As fall begins, I start thinking about end-of-year “Best of” lists. There are so many books released each year that I’m always worried that I’m missing out books I should have tried. AAR’s Power Search is my longtime favorite for checking out what’s been going on in a given year, and I often turn to it for guidance on what I should try to cram in before December.
As of 10 September, when I pulled the data for this column, AAR staffers had given DIK grades to 125 books published in 2019. But we read widely, and we can’t help sharing all the books that get us excited, even ones that aren’t romance (our biggest non-romance DIK category? Psychological thrillers!).
When you adjust the list to include only romances, we have given sixty-seven books published in 2019 a DIK of grade A+, A, or A- so far (1 A+ and 37 As). Contemporary has been our most successful subgenre, where we’ve had 29 DIK reads or listens, and our second-best is historical, with 16. This matches the anecdotal feeling of some of our reviewers that it’s been a weak year for historicals.
Alyssa Cole is having an extraordinary year, with four (!!!) DIKs: Can’t Escape Love; Once Ghosted, Twice Shy; A Prince On Paper; and An Unconditional Freedom. That’s more DIKs in nine months than some authors earn in a career! She’s followed by four authors with two books apiece: Jenn Burke with paranormal romances Not Dead Yet and Give Up The Ghost, K.J. Charles with Proper English and Any Old Diamonds, Kennedy Ryan with Hook Shot and the audiobook of Block Shot, and Talia Hibbert with Work For It and That Kind of Guy. Our one A+ so far: Crazy Cupid Love, by Amanda Heger, given by our happiest reviewer this year, Lisa Fernandes, who has given 18 DIK grades.
I asked AAR staffers – what are your do-not-miss romances of 2019? In addition to the works listed above, and in no particular order, here are the books they named.
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas
Grading Curves by Naima Simone
Angel in a Devil’s Arms by Julie Anne Long (Release Date: 29th October)
Dukes Are Forever by Bec McMaster
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
A Chip and a Chair (the entire Seven of Spades series) by Cordelia Kingsbridge
The Rake’s Enticing Proposal by Lara Temple
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Fumbled by Alexa Martin
More than Words Can Say by Karen Witemeyer
The Spice King by Elizabeth Camden
The Takeover Effect by Nisha Sharma
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau
What about you, readers? Which of our favorites have you read, and do you agree that they are 2019’s finest? What 2019 romance do you want to get up on your soapbox and shout about until everyone reads it?
~ Caroline Russomanno
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
I just finished Jackie Lau’s Ultimate Pi Day Party. Chinese-Canadian tech guy meets Anglo-Canadian baker. It’s absolutely lovely and my new top read of the year.
I haven’t had a lot of flat-out hits this year, but these three are my best so far:
WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE by Diana Biller set in 1875 New York with a scandalous heroine and an eccentric, brilliant inventor hero – loved this one, not least because I had no expectations going in.
HER DEADLY SECRETS by Laura Griffin – A romantic suspense that moves fast (starts with heroine almost getting shot) and has a nicely matched h/h pair.
SOMEONE TO HONOR by Mary Balogh – This was a slow burn, reserved, subtle romance that didn’t work for everyone, but was perfect for me.
My favorites so far are Tessa Bailey’s Fix Her Up
Lisa Kleypas Devil’s Daughter
Ilona Andrews Sapphire Flames
Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke
Talia Hibbert’s Work for It
Thanks to this post, I read Teach Me by Olivia Dade, and it was marvelous. Wholeheartedly recommend it.
oh yay, Caroline! I’m glad you liked it!
I’ve been a bit short on new books that I actually liked. Part of my problem is that I prefer historicals and I want them to really be historical, not slapstick in pretty dresses. So the only one I’ve really liked this year is:
Madeline Hunter’s Never Deny a Duke
I share your perspective, Lil! Thanks for the recommendation for Madeline Hunter’s Never Deny a Duke. I’ll add this to my list!
Yes, I read a lot. And I had a lot of favorites this year so far:
Life and Other Inconveniences by Kristan Higgins
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
The Summer Country by Lauren Willig
The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
The Huntress by Kelly Quinn
Ambush by Barbara Nickless
A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
The Inbetween Days by Eva Woods
The Light Over London by Julia Kelly
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
I was really pleased to include Fumbled on this list. I felt Ms. Martin so perfectly captured the stresses of being a single mom, the complicated feelings of family toward our significant other and what happens when those feelings are decidedly negative, My son and husband are both huge football fans and reading about the issues of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in this story really helped me see how important this issue is in relation to the game. Ms. Martin’s first book just missed DIK status for me but this one is definitely A material. I’m already looking forward to her next book!
Thus far for me, Lucy Parker’s The Austen Playbook, Sandra Antonelli’s Forever in Your Service, Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, and Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare are my favorite books .
However, I do want to plug the very romantic and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, Lore Olympus, which is a running serial available on Webtoons. It’s a modern retelling of the Hades/Persephone story. I found out about it from reading Mariana Zapata’s and Penny Reid’s tweets. It’s amazing and I’m obsessed.
Lore Olympus is AMAZING. I have been considering doing a blog on the various WEBTOONs I’m addicted to but I always worry that I can’t promise an HEA yet.
Yay, another fan! I really hope that Rachel Smythe has Lore Olympus released as a book once the series finishes. I would love to have this story in physical form someday. I haven’t read other Webtoons but my niece follows many of them and loves the site.
I just heard that it got optioned by Jim Henson studios to be a YA animated series!
The standout romances of 2019 for me, are—
The Bride Test, who believed Hoang would surpass The Kiss Quotient?
Devil’s Daughter, the first half is utterly magnificent, quality I had no idea Kleypas was capable of. The last quarter is so bad that I ascribe it to a need to achieve a word count, erotica followed by a farcical climax.
I was delighted to have The Austen Playbook surpass Pretty Face as my favourite Lucy Parker.
The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare is just so damn funny, which combined with the magnificent climactic scene, makes it my second favourite romance.
It has been a great year.
Hosed was hilarious.
That Kind of Guy was sweet and emotional.
A Girl Like Her was offbeat and riveting.
Not Dead Yet was gripping and full of the unexpected.
Devil’s Daughter was an HR by Lisa Kleypas…’nuff said!I
Those are a few of my DIKs from this past 9 months of reading.
Hah, I just noticed I’ve had a very good, lucky reading year.
ALSO READ CRAZY CUPID LOVE IT’S SO CUTE
Sadly, this did not work for me. So bad I actually returned it. I found the heroine‘s constant difficulties forced, her family‘s behavior to her horrible (the constant seemingly loving teasing and putdowns were actual bullying for me) and the whole book felt like trying too hard. It was one of my big disappointments this year, I felt bad that I did „not get it“ and read on hoping but ended up skimming and finally returning. I love Jennifer Crusie, whose humor and writing is in my mind similar, but this did not work, sadly, for me.
It’s okay! Not everyone’s gonna like the same books! Different strokes for different folks.
Thrown off the Ice by Taylor Fitzpatrick – brilliant
Work for It by Talia Hibbert – smart, awesome
Not Dead Yet series by Jenn Burke – clever & fun & great
Heated Rivalry by Rachel Reid – straight up terrific
Hook Shot by Kennedy Ryan – part of the tremendous Hoops trilogy (which is one of the best series ever!)
Ryan has another book due shortly & I’d shortlist that one too!
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall – hilarious and so, so, so fun!!!
I like but don’t love the Hoops series. The two I’ve read have both been, in places, such hard going–serious trauma–that I find I’m disinclined to read more. Which is your favorite and is one less heavy than the others?
Which two did you read? One and two? I’m torn; I love Long Shot, even with its super heavy themes, but Jared is kind of alpha-hero awesome in Block Shot. I’m going to go with splitting the difference – I loved both principal characters & the story & it was the cherry on top of this amazing series & pick Hook Shot. I think the hard-going aspect is what elevates the series & makes it better ‘more,’ for me than other books. I was wholly invested in each of these stories. Have you read the Grip duology? I liked it a lot too.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Fitzpatrick book tearing through your GoodReads feed…but it’s as difficult as Long Shot, and the ending will gut you. I think the author is brave for writing it and I’m so glad I read it. I’m not sure if you read a lot of LGBTQ+ sports romance? This book blew me away.
I still want to get to Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by the end of this year! I’ve read so many good things about it.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
The Flatshare by Beth Oleary
Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Ann Long (now on sale for $1.99)
When a Duchess Says I Do by Grace Burrowes
Kay – I also loved the Long, and I’m on a waitlist at my library for the Oleary. Can’t wait!
Never heard of Oleary. What’s it about?
Tiffany and Leon share an apartment in London but had never met. Tiffany met Leon’s girlfriend when she moved in. Leon works at night so he uses the apartment during the day. Tiffany is getting over a toxic relationship with her ex. I appreciate the humor in the book and reading Tiffany and Leon’s sticky notes that they write to each other. The secondary characters were also fun. Someone else might be able to add more to this description.
It’s kind of a bedshare arrangement. Tiff gets the bed at night and on weekends and Leon gets the bed during the day. They never meet, but communicate with post it notes and texting. The notes are really charming, but they both have dark things going on in their lives. Eventually, they turn to one another and some friends to work their way through all the mess. I think this is Oleary’s first book.
I want to say Blackjack rep’d it a month or so ago. I’ve been waiting for it from my library for a LLLLOOOONNNNGGGG time. So, other people must be aware of it too?
I want to say Blackjack rec’d it a month or so ago. I’ve been waiting for it from my library for a L . O . N . G time. So, other people must be aware of it too?
Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare will definitely be on my best of the year list for 2019.
Is The Flatshare women’s fiction or a romance? Is there any steam in it?
I would characterize it as romance, but as far as steam, there is some but it’s pretty mild for a contemporary.