It might seem hard to believe, but we’ve actually made it to the point where we’re now fully ensconced in seasonal romances. No, not spooky seasonal—although if you’re looking for those, there are some perfectly fitting choices to be found in both September’s list a recent round-up yours truly did for those readers who are looking for their romances with significantly more bite.
When I say seasonal, I’m talking holiday season—as in snowfall, hot cocoa, chilly weather that’s perfect for cuddling, bright Christmas trees with all of the trimmings and trappings, exchanging presents with the special people in your life, and all that that entails. “But Carly,” I can hear you saying, “surely it must be too early for holiday romances to be dropping now!” Hear me out: what if I told you that love stories are evergreen, no matter what time of year they happen to be set in? The bonus with these sorts of books arriving starting now, of course, is that you’ll have plenty to stock your winter TBR with in the months to come. From rom-coms that aren’t afraid to step into steamier territory to grumpy-sunshine goodness, the below titles are perfect for heating up your e-reader as the temperatures start to drop outside.
Just Like Magic by Sarah Hogle
Release Date: October 4 from Putnam
Why You’ll Love It: I’ve been in love with Hogle’s writing ever since You Deserve Each Other, a masterful lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers yarn that requires its readers to Go Through It right along with the characters—and if you’re willing to stick with it for the long haul, the returns are more than worth it in the end. Hey, doesn’t that kind of sound like the hard-won fight for a happily-ever-after all on its own?
The only advice I can give anyone who wants to dig into Hogle’s latest is to expect the unexpected, because nothing is going to play out the way you think it will, starting with the fact that the heroine accidentally summons an incarnation of the, and I’m talking THE, Holiday Spirit by playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” backward. If I haven’t lost you yet, then treat yourself to this hilarious, ridiculous, magical, transformative read.
Publisher’s Description: Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a ridiculous collection of designer shoes and a stealthy addiction to CBD oils. That is, until her parents snipped her purse strings. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is: Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.
Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when a drunk Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backwards and accidentally conjures Hall, an unexpectedly charming Holiday Spirit in the form of a man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.
But as the wiles of magic lose their charm, Bettie finds herself set off-kilter by Hall’s sweet gestures. Suddenly, Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways come back as soon as the holidays are over?
So This Is Christmas by Jenny Holiday
Release Date: October 4 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: I’ve loved each and every one of the books in Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas series—which I can really only describe as what happens when your favorite Hallmark holiday movie gets an R rating for all the best reasons. For those of us who have always wanted these wintertime romances to embrace their hotness potential, you’ll have that itch scratched to utter satisfaction. Now, Holiday is wrapping up this trilogy with the promise of a slow-burn love story between an efficient American woman who is called into the royal kingdom of Eldovia to fix everything financially and a buttoned-up royal advisor who doesn’t want her there to begin with. I’m all for romances that sweep me away to a particular place, and even though Eldovia is entirely fictional, it’s exactly the kind of country I wish were real so I could tour every place in it.
Publisher’s Description: Matteo Benz has spent his life serving at the pleasure of the Eldovian crown. His work is his life and his life, well…he doesn’t have much of one. When he is tasked to aid a management consultant who has been flown in to help straighten out the king’s affairs, he is instantly disturbed by her brash American manner—as well by an inconvenient attraction to the brainy beauty.
Cara Delaney is in Eldovia to help clean up the king’s financial affairs, but soon finds herself at odds with the very proper Mr. Benz. As intrigued by his good looks as she is annoyed by his dedication to tradition for its own sake, she slowly begins to see the real man behind the royal throne.
As they work together to return Eldovia to its former glory during the country’s magical Christmas season, Matteo discovers he is falling hopelessly in love with the unconventional American. But a man who has devoted his life to tradition doesn’t change easily. Can he become the man Cara needs, or will their love be another sacrifice to the crown?
You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky
Release Date: October 4 from Sourcebooks Casablanca
Why You’ll Love It: One of my favorite aspects in any romance is how they enable—and in many cases, encourage—character growth, not just when two people begin to fall for one another but independently beyond their circumstances. It allows for a secondary romance to happen beyond the one playing out on the page, as we readers let ourselves fall in love with these two too. Such is the case with the titular Matthew Prince, who is spoiled and sheltered and does not endear himself from the beginning whatsoever, but earns a healthy dose of reality when he’s forced to spend the holidays outside of his normal stomping grounds.
If you’re still mourning the end of Schitt’s Creek, let the opposites-attract romance that blossoms between the Grinchy Matthew and endearing local Hector Martinez, all against the backdrop of a thoroughly charming small town cloaked in snow.
Publisher’s Description: Bring a little joy to the world?
Not today, Santa.
Matthew Prince is young, rich, and thoroughly spoiled. So what if his parents barely remember he exists and the press is totally obsessed with him? He’s on top of the world. But one major PR misstep later, and Matthew is cut off and shipped away to spend the holidays in his grandparents’ charming small town hellscape. Population: who cares?
It’s bad enough he’s stuck in some festive winter wonderland—it’s even worse that he has to share space with Hector Martinez, an obnoxiously attractive local who’s unimpressed with anything and everything Matthew does.
Just when it looks like the holiday season is bringing nothing but heated squabbles, the charity gala loses its coordinator and Matthew steps in as a saintly act to get home early on good behavior…with Hector as his maddening plus-one. But even a Grinch can’t resist the unexpected joy of found family, and in the end, the forced proximity and infectious holiday cheer might be enough to make a lonely Prince’s heart grow three sizes this year.
Season of Love by Helena Greer
Release Date: October 11 from Forever
Why You’ll Love It: Season of Love is especially perfect for those readers who are looking for a Christmas romance that isn’t weighted down with any overly religious elements—but what this debut readily leaves behind is filled to the brim instead with cozy, hopeful storytelling. The dichotomy of a Jewish family trying to keep a Christmas tree farm afloat is a terrific enough premise on its own, but then Greer had to go and add a stunning grump of a lumberjane in the form of Noelle Northwood just to really make this book tailor-made for me personally.
Successful artist Miriam Blum, meanwhile, has distanced herself from the farm for personal reasons connected to her family, and immediately clashes with Noelle over what turns out to be their shared responsibility. Show up for the snuggly winter setting, but stay for the thoughtful unpacking of baggage and a dynamic that doesn’t have to look like any other out there to be a perfect match in itself.
Publisher’s Description: Miriam Blum has no choice but to face the past she thought she’d left behind when she inherits her great-aunt’s Christmas tree farm in this witty, glittering, heart-filled romcom.
Thanks to her thriving art career, Miriam Blum finally has her decoupaged glitter ducks in a row—until devastating news forces her to a very unwanted family reunion. Her beloved great-aunt Cass has passed and left Miriam part-owner of Carrigan’s, her (ironically) Jewish-run Christmas tree farm.
But Miriam’s plans to sit shiva, avoid her parents, then put Carrigan’s in her rearview mirror are spoiled when she learns the business is at risk of going under. To have any chance at turning things around, she’ll need to work with the farm’s grumpy manager—as long as the attraction sparking between them doesn’t set all their trees on fire first.
Noelle Northwood wants Miriam Blum gone—even if her ingenious ideas and sensitive soul keep showing Noelle there’s more to Cass’s niece than meets the eye. But saving Carrigan’s requires trust, love, and risking it all—for the chance to make their wildest dreams come true.
The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews
Release Date: October 11 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: I’ll admit it: I have a personal weakness for Beauty and the Beast retellings, even moreso when they are paired with something as delectable as an arranged marriage or marriage of convenience trope. Therefore, Mimi Matthews’ latest in her Belles of London series was designed to be right up my alley, and hopefully yours too. Captain Jasper Blunt is a romantic hero entirely worth swooning over, with his crumbling estate and its mysteriously forbidden rooms that would pique anyone’s curiosity, and he just so happens to be in want of a wife. Enter Julia Wychwood, a self-professed bookworm who harbors severe anxiety but knows that she must take her destiny into her own hands — so why not propose to the beastly Captain Blunt herself? Their marriage might start off as a mere business arrangement that can solve both of their problems, but the two characters quickly bond over their favorite author and the small intimacies that they can offer one another to make each other a little less lonely.
Publisher’s Description: A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.
Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…
Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner
Release Date: October 11 from St. Martin’s Griffin
Why You’ll Love It: I adored Wilsner’s previous book Something To Talk About, but I absolutely loved their latest, which ( in fairness) caught my eye after I saw it first being discussed as “the MILF book” on Twitter, at least initially. However, if the premise itself piqued my interest, the story itself wooed me thoroughly, and it’s no exaggeration to say this book kicks off with a bang and then some. There’s also the excitement of sneaking around that propels the narrative along for a time, but the dilemma that Cassie and Erin ultimately reach is the point where they have to decide to publicly declare themselves as a couple or part ways, and it turns out that’s not such a clear-cut decision.
Wilsner isn’t afraid to let their characters explore the messy intricacies of a relationship, but also doesn’t include drama merely for the sake of drama. These two women may have made an oops by having a one-night stand, but that doesn’t mean choosing each other for keeps has to be labeled the same.
Publisher’s Description: When Cassie Klein goes to an off-campus bar to escape her school’s Family Weekend, she isn’t looking for a hookup—it just happens. Buying a drink for a stranger turns into what should be an uncomplicated, amazing one-night stand. But then the next morning rolls around and her friend drags her along to meet her mom—the hot, older woman Cassie slept with.
Erin Bennett came to Family Weekend to get closer to her daughter, not have a one-night stand with a college senior. In her defense, she hadn’t known Cassie was a student when they’d met. To make things worse, Erin’s daughter brings Cassie to breakfast the next morning. And despite Erin’s better judgement—how could sleeping with your daughter’s friend be anything but bad?—she and Cassie get along in the day just as well as they did last night.
What should have been a one-time fling quickly proves impossible to ignore, and soon Cassie and Erin are sneaking around. Worst of all, they start to realize they have something real. But is being honest about the love between them worth the cost?
The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau
Release Date: October 25 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: Jackie Lau is one of the best names in contemporary romances out there, and not just for the romance, but for including a healthy dose of comedy. While most grumpy-sunshine pairings tend to adopt a specifically gendered approach, The Stand-Up Groomsman, the second in Lau’s Donut Fall in Love series takes that typically-followed script and gives it a welcome flip. Melvin Lee is the bubbly sunshine energy that noted ice princess Vivian Liao can’t actually stand to be around, but when their friends decide to tie the knot and they get roped into helping to plan the impending nuptials, the increased proximity can only draw them in one direction: toward each other. In addition to the main pair you’ll be happy to follow on their journey to a HEA, the surrounding cast of characters is just as memorable, just as dysfunctional, and just as supportive as you could want. We’re getting this book adapted into the perfect rom-com movie when, exactly?
Publisher’s Description: A bridesmaid and groomsman put their differences aside to get their friends down the aisle in this opposites-attract steamy romantic comedy.
They say to never meet your heroes, but when Vivian Liao’s roommate gets engaged to her favorite actor’s costar, she has no choice but to come face-to-face with Melvin Lee again. He’s just as funny and handsome as he is on-screen…but thinks she is a snob and a sellout. It’s none of his business how she chooses to live her life, no matter how charismatic he is.
Mel is used to charming audiences as an actor and stand-up comedian but can’t connect to Vivian. She’s a smart, talented artist—which is why he thinks she’s wasting her life as a corporate finance drone. The only thing uniting them is their goal for the wedding to go off without a hitch.
As they collaborate on wedding cake and karaoke parties, Mel realizes he might have seriously misjudged this bridesmaid, while Vivian discovers the best man might just be as dazzling off-screen as he is on. With the wedding underway, maybe more than one happily ever after is in the future.
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.