What were the best romance novels of 2016?
The staff of Heroes and Heartbreakers is lucky that romance is our day job. From covers to TV and movie couples, to our favorite bew books and comfort reads, 2016 introduced some romances that will find their way onto our keeper shelves!
Jennifer Proffitt's Top Romances of 2016
Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein
Stein tells a beautiful story that will challenges your perceptions of what is forgivable and how to forgive—both yourself and those who have wronged you. You wouldn't think the story of a bully and the bullied would have so much lightness and heart to it, but Stein tackles the subject in a meaningful, sweet, and sexy way with her signature style.
From Sanctum with Love by Lexi Blake
It was around this time last year that I was first recommended Lexi Blake's Masters and Mercenaries, and it quickly became apparent that I would NEED Kai's story at some point. From Sanctum with Love delivers in spades a story that is everything this sadist deserves and everything my little reading heart could want: office romance, thrilling suspense, and melt-you-eyeballs sensuality. Read the whole series if you haven't, because you'll be panting for Kai's story too!
Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen
I’m from farm country but live in the city, so day dreaming of farm life isn’t something I think I’d be naturally drawn to. However like many Sarina Bowen books, she changes everything for me. The men in Bowen's Bittersweet are built for hard work, they’re dedicated to their land and to their women, and they know it takes a lot of work to make something grow—just what you want in a romance hero. We know happy-ever-afters are guaranteed in romance, but nonetheless, Bowen managed to keep me on the edge of my seat whether they would really make it work. Spoiler alert: there are no bittersweet endings here.
Grin and Beard It by Penny Reid
Penny Reid is romantic comedy in its purest form. Equal parts humor and heart, you can't look for a better combination than her slightly nutty characters. Grin and Beard It pairs a park ranger and a movie star together in perfect harmony. Diverse characters, lumbersexuals, and curvy heroines make this book perfect, and the rest of the series is equally as good. Don't miss it.
The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon
Reading Amy Harmon is like watching a master artist at work, and The Bird and the Sword might just be her masterpiece for fans of fantasy romance. She's landed on many lists for best romances and once you start reading her, you can see why. The Bird and the Sword follows the story of Swallow, who was commanded not to speak (in a world where words can equal powerful and dangerous magic) by her mother on the day her mother was killed, but once Swallow breaks her silence, not only her world will change forever, but an entire kingdom's.
The Contract by Melanie Moreland
Tyrant one day, and... husband the next? Richard (yes, it's hard not to call him Dick) is not the best of bosses, and his PA Katharine absolutely despises him, but love and hate are a thin line... right? Right! When Richard needs a fiancée to help land a deal, who does he turn to but his trusty assistant. Much like Sandra Bullock's The Proposal, once these two get to know one another tension soars... and love blooms. Obviously.
Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy
Pages of the Mind pairs some of my favorite tropes of the genre—opposites attract, marriage of convenience, shy, bookish heroine—and sets it to Kennedy's thrilling and magical Twelve Kingdoms background. This first book in Kenendy's spin-off series is a treat for readers and delivers on every count.
Crown Jewels by Ella James
Confession time: While I'm royally obsessed in real life, I don't particularly care for it in fiction. However, Ella James totally won me over with Crown Jewels. You'll want to head to the small Scottish-ish country of Gael and find your own prince by the time you finish this book—heck, by the time you finish the first chapter. James handles tough issues with a light-hearted voice that makes this an easy, fun, yet provocative read.
Crazy Pucking Love by Cindi Madsen
Four words: Best Friend's Little Sister. In the case of Crazy Pucking Love, it's captain instead of best friend, but the same principle applies: off limits. I've been waiting for Megan's story since the first book in the Taking Shots series, and it definitely pays off.
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Mariana Zapata doesn't write a bad book. I was mesmerized by Under Locke a few years ago, and captivated by Kulti, now Zapata raises the bar once more with The Wall of Winnipeg and Me. Boss-assistant romances were my catnip this year, and Aidan is the stoic (okay, grumpy) boss to Vanessa's “done with it” assistant—you'll fall in love for sure.
Heather Waters' Best Couples of 2016
Tessa/Adam in Cathy Yardley’s Level Up (Book)
One of the first books I read in 2016 ended up being one of the most memorable. A Latina coder in a white male-dominated industry, heroine Tessa works twice as hard as her colleagues to get the gig she wants most: Video game architect. Her roommate/colleague, Adam, gets her in a way no one else does, and their romance is sweet and sexy both. Bonus: Not only did I fall for Tessa and Adam, but for Tessa’s friends and their wonderful fandom connection too; their beloved show, Mystics, may be fictional, but their love for it is oh-so relatable. I can’t wait to read more books in this series.
Griffin/Audrey in Sarina Bowen’s Bittersweet (Book)
As much as I enjoy Bowen’s writing, I put off reading this one. A farmer and the woman who wants to buy his produce? Eh. Still, I couldn’t ignore the buzz of my two officemates, both of whom swore I would be gaga for bearded grump Griff Shipley. And, of course, they were right. Griff’s father passed away right after he got drafted by the NFL, and now his family’s livelihood—their Vermont farm—rests on his (broad) shoulders. My heart! Then there’s his heroine, Audrey, a chef trying her damndest to overcome her toxic upbringing by impressing her corporate overlords to the point where they invest in her dream restaurant. Griff and Audrey work hard, and play hard, and I had a blast with them.
Kaz/Inej in Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom (Book)
These two teenage con artists stole my heart in last year’s YA fantasy novel Six of Crows and refused to give it back in the sequel, Crooked Kingdom. Kaz’s single-minded devotion to rescuing a kidnapped Inej is everything I wanted it to be, and the longing between them is palpable. I should note that theirs is a somewhat bittersweet romance due to some heartbreaking obstacles between them, but the love between them is pure and beautiful, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of them.
Dexter/Harper in Amy Andrews’ Playing It Cool (Book)
Another book that made the rounds at H&H HQ, Playing It Cool hooked me when rugby star Dexter hears a local sports reporter belittling his own stepsister, Harper, about her weight and instead of deciding it’s a private affair and not his business, Dex decides to tell the tool that he and Harper are dating. While Harper can take care of herself, she can’t deny that having Dex around to shut down her stepmother and stepbrother’s rude comments about her weight is nice—and that he’s amazing with her young siblings...and with her. So, yeah, their fake relationship becomes real in short order, whether they’re ready to admit it or not, and watching the two of them navigate their explosive attraction and budding feelings is a treat.
Vin/Jill in Lauren Layne’s Cuff Me (Book)
I blame Mulder and Scully for my affinity for police partners falling in love, which is what prompted me to pick up Cuff Me. But Vin and Jill took it from there, reeling me in with their clear compatibility on the job but also with the way Vin so clearly yearns after his fellow NYPD officer—who’s engaged to someone else… Seeing them unearth and process all of the feelings they spent years burying for the sake of their work together is tense and exciting and hot as hell.
Vanessa/Adrian in Mariana Zapata’s The Wall of Winnipeg and Me (Book)
Confession: I am, as I compose this list, still reading The Wall of Winnipeg, but after losing hours of sleep (worth it!) in order to tear through my first Zapata read, Kulti, last month, and considering I’ve already highlighted a zillion passages of Vanessa telling herself she can’t possibly have feelings for her cranky, picky, reserved, massive, beautiful football-player boss of two years, I already know beyond the shadow of a doubt this book deserves a spot on my list. Zapata is my new queen of the slow-burn romance, and I hang on her every word.
Ginny/Mike in Pitch (Television)
Easily my favorite new show of the season, Pitch is a workplace drama in which the worker bees just happen to be professional baseball players. I know next to nothing about this sport, but I know that San Diego Padres rookie pitcher Ginny Baker is a talented, smart, driven young heroine who has already beaten so many of the odds stacked against her and deserves all the success coming her way. And I know that her grumpy, loyal, marshmallow of a catcher and team captain, Mike Lawson, is head over heels for her and unable to hid it despite his best efforts. Too bad they can never be together so long as they are teammates, which has already led to some deliciously awkward, angsty moments and promises many more ahead. I’m addicted. Please let there be a season 2.
Mulder/Scully in The X-Files (Television)
The X-Files revival may have been a major letdown (to put it nicely; through my weekly recaps, you can track my rollercoaster of emotions about the new episodes), but the return of FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully was not without its glorious moments. Scully wearing one of Mulder’s shirts and watching him rant about monsters with a fond smile on her face is one of my favorite memories of the year. I still want to believe.
Bellamy/Clarke in The 100 (Television)
You’re probably wondering how The 100 made it on my list, because the show made some massive missteps in its third season: The apocalyptic drama killed off two fan-favorite characters in infuriating, hurtful ways that reverberated through not only the fandom but the internet at large, and it torpedoed much of the hard-won character development for one of my favorites, Bellamy Blake. A good two-thirds of the season was painful for me to watch, as you can see from my portion of our weekly The 100 recaps. And yet, the last few episodes of the season drove home why I latched on to the fascinating relationship between Clarke Griffin and Bellamy in the first place, and seeing them hug and forgive each other made me as happy as any of their scenes in season 2, when I named them one of my top couples of 2015. The bond they share is intense, and whether or not it ever blooms into romance, I will ’ship them ’til the end.
Jyn/Cassian in Rogue One (Film)
Okay, I know. I KNOW. This movie isn’t even out yet! But listen, if you’ve read any of my posts over the years, you know there’s very little I like better than analyzing potential new ’ships for their seaworthiness, and from the trailers alone, I have a very, very good feeling about Jyn and Cassian, two rebels with a cause who at first butt heads but then become each other’s staunchest allies and maybe, possibly, more. I have watched multiple fanvids for these two, and even written a post laying out the reasons I’m drawn to them, so I’d be lying if I said I’m not already invested.
Jen Wattley's Top Five New-to-Me Authors and Five Comfort Reads of 2016
2016 had me discovering authors that were new to me that I fell in love with, but also had me turning to old favorites from years past for the perfect read!
Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein
I don’t know that there’s been a novel recently that compelled me to get to the end of the story as quickly as Never Sweeter. I was intrigued and upset and excited from start to finish, and as a lover of angst, I really enjoyed the never quite certain feeling this book gave me. Stein draws her characters so well, and it’s also a really sexy read.
Along Came Love by Tracey Livesay
So this novel is a sort of sequel to Love on My Mind, but I enjoyed the hero and heroine of this tale so much because they both have some personal garbage to work through before they can figure out how to be together, and it’s so wonderfully authentic, and also super duper hot, that I found myself finishing it in one fell swoop.
Beard Science by Penny Reid
I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so loud out loud at a romance novel before. This story is so endearing, both the hero and the heroine was REALLY weird, but in the best of ways and this is what my rom-com loving heart truly needed.
The Highlander by Kerrigan Byrne
It’s not often I find an historically accurate romance novel, and one that’s so well plotted and executed. The hero is brooding and grumpy and that will forever be one of my favorite things, and they’re so hot together I almost can’t stand it.
Playing it Cool by Amy Andrews
I love sports romances, but I think this may be the first time that I ever picked up anything about a rugby player, and boy am I glad I did. Hot and full of heart, this story had me captivated from start to finish. Andrews’characters are so, so great. And this universe of guys she created are really fun and dynamic as well.
Five Comfort Reads:
Midnight by Beverly Jenkins
I will always love Beverly Jenkins’novels, and this one is just like succor to my soul. It’s one of the first historicals I read where I felt like I could see myself in the writing, and wholly immerse myself in a romance novel. I just simply adore this book.
The Heart of Devin McKade by Nora Roberts
I love all the McKades, but Devin’s my favorite. This is a tropey, reunited lovers story that just makes me smile every time I read it.
Head Over Heels by Susan Andersen
I remember this story vividly from my early days of reading romance and for a while this set the standard of sexual tension in romances for me. There’s mystery involving the sister of the heroine and the brother of the hero, there’s secrets and cover ups and a kidnapping to boot. Such a fun ride!
Too Much Temptation by Lori Foster
I think this is my first Lori Foster novel I ever read, and it’s someplace between fake relationship/ friends with benefits territory that I really love. The heroine is fun (though as I’m a little bit older now, a touch too naïve but I still enjoy her). The hero is commanding and gruff and a little broken, and I don’t know why this is a thing I enjoy, but there you go.
The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Brockmann set the standard for me with romantic suspense. Her entire Troubleshooters series is what I cut my teeth on in the suspense subgenre, and I’ve never found anything else that hits the same way her novels do. I re-read different Troubleshooters throughout the year, but The Unsung Hero remains my favorite.
Theodore Pierson's Best Covers of 2016 and 2017
Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish
The art concept of this cover is superb. I instantly was sucked into the mystery and wonderment that it teased me with. I can say this much, it certainly made me want to learn more about the book. Nice marketing, guys—it worked. Oh, I also want to be that guy so I could look cool, too.
Tell by Allison Merritt
The first word that leapt in my mind when I saw this cover was: brutal. The second word was: ethereal. Combine them both and you get my thoughts on why I liked this one. I do not know what is happening in this book — all I know it must be freakin' epic.
Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Bad ass woman holding a staff with a dragon looking all wicked and shit behind her —hellz yeah! I just hope that's her pet, and not a skulking adversary, or she's gonna need more armor than that! Also, it's salivating lava... that's so metal.
Feversong by Karen Marie Moning*
A mesmerized girl looking at you, a flaming book, and a red dress of fire. This is easily a kick ass looking cover. Although I have to admit, that looks rather uncomfortable, y'know, from a mortal human perspective. Unless... is she a witch? A demon? Siren? Inquiring minds wanna know!
Deadmen Walking by Sherrilyn Kenyon*
Is this a romance cover or a satanic offering ceremony? Whatever it is, I like it. The scene reeks of black magic and sorcery, demonic presence and darkness; yet we are both drawn to, and mystified by the enchantress centered. (Also, that skull would make a kick-ass display piece!)
Dark Promises by Christine Feehan
What can I say, I just love owls. They have a silent majesty about them, and to see them in flight is stunning (and also horrifying, if you are a mouse!). They are incredible hunters, and it seems like the guy on the cover is hunting for something too... could it be YOU?
*Some of these titles you'll have to wait to enjoy in 2017
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