Sometimes the urge to do something is so strong you just have to go with it. I’ve been reading romance for close to a decade and as we close this decade I felt a great necessity to look back at the Romance novels that marked me as a reader. Although I only started reading romance seriously during 2010, I started with what my library collection had, so my first romance novels were really books that had been out for years (Balogh, Kleypas, Quinn, Garwood, Dodd, Krentz and Chase). They were an excellent crash course on romance, if Romance is only for white, cis, straight historical ladies. I don’t regret reading them, I just regret thinking they were the only things out there.
Alyssa Cole’s smart, sweet and short science fiction romance playfully mashes multiple tropes into a fun and surprising adventure. It is simply excellent.
I’ve read so many wonderful books this year it actually hurts to pare down the list to a Top 5, so I had to cheat a little bit and create sub-genre specific Top 5 (and occasionally Top 10) lists to figure out what should be in my Top 5 list of the year so I am going to sneak in mentions of all the others books I loved in here too.
The emotional intensity of Weatherspoon’s initial chapters, whether it is Claudia running for life straight in Shep’s arms in Haven, Liz fighting off an attacker in her home in Sanctuary or Sloan arriving home to discover her nanny has walked off the job and left her twin daughters alone at home with no notice in Rafe, powerfully introduce her heroines. We meet Xeni as she stands surrounded by near-strangers at her beloved aunt’s memorial desperately trying not to break down, and from that moment I loved her and wanted her to find her happy. And so it seems did her aunt who has arranged to do some matchmaking from beyond the grave.
In Hibbert’s first traditionally published romance, she continues to highlight prickly heroines and the sweet heroes who are determined to love them. Although I only had a mild appreciation of her novellas I found myself loving this novel wholeheartedly, more than living up to the anticipation and hype. The novel felt fully satisfying and complete, establishing, building up and then resolving a full story. Hibbert's use of situational humor and word play cushions the heavy themes she addresses in this story such as ableism, abandonment, domestic abuse and mortality.
Melissa Blue’s latest novella, Grumpy Jake, is as fun and appealing as its bright cover. In this light-hearted enemies to lovers romance Jake, a handsome but gruff White single father has gotten off on the wrong foot with his son Jayden’s Black Kindergarten teacher. Bailey has heard way too much about Jake’s dating misadventures thanks to the faculty’s breathless gossip mill. Despite her undeniable attraction to the tattooed nurse, Bailey does not want to be his next conquest. Deeply wary, the usually warm and effusive Bailey succeeds at freezing out the seemingly bad-boy playboy until they are trapped together in an elevator and she discovers his playfully disarming self-deprecating sense of humor and Jake is enchanted by her frankness.
Susan Lazarus trusts very few people, and that has served her well in life as first an abandoned street rat, then as a con artist and now as a private enquiry agent. Templeton was once in her trusted inner circle, her teenage misfit confidant and then first love, but when it mattered most he seemingly failed her. Susan rebuilt her defenses, found love again and when they finally crossed paths all she wanted was to thwart his criminal ways. But when he is framed for murder, she is the only one capable of unraveling the truth and clearing his name.
In the American Dreamer series, Herrera has crafted three strong romances that engage deeply with political and social issues without losing their sexiness and humor. In American Love Story the failure of white LGBTQ allies to stand up for Black and marginalized people is front and center. Herrera sets Easton and Patrice’s reunion against the high-conflict backdrop of a spree of racially motivated traffic stops by local cops which only intensifies and highlights the poor communication behind the hot/cold dynamics of their tentative relationship.
One of my gateways to romance was Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, but for years I have told myself that her Urban Fantasy Guild Hunter series was simply just not for me. Too much blood, horror and war. But last month the only books I could seem to finish were Guild Hunter books, so maybe there is just a time and mood for everything. Archangel’s War, book 12 in this series, just came out and in it Nalini Singh closes out one of the major story arcs in her series, making it an excellent time to catch up with Singh’s Vampires, Angels and Hunters and come along on a wild ride.
[Read Ana's review of Archangel's War here.]
The twelfth book in the Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series has been eagerly awaited by long-time fans after the excruciatingly tense way the previous book, Archangel’s Prophecy ended. In this book Singh brings to a close the long-running Cascade storyline, but not before nearly shattering the world, Raphael and Elena, and their people in an intense showdown between the most powerful members of the Archangelic ruling Cadre.