This year, I tried to make my life easier by keeping a running list of my favorite romances. Every time a book moved me to tears or stuck in my brain for days, it went on the list. Foolishly, I thought this would make pulling this list together a painless process. It didn’t.
I’m not going to tell you how many books made it on that list, but I will tell you that my face when I realized how difficult this was going to be looked something like this. But I wiped my tears, said a prayer to the romance goddesses for wisdom and eventually narrowed it down to the stellar 11 titles below.
Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
If you are a reprobate like me and always wished there were more romance in Star Wars than a few (very hot) kisses between Han Solo and Princess Leia, then this is the romance of your dreams. Bouchet’s first installment in her Endeavor series is a sci-fi adventure with two deeply charming, just angsty-enough leads. Bouchet keeps things admirably down-to-earth amid all the necessary world building and foreshadowing with snark aplenty, funny character details and one impossibly adorable space cat. Read our review.
Devil’s Daughter by Lisa Kleypas
Blasphemy, ahoy: I had not read Devil in Winter when I picked up Kleypas’ Devil’s Daughter. For the uninitiated, the heroine of Devil’s Daughter is the child of Devil in Winter’s Evie and Sebastian, one of the most beloved couples in modern romance. Kleypas masterfully balances some delicious fan service (which was so fun to read I immediately put Devil in Winter on my TBR list) with the clever, light-as-air main romance between practical young widow Phoebe and West Ravenel. West is a particularly appealing character—a former rake who’s steadily evolved into a compassionate, openhearted man over the course of the series. Read our review.
Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long
Long’s glorious return to historical romance is a feminist clarion call wrapped up in an effervescent romantic comedy. The central relationship between recently impoverished widow Delilah Derring and cynical naval Captain Tristan Hardy is utterly lovely, but it’s the complicated friendship between Delilah and her late husband’s mistress, Angelique, that becomes the heart of the story. Read our review.
When a Duchess Says I Do by Grace Burrowes
Burrowes’ romances are so finely drawn, so meticulously detailed that I read them at a slower pace, savoring the immaculate build and perfect little character notes. The deliciously brainy main pair of Duchess is particularly well-suited for Burrowes’ gifts as an author; she brings restrained, oft-underlooked Duncan Wentworth and his blazingly brilliant love interest Matilda to full and vivid life. Read our review.
The Rose by Tiffany Reisz
Reisz’s stunning erotic romance recalls the masterpieces of Anaïs Nin—blended with Greek mythology and more than a little dry British wit. An unabashed celebration of fantasy and desire wrapped in Reisz’ drop-dead gorgeous prose, The Rose is a decadent, delicious treat. Read our review.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Following up last year’s best romance, The Kiss Quotient, was no easy task. But Hoang’s sophomore novel is just as insightful, just as unabashedly sexy as her outstanding first book. And the heroine of The Bride Test, Esme Tran, is as fully formed and instantly lovable as The Kiss Quotient’s Stella Lane. A single mother who emigrates from Vietnam to see if an arranged marriage will work out, good-hearted Esme is determined to improve the lives of her and her family—with or without her possible intended. Read our review.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
The buzz started building last fall for McQuiston’s debut thanks to its undeniable premise: The son of the president of the United States falls in love with his arch nemesis, an English prince. And good lord did this book more than live up to its hype. Under all the fizzy, escapist fun of McQuiston’s alternate political reality (the president is a take-no-prisoners Democratic woman from Texas), Red, White & Royal Blue grapples with homophobia, depression and political corruption. Grounded in reality but also profoundly cathartic and romantic, this is a clear frontrunner for best romance of the year. Read our Q&A.
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
And now to a book that, like RW&RB, made me cry at my desk at work (a true badge of honor). Dade’s slow-burn romance follows ice queen history teacher Rose and her new co-worker, Martin, over the course of a school year, and it made me want to call and thank all the kind teachers I ever had. Rose and Martin are good, complicated, devoted people, and the way they pine for each other is rendered by Dade in all its aching beauty. Read our review.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Jalaluddin’s wonderful contemporary romance stands head-and-shoulders above most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice due to its brilliant reimagining of the classic story. Setting the story in a community of Muslim immigrants to Toronto allows Jalaluddin to tap into aspects of Austen’s world that seem out of date for most modern writers—arranged marriages, rapid-fire gossip, the importance of reputation—and to update Fitzwilliam Darcy in a fascinating way. Her male lead, Khalid Mirza, is a devout Muslim whose faith and adherence to tradition lead him to misjudge the heroine but also to become the target of prejudice himself. Read our review.
Reverb by Anna Zabo
Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series has been a total blast, and Reverb finishes on a blissful high. The central romance between bass player Mish Sullivan and her hot, prince-among-men bodyguard David is sexy and mature, with just the right amount of angst. And Mish’s refusal to stop performing and the band’s support of her in defiance of a frightening stalker offer a fitting tribute to the power of art and found family. Read our review.
A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole
Cole’s ability to conquer any genre or setting she chooses is truly awe-inspiring. She leapt from the dramatic, thrilling historical Loyal League series to the deceptively escapist romantic comedies of the Reluctant Royals without a hitch, and A Prince on Paper is easily my favorite of the bunch. Prince Johan of Liechtienbourg is known as a notorious playboy, but it’s actually a meticulously constructed performance, designed to take the spotlight off his beloved half-brother, who will one day inherit the throne. But his growing feelings for shy Nya Jerami, who’s beginning to take ownership of her life after years of suffering under her manipulative father, threaten to derail the image he’s worked so hard to preserve. Even as Cole balances fun check-ins with the other characters of the series, Nya and Johan’s tender connection comes to vivid and distinct life. Read our review,