If you read my figuring out my all time favorites post, then you may have seen that, probably unsurprisingly, I have a lot of favorite contemporary romances and I am not sure how to really whittle those down into a top five or a top ten list. So I wanted to start a reading project to figure that out. And, I figured, why not make it an official thing for my blog? So this post is going to run through the 30 something books that I’ve got on my list (some of which were books I think I need to re-read) and which books I’ve re-read at some point in my life and how I think this list may shake out at the end of this project. I hope this post and project will be entertaining for you in some way because I’m really excited about it! So let’s get started.
As you can see, this is a long list of 33 books that are all absolutely wonderful. I’ve only re-read seven books on this list before though so I think there’s a lot of room for movement between what I think are my all time favorites and what books are actually my all time favorites. If asked, the books I tend to rattle off as my top contemporaries are Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (which I highly doubt will be shaken), A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole, Rock Hard by Nalini Singh, and Hold Me by Courtney Milan. I’ve re-read each of these books, aside from A Duke by Default, but I’m fairly certain Portia’s spot remains safe. But then, when I look and think about the other books on this list, I feel less certain. I mean, Akira from A Gentleman in the Street not being in my top four books is a baffling concept. I literally call Scoring Off the Field by Naima Simone the most masterful friends to lovers book I’ve ever read. Beach Read became my whole personality for a while. And The Belle and the Beard by Kate Canterbary? That book was everything. And the thing is, I can go on and on about each of the books on my list to make a case for why each of these books should be in my top five or my top ten. But at the end of the day, I don’t think I need to have 33 books vying for those coveted top spots. So that’s where this project comes in.
I want to be able to provide you with a definitive ranking of my top favorite contemporary romances and so these 33 books are going to be battling it out. I don’t even have stand alone reviews of most of these books because I didn’t have an ARC of them and y’all know how rare it is for me to review a book I don’t have to. But that’s what this project is going to be. I’m going to read these books in alphabetical order, that way there’s no influence otherwise and I’m going to give stand alone reviews in groups of three like usual. And, like I mentioned in my May Wrap Up, since star ratings haven’t been feeling quite as helpful for me (not to mention all of these books are either five stars or, in the case of It Happened One Summer, 4.5 stars that I can’t stop thinking about even while seeing a flaw super obviously), I’ve decided I need a more clear way to review these books.
This meant that I had to spend a lot of time thinking about what is important to me in reading a romance. So, on a ten point scale, I want to be looking at characters (are they believable? do they feel like real people? are both characters well developed or do I just love one of them so much the book became a favorite? Note: I say both because of the books on my list, all of them are romances between two partners, with the exception of Gifting Me to His Best Friend and I’m just talking about romantic interests, not side characters for this ranking.), HEA Believability (are these characters actually going to go the distance? do I really believe in their HEA or do I worry they’ll break up because they didn’t actually learn to communicate and this all came down to a big gesture?), The Emotions (did this book make me feel all of the things? The book doesn’t necessarily have to be an angst-filled book in order to get a high rating on this scale because I do tend to feel things.), and Chemistry (is the chemistry between the characters something that works?). Other than the romance stuff specifically, I figured I should/could borrow from Book Roast and her rating system and grabbed writing, intrigue, and plot from her. Then I threw in re-readability because each of these books is going to be a re-read, so I figured that should be something I talk about. Does the conceit of the book only work for the first read through?
I’ve gone ahead and ranked the books in what I’m guessing will be the ultimate outcome because Kayla at books and lala almost always does a pre-reading ranking and I think it’s so fun to see what she predicts versus what the actual outcome is. There are a few books that already have full standalone reviews if you’re curious to see what I’ve thought of them: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey, Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, and People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry.
I also thought it would be fun to look and see a few statistic type things out of this list of 33 books. I really got back into reading romance in 2016/2017 and my contemporary romance era happened more starting in 2018. But looking at the first time I read these books, in 2017 I read four of these books (A Gentleman in the Street, Hate to Want You, Hold Me, and How Not to Fall) for the first time. In 2018, I read eight of these books for the first time (Beginner’s Luck, Damaged Goods, Dance with Me, A Duke by Default, The Hook Up, Rock Hard, Scoring Off the Field, and Wanna Bet?). In 2019, I read seven of these books for the first time (Best of Luck, Block Shot, Grip, Into the Blue, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, Love Lettering, and Sinner). In 2020, I read seven again (Beach Read, The Chocolate Kiss, Go Deep, The Hitman, Just a Heartbeat Away, Pretty Face, and You Deserve Each Other). In 2021, I read another seven for the first time (The Belle and the Beard, The Ex Talk, Gifting Me to His Best Friend, It Happened One Summer, The Magnolia Chronicles, People We Meet on Vacation, and Reel). This makes me very curious to see how many favorites in 2022 will stick with me enough to potentially make this list… But setting that aside for now, I would count five of these books as clearly fitting a friends to lovers trope (one of my favorites), four-ish fit into the rivals to lovers trope (another favorite), and only two fit into my third favorite trope of fake dating. So really that’s about 10 books that actually fit into my favorite tropes. And five of these books fit into a trope I tend to think of myself as not liking, second chance romances. That leaves another 18 books that I don’t think necessarily slot neatly into a trope I can easily identify. We have a few that are work related like Reel and Rock Hard and some temporary roommate situations. I suppose a lot of forced proximity, but I only tend to think of that as the lead trope if it’s like, these two people are actually stuck together and not just in one another’s vicinity and choose to interact. I also frequently struggle with trope identification so maybe you would count these books and wind up with a different number in these categories and that’s okay!
Anyway, that’s all for now! I’ll check back in soon with reviews for the first three books: Beach Read by Emily Henry, Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn, and The Belle and the Beard by Kate Canterbary! I’m so looking forward to re-reading each of these books.
Let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to know about any of these books. Do we share any similar favorites? Let me know!