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Fiction Contemporary

Exes and O's

by (author) Amy Lea

Penguin Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Jan 2023
Contemporary, Romantic Comedy, Multicultural & Interracial
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2023
    List Price

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An International Bestseller!
One of Amazon's Best Romances of January · A January LibraryReads Pick · One of Buzzfeed's Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023
A romance novel-obsessed social media influencer revisits her exes on her hunt for true love in this romantic comedy from the author of Set On You.

Romance book connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men—all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead, thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.

Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.

The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily ever after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?

About the author

Contributor Notes

Amy Lea is an Asian Canadian government analyst who runs the Bookstagram account @amyleabooks, where she promotes and reviews contemporary romance novels. Set on You is her debut novel.

Excerpt: Exes and O's (by (author) Amy Lea)

You know your day is going swimmingly when you've been projectile vomited on and someone stole your Greek yogurt from the staff room refrigerator. And it's only seven in the morning.

Eager to leave the memory of my hellish night shift behind, I'm in formation at the edge of the platform, stance wide, pointy elbows out, among hundreds of tired morning commuters primed to battle for a rare open seat on the subway.

I've learned a thing or two about navigating a crowd from witnessing five-foot-tall Grandma Flo barrel her way through the grocery store, whacking innocents with her faux-crocodile purse with no apologies.

Boston subway commuters may not be as ferocious as grocery store grannies, but they'll trample you for an open seat all the same. I have a grotesque scar on my left shin to prove it.

Thankfully, no blood is drawn in today's war. In a rare turn of events, I have my choice of three seats: one beside a man three-too-many edibles deep, passionately air drumming; another next to a woman with bubble-gum-pink hair open-mouth smiling; and one across from an adorable elderly couple bundled in matching red parkas thick enough for a perilous Arctic expedition.

I nab the seat across from the elderly couple and set my purse at my feet, eager to avoid all reality with my trusty worn paperback. This book has all my vices: a ball-busting heroine with a sharp tongue and a kind-eyed yet emotionally constipated ex-boyfriend.

A few paragraphs into a juicy yacht scene, my phone dings with a text. It's from my sister.

Crystal: Hope you had a good shift. We'll meet you at the apartment soon. Just loaded all your boxes in the car! Cheers to new beginnings.

Crystal is two years younger than me, though everyone assumes she's the older one because I've been overstaying my welcome in her one-bedroom condo for the past eight months.

"New beginnings," I mutter to no one in particular, trying to psych myself up for a morning of manual labor.

I've only recently peeled myself from rock bottom after my happily ever after plot twisted into a Nicholas Sparks tragedy. Truthfully, the prospect of more change triggers my gag reflex, but I'm trying to stay optimistic. Moving out means I'll be free to read on the couch for six straight hours without anyone throwing shade, and Crystal gets privacy with her new fiancŽ, Scott-who I'm swapping apartments with.

The subway veers around a sharp curve with an earsplitting squeal, causing the entire length of my thigh to press against a complete stranger's. The luxury of public transit. When I brave a glance at my cozy neighbor, a pair of hooded, azure eyes ensnares mine from behind tortoise shell-framed glasses. The striking sky-blue shade of his eyes offsets a full head of lusciously thick ginger hair.

As a lifelong connoisseur of romance novels, I'm keenly aware that eye contact lasting longer than three seconds is ripe with romantic potential.

"Good book?" His voice is thick, almost sleepy.

Stunned, I scrutinize his face for any sign of sarcasm. That's the thing about reading romance. Book covers depicting unfairly attractive, half-nude models embracing in a passionate lip-lock are perennial targets of mocking and snobbery. Welcome to the patriarchy.

Sweat pools into the underwire of my bra when he smiles, revealing teeth so white, they appear artificial under seizure-inducing subway lighting. His question takes me off guard, and he can tell, because he bashfully follows it up with, "I read a little romantic suspense, if you're wondering."

My toes curl inside my nursing shoes. Has fate gifted me an emotionally adept, romance-reading Prince Harry look-alike? Because I'm eternally void of all chill, I spew questions at rapid-fire speed. "You read romance? Who have you read? Which titles?"

I refrain from sudden movements as he tilts his head, dithering. "Okay, you got me. I lied. I just wanted an excuse to talk to you. I do read, though," he adds, his gaze falling to my purse at my feet.

"What's your genre of choice? And please don't say poetry," I beg. For the record, I hold no ill will toward poetry, but I was ghosted in college by a dude who did slam poetry and the wound still cuts deep.

"Horror. I have a sick addiction to it, actually," he admits, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

The seams of my proverbial corset threaten to burst with suppressed delight. I'm not a horror reader, but men south of sixty who regularly read fiction are an endangered species that must be protected at all costs.

"Malevolent spirits or blood and guts?"

He grimaces, struggling under the weight of his choices. "Can I say both? Is that creepy?"

"It is borderline morbid. But I'm okay with it." More than okay with it.

"I'm Nate." His introduction is followed by an enchanting Disney prince-like smile.

"I'm Tara." Our gazes lock again, kicking my heart into overdrive. It's hammering fast and furious. Either I'm going into cardiac arrest, or I'm having a meet-cute with the blueprint of square-jawed perfection. It's hard to say.

If I weren't wearing my most unflattering, shapeless nursing scrubs, I'd probably twirl around the subway aisle, arms outstretched, like a blissful middle-aged person in an allergy medication commercial who's finally experiencing life's joy without watery eyes and nasal congestion.

In the span of ten minutes, I've learned all there is to know about Nate. He's twenty-five (five years my junior, but I'm willing to embrace the Cougar Life), works at an investment firm, owns his very own condo, would choose mustard over ketchup if stranded on a remote island, and is secure enough in his manhood to admit his fondness for Taylor Swift's latest album. Creatures like him are a romance reader's wet dream. The man just oozes soul mate potential, and I'm eagerly absorbing it like a ShamWow.

In fact, peak soul mate status is reached when he waves enthusiastically at a cherub-faced toddler waddling up and down the aisle. Hello, dad material.

Cue the violins. I've just fallen in insta-love.

If this were a romance book, the clouds would part as we exit the subway at any given stop, lockstep, hand in hand. We'd spend the cool October day doing the usual things soul mates do: ignoring all responsibilities, discovering random dives around the city, drinking liquor wrapped in a brown paper bag, and revealing all our emotional baggage as the sun sets. At the end of the night, he'd fold me into a passionate embrace under the starry sky and bless me with a foot-popping kiss, preferably with a little tongue.

Turns out, this is no romance book. I don't even have the chance to name our golden retriever and four unborn children. In the nonfiction life of Tara Li Chen, the following events unfold in chronological order:

1) The subway comes to an abrupt halt. Hordes of people funnel to the exit.

2) A new group of commuters push and shove their way in. A lanky dude wearing a May the Gains Be with You T-shirt over a full Lycra getup beelines it for the only remaining seat, to the quiet dismay of a very pregnant woman.

3) By the time the crowd settles, Soulmate Nate is no longer next to me. In fact, he's vanished entirely.

4) And so has my purse.

Live with TaraRomanceQueen-The Death of the Meet-Cute

Excerpt from transcript

[Tara appears on-screen at an upward chin angle, seemingly out of breath, hair slicked back in an unflattering founding fathers' ponytail. She power walks down a bustling city sidewalk in a seedy neighborhood.]

Tara: Hello, romance book lovers, welcome back to my channel, where I talk all things romance. First, I'd like to apologize for my hiatus the past few days. I've been super busy with work and packing for my move, which happens to be today. Yay!

Since I'll be spending the better part of my day schlepping boxes, this episode is going to be super brief. I want to talk about meet-cutes.

You all know I'm a sucker for a good meet-cute. I mean, they're a beloved staple in romance. The best ones involve the spilling of a scalding-hot beverage, or a near-death experience. Sometimes it even verges into meet-ugly territory, where they dawdle in mutual loathing and delightfully petty prejudice for half the book. That is . . . until they discover each other's emotional sides and fall head over heels in love.

[Tara waits impatiently at an intersection and stares into the camera of her brand-new phone, brow cocked.]

Thanks to the internet-don't even get me started on online dating-real-life meet-cutes are DEAD and I'm in mourning. In today's harsh world, any stranger, no matter how beautiful, who makes eye contact for longer than a few consecutive seconds most definitely has nefarious intentions and will mug you in broad daylight. I speak from experience.

Is all hope lost once you hit thirty? I'm beginning to think so. If anyone would like to prove me wrong with some adorable, real-life meet-cute stories, I'm all ears.


I met my husband online. We've been happily married for ten years. Meet-cutes are overrated.

Tara, I completely agree with you. I'm waiting for my in-person meet-cute too. Preferably in between rows of dusty mahogany shelves in a public library.

Everything is fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE.

I mentally repeat that phrase as I haul myself up the stairwell to my new apartment. To my new life.

It's fine that I got mugged. It's fine that I'll need to cancel all my credit cards. It's fine that I had to buy a new phone. It's fine that I'm moving into a new apartment, sight unseen. It's fine that it boasts a chronically broken elevator, even though I'm a staunch proponent of a sedentary lifestyle. IT'S ALL FINE.

When I reach the third flight, I take a momentary lean against the wobbly handrail, balancing my heart-shaped throw pillows. In between wheezes, I force my mouth into a smile, a trick I use to reset when I'm spiraling into a negativity vortex.

There's no reason to hate on my brand-new digs. It may not be the Ritz, but from what I've seen of the run-down, orange-tiled entryway and probably haunted concrete stairwell, it's the nicest place I can afford on the direct subway line to the hospital that isn't a roach-infested basement apartment. And Scott was charitable enough to leave me his gently used bedroom furniture, free of charge.

As I press on and upward, I remind myself change is good. This move is more than just the apartment. It's a new chapter of my life. A chance to start anew, after eight months of wallowing, mourning the life I was supposed to have with my ex-fiancŽ, Seth.

This time last year, I was blissfully engaged, planning an elaborate Cinderella-inspired dream wedding from the comfort of our Beacon Hill condo. Then, six months before the wedding, Seth decided the season finale of Survivor was as good a time as any to pick a dramatic fight, concluding he "couldn't tolerate me anymore."

The tribe had spoken.

Seth Reinhart would be the tenth man to break my heart.

Starting my life over was a trip, to say the least. But after months of therapy and star-fishing on Crystal's floor, I've finally come into my own.

I've embraced a morsel of change, starting with a bold haircut (a long blunt bob). My bookstagram and BookTok accounts-niche corners of the internet where literature-obsessed folks bond over books-are thriving. I've secured my trusted inner social circle of exactly two-my sister and Mel-the respective Carrie and Samantha to my Charlotte (even though we're all probably Miranda).

Maybe this year I'll surprise everyone and take up a new hobby, like looming, archery, or mountain biking. Seth always resented my lack of hobbies, aside from reading. Maybe I'll purchase a succulent, or seven, and name them after the von Trapp children from The Sound of Music.

I'm reinvigorated with endless possibilities by the time I reach unit 404. So much so, I open the unlocked apartment door with triple the force necessary, like a pro dancer taking center stage, making an impassioned entrance into my shiny new life.

The moment I enter, it's clear that this new chapter is no improvement from the last. In fact, it's worse.

Before me is a magnificently muscled, entirely naked, tattooed man bending an auburn-haired woman over the kitchen island.

Welcome home, Tara.

chapter two

Things go tits up from there. Literally.

I let out a bloodcurdling screech from the depths of my gut, tossing my throw pillows in the air. The auburn-haired woman yelps, endeavoring to cover at least half her enviably ample bosom. The tattooed man curses and dives for cover behind the butcher block island, like a World War I soldier under siege in the muddy trenches.

But it's too late for me. I saw it.

The penis belonging to my new roommate, Trevor Metcalfe.

It's not like I expected to cross the threshold into a Sex and the City-worthy life of fabulous riches, cosmos, whirlwind romance, and girlfriends who are readily available to drop their lives at a moment's notice whenever disaster strikes. But I was not expecting this.

Normally, I wouldn't entertain the prospect of moving in with a stranger. But the rent was cheap, I have student debt, and anywhere was preferable to my parents' place, where I'd be forced to compete for attention with Hillary, Mom's ankle-biting, narcissistic Chihuahua. Besides, Trevor is Scott's best friend and coworker at the firehouse. I figured it was safe to trust my soon-to-be brother-in-law, but apparently you can't trust family.

You'll never see each other with your shift work. It'll be the same as living alone, Scott had assured me.

The illusion of living alone seemed plausible, given that my and Trevor's conflicting shift schedules prevented us from meeting prior to today. I rotate between day and night shift every two weeks, and apparently, so does he. So far, we've only exchanged a couple of texts, which consist of my request for the dimensions of my new room for my bookshelf. No small talk.

The topless woman gapes at me, justifiably peeved I interrupted her Big O. Aside from disappearing into the void, I do the next best, highly logical thing: mumble a vague yet sincere apology, cover my eyes, and sprint away in the only direction possible-down a short hallway.

"This is fine. It's all fine," I mutter, taking refuge through the first door on the right. I slam it shut, savoring the relative coolness of the door against my searing skin.

Editorial Reviews

"Unapologetically romantic, wonderfully sexy, always brilliant. I adored Set On You, but Exes and O’s is the stuff bookish dreams are made of. With this stunning sophomore novel, Amy Lea has officially rocketed her way into my heart as a must read author!"—Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author

“Amy Lea’s Exes and O’s is for anyone who’s ever dreamed their book boyfriend could exist in real life. It’s a charming and funny friends-to-lovers romance that sparkles with Amy’s signature sweetness and steam.”Carley Fortune, New York Times bestselling author of Every Summer After

“Laugh out loud, ardently feminist, and with a hero straight out of a fevered daydream, Exes and O's is an outright, unmitigated delight!”—Christina Lauren, New York Times bestselling authors of The Unhoneymooners

Exes and O’s is every rom-com reader’s dream, a delightfully meta romp with a heroine who loves tropes as much as her readers. Tara’s quest to find herself a second-chance romance of her own is swoony, hilarious and ends in the perfect HEA.”—Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, authors of The Roughest Draft

“A gorgeous friends-to-lovers slow-burn, Exes and O’s is filled with fun, charm and an appealing hero who sees and loves the protagonist for exactly who she is. A perfect mix of relatable characters, hilarious banter, and steam, Exes and O’s is for everyone who has wondered about past relationships and future loves.”—Lily Chu, author of The Stand-In
"I flew through this bookAmy Lea packed every sentence with so much hilarity and heart. Get ready for some trope-y goodness in Exes and O's, including a meta awareness of those same tropes that's a blast to read. If you love the roommate vibes of New Girl, a heroine who's unabashedly 'extra,' and a hero who unabashedly accepts her for who she is, you won't want to miss this one!"—Alicia Thompson, national bestselling author of Love in the Time of Serial Killers

“The resulting romance is as sensitive and swoony as it is self-aware, playfully engaging popular romance tropes. This is a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Lea's follow-up to Set on You (2022) is a hilarious, relatable exploration of life and love, filled to brimming with soft moments, small gestures, and a clear love of the romance genre itself...A comically delightful romance about how the best love stories are found where you least expect them."—Kirkus (starred review)

Exes and O's is equal parts tender and laugh-out-loud funny, with an earnest appreciation for the romance genre singing loudly from every page. With her sophomore novel, Lea proves she’s here to stay.”—Bookpage (starred review)

"A perfect beach read for fans of contemporary romance who enjoy unique and compelling leads."—Library Journal

Other titles by Amy Lea