How can you get away when you can't leave your house? These three contemporary novels provide a sweet escape to life in the Before Times, when communities could still gather in shops, when book clubs could meet in person and when office romances had sexy moments that actually happened in the office. While the world may be changing, one thing is eternal — romance novels are always a diversion and always end happily.
In Kwana Jackson's Real Men Knit, a strong family dynamic is the backdrop for a sweet friends-to-lovers romance. When Mama Joy dies unexpectedly, she leaves her four adopted sons to deal with her Harlem knitting store, Strong Knits. While his brothers feel pressure to sell the shop to pay off debts, Jesse Strong wants to keep it going in honor of the woman who raised them all. Fortunately he's got Kerry Fuller to help him. She had been helping Mama Joy in the shop for years, and now it's time for her to pay it forward.
For Reasons, Kerry moves in with Jesse in the apartment above the shop. They spend their days remodeling for a relaunch — and their nights exploring the long-simmering spark between them (finally). Kerry knows she can't be the shop assistant forever — she has a promising career as an educator ahead of her. And while Jesse has struggled to settle down both professionally and personally, he has finally found his focus and purpose when it comes to Kerry — and the shop — as long as he doesn't lose them both. Readers who adore snappy family banter and feel-good romance won't want to miss this one.
Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon is both a love story and an ode to the romance genre itself. In the small town of Sweet Rose, romance-reading superfan Jordan Collins is struggling to keep his book group, the Meet Cute Club, going strong or just going at all. And like romance readers everywhere, he does not appreciate snark about his beloved books, especially from the new bookseller. Sparks fly — and not in a good way — when Rex Bailey teases Jordan about all the "grandma" books he's buying.
But Rex also rises to the challenge of not judging a book by its cover, and before long, he's crashing Meet Cute Club meetings and helping Jordan recruit new members. That's not all — wink, wink. As their romance blossoms, Jordan provides some emotional support to Rex as he goes through some family drama that threatens to derail their budding love story. This is a fun read, from the meet cute to a grand gesture that only a romance superfan could dream up — to, of course, a happy ever after.
The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel is a feisty, enemies-to-lovers office romantic comedy that also grapples with more serious subject matter. Liya Thakkar has a reputation as a wildly unsuitable woman, which is a big deal in her South Asian community in Texas. She doesn't care, and she is determined to remain single. So when her parents try to arrange a dinner with a prospective match, Jay Shah, she flees — only to run into him the next day at work, where he's a new consultant at her company.
Liya and Jay can't help but argue every time they meet, whether at work or through chance encounters with mutual friends. The novel is full of rom-com staples — lots of sparky banter and adorably meddling friends — as well as serious consideration as to how a high school sexual assault has shaped Liya's character and how double standards in the community make it hard for her to move on ... until a real hero like Jay comes along to stand up for her and proudly stand by her for now and for a very modern happy ever after.
Maya Rodale is a bestselling romance author. Her new book is Some Like It Scandalous.