These five queer romances are the perfect blend of swoon-inducing and serious, balancing delicious escapism with examinations of thorny issues such as family expectations, the grieving process and the corrosive influence of the British class system.
★ The Queer Principles of Kit Webb
Set in Georgian-era England, Cat Sebastian’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb takes a charming, gratifyingly original perspective on love across the class divide. The titular Kit is a gruff retired highwayman-turned-coffee house proprietor who truly despises the aristocracy. Edward Percy Talbot, Lord Holland, is one of the British class system’s greatest beneficiaries. A dandy and marquess, Percy is the heir to a prosperous dukedom held by one of England’s most notorious abusers of aristocratic privilege and power.
Kit is skeptical when the conspicuously costumed and brazenly flirtatious popinjay starts to haunt his coffee shop on a daily basis. Percy’s position in the world is more precarious than one would expect, however, and he approaches the disillusioned highwayman to do one last job. Their mission: steal a book that Percy’s father keeps on his person at all times, one whose contents will provide leverage and financial security for Percy, his stepmother and his infant half -sister.
Kit retired after his last job went wrong, incurring a serious injury and losing his best friend and partner. Because of this, he trains Percy to take the main role in the heist, putting them in close physical proximity.
Their sexual tension is a living, breathing thing on the page, but mercifully, Sebastian doesn’t leave them in want for long. And there’s plenty of sparkling dialogue to go with their physical connection. Kit has very clear opinions about the privilege Percy is fighting to protect, and their conversations about class and politics are uniformly excellent and fascinating. Kit Webb will surprise and delight not only fans of Sebastian and queer historical romance but also readers who are new to both.
—Carole V. Bell
Hudson Lin’s intricate, weighty Hard Sell follows the ramifications of a sexy one-night stand. A business acquisition reunites private equity investor Danny Ip and finance guru Tobin Lok seven years after the childhood friends finally gave in to their mutual attraction. Danny is interested in buying and shutting down WesTec, a buzzy tech startup. As an independent financial consultant, Tobin has been tasked with helping WesTec avoid bankruptcy, or at the very least, making sure Danny doesn’t undervalue the company in order to make a profit. The spark between them remains despite the time and distance—but so do the complications around their potential romance, which extend beyond Tobin’s tricky professional position.
When they were growing up, Tobin’s tightknit family was big and meddlesome, but it was also a bastion of safety and belonging to Danny, who was Tobin’s older brother’s best friend. As an only child whose single mother was constantly working, Danny thought the Loks’ house was heaven. But for Tobin, the youngest son with a desperate crush on Danny, his family’s “well-intentioned smothering” was and remains difficult.
Lin creates a loving, traditional family with the Loks, but she also shows their tone-deaf attitudes toward Tobin’s life as a gay man in a very real, palpable way. Tobin’s mother calls regularly, and his brother sends photos of Tobin’s nephew. Tobin yearns for acceptance beyond superficial inclusion, but he has no idea whether a potential relationship with Danny would make things better or immeasurably worse.
Much is at stake for these men, who have banked their love for one another for nearly a decade. But when Danny and Tobin finally give in to their hearts, the result is euphoric.
—Dolly R. Sickles
★ Satisfaction Guaranteed
When Cade Elgin travels from her New York City home to Portland, Oregon, for her aunt’s funeral, she’s totally unprepared for her inheritance: her aunt’s sex-toy store, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Cade is a careful, conservative businesswoman, with no room in her life for shenanigans or the wacky gold lamé preferences of her fellow funeralgoers. Fortunately, her new business partner-in-inheritance, Selena Mathis, has the passion and whimsy to balance Cade’s business prowess. Having taken a self-imposed oath of celibacy after some relationship troubles, Selena doesn’t want anything to do with the unexpected attraction she feels for Cade.
Oregon writer Karelia Stetz-Waters employs humor like a finely trained chef, sprinkling in lighthearted moments precisely when heavier topics require a little levity. Death, inheritance and responsibility are weighty conversations for any new romantic duo, but Cade and Selena’s ability to synchronize with one another is remarkable. Satisfaction Guaranteed is a standout romance with humor, heart and two characters who step out of their comfort zones together.
—Dolly R. Sickles
How to Find a Princess
Alyssa Cole returns with the second installment of her Runaway Royals series, How to Find a Princess, and it’s just as fun, smart and challenging as last year’s How to Catch a Queen. Readers can count on this series to deliver total immersion into a sweeping, romantic alternate reality and intelligent, complicated female characters.
Beznaria Chetchevaliere is an investigator for the World Federation of Monarchies, and she’s searching for Makeda Hicks, the lost heir of the idyllic kingdom of Ibarania. Decades ago, Makeda’s grandmother had a hot summer fling with the then-heir to the throne, Prince Keshan. The pragmatic Makeda is thrown by this information, which reveals that a family tall tale is not only true but also potentially life-changing. She’s already reeling from recently losing her job and her girlfriend, so seeing the magic in her potentially royal lineage feels impossible; rather, it seems like a solemn, daunting duty she never asked for.
Cole’s allusions to the animated 1997 film Anastasia will delight fans, and anyone fascinated by the story of the Romanov princess will be tickled, but Cole’s take on the lost heir mythos is a more mature tale with hefty stakes.
—Dolly R. Sickles
★ Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake
In Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Alexis Hall (Boyfriend Material) explores contemporary class and societal expectations through believable characters who struggle with substantial pain and self-doubt.
Rosaline is a bisexual woman with a privileged pedigree. Both of her parents are highly successful doctors, and she grew up in one of London’s most affluent districts. But after a surprise pregnancy during her time at Cambridge, she’s now a doting mom who makes delicious baked creations with her precocious 8-year-old daughter, Amelie.
Competing on the BBC’s popular baking competition show “Baked Expectations” could be Rosaline’s ticket out of financial disaster. But even though she rejected the path her parents chose for her, Rosaline hasn’t managed to throw off the values and expectations they inculcated in her. When she arrives at the competition to find it full of potential love interests, she sees them through a class-based filter. Rosaline may stand up to biphobia, especially around her daughter, but she also repeatedly, reflexively upholds class and gender biases. For example, she deems her lovely co-star Harry off-limits because of his working-class accent and profession.
Despite the heavy subject matter, this rom-com provides a cornucopia of cringey, laugh-out-loud moments. Its combination of social insight and comedy makes for a surprisingly twisty tale. (Rosaline has multiple love interests, and it’s not clear who she will choose for large swaths of the story.) This complexity also means that the central romance doesn’t get as much page time as one would expect. The scenes between Rosaline and her eventual soul mate are gorgeous but scarce, which might leave some readers wanting more. Nonetheless, Hall’s creation is a joy—a deeply emotional and ultimately rewarding story about a woman finding her true path and true love, surrounded by delicious baked goods on a BBC soundstage.
—Carole V. Bell