Reading (and reviewing) romance is wonderful. The genre provides so many great kinds of storytelling, but this year my heart (again) belonged to Romantic Suspense – and more specifically, to Gregory Ashe. Honestly, reader, my Best of 2020 could be wholly limited to titles he’s released this year! Clever, funny, sexy, romantic, awkward, heartwarming, gut wrenching…Mr. Ashe’s books – EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM – take you through the gamut of emotions; they’re brilliant. Each time I pick up an Ashe title I doubt he can top himself, and LITERALLY every time, he does.
Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords; The First Quarto; The Lamb and the Lion series by Gregory Ashe. All of these are marvelous. If you aren’t quite sure where to begin, I think The Lamb and the Lion (so far only two books – book three is coming in January 2021), is a good jump-off point. It showcases all the best parts of the author’s writing – the humor, the odd opposites-attract pairings, the pining, the intricate storytelling. His latest release, Yet a Stranger is brilliant but TOUGH. The highs are high, but the lows are – well, they’re awful. I love and hate this series in equal measure, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for anyone new to Ashe. And if you want to know why Caz and I started shouting out our love for Ashe in the first place, pick up Pretty Pretty Boys and catch up with Hazard and Somerset. THE BEST ODD COUPLE PAIRING in fiction. IMHO.
Ashe wins my 2020, but here’s are some of my other favorites (in no specific order), too.
Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase
Ten things I loved about this book: Our prickly, brainy heroine, Cassandra Pomfret; her handsome, dissolute childhood love and current nemesis, His Grace with the Angel Face the Duke of Ashmont; the kind and generous friends and family; the flirting; the humor; the steam; the sexual tension; the subtle, powerful commentary on women’s’ agency in Regency England; the redemptive story; the promise of one more book in this MARVELOUS series. So, so, so good.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
Bench Player by Julianna Keyes
Another home run from this talented writer. Sexy, smart and not quite what you expect. Impossible to put down. Can she make it a grand slam? I hope we get at least one more book from this DIK series.
Buy it at: Amazon
Blue on Blue by Dal Maclean
Friends, if you’re looking for a cozy mystery, Blue on Blue isn’t it. But if you’re looking for smart storytelling, a clever and gritty crime thriller, and a sexy romance featuring men who are fallible but trying to be and do better, that puts you through the wringer, then you should be reading Blue on Blue (and the Bitter Legacy series).
On my wish list for 2021: a crossover collaboration between Ms. Maclean and Mr. Ashe.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or shop at your local independent bookstore
Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews
I stopped reading Ms. Matthews in 2018 – not because I didn’t like her style of writing, but because I like a significant amount of steam in my romance reading, and Ms. Matthews doesn’t venture beyond kisses in her novels. I decided to read Fair as a Star on a lark; I was in the mood for something radically different from the angsty/steamy contemporary romances I had been reading, and FaaS seemed to fit the bill. And that beautiful cover! Fair as a Star is a gentle, tender, poignant and deeply romantic love story that I savored long after I finished reading.
Buy it at: Amazon or shop at your local independent bookstore
Common Goal by Rachel Reid
Friends, I’m always on the hunt for a great sports romance, and if the featured sport is hockey? Well, let’s just say I’ve one-clicked quite a few. Common Goal, much like Heated Rivalry, the other AMAZE-BALLS book in the Game Changers series, is one-click worthy. I straight up loved it. Sexy and smart, it features a May-December, opposites attract pairing that kept me glued to the pages the first, second, and third time I read it (okay, the last one was the audio version). I have no regrets, and neither will you. The Game Changer series is a game changer in sports romance (wink!), and firmly ensconced in my top five sports series of all time.
Barbarian. Fantasy. Romance. Before I started reading this tremendously entertaining series, I avoided books with barbarian and fantasy in their description. Oops. But with Milla Vane’s name attached, I decided to pick up A Heart of Blood and Ashes, and now I can’t stop telling friends how great this series is. In Vane’s brilliantly imagined world, a tenuous alliance of former adversaries – the Gathering of Dragons – has formed to stand against the return of the Destroyer, an evil warlord who laid waste to their lands a generation ago. Explicit, bloody, and super engrossing, the Gathering of Dragons series is romantic escapism at its best. I’d give a slight nod to the first book, but they’re both excellent and worth you time!
Heiress for Hire by Madeline Hunter
I read quite a few Hunter novels in my early romance reading days. I’m not quite sure why or when I quit this author, but that beautiful cover of Heiress for Hire reeled me right back into her Regency world. Minerva Hepplewhite survived a brutal marriage and barely escaped with her life, but when a mysterious benefactor bequeaths her a small fortune, her hand-to-mouth existence takes a decidedly improved turn. Unfortunately, Chase Radnor, a gentleman detective and the grandson of her mysterious benefactor, isn’t so sure Minerva didn’t have something to do with his grandfather’s suspicious death. They flirt and fight, and trick and tease each other all the way to the end of this story and I couldn’t get enough of them or their love story. Heiress for Hire is a lovely return to form for the talented Madeline Hunter, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or shop at your local independent bookstore
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
With all the pre-release social media hype attached to The Roommate, I was worried my expectations were too high. They weren’t, and the hype is well-deserved. Clara Wheaton is the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But after a bait-and-switch, she finds herself sharing an apartment with a stranger in LA, determined to Make It Work. Josh Darling lucked into a great deal on a summer sublet, and isn’t bothered by all the rules his new roommate expects him to follow. But their comfortable, friendly relationship takes an abrupt turn when Clara finds out Josh’s day job. The Roommate is an often surprising, charming, sex positive, modern twist on the rom-com; it’s also the best contemporary début of the year.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
Spring Strings by Lily Morton
Lily Morton had a great 2020. Any of her 2020 releases (Charlie Sunhine; After Felix; Short Stack, The Stopping Place; Merry Measure) could have made this list, but Spring Strings is my favorite. Malachi Booth is a cynical, sharp-tongued supermodel with a low tolerance for people who underestimate him. He meets his match in Cadan Landry, a grumpy (lonely) rare breeds farmer who begrudgingly rents out his Cornish farm for a photo shoot. After Malachi is laid low by a bad bout of bronchitis, he finds himself being nursed back to health by the exhausted (and handsome) farm owner. This opposites-attract pairing shouldn’t work, but in Ms. Morton’s talented hands IT DOES. Brilliantly. Great chemistry, compelling and believable character backstories, a lovingly rendered setting, and well rounded secondary characters kept me up late at night to finish this one. A new favorite from one of my most favorite authors.