My favorite romances of 2020
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Hello, Internet friends - it's that time of the year where I start looking back on the books I've read, and what I loved and liked a bit less.
This list is brought to you by my desire to cheat on my Top 10 of 2020 (overall) list. Basically, I try to keep that list to books that really blew me away, for whatever reason, and regardless of genre - but that list also doesn't tend to include the romance novels I've read, and I feel like that's a bit unfair on some of the delightful gems of romances that brightened up parts of an overall pretty shit 2020 for me. There's a real social conversation to be had about why romance novels are considered 'lesser' or somehow less important literature, as if they aren't the second most-selling genre in publishing; and why they so often get categorized as 'women's fiction' or 'guilty pleasures' when they are no more or less ridiculous and escapist than some of the sweeping fantasy epics that get such great critiques. My working theory is that that's because fantasies usually center around male protagonists and male stories, and romance novels are all about women finding joy in smaller relationships (or maybe just finding a man who can actually make them come. Heroes' journeys come in all shapes and sizes and motivations, my friends!). Yes, this is patriarchy's fault. And as I explained to a (male) friend who was scoffing at me for my taste in romance novels (he only reads pretentious prizewinners and complains about how much he dislikes them; yet he ignores me when I tell him to maybe stop reading pretentious books he doesn't like - he might just be a lost cause), I love escaping into a world where everything works out for the best, where everyone gets the ending they deserve, where no problem is too large for a solution and where all relationships can be fixed with a grand gesture and some honest communication and maybe some great kissing in the rain, even for only 350 pages. That's my escapism, and I do still have some standards for it, hence why this list is only 6 titles long.
I loved making this list, and thinking about the romances that worked and didn't, for me - so it's likely I'll be making a few sublists, especially in genres that I read a lot in (maybe mysteries will be next?).
Anyway, the only rule I applied when making this list was that I couldn't name a title that I was putting in my Top 10 of 2020. These are all pre-read, pre-approved, pre-reviewed romances that I found utterly delightful, completely charming, and that totally succeeded in taking me away to a new place, even for a little while, and they were all worlds and relationships that I didn't want to leave behind when I reached the final page.
If any of these you haven't already read on my recommendation, you can borrow my copy.
So, without further ado, here are my six favorite romances of 2020:
A Rogue of One's Own. This is the second book in Evie Dunmore's "A League of Extraordinary Women", and was even better than the first book. It was a joyful romp, full of steamy sex, hilarious inner monologues, fabulously witty banter, and some well-researched historical fiction. It's a satisfying, fulfilling novel that hits all of its emotional climaxes exactly and I truly cannot recommend this series enough. My full review of A Rogue of One's Own is here.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown. Another sequel - this one in Talia Hibbert's The Brown Sisters series. This tells the story of Dani and Zaf, a PhD candidate and a gruff ex-rugby player, who fake a relationship for social media and then (obviously) end up falling in love for real. The sex is amazing, the banter is even better, and the characters are so richly-drawn and fully-realized, you'll feel like you're having conversations with them when they're inner-monologuing. Another highly recommended series, one that will (tragically!) conclude in March with the final Brown sister's book. Reviewed here.
The Duchess Deal. This is a more traditional bodice-ripper, Regency Romance. It centers around Emma, a seamstress, who turns up at the Duke of Ashbury's in the wedding dress she made for his erstwhile fiancée; the Duke of Ashbury needs to marry but he's been scarred by the Napoleonic wars and so isn't confident enough to go out and woo the traditional manner; Emma and Ashbury are thrown together, they get hastily married, and have lots of really sexy sex in different rooms of the mansion. I inhaled this book in one sitting. It does everything a Regency Romance is supposed to do and it does it perfectly - I cackled more than once because it's so funny; the sex is very hot; and the romance is sweet, and above all, believable. This book is so good that I immediately devoured the following two in the series (also inhaled in one sitting); and I'm literally counting down the days until the fourth book is out in February. For what it's worth, the second book in this series - The Governess Game - might be even better than The Duchess Deal, and you know what, instead of working today I'm just going to go re-read those real quick.
The Flatshare. What else can I say about this book that I haven't already said? It's one of the best romances I've ever read. It's lovely, it's charming, it's hopeful, it's earnest without being treacly - and it's such an important story about finding love again, and how dating can look for people who have gotten out of abusive relationships, in a genre that's absolutely saturated with adorable stories that don't ever feature the darkness that so many women experience. This novel was so great and wonderful it made me angry. Please read it forthwith.
Boyfriend Material. Another violently charming novel, one that made me cackle from start to finish, and that is so entirely quotable my friend (who this list is mostly targeted at, in all honesty) have previously spent an entire afternoon just texting lines back and forth. "I don't know heiresses of any gender, Alex." "Really? But who do you go to Ascot with?" "Well obviously some people didn't go to Eton or Harrow, some people are girls." AND MORE. Honestly, the best part of this novel was Alex Twaddle, and I want one. The romance was also quite cute, and the emotional climaxes are successfully hit, but really, the gem of this book is Alex Twaddle. You should read it just for his dialogue.
The Roommate. A girl finds herself accidentally rooming with a porn star and asks him to help her learn how to orgasm. If you think that sounds like the plot of an actual porn film, you are not incorrect. This book was absolutely bonkers from start to finish, and it hits the ground running - no slow-build into any sort of fireworks here, you get some of the hottest writing I have ever come across within the first five chapters. It shouldn't work, and yet it really, really does - Clara and Josh are wonderful characters; the secondary and tertiary characters never feel stock or paper-thin; the dialogue is realistic; and I love, love, LOVE the sex-positive message throughout the entirety of the novel. Get yours! Safe, consensual sex with open lines of communication is the best! MORE FEMALE ORGASMS! There's also the bonus of this book being really well-written, and really funny. I don't know where Rosie Danan came from, but I am on board with her writing career.
And that rounds out my list! What's exciting is that most of these were entries in series, so there's jumping-off points into similarly delightful worlds from authors that come pre-vetted. I'm very much looking forward to diving back into these relationships and characters in the new year as the new releases come rolling in.
For fun, here's some of the romances I'm most eager to read in 2021: The Intimacy Experiment, book 2 in the Rosie Danan series that started with The Roommate (this second book focuses on Naomi, Josh's former co-star and ex-girlfriend); Portrait of a Scotswoman, the third book in Evie Dunmore's "A League of Extraordinary Women"; Act Your Age, Eve Brown, the closing book of the Brown Sisters trilogy (Boooooo! BOOOOOOOOO!); To Love and to Loathe; People We Meet On Vacation (Emily Henry's second offering; my review of her debut, Beach Read, is here); Make Up Break Up; Well Matched, the closing book in Jen DeLuca's Renaissance Faire trilogy (Well Met, the first book, was one of my favorite reads of 2019 and the early reviews of this upcoming third book are stellar); and The Bride Bet, the closing book in Tessa Dare's Girl Meets Duke series.
Please do let me know if any of these strike your fancy - and then we can exchange notes on our new fictional boyfriends.
Happy (sexy!) reading,