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20 of the Best Romance Books to Get You Through 2020, from Classics to New Reads

Stuck in quarantine? We recommend our favorite romances to help you escape today's anxiety.

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  • Photo Credit: Unsplash / David Lecanzo

2020 has been harrowing. Between the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 presidential campaign, and the threat of a recession, this year has featured a lot of existential angst. For mental and emotional wellness, it's important to take time each day to do more than panic-scroll through the news on your phone. Romance books offer a welcome distraction, and allow us to experience intimacy during a period of collective isolation. 

To help make this year a little more tolerable for romance fans, we've collected our recommendations for the best romance books to read in 2020. From classics to newer releases, these reads provide escapism, solace, and communion with lovable characters.  

Happy reading!

best romance books

A Princess in Theory

By Alyssa Cole

Despite being an ardent left-winger who thinks the entire concept of monarchy is outdated, I am an absolute sucker for a good royal romance. There is something about that romantic dynamic, and all the notions of power, privilege, and responsibility it embodies, that keeps me coming back for more. There’s no shortage of great royal romances out there, but my favorite of recent times comes courtesy of Alyssa Cole. 

All her books are instant buys for me but A Princess in Theory sees the author firing on all cylinders, and with such an intriguing hook: What if that African prince who keeps sending e-mails to your spam account was real, and what if you were his long-time intended bride? That's the conundrum Naledi Smith, a broke grad student, finds herself in. 

Prince Thabiso, heir to the throne of Thesolo, has no idea why his betrothed won't return his correspondence, so he tracks her down and falls into a game of prince/pauper for a while. Overall, A Princess in Theory just hit every single one of my romance beats, making for a wholly satisfying read that I’m happy to revisit over and over again.

Recommended by Kayleigh

Annie on My Mind

Annie on My Mind

By Nancy Garden

This classic queer coming-of-age novel is a great comfort read on a day when you need to be reminded that there's still good in the world. Annie On My Mind has been controversial since it was first published in 1982, and there have been many attempts to ban and challenge the young adult lesbian romance. The anger surrounding the book is in some ways an indicator of how powerful the central romance is.

New York City teenagers Annie and Liza develop an intimate friendship after they meet at the Met. The pair soon realize the attraction between them isn't platonic. But while Annie and Liza discover the joys of their sexuality together, they face pressures to conform from their families and schools. 

Recommended by Carolyn

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By Sally Beauman

Destiny by Sally Beauman is an unforgettable, globe-spanning erotic romance. Edouard is the French heir to a jewelry fortune. Hélène is born into a life of poverty in Alabama. The two come from remote worlds, but when they have a chance meeting in France, their differences melt away. 

Edouard and Hélène quickly succumb to a once-in-a-lifetime passion. When the winds of fate that brought them together push them apart again, the pair will stop at nothing to reunite. A classically sexy romance, Destiny will fill all your desires for a sexy, escapist romance. 

Recommended by Carolyn

best romance books

A Gentleman in the Streets

By Alisha Rai

Sometimes, there are romance novels so earth-scorchingly hot, so beyond sexy, that you feel a little bit dirty even reading them while there are other people in the room. A Gentleman in the Street is one such novel. Akira Mori is a highly successful entrepreneur who craves good sex and world domination, and nothing will stand in her way. 

She can get anyone she wants but there's one man who's held a special place in her heart for a long time. For a very brief period, Jacob Campbell was her step-brother, and she's always felt like he disapproves of her lifestyle. However, Jacob is just as taken with her as she is with him, but he's far less open about his desires, something Akira is keen to help him explore. 

This book has absolutely everything you want from a contemporary erotic romance. It's fiercely feminist, sex-positive, and subverts all your expectations, and has a strong central message about finding true purpose and passion in your own desires.

There’s not a drop of kink-shaming in this entire book, and it’s just a delight to read something so enthralled by the idea of not only love but sex. All that and it's hot as f*ck!

RELATED: 12 Bad Boy Romance Books That Are Oh So Good 

Recommended by Kayleigh

Dark Water

Dark Water

By Sharon Sala

Buried treasure and long-buried sexual tension...what more could one ask for from a romantic suspense tale? 

Sharon Sala writes gripping tales of romantic suspense, and the steamy intrigue of Dark Water will quickly pull you under. 

Sarah never believed her father was really responsible for a bank robbery in their small Maine town. But the stolen fortune, and her father, were never found...until now. When her father's body is discovered, Sarah returns home to clear his name once and for all. To unearth secrets that have long been hidden, she'll have to trust an unreliable cast of characters from her past — including her long-ago flame, Officer Tony DeMarco.

RELATED: 15 Second-Chance Romance Books  

Recommended by Carolyn

funny romance books

The Wedding Date

By Jasmine Guillory

I'm an extremely nervous flyer, and this fake relationship contemporary from Jasmine Guillory helped me white-knuckle through two very bumpy cross-country flights. In other words, I highly recommend it if you need a book to help you stay calm during this truly turbulent period of 2020. 

When Alexa and Drew get stuck in the same hotel elevator, the two have surprising chemistry. So much so that when Drew asks Alexa to accompany him as his date to a wedding that weekend, she impulsively agrees. Alexa works in politics and is used to strategizing and planning ahead. So why does she take a handsome guy from out of town up on his offer? For his part, Drew's also not sure why he decided to ask the attractive stranger to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend. 

A fun, steamy, and emotional romance, The Wedding Date captures the magic and angst of a long-distance relationship perfectly. It also shows a heroine who's committed to making her world a better place, with a partner who supports those goals. Take a break with The Wedding Date and return to real-life refreshed and restored (even if the seat belt sign is still on). 

Related: 10 Romantic Book Club Books to Suggest For Your Next Meeting 

Recommended by Carolyn

The Highland Series

The Highland Series

By Amanda Scott

COVID-19 will likely have us all indoors for a long time. What better way to cope than to get lost in a new romance series? 

Amanda Scott writes unforgettable Scottish romance, and her Highland Series is the perfect marriage of heat and history. In the 1700s, Scotland is threatened by the encroaching British empire. 

Maggie bravely ventures into enemy territory in London to save the Scottish people and their way of life. But while in England, the safest place Maggie finds is in the bed of her avowed enemy, Earl Edward Carsley. Their romance will span countries and shape history itself. 

RELATED: Historical Romance You're Sure to Fall For 

Recommended by Carolyn

best romance books

Sweet Disorder

By Rose Lerner

If I had to pick just one book that represented my all-time favorite romance novel ever, it would probably be this one. A regency romance novel set in the small English town of Lively St. Lemeston, Sweet Disorder follows a local and hotly-contested election that's driven local campaigners to get creative. 

Only a handful of locals can vote in this election, and every person counts, which is why the love life of Phoebe Sparks has suddenly become the topic of such intrigue. As a widow, she cannot vote, but her future husband could, so the Whigs and Tories turn matchmaker in the hopes of securing a victory. 

Nicholas Dymond returned from war with a shattered leg and a total loss of purpose. Hoping to help his little brother win this election, he is sent to deal with Mrs. Sparks, but finds much more than mere politics. I truly adore Sweet Disorder. It's endlessly charming and offers a refreshing change of pace in its focus on the middle-classes rather than the gentry. 

Phoebe is a delightful plus-size heroine, Nick is a sensitive but troubled hero dealing with a new disability, and their views on their respective self-worth lead them to connect in ways that are both comforting and gripping. Besides, how can you not love a romance where the hero buys the heroine a ham? 

Recommended by Kayleigh

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

By Constance O'Day-Flannery

If you're understandably sick of 2020, then a little temporal adventuring might sound nice, and Constance Day-O'Flannery writes peerless time travel romance.  

Casey O’Reilly is disappointed by her hum-drum life. But when she's struck by lightning and transported back to 1878, she's left alone, scared, and longing for a bit of normalcy. Then Casey meets a man who also purports to be a time traveler, and her life will never be the same again. 

RELATED: Sci-Fi Romance Books That Will Make You Swoon 

Recommended by Carolyn

Elizabeth the First Wife

Elizabeth the First Wife

By Lian Dolan

This relatable romance combines Shakespeare, snark, and second-chances for a result that will leave you in stitches. 

Elizabeth is an English professor. She's managed to put the romantic past she had with her first husband, movie star FX Fahey, behind her. But then FX shows up with an offer Elizabeth can't turn down. 

FX has landed a role in an experimental production of Midsummer Night's Dream at a prestigious Shakespeare festival, and begs Elizabeth to use her literary skills to prevent him from falling flat on his face. 

Elizabeth has a hard time saying no to FX, so she agrees to help. But once she arrives at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Elisabeth is torn between her loyalties to her ex-husband, and the attentions of a new man. The course of true love never did run smooth, but rarely is it as fun as it is in Elizabeth the First Wife

Recommended by Carolyn

best romance books

Something About You

By Julie James

Julie James was one of the first proper romance authors I ever read, and she was the perfect introduction to the genre for someone like me, a lover of sparky love stories involving Much Ado About Nothing-esque back-and-forth hate-hate-love chatting. 

Her FBI/U.S. Attorney series centers on the world of Chicago politics and justice, where seemingly every member of the FBI and District Attorney's office is extremely handsome. In the first book, Something About You, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde ends up being a witness of sorts to a murder, but her real problem comes when the FBI agent assigned to the case is Jack Pallas, whom she has a messy history with. 

There's a delightfully breezy quality to James's work, part screwball comedy, part classic 1980s rom-com, that makes them endlessly addictive. She has such a great ear for dialogue, especially rapid-fire banter that’s almost as sexy as the love scenes! 

RELATED: 14 Scintillating and Satisfying Enemies to Lovers Books

Recommended by Kayleigh

best romance books

Someone to Hold

By Mary Balogh

After the revelation of her father’s bigamist marriage to her mother, Camille Westcott lost everything: her status, her money, her advantageous match. To make matters worse, her half-sister Anna not only inherited their father’s status and money, she also has made an advantageous marriage of her own. 

But after living with her maternal grandmother hidden away in Bath, Camille is sick of her own self-pity. When she impulsively takes a teaching position at the orphanage where she grew up, Anna’s childhood best friend Joel Cunningham is anything but happy to see her there. Life has a funny way of working out, though, and soon Camille is committed to sitting for portraits painted by none other than Joel himself. 

Balogh’s Westcott series is a wonderful example of a romance series that examines not only romantic love, but the love that members of a family hold for one another—even when life throws difficult circumstances their way. Camille’s story is a wonderful one that fleshes out a somewhat haughty and standoffish character from the first book in a way that’ll leave readers rooting for her.

Recommended by Feliza

books like Jasmine Guillory

The Bride Test

By Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang burst onto the romance scene with her wonderful debut The Kiss Quotient, but as excellent as that book is, the follow-up is even better. Continuing on from the first book's exploration of a romance featuring a neuroatypical protagonist, The Bride Test follows Esme Tran, a Vietnamese single mother and cleaner who is looking for a chance to create a better life for her daughter. 

After a chance meeting, a woman offers her a unique opportunity: Fly to America and become the wife of the woman's son. 

Khai Diep doesn't want his family meddling in his life or people fretting over him being on the autism spectrum. The new woman living in his home isn’t helping matters, and he is definitely not interested in marrying her. 

The Bride Test tackles a lot of weighty subjects, particularly immigration, but always does so with the right balance of empathy and creativity. What makes this read stand out is its discussions of boundaries, particularly for Khai, who has sensory sensitivity and is often unable to read social cues. One scene involving a haircut is easily the hottest thing I've read in romance in a long time. Long may Helen Hoang continue doing what she does best.

RELATED: Books to Read Based on Your Favorite Romance Tropes 

Recommended by Kayleigh

best romance books

Because of Miss Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Billie Bridgerton has run wild with the Rokesbys from next door all her life. But now that she’s an adult, maybe climbing up on rooftops to save stranded kittens is a less than spectacular idea. 

Despite her badly sprained ankle, Billie’s not exactly excited that the Rokesby who happens by to help her is the eldest, George: his younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, are closer to her in age and in friendship, and everyone assumes she’ll end up married to one of the two. 

With her injury keeping her somewhat immobilized, Billie spends more time with George than ever before—and it turns out she doesn’t mind that so much at all.

The Rokesbys series is a prequel to Julia Quinn’s incredibly popular Bridgertons romance book series, though Billie may actually be my favorite Bridgerton of all. (For context, Billie is the older sister of Edmund, making her the aunt of the siblings who star in the Bridgertons series.) 

Billie is a ton of fun, but her energetic and impulsive personality is paired with her very serious understanding of her father’s estate and the knowledge that the estate she has spent her entire life loving and developing will pass on to her younger brother, simply because she’s a woman. The romance that develops between Billie and George is a really wonderful one—slow and deeply satisfying.

Recommended by Feliza

Related: 10 of the Top Romance Novels of All Time 

best romance books

The Tempting of Thomas Carrick

By Stephanie Laurens

Thomas Carrick and Lucilla Cynster have always been deeply attracted to one another—but Lucilla is a chosen one of the guardian Lady of the Valley, and Thomas believes his fate lies outside the valley. Thomas is called back to the valley when his uncle, the laird of the clan, is ill—and Lucilla, who lives on the neighboring estate, seizes her opportunity. Lucilla knows Thomas is her one true love and destined for her, and while she can’t force him to marry her, she can make it a very, very tempting prospect.

This historical romance set in the Scottish countryside focuses on the relationship between Lucilla and Thomas, but it’s also contained within a rich setting full of elements that’ll leave readers excited for more, including several murders on the estate held by Thomas’s clan and the mystery surrounding his uncle.

RELATED: 5 Unrequited Love Romance Books With Happily Ever Afters 

Recommended by Feliza

best romance books

The Heiress Effect

By Courtney Milan

With one of the biggest fortunes on the marriage mart, one would think Miss Jane Fairfield would be the catch of the season—but her obnoxious chatter, ostentatiously hideous sense of fashion, and her seemingly unconscious, cutting rudeness make her little more than an object of derision. 

Jane knows what she’s doing, though: marriage would mean leaving her chronically ill and still-underage sister in the hands of their uncle, whose willingness to pay quack doctors to “fix” her sister has Jane terrified to leave the girl behind. 

The only one who doesn’t seem fooled? Oliver Marshall, the bastard of a duke and an aspiring politician. Jane’s clear attempts to drive off suitors make her even more fascinating to Oliver, even if pursuing her could bring both of their goals crashing down around their heads.

While plenty of historical novels focus on a heroine who must marry to avoid poverty or who seeks to avoid marrying a suitor chosen for her, there are decidedly fewer about avoiding marriage in general for an extremely specific reason. Jane’s methods of avoidance are both cringe-worthy and utterly delightful, and Oliver’s aspirations and curiosities are equally compelling.

Recommended by Feliza

best romance books

It Happened One Season

By Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'allesandro, & Candice Hern

This Regency romance anthology contains four stories with the same basic plot: a military man must marry to continue the family line of (mostly entailed) succession, and he meets a heroine who’s been out for a few seasons and is shy or plain in some way. Each author interprets the prompt differently, giving fans of a particular trope a wealth of couples to enjoy. The two best stories in the anthology, both of which I love to reread, are Mary Balogh’s “Only Love” and Candice Hearn’s “Fate Strikes a Bargain.” 

In “Only Love,” Cleo was left widowed when her cruel husband was killed in battle, but because she’s rather plain, she’s been unable to find a partner. When she meets Jack at a ball, he remembers her as the wife of his dead commanding officer from the war—and they share a kiss. But when Jack proposes, intent on finding a wife who can provide him with an heir, Cleo fears that her years of marriage and lack of pregnancy means she can’t get pregnant at all—and she proposes they embark on a short affair, only becoming engaged if she manages to become pregnant. “Only Love” deals with both Jack’s clear PTSD and Cleo’s history of emotional abuse in a beautiful way that results in being uplifting for both characters.

“Fate Strikes a Bargain” begins with a chance meeting between Nat and Philippa as they hide behind an orange tree at a ball. Philippa has a pronounced limp; Nat is too direct for much of society. But their conversation finds them well-suited for one another, and they decide almost immediately to marry. Both face opposition from their families because of Philippa’s disability: Philippa’s overprotective family thinks her too delicate for marriage, while Nat’s brother believes her disability makes her infertile. Hearn handles the ableism Philippa faces heartbreakingly real while giving the couple the happy ending they both deserve.

Recommended by Feliza

young adult romance books

When Dimple Met Rishi

By Sandhya Menon

This super-charming young adult tale of a fake relationship that becomes something more is the perfect antidote to anxiety. Dimple is excited to spend the summer at a web development camp and away from the pressure of her mother, who's keen on Dimple settling down with an ideal Indian husband. 

Rishi Patel can't wait for developer camp, either — because his parents told him he'd meet his future wife there. Rishi and Dimple's parents have arranged for the two to connect at camp, but they don't hit it off the way their parents intended. A heartwarming and captivating story of identity, mistaken intentions, and young love, When Dimple Met Rishi will leave a smile on your face even during difficult times. 

Recommended by Carolyn

teen romance books

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

By Jenny Han

If you've been living under a rock and missed the Netflix movies based on Jenny Han's feel-good romance series, then discovering To All the Boys is the perfect way to spend your quarantine. 

In the first novel in the series, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Lara Jean Song learns that private love letters she wrote to her crushes, but never intended to mail, have been sent to them. Desperate to distract from the letter she wrote to her older sister's current boyfriend, Lara agrees to participate in a mutually beneficial fake relationship with one of the letter-recipients, Peter. 

Peter wants to make his ex jealous, so the two orchestrate a relationship contract designed to help them appear in love. Lara thought her genuine feelings for Peter were long-gone. But before she knows it, she's in real love with her fake boyfriend. 

A swoon-worthy read that brings the highs and lows of high school rushing right back, this beloved trilogy is a perfect distraction from the outside world. Once you've finished it, experience the charming adaptations of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and its sequel P.S. I Still Love You on Netflix.  

Recommended by Carolyn

enemies to lovers


By Alice Clayton

Hilarious and red-hot, Wallbanger is a throughly modern romantic thriller. Caroline has the perfect San Fransisco apartment. Unfortunately, her neighbor Simon is more pervert than perfect, and she hears his high-volume sexual adventures every night.

In a dry spell herself, Caroline finds the carnal clatter frustrating in more ways than one. And when she goes next door to finally confront him, Caroline never does get the rest she so desperately wants.

Recommended by Carolyn

Image via Unsplash / David Lecanzo.  

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