Back in June, I made a list of my Top 25 Books of the First Half of 2020. In a few weeks, after I squeeze every minute of reading time I can out of 2020, I’ll make another list for my Top 25 Books of the LAST Half, to round out the year. Will this post be less rambly than the first one? PROBABLY NOT! I LOVE BOOKS!
Until then, here’s another roundup I’ve been wanting to do: talking about my most anticipated (adult) romance novels of 2021!
I limited it to 20 books, and to books specifically marketed as romance; if I forgot to mention your book here I’m sorry! I have a small brain and these were the first 20 that occupied it. Know that I am legit excited about any and all romance novels except for ones that involve Nazis or glorify toxic behaviors without accountability!!
Also: while most of these are published by mainstream publishers (the Big 5, or 4 now, since the Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger…yay capitalism), one of my reading goals for 2021 is to read more self-pub titles and titles from indie publishers. So hopefully my actual Best Reads of 2021 posts will include more of those.
Obviously we have the most information about books coming out in the first half of 2021; I still threw in ones we don’t know much about yet, too. I’ve included covers and synopses from the publishers when available, and then provided my own succinct, very eloquent summaries for lazy scrollers like me. (You’re welcome!!)
Here we go! Listed in order of publication date:
The Ex Talk, Rachel Lynn Solomon (January 26; Berkeley)
Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.
When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.
As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.
Anita’s tl;dr: PUBLIC RADIO NERDS BANG IN SEATTLE!!
The Bride Bet, Tessa Dare (February 9; Avon)
Once upon a time, two sworn enemies—the bookish daughter of a scholar and the devilish heir to a duke—made a pact: If they were both still single in ten years, they would marry each other.
It was a joke, Nicola thought. A duchess? Her?
But when the Duke of Westleigh returns a decade later, he’s serious. He needs an heir, so he’s holding her to their marriage bargain—diamond ring, lavish gown, engagement ball, and more. Nothing Nicola says can dissuade him. When she calls him arrogant, he praises her honesty. When she makes social stumbles, he catches her fall. And when she gets exasperated, the duke can’t seem to get enough. For reasons she can’t fathom, he claims that no other woman will do.
He’s betting he can change her mind, with logic and passion.
She’s betting she can change his mind, just by being herself.
And as the clock ticks down to a wedding day, neither is counting on losing their heart.
Anita’s tl;dr: IT’S TESSA DARE THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW (& I have loved this entire series so much!)
Love at First, Kate Clayborn (February 23; Kensington)
Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .
No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can't work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . .
Anita’s tl;dr: SOFT FEELINGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND HUMANS
Accidentally Engaged, Farah Heron (March 2; Forever)
When it comes to bread, Reena Manji knows exactly what she's doing. She treats her sourdough starters like (somewhat unruly) children. But when it comes to Reena's actual family—and their constant meddling in her life—well, that recipe always ends in disaster. Now Reena's parents have found her yet another potential Good Muslim Husband. This one has the body of Captain America, a delicious British accent, and lives right across the hall. He's the perfect, mouthwatering temptation . . . and completely ruined by the unwelcome side dish of parental interference. Reena refuses to marry anyone who works for her father. She won't be attracted to Nadim's sweet charm or gorgeous lopsided smile. That is, until the baking opportunity of a lifetime presents itself: a couples' cooking competition with the prize of her dreams. Reena will do anything to win—even asking Nadim to pretend they're engaged. But when it comes to love, baking your bread doesn't always mean you get to eat it too.
Anita’s tl;dr: BREAD AND BABES
Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Talia Hibbert (March 9; Avon)
Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong. So she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It's time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she's not entirely sure how…
Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.
Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore... and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.
Anita’s tl;dr: THIS SERIES IS FUCKING ICONIC & I DON’T WANT IT TO END
The Heiress Hunt, Joanna Shupe (March 9; Avon)
Knickerbocker scoundrel Harrison Archer returns to New York to discover that his deceased father has bankrupted his estranged family. To save them from ruin, he's forced to quickly find and marry an heiress. For a matchmaker, Harrison turns to the one woman he wishes he could marry: his childhood friend and true love, Maddie, who once broke his heart and is now engaged to a duke.
When her best friend Harrison left for Paris without a word, Maddie Webster took refuge in her infatuation with tennis. Now Harrison is back and needs her help in finding a bride. Begrudgingly, Maddie arranges a house party in Newport with a guest list of eligible heiresses. But watching Harrison flirt with potential brides is more than she can bear.
When Harrison and Maddie reunite, the passion between them ignites. But with their marriages to others looming, time is running out. Is their fate inescapable . . .or can love set them free?
Anita’s tl;dr: NEW SHUPE SERIES!! KNICKERBOCKERS IN NEWPORT!!
The Intimacy Experiment, Rosie Danan (April 6; Berkley)
Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won't hire her.
Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag nominated him as one of the city's hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Low on both funds and congregants, the executive board of Ethan's new shul hired him with the hopes that his nontraditional background will attract more millennials to the faith. They've given him three months to turn things around or else they'll close the doors of his synagogue for good.
Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems--until they discover a new one--their growing attraction to each other. They've built the syllabus for love's latest experiment, but neither of them expected they'd be the ones putting it to the test.
Anita’s tl;dr: WOULD DIE FOR NAOMI GRANT (also cannot wait to meet Hot Rabbi!!!)
To Love and to Loathe, Martha Waters (April 6; Atria)
The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.
After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.
Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.
Anita’s tl;dr: MARTHA WATERS WRITES THE FUNNEST BANTER IN ALL THE LAND & THIS IS GONNA BE THE BANTERIEST
Hot Copy, Ruby Barrett (April 13; Carina)
Corinne Blunt knows what people think of her—she’s an icy, unapproachable executive. It’s the price she’s had to pay to get to the top. But there’s knowing you have a reputation in the office, and there’s hearing your new intern laugh when someone calls you “Blunt the C*nt” in the elevator on his first day.
She’d hoped to finally find an ally in Wesley Chambers, but she’s not about to let him off the hook for joining the office boys’ club. Taking refuge in the professional boundaries between them, she relegates Wes to assistant work—which would do the trick, if he weren’t so eager to prove he’s a decent human being.
Wes is sincerely apologetic, insisting it was a misunderstanding, and to her surprise, Corinne believes him. Being forced to work together was one thing, but long hours at the office with what turns out to be a kind, thoughtful man soon has their business relationship turning personal, and things get complicated—fast. Could this be something more serious than either of them dared to hope for? Or is their relationship just playing into the harmful power dynamics Corinne’s had to endure her entire career?
Anita’s tl;dr: HOT FEMINIST OFFICE BANGING (support debut authors!!!)
The Hellion’s Waltz, Olivia Waite (May 11th; Avon)
Okay this is one we don’t know much about, other than it’s the third f/f historical romance in Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series, and the quality of the previous two is of the HIGHEST ORDER. So—
Anita’s educated guess: REAL SMART QUEER LADIES, BEIN’ SMART AND QUEER
People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry (May 11th; Berkley)
Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.
Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven't spoken since.
Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.
Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?
Anita’s tl;dr: FINE, I GUESS YOU CAN RIP MY HEART OUT AGAIN, EMILY
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Alexis Hall (May 18th; Forever)
Not a lot of information about this one, but being that it’s by my favorite writer of all time, and takes place on a baking show—
Anita’s educated guess: WILL GIVE ME AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS ABOUT MY OWN QUEER COOKING SHOW ROM COM IT’S FINE EVERYTHING IS FINE
How to Find a Princess, Alyssa Cole (May 25th; Avon)
Makeda Hicks has lost her job and her girlfriend in one fell swoop. The last thing she’s in the mood for is to rehash the story of her grandmother’s infamous summer fling with a runaway prince from Ibarania, or the investigator from the World Federation of Monarchies tasked with searching for Ibarania’s missing heir.
Yet when Beznaria Chetchevaliere crashes into her life, the sleek and sexy investigator exudes exactly the kind of chaos that organized and efficient Makeda finds irresistible, even if Bez is determined to drag her into a world of royal duty Makeda wants nothing to do with.
When a threat to her grandmother’s livelihood pushes Makeda to agree to return to Ibarania, Bez takes her on a transatlantic adventure with a crew of lovable weirdos, a fake marriage, and one-bed hijinks on the high seas. When they finally make it to Ibarania, they realize there’s more at stake than just cash and crown, and Makeda must learn what it means to fight for what she desires and not what she feels bound to by duty.
Anita’s tl;dr: SORRY I DIDN’T READ THAT SYNOPSIS AT ALL; WAS TOO BUSY STARING AT THAT COVER IN A DAZED STUPOR FOR THE REST OF TIME
One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston (June 1st; St. Martin’s)
Cynical twenty-three-year old August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics, or easily forged friendships, or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe her ragtag band of new roommates, her night shifts at a 24-hour pancake diner, or her daily subway commute full of electrical outages are going to change that.
But then, there’s Jane. Beautiful, impossible Jane.
All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one―namely, displaced in time from the 1970s―she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.
Anita’s tl;dr: REMEMBER THAT TIME I WROTE A WHOLE NEWSLETTER ABOUT BEING OBSESSED WITH CASEY MCQUISTON; YEAH ME NEITHER
Wild Love, Lauren Accardo (June 8; Berkley)
When life sets fire to your happily ever after, you ditch your cheating boyfriend, trade in the city life for the off-the-grid seclusion of your mother's bookstore in the mountains...and try to resist your attraction to the brooding town mechanic you accidentally got into a fender bender with outside the local bar. Sydney Walsh might be falling head over heels for the romance novels she's stocking up to rebuild The Loving Page, but she has no delusions about actually starring in one. That chapter has closed.
Beneath Sam Kirkland's gruff mountain-man exterior lies a gentle heart and a burning desire for the woman he knows he can't have. He's made promises that anchor him to the past, making romance off-limits. And he accepted that—until Sydney came crashing into his life.
Sam can't do a relationship right now. Sydney doesn't have the wherewithal to believe in one. But when you meet the right person, the wrong circumstances don't matter. Even when the world seems to be doing its best to keep them apart, their real, one-of-a-kind love is worth fighting for.
Anita’s tl;dr: BOOKSTORES & ROMANCE IN THE MOUNTAINS, MY CATNIP
Slow Burn, Olivia Dade (June 15th, Berkley)
Another one we don’t have too much information about yet, but its MCs, Alex and Lauren, were one of my very favorite parts of Dade’s Spoiler Alert, and I cannot wait for their story. Dade has said in interviews that this one allows her to introduce the concept of Big Hag Energy and wow, am I here! for! that!
Anita’s educated guess: BIG HAG ENERGY! WHICH IS NOT SO MUCH AN EDUCATED GUESS AS ME JUST REPEATING AGAIN WHAT OLIVIA SAID! ALSO HAVE YOU READ SPOILER ALERT YET?? GO READ IT, FOOLS!
The Heart Principle, Helen Hoang (August 17; Berkley)
To most people, Quan Diep is nothing but a surly-looking, underachieving playboy. The problem is he’s not any of those things. And now that he’s the CEO of an up-and-coming retail business, he’s suddenly a “catch,” and the rich girls who never used to pay any attention to him are looking at him in a new way—especially Camilla, the girl who brushed him off many years ago.
Anna Sun dislikes Quan Diep almost as much as germy bathroom door handles. Or so she tells herself. She will never admit that she has a secret crush on him, especially because he only has eyes for her charismatic and newly engaged younger sister Camilla. Over the years, Anna has worked hard to overcome her OCD, but she’ll still need to find a way to bury her anxieties and seduce Quan so he doesn’t ruin her sister’s engagement, and with it, a crucial real estate development deal.
Slowly, Anna breaks down Quan’s dangerous and careless exterior while peeling off her own tough, protective shell. But when Quan discovers Anna’s true intentions, he’s forced to confront his own hurtful past and learn to forgive, while Anna must face her greatest challenge: truly opening herself up to love.
Anita’s tl;dr: THE Q IN QUAN IN THE FONT OF THESE (PRINT) BOOKS IS GORGEOUS & TURNS ME ON & I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE IT OVER AND OVER (this one miiiight have only made sense to me)
When London Snow Falls, Hugh Blackthorne (2021; Entangled)
I don’t have a lot of official information for you yet about this one, including things like whether this will actually be the official title, but it was the title when I read a draft of it because I am HUGH’S #1 FAN, YOU READ IT HERE FIRST! This is a sweet & sexy m/m romance between a barista & a rock star that also includes a fantastic storyline about unconventional family that I would love to see more of in romance. Hugh’s writing is gorgeous and lyrical while also being so fun; reading his work is such a genuine pleasure.
Anita’s very solid knowledge: CAN’T WAIT FOR THE WORLD TO FALL IN LOVE WITH HUGH BLACKTHORNE
Role Model, Rachel Reid (2021; Carina)
Troy Barrett has been freshly traded to Ottawa after calling out Dallas Kent during a team practice. He wants to be a better person, and the weird, scrappy energy of the struggling Ottawa team seems like the place to...well. It seems like the only place that will have Troy right now.
Fortunately the Ottawa team includes Ilya Rozanov and Wyatt Hayes, and also includes an adorable social media manager, Harris Drover. Harris is the opposite of Troy in every way: friendly, cheerful, chatty, and goofy with a booming voice, a startlingly loud laugh, and Pride pins all over his denim jacket. Definitely not the sort of person Troy would normally associate with, and yet…
Anita’s tl;dr: WOULD LITERALLY READ ABOUT REID’S PURE HOCKEY DUMMIES FOREVER AND EVER
Diana Biller’s Next Book (Fall 2021; St. Martin’s)
Okay so I literally know very little about this one, other than it stars Benedict Moore, the brother of Samuel Moore, the hero of Biller’s most excellent The Widow of Rose House. And anyone who has read The Widow of Rose House knows that Biller is a wonderful genius whom we must stan.
Anita’s educated guess: GONNA HAVE LOTS OF SEXY ROMANCE AND GHOSTS PROBABLY!!
So what did I miss? What books are YOU most excited for?
xo & all the books,