Romance novels are by their very nature optimistic — they end with a happily ever after, after all — and if there were ever a time when we needed the boost, it’s now. Despite my struggle to concentrate on anything this past year, these books captured my attention and my heart. I hope these 10 stellar titles provide an escape from your concerns — at least for a few hours — and leave you with a happy sigh at the end.


Bombshell,” by Sarah MacLean

First in a sparkling new series, the Hell’s Belles are the Victorian girl gang of your dreams, whose exploits involve bar fights, explosions and a multitude of capital-s Secrets. Tavern owner Caleb tries to stay away from the scandalous Lady Sesily, to no avail — she is, it turns out, completely irresistible, and their hard-won victory is a sheer delight.


The Ex Hex,” by Erin Sterling

Vivi and Rhys spent one magical summer together in college, but the fallout led a heartbroken Vivi to curse him — as a joke, of course. Almost a decade later, Rhys is back, and not only is the curse in full effect, but the whole town is also in danger! Funny and charming, this incredibly satisfying second-chance romance has all the “Hocus Pocus” and “Practical Magic” vibes.


For the Love of April French,” by Penny Aimes

Dennis feels a connection with April from the first moment he meets her at a kink club, but April doesn’t trust that his feelings are real, and their situation is further complicated when she finds out they work for the same company. Rendered with sweet vulnerability and a wry sense of humor, this absorbing debut depicts the BDSM community realistically and with genuine care.


Hana Khan Carries On,” by Uzma Jalaluddin

This enemies-to-lovers romance is fun, family-driven and heartfelt, like “You’ve Got Mail” if it revolved around rival restaurants in Toronto. Hana and Aydin get off on the wrong foot, but after experiencing a hate-fueled attack, their bond deepens as they fight to save their neighborhood and uncover the courage to tell their own stories.


Happy Endings,” by Thien-Kim Lam

When Trixie moves to D.C. with the goal of opening a sex-toy boutique, she doesn’t expect to run into her ex-boyfriend Andre, who is fighting to keep his late mother’s restaurant afloat amid gentrification. At times their goals seem to be at odds, but this steamy debut portrays the importance of communication and asking for help, with a cast of secondary characters who make the story world shine even brighter.


It Happened One Summer,” by Tessa Bailey

When rich L.A. socialite Piper (think Alexis Rose from “Schitt’s Creek”) is exiled to the Pacific Northwest for her influencer antics, the last thing she expects is to form deep bonds with her family, a hot, cranky ship captain and ... herself. This fish-out-of-water opposites-attract romance is by turns hot, hilarious and heartwarming, and Piper’s arc is a wonder to behold.


One Week to Claim It All,” by Adriana Herrera

Sparks fly when former flames Esmeralda and Rodrigo are both up for the CEO position at Sambrano Studios, the TV production empire started by Patricio Sambrano, Esme’s father and Rodrigo’s mentor. This lively and sexy romance combines telenovela-level drama — paternity tests, a missing will and an evil stepmother — with mission-driven characters determined to expand and diversify the range of Latinx representation within their own programming.


Reel,” by Kennedy Ryan

During production of a biopic about a jazz singer whose incredible life story had nearly been lost to time, director Canon and lead actress Neevah try — and fail — to fight their growing feelings for one another. Brilliant and ambitious, “Reel” offers a detailed look behind the scenes of a movie set, a glimpse of Harlem and Paris in the 1930s, and a realistic depiction of managing a chronic illness, all woven seamlessly into a strong and spellbinding romance.


Seven Days in June,” by Tia Williams

Authors Eva and Shane only spent one week together as teens, but those seven days left such an impact, they’re still including references to each other in their books 15 years later. Tackling heartbreaking childhoods, single parenting, family history and more, “Seven Days in June” is a triumph, and each tender moment between Eva and Shane feels hard-fought and completely deserved.


The Stand In,” by Lily Chu

After a case of mistaken identity, Gracie is recruited by Wei Fangli, a famous Chinese actress, to be her double during public events — a gig that involves being escorted by international heartthrob Sam Yao. Amid the fantasy of fame and fortune, Gracie’s reality includes harassment from her former boss, frank discussions about mental health and elder care for her mother. It all makes for a brightly entertaining and moving audiobook narrated by “Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo.

Alexis Daria is the award-winning and best-selling author of “You Had Me At Hola” and “A Lot Like Adiós.” A lifelong New Yorker, Alexis writes stories celebrating the lives and loves of Latinx characters.

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