A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow blew me away when I listened to it this summer. The worldbuilding she managed to do is astonishing considering it’s about Black sirens but set in modern times. Combine that with a discussion of respectability politics and misogynoir as well as sisterly love. It’s a book I wish I could re-read for the first time again, it’s that good.
You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson is delightful and made me so happy. The cover is just beautiful to look at with a happy Black teen. But inside is even better with a Black lesbian teen getting her HFN in the Midwest. The author handled the complexities of young friendship and relationships so well. This is pure fluff in the best sense of that word.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas was a book I didn’t stop shouting about for at least a full 3 months. When Yadriel summons a ghost, he was not expecting to get Julian and definitely not expecting to have to help him figure out what or who killed him. The vibrant setting and characters were excellent, but even better was having a trans character taking center stage and getting this brilliant book about him.
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean was a perfect series ender for me! I spent the first 2 book hating Ewan and most of this one side-eying him but by the end I was on his side. However, I was cheering for Grace the entire time for sure, she made him grovel in the best way.
Courtney Milan’s The Duke Who Didn’t is the perfect historical for this year. Extremely low-angst and low-conflict, yet I was never uninterested. List-making Chloe Wong was an MC made for me, and Jeremy just wants to win her heart and is a big softie. I loved the town, the food, and even the surprise. *disclaimer/disclosure: I volunteered on the Romancing the Runoff team, co-lead by Milan.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade made me cry multiple times but I’m not holding it against the book! April is a fat woman who always tries to shy away from the spotlight but puts herself out there with Marcus who is famous. They both have painful parental relationships and the nuance and complex way Olivia dealt with this was delicate and not heavy-handed. Both characters have incredible emotional journeys and this one has a special spot in my heart.
Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo. This debut was impressive at how it dealt with cultural differences in relationships. Azere struggles throughout with weighing her Nigerian culture and roots and how to combine these with her partner, Rafael, who is not. It felt extremely relevant to today on how a couple could try to make this work since they are bringing a baby into their lives.
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle is a marriage in trouble book to rival all others. I love this book so much, but at the beginning, I kept thinking wait there is no way I’m going to root for these two!? Just you wait…the relationship evolves in such a satisfactory way and by the end, I was so happy we get their HEA.
Headliners by Lucy Parker is basically a perfect enemies-to-lovers book. You should read the book before this one to understand everything fully but Nick and Sabrina have excellent banter and almost-hatred which to no surprise turns to love. Lucy Parker has yet to have a miss for me!
Like Lovers Do by Tracey Livesay. Not only is the maybe the most perfect friends-to-lovers book but she managed to make hammock sex happen and be sexy!?
You Had Me At Hola by Alexis Daria. This telenovela romance felt like it had simultaneous romances happening – but with the same couple almost? Because the two main characters were falling for each other IRL and on screen. I just thought the concept and culture were delightful.
Call Me Maybe by Cara Bastone. I could have included basically every book of Cara Bastone’s I read this year, but I used restraint! I included this one because it used the medium so incredibly well. I listen to a ton of audio and this was a standout for me.
The House In the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. This book made my heart grow like 3 sizes bigger in one sitting. All of the kids in this book have different abilities and the adults are there to protect them. It’s just basically a hug wrapped in a fantasy book.
Strange Love by Ann Aguirre. I’m not a big re-reader but I’ve read this one and listened to this twice already this year. This is such a charming accidental alien abduction story filled with consent. Plus there’s a talking dog named Snaps that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it.
Archangel’s Sun by Nalini Singh. I’m an unapologetic Nalini stan so any best-of list that didn’t include her would be invalid. We finally got Hummingbird’s story and she did not disappoint! Titus and Sharine had the greatest banter, which is something I always love to see in a book. And the epilogue was perfection.
Deal With the Demon by Chace Verity. Maybe my jam is PNR fluff? Because that’s what this is and I loved it. Heidi makes a deal with a demon on accident, and the demon winds up helping her kids with homework and helping around the house. More fluffy PNR in 2021, please!
The Wives by Tarryn Fisher. This book is messed up in the best non-romance ways. Thursday’s husband has two other wives…or does he? I’d recommend going into this book without reading any spoilers because almost any information will ruin this book. Easily one of my favorite suspense of the year.
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. Just like Nalini, if a list of mine was missing Alyssa Cole it’d be invalid. This book was phenomenal and kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. I still don’t get how she made a book about gentrification so suspenseful. But she did so flawlessly. *disclaimer/disclosure: I volunteered on the Romancing the Runoff team, co-lead by Cole.
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. This is the primer on feminism I’d recommend to everyone. This ties feminism into everything the movement has forgotten along the way and I learned so much.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson. I listened to this one and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’m not a huge Jessica Simpson fan but always knew the media did her wrong and wow, did this book open my eyes to how much she went through. I’d recommend this to anyone to get a better feel for what famous women are put through by society. Also, Jessica Simpson is way smarter than people give her credit for.
Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman. I buddy read this with my co-blogger Melanie and I highly recommend this experience. These two friends discuss how friendships can evolve and change over a lifetime and how you need to put effort into them. They also touch on interracial friendships which I appreciated so much.
Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie. I love Meghan Markle so I knew I was going to read this. And I’m so glad I did because I felt like it gave me greater insight into her experience and how the Royal family treated her. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t great.
More about my reading year:
Um, this year was a whole lot! I struggled through a lot of this year, like everyone else. Dani and Jen’s Bingo reading challenges – #FallIntoRomBingo and now #SnowInLoveBingo have helped me focus on what to read so that’s been great for me.
I keep track of my reading very carefully in a reading spreadsheet so I know exactly what I’ve read and when. I made a goal to increase my reading of BIPOC authors as well as LGBTQIA+ authors 2 years ago. It was ridiculously low when I started tracking – like 15% BIPOC authors. My goal this year was above 40% and I’m super happy that as of now my reading for the year is at 44.5% by BIPOC authors and 22% by LGBTQIA+ authors. I’ve found that as long as I pay attention to what I’m picking up it makes a difference, whereas before I wasn’t thinking about it.
While 2020 may have sucked, as you can tell, I did have a really great reading year! What about you?
What a great list. I have to agree about. Call Me Maybe. I, too, am an avid audio book listener. I’m very picky about my narrators, but also about noise. I don’t like hearing breaths and I even get picky about pronunciations. The ambient noise in this book was incredible. Keyboard sounds, grocery store noise, it’s crazy. And perfectly used. Ididn’t think I’d like it. I thought it would bother me. I found the opposite. It kept me so well-engaged. I’m not quite done with the book yet and I’m getting angry at life that I don’t have time to listen! I may organize a closet later just to have time to listen! LOL
The ambient noise could easily have gone so badly but like when the MC would come home and you’d hear the cat in the background or a car driving by…it was just so perfectly done!
Thanks for sharing your list, Melinda! I see some books that I also liked as well as a few to investigate.
My absolute favorite romance of 2020 was N.R. Walker’s Missing Pieces trilogy (PIECES OF YOU, PIECES OF ME, and PIECES OF US). It’s an m/m romance about two men in a long-term relationship and how they have to find a way to move forward when one of them is severely injured (and loses his memory) in a terrible vehicle accident. A great story about ordinary people having to face extraordinary challenges and doing so with grace and love.
I had 14 books on my Favorite Romances of 2020 list. Ten were published in 2020, the other four were published in prior years, but I only got around to reading them in 2020 (story of my reading life…I’m always trying to catch up). Then yesterday I read Ainslie Paton’s 2016 release, OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOR which was both the first book I’d ever read by Paton (why? why?) and absolutely brilliant. So now my favorites list has 15 books on it and I have a new-to-me author whose entire backlist is going into my ever-expanding tbr.
oh, I really like N.R. Walker but I’ve missed this one, I will check it out – thanks!
The House in the Cerulean Sea was so good! One of the bright spots in my 2020 reading year!