Career-ending injuries are a source of angst, and Lucian’s reaction to his concussion is no exception. He takes time to hide out at his grandmother’s estate, throwing himself into intricate baking projects to come to terms with his new life. Luckily, Emma’s also running away from her own problems at his grandmother’s estate. Bonus points: Emma’s handling of the relationship when Lucian tries to return to the sport is unique, and I appreciated it.
After an injury sidelines soccer superstar Nico, he agrees to participate in a cooking competition—as long as he’s paired with chef Ashna, his high school sweetheart who unceremoniously dumped him. Ashna isn’t thrilled at this plan (understatement), but she’s desperate to save her restaurant, so what can she do? Of course, sparks fly, the shows’ fans start speculating, and Ashna and Rico are finally able to be honest about what really tore them apart all those years ago. Please note that despite the adorable illustrated cover, this book is extremely angsty. (Content warnings for anxiety, depression, suicide, and marital rape.)
Oh, Zaf. A book boyfriend if ever there was one. He’s a security guard at the university where Dani teaches, but he used to be a professional rugby player. He’s also channeled his rugby skills into a sports charity for kids. And he reads romance novels, lives with anxiety, and has an unrequited crush on Dani. Luckily, a viral video of Zaf carrying Dani out of their building after a fire evacuation goes sideways leads the two to start fake dating, and we all know what that means!
Isobel was raised to be a hockey superstar – she’s a silver medalist and college champion – but she only lasted through a portion of the first ever game of the National Women’s Hockey League before a head injury cut short her career. When her father dies and leaves his hockey franchise to Isobel and her sisters, she returns to the ice to coach the team’s star player through a recovery. Fun story: he was her first when they were teens – and it wasn’t satisfying for her. Now, though, he’s had plenty of practice, and he’s more than willing to practice with her.
If you’re looking for some old school romance vibes, there’s really nothing better than giant, growly rugby-star-turned-CEO Gabriel falling head over feet for quiet, shy Charlotte. Forceful Gabriel is accustomed to getting what he wants, but he has to work to win Charlotte’s trust and heart. Some content warnings for this one: Charlotte’s story includes being assaulted and nearly murdered some years prior, and that narrative is ultimately resolved during the course of this book. Also, I’m not sure that the way these two handled the sexual components of their relationship is optimal given Charlotte’s history, but it does work for them in this narrative, and the book is approaching 20 years old.
Eric is retiring, not retired, but this book is full of all the beats of saying goodbye. He was married for twenty years, but now that he’s divorced, he wants to finally date men, to acknowledge out loud that he’s bisexual. Kyle is significantly younger and with a pile of baggage that makes him relationship-averse, but Kyle can no more resist his attraction to the silver fox than Eric can walk away from the beautiful graduate student. If you’re looking for a romance focusing on a life in transition, this is that story. (Also: really hot. Hot hot hot.)
What’s your favorite romance featuring a retired athlete?
Heat Factor: This book is like 90% pining. The other 10% is political stuff and a few kisses.
Character Chemistry: “We had an immediate connection, but then you ghosted me, and now you’re engaged to someone else, but I still have feelings for you.”
Plot: After Yash survives an assassination attempt on the campaign trail, his family encourages him to learn some meditation techniques from India to help him get back in the saddle. Too bad nobody knows that he and India had one beautiful day of connection many years ago.
Overall: I’ll be honest, it took me a while to settle into this one. It doesn’t help that the characters don’t even start interacting until solidly a third into the book.
May is Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so we’re doing a couple of mini-lists featuring some of our favorite Asian (American) authors. Last week, we highlighted some books which focused on race and identity. This week, we’ve compiled a list of tropey (in the best way) romances…which just happen to be written by Asian and Asian-American authors.
The book opens with Ethan crashing a wedding to convince his ex to run away with him instead of marrying that guy. Except he crashes the wrong wedding—and the bride, a complete stranger, still takes him up on his offer. Shenanigans ensue, as Ethan and Divya travel around the US, staying ahead of Divya’s family and checking things off her bucket list. This book is the best kind of bonkers: a ridiculous premise, and characters who respond to their outrageous situation in completely understandable ways.
There’s plenty of big feelings happening in this book, but the whole premise of it is based on the 2018 #planebae wholly imaginary, live-Tweeted airplane “romance” between two people who didn’t know each other. Throw in a little bodyguard pining for his employer, the employer pining for her bodyguard, and a little forced proximity in the country, and you’ve got a trope-tastic, swoon-worthy romance.
Looking back at my tags for this one, I wonder a little bit what trope isn’t a thing here? Summer is hot for teacher (Fox), and he has been since he was a teenager. Now they’re working together(!) and they’ve got a kissing wager going(!!!). This is definitely a book that is super fun (and super hot), but probably mostly if you just let your imagination go while you read it.
Fei Long is in a bind. He has to present his sister as a diplomatic bride, but she’s run away. The solution? Train a tea girl to pass as a noble lady! No one will know! This reimagining of My Fair Lady includes some of the best pining I’ve ever read. Fei Long and Yan Ling are obviously meant to be together, but must honor their commitments. Up until the very end, I wasn’t sure how they were going to make their love story work.
It’s a lot of drama, this book, but if you’re looking for an uptown girl kind of trope in which the uptown girl gets fired from her prestigious job as a chef because she can’t resist having kitchen sex with the neighborhood bad boy after he’s hired as a dishwasher at her restaurant, look no further. And then the rest of the book happens.
I’ve recommended Dev’s Raje series a LOT on this blog, but have you read her debut? Mili was a child bride; even though her husband never came to claim her, her status as a married woman gave her more freedom than the average young woman from her village. The problem? Her husband doesn’t realize that the marriage was legal and binding, so he sends his brother, Samir, to America to obtain a divorce. And of course, Samir is not exactly honest about his identity or intentions. TLDR: arranged marriage–dishonest beginnings mash-up FTW!!!!
Romance retellings are fun and offer endless variety. The fun comes from seeing a recognizable frame—and then going along for the ride as the author takes the base story in a new direction. And there are so many ways you can take retellings! And so many stories out there to retell! We had a group chat just about Cinderella romances last fall, and even that one story offers a host of possibilities. When the original and the new material really play off each other, it’s magic.
Holly is our local Austen Retelling Expert, and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors remains her gold standard for Pride and Prejudice retellings. Dev captures the ethos of the original in her contemporary retelling but gives Tricia and DJ depth such that their arc from antagonism to love is believable in and of itself, and not just because they are Lizzie and Darcy and have to fall in love. (Read Holly’s full review.)
Content Notes: racism, medical stuff, past sexual assault (secondary character)
On the surface, this Taming of the Shrew retelling follows a women’s rights activist and a buffoonish aristocrat who’s trying to do right by her after inadvertently compromising her. But Cassandra “tames” Ashmont (as it were), not vice versa, because as she explains why she won’t marry him, doesn’t respect him, and doesn’t trust him, she makes Ashmont see his privilege and how his past behavior had harmed her (and others) and made her feel invisible. Chase did some really awesome things with this retelling, and the character development was fabulous. (Read Erin’s full review.)
This Cinderella retelling manages to evoke the Cinderella ethos without making Amanda a helpless victim. With Amanda’s employer being cast in the role of the step-sister, it’s easy to understand why Amanda chooses to tread carefully – she’s got a dream to reach for, after all! But even without meaning to, Oscar-winning actor Sam Pleasant churns up some drama when Amanda comes into his orbit. The natural tension of the Cinderella plot works for this story, so if you’re looking for a not-so-angsty read with some solid natural tension and awesome checking in and consent between the protagonists, this here’s a great retelling for you!
Content Notes: verbal/emotional abuse (in the workplace)
Garton’s reimagining of the Arthurian legend is set in rural Kentucky, and it is a wild ride. Lance, as a trans man dealing with some self-esteem struggles and body dysphoria and living back in his hometown where people don’t hesitate to deadname him, is working on some emotionally weighty stuff. But also he, his sister Gwen, his friends Mordy and Morgan, and his best friend–>boyfriend Arthur have to destroy the evil necromancer, save the girls/young women in their community, and pull themselves out of the eons old reincarnation loop that they’ve been dealing with since being cursed by Morgana. (Read Erin’s full review.)
This super-sexy retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth leans in to the dysfunctional side of Olympus. Like, of course Persephone and Demeter have a fraught relationship! Where this book really shines, however, is in the bantery grumpy-sunshine dynamic that develops between Persephone and Hades, as they go from exhibitionist sex pact to true love. Bonus points for Hades doing that thing where he is all domineering because that’s how he shows he cares.
Whether or not you agree with me about including this book probably depends on how you take your happy endings, but I’m going for it because 1. It is a reimagining of the Victorian pulp romance The Prisoner of Zenda, 2. It clearly demonstrates that retellings or reimaginings are everywhere and 3. It is totally awesome. The original is OTT in true Victorian pulp fashion, but with her “let’s tell this story from the perspective of the bad guys, and also they’re totally into each other” twist, Charles makes it even better! Jasper is a cheeky anti-hero narrator, and he and Rupert are a clever team with some stellar on-page sizzle.
Content Notes: violence, homophobia, abduction, discussion of sexual assault
Honorable Mention: Peter Darling by Austin Chant
This book is the rare retelling that makes you rethink the source material—and not just because Chant reimagines Wendy/Peter as the same person, but also because of the way he portrays Neverland and the nature of reality there. Plus, everyone can agree that Captain Hook is the sexiest. So why is this incredible book listed as a bonus? Because it’s not currently available for sale anywhere. (Holly was lucky enough to find a copy at her local library; you might get lucky too!)
Content Notes: transphobia, violence
EDITED TO ADD: As of June 1, 2021, Peter Darling has been re-released by the author and is available for purchase.