st century daters. Young’s charming British English pairs with a young millennial’s quirky, anxious interiority for a fun, surprisingly profound read. Romantics, if you’re lonely or even if you’re happily in love, this novel will be a treat. 

Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo

If you were pressed to categorize a book of poetry on your bookshelf as fiction or nonfiction, would you choose fiction? Most people probably would. Poetry has a reputation for being airy and fantastical, for dwelling in the realm of emotions and dreams, not in the “real world.” Yet there is a strain of poetry that is explicitly concerned with informing readers about real events: documentary poetry. Cheena Marie Lo’s A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, $16, 9781934639191) is an excellent contemporary example, using statistics and phrases pulled from the news to trace human responsibility for the outcomes of devastating “natural” events like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Lo compares ecological processes like seasonal migration with the movement of evacuees in response both to the destruction caused by a storm and the failure of systems expected to provide help. At the same time, Lo points to the recovery of nature as a model for community recuperation through mutual aid. This is a great collection to read alongside Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler—another powerful documentary book of poems that chronicles state failure and human resilience during and after Katrina.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor


The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

I was introduced to The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, $19.99, 9781419718786) in a college English class, which admittedly isn’t the most exciting way to find a book. But as a 20-something with lots of emotions about parenting and intergenerational trauma, I found author-illustrator Thi Bui’s story at exactly the right time. This graphic memoir flows between present and past. In the frame story, Bui is anxious that her flawed relationships with her parents will define how she interacts with her newborn son. In an effort to alleviate her anxiety, she sits down with her parents and attempts to figure out how they became who they are, journeying with them through their childhoods in war-torn Vietnam, their harrowing migration as refugees and their imperfect restart in America. Told through beautiful watercolor illustrations and sparse, emotionally-wrought text, Bui’s memoir does not offer easy answers to questions about trauma, immigration and family. However, The Best We Could Do is a tremendous lesson in empathy and a testament to healing through human connection.

—Jessica Peng, Editorial Intern


One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel, One Last Stop (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250244499), is a clever, emotionally resonant take on a timeslip romance with an utterly dreamy love interest: 1970s punk feminist Jane Su, who is mysteriously trapped outside of time on the New York City subway. As they proved in their already-iconic 2019 debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston understands that in order for readers to wholeheartedly invest in a heightened scenario, it helps to have characters who are going through things that are eminently relatable. And so, recent New Orleans transplant August Landry’s quest to rescue Jane is balanced by the travails and triumphs of her job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes (one of the best fictional diners ever?) and the slow blossoming of her relationships with her roommates into something like family. It’s an achingly sweet portrait of a closed-off loner finding community for the very first time, and an ode to being young, broke and happy in NYC. It all culminates in a perfect finale, where August must draw on her new connections to pull Jane free and secure their happily ever after.

—Savanna, Managing Editor


The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

Our whole planet is migrating in the title story of The Wandering Earth (Tor, $19.99, 9781250796844) a collection by Cixin Liu, renowned author of The Three-Body Problem. Faced with proof of the sun’s imminent death, humanity collectively seeks to escape obliteration by installing giant plasma jets to propel the Earth toward a new solar system. As mankind’s home is transformed into one massive spaceship, an unnamed protagonist watches decades of his life pass, narrating with straightforward melancholy as he witnesses tragedy and chaos. As changes to Earth’s orbit cause boiling rain to fall and oceans to freeze, the cataclysmic, sublime journey of “The Wandering Earth” will batter you with alternating waves of immense beauty and terror. And don’t expect a chance to surface for air after finishing this first story: The next nine continue to pummel the reader with Liu’s staggering imagination and rare talent for combining grandiose backdrops with personal stories suffused with aching emotion, such as that of a man climbing a mountain made of water, or a peasant boy growing up to become a space explorer. Liu’s eye for detail and mind for the poetic add a profundity to The Wandering Earth, elevating it to stand among the best science fiction.

—Yi Jiang, Associate Editor

Does warmer weather and the approach of summer have you feeling restless? Pick up one of these stories featuring journeys great and small.
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My Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal. Country miss and physician’s daughter Catherine Keating is embarking on a London society husband hunt from the charming Grand Palace on the Thames boardinghouse. Living one floor above her is Lord Dominic Kirke, a fiery, justice-seeking politician with a notorious reputation. They should have nothing in common, and yet they find in each other like minds and hearts. Dominic tries to keep clear of Catherine, believing his worldliness and tarnished past will hurt her prospects, but they are drawn together at every ball. The resolution will induce sighs and perhaps a few happy tears, as what romance reader can resist a tale starring a jaded hero and an innocent but plucky heroine?

The Good Ones Are Taken

The ever-popular friends-to-lovers trope is front and center in Taj McCoy’s The Good Ones Are Taken. Maggie’s full life is only lacking one thing: a man to love. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s Garrett, her best friend, but back when they were teenagers, they decided not to cross the line into romance. But with Maggie’s duties as maid of honor for her two besties coming up, she feels pressured to find a Prince Charming and determinedly puts herself out there. She doesn’t quite fit with anyone until she takes a closer look at Garrett—yet can she risk ruining what they have? Set in Los Angeles, The Good Ones Are Taken is fun, fresh and filled with good food, great clothes and scorching love scenes. Readers will want to hang out with Maggie and company while rooting for her happy ending.

Earls Trip

Jenny Holiday’s tongue-in-cheek Regency romance Earls Trip showcases her trademark charm, humor and well-developed characters. Three aristocratic friends (two earls and a viscount) depart London for their annual sabbatical. But after a last-minute request from an old family friend, Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, rescues sisters Clementine and Olive Morgan from a conniving blackguard—and then brings the two women along on his getaway with the guys. Archie and Clementine, once childhood friends, soon discover a passion they didn’t expect and don’t particularly welcome, at least at first. While Holiday peppers the story with amusing set pieces and cute, anachronistic chapter titles, there is true heart to this tale of a man and woman coming to understand, appreciate and admire each other as much as they love each other.

Plus, two friends-to-lovers romances charm our columnist.
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Daphne and her fiancé had the perfect meet cute: On a windy day in a park, Peter chased down her hat. They fell in love, and moved back to his lakeside hometown of Waning Bay, Michigan. Everything was picture-perfect—until Peter’s bachelor party weekend, when he realized he was in love with his childhood best friend, Petra. And so Daphne finds herself adrift in a town where she knows basically no one, bearing witness to her ex-fiancé and his new fiancée’s disgusting displays of love. The only person who can understand her grief is Miles, Petra’s ex. Daphne proposes they become roommates, and soon, they hatch a scheme. What if they post some easy to misinterpret pictures and make Petra and Peter think they are together?

In our introduction to the leading couple of Emily Henry’s Funny Story, a frustrated Daphne is annoyed that Miles is listening to Jamie O’Neal’s “All By Myself” at top volume, stoned. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but they’re both deeply charming and relatable, showcasing Henry’s skill at crafting engaging yet realistic characters that immediately hook readers’ hearts. You want Daphne and Miles to heal. You want them to bump into their exes and make out so hard that everyone is a little uncomfortable. (But who cares! Peter and Petra should suffer!) Henry also expertly sidesteps the worry-inducing pitfalls of having a couple bound, at least initially, by grief. No one wants a happy ending undercut by the characters using each other as an emotional scratching post. Thankfully, Miles and Daphne’s relationship is simply one part of their individual healing journeys, not the entirety of them. With a supporting cast of helpful family and friends, meaningful and passionate purpose in their community and a little bit of therapy, all things are possible. The work they each put in on their own only makes the love story more satisfying. 

With her signature laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Henry has created another novel that’s everything her readers have come to expect, without falling into predictable patterns. Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.

Featuring laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.
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When beginning this review, I promised myself that I wouldn’t go overboard with baseball puns to describe just how wonderful KT Hoffman’s sports romance, The Prospects, is. Like “Hoffman hits it out of the park with his debut” or “Gene and Luis are the grand slam of relationships.” I tried my hardest, but damn if baseball doesn’t lend itself to describing the absolute home run that is this book.

As the first openly trans professional baseball player, Gene Ionescu is no stranger to hope and hard work. He thrives on it; and baseball loves an underdog. The minor league Beaverton Beavers are like a second family to him, and he feels safe and supported among his teammates. Until Luis Estrada, his former teammate and current rival, gets traded to the Beavers and suddenly all that Gene has built for himself feels threatened. At first, Gene and Luis can’t work together on or off the field. But a begrudging friendship blooms during long hours on the bus and intimate after-hours practices. As Gene and Luis find their stride, they gain the attention of the heavy hitters in the Major Leagues and see each other with fresh eyes. Had Gene never really noticed how sexy and kind Luis was? And does Luis really need to head to his own place when Gene’s apartment (and maybe Gene himself) feels like home? Soon their tenuous friendship gives way to tender new love. But with the Majors calling, the two must decide what they truly want, both from each other and their baseball careers.

The legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” So what happens when a book mixes romance and America’s favorite pastime? You get the perfection that is The Prospects. I will be the first to admit that everything I learned about sports, I learned from sports romance novels. But as an expert on the genre, I can tell the difference between a writer who is just using a baseball diamond as a backdrop and a writer who loves the game so fiercely it almost outshines their love for the main characters. Hoffman is one of the latter. Every corner of this book shines, from the tender love of Gene and Luis to the charming found family that surrounds them and the game that brings them all together. The Prospects is about dreaming big, finding love and blowing the roof off simply by existing. It’s a debut so good it’s in a league of its own. (I’ll see myself out.)

KT Hoffman’s The Prospects is a perfect baseball romance that overflows with love for the sport and its main characters.
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Everyone wants a shortcut to love, especially if a happily ever after is guaranteed. So it’s not surprising that Justin Dahl gets a big response when he explains his gift (or curse) on Reddit: Whoever he dates goes on to meet her perfect match right after things end with him. To his shock, Justin soon hears from Emma, a woman with the same problem. What starts as a half-joking suggestion soon starts to form into a real plan—what if they date each other? Wouldn’t that mean instead of being merely the gateway to love, they could finally have it for themselves . . . right after they break up?

It’s a fun premise, but if you think the plot stays frothy and candy-colored, then you don’t know author Abby Jimenez. Yes, Justin and Emma connect via meet cute (meet unusual, to be more precise) at the beginning of Just for the Summer, but Jimenez quickly develops the characters beyond rom-com archetypes as they deal with challenges that aren’t in the least bit quirky, overblown or played for laughs. Justin and Emma have amazing chemistry and terrific banter, but they also have genuine problems, including family catastrophes, emotional trauma, heavy responsibilities and—in Emma’s case—a mother best compared to a malfunctioning time bomb, set to blow everything up with no clear countdown. Just for the Summer has plenty of humor (a scene with baby raccoons being a personal favorite), but the emotions are real. The turmoil is real. The problems the characters face don’t come with easy answers or magic cures.

The story showcases an absolutely gorgeous outpouring of love in tandem with Emma and Justin’s delightful and warm central romance. Jimenez portrays a range of complex, interesting familial relationships, as well as some amazing friendships—particularly Emma’s with her bestie, Maddy. In Just for the Summer, even when love is difficult and devastating and very possibly cursed, it’s always worth it.

In Abby Jimenez’s Just for the Summer, two people cursed a la “Good Luck Chuck” try to break their unlucky streaks by dating each other—only to fall in love.

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