22 superhot enemies-to-lovers romances

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Who doesn’t love a good renovation story? Whether it’s the experts of “Queer Eye” making lifestyle improvements, Marie Kondo organizing clutter, the beloved hosts of “What Not to Wear” upgrading a wardrobe (still waiting on that reboot, TLC) or the “Property Brothers” giving a home a much-needed tuneup, we all like to watch professionals take a mess and rework, renew and restore it into something beautiful. There’s a hopefulness to renovations, too, in the idea that everything has hidden potential just waiting to be brought to light. And the main couple of Ashley Herring Blake’s Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail? Well, let’s just say they could use some touch-ups. 

Carpenter Jordan Everwood has been spiraling since the abrupt, heartbreaking end of her marriage. On top of that, the place she loves most—her beloved grandmother’s historic Everwood Inn—is on the verge of closing. Their only hope is a renovation covered by “Innside America,” a popular TV show. But filming the show means working with glamorous, ice-cold designer Astrid Parker, with whom Jordan has a disastrous meet-ugly. Astrid is beautiful, composed, organized, efficient—and also desperately unhappy, locked in a life that doesn’t bring her any joy. And now, to save her stalled career, she’ll have to work with the exasperating, sarcastic, gorgeous, immensely talented Jordan, who thwarts and upstages her at every turn.

Far from being a match made in heaven, Astrid and Jordan seem more like a lit match and a fuse. It takes time for them to let down their walls, reveal their vulnerabilities and allow themselves to be seen and valued for who they really are. While Astrid is the eponymous character, Jordan’s journey actually proves the most moving. Practically from page one, it’s clear that Astrid’s relationship with her mother is toxic and that she’ll only find happiness when she learns to stand on her own. Her discovery of what truly brings her joy is sweet and satisfying (satisfying in every way—this is a romance novel, after all), but the plot threads feel fairly familiar. On the other hand, the lessons Jordan has to learn are not as immediately clear. I felt like I discovered along with her what she needed to hear someone say to her, what she needed to uncover about herself and, ultimately, what she deserved from life.

Why do we like renovation stories so much? Maybe because all of us are works in progress, too. There’s always the hope that, like Astrid and Jordan, we might end up renovated and restored into exactly who we’re meant to be—with exactly the partner we’re meant to have.

Ashley Herring Blake’s follow-up to Delilah Green Doesn’t Care is a hot and hopeful renovation romance.

Erin Sterling’s witchy new rom-com, The Kiss Curse, is the much anticipated sequel to last year’s equally charming The Ex Hex

When Vivi Jones broke the hex she put on her now-husband, Rhys Penhallow, she affected his family’s ancestral power—power that just happens to infuse her hometown of Graves Glen, Georgia. Ever since, things have been out of whack, and Vivi’s cousin, Gwyn, has noticed her own powers are waning. Rhys’ brother Wells has spent years diligently bearing the enormous responsibility of being part of their illustrious family. When he learns of the weakening magic in Graves Glen, he steps up to solve the problem.

As one of the top witches in town, Gwyn takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. Wells and Gwyn are opposites in culture and personality—Wells puts duty above all else, whereas Gwyn thinks of rules as suggestions for other people—so when they share a surprising kiss early on in the novel, they insist it must have something to do with the town’s fluctuating magic. These witches should know better. 

The Kiss Curse is sexy and fun, fast paced and joyful. In Sterling’s supernatural realm, down-to-earth magic is as common as grand feats of wizardry. She peppers in smart, clever world building details, and every sentence is packed with substantive description and imagination. This kiss is definitely worth the curse, a sexy rom-com with just the right amount of sorcery.

Erin Sterling's much anticipated sequel to The Ex Hex is a sexy rom-com with just the right amount of sorcery.
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A brilliant and wildly creative young woman with sharp corners and a sharper tongue discovers the softer side of life in Bolu Babalola’s dazzling debut romance, Honey and Spice.

Kikiola “Kiki” Banjo is a Nigerian British undergraduate student at Whitewell, a fictional university in England. Among the Black community of Whitewell, known as Blackwell, she looms large. She leads FreakyFridayz, the standing Friday night hangout, and hosts a popular relationship advice radio show, “Brown Sugar.” But few people truly know her. After her mother’s near-fatal illness and a falling-out with her best friend over a manipulative guy, Kiki has withdrawn into herself, only letting her “ride or die” roommate into her private life.

Meanwhile, a new transfer student named Malakai Korede has abandoned his economics degree to study film, his first love. His girlfriend broke up with him over this decision, and he subsequently decided not to get overly involved with the girls he dates at his new university. Kiki calls him out on her radio show for his lack of commitment, warning the Black female students against going out with him. 

Bolu Babalola shares her romantic vision.

But then Kiki and Malakai realize they could both achieve their dreams—hers of winning a prestigious internship, his of winning an esteemed film competition—by working together to create a film and a radio show focusing on relationships. The only problem is that Malakai’s commitment phobia, Kiki’s lack of a dating life and her derision toward Malakai are common knowledge on campus. So they decide to start fake-dating in order to give themselves credibility. True trust is slow to grow between them, but Kiki’s and Malakai’s vulnerabilities and innate integrity, not to mention their sparky chemistry, deftly portrayed in Babalola’s banter-filled prose, draw them closer and closer together.

Sprinkled with Yoruba words and British slang, Honey and Spice hums with Babalola’s unique voice, which is full of energy and sensitive insights, often punctuated with laughter. Kiki and Malakai are multilayered, complex characters who approach life with thoughtfulness, passion, maturity and courage. Readers will especially appreciate how they are not afraid to tackle problems head-on, trusting that their instincts and intellectual abilities will be able to solve any issue. Honey and Spice is a deeply romantic story of two souls who grow closer as they recognize the generosity and humanity in each other. They each have their faults, but their individual imperfections make them perfect together.

Honey and Spice, an enemies-to-lovers romance set on a British university campus, hums with author Bolu Babalola's energetic, intelligent voice.
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In Gina Conkle’s sharp, brilliant Georgian romance A Scot Is Not Enough, a Scottish Jacobite forever changes the trajectory of an upright English barrister’s life.

Alexander Sloane is undersecretary to the undersecretary of the Duke of Newcastle. Precision runs in his veins, discovering the truth is his raison d’être and he’s on the cusp of getting a promotion he’s been working toward for years. His attempt to decode a ledger used by the Jacobites, a Scottish group intent on deposing the Protestant kings of England and restoring the Catholic House of Stuart to the throne, leads him to Cecelia MacDonald, a known Jacobite sympathizer. Hoping to uncover the Scottish traitors, Alexander begins to tail Cecelia through London.

After her clan was defeated and their homes were ransacked by the English during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, Cecelia came to London with a league of women on a mission to retrieve their clan’s treasures. As the league’s de facto leader, Cecelia’s job is to recover their chief’s ancient ceremonial dagger, the sgian-dubh.

Cecelia’s carmine lips, free-flowing laughter and penchant for sexual innuendo convince Alexander that she is a demirep, a historical term for a women of questionable reputation. But even as she is mired in intrigue, Cecelia helps feed poor Scottish and Irish immigrants. Alexander attempts to covertly surveil her in order to square the two sides of this free-spirited siren, but unfortunately, subterfuge does not come naturally to him: Cecelia finds him stuck in a barrel behind her house. So begins the seduction.

A Scot Is Not Enough throbs with sexual tension from the very first page. Alexander and Cecelia’s unrelenting fascination with each other, their need to uncover what drives the other person, propels their relationship. While both characters want to trust their hearts, their minds are warning them that there is no logical reason to do so. Conkle expertly employs subtle, minute emotional details that track the evolution of their relationship and individual perspectives.

A Scot Is Not Enough is a spellbinding tale of political adversaries who are beguiled with each other in spite of everything pulling them apart. The mystery of the sgian-dubh adds intrigue, but it is Conkle’s prose and character work that make this romance so compelling.

A Scot Is Not Enough is the story of a spellbinding Georgian romance between political adversaries who are completely beguiled with each other.
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New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry (Beach Read, People We Meet on Vacation) returns with Book Lovers, in which an ambitious literary agent’s summer trip takes an unexpected turn when she’s stuck in a small town with her professional nemesis.

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

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

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

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

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

A delightful romance that both dismantles and celebrates the “career woman” archetype, Book Lovers cements Emily Henry's status as one of the best rom-com writers around.
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In The League of Gentlewomen Witches, India Holton returns to the Dangerous Damsels, her magical romp of a series complete with flying houses, adventuring pirates and tenacious witches. In this fast-paced enemies-to-lovers romance, a witch destined to take over a secret society teams up with a roguish pirate captain to recover a stolen amulet.

Charlotte Pettifer is a descendent of the famed Beryl Black, founder of the Wicken League, which fosters the talents of both young and experienced witches. It’s Charlotte’s birthright to lead the league, just like her ancestor, and she’s always thought that her destiny was also her dream job. But a treasure-hunting pirate makes her reconsider her future. When Beryl Black’s long-lost amulet resurfaces, Captain Alex O’Riley sets out to claim it—and so does Charlotte, by stowing away on Alex’s flying house.

India Holton reveals which fictional sorceresses she’d want in her own coven.

Close quarters turn Charlotte and Alex’s rapid-fire banter into a sort of foreplay, but despite their mutual antagonism, their romance skews more toward the sweet and heartwarming end of the spectrum. The dashing, daring Alex provides the perfect foil for buttoned-up and duty-bound Charlotte. It’s not exactly a grumpy-meets-sunshine pairing—more like a stuffy character falling for a free-spirited one. Alex oozes charm; he already made a grand first impression in Holton’s debut, The Wisteria Society for Lady Scoundrels, and he will further secure his spot in readers’ hearts here. They will immediately understand why Charlotte is envious of Alex’s freedom, especially as the weight of becoming the head of the Wicken League looms over her. His very existence and infectious spontaneity make Charlotte waver on her commitment to the league. Can she really live the life she wants while also fully committing to the role of leader?

Holton takes readers on a wild ride through a fun, limitless world, where frivolity and whimsy reign supreme and skilled swordwork and grand displays of magic abound. It’s all a hodgepodge of delightful silliness, with over-the-top action, exaggerated villainy and the fact that it’s possible to fall in love with your sworn enemy while recovering an ancient amulet. Think Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners. And then crank that all up to 11.

It’s impossible to know where the series will go next, but after finishing The League of Gentlewomen Witches, readers will be completely on board for more of Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romances.

Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride, with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners, in India Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romance.
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Despite a disastrous first meeting, sparks eventually fly between a grumpy duke and a scandalous opera singer in Julie Anne Long’s After Dark with the Duke.

When Miss Mariana Wylde meets James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, it’s disdain at first sight. Mariana’s bad reputation precedes her: A disastrous duel was fought over her favor, and she was lambasted in the press as the “Harlot of Haywood Street.” Although Mariana didn’t encourage the duel or welcome the media attention that followed, this is 19th century England, and women are usually blamed for men’s bad behavior. James, an upright former general who places a great deal of importance on reputation, needs no further information to judge her harshly.

The Grand Palace on the Thames, a somewhat pretentiously named but very cozy boarding house, is a safe haven for Mariana, but her presence there doesn’t sit well with the duke, a fellow boarder. He cannot abide Mariana’s supposed recklessness, having lost too many men to foolish actions during the Napoleonic wars. The dislike between them is instant, but the duke takes it too far by lording his education over Mariana and making her the object of ridicule. Having violated the house rules of harmony among guests, James is in danger of being kicked off the premises entirely, until the house’s proprietors strike a deal: He can stay if he apologizes and helps Mariana learn Italian so she can understand the words she sings. 

Long has a gift for language and razor-sharp descriptions that pinpoint a character’s essence. In After Dark with the Duke, she offers a master class in characterization, even by her high standards. Mariana’s vibrance and sparkle contrast strongly with James’ uncompromising virtue, which Long describes as being “as stark and strange as if an obelisk had been dropped into the sitting room.” But Long takes care to make sure that readers know exactly why James’ respectability means so much to him. He rose from humble beginnings to the aristocracy on his own merit and is thus painfully aware of all the rules he must follow to keep his reputation intact.

Mariana and James should make no sense together, but their interactions are delightfully chaotic and charged with an explosive sexual chemistry that shakes them to their bones. The more time they spend together, the more they see past each other’s outward appearances. The combustible chemistry of opposites breaks down their defenses, leading to mutual respect, support and love in this sublime and steamy historical romance.

Julie Anne Long’s sublime and steamy historical romance is a master class in characterization and the combustible chemistry of opposites.
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A Certain Appeal is a rompy and raunchy retelling of Pride & Prejudice—with a burlesque twist. The Jane Austen inspiration is clear, but debut novelist Vanessa King excels at infusing her own fresh voice and sparkling ideas into this contemporary romance.

Liz Bennet had dreams of becoming an interior designer, but her career in Los Angeles crashed and burned before it really even got off the ground. Looking for a new start, she heads to New York City and quickly falls into a routine with Jane—in this retelling a Black, gay man who is Liz’s best friend and roommate. By day, Liz works as an executive assistant. But at night, she’s at the Meryton, a burlesque club in Manhattan where Jane is employed as a singer. Liz is a “stage kitten,” tasked with picking up after the performers and collecting their discarded bits of costuming.

Stuffy, buttoned-up wealth manager Will Darcy certainly isn’t prepared to attend a show at the Meryton but goes along with his friend Charles, who’s interested in investing in the club. He’s quite taken aback by Liz’s flirtatious nature, and when Liz overhears Darcy describe her as merely “tolerable,” the stage kitten shows her claws. Liz is a confident and saucy heroine, always ready with a sly innuendo or a sharp, witty remark. It’s a torturous delight watching her unravel the starchy Darcy. 

Despite that disastrous first impression, the pair keep crossing paths thanks to Jane and Charles’ whirlwind romance, graduating from acquaintances to confidants to something much more. It’s a slow burn that keeps its momentum, even amid all the fun of King’s detailed, luxe descriptions of buzzing nightlife, sexy show performances and extravagant costumes.

There is some additional conflict as Darcy and Liz explore their romantic connection: The Meryton is at risk of closing, and rumors swirl around Darcy’s past. But these factors don’t take much focus away from the romance, giving the large cast of side characters time to flourish. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see more of aerialists named Ginn and Tonic?)

Fans of the source material will have an immeasurable amount of fun identifying all the Easter eggs within, from recognizable characters to dialogue that harkens back to the original text. King captures the magical feeling of seeing New York City awash in lights, and the electric hum of a rapt crowd during a live performance. There is something both cozy and thrilling about the Meryton and its found family of performers, and readers will be sad to leave them.

A Certain Appeal is incredibly charming, and it knows it. The only big questions left are what King will write next and when can we read it?

A rompy, raunchy retelling of Pride & Prejudice with a burlesque twist, A Certain Appeal is incredibly charming and it knows it.
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True enemies-to-lovers romances are both less plentiful than many readers would like and extremely hard to execute. Too much hostility and things can get ugly; too little tension and the whole thing fizzles. Demand for this popular trope tends to outstrip supply. But where others falter, An Extraordinary Lord handily succeeds, in large part because of its original premise. Its leads are natural enemies with real skin in the game and the stakes are sky-high.

Loosely inspired by the Spa Fields Riots, an intriguing bit of British political history in which activists advocating for electoral reform and economic relief instigated riots in an attempt to topple the government, Anna Harrington’s third Lords of the Armory romance is not a typical historical. Like a Regency-era forerunner to Batman, Lord Merritt Rivers is haunted by a tragic loss and obsessed with law and order. He works as a barrister by day and roams the streets of London at night, dressed in a costume of all black, determined to prevent crime before it happens and keep the innocent safe. This alter ego doesn’t have a name, but he tries one or two on for size (The Night Guardian, the City Watchman, etc.). Veronica “Roni” Chase, on the other hand, is a thief-taker. Morally gray with the permits to prove it, Veronica makes her living catching thieves and turning them in for profit. When the two meet one night on the streets, Veronica could easily end up back in jail. As far as Merritt is concerned, thief-takers like Veronica are part of the problem:

“Merritt had no patience for them, knowing they were profiting off the riots as much as the men they captured. But this one . . . Sweet Lucifer. He’d never seen one like her before. Hell, he’d never seen a female thief-taker at all.”

A series of suspiciously organized riots is putting London on the edge of turmoil and potentially undermining the regent. Merritt is helping the Home Office pinpoint the manipulative masterminds and mischief-makers behind the scenes, and he thinks Veronica might be one of them. His initial investigation into the mysterious beauty absolves her of that crime, but also reveals that she served time for a crime she didn’t commit and has been hiding under a different name after breaking out of prison. Intrigued and with his eyes on a bigger prize, Merritt offers a deal rather than turn Veronica in. She’ll help him investigate the riots and he’ll secure a full pardon for her in return—a perfect setup for enemies to become lovers.

An Extraordinary Lord includes ample tropes, all well deployed—Merritt and Veronica are enemies and opposites forced into close proximity for a limited time—but it’s to Harrington’s credit that her hero and heroine feel like unique creations with multiple dimensions and original facets. Veronica wields a knife with terrifying aplomb, but she also knows her way around a ballroom. She has the sensibilities and social awareness of a radical, but also lets herself revel in the beauty of a glittering party. Merritt is a gentleman with aristocratic connections, but he works hard for a living and actually has to think about the money he spends. And he wasn’t born into a title. Together, they navigate an interesting blend of rarified spaces and dangerous streets, with great banter and excellent physical chemistry wherever they go. But it’s the premise, its rich grounding in history and the palpable suspense that really set An Extraordinary Lord apart.

This enemies-to-lovers romance succeeds where others falter thanks to its original premise and fantastic characters.

Martha Waters is back with the second book in her Regency Vows series, To Love and To Loathe. This absolutely perfect Regency romance is chock-full of chatty, flirty characters and delectable scoundrels. It’s charming, happy and perhaps best of all, it’s got a scandalous wager between enemies.

The tension between the widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham, is through the roof. Their flirting is legendary—everyone can see it—and in an era ruled by gossip, it seems obvious the two will wind up together. Except, of course, to Diana and Jeremy, because these frenemies love to bicker.

Over one particularly dicey row, Diana makes Jeremy a wager that comes back to haunt her. She bets Jeremy that he’ll marry within a year, or she’ll give him 100 pounds. But Jeremy, who’s reeling after his last mistress criticized his skills in the bedroom, proposes something even more shocking. He suggests they have an affair for a fortnight, because he knows the sharp-tongued, honest to a fault Diana won’t shy away from telling him the truth.

What follows is a saucy and scandalous romance that’s addictive fun while capably portraying both characters’ internal conflict. Waters sets a jaunty pace with flirty dialogue, easy camaraderie and enjoyable characters. All the typical trademarks of Regency era are present, but thanks to Waters’ charm, this story feels timeless and young and fun.

This absolutely perfect Regency romance is chock-full of chatty, flirty characters and delectable scoundrels.

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In Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, Hana Khan Carries On, a Muslim woman tries to keep her family’s halal business afloat while finding comfort in creating her own anonymous podcast.

Hana Khan has plenty to worry about: her mother’s casual halal restaurant is in dire financial straits, and the Khan household has been turned upside down by the arrival of her aunt and cousin. Her only outlet is Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles, a podcast that Hana launched anonymously and views as a diary of sorts. As it slowly gains a following, Hana starts an adorable online back and forth with a dedicated listener. What she doesn’t know is that very same listener is Aydin Shah, who runs the competing halal eatery that is jeopardizing the Khan family business.

Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha at Last, was a Pride & Prejudice-inspired journey to romance and self-fulfillment. With Hana Khan, Jalaluddin turns to rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail for inspiration. The bones of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film are there, trading bookstores for halal food, but Jalaluddin launches this story into the 21st century. The most obvious update is Hana’s interest in podcasting and auditory forms of storytelling, but there’s also the setting of Toronto’s Golden Crescent neighborhood, which is home to a thriving Muslim community. Jalaluddin demonstrates how this close-knit world provides both support system and motivation for Hana and her family throughout the novel. But she also acknowledges the depressing truth that it makes them targets, especially when Hana experiences an anti-Muslim hate crime that goes viral.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Uzma Jalaluddin uses romance tropes to expand the boundaries of the genre.

It’s a tall order to find someone worthy of such a brilliant and earnest heroine, but Aydin is an excellent love interest. He’s genuine and charming, a perfect foil for his father’s more hostile business tactics, but the novel is more focused on Hana’s journey than his own. There is a satisfying happily ever after at the end, but Jalaluddin explores more than just romantic love in Hana Khan. It’s a story of self-love, familial love, togetherness and compassion between neighbors, and all the different ways we express love with who we allow into our lives.

This modern romantic comedy is full of warmth, and complemented wonderfully by Hana’s courageous self-determination and the scene-stealing secondary members of the Khan family. If Hana Khan Carries On is a sign of things to come, whatever Jalaluddin writes next will be inventive, extraordinary and well worth a read.

In Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, Hana Khan Carries On, a Muslim woman tries to keep her family’s halal business afloat while finding comfort in creating her own anonymous podcast.

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In Jenny Holiday’s Sandcastle Beach, Maya Mehta and Benjamin Lawson have a longstanding rivalry whose foundation is as sturdy as a castle made of sand. He rigs the Mermaid Queen election in her favor every year, which she supposedly hates (but secretly enjoys). She boycotts his brick oven pizza while still regularly frequenting his bar, where Ben reserves her favorite wine for her exclusively and surreptitiously slips her freebies all night long.

Watching these two find the pettiest of ways to hate on each other while sneakily admiring each other is great entertainment for their friends and the matchmaking elders who populate the small town of Moonflower Bay. It makes for a mildly frothy read, but the tensions underlying the hate side of their unacknowledged love/hate relationship might feel a bit lukewarm for connoisseurs of the enemies-to-lovers trope who prefer more heated relationships such as those depicted in Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game, Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Party or Kennedy Ryan’s Hook Shot. As Maya’s brother Rohan tells her about his most recent failed relationship: “’For a massage to work, you need some pressure, you know? Some friction.’” He shrugged. “’I started to think maybe that’s true in life, too?’”

Handsome, generous and generally single Ben just isn’t particularly hateable or even rakish. He enjoys sparring with Maya but scarcely remembers how their rivalry started. He just knows that she’s been inexplicably spikey with him since she was 19. Maya’s motivations are clearer—he carelessly did her wrong years ago—but her perception of Ben is similarly cloudy and as a result, the friction on her side is fuzzy too, at least at first.

Fortunately, their initial rivalry is a prelude to a more complex, satisfying and steamy enemies-with-benefits arrangement in which hostilities are intermittently suspended for Premier League football and wine. Their slow burn gets exponentially hotter as the two become more sure of themselves, and their quick-witted banter and mutually obsessed attentiveness impressively echoes Beatrice and Benedick’s dynamic in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a production of which Maya directs and stars in during the novel. When the town council announces a lucrative grant program for local entrepreneurs, placing Maya and Ben in direct competition with each other, it magnifies the stakes of their rivalry tenfold. The $100,000 prize would be life-changing for either Maya or Ben, who are both at professional crossroads. When these aspects of the story take off, their chemistry really begins to sparkle. The result is effervescent, joyous and rewarding fun.

In Jenny Holiday’s Sandcastle Beach, Maya Mehta and Benjamin Lawson have a longstanding rivalry whose foundation is as sturdy as a castle made of sand.

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If I told you that The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon was an “enemies-to-lovers workplace romance,” you’d probably think you’d know what to expect, right? Especially if I said that this was a fake relationship story as well? It’s a familiar, much-loved plot. (Many people’s favorite is The Proposal, but I’m partial to Someone Like You, weird cow subplot and all, because Hugh Jackman—well, because Hugh Jackman. What other reason do you need?) But what if I said this story isn’t about faking being together, but faking breaking up?

Shay Goldstein is devoted to the public radio station where she works as a producer, but her dream is to host a show of her own. Still, she’s mostly joking when she suggests, at a come-up-with-new-programming-because-we’re-a-sinking-ship meeting, that the station create a relationship program hosted by ex-lovers. She’s stunned when the program director loves the idea and wants Shay to host it along with the station’s new hotshot reporter, Dominic Yun. But Shay and Dominic disagree on everything. They can’t hold a civil conversation. And, oh yeah, they aren’t exes. But no one needs to know that, the director suggests. They just have to fudge the truth a little (a lot—to everyone) and focus on telling a story, whether or not it’s true. Or they can lose their jobs due to cutbacks. Shay’s current show is on the chopping block, so it’s lie-way or the highway. The easier path seems to be to take a chance and snag her dream job, even if it means pretending to have fallen in and out of love with a man she doesn’t know but is quite sure she dislikes.

Of course, as they tangle in the sound booth, chemistry emerges—along with a burgeoning, unexpected friendship. There’s more to Dominic than Shay expected, and there’s a lot more to her feelings for him than disdain. She’s started to fall for the man now nationally known as her ex.

Full confession: I massively overidentified with the heroine. I don’t work in radio, but my nine NPR podcast subscriptions reveal my addiction. After a decade working in my dream industry, cutbacks sent my career trajectory, like Shay’s, on an unexpected left turn. (Rachel Lynn Solomon, are you my stalker?) So I might have related more than usual as Shay worked and struggled and stumbled on her path to success, professionally and romantically. Shay’s a great heroine, witty and wry and vividly real, and Dominic is just as complex and lovingly drawn. I enjoy the escapist fun of a sexy, confident, flawless hero falling for a me-substitute as much as the next girl, but it’s so much easier to believe in love that feels earned and grows between characters who aren’t props or fantasies but compellingly flawed people.

While its central romance certainly functions as the story’s framework, The Ex Talk also leaves room to explore other kinds of love, including love for family (it was Shay’s late father who inspired her love of radio), love for friends, love for your work—and the kind of love for yourself that means you know when it’s time to leave a toxic, misogynistic work situation. (Thought this story was all sweetness and fluff? Think again.) So I don’t believe it was overidentification that made me fall for Shay, Dominic and the idea of the two of them together. I believe they and their creator did that by being funny, sharp, charming and insightful. This wonderful romance speaks volumes about chasing your dreams, finding your courage and putting everything on the line (or on the air) for love.

While its central romance certainly functions as the story's framework, The Ex Talk also leaves room to explore other kinds of love.

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