Hello! After I posted my last blog post with upcoming contemporary South Asian novels, a couple of people wanted me to do a post with recommendations of books that have already come out. I was originally going to post just South Asian contemporaries, but then I felt like romance novels was a better fit. On that note, happy first day of summer!
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
I read this book last year when it first came out and reread it recently and it still holds up well during a reread. It features a queer romance with enemies-to-lovers, plus the main character is Bangladeshi and the love interest is Brazilian! I have a review up for it too if you’re interested in checking it out.
The Dating Plan by Sara Desai
Daisy Patel is a software engineer who understands lists and logic better than bosses and boyfriends. With her life all planned out, and no interest in love, the one thing she can’t give her family is the marriage they expect. Left with few options, she asks her childhood crush to be her decoy fiance.
Liam Murphy is a venture capitalist with something to prove. When he learns that his inheritance is contingent on being married, he realizes his best friend’s little sister has the perfect solution to his problem. A marriage of convenience will get Daisy’s matchmaking relatives off her back and fulfill the terms of his late grandfather’s will. If only he hadn’t broken her tender teenage heart nine years ago…
Sparks fly when Daisy and Liam go on a series of dates to legitimize their fake relationship. Too late, they realize that very little is convenient about their arrangement. History and chemistry aren’t about to follow the rules of this engagement.
I don’t read too much adult romance but if they all have the same energy as this book, I want to read more. The two main characters go from childhood friends to lovers before Liam disappears and returns, at which point Daisy hates him but is forced to pretend to be dating him when her previous boss, who stole her last boyfriend, and seems to enjoy being the mean girl in Daisy’s life, tries to make a move on him. From there, it only escalates as her family finds out and she’s forced to keep up the charade.
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.
Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…
What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.
Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.
But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.
I wouldn’t call this enemies to lovers but it’s definitely rivals to lovers. Wes just wants to make friends and unwittingly makes an enemy out of Valerie, who is the business brain behind her joint enterprise with her cousin. Also there’s lots of complicated family dynamics with Valerie and her grandmother being super close versus her mother’s constant disapproval, while Wes is dealing with his parents’ dislike of him wanting to pursue music as a career.
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all.
I don’t think I ever wrote a review for this book because there’s just so much going on that I got overwhelmed and gave up. The book explores family dynamics of an Asian family, the gaping difference between the well off Asians and the ones struggling to make their American Dream a reality. There’s also high school, mentions of AP classes, the need to have your parents’ approval, cultural differences, and also some fake dating. Out of every young adult book I’ve read, this one resonated the most with me in terms of basically everything. I think David Yoon is very in tune with current Asian-American culture and that’s really reflected in the tone of the narrator.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
I just started this one so I don’t have too much to say but lesbian romance??? Asian-American main character??? I love it. Malinda Lo is such a good writer.
Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch
Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.
When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.
Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.
I opened this book expecting a cute romance but it was so much more than that. First of all, I love that Welch has a completely different setting for each of her books, and this one takes place in Greece! The book focuses more on her relationship with her father ever since he left her and her mom to go back to his homeland, and less on romance. I love all the books that Jenna Evans Welch writes because they’re marketed as lighthearted romances, but there’s more character development than I see in a typical romance novel, and there’s always a family element of some sort that just makes the book perfect. I do have a review up for this book, check it out!
Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.
What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.
Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…
For anyone that doesn’t know, I’m a Jenn Bennett stan. I’ve absolutely loved every single one of her books and I’ve never rated any of them less than 5 stars because they’re all amazing. I do have a review up for this book already if you want to see my ramble about how much I love it.
The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel
Liya Thakkar is a successful biochemical engineer, takeout enthusiast, and happily single woman. The moment she realizes her parents’ latest dinner party is a setup with the man they want her to marry, she’s out the back door in a flash. Imagine her surprise when the same guy shows up at her office a week later — the new lawyer hired to save her struggling company. What’s not surprising: he’s not too thrilled to see her either after that humiliating fiasco.
Jay Shah looks good on paper…and off. Especially if you like that whole gorgeous, charming lawyer-in-a-good-suit thing. He’s also arrogant and infuriating. As their witty office banter turns into late night chats, Liya starts to think he might be the one man who truly accepts her. But falling for each other means exposing their painful pasts. Will Liya keep running, or will she finally give love a real chance?
This is one of the last books I read this year and it’s safe to say that it’s at the top of my list in terms of how good it is. I wrote a short little Goodreads review about it, but there’s not much else to say, you just have to experience it. I’ve recommended this book to literally all of my IRLs.
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Making book lists are so time consuming, props to all of you that do it frequently! Are any of these books on your TBR?