Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
This weeks’ prompt is a ~love~ freebie, and initially I had planned on doing a post about contemporary romances on my TBR, but not only have I done something similar a couple weeks ago with Sapphic Romance on my TBR, but I also realized that a lot of the romance on my TBR was new releases or upcoming releases.
2020 was the year I fell hard for contemporary romance.
The candle had already been lit in 2018 with The Kiss Quotient (it was a flame that burned bright for chick lit in the early 00s but faded over time), but the beginning of the plague years I found myself desperate for something light, fluffy and adorable…and books that would also take me through emotional hardship, trauma and sadness in a safe and comforting way.
In a sense, I needed books that would help me experience and process shit but also put me back together and make me hopeful that things will be okay.
That I just had to keep going.
And that, I think, is the power of romance novels.
Not just the connection between two people in a book, but how their lives intersect and all of the things they experience and process and realize on their journey to each other and themselves.
So, here are some contemporary romances I loved, written not as synopses or why you should read this, but as a reflection on how these books have impacted me and my love for this genre in particular and my love for reading in general. While my head and soul love science fiction and fantasy, my heart firmly belongs to contemporary romance.
Contemporary Romance to Love
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
I listened to this book in 2018 in the middle of my move from Virginia to North Carolina. My back was thrown out, I could barely move, and was stuck running doing last-minute errands while my wife and MIL packed the van and prepped her car, it was summer and I had a dog and cat in my car, and I was stressed as hell.
And this book was the perfect remedy. I laughed. I cried. I swooned. All down the seemingly neverending drive, as one chapter of my life closed and another opened, this book was there for me. It was the first time I had ever connected with the steamy scenes, the first time I’d actually got why it was hot as hell. And it kick-started my love for the genre once again.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Admittedly, the third book with Eve is my favorite, but Chloe Brown is also fantastic and is the first of the Brown Sisters trilogy. Chloe is a Black, fat chronic pain sufferer, and the way Hibbert wrote her was so amazing and wonderful. I connected to Chloe in a way I didn’t expect, as someone who has a lot of body image issues and who has chronic pain. This book changed a lot of the ways I viewed myself, and gave me permission to let go some of the things I was holding onto, and to take a stand against some of the things I had let slide. It made me want to regain my life again, and also made me realize that taking it slow is okay, too.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
This was another book that arrived in my life at exactly the right time. It’s a book where the heroine is hit with the overwhelming fatigue of life not being what she’d imagined or strived for, and realizing that life-long dreams sometimes needed a tweak in order to get something not-perfect, but more fulfilling. I had just left an incredibly toxic work environment to become a writer, and was filled with a lot of feelings over it all. This book brought up those, and also feelings from my time in the Marine Corps (feelings of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, sexism, and whatnot).
Plus, the relationship between Shay and Dominic was fantastic (the banter!!), and I adored almost all of the secondary characters.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Okay, I know, I know I literally just said (like, five paragraphs ago) that The Kiss Quotient was the book that got me rehooked on romance, but The Royal We was a romance I read several years before that and loved. I’d picked it up because the title and premise intrigued me (this was before I admitted I loved romance and before I admitted that I was absolute trash for royal romance), and was one of the first books where I bought into my MLIS training and said fuck it, I’m going to read what I love in public no matter how ridiculous the cover (this cover is amazing, btw). While I loved the sequel even better, this was a book that lives in my heart, mostly because I was reading it in my yoga teacher training course during breaks despite the snooty looks from the “cool girls” (ugh, that experience).
Admitting my love for royal romance (and this book) led me to Red, White and Royal Blue, which led me to A Royal Romance, and then A Princess Trap and soon American Royalty.
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
And eventually, my love of royal romances led me to Alyssa Cole, who I view as one of the masters of royal romance. I love The Reluctant Royals trilogy, and I also adore the spin-off Runaway Royals trilogy, too. The way Cole wraps her alternate history and addresses racism, culture and colonialism in addition to having lovable main leads is so wonderful. I’m picky about my alternate history/fake countries set in the real world books, but she nailed it. A Princess in Theory was my entry-point to one of my absolute favorite authors, and I’m so grateful.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
So many of these books helped me process shit, but The Unhoneymooners was a book that just bowled me over with the laughs. I had read enemies to lovers before, but never loved it. Not before this book, where I could not stop laughing over their antics and the starfishing on the bed and the banter and literally everything else. I haven’t read a book that was unabashedly hilarious and heartfelt. I love screwball humor, and this had it in spades. I have been chasing the feeling ever since, but nothing has quite lived up to this book (although The Ex Talk came pretty damn close).
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Ayesha was another book that hit me at a crucial moment. I was in between jobs and visiting my estranged family for my sister’s college graduation. It was a hard and emotional weekend, and this book was there. It was sparkling and delightful and just a pinpoint retelling of Pride and Prejudice with a Muslim-Canadian main character, a stiff but good love interest, and secondary characters that just sparkled off the page (particularly Nana and his overly dignified trips to Tim Horton’s). I laughed so hard in the airport that it drew stares.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
So, I read this series out of order! I read The Proposal first, before I knew that Carlos was a secondary character in The Wedding Date, and fuck did I love this book (although it was one where the 80% mark testing scene pissed me off because it had one of the characters do a 180). It made me double down on my belief that public proposals are 99% always a terrible idea, and also me quite happy that there were other people in this world that shared my views.
So. Public proposals: not romantic.
This is a hill I will die on. Plan that shit out (or at the very least, talk to your significant other beforehand about marriage, proposal types, and what is/is not okay for the ask).
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
In terms of books with sheer steam and chemistry between the leads, this book has it, whatever it is. I loved Jasmine. I loved all of the secondary characters (side note: solid secondary characters are what make a romance for me—I don’t do bland, cookie cutter figures), and while the lead himself was meh, I understood why he was the way he was. This was pure escapism for me—the height of the pandemic wave of 2020 when tensions were high, my library was open and short-staffed, and everything else.
Also, this book (and One to Watch) reminded me that I love reading about the drama and scandal and behind the scenes work of movies, tv shows and high society. Fucking put that shit in an IV and shove that needle into my vein.
Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake
Oof, this book brought back so much shit for me. My review drops this Thursday (and this book releases on the 22nd), so I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I really, really felt it. It’s sapphic, it has a small Oregon town, a prodigal daughter, a bisexual lead, and the Perfect Child trope, along with enemies to lovers and a phenomenal Parent Trap subplot. This book was utter perfection, queer as hell, and I cannot wait for the second in the (hopefully) trilogy: Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail. IYKY.