Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert – cinnamon roll heroes were what got me through 2020 and very few authors do it as well as Talia Hibbert. When security guard Zafir Ansari’s rescue of PhD candidate Dani Brown during a fire drill gone wrong goes viral (#DrRugbae 4ever), the two decide to fake a public relationship for the sake of Zaf’s kids’ charity with a side order of sexy times in private. I love the “lets bang to get her out of my system and surely I will not accidentally fall for her oops sorry too late” trope. It’s kind of a mouthful but it’s just the best.
Dear Enemy by Kristen Callihan – when I was looking through my top reads of the year for the purposes of this post, I was shocked to find I read this book this year. It genuinely feels like a lifetime ago. But all these many months later, Delilah and Macon have stuck with me, from their antagonistic relationship to the cutting banter to the almost painfully slow-burn development of their romance. This definitely is a book that made me wait for it but when Macon and Delilah finally got their HEA, it was well worth the agonizing wait.
Every New Year by Katrina Jackson – the premise of Ezra and Candace, friends for ages, secretly pining after each other for TWO DECADES really works for two underlying reasons: first, Katrina Jackson does such a good job of laying the foundation for these two and their longstanding friendship that you can’t help but root for their success and second, the idea of Ezra putting Candace up on that pedestal and so completely unable to imagine that someone of Candace’s caliber could EVER in a million years go for a guy like him really made me go all in on Team Ezra.
Headliners by Lucy Parker – this entire series is a joyful celebration of flawed, frustrating yet endearing characters, and the wittiest, sharpest banter found in contemporary romance today. To get the full impact of this book, it’s imperative you read the book preceding it in this series, The Austen Playbook, because that book lays the groundwork for the animosity between Nick and Sabrina. Watching them maneuver around their feelings before eventually giving into them is a total delight.
Like Lovers Do by Tracey Livesay – I’m a total sucker for the friends to lovers trope coupled with competence porn, specifically as it relates to the heroine. Nic is an accomplished surgeon who suddenly finds her dream fellowship in jeopardy due to the machinations of a self-entitled, obnoxious junior doctor. She offers to help her landlord, Ben, fend off his ex-girlfriend in exchange for his well-connected family helping her keep her fellowship. I really appreciate the way Tracey Livesay handled racism in this book, from the blatant workplace disrespect to the more subtle racism couched as “oh, I’m just joking” coming from Ben’s ex girlfriend.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – I’m a huge Olivia Dade fan and when I was going through my top reads of the year, her books came up multiple times. She writes fantastic cinnamon roll heroes and her fat representation is simply unparalleled. This book had so many layers, it’s almost hard to know where to begin. It takes on many heavy topics, from the two main characters experiencing parental judgment (April for being fat, Marcus for not being smart enough for his parents’ standards), to an extremely fun dissertation on fan-fiction and cosplay to most poignantly, the idea of learning how to love yourself. It’s sweet and funny and heartfelt and bittersweet in all the best ways.
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle – I did not expect to love a book with two such petty, passive-aggressive main characters but here we are. Naomi and Nicholas are engaged to be married…and engaged in a battle of wills. Each wants the other to end the engagement and will do their absolute best (or is it worst?) to force the other to call it quits. Hilarious and almost ridiculous at times, the book was also surprisingly moving and sweet and even months after reading it, this line continues to strike a chord. We’re going to have to choose each other, over and over, and be each other’s champion, never letting ourselves forget the good whenever we’re stuck in a patch of bad. Two such ridiculously petty characters shouldn’t also be endearing but somehow, it really works in this book.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria – delightfully, fiercely feminist is how I described this book in my review. Telenovela stars Jasmine and Ashton deal with complicated pasts and public breakups while trying to get their new show off the ground. Watching them deal with their assorted feelings while also figuring out their feelings for each other was utterly lovely. I really loved this book a lot and wish someone would option it for a movie.
Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas – Kleypas is one of my favorite historical romance authors and she is reliably good. And this story, about a very nice woman named Cassandra who has something bad happen and then things all turn out ok and the villain gets his comeuppance, is basically the soothing balm that 2020 needed, in book form. Tom “I only have 5 feelings” Severin is a charming delight and so is this book.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventures by Courtney Milan – I know, I KNOW. You’re wondering why it took me so long to read this utterly fantastic book. I don’t have an answer except to say I’m glad I waited to read it this year because it was the perfect time to read about two fierce women of a certain age find love with each other and also metaphorically burn down the patriarchy…with actual arson.
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean – I spent the first two books in this series biting my fingernails while pondering how on earth she was planning to redeem Ewan. I should have had faith. And while she does redeem him, it is Grace who’s the star of this story, a bold, brash heroine who is every bit the warrior as her bare-knuckled bastard brothers.
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan – yes, she makes it on this list twice, and to be honest, having spent much of the early part of this year inhaling her Brothers Sinister series, she legitimately could have made this top reads list many, many more times. Her most recent release is a charmer. Heroine Chloe Wong is fearsome and smart. Hero Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, is an exuberant puppy dog of a hero, hopelessly in love with Chloe and desperately striving to be worthy of her affections. The big reveal so unexpectedly and hilarious, I beg you all to read it if you haven’t already.
Archangel’s Sun by Nalini Singh – I came to PNR pretty recently, only in 2019 actually. I am finally caught up on Guild Hunters and the most recent release, with Archangel Titus and Sharine/Hummingbird, is dark and gritty…and surprisingly witty with banter that made me literally laugh out loud several times.
The Beyond Series by Kit Rocha – 2020 was the year I discovered Kit Rocha. I don’t know where I’ve been all this time, but this dark, dystopian series about the O’Kanes of Sector 4 simultaneously managed to bring me to my knees and fill me with hope. I’m not fully through the series yet – I’m saving the last couple for my “break in case of emergency TBR” but I’d like to give a special shout out to Beyond Control which focuses on Sector 4 leader Dallas and Lexie and Beyond Jealousy, which features Ace, Rachel, and Lorenzo figuring out how to the navigate the complexities of maintaining a loving relationship with three people.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri – I don’t really gravitate towards fantasy but this book took my breath away. The prose was lush and evocative, the story had it all, from political intrigue to memorable characters to a slow burning romance, to themes that really resonate in our world, in current times even, despite being a fantasy.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole – I don’t read a lot of suspense but let me be clear, I am a huge Alyssa Cole fangirl and I will basically read the phone book if she decided to rewrite it. When No One is Watching has all the traditional hallmarks of a suspense novel – sinister and dark, made all the scarier because the monsters lying in wait are hiding in plain sight, neighbors and members of the community. The story is masterful in the way it blends history with topics of current-day systemic racism and gentrification all set in a world that feels all too real and recognizable…which is the scariest part.
A Midnight Feast by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner – I adore a good marriage in trouble book and this one, set in the 1960s, is about astronaut Mitch and his wife Margie attempting to glue together the pieces of their marriage. It’s poignant and bittersweet and hopeful, a beautiful commentary on how hard marriage can be and how easy it is to take those we love for granted.
Get it Right by Skye Kilaen – this charming f/f features Finn, a lesbian who has just been released from prison and Vivi, the pansexual nurse she fell for while in prison. It’s sweet and hopeful, deals with some heavy topics but somehow manages to be light and fluffy and warm – the best kind of holiday romance.
Sweetest in the Gale by Olivia Dade – three charming stories make up this collection featuring school teachers falling for each other to an uninsured woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer falling for the man who offers to marry her so that she can have health insurance. It’s romantic in the most real world way, there are no billionaires and fancy penthouses, these stories are about people in pain finding hope and love in the most unexpected of places.
Reading Year Recap
Since I began tracking my books a few years ago on Goodreads, I’ve always managed to crack 150 book read per year. In 2019, I began to challenge myself further by planning my reads for the month – I wanted to diversify my reading and planning them out in advance furthered that goal. And then 2020 happened. In March, I had to admit defeat when it came to planning out my reads and actually sticking to them. By August, I had to readjust my GR goal from 150 down to 140. However, by the time November was almost done with, I had discovered the power of a good novella/short story. Holiday novellas and shorts have made up the bulk of my reading in the past month. They’re quick and light and easy and can be finished within an hour or so. They don’t require a lot of emotional investment and attention so it’s really perfect for me right now. By the time 2020 is in our rearview mirror, I will once again have cracked 150 even if a portion of that is due to novellas and short stories. It’s a much needed win and if there’s anything 2020 has proven to me, it’s that you take your wins wherever you find them.