Emily Henry's 'Book Lovers' and Casey McQuiston's 'I Kissed Shara Wheeler': May's top rom-com reads
It's not just flowers that blossom in May – so does love, in all its wonderful states. There's first love, unrequited love, crazy love and that very special, yet novel, rom-com kind of love. You know the kind we're talking about. The longings and affairs in which opposites attract and misunderstandings abound until love finds a way after approximately 300 pages.
In this month's roundup, USA TODAY staff read a collection of new rom-coms, including one in which two literary bigwigs from the city find themselves in their own small-town romance, a celebrity doppelgänger is swept up in not just a glamorous life but also another couple's relationship, and a modern take on Cinderella in which the protagonist is her own Prince Charming.
Here are our picks for May's most delightful new romance novels.
'I Kissed Shara Wheeler'
By Casey McQuiston. ★★★★ (out of four). Out now.
McQuiston has done it again. The USA TODAY bestselling author of “Red, White & Royal Blue” and “One Last Stop” delivers a YA novel with a swoon-worthy romance readers have come to expect from their first two triumphant works.
Chloe Green’s senior year gets rocked when her nemesis, prom queen and would-be valedictorian opponent Shara Wheeler, kisses her and then flees their small Alabama town. When Chloe learns she isn’t the only one Shara kissed, she must work with the others to solve a series of clues left behind to bring the town sweetheart back.
The premise is undoubtedly John Green-esque, right down to the disappearing teenage manic pixie dream girl. But McQuiston’s twists on the trope, including setting complex queer characters in a conservative southern town, is an endlessly inventive, mysterious, messy joy of a journey to self-discovery. – Hannah Yashoroff
By Emily Henry. ★★★★ (out of four). Out now.
"Book Lovers" is a treat from start to finish, flipping the conventional small-town love story trope on its head. The story follows Nora, a New York literary agent nicknamed “The Shark” who keeps losing boyfriends to cute new fiancées found in charming small towns. Nora’s sister Libby insists on taking her on a monthlong vacation to Sunshine Falls, a rustic town where Nora can find her own love story with a rough-and-tumble local (preferably a lumberjack). While Nora is committed to the experience, her one true love will always be the city – something she shares with Charlie, a fellow New York editor who also happens to find himself in Sunshine Falls for the summer. Charlie and Nora butt heads initially, but come to bond over the town, their love of city life and the newest novel written by Nora’s star client. This enemies-to-lovers novel is a quick and satisfying binge-read. If you’re a fan of Henry’s previous romance novels, you’ll love "Book Lovers" just the same. – Kate Ellsworth
‘The Wedding Season’
By Katy Birchall. ★★★½ (out of four). Out now.
Birchall’s heroine Freya is as fearless in battle as the Norse love goddess she’s named for – only she doesn’t know it yet. After getting dumped by her fiancé in a broom closet the day before her wedding, Freya fights through her heartbreak by attempting a list of character-building tasks – thought up by best friends and too-cute couple Leo and Ruby – at seven weddings she’ll be attending over one summer. Between securing a good-night kiss with a French model to streaking naked down a hotel corridor (and getting caught), Freya struggles to get over her breakup. Her grief is familiar to most of us, which is why we cringe, cry and laugh right along with her. Birchall manages to design a cheer squad of fully supportive chums and a sexy, sensitive love interest in this witty, relatable tale that doesn’t fall prey to the trite rom-com formula you may be expecting. – Leigh Harrington
By Lily Chu. ★★★ (out of four). Out now.
Most of us have thought about our celebrity doppelgängers – the actors who would play us in a movie or the musicians with whom we kinda, sorta bear a resemblance. Few have met them. In “The Stand-In,” Gracie Reed gets to know her famous look-alike in a coincidence deserving of a Lifetime special. She’s photographed by paparazzi who believe she’s Wei Fangli, a Chinese starlet in town for a new play. Fangli sees the photo and tracks down Gracie with an interesting offer: a “Parent Trap”-like switch so Fangli can get some much-needed R&R. Of course, it’s not that easy. On top of learning to be one of the most recognizable women in the world, Gracie has to win over Sam Yao, Fangli’s golden-couple other half who doesn’t approve of the unconventional setup. Tension ensues. The book is not all escapism – a life of luxury isn’t always what it seems. But real talk about mental health and race elevates rather than bogs down the story that, of course, has a happy resolution. – Cara Kelly
‘Blame It on the Brontës’
By Annie Sereno. ★★ (out of four). Out now.
There’s a subset of nerd who can recount, with detail, the first time they first read “Wuthering Heights.” If you’re reading this, you’re probably one. So is Athena Murphy, the English professor at the heart of “Blame It on the Brontes.” So much so that she can’t stop comparing her ex, Thorne Kent, to Heathcliff. When Athena returns to her hometown on book leave – a Hail Mary attempt to save her job – she has no idea that Thorne moved back, too. What are the odds? They’re forced to work together at the cafe which Thorne bought and Athena uses as book research. Athena promised the chair of her department she’d uncover the identity of C.L. Garland, the bestselling author who lives there and writes erotica based on classic literature. Except, Athena has no idea who Garland is, and the town would like to keep it that way. Though plays on classics have their appeal – how many “Pride and Prejudice” spin-offs are there? – they can suffer from expectations set by their forebears. “Brontës” falters from that weight. At points, readers may be tempted to pick up an original by Emily, Charlotte or Anne. Or even the fictitious Garland – if classic-lit erotica doesn’t exist, someone should write it immediately. But the suspense around Garland’s identity picks up in the second half and helps carry through for an enjoyable read. – Kelly
By Helena Hunting. ★★★ ½ (out of four). Out now.
London Spark has finally met her match in Jackson Holt, charismatic CEO of a multimillion-dollar company. But it’ll take a few rejections and complete honesty on both of their parts to realize how much they belong together. Hunting delights readers in this modern twist on Cinderella. Instead of a fairy godmother or prince saving the girl, London learns how to fight for the life she truly wants. And sometimes that means disappointing a beloved sister who refuses to see that the family business, Spark House, is expanding faster than the family can handle. London’s relationship with Jackson opens a new part of her heart. It’s a treat for readers to see how she overcomes her fear of emotional vulnerability to find true love. – Mabinty Quarshie
‘Every Summer After’
By Carley Fortune. ★★★★ (out of four). Out now.
As a teenager, Percy spent summers at her family’s lakeshore house in Barry’s Bay, where she and her neighbor Sam evolved from friendship bracelets to first love – until one moment ruined everything. A decade later, she gets a call that sends her back to the town – and the people – that were once her world. Told over the course of six summers and one weekend, "Every Summer After" is a tale of romance, family and the choices that change us forever. Perfect for fans of “People We Meet on Vacation,” Fortune’s debut novel is filled with nostalgia and heart. Percy and Sam’s history is compelling and nuanced, making the story fly by faster than the summer months themselves. Although just like the places we spend our summers, and the people we meet along the way, Percy and Sam just might stay in your heart far beyond the last page. – Hannah Southwick
‘Set on You’
By Amy Lea. ★★★ ½ (out of four). Out now.
When a gruff, green-eyed gym bro steals her squat rack at the gym, body-positivity evangelist and "fitstagrammer" Crystal Chen is angry – but she can’t stop staring at his ultrabroad, ultramuscled shoulders, either. Charged weight-room skirmishes with her new surly-but-so-sexy weight room nemesis take a whole new turn when he shows up to a family dinner, the grandson of the man her grandmother is marrying. Crystal’s growing feelings for firefighter Scott Richie can’t be denied, but family complications and the real-world pressures mean a happy ending might not be in the cards. This book's appealing characters and gym-bound setting will resonate with anyone who’s ever mentally cursed a fellow gymgoer for failing to wipe down the machine post-use. The book takes a thoughtful, but not heavy-handed, approach to topics like toxic positivity, fatphobia, racism and the crushing weight of social media trolling. The forces threatening to keep Crystal and Scott apart seem absolutely believable, which makes the payoff when they find their way even sweeter. – Jennifer Ernst Beaudry
'From Bad to Cursed'
By Lana Harper. ★★★½ (out of four). Out May 17.
Enemies-to-lovers set among rival witch families in a magical town – say no more. If you loved "The Ex Hex," you'll probably enjoy this second installment in "The Witches of Thistle Grove" series. The story follows Isidora Avramov, a demon-summoning witch who dreams of designing clothes as she attempts to unravel a magical mystery with the help of her former co-worker and longtime enemy Rowan Thorn. Isidora and Rowan start off entirely at odds, all the way down to the opposition between Rowan’s leafy natural magic and Isidora’s darker summoning. Despite their differences, they have a palpable attraction that grows as the story progresses. The plot can get a little cluttered at times, with the commitment to a witchy atmosphere occasionally overshadowing the central mystery, but the delight of Rowan Thorn’s swoonworthy brand of nobility and Isidora’s initial quippy disdain makes it worth the read. – Madison Durham
'Adult Assembly Required'
By Abbi Waxman. ★★★ (out of four). Out now.
Waxman brings some favorite characters ("The Bookish Life of Nina Hill") back for a love story – well, love stories among a group of adults living in Los Angeles. Laura Costello is taking charge of her life by following her dreams, not what her East Coast family thinks her dreams should be. That is, until her apartment goes up in flames just weeks before grad school. With no one to turn to, Costello finds herself stranded in a bookstore that provides solace, last-minute living quarters and a ready-made urban family. Waxman's quick-witted and pithy prose gives readers a fun take on "Melrose Place," but instead of back-stabbing and bed-hopping there are trivia clubs and some old-fashioned will-they-or-won't-they? – Mary Cadden
Also new in May
"Queerly Beloved," by Susie Dumond (out now.). When a semi-closeted queer baker and bartender is fired from her job at a Christian bakery, she becomes a bridesmaid-for-hire and finds her own happily ever after.
"The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale," by Stephanie Eding (out now.). When Josie discovers she is pregnant with her ex-husband's baby, she seeks comfort in deep-fried foods and her two best friends.
"Chef's Kiss," by TJ Alexander (out now.). A perfectionist pastry chef's ambitions are thwarted when her company pivots from cookbooks to cooking videos, and she knocks heads with the new test-kitchen manager.
"Never Been Kissed," by Timothy Janovsky (out now.). Just before his birthday, Wren Roland, who has never been kissed and wants a romance for the ages, reaches out via email to all the boys he loved before he came out.