About a week from the start of 2020 I was like, "oh shit, I haven't met my Goodreads challenge." I vowed not to count rereads, so it's just really unfortunate that for every new book I read I devour one to six old ones (gotta clear that palate, ya know?). So, with a little more than a week remaining I scrambled to fill my plate with a combination of books waiting for reviews, random stuff I downloaded from the top 100 free romance novel section of Amazon, and some books I'd been dying to finish. It wasn't easy. I didn't go out. I hardly slept. And I kinda cheated by throwing some novellas in there (hey, they're books too). But I did it. Enjoy the twenty-three books that pushed me over the edge into 2020.
1. It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian: a sexy M/M historical between a surly Captain and a vicar, who just so happens to be the only person who can keep the Captain's out of control children from terrorizing the townspeople. I was absolutely in love with the grumpy sea captain and how hard he tried to keep himself at a distance from the vicar. And, even though I usually hate children in my romance novels, I have to admit that Cat Sebastian knows how to write a child character who actually adds to the story rather than detracting from it. Lovers of the grumpy/sunshine trope will adore it.
2. Merciless by Willow Winters: a dark romance in which the anti-hero kidnaps the heroine and holds her captive until she bends to his every will. And there's like... some really dubious consent going on here. And some hunger striking. Lots of tension, lots of filth... a couple of times I found myself questioning whether it was headed down too dark a path for me to return. This was like... straight up kidnapping and sex slave stuff. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it, but it certainly went right up to the border of what my brain thinks is acceptable.
3. Pennies by Pepper Winters: a dark romance featuring a girl sold to a monster and the even worse monster steals her away. Another one of those 'is this book too dark for me?' situations. I have a feeling I would love the rest of the series more than I loved the first book (because in the first book our heroine is with just an absolute piece of shit before our antihero steals her away) but I don't think I'll finish the series, because honestly it made me way too anxious. If rough BDSM, against the will of the heroine--at least in the first book--is your thing then you'll probably really enjoy this book, but get ready to go down a DARK path.
4. Boiling Point (Crossing the Line #3) by Tessa Bailey: the Crossing the Line series follows a group of individuals (disgraced cops, hackers, con-men, escape artists, etc who have been given the choice of going to jail or helping the police track down criminals like them. In the third book in the series Bailey brings together Austin, a deviously talented conman, and Polly, a computer hacker whose main goal in life is to avenge the death of her father by taking down the biggest criminal in the city. The best part is that Austin likes to be told what to do by the beautiful Polly, and boy... does he want to be punished for all his crimes. Sexy, sexy, sexy. I almost burst into flames.
5. In Too Deep by Julie Olivia: a forbidden romance between a boss and his subordinate. The cover doesn't really scream "HOT AND HEAVY", but for some reason I still thought it might lead that way. It didn't, for the record. But it was a cute slow-burn with somewhat dirty sex scenes, so if that's your thing, yay! There was tons of playful teasing, sexual tension, and all that yummy forbidden shit. The only downside was that they made me think there was gonna be some dope daddy/sir/yes, boss stuff going on, but alas, there was none.
6. Up in Smoke (Crossing the Line #2) by Tessa Bailey: to reinterate, the Crossing the Line series follows a group of criminals who have been given the choice of going to jail or helping the police track down criminals like them. Why didn't I put these books in order you may ask? Because, like a monster, I didn't read them in order. This book was one of the hottest books I've read in a long, long time. Insta-love at its finest between a dishonorably discharged Navy SEAL and a sparky escape artist who has gone so long without being touched that her skin now burns when someone touches her. Sex is difficult, but these two prove that it's not impossible to give and receive pleasure without laying one's hands on their partner.
7. Dark Mafia Prince (Dangerous Royals #1) by Annika Martin: friends are reunited in the darkest of ways in this Romeo & Juliet-esque novel. It's not as dark (still dark, just not as shocking as some of the books on this list) as the kidnapping theme made me think it was going to be, but it was plenty enjoyable and totally sexy. Controlling hero, submissive heroine, and some filthy talking that will have you falling to your knees. Oof.
8. Beard Science by Penny Reid: have you read the Beard series by Penny Reid? It's about a group of bearded brothers (and one unbearded sister) getting into trouble and falling in love with all sorts of good ladies (and one man). In this book we have a sweet, innocent baker whose tired of being her parent's good-little-girl who decides to blackmail the smartest, most devious man in town into teaching her what it takes to attract a man. Top notch shit here. Not my favorite book in the series, but they're all amazing so... it just means my favorite is that. much. better.
9. Raw Redemption (Crossing the Line #4) by Tessa Bailey: Jeez. Can you tell I liked this series? I almost never have time to read books that I haven't been asked to review because, man, who has the time? But in my desperate need to finish my Goodreads challenge I just started buying up books left and right that I'd been saving for a rainy day. In the fourth book in this series we meet a disgraced cop and the woman he lost his badge for. The only problem... they don't know each other. There's cabin sex, car sex, delayed satisfaction, delicious punishment, gunmen, and muscles. So many muscles.
10. The Prince by Skye Warren: a sexy prequel novella about a trailer park girl who forms a tentative friendship with the boy living in the woods behind her house. But when he sacrifices himself for her, putting himself in his father's clutches once more, he'll never be the same. And he'll come back for her... only this time it won't be to protect her. It'll be to keep her. This book will definitely have you itching to purchase the next ones.
11. Trust Fund by Skye Warren: a prequel novella featuring a spoiled, but talented artist of a girl and her stepbrother (a short-lived relation given her dad's penchant for divorce) who is given control over her trust fund by her father. And boy, is she fucking mad about it.
12. The Deal by Elle Kennedy: Hannah wants help seducing the guy she likes. Graham needs to pass stats. Together they strike up a deal: he'll teach her to get the guy and she'll keep him on the football team. I usually hate college romances, but this book had me all in a tizzy with the humor, spiciness, and continuous back and forth of witty banter. Very enjoyable!
13. The Book Critic's Body Guard by Michele Ciuzwo: When a book critic goes from writing happy, positive reviews to scathing ones and starts receiving death threats her boss assigns her a body guard. And finally, a book with a body guard who doesn't have an attitude problem (I mean, I like those grumps, but a silly, handsome body guard was obviously missing from my life). Definitely something new and entertaining!
14. Heartbreak by Skye Warren: a sexy prequel of a foster girl trying to survive her foster home and the boy who makes protecting her his life's mission, until she unexpectedly turns on him. My mind was blown. Definitely some characters I'll want to read more of.
15. Bought by Em Brown: Kind of a weird one here, but if participating willingly in an auction where the women are treated like legitimate sex slaves (but they make money off it and maybe like it?) then this might be for you? A reporter goes undercover in an auction where men pay big bucks to own a woman for a week. It had hot moments, but generally just seemed very unsafe to me and I couldn't stop thinking about what a bad choice she made... And jeez, why don't any nice guys want to buy a woman for a week and just have a girlfriend experience?
16. Keeping Lily by Izzy Sweet & Sean Moriarty: I really enjoy novels of these types and I think I would have enjoyed this book more if the guy hadn't kidnapped her kids too. Being continuously reminded that this kidnapped woman who was being used for sex was a mom was just a total buzz kill for me. It had hot moments, for sure, but the ick factor was just too high.
17. Tough Love by Skye Warren: You're probably wondering by now... did I read every Skye Warren novel in existence? And the answer is not even close. But I did go to her Amazon page and download every free book she had listed. That was pretty fun. This was a super sexy and intriguing prequel novella. A young man willing to do whatever it takes to keep his girl safe, even it means losing her forever. Definitely a prequel that will have you desperately adding the rest of the series to your TBR.
18. Knocked Up by My Brother's Enemy by Penny Wylder: I don't know why I thought this book was going to be darker, but it wasn't. Another free book, so I can't really complain, but it was just so-so. I get that in a prequel things need to move pretty fast, but having sex with a virtual stranger seconds after seeing him against for the first time in years and years kind of had me going... what? And brother's enemy is a strong phrase when the author really means 'the guy her brother's didn't like very much in high school'. It just wasn't enemy enough. But it was cute once the initial confusion wore off.
19. Rough by Skye Warren: Kind of a let down, honestly. But if rough sex, nice guys with dangerous brothers, and incredibly fast-moving relationships are your thing then you'll like it.
20. Ravished by Amanda Quick: I love Quick's book so much. No one writes grumpy men and intelligent women quite like her. And this book is no different. We have a heroine who only cares about one thing (whoever is using the caves she fossil hunts in to store stolen goods) who calls on the lord of the property, a grumpy scar-faced man with an attitude problem, to handle the problem for her. She's constantly getting herself into danger, but he's ready to protect her...whatever it takes.
21. So, That Got Weird by Amelia Kingston: I thought I was done with the whole 'awkward girl pays for a sex tutor thing' but I guess I'm not because I really liked this book. Our heroine was a very awkward gamer with a string of terrible dates behind her who just wants to learn how to not be so... weird. At least around guys. And who betters to teach her than the guy with the best sex reviews, at least according to the newest app on campus. I thought it was the perfect balance of silliness, witty dialogue, and sexy "teaching" moments.
22. Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick: I repeat! What isn't amazing about an Amanda Quick historical romance novel? Sigh. Fake psychics, a blackmailer with a journal full of dangerous secrets, and a romance-writing woman who is oh-so-good at writing villains. Fabulous all around.
23. They're Strictly Friends by Chloe Liese: I went into this book without so much as reading a blurb. Completely blind. And it was a great experience. Liese's style of writing was absolutely delightful and the characters were stubborn and brilliant. Both the hero and the heroine want each other, but he's got a secret that's holding him back. The sexual tension is to die for and when things finally come to a head it's well worth the wait!