• Bella Samuels

Summer Lovin': Romantic Reads For Summer

Updated: Jul 26

Some of the best books out there are romantic

Image: Getty Images

Romance books are good at any time of the year; in the autumn, when we’re getting our heads down at work or uni, and when the rain is at its worst. In the winter, when we need an escape from the cold and are feeling sentimental. And in the spring, when we’re feeling hopeful, romance just fits the bill. But most especially in the summer, a romantic book feels almost as quintessential to me as sun cream or BBQs.

The romance genre still seems to be synonymous with 'light-hearted', 'cheesy' and 'unrealistic' – for many, it conjures those traditional cover images of glistening, sweaty couples clinging together in highly uncomfortable poses surrounded by satin. Reading romance is seen as a guilty pleasure, as though the books are not as valid or worthy as other more serious, sombre types of book. But, as I’ll show you, some of the best books out there, which teach us about the world, different cultures and human dynamics, are romantic and can still give a hefty shot of dopamine.

Here are five romantic books I think are criminally underrated and that you should add to your summer reading list.


Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola

Image: Headline Publishing Group

Writer Babalola refers to herself as a ‘romcomoisseur’ and her love of the genre is evident in her first book, a collection of stories based on folktales from around the world, principally lesser-known African legends. She reframes and modernises the classic mythsk, not only, often, to make them more consensual than the originals, but also to bring the women and their emotions to the forefront. We see Nefertiti as a gangster/nightclub owner, Psyche as a publishing assistant, and Scheherazade as a political strategist.

My favourite was Siya’s story, based on an ancient West African legend. Traditionally, Siya was a damsel-in-distress princess saved by her betrothed, but in Babalola’s version Siya is a warrior queen whose partner is her army general. It’s a fun, entertaining and educational book, I learnt and laughed so much and devoured Babalola’s achingly beautiful descriptions of love in just a day.


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Image: HarperCollins

When Nikki is hired to teach creative writing at the Southall gurdwara, she is taken by surprise by the stories that her modest, mature students want to write: erotic stories! These women, now older and widowed, sit on the sidelines of their community and are not considered to have any further wants having once been married. In Nikki’s class, they explore new freedom in their roles and confide their experiences and most taboo fantasies with each other.

All the while, they grow conscious of the Brothers, a group of men who go to disturbing lengths to keep the morality of the community in check. It’s really hard to define this book; it’s literary in tone, sometimes dark and at times, perhaps unsurprisingly, erotic. But at its core, it’s about love – love blossoming and love not-quite lost. Nikki is finding her way, rejecting a traditional arranged marriage in favour of modern dating, and learning from these older women what happiness can be found behind closed doors, however skeptical she is.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is such a beautiful book about love and passion and how the instinctive desire for both doesn’t fade with age or loss. It’s also about friendship and family and how complex that sometimes can be. I read this book four years ago and I’ve not stopped talking about it since – I really don’t know why more people haven’t read it!


Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Image: Penguin

If you’re looking for a romantic read that’s straight-forwardly hilarious and unputdownable, look no further than Sex and Vanity. The Crazy Rich Asians author updates E. M. Forster’s classic A Room With A View to create the perfect Gossip Girl-Letters to Juliet-Pride and Prejudice summer spritz. American-Chinese Lucie meets George Zao at a wedding in Capri and they have a whirlwind fling which comes to a sudden halt after an unfortunate drone-spying incident.

Years later, when Lucie is about to become engaged to picture-perfect, New York-elite member Cecil, she and George meet again and struggle to control their feelings. From the very first page, you’ll be swept away to the blue sea and sky of Amalfi and completely enamoured with shy, sharp George. Ever-present is Kwan’s sassy narrating footnotes, snappier than ever, adding context and snide remarks to the drama. Inevitably, there’ll be some drab grey summer days ahead and Sex and Vanity is perfect to transport you elsewhere, laughing all the way.


His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Image: Simon & Schuster UK

My newest favourite book, His Only Wife had me in its grip a few weeks ago and I think I’m still digesting it. We meet Afi on her wedding day, excited to start her new life with her handsome husband and move away from her small hometown to buzzing Accra. The first problem arises here though - her groom, Eli, isn’t there. He’s away on business and his brother stands in to say his vows for him in a traditional Ghanaian ceremony; Eli’s family have chosen Afi as his wife in order to move his interest away from his long-time girlfriend who they dislike and reunite him with the family.

As Eli and Afi meet and get to know one another, the tension and their bond deepens into something electric. But Afi needs to find her way as his wife, the good daughter she’s always been and the independent businesswoman she’s trying to become. Afi’s non-linear, imperfect search for happiness is thrilling to read. It’s typical for a romance to culminate in a wedding, not start with one, so it was intriguing to read of a different route to happily-ever-after. With its twists and turns, and themes of familial duty, power and independence, it felt like a Jane Austen novel set in modern-day Ghana. His Only Wife is going to stay with me for a long time to come.


Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

Image: Janice Macleod

In her beautiful memoir, MacLeod recalls leaving her boring job in LA to go travelling in Europe. Her eyes are opened to a way of life which doesn’t lead to constantly impending burnout, she develops her talent for painting, and finds love in Christophe, a Polish butcher living in Paris. Janice beautifully conjures Paris, even if you’ve never been (which I hadn’t when I read this), and her illustrations are joyous.

The best thing about this book for me, though, is that it’s a real and living love story; Janice fulfilled all our Mamma Mia-style daydreams and went on an adventure to somewhere artistic and romantic, and made her own fairytale happen. Janice still lives in Paris with Christophe, now her husband, and their daughter. If you’re a romance sceptic, prefer true stories or want a little more adventure from your staycation this year, Paris Letters is for you.


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