So a necessary disclaimer: I am not a huge romance reader! That is, I do enjoy a good romance on occasion — sometimes I’m just in the mood for a lighthearted rom-com or a steam-fest that’ll help me leave my stress behind. And let’s just face it. I just love love! So in honor of Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, here are my top five favorite romances (in no particular order) that feature swoon-worthy leading characters; great chemistry; and are delightful or downright steamy.
Well Met by Jen Deluca. Hopefully by now it’s no surprise that I am a HUGE Shakespeare nerd — so when I first came across this romance that centered around a small town’s Renaissance festival, I knew I was in for a good one! I loved Emily and Simon’s chemistry (a tad of the enemy-to-lover trope, except not worn and exhausted!) and the small town vibes. Emily especially was such a relatable character, just trying to figure herself out. And, of course, how could I not love the many references to Shakespeare conspiracies?!
Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. When I first picked it up, I thought the idea of an American political family/British royal romance seemed outlandish, but Alex (son of the first female president) and Prince Henry (son of British royals) were absolutely swoon worthy! Both were so relatable and down to earth despite being famous young adults. I enjoyed watching them both fall in love in a classic, yet never weary feigned-friendship-turned-romance, all while trying to figure themselves out. This book was an absolute joy to read and probably my favorite read of January 2020!
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. Calling all Bachelor/Bachelorette fans! This was such a fresh take on the idea of stereotypical television dating shows. Bea, a plus-size, body-positive fashion and beauty blogger, was a stellar leading lady and so relatable, likable, and full of heart. I loved getting to see her take on the men, battle the criticisms that women face about their looks/weight, learn to step out of her comfort zone, and maybe even fall in love. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be doing this story justice if I didn’t mention how well it brought racial and sexual identity to the forefront, without feeling forced — each character was fully realized and so genuine. Now, if only the actual Bachelor franchise would take a note!
Anna K by Jenny Lee. A modern retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina, this story follows the titular Anna K and her relationship with Count Vronsky. Jenny Lee did an incredible job writing an engaging, steamy romance full of nods to the original Tolstoy classic, that read like a television drama akin to Gossip Girl. But the thing I adored most was the Asian representation. As an Asian American myself, I loved finally seeing a leading lady who looked like me but wasn’t delegated to some side character or uninteresting stereotype.
Beach Read by Emily Henry. Last but not least, Beach Read was a romance that totally captured my heart, written by another Cincinnati dweller. This was definitely a bookstagram-made-me-do-it, as I’m not typically a romance reader. But I found this story to be super substantive. Gus and January worked so well together, and I enjoyed their witty banter and the way they challenged each other. While much of the story focused on their budding enemy-turned-lover relationship, I found January’s personal journey of self-discovery and forgiveness most intriguing. Beach Read is a romance, but it’s also much more – its about how people move on, discover themselves, forgive one another, and step out of their comfort zones and possibly falling in love.
What are you favorite romance reads? Tell me in the comments or let me know on Instagram!