Like so many others, romance novels helped get me through this terrible year. The comfort in a promised happily ever after and stories that are extremely character-focused were something I could handle when my ability to follow complex plots was limited. Stories about healing and thriving after hardship were a reminder that better days were to come and that the future is worth fighting for. The kindness extended these characters at their lowest and the belief that they deserved happiness reminded me to extend that same kindness to myself when I was struggling. Romance was here to make me smile, to make my cry, and to make me forget everything else, if only for a little while, and live in the joy of these characters and the many I couldn’t include in this list.
But more than the books itself, it was the community that meant the most. It was a rocky start to the year as RWA continued its very public implosion but it also brought me a whole lot of new authors to follow on Twitter (which in turn brought me more recommendations and even more happiness). Their discussions on Romancelandia and where they would like to see it go in the future, feelings and analysis of current events, and their general no-nonsense attitude when it comes to dealing with outdated, often sexist, attempts to devalue the work they do educated me, made me think, and gave me hope when I needed it most.
Then the Fated Mates phonebanking and Romancing the Runoff happened and I really got to see the power of community. Out of a shared interest in stories, people joined together to turn that love into action and it was inspiring to watch. As of December 17th, Romancing the Runoff raised almost half a million dollars in a month and a half for voting rights organizations in Georgia and Fated Mates have made hundreds of thousands of phone calls and organized postcard drives for both the national election and the Georgia runoff. The enthusiasm and drive was infectious and did so much to make a never ending election feel a little more survivable. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this corner of this community and what they have chosen to stand for.
1. Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon I am pretty sure that Rebekah Weatherspoon is my most read author of the year at 8 books and this was my very favorite of hers. As with all of her books, there is a grace and compassion that she extends toward her protagonists that gets me every time and then couples that with supportive friendships and truly some of the best sex scenes in the genre. I loved Xeni as a character from the little bit we got of her in Rafe and loved this particular story for her. It is a contemporary marriage of convenience plot with two bisexual leads, a whole lot of family secrets and baggage, and an incredibly sweet love story. It was a connection they never expected when they started the project (though there’s never any real animosity or bickering as they figured out their arrangement) and they were both able to find comfort and security in the other. They are both such good, kind, loyal people that you root for their happiness individually and with each other. Her books, especially her Loose Ends series, which are very connected with the Fit and Beards and Bondage trilogies, are some of the emotionally fulfilling romances I’ve read and I love their emphasis on healing and community. This book may be my favorite but really, this is just a plea for you to check out Weatherspoon’s work in general because she deserves to be a huge success. (Add to Goodreads)
2. The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon How do you not immediately love a book where three women realize their boyfriend is cheating on them with the others and instantly decide they’re going to be friends from there forward? I am in love with all three of these women and the easy friendship they struck up, it is probably my favorite trilogy setup in a very long time. This is Samiah’s story and first of all, I love that she is a Black woman developing an app that I would very much like to use. We do not talk about women in the tech world enough and that is especially true for Black women and other women of color so I appreciated that we got this look in what that means in her work life. Romance novels in general have been terrific at exploring lived experiences like this and not shying away from both the difficulties and the joys and it really brings them to life. Second, few things are more enjoyable to read than inconvenient romances. Love doesn’t always come on a timeframe and that is exactly what Samiah and Daniel found in each other. There were reasons that they should have started anything but the chemistry and attraction was undeniable and they took a chance that (of course) ultimately paid off. Sometimes we have to let our feelings take us where they will instead of shove them away and take joy when it comes and I loved watching Samiah do just that. (Add to Goodreads)
3. Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert This was one of my most anticipated books of 2020 after loving Get A Life, Chloe Brown last year and it did not disappoint. I love a determined heroine who insists she doesn’t have time (or the emotional capacity) for romance and a hero with a soft heart. Throw in some fake dating and I am all the way in. But one of my favorite things about this trilogy so far (and Hibbert as an author in general) is the weight she gives to the mental health of her characters. Zaf has anxiety, including an on page panic attack, and it’s never treated as anything that makes him less desirable as a person. Dani has some issues to work through with feeling like her personality and way of approaching the world makes her fundamentally incompatible with romance and they both start to work through and address those issues. They’re never things keeping them from being together, just things to work on and with to be the best versions of themselves. It is full of compassion for these two characters at every stage of their journeys and celebrates holding the things that bring us joy and fulfillment close, which was a message we all needed this year. (Add to Goodreads)
4. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall If you haven’t had enough fake dating, don’t worry because this book also has you covered. Luc is the son of a rockstar and enough of a mess that he’s a tabloid staple. Oliver is the son who will never live up to his parents’ expectations but he’s going to try his hardest anyway and shut out anything that might mess up that image of himself. So naturally, when Luc needs a boyfriend to convince his nonprofit’s stuffy donors to continue to support them, his friend Bridget recommends Oliver. They are both a pile of unaddressed issues and coping mechanisms disguised as reasonably functioning adults and in addition to seeing them learn to fit together, we get to see them start to heal and move past their traumas. It gets heavy in moments but never overwhelming as it all takes place alongside Luc’s absolutely ridiculous coworkers and his fantastic group of friends who have the best group chat names. Luc’s world feels real and lived in and it’s truly wonderful to see Oliver find his place in it. (Add to Goodreads)Continue reading Best of 2020: Romance Novels