Fiction » Romance

The Best Romance Books of 2020

recommended by Frannie Cassano

The best romance books of 2020 (so far) as recommended by Frannie Cassano, winner of the 2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year award. After nearly two decades as a librarian, she remains an avid reader of romance and picks out her favourite 'comfort reads' from across the genre.

Interview by Sophie Roell

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This year, 2020, because of everything that’s been going on, you’ve chosen the best comfort reads for us: are romance books a good genre to turn to when times are tough?

They absolutely are. We can say this, though, for any topic or genre that gives us personal comfort. The going back to basics of why we read what we do; to capture that feeling of normality in a time of so many unanswered questions. During the quarantine, I ended up gravitating towards themes like rom-com, westerns, community, friendship, and a nod to the 1980s. These authors succeed in bringing joy to any circumstance, but especially to this particular year, 2020.

Let’s see how these themes come out in your 2020 romance book recommendations. First on your list is Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams, which definitely has a strong romantic comedy element. Tell me why you love this book.

Set in Nashville, Adams draws a familiar-feeling, small town vibe where everyone seems to be connected to one another. Liv Papandreas goes toe to toe with her celebrity chef boss who she inadvertently witnesses in a compromising position and who is now threatening to destroy her reputation. She very reluctantly accepts the help of Braden Mack, who starts off wanting to right his part in the events that ultimately got her fired.

But when Mack hears the full story from Liv, he goes all-in, and for the right reasons. Members of ‘The Bromance Book Club’ assist their leader with hilarity and sincerity. And the Me Too moments here will resonate.

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Adams crafts a fabulous cast of characters who embody what it means to have someone’s back, especially when they think they don’t need it. That said, at times when Liv and Mack are judgmental, or when they lie, their ‘armor’ and defense mechanisms are totally relatable. Readers will root for Liv and Mack the whole time. This is a series hit.

It’s pretty funny the idea of all these alpha males secretly participating in a romance book club! I love that.

Right?! So do I. I love that talon-wielding rooster, Randy, too. I had two male patrons at my library who read romance. I told them about this series back when The Bromance Book Club was still forthcoming, and they were so delighted.

This is the second book in the series, is that right? Will you be looking out for the next book in the series later this year?

Yes. Liv is the sister of Thea from the first book, The Bromance Book Club. I am really looking forward to the third book, Crazy Stupid Bromance, which is slated to drop in the States this October.

How many books do romance writers normally write every year? They seem to be a lot more prolific than (say) historians.

I feel like romance authors definitely have more works in progress going on than many other writers. The statistic we often see is about one to two books published per year.

Have you got a sense of just how many romance books are coming out each year?

According to NPD BookScan, romance represented 18% of total fiction sales in the U.S. in 2019 in both print and eBook formats (as of Feb 14, 2020—and their data did not include audiobooks). 40 million+ romance books were sold in the U.S. in both print and eBook formats, with a market value of $336+ million. And according to them, during the quarantine, contemporary women’s fiction and Westerns were up in terms of genre (that’s data from May 30, 2020).

Wow. That’s a huge market. How many do you read?

I average about a book a week nowadays.

The next book you’ve chosen for your 2020 romance books is The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon. This book has only just been published this month, but it’s already got a lot of rave reviews/excitement around it.

Yes, a ton of excitement around this one.

Samiah Brooks just found out that she’s been duped by the man she is dating. Coincidentally, two other women have been duped by the same guy, too. They decide to turn the tables by teaming up to say buh-bye to him, and saying hello to real friendship with one another.

Dubbing themselves ‘Squad Goals,’ they make an oath to take half a year off dating to focus on personal endeavors. Thus Samiah begins revisiting an idea for an app, only this time it will be for making ‘global connections with like-minded people’, instead of ‘dating’. Meanwhile, Daniel Collins has just started over in R&D and once they begin working together, Samiah quickly realizes she won’t be able to keep her vow to her new besties, no matter how slow she tries to take things with the adorably written Daniel, for all the right reasons.

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Rochon establishes true bonds between these women who are in the tech, medical, and fitness industries respectively, and allows each to really support one another. Readers will come to The Boyfriend Project for a totally witty rom-com, but they are also definitely staying for a story of real friendship and strong female agency. Break out the watermelon margaritas and dive right in!

Let’s look at book no. 3 of your best romances of 2020, Cowboy Come Home by Carly Bloom. Tell me all about it and why you like it so much.

I’m wondering if it’s because of Alice, the town librarian. But, seriously…

Roaming cowboy, Ford Jarvis, is back after two years to take a much needed, though expressly temporary, stint as foreman for Gerome Kowalski’s ranch. Gerome’s daughter, Claire, remembers what having Ford around is like and tries very hard to keep him and the pull between them at bay. Too bad Ford’s wandering spirit and cursed heart can’t get her off his mind either. Bloom’s will-they-won’t-they tension is great fun as it unfolds. Full of witty banter, lots of heat, a sprinkle of superstition, and a strong sense of community, this ‘second chance romance’ firmly places Carly Bloom at the top of the contemporary western genre.

The next romance book you’re recommending for 2020 is Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson. Great title. 

Jesse Strong and his three brothers just lost their adoptive mother, who owned the venerable shop, Strong Knits, in Harlem. After losing Mama Joy, do the four brothers sell or don’t they? Kerry Fuller not only grew up in the store, she now works there part time. Strong Knits is as much a part of her as anyone. Jackson’s novel really embraces a sense of community, a sense of space, and takes the time to build what family not only means, but is. The theming will give readers all the feels. And the secret-crush-on-the-player scenes exude plenty of witty banter—which, considering how many times I mention witty banter, is something I personally love in romance. A sense of loss felt throughout the story isn’t just about Mama Joy, it’s about the potential loss for neighborhood institutions and how we might step up for them.

Finally, on your list of 2020 romance books we have Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh. This looks like a brilliant one, though it’s still on pre-order so I wasn’t able to dip into it. Tell us what it’s about and why you like it.

Leigh’s books is a super witty mashup of Working Girl and The Secret of My Success, with a hint of The Breakfast Club. ‘Jess McGale’? Cynthia? Lord Trask? The use of the newspapers? Whitfield? Seriously, I caught every reference and had the best time reading this. It’s definitely in the contemporarily-written set of historical romances, with sharp pacing and cheeky world-building. Leigh’s heroines are always skilled and accomplished. And her heroes celebrate that. But it’s her play on 1980s feminism in 1817 England for a 2020 audience that is truly nuanced. Without giving too much away, there are aspects in the story, which are a necessary plot driver that those familiar with the films Leigh pays tribute to will pick up on, and will definitely keep readers rooting for her leads. It’s great fun to let go and be reminded of beloved Yuppie-era characters like Tess McGill and Brantley Foster. Also, I kept wanting that honey soap to be a real thing.

If you’re looking for additional comfort reads for 2020, here are five more I’d love to recommend: A Cowboy to Remember by Rebekah Weatherspoon, Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon, Jace by Sasha Summers, Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras and Stay With Me by Becky Wade.

Thanks so much Frannie, for selecting not five, but ten romance books for us! 

Thank you all so much for having me!

Interview by Sophie Roell

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

Frannie Cassano

Frannie Cassano spent nearly 20 years as an award-winning genre fiction and reference librarian. You can now find her sharing her experiences, as a guest writer and occasional TV contributor. She was the 2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year, awarded annually by the Romance Writers of America to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre.

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Frannie Cassano

Frannie Cassano spent nearly 20 years as an award-winning genre fiction and reference librarian. You can now find her sharing her experiences, as a guest writer and occasional TV contributor. She was the 2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year, awarded annually by the Romance Writers of America to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre.