In the past, romance novels were often unfairly written off as cheap, sleazy reads with Fabio on their clinch covers. Remember him? With his flowing blonde hair and muscular body, Fabio was on hundreds of romance book covers in the 1980s and ’90s. But I digress.
Moving on from Fabio – and no offense to him – we’ve come a long way in the romance world. There’s less stigma attached to reading romance, and while there is still is a huge diversity problem in romance publishing and how we report it, romance novels are increasingly more diverse.
So let’s talk contemporary romance. These are 16 of the best contemporary romance novels that have been published in the last five years. Note that many are by authors of color, and some of the stories feature queer couples. Published romance novels are slowly becoming more diverse in their storytelling, and that diversity is worth celebrating.
Prepare yourself for these steamy reads – hot romances coming at ya below!
Best Contemporary Romance Novels
Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo
The main character Azere, is a Nigerian woman who has promised her family that she’ll marry a Nigerian man (even though they’re in Canada). However, she starts to fall for Rafael – who isn’t Nigerian. As their relationship develops, Azere will have a choice to make.
The story explores romance, of course, but it also discusses family relationships, identity, and defining your own happiness.
Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu
In this book, Tina travels from New York to Dehli for her cousin’s wedding – yes, like the title says, there’s a destination wedding.
Like in many books (and real life), family relations complicate things at a time when Tina is already feeling uneasy about what she has going on. Her mother and father want to set up with different men, a former flame is at the wedding (ooh la la), her best friend might add to the drama, and she has to decide her future.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
A nerdy woman. A new life plan full of rebellion. A sexy neighbor. Are you intrigued yet?
In this story, main character Chloe Brown has a near-death experience and decides to add some excitement to her life. She becomes involved with her neighbor, that helps her with her list, and who she spies on sometimes. In the end, Chloe learns more about him, beyond his image.
This book is the first of the Brown Sisters series; all of the books are romance, and each follows a different sister.
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Luc, the son of a famous rockstars, needs a fake boyfriend to try to quiet the pesky tabloids; especially now that his dad is making headlines.
He meets Oliver, a serious lawyer, who seems like he’d be a good fake boyfriend. They develop a ruse, with plans to ultimately sever ties, but they start catching feelings.
This is one of those “opposites attract” type of novels.
My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Millie is a college professor and so are her four best male friends. When they attend a fancy university party, they all try online dating. Millie ends up having a good time at the event with her one her friends, Reid.
Online dating isn’t really working out for her. Plus, to make things more complicated, she has a fake online identity. Through that fake identity, she connects with Reid, and they form a connection. It looks like Millie will be making some tough decisions.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Smartypants Stella is great at math, but her love life could be better. She is autistic and doesn’t have much sexual experience, so she decides to hire a male escort. In comes Michael.
Stella makes a lot of money at her job, which Michael accepts, and they explore things. This arrangement is supposed to be strictly transactional, but feelings develop. Maybe Stella can still have math, and get her man.
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
In her 30s, Andrea is successful and in many ways has a fabulous life. Career-wise, her next goal is to be promoted to law partner. Family-wise, she’s the last person of her generation that’s not married, and her family isn’t okay with that.
So, she decides she’ll give things a try with Eric, who her family approves of. Her work rival Suresh, however, might be making a play for her heart.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Fans of royal dramas, this one’s for you.
The U.S. has a woman president, and her son Alex does not get along with the British prince, Henry. Obviously, this type of gossip makes headlines, but it’s not good optics. So, the two are forced to promote a fake friendship.
They get to know each other this way, and a secret romance develops. You bet things get complicated. Am I the only one that hears Avril Lavigne all of a sudden?
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
The second book of the Dance Off Novels, Take The Lead won a RITA Award, which used to recognize romance fiction.
This story has some Dancing with the Stars TV show vibes, since its main character is one of the pros on a professional dancing show. Gina is partnered with an attractive reality show star who doesn’t even want to be on the show.
Insert the fierce competition on the dance floor, their undeniable chemistry, some secrets, and paparazzi attention, and you have a recipe for drama.
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
You could say we’re in the age of dating apps, plus the people that meet over social media, on platforms that aren’t specifically for dating.
Rhiannon and Samson, two dating app creators (and rivals), share intimate moments before one of them gets ghosted. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon in this day and age. However, he shows up months later wanting to get together.
In this story, it’s be tricky to mix business with pleasure. The Right Swipe is the first book of the Modern Love romance series.
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
Starting a sizzling romance with your boss…may not be the best idea. But then again, when Emma and her boss Jo start developing romance feelings for each other, it might work out? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
Hollywood hotshot Jo shares a laugh with her assistant on the red carpet. That moment is misconstrued, so people now think that something’s going on between the two of the. Their lives change and they have to decide if the romance is worth it.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Lucy and Joshua work together at a publishing company, and they hate each other. When they’re competing for the same promotion, they start thinking that they might like each other. But, it might not be real. It might be a game.
The book is set to be adapted into a movie. According to Variety, the plan is to release the movie in late 2021. One of the main characters will be played by actor Lucy Hale, who was part of the Pretty Little Liars TV show, based on those books.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
In the first book of the Wedding Date series, Alexa randomly meets Drew. He needs a date to his ex’s wedding, and she agrees to be his fake date.
Real developments happen and they spend time together after the wedding, once they’ve both gone home. You could say there’s some miscommunication along the way, and being long distance comes with its challenges. They’ll ultimately have to figure out if they have a future together.
It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
Summer lovin’ had me a blast, Summer lovin’ happened so fast…
It Happened One Summer is set in the Pacific Northwest where rich, party girl Piper is sent by her stepfather, after going to jail. There, she runs a bar with her sister and “meets big, bearded sea captain Brendan” – yes, a sea captain!
Due to the travel component of his job, Brendan isn’t around all the time, but that doesn’t stop the two of them from developing chemistry. While Piper is getting back to her roots at her late dad’s bar, she starts to wonder where she wants to be.
The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Naomi started a booming sex-positive business, and Ethan is trying to bring more millennials to his synagogue. He’s more than a pretty face – Ethan is a rabbi too.
They both need to take the next steps in their work and as a result, team up for a seminar series called Modern Intimacy. She’s looking to lecture in educational settings, and he’s trying to make sure his synagogue stays open. As they work together, they become interested in each other, which wasn’t part of the plan.
The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
Wrapping up this list of the best contemporary romance novels is this sexy romcom. Main character Layla is going through a life crisis. As a result, she moves home where she’s under the watchful eye of her successful father. Not only does he offer her an office space, her Dad’s trying to find her a man too.
Sam, the CEO of a company, accidentally ends up in the same office space as Layla. They have a connection, but remember that Layla has other men vying for her attention. Sam lives a calm life, but Layla’s life is different.
Want even more of the best contemporary romance novels? No problem! Here are 50 more must-read contemporary romance novels from the last few years.