Happy Valentine’s Day! Dive into these romantic reads

I’m a hopeless romantic, a devoted lover of love stories, and a shameless fan of romance novels, so Valentine’s Day is basically my Super Bowl. Often, we consider these books guilty pleasures, but I’m out here, loud and proud, to tell you there’s nothing guilty about disappearing into a fun, lighthearted story about two people falling in love. Here’s a roundup of some of the romance novels I’ve read and loved over the past year or so, in honor of Valentine’s Day!

Well Met by Jen Deluca

I grew up attending the Texas Renaissance Festival every year, so a romance novel set at a Renaissance faire was basically made for me, so I knew when I picked this one up that I was done for. And I was right — This debut novel from Jen Deluca was one of my favorite reads of 2019.

About the book: “Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him? The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying? This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.”

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren, a legendary romance duo made up of two women, has never written a bad book, in my opinion. I’d recommend pretty much any Christina Lauren book you can get your hands on, but The Unhoneymooners is my favorite book to gift to girlfriends looking for a lighthearted romance (and it helps you pretend that you’re on a tropical vacation, so it’s a win-win).

About the book: ‘Olive Torres is used to being the unlucky twin: from inexplicable mishaps to a recent layoff, her life seems to be almost comically jinxed. By contrast, her sister Ami is an eternal champion . . . she even managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a slew of contests. Unfortunately for Olive, the only thing worse than constant bad luck is having to spend the wedding day with the best man (and her nemesis), Ethan Thomas. Olive braces herself for wedding hell, determined to put on a brave face, but when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. Suddenly there’s a free honeymoon up for grabs, and Olive will be damned if Ethan gets to enjoy paradise solo. Agreeing to a temporary truce, the pair head for Maui. After all, ten days of bliss is worth having to assume the role of loving newlyweds, right? But the weird thing is . . . Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, the more she pretends to be the luckiest woman alive, the more it feels like she might be.”

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

If you love astrology (this Virgo does) and fate, Star-Crossed will leave you seeing stars.

About the book: When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable. To Justine, anyway. Especially when she learns Nick is an astrological devotee, whose decisions are guided by the stars, and more specifically, by the horoscopes in his favorite magazine. The same magazine Justine happens to write for. As Nick continues to not fall headlong in love with her, Justine decides to take Nick’s horoscope, and Fate itself, into her own hands. But, of course, Nick is not the only Aquarius making important life choices according to what is written in the stars. Charting the ripple effects of Justine’s astrological meddling, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent, and affecting love story about friendship, chance, and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.”

The Wedding Date series by Jasmine Guillory

Festival author Jasmine Guillory is one of the biggest rising stars in modern-day romance novels, and each installment of The Wedding Date series focuses around the love life of a different character from the series. There are already four Wedding Date books out, with a fifth coming later this year (I’ll be the first to read it!) so you’ve got plenty of catching up to do.

About The Wedding Date, the first book in the series: ‘Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist. On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend… After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about each other… They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century—or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…”

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Sometimes romance novels are just that — stories about two people falling in love. One Day in December goes beyond a simple love story, following along with its characters over ten years, with a close look of the messiness that comes with relationships, friendships, family, and growing up.

About the book: “Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic… and then her bus drives away. Certain they’re fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn’t find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they “reunite” at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It’s Jack, the man from the bus. It would be. What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.”

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Sometimes you fall in love with a man. Sometimes you fall in love with . . . well, a man who isn’t entirely a man, and you have to deal with the consequences. That’s all I’ll say about this one, because spoilers!

About the book: “Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks. Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.”

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

What if the son of the president of the United States fell in love with the Prince of Wales? Good question. Festival author Casey McQuiston answered, with my favorite summer read of 2019. I read this entire book in one sitting with my toes in the sand, and I barely stopped thinking about it the rest of the summer.

About the book: “When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”

As far as unconventional romances go, I also really loved Less by Andrew Sean Greer (a story of lost love and love lost as a man travels to the wedding of his ex-boyfriend), Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki (a graphic novel about a teenager in an on-again, off-again relationship), How Not To Die Alone by Richard Roper (a charming read about a man whose job it is to find the next-of-kin of those who passed), and These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (a YA story about witches fighting for their lives and falling in love).

And if you’re more of a nonfiction reader, I have a few favorite relationship books I’ve recommended to many throughout the years: Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller; The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love by Jenna Birch; Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel; Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and of course, anything by Esther Perel.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy reading! Feel free to share your romance recommendations with me at katey@texasbookfestival.org.