SOME OF MY FAVOURITE PICKS FROM 2022
It was a year of change, of hope, of ends but also of new beginnings, so it only seems fitting that half of my favourite books were from authors I had never read before. From the spectacle and splendour of the icy Alaskan wilderness to the sun-drenched plains of Southern California, from bodyguard romances with a role reversal twist to redemption stories that intentionally confront misogynistic attitudes towards women—the only thing all my top reads of 2022 had in common, as always, is great writing, rich plots, and nuanced, compelling characters. So I hope you enjoy this little trip down my reading memory lane and that you find YOUR next great read here.
Happy reading, book junkies! ♡
Greatest Second Chance Romance | Every Summer After by Carley Fortune
“The way I felt about you was always so clear to me—even when we were young I knew you and I were meant for each other. Two halves of a whole. I loved you so much that the word ‘love’ didn’t seem big enough for how I felt.”
In my ongoing mission to discover as many new voices in Romance as possible this year, I came across a debut novel that represents everything I love about this genre. We meet Percy Fraser just as she receives a call that sends her racing back to a small town in Ontario’s cottage country—a place that holds both her fondest childhood memories and her greatest heartbreak—and to Sam Florek, her childhood best friend and the boy she never stopped loving. Half of the story unfolds through flashbacks into Percy and Sam’s teenage years, and the six summers spent falling in love with one another. And the other half is told in the present day, where we meet the characters almost two decades later, one consumed by grief and loss, and the other by guilt and heartache. Their past and present intertwine to tell a story that is both charged with the guileless naïveté of childhood, and the heart-on-your-sleeve intensity of second chances. Nostalgic, evocative, heart-wrenching at times, hopeful, uplifting, and romantic in every sense of the word, this is the kind of book that transports you in time and place, and reminds you of all-consuming young crushes and all those summers spent running wild without a care in the world. The audiobook version narrated by the amazing Aj Bridel is especially transporting. A true gem.
Greatest Sexual Chemistry | Scandalized by Ivy Owens
“You’re going to make me love you, aren’t you?”
He doesn’t even falter, in step or breath. He says only, “I’m sure going to try.”
Whether the idea of a celebrity falling for an everyday person is your tropetonite, or you’re just a sucker for the ‘famous life’, there is something about this story that is both wonderfully fanciful, and also completely relatable. What begins as a one-night stand between two old childhood friends—one of them a hugely successful actor, and the other an ambitious investigative journalist on the verge of a career-making scoop—quickly deepens and evolves into something more for them both. But fame and anonymity don’t go hand in hand, and soon, both their lives are thrown into precarious waters as scandal hits home. A searing romance that strikes the perfect balance of steam, humour, and angst.
Most Heart-Clenching Scenes | Brutal Play by Alison Rhymes
“Why am I the only villain? Why am I the only one not forgiven? Why am I the one hated and alone?”
A redemption story that I was both excited and nervous to read, and with so many preconceived notions and biases stacked up against it before we even turn the first page, I honestly thought this book was impossible to write. Yet Alison Rhymes somehow managed to not only make us love a ‘villain’ in the end—she makes us connect with her to the point of wanting to scorch the earth beneath the feet of anyone who ever dared to hurt her. Rhymes’ prose cuts like a scalpel, never patronising, nor exalting these characters beyond what they are, and it’s the sheer humanity of who they are that grabs you, wraps you in, and won’t let you go. Simply unputdownable.
Most Compelling Characters | Sapphire Sunset by C. Travis Rice
“I don’t want to be with someone I’m not afraid to lose.”
C. Travis Rice, Christopher Rice’s new writing alter ego, transports the reader to a luxury beachfront resort nestled in the rolling coastal plains of Southern California, where two men find true love amidst scandal and heightened family drama. Filled with rich imagery, all the sizzle we could ever hope for, and just enough angst to make our romantic hearts skip a beat or two, this novel rises up around you like a tide, slowly and seductively, but it is Rice’s beautiful prose, refined yet fiercely witty, that pulls us under its spell.
Most Anticipated Book | Running Wild by K.A. Tucker
“I want it all. Consuming passion and camaraderie, laughter and strength, hope and comfort. It exists. I’ve seen it every time I look at Jonah and Calla. And maybe I can have it for myself, too.”
My most anticipated read of the year was everything I hoped it would be, and so much more. K.A. Tucker takes us back to the Alaskan wilderness with the long awaited story of Marie Lehr—the young veterinarian we watched pining for her best friend, Jonah, only to then see him marry another woman. Thirty-eight-year-old Marie craves to find love and have a family of her own, but she can’t seem to find anyone who appeals to her as the one who got away. Enter one handsome but arrogant musher, Tyler, who ignites something in her she never thought she’d feel again. While volunteering at the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, their friendship turns into something more, only to find out that Tyler’s heart already belongs to someone else. I’ll never grow tired of The Simple Wild world, of these characters, of every single word K.A. Tucker writes, and Marie’s story only made me hungrier for more.
Most Heart-Warming Romance | In a Jam by Kate Canterbary
“If only she knew how much I’d always liked her. That there was no one else for me. My world started and ended with her sitting beside me on those dark morning rides to school, and it started up all over again when I found her on my farm. But she wasn’t ready to hear that.”
Kate Canterbary is an author whose books I buy without even reading the blurbs because half the fun is discovering where she’d take us next. This the story of a young woman named Shay Zucconi who inherits a tulip farm from her beloved step-grandmother, only to find out that the inheritance comes with two conditions—she has to move back to the small town of Friendship, Rhode Island, AND she has to be married within one year. But after being left at the altar by her fiancé, Shay has sworn off marriage and thus has no intention of following the terms of the will. She decides to move to her home town only temporarily, to regroup and recover emotionally in the only home she’s ever known. But then she meets her next-door neighbour and his foul-mouthed little niece, and realises that her bossy new neighbour might not be a stranger at all but a long forgotten childhood best friend. A perfect blend of funny and heartwarming, sprinkled with some VERY steamy scenes, this is the kind of story you read in a single sitting, and then bemoan your own ability to read so fast. Another absolute must-read from one of my favourite contemporary romance writers.
Greatest Character Development | Sapphire Spring by C. Travis Rice
“How was it possible for someone half his size to have so much power over him? Words, he was reminded, were so much more powerful than brute force when they were aligned with hard truths.”
C. Travis Rice takes us back to the sparkling Southern California coast with another steamy yet super emotional love story. Naser Kazemi is the best friend of Connor Harcourt from Sapphire Sunset, Sapphire Cove’s owner and manager, while Mason Worther is the former jock who used to bully Naser in high school. When they meet again a decade later, Naser’s wounds are as raw as ever, his traumatic high school experience having shaped him in more ways than one, but what he doesn’t expect is for Mason to be desperately looking for forgiveness from the very classmate he’d both abused and desired more than any other, and to be ready to do the hard work to deserve his forgiveness. Tackling addiction, abuse, homophobia, and bullying with both sensitivity and brutal honesty, this was one of the most authentic redemption stories I have ever read.
Greatest Alpha Hero | Smoke and Steel by Kristen Ashley
“You love someone, you love them, past sins and all.”
The intensity and grit of every one of Kristen Ashley’s Motorcycle Club Romances might always be a given, but every time she returns to this alpha world of bikes and brotherhood, you never know what you’re going to find. This is a story about love and the power of family—both those we are born into as well as those we choose—just as much as it is a subtle challenging of traditional gender roles and stereotypes where a woman can be both a devoted life partner and remain the architect of her own life, while a man is no less of a ‘man’ just because he is willing to tailor his life to meet his partner’s career demands. Kristen Ashley’s love stories continue to celebrate relationships that buoy women emotionally without breaking their spirit, and when she throws a protective alpha biker into the mix, you’ve got pure magic.
Wittiest Dialogues | Beauty and the Baller by Ilsa Madden-Mills
“I knew exactly which road to take, and it was back to you.”
When retired NFL quarterback Ronan Smith meets Nova Morgan, she is dressed as Princess Leia and he is drowning in grief and one too many whiskeys. They share one explosive night together, but when he calls her another woman’s name at the end of it, she walks away without ever telling him her real one. Two years later, Nova has moved back to her home town to look after her younger sister, only to find out that her next door neighbour and the new football coach that the whole town seems to adore is none other than her ill-fated one-night stand. And he has a proposition for her, of the fake dating kind. Full of humour, heat, and fantastic banter, this is the kind of story you want to devour in a single sitting.
Greatest Feel-Good Read | The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
“People who want to be famous think it’s the same thing as being loved, but it’s not. Strangers can only ever love a version of you. People loving you for your best qualities is not the same as people loving you despite your worst.”
What an absolutely delightful book this was! The heroine works as a high-profile executive protection agent and she’s just been hired to protect a Hollywood actor from a potentially dangerous stalker. She’s also just been dumped, and he happens to be single. So when the hero goes back to his family’s ranch to be near his sick mother but doesn’t want his family to know he needs a bodyguard, he asks the heroine to pretend to be his girlfriend. The more time they spend together, however, far away from the world and pretending to be in love, the more it all begins to feel real. The hero is a real sweetheart, protective and caring, and the perfect counterpart to a heroine who’s never known what it feels like to be truly loved. I never wanted this story to end.
Most Provocative Storyline | June First by Jennifer Hartmann
“Never underestimate a man willing to wait forever for the woman he loves.”
An astonishing tale of family ties, loss, and forbidden love comes alive through Jennifer Hartmann’s sublime writing and deeply human characters in a novel that is so beautifully written and thought out, you’ll want to reread it almost as soon as you reach the end. Hartmann compels with her every sentence, capturing the essence of growing up and the warmth of enduring love ever so perfectly, and even with a steady onslaught of tragedies that the characters must face over the years, she weaves a triumphant tapestry of their lives, thread by painstaking thread. Spanning across two decades and told in multiple characters’ voices, this heart-stopping love story practically begs to be read time and time again, and is perfect for anyone who relishes being yanked from their comfort zone.
Most Significant Storyline | A Million Little Moments by Riley Hart
“We had a million little moments, Sutt, all of ’em leading us here. I can’t wait to spend my whole damn life makin’ a hundred million more of them with you.”
Riley Hart is one of my must-read authors for a reason—her romances never fail to captivate and make me feel all the feels. This emotionally charged story takes us to small town North Carolina, and into the lives of two young men, Sutton and Jasper, who’ve been best friends all their lives. Their bond has always been strong and special, but over time and countless little moments shared together, their attraction and feelings for each other begin to change. They both begin to realise that they feel more for their best friend than they think they should, and have felt that way for quite some time, but admitting it might prove to be the easiest part. Filled with first times and new beginnings, their story is one of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and sexual awakening in the midst of prejudice and fear of being different. We watch them turn to each other for support and strength as their relationship comes under scrutiny from those closest to them, but trying to break their own preconceived notions about themselves could be the hardest part. Riley Hart takes your breath away with the way she captures the effervesce, the confusion, the intensity, and the raw emotion of a love that can’t be denied, but she amazes, as always, with her compassion and insight.
Most Multilayered Storyline | Making the Match by Kristen Ashley
“No man, or woman for that matter, is made by one thing they did or one mistake they made.”
This complex, layered, spellbinding story hit a perfect chord for me, and this has everything to do with the way Kristen Ashley brings her characters to life—unapologetically and daringly and true to everything we’ve always known her to stand for. Furthermore, when Ashley decides to sink her teeth into a redemption story, you know all bets are off and she’ll make you feel a whole lot of things. This is the story of Tom Pierce, former tennis superstar, and Mika Stowe, artist extraordinaire, who first met at a time when Tom was not available to pursue anything between them. Now, years later, Tom’s actions have not only hurt those closest to him, but also knocked him off the pedestal that Mika has always put him on. So, when they are forced to cross paths again, they must not only come to terms with the aftermath of Tom’s transgression, but also with two decades of personal history that they do not share. A moving tale of two people taking a second chance on life and love, and moving forward from the past, together.
Most Intriguing Premise | Broken Play by Alison Rhymes
“Forgiveness never comes quickly. It can’t be rushed. There is grace in granting forgiveness, but that same grace must happen while waiting for forgiveness. You must give it time.”
I can’t remember the last time a book shook me so deeply and so personally from the very first page, let alone for it to take days, even weeks, to fully process all the emotions coursing through me, yet this book did just that. Tackling one of the most challenging tropes in Romance—cheating—this is the kind of story that pushes the rosy-coloured glasses right off your nose and forces you to truly understand the characters’ perspectives, while silencing your own preconceived notions and judgements. It’s a story of forgiveness and redemption as much as it is a story of self-discovery and growth, and every bit of it is done just right. Without glorifying or trivialising cheating in any way, Alison Rhymes shows that she is not afraid to get her hands dirty when it comes to exploring sensitive or complex topics in relationships, doing so carefully and thoughtfully. She will twist you up and wring you out, make you question everything you hold to be true about life, love, and happily-ever-afters.
Most Well-Rounded Storyline | Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez
“So what’s this guy look like?” she asked.
I scoffed. “Scott Eastwood in The Longest Ride, only with a beard. Oh, and he had a baby goat in pajamas.”
Her eyes were wide. “I’d follow a clown into a storm drain if he had a baby goat in pajamas.”
You can always trust Abby Jimenez to deliver a romance that packs a punch even when it makes you laugh like no other, and this one is no exception. It’s the story of a big city ER doctor in her late thirties who begins an affair with a hot carpenter from a tight-knit small town in the middle of nowhere. Said carpenter is not only ten years younger than her, but he cooks, is very good with his hands, AND he owns a baby goat in pajamas. She wants to keep it casual and commitment-free, but the more time they spend together trying to keep it casual, the more she begins to wish she could leave her whole carefully crafted life behind, family legacies be damned. But when two people belong to two completely different worlds, staying together means that one of them has to give up theirs for love.
Greatest Banter | The Worst Guy by Kate Canterbary
“Now, Sebastian, where is Sara from?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Hell, probably.”
I winged the pineapple at him hard. He had to stumble backward to catch it.
“And Sara,” Milana said, “where is Sebastian from?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say a defective condom.”
An enemies-to-lovers story between two surgeons working at the same hospital who, after a very heated debate that leaves an exam room in shambles, are forced to attend eight weeks of conflict resolution counselling… together. They push each other’s buttons every time they are in the same room, never letting the other win ANY argument, and before long, their every round of bickering inevitably ends with them tearing each other’s clothes off. But when feelings begin to develop, things take an unexpected turn for them both. Kate Canterbary is the queen of banter, and the dialogues in this book are simply stellar. She makes you feel the antagonism, the heat, the undeniable chemistry between the characters, all the while delivering a story that is emotional, moving, and beautifully written.
The One That Made Me Ugly-Cry | Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover
“Some things can be forgiven, but sometimes an action is so painful the memory of it can still crush a person ten years down the road.”
There is something so compelling about seeing real, flawed characters put into impossible situations and then watching them grow, adapt, learn to be better people, and Colleen Hoover’s new novel spins that very premise into a powerful tale of redemption, forgiveness, love, and the lengths to which a mother will go to be part of her child’s life. Told with piercing prose and savage honesty, Hoover’s every word is designed to have an effect, and it truly takes a writer at the top of her game to deliver a story that has so many jagged edges, yet leaves the reader feeling uplifted and changed—once they can see through the tears again.
Most Fascinating Storyline | The Girl in the Mist by Kristen Ashley
“How much dark can someone absorb before they’re consumed by it?”
Kristen Ashley has made a decade-long career out of bringing characters to the page in ways that continue to be fresh, poignant, and instantly recognisable, but she is also one of those authors who frequently reinvents herself with each new world she creates, and in this richly detailed, intricately plotted Romantic Thriller with a serial killer at its centre, Ashley shows herself to be at the height of her powers. The story takes us to Misted Pines, a sleepy little town happily nestled among the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest, and the new home of famed actress and author Delphine Larue. Forced to hide from a deranged stalker, fifty-three-year-old Delphine has left the Hollywood Hills for the shores of a quiet forest lake in the middle of nowhere, expecting only the serenity of the place to keep her company. But what she quickly comes to realise is that her new home’s greatest advantage is not its remoteness, but its vicinity to one Cade Bohannan— former Green Beret, former FBI field agent, former profiler, and all-around badass. Kristen Ashley’s signature essence seeps through the pages like an intoxicating cloud, delivering a gripping whodunit that is equal parts thrilling and heartfelt, and revels in unexpected twists.