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16+ Romance Books to Read Right Now

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@ashley_dicksonellison)

I've updated this post for 2024 to include recent romance book favorites! The newest recommendations are marked with an asterisk.

I'll be honest, friends. I missed out on reading romances for a HUGE part of my reading life. These past few years, I've been making up for lost time, but the last few months I'd run into a bit of a dry spell.

I read several romances that were duds for me, and after going through a lot of medical appointments and ultimately a body-altering major surgery (a bilateral mastectomy in April of 2022), I also just wasn't feeling it. I didn't want to read about Happily Ever Afters or steamy love scenes.

But I DID want reads that felt light and comforting, so I had a few months where not much was working for me. (I shared a few of the books that I really loved during that period where nothing else worked in a Bookish Fave - give any of those recs a try if you're in a slump. Notice that Emily Henry's Book Lovers did make that list - it was the only romance I enjoyed the first half of 2022!)

But I'm happy to report that (1) my reading life has picked back up, and (2) I've really enjoyed several romance books very recently. Here are some of the ones that worked for me. (Additional update for 2024 - I still haven't found romances to be the go-to genre for me that they were for a while there, especially in the early days of the pandemic and quarantine, but I am enjoying them a lot more than I was in 2022. Additionally, as time passes, the open-door romance scenes don't bring up every emotion in the way they did in those early days after my surgery. I'm glad to share some new favorites below!)

Recent Romance Favorites

Bolu Babalola's Honey & Spice ( | - I’m listening to this one on audio right now (thanks for and their ALC program), and it is lovely. (I haven't finished yet but am sure it's going to be a favorite!) In this novel, university student Kiki Banjo has a radio show full of empowering advice for the young women on campus, but her plan to follow her own advice and to avoid all romantic endeavors goes awry when she crosses paths with Malakai Korede, a new student on campus.

*Isabel Cañas's Vampires of El Norte ( | - Set in the 1840s in Mexico, this alternate historical fiction novel imagines what the fight over land on the US / Mexican border might have looked if supernatural elements also played a role in the conflict. I started this one as a spooky read in October, and what I did not expect was the pivotal love story at its center.

This is about Nena and Néstor, a rancher's daughter and a vaquero who grow up alongside each other, coming from two very different stations in life. A shocking event early on causes Néstor to run for his life, and it isn't until many years later that the two find themselves face to face again, trying to reconcile the long lost past with their present reality. This was one of my favorite reads of 2023 and combines history, romance, and the supernatural into an unforgettable story.

Mazey Eddings's A Brush with Love ( | - I listened to this one thanks to, and I was surprised by how much I loved it. The story follows two dental students (which, since I now work very closely with a dental team, I think a lot more about!) and their very different journeys through the experience. What I appreciated most about this one was the thoughtful exploration of two important issues - debilitating anxiety (for Harper) and the balance between individual desires and family responsibilities (for Dan).

Alexis Hall's A Lady for a Duke ( | - My love of Alexis Hall's books is well documented. In this historical fiction novel, protagonist Viola Carroll was presumed dead at the battle of Waterloo, which led to the unlikely opportunity for her to finally live more freely as herself. But the start of her life as Viola does not come easily as she must give up her land, her title, her prestige, and every connection to her old life including her relationship with her beloved best friend, Justin de Vere, duke of Gracewood. The only people in the world who know Viola's true story are her brother and his wife, Lady Marleigh, but she must find her way forward in the world. Read my full review of this one here.

*Ali Hazelwood's Love, Theoretically ( | - Elsie Hannaway is scrambling to make ends meet as an adjunct professor of theoretical physics. Because she's struggling financially, she picks up a secret job she's very good at doing - she is a fake girlfriend who can be hired through an app service. Her side hustle helps her make ends meet and capitalizes on her special ability to be both everything someone wants (thanks to her people-pleasing skills) and someone entirely unremarkable so that family members ask no questions when she isn't in the picture in the future.

But things go awry for Elsie when she fake dates the brother of MIT professor Jack Smith, an illustrious experimental physicist who is detemined to get to the bottom of what Elsie has to do with his brother. This has been my favorite Hazelwood book of the ones I've read so far! I especially loved the exploration of the reality of life for many people in academia and the way Hazelwood digs into the role of mentors and directors can play and how that can hinder academic careers.

Emily Henry's Book Lovers ( | - While the romance component of this one was lovely, the part I enjoyed most in this book was the exploration of the relationship between sisters. This is very much a story about how when we love people, we sometimes hide things to protect them, and often sorting our way through hard things yields good results but requires some hard work to grow.

*Linda Holmes's Flying Solo ( | - I loved Linda Holmes's first book, Evvie Drake Starts Over, so I was eager to read her second book! This one focuses on Laurie, who is returning home to Calcasset, Maine, after her ninety-year-old great aunt passes away. Laurie, who adored her adventurous great-aunt Dot, comes back to her own hometown where Dot also lived so that she can go through her house and take care of her estate. Coming back home causes Laurie, who recently cancelled her wedding and is coming up on her fortieth birthday, to think about her life and what she wants out of it. I love this one because it is definitely a romance - and there's also an epic heist within it! - but Holmes examines and questions conventional messages about what romance and "happily ever after" as Laurie seeks to find her own path toward happiness.

Julie Tieu's The Donut Trap ( | - I read this one a while ago but wanted to include it here because it is a fun one that's perfect for anyone in a bit of a romance slump. This one centers on 22-year-old Jasmine Tran, a daughter of Cambodian refugees of Chinese descent who fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide and found their way to America, where they own a donut shop. (And the donut descriptions are amazing, which I think works nicely during these cold winter months!) Check out my full review here.

Chencia D. Higgins' D'Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding ( | - I loved this one. Fast, fun, and full of smart commentary about Happily Ever Afters, representation, and the problematic nature of societal norms, this one explores the world of romance through the premise of a reality TV show. Kris and D'Vaughn are both lovable, realistic characters, and I really appreciated how we got to know each of their families. We discussed this as our February 2023 book club pick - check out our episode!

Longtime Favorite Romance Series Books

I wanted to include two favorites here, both of which I read when I first started reading romance books a few years ago. These are both open-door romance series that take on important social issues within the novels, and I love both of these series so much!

Helen Hoang's The Bride Test ( | - Helen Hoang was one of the first authors I read and loved in the romance arena, and she made me realize just what I’d been missing! I read The Bride Test (which I believe is book two in the series) first, but these books can be read in any order. We discussed book three in this series, The Heart Principle, as an Unabridged Book Club pick in episode 218.

Talia Hibbert's Act Your Age, Eve Brown ( | - I love this whole series so much, but I think Eve might be my favorite of the three! Eve, the youngest of the three Brown sisters, is determined to show that she's ready for more adult responsibilities, but in her rush to prove that to her family, she pushes her way into a complicated job at a B&B with a curmudgeonly owner who is not used to sharing responsibility with others. I loved Eve and Jacob and the way that they learned about themselves and each other as the story progressed.

YA Romance Picks

I couldn't complete this list without including a few young adult romances that I have loved. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Sarah Dass's Where the Rhythm Takes You ( | - Set in Tobago, this lovely YA romance focuses on Reyna, a very responsible seventeen-year-old who has increasingly dedicated her life to working on her family's resort, the Plumeria. As the novel begins, it's been two years since her mother passed away and also since she last saw her childhood best friend turned boyfriend, Aiden, who left Tobago to pursue his dream to make it big as a musician. Aiden turned toward his dreams, whereas after her mom's death, Reyna put down her paintbrush and turned away from her art for good so that she could focus on helping her dad run the resort. When Aiden suddenly reappears in Reyna's life, now traveling with a successful band and potentially a new girlfriend, Reyna suddenly sees her own life and choices in a new light. I loved this one, which we read as an Unabridged Buddy Read last year.

Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before ( | - This may have been the first YA romance series I read, and I discovered an absolute love for Lara Jean, her family, and her life journey. Our podcast love of this one is well documented. So beautiful! You can't go wrong with this series. (I also love the adaptations of these books - so good! We talked about the third adaptation on episode 169.)

*Talia Hibbert's Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute ( | - As noted above, Hibbert's romance books are an absolute favorite for me! This one, her first young adult book, focuses on Celine Bangura and Bradley Graeme, two ex-best friends who went from doing everything together to despising each other. When Brad accidentally knocks Celene down and causes her to break her arm, he feels obligated to make it up to her, which leads to them both becoming interested in a youth leadership opportunity that forces them into each other's orbit again, and they have to take a hard look at their friendship breakup and their shared past. I love the way this one explores not just young romance but also what friendship means, how miscommunications can have profound impacts, and what it takes to show up for each other. Loved this!

Emiko Jean's Tokyo Ever After ( | - Oh my goodness, I love this book so very much. This one centers on Izumi Tanaka, a Japanese American teenager living in Mount Shasta, a small town in northern California. For Izumi's whole life, it has only been her and her mom, and her mother had always refused to share anything at all about Izumi's father. But as her friend discovers through some sleuthing, Izumi's father is none other than the crown prince of Japan. Check out my review of this one here. The sequel was an absolute delight as well!

Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi ( | - I've read and loved this whole series (I think I've read all of the books?), and they're all excellent, but Dimple and Rishi continue to be my favorite! I love the way they both have to confront their own assumptions and expectations when it comes to relationships.

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

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