The best new romances to read this Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

Kate Clayborn’s small-town romance takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real.
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Nareh “Nar” Bedrossian, the fascinating and lovable protagonist of Taleen Voskuni’s tender sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a walking, talking identity crisis. Nar’s never been comfortable in her own skin; she doesn’t fully embrace her career as a video journalist, her Armenian heritage or her bisexuality. There’s plenty of room for growth, and Voskuni deftly delivers it in a romance bursting with specificity and cultural depth, told through Nar’s distinctive voice.

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

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

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

Taleen Voskuni’s sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a beautifully crafted portrait of a woman and her Armenian American community.
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By day, Tara Chen, the heroine of Amy Lea’s Exes and O’s, works as a nurse. In her free time, she shares her love of romance novels on Instagram and TikTok. However, despite being an avid supporter of love, her own personal track record hasn’t been successful. Prompted by the end of her engagement, she decides to track down 10 of her exes to learn more about why their relationships ended. Best-case scenario? One of them realizes he’s made a terrible mistake, and Tara finds herself in a real-life second-chance romance. 

Tara’s new roommate, Trevor Metcalfe, is a firefighter who takes a casual approach to relationships. While Tara and Trevor don’t see eye to eye on love, he’s more than happy to be her wingman in her quest for romance. As Tara invests more and more time seeking out old flames, it becomes increasingly obvious that her happily ever after is with the sweet and supportive tattooed firefighter by her side. 

Tara’s unabashed love of romance novels will deeply resonate with fans of the genre. No matter the social media platform, romance lovers have a knack for finding community, and it’s lovely to see that depicted in Tara’s experiences as an influencer. She speaks the lingo fluently, which feels like a delightful inside joke between her and the reader.

Those who enjoy a slow-burn love story will especially want to bump this to the top of their to-be-read pile. Tara’s affable and friendly demeanor often catches Trevor adorably off guard, especially when she attempts to befriend his hookups. Helping Tara with her quest allows Trevor to examine his own way of approaching relationships and figure out why he’s been so avoidant of long-lasting attachments. 

Lea’s voice is so bright and witty that the more emotional parts of the story will sneak up on even the savviest romance readers. Exes and O’s is equal parts tender and laugh-out-loud funny, with an earnest appreciation for the genre singing loudly from every page. With her sophomore novel, Lea proves she’s here to stay. As for what comes next? The sky’s the limit.

Exes and O’s is equal parts tender and laugh-out-loud funny, with an earnest appreciation for the romance genre singing loudly from every page.

Some things are always in style: a little black dress, a great pair of jeans, hoop earrings and rom-coms. As charming as the classic cinematic love stories of the 1980s and ’90s, The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker is a paean to the genre.

Leah Keegan was her foster mother’s caretaker for a year before the older woman died. She’s quiet by nature, a loner by circumstance and a hopeless romantic. When she witnesses the failed marriage proposal of her friend Eli Masterson to Victoria, a woman he’s only dated for four months, Leah recognizes the bereft heart of a kindred spirit.

But while Leah’s response to her situation is to put on her big girl panties and try to move forward, Eli wallows in his misery and becomes stagnate. His whole identity, it seems, was dependent on an improbable future with a woman who never loved him. But thanks to nostalgic rom-coms, his gal pals have the solution: a makeover!

This cute friends-to-lovers romance can be a bit predictable, especially when it comes to Eli, who believes he’ll only be appealing to Victoria after changing everything about himself in order to become the ideal rom-com leading man. Meanwhile, his inability (and, really, unwillingness) to move on hampers his ability to pursue his budding attraction to Leah. As he works through the regimen his friends concoct, naturally based on a cadre of classic films, he slowly discovers that the woman he truly loves is right in front of him. 

It is actually Leah who is the true beneficiary of the rom-com agenda. Over the course of the project, she evolves into a more confident woman, one who overcomes the belief that she is unlovable to recognize that she deserves to be appreciated just as she is. It’s not only a lesson everybody needs to understand, but the cathartic reason people read romance in the first place.

Jayne Denker’s The Rom-Com Agenda is an adorable friends-to-lovers romance that celebrates the life lessons rom-coms provide.
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In The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, Jess Everlee’s soul-stirring debut, a fan obsessed with an illicit book finds true love with his favorite author.

Handsome Charlie Price is a respectable accountant by day and a “finely dressed and finely drunk” rake by night. When his exploits land him under a mountain of crushing debt, he makes a deal with his parents: If they pay what he owes, he’ll do whatever they ask.

Since that compromise, almost nothing in Charlie’s life has been of his choosing, not his comfortable London town house, not the servants who spy on him, not his bank job and not even his sweet fiancée, Alma. Until his wedding, Charlie’s committed to taking pleasure in two things: cultivating his collection of erotica and spending his free time with his gaggle of devoted friends at his hedonistic gentleman’s club, The Curious Fox.

The circumspect and cautious Miles Montague also leads two lives, albeit much more quietly than Charlie. Heartbroken and shaken by an experience that Everlee keeps mysterious at first, Miles runs a respectable bookshop but writes England’s most infamous erotica in his off hours under the nom de plume of Reginald Cox. 

Cox happens to be Charlie’s favorite author, so when Charlie learns Cox is an unassuming bookseller, he visits the shop to ask him to autograph his most infamous novel (and Charlie’s most treasured possession): Immorality Plays. In 1883 London, being exposed as the author of an explicit text would mean legal and life-threatening danger, so of course, Miles assumes anyone asking for him by his pen name must be a blackmailer. It’s the queer Victorian version of a meet-disaster turned meet-cute. Miles and Charlie’s attraction is electric. Even though both know their relationship has a firm expiration date, love blooms in the blissful interregnum between their meeting and Charlie’s impending wedding. 

Fans of KJ Charles, Cat Sebastian and Alexis Hall will find much to enjoy here. There are shades of Charles’ Unfit to Print (pornographer/bookseller lead) and A Seditious Affair (the well-wrought BDSM and the tightknit circle of friends centered on a private gentleman’s club) as well as Hall’s Something Fabulous (the slapstick humor, mistaken identities and genderplay). While the characters are a bit slow to develop and the plot isn’t as distinctive or refined as the best works in the subgenre, Charlie and Miles’ chemistry is sweet, and Everlee’s writing reaches its peak in their love scenes, which soar with emotional intensity. With its potent blend of queer eroticism, found family and unabashed swoon, this romance is a resonant winner.

An erotica devotee and an infamous author form an electric connection in Jess Everlee’s emotionally resonant queer Victorian romance.

A sweet and touching portrayal of friendship, heartbreak and healing, The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis is a poignant romance with astute observations about life after loss.

It’s been two years since her husband, Russ, died, and 32-year-old Natalie Fincher is still grieving. She’s lost her passion for the dreamy cottage she lives in, and she’s lost the chance to be part of the musical she wrote. She finds comfort talking to her friend Shauna, a motherly figure who owns a coffee shop at London’s St. Pancras railway station where Natalie has been playing the public piano. Although she is not interested in dating, Natalie placates her best friends, who are desperate to reignite her love life, by approaching handsome, good-natured Tom during a night out and asking him to pretend they’re starting a fling. Tom quickly becomes a friend, and when someone starts leaving Natalie sheet music in the piano bench, he attempts to help her find her anonymous music angel. 

Louis (Eight Perfect Hours) portrays life transitions with tender credibility. She immerses readers in Natalie’s past with well-placed memories of her life with Russ, which are triggered in the present by constant bittersweet reminders, such as their cottage that she still lives in. Natalie is a likable protagonist, trying to balance her grief and self-doubt with the expectations of her friends and family. Some of the repartee between Natalie and her best friends, especially about her sex life, can feel overly sophomorish and superficial, especially given the depth of Natalie’s first-person narration. But it also highlights her friends’ uncertainty and discomfort with addressing Natalie’s loss—and their own eventual growth. 

The Key to My Heart is an enticing and moving portrayal of the heart’s power to heal after the loss of a loved one. 

The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis is a poignant romance with astute observations about life after the loss.
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Author Olivia Dade returns with the highly anticipated third installment in her Spoiler Alert series, Ship Wrecked, an opposites-attract romance that begins with a one-night stand.

Sociable, lively Swedish actor Maria Ivarsson and reserved Wisconsinite Peter Reedton share a steamy night together, after which Maria sneaks out while Peter is asleep. Neither thought they’d ever see each other again, but they’re abruptly reunited when they both land a role on “Gods of the Gates,” an epic fantasy TV show. Their chemistry in the bedroom definitely translates on screen, but old baggage also bubbles up during their scenes together. Maria’s actions tapped into Peter’s long-held insecurities, and even though she regrets leaving the way she did, he would rather just move on. Peter’s not about to ruin both of their acting careers by airing out their dirty laundry on set, so they work together as amicably as possible—for six whole years. But as the show approaches its final episode, their pent-up feelings begin to resurface. Can Peter and Maria walk away a second time? 

Ship Wrecked is quite the slow-burn romance, given that its central couple keep each other at a professional arm’s length for over half a decade. Maria wants to make things up to Peter but worries that doing so will reveal the depths of her attraction to him, which never fades. As they settle into a cordial working relationship that slowly evolves into a friendship, they realize how well they complement each other. The affable and brash Maria gets Peter out of his shell, and Peter, who is an absolute sweetheart and a true cinnamon roll, provides a calm shelter where Maria can rest. It’s particularly lovely to see Dade’s passion for promoting body diversity in romance extend to a male character, an area in which the genre still has a lot of room for improvement.  

This rom-com definitely emphasizes the “com,” with Dade’s trademark blend of nerdy love, sexy banter and comedic shenanigans, but there’s still space for more serious notes, such as Peter’s and Maria’s individual struggles with the mental and emotional toll of being in the spotlight. Ship Wrecked is a charming, tender exploration of acceptance, celebrity and getting a second chance to make a lasting and loving impression.

In Olivia Dade’s charming, sexy Ship Wrecked, a one-night stand leads to a six-year slow-burn romance.

Love is hard. And when trauma is added to the mix, the partner you adore can struggle to be the partner you need.

Kennedy Ryan’s latest contemporary romance, Before I Let Go, is dedicated to the “strong girls . . . hustlers . . . [and] superwomen,” all of which could be used to describe heroine Yasmen Wade. Yasmen built a charmed and idyllic life with Josiah, her college sweetheart-turned-husband. Partners in life and in business, the two ran a successful restaurant together. But their happiness came to a screeching halt when their third child was stillborn, which was only the start of a series of heartbreaks. In the emotional aftermath, Yasmen’s grief became paralyzing. She sought mental health counseling, but Josiah was unwilling to seek therapy with her. Yasmen had to battle the darkness alone, which created a rift between her and her husband. Rather than taking refuge in each other, as “Team Wade” had done for nearly two decades, they divorced. However, their hearts never truly let go.

For Kennedy Ryan, love isn’t easy—that’s what makes it so precious.

This is a story of resilience, redemption and second chances; it’s heavy but hopeful. With meticulously detailed prose, Ryan creates characters who are deeply relatable, so compelling and lushly drawn that they feel like old friends. Yasmen and Josiah’s story serves as a reminder that the best things in life are worth fighting for, and that a successful relationship requires more than simply loving each other. Before I Let Go is an ode to supporting the emotional needs of your partner and learning to be gentle with yourself.

Kennedy Ryan’s Before I Let Go is a heavy but hopeful second-chance romance that follows a divorced couple who find their way back to each other.
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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.

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