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As Labor Day approaches, it's almost time to bid a bittersweet adieu to the sun-kissed days of summer.

But for those looking to extend their vacation a little further, we're highlighting the best of the season's romance reads. Summer 2022 brought a veritable smorgasbord of scintillating romance choices, from unique historicals to engrossing contemporary rom-coms.

Check out our eight favorites of this summer season below.

For the Love of the Bard (A Bard's Rest Romance) Paperback – June 28, 2022 by Jessica Martin
Credit: Berkley

For the Love of the Bard, by Jessica Martin

This charming debut casts a second-chance romance against a Shakespeare-obsessed town with sparkling results. When literary agent and author Miranda Barnes returns to her hometown of Bard's Rest with the goal of finishing her novel, she's sucked into directing a production of Twelfth Night for the town's annual Shakespeare festival. But when she discovers Adam, her high-school ex who broke her heart on prom night, is also back, she has to ponder whether the course of true love ever did run smooth. The book veers slightly into the women's fiction category, with a fair amount of space dedicated to Miranda's relationships with her sisters and her mom's bout with cancer (content warning for all those who would prefer their romance novels sans parental cancer!). But her romance with Adam is so winning and the prose so delightful that we couldn't resist including it here. This book will be pure catnip for anyone with even a passing interest in Shakespeare. The clever puns that dot the town, from the names of businesses to the characters themselves, are winking and fun. And there's nothing quite like reading about two people wooing each other as they mount a production of a Shakespearean comedy. The sleepy summer magic of outdoor Shakespeare casts a heady spell that lends the romance a spark of magic. The most regrettable thing about For the Love of the Bard is that Bard's Rest isn't a real place I can actually visit (or, let's be real, move to).

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B+

Always Be My Duchess Paperback – July 12, 2022by Amalie Howard
Credit: Forever

Always Be My Duchess, by Amalie Howard

Inspired by Pretty Woman, Always Be My Duchess is a sparkling tale of a romance that begins as a business deal and transforms into something all-consuming. When ballerina Genevieve Valery, known as Neve, rescues the intoxicated Lord Lysander Blackstone, the Duke of Montcroix, from a group of ruffians in a Covent Garden alley, he realizes she might help solve his problems. If she'll pose as his fiancée in exchange for a hefty sum, she could be the key to making a business deal he's been chasing. Neve accepts, but the more time she spends in Lysander's home and company, the more they fall for each other. Lysander is on the spectrum, a man who is seen as cold or calculating by outsiders but whose heart is kind and fiercely loyal. As Neve brings him out of his shell, he helps her rediscover her love of dance, purely for the pleasure of it. The two have an undeniable chemistry from the moment they're pressed against each other in a dark alley, and Howard crafts a saucy, titillating romance between the two of them. Her love scenes are fiery and engrossing, but it's the depth of caring and ferocity in her two protagonists that makes the book such a charming romance. Neve knows her own value, allowing Howard to wisely craft an arrangement between Neve and Lysander that makes their uneven power dynamic an acknowledged issue without ever veering into problematic territory. When it comes to their physical and romantic connection, every choice is mutual and Neve is a willing, outright eager participant — but she still grapples with whether Lysander truly loves her or sees her as merely another business transaction. It's her keen sense of self-worth and commitment to her principles that make her an irresistible heroine, even as she has to push past her assumptions to understand Lysander's sometimes overly logical or literal approach to things. Always Be My Duchess is a dreamy summer romance designed to sweep you up into a world of ballerinas, hunky dukes, cheeky girl gangs, and delicious sex scenes. Light on angst and heavy on charm, it's a feel-good read of the highest order.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A-

The Accidental Pinup Paperback – July 19, 2022by Danielle Jackson (Author)
Credit: Berkley

The Accidental Pinup, by Danielle Jackson

Romance reviewer Danielle Jackson makes her debut with this steamy contemporary romance about rival photographers who must work together to complete a dream project. Cassie Harris is a badass photog, making a name for herself with her company Buxom Boudoir, which offers clients a modern twist on classic pinup photography. With her best friend, Dana, about to launch her own lingerie line, Cassie is optimistic she'll finally have a shot at the bigger contracts she knows she deserves. But when the company opts for Reid Montgomery, her longtime competitor behind the camera, she finds herself thrust into a new role as a model. But what happens when their professional lingerie shoots turn into something more personal and sexy off the clock? Jackson knows just what romance readers want — from Cassie's infectious self-confidence and empowered approach to life to Reid's easy sex appeal and plenty of spicy interludes in between. There's an immediate spark between them, and the fact that they're taking photos for a lingerie campaign only fans the flames. Cassie is a plus-size Black woman, and she not only owns that identity proudly, but takes a firm approach to explaining Reid's own privilege to him. He's not merely a rival because they're in the same line of work, but because as a white man, he gets the benefit of the doubt she never does. Their romance is perched upon this precarious truth, and Reid holds onto his secret of spying on Cassie for corporate higher-ups a hair too long to make their reunion entirely satisfying. But Jackson offers up a vibrant world of fierce, sex-positive women who are not only incredibly self-possessed, but eager to help others unlock that within themselves. Reid, with his worn-in leather jacket, is the gentle bad boy every reader has probably fantasized about at some point in their life. So while we can nitpick one pesky loose thread in the storytelling, overall Jackson's debut is the perfect boudoir offering: sexy, playful, enticing, and difficult to divert one's attention from.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A-

Heartbreaker: A Hell's Belles Novel (Hell's Belles, 2) Hardcover – August 23, 2022 by Sarah MacLean
Credit: Avon

Heartbreaker, by Sarah MacLean

With the collective trauma of the pandemic, romance seems particularly soft as late — an even comfier spot to land than the promise of an HEA already offers. But Sarah MacLean returns to prove that love stories can have a fire in their bellies. Heartbreaker is MacLean in top form, a rip-roaring, sensual adventure that manages to turn a series of small rooms in coaching inns into sexy, exciting spaces. As a member of the Hell's Belles, Adelaide Frampton maneuvers her way through Mayfair ballrooms, moving pawns with ease. But she's actually the South Bank's most talented pickpocket, a girl who escaped the cold, unfeeling life of her father's criminal enterprise. When she ends up on a madcap journey across Britain with Henry, Duke of Clayborn, she knows he's not for her — no matter how much she can't stop thinking about their kiss on the Thames. But Henry couldn't disagree more and is all too willing to let Adelaide steal his heart, in spite of his own vow to never marry. MacLean's latest is fun with a capital F, a spectacular, near-cinematic adventure with the stakes and enjoyment of an Indiana Jones movie. Adelaide has spent her life knowing she doesn't truly belong anywhere, but Henry woos her with his dogged refusal to rest until his eloping brother is found and Adelaide has experienced pleasure in a myriad of ways. The roadside interludes are sexy as all hell, and it's staggering how thrilling MacLean manages to make a novel that largely takes place in tiny rooms. But that setting is an ode to the quiet yearnings of the heart, a promise that love can be exhilarating, wondrous, and all-consuming just about anywhere with the right person. And small rooms do not equal small storytelling, with MacLean instead leaning into that intimacy as a means to draw her most robust and intriguing character studies yet. The more MacLean has wandered from ballrooms and the glittering world of society, the more she's found her stride, perfecting a way of storytelling that blends wit, grit, and the subversive promise of radical women and the men who love them. As always, MacLean's writing is delectably feminist. How could it not be with with Adelaide's and the Hell's Belles aims to bring down bad men protected by wealth and power? But Heartbreaker is also slyly provocative in the ways in which Henry is engaged by Adelaide — how he finds her fire, her thievery, and her self-assurance to be assets rather than turn-offs. He's the most decent of heroes, a man dedicated to protecting a family secret while stubbornly insisting on giving his rapscallion brother his due. And his bruising determination to protect Adelaide, even when she insists he not, is romantic in the extreme. Unlike many of MacLean's heroes, Henry isn't a rogue or a member of a criminal enterprise — he's merely a good man, full stop. And for Adelaide and readers alike, few things are as thrilling or rare. But most of all, Heartbreaker is a full-hearted, deeply romantic reminder that romance novels can and should be dangerous and fun in equal measure.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A+

Aphrodite and the Duke: A Novel Paperback – August 23, 2022by J.J. McAvoy (
Credit: Dell

Aphrodite and the Duke, by J.J. McAvoy

J.J. McAvoy adds a new entry to romance's expanding crop of historical romances that center protagonists of color. She opts for the Bridgerton route, employing an alt-history of Black joy and wealth that elides the realities of the 19th century. There's much debate over what is more powerful: historical romance that finds an HEA in spite of such truths and in the context of the past, or one that chooses to gift its characters an escapist fantasy generally the domain of white protagonists. Regardless of where a reader falls on that debate, there's no denying that McAvoy has crafted a lushly romantic tale with a real thread of danger in its pages and a swoony second-chance romance. Aphrodite Du Bell has spent four years nursing a broken heart after the love of her life, Evander Eagleman, the Duke of Everely, inexplicably married another woman. Now that he is a widower, Aphrodite is wary of risking her heart with again, but Evander is determined to win Aphrodite's trust and her hand, even with the litany of secrets he's been keeping. Aphrodite and the Duke reads like a throwback historical romance. Its ballroom glances, illicit eroticism, and a devious illegitimate brother to rival King Lear's Edmund are delicious in the ways they grant people of color a place amid some of the genre's most beloved tropes and soapy plotting. McAvoy's storytelling isn't particularly revelatory, but it is an engrossing read with characters who are easy to root for and just a touch of the Gothic to keep readers on the edge of their seats. And sometimes that joy and that engagement with a setting and story long off limits to people of color is enough.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B+

The Hookup Plan Paperback – August 2, 2022by Farrah Rochon
Credit: Forever

The Hookup Plan, by Farrah Rochon

All good things must come to an end, and so we must bid a bittersweet adieu to Farrah Rochon's Boyfriend Project series. Of course, she makes it even harder on her readers by delivering another engrossing, feel-good rom-com with plenty of gal-pal banter to boot. Pediatric surgeon London Kelley really needs to figure out this work-life balance thing. When her high-school reunion leads to a casual hookup with her old nemesis Drew Sullivan, she figures she's found the perfect outlet for de-stressing. But the problem is that Drew is not only superb in bed, he's also a caring, decent guy who is the opposite of the arrogant jerk she pegged him for in school. The more time they spend together, the more London can't help but falling for Drew, his grand gestures, and his tender approach to her. The book bursts with Rochon's signature sense of humor, steamy sex scenes, and squee-inducing romance. This series has always been an equal-part love story about the female friendship between London, Samiah, and Taylor — and the conclusion to their story doesn't skimp on that either. Part of London's decision to and commitment to finding a healthier lifestyle stems from their encouragement and advice. The Hookup Plan is a vibrant reminder that no one is an island, and one's entire support system should never be just their significant other. Much of the storytelling also wrestles with the weight of familial expectations. London's unrelenting ambition and rivalry with Drew began with her desire to impress her father, while Drew still carries guilt over his mom's death. London has to learn to let go — of old grudges and impossible expectations. Her happy ending isn't in resolving that trauma so much as it is in claiming her space for herself and setting boundaries. All of which Drew actively supports with his actions and words. Between her father and her status as a Black woman in the medical field, London has spent her entire life working overtime to prove her worthiness. She doesn't need to learn to do more; she needs to give herself a break and a little bit of grace. But the miracle of Rochon's storytelling is that her books are that for her readers in the most meta sense. The first of this series, The Boyfriend Project, hit shelves in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the three novels has been a balm, and as I recently read The Hookup Plan in the middle of a 3 a.m. bout with insomnia, I thought to myself, "I wish London had Rochon's books to read." They're deliciously fun and sexy, but best of all, they're about forging and accepting love (friendship, romance, familial) on your own terms — and I can't think of anything more soothing.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A

After Hours on Milagro Street: A Novel Paperback – July 26, 2022 by Angelina M. Lopez
Credit: Carina Trade

After Hours on Milagro Street, by Angelina M. Lopez

Angelina M. Lopez has already proved that she can spin the divinely soapy and filthy into resonant romantic gold, but she amplifies that with this first title in her new series. Inspired by her own upbringing as a Mexican American in Kansas, Lopez offers a steamy love story that is also a repudiation of whitewashing history for the sake of upholding narrow definitions of what it is to be American. When Alejandra "Alex" Torres returns to her small hometown with a plan to revitalize her family's bar, she's dismayed to discover that tweedy Professor Jeremiah Post has wormed his way into their hearts and the fabric of the bar. His plan isn't to spruce up the bar to attract more customers, but rather to transform it into a museum. From their first hot-and-heavy meeting, sparks fly between Alex and Jeremiah. Yet their immediate lust is overshadowed by his wariness of her reputation and her resentment of his presumed place in her family. A long-buried family mystery soon forces them to work together, as they both search for a sense of belonging. A family scandal has left Alex feeling abandoned by her family, while Jeremiah feels like the Torres clan are the first people to ever show him what family really means. Lopez's writing aches with a sense of yearning — for love, for acceptance, for a place and a people to call home. The racist bigwigs of her hometown have long asserted their dominance until Jeremiah and Alex realize that the truth offers a far more diverse, inclusive picture than one might assume. After Hours on Milagro Street is about not only uncovering forgotten (or deliberately obscured) histories, it's about restoring the narrative of our collective past and the contributions of a rich tapestry of peoples whose story is often reduced or erased altogether. Romance is almost always an inherently political genre in the ways it asserts its messages about sexuality, pleasure, power dynamics, and more. But Lopez raises that to the next level, making a profound statement about being an American amid absolutely mind-blowing sex scenes. It's her ability to balance these lascivious passages with pointed, meaningful storytelling that sets her work apart and makes her a writer worth returning to again and again.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A+

Scandalized Mass Market Paperback – August 23, 2022by Ivy Owens
Credit: Pocket Books

Scandalized, by Ivy Owens

Scandalized — a debut from the pen name of Lauren Billings, half of the bestselling duo Christina Lauren — lives up to its title. When a flight delay makes journalist Georgia Ross collide with her teenage crush, her best friend's older brother Alec Kim, they spend the hours before their rescheduled flight rediscovering each other. What Georgia doesn't realize is that Alec is a monumentally famous actor with an unlikely connection to the high-profile sex abuse case she's been overseas investigating. The two are purely combustible together, barely able to keep their hands off each other. Owens writes each love scene with gusto, combining a charged eroticism with a tale of hard choices and unexpected romance. Despite their small amount of time together, Alec and Georgia can't get enough, attempting to honor both their harried careers and their growing feelings. The novel's sexual encounters might scandalize the faint of heart, but that just leaves more sinfully delicious sexy times for those of us with filthier minds. The dividing line between romance and erotica often lies in how much the sex scenes advance the plot and character arcs. Owens deftly walks that line, ensuring that each encounter helps Alec and Gigi learn more about themselves, their values, the definition of happiness, and what they're willing to give up for one another. She also writes with a knack for the idiosyncrasies of fandom and Hollywood life, lending the novel a vibrant authenticity. This romance is also threaded with a timely tale of international scandal, sexual assault, and abuse of power. It's a sobering reminder that the #MeToo movement has barely scratched the surface in exposing the most monstrous among us. But Owens is here to remind us that love (and really, really, really hot sex) conquers all.

Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A

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