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Our top 10 books of November 2023

This month’s top titles include career-best works from Jesmyn Ward, Alexis Hall and Naomi Alderman.
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Book jacket image for Nowhere Special by Matt Wallace

Author Matt Wallace excels at depicting realistic family scenarios, complex moral dilemmas, and good-hearted, but flawed, adults.

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The Space Between Here & Now is an intriguing mix of fantasy and realism that lures readers in with the promise of magic and keeps

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Book jacket image for Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward

We sometimes forget that the descent in Dante’s Divine Comedy is a journey toward God. Jesmyn Ward’s portrayal of slavery is the profound manifestation of

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Book jacket image for The Future by Naomi Alderman

The Future is a daring, sexy, thrilling novel that may be the most wryly funny book about the end of civilization you’ll ever read.

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Book jacket image for When I'm Dead by Hannah Morrissey

Hannah Morrissey’s small-town murder mystery When I’m Dead is nigh-on impossible to put down.

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Book jacket image for I Must Be Dreaming by Roz Chast

Longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chaste’s I Must Be Dreaming is an uproarious, touching and zany ride.

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Book jacket image for The Dictionary People by Sarah Ogilvie

The Dictionary People—which chronicles the unsung heroes who contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary—is sheer delight.

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Book jacket image for Flight of the WASP by Michael Gross

Michael Gross’ delightful cultural history of WASPs illuminates the odd corners of the lives of our nation’s elite—and American history itself.

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Book jacket image for 10 Things That Never Happened by Alexis Hall

Alexis Hall’s new rom-com might have a zany setup—a guy fakes amnesia!—but its authentic emotion will win readers’ hearts.

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Book jacket image for The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

Beautiful and expertly executed, The Reformatory is a horror masterpiece that derives its power from both the magical and the mundane.

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

This month’s top titles include career-best works from Jesmyn Ward, Alexis Hall and Naomi Alderman.
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Samira Abdel-Aziz might be in want of a husband but she’s definitely not in want of suitors, having received a slew of what she calls “doorknock appeals” arranged by her traditional Muslim family. But finding one with actual appeal—one who isn’t too “fundy” or too secular, too stylized (she nicknames an excessively gelled suitor “Manga Boy”) or too frumpy, too judgmental or too indifferent—is quite another matter entirely. Things finally start falling into place after a meet cute with the surprisingly charming Menem, but the road to happiness is still long, winding and stuffed with awkward family dinners, nosy relatives and unexpected jealousy from her friend (and former crush), Hakeem.

Amal Awad’s Courting Samira might be best described as an Australian Muslim Bridget Jones. Like Bridget, Samira is a wry, endearing woman with big dreams of what love should look like (e.g. the final kissing scene in The Princess Bride) but minimal success when it comes to figuring out how to get what she wants. Awad warmly displays the formal propriety of Arab Muslim courtship while still highlighting the humor of it all, along with an amused appreciation of its parallels to the Regency world of Jane Austen. (Let’s face it, if Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse magically came to life in our modern world, a doorknock appeal would make a lot more sense to them than Netflix and chill.) However, while the love story Samira experiences may be chaste, it doesn’t feel dated or old-fashioned. Searching for romance is never easy and happiness is never where you expect to find it, but somehow, love will always manage to find a way.

Amal Awad’s Courting Samira is best described as a wry, endearing Bridget Jones set in Sydney’s Muslim community.
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★ 10 Things That Never Happened

A man trying to do right ends up doing one big wrong in Alexis Hall’s 10 Things That Never Happened. Sam Becker enjoys almost everything about his job managing a bed-and-bath store, except for his awful boss, Jonathan Forest. While confronting said boss, Sam hits his head and—well, the details don’t matter when the result is that he fakes amnesia to avoid being fired and moves in with Jonathan so that he can be looked after. That screwball setup leads to a poignant love story, told through Sam’s amusing first-person voice. The close perspective puts the reader shoulder-to-shoulder with Sam, who is actually holding some important stuff back. Closed-off Jonathan is a typical workaholic, yet the attraction between the two housemates grows and becomes impossible to ignore despite the boss-employee taboo. The Christmas season, Jonathan’s zany family and an important company event complicate matters, but the authentic emotion at the center of this romance will win readers’ hearts and make them care deeply about these characters and their hopeful happy ending.

The Predictable Heartbreaks of Imogen Finch

Two childhood friends explore their deep connection in The Predictable Heartbreaks of Imogen Finch by Jacqueline Firkins. Trained artist Imogen has given up her dreams to care for her mother in their small town on the Oregon coast. But when Eliot Swift, the rich-boy crush she never got over, comes back to town, she’s forced to reexamine her choices and the true state of her heart. Eliot must look within too, facing feelings and failings he’s been running from for a decade. Firkins delicately peels back the layers of her main couple to expose their raw emotions. Imogen and Eliot are multifaceted, fascinating personalities, and readers will cross their fingers for a happy ending even though it feels impossible. Love scenes of smoking passion and warm tenderness give this romance an extra sparkle. 

The Once and Future Fling

Leigh Heasley’s imaginative and adventurous The Once and Future Fling is set in a world in which time travel exists and dating people from different eras of history is a sought-after experience for the idle rich. Ada Blum, however, is anything but idle: She’s near-desperate to escape the ramifications of her high-profile relationship with state Sen. Samson St. Laurent by finding a match in another time. Regency-era bachelors aren’t catching her interest, so she takes a chance on 1920s New York City—and that’s where things turn thorny. Henry Levison, a violinist and maybe-criminal from the ’20s, catches hold of her heart, but Samson has also reentered the picture. Gangsters and more time-hops keep things entertaining while readers wonder how—and when—this heartfelt story will end.

Also in this month’s romance column, a time travel romance and a tender small-town love story will delight readers.
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If you’ve ever had a beef with your homeowners association, you’re going to relate to Alexa Martin’s newest rom-com, Next-Door Nemesis. Because in the world of suburbia, the HOA is everybody’s enemy.

When Collins Carter moves back to her childhood home in the wake of a professional meltdown and bad breakup, she’s not expecting to run into Nathaniel Adams. They were friends once, until Nate opted for the greener pastures of teenage popularity and morphed from her best friend to nemesis nearly overnight.

Unfortunately, time has been good to Nate. He’s a hotshot realtor living his best, most successful life right next door to Collins’ parents. He’s also the current vice president of the local HOA, and struts around like he’s the king of his own little fiefdom. Martin uses Nate and Collins’ yearslong derision for each other to set up one fun disaster after another. Nate insists on being in control of everything concerning the neighborhood, while Collins creates roadblocks left and right to throw him off course. She soon has the brilliant idea to dethrone Nate on the next vote for HOA president, which for him would be tantamount to full, total failure. Collins’ embrace of chaos makes her the perfect foil for Nate’s perfection: It’s fun to see her chip away at his levelheaded facade, and it’s just as fun to see him lose his cool.

Martin uses the seemingly lighthearted HOA battle to reveal the deeper emotions both characters are trying to navigate. Winning the presidency isn’t the true goal of either character—rather, the election becomes an outlet for each to fight for control over their own destinies. It doesn’t take long for the cracks in their supposed antagonism to appear, and for the reader to realize that Collins and Nate actually love each other. Both are equally worthy of redemption, and equally capable of giving each other a second chance.

All the hallmarks of Martin’s appeal (as seen in contemporary romance gems such as Intercepted and Better Than Fiction), are present: an enviable, robust friend squad; snappy dialogue; and a slow, but very hot romantic buildup. It’s sexy. It’s steamy. And it sure is fun.

Two former best friends go to war over their local homeowners association in Alexa Martin’s steamy and extremely fun rom-com Next-Door Nemesis.
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What’s the best part of vacation? Is it sugar-white beaches and lots of tropical-themed drinks? Maybe the real allure is just the chance to get away from your everyday life: no alarm clocks, no deadlines, no crowded cubicles or the smell of fish cooking in the office microwave. But if that’s the case, then what would you do if you got all of the expected perks of vacation—but the worst, most annoying part of your job came with you?

That’s the situation Margaret finds herself in when she wins the coveted office quiz prize—an all-expense-paid trip to Zanzibar—but is forced to share it with the officemate she detests, Jagger. He’s everything she can’t stand: a clickbait writer at the same South African newspaper where she writes hard-hitting journalism; a popular playboy while Margaret’s love life is dead in the water; and worst of all, someone who coasts through life even as Margaret struggles with the one-two punch of her divorce and the death of her father. Jagger’s lighthearted attitude seems like a taunt, and tension between them has risen so high that Margaret added an actual, physical partition to their shared workspace to avoid having to see his smug face. But there’s no hiding from him at the beachfront Zanzibar resort, no matter how hard she tries . . . and it becomes harder and harder to ignore the way irritation is giving way to attraction—and maybe something more.

If you like an opposites-attract story, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more clear-cut example than Jo Watson’s What Happens on Vacation. The enemies-to-lovers vibe delivers: Margaret doesn’t have a single kind thought toward Jagger until quite far into the book, with Watson leaning in to humor and sharp repartee during their interactions. It’s a bit too sharp in spots—Margaret’s assumptions can be rather judgmental and harsh, especially since Jagger never retaliates. But Watson portrays Margaret’s struggles so honestly, especially her grief over the loss of her father, that it’s easy to understand why Margaret feels the need to build walls around herself. And Jagger is genuinely charming as he works to bring those walls down. Vacation’s really about letting yourself let go—of stress, cares, worries and doubts. And that’s exactly what happens on vacation for Margaret as she opens the door to love.

Fans of opposites-attract and enemies-to-lovers romances will be well-satisfied by Jo Watson’s What Happens on Vacation.
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There’s something strange, magical and maybe a little tragic about being a preteen girl. You’re not really a kid anymore, but you’re definitely not an adult. Your body is changing in ways that are weird, uncomfortable and deeply embarrassing. But at the same time, it’s so easy to imagine how it’ll all work out, that just around the corner, you’ll be in high school—doing cool and daring things, having epic romances, blossoming into someone gorgeous, confident and desirable, like a character from Sweet Valley High. For most people, a little bit of magic goes out of the world as you realize that growing up never really goes according to plan. But . . . what if you could get some of that magic back?

When Georgie Mulcahy returns to her Virginia hometown at the beginning of Kate Clayborn’s Georgie, All Along, her story is that she’s there to help her best friend, who’s about to have a baby. The truth is that she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After years working as a personal assistant to various Hollywood types, she’s great at managing other people’s lives but way less skilled at figuring out what she might want to do with her own. But while rummaging  through old boxes at her friend’s place, Georgie finds a diary their preteen selves filled with dreams about all the amazing things they would do in high school. The lists are a decade and a half old, but better late than never! Georgie hopes that checking off her younger self’s wish list will help her recapture her spark. And best of all, she has a partner in crime in her quest: Levi Fanning, reformed bad boy and the older brother of her former crush. 

Georgie is a very appealing heroine: warm and vibrant with irrepressible enthusiasm for even the more outlandish ideas. And Levi, despite his initial awkwardness, balances her out, giving her dreams a steadier foundation and paying attention to all the little things that make a dream special. Neither had the best reputation when they were actually in high school, and it’s sweet to see how healing it is for both of them to reclaim some of the experiences they never really got to have. Clayborn takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real. The prodigal daughter comes home—but doesn’t immediately discover her dream bakery or bookstore waiting for her. She reunites with the boy of her preteen dreams, who is still handsome, charming and appealing—but it’s his gruff brother she falls for. The bad boy is reformed—but he carries a lot of baggage that he and the prodigal daughter have to work through together. 

Life and love aren’t as clean and simple as we think they’ll be when we’re younger. But as Georgie, All Along sweetly attests, the pitfalls and struggles along the way make the happily ever after all the more worth it.

Kate Clayborn’s small-town romance takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real.

Falon Ballard’s sophomore novel, Just My Type, is a clever, upbeat rom-com that will leave a smile on readers’ faces and joy in their hearts.

Lana Parker is an expert dating and relationships columnist, but she’s also a serial monogamist who’s uninterested in (and perhaps incapable of) being single. Lana gets dumped by her latest boyfriend, rather than engaged to him, as Just My Type begins, but that’s not even the worst thing to happen to her that week. That honor belongs to the moment when Seth Carson, her high school boyfriend who is now a big-shot freelance journalist, takes an assignment from the website that publishes Lana’s column. Lana’s boss soon instructs the pair to write a dueling series of relationship articles in which Lana records her attempts to stay and enjoy being single and Seth tries to stop being a serial dater and instead become boyfriend material.

Since Seth is the one who got away, the assignment immediately proves difficult—in a delicious way—for Lana. Just My Type might have felt a bit less predictable if Ballard had flipped the gender stereotype, making Seth the one who needed to stop jumping into relationships and Lana the one who needed to learn to settle down. However, Just My Type is still a great showcase for Ballard’s talents: Her voice is fresh and flirty, her characters well developed (Lana’s unfailingly loyal, foulmouthed friend May is the kind of person we all need in our lives), and her pacing brisk and never boring. Romance readers—of all types—will be immensely entertained.

This second-chance romance between two journalists is an immensely fun showcase of author Falon Ballard’s talents.

Katee Robert returns with Radiant Sin, the fourth installment of her popular Dark Olympus series, which gives sexy updates to the classic love stories of Greek mythology. This time around, Robert uses the tale of Apollo and Cassandra as inspiration for a modern workplace romance.

In the original myth, Apollo was the god of prophecy (among many other things) and Cassandra was one of his priestesses whom he cursed: She would be able to predict the future, but no one would ever believe her. In Robert’s version of the story, Apollo is the spymaster of the isolated city of Olympus, as well as Cassandra’s boss. The pair go undercover as a couple to attend a weeklong house party in order to figure out what Minos, a mysterious new arrival in the city and the host of the gathering, is up to. 

A deliciously twisted plot of fake dating, sneaky intrigue and forced proximity unfolds. Cassandra and Apollo realize just how much their quirks (and kinks) complement each other, all while unpacking the class issues within their relationship that arise from their disparate backgrounds. While Radiant Sin is lighter on the love scenes than the preceding three books in the series, there’s still plenty of steam. And Robert cleverly peppers in details that anchor the myth-inspired story in the real world, such as broken elevators, traffic delays and office politics. 

While fans of Greek mythology will be tickled by Robert’s reinterpretation of Apollo and Cassandra, you need not be a classics expert to enjoy this sultry romance.

In her latest Dark Olympus romance, Katee Robert gives the myth of Apollo and Cassandra a sultry, modern spin.
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Nareh “Nar” Bedrossian, the fascinating and lovable protagonist of Taleen Voskuni’s tender sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a walking, talking identity crisis. Nar’s never been comfortable in her own skin; she doesn’t fully embrace her career as a video journalist, her Armenian heritage or her bisexuality. There’s plenty of room for growth, and Voskuni deftly delivers it in a romance bursting with specificity and cultural depth, told through Nar’s distinctive voice.

Voskuni kicks things off with Nar’s boyfriend’s complete failure of a marriage proposal, and this cringey and brilliant opening scene exposes what Nar knows in her soul: She’ll never be happy if she surrenders part of herself for a man who is so dismissive of her culture. That’s why Nar agrees to attend “Explore Armenia,” a monthlong series of events that celebrate the Armenian American community in her home of San Francisco, California. Who knows? Maybe she’ll meet a man her mother deems appropriate (read: handsome, eligible and Armenian). Instead, Nar meets beautiful, chic and confident Erebuni Minassian, who rescues Nar from having to marshal the confidence to enter a mixer on her own.

Despite the value Nar places on community and family connection, she frequently recoils from what she perceives to be embarrassing aspects of Armenian identity, such as their penchant for gold, departures from Western beauty ideals and ubiquitous discussions of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This discomfort is a result of the clash of values that marked Nar’s childhood. Her late father strove to be a more stereotypically white American, while her mother takes pride in their culture.

A nuanced, complex battle between these two sets of priorities is constantly raging inside Nar’s head. Cool, levelheaded Erebuni is a totally swoonworthy love interest, and it’s impossible not to root for Nar. Voskuni gorgeously depicts their connection, but the narrative arc hinges on Nar’s journey from ambivalence to acceptance. Sorry, Bro is a beautifully crafted portrait of a woman and the Armenian American community, which has been historically underrepresented on the page.

Taleen Voskuni’s sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a beautifully crafted portrait of a woman and her Armenian American community.
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We’re living in an age of reboots. Everywhere you turn, another classic show or movie is getting a fresh start or a cast reunion. So it feels very much of the moment to have a romance set during the production of a beloved TV series’ 20th anniversary special.

The Reunion, Kayla Olson’s adult debut, opens as Liv Latimer, star of the groundbreaking, wildly popular six-season smash-hit series “Girl on the Verge,” steps back into the shoes of her character, Honor St. Croix. Her return to playing Honor comes with a return to the spotlight—which she mostly shunned after the show ended, choosing to stick to smaller indie movies instead—and a return to Ransom Joel. Ransom was Liv’s co-star, best friend, on-screen love interest and longtime real-life secret crush. In the years since “Girl on the Verge,” he’s become an international action movie star. Liv’s been out of touch with Ransom for years, but it only takes minutes in his company for all the old feelings to come back twice as strong. And after all this time, it seems like her feelings might be reciprocated . . . but falling in love is hard enough when the whole world isn’t watching. 

There’s plenty of Hollywood glitz in The Reunion (with luxe descriptions of houses and events), but underneath all the glamour is the poignant aura of a high school reunion. There’s nothing like being surrounded by people who knew you as a kid to help you realize how much you’ve grown up and which opportunities you’ve let pass you by. Olson’s characters are easy to root for all the way through, to the point that I found myself caring deeply about the reboot of a show that never existed. In fact, “Girl on the Verge” sounds so great that I’m sad I can’t watch it myself. And when love finally happens for Ransom and Liv, I felt all the thrill of a dedicated fan, finally seeing my OTP come to life.

If The Reunion has a weakness, it’s how perfect Ransom and Liv are for each other. They seem so mutually smitten right from the start that I half expected this to be one of those romances in which the heroine finally gets a chance with the man of her dreams but then discovers that it’s someone else she’s meant to be with after all. But on the other hand, it’s nice to think that love can be that simple, that clean. Maybe that’s what we like about all these reboots: the idea that we can go back to what we loved before and find it right there waiting for us—just as sweet as we remember, with a payoff that’s just as satisfying as we always hoped it would be.

Kayla Olson’s sweet, satisfying romance follows two actors who uncover long-buried feelings when they reunite for the 20th anniversary of the show they starred in as teens.
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In many romance novels, love requires exposure: of one’s true desires and inner secrets, often of one’s most vulnerable self. In this month’s best romances, characters can only find happiness after first finding themselves—and sharing that truth with their partner.

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters pens a tender love story in Behind the Scenes. Director Ash Stewart is preparing to pitch a movie near and dear to her heart—a rom-com about two lonely women who fall in love—so she turns to successful business consultant Rose Josten for help polishing the proposal she’ll present to movie executives. While the entertainment industry is not Rose’s forte, she’s intrigued by the idea of the film as well as by the cool yet vulnerable Ash. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace that suits the cautious main characters; while Rose and Ash fall fast, they don’t trust that their attraction will result in anything real. Readers will cheer for these capable, talented and mature women, both of whom have fascinating careers and interesting hobbies. They just need to find the right person to help them fill the empty spaces and heal their wounds. Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.

Also in BookPage: Read our review of the Behind the Scenes audiobook.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes

After Rose Maxwell’s sister took over her role as witch leader-in-waiting, Rose is in need of some new life goals. An ill-advised horse-napping at the beginning of April Asher’s dashing and delightful paranormal romance Not Your Ex’s Hexes results in Rose sentenced to community service at an animal sanctuary under the close supervision of half-demon vet Damian Adams. All kinds of sparks fly between them, but he’s grumpy and she’s not interested in relationships. But a friends-with-benefits arrangement seems possible and maybe even sensible until they must face danger—and all the emerging emotions they’ve vowed not to feel. In fact, Damian is sure he can’t actually be feeling them, having been hexed as a teen, but all signs are pointing to the opposite. Asher’s second installment in the Supernatural Singles series is full of action and well-constructed characters. Heart-tugging animals and steamy love scenes make this otherworldly romance a charmer.

Do I Know You?

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have written an intriguing twist on the second-chance romance in Do I Know You? In honor of their fifth anniversary, Eliza and Graham Cutler head to a luxury resort in Northern California, hoping a vacation might revive their stalled marriage. Upon learning that there’s been a hotel mix-up and they have two rooms booked instead of one, Eliza impulsively proposes that they sleep separately. Moreover, she suggests they take on new personas so they can meet as strangers and possibly rediscover a spark between them. While hiking, eating and exercising together as their alter egos, Graham and Eliza each come to value new things about the other and recall what led to their original commitment. Readers will root for both characters in this mature and intimate examination of a relationship.

The Duke Gets Even

A happy ending seems impossible in Joanna Shupe’s The Duke Gets Even. Andrew Talbot, the Duke of Lockwood, is desperate to wed an heiress and fill his family’s coffers. But then his antagonistic relationship with free-spirited American Nellie Young transforms into a burning passion. The duke lost out on love in the previous installments of Shupe’s Fifth Avenue Rebels series, and it doesn’t seem like his luck will change: He needs to marry for money, and Nellie can’t imagine life as an English duchess. An affair with Andrew as he seeks the right bride will have to be enough, except, of course, it quickly isn’t. The appealing Nellie wants more for herself and other women of her time, and she’s not at all ashamed of her sexual appetites. Honorable Andrew feels the weight of his responsibilities, yet the fiery ardor he shares with Nellie—featured in feverish love scenes—turns his world upside down. Sensuous and sophisticated, The Duke Gets Even is a satisfying climax to a wonderful and romantic series.

Make a Wish

Romances between a single father and a nanny are a beloved genre staple, but author Helena Hunting explores the trope sans rose-colored glasses in Make a Wish. When she was 20 years old, Harley Spark worked as a nanny for newly widowed Gavin Rhodes. She fell in love with his baby daughter, Peyton, and perhaps with him, before Gavin and Peyton moved away. Seven years later, Gavin and Harley reconnect—and there is an obvious attraction between them. Their happily ever after appears inevitable, until grief, guilt and in-laws step in. Make a Wish chronicles Gavin and Harley’s authentic doubts and fears, with sizzling love scenes and sweet moments creating a sigh-worthy love story.

In this month’s best romances, characters can only find true love after first finding themselves.
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When Tessa Bailey’s Bellinger Sisters (It Happened One Summer and Hook, Line, and Sinker) duology went megaviral on TikTok, readers everywhere learned what romance fans had known for years: If you want rom-com hijinks and a high heat level, there is no one better than Bailey. Her latest book, Secretly Yours, is a steamy opposites-attract love story that will only increase her legion of admirers.

Secretly Yours is the start to a new duology, A Vine Mess. Can you tell us a little bit about this new book and the overall setting for the series?
The setting is Napa! After writing a series in the misty Pacific Northwest, I was in the mood for a sun-drenched vineyard. In this duology, we’re going to find love for the Vos siblings; they are heirs to a vineyard that is influential and respected but has perhaps seen better days. Julian Vos, a regimented history professor, is my first victim in Secretly Yours. He begins receiving mysterious love letters at the same exact time that he begins falling for his gardener, Hallie, a free spirit who flouts convention and comes with a trio of slobbery dogs. Julian is fiercely attracted to Hallie. Even though he is positive they could never work as a couple, he can’t stop fabricating reasons to see her. 

Since wine and vineyards feature prominently, did you do any research on winemaking or vineyard upkeep?
Yes, I drank a lot of wine as my main form of research and found it very educational. I also watched a lot of documentaries on winemaking. The process is a lot more complicated than I could have imagined. There is no set method or recipe for wine. It is a constantly evolving art form, especially with new technology. If I learned anything from the eight documentaries I binged, it’s that grapes are extremely temperamental, vintners are more like scientists and I just want to drink the wine. There are a lot of great vineyards within driving distance of where I live on Long Island, New York, and they served as inspiration for my Napa setting.  

“I drank a lot of wine as my main form of research and found it very educational.”

Hallie and Julian are total opposites in a grumpy-meets-sunshine sort of way: Hallie is bubbly and upbeat, while Julian is more on the stuffy side. What do you enjoy about writing an opposites-attract romance? Do you have an ultimate favorite trope to write?
I cannot seem to quit opposites-attract romances. There is something very satisfying about two extremely different personality types finding common ground. There are so many opportunities for them to teach each other new perspectives on everyday life and really unlock something momentous in each other. For instance, in Secretly Yours, Hallie has an organic, unplanned approach to flower placement. Julian wants rows and structure, but when he sees Hallie’s finished product, he acknowledges that the lack of structure is what makes the garden beautiful and interesting.

My favorite trope to write is enemies to lovers, but the storyline must be very specific for me to fall in love enough to write a book of that nature. It’s important to me that, while the hero might be an “enemy” at first, he actually has a soft, Tootsie Roll center when it comes to the heroine. 

At times, Julian and Hallie’s diverging personalities create conflict between them. How did you balance making these two people so different while still giving them a workable path toward happily ever after?
I really think it goes back to perspective. Julian has this rigid, almost unrealistic schedule. Every moment of the day is accounted for. Due to some past trauma, he believes the careful life balance he has created in order to preserve his mental health will collapse if he doesn’t adhere to his strict daily plans. But he learns through observing Hallie (and constantly having his schedule interrupted by her and the pooches) that everything doesn’t collapse if his plans get derailed.

On the opposite end, Hallie learns that a little structure won’t kill her. It’s really rewarding to take characters on a journey that allows them to see the world differently and learn something about their own resilience. 

Book jacket image for Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey

Why did you decide to have Julian receive physical love letters rather than “wrong number” texts or anonymous social media messages?
I took the old-school route because physical letters are more classically romantic and felt more appropriate for this particular series. Letters are a Big Gesture. They would be more of a surprise to receive than a direct message on social media, and have a little more gravity to them. If someone took the time to write words on actual paper and send them to me, in my opinion, those words would carry a lot of weight. 

While Secretly Yours has funny moments and great banter, Julian and Hallie are also dealing with serious things. Julian has anxiety and experiences panic attacks, while Hallie is grieving the death of her grandmother. How do you keep a romance from feeling too light or too dark?
This is the challenge going into a modern romantic comedy. Readers expect there to be high stakes on the road to happily ever after. We don’t need the path to be easy, simply because the book has humorous situations or a humorous tone. A lot of us deal with the heavier aspects of life by laughing or creating levity. So that is my balancing act—making sure there is depth to the characters and their struggles, while also making sure the champagne bubble, fizzy feeling of romance is on the page. I can usually feel when I need a more poignant scene or if the story needs a break from carrying a heavy emotional load. It’s just a sixth sense. Time for a food fight!

For those who may be picking up a Tessa Bailey book for the first time, what can they expect? What’s the recipe for a Bailey romance? 
Heat, humor and heart. In one of my books, a reader can expect lovable, relatable characters who are usually at a transition point in their lives—such a coincidence that they happen to meet their love interest at the same time! Expect to laugh and potentially even get a little misty during the quieter moments. Perhaps most notably, expect open-door love scenes. Like, way the heck open. 

Read our review of ‘Secretly Yours’ by Tessa Bailey.

As someone who has read many a Bailey romance, I know things can get pretty steamy. Where would you rate this one on a scale of 1 to 10?
I usually put my books around a 7, but it’s all a matter of perspective. Some will say 10! Others will say 5. A lot of readers lately come to my books having been fooled by the cute, illustrated cover into expecting a closed-door rom-com, but there will always, always be ample steam in my books. I love experiencing the more intimate moments with my characters and putting them in those vulnerable scenes on the page. Their walls come down and they connect on a physical level . . . and afterward, something usually goes wrong. Like one of them gets a job offer in Milwaukee. Mwahaha. Romance writers are evil at their cores. 

What can we expect in book two, Unfortunately Yours? Who will be the main couple?
In the second book of the Vine Mess duet, we get Natalie Vos and August Cates’ love story. This book owns a massive chunk of my heart—there was just some extra magic sprinkled into it. I can now say definitively that I’ve written my favorite hero of all time. It’s enemies to lovers, marriage of convenience and forced proximity. All the banter. A prank war. And a pesky cat. We meet Natalie and August in Secretly Yours, so I hope readers will be excited for their book.

What have you been reading lately? What books should readers have on their radar?
The last book I read was Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan, and it blew me away. It’s a second-chance romance between a divorced couple. They have older kids and a business together, so there are a lot of fraught interactions and high stakes. It’s mature and riveting and feels oh, so real. The tension, emotional and sexual, is top-notch. I highly, highly recommend it. Kennedy knocked it out of the park.

Photo of Tessa Bailey by Nisha Ver Halen.

The bestselling author’s Secretly Yours is the perfect blend of sweet and steamy.
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