Best Romance Books of 2023

14 Engaging, Heartwarming, and (Sometimes) Hilarious Romances That Blew Me Away in 2023

Wow, 2023 really tested my time management and reading abilities–i.e., how could I possibly read all the best 2023 romance books on my TBR? Well, I didn’t get to them all, but sure read a LOT and found some gems! I’m 100% sure I missed some five-star reads (let me know about those!), but here are my favorites! I chose some because they made me howl with laughter, some because I really related to the characters, some that kept me riveted the whole time, and some I just loved for a ton of reasons. 

What were your favorite romance books of 2023?

BTW–I listed them alpha by author (I just can’t pick favorites). 

Two confident, blunt, kind and soulful main characters, a creepy mystery, wild family dynamics, and deep love, all in Too Good to Be True–yes please!

New-money heiress and successful-in-her-own-right Daphne meets old-money (and equally self-successful) heir to the earldom Ian when she’s invited on a nightmare trip to meet her sister’s boyfriend’s family at the old ancestral estate. The ancestral estate that’s been the scene of dramatic deaths, epic love stories, torrid affairs, and major dysfunction.

Weird things keep happening, and they only get stranger and seem to target Daphne in particular. Which really bothers Ian. As the mystery gets deeper and more sinister, Ian and Daphne work harder to solve it and Ian is hell-bent on keeping her safe.

LOVED Too Good to Be True! Ian and Daphne were both 100% blunt, forthright, take-no-sh**-from anyone. They call people out on bad behavior and don’t put up with anyone’s insults; a refreshing break from so many characters who care way too much about being polite and not causing a scene. They instantly know they can trust each other and they feel the magnetic pull but it’s not sappy—Ian’s totally up front about wanting her and she’s pretty clear she wants him too.

But all the craziness going on! That made it so much fun and made the romantic storyline even better. There’s a legit creepy mystery to solve and they work together in their hilarious ways to solve it. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call Ian “too good to be true”—he can be heavy-handed and dictatorial, but it all comes from a good place and he’s a natural protector.

The side characters add to the interest—there’s much more than meets the eye to Lady Alcott (and even Lord Alcott comes around), Daphne’s sister and Ian’s brother grew on me (a little bit), Daphne’s stepmother Lou (close to her age) was lovely. But talk about family dysfunction—wow! I won’t go further but there are some great examples.

It takes a while for the spice but when it rains, it pours. Plenty of foreshadowing that it will be wild and it follows through!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: High
Themes and Tropes: Thriller/Mystery, Proximity, Family Dysfunction, Slow(ish) burn
Pair With: Amaretto. I never drink this but should try it after reading this book. If you’re into it, you can find some amaretto cocktail recipes here

Following Secretly Yours by only a few months, Unfortunately Yours is the rare sequel that bests the original and a definite 2023 romance book.

Natalie’s always been underestimated and ignored by her winemaking family, so she left to get her business degree and killing it in the New York hedge fund world. Until she made one mistake. Determined to get back to the top, she comes home for her trust fund to raise some capital, but there’s one problem—it requires a husband… antiquated, yes, but it says what it says.

Enter the smoking hot new guy in Napa and former Navy SEAL August, who wants to honor his late best friend’s legacy by running a successful vineyard. Who also happens to be Natalie’s sworn enemy. So far, his wine is terrible, he’s running out of money, and he and Natalie decide they can help each other by getting married. What could go wrong?

So far, it sounds like just another marriage of convenience trope, right? But wait, there’s more. The themes are woven together perfectly: Natalie’s disillusionment with her family, the sad but true boys’ club experiences she has in the finance world, August’s grief and need to atone for his friend’s death, inside and outside forces spurring them on yet driving them apart.

Plus, the third-act obstacle was not eye-rolling or super irritating; it flowed with the story and made sense.  Without spoiling it, Unfortunately Yours‘ ending was anything but unfortunate. I might even have to add it to my Best Endings post!

Rating: 5
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Marriage of convenience, fake relationship, enemies to lovers, military guy
Pair with: Wines from Veteran-Owned Vineyards.

Emma Rutledge knows her way around a winery and the wine business—she should, since her family owns a successful and renowned winery—and has worked hard for a larger role in the company. Her dear old (major asshole and sexist pig) dad does everything he can to block her path, including making her dirtbag ex-husband her boss. So she’ll take matters into her own hands and find a way to start her own winery.

Giovanni D’Angelo knows his way around wine; he’s a talented sommelier and also plays a huge role in his family’s successful restaurant. But he wants more—his own vineyard to be exact. He meets Emma on a Tuscan wine tour and there’s some instant chemistry; first friendship and then who knows…

Maybe it’s the Italian countryside, the beautiful descriptions of Temecula, or the smart and interesting characters, but this book sucked me right in and was captivating the whole way through. Emma’s family mostly sucked—especially her dad, and her mom for just rolling over most of the time—but some of them came through in the end.

Emma and Giovanni’s character development was perfect—you see Emma going from a capable and hard-working but somewhat uncertain businessperson to someone who’ll walk into an intimidating room, confront her father, and move her business forward in spite of his efforts to derail her. Gio goes from a cheesy ladies’ man to a loving and supportive partner; you can see how much he cares and wants to protect her without being overbearing or controlling.

Rating: 4.5
Steam: Low to Medium
Themes and Tropes: Travel, Wine, Different Backgrounds
Pair with: Wine from Temecula Valley, CA

In The Blonde Identity, Zoe wakes up in snowy Paris in the middle of the night with a pounding headache, no idea who she is, and all kinds of chaos going on around her. She doesn’t know her name, has no idea why she’s in Paris, and has four Euros in her pocket. And is being told to run for her life, with people shooting at her. Mysterious Sawyer—is he a spy, CIA operative, bad guy, someone else—grabs her and tries to whisk her away from the shooters.

They flee together and keep running into one bad guy or another, and Zoe doesn’t even know who’s good and who’s bad . . . the Russian mobsters after a flash drive with massive secrets, the CIA ops who can’t be trusted, European law enforcement?

I liked Zoe and her resourcefulness and bravery, Sawyer wanting so much to be the good guy, and the hot dangerous guy—is he good or bad? The Blonde Identity is a fun, fast-paced romantic thriller–just enough danger and thrill to make it exciting and wild, just enough romance to kind of soften it up, and some great laughs thrown in to make it not deathly serious. So, in sum, sexy, thrilling, and funny at the same time.

P.S. Audio version was great!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Thriller/Action, Amnesia, Twin
Pair With: Wine that goes down fast and easy.

Dragged to the Wedding by Andrew Grey is HILARIOUS. Even when books are funny, I don’t usually laugh out loud while I’m reading them. This book is the exception. It broaches some serious topics, but really the book is all about fun while making sure we’re aware that people often go through not-fun experiences.

James—who’s gay—just wants to get through his sister’s wedding without causing waves in his conservative family. Particularly with his dictatorial and narrow-minded mother. So he lines up Daniel—aka Lala Traviata—a gorgeous drag queen to pose as Daniela, his lovely, straight girlfriend. He figures it’s easier to fake a girlfriend for a week than actually stand up to his mom and just tell her he’s gay.

Of course, it’s a fiasco from the start. Crazy things go wrong, and who solves most of the problems (some of which mommy dearest caused)? Daniel. Dragged to the Wedding has so many funny storylines—the reverend, the family issues, the growing feelings and affection—that all culminate in a perfect ending for this book.

A few things would have been nice. More dimension to the side characters, for one. Stereotypes abound: James’ mom is the classic domineering conservative woman who thinks she can cure James being gay. James’ dad is the husband who lets his wife walk all over him and doesn’t say much of consequence. Weston is the complete jerk best man with absolutely zero redeeming qualities. James’ sisters are fine, but bland.

This book isn’t designed to be earth-shattering and deeply serious—it’s a rom-com. Would a little more depth—especially on James’ experience as a gay cop—have been nice? Sure. But if you want a soul-searching and somber take on LGBTQIA+ issues, look elsewhere. There are some really meaningful moments and statements about gay kids coming out to their families, especially in a non-accepting environment, but the book doesn’t dwell on it.

I’m here for hilarity, development of James and Daniel’s relationship, and quirkiness. And, bonus, it’s a pretty quick read/listen. I did the audio version, and Joel Leslie does a great job. With some of the longer audiobooks, I can’t wait for them to finish, but Dragged to the Wedding could have gone on much longer!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: LGBTQIA+, Fake Relationship, Meddling Family, Wedding
Pair WithAZ Hops and Wines Drag Queen variety, which is “2022 Malvasia co-fermented with cascade hops… a beer dressed up as a wine!” Also, check out this post on DiVino: Glasss, Queen! 8 Wine and Drag Queen Pairings

I unexpectedly LOVED Unexpectedly Mine. It just had so much more than the typical accidental Vegas wedding and fake marriage story, and I was sucked in from the start. 

Romantic soul and wedding dress designer Emma crushes her Vegas fashion show on her birthday. She’s flying high until she sees her ex’s Instagram post that he’s engaged. So logical next step? Drink too much champagne and head to a male revue, of course, and then down a few shots for good measure!

Griffin’s been his little sister’s guardian for twelve years and put her through college—and himself through law school—by performing in a male revue. Responsible and grumpy, Griffin never hooks up with anyone from his shows, but he’s struck with the instant need to protect and know Emma.

Not only do they wake up married, but drunk Emma’s wedding video post goes viral and the happy couple is booked for an interview in New York by the “Anna Wintour of wedding fashion.” Can they fake it? Is it even fake anymore?

LOVED this book. The feelings are so real, and they both try so hard not to get their hearts broken but are they willing to take a chance? Emma and Griffin actually seem like real people, which is sometimes hard to find in romance books; they have flaws but genuinely care about each other and their families, and find a way to work things out.

Rating: 4.8
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Vegas Wedding, Fake Marriage, Family/Sacrifice, Slow Burn, Only One Bed
Pair with: Champagne or sparkling wine (and maybe a lemon drop shot?). For Emma’s famcy family, there’s always the classic Dom Perignon. For more realistic, consider Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne ($20) or Richebel Brut Sparkling Champagne ($10 at Total Wine).

Briana Ortiz: smart and successful emergency room doctor, soon to be divorced from a nasty ex, has a beloved brother in kidney failure, and now hears the decision on who’s getting the big promotion is being delayed so the new guy can be considered too. What?

Jacob Maddox: kind and loving soul, suffers major social anxiety and comes off as aloof and difficult, and left his old job to get away from his nasty ex-girlfriend who, of course, is now engaged to his traitorous brother.

So these two are dealing with some stuff and get off on the wrong foot. It looks pretty bleak until Jacob writes the cutest letter to Briana and she realizes, just maybe, Jacob isn’t so bad. So she writes him back, and you can see where this is going. They really start to get each other and develop a beautiful friendship.

Jacob finds out he’s a perfect match to donate a kidney to Briana’s brother and decides to do it. Briana finds out Jacob has the skankiest ex and most disloyal brother ever and needs a fake girlfriend to get him through the engagement party and wedding. And she’s happy to take the role.

As the fake (and real) relationship grows, this is the point where Yours Truly drags a little bit and why I can’t give it a straight-up 5. This is often the case with the fake relationship trope—each character wants it to be real but thinks the other person doesn’t, putting up walls and defenses for protection, and refusing to see what’s right in front of them or to take a chance with their feelings. Will they figure it out? Are they too scarred from their god-awful exes?  

Briana and Jacob are both lovely humans, but I have to say I’m on Team Jacob in this book. He is the most selfless, caring, lovely human being in just about any book I’ve read, so much so that my only criticism is that he maybe needs to grow a backbone and not let people walk all over him. If you’re looking for alpha caveman, this is not the guy for you. If you want an absolute sweetheart, grab this book ASAP.

Rating: 4.5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Letters, enemies to friends to lovers, fake relationship, toxic exes
Pair with: a wine subscription? Who knew there’s a Yours Truly Wine?

Successful romance novelist Fizzy is not feeling the romance anymore. She’s never been in love, doesn’t see it happening anytime soon, and feels like her whole persona is a lie.

For serious filmmaker Connor, his documentary career might be dead if he can’t do a complete 180 and create a hit reality dating show for his production company. He knows Fizzy is perfect for the role, but can he talk her into it and meet her wild (and hilarious) creative demands? Can he watch her date one hot contestant after another? Can she go through with it when she figures out where her heart is?

LOVED! The True Love Experiment put me back on the love side of the love-lukewarm relationship I have with Christina Lauren’s books. From start to finish, the characters and storyline drew me in and held on.

While I am so over the romance-novelist-as-heroine trope, Fizzy’s offbeat sense of humor and fun personality kept it from falling into the stereotype. There were a few annoying miscommunications (my biggest romance pet peeve), but they didn’t ruin it for me.

Without giving it away, just know the ending was spectacular—the outcome was predictable but the execution wasn’t, and it blew me away (the main reason I came close to 5 stars).

Rating: 4.8
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Proximity, Single Dad, Colleagues, Forbidden Love
Pair with: Rosé in a can, to remember Fizzy’s CVS run. Options include Archer RooseNomikai, or just whatever you can find at your local drugstore!

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.

Ziggy is the youngest in her family, youngest on the USWNT, and tired of her teammates and family treating her like a baby. She’s ready to kick ass on the field and in life, and to graduate from the kids’ table at family get-togethers. Sebastian is her brother’s self-destructive best friend and hockey star who desperately needs a reputation rebuild to keep his sponsors and his job.

So Ziggy needs some edge, Sebastian needs a reboot, and the duo decides to fake a friendship and get the type of exposure each wants. From the start, they want more but won’t give in; Sebastian knows he needs to get himself together and Ziggy knows she can’t push him too hard.

If Only You is the sweetest! Sebastian is a priceless gem and Ziggy is pretty cool too. I loved seeing a tall, athletic, and determined heroine, and watching Sebastian grow into an amazing person. There’s not a ton of emphasis on Ziggy’s soccer career; a game or two, and references to her travel and practice schedule, but not getting into the weeds. The Bergman family is lovely—just so many great people!

P.S. No super annoying third-act breakup. Woohoo!

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Slow Burn, Athletes/Sports, Fake Relationship, Friends to Lovers, Opposites Attract
Pair With: Wines that sponsor women’s soccer and other women’s sports. Consider Jacob’s Creek, which is sponsoring the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

City girl, wine buyer, and introvert Jenn finds herself in the Italian countryside scoping out Proseccos when she meets country boy, grappa distiller, and all-around good guy Tiziano. Of course he just happens to be the grandson of her B&B host and literally knows everyone in this tight-knit Italian community. He plays the happy-go-lucky goofball on the surface and hides his complexities and worries from the world, while Jenn comes across as aloof and keeps the world at arm’s length. Are they willing to let each other in?

The feeling in A Taste of Italian Sunshine is everything! It was so real and genuine, from the characters’ depth, the relationships across the community, and the glorious setting. You feel like you’re in Italy’s wine country experiencing the harvest, vineyards, tastings, and everything else.

The dialogue flows naturally and you can imagine the gatherings and conversations taking place; so often, dialogue is so stilted and you feel like the author is trying too hard—not the case here. And of course, Tiziano is adorable—not just handsome and sexy, but a deep guy beneath his laid-back surface.

I felt so connected to the characters and the story—the main reason I gave it 5 stars. Sometimes I get swept away by the setting, and a love story set among Italian vineyards in the countryside is right up my fairy tale alley. Still, it’s the characters, emotions, and feelings combined with that perfect setting that did it for me.

This was my first Leonie Mack book; I loved it so much that I’ve now read (and loved) them all. This one is tied with Italy Ever After for my favorite, at least for now!

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Small Town, Travel, Italy, Proximity, Opposites Attract
Pair With: Prosecco

Brilliant, energetic, and kind adjunct professor Mickey is fed up with the low pay and minimal respect she gets from the university, and stumbles into a bartending job that should help her pay the bills for the summer. Her boss, brooding (and grieving widower) Diego is taking online classes and his teacher is . . . Mickey of course.

They start off with the grumpy-sunshine-enemies(ish) vibe, but it’s clear early on that there’s some serious fire between them. I love the way their relationship builds, in some ways almost against their wills and in other ways exactly what they both need and want.

One great thing about this book is that the bumps they hit aren’t ridiculous, but real and fitting for the characters and the plot. And the bar crew—lots of fun banter and people who really care about it each other. I love when a book can really make a group of people seem like family.

On a separate note, the book did a great job highlighting the way colleges treat adjuncts—who are often brilliant and have valuable real-world experience and knowledge—as second-class professors.

Finally, I’d stick to the printed version. I did the audiobook, and the narrator was great for normal scenes but was too bland for the more dramatic scenes.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Teacher/Student, Boss/Employee, Forbidden Love, Widower
Pair With: Dive Bar drinks and cheap wine.

From the Publisher (liked this summary better than mine):

Nick Russo has worked his way from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood to a reporting job at one of the city’s biggest newspapers. But the late 1950s are a hostile time for gay men, and Nick knows that he can’t let anyone into his life. He just never counted on meeting someone as impossible to say no to as Andy.

Andy Fleming’s newspaper-tycoon father wants him to take over the family business. Andy, though, has no intention of running the paper. He’s barely able to run his life–he’s never paid a bill on time, routinely gets lost on the way to work, and would rather gouge out his own eyes than deal with office politics. Andy agrees to work for a year in the newsroom, knowing he’ll make an ass of himself and hate every second of it.

Except, Nick Russo keeps rescuing Andy: showing him the ropes, tracking down his keys, freeing his tie when it gets stuck in the ancient filing cabinets. Their unlikely friendship soon sharpens into feelings they can’t deny. But what feels possible in secret–this fragile, tender thing between them–seems doomed in the light of day. Now Nick and Andy have to decide if, for the first time, they’re willing to fight.

Yes! We Could Be So Good is SO GOOD! The storytelling is masterful, I feel like I live next door to the characters (and would love to be friends with them), and there’s much more to it than just romance.

A major theme of We Could Be So Good is the fear and danger that comes with being a gay man in 1950s New York, but it doesn’t make the book depressing. You get as much as genuine feel as you can of what real people like Nick and Andy had to deal with, but you also get hope, acceptance, love, and layers of complexity. 

You get not only the growth of Nick and Andy’s relationship, which is just lovely and sweet and fun to follow, but also their relationships with their families and friends, their professions, and finding their place in the world where they have allies and can be allies.

Rating: 5
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: LGBTQIA, Historical, Gay Relationship in the 1950s, Opposites Attract, Proximity, Colleagues
Pair With: Classic wines popular in the 1950s-60s, such as Bordeaux blends; also consider a classic cocktail like a gin & tonic, Manhattan, or Old Fashioned.

When nice, dorky, average comedy-writer Danny gets engaged to gorgeous actress Annabel, his fellow writer Sally has the perfect idea for a late-night sketch: a hilarious but also painfully true and well-established fact that an average-looking man can get a hot woman but an average-looking woman will never get a hot man (a.k.a. the Danny Horst Rule).

Sally’s not a romantic anymore and is willing to settle for decidedly unromantic occasional hookups when she can fit them into her busy schedule. When superstar musician hottie Noah is the show’s host and musical guest that week, he and Sally hit it off when they’re collaborating on sketches. But of course Sally knows this couldn’t be an actual romance—what sexy superstar known for dating models would be with a writer like her? See Danny Horst Rule 101.

If you ever wanted a glimpse into what Saturday Night Live might be like behind the scenes or have any appreciation for 30 Rock, this book is for you.

There’s also so much depth brought to the characters and really great relationships all around, social commentary that really hits the mark without going too far, and the perfect feminist themes running throughout.

Sally had me at her desire to “create characters who aren’t flawless but also aren’t ridiculous or incompetent at life.” Hot mess characters can be a lot of fun, but we also need characters who kick butt at life. Sally’s insecurities do get annoying after a while and could have been toned down a bit, probably the only reason I didn’t give it a full five stars, but overall this book killed it.

I listened to the audio version of this book and loved it—narrator did a great job and nailed the characters’ personalities.

Rating: 4.6
Steam: Average
Themes and Tropes: Celebrity, Letters and Emails, Proximity
Pair With: Non-Alcoholic Wines