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Saturday Smutty Six: You say you’re bad at relationships, but you’re doing great in this fake one!

We’re rounding out fake relationship trope week with a super specific sub-category of the trope—you know the one, where at least one protagonist swears that they just can’t do real relationships because they’re so bad at them? Except then they’re really good at being in the fake one because they’re just themselves and it’s completely endearing and wonderful?

Anyway, this is a dynamic that’s pretty specific to contemporary romance, so here are six for your reading pleasure:

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Stella might begin her quest by asking Michael for sex lessons, but it only takes one encounter for them to decide to fake something more like relationship intimacy as a solution to Stella’s dating woes. Of course, intimacy is intimacy, and it’s not long before their relationship evolves into meeting the family and thoughtful gifts and crossing all the fake relationship lines.

Flirting with the Frenemy by Pippa Grant

Ellie’s best friend is getting married, and she ends up sharing a house with her brother’s best friend Wyatt, and his son. Ellie’s ex is also in the wedding, so she arranges for a friend to be her fake boyfriend–but when Wyatt finds out, he flips the script and insists HE is her real boyfriend. There are all kinds of reasons they apparently can’t be together but…none of them end up mattering. 

Best Fake Fiancé by Roxie Noir

Daniel hasn’t dated in years because he’s been focused on being a good single dad to his daughter while also running a brewery—and what he was doing before he found out he had a kid is not exactly what we would call “dating.” When Daniel panics at a custody hearing and tells the judge he’s engaged to his best friend, Charlie, he thinks it’ll be simply a matter of Charlie showing up at the next hearing and saying, “Yup, we’re getting married.” Too bad they live in a small town where the congratulations start flowing immediately because 1) the court clerk is a huge gossip and 2) everyone is already convinced that Daniel and Charlie have been secretly dating for years. 


Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Dani’s carrying so much hurt from being dumped when she was young that it sabotages her relationships, so she’s decided not to waste her energy on something that’s not working for her and is being awesome at work instead. She’s so fixated on how a relationship won’t work for her that she doesn’t even realize she’s exactly the girlfriend Zaf has been dreaming of the whole time they’ve been fake dating.

Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert

Being in a relationship with a partner who’s deployed in a submarine for long stretches is hard. Too hard. So Derrick has decided to give up the misery of dating and be married to work…after he gets back at his cheating ex by having his best friend’s little brother give him the most epic fake welcome home kiss ever. Too bad the rest of the family is there to see it and is over the moon to adopt him into the family.

Irresponsible Puckboy by Eden Finley and Saxon James

Look, Dex is a himbo. He doesn’t realize that his best friend has been in love with him for years, and he doesn’t realize his relationship failed not because he’s dragging his feet about getting married but because he doesn’t actually like her much. But, being the problem solver that he is, Dex convinces Tripp to go to a chapel in Vegas and pretend to marry him so he can get over his wedding anxiety. It’ll be fake, he said. We won’t file the paperwork, he said. Boy, are these twits surprised when the team’s PR department calls demanding answers. Bonus points: This one’s a legit rom-com. Erin couldn’t stop laughing while describing its bonkersness and Holly told her to put it on this list.


As always, we’re always taking recommendations (even if our TBRs are threatening to fall on top of us), so let us know if there are any we just shouldn’t miss!

Saturday Smutty Six: We Really Did LOL featuring covers for I Think I Love You by Christina C. Jones, Frat Wars: King of Thieves by Saxon James, Heidi's Guide to Four Letter Words by Tara Sivec and Andi Arndt, Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson, Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan, and Riley Thorne and the Dead Guy Next Door by Lucy Score
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Saturday Smutty Six: We Really Did LOL

We’re wrapping up Rom-Com week here at The Smut Report, so we thought we’d leave you with some comedies that really did make us laugh out loud. And to help us narrow down our options, we chose some books that might be well known in their own distribution circles, but don’t necessarily have the broader distribution of larger publishing house. 

If you’re looking for some laughs with your reading this weekend, might we recommend…

I Think I Might Love You by Christina C. Jones

Look, she meets him when she’s completely wasted after destroying her surprise-married ex’s car and she’s trying to crash at her sister’s apartment, only to discover that her sister has sublet the apartment to someone else. After she’s already let herself in. And the new renter is super naked. And super mad that she just punched him in the eye. Things can only go up from there, right? 

While this book is chock full of situational humor, it’s all about the protagonists being true to themselves. 

Frat Wars: King of Thieves by Saxon James

The tag line for this book is: We’re basically Romeo and Juliet. But dudes. And without all the dying.

And if that’s not the energy of this book in a nutshell, I don’t know what to tell you. Chad and Bailey are in rival frats and, because of Reasons, can’t consort with the enemy. It’s very college-level maturity and shenanigans, but that’s in no small part because Chad is hell-bent on embracing the final throes of his youth. James intentionally wrote Chad to be “such a Chad” who still gets his own HEA with a guy who loves him, pranks and all, so it’s all meant to be fun.

Heidi’s Guide to Four Letter Words by Tara Sivec and Andi Arndt

When Heidi’s mom found out she was working at a studio that records erotic romance and then started taking sex tips from the erotic romance she was reading, I started choking on my own laughter. This book is Minnesota AF, and it’s hilarious. Heidi’s journey to be brave enough to ask out her neighbor—who’s totally into her, she just can’t see it—is full of embarrassing twists and turns that make Heidi want to crawl in a hole and also ultimately gives her a greater sense of community.


Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson

If unlikable heroines are your jam, I would like to introduce you to Betsy, Vampire Queen. She is selfish, vain, and very very unimpressed with her new role as ruler of the undead—especially since all the other vampires have such bad fashion sense. Think the Shopaholic books, but with vampires. Don’t go in expecting the full HEA here, as this is the first book in a long series about Betsy’s adventures. 

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

There’s a scene where Mrs. Martin and Ms. Beauchamps hire some carol singers to follow Mrs. Martin’s Terrible Nephew down the street singing “Robby Bobkins” over and over again to the tune of the Halleleuia chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” (You’re welcome for the earworm.) There are also shenanigans involving livestock, and a bit where the neighborhood prostitutes collectively agree to no longer service that same Terrible Nephew. Everything about this book is delightful.

Riley Thorn and the Dead Guy Next Door by Lucy Score

This is a duo so far (book 3 is in the works) about a crime fighting couple consisting of a reluctant psychic who lives with a bunch of eccentric old people and her private investigator boyfriend. It’s pretty nuts, like all of Lucy Score’s books, but it’s just a totally fresh and unique situation full of hijinks and absurdity, and if you’re looking for something with a very immersive setting and very little stress, this is just the ticket.

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Saturday Smutty Six: Books That Were So Good I Couldn’t Review Them

Sometimes, when I read a book, I hold it close to my heart, and then flail around helplessly in my head trying to think of how to explain how awesome this book is.

Then I think, “I need to process this book some more. I’ll write it up later. Also I’m tired from my epic book hangover” 

And then I read something else, and the details get fuzzy, and all that’s left in my brain was “This book was so amazing.” Not so good for writing a full review, but I still want everyone to read these books. 

With no further ado, this is me flailing around helplessly, the abbreviated version.


Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

I am on record stating that this is probably the best romance novel I’ve ever read. Like, in my entire life of reading romance novels. I stand by this statement. It’s sweeping and romantic and Kinsale’s use of language is just masterful. This book also raises fascinating questions about madness, class, and religion which stick with me even as I forget Jervaulx’s given name. 

For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale

Two Laura Kinsale books on the same list? Yes, you read that right. Here we have a medieval romance between Melanthe, a cold, calculating woman who above all else is scared shitless all the time, and the monkish knight who loves her. Again, Kinsale’s use of language is masterful, but in this case, it’s because of the rich, old-English-lite narration that elevates this book to pure poetry.

Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

Is this the platonic ideal of the romance novella? Perhaps. I actually started (but never finished) a review for this one. Here’s what I wrote for my overview:

Heat Factor: There’s some sexy rumpus, but the writing is economical, so there’s aren’t tons of details. 

Character Chemistry: They are perfect for each other. 

Plot: Mandy has a monthly date with a mystery man. At a train museum. Where they roleplay. And share their truest selves under cover of pretending to be someone else. 

Overall: Do yourself a favor and set aside an hour so you can read this book cover-to-cover IMMEDIATELY.


Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Book two in the London Celebrities series, which I inhaled during the stress of Christmas 2021, Pretty Face is an age-gap director-ingenue romance, but it’s so much more than that. Parker’s books are often marketed as comedies, and the dialogue is definitely sharp and sparkling, but her characters are always dealing with an undercurrent of sadness. I think I liked this one so much because the character-work here is phenomenal.

The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham

After Ingrid read The Lord I Left, also by Peckham, she texted me to say that it was a Holly book; I already had a copy of The Rakess floating around in my Kindle, so I read that instead, and holy shit, was it a Holly book. Smart, political, feminist, and sexy, all in one delicious historical bundle? Count. Me. In.

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

I read a whole bunch of Courtney Milan books when I was in graduate school (say, 2010ish), and hadn’t picked one up since. Sometimes when I revisit an author I used to love, I’m disappointed, either because I’ve grown too much or they’ve failed to, but that was not the case here. Milan skillfully plays with romance tropes in ways that were so fun for a major romance nerd like me and delivers a story featuring the injustices of the British aristocracy without performative woke-ness. 


Bonus Pick: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

Look, the only reason there’s a Glitterland review on this blog is because I made Erin and Ingrid buddy-read it with me. There’s a lesson in that, methinks.

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Saturday Smutty Six: M/M Sports Romance

Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles! 

This week Erin’s spotlighting some of the M/M sports romance that she’s read but hasn’t reviewed for the blog:

(I will note that because of the very small number of out queer players in professional sports, a lot of these narratives (in general) involve secret relationships, internalized homophobia, and coming out stories.)


Game Changer by Rachel Reid

At the time of publication, there were no out professional hockey players in the NHL, so Scott’s story is a what-if exploration of big feels. At first, Kip is happy just to be falling in love, and Scott can’t believe he’s so lucky as to have what he never thought he would, but before long the pressure of keeping the relationship a secret wears on the couple. The close narrative focus on Scott and Kip helps create the sense of isolation that the relationship has created for the protagonists. The lovely thing is, they never doubt their love for each other; this is a story that illustrates that love doesn’t magically make everything perfect, but it does provide support and safety when the world is scary and decisions are tough. 

The Endgame by Riley Hart

Game Changer but make it football. I kid! But it is a sports coming out story. Anson is carrying a lot of internalized homophobia and is living a lie, sleeping with women so no one suspects his secret. It’s extremely taxing on his emotional health. Weston’s extremely conservative parents sent him to conversion therapy camp as a teen, so even though he’s a successful out and proud senator now, he understands that Anson needs a friend and keeps reaching out to let Anson know he’s not alone, even after Anson shoots him down. Then their friendship becomes physical, and everything changes. Weston knows that love alone won’t make the secret relationship last, but he’s braced for heartbreak. Seeing what Weston is willing to do for him makes Anson realize not only what he’s willing to do in return for Weston, but for himself as well.

Blindsided by Eden Finley

If you love a book where the LI uses a different name than everybody else, look no further! Miller’s been low-key in love with Talon since they were in college together. When they’re on the same team again years later, Talon seems to think everything is just fine, but revisiting their old group sexcapades proves it’s really not. Talon can’t figure what’s wrong, but when Miller is injured and facing the possible end of his career, Talon refuses to let go of their dream of winning the Super Bowl together just as much as he refuses to let go of the friend who’s burrowed so deep in his heart that he moved to Chicago instead of winning another ring with his old team. Their dynamic is just the sweetest.


Empty Net by Avon Gale

Can I interest you in some angst? There’s a lot in this book, between Isaac’s history of sex work due to his economic and housing insecurity (possibly discussed more in Power Play than in this book, but still discussed) and Laurent’s history of abuse and his eating disorder. There’s a lot here that warrants content notes. BUT when Laurent is traded to Issac’s team as a punishment, he finally finds a safe harbor with a man who should be his rival. They’re both goalies who need to be the one in the net in order to succeed, and yet they are able to support each other in really lovely ways, even as the story is fraught with emotional tension. Also, these are professional hockey players, but they’re playing ECHL hockey, which is a feeder for AHL hockey (a.k.a. the “farm teams” for the NHL), so they’re getting paid almost nothing and playing hard in hopes of being selected for an AHL spot.

Undone By You by Kate Meader

This story was teased in So Over You, so of course I immediately bought it and then Bad Decisions Book Clubbed it. And its sequel. If bedding-the-boss, secret-relationship: hockey edition interests you at all, I would recommend this book. Cade isn’t out – he doesn’t think his dad would take it well, and that’s scary, plus being the first out NHL player is not his dream – but he knows he really wants Dante, so he makes his play. Dante, who’s defending his dream job of being GM of a pro hockey team, really doesn’t want to risk anything by fooling around with a player. But Cade is just SO irresistible. Cade plays Dante really well to get what he wants – Dante’s a caregiver, and their age gap emphasizes that – but at the end of the day, they take care of each other, so the relationship is not one-sided.

Dirty Slide by Lauren Blakely and KD Casey

If you’d like to read a short, sexy romance without a lot of angst, this is a very fun book. I really love that runners and basemen can, like, have a little chat while they’re waiting for the next play. Anyway Chris and Josh are rivals on different teams, and they totally flirt during games together until Josh gets super grumpy about losing the World Series and kinda sorta has a snit about Chris playing dirty. Chris, being much more sunshiney, brushes off Josh’s grumbling because he a) won the World Series and b) still knows they could be great together. And he proves it when they have a quickie in a room where, let’s be honest, anybody could walk in. *Fans self* 

Bonus points: if you’ve read Unwritten Rules, you’ll note that Zach and Eugenio are playing the World Series against each other. So that’s fun.

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Saturday Smutty Six: Women Athletes

Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles! 

They might not all play sportsball, but they’re all definitely athletes. This week, let’s talk about some professionally athletic women:

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

Don’t you even dare say that ballerinas aren’t athletes. As the Prima Ballerina of the Palais Garnier in 1870s Paris, Amelie works her butt off—and there are the requisite sports romance scenes of training and injury, as well as some really wonderful scenes of the chaos of backstage during a performance. The main story arc, however, centers on Amelie’s sudden ability to communicate with ghosts, and the healing from collective trauma that she and her ghostly companions work through. Benedict is mainly along for the ride and supports Amelie every step of the way.

Love. Set. Match. by Taylor Lunsford

Hey, it’s tennis! Emerson is out to win a Grand Slam, but there are so many distractions! She’s had a knee injury, she’s still grieving the death of her grandfather, her tennis all-star ex has cast her as the villain of their relationship, and photos of her wearing sexy lingerie are all over the internet. She does not need the man who dumped her seven years ago distracting her on top of everything. But then Rob becomes her staunch supporter. And he’s realized he was foolish for listening to his dad all those years ago. There’s a lot of personal growth in this book.

Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese

Sometimes people say they want a grumpy/grumpy book instead of a grumpy/sunshine book, and this probably fits the bill. Willa and Ryder are college juniors (and they act like it) who are managing a lot of baggage as they figure out how to adult. Willa’s only family is her mother, who is dying of cancer, which is more than enough for a college junior to manage, except that she’s also worried about making the grades to stay on the soccer team so she can have a shot at playing pro soccer. She’s absolutely terrible at managing stress and communicating, which makes her first interactions with Ryder extremely negative, but eventually they befriend each other, grump to grump, in that playful antagonism way that people do. Be warned: this story will probably make you cry.


Kulti by Mariana Zapata

It had to make an appearance on at least one sports romance list, right? The title is the name of the hero soccer superstar, but fear not: this is all about Sal Casillas as she enters a new soccer season with her childhood crush as a coach. Awkward. On top of that, Kulti broke Sal’s brother’s leg during a game and he’s just a surly jerk. At first. Then they become friends, which puts Sal’s position on the team in jeopardy. It’s a really slow burn but YOWZA, when everything comes to the point, it knocks me right down every time.

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

Mariana Zapata has written several sports romances, but for hard-working women athletes, I couldn’t miss Jasmine Santos. Competitive figure skating is the only thing she’s wanted since she first touched the ice at 9, but after her last partner dumped her she’s facing a forced retirement. Until her childhood nemesis and best friend’s older brother (and an Olympic medalist) offers her the position of his partner – but only for one year. If you liked The Cutting Edge and want more pairs skating slow burn romance energy, this is a solid pick.

Roller Girl by Vanessa North

Tina’s a retired wakeboarder turned personal trainer who feels like a bad adult after her divorce. How do you even find a plumber? Enter Joe, who inherited her dad’s plumbing business and coaches roller derby on the side. Tina has her old wakeboarding friends, but since she’s transitioned and divorced and is kind of in a funk, she really wants to make new friends in a welcoming space for women. Luckily, the wild world of roller derby is just the community Tina needed. If only she doesn’t jeopardize it all by fooling around with the coach in secret.


Bonus Points: Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker

While we were researching for this month, I found this F/F romance featuring a demure Canadian figure skater and a brash American speed skater. Sounds lit!