Romance novels have always offered a portal to lands unknown or far away, and after a year plus of groundings and lockdowns, a number of forthcoming novels lean into this escapism.

In December 2019, when K.M. Jackson learned that The Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 were both scheduled to release on the same day in 2021, she tweeted, “Note to self & editors: don’t release your book around #KeanuDay in 2021. Unless of course it’s that How to Marry Keanu in 90 days rom-com you just thought of then go ahead and release that. (side note to self: write that because it sounds terrific!).”

The movies have since been pushed back and now have different release dates, but Jackson followed through on her off-the-cuff tweet: in How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days (Forever, Nov.), a Keanu superfan and her best guy friend embark on a madcap cross-country road trip to stop the actor’s wedding. “As I was writing, my homework was watching Keanu’s movies—not the worst work—and looking for some fantastic destinations for my protagonists to go and chase him,” Jackson says. “Though I couldn’t get out of my office and watched the seasons change from my window, I was able to travel through writing this book. That was my escape. I hope that readers can get away, too.”

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Jen Frederick, in the recently released Heart and Seoul (Berkley), sends her protagonist on a journey that’s as much a homecoming as it is an adventure: Hara Wilson, a Korean adoptee living in Indiana, heads to Seoul in search of her birth parents. “A lot of people live vicariously through stories,” says Frederick, who, like Hara, is a Korean American adoptee. “I want readers to get a sense of Seoul and how much I love that city. Heart and Seoul isn’t just a romance; it’s also about a woman trying to find out who she is and where she belongs in this big world.”

The romantic lives of two women of color in academia are at the heart of Verity Lowell’s debut, Meet Me in Madrid (Carina Adores, Nov.). The book is pointedly about race, gender, and bias, according to the author, and it’s also “sexy, like life,” Lowell says. “The book will make readers want to take chances, and see unfamiliar situations, people, places, art, and themselves in new and generous ways.” Travel is an apt metaphor for falling in love, she adds: “The adventure of going where you’ve never been, mistranslating when you get there, learning stuff, discovering, being frustrated, and ultimately realizing that the journey was worth it.”

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