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The Best of 2019 – Caroline’s List

I hate making these lists, because I always feel like I can’t possibly judge the “Best of 2019” without reading at least, oh, another hundred or two hundred books. So I’m going to call this “The best books I managed to read by AAR’s internal deadline in 2019” and let you know that many well-loved books, from Bringing Down the Duke to Proper English, are still sitting on my TBR. But what are you going to do?

My list only has seven books because there was a clear break for me between these and the next six or so books I really enjoyed but not QUITE as much.

A Prince On Paper by Alyssa Cole

Hero-has-secretly-loved-heroine-for-years-but-she-is-oblivious is one of my favorite tropes. As his country votes in a referendum on whether or not to keep the monarchy, Johan von Braustein asks Nya Jerami to pose as his fiancee to distract the paparazzi from his struggling younger brother. Cole balances a limelight story with truthful, complicated family issues (for both characters) and never falls into cliches. Also, this is probably my favorite cover of 2019, because I have a thing about hands, and dang…

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

I’ve been in education for over a decade, and I can count on one hand the number of romance novels that in any way accurately capture the teacher experience. This story of Rose, a history teacher displaced from her favorite class by new-hire Martin, is so much richer for its realistic grounding in department politics, day-to-day technicalities, and the emotional lives of educators. But the romance is great, too – this is a supportive, caring couple who, because they are further along in their lives (both are over 40, Rose is divorced, and Martin is a divorced single dad), just have more complications attempting to match their lives to that of another person. Bonus points for a plus-size heroine for whom weight is a truthful part – but ONLY a part – of her overall identity.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra

Esguerra is the founder of #RomanceClass, a community of romance writers in the Philippines (you can read more about the world of Philippines romance writing in my Tropical Romance Book Club feature). This was my first book by Esguerra, and I loved it. This second chance romance stars Calinda, a figure skater, and Ram, a hockey player, hitting their early thirties and moving on to the post-competition era of their lives. I appreciated the complexity of characters navigating financial obstacles, as well as the author’s exploration of patriarchal values and issues around migration and immigration.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

I have a great weakness for sword-swinging barbarian heroes and political intrigue. Euthalia is queen of the island of Calanthe, and although her kingdom has been reduced to a tributary by the murderous mainland emperor, that’s still luxury since anybody who stood against him has been obliterated. Conri was a prince of one of these destroyed kingdoms, enslaved and sent to work the mines which supply a substance that negates magic and allowed the emperor to defeat the wizard-defended kingdoms. But now Conri has led a slave revolt, taken over the mines, and launched a war on the emperor – and the path to victory goes through Calanthe. Did I mention Lia is also the emperor’s betrothed? I love fantasy romance, and it’s so exciting to be in on the ground floor of a promising new series.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau

Awkward characters who never cross over into slapstick. Complicated family relationships and interesting supporting characters. A bakery in a location (Toronto) where it’s actually financially sustainable. What’s not to love about the story of hard-working businesswoman Sarah and tech exec Josh?

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The heroine Tiffy sublets Leon’s apartment – but only for evenings, when he works as a night shift nurse. They communicate for weeks via notes until they finally start interacting in real life and discover strong compatibility. The subplots in this book are also rich, as Tiffy slowly examines the relationship she just exited and Leon struggles against a criminal justice system that failed his brother. Of all the 2019 books I read this year, this is the one I had the hardest time putting down. It’s funny, it’s emotional, and it’s just excellent.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas

This was a contemp-heavy year for me, but Magnolia bucked the trend with its richly-developed and diverse classical Chinese setting, great action sequences, and complementary main couple. Mulan is clever and a proficient warrior without sliding into Mary Sue territory, and Yuan Kai, with his inner conflict, was an unexpected but thoroughly satisfying hero.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

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