I’ve read more romance this year than I ever have before, and I’ve fallen head over heels for the genre. Romance is the perfect pick-me-up--there’s realistic conflict, but you can always count on the HEA (happily ever after). There’s so much variety out there, too, you could read a new romance every day and barely scratch the surface.

Turn Up the Heat is a new recurring feature in which I round up some of the best romances I’ve read lately. This time I’ve got a strapping Scottish duke, a delightful new installment in my favorite bearded brothers series, and a heroine with autism spectrum disorder.

A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

One misconception I had about romance before I became a connoisseur was that all the characters were the same. All the women had to be wasp-waisted yet buxom blondes, and all the men had to have muscles sculpted out of marble. What I’ve actually found is a variety of characters in all sizes and shapes—it’s so refreshing! In A Scot in the Dark, a Scottish duke comes grudgingly to London to rescue his ward from a public scandal—grudgingly because at over six and a half feet tall, he doesn’t fit so well in fancy London clothes (he prefers his kilt!). All his life he’s been called a brute, a bear, a beast, wanted by women only for his size and only as a trophy. So it takes him a while to warm up to his wayward ward, who has been shunned by high society for posing nude for a painting—a painting she agreed to pose for because she thought she was in love with the artist, and because she never thought he would make it public. Both of them have been judged unfairly, and I loved how they each saw past the other’s reputation.

Dr. Strange Beard by Penny Reid

Every time I read a new book in the Winston Brothers series, I try to decide who my favorite brother is and it’s totally impossible because I love them all. I’ve written about my love for the series before, but now that I’ve finished the fifth installment I’ve decided what makes it such a hit is the way all the brothers relate as a family. They each have their flaws and quirks, and their romantic lives are wildly different, but put them all together and it somehow just works. They’re the kind of family you’d want to marry into, so you could attend all their backyard barbecues and get all the inside jokes. (Sausage, anyone?) I have read every single one of these books like there was an international threat that could only be neutralized by my turning the last page, and I finish them on a high like I’ve saved the world yet again. They’re just magic.

A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

Real talk--I don’t 100% love the covers of Talia Hibbert’s books. (Something about them looks very '90s to me?) But after hearing about them on Book Riot’s When in Romance podcast (and after seeing the decidedly affordable $2.99 price for a Kindle copy), I decided to give them a try. And just like that, I found a new favorite author! I was totally sucked into A Girl Like Her. And almost immediately, I bought the second book in the series, Untouchable. Hibbert is so, so good at writing realistic characters that you will grow to love. If some romance tropes have made you feel squicky in the past (dubious consent, controlling alpha males, unequal power dynamics, etc.), Hibbert’s books will be a breath of fresh air. Evan is a blacksmith (!) on a mission to get to know his prickly, borderline-unfriendly neighbor Ruth. Ruth, on the other hand, is suspicious of most people in her small town because of an incident in her past that gained her some unfair notoriety. She also has autism spectrum disorder and struggles to relate to people. However, Evan is persistent, striking up conversation and refusing to be swayed by the nosy gossips in town. Two nice but imperfect people getting to know each other and falling in love--this is romance done right!