What’s new, everyone? Contemporary romances are slowly but surely becoming increasingly inclusive, particularly in regard to the rainbow 🏳️🌈. Of course, we still have major steps to take, like creating a rom-com that stars a trans lead. Nonetheless, I’m glad to keep reading more and more queer romances that are as enjoyable as their cishet counterparts. Here are three of them:
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Dev Deshpande, producer for the dating reality show Ever After (AKA The Bachelor), is a hopeless romantic despite the brokenhearted state of his own love life and the ratings-driven machinations that occur within Ever After. Charlie Winshaw is an incredibly anxious tech whiz who has agreed to be Ever After’s next Prince Charming as part of a plan to give his standoffish image a genial makeover after being ousted from his own company. As Dev endeavors to not only help Charlie open up on the show but also challenge his cynicism and prove to him that true love is no fairy tale, the two form a friends-to-lovers bond that will get you rooting for them from beginning to end. The clever banter is reminiscent of Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, which the marketing has compared to Cochrun’s debut novel. Sure, the surprising diversity of the contestants on Ever After (a show that shares its heteronormativity and gender stereotypes with The Bachelor) and the idealized denouement can feel a little too implausible when you take a look at the world around us. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a wish-fulfillment fantasy like this to leave us a bit happier than we were before and maybe even spur us into making it a reality. Best of all, it sensitively handles mental health and asexuality, both of which are subjects that require more representation. Just to warn you, though, this isn’t necessarily the feel-good book that it appears to be, what with its depiction of anxiety attacks, depression, OCD, homophobia, racism, familial estrangement due to mental health issues, and alcoholism.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
The first standalone entry in Hall’s Winner Bakes All series follows Rosaline Palmer, a bisexual 27-year-old single mom who dropped out of med school and is financially dependent on her moneyed parents. She decides to put her love of home baking through its paces by going on Bake Expectations, a British reality TV baking competition that draws prominent inspiration from The Great British Bake Off. While whipping up tons of desserts of varying quality on the program, she also finds herself weighing up romantic pursuits with two other contestants, charismatic landscape architect Alain Pope and outwardly roguish electrician Harry Dobson. I found this to be as splendid as Hall’s Boyfriend Material,what with the laugh-out-loud dialogue, the vivid cast of side characters (Rosaline’s 8-year-old daughter Amelie is particularly irresistible), the reality TV setting that adds forced-proximity tension to the plot, and the subversion of bi stereotypes via instances like Rosaline warding off biphobic fetishization from other people and her being able to court two men rather than a man and a woman. This last part is especially valuable, considering the underrepresentation of bi women in romances. The book does include a non-graphic scene of sexual assault, but other than that, it’s an easily consumable treat that manages to boast an emotionally complex core.
Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper
The first standalone book in Harper’s The Witches of Thistle Grove series revolves around Emmy Harlow, a witch who fled her magic-filled hometown of Thistle Grove nine years ago in order to distance herself from her family—one of the town’s four founding clans—and the heartbreak of her arrogant high school ex Gareth Blackmoore dumping her. However, her role as scion of the Harlows forces her to return to Thistle Grove in time for the Gauntlet, a tournament that matches the firstborn scions of the Avramov, Blackmoore, and Thorn clans against each other every fifty years to determine which family will increase their magical strength and oversee the town’s economy for the next half-century, with the Harlows being the weakest family in terms of sorcerous prowess and always serving as arbiters. But Emmy finds it challenging to be an objective judge as she cooperates with a scheme to dole out retribution against Gareth, who turns out to have dated Emmy’s best friend Linden Thorn and Avramov scion Talia at the same time. The fact that Emmy ends up catching feelings for Talia is no minor complication, either. This adult rom-com debut from Harper, who has previously written fantasy and historical fiction for the YA audience as Lana Popović, is an enchanting blend of multiple things: a slow-burn romance that gets us rooting for the fleshed-out bi leads, a self-discovery tale that sees Emmy grappling with quotidian and relatable obstacles like her habit of running away from life’s trials and tribulations and whether or not she can commit herself to her family, and a witchcraft tournament backdrop that gives off Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firevibes. This autumnally witchy rom-com should particularly appeal to fans of Charmed and Isabel Sterling’s These Witches Don’t Burn series.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!