Full disclosure time: I was going to write a different intro to this piece, and then… reality happened, and I’m going to be honest with you, a lot of what’s happening in the real world actually sucks a lot right now. But ultimately, amidst the myriad of equally valid emotions that we are all feeling right at this moment, there is room for letting ourselves have joy. In fact, I’d argue that reaching for the things that make us happy and content is even more essential in light of our present circumstances.
Escapism, the kind that we can earn from cracking open a good book, is worthwhile, and art will never not be important, especially when it comes to the creators whose words can bring us comfort, hope, or sometimes just the ability to leave our world and walk in another, even if it’s only for a short time. Any of this month’s romance reads in the list below are more than capable of doing that, so reach for one (or two, or three) and welcome in the feelings they evoke.
Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert
Release Date: June 7 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Why You’ll Love It: When it comes to yours truly, I am weak for a romance that deals equally in intricate worldbuilding and interpersonal dynamics that threaten all of my feelings, and the good news is that Wicked Beauty, Robert’s latest entry in her Dark Olympus series, delivers on both of those things (and more) in her most action-packed (note the double entendre) and most emotionally wrought installment yet.
Helen is a heroine to fall in love with from page one, someone who believes she has her destiny well in hand—until her brother, who just so happens to be the new Zeus of Olympus, resorts to certain machinations that could threaten her longest-held aims. When she decides to compete in the city’s games in order to cement her political place, she’s certainly not expecting to be confronted with her feelings for not only Achilles but his longtime partner Patroclus to boot. Navigating a relationship with two parties is complicated enough, but Robert proves she’s more than capable of deftly capturing three different and distinctive perspectives on-page, each with their own fears about why pursuing this form of love could be their undoing—and choosing each other anyway.
Publisher’s Description: In Olympus, you either have the power to rule…or you are ruled. Achilles Kallis may have been born with nothing, but as a child he vowed he would claw his way into the poisonous city’s inner circle. Now that a coveted role has opened to anyone with the strength to claim it, he and his partner, Patroclus Fotos, plan to compete and double their odds of winning.
Neither expect infamous beauty Helen Kasios to be part of the prize…or for the complicated fire that burns the moment she looks their way.
Zeus may have decided Helen is his to give to away, but she has her own plans. She enters into the competition as a middle finger to the meddling Thirteen rulers, effectively vying for her own hand in marriage. Unfortunately, there are those who would rather see her dead than lead the city. The only people she can trust are the ones she can’t keep her hands off—Achilles and Patroclus. But can she really believe they have her best interests at heart when every stolen kiss is a battlefield?
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian
Release Date: June 7 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: Sebastian continues the series that initially kicked off with The Queer Principles of Kit Webb with a romance that takes place between two very unlikely people—who hail from very different walks of life but turn out to be perfectly suited to one another in just about every way. It’s a treasure trove of tropes, an epistolary romance that kicks off the degree of witty repartee that makes up Marian and Rob’s relationship before also making room for an attraction and then a surprising acquisition of feels. (It’s not so surprising if you know romance, but isn’t it still delightful to watch two people who have no idea they’re about to fall for each other go on that journey together? In Marian and Rob’s case, it’s a literal journey— in the form of a historical-era road trip, which also culminates in the only one bed trope, and the list goes on.)
Besides the comfort of familiar romantic ingredients blended together for a new narrative, Sebastian’s the type of writer who challenges so many aspects of the genre status quo, from the wealth divide to preconceived notions of physical intimacy, and the end product is another winner.
Publisher’s Description: Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…
A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?
As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.
How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder
Release Date: June 14 by Dell
Why You’ll Love It: Don’t let that illustrated cover fool you—Wilder’s debut is a novel that treads into much heavier subjects than its surface presentation might indicate, but I went in prepared to enjoy this book solely based on its premise and absolutely fell head-over-heels for the story itself. It’s fake dating between two Hollywood actors at two very different points in their careers, who come together in an attempt to improve their respective public perception, but each of them has some issues from their past lurking overhead that they need to embrace and acknowledge—especially when those feelings they’re pretending for the paparazzi and the news headlines start getting very, very real.
It’s a romance that not only deals with the rollercoaster of two complicated people making it to a HEA, but tackles celebrity culture, the right to privacy, the toxicity of social media, the struggle of addiction, and so many more topics head-on.
Publisher’s Description: A talented Hollywood starlet and a reclusive A-lister enter into a fake relationship . . . and discover that their feelings might be more than a PR stunt in this sexy debut for fans of Beach Read and The Unhoneymooners.
Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen soap has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme . . . faking a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.
Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, his struggles with drinking, and his grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, he’s slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.
Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?
Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley
Release Date: June 21 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Why You’ll Love It: Remember the news story about the two former NFL players who decided to open a cupcake shop? When the headline began circulating, the question of who would eventually take that irresistible premise and turn it into an equally fabulous romance novel inevitably followed. Enter Jamie Wesley, who introduces her bakery-owning football player to a woman who America isn’t all that fond of after a memorable turn on a reality dating show.
Naturally, these two don’t get off on the right foot at all, but a case of mistaken relationship leads them to realize that they can use that misconception to their advantage — and as we all know, sometimes the best real love is born from a place of pretend. More than that, though, the love between Jada and Donovan is one that will have you both cheering them on as they figure it all out and rooting for them to stay with it for the long haul. Sweet to the very end — just like the best cupcake you’ve ever had.
Publisher’s Description: A reality star and a cupcake-baking football player pretend to be a couple in order to save his bakery in this sweet and sexy romance from Jamie Wesley, Fake It Till You Bake It…
Jada Townsend-Matthews is the most reviled woman in America after turning down a proposal on a reality dating show. When she comes home to lick her wounds, Jada finds herself working at San Diego’s newest cupcake bakery, Sugar Blitz, alongside the uptight owner and professional football player Donovan Dell.
When a reporter mistakenly believes Jada and Donovan are an item, they realize they can use the misunderstanding to their advantage to help the bakery and rehabilitate Jada’s image. Faking a relationship should be simple, but sometimes love is the most unexpected ingredient.
Fake it Till You Bake It is a sweet confection of a novel, the perfect story to curl up with and enjoy with a cupcake on the side.
Four Weeks of Scandal by Megan Frampton
Release Date: June 28 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: I’ve been a fan of Frampton’s Hazards of Dukes series since the first book published, and now we’ve reached the conclusion—but what a way to close things out. You may have noticed a certain trend to some of June’s picks, and I may only be calling out myself with these fake relationship books, but there’s a reason this trope is so enduring for me, and it has everything to do with the fact that in the hands of five different authors, you’ll get five equally fantastic stories.
Here, there’s also the combination of forced proximity- our heroine Octavia has to stand up to an infuriating man who believes he also has a claim on her late father’s property, after finding him in a pond no less—but also the conceit of a timed agreement (it’s all in the title!), which establishes a ticking clock as soon as they decide they’ll pretend to be engaged for as long as it takes to discover who truly owns the house after all. (And who can resist the subtle nods to Greek mythology?)
Publisher’s Description: It only takes one moment to cause a scandal…and four weeks to live it down!
Week one: Lovely, lively Octavia Holton arrives in the village, determined to claim her inheritance—the home she grew up in with her late father. Surely he meant for his daughter to have the property, and owning it means she could fix it up, sell it, and use the money to pay off her debts. But when she arrives, she discovers the house is also claimed—by one Gabriel Fallon.
Week two: Gabriel claims his father won the property in a bet, but he can’t bring himself to toss Octavia out on her very delightful derriere, so he makes her a four-week bargain: Together they’ll pretend to be engaged, all the while seeking out any will, letter, or document that proves who gets the ownership.
Weeks three and four: But that means togetherness…a lot of togetherness, and long days—and evenings—in each other’s company. The pair seems destined to “duke it out,” staking their claims…but it’s all too soon that they realize their rivalry might lead to something much more intimate. And suddenly four weeks seems like a long time. And yet not enough.
American Royalty by Tracey Livesay
Release Date: June 28 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: Livesay’s latest novel is hilariously rooted in a big-time miscommunication that is truly… well, one for the history books, but it’s also a five-star addition to the subgenre of royal romances. American Royalty is very much a case of opposites attracting—she’s a sexy rapper who exudes confidence from every pore, he’s a buttoned-up prince, and so of course their paths are going to cross in the best way imaginable.
But Livesay also takes the time to deal with the real-life issues that would present from this Duchess and her Prince deciding to give this romance thing a try, including individual and shared comfort in the spotlight, inherent racism in the British monarchy, the ups and downs of the music industry, and much more. There are barriers to overcome in the pursuit of love, and this couple proves strong enough to smash through them all.
Publisher’s Description: In this dangerously sexy rom-com that evokes the real-life romance between Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle, a prince who wants to live out of the spotlight falls for a daring American rapper who turns his life, and the palace, upside down.
Sexy, driven rapper Danielle “Duchess” Nelson is on the verge of signing a deal that’ll make her one of the richest women in hip hop. More importantly, it’ll grant her control over her life, something she’s craved for years. But an incident with a rising pop star has gone viral, unfairly putting her deal in jeopardy. Concerned about her image, she’s instructed to work on generating some positive publicity… or else.
A brilliant professor and reclusive royal, Prince Jameson prefers life out of the spotlight, only leaving his ivory tower to attend weddings or funerals. But with the Queen’s children involved in one scandal after another, and Parliament questioning the viability of the monarchy, the Queen is desperate. In a quest for good press, she puts Jameson in charge of a tribute concert in her late husband’s honor. Out of his depth, and resentful of being called to service, he takes the advice of a student. After all, what’s more appropriate for a royal concert than a performer named “Duchess”?
Too late, Jameson discovers the American rapper is popular, sexy, raunchy and not what the Queen wanted, although he’s having an entirely different reaction. Dani knows this is the good exposure she needs to cement her deal and it doesn’t hurt that the royal running things is fine as hell. Thrown together, they give in to the explosive attraction flaring between them. But as the glare of the limelight intensifies and outside forces try to interfere, will the Prince and Duchess be a fairy tale romance for the ages or a disaster of palatial proportions?
The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
Release Date: June 28 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: This book was billed to me all over the place as a mashup of While You Were Sleeping meets Six Feet Under, and while there are definitely themes of death and loss—and most obviously ghosts, just look at that fantastic premise below—it’s Poston’s humor sparkles with wit and familiarity on almost every page, which provides a wonderful throughline to complement any heavier emotions. But there’s also a striking note of sincerity that weaves through the story in the lead character; Florence is genuine and something of a mess but ultimately relatable. This is a ghost story, but it’s also a love story, and it won’t be easily made to fit into any pre-established box, but that’s okay, because it’s already hollowed out a unique, perfect space for itself in the genre.
Publisher’s Description: A disillusioned millennial ghostwriter who, quite literally, has some ghosts of her own, has to find her way back home in this sparkling adult debut from national bestselling author Ashley Poston.
Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem—after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead.
When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father.
For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlor, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it.
Until she finds a ghost standing at the funeral parlor’s front door, just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, and he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is.
Romance is most certainly dead . . . but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories.
Carly Lane is an Atlanta-based writer who considers herself a lifelong Star Wars fan, newbie Trekker, diehard romance reader, nascent horror lover, and occasional live-tweeter. She is the senior TV editor at Collider, a former contributing editor for SYFY FANGRRLS, and has also written for Vulture, the Boston Globe, Nerdist, Teen Vogue, Den of Geek, The Toast, and elsewhere around the Internet.