FBI agent Jessica Harlow is heading to Florida for an undercover mission and she’s ready for anything. Well, anything except finding out that her partner is her former Quantico rival: John Shepherd. Julie James’ new novel, The Thing About Love, highlights one of our favorite romantic tropes: enemies-to-lovers. Here, James recommends seven books for readers that can’t get enough of hate turning to love.
There’s very little I can say about this classic that hasn’t already been said. Elizabeth Bennet is at the top of my list of favorite heroines, along with Princess Leia, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ripley from Alien. (Well, look at that—perhaps I have said something about P&P that hasn’t been said before. How often do you see those four together on a list?) The arrogant Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth at a ball, she rebuffs him in turn, and thus begins one of the most beloved enemies-to-lovers stories of all time. “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” Now that is serious Regency-era sexual tension.
One night at a bar, four friends jokingly create a list of characteristics of the “perfect” man. The joke quickly ends, however, when one of the women is murdered. When the heroine discovers that her cranky, irritating neighbor is a detective, she reluctantly turns to him for help. Witty dialogue, combined with chilling suspense as the heroine races to uncover the killer’s identity in order to save her friends and herself, makes this book impossible to put down.
Two London stage actors are asked to feign a relationship in order to drum up publicity for the play in which they both star. The problem is that the heroine’s co-star (and pretend boyfriend) is an obnoxious grouch. I’m a sucker for the “fake relationship” trope, particularly when the protagonists can’t stand each other, and this one absolutely delivers. Lucy Parker creates a vivid picture of the London theater scene, and two characters that readers will cheer for, in this sparkling romantic comedy.
Admittedly, I’m cheating a bit with this one, with its direct homages to Pride and Prejudice. But no enemies-to-lovers list would be complete without the hilarious and heart-warming push-pull dynamic between Bridget and Mark. This is one of the rare books that made me laugh out loud, and one that—despite having been published over 20 years ago—still perfectly captures the life of a thirty-something singleton.
It’s difficult to explain why this book—a cross between women’s fiction and contemporary romance—belongs on my list of favorite enemies-to-lovers stories without getting into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that there’s unrequited first love, and a coming-of-age story, and then something unexpected happens in the last third of the book that took me in a direction different from the one in which I was sure we were headed. As an added bonus, it has one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever come across involving a character with the flu. (Along with the film You’ve Got Mail, but I digress.)
Nalini Singh’s world-building is terrific in her paranormal, futuristic Psy-Changeling series. The sixth book in the series, Branded by Fire, focuses on Mercy Smith, a DarkRiver sentinel, and Riley Kincaid, a SnowDancer lieutenant. After years of not playing well together, the claws come out—literally—when the two are forced to work together to find a changeling researcher who was kidnapped from DarkRiver territory. This is an action-packed story with chemistry that sizzles between its two strong-willed protagonists.
Set in Egypt in 1884, Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first in the bestselling series featuring Amelia Peabody, a stubborn, sarcastic, self-proclaimed “spinster” at the age of thirty-two. My Goodreads update while reading the book was, “This heroine cracks me up,” and she continued to do so until the last page. Particularly charming is Amelia’s dynamic with Radcliffe Emerson, the grumpy, opinionated archeologist who needs her help when he falls ill on an excavation site. In the vein of classic Hollywood films, Amelia and Radcliffe’s bickering and banter snaps and crackles in this delightful mystery.
After graduating from the University of Illinois College of Law, Julie James clerked for the United States Court of Appeals in Jacksonville, Florida. She then practiced law with one of the nation’s largest law firms for several years until she began writing screenplays. She now writes full time and lives in Chicago with her family.