CONVERSATION: Recommendations for Fake Relationship Romances
On Monday we discussed the fake relationship and marriage of convenience tropes. In the same email conversation, I asked DA contributors for recommendations and/or dis-recommendations of romances involving fake relationships. Here is what came up.
Layla: Some of my favorite fake relationship romances are Kylie Scott’s Lick (I think it counts because the heroine doesn’t remember the marriage at all, but agrees to try and stay and sort it out, that’s for sure one creative way to get a regular girl and a rockstar together!) and her book Play, where there is a fake relationship that turns into a real one.
Kaetrin: A common reason in contemporaries for a fake relationship/fake date is because one (or both) protagonists do not wish to appear “desperate and dateless” and if there’s an ex present – maybe even getting married (for example, Best Man by Lily Morton) that’s an extra motivator. I’m not sure if it would ever happen in real life but it works for me just fine in fiction.
In The Deal by Elle Kennedy, Hannah and Garrett fake date so that Hannah can catch the eye of her crush. In Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey and Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey the reasons boiled down to family dynamics.
Sometimes the need is a professional one – such as in Strange Bedpersons or The Cinderella Deal both by Jennifer Crusie or, more recently, Act Like It by Lucy Parker.
I recently finished (and loved) Nalini Singh’s new book in the Hard Play series, Kiss Hard, and it has a fake relationship to start things off. The couple tell their families what they’re doing and why so there’s no significant deception there and the relationship turns real fairly quickly (which I also liked) but it begins as fake. (I’ve read so many fake relationship books where a significant conflict at the end was the deception the couple had been practicing and the fallout of it but I liked here that Catie and Danny were honest with their families from the start.) In the end the reason for the fake relationship in Kiss Hard was just a little thin I thought but most of the time I see it as a vehicle to get the characters together so I don’t fuss too much about the details if it gets me where I want to go.
Others in a similar vein which worked well for me were A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole and First Comes Like by Alisha Rai – both involved fake dating to calm social media gossip and appease the family.
I do have some qualms about the deception involved with a fake dating plot but there are plenty of times when an author makes it work or when the deception is on social media and the people being deceived have no “skin in the game” so it matters less to me. Of course, it all turns out to be real by the end so it works out!
Fake dating in romantic suspense works well for me because there’s often a more compelling reason for the lie. A Lot Like Love by Julie James is an example of this version of the trope.
In Boyfriend by Sarina Bowen, there is a problematic stepbrother and the female lead has reason to want to keep some distance between them. Taking up the offer of a “rent a boyfriend” for Thanksgiving is a safety measure.
And in historicals there are fake relationships too – a couple of my favourites are A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare and A Counterfeit Betrothal by Mary Balogh.
Janine: I really liked the fake relationship in A Counterfeit Betrothal but unfortunately, the main storyline (about the reunion of that secondary heroine’s parents) didn’t work for me at all.
Okay, some fake relationship books that come to mind and that I really liked:To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han — This is an #ownvoices YA with a central romance. Lara Jean is a shy sixteen-year-old who gives her whole heart when she gives it—from afar. She’s had five crushes over the years but never enough confidence to tell any boy that she liked him. But she does write unmailed letters to each one to help her move on. One of the boys is her best friend Josh, who her sister recently broke up with. When the letters mysteriously get mailed. Lara Jean can’t let her sister or Josh think she’s crushing on him. So when Peter, another of the five boys, suggests a fake relationship (to make his ex-girlfriend take him back), Lara Jean agrees.
I loved the book for multiple reasons—good writing and audiobook narration, wonderful heroine, sweet romance. But it helped that Lara Jean had a motive with high stakes. Fake dating was also about right for their age so I didn’t feel they were immature. And there were consequences to their deception.
What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long is my favorite book by Long and one of my favorite historical romances. It’s exceptionally well-written, sexy and romantic. Moncrieffe, a duke, thinks he’ll seduce Genevieve to get revenge on her brother, but gets more than he bargained for when she sees through his scheme. Genevieve’s best friend, whom she loves, is days away from proposing to another friend. The proposal’s nearness and the palpability of Genevieve’s heartbreak raise the suspense and stakes. The book also shows that faking romantic feelings can have real fallout and cause real pain to others.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory — This light contemporary multicultural romance had a meet-cute when Alexa and Drew, two strangers, ride an elevator and it gets stuck. While they are waiting to be rescued, Drew tells Alexa he badly needs a date to the wedding of his ex (the bride’s sister is determined to seduce him). Alexa agrees.
This is a classic light contemporary take on the trope, the type that usually doesn’t work for me as well as some others, but it did in this case, possibly because it was the first multicultural romance I read with this premise (shame on me), and for me that added some freshness to the story. Opinions were mixed but I enjoyed it. Alexa was a wonderful character, warm, candid, dedicated and likable, and I thought she had a good rapport with Drew.
Jayne: Matzah Ball Surprise is a “need a date for a religious celebration with the family” story but with the twist that it’s Passover and the date is deaf. One I didn’t think of until TinaNoir mentioned it in the comments of the initial conversation post is The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. So far the only book by that writing duo that has really worked for me.
Jennie: I just remembered a fake dating contemp I liked (I gave it a B+, albeit a low one) – The Dare by Elle Kennedy. The h/h are in college and start a fake relationship to keep the heroine’s bitchy sorority sisters off her back. It worked for me, I think because in New Adult books I expect the stakes to be lower because marriage isn’t the goal. Most of the NA books I’ve read end with an HFN but not marriage and I prefer it that way because the characters are so young.
Kaetrin: Yes, I enjoyed The Dare very much too.
Janine: I also want to mention a fake relationship book that didn’t work for me at all but that many readers love– A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh. Kit and Lauren enter into a fake engagement so that he won’t be forced into a marriage with Freyja, whom his father wants him to marry in order to patch up tension with a powerful neighboring family. Lauren wants an adventurous, fun summer and Kit promises her that in exchange. I love Balogh’s MOC romances so I couldn’t help but compare A Summer to Remember to them, and because of its lower stakes, it paled in comparison.
It was also more a summer to forget for me. I read it a second time to try to figure out what I was missing because this book was so adored, but not only did the book’s appeal continue to elude me, despite having a good memory for books and reading this one twice, all I can remember is a meeting with the Bedwyns (including the imperious Freyja) and that there’s a swimming scene!
How about you all, readers? What are your favorite (or memorably non-favorite) romances that use the fake relationship trope? If you’ve read any of the books we’ve mentioned, what did you think of them? Share your recommendations with us!
(Come back next week for recommendations of marriage of convenience books.)