Here are the 10 romance books that made us cheer, cry, and swoon the hardest this year.
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Another year of COVID malaise, stressful politics, and general angst means another year that romance reads can provide a welcome escape.

When the world is at its dreariest, there's nothing like a romance novel to turn things around. We read romance to be reminded of the good in each other, to believe in love stories, to empathize with characters going through it and coming out better on the other side, and to cherish the hope of the happily ever after.

There was no shortage of excellent romance books on shelves this year — and while contemporary rom-coms continue to dominate the genre on the traditional publishing side, there were still notable historical titles as well. Here's the 10 romance novels that made us cheer, cry, and swoon the hardest this year.

Romance Books 2022 A Caribbean Heiress in Paris
Credit: HQN

A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

With this fierce, enthrallingly romantic novel, Adriana Herrera redefined what is possible in historical romance. The sub-genre has consistently been lacking in diverse protagonists, and when they've appeared they've often been couched in an alternate escapist reality. Herrera's tale proves that historical narratives with happy endings for people of color and context are not only possible, but essential. In 1889, heiress Luz Alana travels from Santo Domingo to the World Exposition in Paris to expand her family's rum business into a true empire. Hampered by sexism and lack of access to her inheritance (unless she marries), she finds the ideal business partner — and lover — in whisky purveyor James Evanston Sinclair, Earl of Darnick. There's no shortage of intoxicating treats on offer here — from Luz's delightful group of friends to her confident, fiery personality to an absolutely mind-blowing love scene atop the Eiffel Tower. But what's most impressive is Herrera's ability to acknowledge the sins of colonialism and its attendant challenges and stake a claim to happiness, joy, and love in spite of that.

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren
Credit: Gallery Books

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

2022 seemed to be a year for adventure romance. The Lost City gave us a zany rom-com take on the big screen, and writing duo Christina Lauren also delivered with this thrilling, second chance romance. Lily Wilder and Leo Grady were ready to spend the rest of their lives together until tragedy and miscommunication split them apart. When Leo shows up on one of Lily's guided "treasure" hunts using maps of the Utah canyons her father left her, they're unexpectedly thrust into a fight for their lives. The authors perfectly balance the fun of the treasure hunting yarn with the very real stakes, while layering in heaps of yearning and pathos. They never fail to deliver romance tales that combine deep feeling with rom-com playfulness, but Something Wilder is a step into more uncharted territory. It's richer in its feeling and more complex in its carefully plotted twists and turns, making us eager to take more literary adventures with the always-entertaining writing pair.

A lady for a duke by alexis hall
Credit: Forever

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Another entry in the 2022 trend of expanding the possibilities of historical romance, A Lady for a Duke is both melancholy and defiantly joyous. Presumed dead at Waterloo, Viola Carroll seized the opportunity to finally live life as a trans woman, even if it meant losing her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood. But when happenstance brings Gracewood back into her life, she's devastated to realize how utterly his grief at her loss has shattered him — and how deeply she still cares for him. But can Viola risk exposing her secret for a chance at love? Alexis Hall has a knack for crafting banter-packed rom-coms that sparkle with the brilliance of a jewel box. A Lady for a Duke is something more piercing, while still demonstrating Hall's gift for wit. The cost of Viola's choices is a hefty one, but that only makes the radiant joy of this love story all the more bright. A Lady for a Duke is a clarion, heartrending declaration that LGBTQ people have always existed — and the enormous risk and courage it requires to claim the love and joy they deserve.

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer
Credit: Forever

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

We might not have Nora Ephron with us any more, but we do have Kate Spencer. Her debut novel is an ode to the serendipity of New York City and the beauty of the quieter moments that dot a burgeoning romance. In the midst of a horrendous day, Franny Doyle encounters buttoned-up Hayes Montgomery III on the subway — and is mortified to find herself go viral with the hashtag #SubwayQTs as the internet manufactures a connection between them that couldn't be further from the truth. But as the wounded Franny and Hayes spend more time together, they discover their diametrically exposed exteriors might be obscuring their perfectly aligned vulnerabilities. Spencer understands that the most romantic aspects of our real lives aren't grand gestures (though they're great too), but instead lie in the accumulation of a quiet comfort with your partner. Love doesn't strike like lightning, it creeps up on you like rain as it moves from showers to an outright storm. Spencer spins stories with the urge to make readers stop and savor the experience — and there's undeniable comfort in her gift for gentle prose.

Fall Romance
Credit: Little, Brown

Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan

Honestly, we're a little mad at Kennedy Ryan for how much she makes us love her special brand of literary torture. The angst queen does it again with this shattering tale of healing and redemption. Josiah and Yasmen divorced after a devastating stillbirth sent her spiraling into depression and tore them apart. But when Josiah starts opening his heart again, Yasmen realizes she might have made a mistake. Ryan probes some of the darkest moments of our lives — from the dark hole of depression to the terrible pain of losing a child — but her gift is in her ability to keep the candle of hope burning steadfast through it all. Before I Let Go is a story of finding your way back — to yourself and to each other. It's heavy and bruising in its frankness, but beautifully cathartic and a reminder that there is always light to be found with the right amount of grace, love, and support.

The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka
Credit: Penguin

The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Making their adult fiction debut, Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka, a couple turned writing duo turned husband and wife, have crafted a book about two writing partners, Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen, who are themselves in denial about their romantic feelings for each other all while they write about other complicated couples. It's a meta mind-trip that sets the stage (or the page, rather) for a meditation on writing, the power of prose, and the terrible cost of fear. Few books this year understood so deeply the thrall of books, and the freedom of only revealing one's truest self in the pages of fiction. The Roughest Draft is an angsty tale of two emotionally blocked writers figuring out how to be honest with each other, but it's also an ode to the ways in which stories can expose our vulnerabilities if we let them.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

There's been an abundance of cooking competition reality show romances, but none bring the heat or the satisfaction quite like Love & Other Disasters. After a divorce and life crisis, Dahlia Woodson is looking to reinvent herself competing on Chef's Special, where she must face off against London Parker, who is weathering the storm of announcing their pronouns on national television and the ensuing wave of trolls. But despite the fact they're competitors, Dahlia and London find unexpected connection and comfort in each other. Anita Kelly's novel is not only literally delicious in its paeans to food, but in its unapologetic celebration of being one's self. A celebration that also acknowledges the cost and courage such a feat requires, as it crafts a deeply meaningful tale of the essential parallels in self-love and loving another.

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

While After Hours on Milagro Street is a contemporary romance, it's another entry on this list that centers the repudiation of white-washed history in its storytelling. 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 — and even more irritated at her instant attraction to him. Despite their resentments, a long-buried family mystery soon forces them to work together, as they both search for a sense of belonging. Amidst some of the hottest love scenes put to paper this year, Angelina M. Lopez interrogates big subjects like gentrification, assimilation, and what calling yourself an "American" really means. Her vibrant story of the ways that love, acceptance, and kinship can weave together in a tapestry with the threads of work that undoes erasure is both powerful and swoon-worthy.

Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean
Credit: Avon

Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean

At a time when romance has veered sweet and cozy, Sarah MacLean sets a lit match to a fuse with Heartbreaker. It's fun, fiercely romantic, and rapturously angry with its whole chest. Member of the Hell's Belles and the South Bank's most talented pickpocket, Adelaide Frampton, excels at slipping through the shadows and manipulating the ballrooms of Mayfair. But when she ends up gallivanting across England with Henry, Duke of Clayborn, she finds herself wishing for something she believes she can never have. The madcap adventure across a series of small coaching inns is rife with danger, an exhilaration that matches the fiery sex scenes MacLean crafts. She's amply proved that historical romances don't need glittering ballrooms to make us swoon. In fact, her back alleys, rookeries, and thieves' dens' are more intoxicating than any staid drawing room dance. We can't help but love Henry for his decency and his inability to help himself when it comes to Adelaide's wit, penchant for thievery, and fierce defiance, traits she assumes make her unlovable. It's a story of loving women for their muchness, rather than in spite of it — all wrapped up in tantalizing love scenes and rip-roaring adventure. What more could you possibly want from a romance novel?

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

The Hookup Plan by Farrah Rochon

2022 saw the end of Rochon's Boyfriend Project series and lucky for readers, she went out with a bang. The Hookup Plan follows kickass pediatric surgeon London Kelley as her quest for some self-care leads her into a casual hookup with her high school nemesis, Drew Sullivan, when they reconnect at a reunion. But Drew isn't at all like what she remembers and soon, one night turns into many. Rochon has always been superb at balancing gal-pal banter and friendship with steamy romance within the context of empowering stories. But London doesn't need to be empowered, she needs to learn how to rest. The Hookup Plan is a love affair between London and Drew, but also between London and her boundaries. Rochon makes claiming space and time for yourself sexy, and with her books, gives readers a way to do so for themselves.

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