As a journalist who engages with quite a fair amount of media across a variety of genres, I always end up returning to the thought that I get downright spoiled when it comes to romance novels. Take this week’s most recent episode of House of the Dragon, for instance, which not only saw a wild 10-year timejump but gave us absolute breadcrumbs of a romantic dynamic between Rhaenyra and Ser Harwin—only to snatch it away at the last possible moment in the cruelest fashion! All I’m saying is that romance novels would never do us dirty like that, and for all the times that love stories in other non-romance films and television have ended things without a happily-ever-after, there are just as many books that deliver on the promise of their premise.
Now that we’re definitively moving into the fall season, it’s actually time for those holiday romances to start emerging—and while I personally tend to wait until November for anything more winter-themed, there can be something rather pleasant about tucking into a story set in snowy environs, where the cold weather practically begs to force two people into snuggling up or maybe even making direct use of each other to stay warm. From books with pairs who butt heads and battle to those set in charming small towns, the September romance picks below all invite you to settle down, tuck in, and enjoy the reassurance of a HEA.
Release Date: September 6 from Sourcebooks Casablanca
Why You’ll Love It: It’s a not-so-well-known secret that I’m an eternal fan of The Holiday, which in and of itself boasts a delightful conceit that revolves around two women who decide to swap houses and then end up finding surprise connections, romantic or otherwise, while they’re away from home. Parrish’s latest takes that script and flips it just enough by making it queer, while also pairing the heartwarming nature of the holidays with more steam than you’d ever get in your average theatrical rom-com flick.
Like the film it loosely takes its premise from, The Holiday Trap also focuses on two different leads—which means you get double the romance in one book! It’s exactly the kind of read you want this holiday season, with two love stories that play out in markedly different ways but still lend themselves to the book’s fun lightheartedness and occasionally link up with one another when you least expect them to.
Publisher’s Description: Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don’t always understand what it’s like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.
Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.
Enter Greta and Truman’s mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life…and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.
Release Date: September 6 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Why You’ll Love It: Celebrity romances can be a mixed bag for me on occasion, solely in terms of personal preference—but there’s something innately charming about Vale’s latest romance that reeled me in from the first chapter, not to mention all of the wild bits and pieces that come together to make up the plot. Freya, a debut author struggling to write her next book realizes she’s being mistaken for famous celebrity Mandi Roy all over town and decides to make the most of the resemblance by… just not correcting anyone on it.
However, when she’s found out, Mandi decides to just have Freya play her out in public for a while so she can take a break from the spotlight, which also means that Freya will have to cozy up to Mandi’s fauxmance and co-star, Taft Bamber. Unlike his relationship with Mandi, which is all for the cameras, Taft and Freya’s chemistry is undeniable from the first time they lay eyes on each other, as big and intense as a set of paparazzi cameras going off right in your face.
Publisher’s Description: Writer Freya Lal has a huge secret: she’s a dead ringer for It-girl actress Mandi Roy. Her second novel is due in a month, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. Desperate to shake off her writer’s block, Freya leans into her look-alike abilities and indulges in some mistaken identity for simple perks, like scoring a free mimosa or getting into a trendy nightclub.
Actor Taft Bamber appears to have it all: gorgeous, talented, and Mandi’s love interest both on- and off-screen. But what nobody knows is that their relationship is a PR stunt, and after years of playing make-believe, he’s yearning for something real.
When Freya’s latest impersonation of Mandi goes viral thanks to Taft’s accidental interference, rumors of a breakup threaten Hollywood’s golden couple. To make amends, Freya is forced to give Mandi a little time off: she’ll pretend to be the actress for a month, move in with Taft, and squash the rumors by acting completely in love. But as Freya and Taft play house, it becomes impossible to ignore that their instant chemistry isn’t just for the cameras. While faking it, they might have just found the real thing.
Release Date: September 6 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: Williams is behind some of my all-time favorite contemporaries: 2020’s How to Fail at Flirting is the kind of unputdownable book that you know is special as soon as you open to the first page. Her latest, Do You Take This Man, revolves around a pair of two strong-willed people who have constructed careful emotional barriers around themselves, so much so that they’re firmly convinced they don’t have any room in their lives for love whatsoever. However, it’s possible that fate may have other plans.
True enemies-to-lovers stories can be tough to pull off, but one of the aspects that continually makes them work for me is the notion that one character absolutely loathes the idea of even so much as having feelings for the other and fights it at almost every opportunity. There’s also an inevitability to it that ups the tension every single time—eventually, RJ and Lear have to come to the conclusion that they want each other, but they might just be getting dragged kicking and screaming into it. The end result, though, is undeniably delicious.
Publisher’s Description: Divorce attorney RJ would never describe herself as romantic. But when she ends up officiating an unplanned wedding for a newly engaged couple in a park, her life is turned upside down. The video of the ceremony goes viral, and she finds herself in the unlikely position of being a sought-after local wedding officiant. Spending her free time overseeing “I dos” isn’t her most strategic career move, but she enjoys it, except for the type A dude-bro wedding planner she’s forced to work with.
Former pro-football event manager Lear is a people person, but after his longtime girlfriend betrayed him, he isn’t looking for love. He knows how to execute events and likes being in control, so working with an opinionated and inflexible officiant who can’t stand him is not high on his list. He’s never had trouble winning people over, but RJ seems immune to his charms.
Surrounded by love at every turn, their physical attraction pulls them together despite their best efforts to stay an arm’s length apart. Lear refuses to get hurt again. RJ refuses to let herself be vulnerable to anyone. But when it comes to happily ever after, their clients might not be the only ones saying “I do.”
Release Date: September 20 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: There might be no combination of authors who will get me to pick up a book faster than Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone—but a steamy holiday rom-com from the aforementioned pair? Talk about my own reader catnip!
There are touchstones here that can be found in a lot of holiday-themed content, but with a twist; the heroine, Bee, is normally known for films of a more adult persuasion, but then a producer casts her in a family-friendly Christmas movie, and maybe she wants her moms to actually be able to talk about at least one project she’s starred in! Meanwhile, the hero, Nolan, is a former pop star in need of some image rehabilitation, especially after his musical career tanked thanks to a cheating band manager and a lot of messy front-page headlines. They’ve crushed on each other from a distance for years, but what happens when they have to star opposite each other on-screen? Someone please secure the rights to this one yesterday so we can have the sexy holiday movie we all deserve.
Publisher’s Description: Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) has a successful career as a plus-size adult film star. With a huge following and two supportive moms, Bee couldn’t ask for more. But when Bee’s favorite producer casts her to star in a Christmas movie he’s making for the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, Bee’s career is about to take a more family-friendly direction.
Forced to keep her work as Bianca under wraps, Bee quickly learns this is a task a lot easier said than done. Though it all becomes worthwhile when she discovers her co-star is none other than childhood crush Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of career rehab. Nolan’s promised his bulldog manager to keep it zipped up on set, and he will if it means he’ll be able to provide a more stable living situation for his sister and mom.
But things heat up quickly in Christmas Notch, Vermont, when Nolan recognizes his new co-star from her ClosedDoors account (oh yeah, he’s a member). Now Bee and Nolan are sneaking off for quickies on set, keeping their new relationship a secret from the Hope Channel’s execs. Things only get trickier when the reporter who torpedoed Nolan’s singing career comes snooping around—and takes an instant interest in mysterious newcomer Bee.
And if Bee and Nolan can’t keep their off-camera romance behind the scenes, then this merry little meet cute might end up on the cutting room floor.
Release Date: September 20 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: Few things say fall to me like witches, and this year I’ve been getting into spooky season hardcore by diving into stories that promise all things supernatural. Sterling’s follow-up to last year’s The Ex Hex (also fantastic!) circles around a much-beloved character who was introduced there, giving her a romance with yet another one of those dastardly handsome Penhallow boys.
Gwyn Jones hasn’t forgotten her one and only encounter with Wells Penhallow back in school, right when she was in the process of embarrassing herself with a spell gone wrong, but these days, she’s much more secure in her powers. In fact, she’s even about to become a mentor to other younger, more fledgling witches. Having to rely on Wells when things start to become tricky and confusing with regard to her power? That’s the kind of forced proximity for the sake of necessity that we love around here. The Kiss Curse is snappy, witchy, swoony, and casts a spell worth falling under.
Publisher’s Description: Welcome to Spooky Season!! The follow-up to Erin Sterling’s New York Times bestselling hit The Ex Hex features fan favorite Gwyn and the spine-tinglingly handsome Wells Penhallow as they battle a new band of witches and their own magical chemistry.
Gwyn Jones is perfectly happy with her life in Graves Glen. She, her mom, and her cousin have formed a new and powerful coven; she’s running a successful witchcraft shop, Something Wicked; and she’s started mentoring some of the younger witches in town. As Halloween approaches, there’s only one problem—Llewellyn “Wells” Penhallow.
Wells has come to Graves Glen to re-establish his family’s connection to the town they founded as well as to make a new life for himself after years of being the dutiful son in Wales. When he opens up a shop of his own, Penhallow’s, just across the street from Something Wicked, he quickly learns he’s gotten more than he bargained for in going up against Gwyn.
When their professional competition leads to a very personal—and very hot—kiss, both Wells and Gwyn are determined to stay away from each other, convinced the kiss was just a magical fluke. But when a mysterious new coven of witches come to town and Gwyn’s powers begin fading, she and Wells must work together to figure out just what these new witches want and how to restore Gwyn’s magic before it’s too late.
Release Date: September 27 from Avon
Why You’ll Love It: If you’re looking for a sexy historical romance, there might be nothing that hits the spot more than a new Eva Leigh novel. Her latest, How the Wallflower Was Won, serves as the second in her Last Chance Scoundrels series, which kicked off in scandalous fashion with The Good Girl’s Guide to Rakes and made me even more desperate for Finn Ransome’s love story. We’re finally gifted it here, and it combines several of my absolute favorite tropes in the subgenre in its marriage of convenience between a bluestocking and a rogue.
It might be a contrived arrangement for their mutual benefit, but legally, as well as narratively, it’s the best way to introduce two characters into some serious forced proximity, and if you’ve read anything by Leigh you know that they’ll take advantage of that nearness in every pleasurable way possible. Finn and Tabitha may be opposite in love, but they’ve both been protecting their hearts for so long that they’re not sure they can admit to the real feelings that are blossoming; the truest beauty of this book, however, is following along with them as they fall in love irrevocably.
Publisher’s Description: USA TODAY bestselling author Eva Leigh continues her Last Chance Scoundrels series with a steamy romance between two opposites—a rogue with a taste for wagers and a bookish wallflower—who marry for convenience… but neither bet on falling in love.
Finn Ransome is an expert on Lady Luck, which is why he refuses to take a chance on love. Experience has taught him that he’s happier at a gaming table than around people he will, inevitably, disappoint. However, the clock is ticking on his father’s matrimonial demands. But the only woman to catch his eye is a bluestocking who would never consider a rogue like him.
After a disastrous first Season, Tabitha Seaton decided to focus on books instead of ballrooms. She hopes to join the Sterling Society, a collective of the most brilliant, influential minds in London. Except, they will never admit an unmarried lady. Now Tabitha needs a husband, and a notorious, handsome gambler may be her best bet.
Finn and Tabitha are opposites who have no intention of wagering on a love match, and a calculated marriage of convenience solves all their problems—with no risk to their hearts. Once married, however, their potent attraction boils over into a deep passion that neither expected. When a painful mistake drives the new lovers apart, Finn will risk it all to prove a scoundrel and a wallflower are a winning pair…
Release Date: September 27 from Montlake
Why You’ll Love It: A second chance romance that kicks off in Vegas before making its way to a charming resort town? Apparently, what happens in Sin City definitely does not always stay there, and even though Beatrice and Jackson spent one hell of a memorable night together, neither of them has been able to stop thinking about the connection they shared. Turns out they won’t have to keep each other a memory, though, because five years later they end up right back in one another’s orbit again—and Bea has been on Jack’s mind for all that time. You’re swooning right along with me, right?
While the premise of the book could lend itself to misunderstandings, Marcelo’s latest doesn’t drag them out for the sake of unnecessary conflict; instead, it chooses to revolve around tackling the question of whether Jack and Bea can even be together now, or if certain external factors—like their families’ competing businesses—will ultimately get in the way of their happiness. (Given that this is a romance, though, I think we all know what the answer to that question will be!)
Publisher’s Description: From the USA Today bestselling author of Know You by Heart comes a spirited romance set in the Heart Resort universe—a love story about fate, family, and second chances.
I never thought I’d see her again. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? But five years later, my casino fling is my new next-door neighbor.
A lot’s happened since we got acquainted in that hotel room. I finished out my military career, took a job with my estranged father, moved to the beach…the only thing that hasn’t changed is that Beatrice has always been on my mind. I can’t let her get away again. Lucky for me, she feels the same way.
Not so lucky, though, is our families’ business rivalry—and our resorts’ competition for the same property.
As much as I want to ride off into the sunset with Beatrice on the back of my bike, we want to make this work. And that means smoothing things out between our families.
If we thought finding each other after our night in Vegas was a long shot, this feud is about to give impossible a whole new meaning.
Release Date: September 27 from Forever
Why You’ll Love It: For one, I am not going to apologize for putting not just one, but two witchy romances on this list. For two, part of the reason in my including Celestine Martin’s Witchful Thinking is my pitch to ensure that this book leads to an entire series set in the seaside town of Freya Grove, which is a place I would readily pack up and move to were the option available starting tomorrow. It’s a spot that is home to witches, gnomes, mermaids, and more, and the book only scratches the surface of its worldbuilding, which makes you eager for more.
While a lot of romances built around magic have the heroine inadvertently placing a curse on some unsuspecting person, this one asks what would happen if she accidentally cast that spell on herself? Lucy Caraway has always quietly wished for more in her life, but when she inadvertently puts a hex on her existence—leaving her incapable of saying no—that means she can’t reject her longtime crush, Alex Dwyer, when he asks her for help on clearing out the jinxes from his new house. If you’re looking for a little more magic in your romances, as well as a story with a fantastical sense of place, let Martin’s adorable debut draw you in.
Publisher’s Description: Lucinda Caraway loves living in Freya Grove, the mystic seaside town where charms, hexes, and magical beings of all kinds are the norm. She spends her days teaching high school history and her nights reading tea leaves and tending to her conjure garden. It’s a good life . . . but she can’t stop wishing for more.
Until one night, that wish turns into a spell, and suddenly Lucy can’t say no. Not to a public karaoke performance. Not to running a 10K. And, most alarmingly, not to her high school crush, Alexander Dwyer, who needs her help unjinxing his new house—which just happens to be right across the street from hers.
Alex has spent the last ten years traveling the world on adventures Lucy has only ever dreamed of, and he’s planning to leave again as soon as his house is safe to sell. But until Lucy can unhex herself, she and Alex are stuck together. And with so much magic in the air, maybe the next spell Lucy casts will be the one that convinces him to stay.
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.