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All Contemporary Romance Coverage

She wears impractically high heels, no matter where she goes. 

She’s always on a treadmill or a stationary bike, barking orders at her long-suffering assistant via her AirPods. 

When she gets off the elevator, she hurls her jacket out and expects someone to materialize and catch it—and place a perfectly heated latte in her hand at the same time.

She’s the archetypical Big City Woman, and I love her. Perhaps more importantly, I’m curious about her. Every time some new iteration of her shows up in a show or movie or book, I find myself wondering where she’s coming from, and when the last page ends or the credits roll, I wonder where she’s headed. 

That’s where Book Lovers—in its earliest draft, titled City Person—came from: my fascination not only with this kind of character and her potential origins but also with the way that stories tend to treat her. Like she’s someone else’s cautionary tale, a villain to be defeated, the foil to the small-town sweetheart the hero actually belongs with. 

“It takes all types, and no one type is any more or less worthy of love.”

In this last scenario, she’s often a symbol of the life the hero needs to leave behind. She’s an addendum to the high-pressure job that keeps him from answering his parents’ phone calls. The one calling to check on how his business trip is going and to hound him for taking so long when the mass firing he was supposed to conduct at the local toy factory should have been an in-and-out job.

She’s representative of the shallow, empty life he needs to break free from to take hold of his happy ending.

Don’t get me wrong: I love these kinds of transformational fish-out-of-water stories. 

I’m also a big believer in not taking one particular character’s journey as an indictment of a different kind of journey. Just because one guy decides to give up his high-powered job in the city to work at his new girlfriend’s small-town bakery doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It takes all types, and no one type is any more or less worthy of love.

But what does it say if this one character, the high-strung Big City Woman, only ever shows up to act as another woman’s foil, to prove how worthy and good that other woman is by comparison?  

Read our review of ‘Book Lovers’ by Emily Henry.

Or if, when the Big City Woman finally gets her love story, it’s the same kind as the ones she’s been making cameos in for all these years? The kind where she leaves her life in the city, meets a man who’s her polar opposite and finds the true meaning of life on a charming Christmas tree farm. 

What does it say about the way we see women like this if they’re never allowed a love story unless it hinges on them giving up everything we find so compelling about them? 

That’s why I wrote Book Lovers. Not just because I thought it would be a blast to figure out what made this kind of woman tick but because I wanted to give her a different story, one where she wasn’t a foil or a villain or a cautionary tale but just another person, deserving of life-changing love and a happy ending—her version, not somebody else’s.

Photo of Emily Henry by Devyn Glista, St. Blanc Studios.

In her latest romance, Book Lovers, Emily Henry celebrates the much-maligned archetype of the urban career woman.

New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry (Beach Read, People We Meet on Vacation) returns with Book Lovers, in which an ambitious literary agent’s summer trip takes an unexpected turn when she’s stuck in a small town with her professional nemesis.

Nora Stephens is known for her cutthroat drive and the dogged devotion to her clients and their manuscripts. There’s really only one person who can get through her tough exterior, and that’s her younger sister, Libby. When Libby proposes a sisters’ trip to the small town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, Nora acquiesces. Once there, Nora is surprised to run into book editor Charlie Lastra, a man she’s deeply disliked ever since he ruthlessly turned down one of her books. Apparently, Charlie is a Sunshine Falls native, and he seems different than Nora remembers from their encounters in New York City. He’s not the abrupt editor that spurned her before; he’s actually charming, which Nora finds particularly infuriating.

Henry excels at writing introspective, heroine-focused romance, and she uses the character of Nora to dismantle the stereotypical “career woman” archetype: the cold, ambitious person who sacrifices relationships for the sake of her job and often stands in the way of a more conventionally “feminine” woman’s happiness. But in Book Lovers, Nora doesn’t have to change her driven nature to find a partner who appreciates her. While Charlie is a real softie at heart, he still celebrates Nora’s desire to excel. He understands her professional ambitions, because he harbors similar ones himself.

Emily Henry wants justice for the “Big City Woman.”

And while Sunshine Falls’ small-town charm does eventually win Nora over, the most significant result of her letting her guard down is not so much her relationship with Charlie so much as it’s the reaffirmation of her love for her sister. Nora deeply cares for Libby, and as the trip goes on, Nora begins to sense that something is amiss. Their sisterly affection is a sweet delight to witness, an unconditional and supportive love that Henry celebrates just as much as Nora’s romance with Charlie.

Is it possible for Henry to write a romance that doesn’t glitter with pithy banter or that isn’t filled with characters you want to root for? So far, the answer is no. As the title suggests, readers who love meta “books about books” will delight in the details of Nora’s and Charlie’s occupations and their passion for reading. But Book Lovers is also a wonderful examination of work-life balance, the intricacies of family relationships and the realization that you shouldn’t have to compromise yourself for love.

A delightful romance that both dismantles and celebrates the “career woman” archetype, Book Lovers cements Emily Henry's status as one of the best rom-com writers around.

Think of the traditional, often toxically masculine, romance hero. Now think about his polar opposite. Gentle rather than domineering, warm rather than arrogant male characters have grown increasingly popular in the genre. While cinnamon roll-sweet guys aren’t everyone’s drug of choice in Romancelandia, sometimes unconditional love and support is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Part of Your World

In a few short years, Abby Jimenez has become one of romance’s most acclaimed and popular authors. Her fairy tale-esque, opposites-attract fourth novel, Part of Your World, will only elevate her standing. 

Alexis Montgomery is a 38-year-old emergency room doctor who comes from a long line of Midwestern medical royalty. When her car lands in a ditch at dusk in the middle of nowhere, a tattooed, hunky mystery man in a pickup truck comes to her aid. Daniel Grant rescues her and then drives away, thinking he’ll never see her again. But thanks to the extremely limited dining options of Wakan, Minnesota, Alexis and Daniel reunite and decide to give in to their attraction and spend the night together. 

Alexis soon finds that there’s more to her hot rescuer than his looks. Gentle and kind, Daniel is something of a small-town renaissance man: He’s the mayor of Wakan, an artist and a bed-and-breakfast proprietor who caters patiently to his rescue dog and nurses his friend’s baby goat in his spare time. There’s also more to Alexis than meets the eye, but since Wakan is a two-hour drive from her work and home in Minneapolis, it’s easy to keep her weekend escapes and real life separate. The adorable town of Wakan and Daniel’s warm, accepting company provide a respite from Alexis’ struggles with a condescending ex-boyfriend who won’t accept that their relationship is over and a father who thinks she’s a slacker for not living up to the family name. 

Jimenez is an excellent storyteller, and her special blend of humor and angst is polished to perfection in Part of Your World. Despite Alexis’ accomplishments, it’s not easy for her to push back on all the expectations placed upon her, especially since her elite family, ex-boyfriend and friends wield them like a cudgel. Those tensions and their age gap of 10 years provide plenty for Daniel and Alexis to overcome. But those stark differences also lend an almost Cinderella-like feel to Part of Your World. The hospital where Alexis works is called Royaume, and she even loses a fancy slipper (high heel) on their first night together. Daniel makes a worthy modern prince in this love story, which will enchant romance veterans and newbies alike.

A Brush With Love

In Mazey Eddings’ debut, A Brush With Love, Dan Craige and Harper Horowitz have the kind of natural spark Harper’s only heard of in the movies, even though their first meeting is an absolute disaster: Harper crashes into Dan at the dental school they both attend and smashes his class project. She offers to help him remake it, and their immediate connection only gets stronger from there. 

But their romance is complicated by two distinct issues: Harper’s chronic anxiety and Dan’s ambivalence about graduate school. Full of passion and aptitude, Harper is at the top of her class and on the cusp of securing a challenging oral surgery residency. But Dan is struggling to get through his first year of dentistry school and is only attending out of familial obligation. 

As their friendship and attraction grows, so does Harper’s anxiety. Maintaining laserlike focus on school is one of Harper’s primary coping mechanisms, along with strict adherence to habits and rituals. Eddings effectively communicates that for Harper, rules are a “life preserver in the choppy storm of anxiety.” A romantic relationship would undermine many of her adaptations and strategies, but holding the line against her attraction to Dan becomes increasingly difficult. For someone so in need of control, love is both exciting and dangerous, and the result is a spiral of anxious thoughts. 

Despite the serious nature of Harper’s situation, Eddings’ characters and their relationship feel well balanced at virtually every stage. Both leads are lovably flawed; both have vulnerabilities and strengths. Anxiety doesn’t negate Harper’s talents or her competence either. When they’re working together early on in the novel, Dan is the one who’s adorably tongue-tied in Harper’s presence. It’s clear that he gets and respects Harper for who she is, even as he realizes the challenge that her anxiety presents, and their sweet connection is bolstered by meaningful conversations. 

Harper’s mental health difficulties escalate to a more harrowing point than many may expect in the context of a romantic comedy. But even though what’s on the page feels heavier than what the illustrated cover indicates, Dan and Harper’s romance is well worth the journey.

In two contemporary romances, sweet and sensitive heroes help heal ailing hearts.

LA may be a city of smoke and mirrors, but this trio of romances is a friendly reminder of how important it is to delve beneath the surface and get to the heart of the matter in, well, matters of the heart.

Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell

Taj McCoy’s debut romance isn’t interested in superficial Hollywood glitz; rather, it’s an exuberant story about a relatable Everywoman whose shine has lost a bit of its luster. The title may be Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell, but it takes Savvy a while to bounce back after her boyfriend, Jason, breaks off their six-year relationship over dinner after announcing he needs an “upgrade.” Her tightknit group of gal pals squad up for Savvy’s sake, encouraging her plan to overhaul her life. On the docket are goals like getting a promotion, writing a cookbook, renovating her grandparents’ house in Los Feliz and losing weight. Absent are the things that really count, like bolstering her self-confidence and learning to love herself as she is. A key moment in her journey comes early on, when she epically misjudges handsome Spencer Morgan. Because of his dusty clothes, she assumes he’s experiencing homelessness and brushes off his flirting, only to learn that he’s actually a contractor. It’s the opposite of a successful meet-cute, but it does result in a profound moment of self-reflection. Savvy feels constantly judged for her weight, and she projected that sense of constant negative scrutiny onto Spencer. Moments like this drive the plot; McCoy is less focused on romance than she is on thoughtfully constructing her heroine’s journey to enlightenment. Luckily, Savvy is a particularly zeitgeisty heroine: a woman on a quest to improve both her physical and mental well-being.

Funny You Should Ask

Young adult author Elissa Sussman may be poised for a breakout hit with her first novel for adults, Funny You Should Ask. This tightly written romance follows a successful writer and a Hollywood A-lister who previously crossed paths during an interview that changed the trajectories of their lives. Chani Horowitz is now a writer of essays, profiles and commentary, but a decade ago she was just kicking off her career. She was thrilled to land a profile piece of the next James Bond, a wholesome Montana boy named Gabe Parker. He was handsome and dazzling, and Chani was totally crushing on him. They clicked immediately and then spent a momentous weekend together in LA, roaming from Gabe’s house in Laurel Canyon to a high-profile movie premiere to a gay club, reveling in the city’s culinary scene and endless supply of things to do and places to see. But afterward, Chani returned to New York City with her boyfriend, Gabe married his new co-star, and neither of them were happy. Funny You Should Ask bounces back and forth between Chani and Gabe in the present and during their lost weekend. There are a ton of details to unpack, with a lot of different characters in a lot of different times and places. But Sussman’s smart writing and firm control over the narrative steadily lead you on to the next page, and the next page, and the page after that. She also uses the dual-timeline structure to great effect in support of the eventual happy ending. 

Business Not As Usual

Dreamy Daniels, the heroine of Sharon C. Cooper’s latest contemporary romance, Business Not As Usual, truly lives up to her name and will charm the pants off readers (and off her love interest, too). Dreamy’s personal mantra is that anything is possible if you believe. She plays the lottery every week with her grandfather, confident with her whole being that she’ll be a big winner one day. A hard worker with a vision for starting a nonprofit for aspiring female entrepreneurs, Dreamy makes do in the meantime by working as a secretary for a tech guru. But then she meets venture capitalist Karter Redford who, despite being the son of acting royalty, turns out to be a kindred spirit who sees the value in a little intellectual elbow grease. He appreciates both her shiny, wild exterior and the resilient, creative thinker beneath it. To Karter, the fact that Dreamy lives in one of LA’s underprivileged neighborhoods doesn’t matter. But his mother thinks that Dreamy isn’t cultured, sophisticated or educated enough to be a good match for her son. Cooper, however, doesn’t fall back on such stereotypical characterizations. Dreamy and Karter are intelligent, mature adults who root for each other, which in turn makes the reader root all the harder for them in this flirty, fun and refreshing romance.

Los Angeles may be a city of smoke and mirrors, but this trio of romances is all about getting real.

★ Boss Witch

A witch hunter is on the prowl in the Midwest in Ann Aguirre’s delightful Boss Witch. Clementine Waterhouse, one of the owners and operators of the Fix-It Witches repair shop, vows to save her family and coven by distracting Gavin Rhys, a sexy Brit who’s arrived in town to snatch away the power of any witch in the vicinity. Gavin and Clem quickly discover a powerful spark of sexual attraction between them, and it’s enough to keep them both bewitched, bothered and bewildered until reinforcements are called in from Gavin’s team. Can they craft a solution to an age-old enmity and find a forever love? Boss Witch may be a paranormal romance, but Gavin and Clem have problems every reader can relate to: meddling family, impossible expectations and fears of intimacy. There’s plenty of amusing whimsy piled into Aguirre’s imaginative story, made all the more charming by her energetic and vivid writing style. Boss Witch will make readers believe in the unbelievable, and wish for a little magic for themselves.

To Marry and to Meddle

A couple finds their new marriage less than convenient in To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters. For years, Lord Julian Belfry was satisfied with his scandalous reputation as the owner of an unsavory theater. He’s only the second son of a marquess, after all, and not set to inherit any grand title. But respectability would certainly sell more tickets, and he thinks that marrying the beautiful but impoverished Lady Emily Turner will help him reach that goal. Emily agrees, as she’s more than ready for a married lady’s relative independence—and it doesn’t hurt that Julian is handsome and charming. But as the pair learns to live together, they must confront uncomfortable truths about themselves. Will these new revelations make or break their union? Waters’ prose harkens back to foundational Regency romance author Georgette Heyer, but Emily and Julian’s individual journeys of learning to like their authentic selves are timeless. A witty cast of secondary characters and glimpses of backstage theater life add to the fun.  

Going Public

A workplace romance starts slow then burns hot in Going Public, the second book in Hudson Lin’s Jade Harbour Capital series. Elvin Goh loves his job as assistant to Raymond Chao, a hotshot fixer and partner at private equity firm Jade Harbour, even if Elvin’s all-hours and hands-on assignments mean he can’t ignore the many lovers who parade in and out of Ray’s bed. Elvin and Ray are already a great team, but sorting out a thorny, potentially dangerous problem in a Jade Harbour holding brings the pair closer together—and into a new kind of intimacy. Watching sweet, innocent Elvin and jaded playboy Ray navigate new waters will melt readers’ hearts. Lin excels at revealing the inner workings of her characters’ minds, and when they wear their feelings on the sleeve of a luxury business suit . . . well, the appeal is multiplied.

Calling all fans of opposites-attract love stories! We’ve got three steamy recommendations for you in this month’s romance column.

You know that part in a wedding ceremony when the officiant asks if there are any objections? In The Wedding Crasher, that’s when the fun—and the chaos—begins. While assisting her wedding-planner cousin Lina, Solange Perreira witnesses the bride in a moment of passion with a man who clearly isn’t the groom. Despite some natural trepidation, Solange feels compelled to stop this marital train wreck.

Dean Chapman, the jilted and romance-skeptical groom, is less heartbroken by his wedding going down in flames than he is worried about his professional prospects. He works at a conservative law firm that thinks only family men are partner material. To save face, he says that Solange ruined his wedding because they’re in love. Conveniently for him, Solange is willing to play along. A temporary boyfriend would come in handy to impress her visiting family, who won’t be satisfied with her single status regardless of her meaningful and innovative career in education.

The follow-up to Sosa’s breakout rom-com The Worst Best Man, The Wedding Crasher is a winner—thoroughly delightful, modern and fun. The romance naturally flows from the close proximity that’s part and parcel of a fake relationship. And while the scenario is fun, Sosa’s novel is also thoughtful and emotionally resonant, in large part due to its two distinctive main characters and their sparky chemistry. Dean and Solange aren’t looking for true love, and both are battling other people’s restrictive ideas of what a successful life looks like. And most importantly, they’re heavily influenced by their childhoods, both spent with single moms.

When Dean was a child, his mother moved them around from place to place, chasing love and finding bad men and disappointing relationships time and again. Those formative experiences led him to conclude that love is dangerous and destabilizing. He wants a stable home, marriage and a family yet avoids romance, preferring relationships that are structured like business arrangements.

Solange, on the other hand, grew up surrounded by the love of her supportive Brazilian American family. But she’s terrified of making an important life or career choice and having it turn out to be the wrong one, and equally terrified of staying or working in one place for years like her mother did. In contrast to Dean’s story, the origins of Solange’s angst aren’t quite as clear. Why does she think that her mother has made such an enormous mistake? While the emotions come through loud and clear, the reasoning behind them is frustratingly fuzzy.

Ultimately, however, this doesn’t preclude The Wedding Crasher from delivering what readers want most in a romantic comedy. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, tartly sweet and scorching hot—a delicate balance that only a writer of Sosa’s considerable talent can strike.

The follow-up to Mia Sosa’s breakout rom-com The Worst Best Man, The Wedding Crasher is a winner—thoroughly delightful, modern and fun.

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