Hi, yes, I’m blatantly cheating at this whole ten books of favorites this year. And it’s probably worse than my cheating from last year, but let’s just ignore that. I’ve read so many contemporary romance this year. Specifically, I’ve read 96 contemporary romance this year. So, you’re getting my ten favorite contemporary romances to start us off!
1. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
I’m going to attempt to not just gush about this book, but that’s a challenge because I loved it so much. A Duke by Default features Portia, Ledi’s best friend from A Princess in Theory. Portia is trying to make herself the best version of herself and kind of atone for the mistakes she’s made in the past. She’s really pulling her life together with determination and self-recrimination. Eventually she learns that she has ADHD and a lot of things start to make sense. In case it’s not apparent, I adore Portia. Please recommend me all Portia-esque heroines because I feel like I have spent 2018 in various states of messiness and no matter how hard I try, it seems impossible to juggle all of my responsibilities at the same time (including responsibilities like being a good friend). I know we’re all imperfect, but something about watching Portia come into her own just really, really spoke to me and has stuck with me since I read it. Oh, and Tavish is a gruff and grumpy hero and I just… Idk, can’t help but like those? (But Portia is everything. Okay, that’s all. I’ll stop now.)
2. Wanna Bet? by Talia Hibbert
Speaking of heroines who don’t really have it all together, Jasmine is.. Oh God, I love her. She’s so, so guarded. She is a fantastic friend, but she’s not good at letting people in. And she has a strict rule that she doesn’t mix friendship and sex, which is where Rahul comes in. He’s been in love with her basically since they met in college, but when he was given the choice of sleeping with her or being her friend, he picked her friendship. And my precious Rahul is so, so generous with his heart and with his time. When Jasmine needs somewhere to stay, Rahul offers her his spare room. And then it’s like Talia ratchets sexual tension and romantic tension up to eleven and then my precious babies have a very real conflict, but oh my God, it’s so good. IT IS SO GOOD. So, please, kindly, read this if you haven’t. It’s such a fantastic friends to lovers and I’ve definitely talked about it a ton already, but I can’t/don’t want to stop.
3. Rock Hard by Nalini Singh
I feel like the books on this list are largely not a surprise and this one certainly shouldn’t be. I’ve read Rock Hard multiple times this year because of how much I love this story. Charlotte was brutally assaulted when she was in college and has been kind of hiding in the background of the world since. Her friendship with Molly is one of the best parts of this book, for the record. But what I really, really love about this book is how Charlotte and Gabriel (her boss and affectionately referred to as T-Rex) navigate the impact her trauma left on her. Gabriel is patient and kind with Charlotte, but he can be rude and demanding as a boss and Charlotte has to learn to stand up for herself again. She also has to move past her desire to stay on the sidelines and embrace the idea of being herself again. I love this book, so, so much, but definitely tread cautiously if people dealing with trauma or recounting the trauma can trigger you.
4. Steadfast by Sarina Bowen
I contemplated cheating and putting the whole series on this list in one because I love Bowen’s True North series with my whole heart. The fact that Steadfast is the one I am choosing to put on this list is honestly astonishing because it’s exactly the kind of second chance romance I don’t typically like. I mean, Jude and Sophie broke up for a very real reason: Jude was responsible for her brother’s death. And yet… I love everything about this. I loved Jude getting his act together in Bittersweet and watching him return home, return to somewhere triggering for his addiction, was just incredible. And watching the way the two come together again? Oh, it is so good. I’m not always convinced I like this book more than Speakeasy though so please, please don’t miss out on this entire series. Okay, thanks.
5. Damaged Goods by Talia Hibbert
To say I wasn’t expecting a novella to make this list is an understatement. I feel like I usually hate novellas. Or at the very least that I’m always left wanting more and feel dissatisfied. Well, first of all I’ve read three in December alone that have challenged that perspective, but also, this book blew me out of the damn water. Like… Laura? An unlikely heroine and in any one else’s hands, I’m not sure it would have worked, but Talia took Mean Girl Laura from A Girl Like Her and showed us who Laura really is. And Laura is pretty damn great. Pregnant and alone in a coastal town she vacationed (and fell in love in) when she was younger, Laura is trying, desperately, to do what is best for her baby. She’s left Daniel and she’s made friends with Ruth and she is trying. And when she trips and falls (essentially) over Samir (her first love) on the beach, they’re both amazed by how well they remember the other. In the real way, you know? The way that helps you know what the other person is thinking and feeling. Anyway, I love Samir so much. I think he’s easily one of my favorite heroes of all time and this book was just so freaking great. I loved it.
6. Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn
Another book I just read in December and I loved it so much. The friendship between Kit, Zoe, and Greer is easily one of my favorite parts of this book because, to me, there is nothing like women supporting women. I love it so much. But also, Ben? Ben is… He’s great, honestly. He and Kit meet when he walks into Kit’s lab and asks for her without knowing she is who he’s looking for. He winds up kind of sticking his foot in his mouth and yet, somehow a few chapters later, I was in love with him and cheering them on. I think though, my favorite piece of this book is how hard Kit is trying to make this place her home. Small towns are wildly imperfect, but there’s something about being a part of the fabric of a place that is pretty wonderful. But it can be really, really hard to break into that. And while I think where Kit lives is likely more welcoming to outsiders on account of being a college town with a pretty impressive law firm that Zoe worked at, this book captures a little bit of that feeling of trying really hard to know the connections between people, to giving directions that don’t make any sense to someone not a local. I loved this world and the people who inhabit it and I think Kate Clayborn is rapidly progressing up the ladder of authors I love. Anyway, because I can’t not… Here’s a quote from this book to sum up what I just tried to describe:
What’s easy about becoming a part of a community, about reading the local paper every week, making sure you try something new, even if it’s scary and you have to go by yourself? What’s easy about making best friends, about forming relationships that are going to last, when someone has your back and you have theirs? What’s easy about trying to make a home for yourself, when you’ve never had one before?
7. Dance with Me by Alexis Daria
This book is criminally under read according to Goodreads and I am offended on behalf of Natasha, my beloved messy heroine and star of this book. When Natasha’s apartment becomes uninhabitable and her roommate is off living her happily ever after with Stone (see Take the Lead), Natasha is bewildered to find herself being helped by her occasional hook up buddy and a judge on the dance show she competes on, Dimitri. Watching the two of them dance around each other (and with each other) really blew me away. I loved this book with my whole being. Also, it contained this brilliant pearl of wisdom:
“Women want to be independent, Mitya. She’s not going to want you because she needs you to make her life good, but because her life is already good and you make it better.”
In other words, please read this book. You won’t regret it.
8. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Turning to a very non-angsty romance, The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory really saved the day when I read it and is one that I just loved with my whole heart. I had a super early flight and TSA confiscated my cleanser, neither of which made me particularly happy. BUT I absolutely adored laughing out loud and bothering my seat mates too much because of how absorbed and all in I became with this one. Nik is publicly proposed to on the jumbotron of her not serious boyfriend and he doesn’t even spell her name correctly. But when she rejects him, the crowd is not okay with it. In jump Carlos and his sister who pretend they’re long lost friends and usher Nik out of the stadium as quick as can be. Nik can’t help her attraction to Carlos and Carlos is into her, but he doesn’t want to press. So when he leaves her in her friend’s capable hands, he doesn’t think he’s going to see her again. But Nik emails him and oh wow. I just loved this. Carlos is not perfect and is kind of dumb in regards to the conflict, but oh my lanta, I loved this book so much.
9. Scoring Off the Field by Naima Simone
So technically Wanna Bet? is higher rated for me than Scoring Off the Field, but I honestly think Scoring Off the Field is the best friends to lovers romance I’ve ever read. The angst is perfection, the unrequited love is exquisite… I genuinely adored this one. Essentially Tennyson has always been a few steps behind NFL quarterback Dom, who essentially chose her as his family back when the two wound up in foster care. But Tenny knows it’s time to step out of Dom’s shadow and to pursue her own dreams. Only Dom does, um, not respond well to the idea of Tenny leaving him. The feels are so real in this book!
10. The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan
This book absolutely captured my heart and I’ve fallen in deep love with the series. Essentially Anna is incapable of helping her attraction to Drew, the quarterback for her college football team, but she’ll never act on it. Except, Drew definitely doesn’t have the same hang ups on acting on his attraction to Anna and eventually the two agree that Just Sex is a perfect cure. Spoiler alert: They catch feelings. What I loved about this book is that the angst makes sense and feels real and merited. Anna has hang ups about what people think of her because in the past she’s been seriously mistreated by people and I totally get that. I felt like Anna was pretty relatable and I just absolutely loved the way the two slowly found their way to each other for real. I also liked that the book doesn’t end as soon as they resolve the major conflict because I wasn’t yet there for they’re HEA, but at the end of the book? I was all in. These two are absolutely going to make it forever.
I really wasn’t expecting to fall down such a deep contemporary romance hole this year, but I fell in love with contemporaries in a way I haven’t been in years. So if you have any recs for me, please leave them in the comments below! Or find me on Twitter (@jenicadawn). And definitely let me know your favorites of the year!