On Book: Hot Stuff (5 Picks for July)

Think romance novels are junk? That’s OK — I did, too. But there’s no better time than summer for a fast and easy read.

If you’re new to the genre, here’s a starter list of well-written, sharp and funny tales to try out when you need some light reading. If you’re a seasoned pro, here are some great new titles to top your To Be Read list, whatever your desired heat level. 



Curing the Curses  

Just for the Summer
Abby Jimenez   

Appears locally next spring (see below)   

Now, you just tuck that little trash panda into your cleavage.
Quiets him right down.

Just for the summer, huh? Yeah, we all know how that’s gonna go.  

But it’s not really about the ending in Jimenez’s works. She’s a unique talent in creating full stories out of these slices of life, where the characters are humans with real families, everyday problems, and faded scars. So while the leading couple’s story here has humorous origins in a Reddit board, the problems (and feelings) wrapped into their so-called fake dates seem very real. It’s easy to root for these characters without feeling like you’re locked in some rom-com parallel universe. 

Her setups also don’t scream romance novel. The “island getaways” of this one could go really badly (a la horror or thriller), cutesy-sweet (romance), or somewhere in between (contemporary fiction, family drama). Overall, her books tend to have the latter groups in equal doses, but always threaded through with hope. Jimenez could probably write in whatever genre she wants. That she chooses a fun one is a happy thing for us, not a knock on her talent.

While Jimenez has quickly become one of the better-known novelists in the genre, I’m not sure she gets enough credit as a serious writer. Her character development and story creation are top-notch, enabled by her ability to write actual humans with problems they didn’t introduce for purposes of the fairy tale. They approach them with wit and humor, humility and heartbreak. They’re imperfect, they’re tired, and they’re still open to life. You’re in good hands with an Abby Jimenez book.

Want more? I’d start with last year’s Yours Truly (2023). Part of Your World (2022), which begins this loosely-linked trilogy, has character tie-ins that you might want to let simmer rather than jumping there right from Just for the Summer. The Friend Zone — the stand-alone debut novel and the trilogy of the same name — centers on a much different character cohort, so go there instead if you want a break from the nurses and doctors. (For some dish on Jimenez’s 2025 book and Easter eggs, visit The Creatorpreneur Diary here.)

Is it a coincidence that two of the best contemporary storytellers write so much about Minnesota? Probably. But in creating a sense of place from very different premises, their powers combined still feels a little magical. (See NWT’s review of J. Ryan Stradal’s latest Minnesota-set book here.)

Release date: 4/2/2024, from Hachette Book Group (Forever); 432 pages. Book info here

Author appearance: Abby Jimenez will speak in Seattle on 4/3/2025, part of the Seattle Arts and Lecture series, at Town Hall Seattle on First Hill (streaming option also available). See event info here.



Zodiac Sampler    

Looking for a Sign
Susie Dumond  

How did she go from distrustful to sobbing in a stranger’s kitchen so quickly?

I’m not much for astrology, but sometimes it can serve a pretty useful purpose. A story about dating through all 12 signs to see how you mesh with them, at the behest of a master deviner with a wandering pig who makes you chop okra while you’re getting advice? Definitely a useful purpose.

Sure, you might be able to guess where this is headed not too far into the project. But the journey stays fresh and new; the characters are very human; and it’s nice to watch the main character build up community as she finds out more about herself while starting over.

The heat is mild, despite the New Orleans setting. The dating disasters are top-notch. And it’s a great follow-up to Dumond’s 2022 debut novel, the Oklahoma-set and baking-centric Queerly Beloved.

Release date: 6/11/2024, from Penguin Random House (Dial Press); 336 pages. Book info here



On Base  

The Art of Catching Feelings
Alicia Thompson   

Sometimes she thought finding the perfect partner had less to do with who they were and more about how they made you feel. But how could you screen for that?

What’s more summer than baseball? Trope-ier than an enemies-to-love, mistaken identities, deep-dark-secret mashup? Steamier than the resulting hot mess? 

Thompson has a knack for putting her romances in settings that are both refreshingly unique and comfortably familiar — a D-list amusement park (With Love, from Cold World), some weird new-neighbor paranoia (Love in the Time of Serial Killers), or, as here, between ballpark floodlights and social media anonymity.

The chain of unlikely events that puts a drunk and remorseful spectator in touch with a crushed baseball star strains credibility, and the deception (however unintentional at first) does wear out its welcome. But the story nonetheless makes for a fun read, in part because the two seem good for each other, and in part because the frantic settings (professional sports and TV media) are storylines unto themselves. Throughout, as in her other books, Thompson’s writing is consistently sharp and witty.

Release date: 6/18/2024, from Penguin Random House (Berkley); 384 pages. Book info here



Sweet Little Lies

Love, Lies, and Cherry Pie
Jackie Lau   

The good thing about nearly passing out is that my mother loads me down with even more food than usual to bring home.

How best to get your hyper-persistent (aka “scary”) mom to stop nagging you? Do the thing she insists will make you a success. Or, at least, convince her you have.

So it begins for 33-year-old practically-a-spinster Emily Hung and her no-particular-reason nemesis Mark Chan. The sparks don’t exactly fly when their meddlesome families play matchmaker, but as a pairing the two are at least well-enough equipped to maintain the con. Predictably, fake-dating gets complicated as the feelings do.

A couple of things set this one apart from its tropes and into a really fun read. The extended families’ aggressive meddling and info superhighways are a comic plot unto themselves, akin to Jung’s mom trying to set him up with his ex in Kim’s Convenience (S1:E7). Emily’s underwhelming writing successes lend themselves to some great segues, as do her food-motivated tangents. The switch from single perspective to dual perspective, more than halfway through the book, is a weird and clunky transition; but otherwise, Lau’s writing has a nice flow that’s both easy and smart throughout.

Release date: 5/7/2024, from Simon & Schuster (Atria/Emily Bestler Books); 352 pages. Book info here



Steamy (sub)missive  

For Real
Alexis Hall 

I feel like I’m stuck in a reverse Alanis. Every time he scratches his nails down someone else’s back, I feel it.

Alexis Hall covers more spice levels within the genre than perhaps anyone else, writing pride prude meets insta-disaster (Boyfriend Material), workplace messes (10 Things That Never Happened), reality TV dramance (Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake), anxious wrecks (Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble; see NWT’s review here), grouchy old-young recluses (Waiting for the Flood), and fiery collisions (For Real), alongside an ever-growing cohort of pulpier and straight-to-ebook novels. All bring his trademark wit and queer protagonists.

This one, an expanded re-release, is definitely on the steamier side. Trying to get over an ex, Laurie (a dejected, over-the-scene sub) gets dragged along to a night out at a fetish club, where he unexpectedly hooks up with Toby, a not-so-confident younger Dom. From there, things move quickly.

The duo’s dynamic means there’s a power imbalance pulsing through nearly all of their exchanges (sexual and not), so readers uncomfortable with Dominant-submissive relationships should probably find a different read. For those a little more adventurous, For Real nicely melds a mighty juicy story with Hall’s usual cutesy couples, process-y conversations, and endearing Brit humor.

Includes 90 or so pages of bonus content at the end with a good window into Hall’s writing process. (The author’s website is another good source for extra content.)

Release date: 6/11/2024, from Sourcebooks (Casablanca); 512 pages. See book info here.  



Another round? 

For more romance readers and writers, check out Third Place Books’ virtual Radical Romance book club (2nd Mondays; next one 7/8) and Seward Park “Happily Ever After Hour” meet-ups (next one 7/24); Anna E. Collins’ book release talk at Third Place in Lake Forest Park on 8/13 (info here); and events and book clubs at the recently opened Charlie’s Queer Books in Fremont.


Hot tip 

Get a good sense of an author’s storytelling style by using Google Preview, as it shows a lot more pages (usually the first 40 or so for these novels) than other excerpts do.


Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.