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The Best of 2020 – Caroline’s List

The hardest part of any Best of list is frantically trying to read all the books on everyone else’s list to make sure you didn’t miss something. This is not helped when certain authors release fantastic books well into December (AHEM Ms. Alyssa Cole…) which you have to frantically get to before your deadline for list submission!

Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan

Who knew back in June that a story about a black female political kingmaker out of Georgia would prove so timely? Ezra and Kimba’s story is rich and intense, realistically messy, and romantically inevitable. While it feels a bit more like literary fiction with a happy ending, I’m glad to have that added to the bookshelves of Romancelandia. Romance is a richer genre because Ryan gave us this book.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Laurie and her boyfriend were coworkers as well as a couple – until he broke up with her, and she learned that he was cheating and the other woman was pregnant. Laurie is left reeling, to the point that a proposal by office player Jamie to have a fake relationship appeals. This book is proof that tropes can be handled in a rich, thoughtful way by a gifted writer. I loved watching Laurie grow into a new version of herself.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Beach Read by Emily Henry

A romance writer and a literary fiction writer end up as next door neighbors for a summer, and since both are struggling with writer’s block and massive life changes, they challenge each other to experiment with the other’s genre. I liked how Henry explored issues of respect for writers of “women’s stories,” and the question of writing stories which affirm love when your own faith in it has been shaken. I do have to agree with our reviewer that the hero’s book’s ending frankly sucks, but I can live with a dumb paragraph when the rest of the book was so great.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore

A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane

I had this book to read as an ARC back in November of 2019, and I remember thinking, “How weird would it be if I just read one of my best books of 2020, and it isn’t even 2020 yet?” Lo, over a year later, this book held its spot. High adventure, a clever politician queen, thoughtful challenges to “alpha” masculinity, killer worldbuilding, and a deeply hot barbarian hero – what more do you need?

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Bench Player by Julianna Keyes

Baseball is not my sport, so it’s extra significant when a baseball romance makes my list. Connor Whitman’s conviction for insider trading got him thrown off the Charleston Thrashers and into two years of prison, turning into a grumpy misanthrope. Ball-buster Thrashers PR manager Allison Whyte has to redeem him to the public in order to save her job, even if it’s too late to save Connor’s. I love a competent, professional heroine. Throw in a well-researched contemporary setting and great prose, and I’m there.

Buy it at: Amazon

The Hidden Moon – Jeannie Lin

I love Lin’s Pingkang Li mysteries, set in Tang Dynasty China, and it was a delight to return to that setting with Wei-wei and Gao. If you like procedural (not grisly) mysteries, cross-class romance, and settings you haven’t read a million times before, come explore the city of Chang’an with Jeannie Lin – but don’t start here; begin at the beginning with The Lotus Palace.

Buy it at: Amazon or your local independent bookstore

A Dangerous Kind of Lady by Mia Vincy

Arabella Larke’s society ice queen reputation can survive jilting by Guy Roth, Marquess of Hardbury, but she has no desire to marry the creepy, virginity-obsessed alternate her father demands she accept. Arabella turns to Guy to shed the virginity her fiance demands. Arabella’s pride and manipulative nature make her a disaster for Guy, who is desperate to be his own man – but at the same time, her social cunning makes her the only one who can further his scheme to obtain custody of his sisters from an embezzling guardian.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole

A romance heroine is rarely allowed to be ambitious, and a hero is rarely allowed to be weak. This doesn’t bother Cole, who gives us Shanti, a woman who taught herself to be a perfect royal bride, in a marriage of convenience with King Sanyu of Njaza, a man built out of depression, imposter syndrome, and a childhood full of emotional abuse. This book is nothing expected and everything wonderful.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Based on these books, I’m noticing that the themes that pulled me in in 2020 were

  • clever, competent heroines
  • books which used common tropes (marriage of convenience, fake relationship) but resolved them in uncommon ways
  • couples who helped each other grow

If you can think of other books along these lines I might enjoy, please share them in the comments!

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