Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.
Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.
Calling all lovers of villains and morally gray characters—Katee Robert’s latest fantasy romance is for you.
Calling all lovers of villains and morally gray characters—Katee Robert’s latest fantasy romance is for you.
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Apples Never Fall jacket

Apples Never Fall

Challengers was all about competition and the drive to be the best. Competing with lovers and friends is one thing, but what if the conflict was within your own family? Apples Never Fall stars a tennis dynasty, made up of two retired stars—Stan and Joy—whose four adult children also played professionally. When Joy disappears, Stan is suspected, and Amy, Logan, Troy and Brooke must decide if they believe he’s innocent. No one does drama like Australian author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret), and this apple is as juicy as it gets. Bonus: You can get this one on a screen too. The TV adaptation is currently streaming on Peacock, and stars Sam Neill and Annette Bening.


Carrie Soto Is Back

Carrie Soto would definitely understand Tashi Duncan, and by that we mean they would immediately try to destroy each other. (They’d probably become friends eventually, but only after almost reducing each other to rubble.) The ferociously determined tennis player at the center of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel decides to come out of retirement to one-up Nikki Chan, the new star player who just broke Carrie’s record amount of Slam titles. If you came away from Challengers wanting more Tashi, this is the book for you.


The Divine Miss Marble

If Challengers made you want to know even more about what it’s like to be a woman in tennis, Robert Weintraub’s biography of Alice Marble, one of the very first tennis greats, can scratch that itch. The Divine Miss Marble chronicles the ups and downs of her life in thrilling detail. Marble won 18 Grand Slam championships between 1936 and 1940 and rubbed elbows with Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but her influence extended into the late 20th century as she coached greats like Billie Jean King.


Sudden Death

Did you leave the theater thinking, that was fun, but I wish the tennis matches were weirder? Have we got a book for you. Álvaro Enrigue’s bawdy, bizarre tennis novel kicks off with a match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, and just gets weirder from there (at one point, they’re playing tennis with a ball made of Anne Boleyn’s hair). The author interjects metafictional asides that skewer the conquest of Mexico and other topics, and the book doesn’t shy away from violence, either. We can guarantee one thing: You’ll never read anything else like it.


Wicked Beauty jacket

Wicked Beauty

Let’s be real: The steaminess of the Challengers trailer, and the chemistry among its three stars, was a huge contributor to the film’s successful opening weekend. If you’re looking for a read with a similar spark, Katee Robert is the author for you. Start with the third installment in her Dark Olympus series, which reimagines Greek mythology. Wicked Beauty puts the Iliad’s Achilles and Patroclus into a polyamorous relationship with Helen of Troy. The sex scenes are scorching hot (a Robert trademark), but as in Challengers, the emotional connections are equally complex and valued.

Couldn't get enough of Challengers, director Luca Guadagnino's sophisticated and steamy story of a tennis pro love triangle? We've got some reading material for you.

A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters by Cheena Marie Lo

If you were pressed to categorize a book of poetry on your bookshelf as fiction or nonfiction, would you choose fiction? Most people probably would. Poetry has a reputation for being airy and fantastical, for dwelling in the realm of emotions and dreams, not in the “real world.” Yet there is a strain of poetry that is explicitly concerned with informing readers about real events: documentary poetry. Cheena Marie Lo’s A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters (Commune Editions, $16, 9781934639191) is an excellent contemporary example, using statistics and phrases pulled from the news to trace human responsibility for the outcomes of devastating “natural” events like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Lo compares ecological processes like seasonal migration with the movement of evacuees in response both to the destruction caused by a storm and the failure of systems expected to provide help. At the same time, Lo points to the recovery of nature as a model for community recuperation through mutual aid. This is a great collection to read alongside Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler—another powerful documentary book of poems that chronicles state failure and human resilience during and after Katrina.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor


The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

I was introduced to The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, $19.99, 9781419718786) in a college English class, which admittedly isn’t the most exciting way to find a book. But as a 20-something with lots of emotions about parenting and intergenerational trauma, I found author-illustrator Thi Bui’s story at exactly the right time. This graphic memoir flows between present and past. In the frame story, Bui is anxious that her flawed relationships with her parents will define how she interacts with her newborn son. In an effort to alleviate her anxiety, she sits down with her parents and attempts to figure out how they became who they are, journeying with them through their childhoods in war-torn Vietnam, their harrowing migration as refugees and their imperfect restart in America. Told through beautiful watercolor illustrations and sparse, emotionally-wrought text, Bui’s memoir does not offer easy answers to questions about trauma, immigration and family. However, The Best We Could Do is a tremendous lesson in empathy and a testament to healing through human connection.

—Jessica Peng, Editorial Intern


One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel, One Last Stop (Griffin, $16.99, 9781250244499), is a clever, emotionally resonant take on a timeslip romance with an utterly dreamy love interest: 1970s punk feminist Jane Su, who is mysteriously trapped outside of time on the New York City subway. As they proved in their already-iconic 2019 debut, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston understands that in order for readers to wholeheartedly invest in a heightened scenario, it helps to have characters who are going through things that are eminently relatable. And so, recent New Orleans transplant August Landry’s quest to rescue Jane is balanced by the travails and triumphs of her job at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes (one of the best fictional diners ever?) and the slow blossoming of her relationships with her roommates into something like family. It’s an achingly sweet portrait of a closed-off loner finding community for the very first time, and an ode to being young, broke and happy in NYC. It all culminates in a perfect finale, where August must draw on her new connections to pull Jane free and secure their happily ever after.

—Savanna, Managing Editor


The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

Our whole planet is migrating in the title story of The Wandering Earth (Tor, $19.99, 9781250796844) a collection by Cixin Liu, renowned author of The Three-Body Problem. Faced with proof of the sun’s imminent death, humanity collectively seeks to escape obliteration by installing giant plasma jets to propel the Earth toward a new solar system. As mankind’s home is transformed into one massive spaceship, an unnamed protagonist watches decades of his life pass, narrating with straightforward melancholy as he witnesses tragedy and chaos. As changes to Earth’s orbit cause boiling rain to fall and oceans to freeze, the cataclysmic, sublime journey of “The Wandering Earth” will batter you with alternating waves of immense beauty and terror. And don’t expect a chance to surface for air after finishing this first story: The next nine continue to pummel the reader with Liu’s staggering imagination and rare talent for combining grandiose backdrops with personal stories suffused with aching emotion, such as that of a man climbing a mountain made of water, or a peasant boy growing up to become a space explorer. Liu’s eye for detail and mind for the poetic add a profundity to The Wandering Earth, elevating it to stand among the best science fiction.

—Yi Jiang, Associate Editor

Does warmer weather and the approach of summer have you feeling restless? Pick up one of these stories featuring journeys great and small.
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My Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal. Country miss and physician’s daughter Catherine Keating is embarking on a London society husband hunt from the charming Grand Palace on the Thames boardinghouse. Living one floor above her is Lord Dominic Kirke, a fiery, justice-seeking politician with a notorious reputation. They should have nothing in common, and yet they find in each other like minds and hearts. Dominic tries to keep clear of Catherine, believing his worldliness and tarnished past will hurt her prospects, but they are drawn together at every ball. The resolution will induce sighs and perhaps a few happy tears, as what romance reader can resist a tale starring a jaded hero and an innocent but plucky heroine?

The Good Ones Are Taken

The ever-popular friends-to-lovers trope is front and center in Taj McCoy’s The Good Ones Are Taken. Maggie’s full life is only lacking one thing: a man to love. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s Garrett, her best friend, but back when they were teenagers, they decided not to cross the line into romance. But with Maggie’s duties as maid of honor for her two besties coming up, she feels pressured to find a Prince Charming and determinedly puts herself out there. She doesn’t quite fit with anyone until she takes a closer look at Garrett—yet can she risk ruining what they have? Set in Los Angeles, The Good Ones Are Taken is fun, fresh and filled with good food, great clothes and scorching love scenes. Readers will want to hang out with Maggie and company while rooting for her happy ending.

Earls Trip

Jenny Holiday’s tongue-in-cheek Regency romance Earls Trip showcases her trademark charm, humor and well-developed characters. Three aristocratic friends (two earls and a viscount) depart London for their annual sabbatical. But after a last-minute request from an old family friend, Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, rescues sisters Clementine and Olive Morgan from a conniving blackguard—and then brings the two women along on his getaway with the guys. Archie and Clementine, once childhood friends, soon discover a passion they didn’t expect and don’t particularly welcome, at least at first. While Holiday peppers the story with amusing set pieces and cute, anachronistic chapter titles, there is true heart to this tale of a man and woman coming to understand, appreciate and admire each other as much as they love each other.

Plus, two friends-to-lovers romances charm our columnist.
Review by

Gretchen Acorn is an ethical scammer. Yes, she pretends to be psychic, digging up info on deceased loved ones via social media, but she helps her clients. She brings them peace of mind, and that’s priceless, right? Or at least, priced low enough to not dent the accounts of the wealthy socialites she scams. And if she has to lie to herself a little to believe she’s not as destructive as her con artist father, then so be it. Gretchen’s very good at lying. But when her best client hires her to exorcise a friend’s goat farm so he can sell it, she’s the one who gets spooked to discover, well, an actual spook. The place is haunted by Everett, a charming, chatty, wildly flirtatious (just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he’s dead) spirit only Gretchen can see—and he carries an ominous warning. Everett triggered a curse years ago, and now the farm has to stay in the family. If the current owner, Charlie Waybill, sells the place and leaves, he’ll die. Not an easy message to pass on, especially when the (very hot, very grumpy, very skeptical) Charlie believes everything about Gretchen is a lie.

Happy Medium follows author Sarah Adler’s absolutely amazing debut, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes. Like its predecessor, Happy Medium is a grumpy-sunshine romance and, admittedly, Charlie works slightly less well than Mrs. Nash’s Ashes’ Hollis. While Charlie’s suspicion of Gretchen’s claims is natural, his continued harshness toward someone who’s actively helping him, with no personal benefit, feels a little extreme. But the way Adler shades her sunshine heroines is so lovely. Gretchen’s not exactly optimistic—she’d describe herself as ruthlessly practical—but her drive to do good, to seek out the positive, to embrace the weirdness of life instead of letting it throw her off course resonates throughout the book. She lights up the page, bringing more than just the farm (and Charlie’s heart) to life. You completely get why her customers always leave satisfied, and Adler’s readers will leave Happy Medium feeling the same way.

Sarah Adler’s grumpy-sunshine romance presents a delightful twist on the “sunshine” half: a ruthlessly practical scammer with a heart of gold.
Review by

Daphne and her fiancé had the perfect meet cute: On a windy day in a park, Peter chased down her hat. They fell in love, and moved back to his lakeside hometown of Waning Bay, Michigan. Everything was picture-perfect—until Peter’s bachelor party weekend, when he realized he was in love with his childhood best friend, Petra. And so Daphne finds herself adrift in a town where she knows basically no one, bearing witness to her ex-fiancé and his new fiancée’s disgusting displays of love. The only person who can understand her grief is Miles, Petra’s ex. Daphne proposes they become roommates, and soon, they hatch a scheme. What if they post some easy to misinterpret pictures and make Petra and Peter think they are together?

In our introduction to the leading couple of Emily Henry’s Funny Story, a frustrated Daphne is annoyed that Miles is listening to Jamie O’Neal’s “All By Myself” at top volume, stoned. It’s not exactly love at first sight, but they’re both deeply charming and relatable, showcasing Henry’s skill at crafting engaging yet realistic characters that immediately hook readers’ hearts. You want Daphne and Miles to heal. You want them to bump into their exes and make out so hard that everyone is a little uncomfortable. (But who cares! Peter and Petra should suffer!) Henry also expertly sidesteps the worry-inducing pitfalls of having a couple bound, at least initially, by grief. No one wants a happy ending undercut by the characters using each other as an emotional scratching post. Thankfully, Miles and Daphne’s relationship is simply one part of their individual healing journeys, not the entirety of them. With a supporting cast of helpful family and friends, meaningful and passionate purpose in their community and a little bit of therapy, all things are possible. The work they each put in on their own only makes the love story more satisfying. 

With her signature laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Henry has created another novel that’s everything her readers have come to expect, without falling into predictable patterns. Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.

Featuring laugh-out-loud banter and flawed but lovable characters, Funny Story is Emily Henry at her best.

When a Scot Ties the Knot

There’s unlucky, and then there’s “Surprise! Your fake pen pal is actually a real person!” Madeline Gracechurch dreamed up Captain Logan MacKenzie, an honorable Scottish soldier conveniently stationed elsewhere, to get out of making her debut and continue her work as an illustrator of naturalist texts. Maddie writes letters to Logan for years before she finally decides to kill him off, thinking herself safe from matrimony forever. And then, of course, Logan shows up on her doorstep, letters in hand, intent on getting married for real so that his battle-weary men can settle down on Maddie’s extensive property. When a Scot Ties the Knot is an absolute sugar high of a romance, complete with digressions on subjects such as why some men look hotter in glasses, how to seduce women by bathing in mountain lochs and the mating travails of Maddie’s lobsters (their names are Rex and Fluffy). Tessa Dare’s great talent as an author is her ability to root farcical silliness in emotional reality: Logan’s quest to give his men a life where they can heal and flourish is treated with utmost seriousness, as is the paralyzing social anxiety that led Maddie to start writing him in the first place. 

—Savanna, Managing Editor 

The Bee Sting

Was ever a family more unfortunate than the Barneses, the dysfunctional crew at the heart of Irish writer Paul Murray’s masterfully crafted fourth novel? Dickie Barnes is barely holding on to his auto dealership; his glamorous wife, Imelda, resents their fall in status. Their daughter, Cass, who plans to attend university in Dublin, may be jeopardizing that future thanks to too many nights at the pub, while 12-year-old PJ’s plan to escape his bullies is only leading him into more danger. Beginning with Cass, each family member takes a turn telling the story as they see it, unveiling layers of damage, secrets and bad luck. What keeps this tale of woe engaging across more than 600 pages is Murray’s tenderness for the Barnes family, despite their flaws. The voice of each character is refreshingly distinct, and there’s much satisfaction in seeing the puzzle pieces of their perspectives click together to create a full view of this fractured family, who love each other deeply but rarely manage to communicate that love in the right way or at the right moment. A heartfelt tragedy with a bravura ending, The Bee Sting is a strikingly human and empathetic read.

—Trisha, Publisher 

Troubles

Surely there could be no greater misfortune than that which befalls Major Brendan Archer, who, near the end of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles finds himself buried up to his neck in sand, awaiting drowning as the tide comes in. Troubles is the first in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, a series of masterful, bleakly hilarious eviscerations of British colonialism. After returning from World War I, the Major goes to Ireland to be with his fiancée, Angela Spencer, a woman he hardly remembers. Angela’s Protestant, Anglo-Irish family runs a once-glorious hotel called The Majestic. Even through the scrupulously polite Major’s eyes, it’s clear that the Spencers are in denial about the state of the hotel and the precarity of their political situation, as tensions with the majority-Catholic people of the surrounding area rise to a deadly pitch. Still, none of them manage to bring the danger into focus, to the point that the Irish Republicans go nameless and faceless throughout the book, even as they pack rocks around the Major’s body and leave him to die. Sadly, Farrell himself met an unfortunate end: At only 44, he was swept out to sea while fishing. We can only imagine what other great novels he would have graced the canon with, had he lived longer.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Odyssey

I never realized how often Odysseus wept: as Polyphemus the Cyclops wet the floor with the brains of his friends; on Aeaea when the clever witch Circe transformed his men into pigs; on the shore of Ogygia as Calypso’s captive; in the halls of the Phaeacians, as he bemoaned his misfortune. After two decades of trying and failing to read The Odyssey, I picked up Emily Wilson’s translation and saw myself in this most unlucky of men. I had long wanted to read Homer’s epic, but I found it unbearably dull and the verse too difficult to unravel. I could never even get to Scherie, let alone back to Ithaca. Wilson, the first woman to publish a translation in English, brings Homer’s epic alive. She writes in her translator’s note that other English translations render Homer’s text in “grand, ornate, rhetorically elevated English.” But the poet’s verse was not “bombastic or grandiloquent.” It was accessible, performed around the ancient world to people from all walks of life. Wilson opts instead to use straightforward language and syntax, along with good old iambic pentameter, to present a story that is full of suspense and pathos. I lost myself in The Odyssey, I found myself in Odysseus and I wept for his misfortune. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

There’s something weirdly engaging about a character who’s down on their luck. Fortunately (or not), their loss is our gain.
Feature by

Christa Comes Out of Her Shell

A lovably quirky heroine is at the center of Abbi Waxman’s Christa Comes Out of Her Shell. Scientist Christa Liddle is conducting research on her beloved sea snails on an island in the Indian Ocean when a family crisis requires her to return to Los Angeles. There, she’s forced to face an old tragedy and new drama while surrounded by her mother, older sisters and childhood friends and enemies. Christa begins to see herself and others differently, including her onetime teenage crush, Nate Donovan. Told in first person and punctuated with media clips and Christa’s charming drawings, the story slowly reveals the Liddle family’s history and Christa’s own vulnerabilities. While the will-they-won’t-they love story between Christa and Nate is definitely a through line, it seems safe to predict another romance too—that of readers losing their hearts to the eccentric, larger-than-life Liddle clan.

The Lady He Lost

In The Lady He Lost by Faye Delacour, Lieutenant Eli Williams returns to early Victorian London after being presumed dead—completely upending the world of Jane Bishop, an impoverished spinster who was once devoted to him. It’s been two years since he endured a shipwreck and being kidnapped by pirates, and Eli discovers his fiancée married another, his brother spent his savings and Jane, the woman he actually loved, will barely look at him. But he’s determined to make things better, despite general suspicion about why it took him so long to get home and Jane’s declaration that while she still cares for him, she can’t imagine a future as his second choice. Can their burning desire for each other overcome these hurdles? Balls and gowns and picnics in the rain add historical flavor, as does Jane’s quest for financial autonomy. With its engaging leads and well-drawn supporting characters, The Lady He Lost is a highly entertaining read.

Old Flames and New Fortunes

Prepare to swoon while enjoying the ever-so-romantic Old Flames and New Fortunes by Sarah Hogle. Romina Tempest and her sister run The Magick Happens, a mystical shop in their small hometown of Moonville, Ohio. Romina’s floral arrangements, which use the language of flowers to nurture romantic hopes, are some of the store’s most popular offerings. But after an unforgettable first love and a disastrous recent relationship, Romina avoids entangling her own heart. But when that same first love, Alex King, returns to town, he and Romina must confront what went wrong and decide if they can move forward as more mature and forgiving lovers. Told from Romina’s perspective, this love story has witty banter, steamy love scenes and heartfelt apologies, but it’s Alex’s eloquent devotion that will melt the flintiest of readers. The colorful cast includes families both biological and created, and the promise of magic in the air adds extra sparkle.

This month’s column features second-chance love stories that will warm even the most skeptical of hearts.
Interview by

She’s penned the upcoming film adaptation of Emily Henry’s beloved rom-com People We Meet on Vacation. She’s set to write and direct the movie version of another beloved Henry rom-com, Beach Read. But first, Yulin Kuang is going to release her own romance, How to End a Love Story, a sharp, poignant love story between Helen and Grant, two screenwriters linked by a terrible accident that happened when they were in high school. 

You’ve been working in Los Angeles as a screenwriter and director for years. How did you approach the shift from storytelling for the screen to storytelling for the page?
I wrote this book at a time when almost everything else I was working on was an adaptation of something, and I wanted to see if I had anything original left within me. I meant to write myself an original feature script to direct, but it was October and NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] was in the air. 

I used to write fan fiction (you’d have to go pretty far back to find it, two decades minimum) and I studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon, so writing this book felt a bit like stepping into an alternate timeline where I picked books instead of TV/movies after graduation. 

From a craft perspective, I approached writing this novel as if I was directing the movie in the reader’s mind. The note I kept getting from my editor, Carrie Feron, was “What does it smell like?”—which I never think about in screenwriting! I ended up giving myself a diary exercise for a month where I’d spend a few lines describing the scents of places I’d been throughout the day.

“. . . you can’t write 90K+ words without putting something of yourself on the page.”

The story starts when Helen is reunited with Grant after joining the writers room for the TV adaptation of her young adult novels. Did any real-life experiences of your own inspire those moments? 
I created a short film called “I Ship It,” which turned into a web series, which then turned into a TV show that the CW canceled after airing two episodes in 2019. (You can now watch the show on the CBC Gem app in Canada and nowhere else. Looking back on that experience, I think I had a lot of ideas and passion, and not a lot of control over my instrument, as my piano teacher might say.

I was an incredibly young showrunner and I definitely felt such imposter syndrome throughout the process, which Helen feels too, in the book. I hired a number two, Ann Lewis Hamilton, who was much more experienced than me: She had worked on shows I loved growing up like “One Tree Hill” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and she taught me a lot in terms of expectations in the writers room. I also developed a 27 Dresses pilot for ABC Studios with Aline Brosh McKenna, and I learned so much from her about how to interpret notes from producers and how to pitch a project and myself to a studio.

These are just two of the many, very smart women who’ve helped me in my career; I feel like I poured every bit of good advice I’ve received since graduation into this book. It felt less like inspiration from real life and more like a feverish scribbling down of all the industry wisdom I’d managed to acquire by 2021, lest I forget it the next time someone asked.

Now that you’re an author yourself, will you approach future adaptations differently?
I’m currently working on an adaptation of Emily Henry’s Beach Read, which is about two authors who decide to switch genres for a summer. I’ve been joking with my producer Karina Rahardja that I’m a method director, and I had to go write a novel so I could understand these characters better. 

The main thing I’ve learned in the process is that it’s so very, very vulnerable to write a book! So if anything, I’m approaching any authors I potentially adapt in the future with the firsthand understanding that you can’t write 90K+ words without putting something of yourself on the page.

Book jacket image for How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang

Grant tries to find a character in Helen’s book he identifies with (he thinks he’s a “Bellamy, with a Phoebe rising”). Which character in the book do you most identify with? What characters from your other projects have you found pieces of yourself in?
I gave Helen all my insecurities and ambitions from when I was 18, and then asked myself how all those qualities would have aged if I’d lived the alternate timeline where I moved to New York after graduation and became a novelist instead of a screenwriter.

I didn’t particularly like myself back then, so the most compelling part of writing Helen was staring into that black mirror reflecting back the parts of me I’ve actively tried to grow away from, and to see what could have happened if I’d grown into them instead.

I gave Grant every attractive quality I’ve ever coveted as a working screenwriter; mainly, that he’s “good in a room,” which is something I really struggled with in the beginning, as an inside child who grew up extremely online and matured into a classic introvert. But my reps tell me “good in a room” is how I am described after general meetings, which is of course nice to hear!

In my other projects, I’m partial to Ella in “I Ship It” (the TV series) and the titular Irene of “Irene Lee, Girl Detective” (a short film on my YouTube channel that I’m still quite proud of). I love hungry, ambitious, obsessive women.

Do you really think that second kisses are a bigger deal than the first kiss? Why?
I’m pretty sure I wrote that line because of a specific plotline in “Dawson’s Creek,” season three episode 19 (one of the greatest episodes of television possibly ever???) with Joey and Pacey, where they had already kissed in an earlier episode, but the second kiss was what made it A Thing.

So maybe yes, as a viewer of How to End a Love Story’s fictional television program, second kisses are a bigger deal than first kisses!

But in real life, your mileage may vary.

“I love hungry, ambitious, obsessive women.”

Helen and Grant are linked through a tragedy that occurred when they were teenagers. Was that why you made Helen a successful YA writer?
I wanted to write someone who was a little mentally stuck in her senior year of high school, but was chafing against it as she was trying to grow as a person and an artist. YA felt like a natural fit for that journey, in the context of this story.

I have a much younger sister; the age gap between us is 14 years. I definitely felt some pressure to be a good role model for my sister, and I was very consciously avoiding themes that might feel too “adult” in my work for a long time as a result. 

If you watch any of my vlogs on my YouTube channel from the 2010s (haha please don’t), I think it’s very clear I’m speaking primarily to a YA audience on early BookTube, while also fully embracing the twee Tumblr culture of the era which manifested in me and my work as, how should we describe it . . . a pretty and sexless aesthetic? Does that feel accurate? I was so horny and so repressed, and the YA of it all definitely played a role: It meant I could talk about romance and fandom without worrying that my mother would die of shame or my sister couldn’t watch my vlogs or read the books I was recommending.

Anyway, I eventually got over that, and so did Helen.

Great novels don’t necessarily result in great movies. What do you think a book needs in order to translate well to the screen?
A good screenwriter and a great premise.

Read our starred review of ‘How to End a Love Story’ by Yulin Kuang.

What is it about Emily Henry’s work that you connect to? What is the easiest part of translating it to the screen, and what is the hardest part?
I’ve spent so much time trying to claw my way into the mind of Emily Henry, I sometimes wonder if she senses it. Emily, can you hear me right now?!

In seriousness, I first connected with Emily’s work because we both appear to be obsessed with romance, ’90s rom-coms and art with a meta component. I told Sarah MacLean all this when we first met over lunch, and she looked at me like I had missed something obvious, then said, “And grief, clearly.” I wonder if all writers writing after the pandemic are a little obsessed with grief, though.

The easiest part: Emily’s dialogue adapts like butter. The hardest part is finding visually compelling ways to show all that lovely interiority onscreen.

What’s next for you? Do you think you’ll stick with novels or go back to the screen? 
I have two more novels due in this book deal, so I will be chained to my laptop trying to squeeze blood from rocks for another 200K-ish words.

In the meantime, I have a couple projects in various stages of development on the screen side—one adaptation, one original. I like to be creatively nimble.

Photo of Yulin Kuang by Sela Shiloni.

The writer and director behind the upcoming adaptations of Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation is staking her own claim to romance greatness.

How to End a Love Story, screenwriter Yulin Kuang’s debut novel, is a contemporary romance that succeeds on every level, from her characters’ compelling emotional journey to the unique plotline to Kuang’s fresh authorial voice.

Helen Zhang is the successful author of a young adult series that’s been optioned for television. Her work targets readers the same age she was when her sister, Michelle, died by suicide. Helen’s life, as one would expect, is split between the before and the after.

Grant Shepard’s life broke along the exact same fault line. A handsome, affable homecoming king and football star who went to the same school as the Zhang sisters, he was out driving late the night Michelle ran in front of his car. In the 13 years since the incident, Grant’s become a successful, sought-after screenwriter in Los Angeles. Imagine his surprise when he’s asked to lead the writer’s room on Helen’s new show. And then imagine her surprise when he says yes.

Yulin Kuang is so much more than Emily Henry’s screenwriter.

A romance between two people on opposite ends of the same tragic event, How to End a Love Story is a mature, compelling and relatable story of healing that resists simplifying its characters at every turn. Helen’s Chinese American heritage is richly depicted, and it shapes the relationships she has with her family (her mother, in particular), but it is not her sole defining trait. And while Grant may struggle with panic attacks and feeling worthy of love, he also works to convince Helen that it’s OK to move on with her life. Their relationship develops at an organic, realistic pace: Helen must first come to terms with the fact that she’s working with Grant at all before she can come to grips with liking him and, eventually, loving him.

Kuang’s own experiences as a screenwriter shine through on every page. Her depictions of writer’s rooms and meetings with executives are lush, smart and visual, with each sentence packed full of insightful nuances and quiet moments of reflection. These are characters who have battled their demons and come out the other side, stronger than before. Were this a movie, it would be Oscar-worthy.

How to End a Love Story is a mature, compelling and relatable romance that resists simplifying its characters at every turn.
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When beginning this review, I promised myself that I wouldn’t go overboard with baseball puns to describe just how wonderful KT Hoffman’s sports romance, The Prospects, is. Like “Hoffman hits it out of the park with his debut” or “Gene and Luis are the grand slam of relationships.” I tried my hardest, but damn if baseball doesn’t lend itself to describing the absolute home run that is this book.

As the first openly trans professional baseball player, Gene Ionescu is no stranger to hope and hard work. He thrives on it; and baseball loves an underdog. The minor league Beaverton Beavers are like a second family to him, and he feels safe and supported among his teammates. Until Luis Estrada, his former teammate and current rival, gets traded to the Beavers and suddenly all that Gene has built for himself feels threatened. At first, Gene and Luis can’t work together on or off the field. But a begrudging friendship blooms during long hours on the bus and intimate after-hours practices. As Gene and Luis find their stride, they gain the attention of the heavy hitters in the Major Leagues and see each other with fresh eyes. Had Gene never really noticed how sexy and kind Luis was? And does Luis really need to head to his own place when Gene’s apartment (and maybe Gene himself) feels like home? Soon their tenuous friendship gives way to tender new love. But with the Majors calling, the two must decide what they truly want, both from each other and their baseball careers.

The legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” So what happens when a book mixes romance and America’s favorite pastime? You get the perfection that is The Prospects. I will be the first to admit that everything I learned about sports, I learned from sports romance novels. But as an expert on the genre, I can tell the difference between a writer who is just using a baseball diamond as a backdrop and a writer who loves the game so fiercely it almost outshines their love for the main characters. Hoffman is one of the latter. Every corner of this book shines, from the tender love of Gene and Luis to the charming found family that surrounds them and the game that brings them all together. The Prospects is about dreaming big, finding love and blowing the roof off simply by existing. It’s a debut so good it’s in a league of its own. (I’ll see myself out.)

KT Hoffman’s The Prospects is a perfect baseball romance that overflows with love for the sport and its main characters.
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Everyone wants a shortcut to love, especially if a happily ever after is guaranteed. So it’s not surprising that Justin Dahl gets a big response when he explains his gift (or curse) on Reddit: Whoever he dates goes on to meet her perfect match right after things end with him. To his shock, Justin soon hears from Emma, a woman with the same problem. What starts as a half-joking suggestion soon starts to form into a real plan—what if they date each other? Wouldn’t that mean instead of being merely the gateway to love, they could finally have it for themselves . . . right after they break up?

It’s a fun premise, but if you think the plot stays frothy and candy-colored, then you don’t know author Abby Jimenez. Yes, Justin and Emma connect via meet cute (meet unusual, to be more precise) at the beginning of Just for the Summer, but Jimenez quickly develops the characters beyond rom-com archetypes as they deal with challenges that aren’t in the least bit quirky, overblown or played for laughs. Justin and Emma have amazing chemistry and terrific banter, but they also have genuine problems, including family catastrophes, emotional trauma, heavy responsibilities and—in Emma’s case—a mother best compared to a malfunctioning time bomb, set to blow everything up with no clear countdown. Just for the Summer has plenty of humor (a scene with baby raccoons being a personal favorite), but the emotions are real. The turmoil is real. The problems the characters face don’t come with easy answers or magic cures.

The story showcases an absolutely gorgeous outpouring of love in tandem with Emma and Justin’s delightful and warm central romance. Jimenez portrays a range of complex, interesting familial relationships, as well as some amazing friendships—particularly Emma’s with her bestie, Maddy. In Just for the Summer, even when love is difficult and devastating and very possibly cursed, it’s always worth it.

In Abby Jimenez’s Just for the Summer, two people cursed a la “Good Luck Chuck” try to break their unlucky streaks by dating each other—only to fall in love.
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This Could Be Us

In Kennedy Ryan’s satisfying This Could Be Us, a woman rebuilds her life and finds an unexpected love. Soledad Barnes prides herself on her homemaking and family-tending prowess. But then her husband’s betrayal and their ensuing divorce puts it all at risk. Armed with determination and love for her daughters, as well as a posse of fabulous sisters and girlfriends, Soledad figures out a way to use her domestic goddess skills to keep a roof over her family’s head. When the incredibly sexy Judah enters her life, he feels so right—but Soledad doesn’t know whether she can trust her heart again. Ryan’s vibrant characters and delightful descriptions of food and friendship perfectly complement Sol’s story. Readers will want to eat at her table and be one of her best pals, cheering her on to a very deserved happy ending. This tender, sensual and sigh-worthy tale also includes nuanced glimpses of Judah’s joys and concerns as the father of twin boys with autism.

Happily Never After

Two cynics change their minds regarding matters of the heart in Happily Never After by Lynn Painter. Desperate to stop her wedding to a cheating groom, Chicagoan Sophie Steinbeck turns to Max Parks. An architect by day, Max has fallen into a side gig of showing up to nuptials and pretending to be a lovelorn objector. Sophie and Max hit it off right away, and soon they’re teaming up to help others at (off?) the altar. Though they stubbornly resist the idea of a relationship with each other, their chemistry is off the charts and the fun they have together—whether they’re objecting or just hanging out—will leave the reader wondering why Sophie and Max try so hard not to fall. With smoking love scenes and memorable secondary characters, Happily Never After is a delight.

Trouble

An unlikely heroine passes herself off as a governess in Trouble, Lex Croucher’s Regency rom-com. Her kindhearted sister is unable to take on the job and her family is desperate for funds, so Emily Laurence travels to the home of the Edwards family, hoping to disguise her identity, lack of interest in children and generally surly attitude toward mostly everything. Croucher borrows some genre conventions—a remote house, a brooding widower hero, children needing care—and adds the unscrupulous Emily, whose prickly exterior hides a fierce loyalty to those she loves. Which, surprisingly to the imposter governess, turns out to increasingly include her eccentric fellow staffers, the Edwards children and Ben, Captain Edwards himself. But secrets abound, and Emily’s own make her certain no happiness awaits her. Readers will revel in watching Emily learn to trust in this fun, funny and fast-paced story.

There’s nothing more heartwarming than watching deeply cynical or understandably wary characters find love in spite of themselves.
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The Phoenix Bride, Natasha Siegel’s stunning sophomore novel, is a breathtakingly beautiful novel about forbidden love in 17th-century London.

The year is 1666, one year after the bubonic plague wreaked havoc on London. Young widow Cecilia Thorowgood lost her husband, who was a childhood friend and a love match, to the disease. Without financial means of her own, Cecilia finds herself trapped in her sister’s home, deep in the throes of a paralyzing depression and hounded by a slew of doctors who try to cure it with scalpels and leeches. When Cecilia shows no signs of improvement, her sister decides to take the risk of hiring a foreign doctor. David Mendes is not only Portuguese, but also Jewish. He and his father recently immigrated to England, where they can publicly practice their faith. Their new home is a marked improvement from Portugal, but antisemitism still runs rampant. However, David and Cecilia form a friendship despite the social barriers between them, born out of their grief over the loss of loved ones. Cecilia deeply mourns her husband, and David has yet to move on from the death of Manuel, a friend whom he loved secretly for years. As the two begin to heal, they realize the love they have for each other is beyond anything they could have imagined. But is it enough to help them overcome seemingly insurmountable societal odds?

This book will break you open with its beautiful writing, and readers will find themselves wringing their hands, wondering how on earth David and Cecilia could ever be together. Siegel does not soften history to make it easier for her characters to find love, a popular tactic in other queer historical romances. Instead, she finds subtle ways for her characters to bend the rules while not outright disregarding them, allowing them to find their own happily ever after even though traditional markers like marriage remain out of reach. David and Cecilia’s victory feels realistic and hard won, pushing readers to reconsider what an HEA looks like. And while Seigel handles many heavy subjects in The Phoenix Bride such as grief, trauma, antisemitism and biphobia, the romance doesn’t feel weighed down by these issues. Cecilia is a darkly funny heroine and while David is a more serious foil for her, they have a charming ease with each other that creates lighter moments to balance the weightier aspects of the story.

The Phoenix Bride is a gorgeous romance about healing from trauma, making peace with grief and finding love where it doesn’t seem possible. This glorious follow-up to her debut, Solomon’s Crown, firmly establishes Seigel as a writer to watch.

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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