TOP 20 OF 2021: The Complete List

Everything I loved about 2021 romance novels, all in one place! Looking back, I really did have a fantastic reading year – there were so many great books that ALMOST made my top 20 list, and plenty of others that were just really solid reads. The books on this list represent the absolute BEST romance novels I read all year. Out of over 250 books, these rose to the top of the pack with ease.

Clearly I love enemies to lovers and fake relationships more than anything; there were several outstanding romances that featured those tropes. But they’re so versatile, because each book on this list is completely different. From dark and angsty, steamy mafia books to light and playful rom coms, there’s a little something for every mood. I’m one of those readers who likes to switch things up – if I read something heavy, then the next book has to be light. If one book plays up the tropes, then the next one has to surprise me. I’m a mood reader, what can I say!

Every book on this list was an excellent reading experience for me, and I am so excited to see what 2022 brings!


The Wrong Heart by Jennifer Hartmann

No book gutted me quite like The Wrong Heart. If I had to choose my top 5 books of the year, this would easily make the list. It’s a dark – often bleak – book, and the transformation of these characters from start to finish is incredible. Hartmann navigates the complexities of this dynamic extremely well, and the result is a very powerful read. And such a romantic one too, once you really dive in. It was my introduction to Hartmann’s work, but I’ve since sampled some of her other books – and they are just as unique and full of emotional turmoil. The Wrong Heart remains my favorite from her, but I am absolutely looking forward to reading more from Hartmann in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XyJ3Vi

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

One of my top picks is the stellar debut by Elena Armas, The Spanish Love Deception. This fan favorite was voted GoodReads’ Debut of the Year for a good reason – it’s slow burn goodness with a mysterious and swoony hero who will sweep you off your feet. I think of it as a mix of The Hating Game and Marriage for One, which is one of the highest compliments that I can pay a romance. With light, fun, enemies to lovers vibes paired with compelling characters and an original storyline, this will keep you turning the pages late into the night. It’s an indie debut that is getting re-released in 2022, and I’m eager to read this nearly 500-page book all over again in its revised edition.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3mhFege

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Darling Venom by Parker S. Huntington

This list would not be complete without the heartbreaking powerhouse, Darling Venom. It’s been two years since Parker S. Huntington released a new book, and Venom flew to the top of my favorites list – just like Devious Lies did back in 2019. There’s something about her writing that is so gripping, and these girthy books – that should be way too long – somehow fly by. This one had me tearing up within a few chapters, and it had me completely immersed the whole way through. It’s a devastating, tense read – and an excellent one. Here’s hoping there isn’t another two year gap between Huntington’s releases, but this was well worth the wait!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3GqekdQ

Read on for my original review, notes about the audiobook, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

This debut is mega popular for a reason – it’s intelligent, playful, and filled with slow burn goodness. I loved this mysterious, grump of a hero, and figuring him out was tons of fun. I also loved the vibrant setting, science-filled moments, and build in intimacy. It reminded me of all-time favorites like The Hating Game and The Spanish Love Deception, but this also feels fresh and different from other enemies to lovers romances. Here’s hoping that Hazelwood brings the same kind of love to her next releases – this was fantastic!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3lVT7js

Read on for my original review, notes on the audiobook quality, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Savage Hearts by J.T. Geissinger

As 2021 comes to a close, I’m revisiting my 20 favorite romance novels of the year, and J.T. Geissinger is an author whose work easily made the list! I’ve loved every book that came out in the Queens & Monsters series in 2021, but Savage Hearts might just be my favorite one. It’s steamy and intense, with an antihero who is such a unique character. I loved the softer romance paired with the brutality of the mafia aspects, and I loved that it was completely unpredictable and distinct, even from the other books in the series. The Queens & Monsters series made my BEST OF 2021: My Favorite Romance Series list (found here), and I’m so looking forward to continuing it in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/39SUTMA

Read on for my original review, details on the series, a spotlight on Geissinger’s work, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


The Perfect Catch by Meghan Quinn

Meghan Quinn is a repeat offender – as in, her books often fly to the top of my list. Quinn had two particularly excellent releases this year, including the forbidden and swoony, The Perfect Catch. I loved this strong and silent hero; so misunderstood by the world, but so freaking lovable once you get to know him. This started off as the typical sports-related rom com – with plenty of Quinn’s signature humor and compelling characters – before transitioning into a forbidden, angsty, and downright HOT slow burn. It’s one of my favorites from the author, and that’s saying something, because her books are often outstanding. There are a few unforgettable scenes in here, and it left me wanting so much more.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3hENiWN

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


The Brit by Jodi Ellen Malpas

When The Brit was released earlier this year, I’d been meaning to try Malpas’ work for awhile but hadn’t taken the leap yet. Mafia romances are frequently intense, bingeable reads for me, so I took a chance on this one. And, oh boy, was it quite the unexpected treat! This book is darker and more suspenseful than my usual, containing several things that I typically hate in a romance, but I was so HOOKED on it. The characters are complex and their interactions are tense and layered. This antihero is a bad, bad man, but watching him slowly peel back the layers and fall in love was absolutely captivating. I’ve since read the followup, The Enigma, and it was another outstanding love story that has me yearning for the next installment.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3lo1DXH

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Ever After Always by Chloe Liese

I remember seeing this ARC on NetGalley at the end of 2020, and I knew nothing about Liese’s writing but the blurb sounded great and that’s what sold me. So, I dove in with zero expectations of this new-to-me author, and I was completely blown away. This marriage in trouble romance is intelligent and heartbreaking, with some moments of true, deep intimacy paired with such a fun family dynamic. I knew right away that I was reading something great, and I immediately started reading the rest of the series as soon as I was done with this. The story is just richer and deeper when you read it in context of the series, and Liese has since become one of my one-click authors. The Bergman Brothers series made my BEST OF 2021: My Favorite Romance Series list (found here), and I’m so looking forward to whatever Liese writes in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/32whACo

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

It’s been several months since I read this adorable enemies to lovers romance, so I relived the story all over again as I pulled some quotes for this post. And the swoons are definitely still there! This is one of the only books that has made me cry happy tears, and that is quite the accomplishment. It’s such a unique story, with an intricately developed romance and a narrator who learns as she goes. I love the journey this couple takes together, and this hero has got to have one of the best transformations. It’s rare that enemies to lovers romances feel so utterly romantic by the end, but this certainly accomplishes that. I absolutely loved it!

Fun fact: When I finished reading this the first time, I was crying happy tears, feeling the swoons in a big way, and planning out a glowing review in my head… and then I turned to the acknowledgements and saw my name! So freaking cool. I’ve loved Hogle’s work since her debut novel, You Deserve Each Other, and it was immensely flattering to have her publicly thank me for my support. But really? I’m thanking her for writing these memorable, original romances!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3mhP7cs

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Call Me Crazy by Melanie Harlow

While every book in the Bellamy Creek series was excellent, this marriage of convenience romance is easily my favorite. These childhood frenemies turned spouses have no idea what they’re getting into when they start their fake relationship, and watching this arrogant playboy fall hard for his wife was so fun to watch. There’s tons of bickering/bantering and a playfulness to the story, which pairs perfectly with the sexual tension and steam throughout. I loved these two together, and this book is the one that really cemented the Bellamy Creek series for me – though the quality did not falter along the way. I’m looking forward to more from Harlow in 2022, because she certainly knows how to build intimacy and bring the heat.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3rAMPa7

Read on for my original review, details on the series, an excerpt, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Hard to Love by K. Bromberg

The final book in one of the best sports romance series I’ve read definitely earns a spot on the list! I’ve read and loved every book in the Play Hard series by K. Bromberg, and each one has its own vibe. While each book will read as a standalone, there are characters who tie everything together, including the villainesque antihero who finds redemption in Hard to Love. There’s just something about a bad boy who melts when he finds the right woman that steals my heart every time, so reading Hard to Love was such a fulfilling read for me. And it certainly didn’t hurt that these two had amazing chemistry! It’s a bittersweet conclusion to a series that I’ve loved, and I’m absolutely looking forward to more from Bromberg in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/38POJfm

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Forbidden by Karla Sorensen

When I read Forbidden back in May, I was already pretty confident that it’d be making this list. I loved the dynamic between these two, and the book manages to be both light and tension-filled, pairing up two people who are perfect complements to each other. The hero is fantastic – sweet and loving, yet also strong enough to handle this heroine. They are so great together, and their forbidden romance had some seriously electric moments. Karla Sorensen is always an excellent writer, but this is easily one of my favorites from her. I’m looking forward to more of her unique sports romances in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3dpZSpo

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan

I’ve been a big fan of Callihan’s work for years, but Make It Sweet is now one of my new favorites from the author. It’s got such a great build in intimacy, with complex, dynamic characters, and a hero who is one-of-a-kind. I loved the hot slow burn, and the laidback feel made this a relaxing, refreshing kind of read. It also made me hungry, with some mouthwatering descriptions of food and a baker who knows how to heat up a kitchen. With an unique spin on both a sports romance and a Hollywood romance, this has an original feel. It’s been many months since I read this, but there are some memorable scenes that will stay with me for awhile. Can’t wait to see what’s next from Callihan in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3b0czWG

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

That certainly includes the Schitt’s Creek-inspired It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey! While I’m a fan of Schitt’s Creek, I was skeptical going into this because a superficial, image-obsessed heroine is not usually my preference. But this opposites attract romance had me hooked right away, and the grumpalicious hero is a major reason for that. These two have CHEMISTRY, and it was a fun, lighthearted ride to happily ever after. There’s small town charm combined with a slow burn to sizzle romance that will keep you turning the pages. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, because this was great!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3DTBgl9

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


From the Embers by Aly Martinez

From the Embers by Aly Martinez is certainly one of the more unique books on the list! I was lucky enough to receive an ARC before this released, but that meant that I went in completely blind – the blurb was super vague, no one else had reviewed it yet, and I’d only read lighter books by Martinez in the past. So this grabbed my attention and held it the whole way through! It’s a heavy book that gets lighter as it goes on, and I loved the uplifting, heartfelt vibes towards the end. This couple’s journey to happily ever after is hard fought and so very different than most, and I soaked up the subtle changes in their interactions. Martinez does an excellent job with the nuances of this relationship, and that made From the Embers a very bingeable read.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2PPozDv

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Josh and Gemma Make a Baby by Sarah Ready

You know what? It hasn’t even released on Kindle yet! I listened to the audio version (out now), and this light and playful baby-making romance stole my heart. I loved the subtlety of the romance, which has a great, slow build in intimacy. Though the hero has been in our heroine’s life for over 20 years, she’s never truly known him – not when he stole her v-card years ago, and not in all of the years since. It’s only when he agrees to make a baby with her that they become friends themselves, and I loved the transition from “acquaintances who are kinda-sorta family” to friends to lovers. Sarah Ready is a new-to-me author who shows such skill in writing those quiet moments. This shines brightest in its ability to be light and funny one moment, then emotional and heartfelt the next. It may be my first time checking out the author’s work, but I’m certainly looking forward to more in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3wHsRxU

Read on for my original review, notes on the audiobook quality, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Hartl

Heartbreak for Hire is one of the more underrated books on the list. Sonia Hartl is a new-to-me author (this is her adult debut), and I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this going in. As someone who reads a romance novel nearly every day, I love tropey reads… but I live for the books that surprise me. This definitely achieved that. I loved the light, playful vibes paired with such a unique, nuanced storyline. And this is sexy! It’s one of those books where you have to look past the first impression; neither the cover nor the start of the book completely reflect the overall tone. This just got deeper and more complex as the story progressed, and the romance built along the way. As I gathered quotes for this post, I was reminded how much I loved the book – and here’s hoping we get more unexpected romances like this in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3kRSV5E

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


What If You & Me by Roni Loren

It’s the story of two broken people who find each other at the right time in their lives. They’re both struggling to move forward and stuck in a rut – but they’re stronger together. I loved this hero; he’s a man who was once larger than life, but now feels undesirable and unlovable, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Paired with a vibrant heroine, it was so great to watch him come back to life. The story is light and sexy with a neighbors to friends to lovers vibe, but there are so many deeper moments and such a layered storyline. It handles difficult subjects like mental health and assault, but does it in such an uplifting way. It’s an excellent addition to what is proving to be a unique and interesting series, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next couple’s story in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3uNXpwC

Read on for my original review, details on the series, and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


Falling in Reverse by Julia Wolf

The sexual tension in Falling in Reverse earns its spot on the list! Julia Wolf is always excellent at writing tension, angst, and longing. Her books come in a variety of moods and settings, but you can always count on engaging, complex storylines and couples who burn up the pages. There’s just something about her writing that always keeps me hooked, and this rock star/bodyguard romance was particularly engrossing. I devoured it quickly and fell for this opposites attract romance along the way. This time, it’s the heroine who is the rebel, and I loved watching her ruffle this hero’s feathers. Their chemistry leapt off the page, and the push/pull dynamic – coupled with plenty of friction – made this a very bingeable read.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3nOM3rm

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


The Love Interest by Kayley Loring

I can rely on Kayley Loring for light and sexy romances with compelling characters and love stories that are one-of-a-kind. The Love Interest is a great example of that – there are so many lighthearted moments and tons of playful humor mixed with a forbidden romance that’s full of sexual tension and longing. It’s funny and angsty (and SEXY) at the same time, which just showcases Loring’s writing skill. And her style is so unique, with a voice that’s fresh and interesting, offbeat but authentic. She writes banter like no one else, and this couple’s meet cute was pure swoony goodness. It’s rare that I rate any of Loring’s books as anything less than 5 stars, so I’m certainly looking forward to more in 2022!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3x17K9A

Read on for my original review and plenty of quotes to give you a feel for the vibe here!


More of the Best of 2021!

Best of 2021: Top Picks by Trope can be found here!

Best of 2021: My 10 Favorite Romance Series can be found here!

Best of 2021: My Favorite Covers can be found here!

Every 5-Star Romance Novel I Read in 2021 can be found here!


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