Favorite Fiction of 2021
Favorite YA of 2021

Favorite Romance Novels of 2021

It's hard to believe I only got back into romance almost 5 years ago. My life has changed for the better in so many ways because of it! Besides the obvious of discovering so many amazing stories, I've made life-changing friends and, wildest of all, beta read books. In such uncertain times as these, romance has been a balm, a catharsis, and an escape.

This year I re-read a few of my very favorites, which is rare for me. In the case of Sierra Simone's New Camelot series, enough time had passed and a few friends wanted to read it for the first time that it became an excellent excuse to revisit it. (This series must be read in order; check out the content warnings as needed.) I loved it just as much the second time around and the same was true of my other re-reads. 

I also wound up inhaling the backlists of three different authors. This might not sound unusual but it's not something I do! I can go months, if not years, before picking up another book by an author I'm enjoying. Maybe to make their backlist last longer? I'm not sure. In the case of Genevieve Turner, Kate Canterbary, and Cate C. Wells, I found their books to be compulsively readable. Whenever I had a string of lackluster reads or just wanted to be completely consumed by a story, I'd pick up one of their books and be lost to the world for a while. They all have interconnected series and a series with varying degrees where the stories happen concurrently, which is my catnip. I'm not completely done with their backlists but that won't be true by the time this next year ends. I'm not mad about it.

One of this year's highlights was finishing my foray into Laura Kinsale's backlist with Charlotte, Hannah, and Vicky. We'd all independently read For My Lady's Heart and Flowers From the Storm and shortly after the pandemic began, we decided to buddy read Shadowheart. That led us to the next book and the next and then we decided we might as well be completists. Reading her backlist was an experience in and of itself, full of highs and lows. (You can see my definitive ranking here.) Definitely mind the content warnings. But the real gift was the friendships I formed with them. I can't imagine life without our daily conversations.

You can find my full reviews with content notes on Goodreads. I've included a link for each review. Feel free to give it a Like while you're over there!

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Contemporary Romance:

For the Love of April FrenchFor the Love of April French by Penny Aimes

Holy moly did I love this book! It's a top notch contemporary romance and my very favorite of the year. April and Dennis were such compelling characters and I loved watching their relationship develop. These are two grownups figuring out how to love and support one another but of course they’re not always going to get it right. There’s on-page therapy, Dom mentorship, and even visiting a trans support group.

From the moment April and Dennis met at Frankie’s, I was on board. April was a sunshiny delight and Dennis was a steady presence. There’s a lot they have to figure out—April believes there’s no way Dennis will be interested in her long-term, Dennis is reeling from the end of a relationship gone bad—and that’s on top of April figuring out they work for the same company…and choosing not to tell Dennis. Normally I hate lie of omission plots but I totally understood why April, thinking this would be a temporary fling, chose to stay quiet and then couldn’t figure out a way to come clean. And I really liked how the author chose to handle the eventual reveal and how they work through it.

This is for sure a new favorite BDSM romance. April and Dennis’s negotiation and consent was hot. It has the longest duration of orgasm control I’ve ever read. I loved how Frankie’s functioned as a community and all the characters we met there—more stories set at Frankie’s, please and thank you.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the way Penny Aimes structured this. We get six months from April’s POV and then we get the same six months from Dennis’s POV. It was fascinating to see their respective experiences of the same situations and thankfully it never became repetitive. In fact, it was both brilliant and imperative to give us this insight into both characters and see how they were reacting to each other and to life. The structure was so unusual for the genre! I can't think of any other romance like it and I love that she went for it. It paid off. I would put this in the category of romances that elevate the genre. Truly a marvel to behold and an impressive debut. I can't wait to see what the author writes next! (Content notes.)

 

 

Love & Other DistastersLove & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Anita Kelly’s stories are like the best hugs. I simply did not want to put this down and I was both satisfied (because it was perfect) and sad (because it was over) when it ended.

I adored Dahlia and London to pieces. There were parts of Dahlia’s emotional arc that super resonated with me as she’s figuring out next steps in a life that hasn’t turned out as planned. I also loved her even more for not wanting to have children. I’m always here for more child-free couples. London is the first openly nonbinary contestant on Chef’s Special and has to navigate the public stage, as well as their father’s rejection. This also made for some moving, sometimes heartbreaking, scenes and I was glad London had other familial support, as well as Dahlia by their side. Dahlia and London had such great chemistry, making for some great steamy scenes. It wasn’t always smooth sailing between them (one of them could get sent home at any moment! social anxiety! words are hard!), which was so relatable. Their sheer appreciation of and belief in each other had me rooting for them the whole way.

I’m a fan of reality TV food competitions, particularly Top Chef, and I’ve read a few different romances set in this world. Love & Other Disasters is by far my favorite. It had all this great behind-the-scenes and the different challenges were fun to visualize. It’s not all sunshine and roses—there’s a transphobic contestant—but there’s nary an abusive producer or cheating contestant. It was truly enjoyable to be in that world. Dahlia and London are still competing against each other so there are high stakes, as well as navigating what happens if one of them gets cut. I was utterly invested as everything unfolded.

It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me hungry. Absolute perfection. Since this doesn't come out until January 18, bide your time with Kelly's novella Sing Anyway. If I hadn't read L&OD, it would be on this list. (Content notes.)

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Forever in exchange for an honest review. I'm friendly with the author online.

 

 

Love At FirstLove at First by Kate Clayborn

Kate Clayborn did it once again. Absolutely wonderful from start to finish. She is such a remarkable writer and there was so much intention and care with how she built this story. Nora and Will started off on the wrong foot when he wants to rent out the apartment he inherited in her building. This after a promising exchange from her balcony to his. I couldn’t help but root for them to figure things out. This was such a cozy and comforting book, from the emphasis on home to the older apartment denizens who have formed a found family to the way Will becomes friends with his boss at work. There’s even a poetry night! All these unique details coming together to breathe life into who Nora and Will are and who they want to be.

And who they are is wonderful! I want to wax poetic about Will and his leaning and Nora and her sauce and then the sickbed scene and the towel rack. But I also want you to experience the magic for yourself so I’ll leave it at that.

Kate did remarkable things around grief and memory and generational wounds. Will’s uncle died but he only ever met him once and it’s a painful memory. He wants nothing to do with this apartment. Nora had more of a connection to his uncle than he did. And she’s dealing with her own loss. Nonna died a year ago but she has a palpable presence in the book. I had such a sense of who she was and what she meant to Nora just through the objects in her apartment (that Nora can’t bring herself to get rid of) and the way Nora so often referenced her or what she would have thought of something. It really made me miss my grandma who died in 2007. This story gave me all the feels throughout but the grandma content made me ugly cry. Reading about Nonna and Nora was sad but ultimately cathartic, especially as Nora figures out what changes she needs to make.

This story felt like a warm hug. It was just what I needed. (Content notes.)

Disclosure: I won an advanced copy from BookishFirst. I’m friendly with the author online.

 

 

Forever A MaverickForever a Maverick (Always a Cowboy #2) by Genevieve Turner

Where has Genevieve Turner been all my life? This really and truly blew me away. It’s a contemporary Marriage of Convenience between a very strong, kind-hearted farmer and a prickly single mother. I could not have been more on board the moment Ash proposed to Juniper. Her water rights in exchange for cash that will give her and her son Owen a fresh start away from their small judgmental town. Or so she thinks.

This book was downright magical for me. The characters, the gorgeous prose, the farm setting, the central conflict… I was hooked from page one. Ash has always been drawn to Juniper, even if he’s barely said a word to her the last 5 years. We know he’s going to fall hard for her once they’re under the same roof. My heart was in my throat watching the way he looked after her and Owen, just imagining the future heartbreak. But Juniper wasn’t immune either. She has reasons for often acting like a wary feral cat. It can be so hard to know if you can really trust someone and I really loved watching her journey. I tend to prefer my romance be child-free but Owen turned out to be great. It was lovely to see them form their little family, even if Juniper had one foot out the door for much of it. And Ash and Juniper had such great chemistry!! Ash puts his muscles to good use.

My heart truly ached for them. It wrecked me but it was a sneaky wreck. I nearly sobbed at one point. And then later I cried happy tears. It was just so moving and wonderful and it did my heart good. (Content notes.)

 

 

House RulesHouse Rules (Uptown #3) by Ruby Lang

Ruby Lang knows what I want and that’s romances about people in their 40s who are just fine about not having kids. I loved this second chance romance! Simon and Lana divorced 17 years ago and haven’t seen each other since, until they run into each other while viewing an apartment. One thing leads to another and they wind up becoming roommates, despite Simon’s reservations. They’ve both changed and grown during their time apart so now they have a chance to reconnect and discover these new sides to each other. I loved the way Simon took care of Lana when her endometriosis was especially bad (I’m relieved mine doesn’t get this bad) and all of Muffin the cat’s antics. It was cool to see Lana work her craft of hand-pulled noodles. It’s holiday-adjacent, following Simon and Lana through Christmas and Lunar New Year. This is a grown up romance about grown ups, lovely and quiet but still chemistry aplenty. This whole series has been a delight. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

Losing StreakLosing Streak (The Lane #2) by Kristine Wyllys

Kristine Wyllys, please write more books in this series because I need them! Or any books, really. I’m not picky. I’m just over here, completely astounded by this book. Wild Ones was one of my favorite reads of 2020 and I needed a little time before I reentered that gritty world again. Wyllys is a stunning writer. Her prose is evocative and there’s an immediacy that made me feel like I was right there with the characters.

And what characters they were! Rosie is my favorite kind of prickly FMC. She is a fierce fighter, ready to claw her way to a better life and to make sure her slacker brother and dying mother are taken care of. It's a house of falling cards thanks to her mother's medical debt and lifelong poverty. Rosie takes nothing for herself, until she meets Brandon. He’s not the best choice for her. He’s from the same side of the tracks as she is and he gambles, instead of getting a real job. When things go sideways, they really go sideways.

The book is divided into two parts. First, when Rosie and Brandon meet. And then after circumstances keep them apart for three years. The stakes were incredibly high, especially as Rosie and Brandon try to find a way back to each other without losing everything and everyone they love in the process.

It made for intense reading. It wasn’t quite angsty but it definitely punched me in the throat a few times. I was so invested in what would come of these two, desperate to learn how they could escape Joshua’s clutch. It was a relief to get to the end and see them come through to the other side. (Content notes.)

 

 

A Certain AppealA Certain Appeal by Vanessa King

Pride and Prejudice…but make it burlesque! What a fresh, inventive retelling this turned out to be. The author made great choices about what parts of the original to adapt. This omitted the parts of P&P I don’t care much for, which made it extra enjoyable for me. The burlesque club setting was fun. I loved the details about the various performances and behind the scenes preparations. The way Bennet talked about it and the way it grew her confidence was so appealing.

Darcy (there to advise his friend on whether to invest in the club) and Bennet don’t get off on the right foot. They had such amazing chemistry right from the jump. Their first kiss was one of the hottest first kiss scenes I’ve read in a while. Absolutely smoldering! And when they finally have sex, it was downright incendiary. It takes a while to build to those physical elements and it made for a great payoff.

I was particularly gripped and enchanted by the second half, as the book’s themes started coming together and as Darcy and Bennet got together. There’s a fascinating examination of intimacy within the world of burlesque, with who Bennet is on stage vs. who she is with Darcy. Darcy has trouble understanding burlesque initially, not necessarily in a kink-shaming way, but in being able to sort out his unexpected attraction to Bennet. I really loved how this element came together.

I’m so glad I gave this debut a chance! An absolute winner. (Content notes.)

 

 

One Last ChanceOne Last Chance (One Day to Forever #3) by Therese Beharrie

I’m so sad this series is over! How on earth did Therese Beharrie manage to write characters falling for each other over the course of 24 hours without it veering into insta-love? Zoey and Sawyer haven’t seen each other in 6 years when they come across each other at a park. And ope, they’re still secretly married. Through flashbacks, we learn more about their friendship, the way Sawyer pined for her for years, and where everything changed and then fell apart. There’s no quick fix here but it helped that Zoey has been in therapy and has worked through some of her issues and knows the kind of person she wants to be now. Sawyer still has some work to do but you can see how he and Zoey still have the ability to bring out the best in one another. At any point, they could have gone in different directions. That they continually chose each other, even in the years where they weren’t speaking, paves the way for them to choose each other again and then figure out a way forward. I adored these two. And it was fun to get glimpses of Zoey’s sisters and seeing how those relationships have come along as well. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

Big BoyBig Boy by Ruthie Knox

What a marvelous novella! Ruthie Knox packs quite an emotional punch despite the constraints of the form. The premise gave me big The Story Guy vibes, which I loved, and somehow I think I love this one even more. Mandy and Tyler meet once a month for some fun role play on a train at the National Railroad Museum. It’s a reprieve from their respective responsibilities. They don’t share names or details about their lives. Or do they? For hidden behind the roles they’ve assumed for the night—a flapper, a traveling salesman, etc.—they embed their secrets and fears and the reasons for keeping things anonymous and limited begin to go by the wayside, if they only dare. Moving, hot, fun read. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect MatchaPerfect Matcha (Bold Brew #3) by Erin McLellan

This was angstier than I was expecting it to be, compared to McLellan’s fantastic So Over The Holidays series. It hurt my heart so good!

“Need a date for my ex’s wedding” as a premise doesn’t work for me about 99% of the time because I don’t understand going to your ex’s wedding unless you’ve been able to forge a friendship afterward. I’m happy this is one of those exceptions. Theo, Camden, and Freddie were best friends while they were growing up. Camden was in love with Theo but missed his chance when Freddie made a move instead. Freddie and Theo dated for 3 years but broke up 5 years ago and the friendship hasn’t been the same since. It makes sense why Freddie might still invite Theo to his wedding and it also makes sense why Camden is so adamant about not rocking the boat. He is terrified of losing Theo’s friendship. This makes for some intense pining. Meanwhile, Theo has no idea what his feelings are when it comes to Camden but we get clues, like when he realizes Camden’s hands are cold and thinks he should research gloves for him. What a nerd! I loved it.

This was filthy and sweet and kinky and all kinds of heart-warming. I loved how sex toys were incorporated in to the plot and how gender inclusive and normalized the discussion around them was. Trademark Erin McLellan. (Content notes.)

 

 

Not a MistakeNot a Mistake by Amber Belldene

Surprise pregnancy is one of my least favorite tropes but every once in a while, I’ll give it a go because I love finding exceptions to the rule. Not a Mistake turned out to be one of those refreshing exceptions! 

Jordan is an Episcopal priest, a couple of months out of seminary and starting with a new congregation. I could not have loved her more! From her interactions with grumpy congregants to her friendship with Alma (who has her own spin-off mystery series!) to her love of a cardigan past its prime, I was completely in her corner.

Dominic was Jordan’s ethics professor at seminary and she had a crush on him the past 3 years. Nothing ever happened, nor had he given her the slightest indication he’d be interested. But the night of graduation, he actually said yes to celebratory drinks with her and her fellow seminarians and they wound up sleeping together. Now he’s no longer her professor but it’s not completely free of ethical gray area either. When she realizes she’s pregnant, she doesn’t even plan on telling him initially because she figures he regrets what happened but he figures it out. 

I loved how this wrestled with guilt and regret and what we mean by calling something a mistake. There was the right amount of angst and banter. They had amazing chemistry but circumstances also draw them closer together emotionally. I was so invested in watching them figure out if this would work. (Content notes.)

 

 

Best Laid PlansBest Laid Plans (Garnet Run #2) by Roan Parrish

If you told me Roan Parrish peered inside my heart and brain and then wrote this book just for me, I’d believe you. It could not have been more perfect for me! Characters that made me emotional. Stellar cat content. Laugh out loud moments to balance out the tears. Passages that had me reflecting on my own life. I could not have loved it more.

I do not presently own a cat but I am, at heart, a cat lady. Best Laid Plans had some of the best cat content yet. Charlie and his cat Jane have a whole morning ritual; Marmot regularly lays on Rye’s shoulders. The cats are stress relievers but also sources of joy and hilarity. Marmot and Jane quickly befriend each other. I seriously could not get enough! That was only the start of what cats come to mean to both Charlie and Rye.

And to keep this theme going, Rye is basically a feral cat himself. He’s been fending for himself for years and he’s never had a truly safe home, given that he left at age 16. Inheriting a house from the grandfather he never met seems like a chance to start over, except for the fact that it’s falling down. Charlie is a complete caretaker and he can’t help but offer his handyman services to Rye when Rye comes into his store for tools and supplies. Rye is skeptical as to why a stranger would offer to help and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him learn to trust Charlie and for Charlie to learn that he’s worthy in and of himself, not because of what he can do for others. They were so good together and I loved watching them create a home together. (Content notes.)

 

 

The Belle and the BeardThe Belle and the Beard (The Santillian Triplets #3) by Kate Canterbary

I was completely wrapped up in this story! From the moment Linden asked Jasper if she was breaking in to the house next door, I was hooked. True, I’m a sucker for neighbors-to-lovers and banter but I seriously adored both of these characters.

Jasper and Linden had such a great dynamic and their chemistry was palpable. There were so many details I loved. Linden notices how she leaves the last cup of coffee or dregs of marmalade for him—not as a kind gesture but because she’s trying to make herself small. That kind of noticing. Be still my heart! Jasper keeps thinking about Linden as a wolf (which delighted me, a werewolf lover)…and then she found out his middle name is Wolf! Did I cackle? Cannot confirm or deny. 

I also really enjoyed watching Jasper take stock of her life and figure out what she was going to do next. Fresh starts aren’t easy. Figuring out a new career on top of that is even harder. My heart really went out to her. I also enjoyed the metaphor of clearing out and rehabbing her aunt’s house. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

Holiday Romance:

Every New YearEvery New Year by Katrina Jackson

How did Katrina Jackson write not one but TWO perfect New Year’s Eve romances? Grand Theft NYE blew me away a couple of years ago and somehow this one is even better.

Candace and Ezra have been friends for 18 year. Friends who have been pining for each other for 18 years. Ezra has catalogued her laughs and she’s catalogued his smiles. The cuteness! They are convinced the other person isn’t interested and they don’t want to risk losing the friendship. Add in his shyness and social awkwardness and her wanting him to make the first move for once and you can see how this happened. You can also see how they just need to get out of their own way! 

The structure really made this book for me. We get scenes from various NYEs over the years interspersed with the present NYE. Candace and Ezra have both independently decided it’s time to get over this unrequited crush…only to land on the same plane to Quito, she as a flight attendant, he as a passenger.

I inhaled this story. It was sweet and sexy and moving. Highly recommended. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

Paranormal, Monster, and Fantasy Romance:

The Tyrant Alpha's Rejected MateThe Tyrant Alpha's Rejected Mate by Cate C. Wells

4.5 stars. Cate C. Wells’s first shifter romance did not disappoint! Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading this, she subverted every part of the fated mates trope and it blew my mind. This is game-changing stuff for paranormal romance and I am so curious to see how the rest of the series will develop. 

The world-building choices were fascinating. The Quarry pack essentially functions like homesteaders living off the grid but humans are aware of werewolves’ existence and other packs are more integrated. Killian became alpha young and his leadership style has been more focused on what he doesn’t want to be like (his abusive dad). He hasn’t had good examples of healthy leadership that he could work toward so his efforts in changing the pack have only gone so far. Una opened his eyes to the ways the pack could do and be more. And at the same time he is learning and processing all this, he’s seeing Una in a brand new light. Gah, my heart!!

Una is the heart and soul of this book. She’s also the heart and soul of the Quarry pack. They just didn’t know it yet. I was all in for her from page one and I loved watching Killian slowly recognize what a treasure he had in her. He massively screwed up but this made for a fantastic emotional arc. He really broke my heart a few times and I wasn’t sure he’d be able to ever make up for the way he rejected Una. It was good and necessary to see Una make him work for it. The way it all came together was downright magical. (Content notes.)

 

 

A Duet for Invisible StringsA Duet for Invisible Strings by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

My heart is full after all the yearning and pining in this chaste FF contemporary fantasy romance. Neither Heledd and Rosemary realize they’re both in love with each other and it was sweet how oblivious they were. One of my favorite moments was when Rosemary invited Heledd over and Heledd thought about googling "what do you wear to a friend's house.” I love characters who aren’t quite sure how to people. The fantasy element is light—I had no idea there was going to be a fantasy element at all and I was utterly delighted when I realized what was happening. The star of this novella, however, is the way music draws Heledd and Rosemary together and ultimately becomes the key to the HEA. I loved how it all unfolded. Such remarkable writing! (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paladin's GraceThe Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher

 I cannot pick a favorite between the first two books in this series so just start with book 1 and thank me later. For a book with a lot of severed heads and a murder trial, Paladin's Grace nonetheless felt like a warm hug. Grace and Stephen were adorably awkward together. She’s a master perfumer and is angry that he smells like gingerbread because how dare he! He’s a warrior who knits socks! T. Kingfisher’s writing just plain works for me and her books are always a delight to read. Her thoughtful world-building includes religion and I really appreciated the way this installment explored what happens when one’s god dies and the way the paladins take care of each other in the aftermath. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

JanineJanine: His True Alpha by Chencia C. Higgins

4.5 stars. I absolutely inhaled this werewolf romance! I’ve meant to read Chencia C. Higgins for a while now and I’m mad I didn’t read this sooner. Her world-building choices were compelling, starting with the werewolf origin story. A formerly enslaved woman was left 2000 acres in Texas by her enslaver so she moved there, along with her 11 children, after his death. She noticed that the 7 children she’d born for him had unique abilities and Madow became a werewolf colony and safe haven as a result, still thriving all these years later. But not all packs operate this way, as we learn through Janine who essentially grew up in a cult that repressed her abilities and manipulated her. She’s freshly arrived in Madow and it was heartbreaking to see her realize her old pack was not normal and that she’d been missing out on so much.

Janine and Langston were both wonderful characters and it was quite the treat to watch them resist the initial connection. There’s no resisting your mate though! I loved watching them slowly draw closer and especially enjoyed them frolicking in the woods together as wolves. There were so many thoughtful details that rounded out the story. I was utterly delighted! (Content notes.)

 

 

 

Morning Glory Milking FarmMorning Glory Milking Farm by C.M. Nascosta

A delightful steamy monster romance! It leans all the way in with a minotaur MMC and he is indeed a MINOTAUR. Violet becomes a milking technician and falls for one of her clients. This was freaking hot. Based on the set up, I was expecting erotic romance or erotica but it’s more like a really hot fantasy romance. Whatever it is, it sure worked for me. More than anything, it's a sweet story with an unconventional setup.

There was such anticipation in finding out Mr. Hot Minotaur’s name and then seeing how they would navigate whether a relationship was possible. I really enjoyed watching things come together for these two. The chemistry!! This was such a fun world to be in and I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. (Content notes.)

 

 

 

 

 

Science Fiction Romance:

Love CodeLove Code (Strange Love #2) by Ann Aguirre

Oh my heart! This was such an utterly delightful and satisfying story. I felt so happy after I finished it. It had humor, steam, and incredibly thoughtful consent. Truly, how does Ann Aguirre making head tendrils touching so hot?? Plus, great queer rep. (Saying this as a cishet reader but confirmed by two bi friends.) Qalu has four mothers and she’s either bi or pan. Asking about pronouns is common. Tiralan choose their gender when they reach maturity, although they can choose to remain in their neutral state. Helix initially decides to use “he” but by the end, decides the neutral state is a better fit and opts as “they” for their pronoun. This does mean “he/him” is used for the bulk of the book but everyone adapts quickly to the switch. 

Helix and Qalu were the aliens of my dreams and I loved watching how their relationship grew from scientist-prototype to friends to lovers. (OK yes technically Helix is an AI but they were given a biosynthetic body that looks Tiralan and so they are therefore also an alien.)

Aevi really stole the show for me, much like Snaps in Strange Love. She’s basically a cat-bird hybrid and wants to murder anyone who would hurt Helix. Same here, Aevi. (Content notes.)

 

 

Romantic Suspense:

Queen's RansomQueen's Ransom (Fog City #4) by Layla Reyne

CW: past intimate partner violence

I read the first three books in this series just so I could get to this one and it sure paid off! Celia and Helena’s chemistry has been building but I was worried they’d just jump right into things, despite what Celia’s been through. Luckily, enough time has passed before this book begins. Celia is now divorced and she’s gotten counseling and is in a domestic violence support group. She’s doing much better and Helena’s back in town after a long business trip. However, their friendship-turned-romance has to be put to the side when a drive-by shooting happens at Celia’s auto shop.

The suspense plot was well balanced to things slowly heating up between Celia and Helena. Celia has known she’s pan but she’d only ever been with her ex-husband. There’s a little internalized panphobia to work through and Helena was great about that, as well as Celia’s nervousness about not knowing exactly what to do. Helena’s really worried about bringing Celia into her life and possibly endangering her but Celia’s outsider perspective and caretaking nature is exactly why she’s so perfect for Helena. I loved watching them figure things out! (Content notes.)

 

 

 

Erotic Romance:

Way Down DeepWay Down Deep by Charlotte Stein and Cara McKenna

An epistolary erotic romance between a single parent and an agoraphobe that begins when one of them sends a text to a number that should be out of service only to find it compassionately answered by a stranger. Their messages go on from there. It is impossible to review this book without spoilers because of the way things are revealed, right down to the characters’ names, through the course of the story and I don’t want to spoil one thing. There are some big content warnings so check those out if needed.

The writing is heart-achingly good. Their connection is palpable and I loved how the messages evolved, from long tomes on the ordinary and everyday to hot sexts to starting to function more like the reply-and-response of normal texts. It was steamy and angsty and I was right there in it with them, hungry for personal details and to learn who was behind the texts and whether they’d be able to transition into a real life relationship. It didn’t make me cry because my heart is apparently made of stone but I did tear up because oh how I wanted it to work out for them and it was so close to falling apart.

I really didn’t know how an HEA would be possible, especially due to events toward the end, but it ends on a very promising, hopeful note. I only wish we could get that story next! (Content notes.)

 

 

Favorite Romance of 2021

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