It’s February, so of course, I’m thinking about romance—not just the genre itself, but the romance of curling up with a book that promises to charm you. Even though part of the comfort of the form is adherence to familiar tropes (enemies-to-lovers, fake relationship, etc.) and a guaranteed HEA (Happily Ever After), the best romances are the ones that put clever spins on these anticipated beats and still surprise readers.
Speaking of anticipation, there are a lot of love stories to look forward to this year! January has already seen sweet new releases, as Rachel Lynn Solomon followed up her love letter to public radio (The Ex Talk) with a forecast for meteorological love (Weather Girl), while married writing team Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka kicked off this year’s trend of publishing-centric contemporary romances with The Roughest Draft.
The rest of 2022 includes new contemporary romances from Emily Henry and Christina Lauren, the latest Regency adventure from Sarah MacLean, and genre newcomers like Akwaeke Emezi. Then there is my favorite thing, which is seeing romance tropes play out in other narratives, like my current obsession with SFF romance.
Consider that your caveat that not all of the selections on this list are necessarily traditional romance, but they all feature love stories that promise to quicken the pulse and thrill you with forbidden attraction and, yes, the promise of forever with another person.
Release Date: February 22 from Berkley
Fake relationship stories are so fraught with romantic tension from the start, especially when it’s exes and especially when one of them is a fact-checker for a living. Though journalist Kian Andrews wishes he could get some answers from why his ex Hudson Rivers (again with the names!) ghosted him, he settles for pretending that he and Hudson are still together—first for a visit with the parents, but of course, that becomes a wedding date at the peak of Georgia’s nuptials season, where Kian can meet all of the media bigwigs who could help launch his career.
There are so many reasons this is an awful idea for Kian and Hudson, but the mix of romantic yearning and a snowballing lie means it will be a page-turning read.
Release Date:March 8 from Forever
Jane Austen’s Emma by way of Bollywood sets up Kamila Hussain as every guy and girl’s best friend who knows exactly what they’re looking for in their love lives… but she spends so much time focused on linking other people up with their soulmates—not to mention planning a puppy prom involving her Instagram-famous pooch—that she doesn’t stop to think about who she might be looking for.
Even when that person is Rohan Nasser, longtime family friend with whom she’s always harmlessly flirted… until her old nemesis finds Rohan just as attractive, and suddenly Kamila’s feelings aren’t harmless at all.
Release Date: May 3 from Berkley
After her delightful Beach Read brightened up the first year of the pandemic, Emily Henry broadens her scope from matching up two polar-opposite authors to exploring the thin line between business and pleasure in the rest of the publishing industry.
Literary agent Nora Stephens has brokered too many deals to get swept away in the idea of being the heroine of a bestselling love story… and yet she keeps running into grouchy book editor Charlie Lastra, especially on a small-town trip far from the bustling city in which they keep clashing. A love of books (and especially what goes into them) combined with the permission of summer to try a new narrative—I can’t wait to crack this spine.
Release Date: May 17 from Gallery Books
Romance writing duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings are consistently trying to top themselves when it comes to their prolific premises; recent romances have run the gamut from reality TV fixer-upper drama to genetics-based dating experiments that challenge the notion of soulmates. It’s somehow not surprising that their latest is about the shiniest allure of all: buried treasure, and the treasure hunters who devote their lives to the chance of finding that yearned-for prize.
This second-chance romance sees Lily Wilder, the daughter of an infamous (and absentee) treasure hunter who makes her living off gullible tourists, teaming up with ex Leo Grady to locate the impossible: a legendary treasure that might actually exist… and the answer to whether she can ever forgive him for abandoning her.
Release Date: May 24 from Atria Books
Freshwater author Emezi started writing this romance novel in 2019, which they describe as one of the worst years of their life. What got them through was listening to Florence + The Machine, so it’s no surprise that the song “Hunger” inspired the title of this second-chance romance.
Still mourning the loss of the love of her life five years on, Feyi Adekola nonetheless puts herself out there again, and the universe answers with a whirlwind summer full of luxury (we’re talking celebrity chefs and tropical islands) and the promise of launching her art career. But when she potentially sabotages her fledgling relationship with an attraction to her beau’s father, of all people, Feyi must decide which aspects of her promising new life mean the most to her.
Release Date: June 14 from Ballantine Books
Linda Holmes’ books may be shelved more as women’s fiction than traditional romance, but the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour host’s debut Evvie Drake Starts Over had more longing and steaminess than many a contemporary romance I’ve checked out. Set in the same pleasant Maine town, Flying Solo follows Laurie Sassalyn, who has called off her wedding ahead of her fortieth birthday and who has to handle her late great-aunt Dot’s estate. But in cleaning out Dot’s house, she discovers two odd items: a wooden duck… and a love letter to her spinster aunt that ends with the cryptic message “And anyway, if you’re ever desperate, there are always ducks, darling.”
Except then the duck gets stolen, which leads Laurie on an unexpected mystery that involves reconnecting with her first love and figuring out what flying solo might mean for her. Is it second-chance romance? Is there an HEA? That remains to be seen, but I know it’s going to be a cozy read.
Release Date: June 28 from Avon
If Lifetime’s Harry & Meghan movies were just a tad too cheesy to scratch that royals itch, pick up this Prince-meets-Duchess meet-cute instead: The “Duchess” is raunchy rapper Danielle Nelson, reeling from a viral faux pas that could forever tarnish her image. The gig that should generate good press? A tribute concert for the late king, arranged by his reclusive son Prince Jameson—except that Duchess isn’t what the royal family expected, and they’re too willing to assume that she’ll land them in another scandal. But as Dani and Jameson give in to their attraction, they’ll have to reassure both sides that this is the real deal.
Release Date: August 2 from Avon
Whelan’s endearing premise is the romance equivalent of the “one last heist” story: Actress-turned-audiobook narrator Sewanee Chester brings her vocal cords out of retirement to narrate one last romance novel, despite her aversion to the genre thanks to years of personal and professional disappointment. But before that, she has a one-night-stand with a charming stranger at a book convention… and you know what that means! I love me a “bed first, feelings later” romance, and Sewanee’s collaboration with beloved industry voice Brock McKnight (I’m assuming the audiobook equivalent of a romance-novel cover hunk) sounds like it will be steamy and delightful.
Release Date: August 2 from Sourcebooks Casablanca
Hall’s Boyfriend Material paired up rock star offspring Luc O’Donnell with perfect-on-paper fake boyfriend in barrister Oliver Blackwood, only for the two to actually fall in love.
In the sequel, Hall looks to be challenging the comfortingly familiar trope of the HEA by exploring the societal pressure on Luc and Oliver to get married like everyone else. But can Luc be good enough “husband material” for Oliver, or are these two happy just as they are?
Release Date: August 16 from Orbit Books
Last year kicked off a number of sapphic fantasy series, including C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken and Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, both full of morally gray lesbians working at cross-purposes for their respective realms while being tripped up by their very inconvenient attractions to and yearning for one another.
While I’m waiting for the pub date for the next installment about soldier Touraine and royal Luca, we have Jasmine Throne sequel The Oleander Sword to look forward to in the fall: empress Malini and priestess Priya, pulled in conflicting directions due to destinies about alternately fulfilling and upending the toxic rule of their land Parijatdvipa, yet knowing they have no choice but to come together once more.
Release Date: August 23 from Avon
Sarah MacLean kicked off her Hell’s Belles series last year with Bombshell, introducing a gang of London ladies smashing the patriarchy in whatever ways they can get away with.
The second installment follows thief-masquerading-as-wallflower Adelaide Frampton, a.k.a. the Matchbreaker—she helps desperate brides leave men at the altar. But when she and seemingly perfect Henry, Duke of Clayborn, find themselves en route to crash the same wedding, Adelaide must decide if the Matchbreaker can enter into her own love match unscathed.
Release Date: August 23, Orbit Books
This adult fantasy debut is a little more adjacent to traditional romance, but it’s earned a spot on this list for its inventive spin on a rom-com classic: It’s You’ve Got Mail with medieval missives between undertaker Mercy Birdsall and marshal Hart Ralston.
In their day-to-day lives in the realm of Tanria, they clash over the drudges, reanimated corpses that Hart neutralizes and Mercy embalms. But when Hart, in a moment of loneliness, sends an anonymous letter looking for “A Friend,” he doesn’t realize that his new pen pal is the last person he can stand.
Release Date: September 20 from Berkley
Jen DeLuca’s Ren Faire Romance series is an endlessly charming setting for love: The Willow Creek Ren Faire brings out the best in its wenches and warriors seeking an escape from their daily stresses, yet this engaging microcosm effortlessly brings in tertiary characters from previous books to be the latest couple.
Case in point—the fourth offering follows The Dueling Kilts lead singer Dex MacLean, the Ren Faire Casanova from Well Played, who actually displays a sensitive side when matched up with Ren Faire newbie Lulu from last year’s Well Matched. I hope DeLuca never runs out of Ren-affairs to write about.
Release Date: November 1 from Tordotcom Publishing
I can think of no better way to cap this list than with a fantasy romance that lovingly fulfills all the tropes. With last year’s A Marvellous Light, Marske paired up cranky magical librarian Edwin Courcey with cursed jock Robin Blyth in a provocative romance about magical contracts and coming into one’s own.
Now, she turns the focus to Robin’s ebullient sister Maude, who boards the R.M.S. Lyric to New York City only to discover a dead body and a compellingly forbidden magician in actress Violet Debenham. Romance will entwine with mystery in what Marske has winningly described as “lesbian Knives Out on a boat”—I cannot wait.
Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on Tor.com, NPR Books, Den of Geek, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.