Why you should care
Because you’ve watched 'Pretty Woman' 12 times already, it’s time for something new.
As the season changes into fall, there’s something soothing about turning on a reliable romantic comedy, whether you’re a fan of Bridget Jones or prefer the other Mr. Darcy. “The comfort of knowing that everything is going to be all right by the end, no matter what, provides a very appealing escapist fantasy,” says Beatriz Oria, professor of film studies at the University of Zaragoza.
But while “[the rom-com] has not been particularly popular during the 2010s, at least on the big screen,” the rom-com novel has been wheedling its way onto the New York Times best-seller list. And it’s been shaking off a tired image, by introducing diverse characters and replacing covers of half-naked men with bold colorblocking and sweet-cute illustrations. Why the rise in popularity? It could be “connected with the scarcity of cinematic rom-coms during the 2010s,” Oria explains, as well as the rise of e-readers.
So if you were planning to spend your autumn nights revisiting Pretty Woman or Love Actually for the 12th time, why not try digging into a new rom-com read instead?
If You like Love Actually, read Star-Crossed
Minnie Darke’s debut novel Star-Crossed (2019) cleverly interweaves several narratives — much like film favorite Love Actually (2003) — except in this case it’s astrology (not mutual friends and distant relations) that brings characters together. After the stars align to bring childhood sweethearts — horoscope obsessed Aquarius Nick and skeptical Sagittarius Justine — back into one another’s lives, it’s actually protagonist Justine who begins to believe in (and meddle with) the power of the stars to win over her would-be beau. But the ripple effect is real, as Darke reveals with slivers of seemingly unrelated stories that demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of Justine’s interference.
If you like Pride and Prejudice, read Ayesha At Last
Hijab-wearing supply teacher and aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi and bearded, robe-wearing e-commerce project manager Khalid Mirza are the Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy of this 21st-century Canadian-Muslim riff on Pride and Prejudice (1995). But Ayesha At Last (2018), Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut, is no second-rate rip-off. The calamitous miscommunications, mistaken identities and charming romantic reassessments set in present-day Canada feel surprisingly fresh — even sans sex scenes. And the book’s careful slow-burn build brings the tangible frisson between Ayesha and Khalid to a satisfying climax of a different kind.
If you like Sweet Home Alabama, read Don’t You Forget About Me
The barroom brawls, outspoken friends and rekindling of old flames in Don’t You Forget About Me (2018) invite comparisons with Sweet Home Alabama (2002) … that is, if Reese Witherspoon had a Sheffield accent and a penchant for fluffy pink coats. Protagonist Georgina is languishing in grief and unfulfilled ambition when her first love — brooding Irish barman Lucas — makes an unexpected reappearance, although he doesn’t seem to remember who she is. And it’s a testament to author Mhairi McFarlane’s light comedic touch that such boner-killing topics enhance rather than detract from their burgeoning romance.
If you like Pretty Woman, read The Kiss Quotient
Skip Pretty Woman’s (1990) problematic depictions of sex work for an inspired, gender-swapped and neurodivergent take on the classic big-screen rom-com. In Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient (2018) our 30-year-old autistic protagonist Stella decides to take matters into her own hands, hiring male escort Michael to help her on a checklist-fueled quest to Get Good At Sex (she has checklists and everything). But, despite promising otherwise, she quickly develops an obsession with her hunky Friday night friend. Ultimately, Hoang crafts a charmingly innocent romance … with the odd bathroom-break quickie thrown in for good measure.
If you like When Harry Met Sally read The Wedding Party
Jasmine Guillory’s third novel sealed her status as the queen of contemporary romance when it unexpectedly shot onto the New York Times best-seller list in early 2019. Much like When Harry Met Sally (1989), it certainly wasn’t love at first sight for Maddie and Theo in The Wedding Party (2019) but their sniping is quickly replaced by stress-relief shagging as they work together to plan mutual best friend Alexa’s wedding. Known for her smart Black leads and racy writing, each of Guillory’s romances interlock but can also be enjoyed as stellar standalone reads.
More suggested rom-com reads
- Swap any Nora Ephron film for Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey (2019)
- Swap Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) for Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (2015)
- Swap Dirty Dancing (1987) for Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (2017)
- Swap Roman Holiday (1953) for Royally Lost by Angie Stanton (2014)
- Swap 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) for The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (2016)