Book List

9 Romance Novels for People Who Don’t Read Romance

A stunning, superior romance.

THE BRIDE TEST

A young Vietnamese woman seizes an opportunity to travel to America in hopes of finding a husband and a better life.

Esme Tran isn't ashamed that she supports her family by working as a maid in a Ho Chi Minh City hotel, but she secretly wishes for a different life for herself and her 5-year-old daughter. After a chance encounter, a wealthy American woman invites Esme to spend the summer in the U.S., hoping Esme might be a good match for her son. Meanwhile, back in California, Khai is horrified to find that his mother has taken this drastic step, but he agrees to host Esme if his mother promises never to interfere in his life again. Hoang (The Kiss Quotient, 2018) has a gift for developing layered, complex, and dynamic characters. As a man with autism, Khai has dealt with the traumas of his past by convincing himself he has a heart of stone and is literally unable to love. Esme wants a better life for herself but wonders if Khai could ever be interested in her if he knew the truth: She’s uneducated and has a young daughter she's hasn't told him about. Their misunderstandings and attempts to connect are full of grace, humor, and pathos. After an awkward sexual encounter, Khai asks his brother for sex advice in a painfully funny scene, and Esme’s feelings of anger and hurt are just as lovingly crafted. As Khai and Esme spend more time together, they find that despite their differences, they are a perfect match. Their individual character arcs—Khai learning to understand his own heart and Esme’s determination to pursue her goals and dreams—are just as pleasing and powerful as their evolution as a couple.

A stunning, superior romance.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49082-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Classic MacLean: smoking hot, emotionally rich, thrilling, and unforgettable.

BRAZEN AND THE BEAST

An ambitious, smart, and outspoken earl’s daughter faces off in business and pleasure against a gruff, protective, and sexy king of the London underworld who will stop at nothing to protect what is his.

Lady Henrietta “Hattie” Sedley wants to inherit the shipping business her father, an earl who won his title with bravery on the high seas, built into an empire. Instead, she is told to marry and have children while her foolish brother takes over. On the night of her 29th birthday, Hattie decides to render herself unmarriageable—while satisfying her keen sexual curiosity—by visiting a brothel, but the handsome brute of a man she finds tied up and unconscious in her carriage has other plans. Saviour Whittington is known as Beast in the slums where he and his siblings are feared and adored in equal measure. Benevolent protectors who rule with an iron fist, they run a smuggling operation to support their business enterprises in Covent Garden, “where darkness came like a promise, and brought with it all manner of malice.” Hattie attempts to make a deal with Beast when she discovers that her brother has done him wrong, but he has less chaste ideas. Hattie is a tall, curvy woman whose shape does not fit Regency-era beauty standards. Beast is all too happy to show her just how desirable she is in several very explicit sex scenes: “She was brilliant and bold and strong and beautiful, and when she came, she moved against a man like sin.” Beast’s own self-worth was diminished by an abusive father and a violent past he fears he will never overcome. Hattie and Beast come to see their own value through each other’s eyes, regardless of what society says about it. Strong female protagonists are the rule in genre romance, but Hattie stands out for the clarity of her goals and the intelligence with which she goes about achieving them.

Classic MacLean: smoking hot, emotionally rich, thrilling, and unforgettable.

Pub Date: July 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269207-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A brilliant debut.

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE

When an intelligent but impoverished woman is accepted into Oxford’s first class of female students, she must juggle a spectrum of challenges, but nothing prepares her for the attractive and intimidating Duke of Montgomery.

“Of all the types of men she had learned to manage, the ‘ignorant yet self-important’ type was not exactly the most challenging. Then again, when her very fate lay in the hands of such a man, it added insult to injury.” When Annabelle Archer wins a scholarship to Oxford from the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, she first must convince her dullard, self-righteous cousin to allow her to go. She lets him believe the stipend came from the school, since he’d never agree if he knew the real source: “It was a safe guess that on the list of moral outrages, votes for women would rank only marginally below scandals of passion in Gilbert’s book.” After reaching the school, beautiful, overeducated Annabelle is asked to help the Society convince gentlemen of influence to overthrow The Married Women’s Property Act. The first man Annabelle approaches is the Duke of Montgomery, arguably the most influential man in England, who is at the beginning of what everyone expects will be an illustrious political career. The two notice each other, and as their paths cross again and again, their stories become more and more entwined, tightened by their attraction and shared experiences, yet thwarted by their respective places in society as well as conflicting goals. Dunmore’s beautifully written debut perfectly balances history, sexual tension, romantic yearning, and the constant struggle smart women have in finding and maintaining their places and voices in life and love, with the added message that finding the right person brings true happiness and being with them is worth any price.

A brilliant debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0568-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

For readers who enjoy love stories with steamy interludes against historical backdrops, Jenkins’ latest is not to be missed.

FORBIDDEN

From the Old West Series series , Vol. 1

A biracial saloon owner hides his heritage after the Civil War but can’t bring himself to marry a spoiled white woman instead of the strong African-American woman who’s taken his fancy.

Jenkins (Homecoming, 2015, etc.) explores the years after the Civil War with the story of Rhine Fontaine, the son of a white plantation owner and the enslaved descendant of African queens. Rhine’s light skin and green eyes allow him to pass as white, and he rises to prominence in the town of Virginia City, Nevada. He’s a man of property, a rising local politician, and he’s engaged to be married to a beautiful white socialite. Only his business partner and his half brother know the truth about his parentage. When Rhine comes upon an African-American woman who's been robbed and left to die in the desert outside town, he brings her back to Virginia City, nurses her back to health, and helps her find a job cooking at a local boardinghouse. Eddy Carmichael’s cooking may be divine, but she's spent much of her life scrubbing floors to avoid ending up a prostitute like her younger sister. She’s thrilled by the new job and determined to save up money to open her own restaurant. When Rhine casts aside his fiancee and starts hanging around Eddy’s kitchen, she’s sure his motives are anything but honorable. For Rhine, the idea of marrying Eddy makes him reconsider his decision to renounce the African side of his ancestry. In spite of a few forgivable anachronisms, Jenkins’ prose is lively and fluid, her characters complex and engaging, and her plot full of interesting side stories.

For readers who enjoy love stories with steamy interludes against historical backdrops, Jenkins’ latest is not to be missed.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-238900-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

A delightful and sexy take on love between a suave African prince and a nerdy epidemiology student.

A PRINCESS IN THEORY

From the Reluctant Royals series , Vol. 1

Cole makes her Avon debut with a romance that draws on familiar genre tropes only to upend them.

An arranged marriage, a mistaken identity, and a handsome prince from an imaginary country are just a few common tropes in the first book in Cole’s (An Extraordinary Union, 2017, etc.) Reluctant Royals series. But with ironic nods to Disney and Mills & Boon, Cole gives 21st-century twists. Naledi, a graduate student in epidemiology, juggles lab work, a waitressing job, and a drunken mess of a best friend. Being raised in foster homes has given her the toughness she needs to succeed as a black woman in an often hostile world but also a vulnerability. Naledi hasn’t been lucky in love, and she wonders whether she’s “like a faulty piece of Velcro; people tried to stick to her, but there was something intrinsically wrong in her design.” When she gets an email addressing her as the long-lost betrothed of Prince Thabiso of the small (fictional) African country of Thesolo, Naledi hits delete. Little does she realize that the incompetent new waiter she's been trying to train is, in fact, the “Playboy PanAfrique,” come to New York to check out his intended. Thabiso insinuates himself into Naledi’s life, and they become friends and, soon after, lovers. Thabiso’s big ego and sense of entitlement are tempered by his exposure to working-class realities, while Naledi discovers how wonderful it can be to open up and connect. Of course, catastrophe is just around the corner, and its resolution comes only after they journey to Thesolo, where Naledi can discover her roots while at the same time working to stop an outbreak of a mysterious disease.

A delightful and sexy take on love between a suave African prince and a nerdy epidemiology student.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-268554-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

The central romance is enhanced by a pleasingly tangled suspense plot.

FALLEN

A hacker and a federal agent fall in love while investigating an Irish mobster and a crooked senator.

After she accidentally hacks into a federal database while trying to bring down a child pornographer, Brigid Banaghan is forced by FBI agents to work for the Homeland Defense Department in order to escape imprisonment. She works on a computer in the office rather than gallivanting around in the field, but that changes with the newest Deep Ops case. Brigid's boss informs her not only that her father was formerly a mob enforcer, but also that he is suspected of being back in the game and helping a young, up-and-coming Boston mobster traffic women and children. Despite being estranged from her father, Brigid is determined to prove his innocence. Unfortunately, that means she has to pretend to be engaged to her magnetically handsome bodyguard and handler, Raider Tanaka. Brigid and Raider are capable, confident, and well matched as partners in every way. Being thrown into close proximity makes it impossible for them to ignore their mutual attraction. As they go deeper into the case, they slowly learn to trust each other and their own emotions. Zanetti (Alpha’s Promise, 2019, etc.) successfully balances the romance with the escalating mystery of why a U.S. senator is mixed up with a young Irish mobster. The Deep Ops team is made up of people who have been cast off from the mainstream FBI, and each team member is showcased as they work to crack the case. Brigid and Raider’s love affair is the star of this carefully constructed and well-paced work of romantic suspense.

The central romance is enhanced by a pleasingly tangled suspense plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4201-4583-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Zebra/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A complicated heroine and a sexy chef mix it up in an uneven amnesia romance that might leave some readers with a sour...

LOVE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER

Scandal meets While You Were Sleeping in a D.C.–set romance.

Leighton Clarke is a ruthless and powerful Washington lobbyist, the daughter of a prominent African-American political family. She’s engaged to fellow power broker Thomas Moran, who's white, but before they can plot world domination, there is the pesky matter of her attraction to his younger brother, Jonathan. Jonathan, a world-class chef, just moved to D.C. to open a new restaurant. Thomas is “suits, salary, societal status,” while Jonathan is "food, friends, and fun.” When Leighton suffers a traumatic brain injury and spends time in a coma, Thomas asks Jonathan to pose as her fiance to deal with the doctors while he concludes a business deal in London. When Leighton emerges from the coma with amnesia, Jonathan keeps up the charade without telling his brother. Book 3 in Livesay’s (Along Came Love, 2016, etc.) Shades of Love series, featuring interracial couples, suffers from the paternalism and duplicity the amnesia trope requires. Leighton’s vulnerability and anxiety are touchingly portrayed, although it's hard to understand why she never checks her social media accounts. Leighton’s accident helps her grow emotionally when she realizes her cynicism is less the inevitable result of living in D.C. and more a defensive reaction to some damning revelations about her parents. Jonathan is sexy and sweet, but the deceit at the heart of his romance with Leighton, both toward her and toward his brother, makes their relationship a tough sell. A visit by the two couples from the previous books is a welcome, and amusing, diversion.

A complicated heroine and a sexy chef mix it up in an uneven amnesia romance that might leave some readers with a sour aftertaste.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249783-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Another creative, thrilling paranormal romance from the masterful Andrews.

SAPPHIRE FLAMES

Catalina Baylor is called on to help two siblings, the rest of whose family members have been murdered, but the more she digs, the more things don’t add up, especially after a gorgeous playboy shows up, determined to get her to stop investigating.

After Catalina saves a boy from jumping off a building, suddenly she’s embroiled in a huge mystery that makes less and less sense the more she digs. Ragnar is despondent. He and his sister Runa have recently lost their mother and other sister in a house fire. Yet once Catalina saves him, they discover Halle may not be dead but has likely been taken captive to use her powers for nefarious purposes. From the moment Catalina starts investigating, it’s clear someone doesn’t want her asking questions, and soon she’s the target of a string of assassins. Unexpectedly, international playboy and global heartthrob Alessandro Sagredo keeps appearing when she needs help, and together they thwart the villains. She’s grateful but annoyed because he warns her to drop her probe. Catalina has had a crush on Alessandro for years, but now she’s confused as to why he’s continually underfoot and how good he is at using magic to kill enemies. She doesn’t have time to think about it too hard, though, because some powerful enemies have targeted her family, and the first order of business is to survive. It’s clear she and Alessandro share an attraction, but his attention rattles her. Then they discover the frightening secrets threatening the world as they know it. Andrews (Diamon Fire, 2018, etc.) continues the Hidden Legacy series with Catalina’s first book, which is a start as imaginative and high-octane as that found in Nevada’s trilogy.

Another creative, thrilling paranormal romance from the masterful Andrews.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-287834-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Fresh, funny, clever, and deeply satisfying.

LOVE LETTERING

A quirky romance between a New York City woman famous for her lovely hand-lettering and the Wall Street mathematician who discovers the secret messages she embeds in her work.

Meg, an Instagram-famous hand-letterer and calligrapher, couldn’t resist embedding a hidden code in the wedding program of society bride Avery and her handsome but taciturn groom, Reid. When the wedding is cancelled, Reid, a quantitative analyst who discovered Meg’s message (“M-I-S-T-A-K-E”), seeks her out. Reid knows the breakup was for the best, but it brings home how lost and out of place he feels in New York. For her part, Meg has been experiencing artist’s block as she prepares to compete for a contract with a major retail chain to feature her work in their stationery line. She invites Reid to walk the streets of the city with her, looking for meaning in the words and letters around them. As their romance heats up, Reid has to contend with some major conflict at work, and Meg is coping with the demands of a new celebrity client and the increasing distance of her best friend and roommate, Sibby. Clayborn’s (Best of Luck, 2018, etc.) depiction of the artistry of hand-lettering and the worlds that letters open up for Meg is fascinating. Letters and signs organize Meg’s experience: “L-I-K-E, after all, is a word I’ve been turning over and over a lot in my head over these last two weeks, trying to absorb it into my being, trying to keep it from becoming something else.” Meg’s dry observations are hilarious (her drink is a “defibrillator in a cup”), and even readers familiar with New York will see the city in a new light, through its signs and symbols. Reid and Meg are wonderfully unique, and their romance carves a sweet, winding, and sexy path to self-acceptance and mutual affirmation.

Fresh, funny, clever, and deeply satisfying.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4967-2517-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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