Probably the most surprising thing about my Best of 2020 list is that it does actually include some books NOT written by Gregory Ashe!  I know – What a Shocker: P  He’s published a phenomenal TEN books in 2020 – I’ve read nine of them and every single one of those has received DIK status, which is, surely unprecedented;  I’ve never given so many A grades to a single author in a single year.  But every one of those DIKs is absolutely deserved; his books are clever, funny, insightful, gritty, angsty, and romantic – and no one – NO ONE – does rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it slow burn romance quite like he does.


Ideally, I’d just put “Everything Gregory Ashe has published this year” on the list, but I can’t*, so instead I’ve just made two random choices (random because I could have chosen any of the aforementioned DIKs). The Same Breath, book one in his Utah-set  The Lamb and the Lion series, features Tean Leon, a wildlife vet, and Jem Berger, a con-man – who meet when Jem is searching for his missing brother.  It’s one of the author’s best odd-couple pairings; Tean is an adorable dork with  a glass-half-empty outlook, while Jem is charming and much more upbeat, but of course, both of them are far more complicated than they at first seem and both have a great deal of baggage to work through if they’re going to be together.  The prose in this book is some of the author’s best, the  mystery is clever, and the relationship  is wonderful, full of affection, longing, and off-the charts chemistry, Tean and Jem fit like puzzle pieces, filling in gaps in each other’s lives they didn’t even know they had.

Buy it at: Amazon or your local independent bookstore

They Told Me I Was Everything is book one in  The First Quarto series, which is set a few years before Emery Hazard returns to Wahredua in Pretty Pretty Boys. Freshman Auggie Lopez and grad student Theo Stratford ponder the complexities of King Lear while solving a murder mystery and forging a genuine, deeply felt but complicated relationship.  Gregory Ashe is king of the slow burn romance, and this looks set to be one of his best; glorious, intense and frustrating!

Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Here are the other books and authors I enjoyed most in 2020.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Charlie Adhara

I’m so NOT a werewolf person (!), but I made an exception for Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series, and am so very glad I did;  the author does a terrific job of combining high-stakes suspense  plots with plenty of relationship and character development, steamy love scenes, tenderness and humour in all the books. This one sees Cooper and Park pretending to be a couple (even though they’re a real couple!) to investigate some shady doings at a couples retreat, and I loved seeing how far their relationship has come.  Book five, Cry Wolf is out in January and I can’t wait!

Buy it at: Amazon or Audible

The Will Darling Adventures by K.J. Charles

It would be a strange year if there wasn’t a book by K.J. Charles on my Best of List.  Well, okay so this HAS been a strange year, but there’s still a book (or two) by KJC here; the two instalments (so far) in her 1920s set Will Darling Adventures series, Slippery Creatures and The Sugared Game.  A former soldier inherits his uncle’s bookshop and becomes embroiled in all sorts of shady shenanigans, during the course of which he meets the enigmatic, exasperating and aristocratic Kim Secretan, who … well let’s just say he’s not quite what he seems.  An  homage to 1920s pulp fiction this series bears all the hallmarks of this author’s style; fabulous storytelling and plotting, superb characterisation, a wonderfully realised setting, characteristically dry wit and British understatement by the bucketload.  Oh, and lots of tea.

Buy Slippery Creatures at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Buy The Sugared Game at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent bookstore

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase

Without doubt the best historical romance of the year, this was worth the three-year wait!  I love a bad-boy redemption story and this is a truly outstanding one that works on every level; the leads are complex, fully-rounded and engaging characters, the romance is swoonworthy and the character development –especially on the part of the hero – is stellar. It’s funny, poignant and sexy, and the author’s subtle commentary on the lack of agency afforded to the well-bred female in nineteenth century England is always spot on without being in your face.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent bookstore

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

I don’t read a lot of m/f contemporary romance, but the synopsis for this one caught my eye; a fanfic writer and the lead actor from her favourite show (who is also – secretly – her online writing partner) meet face-to-face after he asks her out on a date (on Twitter!);  he’s instantly smitten, but she’s not so sure… it’s as though he’s acting the role of gorgeous-but-dim, and she’s not here for that.  The author incorporates a lot of serious issues with a light hand, and  explores the dynamics of fandom and social media really well;  the chemistry between the leads is sizzling from the start and the writing is sharply focused and insightful.  I loved it and devoured it in one sitting.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent bookstore

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Romantic, funny, silly, messy, tropey and utterly captivating, Boyfriend Material is quite possibly the best romantic comedy I’ve ever read.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud so much and so often as I did when reading this book.  I love a good fake-relationship story and this is a VERY good one;  it’s a free-spirit-meets-stuffed-shirt pairing and it works beautifully.  Luc and Oliver light up the pages whenever they’re together, and running alongside the humour is a lovely story about self-worth and acceptance and the need to be true to oneself.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible,  or  your local independent bookstore

Against the Grain by Jay Hogan

Jay Hogan has quickly become one of my favourite authors and her latest Auckland Med. book is her best yet.  In it, she develops a terrific and very ‘adult’ romance between two complete opposites;  out-and-proud Sandy, who eschews labels and has fought all his life to be who he is, and elite wheelchair athlete Miller, who has spent most of his life keeping his head down, having decided that coming out on top of learning to live with a disability was one level of drama too far.  The romance is superbly developed, the characters are fallible yet intensely likeable, and though they’re very different, the author shows at every turn exactly why they’re perfect for one another.

Buy it at: Amazon or your local independent bookstore

Blue on Blue by Dal Maclean

The entire Bitter Legacy trilogy is simply brilliant, all three books intricate, gripping and superbly written romantic mystery/procedural/suspense novels featuring complex but flawed (oh, so dreadfully flawed in some cases!) characters you can’t help but like in spite of yourself.  Blue on Blue is the final book, and in it, the author masterfully pulls together and ties up all her storylines, while continuing the development of the relationship between PoV character Detective Inspector Will Foster and model Tom Grey, whose tempestuous romance began in Object of Desire.  The mystery/suspense plotline is a cleverly woven web of lies, betrayal and misdirection and Will and Tom’s romance is filled with sexy, angsty goodness!  I read this one but also listened to the whole trilogy, which boasts an outstanding performance by Gary Furlong who does the impossible and elevates these already amazing books to a higher level.

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

Headliners by Lucy Parker

Headliners, the fifth in Lucy Parker’s excellent London Celebrities series, switches focus from London’s Theatreland to the world of television to bring us a wonderfully sharp, funny, sexy and grown-up romance between a pair of rival TV presenters who profess to hate each other’s guts, but who, of course, doth protest too much. Lucy Parker once again demonstrates why she continues to be one of my (very few) go-to authors for m/f romance – the writing is superb, the dialogue sparkles and I love knowing that I can pick up a Lucy Parker book and feel instantly as though I’m in a place I recognise.

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

Common Goal by Rachel Reid

This May/December romance between a silver-fox goalie nearing retirement and a bartender sixteen years his junior is emotional, funny, all kinds of sexy and totally wonderful on all counts.  Eric is recently divorced and finally ready to explore his bisexuality; Kyle has a habit of falling for the wrong men – and Eric is just his type…  of course, resistance is useless!  This is a gorgeous slow-burn romance between two men who are, on the surface, very different but deep down, are looking for the same thing.  This one is up there with Heated Rivalry as a series favourite.

Buy it at: Amazon or Audible

In the Deep by Loreth Anne White

Although Loreth Anne White has become known for her romantic suspense novels, In the Deep is a straight-up thriller about a young woman who moves to New South Wales with her new husband, only to realise shortly afterwards that something is very, very wrong.  The plot is diabolically clever, and brilliantly constructed, and the author pulls off a superb twist near the end that I didn’t see coming.  In the Deep is a remarkable piece of storytelling, a riveting tale of emotional manipulation, betrayal and palpable fear that kept me glued to its pages from first to last.

 

*forbidden by our Publisher 

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent bookstore

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Queer romance, romantic suspense and historicals - romance, mysteries, fiction -  are my genres of choice these days, and when I haven't got my nose in a book, I’ve got my ears in one.  I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am rarely to be found without my earbuds in.