Science fiction will always be my first love. I particularly like reading far flung futures where humanity still has a role to play in the galaxy, and tales set after the apocalypse, when we’re building something new. In between, I read almost everything, but I have a deep love for contemporary romance, especially stories set in small towns—which might seem odd when set against my science fiction preferences. But to me it’s quite simple. I love reading stories about humans being human, and we’re rarely so much ourselves when we’re gathered together in a small town with more family than should be allowed—found or related by blood and marriage.
Add in the weird neighbor who pulled his house apart and packed it into trash bags for the garbage collection (I’m not actually making this up), the shopkeeper who looks the same age as he did when you were a kid, the mysterious hermit who lives somewhere in the woods, your childhood crush, local legends, and the corner bar where everyone knows your name (and hasn’t forgotten that thing you did in high school), and there’s something comforting about slipping into a cozy contemporary—as if you’ve returned home, which I like to do between trips to the stars.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
I’ve never read a Kristan Higgins book I didn’t love, but this is one of her best. What makes Now That You Mention It so special is the setting: a small island of the coast of Maine. It’s about as small town as you can get, and still have enough characters to populate an entertaining story. The high school crush is there and everyone remembers the embarrassing stories.
I loved this book. From the first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph—the first line! It’s funny, deeply thoughtful, honest, romantic and just a damn fine story about a woman finally coming to terms with herself. And you can always count on Higgins to deliver a happy ever after.
Status Update (#gaymers #1) by Annabeth Albert
Annabeth Albert is my happy place and I love all of her books, especially her Rainbow Cove series, which is everything small town romance should be. But Status Update is a particular favorite. I’m not going to say it was the crock pots, but I’m also going to say it was the crock pots. I can’t help it. I’m a fan of the humble slow cooker and when you have not one but two of them in the same novel, and they’re used to perfection…
But we’re talking about romance. Status Update is a road trip novel, which involves another of my favorite tropes: close proximity. Noah and Adrian couldn’t be more different, but they each fill a need in the other. Albert also manages something else extraordinary in this traveling novel: a good sense of family. This romance is as cozy as it is entertaining.
Honestly Ben (Openly Straight, #2) by Bill Konigsberg
Openly Straight is a fantastic young adult contemporary romance. I loved author Bill Konigsberg’s examination of labels through the eyes of Rafe, a gay teen who’d like to be more than simply gay. And with the boarding school setting, there’s a lot of close proximity.
Honestly Ben is the sequel and I (honestly) didn’t expect to like it better than the first book, but I did, thanks to Ben’s faults. In some ways, bisexuality can be more difficult to come to terms with than being gay or straight because of all the questions. What I loved about Ben’s story was the, well, honesty of it. So often, bisexual protagonists are portrayed as mostly being attracted to one gender or the other, with only one predominant relationship—which, after all, is how a romance novel should read. But because Honestly Ben is a sequel, the author gets to play around a little, showing Ben’s struggle with his sexuality in a very thoughtful and real way, while still delivering the happy ever after fans of the series will be hoping for.
The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish
How about a small town setting and a holiday theme? This is the book that actually inspired me to create a holiday shelf on Goodreads, thereby acknowledging the fact I do read holiday romances. Occasionally. (More than occasionally.)
What I loved most about this story is how the pieces fit together. Alex and Corbin fit together in the way of epic love. You will feel as if these two are meant for each other and no one else, and you will sink into their happiness with relief because they found each other. Other high points: baking (because cake) and the small town vibe. Corbin won me over right away (because weird and lovely) and Alex is my kinda guy. I love characters who give.
Bittersweet (True North #1) by Sarina Bowen
A farm in Vermont, a gruff cider maker, more family than you can poke a sensible stick at, and a heroine who knows what she wants. Bittersweet isn’t actually my favorite Sarina Bowen book (although it’s close)—that distinction belongs to a novella in series, The Ivy Years: Blonde Date. But I’m trying to keep my list narrow here by limiting it to one or two tropes and I do adore the True North series.
Bowen doesn’t shy away from detailing just how much hard labor goes into a working farm, and the financial concerns facing not only the farmers, but the peripheral industries in her small town setting. I also admire the variety of characters she has gathered, allowing her to write a truly wonderful number of sequels to this long running series. But Bittersweet is where it all started, and I was immediately captured by the setting: the farm and the family and the feeling that no matter the challenges, the love of that family would see them through.
I’d love to recommend my favorite contemporary romances until this time next week, but we all have other things to do. And books to read. So, I’ll leave you with another short list:
Beyond the Surface by Felice Stevens—because even the city can feel like a small town when your neighborhood is there for you.
The Wanderer by Robyn Carr—because this is the book that introduced me to Thunder Point, where I happily dwelt for two years.
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole—because sometimes you want to read a Disney movie in book form.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman—because, yes, this is an epic love story, and just an all ‘round beautiful book.
About Chasing Forever:
Old wounds, new directions, and a forever worth chasing.
Malcolm Montgomery was a history teacher and track coach until an accident left him with two broken legs. He’ll recover, but life has knocked his feet out twice now. He’s not sure if he’s ready to try again, especially when it comes to love—and slick guys like Brian Kenway. Still, he needs help mentoring the school’s LGBTQ society, so he asks Brian to take some responsibility.
Brian has been hiding behind his reputation as a liar and a cheat for so long that he actually believes he’s that guy—until his nephew, Josh, turns up on his couch, tossed out for being gay. Brian has never considered being a father, but he knows all about being rejected by loved ones. Now Brian wants to be more: a partner for Mal and a role model for Josh.
But when Mal’s recovery is set back and the sad truth of Brian’s past is revealed, the forever they’ve been chasing seems even further from their grasps. It’ll take a rescue effort to revive their sense of worth and make Brian, Mal, and Josh into a family of their own.
About Kelly Jensen:
If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.
Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. Some of what she writes is speculative in nature, but mostly it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.
Connect with Kelly:
Facebook (Profile): https://www.facebook.com/kelly.jensen.7315
Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/kellyjensenwrites/
Giveaway information: Any ebook from Kelly Jensen’s back catalog!