This was a weird year for reading, for a variety of reasons.
I’ll start by saying that I read significantly less this year than I did in 2019 — but I still read a lot more than I expected to, given the birth of my twins in early May.
2020 brought me motherhood (times two), and it brought all of us a pandemic, as well as things like a stressful election cycle and a devastating wildfire season. Reading, as always, has been my escape — and it definitely helped me to escape a lot of my stress, anxieties, and frustrations in 2020.
More so than ever, I found solace mostly in romantic comedies and their guaranteed happy endings, but a few fantasy adventures also helped sweep me away from the real world at times. Here’s a peek at my favorite books of 2020, broken up by YA and adult romance.
My Favorite YA Books of 2020:
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:
1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.
No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.
But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?
10 Things I Hate About Pinky by Sandhya Menon
The follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie follows Pinky and Samir as they pretend to date—with disastrous and hilarious results.
Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny-tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.
Samir Jha might have a few . . . quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady.
Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions (aka boyfriends) she’s made, she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, Samir—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer. As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.
Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund
High school senior Keely Collins takes on firsts, lasts, and everything in between in this sweet, sex-positive rom-com for fans of Meg Cabot and Jenny Han.
It seemed like a good plan at first.
When the only other virgin in her group of friends loses it at Keely’s own eighteenth birthday party, she’s inspired to take things into her own hands. She wants to have that experience too (well, not exactly like that–but with someone she trusts and actually likes), so she’s going to need to find the guy, and fast. Problem is, she’s known all the boys in her small high school forever, and it’s kinda hard to be into a guy when you watched him eat crayons in kindergarten.
So she can’t believe her luck when she meets a ridiculously hot new guy named Dean. Not only does he look like he’s fallen out of a classic movie poster, but he drives a motorcycle, flirts with ease, and might actually be into her.
But Dean’s already in college, and Keely is convinced he’ll drop her if he finds out how inexperienced she is. That’s when she talks herself into a new plan: her lifelong best friend, Andrew, would never hurt or betray her, and he’s clearly been with enough girls that he can show her the ropes before she goes all the way with Dean. Of course, the plan only works if Andrew and Keely stay friends–just friends–so things are about to get complicated.
Cameron Lund’s delightful debut is a hilarious and heartfelt story of first loves, first friends, and first times–and how making them your own is all that really matters.
Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye
What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!
Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.
Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.
Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?
Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other.
Princess Aurelia’s life is turned upside down when the kingdom she thought she saved turns to ruin, a loved one is tragically killed in a shipwreck, and her home country refuses to respect her brother’s legitimate claim to the throne. With no place left to call her own, Aurelia returns to Greythorne Manor—her best friend’s family mansion—only to get swept up in a coup d’état on the night of her brother’s coronation.
With everyone turned against her and enemies closing in on all sides, Aurelia has nothing left to lose in a mad fight to protect the only people she has left—her family. But in her darkest moments when all seems grim, will Aurelia find a spark of hope from a love she thought long lost?
My Favorite Romance Books of 2020:
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.
When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.
Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.
Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.
A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore
A lady must have money and an army of her own if she is to win a revolution – but first, she must pit her wits against the wiles of an irresistible rogue bent on wrecking her plans…and her heart.
Lady Lucie is fuming. She and her band of Oxford suffragists have finally scraped together enough capital to control one of London’s major publishing houses, with one purpose: to use it in a coup against Parliament. But who could have predicted that the one person standing between her and success is her old nemesis, Lord Ballentine? Or that he would be willing to hand over the reins for an outrageous price—a night in her bed.
Lucie tempts Tristan like no other woman, burning him up with her fierceness and determination every time they clash. But as their battle of wills and words fans the flames of long-smouldering devotion, the silver-tongued seducer runs the risk of becoming caught in his own snare.
As Lucie tries to out-manoeuvre Tristan in the boardroom and the bedchamber, she soon discovers there’s truth in what the poets say: all is fair in love and war…
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral…
Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.
When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?
Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.
Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?
Do your own dishes
Knock before entering the bathroom
Never look up your roommate online
The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.
After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…
Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.
Stacey is jolted when her friends Simon and Emily get engaged. She knew she was putting her life on hold when she stayed in Willow Creek to care for her sick mother, but it’s been years now, and even though Stacey loves spending her summers pouring drinks and flirting with patrons at the local Renaissance Faire, she wants more out of life. Stacey vows to have her life figured out by the time her friends get hitched at Faire next summer. Maybe she’ll even find The One.
When Stacey imagined “The One,” it never occurred to her that her summertime Faire fling, Dex MacLean, might fit the bill. While Dex is easy on the eyes onstage with his band The Dueling Kilts, Stacey has never felt an emotional connection with him. So when she receives a tender email from the typically monosyllabic hunk, she’s not sure what to make of it.
Faire returns to Willow Creek, and Stacey comes face-to-face with the man with whom she’s exchanged hundreds of online messages over the past nine months. To Stacey’s shock, it isn’t Dex—she’s been falling in love with a man she barely knows.
Another laugh-out-loud romantic comedy featuring kilted musicians, Renaissance Faire tavern wenches, and an unlikely love story.
Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey
Hair, makeup, clothing, decor… everything in Bethany Castle’s world is organized, planned, and styled to perfection. Which is why the homes she designs for her family’s real estate business are the most coveted in town. The only thing not perfect? Her track record with men. She’s on a dating hiatus and after helping her friends achieve their dreams, Bethany finally has time to focus on her own: flip a house, from framework to furnishings, all by herself. Except her older brother runs the company and refuses to take her seriously.
When a television producer gets wind of the Castle sibling rivalry, they’re invited on Flip Off, a competition to see who can do the best renovation. Bethany wants bragging rights, but she needs a crew and the only member of her brother’s construction team willing to jump ship is Wes Daniels, the new guy in town. His Texas drawl and handsome face got under Bethany’s skin on day one, but the last thing she needs is some cocky young cowboy in her way.
As the race to renovate heats up, Wes and Bethany are forced into close quarters, trading barbs and biting banter as they remodel the ugliest house on the block. It’s a labor of love, hate, and everything in between, and soon sparks are flying. But Bethany’s perfectly structured life is one kiss away from going up in smoke and she knows falling for a guy like Wes would be a flipping disaster.
In Tessa Bailey’s latest rom-com, two enemies team up to flip a house… and the sparks between them might burn the place down or ignite a passion that neither can ignore!
The Billionaire in Boots by Julia London
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia London delivers a sexy new contemporary western, where a lonesome rancher and a no-nonsense cowgirl learn that you don’t choose who you fall for–love lassos you….
As the firstborn son, it’s been drilled into Nick that he is the heir apparent to the Prince family empire. But cattle ranching has never been his true passion. Nick wants to be a pilot. However, when his father dies, leaving Nick to clean up the mess, he knows he must do his duty before following his heart.
Charlotte Bailey can’t believe that Nick is back to run the ranch. As the office manager, she knows it’s her responsibility to help him. If only he wasn’t so brooding and cranky–and so hot it’s a wonder his chaps don’t melt right off him. But when sparks fly between them, she’s adamant about staying away from a cowboy on his way out the door.
Nick knows the ranch’s pretty, smart, and capable office manager is off-limits, but he needs her. And working in such close proximity to Charlotte every day is making Nick crazy. She smells good, she looks good, she makes him laugh, but most of all she makes him want to stay….
The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
A high stakes wager pits an aspiring entrepreneur against a ruthless CEO in this sexy romantic comedy.
After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…
As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he’s forced to share his space with the owner’s beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.
As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.
Not That Kind of Guy by Andie J. Christopher
An office attraction becomes something more when they’re off the clock in this delightful romantic comedy by the USA Today bestselling author of Not the Girl You Marry.
State attorney Bridget Nolan is successful in all aspects of her life–except romance. After breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, she’s been slow to reenter the dating scene. To be honest, she has more important things to do like putting bad guys behind bars. But with her brother’s wedding right around the corner, she suddenly needs a date and fast. Lucky for Bridget, the legal intern is almost done with his program.
Matt Kido is dumbstruck by Bridget–total love at first sight–but there’s one problem. She’s totally off-limits while she’s his boss. But the moment he no longer reports to her, Matt asks her on a date. An impulsive decision takes them to Las Vegas where, as the saying goes, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Unless you put a ring on it.
FOR THE COMMENTS: What were your favorite books of 2020?
So many good books on your list! I love Tessa Bailey’s books! I’ve been wanting to read The Shadows Between Us for awhile!