Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

Review of “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Maurene Goo

Goo, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0374304089 | 323 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4 stars

The Way You Make Me Feel is another delightfully adorable book by Maurene Goo. Once again, like with her previous effort, there is this wonderful depiction of diverse characters, with a fascinating cultural trend at its heart. I loved getting a “taste” of Korean/Brazilian fusion cuisine and the ins and outs of running a food truck.

The characters and plot felt a little bit more uneven this time around, however, with my initial confusion that the romance seemed to be heavily promoted, when it was distracting from the elements I was really interested in, which was Clara’s overall growth and her evolving relationships with her dad and enemy-turned-friend, Rose. However, as Hamlet’s place in the story grew more prominent, I began to understand it a little more, but I can’t help but wonder if the story was made into a romance just because it sells, because the story had a lot to reckon with in terms of these evolving relationships, and I felt it could have benefited from a narrower focus on things that assisted Clara’s growth of character.

I do admire that this story features a heroine who is a bit unlikable at first, even if I was prepared to dislike her, as it made her journey much more rewarding. I love what an exploration into her family’s dynamics reveals about her personality and why she is the way she is, with the experiences of growing through doing real work and seeing the bad parts of herself mirrored back to her motivating her to change.

Having read both books, I’ll say if you read and enjoyed I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I wouldn’t go into this with as high expectations that it will measure up completely. But I do recommend anyone this book to anyone who’s looking for a lighthearted and funny contemporary that also has just the right amount of heartfelt emotion mixed in.

Review of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by Maurene Goo

Goo, Maurene. I Believe in a Thing Called Love. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | 978-0374304041 | 325 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

I picked up this book primarily because in doing research for the Ripped Bodice’s Summer Bingo, it came up as a suggestion for a soccer-related romance, and not being a fan of sports, my curiosity was piqued at the book’s main subject matter being Korean dramas, as years before discovering romance novels, I had a passing interest in some of these. And while, like the dramas themselves, this book is a little out there at times, especially when you combine it with the sometimes overly dramatic mindset of teenagers, this was a charming and lovable book.

I love that even though Desi is shown to be good at a lot of things, the focus on her quirks makes her a more likable character instead of being someone who is completely unrelatable. I could empathize with her unorthodox method of getting the attention of and pursuing a relationship with Luca, given her lack of experience with dating, and her antics provided me with a lot of laughs along the way. And I also agree with Ellen Oh, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, when she says that relationship between Desi and her father is “my absolute favorite part.” I loved seeing the dynamic between a single-parent father and his daughter, and how they grow even closer through their shared love of K dramas.

Luca also blew me away as a love interest. In the early chapters of the book, I was uncertain about him, given that he seemed to be the typical romance bad boy with a dark past. But as the story went on, and his problems were addressed, even resolved, like his difficult relationship with his father, I found myself happy that Goo defied some of the more troubling romance tropes. And through it all, even when he is hurt by her plan, he truly does care about Desi, given the way he not only appreciates her quirks, but the number of times he risks his life for her.