Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and realized I really suck at this. I did include a variety of genres, then threw in several contemporary and multi-cultural romances as they don’t usually get the love (pardon the pun!) on these best-of lists.
There are two authors, Michael Connelly and Christina Lauren (who is really two authors writing together) who had two books apiece this year, and all their books are on the list. I have two books, In a Holidaze and Love Lettering, that overlap with Caitlin Brisson’s list. There is one book that was published in 2019, The Nickel Boys, but I figure if it can win the Pulitzer in 2020, I can include it in my list, too. My list, my rules.
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead: Even though it is a very short book, I took my time reading it. Some of the passages in the story are just heartbreaking, and I wanted to give it the consideration I felt it deserved. It is an emotional read for sure, with a shocking twist at the end. How can I love a book that tells such an overwhelmingly disturbing story? Because Whitehead is a superb storyteller, and he’s written an unforgettable book. Don’t miss it. (LITERARY FICTION)
TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE by Matthew Dicks: a novel written in lists. Very clever, often funny, sometimes touching, just like life. I was completely immersed in Dan’s world, and didn’t pick up my head until I turned the last page. (EPISTOLARY NOVEL)
THE LAW OF INNOCENCE by Michael Connelly: A new Lincoln Lawyer book is always cause to celebrate! Lots of legal action here and with the twists and turns of the case, the pages fly by. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors. (LEGAL THRILLER)
FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly: an unputdownable book with intriguing characters, a familiar setting, and a fast-paced, twisty storyline with a shocker of an ending. If you’ve never read Connelly, this is as good a place to start as any. In my humble opinion, Connelly remains the premier crime writer of our time. (THRILLER)
ALL THE BROKEN PEOPLE by Leah Konen: The main protagonist is an unreliable narrator, but the twist here is that all the characters are unreliable, making this a fast-paced, unputdownable rollercoaster of a read sure to appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins. (PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE)
28 SUMMERS by Elin Hilderbrand: Based on the film, Same Time, Next Year, this story is a decades-long romance based on the same premise. Mallory and Jake meet, have a long weekend fling, then repeat every year on the same weekend. A completely engrossing, beautiful, unputdownable read. (WOMEN’S FICTION)
THE CACTUS by Sarah Haywood: This story is filled with dry wit and humor, making me laugh out loud many times. It is also emotional and at times, heart-wrenching, and we can’t help but be drawn to these characters even though I was not always sure who to root for. But it doesn’t matter, I was immersed in this world and sorry to have to leave it. (BRITISH CHICK LIT)
HELLO, SUMMER by Mary Kay Andrews: more of a mystery and a family story but still has the touch of romance that I’ve come to expect. A happy ending, intrigue, and humor galore, making this a terrific escape and a thoroughly entertaining read. (BEACH READ)
IN A HOLIDAZE by Christina Lauren: This Christmas version of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day, is a terrific read. As in the movie, Mae understands that something has to change to get her back to real life, whatever that turns out to be. She keeps reliving the holiday until she finally gets it right – or so she thinks. Lots of angst mellowed by a lot of laughs make this a really fun holiday read. (CHRISTMAS ROMANCE)
Honorable Mention: JINGLE ALL THE WAY by Debbie Macomber
SAY YES TO THE DUKE by Eloisa James: Viola wants to marry the Vicar, and the Duke of Wynter wants to marry Viola. Shenanigans ensue, along with some heat. James excels at the witty banter the genre is known for, and this book is no exception. Sweet and funny, this is another excellent addition to her latest series. I loved it. (HISTORICAL ROMANCE)
WAITING ON A COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan: First book of a new series with the childhood friends to lovers plotline, with an a twist – an abusive boyfriend makes an appearance and Ryan makes it clear that something like that could happen to anyone. (COWBOY ROMANCE)
Honorable Mention: TOUGH TALKING COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan
SNAPPED by Alexa Martin: This latest entry into this terrific series is one of the best. In addition to a hot romance, Martin dives into some real problems in the NFL; the hero is a Black quarterback and his romantic interest is a biracial publicist. If you don’t follow football, just know that while the league is majority Black players, not so with the quarterback position. Or the coaches. Or the owners. Martin brings these inequities to the forefront, in addition to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,) and the problems the older, retired players have with minimal pensions and no health coverage. That changed for the newer players, and I love how Martin makes a point of discussing how these old guys are trotted out for honors at games, while left to rot on the sidelines for the rest of their lives. Sorry, this really upsets me so I was thrilled to see it addressed here. An excellent read even if you don’t care about that stuff. (SPORTS ROMANCE)
THE MARRIAGE GAME by Sara Desai: Enemies to lovers is always a popular trope in romance, and this one is done exceedingly well. Throwing in a big, extended, nosy Desi=American family plotting an arranged marriage with its parade of kooky suitors adds a lot of laughs to this heartwarming and sexy story. It is a sweet and sexy and funny and total escapist read. (DEBUT ROMANCE)
LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn: Released on the final day of 2019, Love Lettering quickly became one of my favorite books of the year. But was too late for 2019, so here it is! This is a love letter to New York City with interesting, well developed characters, and the romance seemed to bloom organically if you’ll pardon the pun. The art of hand lettering so intrigued me that I started down a rabbit hole, and first found this interview with the author, which led me to this article on Bullet Journaling, which I had never even heard of. (BOOK THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE FALLEN THROUGH THE CRACKS)
SHIT, ACTUALLY: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema by Lindy West: Every essay is a gem. You can pick up the book and read any of the essays, and just know you will be laughing. If I could gift you all with this book, I would. (HUMOROUS NONFICTION)
A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama: What can I possibly add to the accolades this book has already received? Obama is a beautiful writer, and I took my time reading this, enjoying every word. It was brilliant and funny and sad. a very emotional read for me. I loved it. (MEMOIR)
More, more, more!
Alphabetical by author:
LOVE HER OR LOSE HER by Tessa Bailey: a romance centered around an already married couple works beautifully here. Bailey is a terrific storyteller and writer – it’s not easy to put passion on the page without making it feel banal or hackneyed. The sex is definitely steamy, it works in the story and even has some funny moments thrown in, just like real life.
THE ROOMMATE by Rosie Danan: Can a socialite and a porn star form a meaningful relationship? This book will not be for everyone, but if you like terrific characters, an interesting storyline, real conflict, a strong feminist agenda, and well-written sex scenes as much as I do, then you won’t want to miss it. Debut.
THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST by Abby Jimenez: this book sucked me in and I just about cried when I turned the last page. I wanted to stay with these characters – they are interesting and fun and damaged and thoroughly brought to life on the page. My original review revealed that this is a terrific story that is bound for my best books of the year list. And here it is.
LOATHE AT FIRST SIGHT by Suzanne Park: A terrific romance in an unusual and interesting setting, the video game industry. There are a lot of laughs and many a bump in the road until the happy ending is reached in this feminist love story. Debut.
MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel: the book revolves around a musician, her famous conductor/composer father, and her trio but is really a wonderful story of family dysfunction, sibling rivalries, professional jealousy, and one very independent woman. The setting is a wealthy Connecticut beach town and that pushes this book adjacent to the beach read genre.
THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT by Farrah Rochon: Samiah is a Black woman at the top of the tech pyramid, and trust me, she had no easy climb. But this brilliant woman is somehow fooled into dating a man who is dating other women and when he is confronted by three of them, it goes viral. This was one of the best romances I’ve read in a while; I loved how smart the characters were and how real they felt to me.
IF THE BOOT FITS by Rebekah Weatherspoon: Amanda and Sam are in love, but can their relationship survive the Hollywood assault? Happily ever after is guaranteed, but getting there was so much fun.
1) Miraflores by Keith Yokum:
A novel of Panama and the canal built to allow ships to cross between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans without traveling all the way to the tip of South America. A new member of the recently forming CIA is sent to Panama tasked with finding bad guys looking to sabotage the “Big Ditch”. Filled with facts only a person that has lived in the canal zone would know. An enticing read to draw in readers.
2) Rock of Freedom by Noel Gershon
: Fact-based account of the settling by the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts area of the new world. Written by an author with a huge number of historical novels to his credit. Now deceased with an apparent attempt to reselect his books and publish some. Try one – you’ll get hooked.
3) Germania by Harald Gilbers
: The height of Nazi control over Germany with the systemic hatred of Jews and other chosen groups guided by Hitler in order to provide focus centers for the population that he was guiding into wars of conquest. The police are stymied by a serial killer loose in Berlin and due to whom they think it is being forced to rehire a Jewish detective to find the murderer. Filled with the forced hatreds pushed by a leader desperate to control his subjects. A very unique book.
4) The Palace by Christopher Reich
: One well-done action novel written by a master of the genre. A book moving all over the world and featuring a man that picks and chooses problems brought to him, fixing them with no charge. You like action – get some coffee and plunge into a lot of it set up by a master of doing so.
5) Violent Peace by David Poyer
: The next novel by the author about a war between China and the United States. There is a peace conference going on although no one trusts the Chinese to play fair. The stage moving from Russia through radical Islam and to the next probable enemy. Military sequences described by an expert. Very likely aim in real life is the desired annexing of Taiwan by China and this is very well played out in Poyer’s book.
6) Assassin’s Strike by Ward Larson
: Any series of favorite books have just got to include the exploits of an assassin. And we have Larson’s David Slayton who at first worked for the Israeli Mossad. Migrating to the United States Slayton is asked to do the CIA a favor once in a while and agrees. In this novel, two women acting as translators at a conference between Russia and Iran overhear something they shouldn’t. One is killed and the other gets help from Slayton. I do so love action adventures and this book will satisfy anyone’s desire for the same.
7) Muzzled by David Rosenfelt
: Of course, Andy Carpenter and his entourage must make an appearance in this list and so they do in this novel. Andy inherited enough money to live without working and of course, that’s the way he does at the start of most books. But the normal mitigating circumstances intervene and Andy takes a case aided quite well by his wife Laurie (his investigator) the very vociferous Marcus who requires translation services, Willy his partner in a dog rescue business, and other sundry characters including a few dogs and an office manager that has developed allergies to working. Formats of Rosenfelt’s books always include sarcastic comments, very astute and penetrating observations, and a happy resolution for all (especially the dogs.)
8) Home before Dark by Riley Sager
: A novel that asks the question Is this a ghost story or not? It asks the question but doesn’t answer it. How can that be??? Seems that a young girl was murdered in a house that the principal character lived in years ago and the murder was never solved. Is the young lady hanging around hoping that her killer is discovered? Maggy Holt and her partner are in the business of restoring old houses and have picked the one that the girl was murdered in. What Maggy does not remember is that she lived in that house when younger and during the period of the murder. Ingredients of a great ghost story or something else??? Read it and get in line.
9) The Haunting of H.G. Wells by Robert Maselo
: An author that has earned a place in writing well-done novels that feature a bit of the macabre to spice up the story. In this book, the very famous H.G. Wells investigates ghost sightings on the battlefields of World War one Belgium, meets a young lady that becomes his lifelong mistress with the underlying okay of his wife. Where do you get those type of women? His wife also cares for a downed German airman not turning him in for many years. The girl keeps soldiering on, doesn’t she? Finally, his mistress helps Wells to bust a man interested in launching a chemical attack on England. Wells not only writes them but also lived them.
10) Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
: Set in the country of Mexico when a rather spoiled rich young lady is sent by her father to check out the complaints of a newly married member of the family. That girl has taken up residency in her new husband’s mansion. Noemi, the young lady sent to investigate, goes through a growing up period, meets her husband, and helps her cousin in solving her problems with the new marriage. An interesting study of a class of well to do people in the country of Mexico.
Act Like It by Lucy Parker: The first in Parker’s “London Celebrities” series, Act Like It features a delightful, and banter-filled enemies to lovers romance between West End darling Lainie and the notoriously difficult Richard. The entire series is excellent but Lainie and Richard’s sizzling chemistry and emotional depth makes this entry the stand out.
Beach Read by Emily Henry: January is a best-selling romance writer who no longer believes in true love. During a summer getaway she makes a deal with literary author and nemesis Augustus, January will try her hand at literary fiction but Augustus must write something with a happy ending. A charming and thought-provoking contemporary romance.
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall: If I had to name the best romance I read in 2020, Boyfriend Material would probably get the title. The son of a rock star, Luc is reluctantly in the public eye and needs to try to improve his bad-boy image, and pretending to date uptight barrister Oliver seems like the perfect solution. Fake relationships are often-used premises in romance but Hall’s witty dialogue, engaging writing, character development, and the heartwarming relationship between Luc and Oliver mean Boyfriend Material will make you laugh-out-loud and maybe shed a tear or two.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren: The authors of many outstanding rom-coms, it seems hard to believe this is Christina Lauren’s first holiday-themed novel, but it did not disappoint. After asking the universe to show her what will make her happy, Maelyn ends up caught in a Groundhog Day like time loop and keeps reliving her family’s annual Christmas trip to stay with friends at a cabin. Mae has to figure out how to set things right and maybe find true love along the way.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: When Addie LaRue makes a deal with the Devil, she gains immortality but is destined to never be remembered by anyone she meets. Addie slips through life like a ghost until she meets Henry, the first person to remember her name in almost 300 years. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a haunting, suspenseful, and romantic novel.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: In the aftermath of World War II, a diverse group of Jane Austen lovers, from a farmer to a Hollywood star, come together to save Austen’s historic cottage in the village of Chawton, England. This cozy novel is perfect for lovers of Austen and historical fiction. I also highly recommend the audiobook narrated by the talented Richard Armitage.
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn: Read on the final day of 2019 Love Lettering just missed being included on my list last year. Do not miss this beautifully written slow burn romance which is also a love letter to the city of New York and the art of calligraphy.
Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten: I have been a fan of Garten’s for a long time and read all her cookbooks. Her collection of comfort food recipes is perfect reading for the end of the year. As always, her recipes look delicious and approachable and I was ready for Garten to come over to my house and make me the grilled cheese and tomato soup pictured on the cover.
Not Like Movies by Kerry Winfrey: Waiting for Tom Hanks was one of my favorite books of 2019 and this follow up featuring what happens to optimistic Chloe and gruff coffee house owner Nick after their relationship is turned into a movie was even better. It has all the charm and rom-com fun of the first book but even more depth and better-developed characters.
The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler: During the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, The Tourist Attraction gave me much needed laughs and a free trip to Alaska. When Zoe takes a bucket list trip to the quaint town of Moose Springs, Alaska she encounters a chainsaw-wielding mad man, a moose, and numerous other misadventures, but she also finds romance with grumpy diner owner Graham. Morgenthaler also returns to Moose Springs in the excellent holiday-themed follow up, Mistletoe and Mr. Right.