A study in seduction
We talked to Verity Lowell about the joys of gorgeous clothes and good food, and why the art world is a perfect setting for a romance.
We talked to Verity Lowell about the joys of gorgeous clothes and good food, and why the art world is a perfect setting for a romance.
A natural fit

Julie Murphy dishes about the liberating experience of writing grown-up characters and why her version of the wicked stepmother is more complicated than conniving.

Julie Murphy dishes about the liberating experience of writing grown-up characters and why her version of the wicked stepmother is more complicated than conniving.

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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.
STARRED REVIEW

December 2021

The Best Books of 2021

The BookPage editors are pleased to present our most highly recommended books of the year.

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We begin each new reading year with high hopes, and sometimes, when we're very lucky, we find our expectations rewarded. So it was with 2021.

It must be said that a lot of these books are really, really long. Apparently this was the year for total commitment, for taking a plunge and allowing ourselves to be swallowed up. 

Also, it should come as no surprise that books-within-books frequently appear on this list. For all our attempts at objectivity within our roles as critics, we just can't help but love a book that loves books. Amor Towles, Ruth Ozeki, Jason Mott, Maggie Shipstead and Anthony Doerr all tapped into the most comforting yet complex parts of our book-loving selves. 

But most of the books on this list hit home in ways we never could've prepared for, even when we had the highest expectations, such as in Will McPhail's graphic novel, which made us laugh till we cried, and Colson Whitehead's heist novel, which no one could've expected would be such a gorgeous ode to sofas.

And at the top of our list, a book that accomplishes what feels like the impossible: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers' epic debut novel, which challenges our relationship to the land beneath us in a way we've never experienced but long hoped for.

Read on for our 20 best works of literary fiction from 2021.


20. What Comes After by JoAnn Tompkins

In JoAnne Tompkins' debut novel, faith is simply part of life, a reality for many that is rarely so sensitively portrayed in fiction.

19. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

To those disinclined to question the role that economic exploitation plays in supporting our modern lifestyle, reading this novel may prove an unsettling experience.

18. Gordo by Jaime Cortez

In his collection of short stories set in the ag-industrial maw of central California, Jaime Cortez artfully captures the daily lives of his characters in the freeze-frame flash of a master at work.

17. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro continues his genre-twisting ways with a tale that explores whether science could—or should—manipulate the future.

16. Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

Francis Spufford's graceful novel reminds us that tragedy deprives the world of not only noble people but also scoundrels, both of whom are part of the fabric of history.

15. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is one of our best chroniclers of suburban family life, and his incisive new novel, the first in a planned trilogy, is by turns funny and terrifying.

14. In by Will McPhail

Small talk becomes real talk in this graphic novel from the celebrated cartoonist, and the world suddenly seems much brighter.

13. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

With hints of Jami Attenberg's sense of mishpucha and spiced with Jennifer Weiner's chutzpah, Melissa Broder's novel is graphic, tender and poetic, a delicious rom-com that turns serious.

12. The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

Robert Jones Jr.'s first novel accomplishes the exceptional literary feat of being at once an intimate, poetic love story and a sweeping, excruciating portrait of life on a Mississippi plantation.

11. Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

In her exceptional debut novel, Ash Davidson expresses the heart and soul of Northern California's redwood forest community.

10. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

"There are few things more beautiful to an author's eye . . . than a well-read copy of one of his books," says a character in Amor Towles' novel. Undoubtedly, the pages of this cross-country saga are destined to be turned—and occasionally tattered—by numerous gratified readers.

9. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Devastating, hilarious and touching, Torrey Peters' acutely intelligent first novel explores womanhood, parenthood and all the possibilities that lie therein.

8. A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies

Peter Ho Davies' third novel is a poetic look at the nature of regret and a couple's enduring love. It's a difficult but marvelous book.

7. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

What does it mean to listen? What can you hear if you pay close attention, especially in a moment of grief? Ruth Ozeki explores these questions in her novel, a meditation on objects, compassion and everyday beauty. 

6. Matrix by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff aims to create a sense of wonder and awe in her novels, and in her boldly original fourth novel, set in a small convent in 12th-century England, the awe-filled moments are too many to count.

5. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

A surrealist feast of imagination that's brimming with very real horrors, frustrations and sorrows, Jason Mott's fourth novel is an achievement of American fiction that rises to meet this particular moment with charm, wisdom and truth.

4. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Sorrow and violence play large roles in the ambitious, genre-busting novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr, but so does tenderness.

3. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Like Dante leading us through the levels of hell, Colson Whitehead exposes the layers of rottenness in New York City with characters who follow an ethical code that may be strange to those of us who aren't crooks or cynics.

2. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

In her exhilarating third novel, Maggie Shipstead offers a marvelous pastiche of adventure and emotion as she explores what it means (and what it takes) to live an unusual life.

1. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

From slavery to freedom, discrimination to justice, tradition to unorthodoxy, celebrated poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers weaves an epic ancestral story that encompasses not only a young Black woman's family heritage but also that of the American land where their history unfolded.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

Most of the books on this list hit home in ways we never could've prepared for, even when we had the highest expectations. Read on for the 20 best literary fiction titles of 2021.

Nonfiction is the broadest publishing category, with books that delve into the past, present and future of every aspect of our world. There are books that rifle through our innermost emotions and books that search the outer universe. Books that strike while the iron is hot and books that are cool and classic. You'll find a little bit of everything on our list of our most highly recommended nonfiction books of 2021—from timeless instant classics to breathlessly of-the-moment reports.


20. Cultish by Amanda Montell

In her incredibly timely book, Amanda Montell's expertise as a linguist melds with her research into the psychological underpinnings of cults.

19. Cuba by Ada Ferrer

With interesting characters, new historical insights and dramatic yet accessible writing, Ada Ferrer's epic history of Cuba will grab and hold your attention.

18. Fuzz by Mary Roach

Mary Roach's enthusiasm and sense of humor are contagious in her around-the-world survey of human-wildlife relations.

17. Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi generously shares both their wounds and their wisdom, offering aspiring artists fresh inspiration for creating new forms of being.

16. American Republics by Alan Taylor

Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor's latest American history, covering the United States' expansion from 1783 to 1850, is sweeping, beautifully written, prodigiously researched and myth-busting.

15. My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Joyful, righteous, indignant, self-assured, exuberant: All of these words describe Quiara Alegría Hudes' memoir.

14. Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello

Frangello's raw, eloquent memoir is singed with rage and tinged with optimism about the power to recover one's life from the depth of suffering.

13. Unbound by Tarana Burke

Unbound is Tarana Burke's unflinching, beautifully told account of founding the #MeToo movement and becoming one of the most consequential activists in America.

12. The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

For readers seeking to understand the twists, turns and amazing potential of gene-editing CRISPR technology, there's no better place to turn than The Code Breaker.

11. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows by Ai Weiwei

This heart-rending yet exhilarating memoir by a world-famous artist gives a rare look into how war and revolution affect innocent bystanders who are just trying to live.

10. The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel's unique combination of personal narrative, a search for higher meaning and comic ingenuity will leave you pumped up and smiling.

9. Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

This epic, transformative book covers 400 years of Black history with the help of a choir of exceptional poets, critics, essayists, novelists and scholars.

8. A Most Remarkable Creature by Jonathan Meiburg

Gorgeously written and sophisticated, Jonathan Meiburg's book about a wickedly clever falcon will move readers to protect this truly remarkable creature.

7. Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred Rembert

From surviving a lynching to discovering the transformative power of art while imprisoned in a chain gang, Winfred Rembert recounts his life story in his distinct and unforgettable voice.

6. Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

Most of the Japanese American patriots who formed the 442nd Infantry Regiment are gone, but their stories live on in this empathetic tribute to their courage.

5. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Beloved author George Saunders shares invaluable insights into classic Russian short stories, unlocking their magic for bibliophiles everywhere.

4. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Clint Smith's gifts as both a poet and a scholar make this a richly provocative read about the ways America does (and doesn't) acknowledge its history of slavery.

3. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

In jaw-dropping detail, Patrick Radden Keefe recounts the greed and corruption at the heart of the Sackler family's quest for wealth and social status.

2. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In her debut memoir, Michelle Zauner perfectly distills the palpable ache for her late mother, wrapping her grief in an aromatic conjuring of her mother's presence.

1. A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib's brilliant commentary shuffles forward, steps sideways, leaps diagonally and waltzes gracefully throughout this survey of Black creative performance in America.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

You'll find a little bit of everything on our list of our most highly recommended nonfiction books of 2021—from timeless instant classics to breathlessly of-the-moment reports.

We're calling it now: The mystery and suspense genre is on the cusp of a golden age. From psychological thrillers to procedurals to cozies, these books reached new heights and brought new perspectives to the forefront in 2021. 


10. Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes

Mango, Mambo, and Murder has everything readers look for in a cozy mystery but also feels like a breath of fresh air thanks to its funny, grounded characters and lovingly detailed setting.

9. Bad Moon Rising by John Galligan

John Galligan's trademark dark humor and clear-sighted social commentary are in fine form as he follows Sheriff Heidi Kick, one of the most complex yet lovable heroes in current crime fiction, on her latest investigation. 

8. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This cozy mystery is even better than Richard Osman's utterly charming debut, The Thursday Murder Club.

7. The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

No one can pull off a twist like Louise Candlish. This gorgeous, meticulous nail-biter is a smooth work of narrative criminality. 

6. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Having reached a pinnacle of critical and commercial success that most authors only dream of, Louise Penny still somehow manages to top herself with the latest Inspector Gamache mystery.

5. Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The genre-hopping Silvia Moreno-­Garcia (Mexican Gothic) moves into pulp adventure territory with a novel set in 1970s Mexico City that evokes the best conspiracy thrillers.

4. Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

The Jazz Age setting infuses this mystery with a crackling feeling of possibility. Readers will unequivocally root for Nekesa Afia's amateur sleuth.

3. Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears transcends genre boundaries and is a must-read for anyone looking for a mystery that provokes and thrills in equal measure.

2. Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Set in a Japanese American neighborhood during World War II, Clark and Division is as much an exposé of communal trauma as it is a mystery.

1. Silverview by John le Carré

Master of espionage John le Carré's final novel is one of his most impressive accomplishments. A gift for the devoted readers mourning his loss, it looks back and comments on his unparalleled body of work.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

We're calling it now: The mystery and suspense genre is on the cusp of a golden age.

To find the most structurally daring, format-breaking novels of 2021, turn to the far-flung worlds of science-fiction and fantasy. From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, these books perfectly match form and function in their creation of universes both big and small. 


10. The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

With a magic system that's two parts enchantment and one part pseudoscience, The Helm of Midnight is one of the most well-executed and original fantasy novels in recent memory.

9. The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Genevieve Gornichec's beautiful, delicately executed debut shifts the focus of Norse mythology to one of Loki's lovers, the witch Angrboda, with stunning and heartbreaking results.

8. The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

This astonishing, haunting short story collection overflows with vivid characters and relatable themes as Marjorie Liu puts her own spin on traditional archetypes.

7. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

This novella is the perfect distillation of Becky Chambers' ability to use science fiction to tell smaller, more personal stories infused with beauty and optimism.

6. Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Boasting immersive settings, delightful characters and all-the-feels poignancy, Light From Uncommon Stars is also very, very funny, lightening its sweeping supernatural and intergalactic symphony with notes that are all-too human.

5. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Clever, elegant and ambitious, Arkady Martine's second novel eclipses her acclaimed debut, A Memory Called Empire.

4. Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Beautiful and enthralling on every page, Nnedi Okorafor's elegiac and powerful novella is an example of how freeing the form can be.

3. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister terrifyingly depicts the otherworldly and uncanny horrors of the spirit world, but it is also funny and poignant, full of the angst and irony of a recent graduate living with her parents.

2. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

An instant classic, Zoraida Córdova's magical family saga is complex but ceaselessly compelling, and features some of the most beautiful writing to be found in any genre this year.

1. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Shelley Parker-Chan's gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. Fans of epic fantasy and historical fiction will thrill to this reimagining of the founding of China's Ming dynasty. 

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, the 10 best science fiction & fantasy novels of 2021 perfectly match form and function. 

The best young adult books of the year offer nothing less than revolution—revolutionary ways of seeing, of writing, of imagining, of moving through the world. They've kindled our hearts and filled them with warmth and hope when we've needed it most.


10. The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Set against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, The City Beautiful is a gorgeous, disturbing, visceral and mystical experience.

9. Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

McCoy's spectacular novel never offers easy answers. It's a layered and vulnerable exploration of everything that makes a heart beat—or break.

8. The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta

Like the contrasting flavors in a strawberry basil pie, Capetta's frothy confection melds a journey of self-discovery with a quest to repair broken hearts.

Watch our interview with A.R. Capetta about 'The Heartbreak Bakery.'

7. Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

In this surprising and expertly crafted novel in verse, two teens travel through a landscape haunted by history, memory and spirituality.

6. The Girls I've Been by Tess Sharpe

Sharpe combines hardscrabble swagger, enormous grief and teenage noir into a heart-wrenching, perfectly paced and cinematic thriller.

5. A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

Williams-Garcia's mesmerizing portrait of slavery in antebellum Louisiana is a multigenerational saga that brilliantly depicts the rotting heart of Southern plantation life.

4. City of the Uncommon Thief by Lynne Bertrand

This is genre-defying fiction at its finest, a sprawling work of precise storytelling that sticks the landing and knows no fear.

3. When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Gilbert captures the intensity and electricity of the end of adolescence in this astonishing book that expands what the entire category of YA literature can be.

2. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Lo's beautiful, brave work of historical fiction is as meticulously researched as it is full of raw, authentic emotion.

1. Switch by A.S. King

As she explores the spectrum between isolation and connection in this deeply personal novel, King creates an unsettling but emotional resonant tale for our own unsettling times.

See all of our Best Books of 2021 lists.

The 10 best YA books of the year are truly revolutionary reads.

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Recent Features

These are the 100 most highly recommended books of the year, in every genre.

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.

★ Archangel's Light

Nalini Singh pens an enthralling read in Archangel's Light. Young warrior angels Illium and Aodhan are committed to putting the world to rights after a devastating supernatural war. Their archangel, Raphael, directs Aodhan to help rebuild the territory of China, which separates him from Illium, his oldest and dearest friend. But when Illium is sent to support the venture as well, the friends have an opportunity to confront new evil as well as old hurts. There's a chilling mystery at the center of the story—a hamlet of 50 people seems to have vanished into thin air—but it's the depiction of the relationship between Aodhan and Illium that drives the narrative. Singh depicts the angels' history from infancy to their burgeoning adulthood. As she explores the strain that mars their connection, it's impossible not to root for the pair to find their way back to each other's hearts and souls—and into a new intimacy. This 14th romance in Singh's Guild Hunter series is engrossing, entertaining and filled with tender emotion.

Never Fall for Your Fiancée

An earl's attempts to appease his mother end up unleashing mayhem in Virginia Heath's Never Fall for Your Fiancée. Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, will have an especially unwelcome guest for Christmas this year: his mother. For two years, he's written to her about his pretend fiancée, and now she expects to meet this paragon. In a panic, Hugh propositions Minerva Merriwell, a woman he meets on the street. He offers to pay her to play the part of the lady he supposedly intends to marry, and desperate financial straits propel Minerva to agree. It's all madcap fun from there with drunken actresses, sniping best friends and Minerva's attempts to live up to Hugh's florid descriptions of her accomplishments. Amid the chaos, Hugh and Minerva find time to get to know each other and fall in love, even though both believe forever is not in the cards. Heath's fast-paced scenes and likable characters will leave fans of Regency romps smiling.

Pretty Little Lion

A racially, supernaturally and sexually diverse cast of characters springs from the pages of Pretty Little Lion, Suleikha Snyder's follow-up to her bold, take-no-prisoners series starter Big Bad Wolf. Elijah Richter, co-founder of the Third Shift black ops group, is a lion shifter on a mission. He's tasked with seducing Meghna Saxena-Saunders and discovering what her criminal boyfriend is planning. But Elijah soon learns that Meghna is more than a pretty face. She's an apsara, a supernaturally gifted assassin and spy who uses her powers of seduction and persuasion to take down evil men. The plot moves at the speed of light, and the four point-of-view characters are as interesting as they are lethal. Snyder's assured, contemporary voice doesn't shy away from the political parallels between our reality and her dystopian America, making the otherwise fantastical, cinematic story feel very topical indeed. Readers will root for the good guys, even the ones who have only recently joined their ranks, in this steamy, thrilling paranormal romance with a heart of gold. 

Think all paranormal love stories are the same? Two of the books in this month’s romance column will change your mind.

With her latest contemporary romance, K.M. Jackson will win the hearts of any reader who loves Keanu Reeves (especially if they're a Gen-Xer).

Bethany Lu Carlisle is a 40-something artist on the brink of a breakout—and a Keanu Reeves superfan. Her Keanu fixation is how Lu copes with life's stresses: There's a Keanu role out there to suit any mood, ready to provide a cathartic pick-me-up. So when news of the star's forthcoming wedding hits the tabloids, Lu hits the road with the lofty goal of confessing her love to him.

Riding shotgun on her cross-country dash is BFF Truman "True" Erickson, a great guy and even better friend. A college economics professor, True recently wrote a popular book and is making the rounds on local talk shows, but his friendship with Lu keeps him humble and grounded. He's loved Lu for years, but since he started out as her brother's bestie, his affection has gone unnoticed. She's his Keanu.  

Lu and True have the familiarity and intimacy of lifelong friends, but true to the friends-to-lovers trope, their communication stinks. They may have decades of life experience and disappointments behind them, but they are still their own worst enemies until they give in to the inevitable spark. Their journey is quirky and full of misadventures, while being poignant and heartfelt and full of emotion. 

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is charming even when it's working through heavier emotional issues like grief and healing. Jackson brings a light-hearted and personal touch to the smallest of details, from the chapter titles echoing the names of Reeves' movies to the pointed moments when True uses Lu's full name to get her attention.

Is Keanu Reeves the perfect boyfriend? Answers may vary, but Jackson has definitely written an extremely enjoyable friends-to-lovers rom-com. How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days is a fun story with humor and heart, and a supremely satisfying conclusion.

Is Keanu Reeves the perfect boyfriend? Answers may vary, but Jackson has definitely written an extremely enjoyable friends-to-lovers rom-com.

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