A few years back, I was sitting on an airplane, and the gentleman beside me noticed that I was reading a romance novel. "Not to offend you," he said, "but aren't those books, well, pretty simplistic?" I smiled at him and replied, "Has your own love life been simple?" He laughed and went back to reading his own book. (This was the only time in my life I've had a snappy comeback at the moment instead of five minutes too late.)
Our picks for the best 20 romances novels of 2018 spotlight the books that have gone beyond the simplistic and illuminate just how complicated (and frustrating and marvelous and nerve-wrecking and euphoric) the path to love can be.
Below are ten books that rose to the top of our list. To see all 20 picks (and you know you want to!), click here.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Our #1 romance of the year! Stella's awkwardness causes her to freeze up in most social situations and definitely when she's in bed. The logical solution? Hire a gigolo to teach her precisely what to do between the sheets. Armed with a checklist and a formal feedback form, Stella thinks she's ready to learn a new skill, but part-time Romeo Michael Phan knows that checklists aren't the answer to finding a true connection. Sweet, funny, and heartfelt, this book will make you giggle even as it tackles tough topics. Everyone who has read this book wears a big smile and a swoony expression when they tell me how much they enjoyed it. And if you have friends you're hoping to convert to being romance readers, this book might do the trick.
Consumed by J.R. Ward
Sparks fly in Ward's suspense novel featuring two firefighters—one who is forced to leave her job after being hurt in a warehouse fire; the other suffering deep guilt from being unable to save her. But Ann Ashburn is possibly the toughest hero you'll find in fiction this year, and when she decides that there's something suspicious about a series of fires, there's nothing that will stop her from pursuing it, even if it means teaming back up with her old colleague and one-time lover. Ward's kinetic writing style pairs well with romantic suspense, delivering an emotional wallop. I'm very much looking forward to the next novels in this breathtaking series.
The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
Tessa Dare is at her best in her funny and sigh-worthy historical novel about a down-on-her-luck young woman and a duke who needs a wife after his former fiancée bowed out. When Emma shows up demanding payment for the ex-fiancee's unused wedding gown, the Duke of Ashford sees an unconventional way of achieving his goal: marry the brash young seamstress. Ash's war-scarred face hides his vulnerability; Emma's forthright ways hide her hurt at being thrown out of her parents' house. Dare brings out the best of both of them as they clash, laugh, and heal.
Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
"Hot mess" is an oft-applied description of wild—and wildly optimistic—Hazel, and she's fine with that. What she's not fine with is the long line of guys who like her wild at first and then think that maybe she'd be better (for them) if she were a bit more domesticated. Only Josh, who is a neat-freak and highly responsible, seems to accept that Hazel is who she is. But when Hazel moves in with Josh while her apartment is being renovated, can their friendship survive close quarters? And does either one want to remain just friends? The writing duo Christina Lauren peels back the layers of a slow-build relationship that hits a bajillion hilarious potholes along the way, showcasing modern true love.
Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin
Griffin's romantic thriller departs from her Tracers series but introduces complex and fascinating characters that makes this novel stand out. Texas lawyer Brynn Holloran would be the mean girl in less confident books: She's a gorgeous defense attorney who insists on making TV-worthy sound bites in front of the courthouse while wearing the highest of high heels. But Brynn is devoted to demanding justice for her clients, and when an escaped murderer sets her in his sights, she puts her safety on the line to continue to fight the good fight. Private security professional (aka bodyguard) Erik Morgan is handling the protocols to keep Brynn and her co-counsel safe during their high-profile trial, but his focus is shaken by Brynn. Griffin excels at creating complicated characters with real-world problems even as she spins the suspense even tighter.
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Rend by Roan Parrish
When Matt Argento finds Rhys Nyland in a bar, he never expects that the evening will end with them merely sitting in a diner, talking. That first non-date turns into something special, and a year later, Matt is still amazed by Rhys's unconditional love. But despite loads and loads of romances that claim otherwise, an amazing love doesn't solve all problems, and when Rhys goes on tour for his new album, Matt realizes how much he's depended on Rhys's love to paper over issues from the past that Matt has never resolved. This book is titled Rend for a reason—that's what your heart is going to be put through as Matt struggles to keep himself together. But stay strong—your tears will turn happy toward the end.
Intercepted by Alexa Martin
Longtime girlfriend (but not wife!) of an NFL player, Marlee has never quite fit in with the team's pack of wives. And when she leaves her boyfriend upon learning he's been cheating on her, the last person she's interested in dating is another football player. Too bad the hot new quarterback Gavin Pope is such a good guy and so hard to ignore…. The author is the spouse of a former NFL player, and lots of details about players and wives and the NFL ring true. More important, Martin understands that you can't let someone else fight your battles, and that the person you love is sometimes the person who inadvertently is undermining you the most. Clever, nuanced, and deeply funny, Intercepted is a winner.
One and Only by Jenny Holiday
It's bad enough that Jane Denning has to deal with her bridezilla friend in the run-up to the wedding, but now she has to babysit the groom's black sheep half-brother, who has just come back from military service overseas. Though they initially rub each other the wrong way, Jane discovers that while Cameron MacKinnon is a daredevil, he's a caring one, even if he hasn't figured it out yet himself. Cam's book-ending gesture of love is so spot-on that women everywhere will raise the bar on what to expect from the men who profess that they are their one and only. Fabulously fun, and I gobbled it up on a single day. The perfect stocking-stuffer for friends who have suffered through being bridesmaids.
The Prince by Katharine Ashe
Among a slew of comic historicals (which I do adore), Ashe's deeply passionate couples stand out. In her latest, Libby Shaw's singleminded desire is to be a surgeon—an impossibility in Scotland, because of her sex. When she enlists portrait artist Ziyaeddin to help her in her charade, each subconsciously knows that the other is their weakness and the most likely route to disaster. Deeply emotional with strong-willed characters you'll root for, The Prince will haunt you until you've finished it.
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Who hasn’t been harassed by emails claiming that you're an African prince's only hope? Naledi Smith thinks that a string of messages requesting that she get in contact with her long-lost royal fiancé is just a hoax, but the reality is stranger—and far more complex. Raised through the foster system and constantly needing to prove herself in her lab job—all without the safety net of family or money that the rest of her friends have—Ledi doesn’t have time for the charming Thabiso when he enters her life. Nor does she have time for the string of emails claiming that she's a mysterious African prince's only hope. But Thabiso is persuasive…even as he's trying to figure out how to break the news to Ledi that he's really-truly the prince she hasn't known she was waiting for. While Thabiso is charming, Ledi is the whip-smart, tough-as-nails star of A Princess in Theory, and there were dozens of times when I laughed at loud at her inner monologues. A thoroughly modern, thoroughly fun romance.
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