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 recurring feature in which I round up some of the best romances I’ve read lately. This time I’ve got an athletic trainer who falls for a Hollywood actor, urban Native Americans who are passionate about social justice, a second chance romance between a rapper and his manager, a hero who works in a chocolate shop, and two historical romances featuring marginalized characters. Let’s get to it!
Acting on Impulse by Mia Sosa
A fun interracial romance with Hollywood vibes. Tori is a no-nonsense personal trainer who meets a cute guy on a plane to Aruba. She’s on vacation to forget her ex and has no intention of pursuing anything with Carter, but he’s driving hard to the hoop and she finds she has trouble resisting him. What she doesn’t realize is he’s a famous Hollywood actor, rendered unrecognizable due to a physical transformation he undertook for a role. When the truth comes out, Tori doesn’t want anything to do with him, but it turns out Carter is in need of a personal trainer to build his muscles back up—and Tori is the only person he wants for the job.
Heartbeat Braves by Pamela Sanderson
I’ve been looking for romance by and about Native Americans for a while now, and I was SO TICKLED to find Heartbeat Braves thanks to the Book Riot romance newsletter. It’s set at an urban Indian center and the heroine, Rayanne, has a passion for elder care and helping indigenous people who live in her city. Unfortunately, the center is chronically underfunded and struggling to get the momentum to complete projects. When a prominent board member hires his nephew Henry to fill a position Rayanne thought would be hers, Rayanne has to bite her tongue, swallow her pride, and help the clueless newbie in order to keep the center up and going. The thing is, Henry’s not a bad guy, and Rayanne’s enthusiasm for the work is contagious. Sparks will fly and people who need help will be served! Social justice + new love = an unstoppable combo.
Flow and Grip by Kennedy Ryan
These two books are best read together, as Grip is a second chance romance and Flow is a prequel that tells the story of how the characters first met and fell in love before circumstances drove them apart. Grip (real name Marlon) is Bristol’s brother’s best friend, and when they first meet they’re young and trying to figure out their lives. Grip dates a lot of women but famously never settles down, and that reputation is what ultimately keeps the two apart despite an amazing few days they share when Bristol comes for a visit. It’s the kind of instant connection you don’t find very often, and neither of them can stop thinking about it even years later, once Grip is a successful recording artist and Bristol is his manager. Beyond the angsty love story, you’ll also get a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the tensions between police and people of color (which is one of the main reasons I love romance—there’s so much more going on than you might expect).
Vanilla Clouds by Roe Horvat
A romance in which one of the heroes works in a Swedish chocolate shop! Can you even?! I had a smile on my face from the first page to the last. Michal doesn’t have much going on in the romance department, but he does have an online friend named Magnus who lives in Germany. Magnus wants to meet, but Michal puts him off--what if their online chemistry doesn’t hold up in real life? When a handsome stranger comes into the shop and asks him out, Michal decides to take a chance--but even as he’s falling for someone new, he can’t stop thinking about Magnus.
An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole
Don’t tell me romance isn’t real literature! This is the best of what historical fiction can be. An Unconditional Freedom is the third and final book in the Loyal League series, which follows members of a secret society fighting against slavery during the Civil War. In this book, Daniel Cumberland was born free but captured and sold into slavery. He’s now free again and working for the Loyal League, but his experiences have left scars both visible and invisible. He’s assigned to work a case with a new agent, Janeta Sanchez, a Cuban immigrant who is secretly a spy for the Confederacy. This is very much an against-all-odds romance, considering the tumultuous time in history, the danger of the characters’ jobs, their different cultures and experiences, and the fact that they start out on different sides of the war. Only a talent like Alyssa Cole’s could pull these two together.
Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens
A polyamorous historical set in early 1900s London, with more complicated upper-class/lower-class drama than you can shake a stick at. Aubrey is already in a fulfilling but necessarily secret relationship with his old school friend and his wife, but when he meets Lucien, a journalist, he’s immediately intrigued. It takes a lot to negotiate how the various relationships will work, especially because the society of the time so strictly dictates what is and is not acceptable, but Aubrey is a big-hearted, sweet, and kind person, and he’s willing to listen when Lucien confronts him about the ways privilege has made him blind.