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An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (2017)

extraordinaryunionSet during the American Civil War, An Extraordinary Union features spies working on behalf of the Union. Alyssa Cole’s historical romance features adventure, intrigue, period details, and memorable characters.

Born into slavery, Elle Burns is now a free woman. In 1862, she goes undercover, working as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator in Richmond, Virginia. She meets Pinkerton Secret Service Agent Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, and the pair form an uneasy alliance. As their relationship (both professional and personal) grows, Elle and Malcolm must navigate the uneasy world of race, politics, and war.

For other historical romances featuring spies, try Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Beverly JenkinsThe Winds of the Storm, or Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

simon-vs-agenda-homo-sapiensSimon Spier has a crush on a guy he's never met, his friend group is undergoing major changes, and he's being blackmailed. Junior year is way more complicated than he thought it would be.

I absolutely adore this book. I listened to the audiobook version of this early last year and it remains one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Becky Albertalli balances humor, teen angst, and romance to create a fabulous first novel.

And if you like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, there's another book in the Simonverse: The Upside of Unrequited. (A third book, Leah on the Offbeat, comes out later this year.)

And—Simon is being made into a movie! It was renamed Love, Simon and hit theaters last week. Now's your chance to read the book before you see the movie.

 

The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard (2018)

womanleftbehindLinda Howard again successfully balances humor and romantic suspense (a la Mr. Perfect). Tech expert Jina starts a G. I. Jane-like quest to join a special ops group in the field. Her determination to conquer physical and mental challenges is inspiring. As leader, Levi ensures the team is at top preparedness—and because of his guidance, sparks fly between the pair. Jina’s interactions with her teammates are hilarious. But it all takes a serious turn when a mission goes haywire. With immensely likeable characters, strong relationships, and a compelling story, The Woman Left Behind will grab your attention—just hang on for an exhilarating ride.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

alltheboysLara Jean Song Covey has written a love letter to every boy she's ever loved. The letters are in her room, in a hatbox, hidden. Until suddenly they are mailed out...

Lara Jean is a fantastic protagonist. She's incredibly family-oriented, with very tight bonds to her father and both of her sisters.

One of my favorite things about this book series is that while Lara Jean may have a romance, her entire story isn't a romance. She has friends, goals, aspirations, and hobbies besides dating.

Both of the romantic possibilities are fleshed-out, and I could see Lara Jean with either of them -- which made it all the more realistic.

All three books in the series are out now, so there's no waiting to find out how Lara Jean's story ends. Start with To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved by Jenny Han, then check out P.S. I Still Love You (book 2) and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (book 3).

 

The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson (2017)

runninginheelsRachel Gibson sparkles in her return to sports romance. Lexie Kowalsky (daughter of the characters of 1998's Simply Irresistible) flees her wedding to a groom she met on a reality TV show. Her escape comes via a floatplane heading from Seattle to a remote town in Canada. Also aboard is hockey star Sean Knox, who decides Lexie doesn’t need to know who he is just yet. When they return to Seattle, Lexie concocts a plan to deal with her recent notoriety—and keeps Sean involved by bombarding him with detailed lists and memos.

The Art of Running in Heels, a sweet and sassy contemporary romance with witty banter, is perfect for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, and Julie James.

Legally Blonde (2001) PG-13

Whether you need a pick-me-up or are just in the mood for a solid escapist comedy, Legally Blonde is the movie for you. Sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is graduating college and anticipating a proposal from Warner; instead, he dumps her for not being “serious enough.” Elle hatches a plan to win back Warner—she heads to Harvard Law School and learns life lessons both in and out of the classroom. A feel-good movie about girl power, Legally Blonde has more substance than you might think.

Costarring Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Jennifer Coolidge, and Victor Garber.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (2003)

Most readers know Adriana Trigiani from her Big Stone Gap series, but she also writes great standalone novels. One of her most popular titles is Lucia, Lucia. In 1950s New York City, Lucia Sartori is a young apprentice to a new fashion designer. Lucia is engaged to be married, but her fiancé’s family doesn’t approve of her working. Forced to choose between marriage and career, she chooses her dream job. When a handsome stranger captures her heart, she believes in his dreams.

The world of the New York fashion scene is richly detailed. Readers who love stories about family, fashion, and New York will enjoy this book.

French Kiss (1995) PG-13

Scenes in this Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline romantic comedy had me laughing out loud. Terrified of flying, Kate musters her courage and flies to Paris after her fiancé falls for a French woman. On the plane, she meets charming petty thief Luc, who sees in her a way he can smuggle a necklace in to the country. He soon becomes involved in her love life. The leads have great comedy timing and chemistry. French Kiss is delightful, clever, and fun.

The Thing About Love by Julie James (2017)

FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd didn't exactly bond during their training six years ago. When they're paired together for an undercover assignment, sparks fly and banter ensues. With charming characters and witty dialogue, Julie James pens another smart contemporary romance. If you enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips, try The Thing About Love.

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

A delightfully charming musical romantic comedy, Bells Are Ringing stars Dean Martin and Judy Holliday. Ella is a kindhearted telephone answering service operator who can’t help but meddle in her customers’ lives: making love connections and arranging employment opportunities. She’s in love with one of her clients: Jeffrey, a playwright with writer’s block. The storyline is full of silliness and warmth, and the film is definitely one worth revisiting (and thanks to Debbie for the recommendation).

Directed by Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, Designing Women, etc.).

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (2017)

In this charming romantic comedy, author Elinor Lipman writes lovable characters, smart dialogue, and zany situations. Thirty-something Faith Frankel returned to her small Massachusetts hometown after a stint in New York City. She spends her days writing thank you notes as a fundraiser for a local private school while her fiancé "finds himself" on a walk across America. Faith impulsively buys a semi-decrepit cottage, setting off a hilariously bizarre series of events (including a mystery). On Turpentine Lane is a gem, deserving of a read or listen (narrated beautifully by Mia Barron). I can't wait to read more by Lipman.

See Me by Nicholas Sparks (2015)

As with all of Nicholas Sparks’ novels, a developing romance is central to the story. In See Me, an unlikely pair meet and are shepherded together by the sister and friends. The reader wonders how a traumatized and tattooed cage fighter (Colin) with a criminal past could hit it off with a young woman lawyer (Maria) fresh from the county prosecutor’s office. And also fresh is the senior partner in Maria’s new firm where she hopes to advance, maybe to partner. More amazing are the changes in Colin’s life: he is now studying hard with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. Yet persons from Maria’s past bring trauma and thirst for revenge to the story so the reader has an exciting ride as danger enfolds and challenges the characters.

America's Sweethearts (2001) PG-13

americassweetheartsJohn Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones play America's sweethearts (Eddie and Gwen): they're actors who married, starred in several movies together, then split publicly and messily (sounds like real life, right?). The studio needs them to promote their final movie, and sends veteran publicist Lee (Billy Crystal) to control the chaos. Add Julia Roberts as Kiki, Gwen's sister/assistant, and you've got America's Sweethearts, a comedy about love and the ridiculousness of Hollywood.

In the mood to binge watch romantic comedies? We’ve got romantic comedies you’ll love – part 1 and part 2.

 

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (2017)

notsoperfectSophie Kinsella introduces another delightful character in Katie Brenner. In My Not So Perfect Life, country girl Katie is fulfilling her lifelong dream of living and working in London. According to her Instagram account, life is rosy. And yet, reality is quite different.

In this fast-paced witty novel, Kinsella covers workplace culture, social media “truth” vs. reality, and making assumptions/being quick to judge people. A fun yet thought-provoking look at life in the 21st century.

Love Actually (2003) R

loveactuallyAlthough this is a movie you can watch any time of year, I always seem to revisit Love Actually in December. Set in London, the film follows eight loosely related couples in the month leading up to Christmas. It’s not all happy endings in this romantic dramedy, but I’d still call this one a feel good movie. One of my favorite moments is Hugh Grant’s dance scene through 10 Downing Street (he plays the prime minister). You’ll see lots of other familiar faces including Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, and Martin Freeman.

In the mood for a Christmas movie? We’ve got a whole list.