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!


According to my trusty book spreadsheet, I have read more romance this year than any other genre. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m also happier with my reading life than I’ve been in a long time. What can I say? I love love! And I love reading about people overcoming challenges and becoming stronger together.

Summer is the perfect time to dive into the romance genre. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s a perfect match for lawn chairs and lemonade (or air conditioning and frozen cocktails, if you’re like me). Here are my recommendations, each guaranteed to steam up your summer!

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

If you want the most escapist romance possible, may I suggest this book, the first in a series about shapeshifters. Half-human, half-Wyr heroine Pia steals from the wrong man-dragon and ends up sucked into a crazy adventure with him. And surprise, surprise--sparks fly. Also so does the dragon, because he’s a dragon and it’s awesome. Dragon romance might just be my new favorite thing.

Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Maybe instead of a fantasy world, you’d rather escape to a different time in history. Also the first in a series, Butterfly Swords is set during China’s Tang Dynasty and follows Ai Li, a princess who escapes an arranged marriage. Along the way, she meets Ryam, a blue-eyed barbarian warrior. Their romance is unlikely in the extreme, considering their different cultures, but if reading romance has taught me anything, it’s that love conquers all. Also, how can you turn down a strong heroine skilled with swords?

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean is one of my favorite romance writers to recommend. Her books are consistently smart, funny, and sexy, and they never disappoint. Since finishing the fourth and final book of the Rules of Scoundrels series, I decided to continue with this one. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a romance in which the two main characters despised each other more at the beginning! Sophie and King have a long way to go to reach their happily ever after, since they start out with Sophie stowing away in King’s carriage after a public humiliation. Let’s just say when he discovers her presence, he is NOT pleased to see her. But the banter is great! You can’t beat Sarah MacLean when it comes to banter.

Topaz by Beverly Jenkins

I actually tried reading Topaz a few years ago and didn’t click with it, but when it popped up while I was browsing through my Kindle library this week I decided to give it another go. And lo and behold, I enjoyed it much more this time around! If you’re in the mood for solid historical fiction with a hefty dose of feisty feminism, Topaz is the book for you. Katherine, a city girl and newspaperwoman in the 1880s, is forced by one of her father’s criminal schemes to marry Dixon Wildhorse, a Black Seminole lawman who takes her back home to Indian Territory. They don’t expect to get along quite so well…or be quite so attracted to each other. Needless to say, sparks will be flying in that wagon! Just be aware that Beverly Jenkins is a historian with a capital “H” and has done extensive research, and sometimes that research is incorporated less than seamlessly into the narrative. This would be the perfect book for the cerebral romance reader.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This is a gender-swapped take on Pretty Woman in which the heroine is a young professional whose autism makes connecting with people difficult, and the hero is a male escort she hires to teach her how to be in a relationship. They both try to keep it strictly professional, but it turns out they might be perfectly suited for each other despite the unusual way they came together. I especially like romances with characters who feel realistic, who aren’t physically and emotionally flawless, and the way Stella and Michael figure out what works for her is sweet. It’s also really nice to see an Asian male lead in a romance for once.

Winston Brothers Series by Penny Reid

If you pick up one romance novel this summer, it should be Truth or Beard, the first in the Winston Brothers series. I dare you to read it and not immediately snatch up the rest. Thankfully there are six (count ‘em, six!) Winston brothers, and each is dreamier than the last. You will want to pack all your bags and move to Green Valley, Tennessee and worm your way into this delightful, sweet, goofy family. These books are the definition of addicting--hilarious, heartfelt, hopeful, and don’t forget hella hot. (Tragically, not all the books have been published yet--book 5 is due to drop this July, with book 6 slated for 2019 release.) I snarfed two of these books on vacation, and I regret nothing.