2021 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

The last two years when I posted my Reading Years in Review, I was asked to provide more detail on the books I read that were category romance, and that was so well received, it looks like this is going to be another annual tradition here on the blog. (Click on these links to read the 2019 and 2020 rankings.) So once again, I’m providing a list of the romance titles I read over the past year ranked by heat level. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. There are several technical guides and explanations for how to rate such things if you go looking for them online, but I’ll summarize the widely accepted definitions below.

Here are the five levels of heat, in order, with very brief descriptions:

*  MILD — Sweet like a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these titles to my adolescent children or even mature middle schoolers who were genuinely interested in the genre. In many examples of this heat level, the most titillating thing that happens might be kissing and the occasional cute innuendo.

*  MEDIUM — Generally equivalent to a PG-13 movie in that intimate situations or scenes are there, but they aren’t graphically described and won’t likely make people (who like the concept of kissing books) uncomfortable. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend books like these to high school students who genuinely liked YA romance.

*  HOT — Sometimes called steamy, sexy, or spicy, this level includes most category romance books and offers a wide range of description of intimate activity and the language used to describe it; the titles I’ve included here also represent a wide range within this heat level.

*  NUCLEAR — Expect graphic descriptions and possible forays beyond vanilla.

*  EROTIC (ROMANCE) — This heat level pushes boundaries, most definitely; the characters’ emotional journeys are lived through explicit sexual activity, but (unlike in erotica) the emotional journey and the external story still retain primacy — as does the all-important happy story ending.

A few notes on this year’s list: as I said in my 2021 Reading Year in Review post, I didn’t count the YA titles I read as YA romance — although they are likely marketed that way — just because I thought the non-romantic parts of the plot took primacy in those books. But since I think they have been marketed as YA romance, I’ve included them here; they all fall into the mild and medium heat levels.

And here are the romance titles I read last year, ranked by me:

MILD:
Blame It on the Mistletoe (Garrod)

MEDIUM:
Cinderella Is Dead (Bayron)
Before We Disappear (Hutchinson)

HOT:
Any Rogue Will Do (Bennett)
The Viscount Who Loved Me (Quinn)
An Offer from a Gentleman (Quinn)
Spoiler Alert (Dade)
The Sugared Game (Charles)
The Warrior King (Owen)
Funny Business (Loring)
Attachment Theory (Loring)
Witch Please (Aguirre)

NUCLEAR:
If She Says Yes (Harrison)

EROTIC (ROMANCE):
All At Once (Harper)
Their Nerd (Lindt)
All Together (Harper)

One thing that I’ve learned this year is that my love for Olivia Dade’s work continues: her stories are smart and funny and emotionally intelligent, and most of her characters read like people I’d want to be friends with in real life. Dade is one of my favorite authors in this genre right now, and one of the few authors of realistic fiction whose work I will buy and read unquestioningly.

Another thing I’ve learned is that Kayley Loring is one of the funniest authors I’ve read in a long time. Not only are her stories fun and entertaining, but her sense of humor is absolutely hysterical. The writing is also really smart. So far, too, all of her work I’ve read is set among an expansive cast of interconnected characters, which is always nice.

And there we have it! For those of you who are curious about romance or for whom the required Happy Ending is important self-care, then I hope you found this ranking guide helpful. Enjoy!

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