It’s hard to believe it, but here we are, winding down to the end of 2022 with one eye looking ahead to what a new year might bring. Call me more of an optimist, but I have a feeling that 2023 is going to be a good one—though maybe that’s more because I’ve been immersing myself in romance novels over my holiday break to make that feel-good mood linger as long as possible. It’s hard not to feel hopeful when the only thing you’re reading for fun is a towering TBR full of happy endings.
While I’m feeling especially mushy, I also want to take this time out here to say, if you’re reading this: thank you for following along with these round-ups every month — and thanks to Paste, as well as my fabulous editor Lacy, for granting me the platform to do it. I’ve had an absolute blast shining a spotlight on some fantastic books, and regardless of where 2023 leads, I’m grateful to have been able to wrap up 2022 by doing one of my absolute favorite things: writing about romance! From epic fantasy to laugh-out-loud rom-coms, all of December’s books would make the perfect holiday gift for the romance reader in your life (and if that’s you, why not go ahead and treat yourself?).
Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca
Release Date: December 6 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: I’ve been hooked on Jen DeLuca’s Well Met series from the first installment, but I was thoroughly under the impression that it was going to be a trilogy. Imagine my delighted surprise when I found out DeLuca had written a FOURTH book, and that we were finally getting a romance for notorious bad boy Dex MacLean on top of it all?
Okay, I may have been somewhat predisposed to enjoy this one, but one of the things I’ve always admired about this series is how DeLuca’s love for the Renaissance Faire—not just as a backdrop to these romances, but practically a character all its own—shines through on nearly every page. As someone who has intermittently enjoyed my own Ren Faire experiences in the past, these books have made me look at them in a whole new light. Between that and pairing two characters together who not only help each other evolve, but develop more dimensions than we’ve ever seen from them before, Well Traveled is another winner.
Publisher’s Description: A high-powered attorney from a success-oriented family, Louisa “Lulu” Malone lives to work, and everything seems to be going right, until the day she realizes it’s all wrong. Lulu’s cousin Mitch introduced her to the world of Renaissance Faires, and when she spies one at a time just when she needs an escape, she leaps into the welcoming environment of turkey legs, taverns, and tarot readers. The only drawback? Dex MacLean: a guitarist with a killer smile, the Casanova of the Faire… and her traveling companion for the summer.
Dex has never had to work for much in his life, and why should he? Touring with his brothers as The Dueling Kilts is going great, and he always finds a woman at every Faire. But when Lulu proves indifferent to his many plaid charms and a shake-up threatens the fate of the band, Dex must confront something he never has before: his future.
Forced to spend days and nights together on the road, Lulu’s interest in the kilted bad boy grows as he shows her a side of himself no one else has seen. The stresses of her old lifestyle fade away as she learns to trust her intuition and follow her heart instead of her head. But when her time on the road is over, will Lulu go with her gut, or are she and Dex destined for separate paths?
Witcha Gonna Do? by Avery Flynn
Release Date: December 6 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: Witch romances are all the rage lately, and with good reason—what’s not to love about a love story that usually involves a heroine being in control of her power? Alas, such is not the case for the lead of Flynn’s Witcha Gonna Do?; Tilda has not fared as well as her other family members in the magic department, and things go from bad to worse when she manages to curse them on top of it all. Who’s going to have to come to her rescue? You can probably tell where I’m going with this, but just in case you don’t: Tilda’s very hot, very kissable nemesis Gil is the only one who can help her with her little problem.
One of the best parts of any witchy-themed romance is the worldbuilding, and Flynn’s latest is no exception. Prepare to be immersed in a world where magic rules over everything — but it isn’t just witches you’re going to run into as you follow Tilda and Gil’s adventure. If anything, Witcha Gonna Do? only scratches the surface of what’s to be discovered in Witchington (which I am now wishing was a real place), so the only complaint I have is how long we might have to wait for a sequel!
Publisher’s Description: Could it possibly get any worse than having absolutely no magical abilities when you’re a member of the most powerful family of witches ever? It used to be that I’d say no, but then I keep getting set up on dates with Gil Connolly whose hotness is only matched by his ego. Seriously. I can’t stand him. Even if I also can’t stop thinking about him (specifically kissing him) but we’re going to pretend I never told you that part.
So yeah, my life isn’t the greatest right now, but then it goes straight to the absolute worst hell when I accidentally make my sister’s spell glitch and curse my whole family. And the only person who can help non-magical me break the spell? You guessed it. Gil the super hot jerk.
Now we have to work together to save my family and outmaneuver some evil-minded nefarious forces bent on world domination. Oh yeah, and we have to do all that while fighting against the attraction building between us because I may not be magical, but what’s happening between Gil and I sure feels like it.
A Dash of Salt and Pepper by Kosoko Jackson
Release Date: December 6 from Berkley
Why You’ll Love It: There’s just something about a cooking romance that feels especially delicious to me (no pun intended). Perhaps it has something to do with how attractive cooks and bakers can be when they know their way around a kitchen—not to mention the absolutely yummy dishes they can whip up. And don’t even get me started on the sizzling chemistry that results!
If any part of the above is whetting your appetite for a read with these vibes, then look no further than Kosoko Jackson’s latest rom-com—the second of his published just this year, which I’m going to consider as us readers being doubly spoiled. Small-town setting hilarious self-aware hero + single dad love interest = the perfect makings of a future movie adaptation as far as I’m concerned.
Publisher’s Description: Xavier Reynolds is doing less than stellar. He just got dumped, was passed over for a prestigious fellowship, and to top it all off he’s right back home in Harper’s Cove, Maine (population: 9,000). The last thing he wants to do is to work as a prep chef in the kitchen of the hip new restaurant in town, The Wharf. Especially since the hot, single-father chef who owns it can’t delegate to save his life.
Logan O’Hare doesn’t understand Xavier or why every word out of his mouth is dipped in sarcasm. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to hire him—he needs more help in the kitchen and his tween daughter, Anne, can only mince so many onions. It might be a recipe for disaster, but Logan doesn’t have many options besides Xavier.
Stuck between a stove and a hot place, Logan and Xavier discover an unexpected connection. But when the heat between them threatens to top the Scoville scale, they’ll have to decide if they can make their relationship work or if life has seasoned them too differently.
Queen of Myth and Monsters by Scarlett St. Clair
Release Date: December 20 from Sourcebooks
Why You’ll Love It: The sheer premise of author Scarlett St. Clair’s Adrian X Isolde series is tailor-made for yours truly—which kicked off with last year’s King of Battle and Blood, in which an arranged marriage is made for Isolde de Lara and the vampire king Adrian in order to resolve the end of a years-long war. At the time, Isolde is meant to kill her new husband and usurp his throne, but of course, these two discover that they’re much stronger together, united as one power, than they ever could be as foes.
This year’s follow-up, Queen of Myth and Monsters, succeeds at something that any good sequel should: improving on the first book while serving as an in-between point that tees up the major conflict to come. (It’s the Empire Strikes Back book, in other words.) It’s clear that Isolde has come a long way from her days as a mercurial, somewhat flighty heroine fighting against Adrian at every turn—here are still fights, of course, but this married couple is now on a more level playing field with each other, and that makes the banter between them more compelling as a result. Brace yourselves; this sequel will leave you eager for answers to every question it raises and crossing your fingers that these two will endure whatever the next book throws at them.
Publisher’s Description: Isolde, newly coronated queen, has finally found a king worthy of her in the vampire Adrian. But their love for each other has cost Isolde her father and her homeland. With two opposing goddesses playing mortals and vampires like chess pieces against one another, Isolde is uncertain who her allies are in the vampire stronghold of Revekka.
Now, as politics in the Red Palace grow more underhanded and a deadly blood mist threatens all of Cordova, Isolde must trust in the bond she’s formed with Adrian, even as she learns troubling information about his complicated past.
A Wicked Game by Kate Bateman
Release Date: December 27 from St. Martin’s
Why You’ll Love It: I have been an avid reader of Bateman’s Ruthless Rivals series since book one, because the mere premise of this historical romance series is devastatingly good all on its own. The Montgomery and Davies families have always been rivals, locked in a feud that goes back further than anyone alive can even remember now, but every time a Davies and a Montgomery cross paths, they seem to have difficulty resisting each other (or remembering they’re supposed to be enemies!) and give into all the tensions that make way for true love. Two couples from the two opposing families have already paired off, and now it’s Morgan and Harriet’s turn.
These two have been nemeses for a long time, but Morgan—who has survived a shipwreck and subsequent imprisonment and now come home to call in a bet he made with Harriet—also finds himself in a unique position of deciding whether or not to seek revenge on her in the process of his seduction plans. All that said, Bateman’s books are low-angst, hilarious, and just about everything you’d want in a historical romance about two people who have been fighting their attraction to each other for years. The only question isn’t if they’ll finally act on their feelings, but when
Publisher’s Description: A teasing bet. Shipwrecked and imprisoned thanks to an incorrect map, Captain Morgan Davies has returned to London to exact sweet revenge on the cartographer responsible for his suffering. He’s also vowed to claim the winner’s prize?three kisses?in the bet he made with his long-time nemesis, the prickly, smart-mouthed Harriet Montgomery. His incarceration has clarified his feelings for her, but convincing the infuriating woman he wants to marry her is going to be his greatest challenge yet. When Harriet’s revealed to be the very mapmaker he seeks, Morgan decides to combine revenge and seduction into one delightful package. . .
A dangerous enemy. Harriet’s always wanted witty scoundrel Morgan, and now he’s back; as handsome and as taunting as ever. She has enough on her plate dealing with her father’s failing eyesight and a rival mapmaker copying her work to play wicked games with a dastardly Davies?however tempting he might be. But when a threat from Morgan’s past puts them both in danger, Harry discovers that she and Morgan might not be enemies at all . . .
Never Cross a Highlander by Lisa Rayne
Release Date: December 27 from Entangled
Why You’ll Love It: The first in a planned series(!) from Rayne, Never Cross a Highlander, quite frankly, had me intrigued from the cover alone. It’s striking on more than one level, and the story behind it is just as captivating. Full of the tropes that you’d come to expect from a Highlander romance, of course, but finding ways to flip them in ways that prove subversive and thrilling.
Ailsa is a heroine who is determined to make her own fate and constantly fighting to free herself from her terrible circumstances, but of course, it all comes down to what happens when she is eventually lightly kidnapped by the infamous warrior known as the Black Devil. But Kallum is obviously more complex than the reputation that precedes him—he’s been helping slaves escape to freedom for years now, masking his selfless deeds behind his more fearsome moniker. A slow burn of a romance between two strong-willed people, but one that ultimately perseveres in spite of every obstacle encountered.
Publisher’s Description: Ailsa Connery has waited three long years to finally escape her enslavement at Stirling Castle and reunite with her clan. But her carefully laid plans are completely destroyed by the arrival of the infamous Highland warrior known as Dubh Mahoun, the Black Devil…who has plans of his own.
Kallum MacNeill’s fearsome reputation has long allowed him to keep hidden his secret double life of freeing enslaved captives across the land. It’s only when he kidnaps a servant lass—quite by accident—that he finds himself facing a wee predicament. He must accompany the lass home or risk her exposing his true identity. It’d be easy enough…if the feisty hellion didn’t fight him at every turn.
As they make their way to the Highlands, the perils the two must face are surpassed only by their constant sparring. Soon, their heated sniping sparks heat of a totally different kind. The kind that ignites a hunger that could consume them both. Yet the difficult journey is no match for the dangerous secrets they’re about to uncover.
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.