I feel like 2021 was as much of a dumpster fire as 2020 was, but if you are anything like me, you managed to find a little bit of solace and/or escape with your favorite romance reads. We need all the romance and HEA's we can get to see us through these trying times. Here are the top 10 books* that gave me all the feels in 2021:
*This is a list of books released in 2021
10. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Trope: second chance
Why It's On the List: This is a story about two authors who have secretly been writing each other into their books throughout their careers. When they are reunited twenty years after a hot but brief affair, their chemistry remains undeniable. Inner demons and traumatic experiences threaten their rekindled romance, and it is through making peace with themselves that they find their way back to each other. This book was both steamy and thoughtful, with Williams providing an authentic voice for Black life in America.
9. Saint (Priest #3) by Sierra Simone
Trope: second chance, taboo
Why It's On the List: Admittedly, this M/M romance is one I experienced as an audiobook. I drive a lot for my job and audiobooks help pass the time. I listen to them enough that I have favorite narrators. My all-time favorite is Jacob Morgan*, whose deep voice, superior acting skills, and ability to pull off any accent make him second to none IMO. (Seriously, he's Irish and I never knew until 3-4 months ago.) Saint is a story about Aiden, a man who leaves everything behind to join a monastery, including the man he loves, Elijah. When Elijah makes an unexpected appearance at the monastery to tell Aiden he's getting married, vows and promises are tested on both sides.
*Jacob Morgan also reads under the name Zachary Webber.
8. The Plight Before Christmas by Kate Stewart
Trope: second chance
Why It's On the List: Kate Stewart makes this list two years in a row with this holiday romance, solidifying her as a personal favorite author of mine. Flock and Exodus (Books 1 & 2 of her Ravenhood series, respectively) shared the #1 spot on my Top 10 of 2020 list, while Book 3, The Finish Line, receives an honorable mention for this year (see below). Whitney is already having a shitty holiday season when her brother unexpectedly (and unknowingly) invites her college ex, Eli, to their family Christmas. Family drama, holiday hijinks, heartfelt confessions, and a surprise crossover cameo (no spoilers!) combine to make this holiday romance one you can enjoy all year-round!
7. With you Forever (Bergman Bros. #4) by Chloe Liese
Tropes: grump/sunshine, marriage of convenience
Why It's On the List: In her first appearance on this list (keep reading!), Chloe Liese brings her love of historical romance into modern times with this marriage of convenience story. #4 of this series follows Axel and Rooney, who find true love and acceptance in each other. Liese knows how to do a slow-burn right, ratcheting up the tension to the point where you can't think of anything else beyond turning the page. Liese's stories also bring an authentic voice and much-needed representation of neurodivergent characters in romance publications. She is fast becoming one of my favorite authors!
6. Isn't It Bromantic? (Bromance Book Club #4) by Lyssa Kay Adams
Trope: second chance, marriage of convenience
Why It's On the List: With yet another second chance romance on this list (I'm sensing a theme for 2021 here...), Adams' latest installment of BBC had me rooting for Vlad, aka the Russian, more than ever. The hairy, cheese-obsessed hockey player somehow makes you swoon thanks to Adams' masterful writing. I can't wait for the next installment!
5. Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Trope: enemies-to-lovers (ish)
Why It's On the List: This one was...unexpected, in many different ways. While there is romantic plot in the story, its central theme is friendship. It made me reach out to my two long-time best friends to tell them I love them (for obvious reasons, once you read the book). Just Last Night is not your typical rom-com and I sort of devoured it. Another 5 star read for me from McFarlane, as a previous release of hers, If I Never Met You, received an honorable mention from me last year.
4. The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Why It's On the List: To be clear, this YA graphic novel is NOT a romance. So why is it on this list? Look, we read books in part for the emotions we feel while doing so. The books that provide the most visceral reactions are generally the ones that stick with you the longest. The Magic Fish was one of those books for me. Tien, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, is a boy growing up in California in the 1990's. He reads fairytales with his parents, struggling to come out to them, as there is no word in the Vietnamese language for "gay", something that is taken out of his control when authorities at his Catholic school observe him sharing a platonic dance with a male friend. As a mother and LGBT+ ally, I wept at the end of this book: angry at the hate and discrimination of the past, thankful for the progress that has been made, and hope that mothers everywhere accept their children wholeheartedly.
3. Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Trope: YA fiction
Why It's On the List: What? Another book on the list that's not a romance? Yep! (Although there is a romance arc). I held onto this book for a while before I read it in November. It was definitely worth the wait and worth staying up until 1 AM to finish. It was especially meaningful to read during Native American Heritage month. The storytelling was exceptional and poignant, and the look into Native American culture was enlightening. Boulley does not shy away from addressing the ugly history of violence, mistreatment, prejudice, and indoctrination of Indigenous people at the hands of the church and federal government, especially towards women and children. And nor should she.
2. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Why It's On the List: Emily Henry did it again! This book had me from page 1 and I couldn't put it down, much like with her previous release, Beach Read, which I ranked #9 on my Top 10 of 2020. I loved Alex and Poppy's journey through friendship and more as told through Henry's charming and witty storytelling. PWMoV cements her as an up-and-coming powerhouse voice of rom-com.
1. Ever After Always (Bergman Bros. #3) by Chloe Liese
Trope: second chance, marriage in crisis
Why It's On the List: Every once in a while a book comes along at just the right time. I'd been holding onto this one for a bit, biding my time until Bergman #4 came out, but I'm glad I picked it up when I did. Freya and Aiden's story was one I could relate to on a personal level. The added stress and pressure that comes along with the decision to bring a baby into one's relationship is something I've been dealing with for over 4 years now. The way Liese wrote Freya's thoughts and insecurities made it feel like she was writing from inside my own mind. Chapters 7 & 8, when Freya and Aiden attend marriage counseling, served as a master-class about how important communication and intimacy are in a marriage or long-term relationship. Aiden's anxiety was also portrayed with sensitivity and understanding. Many romances don't delve into these difficult topics, but more of them should. Liese does and knocks it out of the park every time. Ever After Always is her best book to date, and I can't wait for installments #5-7.
While the books below did not make it into the Top 10, I loved them just the same:
The Finish Line (Ravenhood #3) by Kate Stewart
The Stray Prince (Royals #2) by Ella Fields
The Heart Principle (Kiss Quotient #3) by Helen Hoang
I Cannot Reach You (Vol. 1) by Mika
Life’s Too Short (The Friend Zone #3) by Abby Jimenez
It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod