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All Contemporary Romance Coverage

Kerry Winfrey's light, sprightly romance Just Another Love Song follows high school sweethearts who get a second chance at love 15 years after their post-graduation breakup.

Hank Tillman and Sandy Macintosh once planned on leaving their tiny town of Baileyville, Ohio, and following their dreams together. In the years after high school, Hank became a famous country music singer, but Sandy, who wanted to be an artist, never left home. Even though she let her painting fall by the wayside, she's discovered happiness in other areas, namely in running her greenhouse and helping out at her parents' bed-and-breakfast. Everything changes, however, when Hank comes back to Baileyville for their 15-year high school reunion.

Just Another Love Song is full of quirky characters who provide plenty of colorful commentary on Hank and Sandy's relationship. It's delightful but also distracting at times, because those townspeople take up space in the narrative that could have been dedicated to the main couple. Winfrey is the queen of charming and cozily sweet contemporary romances, and it's clear that the foundation Hank and Sandy built as teenagers is still there, so it's no surprise that their journey back to each other is low on angst. But one of the most interesting aspects of Just Another Love Song is Winfrey's illustration of how the hopes and dreams of youth can be not only encouraging but also overwhelming and debilitating. Hank and Sandy have a much better chance of making things work now that they're in their 30s, with life experience to balance the stars in their eyes.

Although this slow-burn romance may unfold a bit too sedately for some, Winfrey's trademark snappy dialogue and well-paced character development provides much to enjoy along the way.

Kerry Winfrey brings her trademark snappy dialogue and well-paced character development to this slow-burn, second-chance romance.

★ Wolf in the Shadows

Maria Vale sweeps readers into a compelling paranormal world in her fifth entry in the Legend of All Wolves series, Wolf in the Shadows. Julia Martel, pampered shifter princess of Montreal, has been kidnapped by the Great North Pack, who live apart from human society and ritualistically shift to their wolf forms every full moon. Though she was raised to be “exquisitely inconsequential,” Julia finds her inner strength as she lives with the pack and gets to know Arthur, a wolf at the bottom of the pack's hierarchy. Vale's storytelling is immersive and fascinating as she chronicles Julia's metamorphosis from plaything to predator. And Arthur is a uniquely appealing love interest: keenly attentive, sensitive and always willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Lushly described set pieces, from Julia's embrace of her animal nature to the couple's smoking hot love scenes, make for a fiercely beautiful read.

Husband Material

A couple grapples with life, love and being true to themselves in Husband Material by Alexis Hall. It's been two years since Lucien “Luc” O'Donnell and Oliver Blackwood got together in Boyfriend Material, and the opposites-attract pair are happy together—and happy to witness the people around them tie the knot. But does that mean they should follow suit? Narrated by Luc in a self-deprecating and often sarcastic first-person voice, the next phase in the men's romance plays out with the help of their loyal but sometimes screwball friends. Family drama adds serious layers and provides an opportunity for soul-searching, even as Hall's bouncy dialogue tumbles along through plenty of rom-com fun. As they grapple with their future, examining both compatibility and commitment, Luc and Oliver are amusing, authentic and eminently deserving of their happily ever after. 

Quarter to Midnight

Karen Rose's latest romantic suspense novel, Quarter to Midnight, begins a new series set in New Orleans. When his father, a former police officer, dies under suspicious circumstances, chef Gabe Hebert hires a PI agency to look into the matter. Molly Sutton, former cop, former Marine and forever badass, takes on the case. A patron of Gabe's renowned restaurant, she's long admired his culinary skills and his good looks, and she's committed to getting answers for him, no matter what she may uncover in the process. Rose always constructs an appealing team to aid her main couple and further engage the reader's emotions; this time, the crew includes a brave young med student, a pair of canny brothers and two witty and determined older women. It's a twisty, dangerous ride all the way to the end, with the French Quarter setting and the descriptions of Gabe's food adding an extra je ne sais quoi to this entertaining read.

The long-awaited sequel to Boyfriend Material is finally here, plus two thrilling love stories in this month's romance column.

Few words related to identity convey a more precise meaning than the ones Bolu Babalola uses to describe her identity: “I'm a Nigerian child, eldest daughter.” If you're familiar with immigrant parents, you know the drill: Education is the key to securing your future, with a reliable profession (doctor, lawyer, engineer) followed by a judicious marriage by a certain age. 

But Babalola, author of Honey and Spice, one of the year's most ambitious rom-coms, didn't stick to that script. Born in South London to two striving professionals, one a lawyer and the other a teacher, her artistic journey began at age 10. She gained attention for her writing from teachers, and the fact that she could do something she loved, then get praised for it in school and by her family, planted a seed. Like a sunflower bending toward the light, she leaned in. By 14, she was writing and sharing rom-coms with friends. So publishing her outstanding romance debut at 31 has been a long time coming. 

Voice-driven and striking, Honey and Spice is Beyoncé meets Jane Austen on a British university campus. As unlikely as that blend sounds, Babalola nails it. The book's narrator is budding media maven Kikiola “Kiki” Banjo, the host of a student radio show that dispenses pop culture commentary, offers advice about university life and dissects the Black British cliques of Whitewell University. When handsome and far-too-charming transfer student Malakai Korede enters the scene, he changes the social equilibrium. Kiki instantly identifies the new big man on campus as someone her fellow classmates should steer clear of. 

“Because I'm a romantic, I actually don't want romance for the sake of romance. It has to be real.”

But as Kiki gets to know him, she realizes that, despite his slick reputation, Malakai is actually beautifully and wonderfully squishy—the perfect sparring partner for the prickly yet sweet Kiki. As Kiki notices when she digs into his social media and finds a doting post about his niece, Malakai has “a softness to him. . . . There was no way he could fake the adoration with which he looked at that angel.”

Babalola also adores him. Malakai is “a kind of distortion of what we think masculinity and Black masculinity should be,” she says, speaking by video call. Malakai's openheartedness reflects an essential part of Babalola's upbringing, in which her father played the role of loving cheerleader. Her parents not only nurtured her independent thinking and creativity, but also shaped Babalola's romantic sensibility: She was raised by a couple who share the exact kind of partnership and abiding love she writes about so devotedly. 

Their relationship inspired Babalola's first book, the story collection Love in Color, a kaleidoscopic reimagining of romantic myths from around the world. Though the book's premise was dreamed up by Babalola's publisher, it was her vision that made it a breakout hit. Love in Color became a mission statement, a calling card that introduced Babalola's voice to the broader public. It provided an opportunity to place Black women and women of color from around the world at the center of her beloved genre. With Love in Color, and now with Honey and Spice, Babalola wants to “decolonize the concept of romance . . . because we usually see white women as the romantic heroines, [both the ones] desiring and the ones who deserve to be desired.”

Honey and Spice jacket

With her debut romance novel, Babalola wanted to “pay homage not only to my parents' love story but also to them as parents because their love embodies so much of my confidence.” Perhaps because she's a woman (and Black and Nigerian), she gets asked about that aspect of her personality a lot. “Everyone wonders why I'm so confident and why I'm so sure of myself, and I'm 100% sure it's because my parents had that confidence in me,” she says. “There wasn't really any space for me not to believe in myself, because that was unacceptable to them.”  That's not the story one usually hears about Nigerian parents, and Babalola's work provides a realistic, progressive portrayal of Black British life. Honey and Spice is grounded in Whitewell's complex and tight (if imperfect) Black community, where love and joy and feminist sensibilities intertwine and vibrate off the page.

Babalola's own academic life is another key influence in Honey and Spice. In graduate school, her focus on American politics and history through popular culture culminated in a thesis on Beyoncé's audiovisual masterpiece Lemonade, female blues singers and Black women redefining identity through art. That blend of cultural savvy, empowerment and identity exploration pervades Babalola's writing. What's more, Kiki's politics, media and culture major mirrors a concentration the author once designed for herself, and the fictional advisor who pairs Kiki with Malakai for a semester-long project is modeled on Babalola's own grad school mentor.

Like her creator, Kiki is a bold, confident woman who already knows she's loved and won't settle for anything less with a man, no matter how charming. “I have such a soft spot for Kiki. I relate to her. . . . And I think a lot of Black girls relate to her,” Babalola says. “They think they need to be tough, but they're really just sweethearts deep down.” 

Read our starred review of ‘Honey and Spice' by Bolu Babalola.

Honey and Spice is the book of Babalola's heart, a novel she's been developing and refining for years. As in Austen, the romance is paramount, but the ensemble cast and the broader world in which the relationship grows are half the fun, allowing Babalola to lay bare the intricacies of cliques, class and color. She weaves together humor and cutting social observations with precise, innovative language. Some of this language, such as mandemologist, Kiki's joking term for her expertise in male behavior, Babalola invented and some of it, such as wasteman, the pejorative term Kiki initially uses to label Malakai, is Black British vernacular. Babalola says the latter term can describe “a loser, like in the generic sense of the word. But it can also just be somebody who just messes you around.” In contrast with the traditional romance rake, who is often an attractive figure who can be redeemed, wasteman serves as a hard line in the sand. As Babalola puts it, “Signifying that it's unacceptable [to behave like a wasteman] shows that we're defining our parameters of relationships and romantic relationships.”

This term and what it says about knowing your worth is emblematic of the author's outlook on life, gender equality and love. Babalola is single, and over 130,000 followers on Twitter savor both her insight and her celebration of sexy, empowered womanhood. She's a romantic visionary who hasn't yet experienced her one grand romance, but she has seen it modeled and knows what she wants. Being willing to be single until she gets the love story she's looking for is a conscious choice. “I am a romantic,” Babalola says. “And because I'm a romantic, I actually don't want romance for the sake of romance. It has to be real. I don't prioritize being partnered above all else, because I really, really respect romance and love.” The women she creates mirror the ethos she embodies. Babalola champions a romanticism rooted in trust, independence and bravery—both in Honey and Spice and as the star of her own story.

Photo of Bolu Babalola credit Caleb Azumah Nelson.

The author's debut romance, Honey and Spice, celebrates the love she wants to see in the world.

A brilliant and wildly creative young woman with sharp corners and a sharper tongue discovers the softer side of life in Bolu Babalola's dazzling debut romance, Honey and Spice.

Kikiola “Kiki” Banjo is a Nigerian British undergraduate student at Whitewell, a fictional university in England. Among the Black community of Whitewell, known as Blackwell, she looms large. She leads FreakyFridayz, the standing Friday night hangout, and hosts a popular relationship advice radio show, “Brown Sugar.” But few people truly know her. After her mother's near-fatal illness and a falling-out with her best friend over a manipulative guy, Kiki has withdrawn into herself, only letting her “ride or die” roommate into her private life.

Meanwhile, a new transfer student named Malakai Korede has abandoned his economics degree to study film, his first love. His girlfriend broke up with him over this decision, and he subsequently decided not to get overly involved with the girls he dates at his new university. Kiki calls him out on her radio show for his lack of commitment, warning the Black female students against going out with him. 

Bolu Babalola shares her romantic vision.

But then Kiki and Malakai realize they could both achieve their dreams—hers of winning a prestigious internship, his of winning an esteemed film competition—by working together to create a film and a radio show focusing on relationships. The only problem is that Malakai's commitment phobia, Kiki's lack of a dating life and her derision toward Malakai are common knowledge on campus. So they decide to start fake-dating in order to give themselves credibility. True trust is slow to grow between them, but Kiki's and Malakai's vulnerabilities and innate integrity, not to mention their sparky chemistry, deftly portrayed in Babalola's banter-filled prose, draw them closer and closer together.

Sprinkled with Yoruba words and British slang, Honey and Spice hums with Babalola's unique voice, which is full of energy and sensitive insights, often punctuated with laughter. Kiki and Malakai are multilayered, complex characters who approach life with thoughtfulness, passion, maturity and courage. Readers will especially appreciate how they are not afraid to tackle problems head-on, trusting that their instincts and intellectual abilities will be able to solve any issue. Honey and Spice is a deeply romantic story of two souls who grow closer as they recognize the generosity and humanity in each other. They each have their faults, but their individual imperfections make them perfect together.

Honey and Spice, an enemies-to-lovers romance set on a British university campus, hums with author Bolu Babalola's energetic, intelligent voice.

Katee Robert's Wicked Beauty, the third installment in her extremely popular Dark Olympus series, is a modern feminist reimagining of the Iliad‘s Helen, Achilles and Patroclus. 

In the previous two novels, Robert introduced readers to her version of Olympus, a glamorous city where the names of the 13 major Greek gods are titles that are either won or inherited. While the first two books in the series portrayed iconic mythological couples like Hades and Persephone, Wicked Beauty breaks with tradition to pair Helen of Troy with Achilles and Patroclus as all three characters compete to become the new Ares, the commander of Olympus' army.

As second in command in Athena's elite band of warriors, Achilles is a top contender to win the role of Ares. Patroclus, his best friend and lover, doesn't have any desire to take the title, but he's all too happy to join the games for the sole purpose of helping Achilles win. They're self-assured and just the right amount of smarmy, which makes it doubly satisfying to watch their confidence falter when Helen enters the competition.

Helen has been a pawn in Olympus' power struggles for her entire life, and she is over it. She's struggled to get out from under the thumb of her manipulative ex, Paris, and is on the verge of being married off for political gain by her brother, who recently became the new Zeus. If she wins the title of Ares, she'll finally be free to make her own mark on the world. Everyone doubts her, thinking she's nothing more than a pretty face, and there are plenty of fist-pumping moments as she uses that doubt to gain the upper hand.

Wicked Beauty is an absolutely scorching, off-the-charts steamy romance. The combination of cutthroat action and sexual tension makes this book a fast-paced, unrelenting page turner. As the contest grows deadlier, it becomes clear that someone is out to permanently eliminate Helen. When Achilles' and Patroclus' protective instincts kick in, they add rocket fuel to both their relationship with Helen and the increasingly adrenaline-pumping competition. 

Readers should prepare for a luxurious, sinfully delightful experience that they'll try but fail to savor—because it's all but impossible to put Wicked Beauty down.

Katee Robert's Wicked Beauty is a scorching romance that reimagines Helen, Achilles and Patroclus in a polyamorous relationship.

Maggie Moves On

Maggie Moves On by Lucy Score is a rom-com that will especially delight lovers of HGTV and will charm practically everyone else. Happy-to-wander Maggie Nichols makes a living as a house flipper and documents her success on a popular YouTube channel. When she selects a mansion in Kinship, Idaho, as her next fixer-upper, she meets hunky landscaper Silas Wright and promptly loses her heart. Can she learn to settle down with a man who's firmly rooted in his charming hometown? An Old West-style myth (lost gold!) adds to the fun, which also includes hilarious family group texts and a real standout of a hero. Silas oozes confidence and charm, especially when he's crooning impromptu with his stepmother on a bar stage. Maggie Moves On is a sexy, sweet and easy read, but readers may still find themselves wiping away sentimental tears at its unabashed and all-encompassing happily ever after. Relax and enjoy this one while dreaming of dream houses, blissful blended families and Idaho finger steaks.

You Were Made to Be Mine

Julie Anne Long offers a historical romance to savor with You Were Made to Be Mine. Former British spy Christian Hawkes is fresh out of prison and out of funds. For an exorbitant fee, he agrees to find Lady Aurelie Capet, the Earl of Brundage's runaway fiancée. Christian has his suspicions about the earl, suspicions that prove horribly true when he tracks down the beautiful Aurelie, who has taken a new name and is hiding out at the Grand Palace on the Thames boarding house in an effort to escape from her wicked fiancé. As with the four previous novels in the Palace of Rogues series, this book is teeming with fascinating characters, and every paragraph crackles with life. Long's third-person narration allows for entertaining glimpses into the cast, from would-be footmen to the delightful proprietresses of “TGPOTT” (as embroidered on signature handkerchiefs). Christian and Aurelie are a couple that is eminently worth rooting for, and their desperate yearning and aching tenderness are sure to linger long in readers' hearts.

The Romance Recipe

Two women deal with career, family and romantic turmoil in The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett. Amy Chambers, the owner of struggling restaurant Amy and May's, and Sophie Brunet, the restaurant's chef, are each harboring a secret crush on the other. Sophie has recently realized that she's bisexual, and Amy's confidence in herself makes her as intimidating as she is alluring. Amy isn't wont to open up to anyone, especially someone like Sophie, who Amy worries might be looking for new experiences instead of commitment. But even as they attempt to keep things between them casual, Amy and Sophie's potent physical chemistry draws them together. Sensual feasts abound, both in luscious culinary creations and detailed sex scenes, as Barrett masterfully portrays the sensation of infatuation growing into true love.

Dive into two romances that are as emotional as they are steamy, plus a sweet and sexy rom-com for HGTV lovers.

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