It’s funny how book tastes change over time. A decade ago, you would have NEVER found me reading anything that could be categorized as a “romance” — I thought the whole genre was predictable, stereotypical, and not at all worth my time. In fact, I even wrote a book round-up several years back that was a whole collection of “love stories for people who ‘don’t do romance.'”
And while I still do prefer my romances to have more substance and I tend to steer completely free of certain genres of romance (aka, almost all Regency-era romances unless it’s Jane Austen herself), I have actually found myself delving more and more into the genre in recent years because 1) the books are usually lighter fare, and lighter fare is definitely what I’ve needed the past few years, and 2) many of the current romances being published are clever, funny, and about more than just the love story, which is right up my alley.
Below I’ll detail some of the romances I’ve enjoyed over the past couple years, as well as point out which ones have some steamy scenes or that tend to run a little more “closed door,” if you will, which is something I always appreciate knowing myself before I jump into a book.
Note: There are affiliate links to the books mentioned below.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
I’ve been a happy member of The Book of The Month Club for years now, and while I wouldn’t normally use my monthly book credit to choose a romance, I did pick this one up through my subscription because I got it for free (one of the perks of having been a member for so long — they give you free books twice a year!). This one caught my eye because 1) it was one of the most highly rated books of 2022 by members, which is why it was offered for free to begin with, and 2) the love story was set in the background of deep academia, with two scientists as the main characters. I love stories about academia and university life, and I love books that are funny and clever, and this book had me turning pages furiously until the end, which I reached in under 24 hours. Sure, this definitely dealt in very familiar romance tropes (enemies to lovers, fake dating that turns to real dating), but boy, was it fun. Heads up for a lengthy open door scene at the end of the book.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
This had been on my radar for years before I was able to finally snag a copy for free through my library’s online collection, and it was another one that I cruised through in a very short time frame. Young adult romance can be really hit or miss for me, but this one was so fun. Lots of chick flick references, lots of clever dialogue, likable characters…the only thing I wish it had was less profanity. Basically, the protagonist of this romance has been obsessed with love stories and romantic comedies since she was a girl because they were one of her favorite memories she shared with her mom, who passed away. As she enters the dating years herself, she is determined that her first love should be perfect, and it all seems fated to be when her long-time crush moves back to her school after being away for a few years. Laugh out loud funny and totally unputdownable.
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Here’s another young adult romance that really worked for me. (In fact, I liked it so much I kept trying to give Lord’s other novels a try, but unfortunately, her other work hasn’t come even close to this one in my eyes.) Basically, this is the story you’d get if you set You’ve Got Mail in the Twitter-sphere with two teenage protagonists. Oh, and the business establishments would be grilled cheese diners, not bookstores. Although my initial impression that the romance genre often does rely on similar formulas and stereotypes was accurate, there’s a reason certain tropes work — they’re just fun.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
You can’t have a contemporary romance round-up without mentioning at least one Henry novel on here, and my only problem was narrowing it down (I also seriously considered Book Lovers). Henry does witty dialogue better than just about anybody, and boy, are there some clever, laugh-out-loud conversations in her books. She also tends to always put in a few steamy scenes, so just be aware of that. Beach Read is about two novelists who are both stuck in a rut and both frantically trying to write to a deadline. One is known for her romances, and the other is known for his moody, literary fiction. Oh, and they don’t exactly have a favorable impression of each other from prior experiences. When they end up renting summer apartments right next to each other, the zingers begin…and so does the bet–the one where they bet the other that they can’t write as successfully in the other person’s genre and do it justice. This is a fun read, but it does have some surprising moments of heft to it, too.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Okay, so this was basically Princess Diaries, but I totally didn’t care. I love Asian culture and the fusion of Asian-American culture, and this young adult book does a great dive into both, as the American-born protagonist discovers that she is actually the long-lost princess of Japan. There’s the expected culture clash and faux pas moments, as well as the personal growth that you’d expect from having to step into such a new and elevated position. And of course, there’s a handsome palace guard that is just the right blend of protective and loyal to make things complicated. I’m totally planning on reading the sequel to this.
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
This list is definitely heavier on the young adult fiction, but perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that they usually tend to be light (or nonexistent) on the sex scenes (though not necessarily light on references or the profanity) and lean more into the character development. They also tend to be a little simpler and more straightforward, which is fine by me when I’m looking for a lighter read. In this, Jesse is forced to uproot from her well-established circle of friends and social/academic life when her mom dies and she has to move in with her dad and stepmom. Not only that, she’s forced to start attending an ultra-elite, ultra-intimidating prep school for snobby rich kids, which is a circle she definitely doesn’t feel like she belongs in. She’s seriously considering running away back home when she starts receiving mysterious emails from someone who calls himself Somebody/Nobody, who starts offering her tips on how to survive at her new school. This was really cute and sweet and while it wasn’t fluffy due to the protagonist’s backstory, it did fit the bill of being on the lighter side.
How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper
This is a bit of a left-field romance, meaning that it doesn’t fit the more traditional tropes or feel of the genre. In fact, it blends in much more succinctly with books like A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine since it deals with a lonely but lovable protagonist who definitely has a socially awkward side. In this, the main character, Andrew, has the somewhat morbid job of searching through the belongings of the recently deceased in order to see if they had any next of kin. At work, he accidentally stumbles a bit into a lie that he himself has a wife and kids at home, even though he is as lonely as they come. The lie is perpetuated and built on for years, a fact which becomes complicated when a new coworker, Peggy, comes into his life, whom he quite likes. Although this goes much like you would expect, it was still a quirky ride I didn’t mind taking. Heads up for profanity.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Although this trilogy veers perhaps a little bit into the “fluffy,” it’s so cute that you won’t even mind. Lara Jean, the protagonist, is lovable, believable, and the kind of teenager that you just want to root for despite (or maybe because of) her awkwardness and naivety. She finds herself in quite a dilemma when she discovers that the love letters she wrote to every single one of her crushes over the years accidentally got sent to them all. The love story is worth rooting for in this, but my favorite thing about the trilogy actually might be the portrayal of the close family bond between Lara Jean, her two sisters, and her widowed father. If you’re looking for something light and (generally) wholesome (although it does have its moments), you can’t get much better than this. (And the best part? If you want to check out the whole series, it’s part of the Buy One, Get One 50% off sale that Amazon is running right now.)
What are some clever, not-totally-fluffy romances that you would add to the list?