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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The trendy romance revolution

We’ve reviewed some of the trendiest romance novels to hit Vanderbilt’s campus.
Graphic depicting well-known romance novels with a pink background. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)

Editor’s note: Some books contain mention of domestic violence, sexual assault, attempted rape and suicide.

In the fast-paced world of Vanderbilt, where academic rigor meets bustling student life, a delightful trend has been emerging since the start of the pandemic. BookTok — a TikTok subculture dedicated to sharing book recommendations — has combined the allure of romance novels with the viral book-sharing recommendations, making reading undeniably trendy. Romance novels, in particular, have found a dedicated audience, captivating readers with swoon-worthy tales and plots that provide a welcome break from the demands of student life. 

Here are some of the trendiest romance novels to hit BookTok. Some of the books we highly  recommend and others we suggest to steer clear of, but, regardless, this collection has something for a variety of readers.

“The Spanish Love Deception” by Elena Armas

Catalina Martín concocts a fake boyfriend to save face at her sister’s wedding, where her ex is the groom’s brother. What starts as a harmless deception takes an unexpected turn when her brooding coworker, whom she hates, insists on being her fake boyfriend at the Spanish wedding. Throughout their time in Spain, Catalina begins to realize that Aaron might not be as terrible in the real world as he is at the office. A tale of fake relationships, genuine feelings and unexpected love unfolds in this charming international romance.

Armas weaves a delightful story of fake relationships turning into something more profound. With humor, heart and a touch of steaminess, “The Spanish Love Deception” is a must-read for those who crave a romantic escape with a twist or suckers for a combination of tropes.

“The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood

Biology Ph.D. student Olive needs to convince her best friend that she is over her ex. So, in a panic, she kisses the first man she sees, who happens to be Dr. Adam Carlsen, a young and unapproachable professor. This happens all the time in Stevenson, right? Olive and Adam decide to fake-date for their mutual benefit, and this book follows the ups and downs of being a woman in STEM, friendship and experimenting with love.

“The Love Hypothesis” is undoubtedly funny. But, one of the best parts of this book is its depiction of the many challenges people from underrepresented backgrounds face in academia, along with its honest look at the scariness of sharing your whole heart with someone. While the premise felt a bit unfeasible and the characters could’ve been better developed, this book is a fun read for anyone curious about the world of STEM.

“Beach Read” by Emily Henry

January Andrews is a bestselling romance writer who is in a rut, and Augustus Everett is an acclaimed fiction writer who is also suffering from writer’s block. They’re new neighbors on the shore of Lake Michigan who are unfortunately college nemeses. One day, they decide to engage in a summer-long challenge where they attempt to write a book of the other’s genre. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a cult. Everyone will finish a book, and no one will fall in love. As they embark on this creative challenge, January and Gus find themselves entangled in a journey of self-discovery, healing and the possibility of a love story that goes beyond the pages of their novels.

“Beach Read” is a delightful exploration of love, loss and the unpredictable paths that life can take. January and Gus are beautifully flawed, making them relatable and endearing to readers, and their chemistry is palpable. Their journey from adversaries to collaborators to something more is handled with sensitivity and authenticity. The novel’s exploration of the writing process, the influence of personal experiences on storytelling and the blurred lines between fiction and reality add depth to the narrative and make it relatable for me as a writer. 

“Happy Place” by Emily Henry

“Happy Place” centers around Harriet and Wyn, who recently broke up after eight years of dating. Their college friend group is having a reunion set at a beachside cottage in Maine, and they have to, you guessed it, pretend to date to keep their breakup hidden from their friends in this second-chance romance. Between the tension of love lost, the charm of the seaside town and the cacophony of their friend group’s relationships, will Harriet and Wyn get back together?

You’ve no doubt seen this Goodreads Choice Award-winning, bright pink book around. While it hits the bar for deeply vulnerable writing and an accurate depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood post-college, it fell flat for us in its focus on miscommunication and its unrealistic depiction of dropping everything to chase someone. 

“People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry

Opposites attract — or so they did for university best friends Poppy and Alex who first bonded while sharing a long drive home. Despite their incredibly different lives and personalities, they reunite to travel on a best friend vacation for one week each summer. Time jumps back and forth from the creation of the tradition to several years later when the two are estranged. In the current timeline, he’s a high school teacher thriving on stability, and she’s a travel blogger searching for a spark. Looking back to the last time she was truly happy, Poppy reaches out to Alex about taking one last trip together, and much to her surprise, he agrees.

I enjoyed this book because the characters were not only quirky and unique but relatable and human. Though all of Henry’s books are marvels in my eyes, this novel speaks volumes about the nature of college relationships as they move forward into the real world. It also highlights the importance of embracing spontaneity in everyday life. 

“It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover

We’re including this book because it is one of the most famous “romance” novels of recent, winning the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance in 2016 and currently being adapted into a movie with Blake Lively. 

The story centers around Lily and Ryle, who both have haunted pasts, and their blossoming, confusing, new relationship. As Lily becomes the exception to Ryle’s no-dating rule, she simultaneously thinks back to her first love, Atlas, and their relationship. When Ryle meets Atlas, things start going wrong. 

While focused on two of Lily’s relationships, this book is more about overcoming harmful cycles of abuse than romance. From the way this book graphically depicts assault and ultimately redeems abusers, I would not recommend it as a romance read and find it harmful that it’s marketed in the genre. 

“The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren

Not even something borrowed and something blue could save all but two wedding guests from getting food poisoning from bad buffet shellfish. The Hawaiian honeymoon is non-refundable, and it only makes sense that the two remaining guests snatch up the free tropical vacation. Unluckily enough, they happen to be the bride’s sister Olive and the groom’s brother Dane who are sworn enemies. They decide to take the trip with the intent of avoiding one another at all costs, but their plan is slightly foiled by the discovery of a hotel with only one bed.

Though the circumstances of this story are seemingly unrealistic, Lauren’s writing and characters kept me incredibly entertained. The plotline was also far from predictable in certain chapters, which is rare for this genre, making this a lovely getaway read.

“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Cue the lights and roll out the red carpet: It’s the late 1950s, and Evelyn Hugo has just moved to Hollywood at 14 with her first husband to pursue her acting career. He’s followed by six more husbands throughout the progression of the story, each detailed carefully as Hugo is interviewed by underground writer Monique Grant in the modern day.

If you have any interest in old cinema, tragic romances or the secrets behind celebrities, this book is for you. I most enjoyed the thought-out personas of each character, the parallels of the story and the Taylor Swift song references. 

“​​The Hating Game” by Sally Thorne

Lucy and Joshua hate each other, and they have no problem displaying their feelings through passive-aggressive maneuvers. They’re both executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Joshua is uptight and meticulous, while Lucy is overly bright and quirky. They’re up for the same promotion now, and their tension is stronger than ever before. The office battlefield becomes the backdrop for a hilarious and heartwarming journey that will keep you hooked until the very last page. 

Thorne’s witty prose and clever banter between Lucy and Joshua create a delightful tension that makes this enemies-to-lovers tale a standout in contemporary romance. The office setting adds an extra layer of intrigue, and I loved how long the lead-up to the climax was. Additionally, this book became popular enough that it garnered a Hulu movie adaption in 2021. It was good, but the book is better. 

“Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is American royalty. However, Alex and Prince Henry of England have a long-time feud, which puts a strain on American-British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Their enemy status turns to fake friends which evolves into a secret love story. Amidst political drama, secret rendezvous and unexpected love, this royal romance is a captivating journey.

McQuiston’s fresh and contemporary take on a royal love story makes this novel a standout in the genre. The exploration of identity, politics and love adds depth, creating an engaging narrative that will have you rooting for Alex and Henry. Amazon Prime Video produced a movie adaptation of the film in 2023, which I enjoyed more than most book-to-movie films. 

As the pandemic brought challenges, the rise of BookTok brought solace to students, offering a literary escape into the enchanting world of romance. As avid readers ourselves, we can attest to the power of these stories to transport us to different worlds, offering a break from the demands of university life. The convenience of renting from the university’s library has only added to the accessibility and appeal of these romantic tales. There’s always room for a little love story magic. 

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About the Contributors
Jacqueline Welsh
Jacqueline Welsh, Staff Writer
Jacqueline Welsh (‘26) is from Washington, D.C., and is majoring in communication studies and minoring in creative writing in the College of Arts and Science. She is part of VOCE A Cappella, Studio V, WilSkills and Tap That! She loves going on hikes and reading. You can reach her at [email protected].
Claire Gatlin
Claire Gatlin, Life Editor
Claire Gatlin ('24) is a student in Peabody College studying human and organizational development and political science. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, reading and rollerblading. You can reach her at [email protected].
Abby Hoelscher
Abby Hoelscher, Deputy Photography Director
Abby Hoelscher (‘27) is from St. Louis and is an aspiring elementary teacher currently studying in Peabody College. Outside of writing, she enjoys performing, learning Taylor Swift songs in American Sign Language and trying the seasonal lattes from the campus coffee shops. She can be reached at [email protected].
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