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The Best of 2021 – Maria Rose’s List

I didn’t read as much this year as I usually do for a variety of reasons (pandemic included). When I couldn’t concentrate on books, I found myself binge watching a lot of television – reality shows like The Great British Bake Off, or fantasy/sci-fi series like Loki and The Mandalorian. So it won’t come as a complete surprise that some of my favorites romance reads this year have similar themes as my viewing choices. Several of the authors have made my previous lists but there are a few new authors that have caught my eye.

Here are my choices for best reads of the year, in no particular order.

Donut Fall In Love by Jackie Lau

I’ve been a long-time fan of Jackie Lau’s books, and the way she fits Canadiana and delicious tempting dessert morsels into her stories. This is a perfect example of that combination, with Canadian actor Ryan taking lessons from local Toronto baker Lindsay before appearing on a reality TV baking show called Baking Fail (reminiscent of the real reality show Nailed It). Both leads are also dealing with grief from the loss of a parent that feels very real and makes the reader empathize with the  characters but doesn’t detract from the overall rom-com feel of the story and the developing romance between Ryan and Lindsay.

Buy it at AmazonAudible or your local independent retailer

The Love Con by Seressia Glass

This is the first story I’ve read by this author and I obviously made a great choice since it made my Best of list! I never knew how complex cosplay costume making was until reading this and I found that quite fascinating. But I also really loved how Kenya and Cameron always have each others backs, and up their friendship into the romance department with a fake relationship that gives them the excuse to act on their true feelings for each other.  Kenya is a plus-sized black woman and her grace and perseverance under some trying circumstances (and especially with people who question how she can be in a relationship with an attractive white man) had me rooting for her all the way.

Buy it at AmazonAudible or your local independent retailer

Make it Sweet by Kristen Callihan

I heard someone describe the baking scenes in this book as reminiscent of Laura Florand, which was like waving a red flag in front of me, prompting me to immediately buy and devour this story.  Grumpy (for totally valid reasons) ex-hockey player Lucian is hiding out at his grandmother’s estate which just so happens to be the place where TV star Emma, recently axed from a fantasy TV show (à la Game of Thrones), goes to lick her wounds, too. The attraction is immediate and watching Lucian woo Emma with his baking is just delicious.

Buy it at AmazonAudible or your local independent retailer

The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen

When I heard Kelly Bowen was directing her attention away from historical romance into a historical fiction book with a dual timeline set in Paris in World War II and the present day, like Em (who also has this book on her ‘best of’ list this year), I was not skeptical exactly (I have no doubt as to the author’s talent), but somewhat wary.  Well, if this is the type of material that we can expect from Ms. Bowen in the future, I stand corrected. From the very first page, this story that highlights some brave women who did their part for their countries is spellbinding, gut-wrenching, and totally engrossing. There are some romantic elements but they serve to heighten the tension and make the reader care even more about the characters. It’s a strong and commendable foray into the ever popular twentieth century historical fiction genre.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent retailer

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

Reading the synopsis of this story is like checking off a bunch of boxes for whether I’ll enjoy it. Author Lucy Parker – check. Reality baking show contestant and judge– check. Grumpy and Sunshine trope – check. A competition to make a cake for a Royal wedding? – priceless! The author takes all these things and makes a totally readable and enjoyable romantic comedy with relatable characters who have experienced the good and the bad that life offers and fully deserve their happy ending.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent retailer

All the Feels by Olivia Dade

Olivia Dade shows that what’s on the surface can be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding a character’s true nature in this funny, tender, and sexy romance with an opposites attract couple. Fantasy TV star Alex is handsome, likable, charming, and a real sweetheart (though he tries to hide that aspect of his character). Lauren is plain, fat, pragmatic and very caring, to the point where she’s burned herself out in her career as an ER therapist, and becoming a babysitter for Alex to keep him from destroying his own career seems like a way for her to regroup. The two clash –  at least until they get to know each other better. Then it’s only a matter of time before they see each other for who they really are – and fall in love.

Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

Beautifully Unexpected by Lily Morton

The title is exactly right – it’s a beautifully unexpected story that stole my heart and made it onto my list. It’s about two older men who end up as neighbours for the summer in London and start a relationship that isn’t supposed to be the real thing and yet becomes something worth holding onto. It’s my first time reading this author but I know from previous glowing reviews at AAR that I’ll be able to find plenty on her backlist to enjoy.

Buy it at: Amazon 

Love at First by Kate Clayborn

This is such a lovely story with really likable characters (not all of whom like each other at the start) and an example of how important found family is for so many people. The apartment building that Nora lives in is full of close-knit neighbours, and then Will comes into the picture having inherited one of the suites from an estranged relative, and plans to sell it, upending all that Nora is trying to hold together. A story about family, about friendships, about relationships, about love that epitomizes the author’s ability to draw the reader in and sigh happily when the last page is turned.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible or your local independent retailer

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

The whole concept of making a romance work between a Rabbi and a former sex worker definitely requires skill and confidence, and this new-to-me author accomplishes it in fine fashion. I found it quite fascinating how the author takes ideas of sex and intimacy and wovr them in new ways for Nora and Ethan and the challenges they face in bringing those ideas to the public, and in confronting them for themselves. It’s a warm, funny, sexy romance, too.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent bookstore

Wonderstruck by Allie Therin

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Magic in Manhattan series. Like, a lot of time. I love everything about it, the worldbuilding, the characters, the whole concept of the series. In Wonderstruck, Arthur and Rory’s story comes to a fitting conclusion with the Paris World’s Fair, more supernatural hijinx, and the two men finally recognizing themselves as equals and worthy of a long term relationship. I confess to being dismayed at the series having to end, but delighted to discover the author isn’t quite done with this world yet, as a spin-off story, Proper Scoundrels, is releasing in Dec 2021.

Buy it at: Amazon or Audible

A Lot Like Adios by Alexis Daria

I’m a sucker for second-chance romances, especially ones that involve couples who were friends (or more) during their teen years, so having experienced good reading vibes from the author’s previous series, Dance Off, it was easy to make the choice to pick this one up and it was obviously the right one! The author does a wonderful job of showing the complex and varied Latinx family cultures of both Gabe and Michelle as they work together to create a new branding concept for Gabe’s fitness centers. Rekindling their friendship as adults means facing the attraction they never really dealt with as teens. And having the chapters start with the fan fiction chats that they created as teens adds a fun touch to show their close childhood friendship. It’s a fun, sexy, and engaging romance.

Buy it at: AmazonAudible, or your local independent retailer

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