Thank you for compiling this list of the best romance books of 2023. Did you approach your reading any differently to last year?
You know, it’s funny that you asked me that, because I did have a few realizations about my reading this year that made me feel both excited and embarrassed. Embarrassed, because I thought that I had been reading more diversely than I had been; after counting the numbers, I was shocked to see that that wasn’t the case at all. I was also a little embarrassed because I have been focusing on contemporary romances for the past few years since, well, that’s what I work with and hand-sell the most as a bookseller at Powell’s Books in Portland. But I don’t want that to always be the case, so I have set myself a goal to read more sub-categories of romance next year.
I started reading ‘dark romances’ this year, and it’s been such a hoot. I’ve been screenshotting a lot of images from TikTok, and I have been enjoying everything that I could get my hands on. I’ve also been buying historical romances—yes, the ones that people jokingly refer to as ‘bodice rippers’; there’s even a romance bookstore called The Ripped Bodice named after those types of books—like crazy because the plots sound good and the covers are beautiful. Bring back more of those covers please!
I would say that, this year, I did try to read more diversely and I was eager to branch out on categories too. I tried to be less worried about how many romance books I read and more worried about how they made me feel. The five books mentioned in this list made me feel everything.
Sounds great. The first novel that made your list is The Fiancée Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur, which also appeared in your summer round-up earlier this year. What made it one of the best romance books of 2023?
I read this book when it came out in April, and it has been one of the easiest books for me to recommend to customers. Do you love sapphic romances? Fiancée Farce. Do you enjoy the ‘fake dating’ or ‘marriage of convenience’ trope? Fiancée Farce. Do you want to be wooed but also dream of getting frisky in a library? Well, well, I have the book for you!
As soon as I finished this book, I knew that it was going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I immediately bought the rest of Bellefleur’s books. I smile whenever I think of this one, and sometimes, when I see a customer picking it up, I simply walk over and say: ‘Buy it.’ Once I told a customer, ‘It’s so romantic and so sexy,’ and she said, ‘Say no more,’ and slipped it into her cart. Am I that good? Absolutely, but it does make my job easier when writers like Bellefleur exist.
That’s what we like to hear. Your next recommendation is Reggie and Delilah’s Year of Falling by Elise Bryant. It’s billed as a “heartwarming YA romance.”
I have loved Bryant’s books since her debut, Happily Ever Afters, which you should also read. I know, I know, people might judge me for reading young adult novels when my 30th birthday is in a few months, but I can’t help it. Being an adult is hard and expensive and frustrating, and sometimes, you want to go back to a time that was a bit simpler and you were a little less bitter.
Fair enough. So what’s this book about?
Reggie and Delilah seem to always bump into each other on holidays: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, et cetera. Over the course of a year, the reader follows them as a friendship develops into something more. Both characters have their own issues: Delilah is shy and worries about being liked, and she has a crush on a guy who is so frustratingly annoying that you want him to walk around in wet socks for the rest of his life. Reggie believes that his family is embarrassed by him because he enjoys all things Dungeons & Dragons, including writing essays criticizing the game and the issues behind it. Both of them are putting on a front, which leads to the two of them admiring each other for the wrong reasons.
I truly loved this one. That cover design is adorable and all three of Bryant’s books look very pretty on my bookshelves. If you need another reason to enjoy this title, then I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m the Katherine that Bryant thanks in the acknowledgments. I had zero chill and told all of my coworkers about it!
Ha! Quite right. What’s next on your list of the best romance books of 2023?
I think that this year, I am required to put You, Again by Kate Goldbeck on the list. I saw this one everywhere, and I am nothing if not easily influenced—and thank God, I was. I am a big Nora Ephron fan, so getting the chance to read a romance that reminded me of When Harry Met Sally pleased me. It was a serious ode to New York.
It was funny and refreshing, even when Josh and Ari got on my nerves, which they did…frequently. They were so frustrating, Ari especially, but it only made me root for their happily ever after more. Actually, it even made me love Ari more, because I know what it’s like to be scared to put my heart on the line, especially when I’ve been alone for a long time or had my heart broken by someone that I thought that I could go the distance with. These two were messy and I loved it. It was wonderful to watch them grow up and develop a real friendship. The countless text messages. The scenes where they watched movies over the phone together (yes, that really did happen in When Harry Met Sally). The Strand’s guest appearance in the book. It all worked. It was a delicious little treat and I need Goldbeck to write something again soon.
The fourth 2023 romance book on your list is Kiss and Spell by Celestine Martin. What did you enjoy about this one?
I the first book in the series, Witchful Thinking, last month because I wanted a fall, witchy vibe, without realising that it’s set in the summer in New Jersey. The timeframe didn’t matter, however, because it was a perfect treat. That book focused on Lucy. Martin’s new book, Kiss and Spell, focused on Lucy’s type-A cousin, Ursula, who I didn’t really like in the first book. However, by the time I finished this one, Ursula and I were two peas in a pod.
It’s a charming paranormal romance about a Black witch who falls in love with a sexy prince who needs a perfect kiss to break an enchantment. I don’t know why, but Martin’s dialogue reminds me of historical romances. Perhaps because the main male characters say things that make your heart beat fast and your legs shake. I shared a screenshot of what Prince Xavier says to Ursula when he finds out that her last boyfriend broke her heart and I had so many women direct messaging me to find out the name of the book. It made me chuckle! I finished Kiss and Spell on a solo brunch date last week, and it was the perfect side to my biscuits and gravy.
Sadly, we only have one more book on the list. What’s your fifth and final 2023 romance book recommendation?
When I think about the romances that I loved this year, I knew that I had to talk about New Adult by Timothy Janovsky. It’s billed as 13 Going on 30 meets One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, but I’d argue that this one is in a class of its own. It was so charming, and it made me cry. It follows 23-year-old Nolan, who wants to be a famous comedian and will do anything to get there, including missing important moments of his sister’s wedding and hurting his best friend-slash-love interest in the process. With the help of some magic crystals and a wish, Nolan wakes up living the lifestyle that showcases everything that he has ever wanted: Fame! Fortune! A cute dog named Milkshake! However, none of his family and family will talk to him, and Nolan has no idea why. He turns to Drew, his former roommate and best friend to get to the bottom of everything, and, well, let’s just say that feelings can only be buried for so long. I think that so many of us feel pressured to dream bigger and brighter, and we don’t always open our eyes to see that sometimes, we’re right where we should be. I loved the romance in this one—and the life lessons.
Were there other romances that you discovered and loved this year?
Oh, boy, where do I begin? From #BookTok alone, I discovered Only for the Week by Natasha Bishop, which I have been handselling as: “If you’ve ever wanted to sleep with his best friend! #NoRegrets.” It was so fun and sexy and people are loving it! I also discovered S. J. Tilly and her romance novels. I finished Nero, which is the first book in her Alliance series. I then immediately bought book two, King, which I plan to take on a trip with me to Seattle this week. My favorite thing about working in a bookstore and being great at my job—am I tooting my own horn? Probably, but others have said the same thing to me, so well, I’m right about this—is that I can email the woman who buys for my section and simply say: “Can I get copies of this book?” There’s no second-guessing me, and it’s why I love buying for this section. It’s been an honor to bring in new books and authors into a famous bookstore like Powell’s.
Oh, and I also enjoyed Dealbreakers by Lauren Forsythe! I think that people can be so quick to reject others instead of getting to know them, and this book made me reflect on my own time spent in the online dating trenches. Lucky for me, I’ve been dating a great guy for over two years—hi Evan!—so have fun out there. I’ve talked about Behind the Scenes by Karelia Stetz-Waters before, but I adored that one too. Finally, if you haven’t read Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola, then you need to. It was so funny!
Finally, we’ve got to know: what romance books are you looking forward to in 2024?
Well, Megan Bannen, the author of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, is releasing a new book next year on my sister’s birthday, but I have joked that it’s really a gift for me. It’s called The Undermining of Twyla and Frank. Funny enough, her first book, Undertaking, had a You’ve Got Mail twist. This one? When Harry Met Sally!
And how can I forget Kennedy Ryan’s new book, This Could Be Us? It’s the second in her Skyland series, the first of which was Before I Let Go, which took #BookTok by storm. I read that book this year, and I loved it so much, but since it came out in 2022, I didn’t get the chance to highlight it. In my opinion, it is a perfect second-chance romance. I pre-ordered This Could Be Us with the quickness. Amy Lea is another writer that I’ve grown fond of, and her fourth book, The Catch, will finish out her Influencers trilogy that I’ve truly enjoyed. Also, the main love interest is named Evan, so I have to buy it for that alone. Most rom-com men named Evan please!
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