At the Black Ink Book Festival, bestselling romance author Beverly Jenkins commented on the rise of the genre and its broadening representation: "The crumbs of before have become a banquet."
Ms. Bev's quote speaks to the shifts happening in the Romance genre and elsewhere in the book world. Looking for a book with a disabled main character? How about a transgender main character? Bisexual main character, or aromantic, or queer? Black, Asian, Indigenous, Pacific Islander? How about one with a retiree or a divorcee? Maybe characters who practice non-monogamy? I can recommend several options for any of the above.
Beyond representation, Ms. Bev speaks to the feeling that romantic love creates in one's life: abundance. In my own experience, I've struggled deeply with romantic love. Do I need a romantic partner in order to be a complete, successful person? Scoff. Please. Patriarchal and capitalist systems love selling the idea of one's "other half", the "soulmate". Here's what I've lived: relationships aren't binary. People have multidimensional, complex lives. Happiness is not a box to tick off once goals have been achieved or acquired. One person to meet every need? Unsustainable, not to mention demanding.
Yet here is a truth, the rub: when my romantic life flourishes, so does most else. My friendships thrive. My ability to work through problems and process unhappy feelings improves. My motivation to do daily tasks, to take care of my body, to care for my mental health and ask help from others – things the pandemic revealed in stark and depressing clarity – are less effort and struggle. Romantic love doesn't eliminate conflict or solve problems, but it helps me cope. Better yet, it is an experience of joy. And who among us would refuse joy? The world is getting hotter, fuller, dare I say, sadder. Romantic love, and stories about romantic love, are a pleasure and a balm. And sure, maybe a little wish fulfillment, a little bit of healthy fantasizing--not to mention the smut *wink*.
I started reading Romance in Fall 2016 and I haven't stopped. I've enjoyed books with romantic threads and themes my whole reading life (what millennial hasn't read The Princess Diaries?), devouring the works of Jane Green, Marian Keyes, Megan McCafferty, and others. But my first category romance began with Elizabeth Hoyt's The Raven Prince. I was hooked. I devoured the rest of her trilogy from my public library. Then I kept reading, picking up romances left and right. I've converted a few of my bookselling peers since.
All this to say, if you haven't read a romance, you've missed out on incredible books. Emily Henry, Talia Hibbert, Tessa Bailey, Alexis Hall, Katee Robert, Helen Hoang – if you don't recognize one of these bestselling authors from TikTok or the Internet at large, well, get thee to the bookstore. And once there, take a look at our newest display table. Swoon with us, readers. Pick up a romance one of our booksellers adores.
Scroll on to read their recommendations and prep your shopping list ahead of Bookstore Romance Day this August 20th. Don't forget -- we celebrate Bookstore Romance Day at all three Third Place locations with 20% off Romance titles!
Sarah C Loved. . .
Honey & Spice by Bolu Babalola (Sarah C)
Let me be honest: I am not a romance reader. I find it difficult to read when my eyes are rolling across the floor at some of the dialogue or character descriptions. I am, however, a MASSIVE fan of rom coms (embrace your contradictions!), and this book delivers. Two characters with chemistry and emotional barricades that need to be torn down during a fake relationship on an English university campus, genuine and beautiful female friendships, and enough song references to build a reading soundtrack? Honey and Spice deserves a handful of popcorn with every turn of the page.
Anje Loved. . .
Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon
This is the kind of campy sci-fi smut that Fox Mulder would be reading in a motel room as Scully tries to convince him (unsuccessfully) that it's not aliens.
Read it and squeal.
A Little Too Familiar by Lish McBride
Lish McBride is a sexy word wizard. A Little Too Familiar is perfect for when you need a book so comforting that it feels like a warm weighted blanket, like you brain is being flooded with hot chocolate, but you also need the sexual tension so think you could cut it with a beach ball.
Danielle Loved. . .
Love at First Spite by Anna Collins
I absolutely devoured this debut. The witty banter between Dani and Wyatt gives me life. There's a full-bodied cast of supporting characters, a grumpy-sunshine workplace romance, a bunch of steamy hookup moments, and relationship conflicts so relatable they're ordinary (in the best way).
Dani is building on the lot next door to her ex-fiance: her very own "spite house," peppered with garish gnomes and architectural eyesores. She enlists Wyatt, her Bellevue firm's architect, to work on the project with some major caveats. Namely, he can never find out why she's building it and she signs off on all labor and design choices no matter how small. Obviously, her plans don't work out as expected, which makes for a fun read from start to finish.
Madison Loved. . .
As If On Cue by Marisa Kanter
I’ve got a weak spot for a YA enemies-to-lovers romance, but the feud between the band kids and theater kids made this book irresistible. Kanter totally captures the complex overwhelming stress of high school…including how it breaks friendships as easily as it makes them.
Oh, and the best part? Kanter’s love for Jewish culture shines on every page.
Love Radio by Ebony Ladelle
I adore Ebony LaDelle’s ability to write vulnerability without it becoming overwhelming.
Despite the fact that Dani has isolated herself to avoid confronting a terrible memory and Prince is sacrificing his dreams to take care of his chronically ill mother, this book is full of joy and healing.
Pick up Love Radio, and maybe you’ll find some healing, too.
Katelynn Loved. . .
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
A bookish, slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers romance featuring two workaholic city slickers?? Yes, please!
In Henry’s latest, readers have to turn their cheek to the usual RomCom suspects and ask how the other half lives. That ball-buster in heels? That cranky know-it-all in the fancy suit? What happens after they get passed over for a quiet country life? The steamy, funny, heartfelt answer is well worth the read.
Rosa Loved. . .
Savvy Sheldon Feels Good As Hell by Taj McCoy
I had the pleasure of reading this book for a committee and I loved every minute of it!
I don’t typically read romance and if you’re like me and want to dive more into the genre pick this up!
Feel-good book of the year for me!
Andrea Loved. . .
A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera
A Caribbean Heiress in Paris changes the paradigm for standard historical romance bodice ripper. I don't say this lightly: about 90% of what I read is romance, and the historical bodice ripper is my favorite subgenre. Adriana Herrera has done careful, decolonized research to share the story of a Dominican rum heiress and a Scottish Earl. Though set in Paris and Scotland, this book is rich in diversity and chalk full of refreshing, enlightened details. This is the historical romance I've been waiting for.
A Lady's Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett
"The Bodyguard" meets a Victorian Era bodice bodice ripper, the romance hits all the right spots. Set in a secret STEM society for women, you'll adore the bluestocking heroine and her gruff Scottish investigator love interest. Highly relatable characters and some of my favorite secondary characters of all time (seriously, I want to live at Athena's Retreat).
Deborah Loved. . .
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
The fake boyfriend trope is a classic in romantic fiction, and when it’s done as wonderfully as it is in “Boyfriend Material,” you can see why. There is nothing more satisfying than learning to love two very different characters despite their quirks and flaws, knowing all the while that they are meant to be together. And if the journey to happily ever after involves the dung beetle, ridiculous puns and the craziest, most wonderful cast of supporting characters ever assembled, all the better. Luc and Oliver will steal your heart.
Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
A charming romance just made for the fall season! Vivi has always been the least magical witch she knows, she even teaches “regular human history” to the non-magical students at Penhaven University while the other professors take on the magical arts. But somehow, nine years ago, drunk on vodka and egged on by her cousin, she managed to actually curse Rhys Penhallow, scion of Graves Glen’s founding family after he broke her heart. Now Rhys and Vivi must reverse the curse to save the town, and just maybe recreate the magic they once shared.