Shelf Love

071. Personal Favorite Romances from 2020 with The Swoonies

Short Description

The Swoon Awards organizers drop in to share their exciting new romance award for readers. Ari, Amber, Lynell, and Nick were the perfect crew to join me to talk about favorite romances of the year and along the way we explain our own personal criteria for deciding what made the cut.


book recommendations

Show Notes

The Swoon Awards organizers drop in to share their exciting new romance award for readers. Ari, Amber, Lynell, and Nick were the perfect crew to join me to talk about favorite romances of the year and along the way we explain our own personal criteria for deciding what made the cut.

Show Notes:

Shelf Love:

Guests: The Swoon Awards

Website - submit a nomination/vote | Twitter

Ari: Goodreads ; Twitter | Amber: Blog ; Twitter | Lynell: Blog ; Twitter | Nick: Blog ; Twitter

Books Discussed:

Sign up for my email newsletter for the full list with more details!

Top Five Reads for 2020:

Ari's Top 5

Amber's Top 5

Lynell's Top 5

Nick's Top 5

Andrea's Top 5

Support the Holiday Fairies Gift Drive


[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci:   Hello and welcome to episode 71 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought provoking, critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre: romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And today my guests are The Swoonies or more specifically: Ari ,Amber, Lynell, and Nick, who are the organizers of a new reader's choice award for romance novels called The Swoon Awards.

In this episode, we talk about how everyone has different criteria for choosing their favorite romance novels. We also discuss the challenges of structuring an award that's basically a popularity contest while also focusing on lifting up voices that are not often prioritized in other award systems.

And we all share our own top five favorite romances that we read in 2020. You're going to hear about 21 books and one series that is totally cheating by taking up one book spot because it has 19 books in it.

This is admittedly a long episode, but we talk about a lot of books, so it's totally worth it. There are basically six sections of this episode that are approximately 10 to 15 minutes long. The first section where we talk about the award, and then there are five segments for each of us sharing our favorites. So there are logical places where you can pause and take a break before diving back in if you don't want to listen to it all in one go.

I also apologize because the sound quality on this recording is not ideal. There is a transcript for this episode that you can find on

I'm also going to create an easily digestible book list of all the books that we mentioned here with some quick information on why it was a top pick. However, I edited a 90-minute episode this week and turned it around in just five days, so I haven't had a chance to do that yet. But I am going to do it.

And if you sign up for my email newsletter list, you will get it. So go sign up if you haven't already. The best place to do that is on

Please do stick around at the tail end of the episode, to learn a bit more about the Romancelandia Holiday Fairies gift drive that I've organized and that I'm hosting on my website for the 2020 holiday season.

So I'm here with the organizers of The Swoon Awards, and I'm wondering how you all decided that this was a thing you wanted to do?

Nick: I'm Nick and I'm a [00:02:30] blogger at The Infinite Limits of Love. When the Goodreads Awards released their list of nominations, I was very frustrated and I was trying to be cute. So I posted a tweet on Twitter with a bunch of pictures of all of my favorite books this year. And Lynell responded to it and said, Oh, if only somebody created their own romance awards, hint, hint, and we kind of went back and forth. And I said, I'm not going to do this alone, but do you want to help me out? And then I forced Amber and Ari to join me because I knew both of them separately.

Andrea Martucci: And, as you guys started talking, I assume in back channels, what were the principles that guided how you decided to structure this award, as opposed to how let's say Goodreads structures their awards, or other awards structure their process?

Nick: So for me personally, I wanted transparency to be one of the most important principles of these awards. I wanted to make sure that it was clear how the books were being nominated, which is why it's a popularity based contest, right? So then we have people submitting their own nominations and after the nomination period ends we will release that original list, even the books that don't make it to the next round.

Amber: This is Amber. I'm a book blogger as well at du Livre. And along with what Nick said, like we see from GoodReads Choice Awards that sometimes they have books that are not released yet, or some books that have been released are not even available. So we wanted to have an opportunity for everyone to like at least have a chance to read all the 2020 nominations before making their final picks. So it really was comprehensive of the publishing landscape this year.

Andrea Martucci: I don't actually know how Goodreads structures their process. Is it known? Nobody knows. Okay.

Amber: I think like people assume it's like, based on like early reviews and popularity already and the buzz, but honestly, I don't really know if they have a, let's meet this criteria going forward.

Andrea Martucci: And so from looking on your website, it looks like you have three rounds that you're doing. And so can somebody explain the various rounds and what happens at each stage of the process?

Ari: I'm Ari. I am a ex book blogger, but I am still an avid romance reader.

So we have first our nomination rounds, which is where, readers can submit an unlimited amount of [00:05:00] nominations for each category, for the sub genres.

And then we have our semi-finals where we will choose them like the top 10 books that were nominated in each sub genre. And then individuals would be able to select a few of those choices and then the top choices in the semi-finals we'll move on to the final rounds and readers will choose one from each sub genre.

Andrea Martucci: And, could somebody also explain how you guys broke down the sub genres? Because it seems to me that because you're insiders of romance you are readers yourselves, you understand what the sub genres are - you broke the sub-genres down in a much better way than I've seen in other awards that really are catering more to either many different genres or just like half-heartedly throwing romance in as either one broad category or they're unsure how to categorize things.

Lynell: This is Lynell, I'm a blogger at The Weekend Reader. We spent a little bit of time talking about, the vast sub-genres within romance and what would make the most sense for nominating but also being very mindful that there's a bit of crossover and so we spent some time talking about, what does contemporary look like that could include sports, Black romance. So we tried to make sure that once we had the final list, it was broad enough to include everyone and specific enough so the nomination period, people would know where books would end up.

Amber: And I think it was helpful that we all read different romance. So we all had different feedback on like different sub-genres and like this, should we change this way? Because we all live in different parts of  romancelandia.

Andrea Martucci: And you mentioned that this is basically a popularity-based award. And so I wanted to talk for moment about that idea of when we have these lists of best, favorite, whatever, it's often a little bit opaque what we're doing, right? Like who determines what the best, what's the criteria?

And so popularity. I mean, this seems to me to be like a reader preference, it's purely based on like enjoyment versus this is the best, according to some rubric that we have created.

Amber: This is Amber, I can speak a little bit to that because in my day job, I work a lot with other book awards and there's always criteria of this book is capital I important, or like, you know, you you have different points you have to hit. And [00:07:30] while like romance novels are important for different reasons, too, it's important for us to have a connection with them as readers. It usually is aligned with the popularity, but it is that connection of yes, this spoke to me. It didn't have to necessarily talk about this, but it's something that I hold dear to my heart.

Andrea Martucci: So another issue that tends to come up with awards in general is when we're getting the opinions of lots of different people to try to come together and everybody does have different criteria in mind with what resonates with them and, there's been a lot of discussion in the romance community about how there's a lot of bias that readers have.

And, a lot of people are like, Oh, I don't know. It just didn't resonate with me. And it's like, why didn't it resonate with you? Hrm. A lot of times there are reasons beneath the surface that, get excused away, let's say. And so I'm wondering as you guys were sitting down and you're like thinking about the rules. And you're thinking about how you're going to structure this if there was any of that, that you were trying to mitigate in how you were structuring this, or now that you are in it and you guys are gathering nominations, is there anything you're noticing that you're like, Oh, I wish we had done something different here.

Amber: I think we can all talk about this.

Nick: Yeah,

Amber: go ahead, Nick.

Nick: Okay. So I'll speak a little bit to what we are seeing currently. So currently we have about 220 unique submissions. And in the contemporary category, at least we have over 600 different books that have been nominated. And within those 600, I want to say about 150 are unique titles.

So you do have some that are being nominated more often than the others. When we were discussing this award. One of the things we were very nervous about based on a previous popularity-based reader award was that it would be predominantly white. And we wanted to make sure that this didn't happen here.

So we have decided that if that does end up happening, we will take the executive decision as The Swoonies Board, to possibly insert into the semi-finals round some books that perhaps didn't make that top 10 list  but we're still dominated in that list into the semi-final list. But looking at the preliminary data, at least in the contemporary and historical, it's looking very good. It's not all white, which I'm very happy about.

Amber: And isn't that sad we were surprised by that, (laughs) [00:10:00] God.

Nick: Yeah, we were looking at the numbers and we were like, wow, we were not expecting this, but we were very happy to see that. And I think that the other reason that we're seeing this is because. Even though, we're a popularity contest and we hope that we will reach the entire romance community. We know that we won't, we're reaching mostly the Twitter community. And I think romance Twitter tends to read more diversely than say Facebook romance.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. That is an interesting question. Is there ever a way to have any award or a community that really represents a wider community. Like it's always these niches and so I think it's interesting that you've defined what you're doing is you're acknowledging, yeah, we're really reaching like Twitter romance community here. That's our primary audience and we know that, and we know that it skews a particular way.

Amber: Yeah. Because we've talked amongst ourselves, I think Nick and I about -  you look at the top 10 lists from like different bloggers or different Twitter users and they're very different from what sells. Like the Amish romance is definitely not on Twitter. So we don't have that same, like demographic that we're reaching that may be like, what's grabning your attention at your local Barnes and Noble, local indie and things like that. But I think like  Nick said, because we do have a demographic that's more responsive to recognize its own biases and like was trying to unpack it, especially in 2020, that we're seeing like a very broader, more like diverse, more realistic, list, which I hope stays true until the end.

Andrea Martucci: And as you said, it does sound like you are exerting some editorial control over what makes it into the second round. But then from there you're going to let the voting run its course.

Cool.  I think this has been made clear, but anybody can participate, but what are some ways that are like good ways to participate and encourage others to participate, and what are some ways that you'd prefer people not use the very open-endedness of this award and I'm thinking of something you guys mentioned.

Ari: Can I take this one because I got a bone to pick.

I really feel like the Swoonies is a reader-based award. It's a reader award for the readers by the readers. And I think it's great if readers just share amongst their friends, other bloggers, other types of influencers, but what we don't want to see is authors - it's great that you're promoting our Swoon awards which we want, but we don't need your [00:12:30] mom, your dad, your sister, your whole Facebook reader group, just not following our format and submitting their book so many times. Like we notice, we can see that you're trying to override the system in some type of way.

Andrea Martucci: And it sounds like what that looks like is when people are submitting, you have X number of sends in a submission where the only book they mention is in one category and they leave everything else blank. And it's very clear, you get a deluge of 20 that do that.

Amber: Yeah. Or they decide to put it for every single category of the same book.

Andrea Martucci: Oh boy.

Nick: Yeah. You'll be surprised to see how many of those we've gotten for the same book. It's the one book that's been getting those nominations.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. That's unfortunate. But at the very least it is good that you're going to correct for that. Don't do it like, let the Swoonies do what they're meant to do. Readers, share it with other readers, don't influence their decisions, but, spread the word.

Nick: Correct.

Andrea Martucci: And so other than bragging rights, do winners get anything

Amber: Just bragging rights. Know that you have the winners, hearts and love, and then we will go, we'll fight for you.

Nick: And we'll give you a small badge. Like a digital badge that you can display on your website.

Andrea Martucci: Nice. That is nice. And now organizing this seems like a lot of work. I wonder if you guys could say more about like how you see this evolving in the future, at least from the standpoint of being, about a month into it.

Nick: It's been a learning experience. We wanted to see how this was and it. it's well received by the community. We don't see any huge issues with the awards, and the finalist list at the end. yes, we are hoping that we will do this every year. How do we see this evolving?

I think we will need to come back after this is all over. We'll have to sit down together as a group and then decide, okay, what went wrong? What didn't we like? What didn't people like, we probably will submit interim reports, after each round - we want it to be transparent.

So we will have interim reports and where we will detail the books in each of the categories.

Amber: If it wasn't clear, Nick is our data nerd.

Nick: Yes,  love data. I love numbers. So I will be making beautiful reports.

Amber: One thing we want to make sure that it stays reader based like. We're not looking for like you know submissions from publishers or anything like that. We want readers to take and look at what they're reading and what stood out the most. And hopefully they continue reading [00:15:00] diversely past 2020.

Andrea Martucci: I hope so too!

I love your focus on readers here. I think a lot of awards can end up becoming, either focused on writers or focused on what has been traditionally published and therefore, what's very visible. I don't know if many people are that aware that like a lot of these "best of" lists are really influenced by the PR machine. So I appreciate what you guys are doing so much.

And, and I hope it goes well. And I love the transparency that you are approaching this with. And also that it sounds like you guys are approaching it with a spirit of experimentation. Like you're trying it, you're going to see how it goes. And you're open to change, open to figure things out as you go along and just keep improving it as you go.

Nick: Yeah, and, speaking of suggestions, we're a hundred percent open to any sort of suggestions and we've actually made changes already because we got some feedback that this wasn't right, but this wouldn't look great. We would be a hundred percent open to any suggestion at any time.

We're not going to feel bad, we're not going to take it personally. And we're learning. This is the first year that we're doing this.

Andrea Martucci:    

Marker [00:16:07]

So speaking of favorite romance reads, let's dive into our favorite romance reads of 2020. And so when I sent this over to you guys, I said, favorite thing you read in 2020.

So you all are advanced review copy readers. I also read some advanced review copies, so I feel like we safely have access to books that, are coming out through the end of 2020.

But I always like to keep things open also to things that were published in earlier years, but you just got around to reading for whatever reason.

And so the books we're going to talk about, maybe some of them were not published in 2020 and, or December 2019 and would not be eligible for a Swoonie Award, but we read it in 2020, and that's all that matters. So we are going to go through our top five reads for 2020, and we're going to start with Ari.

So Ari, could you say a little bit more - did you say you are a former book blogger, or retired book blogger?

Ari: Yeah, I, shut down my blog at the end of 2019. I still review from time to time on Goodreads, but I personally just enjoy reading romance more.

Andrea Martucci: And so what are your personal favorite sub-genres and what do you tend to gravitate towards [00:17:30] in romance?

Ari: So I love first and foremost contemporary romance with. I just feel like it's just the go-to you want something wholesome, sweet, a pick me up, you go to contemporary romance. And then, my second favorite is probably like erotica, dark romance mix. I liked the anti-heroes the best, just darkness, any book with a trigger warning in the front of the pages. That's me. I'm just going to be honest. I'm here for it.

Andrea Martucci: As you were narrowing down your top five, what did you have in mind in terms of criteria? What did books have to do to make it onto your top five?

Ari: A hundred percent. It had to make me cry. That is my top reads. How I went through my list. If this book made me cry, it was a contender as a top read.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So what was your first top read of 2020?

Ari: At the beginning of 2020, I had been reading The Smart Jock series by Rebecca Jenshak. It's, a new adult sports romance series. All the heroes are on the basketball team.

And my first favorite was The Tip-Off. It's the third book in the series. It's about a girl, before her freshman year of college, she got into a terrible accident. She has a lot of insecurities, but she still has physical scars from the accident, but she also has emotional scars. Then she befriends our hero whose name is the Zeke Sweets and he is a total sweetheart like his name says. He is, a basketball player on the team and he's more reserved. He's very quiet. And I think that's what brings together our heroine Gabby and Zeke, because they're the quiet of the friend group. And then sparks fly, but they both go in different directions when it comes to their futures.

But it's really sweet especially the ending

Andrea Martucci: So for fans of sports romance, and a new adult who like books that make them cry.

Ari: Highly recommend, especially you have to meet Zeke Sweets, he's literally the best thing ever.

Andrea Martucci: So what is your second favorite read?

Ari: So my second is another sports romance. It's called The Lineup by Meghan [00:20:00] Quinn. It is the third book in the Brentwood Baseball series. And, if you know me as a reader, Meghan Quinn is like one of my diehard favorite romance readers. I personally think she writes one of the best romcoms. This book is about a girl named Dottie. She is vice president of the company that her father owns.

And she recently got her heart broken. She was dating a man and she found out that he was basically using her for her status and her money.

After that, she's closed off to love and she doesn't want to deal with it. So her friends get the idea too hook her up with a baseball player named Jason Orson, who actually went to college with Dottie. And she had a crush on him, which she never pursued her feelings. And so Jason is just like this big teddy bear. He's literally wears his heart on his sleeve. He's such a jokester. He can't take anything seriously.

So he is basically spending most of this book trying to convince Dottie, take a chance on me. I know you've been hurt, but I'm not going to be that guy who's gonna play with your feelings like that. And this book has seriously one of the best, first kiss scenes I have ever read. When I read that first kiss scene, I actually screamed, it was so cute, and it's just funny. And it has like emotional aspects as well with these two. Cause Dottie does do something that hurts Jason. So they have to rebuild that trust between them at the end of the book,

Andrea Martucci: I'm sensing a theme of your heroes. Let's see if it - let's see if it continues. Okay. So what's number three.

Ari: My next book is The Roommate by Rosie Danon, apologies if I pronounce the last name wrong. I had actually had an ARC of this book, but I didn't read it until a couple months after it was released. And mainly I read it because all my friends were stating it was so great.

Andrea Martucci: Peer pressure.

Ari: Yeah, so basically this book is about a girl named Clara and she comes from a rich family on the East Coast in Connecticut, and she has a best friend who's living on the West [00:22:30] coast.

And he invites her out to get out of her shell, do something new, and she's had a crush on him since they were kids. And she's like, this is my chance. I'm going to tell him how I feel, going to take that big step. And she finds out, he's not staying there, in the apartment that she's going to be staying at and he actually has a roommate who she doesn't know. His name is Josh.

And she has the mend her broken heart with her unrequited love feelings from her best friend. And Josh is an adult film actor whose contract is going to be up. And he's basically getting screwed over by the sex industry and -

Andrea Martucci: no pun intended or pun intended,

Ari: both? Both. So Josh and Clara come together to make their own films. The main goal of these films are to promote what they feel is important in the industry right now, which is just some things that are satisfying to the female.

My favorite thing about this book. It's probably the secondary character, Naomi, she's such a spit fire. She reminds me of myself. She's very vocal on how she feels. Her book comes out soon. So I really hope I can read hers.

Andrea Martucci: And I think she falls for a hot rabbi.

Ari: Yes. So I want to see how that works out. Because she is just a lot to handle. So I'm hoping maybe he grounds her a bit?

Andrea Martucci: Listen as somebody who is also a lot to handle, I love to see it.

Ari: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: All right. So what's number four?

Ari: My next book is actually Call Me Maybe by Cara Bastone. It's actually a book Nick recommended that I listen to, and I listened to it within 24 hours. I started this book on the train. I work in New York City. So, you know, on the train, everyone is staring at you. I am so glad for face masks because I had the biggest smile on my face while listening to this book. It was hilarious.

So basically this book is about a woman. Her name is Vera. She owns a business called Date in the Box and her website is not [00:25:00] running accordingly and she has a big convention coming up.

So she calls up customer service to help her get her site running. And she gets on the phone with a guy named Cal and sparks kind of start flying between them. They start talking about family and stuff. And my favorite thing about this book is just not even the storyline. It's just the narrators themselves.

It's a complete production. You even have like sounds from the cat, Cal's cat. It's so cute. And then the plot twist was this funny though, because these two, I don't want to give it away, but they spend a lot more time talking when this could have happened a lot sooner. That's what I'm going to say about it.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. That sounds like a really interesting setup, like a modern, epistolary-ish novel, but then also, people falling in love without ever having seen each other. That sounds really interesting. All right. What's your last pick?

Ari: So my final book is actually my most recent read. It is another Meghan Quinn book. It is her newest release called See Me After Class.

And it is about a straight-laced English teacher. He is the head of the English department at the high school, and his name is Arlo. And we have our new English teacher whose name is Greer. And she comes in and she's shaking things up in the department, not doing things according to how Arlo likes it.

And so Greer gets this idea, let me pull some pranks on Arlo. So she convinces Arlo's best friends and other teachers to help her pull the praying and all while they're pulling pranks, both Arlo and Greer is realizing, Hey, we have feelings for one another, but Arlo,  he doesn't have the best lifestyle growing up. So making intimate connections is really hard for him.

And he basically has to learn to open himself up to Greer and allow himself to love her and just show him more in-depth about himself.

This book is just, it starts off extremely funny. And then it gets really sexy, and then it gets really sweet at the ending. I think the way Arlo [00:27:30] convinces Greet, like I'm the one for you, is really great.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, that sounds lovely. I love that, the roller coaster of extreme emotions, but hitting all the right beats.

Yeah. Awesome, those are amazing recommendations. And for other people who like books that make them cry, they should definitely check those five out.

Ari: Yeah, you will happy cry and sad cry. There is no bad crying about them.

Andrea Martucci: Only good crying.

Ari: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: All right. Thank you, Ari.

Marker [00:27:59]

  Amber let's talk a little bit about your recommendations. So first of all, what are your favorite subgenres and where do you talk about books?

Amber: Yeah, so my favorite subgenres are contemporary romance and fantasy romance. Although I will say I've been complete trash this year at reading fantasy romance.

I think I just haven't had the brain space to be like, yes, let me read this 500 page Epic love story. I'm going to try to get through all my old, like my backlog of fantasy romance in December, since I don't really have advanced copies to get through. I talk books mostly on my blog du Livre, which started off as a young adult blog and has just sprouted to everything I'm reading right now. And also I'm on Twitter under the same handle.

For me, the winners, like Ari said, I have to feel some kind of emotion. I do want to cry, but as the years go on, I find out that I have a blacker and blacker heart and it takes more and more for me to cry. So as long as I feel like some kind of emotion, like sad, happy, relieved, something and opposite of Ari - although I don't know, Ari, your recommendations were very cinnamon roll heroes. I didn't see any antiheroes in those. So also my favorite are definitely the cinnamon roll heroes, which I think is in almost all of my top picks.

Ari: I haven't been really reading dark romance this year with everything going on with the pandemic. I'm like, I'm going to stick to cute stuff because I really need it right now.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I saw Rebekah Weatherspoon made an interesting point on Twitter about the term cinnamon roll hero where, I think the main thrust of her point was basically like, it's just dudes who are not immersed in toxic masculinity.

Amber: Yes. So hard to find nowadays.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, exactly. And you're a librarian, right?

Amber: I'm not a librarian. I consider myself a library champion. I work with libraries very closely.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So what are your top five for 2020?

Amber: Yeah, so I share one with Ari, so I'll get that out of the way, The Roommate by Rosie [00:30:00] Danan. And then once again, opposite reason for why Ari liked it.

You said you liked it more so for Naomi and you saw yourself in Naomi, I finally saw myself in Clara. Just cause she was like a very uptight, unsure like, flower child of like, what is life? And there's a scene in the book where she's learning to drive for the first time.

And I have had my license since I was 16, but I live in Chicago. We don't leave the city. So I just use public transit. And I was like, you know what, it's time to start driving again. And I felt for Clara so hard after 10 years of not looking out, after like four years of not driving, just okay, merging on the highway.

So also because that book made me laugh. It made me smile. Like it was just such a pure, like sexy, fun book that it was, it's hard not to love it.

Andrea Martucci: It's a really good debut.

Amber: Yeah. Very strong. I can't wait to see Naomi's book, which she said was very different. So I'm really interested to see how her writing range is.

And then my second book, I had on audio, which I recommend, is Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. If you haven't read it, I feel that the term romcom is used a lot nowadays, but rarely do I find myself comming out loud. So in this one, I actually did laugh a couple of times. Like I loved like Luke's and Oliver's like dynamic and their friends group. So for those who don't know, Luke is a, like the son of a washed up musician. And he's just trying to like, not be like total chaos and a hot mess that he is. And so he forms a fake relationship with the most uptight stodgy guy he knows, and  just their friend group and like their interactions. And his mother is just so funny and so sweet at the end. You can't not laugh during this book.

Andrea Martucci: Alexis Hall is a very funny writer. I read Glitterland recently and there was lots of comming out loud. (Amber laughs)

Amber: I'll have to add that to the list.

Andrea Martucci: All right. What's number three?

Amber: Girl Gone Viral. This is our cinnamon roll hero's in here. I see Lynell also supports that choice. so it's the second book in Alisha Rai's modern love series in which it's Katrina's story. And she's like a shy, like into herself. She was a model and she was taken advantage of, exploited for money by her father.

And she just does not want that attention, does not want that scene anymore. And so when her older husband passes away, she's like a rich widow. And she's left with the body guard who they both are like so much pining, so much pining.

Andrea Martucci: I love pining.

Amber: Everyone's just like, you guys love each other. They're like, no, we don't love each other.

It is like that for a good, like 400 [00:32:30] pages. And it's just so great. I loved it. Cause they're just like so sweet for each other.

Andrea Martucci: Tell me about the pining.

Amber: so much,

Andrea Martucci: Amber, why do you like pining?

Amber: I love emotion. Like for me, romance has to make me feel, like you have to love that they love each other.

And so the longer that they are the will, they won't be the more invested I become like, Oh God, that being so close, they're gonna do it. And then we kind, kinda keep teasing you with that. love story until you like really do feel the payoff of yes, these two deserve to be together.

They worked for it. Brava, So I just love the longer it takes for them to realize they're being idiots  that they love each other, like the higher rating it gets for me.

Andrea Martucci: Anticipation.

Amber: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: All right. Number four.

Amber: Four is more cinnamon rolls. So Take a Hint, Dani Brown, by Talia Hibbert, which I'm sure will appear a many top 10 lists, across the board.

And so it's Chloe sister Danica or Dani's book and she's just a bad-ass, and she's a witch, she knows what she wants, very comfortable with her sexuality and like what she wants out of everything. She's a STEM girl, like she's great.

And then she's got this super cute relationship with the campus hall security guard, Zafir. And he is grieving some losses that he's had, and he's just like very unsure of himself. He listens to romance novels on audio. I, too listen to romance novels on audio. So like I relate.

And the two of them once again, form a fake dating relationship. And of course they fall in love along the way. And it's once again, just so funny and heartwarming and I'm not ready for this series to end.

So I will be fine if Talia can find more siblings to write about.

Andrea Martucci: Distant cousins.

Amber: Grandma, we'll take it.

Andrea Martucci: Ooh. (Amber laughs) I'd like that. All right. Number five,

Amber: Five. I snuck in. Y A romance, because I'm usually not a YA contemporary romance reader, but this one made me so happy. And I have this one on audio as well. And it's, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson.

And it's just the most pure like romance. Like you just feel so happy and smiley the whole time, listening to it or reading it. And it's Liz Lighty Who's like, I am leaving small town, Indiana. I'm gonna get a scholarship. I'm gonna play my - I think it's a flute- but she plays an instrument. She's gonna go long. She's going to leave, become this hot name, but then she gets denied a scholarship. And so for some reason, their prom has a scholarship tied to the King and queen. okay. I guess we're doing it. [00:35:00] And so along that way, she meets another prom queen, like candidate Mack, and the two become friends and like flirty and relationshipy.

And it's just so sweet and I love her friend group, cause there's also like infighting with like friends, like realizing what's toxic to her and how to reverse that. And also finding old friendships and falling back into that pattern with that person. So just a very good, like coming of age, feel good love story .

Andrea Martucci: Do they kiss?

Amber: They kiss. It's so cute. And we need more like FF teen romance specifically, but romances all round. So it just made me so happy.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I've heard really great things about that book. I'm always a little wary of YA cause I need romance and sometimes it's hard to tell with YA how much of an emphasis on the romance there is, but it sounds like this one has a very strong romantic element.

Amber: Yeah. She's just cool, like she likes nineties things. So I'm like, you're a cool teenager. I know all these things and like I want to write Netflix and be like, this is the next movie you need to make because I will watch it on repeat.

Andrea Martucci: I think it's funny - so a teenager who's really into the nineties.

Amber, I'm going to take a guess that you're a millennial, like I am, and we were sort of teenagers in the nineties. So I love how this is basically just packaged for it to resonate with us. Oh, somebody's into things in the nineties. Cool!

Amber: I can relate

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. Those are awesome picks. Thank you so much.


Marker [00:36:29]

   So Lynell, can you share a little bit more about what you do in romancelandia, and what books you tend to focus on?

Lynell: I'm Lynell and my blog is The Weekend Reader, and it was fashioned off of creating a space for busy people and to try and figure out ways to carve out time, which, the weekend seemed to be the best time to do that.

I primarily read contemporary romance with a little bit of mystery suspense and I really enjoy stories that focus on women finding agency, having really supportive friend groups and strong, connections to their family.

Andrea Martucci: And so when you were deciding what books to add to your list, what made something rise to the top and how did you make those hard decisions?

Lynell: Yeah, so I'm super indecisive.  So when I sent off my list, I think 30 seconds later, I was like, wait, I [00:37:30] want to add this. So what I really focused on, is picking books that centered Black women falling in love, because I think we have a lot of stories that maybe don't always center Black women falling in love and being in healthy, supportive relationships. So I think that was what I really focused on. And so I picked authors that  I trust to talk about Black women falling in love.

Andrea Martucci: And so I will say that there was at least one book on here, by one of my favorite people on earth who, I was like, Oh, how much favoritism is coming into me wanting to put her on my list? And then I saw it on your list and I was like, okay. All right. I feel safe. It's covered.

Lynell: Oh now I want to know who.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, Katrina Jackson obviously.

Lynell: Yes, Katrina Jackson is masterful in the way she writes, so I'm happy though. Oh, we share that together.

Andrea Martucci: Look, I've already spoiled it for you. I'm looking at number one on your list and it's Office Hours by Katrina Jackson.

Lynell: Yes, it is. So it's about Dasia, who is going through the tenure process and she has a little crushy poo on Alejandro, and she doesn't realize that he also is digging her.

And so Office Hours, it's about, the two of them kind of figuring it out and, getting together. And I really enjoy that he supported - he listened to her. Especially when she was talking about how her tenure process is vastly different from him, because one he's a man and two, he doesn't have to do  the same amount of emotional labor to be taken seriously.

And I think what I really enjoyed is that he took the time to listen. And even though he might not have identified with her experiences he validated and on page asked how he could be supportive. And so I thought that was really beautifully done and, they have a lot of great sex, which is very important, in a Katrina Jackson story.

So it was really great to read.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah,  I loved too, as you mentioned, that the book explored intersectionality because Alejandro is of Mexican descent, I believe. And  he is a man of color and, Dasia is a Black woman and, discussing the intersectionality of the difference between, [00:40:00] men and women in academia, alongside race, like it's not just white men and everybody else, there are these like intersecting identities that come together with how there's different expectations placed upon people.

Lynell: He still has privilege being a man in academia. So yeah, she did a really great job talking through that, in what felt like a very short novel.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And it's, it's hot

Lynell: So hot!

Andrea Martucci: And it's a little painful, but like in a cathartic way, because it all works out.

Lynell: And I also work in higher education, so it was really comforting to read that nerdy professors still can have like very, sexy time and it's not just about publishing or research or what have you. So I really enjoy that as well.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Between grading papers, you can pine and fuck,

Lynell: Right. Yes, exactly. And it'd be good.

Andrea Martucci: Yes.

Lynell: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: All right. Number two.

Lynell: Number two was Book Date with a Boyfriend from Lucy Eden, it's a novella and it's about Jordyn flying in for an interview for a tech company. And she happens to stop into a bookstore and this, what we perceive to potentially be a creeper, is giving her book recommendation and they ended up spending the day exploring the city together. And it was so sweet and if I could live out a book in real life, this book would be it because it was so  well paced, they communicated, like they knew each other. And so I know some people hate instalove, but it felt so naturally done that over the space of 24 hours, you could just really dig a person and it not just be creepy. And so I really loved how they were able to get together. And then the epilogue, was the next part of their story, which just was sweet and you saw the growth and still sexytimes. So that was great.

And then I won't say - there's a bit of a tension, when we find out more information about Mike, but the way it was resolved, I think still gave Jordyn some agency and they prioritize the relationship. So it resolved in a way that felt like it makes sense so she could still focus on her career.

Andrea Martucci: So I actually covered this one on the podcast with [00:42:30] Katrina Jackson, and, yeah, we talked about that falling in love in a day type story and how do you resolve that in a realistic way?

Lynell: It just provides like the space of, we could still be hopeful to meet someone and it just works and it feels effortless. So I thought that was really hopeful for the singles out there, including me, to be hopeful to meet someone and it just be sweet and easy.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. All right. What's your number three pick?

Lynell: My number three pick is Ties That Tether. And it's written by Jane Igharo. It's about Azere and Rafael, they meet, for what we assume to be a one night stand and then it unfolds, they have some  similarities in work environment. I'm trying not to give away too much about the book, for those who haven't read it. And so they are connected by one of the tropes that I personally don't enjoy, which I won't say because it's a central part of the book. But they have to communicate and work through, what their relationship is going to look like, because it's sped up.

And the reason I really enjoyed this one is, Azere is struggling with dating Rafael, who is Spanish from Spain and she's first generation Nigerian . And I enjoyed the book because interracial dating is something prevalent in the US, but being a first generation migrant, not dating someone from your culture or ethnic group is not always a viable option and just the conversations about how do you continue traditions, especially like the way you name your children or how you communicate with elders. How does that get lost in interracial dating? I thought was really an interesting conversation that we don't always think about for people who are not used to, or open to interracial dating.

Andrea Martucci: What's number four.

Lynell: Yeah. So the fourth one is a surprise to me, because it is a dark romance.

It's Dirty Hearts by Kenya Wright and it's a part of a Russian mafia series, which I typically don't read. And , we find out that - I'm going to say the [00:45:00] short name Kaz, his money launderer is murdered and he has to find a new person to launder his money in the US.

It's so

Andrea Martucci: inconvenient when your money launderer gets murdered,

(laughs) Lynell: And you have to fly from Russia to figure out what's happening because you don't trust anyone in your organization to figure it out for you. And so one of his lower level guys' sister also launders money for another mafia organization. And, her name is Emily and she has some, not some great things happen to her.

So she is very swift and quick on her feet to say the least. And so she's able to like navigate really, what I would consider, difficult situations really cunningly. And so Kaz is intrigued by her level of, creativity we'll say.

And Kaz is really interesting because he is a mob boss who is known for his enjoyment of torture. And, there's this. Sub plot about Emily, that gets eventually resolved in the second book. But what I think I enjoyed about it is that I never understood how an evil person on paper could want to be loved or cared for, or, be normal (laughs) and their relationship is as normal as it comes because they're struggling with communicating and, him not being able to use the same kind of approaches in barking, out orders with Emily. She's no, I'm my own person. And you don't get to talk to me that way Or, you can't make these decisions without including me. So the tone of their relationship - and they have sex all over the place, which, I guess as a mafia boss, you can, in the middle of a meeting, go have sex with your girlfriend and no one blinks an eye.

But it was interesting to the, how someone who has this dark enjoyment to also want to be loved and cared for in the most human kind of way. They kill a lot of people along the way. And, I think for someone who typically doesn't read dark [00:47:30] romances, it was definitely jarring that, in one scene he's ripping off someone's limb and then he's like, Oh, I want to buy Emily this gift and it, it's very jarring but also kind of sweet.

Ari, Tell me if that makes any sense, but I definitely indulged in the series.

Andrea Martucci: I saw this factoid pop up the other day. I don't know if you're familiar with the John Wick movies, but apparently he kills 299 people in those movies, which people added up is more than all of the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies. Like the serial killers in those movies over the course of like 21 movies kill fewer people than John Wick, all over a puppy.

Amber: I stopped when the puppy died, honestly. So

Lynell: Oh no, I love John Wick. And if someone wants to turn that into a romance, I would be so for it, His wife dies, and so I think his love for her, to see him fall in love again, would be amazing. Maybe with a Halle Barry character. I don't know?

Andrea Martucci: They should call you for casting help.

Lynell: I would like that.

Andrea Martucci: One day I want to unpack mafia romances. I haven't read enough yet, but I have lots of questions.

Lynell: Yeah, I do too. I'm still not sure if I'm comfortable enjoying them because there's definitely some content warnings, about sexual abuse, that people should be mindful going into.

And there's definitely some gaslighting. And so I think, there's definitely some things that, for me at least, I had to be in the right head space for, no one's really dying in real life, hopefully in this manner.

But yeah, I would love to hear someone unpack mafia romances, because it's very new to me.

Andrea Martucci: All right now, number five. I actually did leave on my list. So what's your number five.

Lynell: My number five is, How to Catch a Queen. And really, I was trying to make sure that all of my top reads were in 2020. But I really just loved the reluctant Royal series. And so the fact that it's going to continue in another kind of fantastical way was just super exciting.

But it's about, Shanti and Sonyu who are recently married, because he's going to assume his father's kingdom. And so we learn [00:50:00] about their marriage of convenience or really duty. And, Shanti is very ambitious Sonyu doesn't want to be King.

And so how you have the roles reversed where you have someone who wants to be in a role and someone who is by birth in the role not wanting it is a really interesting dynamic and all of our favorite characters from The Reluctant Royals come back in the form of text messages. And so we still get a little glimpse of my favorite couple is Naya and Johann, and they play a central role in helping create community, which I think is really important, that I think romance does really well. The side characters always create this level of either intrigue or helping the main characters make better decisions. And so overall, I think this story in itself is a lot different from the other books in the series, but it helps give context to why this relationship either needs to work or can work, even though it's based in not great circumstances.

And that the other that I really enjoyed is that we don't often read about men's mental health, especially Black men. And, he's struggling with anxiety and he doesn't realize it because of toxic masculinity that's baked into tradition. And so over time, we're getting to hear him realize and almost give language to why he is always so anxious and what does that look like and how Shanti helps him build better coping skills to be able to fully be a good King.

Andrea Martucci: And that one is out December 1st!

Lynell: And that one, yes! And, Amber and I just did an ask me anything with Alyssa Cole yesterday, which sounds like a shameless plug but I want to be very transparent and say that if Alyssa Cole wrote, "The gum is in dirt." I would look probably love it.

Andrea Martucci: You'd be like, I can't wait! Going to check that out.

Lynell: Yeah, Just tell me, I think between her and Katrina Jackson, if they said the sky is red, I probably would be like, That was written so beautifully!

I know that's part of you know, my bias.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.   [00:52:30]awesome.

Marker [00:52:30]

Okay. I'll share more about, also why I enjoyed How To Catch a Queen later, but first let's go head over to Nick.

Nick, what is your connection to romancelandia and what do you enjoy reading the most?

Nick: I started blogging in 2011 as a teenager and reviewing YA books mostly and then I've transitioned into romance in the past, I wanna say three years. My favorite genre currently is contemporary romance. I do enjoy the occasional fantasy romance when Amber forces me to read them. Okay.

Amber: Indeed.

Nick: And I also do enjoy historical romance, but I think I'm growing a little tired of it,

Andrea Martucci: That's okay, your interest waxes and wanes over time. So when you were deciding your top five, what was your criteria?

Nick: So I have read over 170 books this year, which was surprising because I am a PhD student.

I don't know where I found the time. But, for me, the most important thing was that I enjoyed the book and that I forced my friends to read the books.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. The books that you went out of your way to push upon other people were good enough to make it to the top five .

Nick: Right, Yes. And I am a very good book pusher.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, you are!

Nick: I'm very aggressive. I'm aggressive with my book pushing, especially with friends.

Andrea Martucci: All right. So what were your top five? Let's start with number one.

Nick: All right. So number one is The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller. This one came out in October of 2019. So the concept is that it's 1875 New York and a young widow called Alva is planning on restoring this old mansion.

But the problem is that it has a reputation of being haunted. Then we have the hero who is Samuel Moore, who comes from this family of very eccentric and brilliant scientists. And he is insistent on helping her, unraveling the mystery behind the hauntings in her mansion, but she wants nothing to do with him, but he still keeps showing up anyways.

And it's a romance novel so we all do what eventually happens. And I liked this book mostly for Samuel who is 100% book husband material. So if nobody has read it yet, If anybody hasn't read it yet, please do. And it's a take on the grumpy and sunshine trope, but the grumpy one is Alva the heroine and Samuel is the sunshine one. He has [00:55:00] a ton of energy. And I like to describe him as a puppy because he is so devoted and is in love with Alva and he's 100% about her. And it also has a really great secondary cast and the book is spooky, but I wouldn't call it scary.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. He's like a golden retriever who would totally protect a family if threatened

Nick: 100 %. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Full disclosure, this is on my list too. So I'm going to talk about this one later too. and I don't know - okay. Help me work out the chain because I'm pretty sure I saw Arya talking a lot about this book. Did you influence Arya at all?

Nick: No, I think she influenced me because I've had this book. I own this book ever since she mentioned it, but I didn't pick it up until this year. I think I was a little hesitant to pick it up because, it didn't - when you look at the cover, it doesn't scream romance, at least to me. So yeah, I don't think it was marketed as a romance either until, Arya wrote her review.

Andrea Martucci: I swear. Like I'm going to hit every single one of those things you just said later when I talk about this, it's so funny how important the cover is for our perception of if this is a book that we want to read.

Nick: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: So thank you, Arya for bringing this to all of our attention.

All right. Number two.

Nick: So number two, please don't hate me. This is a book that doesn't come out until March 21. It's Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron. I received an advanced readers copy of this from Forever romance, but this doesn't influence any of my opinions of the book. So the book is about Reena, who is in an unhappy place in her life when it comes to both her career and her love life.

Her parents who are very much typical South Asian parents tend to be very meddlesome and are constantly trying to set her up with good Muslim bachelors. The only thing that she really loves doing is baking bread and cooking. So when an opportunity to be on this family-style cooking show arises for her she manages to convince her new neighbor to pretend to be her fiance on their show. And her neighbor and Nadim also happens to be one of the bachelors that her parents have tried to set her up with.

So there was a lot that I really liked about this book. The romance for instance, is a very slow progressing romance, which goes from minor dislike at the beginning to friendship to more. And I'm also a big sucker for a good fake relationship romance. And I thought this was done really well. But most importantly, I [00:57:30] think are related to the depiction of growing up in a South Asian family.

It explores the culture, love and cuisine really well. And it does a very good job at showing both the ups and downs of what it's like to be part of the South Asian community.

Andrea Martucci: And is this Farah's second book?

Nick: Yes, it's the second book and the character Reena is the best friend of Amira from the first book The Chai Factor.

Andrea Martucci: Gotcha. Okay. So if somebody is like, wow, that sounds really good. And I can't read that until March. Thanks, Nick. they can go check out book one. (laughs) 

Nick: I'm sorry. It's worth the wait. I promise.

Andrea Martucci: Awesome. All right. What's number three?

Nick: Number three is a book that a lot of romance twitter has read. It's Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade. So this book, for those who are unaware, is about Marcus, who is an actor on a popular fantasy show called Gods of Gates, he has a secret, he anonymously writes fan fiction to get out his frustrations with the show's writing, particularly when it comes to the fan favorite couple on the show.

And then we have April who is a fan of the show and loves to cosplay characters from the show. And one day she posts a photo of her in her costume and it goes viral. And because she's a fat woman, it invites all these ugly comments and trolls. And Markus sees this trolling, and publicly, asks her out on a date. The first date doesn't go very well, but they do continue to date a few times. But what April doesn't realize is that she had been communicating with Marcus's online persona and abandon, and he doesn't reveal that to her until later on.

So the reason that I loved this book is because Olivia Dade - I know Olivia Dade from Twitter and she is one of the sweetest people online, but also she writes fat heroines with a lot of kindness, I think.

I like that her characters aren't defined by their fatness, they're comfortable in their skin. And despite what society tells them. And they lead very fulfilling lives, both when it comes to their career, as well as their love lives, and since April, in the book is part of this fandom. It's a big part of her life. And she's also a geologist, which very cool. I've never read a geologist heroine before.

And also, Olivia Dade's heroes are cinnamon roll heroes who are very soft and loving, and Marcus is definitely that. I saw this description of Marcus [01:00:00] as being Himbo, at least in the public eye, which just means that he is this attractive man who is stupid.

But he's created this image for himself because he doesn't want the prying from the media and the public, but he's actually a very intelligent man, but he grew up with a learning disability and that went dismissed by his parents. So the romance hero was also very sweet as all of Olivia's romances are. They're very open and communicated with each other. with the exception of Marcus's secret, of course.

Andrea Martucci: There's always a secret, a  terrible secret.

Nick: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: All right. What's number four?

Nick: The Hidden Moon by Jeannie Lin. This is a story of Wei-wei, who is a well-educated young woman who comes from a very well respected family in China and it's set in the Tang Dynasty. So as a woman in that era, she was often like overlooked by her family and the sons in the family were favored. She wants to be independent and free and really use her intelligence for good.

So when her brother becomes embroiled in an investigation of a high profile murder, as someone who is tied to the emperor, she actually gets the opportunity to use all her smarts.

So this has also where Gao her love interest, shows up and he is this lowly street hustler. So they come from very different backgrounds. There's a lot of pining between them and it's a forbidden romance.

So this book I read because of Arya. I've been trying to make more of an effort to read more non-advanced reader copy books this year, and trying to listen more to recommendations from other readers.

And I started this feature on my blog that I called, Twitter Made Me Read It. And this one came from Arya. And I really loved the writing in this book, and I get, at least for me, I hadn't ever read a book that was set - at least a romance novel set - in the Tang  dynasty era. And Jeannie Lin's, her writing is gorgeous. She makes the setting stand out. I felt like I was there with the characters. And also the romance worked really well for me because it was soft, so, so  soft. And they're both really likable character who just really liked each other. And I'm a sucker for yearnings, especially if it's coming from a character who is a little stoic and cold at first.

Andrea Martucci: In episode 58 of Shelf Love, scholar Hsu-Ming Teo came on and was talking about [01:02:30] her research into, various things, but she was actually, she was unpacking a little bit about how, like the time at which Jeannie Lin is writing, like the Tang dynasty,  culturally, the cultural ideas about love would have been very different.

And she was exploring how Jeannie Lin, she navigates our modern cultural understandings of love and infuses it into, a different time period. Anyways, it was just like a really interesting thing to think about, like how the idea of love changes over time. So the Tang dynasty was like, thousands of years ago. I don't - a long time ago, a really long time ago. So not just, that Chinese culture was different, but it was also like a really long time ago and our idea of love has evolved over time and in different cultures. So I'm looking forward to reading more Jeannie Lin, and I guess now you're making me read this.

Nick: Yes. I also, I think this was part of a three book series. I haven't read any of the previous books, so I like that these could be read as standalones, but I do want to work my way back and read some of the others, I think, especially because, one of the books is about her brother who was very likable.

Andrea Martucci: Now your last pick, as I noted before is totally cheating. What's your last pick?

Nick: So my last pick is Psy Changeling series by Nalini Singh. So this is a series for those of you who may not be aware, that set in this alternative futuristic science fiction universe, it's set on earth, but it has to be three different races, where there are the humans.

Then we have the changelings who can shapeshift into animals, and the Psy who had these mental abilities that they've been rehabilitated to not feel any emotions. And at the start of the first book, despite these three races  cohabitating, thye are on the verge of war, and there are obvious cracks that are emerging in this society.

And each of these books featured a different couple, but there is an underlying storyline throughout the series, which is why I would recommend reading these books in chronological order.

So this series, my friends, Lisa and Katie have been trying to get me to read them forever. I think I'm unique in that I came to Nalini Singh through her contemporary romances, which are fantastic by the way.

But I was obviously hesitant to start a series that is 19 books long and still ongoing with the spin-off. The pandemic started and I was [01:05:00] like, you know what? I have the time now. I'll just start it.

And once I started, I couldn't stop reading. Thank goodness for the public library. They had all of the books, eBooks, and they were all readily available, no holds. Otherwise I don't know how much money I would have spent on these. So I don't want to go into too much details about this series, especially for those who haven't read it, because I know once I start talking about them, I will spoil everything.

But. If you want to meet my husband, Caleb, who is probably the most powerful and scariest character in the series you shared most definitely read the series. It's very good entertainment and it will help you escape real life and not stress about the pandemic.

Andrea Martucci: So if you have time to read 19 books and counting, check out Nalini Singh's Psy Changeling series, and I've read one with Alyssa Cole, I read Wolf Song. And that one's like smack dab in the middle, I think. And I like came in and I was like, okay, I know I'm missing things. I'm totally missing things here. So start at the beginning, if you're going to read them.

Nick: I think you could potentially read the spinoff if you do not want to read the original books, but I think you'll be missing out on a lot of the history and the world building, which is fascinating, by the way, I don't know how Nalini even came up with it and how she keeps everything straight in her head while she is juggling 10 different series.

Marker [01:06:20]

   Andrea Martucci: Look, I'm going to go into my top five. I can't even remember the characters of any of these books that I read and loved. I would like to say that I think I'm famous for just being like, I don't remember anybody's names. I barely remember titles of books. I just have a feeling. I'm gonna, I'm gonna talk about that.

Amber: Same.

Nick: You're not alone. I had to go and look up everybody's names!

Andrea Martucci: Yes. So yeah. I might've added some names in here, so here are my top five. My criteria for deciding - In 2020, I read almost a hundred books. I set a goal for a hundred I'm at like 95 right now. I would say a good half of those were books that a guest on the podcast recommended that I read. And then we read it for the episode. Just to explain why a lot of these also have episodes related to them because like legitimately half of my reading this year of romance novels was things that were covered on the podcast.

So I'm going to start with The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller, which has already been mentioned. And it's funny cause what I wrote down literally hits so many of the same points that you mentioned- Nick that was in your list, right ?

Nick: Yes. That was my list.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Okay. It hits the spot as [01:07:30] a ghost story, as a little bit of a mystery and a psychological thriller, but it's also laugh out loud funny, like the dialogue is hilarious. And, the hero is a sexy absent-minded professor. There's a grumpy heroine. I literally use the word grumpy, which you said, and I love that she had so much agency and she is forging a path forward after experiencing trauma.

I think there's definitely a trigger warning for descriptions of physical assault against the heroine in a flashback, so FYI.

Nick: There's also blackmailing within the text, so maybe that could be a content warning.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. I think this book is such a surprise because as you mentioned, the cover, in my opinion, and in many other people's opinion, makes it seem like the romance is definitely going to take a back seat. And so when people were like, Oh, you should read this. I was like, I don't know, is it a romance? Ooh, like I don't want to read something that's  more women's fiction or something, or just mystery and a little bit of romance. But the romance is like really front and center. And it was such a satisfying romance. I wish I had picked it up sooner, like you Nick. And, everyone who I have convinced to read it also says the same.

So let's just keep this chain going. And also maybe let's petition for them to change the cover.

Amber: Is it a sexy romance?

Andrea Martucci: Yes ma'am

Nick: yes, very, very sexy.

Amber: Adding it to the list.

Andrea Martucci: It's so good. Everyone should read it.

My second book was How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole. And I got this as an advanced review copy. Alyssa has been a guest on the podcast before, and I love that this book tackled toxic masculinity and how that hurts men and also how in patriarchal societies women have to make their accomplishments small and hide their true talents and how it takes such an effort to accomplish anything but then how women have to act like, Oh, no, that's effortless because otherwise they will be punished for that.

And, as you mentioned, this is a spinoff of the Reluctant Royals series. The monarchy, the royalty that we're talking about here are in Africa. I guess leaving Europe and America and, heading to Africa, and it seems like the second book also takes place in these sort of like fictionalized African countries.

And it's a marriage of convenience and Shanti and Sanyu each need to look beneath the veneer of what they want the world to see and in the process, they claim their true power to change the flawed world that they live in. So I thought that this book was such a [01:10:00] pleasurable antidote to stories where the characters in romance have enormous power and they sort of like abdicate their responsibility to make positive change with the power that they have. they're kind of like, Oh, I hate this. And they just grumble about having to go to their seat in the house of Lords. And you're like, you can change things. And this book, I think, takes that frustration and explores like, why some people feel like they're powerless even when they have power and then shows  a way through that, to claiming your power.

And it's incredibly sexy and it discusses colonialism. So it's lots of fun.

Amber: I'm about 40% into that one. I think Alyssa Cole is ready to start fantasy romance.

(sigh) Andrea Martucci: What can't she do? Oh, I love her. Okay. So my third book is Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon and, Rebekah has been a guest on the podcast. And, also I just covered Harbor in episode 70 discussing polyamorous romance.

To mention why a lot of the people whose books I enjoy have been guests it's because people whose books I enjoy, I invite to be guests.

So so that's kind of the Genesis there. That's the answer to, is it the chicken or the egg?

I love that Harbor explores grief and it explores pushing the boundaries of the script that we choose to follow as individuals. I think it's such an original romance. There's not a lot of polyamorous romance that, deals with polyamory in sort of a respectful and true to life way.

It explores a closed triad polyamorous relationship between two men and a woman. And, it is a romance. It has a delightful happily ever after. There is tons of communication on page. And when you're doing, dealing with three characters, three main characters, a lot of romance, you really only have two main characters and then side characters - I would imagine it's hard to really like flesh out and make three fully alive characters. And Rebekah does such an amazing job of really helping us understand each of these people individually, their relationships with two other people, and you truly get an amazing understanding of the dynamics of this relationship, which, because there are more people it's a little bit more complicated to kind of do all of that.

Lots of respect for what Rebekah did with Harbor . And that is the last book in the Beards and Bondage series. Which also, there's BDSM elements and, just very gentle [01:12:30] overall and lots of communication. I love communication on page. Love to see it. It's like good modeling. We could all use more modeling of how to communicate about sex and relationships and all of that.

Lynell: Rebekah, does a really good job of that in all of her books or at least the ones that I've read so far. The tension is about building better communication rather than some external force. And so I think she does a really good job of that.

Andrea Martucci: Agree completely. That's a great way to put it.

So my fourth book is The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham. And Scarlett has also been a guest. And, this book was covered in an episode with Hannah Hearts Romance. And Hannah is a counselor in her real life when she's not reading romance. And, she helped me explore this book through the lens of mental health, which was a really helpful way of thinking about this book because there's a lot of trauma in this book and our heroine in The Rakess has had a lot of really painful things happen in her past. And she can't escape those things. Like they're very much a part of her life and she has to push through that to get to a better place.

So I would call this a book for angry people. And, this book is not out here cajoling anybody into seeing how unfair the world can be with its double standards for behavior, particularly between men and women. And, I think the pain on the page is like really fresh and bitter. It is not glossing over that pain.

And I found that incredibly cathartic in the year 2020, which has been a hellscape. So truly it was like the book of 2020 for me in, how it dealt with the anger I was feeling and, giving voice to that and again, like showing a way through that. Not that the world was fixed by the end, but, it at least envisioned one way of working through that.

I thought that was a fantastic book and basically it's exploring, I've said almost nothing about the book. Go listen to the episode, but it explores the rake character. But what if the rake was a woman? How does that change that archetype and how the world views that character?

All right, last but never least, I have White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie Slaughter. And once again, Jodie has been a guest and I did an episode on this book with Charish Reid. And, this is another marriage of convenience story. I think the themes of this are very much in line [01:15:00] with what Jodie, my BFF, is drawn to exploring and discussing, which is what justice means for people who aren't protected by the system.

The characters in this are competing rum-running families in Appalachia who are banding together against a larger threat that faces all of them. so they kind of have to like put aside their beef with each other to come together and they find that coming together can be more than just a means to an end.

And I just find Jodie's writing to be incredibly fresh and sexy, and I think she's a natural storyteller. And, was this her first book? I'm not sure, but she just, I am so looking forward to her career moving forward, and I thought this was an amazing book.

Did any of you guys read White Whiskey Bargain this year?

Amber: No, but I'm about add the list, the ever growing list.

Andrea Martucci: The ever-growing list. Yeah. Actually, if you like the dark stuff like mafia, she actually has a mafia romance, All Things Burn? Yes. Yeah. And that's that one was like very close. I was like, Oh, what do I, how do I choose?

But, but yeah, she explores the gray of morality a lot and there were definitely parts in White Whiskey Bargain where they're like threatening people and tying them up. I'm like, yeah, they deserve that.  So yeah, it'll have you rooting for people doing things where like in real life you'd be like, I don't know if I should root for this.

Okay. So lots of great books, lots of awesome recommendations. And I hope that we have recommendations that suit lots of different people's tastes and preferences as we are all different readers. And even though there was a little bit of overlap, I think that this is a very diverse list of recommendations.

Marker [01:16:39]

So thank you all so much for being here. I'm really looking forward to seeing which books rise to the top in The Swoon Awards this year. Let's remind people how they can participate in nominating a book or voting in The Swoon Awards and where they should go to find out more.

Amber: Yeah. So you can learn more about The Swoon Awards on our website, You can find us on Twitter @theswoonawards. Our hashtag is #theSwoonies because we're cute like that. Nomination period ends December 31st. So get those Excel spreadsheets ready. And reaing to go. You can nominate as many books as you want for as many categories as you want during that time.

And then the semifinals will open on January 4th. They'll close on January 22nd. And then the finals, where you pick one book each, will open [01:17:30] February 1st and closed Feburary 21st, and then we'll have our grand reveal on March 1st. So we're super excited to share this with everyone next year.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. And I appreciate what you guys are doing. I think that more choices are good and I think you're coming to this from a different lens than most other awards. And, I appreciate what you're doing

Amber: Thanks, and we're excited too. Cause like we are four Black and Brown women. And romancelandia and publishing in general is very white. Readership can be white as well. So just like carve a space for ourselves and have this opportunity is very exciting for us.

  Andrea Martucci: Thanks for listening to episode 71 of Shelf Love and thank you to Ari, Amber, Lynell, and Nick for joining me. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on

Here's a bit more information about the Holiday Fairies gift drive. It's a way for people in the romance community to request gifts in a really simple and anonymous way, and to then connect those people to other people to buy those gifts.

So you can participate by submitting an Amazon wishlist with the things that you're requesting. Or you can be someone who's buying gifts from listed wish lists. You can also participate by spreading the word to let other people know about this. And if you are somebody who has an email newsletter say, you're like an author, you can sign up to sponsor a wishlist.

What that means is that you will promote this gift drive in your email newsletter. And you'll highlight one, two, three specific wishlists, depending on the size of your list. Anybody who sponsors a wishlist will be mentioned in a future episode of Shelf Love, because I want to say thank you for helping out.

Right now there are over 50 wishlists that you can browse. And I have some tips for narrowing down a wishlist to support since that can be a little overwhelming to decide between all of those. This is a super simple setup that seeks to connect gift recipients and givers directly as much as possible while maintaining the privacy of gift recipients.

As much as we hate on Amazon, they have created a super easy way for people to buy things without having to disclose an address to strangers on the internet. So if you feel guilty for buying things for people on Amazon, support a wishlist and then go support some local businesses to atone.

At the end of the day, the goal is to help people and I am already hearing from gift recipients that this is really making a positive impact on them this holiday season. And I know that gift givers are also feeling the [01:20:00] glow, knowing that the simple act of buying a book or a cat toy or a useful item is going to make a big difference to someone else.

To learn more and to get all the details, you can go to  There's also a post on the blog section of So if that's easier to remember, go to and then go to the blog section and you will see it. Another way to get there is to follow the link in the show notes.

But if you are trying to remember a URL, the easiest thing to remember is Thank you so much to Bree Bridges from Kit Rocha, who shared the logistics for a gift drive that she had done in the past, and then gave me her blessing for me to copy that and, for creating space to collaborate with others on her Discord server.

I also want to thank author Candace Harper, who has been helping with graphics and copywriting and has basically become my partner in crime behind the scenes. Thank you both so much and thank you to everyone who is spreading the word and buying gifts.

So upcoming episodes: I have already changed my mind about upcoming episode order, but don't worry, you're going to get your Jennifer Crusie episode soon, maybe two episodes. We'll see. And I also have a fascinating conversation about The Secular Scripture by Northrop Frye with Dr. Angela Toscano.

They're both fairly long recordings, so I'm going to give myself a little grace and take my time with them. Don't worry more awesome stuff coming up. Thank you so much for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to [email protected].

This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members: Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison. That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.