Best of January 2021

If you’d asked me prior to the start of the month, I would’ve predicted a completely different Best of January list. A few of my most anticipated reads got shuffled to February, others didn’t quite meet expectations, and, honestly, most of these weren’t really on my radar. I think the best part of my Best of January list is that it features four authors who are new/almost new-to-me (plus Ilsa Madden-Mills, lol). This month’s releases took me in an entirely unexpected direction, so now I’ve got some new authors on my one-click list. And that’s such an awesome thing.

This month’s list is a little different in another regard too. While all five of these books were excellent, three of them were so good that I’m already picturing them on my Top 21 of 2021 list… and we’re eleven months away from that. So I’ve separated these into my Top Picks and my Honorable Mentions, just to distinguish the difference.

February brings lots and lots of new releases, with books from many of my favorite authors. If you missed my February Release Calendar, you can find it here – there are many exciting books to look forward to!

I’ve got my review for each of this month’s best books below – you can’t go wrong with any of these!

Top Picks

Want to know what I did the SECOND I finished this book? Grabbed the first two books in the series, because this was OUTSTANDING. It’s a love letter to marriage, best understood by those who’ve been in one, but no less powerful if you haven’t. It’s difficult and heart-wrenching, raw and real, and the progress this couple makes is so powerful. The storyline probably won’t be for everyone, but the journey is absolutely worth it – especially because of how good you’ll feel by the end. This may have been my first time reading something by this author, but it was just the beginning of my love for her work.

The story follows Freya and Aiden, a married couple who have been together for over a decade. Their once-solid relationship seems to be crumbling, and things have gotten so bad that all communication has broken down. Aiden doesn’t realize that his marriage is even in jeopardy until his wife packs his bags. It’s a startling wakeup call that makes him a little desperate to put the pieces back together. But no matter how much love there is between them, there’s no fixing this marriage until all of their cards are on the table. When a family vacation forces Freya and Aiden to come together, they realize that they’ve got to put in a whole lot of work if there’s any hope of a future for them.

I loved how honest this is. It takes two people to make a marriage work, and love is not enough to keep things going. Freya and Aiden are both genuinely good people who love each other – and I’m talking about the kind of deep love that only comes from years spent getting to know someone. I felt for both of them, and I really appreciated that neither one was “at fault” for bringing them to this point. They’ve both got things they need to work on, and they’ve let those things spiral out of control, but there’s nothing that’s insurmountable. The build in intimacy is a thing of beauty, and the author does an excellent job showcasing that. There’s a subtlety that works, and I loved all of those quieter moments. It’s the kind of slow burn that’s necessary, building back up the emotional connection before things turn physical – though there are plenty of sexy moments on the way there. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy via NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving a review of this marriage in trouble romance.


Bookshop Paperback:

I’m not even going to tell you how late I was up reading this, but let’s just say that it was an unexpected swoony DELIGHT, and I couldn’t stop reading. Learn from my mistakes; clear your schedule and spend the day with this outstanding debut. It’s the kind of immersive, intelligent read that hooks you in from the start and keeps you smiling throughout. I loved the playful enemies to lovers vibes between these two, the forced proximity, and all of the banter. And for a “clean” romance, there was all kinds of sexual tension throughout, snapping at the perfect moments. Add in some serious summertime feelings that make you feel like you’re on vacation, and this was just my kind of read.

The story follows Henley (like the shirt) and Graeme (like the cracker), two coworkers who have only ever met via video conference. While they’ve been working – and sparring – with each other for over a year, they really only know the basics about each other. So when they discover that they’re competing for the same promotion and a cruise to the Galapagos will determine their fate, it throws everything off-balance. After meeting Graeme in person, Henley soon realizes that he’s not the guy she thought he was, and that may prove to be a major distraction.

Told exclusively from Henley’s point of view, the reader is left with doubt about how these two really feel about each other. Think The Hating Game or You Deserve Each Other (two of my all-time favorites), which unravel a little bit at a time. The writing style is easy to devour, and you’ll be pulled in right away. Honestly, I started reading this before bed just to get a feel for the vibe, and, well, I finished before I went to sleep… sometime in the morning, lol. It’s light and easy with some poignant moments, touching on serious subjects like sexual harassment and abuse while still feeling very much like a rom com. And you’ll want to visit this tropical paradise before the book is over, because the setting plays a major role in the story. Plus, Graeme is kinda the ideal book boyfriend – a Midwestern sweetheart with a little bit of alpha intensity, who is loyal, loving, kind, and seriously swoony. It’s an all-around great read, and I am absolutely looking forward to more from the author.


Bookshop Paperback:

So, confession time. When I started reading this, I thought I was in for a steamy, easy, palate cleanser of a read. I’ve only read one other book by this author, and it was a sexy good time – but didn’t leave me wanting more. Well, then I started reading this one… and found myself up past 3 in the morning, wondering just how late I could stay up and still function at work. I LOVED it. So much bantery goodness, so much chemistry, and all of these little lines that had me cracking up. It got better with every chapter, building on the initial “predictable” rom com feel and taking things up a notch. And it was SEXY. Let’s call this one a hot slow burn, because the tension between these two was palpable.

The story follows Paige and Oliver, two people who work in different departments of the same chain of hotels. They ran into each other at the hotel bar one night, and found themselves sharing one steamy evening together. It was never really a problem, because they don’t work together on a regular basis… that is, until a promotion sends Oliver right into Paige’s orbit. Though it’s been four years since their night together, all of those memories come rushing back to the surface when they go on a two-week business trip. And while it’s easy to say that they can keep things professional, actually following through on that becomes next to impossible once they get to know each other better.

I loved the playfulness of this, and the fact that these two don’t just immediately jump back into bed together. There’s all kinds of delicious tension, and the build in intimacy makes the payoff that much better. It’s steamy, fun, low angst, and just what I like in my rom coms. There was one steamy scene that wasn’t to my personal taste, but it lasted all of two pages and that’s really the only thing I didn’t love about the book. It was excellent from start to finish, and the snap of tension was a thing of beauty. There’s one scene where I went from having all of the warm and fuzzy feelings to taking in a shocked breath along with one of these characters. I was 100% invested in this relationship from start to finish, and I loved its hidden depth. I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author now – this was fantastic. I received an early copy via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review of this workplace romance.


Honorable Mention

This took a little while to grow on me, but once it did, I was LOVING it. I love an adorably unsure alpha who is in over his head, and that’s exactly what happens with Devon. It’s sweet and swoony with a slow burn that turns scorching later on, making this a read that will put you through a range of emotions. Personally, I think this reads better if you pretend the first book in the series never happened, because the author wrote herself into a bit of a corner with that one. This only stumbles when it’s referencing things that happened prior to the start of this book, and they’re largely irrelevant to this love story. Devon stole my heart from the beginning, and Giselle won me over by the end.

The story follows Devon, a pro football player who is used to people leaving him. He avoids emotional entanglements and prefers to keep things casual, but there’s one (very off-limits) woman who has intrigued him recently. Giselle is one of a kind – she’s a science nerd, a highly intelligent yet slightly naive woman, and… is a little desperate to turn in her v-card. Giselle is convinced that the sexy athlete has placed her in the friend zone (or at least the off-limits zone), so she’s looking elsewhere. But when they become unexpected roommates, everything changes.

I love this author’s work, but the first book in this series was not really a winner for me – and it also doesn’t paint the best picture of Giselle. So I know that a lot of fans are hesitant going into this love story, but (thankfully) it’s easy to ignore the events of the first book once the setup is out of the way. That’s probably why this took a little longer to hook me in, but once I got into it, there was no turning back. I loved the vulnerable moments between these two and the slow, delicious burn. The emotional connection is the centerpiece here, and it really shines towards the end. There’s fantastic chemistry and banter throughout, but the back half is what earns this 5 stars. The characters are complex, with real, relatable issues, and anyone who loves a marshmallow-hearted alpha will fall for Devon. I received an early copy via NetGalley (then purchased it for my collection), and am voluntarily leaving a review of this sexy, slow burn romance.


Bookshop Paperback:

Who doesn’t love a bad boy with a gooey, marshmallow heart? While I often struggle with manwhore heroes, there really is nothing quite like a bad boy who falls for the right girl. I love seeing a hero grapple with feelings he’s unaccustomed to, trying to figure out how his life seemed to change in the blink of an eye – and that’s exactly what happens with this one. It drifted between 4 and 5 stars for me the entire time, mostly because I feel like this hero got what he wanted way too easily (more on that in a minute). But I also had zero inclination to skim any pages, and I was invested in the story from start to finish. Any issues I have with this are pretty minor, so it was easy to get caught up in the romance.

The story follows Fiona, a woman who is tired of wasting her time on guys who can’t commit. She’s dated several over the last year who seem like they’re in it for the long haul, only to leave after they’ve slept together. So Fiona has decided to take the dating process into her own hands, and writes up a contract for herself – the next time she kisses a guy, she’ll be certain of his commitment. But when shameless playboy Max comes striding into her life, all of Fiona’s plans go out the window. They’ve got instant, blazing chemistry, and that’s super inconvenient, given Fiona’s contract and Max’s aversion to relationships. As the two spend more time together, they realize just how well they fit – and that they need to figure out what to do about that.

I’ve been meaning to try this author’s work, and this was a great place to start. Her writing is interesting, the characters are complex, the steamy scenes are smoking, it remains light yet emotional, and while it’s longer than I would’ve liked, there were never any moments when it dragged too much. I was unaware that this was connected to another of the author’s books, Strictly Professional, but it reads just fine as a standalone. And, honestly, I don’t actually think I would’ve liked that book – this one has some dirty steam, but it does not have anything that I would consider BDSM. My only real issue with the steam in this pertains to the frequent reminders of Max’s (very recent) past, and the fact that he was sleeping around like a week before falling for Fiona. There’s no OW drama, but I needed Max to work harder for his girl – it felt like Fiona compromised a LOT more than Max, all the way through. Ultimately, the good greatly outweighs the bad in this, so I’m choosing to round up my rating. I would not hesitate to read more from the author, and liked this a lot. I received an early copy via Enticing Journey and am voluntarily leaving a review of this steamy romance.


Bookshop Paperback:

There are lots of great books releasing soon!

If you missed my February Release Calendar, you can find it here. There are so many exciting books to look forward to!

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases

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