Well, folks, it’s that time again: Valentine’s Day is approaching and romance recommendations are already flooding the internet. On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; romance novels are awesome, and more people should be reading them at every available opportunity. The problem comes when these lists include books that are, in fact, literary fiction with a through line that could maybe be considered romance if you tilt your head and squint. (It’s how we end up getting lists consisting of books like Lolita and Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights — not exactly containing that “happily ever after” that the actual romance genre is known for.)
Hence this list, offered as an antidote to those unsatisfactory endings, but with a fun twist! We’re recommending romance novels based on the rom-coms they could be easily paired with — say, if you’re planning on staying in this Valentine’s Day and want to enjoy a thematically appropriate double feature. Or maybe you love all of the movies on this list and are looking for romance reads that offer more of the same. We’re not here to judge your reasons, but we won’t apologize for adding to your TBR pile either.
If you love The Wedding Planner
The rom-com starring J.Lo and Matthew prior to his McConaissance turned 20 this year (gulp), and though it premiered to overall mixed reviews, there’s something innately charming about the concept of a wedding planner at the top of her professional game who just can’t seem to get her own love life in order. Enter Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man, a rom-com about a wedding coordinator who was literally left at the altar — and, yes, she’s aware of the irony. Since then, Carolina Santos has made a name for herself in her field, and when she’s offered the chance to impress a hotel chain with what she can do, she’s not prepared for the obstacle that shows up to throw a wrench in her plan: her ex’s brother Max, a.k.a. the best man at her own failed wedding. Being forced to work with the guy who made her a jilted bride is one thing, but what happens when the sparks between them may not be ones of loathing after all?
If you love She’s All That
How many rom-coms are based around the premise of a bet? Sometimes, it’s a conceit that can be a little too mean, especially in the case of the 1999 film starring Freddie Prinze Jr. as the jock who bets his a-hole friend that he can make over the nerdiest girl in school (Rachael Leigh Cook). Although Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, a verifiable classic in contemporary romance, does start out with a wager as the title implies, there’s nothing mean-spirited about the love story between Minerva Dobbs and Calvin Morrisey — and unlike the movie that inspired this pick, Min knows about the bet from the beginning, which is incredibly refreshing. Not only is this a romance, but it’s a terrifically funny story about friendship, found family, and acceptance.
If you love Pretty Woman
One of the best things about romance novels is their ability to breathe new life into a classic love story just by flipping the script in a few ways. The Pygmalion trope (as seen in films like My Fair Lady and Pretty Woman) tends to revolve around the lower-class female character in need of an image adjustment by a man of privilege, but Helen Hoang’s romance debut reinterprets this through a lens we’ve never seen before — to completely swoony effect. Stella Lane has experience with numbers and, well … that’s just about it. But as a woman dedicated to her career, who also has Asperger’s, the dating game — not to mention getting physical with anyone — is something she doesn’t have any level of comfort with. Her solution? She’ll hire an escort. The first time Michael Phan sets eyes on Stella, he knows he can’t do anything other than accept the terms of this amazing woman’s arrangement, but as the two gently explore all the physical comforts of a relationship together, they start to develop an even deeper connection than either of them might be entirely prepared for.
If you love Runaway Bride
Are you noticing a trend in Roberts/Gere–led rom-coms yet? Much of the time, romance novels end in a wedding — but that’s definitely not the case in Tessa Bailey’s Runaway Girl. Naomi Clemons is about to get hitched, but the day of, she comes to the conclusion that being the perfect trophy wife isn’t what she wants, not really. The southern belle and former beauty queen goes on the run, only to end up on the front doorstep of the last person she expected to meet. Special Forces hero Jason Bristow needs a pageant coach for his little sister, and Naomi is exactly what he needs. As the two spend a steamy Florida summer together, Jason comes to the realization that he’s going to need to convince the woman of his dreams to stay — because she might be thinking about trying to win back her ex-fiancé after all.
If you love When Harry Met Sally
Is there anything more adorable than two people who insist they’re only just friends, even when the rest of the world can clearly see they’re MFEO? The protagonists of Christina Lauren’s 2018 romance Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating definitely fall prey to this misconception about themselves — especially when they’re only denying the truth that’s right in front of them. Hazel Bradford and Josh Im have known each other since college, and they’re clearly a case of opposites attracting. She’s wacky and absurd; he’s calm and restrained. Fast-forward ten years later and Josh has just gotten out of a terrible relationship, so he and Hazel proceed to set each other up on blind dates — but what if they might be deliberately trying to sabotage each other’s chances at love?
If you love How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Okay, this one is a bit of a gimme (and a clear indication that McConaughey really was a presence in this genre for a time), but if you want an updated version of the 2003 rom-com with a book that really nails the feeling of dating in today’s world, look no further. Journalist Jack Nolan has made his career on going viral, but the media company he works for isn’t interested in any of his long-form pitch ideas. As a last-ditch effort, he agrees to write one more fluff piece for his boss: how to lose a girl. But when he meets event planner Hannah Mayfield, he comes to the conclusion that she’s the kind of woman he wants to spend more time around. Meanwhile, Hannah’s stuck; she’s trying to prove that she’s capable of taking on more at the office, up to and including planning weddings, but lacking a serious relationship means that her boss doesn’t take her seriously either. When Jack approaches her in a bar, she decides he’s the perfect candidate for proving that she can handle a romance. They might be using each other, but what happens when they both want their fake relationship to turn into the real thing?
If you love You’ve Got Mail
Just like in the classic Hanks-Ryan flick, author Courtney Milan uses the device of anonymity, especially over the internet, to spark some surprising revelations when the people on either end of the virtual conversation realize their relationship IRL is very different. In person, Jay na Thalang and Maria Lopez have already concurred they don’t like each other at all — but online, things are a different story. Maria’s once anonymous blog is starting to gain some notoriety, and she’s made a point to protect her identity, even to the person she’s been emailing back and forth for 18 months. What started as a friendship is gradually becoming something more than that, but Maria doesn’t know that her mysterious commenter is Jay, and more than that, neither of them realize that they’ve been opening up to someone they thought was their enemy all along.
If you love This Means War
Look, we all know that in a different, more perfect world, this film would’ve ended with Reese Witherspoon dating both Chris Pine and Tom Hardy (and, okay, maybe both of them dating each other, too) — because the only logical solution for a love triangle is for everyone to kiss. Katrina Jackson’s first book in her The Spies Who Loved Her series will happily scratch that itch and then some. Once upon a time, Sierra sort of tripped and fell into working as the personal assistant to a pair of married spies — both of whom she’s not so secretly been crushing on for years. The week she decides to put in her notice, her bosses whisk her overseas on a secret mission, and through the course of a high-stakes assignment, both the danger and the sexual tension skyrocket to epic proportions.
If you love The Lovebirds
The real beauty of the 2020 Netflix rom-com starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae is that even through the shenanigans of their wild night running from the law, the core of the story is about a relationship where both people choose to give things a second chance. House Rules by Ruby Lang is full of that same dynamic, but kicks the angst factor up a notch in that the main couple has actually gotten divorced prior to the story. Seventeen years ago, Simon Mizrahi and Lana Kuo called it quits, but when their paths cross while they’re both apartment hunting, Lana proposes they live together … platonically. What’s the worst that could happen? They agree to a three-month deal, and once they’re in close quarters, they start to remember all of the reasons they were good together, but they’re also on a ticking clock. Will their stroll down memory lane be a temporary one, or will they reunite for good?