This is the year I really got into the romance genre in a big way. Nothing brought me as much comfort and happiness as I read more of authors I’d previously enjoyed and found several more (often with extensive backlists) for me to read through. It’s been a tiring week for many of these authors as they’ve dealt with bullshit from their major professional organization but it’s so clear to me that these authors represent a new way forward for this genre and I am thrilled to be getting into it at this moment in time.
1. Reluctant Royals by Alyssa Cole The first book in the series (A Princess in Theory) made my list last year and if possible, I liked books two and three even more and loved the side stories in the two associated novellas. I couldn’t choose between them all for this list, so I’m including them all. A Duke by Default gave me a main character I absolutely adored in Portia and an internal journey for her that I loved even more than I loved her relationship with Tav (which is also very good because I am weak for grumpy people falling in love with someone who is pure sunshine). I loved watching her gain confidence in herself and her abilities as she realized she had ADHD and used the tools she had available to find a way to work with it instead of constantly fighting against it. That journey to self confidence was also what I loved about A Prince on Paper. Nya fighting for herself and pushing back against her abusive upbringing was incredible to read and you couldn’t help but cheer for her every step of the way. I adore this series and the intermingled friendships that formed as friend groups merged and became stronger with the new additions. It is full of tropes I love, incredible women and the men who love them, and so many moments of growth for everyone involved. No one is the same at the end of their book as they were in the beginning and the courage and work for each of them to get to their better place was everything I love about romance books. None of it was easy but all of it was worth it. Growth and healing are processes that are made easier with a strong support system and that is what this series provides in abundance.
2. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai You know a book and its main character resonated with you when you kind of want to fight all the people who didn’t like her. I perhaps related too strongly to Rhi’s tendency to throw up emotional barriers around herself and run away at the first hint that she might be hurt again all while refusing to allow herself any sort of emotional expression for fear that it made her look weak. It may not be the healthiest long-term response but it was a survival response that kept her going after an emotionally abusive relationship with her boss nearly left her blacklisted from the industry she loved. I enjoyed Rhi’s relationship with Samson and how easy it was for them to care about each other despite Rhi’s insistence that it was only going to be a casual sex and mutually beneficial work arrangement because those are romance tropes I will fall for every single time, but as always, I loved the emotional journey Rhi went through most of all. I loved her finding the strength to speak out against her former boyfriend and lending her voice to the other accusations against him. I loved her realization that she had a whole lot of people who loved her and had her back, that she didn’t have to fight and go through life alone. It was incredibly rewarding and the perfect example of why I love Alisha Rai’s books so much. Her heroines are all so complex and have been scarred by their past but find ways to heal and thrive regardless and she always manages to throw in a line or two that are exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time.
3. Tempest by Beverly Jenkins Beverly Jenkins is legendary in the romance world and this book made the reason abundantly clear. I am not going to write a better summation of why I loved this book than the first line of KJ Charles’s Goodreads review, “Honestly, any book where the heroine semi accidentally shoots the hero and then tells him off for not accepting her apology with sufficient grace is a winner with me.”. Regan is an absolute joy to read about from moment one. She’s incredibly competent and ready to defend herself from perceived bandits and willing to apologize when she messes up but also demand respect and basic human decency from others when they fall short. I love her immediate desire to nurture Anna’s good, curious mind and protect her from people who would force her into a strict definition of what a “good woman” should be that doesn’t allow for either childhood or self-sufficiency. I love a good grumpy guy who falls head over heels for a kind, strong woman despite his best attempts to keep her at arms length and Colt more than delivers. The character dynamics were everything I could want and I loved the look at the Wyoming frontier at a time when women were starting to be allowed to vote and formally shape their society.
4. Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert After a near-death experience, Chloe decides to make a more exciting life for herself by creating a checklist to follow. First of all, I love that her solution was to choose a handful of things and insist that she’d be a more exciting person if she completed the list. It’s very me and I love her for it. Second, I love romances where both people have past issues to overcome and are actively taking steps to do so and this book celebrates the process of working through your trauma in order to find a fuller life for yourself. Third, this book is really adorable. There’s a rescued cat, flirty emails, and a whole book of two characters finding someone who sees and cherishes them for all they are. There is so much care that she manages to convey between Chloe and Red in ways both big and small. They’re not perfect and both mess up, but they apologize and work to do better. Sometimes their sore spots come into conflict and it’s painful but it’s also an opportunity for each to grow and learn for the future. Finally, this book is very hot. Hibbert is very good at her sex scenes and the chemistry she managed to convey on the page was explosive.