The Next Chapter

9 books to fall head over heels for this summer

The Next Chapter's summer romance panel includes Uzma Jalaluddin, Jenny Pool and Alicia Cox Thomson.

The Next Chapter's summer romance panel includes Uzma Jalaluddin, Jenny Pool and Alicia Cox Thomson

Portraits of three women: Jalaluddin is South Asian and wearing a hijab, Pool is a white woman, and Cox Thomson is a Black woman.
The Next Chapter's romance book panel includes Uzma Jalaluddin, left, Jennifer Pool, centre, and Alicia Cox Thomson. (Andrea Stenson, Jennifer Pool, Christie Kufske)
Bestselling romance writer Uzma Jalaluddin, lifestyle columnist Alicia Cox Thomson, and Jenny Pool, the owner of Happily Ever After Books, find the hottest romance titles for your summer reading list.

Looking for something sweet or steamy to read this season? On the summer edition of The Next Chapter, the romance panel recommends their favourite swoonworthy books.

The panel is composed of romance author Uzma Jalaluddin; Jenny Pool, who owns the online bookstore Happily Ever After Books; and lifestyle journalist Alicia Cox Thomson.

They sat down with Ryan B. Patrick to discuss nine books that will appeal to every romance reader.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Book cover of Act Like It by Lucy Parker with a blurry theatre marquis. Portrait of the author.
Act Like It is a romance novel by Lucy Parker. (Carina Press, Lucy Parker)

Uzma Jalaluddin says: "This novel was published in 2015 and it's one of those romances that employ a favourite trope of mine, which is fake dating. I think this book does such a great job with this trope and it's a lot of fun to learn more about the London stage scene."

Act Like It is the first book in the London Celebrities series. The series follows two actors performing on a West End stage with very opposing personalities. When rumours about a budding romance between the ill-tempered Richard Troy and English rose Lainie Graham begin to circulate, the actors themselves are left to question if their feelings may be true.

Lucy Parker is a romance author based in New Zealand. She is also the author of the Palace Insiders series.

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean

Book cover for Bombshell by Sarah Maclean with a white woman in a red ballgown posing on a staircase. Portrait of the author.
Bombshell is a historical romance novel by Sarah Maclean. (Avon Books, Sarah MacLean)

Jenny Pool says: "MacLean is a pretty well renowned historical romance author. There's lots of longing and eventually the [love interests] do finally admit the truth of their feelings to each other. It's a really fun book and it's a really great start to an excellent series that will have four books when it's finished."

In 1830s London, Lady Sesily Talbot is a scandalous unmarried 30-year-old seeking justice amongst upper society in the bodice-ripper novel Bombshell. Sesily is a part of a secret group of women called the Hell's Belles set on exposing the crimes committed by elite men which leads to many risky adventures. When Caleb Calhoun, who has been secretly pining after Sesily, stumbles upon one of her escapades, the pair become close. Is this beautiful but dangerous woman someone Caleb is willing to lose?

Sarah MacLean is an American writer and co-host of the romance podcast, Fated Mates. Her other historical romance novels include Wicked and the Wallflower and Heartbreaker.

Jana Goes Wild by Farah Heron

A book cover with a woman, and elephant and a giraffe, and a woman with curly hair and glasses staring at the camera.
Jana Goes Wild is a book by Farah Heron. (Forever, J. Heron)

Alicia Cox Thomson says: "The book contains characters from Heron's last book, Kamilla Knows Best but can be read as a stand alone. In the past, Heron has written more closed doors romances and this is her first romance that has a spicy scene or two, it actually opens with some spicy scenes, which is fun! Heron has such a wonderful way with description. She's been to Tanzania, she's been on safari so the descriptions are beautiful and also the food is amazing. If you love books with good food, this is the author for you." 

Jana Goes Wild is a romantic comedy about a woman named Jana who finds herself in a less than ideal situation — she is attending a destination wedding that her ex Anil is also at. However, although they had broken up on not-so-nice terms, Jana soon realizes that she might be falling for Anil again. With the backdrop of the Serengeti and wandering safari animals, hilarious chaos ensues as Jana tries to make it seem like she's got it all together.

Farah Heron is a writer based in Toronto. She is also the author of the books The Chai Factor, Accidentally Engaged and Tahira in Bloom.

A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin

Illustrated book cover of A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin with eight people in Regency clothing on a blue background. Portrait of the author.
A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting is a historical romance novel by Sophie Irwin. (Penguin Books, Stephanie Alcaino)

Uzma Jalaluddin says: "The book ends up being this fun cat and mouse flirtatious game that takes place over multiple meetings in various social circumstances. The writing is so compelling, it's such an homage to one of my favourite authors, Jane Austen. If you're into a modern take on a strong, smart, resourceful woman and a really well written historical Regency, I would strongly recommend A Ladies Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin."

A Ladies Guide to Fortune Hunting is a twist on the Regency romance genre following a young woman named Kitty Talbot determined to pay off her father's debt by locking down a husband. Kitty's cunning and charming nature allows her to sneak her way into an aristocratic family until Lord Radcliffe catches onto her scheme. Both set on thwarting the other, might the witty pair actually be a perfect match?

Sophie Irwin is a romance author currently based in England. A Ladies Guide to Fortune Hunting is her debut novel.

Something Wild & Wonderful by Anita Kelly

Illustrated book cover of Something Wild & Wonderful by Anita Kelly featuring two men embracing in front of the Pacific Crest Trail. Author portrait.
Something Wild & Wonderful is a queer romance novel by Anita Kelly. (Forever Books, Anita Kelly)

Jenny Pool says: "It's infused with compassion, vulnerability and kindness. You'll laugh and you'll cry – it's honestly so worth it. Anita does such a great job of building the world of the Pacific Crest Trail,

"Every chapter I had to say to myself, 'Okay just one more chapter!' because I was so deeply immersed in it that I just didn't want to leave it." 

Something Wild & Wonderful is a queer romance novel following two hikers who keep crossing paths on the Pacific Crest Trail. Alexei Lebedev is an introverted person looking for community after he becomes estranged from his family. Ben Caravalho is an outgoing hiker who ends up taking him on a hike from California to Washington. Something Wild & Wonderful shows all the awkwardly sweet moments of Ben and Alexei's budding relationship. 

Anita Kelly is a teen librarian and queer romance author based in the Pacific Northwest. Their other books include Love & Other Disasters and their upcoming book How You Get the Girl

Ana María and the Fox by Liana De La Rosa

Illustrated book cover for Ana María and the Fox by Liana De La Rosa of two people of coulour dressed in formal attire dancing. Portrait of a female author.
Ana María and the Fox is a historical romance novel by Liana De La Rosa. (Berkley, Liana De La Rosa)

Alicia Cox Thomson says: "I really love historical romances with diverse characters, characters that are breaking into worlds or existing in worlds you haven't seen before or worlds that they've never been in before,

"It's a beautifully written lushly described novel that just warms the heart … There is so much yearning in this book. They yearn for each other for so long, and the payoff is so spicy."

In Ana María and the Fox the sisters of the wealthy Luna family are sent to London during the French's occupation of Mexico on their father's orders to be silent and anti-social whilst they take refuge. When Ana María meets Gideon Fox, a mixed-race member of Parliament working to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, they both find themselves in the middle of many noblemen's political agendas. Ana María and the Fox is a passionate love story set against complex histories. 

Liana De la Rosa is a historical romance author currently based in Arizona. Her other books include The Captain's Midwinter Bride and To Love a Scandalous Duke focus on the inclusion of diverse characters in the Regency and Victorian eras.

Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat by Sonya Lalli

Illustrated book cover of Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat by Sonya Lalli. A man and woman stand on a deck in front of the northern lights. Portrait of a brown woman.
Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat is a rom-com by Sonya Lalli. (Berkley, Ian Redd)

Uzma Jalaluddin says: "I really enjoy the way that Sonya captures family dynamics, especially from the perspective of second generation immigrants, the South Asian experience and just this idea of how we see ourselves or how our community sees us can really have long range implications for our sense of self. It's a fun romance novel, but it still gets into a lot of the really interesting conversations that Sonia does so well."

When Jasmine Randhawa agreed to go on an Alaskan cruise with her parents, she did not think to ask if she'd be the only person her age there. Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat is a humourous romance novel about Jasmine and the unexpected companionship she finds in her childhood friend Jake Dhillon – who happens to be the other only young person on this seniors cruise. Over the course of ten days, Jasmine and Jake learn more about themselves and their communities, but can their closeness be maintained on land?

Sonya Lalli is a Punjabi and Bengali romance fiction author based in Vancouver. She's written the novels A Holly Jolly Diwali, Serena Singh Flips the Script, Grown-Up Pose and The Matchmaker's List under her full name Sonya Lalli. Her books have been spotlighted in publications including Entertainment Weekly, NPR, the Washington Post, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Lalli was a reader for the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize.

Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau

Illustrated book cover of Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau with a man and woman standing; the man is holding donuts. Portrait of the author.
Donut Fall in Love is a romance novel by Jackie Lau. (J. Mitchell, Berkley)

Jenny Pool says: "It's rare for romance novels to be set in Toronto. Often it's New York City or Chicago or wherever. So to see familiar street names and landmarks gave me this little boost of happiness.

"It's going to make you crave donuts and baked goods like crazy. So you better have, like at least three or four bakeries written down ready to go."

Donut Fall in Love follows actor Ryan Kwok, who is back in Toronto after promoting his latest movie, a rom-com that's being slammed by critics. The sudden death of his mother prompts Ryan to take his first break in years and spend more time with his family — though his father would rather troll him on Twitter than meet for dim sum. Ryan's fate takes a turn when he knocks over a bunch of specialty donuts by an innovative baker named Lindsay McLeod. When he signs up for a celebrity episode of a baking show, he enlists Lindsay to help him prepare.

Jackie Lau is a Toronto-based author of over a dozen romantic comedies, including the Holidays with the Wongs series and the There's Only One Bed at Christmas novella anthology. She went to school for engineering and worked as a geophysicist before writing romance novels. 

Planes, Trains, and All the Feels by Livy Hart

Illustrated book cover called Planes, Trains, and All the Feels by Livy Hart with a white man and woman standing. Portrait of a female author.
Planes, Trains, and All the Feels is a road trip romance by Livy Hart. (Entangled Publishing, Livy Hart)

Alicia Cox Thomson says: "This to me is like your traditional beach read romance. You've got witty banter, you've got a lot of spice, you've got chemistry. You've got sexy sex and you have a grumpy sunshine, close proximity trope on a road trip. There's a lot going on in terms of the tropes, but they all mesh up together and it's just like a fizzy, delightful little read." 

Planes, Trains, and All the Feels is a grumpy-sunshine romance novel inspired by the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Cassidy Bliss is on her way to her sister's wedding in Los Angeles when unfortunate circumstances lead Cassidy to travelling across the country in a rental car with the sullen man who cut her off in line at the airport, Luke Carlisle. Filled with flirtatious banter and all the classic tropes of a road trip romance, Planes, Trains, and All the Feels is a fun and spicy novel.

Livy Hart is an author and mother currently living in Texas. She is also the author of Talk Flirty to Me.

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