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Kennedy Ryan's new novel, plus 4 other new romances by Black authors

NPR

Black romance authors have been some of the leading advocates for change in the books industry.

Despite a notoriously racially stratified, exclusionary history and the TikTok algorithms that can help books go viral sometimes reinforcing lines of division, there's a long tradition of Black authors and readers steadfastly bucking the system — leveraging mutual support networks and self-publishing platforms are just two of the strategies they've employed. As a result, the ranks of Black romance writers are broader, deeper and more diverse than ever before. From tropey romantic comedies and bell-Hooks-inspired journeys of growth to magical realism, Black authored romances are ripe for discovery.

Here are a few of the newest great reads, including This Could Be Us — the latest by bestselling author Kennedy Ryan, which hits shelves Tuesday.

This Could Be Us

In true Kennedy Ryan style, this is a gorgeously grown-up romance and a story about self-love and reinvention for fans of Ryan's Before I Let Go and the messy, Real Housewives-like shocks of Regina Black's The Art of Scandal. Stay-at-home mom Soledad Barnes must reinvent her whole life when the partnership she built her life around is burned to the ground by her cheating, thieving, white-collar criminal husband. With three daughters to support and no access to the family coffers, she relies on domestic-goddess-level homemaking skills and close friends to keep them afloat.

Though This Could Be Us is a woman's story about survival, self-reliance, self discovery (fueled in part by her reading of bell hooks' All About Love), and romantic love, Ryan does an excellent job drawing Soledad's undeniable yet highly inconvenient new love interest. As Soledad focuses on starting over, the one complication she didn't expect was that the man who exposed her husband's crimes would be so distracting — or their chemistry so strong. In alternating chapters, we see them grow on their own and towards each other. This is a great novel for readers who appreciate multilayered romantic fiction with elements of domestic drama, scandal, and inspiration.

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde

Tia Williams is a superlative author constantly testing her own boundaries, innovating with each new book. Sparkling, heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, this magic-infused Harlem Renaissance-inspired novel about kindred spirits who have a magnetic attraction despite being from different worlds marks a new direction from her wildly popular Reese's book club pick Seven Days in June.

Ricki Wilde, the odd duckling of a prosperous Black Atlanta family, goes north to open a florist in Harlem and meets the love of her life — an enigmatic musician who came of age in the 1920s — in a community garden. One of Williams' superpowers is that she draws these gifted, anxious people with striking precision. Ricki's alienation stems from having a myriad of talents yet being "terrible at one very important thing. Being a Wilde." Traces of the doubts her family has sowed lived rent-free in Ricki's thoughts: "She simply felt misplaced. Like a duck raised by squirrels." In contrast, Ezra Vaughn Percival "Breeze" Walker's problems are rooted in deep grief, and being a Black man from the Jim Crow South. After fighting in World War I, he returned home a decorated soldier and "changed man," daring to hope that "America had changed, too." Instead, he got "the Red Summer;" when "All over the country, white mobs unleashed horrific violence on Colored communities, proving a point to uppity soldiers who dared hope for equity." After unspeakable loss, for Breeze "Jazz was freedom. But grief was his fuel." After a life filled with loss, Ricki becomes his redemption. Ezra and Ricki's love story is one for the ages.

Lore of The Wilds

In this absorbing romantasy debut by Analeigh Sbrana, a young human woman is surprised to be caught in a potentially dangerous situation with two very different Fae men. Lore Alemeyu is a talented, 21-year-old apothecarist in Duskmere, a village surrounded by an enchanted forest that keeps humans in isolation and poverty. Shortly after an unusual visit from a haughty Fae noble, a devastating earthquake leaves the home of Lore's family (and the orphans they care for) in ruins, and Lore agrees to help the Fae Lord Syrelle with a project in exchange for aid. The nobles have a valuable but inaccessible royal library that has gone untouched for ages.

Despite the myths that hold humans inferior, to the Faes' amazement, Lore can read and translate their language. And, unlike the Fae for whom the library could be deadly, Lore can also walk through the library's doors without harm. It's lonely work among people who despise her, but the real danger may be losing her heart. Lore is drawn to both Asher, the handsome and gruff yet kind Fae guard (with eyes that "look like molten lava"), who volunteers to watch over her, and also to his thornier, more skeptical and deadly friend Finndryl. This intriguing debut hits all the right notes in the hottest genre niche of the year — and could be a breakthrough hit of the season.

The Partner Plot

There's something warm and reassuring about Kristina Forest's romcoms — like a hug, chocolate mousse, and your favorite glass of merlot all in one. The second in a series about a trio of sisters, The Partner Plot delivers that most popular and improbable of romantic tropes: accidental fake dating. Here, a former prom king and queen who abruptly lost sight of each other in college shack up for professional reasons — and close proximity rekindles dormant sparks.

Two weeks shy of her wedding day, high glam stylist to the stars Violet Greene was on the fast track to achieving her personal and professional dreams until she suffered a brutal public humiliation via a viral video of her fiancé hooking up with her client. Months later, she spins a brief, sexy run-in with her ex-boyfriend Xavier Wright into a full-on reunion to the media to try to save face. Then an injury lands Violet back home where her ex still lives, and she has to either confess to the lie, or run with it. Luckily, being in a relationship would also benefit Xavier's career. After a college injury ended his promising basketball career, Xavier became a high school coach and English teacher in their hometown. He loves what he does, but aspires to a more lucrative post coaching college ball — and the job he's up for happens to favor family men with stability. It's a lot of setup, but this high-concept, high-froth romance has a deliciously gooey soft center.

Sex, Lies, and Sensibility

Following her hit debut Pride and Protest, a saucy Brooklyn-based retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Nikki Payne's second novel is a raucous reimagining of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility in which the two sisters have their lives completely upended in the wake of their father's death. In addition to having a great sense of comedy and plot, Nikki Payne is a cultural anthropologist. She does a brilliant job infusing her romances with wit and sharp social observation that is very Austenesque — and, here, translating the essence of the Dashwood sisters' precarious situation from the countryside in Georgian England to contemporary Maine.

Sensible elder sister Elinor is now Nora Dash, and the romantic little sister is known as Maryanne or "Yanne." Rather than being victims of primogeniture, which favors first born male heirs, Nora and Yanne are left with little after their father's passing because he was secretly living a double life. They were his second family, the "outside children" and their mother was the other woman, not his wife as they were raised to believe. The girls' inheritance is a beloved but ramshackle inn located in the (very white) back of beyond in rural Maine. But if they can get the crumbling manse up to snuff in a year they'll get access to a major financial windfall. The true bonus is that the backwoods hold delicious surprises. In the place of the Edward Ferrars figure, we get the sweet and angsty Native Abenaki guide Ennis "Bear" Freeman who runs tours out of Nora and Yanne's property. He's also a boy Nora knew from her days as a student athlete and coach to local kids. Their complicated connection is an emotional and steamy delight.

A slow runner and fast reader, Carole V. Bell is a cultural critic and communication scholar focusing on media, politics and identity. You can find her on Twitter @BellCV.

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