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As the seasons change and our days get shorter, it's hard to resist the temptation to curl up with a good book — especially if it's one designed to keep you warm at night.

This fall offers a wealth of new romance choices, whether readers crave historical escapism, a peak behind the reality TV curtain, hunky cowboys, or a dash of something spooky. So we invite you to don your favorite coat and scarf and take a look at our eight favorite romance novels of autumn 2021.

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Fall Hot Stuff

Saint, by Sierra Simone

There's inspirational romance, and then there's Sierra Simone β€” an author who, rather than romanticizing the cloying limitations of religion, probes its darkest mysteries. Saint is her third novel in the Bell brothers series, which explores faith, depression, and the struggle to get closer to God in an imperfect world. Aiden Bell used to be a party boy, obsessed with making money and having as much sex as humanly possible. But six years ago, on the brink of taking his own life, he got a sign, and he's been pursuing an ascetic life as a monk ever since. But when his ex Elijah Iverson comes back into his world, he's left to wrestle with how he can reconcile his vows with the overwhelming love he feels for Elijah. The two travel across Europe under the guise of Aiden, now Brother Patrick, looking for a new monastery and Elijah writing a magazine story about monastic beer. But the journey becomes more searing and soul-searching than either could have anticipated. Simone explores faith in radically profound ways in her writing, and Saint is no exception. Aiden verbalizes something she's been striving for throughout this series: Can love for another human being actually amplify and feed one's love for God? Can sex be sacred rather than profane? Simone brings a pagan heart to a Catholic soul, searching and pushing and hurting with a breathtaking profundity. Aiden has used monasticism and God to help steady him, to crawl his way out of a pit of depression. But does that mean that a celibate life is the only thing that can save him? What if there's room and love and adoration enough for both? Aiden needs neither hair shirt nor whip to self-flagellate, and Simone writes of depression with a visceral ache. There's a knowingness to her work that will act as a glass darkly for anyone who has struggled with their mental health, and it can be heavy as an anvil. But there's also so much light, so much joy, and a celebration of love's holiness in all its forms. She wrestles faith into something that feels both deeply mysterious and joyously intimate. This might be blasphemous, but much like her characters, every time I pick up a Sierra Simone book I come away feeling closer to God and strengthened in my faith. She asks (and takes a stab at answering) questions I didn't even know were in my heart. By facing faith's most troubling questions head-on, Simone probes with the sanctity of a gospel β€” and in the quiet of her words, offers a path for all of us to find more grace.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A

Fall Hot Stuff

A Thorn in the Saddle, by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Rebekah Weatherspoon rounds out her Cowboys of California series with this Beauty and the Beast-inspired tale. Eldest Pleasant brother and ranch owner Jesse has always struggled to fit in, feeling awkward because of his hulking size and letting his temper get the best of him one time too many. But when his latest outburst, launched on an elderly man making out with his grandmother, raises the ire of Lily-Grace Leroux, he meets his match. Lily-Grace discovers Jesse's softer side during a community date auction gone awry, one that puts Jesse's lack of dating and bedroom experience front and center. The two make a deal: Jesse will teach Lily-Grace to swim, and Lily-Grace will teach him the ins and outs of the bedroom. But their attraction is immediate and intense, as they both work to overcome their demons and their worst fears to be better people for each other. Jesse is a tall drink of water who lavishes gifts on Lily-Grace, and it's clear how his caring has always been obscured by his shyness. But Lily-Grace quickly sees the big heart beneath the beastly exterior, and she in turn lets him see her without her emotional armor. The novel is a love letter to emotional availability and therapy. Weatherspoon's writing is crisp and detailed, drawing readers in from the first pages. She cleverly weaves in the hallmarks of the Beauty and the Beast tale, from Lily-Grace's affection for her father to Jesse's penchant for extravagant presents. But what really makes the story so irresistible is the abundant warmth on the pages, the reminder that we should look beneath the surface (even if that surface is 6-plus feet of gorgeous man) and allow ourselves and our partners grace. Lily-Grace and Jesse are poster children for a healthy relationship, particularly in light of the book's exploration of harassment and abuse. They really put in the work, probing their psyches and resolving to make positive changes to better all the relationships in their lives. The book swerves from squee-inducing to breathtakingly sexy, as Weatherspoon once again lassos a heartfelt, divinely entertaining meditation on care in its many forms.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A-

Fall Hot Stuff

The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling

Erin Sterling, who also writes as Rachel Hawkins, sold this book as "Hocus Pocus but they f---," and it's an accurate summation of this spooky, sexy read that's perfect for autumnal evenings. When Vivienne Jones was 19, she nursed her broken heart with vodka and a little lighthearted magic, cursing her ex-boyfriend. But Vivi never expected the curse to work. So when Rhys Penhallow, descendant of her town's ancestors, returns to town nine years later and things start to go awry, Vivi realizes she should've listened to her aunt's advice to never mix witchcraft and booze. The two find themselves drawn to each other all over again as they race against time to undo a curse now threatening their entire town. Sterling's writing is delightfully playful, the perfect mildly scary factor of vengeful ghosts juxtaposed with the silly joy of a talking cat who predominantly uses his powers to demand treats. The romance is a bit slight. Rhys and Vivi's chemistry feels propelled by magic in that it's just sort of there. But the mystery surrounding the curse keeps the pages turning, and it's a romp that should delight anyone looking for their witchy fix. It's Practical Magic sans the domestic abuse and dead true loves. As Rachel Hawkins, the author has many tricks up her sleeve with her truly terrifying thrillers, but as Sterling, the pages abound with whimsical Halloween treats.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: B+

Fall Hot Stuff

The Charm Offensive, by Alison Cochrun

In all the ways that the BachelorΒ franchise makes you feel like you need to take a bath after viewing, The Charm Offensive cleanses the soul. Hopeless romantic Dev Deshpande has spent six years creating other people's fairy tales as a producer on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. But when he's saddled with tech genius Charlie Winshaw as his new star, he faces an unprecedented challenge because Charlie is stiff, anxious, and emotionally closed off. In fact he's not even looking for love, having agreed to do the show to boost his career after a mental health issue cost him his job and his company. As Dev pushes Charlie to open up, the two instead fall for each other. But are either of them willing to throw out the Ever After script and seize a real happy ending? Alison Cochrun's debut is a gift, as fizzy and intoxicating as the champagne they ply reality dating contestants with. For those who do watch The Bachelor, the book is full of winking references to the series' tropes and worst tendencies. But even if you don't love reality dating shows, Charm Offensive is wondrous β€” a heart-in-your-throat romance that pulls you intractably into its orbit as inevitably as Dev and Charlie fall into each other's arms. It also tackles mental health with clear-eyed sensitivity, as Charlie struggles with anxiety and OCD and Dev tries to deny the immensity of his depression. But Charlie and Dev help each other realize that they deserve love, that there are people who will stay and be by their side when they're not the most fun version of themselves. It lovingly champions therapy, while also looking at the ways we societally make a thousand small cuts when it comes to our empathy for mental health. The antics of the dating show are balanced by the deep yearning and the compassionate take on these heavy subjects, including reality TV's continued struggles to make progressive strides in representation. Cochrun makes her debut with this title, but she proves amply to romance lovers that she's here for the right reasons. To quote a former Bachelorette, she did the damn thing. And then some.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A

Fall Hot Stuff

The Devil's Own Duke, by Lenora Bell

Lenora Bell should have the name recognition of historical romance authors such as Sarah MacLean, Tessa Dare, and Julia Quinn. Her warm, witty stories are like delicate pastries, absolutely gorgeous on the surface and even more delectable when you really dig in. The second installment of her Wallflowers vs. Dukes series follows Lady Henrietta Prince (Hetty to her friends) as she fights to turn her family vineyards into a profitable sparkling wine producer. When inveterate gambler and gaming hell owner Ash Ellis shows up claiming to be the heir to her father's dukedom, Hetty decides to marry him in a bid to convince him of all the vineyards have to offer. But as they each reveal their boundless ambition and noble motivations to each other, they fall deeper in love. Ash has convinced himself he's a villain because of a past secret, but Hetty helps him to see that he's a good man who deserves love. As for Hetty, she's locked away her heart after the pain of losing her mother, choosing to funnel all her energy into the vineyard's success. While Hetty must make Ash see his worth, he helps her see a fuller picture of herself as a desirable figure and formidable business partner. Bell's books are lush, dotted with vibrant bluestockings and brooding heroes who love with ferocity. Her work is as enchanting as a perfect glass of sparkling wine: light, effervescent, and difficult to resist.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A-

Fall Hot Stuff

The Love Hypothesis, by Ali Hazelwood

The Love Hypothesis should be an experiment destined to go wrong, combining an unflinching takes on the brutalities of academia, sexual harassment, and grief with a light and fluffy rom-com about fake dating. But somehow, it's a literary breakthrough. Hazelwood turns the seemingly disjointed elements into something truly magical, crafting a prism through which the refraction of one only makes the others shine brighter. When Ph.D. candidate Olive Smith ambushes the most notoriously grumpy professor on campus, Dr. Adam Carlsen, with a kiss, she has good intentions. She wants her best friend Anh to believe she's dating to help send her BFF on the way to her own happily-ever-after. But as Adam shockingly agrees to the charade, Olive starts to discover that his harsh exterior is obscuring rock-hard abs and a kind soul. As the two become increasingly entangled in their fake relationship, the line between what's real and what's not blurs. Suddenly Adam feels like home to Olive β€” a safe place to land after years of locking her heart away due to her crippling grief over losing her mother to cancer. This novel is destined to give readers the same fluttery feelings it grants Olive. Hazelwood's wit and ability to spear the politics of professional graduate study are only matched by her capacity to write a warm, engrossing love story. Her voice is equally as sarcastic and wry as it is earnest and joyful. It's a bit of a high-wire act to jump nimbly between the all-the-feels romance, the laugh-out-loud dialogue, and the genuine pain, terror, and hurt of anxiety, loss, and harassment. But Hazelwood pulls no punches on either end of the spectrum from hilarious to heartfelt. The Love Hypothesis is a self-assured debut, and we hypothesize it's just the first bit of greatness we'll see from an author who somehow has the audacity to be both an academic powerhouse and divinely talented novelist.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A

Fall Hot Stuff

The Perks of Loving a Wallflower, by Erica Ridley

For those who wished Bridgerton had a bit more Sapphic energy, this historical romance will be just the ticket. Tommy Wynchester is a master of disguise, ready to turn into a crotchety old aunt or a dashing young baron at a moment's notice. But when a new mission puts her in the path of the young woman she's been admiring from afar, she has to face the thing she's feared most: being vulnerable with her feelings. Miss Philippa York is a classic bluestocking, more invested in her reading circle than her mother's insistence that she marry well. But when she discovers the young baron courting her is actually a woman, she wonders if her lack of attraction to male suitors is indicative of preferences she never considered. Tommy is non-binary, preferring to exist not as Miss Thomasina Wynchester or any of the disguises she dons, but just as Tommy. Ridley delivers a delectable adventure story, bursting with fiery young women determined to gain recognition for the achievements of their sex. It's spritely and fun, a romp with a deep undercurrent of emotion that stems from its themes of yearning for someone to love you just as you are. Ridley handles the questions of identity deftly, making Philippa's naΓ―ve misunderstanding of what it costs Tommy to be something she is not a point of contention between them that wounds for its ignorance rather than any malice. Both Philippa and Tommy have spent their lives stifled by their struggles to fit into the boxes others have prescribed them to, but with each other they can be wholly themselves. Pundits can spend hours talking in circles to debate what Ridley presents so simply on the page β€” that one's identity should only be defined by how one feels most oneself. It's an elegant and profound truth at the heart of an enchanting feminist tale.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A

Fall Hot Stuff

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days, by K.M. Jackson

This lighthearted rom-com is for anyone who's ever fangirled out over a movie star or declared someone their "internet boyfriend." Taking Keanu Reeves as the object of its desire, How to Marry orchestrates a wild goose chase that's more about learning to heal from the past and embrace love fully than it is about celebrity fantasy. When visual artist Bethany Lu Carlisle finds out that the star of Speed and The Matrix is getting married in 90 days, she knows she has no choice but to drop everything and convince him to marry her instead (or at least cancel the wedding). Her longtime friend True Erickson offers to help take her on a journey to track down her elusive crush, but their adventure brings years of pining for each other into the open. True was the best friend of Lu's late brother, and they've clung to each other in the wake of their grief, fearing they're holding each other back. But Jackson writes movingly of how fear stands in the way of healing and love, and that the only thing holding these two back is fear itself. The book is also a keen meditation on the ways that pop culture and our fantasies can be a balm in the darkest of times. The pandemic has been a firm reminder how much entertainment can soothe, but Jackson's book is a deftly feminist take on the ways in which thirst and fandom can be therapeutic practices. In her hands, celebrity crushes aren't something people should condescendingly dismiss, but rather something subversive β€” a salve when things get to be too much and a key to unlocking deep desires. The novel is a joy ride, with True and Lu gallivanting around the country after Keanu and finding each other in liltingly romantic settings like a New Mexico hot spring and a camper with a skylight. Sometimes it loses its sense of the weight of the tragedy at the crux of Lu and True's denial of their feelings, but it makes up for that unevenness with its exuberance and sense of play. Because something's gotta give, and championing this book doesn't require anyone to play devil's advocate.

Heat Rating: πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯
Grade: A-

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