The Best Clean Romance Books That Aren't Insipid

Looking for clean romance without all the sex scenes, but also aren’t dull and way-too-goody-two-shoes? They’re hard to find! For us, the best ones still have some chemistry but don’t feel the need for you to be in the middle of every intimate moment. Or those that take the time to build the characters’ personalities and relationship. And, really, the clean romances that offer a compelling plot beyond the romance are our favorites.

We don’t really love categorizing them as “clean,” but it seems to be the description of the moment, so here we go with a few clean romances that still have depth and legit characters.

For more reviews, please visit our Reviews page. 

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, Clean Romance
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. 

Our favorite of Mimi Matthews’ Belles of London series features Evelyn, a talented horsewoman with grand dreams not meant for fashionable ladies—racing and breeding horses. Add in Ahmad, a half-Indian gifted tailor who dreams of dressing the queen and going a day or two without dealing with racists, and you get instant attraction but many barriers…the perfect kind of clean romance. 

The two make a deal to help each other out—Ahmad will design cutting-edge riding habits to make Evelyn stand out, and she’ll wear them for all the fashionable people and send business his way.

Really loved this book for many reasons—the characters are lovely people; there’s more to the plot than just romance; Evelyn’s friends add some feel-good richness to the story; Evelyn is strong and determined; Ahmad is such an honorable guy. I can’t think of much I didn’t like!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Clean Romance, Instant Attraction, Business Partners, Class Differences, Racism
Pair With: Wines relating to horses. Check out this fun post about Throwing an Equine-Themed Wine Party

 

Tired of her famous and overbearing father, chef Tatum Elliott moves across the country to manage catering at Stonebrook Farm, where former culinary rival Lennox Hawthorne runs a wildly successful legit farm-to-table restaurant. Lennox always resented how everything was just handed to Tatum because of her father, and Tatum knows it but respects that he never kissed her ass like everyone else did. They notice each other’s hotness from the start but then really start to see each other.

How to Kiss Your Enemy is my favorite so far of the Hawthorne Brothers series. This clean romance is told so skillfully, the characters are interesting and relatable people, and you can feel their chemistry without all the bedroom scenes. Once they figure out they like each other, they really build each other up and both grow as a result.

Rating: 4
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Enemies to lovers, small town, close family, forced proximity, clean romance
Pair with: Try Fowles Farm to Table wines, including Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, all around $20/bottle.

Every Duke Has His Day might be my favorite Suzanne Enoch book—loved Michael and Bitsy, but I think the dogs are what did it for me! The season’s diamond, Bitsy, adores her ill-behaved poodle Galahad, much to the chagrin of her most ardent suitor (and slimeball), Peter.

Eccentric scientist and duke Michael—who has never fit in with society—reluctantly looks after his aunt’s poodle, Lancelot. After a mishap in the park, the dogs go home with the wrong owners but before they can switch back, there’s a dog-napping, throwing Michael and Bitsy together to solve the mystery. Hilarity ensues and they are each surprised at how much they enjoy the other’s company.

The book is a fun and original book in the crowded English historical romance category—there’s only so much anyone can do anymore with these, but Suzanne Enoch found a bit of uniqueness here. Bitsy is no shrinking violet, though I do wish she’d put Peter in his place from the beginning. Michael is quirky and direct, and slowly admits to Bitsy (and himself) how much he likes her.

I loved that they had an activity and a goal, rather than just the standard nonsense of balls and house parties, and that they worked together to solve it. Even the parts with the dog-napper were funny and added to the story.

Rating: 4.5
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Proximity, Mystery, Clean Romance
Pair with: Dog-related wines and labels that support canine causes, such as Rescue Dog Wines (50% of profits to rescue organizations). You can also take a look at Wine Enthusiast’s article on the subject.

 

Red String Theory: the ultimate fate-versus-free-will, opposites attract romance, and I am here for it!

Artist Rooney and NASA scientist Jack find themselves first in a Manhattan print shop with big time work issues. They meet-cute, click, and then off they go their separate ways. Both feel the loss—strangely, they think—until they coincidentally meet again that night. Is it fate? Rooney thinks so. Jack says no way—there’s no such thing as fate, life is just a series of choices. They share a magical night, but then it seems all is lost. But they find themselves together again where love is off-limits.

Or is it? Mostly, I loved Red String Theory. It felt different from many of the romances I’ve been reading lately. Rooney and Jack were the perfect romance characters: lovely, flawed people with so much to give, so much to learn, so much to find in each other. They share so many entrancing moments, with Jack trying to inspire Rooney to get her artist’s groove back, the two of them sharing dumplings along with secrets, gaining confidence, watching them quietly falling deeper in love. It’s just a beautiful story.

The fate versus free will gets to be a little extreme—Rooney’s 100% fate and Jack’s 100% free will, and both are set in their ways. That’s probably my only complaint and a minor one at that.

Audio version was great!

Rating: 4.5
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Fate v. Free Will, Opposites Attract, Forbidden(ish) Love, Clean Romance
Pair With: Fate Wines or Free Will Brewing Company

Hope Travers lives on her close-knit family’s large and prosperous estate where she runs the gin distillery, among other jobs. She needs her own space and decides to build a house on the estate, but when the crew breaks ground, they run into what looks like ancient ruins.

When university archaeologist Cameron Ferguson shows up to run the dig, they instantly gravitate toward one another. But as the dig progresses and family secrets are uncovered, things start to go wrong all over the estate, and Hope wonders what they’ve stumbled into.

Where We Belong has excellent main characters and a refreshingly good relationship between them. Hope is kind, thoughtful, and smart—and like lots of women, she gets sh** done! Cam is also a really thoughtful and smart guy, who comes from a working class background but has no chip on his shoulder and is striving toward his professional dreams. The best part? They act like adults, unlike so many romance novels! They are honest with each other and don’t play ridiculous games. Even though they have a little baggage, it doesn’t get in the way of their relationship.

The family secrets plot was interesting, but so much was left unresolved. Clearly the author is waiting for the next book in the series to tie up the loose ends, but there are a lot of them. A little more buildup of Hope and Cam’s relationship would have been nice, but I really can’t complain!

Rating: 4
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Close Proximity, Family Secrets, Small Village, Mystery, Clean Romance
Pair With: Craft Gin

Big bad corporate coffee company moves into small town to take over and drive the local shop out of business. Ouch. What happens when you find out the guy behind the company, Oliver, is the same hot guy you’ve been ogling and who never mentioned who he was. For Marlowe, whose family owns the local place, lots of mixed feelings, enemies vibes, escalating hatred and something else…

There’s a ton of up and down—lots of reasons to hate Oliver balanced by a few reasons to like him, some fun pranks, his truly awful mother. It was a little hard to warm up to him, not just because he’s there to swallow up local businesses but because he’s just so deceptive and too stuck on pleasing his mother.

Overall, it was a cute if unmemorable book. It was great for a fun, clean, breezy read, but isn’t going to stick in my brain long-term.

Rating: 3
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Instant Attraction, Small Town, Corporate Versus Local, Clean Romance
Pair With: Wines from family-run Washington vineyards.

Being accused of murder is the last thing Audrey, a young dowager duchess, expects when she gets off her ship in Dover. But accused—and detained—she is, and it’s a race to figure out what happened and who the actual murderer is. Viscount Hugh, the man she loves, shows up along with others to prove her innocence. As they uncover more secrets, encounter more danger, and learn that someone knows their secrets, the picture becomes clearer. But can they figure it out in time?

Loved Audrey and Hugh’s relationship! They are so honest with each other, play zero games, and respect each other. Shocker—characters in a romance act like adults, speak their minds, and there’s no miscommunication! Even though each had some insecurities about the other’s feelings, they don’t let their insecurities control them and stand in the way of getting answers and finding love.

Bigger than the romance is the mystery plot—secrets, lies, more murders, kidnappings, smugglers, and directions this can go. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, but I liked this aspect of the book as much as the romance. It moved quickly and kept me on the edge of my seat.

I haven’t read the other books in this series and still enjoyed it, but wondered if I’d have gotten more out of it by reading the others first. Maybe I’ll read them and find out!

Rating: 4
Steam: None/Closed Door
Themes and Tropes: Mystery/Crime/Thriller, Secrets, Widow, Collaboration, Loving Relationship, Clean Romance
Pair With: Try a mystery pack of wine, such as Prisoner Wine Company Unshackled Mystery 6-pack or Inside the Cellar Mystery Wine Box 3 Pack.

The countess and the gardener, only he has no idea who she is…

After a completely BS scandal, all Jess wants is to escape to her Highlands castle and hide away from the world in peace. It would be WAY better if no one knew she was there, especially since everyone in the village hates her family. So instead of Jessamine, Countess of Cheshire, she’s just plain old Jess.

And she meets Mac, who’s gruff (and sexy) on the outside, but kind, warm and loving all the way around. Mac is the passionate estate gardener who adores the grounds and flowers, and also is devoted to his 12-year-old foster son, Arran. Jess and Mac notice the attraction, but it takes a while to get going, and going. All the while, Jess keeps her secret…

I mostly LOVED the book. I adore Mac—what a giving and unselfish person who cares so much about everyone else, especially Arran. I understand Jess too, and why she wanted to keep her identity secret, but it goes WAY too far, and so much of the book is spent obsessing over it. She has so many chances to be honest and chickened out, and seriously, how would Mac not have found out? I would have rated the book over a 4 if the secrets and lies hadn’t dragged out so long.

Summer at the Scottish Castle also explores LGBTQ+ issues, both with Jess and Mac discussing bisexuality and, more at the forefront, Arran finding a place as non-binary. There is a strong message of acceptance and people being free to figure out who they are and how they want to be seen. It was unexpected and nice to see.

Now, if only I could go off to live in a castle in the Scottish Highlands!

Rating: 3.5
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Escapist, Travel, Scotland, Opposites Attract, Different Worlds, Secrets/Lies

Poor, delusional Eli thought he’d met his dream girl in Victoria, but couldn’t see the signs that she was selfish and completely uninterested in settling down with him. Enter his sister and her friends to give him a makeover under the guise of winning her back, when hopefully he can just move on. Poor, sweet Leah is taking on whatever jobs she can find to save her money and get out of this town after her foster mother dies. Somehow she gets sucked into the Eli makeover, and they start spending lots of time together…

The story is super cute, except also super annoying that it takes forever for Eli to see what’s right in front of his face—too long if you ask me. Some of the pining and whining just got too ridiculous and really needed to be cut. And really, the friends needed to just give him some tough love and snap him out of it, or at least try. Otherwise, really adorable people, moments, and sweetness.

Rating: 3
Steam: None
Themes and Tropes: Lessons, friends to lovers, love triangle, small town, foster kid, clean romance
Pair with: Upstate New York wines. The Finger Lakes region of New York is known for Rieslings but also have some surprisingly good Cabernets and other wines. Possibilities include:

  • Ravines 2017 Dry Riesling ($19)
  • Swedish Hill Dry Riesling ($15)
  • Bloomer Creek Vineyard White Horse Red Blend (Cabernet Franc and Merlot, $28)
  • Red Tail Ridge Winery – range of wines from $16-$50.