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All Contemporary Romance Coverage

It's a premise fit for a holiday blockbuster: Oliver Russell is a business magnate with buckets of money, movie star charisma and every luxury a man could want—except someone to share it with. Victoria Scott is a struggling but spirited fashion designer who shows Oliver a fresh perspective, but needs his encouragement to view herself in a new light. She needs a place to demonstrate her talent, and he has a department store empire and a favor to ask: Will she fake an engagement to please his interfering mother in exchange for the showcase of her dreams? Oh, and did I mention that it's Christmastime? And that the story unfolds in Chelsea, a particularly charming section of London? And that Victoria has a Greek chorus of quirky friends and protegees who support and encourage her along the way?

Author Georgia Toffolo mixes all of these ingredients into Meet Me in London, an airy, lace-edged creation that is just as charming as you could hope . . . and might seem, at first glance, to be just a wee bit predictable. But underneath its frills lie additional layers that explore more than you might expect. 

Oliver's wealth and privilege don't shield him from problems; in fact, they seem to have caused some. His family's legacy of focusing on business at the expense of spending time with their children has left him and his parents with plenty of genuine affection for each other but no real vocabulary to connect. And they needto connect, now more than ever, because Oliver's father is going through a health crisis that's showing them that there might not be many chances left. It's moving but also terribly sad that it takes cooking up a fake fiancée to finally give Oliver and his parents something to talk about. 

Meanwhile, Victoria has all the emotional intelligence and insight that Oliver and his family lack, but she gained those skills through pain and suffering. A serious accident changed her life and the lives of her closest friends forever and left Victoria unable to have children. The emotional weight of that loss has ground her down, especially when it led to a humiliating rejection by a previous boyfriend. 

These elements darken the story, but it's to Meet Me in London's benefit. The premise is cotton-candy fluff, but with the addition of real stakes, real pain and real issues to overcome, the plot gains substance and significance. Victoria and Oliver deserve their happy ending not because they're gorgeous and engaging—though they both definitely are—or because their romance is sweet and satisfying. No, they deserve their happily ever after because they've worked toward it, growing and changing beyond the pain in their pasts to build a future together that's full of true love and Christmas cheer.

Meet Me in London is a sweet and entertaining holiday romance with real stakes and substance under its glittery charm.

In Therese Beharrie's And They Lived Happily Ever After, romance novelist Gaia has an unusual way of working through her stories: She personally experiences the passages she's written in deeply vivid dreams. But when she bases a hero on her best friend's hunky brother and he starts sharing the dreams with her, the path to romantic satisfaction gets . . . complicated. South African author Beharrie digs deeper into the multilayered magic of her latest romance.

In the early stages of writing, are you able to dive in, or do you need to plot things out first? Do you have a particular routine to help you get in the right mindset to write?
The only thing I plan before I begin a book is the emotional arcs of the characters. Once I know where my main characters are at the start and where I'd like them to be at the end, I jump right in. Each day is an adventure! As for my routine . . . does grabbing my computer whenever my kids are asleep count? Because that's the extent of my writing routine these days. Like I said, an adventure, haha!

"The predictability writing offers is in such contrast to the unpredictability of life that I honestly find it to be a form of therapy."

Gaia struggles with anxiety, which she deals with by focusing on her writing: a world that she can control. As a writer, what does that control mean to you? Is it empowering? Or does it feel like a responsibility, with all those characters dependent on you to get them where they need to be?
This is a great question! Since I share Gaia's anxiety disorder, I appreciate being able to control what happens in my books. The predictability writing offers is in such contrast to the unpredictability of life that I honestly find it to be a form of therapy. Particularly writing romance, because the emphasis is on good, hopeful, wonderful things.

Gaia's difficult early life made it hard for her to feel like she has agency as an adult. Was the impact that would have on a character something you intentionally set out to explore, or did it arise organically in the writing process? 
Oh, it was definitely intentional. I think growing up without even the illusion of choice deeply affects your ability to make choices as an adult. You might struggle to choose, or make choices without considering the consequences. For Gaia, it's the former. She overthinks everything and punishes herself for it, and all of that contributes to her anxiety. 

The idea that heroines don't need rescuing comes up a couple of times in this book. What they need instead is someone to support and encourage them as they work toward a solution. Is that your preferred romantic lead, less fairytale prince and more friend and ally?
Absolutely! I love the fantasy of a fairytale prince—who doesn't?—and I think there are places in romance to explore that. But personally, I prefer the reality of a collaborative relationship. Two people making a choice to be together, to grow together and to share their lives. There's a beauty and hope in that that I love exploring.

In the book, we visit Gaia's favorite place, which is a bookstore. Where do you go to cheer yourself up? 
I loved going to the movies. The entire experience was such a pleasure, not in the least because it doubled as date night. But with the pandemic, we try to stay away from confined spaces like that, so it hasn't happened in almost two years now.

Gaia deals with some public criticism for being a romance writer. How have you handled the way people sometimes disparage romance novels?
It's frustrating, for sure, but for the most part, I ignore it. I know how much romance novels have done for me, and so many other people feel that way too. Romance gets the credit it deserves within our community. That's good enough for me.

Read our review of And They Lived Happily Ever After.

The way we inherit things from our families, for better or for worse, is a strong theme in the story. How has your own family legacy shaped you and your choices? What legacy do you plan to pass on to your children?
Another great question! My parents have taught me the value of hard work, and I think that determination is part of what helped me to pursue writing as a career. I think that's what I'd like my children to know, too—that hard work and passion can truly help you reach your dreams.

If you could live one of Gaia's stories in your dreams at night, which heroine would you pick, and why?
Princess Jade. Yes, she was trapped in a castle for most of her life (oops?), but I think that's given her the strength and resilience she'll need to rule a kingdom. Plus, now she gets to experience the freedom she lost, getting to know herself and falling in love. Not a super bad deal! (Disclaimer: I do not endorse being trapped in a castle for any person, princess or commoner.)

Both you and Gaia have taglines of sorts for your writing that emphasize diversity. Yours is "Diverse, emotional romance" and Gaia's is "Diverse romance with laughter and heart." In what ways is it important to you personally to add diversity to the romance landscape?
It's been a great pleasure to write characters and settings I didn't see much of growing up, particularly ones that I relate to. This is why my characters are generally all South African, and my settings tend to be in or around South Africa. But the most important way I'd like to add to romance is by representing a wide range of diverse characters, so that my readers can experience more than the stereotypes they've been exposed to thus far.

Author photo by ForeverYours Photography.

Therese Beharrie digs deeper into her multilayered and magical new love story, which follows a romance author who is able to experience her own writing in her dreams.

Writing a novel means walking in your characters' shoes: feeling their pain, celebrating their joys, sharing their fears and anxieties. In Therese Beharrie's And They Lived Happily Ever After, romance novelist Gaia Anders takes this maxim to a whole new level. Every night, the pages she's written during the day come to life in her dreams. Gaia is her heroine—speaking each line of dialogue, experiencing every encounter, even feeling every kiss. On a practical level, she uses this ability as a writing tool. There's nothing like living out a scene's worth of dialogue to hear if it sounds stilted or unnatural. On an emotional level, it allows her to deal with her very real loneliness and isolation in a version of the world that she can control, one where she knows exactly what everyone will say and do and no one can hurt her with an unscripted word or deed. It's a world that lets her live both wildly and safely at once. Until everything changes.

Jacob Scott is Gaia's best friend's little brother. So maybe it's not surprising that they reconnect for the first time in years at a party in Jacob's brother's apartment. It is a little surprising that they run into each other because they're both hiding in the same bedroom though. Jacob doesn't want his brother to scold him for being a workaholic. Gaia doesn't want her friend to scold her for giving in to her pervasive social anxiety and avoiding the party. But Jacob doesn't make her anxious. In fact, they quickly get very close to being physically intimate. An interruption derails their encounter, but it can't wipe the desire from Gaia's mind, so when she goes home and starts a new story, it has a very familiar-looking hero. The only problem is that when Jacob shows up in her dream that night, he doesn't stick to the script. Gaia is still living out her writing in her dreams, but she's not the only real person there anymore. The daytime world has intruded in the form of a man she can't resist, and now can't avoid.

Therese Beharrie digs deeper into the multilayered magic of her latest romance.

There's something wondrous about stories that take the ordinary world and add in something unexplained, something marvelous or frightening or bizarre (or, best yet, all at once). Gaia's dreams feel truly magical, but Beharrie also shows how real life moves on alongside them. Gaia's ability is incredible, but it doesn't solve all her problems. It makes some things easier, some things harder and a lot of things more complicated. Because no matter how well things go in her dreams, where she has all the control, in the morning she has to wake up and face real life—where interacting with strangers scares her, she has hardly anyone she'd consider a friend and she grapples every day with a former foster child's sense that there's nowhere she belongs and no one she can count on. It's little wonder that she prefers her dreams.

And yet, at the end of the day, life is real and vivid and shockingly intense. The magic of the story comes from Gaia learning to choose that real, scary, vivid life over the safety of her imagination. In Beharrie's wonderful romance, real love is even better than magic.

Real love is even better than magic in Therese Beharrie’s story of a romance novelist whose writing comes to life in her dreams.

Whether the setting is a small town, a big city or a seaside refuge, romance has an extra chance to spark and thrive during the holiday season. Characters go home again, or go elsewhere to escape home, but there is no refuge from the potent combination of favorite scents, beloved foods and tender kisses.

★ Duke, Actually

Duke, Actually by Jenny Holiday sparkles with wit and charm. In this modern fairy tale, Dani Martinez decides she is post-men and love-averse as she waits for her divorce to become final. Still, she's excited about being a member of the wedding party for her best friend, Leo, even if that includes contact with Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the Duke of Aquilla. The ultra-handsome aristocrat rubs forthright English professor Dani the wrong way . . . until one night, friendship blossoms and they begin to support each other through career and family drama. The dual settings of New York City and Max's fictional European country of Eldovia add to the fun, but it is the clever banter, smoking love scenes and delightful characters that make this romance like a perfect cup of cocoa—rich, delicious and warming all the way to the heart. Don't miss it. 

★ A Season for Second Chances

Settle in by the sea with Jenny Bayliss' A Season for Second Chances. When chef Annie Sharpe discovers her husband's latest affair, she decides to forge a new life. Finances force her to take a position as a winter guardian for Saltwater Nook, a historic residence in the small town of Willow Bay on the coast of England. The small town has a special history, and the community is dedicated to upholding its traditions. Saltwater Nook is important to the people of Willow Bay, and increasingly so to Annie. Her mind spins toward somehow devising a future for the place, despite knowing the property is set to be razed in six months. Then there's the curmudgeonly nephew of the owner, a man who is brusque and appealing by turns—sparking other fantasies. There's so much to love about this enchanting story. Readers will want their own seat at the cafe Annie opens and to attend every quirky holiday party the townspeople dream up. This lovely, cozy read is perfect for winter. 

The Matzah Ball

Holiday magic clashes with real-life problems and a shared awkward past in The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer. Rabbi's daughter, romance novelist and secret fan of all things Christmas Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt reluctantly attends her parents' Shabbat dinner, despite knowing her childhood archnemesis, Jacob Greenberg, will be at the table this week. He's in New York City to put on a splashy, high-end event: the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration set to take place on the last night of Hanukkah. Rachel finds herself in dire need of a ticket to the swanky sold-out party, since she's desperate for inspiration for the Hanukkah-themed romance she's being paid to pen. There are some amusing rom-com moments involving funny costumes and ballgowns worn with fuzzy socks, but the heart of this story is the central couple's need to face their pasts and deal with their presents, including Rachel's daily, very real struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome. Rachel finds a beauty she's never noticed before in Hanukkah, all while falling in love with Jacob, who proves himself to be a true hero. The Matzah Ball is sweet, kisses-only and highly sigh-worthy.

The Holiday Swap

Twin sisters switch lives and find their matches in The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox. When a concussion causes chef Charlie Goodwin to lose her senses of taste and smell, she fears she might also lose her shot at a bigger and better professional gig. To save the day, her twin, Cass, agrees to take over Charlie's current job of co-hosting a reality baking show in Los Angeles, while Charlie steps in at the family bakery in the small mountain town of Starlight Peak. Since both identical twins are accomplished bakers, no one will be the wiser. From here, cue rom-com conventions: confused exes, befuddled bosses and inconvenient romantic attractions as their subterfuge does not go as smoothly as Cass and Charlie imagined. Starlight Peak is the perfect snowy setting for Christmas cheer as the plot's knots untangle and everyone finds their happy ending. Be warned that this kisses-only romance is full of mouthwatering descriptions of cookies, breads and cakes that just might inspire readers to take a turn in their own kitchens.

No Ordinary Christmas

Former high school sweethearts get a do-over in No Ordinary Christmas by Belle Calhoune. Small-town librarian Lucy Marshall vows to keep clear of Dante West, her high school boyfriend and ex-BFF, when the hunky action star returns to Mistletoe, Maine, to film a movie. Given that his looks are a cross between the Rock and Idris Elba, she doesn't have much luck resisting when Dante asks to talk. He has amends to make with the girl he never forgot and the family he left behind after running off to Hollywood. Perhaps the holiday season will sweeten everyone's feelings for him. But can good intentions and charming community events create the conditions he needs to finally win Lucy's heart? While the pair exchange hugs and kisses only, it's not long before hearts are also engaged in this warm, appealing tale of new understanding and belated forgiveness. The adorable town of Mistletoe is a snow globe-perfect setting in this satisfying holiday romance.

Make the holidays that much sweeter with these five romances.

The rom-com revival shows no signs of stopping, and some truly impressive follow-ups defied the sophomore slump in 2021. But one of the biggest takeaways from this year is quite unexpected: Is paranormal romance about to make a comeback in a big way? All we know for sure is that writers like Suleikha Snyder are using the subgenre to craft poignant political statements, and witchy romances are popping up like toadstools. 

10. Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder

This sexy paranormal romance stands out for its first-rate world building, breakneck pace and incisive social commentary.

9. Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

Beneath Sally Thorne's charming prose and irresistible characters lies a tender, deeply felt story of two overlooked people seeing the beauty in each other.

8. Payback's a Witch by Lana Harper

This supernatural romance is hilarious, moving and glue-you-to-the-page engrossing, and it has one of the most enviably cozy small-town settings you'll ever find.

7. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Readers will feel as attached to Tia Williams' central couple as they are to each other in this meta romance between two authors.

6. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Bursting with heart, banter and a respect for queer history and community, One Last Stop proves that Casey McQuiston has no intention of resting on her laurels after the unprecedented success of Red, White & Royal Blue

5. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

This warm, inventive take on You've Got Mail swaps bookstores for dueling halal restaurants, using the beloved rom-com as a starting point rather than a template.

4. Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

This is a deeply emotional, rewarding story about a woman finding her true path and true love, surrounded by delicious baked goods.

3. Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

In her final Brown Sisters novel, Talia Hibbert exhibits masterful control of plot and character, as well as a wonderful blend of escapist tropes and more difficult truths.

2. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

This inspired and achingly romantic reimagining of the beloved rom-com When Harry Met Sally firmly establishes Emily Henry as the millennial heir to Nora Ephron.

1. All the Feels by Olivia Dade

Heart-wrenching and wildly sexy, this romance details the difficult work of personal growth while cannily commenting on celebrity in the digital age.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The rom-com revival shows no signs of stopping, and some truly impressive follow-ups defied the sophomore slump in 2021.

All the Feels, the second book in Olivia Dade's smart and sexy Spoiler Alert series, follows a dreamy actor with a bad reputation and his down-to-earth soulmate.

Alex Woodroe stars as the mythical Cupid on "Gods of the Gates," a prestige fantasy TV show similar to "Game of Thrones." Following a rocky penultimate season and some embarrassing publicity, the producers have imposed a tight rein on the production of the final episodes. So when Alex gets into a headline-making bar brawl, a tense situation goes from bad to worse—and totally viral. 

Enter Lauren Clegg, an even-tempered but burned-out emergency room psychotherapist. While decompressing between jobs in Europe, she receives a message that Ron, her estranged cousin and childhood bully who also happens to be a producer on "Gods of the Gates," needs her help to get control of his star. Lauren signs on as Alex's "minder." She's essentially his sober companion, but for issues with impulse control and volatile behavior instead of alcohol or drugs. 

It's a uniquely awkward meet cute that immediately results in intense close proximity. But Alex's first reaction to Lauren isn't love struck. For one thing, he thinks that his "new nanny looked like a bird." More importantly, Alex objects to the entire idea that he needs minding.

Yet even though he teasingly dubs her "Nanny Clegg," Lauren doesn't treat him like a child, and the two begin to warm to each other. Soon the main question is whether close work friends, who not only met under inopportune circumstances but also have some inner healing to do, can become lovers. 

All the Feels is a tender, slow burn romance that focuses first on Alex and Lauren's friendship and then on the love that grows between them while they both take their own, separate journeys towards greater emotional well-being. Between her work as a therapist and the judgment she's endured since childhood concerning her appearance, Lauren's shell is hard to penetrate. Dade spends a lot of time depicting how Lauren attracts negative attention but is never surprised by it. After all, Lauren has been bullied before, even within her own family.

But the spotlight of celebrity makes the hostile scrutiny stronger. Alex is a wealthy celebrity, while Lauren is a respected but decidedly middle-class professional who is more comfortable in T-shirts than designer clothing. Due to his troubled family history, Alex has a strong sense of justice and ferocious protective instincts. And while that's certainly noble, All the Feels doesn't put his behavior on a pedestal. Alex might not be as out of control as Ron says he is, but being so reactive is something he needs to learn to manage, especially since he is a public figure.

It can be difficult to balance realism and romance in love stories about two people of unequal status and power. All the Feels delves deeply into the imbalances between its central couple, from looks to finances to fame. It succeeds because Dade ensures that there's far more to Alex and Lauren than their value on the modern-day marriage market. Alex and Lauren's progression toward romance is rooted in their friendship, which blossoms into a mutual care and compassion that is stunning to behold. Their romance is one to cry over and cheer for.

All the Feels, the second book in Olivia Dade’s smart and sexy Spoiler Alert series, follows a dreamy actor with a bad reputation and his down-to-earth soulmate.

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