Top 10 Romances of 2016
Annual romance round-up by USA Today bestselling author, Lauren Layne
What better way to kick off The Twelve Days of Romance than with the best romance had to offer this year?
(And, yes. This is one person's list, but then ... aren't most top lists? ;-) Plus, LL's sponsoring the delicious giveaways, soooo ...)
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a note from LL on how the top list was decided
A December celebration of romance absolutely calls for a "Top List," but I had a harder-than-expected time with my list!
I started out by jotting down the most obvious 2016 romances. The books that had a ton of hype, authors on my auto-buy list, the books that went viral, got movie deals, and became mega-hits. Books that I devoured and completely enjoyed, and assumed that because they were popular, they must be my favorites, right?!
Hmm. Maybe not!
After flipping through my Kindle, I realized that books I'd written down as "the best" because they were familiar in author, or cover, or because everyone's talking about them, weren't necessarily the ones that I remembered at the heart level.
There was another set of books lurking on my Kindle. Books where I remembered not just characters name, but their first kisses, the little scenes where they fell in love, and most importantly, the books where I remember where I was sitting when I finished the book, because I recall the way I felt.
These are the books that gave me all the feels in 2016.
(10) A Court of Mist and Fury
Sarah J. Maas
I feel mildly guilty for putting this one on the list, because I think it's technically considered a YA (or maybe NA?), and I know that's not technically romance. But technicalities aside, rest-assured. this book is romantic. One of the most compelling love stories I've read all year. It's a fantasy (or maybe paranormal?) which isn't always my jam, but everything about this series works for me. I devoured Book One in 2015, and eagerly awaited this one. I wasn't disappointed. I was literally breathless during some of the scenes. Most remarkable of all, without giving any spoilers, I was shocked at who the author had me rooting for in this book. This love story has a bit of an epic feel to it, so absolutely pick up this series if you're looking something a little different, and are ready to swoon.
(9) The Debutante is Mine
Let's all just take a moment of respect for Viv Lorret who's the only author to have two books on my "best of" list this year. Now, despite being a strictly contemporary author, I've never been shy about admitting that I love reading historical. In fact, as the contemporary market gets more and more saturated, I've found myself turning to Regency even more this year. There's something so refreshing about the rules and the manners. And let's face it, the conflict is way more juicy in historicals--arranged marriages, dowries, the need for heirs. Swoon! As far as I'm concerned, Viv Lorret is writing some of the best historical right now, and she absolutely kills it with this series-starter about an oft-overlooked heroine who must marry a man with a title, only to find herself intrigued by a jaded, self-made hero without a title. If you've never read historical before, this is a great place to start. If you're already a fan of the genre, add this author to your auto-buy list.
(8) The Obsession
Truth time. Sometimes I think Nora Roberts is so good, we overlook her when we're talking about the best of the romance. Despite being a longtime fan of hers, I admit even I don't think to recommend her because it seems so obvious. Like, of course she's the best, she releases 5+ books every year, every single one of them dominating the New York Times bestseller list. But you know what? She's at the top for a reason and we should give her a nod. The Obsession is definitely a, "Come for the suspense, but stay for the romance" type of story. For the first third of the book I was absolutely enthralled by the thriller aspect (no spoilers, but it's gooooood). Then in the latter 2/3 of the book, she surprises us ... she lets the mystery lurk in the background, and goes full-steam into the romance side of things (which is perfection), and somehow the slightly atypical formula just works. The developing romance between Naomi and Xander felt so real, I could recount whole scenes in detail to you, even though it's been months since I've finished it.
(7) Paper Princess
Don't be mad. This is another of those "technically a YA and not a traditional romance" books. But for what it's worth, if I had a teen daughter, I totally wouldn't want her reading this ;-) For starters, it's sexy as heck. Downright gritty in parts. For some reason, I was convinced I wasn't going to like this book. I kept seeing it everywhere, but it got a bit of heat for the reason I mentioned above--it's a YA that doesn't feel like a YA. And the authors (it's co-written) make no secret about a cliff-hanger ending which I generally loathe. But you know what? I couldn't put this book down. The writing is sharp and snappy, and the prep school setting was a refreshing break from all the slightly tired contemporary settings out there. Is the romance an easy one? No. The heroine is prickly, the hero is rough, but it's a couple to root for, and one I definitely won't forget.
(6) To Have and to Hold
Amazon recently asked me to name three of my top 2016 contemporaries, and this was one of the ones I listed. I'm not going to lie, I picked up this one for two very personal reasons: (1) I have a book by the same title that came out in the same month and (2) this author and I used to grab dinner at Wild Ginger once a month when I was living in Seattle, and she's a dear friend. But neither of those reasons are why I loved this book so much, it's just simply ... excellent. It's an amnesia-story (come on, surely I wasn't the only one who loved that 90s trope?!) brought into modern day in a believable way. Picture this: the heroine is at the airport eagerly awaiting the "coming home" of the man military man she loves ... and he doesn't remember her. Oh, and now they have to live together. GAH. My heart. Throw in two very likable little girls, some unexpected sexy times, and you have yourself a lil something for your keeper shelf.
(5) Wicked, Sexy Liar
I read everything Christina Lauren writes, but I confess I was less excited about this one than the others in this series (all of which can be read as a standalone). The hero/heroine are introduced in previous books, and I liked them well enough, but was mostly ... *shrug.* Joke's on me, this ended up being my favorite of the Wild Seasons series (with Dirty Rowdy Thing being a very close second). This is one of those books, where if asked to describe what it's about, I'd probably say, "Um?" But that's sort of the beauty of it--there's a sweet normalcy to these characters and their love story that was unexpected and lovely. It felt like two regular (albeit, extremely good-looking) people falling in love, told through the lens of Christina Lauren's always exceptional writing prowess.
(4) Tailored for Trouble
Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Another book I've been talking a lot about this year, and one that continues to stick with me. I'll be honest, I originally read this book because my publisher asked if I'd read it and would consider quoting for it. It's a common occurence in book land, and I'm always happy to read when requested. This time was different--this time, instead of me helping out a fellow author, I was the one saying thank you. At first glance, this looks like your standard rich boss/assistant (admittedly, a favorite trope of mine), but something about this book just got to me. I think it was the hero. I feel like Bennett was meant for me (sorry, husband!). There's this scene where he's standing in the rain, and I just ... I need to go calm down. But if you like guys in suits, read this book.
(3) Love, Chloe
Another book that's all about the hero for me. Alessandra Torre is a big name in the contemporary world, but for whatever reason, I didn't see as much hype about this book as some of her other recent romances (Hollywood Dirt and Moonshot) or some of her more famous "twisty" releases like Black Lies. I've read 'em all, and they were fantastic, but I don't understand why they got more attention than Love, Chloe, which is the most reading fun I've had in ages. As I understand it, Love, Chloe is basically a collection of blog posts Ms. Torre wrote for Cosmopolitan, re-purposed here as a book. And while I confess that was a "huh?" for me at first ... it worked. The heroine's voice is fresh, fun, and real, but like I said, this one was really all about the hero. Carter is pretty close to my idea of the perfect book boyfriend--that guy that is perfectly irritated with Chloe's sh*t and lets her know it, but he's got a sweetness behind the scowl that just did me in. It doesn't hurt that this all goes down in my current hometown of NYC, and Alessandra does wonderfully right by the city for a gal that lives in Florida (I checked. Like a stalker).
(2) When a Marquess Loves a Woman
Remember when I said that Vivienne Lorret was the only author with multiple books on my "top 10" list? Here she is sitting pretty at number two with When a Marquess Loves a Woman. Now, truthfully, perhaps part of the reason I loved this book so much is because of the anticipation. It can be read as a standalone, but it's also third in a series, and the first two (one of which is also on this list) really make you want Juliet and Max's story. In fact, I wanted it so badly, I was definitely braced to be let down, because I thought there was no chance it could live up to my expectations. I'd be wrong. Somehow the author takes a bunch of tropes (enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, unrequited love, second-chance love) and fits them into one story in a way that just works. There's this wonderfully antagonistic "I hate you" relationship on top of a deep-rooted friendship in a way that I've never seen done before. Everything about this book worked for me.
(1) First Star I See Tonight
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
And finally, here it is. LL's top read of 2016. This is the first book I wrote down when I thought back on my 2016 favorites, and one of the few that stayed on the list after a little soul-searching. Yes, it's by a big-name author. Yes, SEP is on my auto-buy list. Yes, it was a huge bestseller, and yes, it's gotten a ton of hype and made it on plenty "best of" lists. It deserves it. This books is classic Susan Elizabeth Phillips--rich, banter-heavy, smartly written and emotional--and is as close to perfect as I've read in a long time. I'm hesitant to say much about it, because if you're anything like me, the book description is a bit "ehhh ... sounds okay, I'll get to it later." No! Get it it now! Forget the description and just trust SEP to take your heart on a wonderful journey.
Okay, it's your turn!
What are your top reads of 2016?! What's missing from my best of 2016 list that you think should be there? Hop on over to the eLLf Facebook group to chat about your favorite books and other holiday goodness!
On the first day of romance, eLLf Christmas gave to me ...
A Kindle Paperwhite
To kick of eLLf Christmas, we're giving away one Kindle Paperwhite (Wi-Fi, Special Offers version, winner choice of black or white version!)
To be eligible, you must be on the eLLf Christmas mailing list. That's it!
The Fine Print
Winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 6th in the daily eLLf Christmas email, and must be an active subscriber at the time of announcement. We will contact you by the email address you've provided.
Open to international entries? Yes! We'll be ordering the Kindle Paperwhite from Amazon to be shipped direct to the winner, so as long as Amazon allows us to send to your country, you're eligible!