Valentine’s Day is here, and if you’re what I like to imagine is the average person around this time of year, you’re only now searching (frantically) for a gift for your special someone. A box of chocolate-covered fruit and flowers might as well be an admission that you gave this no thought until your commute home. But if your special someone has a literary inclination—and is just as head over heels in love with Texas as we are—consider pairing up that bouquet and those chocolaty confections with one of these romance novels, all of which have a Texas twirl to them.
Ruby, by Cynthia Bond
Ruby Bell’s childhood in a small East Texas town during the fifties is marked by violence and despair, so much so that she flees for New York, leaving behind Ephram Jennings, a local boy who already knows he loves her. Decades pass, and Ruby reluctantly returns to her hometown in the eighties—and this time, the forces that led her to flee are trying to make her a permanent resident, though not if Ephram can help it. Cynthia Bond, who is from Hempstead, laces her first novel with magical realism to make it an unforgettable read.
Rainwater, by Sandra Brown
Ella Baron is a single mother running a boarding house in Dust Bowl–era Texas who slowly falls for one of her boarders, a dying Mr. David Rainwater. Sandra Brown, a Waco native, offers a vivid portrait of a small Texas town plagued by drought and economic dislocation and a touching narrative of a strong woman quenching her thirst for love. Her lover’s name is Rainwater, after all!
Tastes So Sweet, by Kelly Cain
If you like a friends-to-lovers trope, this one’s for you. Love finds its way into the kitchen with Ryan Landry, an Austin restaurant manager, and her best friend and pastry chef, Weston Everheart. Ryan has been taking care of her younger twin sisters since her parents died, but with college approaching for the twins and a National Restaurant Executive of the Year contest with a hefty cash prize coming up, it’s all or nothing for her. Things get even more complicated when a budding romance with Weston means defying the restaurant’s no-dating policy. All you knead is love; am I right? Tastes So Sweet is the third and most recent book in Kelly Cain’s Everheart Brothers of Texas series—the first two novels follow Weston’s two brothers, who are also in the cooking world, and their quests for love.
My Summer Darlings, by May Cobb
This one is a mystery thriller with a dash of lust set in East Texas and involving three lifelong friends—Jen Hansen, Kittie Spears, and Cynthia Nichols—and a new, attractive neighbor, Will Harding, who catches the women’s interest and becomes the object of sexual competition between them. The twist? The book’s opening scene is of a woman lying alone and bleeding in the woods six weeks after Harding’s arrival. East Texas author and now Austin resident May Cobb tells a story packed with gossip and lies that trouble her well-off characters.
A Ballad of Love and Glory, by Reyna Grande
In this historical romance novel, Ximena Salomé, a Mexican Army nurse—and curandera, or folk healer—finds love with Irish American soldier John Riley during the Mexican-American War. The story is loosely based on the real-life man who led the Saint Patrick’s Battalion—a group of soldiers, mostly Irish immigrants, who switched from the American side to the Mexican side during the war.
Reyna Grande, who was born in Mexico and lives in California, says she made the story as historically accurate as possible. “You could Google anything I write in the book and you’ll see that it’s true,” she said in a March 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Times. As an immigrant, Grande said she conveyed her experiences through her male lead. “I gave him that inner turmoil of wanting to belong in this society,” she said.
Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility, by Hillary Manton Lodge
Imagine Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, but set in Austin. Sisters Jane and Celia Woodward move to the capital after they are forced to leave their San Francisco tea shop. Adjusting to an unfamiliar place strains the bonds between Jane and Celia, and when a charming musician, Sean Willis, enters the picture as Jane’s love interest, the sisters’ relationship is pushed to the brink.
You Lucky Dog, by Julia London
Austinite Julia London’s novel starts with every dog owner’s worst nightmare. The dog walker takes your pooch for a walk and comes home with the wrong one. But that’s what happens to Carly Kennedy and Max Sheffington, two Austinites whose matching basset hounds, Baxter and Hazel, accidentally get swapped. Enjoy a tale of polar opposites finding love as their pups form an inseparable bond, forcing them to spend more time together.
Pumpkin, by Julie Murphy
When his audition tape for a TV drag show gets accidentally leaked to his entire high school, Waylon Russell Brewer, a big boy in a small West Texas town, finds himself running for prom queen (his fellow students nominate him as a joke)—and getting closer to Tucker Watson, a cute prom king nominee. Also running for high school royalty is Waylon’s twin sister’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez—for prom king. Let the festivities begin.
Murphy, who lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, spoke to Texas Monthly in May 2021 about Pumpkin and its counterpart books—Puddin’ and Dumplin’—all of which are set in the same town. Murphy writes about topics she holds close: queerness and fat positivity. “It’s really important for me that my books are really full of joy and show that people who are used to being marginalized and on the outskirts of life are experiencing joy, and not just this constant loop of inspiration and challenge,” she told Texas Monthly in 2021.
West Side Love Story, by Priscilla Oliveras
Star-crossed lovers meet in San Antonio in this Texas rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Despite their rival familias, Mariana Capuleta and Angelo Montero cannot stay away from each other, even when there is a heated Battle of the Mariachi Bands on the line. We all know how the Shakespeare play pans out, but will our young San Antonian lovers meet the same fate?
Full Flight, by Ashley Schumacher
Dallas-area author Ashley Schumacher tells a slow-burn tale of first, forbidden love. Anna James and Weston Ryan are two teenagers in the small, fictional Texas town of Enfield. They’re in the marching band—Anna, a straitlaced try-hard, plays the saxophone, and Weston, who has a bad-boy reputation, the mellophone. The two fall in love when the musical gods pair them up to perform a duet for a contest. But the townsfolk, and Anna’s disapproving parents, won’t let the two be together in peace. Can they prevail?