Now, let me be clear: I enjoy dark and angsty romances that rip me apart and put me back together again. Indeed, the road to a happily-ever-after in any romance is primed to provide readers with a much-needed escape from the contemporary landscape (and to delight and entertain on its own terms). Still, I’ll confess to a particular fondness for HEAs that place the protagonists in amusing situations and elicit enough giggles and snorts from me that my partner eventually looks up from his book and asks, “What are you reading over there?” Frankly, this is what my tender heart needs these days, and if you’re in the same head space as I am, maybe one of the books in this admittedly small sampling of 2021 releases will do the trick.
“(Trust) Falling for You,” by Charish Reid
It’s bad enough that English professor Yolanda Watson will be stuck in the woods of Wisconsin for a week-long faculty retreat. But when she’s forced to bunk with her work nemesis, history professor Sam Morris, Yolanda’s adult summer camp experience goes from eyeroll-inducing to downright annoying. The way Yolanda sees it, Sam is the stick-in-the-mud who “stole” an important grant from under her nose. The way Sam sees it, Yolanda is chaos on legs, and she would do well to take herself more seriously from time to time. As they participate in mandatory team-building activities, fend off creepy crawlies and survive a run-in with a black bear, Yolanda and Sam discover that they would do well to learn from each other — and maybe sharing a cabin isn’t a bad thing after all. The banter is top-notch, and watching Sam loosen up is a joy to read. Plus, you’ll be treated to some stellar theology jokes and a scorching first kiss. Yes, you read that correctly. Just go with it; I promise you won’t be disappointed.
“The Soulmate Equation,” by Christina Lauren
Could your soul mate be one DNA match away? Single mom and statistician Jessica Davis is about to find out. On impulse, Jess sends a DNA sample to GeneticAlly, a science-based matchmaking company, and then learns, much to her surprise, that she’s 98 percent compatible with Dr. River Peña, one of the company’s founders. Problem is, Jess knows River isn’t her soul mate — because she can’t stand him. You see, he’s “Americano,” the anti-social patron of the neighborhood coffee shop where she and her best friend get together most days. River’s rude and standoffish, and when Jess overhears him describing her as “entirely average,” she quickly places him in her mental trash bin. But fate is at work here, and the strength of River and Jess’s match prompts the company to make cash-strapped Jess an offer she can’t afford to refuse: Get to know River on its (hefty) dime so GeneticAlly can validate its finding and woo potential investors. Brought together by science, Jess and River must learn to drop the guards around their hearts to make this unconventional pairing work. Friends, this book is witty and sweet and so swoony. I rooted for Jess and River from the outset and laughed out loud more times than I could count. Add it to your to-be-read list, ASAP; future you will appreciate it.
“Satisfaction Guaranteed,” by Karelia Stetz-Waters
After her eccentric aunt’s passing, buttoned-up New York City art gallery manager Cade Elgin is now the not-so-happy co-owner of Satisfaction Guaranteed, a nearly bankrupt sex toy store in Portland, Ore. Worse, she and her new business partner, gorgeous and self-described screw-up Selena Mathis, can’t agree on the shop’s future. One thing they do agree on: their sizzling attraction. Except Selena has vowed to be celibate and doesn’t want her emotions to get the best of her yet again, and Cade can’t imagine anyone as charming and vivacious as Selena would ever want her forever. So, sure, they’ll work together, but there’s no way they’ll fall in love. Ahem. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” manages to be hilarious, heartwarming and fan-your-face sexy all at once. Both Cade and Selena are desperate for someone to see and appreciate them as they are, and when they find that person in each other, I couldn’t help letting out a deep sigh of contentment. These two deserve the HEA that’s coming to them, and it’s incredibly satisfying to watch their journey unfold.
“A Lot Like Adiós,” by Alexis Daria
This is Daria’s follow-up to her wildly successful 2020 release, “You Had Me at Hola,” and the second book in her Primas of Power series. This installment centers on Michelle Amato, a no-nonsense freelance graphic designer, and Gabe Aguilar, co-owner of a thriving Los Angeles gym and the childhood best friend who disappeared on Michelle more than a decade ago. Back in New York City to oversee his gym’s expansion to a new location, Gabe reunites with Michelle when his partner enlists her help with the gym’s marketing campaign. But if Gabe thinks he’s simply going to pick up where they left off, he’s badly mistaken. Michelle may let him into her bed, but she also wants answers — and she’s going to pick at old scabs to get them. Through it all, they’ll remind each other why they were so close in the first place — and finally realize they were always meant to fall in love. “A Lot Like Adiós” is a shining example of what a contemporary romance in the hands of a talented author can be: funny, sexy, inclusive and real. I absolutely adored it!
Full disclosure: Daria is a friend of mine, so I snagged this read early. It’ll be out in September, when many of us probably will be needing some cheering up as we say goodbye to summer. Oof.
Mia Sosa is the author of “Sun of a Beach,” “The Worst Best Man,” the Love on Cue series and the Suits Undone series.