“This Is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
The epic love story in Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s sci-fi novella “This is How You Lose the Time War” truly transcends time. Time travelers Red and Blue are soldiers on opposite sides of a war for control of the world’s timeline. They begin the story as bitter enemies, leaving letters scattered throughout history — written in a poisoned flower, or in the rings of an ancient tree — to taunt the other about their failures. But over the course of the novella’s 200 pages, Red and Blue’s letters slowly turn from rivalry to love. Entirely written through these letters, El-Mohtar and Gladstone have crafted a heartbreaking, sapphic, enemies-to-lovers romance that traverses space and time.
—Staff writer Samantha H. Chung can be reached at email@example.com.
“Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo is a master of crafting fantasy, and while all aspects of “Six of Crows” shine, the romance is truly exceptional. The six characters are all embroiled in relationships with each other, and while these pairings run the risk of being cliché, each pairing is so well-developed, nuanced, and satisfying that they are all deliciously romantic — and Kaz and Inej reign supreme. Kaz Brekker is a hardened genius criminal, his cane and black gloves that he wears at all times remain his armor against the world; Inej Ghafa is an acrobat who was freed by Kaz after being trafficked and sold to a brothel and has since become his silent spy and most loyal assassin. In their city full of con artists and crime rings, Kaz and Inej not only understand each other like no one else does but are utterly dependent on each other for advice and support. And yet, their relationship is uniquely beautiful due to the incredible restraint Bardugo exercises in bringing them together. Both have intense trauma related to physical touch, so even as both characters feel insatiable desire and affection for each other, their dark pasts prevent them from ever truly being physically intimate even as their emotional bond grows until they cannot bear to see the other in danger. Their love for each other endows both characters with more humanity, which both characters (but especially Kaz) initially reject because in a world where greed and deceit are what rule, compassion is a weakness — and yet a “weakness” that they both inevitably succumb to.
—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
This is not a romance novel. This is a hymn to friendship, to brotherhood, to grief. It’s a story of horrible trauma and horrible love — of agony and of pleasure. In 720 pages, we follow Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude — my poor Jude — as they learn to cope with the tragedies of life. They learn that to be human is to be broken. That sometimes, love is not enough. That not all damage can be healed. But most importantly, they learn that a little life — a little love — is better than none at all.
—Staff writer Najya S. Gause can be reached at email@example.com.
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
As someone who doesn’t typically read YA fiction, it can be hard to find queer love stories that I enjoy. “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, however, had me enthralled. Set in 1950s Hollywood, this fast-paced novel is told through an interview with former actress Evelyn Hugo, who tells the story of — you guessed it — her seven husbands. But beneath the comings and goings of men exists Hugo's heart-wrenching, passionate relationship with fellow star Celia St. James. If you enjoy the rich language of classic fiction yet seek stories of love between women, this one’s for you!
—Lola J. DeAscentiis
“Every Summer After” by Carley Fortune
Carley Fortune depicts a love story — one so endearing but also heartbreaking — that captivates readers from the very first chapter. From childhood friends to lovers and then strangers, Sam and Percy struggle to realize that they complete one another. From the moment Sam met Percy, an undeniable connection tied them together both literally and figuratively through their shared woven bracelets. Their friendship began when she made Sam a matching bracelet, which was a mutual reminder to keep their promises. Although the years passed, Sam never took it off as he hoped he would see her again. This story is about second chances and the journey it takes you on may lead you to discover that perhaps what you needed most was always right in front of you. This is my favorite romance novel. It breaks your heart and puts it back together again. Filled with warm memories on the lake and flashbacks of the main characters’ childhoods, you will not be able to put this book down.