Some of our reviewers will be sharing their top reads of 2019 from now through the end of the year! Today’s list is from Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle Dresser.
2019 was an awesome year for books. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to work with books every single day. In additional to being the editorial manager of Fresh Fiction, I’ve also started working closely with Love’s Sweet Arrow, the romance independent bookstore outside of Chicago. I’ve taken my love of books and cultivated a fulfilling career within the world of literature, and I’m so pleased to be able to share with you some of my favorite reads of the year.
I did my best to read widely and outside of my comfort zone – for me, that meant reading nonfiction and graphic novels (which I did do! Check out my Good Reads page here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/35789908-danielle-dresser). But I couldn’t stray too far away from my love of romance and literary fiction, which is what makes up the majority of my Top Reads of 2019.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert – This has to be, hands-down, the book I’ve recommended the most this year. Featuring a uniquely grumpy black-plus-size-chronically-ill heroine and a redheaded, tattoed, motorcycle-riding cinnamon roll hero, two people have to figure out their own lives and learn to navigate things together. There’s also a hilarious cat, a fabulous bucket list, a meddling but well-meaning family, and all the while, this book is heartwarming and moving, and ultimately tells a wonderful love story.
The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas – This is a lovely addition to the beloved Lady Sherlock series. Charlotte is as steadfast as ever, and all of her cohorts play a part in this suspenseful heist. One of my favorite aspects of the novel was their travels to France, and the complicated caper they set up to steal a valuable piece of art. I do recommend starting this series with book one, A Study in Scarlet Women–the mysteries stand on their own, but Charlotte’s personal life will be enjoyed more fully with all of the backstories.
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason – The back cover copy says this best: The Princess Bride meets Princess Leia. It’s rollicking good fun, feminist, coming of age, fantasy, sci-fi, and so much more. There are scorned fairies bestowing curses, teenage hackers, clones, destinies/fate, avoiding the inevitable and learning to accept it, and all the consequences in between. It has all the hallmarks of a wonderful sci-fi fantasy novel and I’m so glad there’s another book coming next year.
The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller – While at Love’s Sweet Arrow, the romance-focused indie bookstore I mentioned earlier, I overheard someone say this had been called a gothic-tinged historical romance, and it’s an apt description. I loved this scandalous widow returning on New York from her glamorous yet painfully fraught life in Europe, the handsome genius scientist she meets and can’t quite avoid (try as she might). Oh and there’s definitely a ghost haunting the old mansion she’s renovating (or is there?).
**PS Check out this fabulous Chicago Tribune article featuring the store and its wonderful owners, Roseann and Marissa!**
Well Met by Jen DeLuca – The “Ren Faire” romance! A reluctant Renaissance Faire barmaid and a sexy pirate in black leather pants start to fall for each other, but can their real-life personas of a woman searching for home and an uptight English teacher have a real, honest relationship? Opposites attract with a hint of enemies to lovers-these two characters have a lot to work on personally. The Maryland small town and Ren Faire are populated by a fabulous cast of quirky characters and I hope they all get their HEAs soon.
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore – Possibly my favorite debut of the year. . . In order to receive a scholarship to become one of the first female scholars at Oxford, a young woman must become a suffragette and canvas parliament as part of her continued education. Naturally, the first member of parliament she approaches is the powerful and influential Duke of Montgomery-a man so against everything the suffragettes stand for, the rest of her colleagues have given up talking to him. But circumstances bring them closer together and he begins to not only understand their cause but also see the brilliant mind and vivacious spirit of this woman.
Blitzed by Alexa Martin – While the romance in this book is great, the reason this book is on my list is because of the strong female friendships. Between the wives and girlfriends of the fictional professional NFL team and the women who frequent the bar owned by the heroine, these are all dynamic, spirited, fully-fleshed out women who have opinions, ideas, and will stand up for what they think is right and fight against what they think is wrong. The Playbook series is smart, sexy, and loads of fun, and I’ve enjoyed watching how the friendships between women developed alongside the stories of couples falling in love.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – I’m a long time fan of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, of which Linda Holmes is the host. She’d mentioned she was writing a novel from time to time on the podcast and I also knew she was romance-friendly, so I was thrilled to read her debut fiction novel that is romance adjacent. Two people who have gone through life-changing events–she’s a recent widow who hasn’t quite figured out how to mourn her husband and he’s a former professional baseball player who comes down with the yips (look it up-it’s real!)–and slowly fall in love. It takes place in Maine, which is as much of a character as the people who populate the quaint small town.
Smitten by the Brit by Melonie Johnson – Full disclosure, I know Melonie Johnson, do a lot of work with her at Love’s Sweet Arrow, and I think she’s wonderful. But I know I’d love this book whether I knew Melonie or not! Take a nerdy English teacher and a dashing impoverished duke, mix it up with Shakespeare and Star Wars references and add some spicy love scenes and you essentially have my romance novel catnip.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray – This is a heavy but deeply fulfilling read. It’s a complicated and nuanced look at modern black life, what it means to be a family, and how women support one another in times of crisis, but also in simple everyday things. The sisters at the center of this story are going through a major event–the incarceration of the eldest sister and her husband–and the consequences of their prison sentences is felt from their teenage daughters to the sisters and their extended families, friendships, and their place in the community. It’s a quiet novel with a loud message and one that should be heard.
Once Ghosted, Twice Shy and Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole – It wouldn’t be my top reads of the year list if I didn’t mention Alyssa Cole at least once, and these novellas set in the same world as the delightful Reluctant Royals feature scene-stealing side characters from the full-length novels. They’re fun, sexy, and quick reads, but the emotional payouts and character developments are spot on. Every pop culture reference and heartfelt moment are there for a precise reason given the shorter format, and yet the stories never feel rushed. Of course, I always want more time with any and all characters in the Reluctant Royals series and we’re all in luck because a spin-off series will hit stores next year!
Here’s to great reading, wonderful discussions, and MORE books in 2020. Cheers – and happy reading!
Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle Dresser is an avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher. Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business. She lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @dj_dresser.
BOOKS FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE:
Talia Hibbert, one of contemporary romance’s brightest
new stars, delivers a witty, hilarious romantic comedy about a woman who’s tired of being “boring” and recruits her mysterious, sexy neighbor to help her experience new things–perfect for fans of Sally Thorne, Jasmine Guillory, and Helen Hoang.
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost–but not quite–dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamourous family’s mansion. The next items?
Enjoy a drunken night out.
Ride a motorcycle.
Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
And. . . do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.
Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.
But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior. . .
Romance Contemporary [Avon, On Sale: November 5, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062941206 / eISBN: 9780062941220]
Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.
As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork–or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.
But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.
Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton–everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake. . .
The Thorne Chronicles #1
First in a duology that reimagines fairy tale tropes within a space opera–The Princess Bride meets Princess Leia.
Rory Thorne is a princess with thirteen fairy blessings, the most important of which is to see through flattery and platitudes. As the eldest daughter, she always imagined she’d inherit her father’s throne and govern the interplanetary Thorne Consortium.
Then her father is assassinated, her mother gives birth to a son, and Rory is betrothed to the prince of a distant world.
When Rory arrives in her new home, she uncovers a treacherous plot to unseat her newly betrothed and usurp his throne. An unscrupulous minister has conspired to name himself Regent to the minor (and somewhat foolish) prince. With only her wits and a small team of allies, Rory must outmaneuver the Regent and rescue the prince.
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes and a story of resistance and self-determination–how small acts of rebellion can lead a princess to not just save herself, but change the course of history.
A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets in this effervescent Gilded Age debut novel
It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time.
However, fresh starts aren’t as easy as they seem, as Alva
discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to
reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the
eccentric and brilliant professor Samuel Moore appears and
informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery
that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She
doesn’t need any more complications in her life–especially
not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one
like Sam. Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history–and her heart.
Set during the Gilded Age in New York City, The Widow of Rose House is a gorgeous debut by Diana Biller, with a darkly Victorian Gothic flair and an intrepid and resilient American heroine guaranteed to delight readers.
A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford
Rebels in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter
takes on a powerful duke in a love story that threatens to
upend the British social order.
England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.
Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring. . . or could he?
Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke. . .
Romance Historical [Berkley, On Sale: September 3, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781984805683 / eISBN: 9781984805690]
The Playbook #3
Maxwell Lewis has to make the play of his life in order to breach the woman of his dream’s defenses in this new football romance from the author of Fumbled.
Brynn Larson owes a lot to reality television and professional athletes. Her bar hit new heights of success after becoming a local haunt for the Denver Mustangs players and their WAGs. But although she’s grateful, that doesn’t mean she’s crazy. And that’s exactly what she would be to ever consider dating a professional athlete. Even if it’s Maxwell Lewis, whose shy smile makes her wonder what going on behind those beautiful brown eyes.
Maxwell knew from the moment he met Brynn that she was going to change his life. It was only a matter of time. But when he finally makes a move, fate conspires against him and everything goes wrong. Now he has to show her that their potential is real. Too bad for him, Brynn isn’t fooled by his glamorous NFL life, and when ghosts from both their pasts make a sudden reappearance, she must decide who she can trust. But when the person she’s most afraid of is herself, navigating life’s tackles is harder than anticipated.
Romance Sports [Berkley, On Sale: December 3, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780451491992 / eISBN: 9780451492005]
From the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast
comes a heartfelt debut about the unlikely relationship
between a young woman who’s lost her husband and a major league pitcher who’s lost his game.
In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.
When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.
Women’s Fiction Contemporary [Ballantine Books, On Sale: June 25, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780525619246 / eISBN: 9780525619253]
An English professor starts a new chapter in her life and is
swept up in a Jane Austen-esque romance with a modern-day duke
Bonnie Blythe has modeled her life after her favorite books. If only her fiance would get on the same page and agree to a wedding date.
She’s not at all bitter that her best friend is getting married to a man she’s known for less than a year, and Bonnie most definitely isn’t thinking about the best man to be, Theo Wharton. It’s just whenever she talks with the blue-eyed Brit, sparks fly.
When a shocking reveal ends Bonnie’s engagement, she accepts a summer teaching job at Cambridge–only an hour away from Theo. Bonnie isn’t ready for a new relationship, but the chemistry between her and Theo is impossible to ignore. But Theo’s been hiding the truth about his identity; will Bonnie be able to weather the plot twist and grab the happily ever after of her dreams?
Romance Contemporary [St. Martin’s Paperbacks, On Sale: May 28, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250193056 / eISBN: 9781250193063]
The Mothers meets An American Marriage in this dazzling debut novel about mothers and daughters, identity and family, and how the relationships that sustain you can also be the ones that consume you.
The Butler family has had their share of trials–as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest–but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.
Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband Proctor are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.
As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.
Women’s Fiction [Berkley, On Sale: February 19, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781984802439 / eISBN: 9781984802453]
While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy–so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.
When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.
Alyssa Cole delivers another fun, sexy romance novella in
the Reluctant Royals series!
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She’s finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.
Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime. . . except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?