The Best Modern Second-Chance Romance Books

Second-Chance Romance books can be really hit or miss. Sometimes I just can’t get past the reason a character needs a second chance. Sometimes the character doesn’t deserve one. But the good ones weave powerful narratives of people finding their way back to one another, of love burying past disagreements or mistakes, of relationships coming full circle, and a beautiful happily-ever-after. Here are some of my favorite modern or contemporary second-chance romance books (historical to come). 

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Eveline is a small-town vicar in the charming village of Foxbrooke, England. She dreams of love and a family, but with few (and terrible) options, she feels it slipping away. There was that one guy she met at a London bar on one of her few trips out of Foxbrooke, but he swiftly walked away from her when another woman showed up.

Jack has gotten rich from his escort services, but it’s an empty life, and feels even emptier after meeting a mysterious woman in London yet walking away from her for a client. He returns to Foxbrooke for his appallingly abusive father’s funeral and sees . . . her?

Oh, the irony of the vicar and the escort. It makes for some drama and some hilarity, especially when you add in all the eccentric characters from the first book in this series (you can definitely read this one on its own, but it’s better if you read Love Ad Lib first). It goes a little too far with Eveline’s lack of experience—she supposedly partied and hooked up a little in her twenties, but it’s written as if she’s a sheltered teenage virgin. It makes the love scenes really awkward and a little weird, and there are a lot of those scenes.

Character growth was a strength of the book—they both come to terms with big issues and support each other through them, they each find new parts of themselves, and they find love and happiness in each other. The ending was super sweet—you know you’re getting an HEA in these books but it never really gets old.

Rating: 3.5
Steam: Medium to High
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Small Town, Opposites Attract, Forbidden Love
Pair With: Eccentric wine, to go with all the eccentric characters. 

Quirky and energetic gardener Hallie and serious professor turned author Julian find love in idyllic Napa, California. Julian is staying at his family vineyard’s guest house for a perfectly peaceful writing spot. But Julian’s mom hires Hallie to design and spruce up the gardens—right by the guest house…. Of course Julian has no idea Hallie has been crushing on him since she was 14 and Hallie has no idea how much Julian’s starting to like her now.

There was a lot to like about this book. As soon as I saw vineyard setting, I was in! What could be more romantic? I’m not sure how much I liked either character at the beginning—Hallie is a lot to take and Julian is not even remotely flexible, but by the end you see what each is really all about, how big their hearts are, and how they bend a little for each other and balance each other out perfectly!

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Small town, childhood crush, opposites attract, second chance
Pair with: Wine from the oldest Napa vineyards, since the Vos family is an established and famous vineyard in the book. Consider Charles Krug or Beringer, two of Napa’s oldest wineries. 

Back in the day, Noah was a shy, awkward teen, in love with his beautiful and popular best friend, Shay, who lived with her step-grandmother at the neighboring farm in small-town Rhode Island. They went their separate ways after high school with no shortage of bitterness from Noah, who realized she was gone and his love was unrequited.

Fast forward a decade plus. Shay gets dumped at the altar by her dirtbag fiance, then discovers she inherited her step-grandmother’s farm. But, of course there’s a catch to this inheritance: she has to move to Friendship and has to be married within a year, or the land reverts to the town. Is this even legal? Will Noah oblige?

Noah is my favorite kind of romance hero – I found myself loving and rooting for him from the beginning. Sexy as hell, adopts and adores his niece, works hard, sacrifices so much in his life for his family and others he loves, protects Shay from her ex, and has loved Shay forever. The only problem is that he might be too perfect, if there is such a thing. There just isn’t anything wrong with the guy.

The story drags just a bit while Noah and Shay try to figure out their feelings and how to express them. His niece is adorable and hilarious, and very relatable to people with high-energy smart-ass kids…overall, a fun, happy read.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium to High
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Childhood Friends, Small Town, Kid in Plot, Fake Marriage
Pair With: Given the farmer’s market and prominent farm themes in the book, consider trying Farmer’s Market Wine Co.

Secret (or not-so-secret) childhood crushes mount a comeback when Harper and Drew find themselves together at their families’ Maine summer homes as adults.

Drew’s been mostly happy, with a wildly successful hockey career and loving parents. Harper’s doing just fine with a good job, but carries a huge hole in her heart from her dad’s death and doesn’t exactly have a great relationship with her mom and sister. And now she has to go to her sister’s wedding. At her dad’s favorite lake. Alone. Until Drew offers to be her plus-one….

This book was better than I thought it was going to be. It looked like a fairly vanilla story of childhood acquaintances reuniting in a nostalgic place—and to a point it was, but not in a bad way. It was easy to read, easy to relate to the characters (ok, maybe not easy to relate to athletic stardom), easy to crush on Drew, and easy to chill and enjoy. An easy story all the way around.

With all the angsty and dark out there, a pleasant read hit right where I needed it to. But of course it’s not all sunshine and roses. There’s Harper’s grief and family relationships to work through. Both Harper and Drew keep others at bay and have a hard time opening up. Really, how did they even get together given their mutual aloofness?

Rating: 3.8
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Childhood Acquaintances, Second Chance, Athlete, Proximity, Fake Relationship
Pair With: Wines to enjoy lakeside, such as a nice sauvignon blanc or rosé.

This book had some serious buzz when it came out, and it was mostly deserved. Honestly, I started out hating the book and its premise: Harriet and Wyn have been broken up for five months and never told their friends or family, so they decide to fake it for a week with their friends rather than coming clean. Why? Who does this? But, as I kept going, WOW, the storytelling really sucked me in and Happy Place ended up being one of my favorites of the year so far!

The story is told in two timelines and you see how Wyn and Harriet’s relationship started, grew, crumbled, and grew back stronger. Alternating timelines are tough and I get annoyed with them a lot, but this one rocked and really fit the book. Funny, this book has a lot of the typical things I hate—back and forth chronology, only one point of view, not-so-great premise. and if someone told me this before I read the book I might have skipped it, but am so glad I didn’t!

Rating: 4.7 (I just can’t do 5 with how annoyed I was at the beginning)
Steam: Medium
Tropes: Second chance, enemies to lovers, fake relationship, group of friends, forced proximity
Pair with: Fancy white wine from Sabrina’s wine cellar.

Jana is a brilliant and caring introvert and single mom who’s never quite fit in and always feels self-conscious in groups. Now she’s heading to the Serengeti for three weeks with her daughter, her mom, her potential boss, lots of other people, and SURPRISE, Anil, her ex and father of her daughter. Their coparenting is cooperative and conflict-free, mostly because she makes sure she never has to see him. But their four-year-old daughter is beyond thrilled to have them in the same place, so Jana braces herself for three long weeks of togetherness.

Jana Goes Wild is one of my favorites of the year so far! Maybe because the introvert in me relates so well to Jana, who’s always seen as aloof and uncaring when the opposite is true. The feminist themes are woven in nicely without being too much—how Jana was vilified for dating Anil and getting pregnant while he was married (which she didn’t even know) and how she even lost jobs and funding because of it, while Anil got off scot-free and continued to enjoy accolades and success in the same field.

But even with all that, it was still a mostly light and fun book. The secondary characters are interesting, the setting is spectacular, and the slow burn of Jana and Anil getting to know each other and where it goes held my interest.

Rating: 4.3
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Second chance, forced proximity, only one bed, travel, slow burn, single parent
Pair With: African wines. Of the African countries, South Africa is the most well-known for its wines, but wine is also produced in Tanzania where a lot of this book takes place. However, it’s really hard to find Tanzanian wines in the US, so South Africa is as close as you’re going to get. If you want a lesser known grape, consider a Pinotage, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes and known for being difficult to grow and make.

Nada has a good engineering job and a family who loves her (maybe too much), and is suffocating for a lot of reasons—her idea for a successful app was stolen and there are some real buried emotions from her secret past with Baz. Baz is also successful on the surface, brilliantly managing his family’s company and his brother’s band, but the simmering hurt from his past with Nada boils over when he sees her again.

The story is told in alternate timelines, which adds to the drama and mostly works, though there are some holes. I have some issues with this kind of timeline—I usually groan when the story starts and I see it’s a back-and-forth chronology, but then it turns out fine. Whatever. The author tells the characters’ stories and fleshes out their emotions artfully, and you can feel Baz’s (rightful) anger, Nada’s misery and regret, and the other characters’ feelings as well. Nada definitely annoyed me—running away from problems, keeping secrets. And the big secret they both are keeping is just too big. 

Nada’s family is a little overbearing, but it’s from a place of genuine love—it’s not the typical domineering family that never lets up and only cares about image. The secondary characters have real places and arcs in the book, which make the story richer and much more interesting than if it focused solely on Nada and Baz.

Overall, it was good, it held my interest and it was different from most of the rom-coms I’ve been reading. I’m glad I read it.

Rating: 3.3
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Secrets, Meddling Family, Alternating Timeline
Pair With: Canadian Wine

Two witty exes trapped on a road trip full of misadventure and hilarity? Yes, please! When Katherine suffers a concussion and a giant gash on her back from a taxi accident, the hospital calls her emergency contact. Who happens to be her ex-husband, Tom. Who’s trying to get out of NYC for Christmas so he can propose to his girlfriend.

Katherine can’t be left alone and has no one else, so the two reluctantly decide to head to Tom’s family’s Chicago home together. And what kind of road trip rom-com would this be if there were no major mishaps (or catastrophes) along the way? Or if some real feelings started creeping in?

Of course, the more they learn about each other, the more they learn about what went wrong between them, and the more they actually try to communicate with each other, the better it gets. Emergency Contact is a great balance of fun banter, crazy obstacles, serious thoughts about where they’re heading, and self-reflection. I enjoyed the book the entire way through, which is rare for me. I do wish there had been a few more legit conversations, but that may be part of what makes the HEA so perfect in this book.

One other thing: it was the perfect length! It was relatively short, which is how a road trip book should be. So often, it seems like authors try to drag out a book to make it an “appropriate” length. This book isn’t complex and didn’t need a complex length—so happy the authors recognized that.

Not quite 5 stars, but pretty close! (P.S. Audio version was great–narrators Brianna Cohen and Tim Paige). 

Rating: 4.7
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Road Trip, Holidays/Christmas, Enemies to Lovers, Close Proximity
Pair With: Perfect pairings with Bolognese sauce. Consider a nice Barolo such as La Spinona Sori Gepin or Giovanni Rosso Barolo del Commune di Serralunga d’Alba. For a less expensive option, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Barolo is a good value. 

LOVED All the Right Notes! Quito is masterful and kindhearted Filipino musician, who grew up accompanying his music teacher dad’s choir and dreaming of Broadway. Emmett is seemingly perfect—a good-looking, mixed-race, popular, athlete with straight A’s who fits in wherever he goes.

Quito and Emmett meet in high school when Emmett joins the choir and they become friends against all odds. But after the incident in college, their friendship shatters during college along with Quito’s inspiration and ability to compose, while Emmett turns into a movie star. Years later, Quito’s sweet and persistent dad is retiring and begs Quito to team up with Emmett to put on a final performance.

All the Right Notes has a little bit of everything—joy, passion, hilarity, tension, kindness, love, inclusivity, drama, empathy, and brilliant storytelling woven into a rom-com masterpiece. The characters are both unique and relatable, and their journeys give this book so much life and make it a one-of-a-kind. Rare five stars! Also excellent audio version.

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Tropes: Second Chance, LGBTQIA+, Friendship, Family
Pair With: Sake (in a glass from Macy’s if you have one), see Wine Enthusiast’s article on best sake. Also consider wines from vineyards committed to inclusivity: 8 LGBTQ+ Winemakers You Need on Your Radar, and Three LGBTQ+ Wine Pros Making a More Inclusive Industry

One of my favorites in 2023! Cecily is a successful attorney whose love life is nonexistent and now she’ll have to hear about it from her overbearing and critical mother as the family celebrates the Lunar New Year. And she’ll have to see the reason for it, Jeffrey, the man who broke her heart ten years ago. But that’s ok. Along with the Lunar New Year, Cecily has serious plans to liven up her life and move forward. And they don’t include Jeffrey…

I love that Cecily is a bad a** boss in the world of corporate law—too often it’s the guy in this roleso it was nice to see the FMC here. Also love that Jeffrey found his success another way and wanted to prove himself for Cecily. He’s humble enough to realize his mistake and will do anything he can to have Cecily back in his life. Both characters are willing to stand up for themselves and others, and they’ve learned to take sh** from no one. Eventually (I was definitely getting annoyed at her family, especially her mother…). Fun and different, I really enjoyed reading this.

Rating: 4.7
Steam: Medium
Tropes: Second chance, enemies to lovers, meddling family
Pair with: Bold California wines, such as Slam Dunk Petit Sirah and Zinfandel ($15), La Jota Merlot ($80), Monte Rio Cellars Petit Sirah ($26). 

After an archaeological field school fling ended in disaster for Olivia and Rick in college, Olivia spent the next eight years buried in academia and away from field work. But when the opportunity to jump back into an ancient site pops up, she can’t resist and heads to Cyprus. Rick stayed in the field and jumped from one site to another, honing his archaeological skills and making incredible discoveries.

Much to their chagrin, they find themselves teamed up at the site, and old feelings (and anger) rise to the surface. Rick has a reputation as a player (and field schools sound WAY more fun and flingy than I would have guessed) and Olivia’s determined not to fall under his spell again. Famous last words…

The setting added some interest to this book—you don’t find many rom-coms set on archaeological dig sites and my fantasy job has always been archaeologist—but it would have been good either way. Olivia and Rick are genuinely decent people trying to do everything right and stay out of trouble, but they also genuinely like each other, are attracted to each other, and are part of the “field school rules” where apparently flings are almost required. Guess I really missed out on this job!

The dynamics and other characters add some interest, too, though most are fairly one-dimensional. You have the villain director, Grant, who has zero redeeming personality qualities, and then you have a few spoiled brats who would never rough it on a remote dig site, but you also have some fellow grad students and others who bring some freshness to the story. It’s fun to see Olivia and Rick navigate all of this, try to make career and love decisions, and see what they can figure out.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Forced Proximity, Travel, Memorable Setting, Colleagues
Pair With: Wines from Cyprus.

A chance meeting at a Manhattan diner brought Charlie and William together for a week, but then they never saw each other again and they never stopped thinking about each other. Fast forward six years and now William is her boss. What? The chemistry is fierce, though she angry that he stopped showing up at the diner and she never heard from him again. But he seems to be everywhere and they become friends, but neither will admit their crushes until…

The idea of this book was super cute and there were some great moments—sweet notes, William helping Charlie navigate her truly nasty family, good things happening for them. But I just didn’t have any strong feelings, and it was a nice read but unmemorable. I definitely liked Ella Maise’s Marriage for One much better.

Rating: 3
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Second chance, co-workers, slow(ish) burn, the one who got away, big city
Pair with: A down the middle wine that’s maybe a little cliché. Oh, I don’t know, Cliché Wine Co.?

Riveting. Addicting. Emotional. Layered. Loved it.

Piper was raised in luxury without a care in the world, until mom decided she needed some normal teenage experience and sent her off to be a summer camp counselor. Piper finds an instant connection with Kyle, a guy from the wrong side of the tracks just trying to survive. Life is blissful and they’re in love, at least Piper thinks they are. But Kyle took off, never to be heard from again.

Until now. Piper is a successful executive and future CEO of her family’s giant real estate firm, navigating the nasty old boys club and having fun with her best friends (also from camp), when suddenly Kyle turns up as the company’s newest security guard. What? Why? Turns out there’s more to the story.

Say You Still Love Me is another K.A. Tucker masterpiece; she’s so freaking good at putting real emotions and feelings into her book, developing characters without stalling the plot, and making you feel so invested in these imaginary people. All the characters have layers and flaws, and everything doesn’t just center on Piper and Luke, though their story is interesting and full of ups and downs.

The business storyline is fitting too—any woman who’s worked in a male-dominated industry, which is almost any industry where there’s real money to be made, has experienced what Piper suffers from men like Tripp. Without saying more, the ending is really lovely and fulfilling too, and I definitely recommend this one!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: Low to Medium
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Childhood/Teenage Sweethearts, Opposites Attract, First Love, Instant Attraction
Pair with: Really fancy or really cheap wine.

Izzy and Nate meet as seatmates on a plane, with Izzy heading home from college and Nate off to army training, and their connection is immediate and off the charts. And then the plane crashes…. the army grabs Nate before Izzy’s out of surgery, and they wonder if they’ll ever see each other again.

Fate brings them together again and they vow to find ways to steal time together in between his deployments, but so much keeps them apart. Then they meet again in war-torn Afghanistan, Izzy on a diplomatic mission and Nate her security detail. After years of encounters and a heartbreaking misunderstanding, can they find a way to take their shot together?

When I read the description, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book, but am glad I did. The pull between Izzy and Nate is instant and deep; they’re not just attracted to each other but are instantly sharing dreams, things they love, books, and finding they can connect on so many levels.

The back-and-forth chronology mostly works—you see the plane meeting, then are thrust forward to Afghanistan ten years later amid the massive tension in their relationship and in a war zone, then are left to follow their relationship in the years between.  

Some readers are, understandably, upset about the depiction of the war and the fact that the central plot is a romantic relationship between Izzy and Nate while a war is going on and people are suffering and dying. Can we remember this book is shelved as a romance? It’s not supposed to be a realistic war novel, but the story of these two people. And yes, some of the choices aren’t great, but again, romance novel. If you want an accurate book on a war and/or Afghanistan, this isn’t for you. If you want pull and tension between two flawed but caring people in tough circumstances, more than just an average romance, pick this one up.

Rating: 4
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Fate, Military/War, Close Proximity, Bodyguard
Pair With: Wines from Veteran-Owned Vineyards.