Read Harder

Read Harder: A Romance Starring a Single Parent

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Trisha Brown

Contributing Editor

Trisha Brown grew up in Washington State and moved to Washington, DC, to work on programs that support vulnerable families. She decided to take a break in 2019, so now she’s traveling around the United States learning about different places and communities. She plans to return to her life in DC eventually, but for now she can be found chatting with people in bars and parks, catching up on sleep, and trying to keep herself from buying more books than her car and budget can handle. Find her on Instagram (@trishahaleybrown) or Twitter (@trishahaleybrwn).

This list of romances about single parents for the 2020 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

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One of the best parts of reading romance is enjoying the creativity authors employ in writing all kinds of stories that fit within the general structure of the genre. Sure, the romance needs to be central in the story, an emotionally satisfying ending is required, and there are some beats that most romances will hit along the way, but there’s actually a much wider variance among romance novels than many readers new to romance might think.

The books below show some of that divergence. All of them follow the basic romance “rules,” and they have the added commonality that they feature a single parent as a main character. But beyond that, they move in all kinds of different directions. There are romantic comedies and emotionally fraught dramas. Some feature the children heavily, others focus almost entirely on the couple at the center of the story. The characters grapple with trauma, job and family stress, mental illness, and more. And they do so in different countries and centuries.

Find the one that fits your style. Or just read all of them and gain a new appreciation for the broad spectrum of stories romance authors explore as they bring these single parents to their happy endings.

The Bride Test cover imageThe Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Children and families are part of a lot of love stories, but if you’re not sure how many adorable moppets you can handle in your reading life, this might be the book for you: although the fact that Esme Tran is a single mother is an important part of this story, her daughter is in very little of The Bride Test. Esme makes the difficult decision to leave her daughter behind in Vietnam while she goes to California in the hopes of obtaining a better life for them both by considering marriage to Khai Diep, a businessman with autism whose mother is intent on finding him a wife. In addition to dealing deftly with complex themes like neurodiversity and the immigrant experience, The Bride Test is also one of the best and most popular romantic comedies to hit the romance or contemporary fiction market in recent years.

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

On the other end of the “child-involvement” spectrum (though still firmly in the romcom realm) are Rosamund and Daisy, the young charges of English nobleman Chase Reynaud in this historical romance. The two girls are central to the story of how Chase and Alexandra—their reluctant governess and a would-be astronomer—get together. From the moment the book opens with a funeral for a doll (the first of many), the charm of The Governess Game is just as much about seeing these four people become a family as it is about Chase and Alexandra falling in love.

His_Convenient_Husband_by_Robin_Covington_CoverHis Convenient Husband by Robin Covington

Marriage of convenience is a pretty common romance trope, but it’s actually quite unusual to find a marriage of convenience between two men. Robin Covington decided to remedy that. When Victor Aleksandrov, an outspoken gay Russian ballet dancer has his application for political asylum rejected, Isaiah Blackell—widower, pro football player, and single dad to a teenager—suggests they marry to keep Victor safely in the U.S. Although the two are different in many ways, their relationship evolves as they work through their challenges and mistakes. As a bonus, Isaiah’s 13-year-old son Evan is instantly endearing, and watching his relationship with Victor evolve adds even more dimension to the story.

His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras

Professional dancer Yaz Fernandez and business executive Tomas Garcia have both been burned by former partners, which means this romance between the two is a very slow burn. Yaz is Tomas’s daughter’s dance teacher, but she’s planning to go back to Broadway as soon as family circumstances allow. Tomas needs to focus on his daughter and his job. But as often happens in romance, there is just all of this pesky chemistry between the two. Priscilla Oliveras writes stories that are deeply rooted in family and community, which adds a richness to them that you don’t find in all love stories. Also, when I said this one was a slow burn, I meant it: there’s no explicit sexual content in His Perfect Partner, so if you’re looking for a book without sex scenes, this one may be for you.

Cover for It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat SebastianIt Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian

“How do you solve a problem like Ben?” may not have quite the ring to it as the song from the classic musical, but this historical romance’s connection to The Sound of Music is clear: Ben Sedgwick is a local vicar recruited to help keep the hellion children of Captain Phillip Dacre from wreaking complete havoc. Ben is kind, loyal, and tied up with a promise he can’t keep. Phillip is cranky, isolated, and grieving. Through Sebastian’s beautiful prose, the two navigate social conventions, religion, painful history, and their own baggage to find their way to each other.

Cover-of-Sustained-by-Emma-ChaseSustained by Emma Chase

Chelsea McQuaid is the aunt and young guardian of her orphaned six nieces and nephews, serving as a good reminder that a nontraditional parent is still a parent. Besides, Emma Chase is a top-notch romantic comedy writer, and it’s fun to watch criminal defense attorney Jake Becker fall head over heels for Chelsea and the kids after one of them tries to steal his wallet. Jake is a classic romance type—a selfish asshole who is eventually revealed to have an enormous a heart of gold buried deep (deep) inside—but the book’s first-person, male-only POV is pretty unique for a male/female romance. And Chase’s comedic skill means the regular appearance of half a dozen orphans offers more humor than heartbreak.

Thirsty by Mia Hopkins

Besides also having a first-person, male-only POV, Thirsty breaks the typical romance mold in a couple of key ways. First, one of the main characters is a convicted felon who was recently released from prison (and he was guilty). Secondly, everyone is—at best—just getting by financially. In the vast majority of romance, at least one person in a couple is wealthy or at least has a very comfortable financial safety net, but that’s not the case for Sal, who’s trying desperately to avoid getting pulled back into his gang, or Vanessa, the ambitious, hardworking, single mom whose family is renting Sal a room. These two have to fight hard for their happily ever after, and it gets intense—and awfully sexy—along the way.

Cover-of-Untouchable-by-Talia-HibbertUntouchable by Talia Hibbert

You may have noticed that there are a few governess/teacher/nanny books on this list. To be honest, it’s kind of a thing in romance, especially romance with single parents. And though this is another one, this one is British! And Talia Hibbert a romance author—perhaps the romance author—you should be reading right now if you aren’t already. Untouchable focuses on Hannah, a disgraced teacher who needs a job, and Nate, a widower who needs a nanny. The story deals with the very real and complicated issues that come along with a romantic and sexual relationship between two people in this kind of a power dynamic. Hibbert also takes on serious and relatable topics like depression and grief, but does it while always treating her characters and readers with compassion and grace.

cover of wrong to need you by alisha raiWrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

If you’re looking for a single parent romance that will also fill the angsty, dramatic romance-sized hole in your reading life, Alisha Rai has you covered: Wrong to Need You features single mom Sadia Ahmed and Jackson Kane, the brother of her late husband, who has loved her since they were best friends as kids. The tropes are there but, as usual, Rai handles them with care and dimension, creating a story that’s both emotional and satisfying. Also, as a chef, Jackson shows his love through making grilled cheese and stuff, which is just delightful and delicious.

Find all the Read Harder 2020 content here.