2020 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

Last year after I posted my 2019 Reading Year in Review, I got requests to rank the romances I’d read over that year by heat level, which I happily did, and that request has been made again this year regarding my 2020 Reading Year in Review by a few people. I’m very pleased to oblige. (And if this becomes another annual tradition, I’m good with that.)

Here is a quick guide to what heat levels are in category romance: it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. While there are several different explanations for how to rate such things, I’m going to use this one here, which is really interesting and worth reading. (It will also explain with further context the rankings which follow.)

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 them 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 feel awkward recommending books like these to high school students who 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.

My reading diet is fairly inclusive, and I’m trying to make it broader every year. Representation matters, and so does buying and reading books which have it. Really diving into my lists over the years will net you quite a range.

I’m going to rank titles I read over the last year which are category romance, meaning they are in the romance genre and would not likely be shelved in a bookstore as something else (such as fantasy or science fiction or realistic fiction), even though some of the books I read in those other genres do have strong romantic subplots. (As always, if you want a review of any of the titles I’ve read over the last year, just leave me a note in the comments.)

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

MILD:
Charles Bewitched (Doyle)

MEDIUM:
Courtship and Curses (Doyle)
Sweetest in the Gale (Dade)* — This title goes into two sections because it is a short story collection, and different stories within it have different heat levels.

HOT:
Slippery Creatures (Charles)
Teach Me (Dade)
Office Hours (Jackson)
40-Love (Dade)
Salt Magic, Skin Magic (Welch)
Royally Bad (Flite)
Red, White & Royal Blue (McQuiston)
The Rogue King (Owens)
On the Edge (Sahin)
The Duke and I (Quinn)
Sweetest in the Gale (Dade)* — This title goes into two sections because it is a short story collection, and different stories have different heat levels.
The Blood King (Owens)* — This novel almost qualified for the medium level because it contains actually very few scenes of intimacy, but at least one of them is fully written, and not particularly euphemistic, right there on the page.

NUCLEAR:
Blaze (Tomlinson)

EROTIC:
All Together (Harper)

I’ve begun a list of titles people have requested reviews for, which I’ll be posting here on the blog in the weeks to come. Pile on in the comments if you want to know more about any of these books or any of the others from my general 2020 list. Happy reading!

2020 Reading Year in Review

A few years ago I began keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. My hope was that I would do more reading for pleasure.

Reading. You know, that thing I’ve been doing since I was four, that activity which makes me happier than most other things, that reason (probably) I became a writer in the first place? Good grief, I love books so much.

But I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t doing a lot of reading for pleasure. I was reading a lot of students’ papers to grade them. (Spoiler alert: that is often not the same thing, even when I do enjoy reading some of those papers.) I was reading a lot of emails. (There was little to no pleasure in that.) I was reading for utility and purpose and requirement and work, but I was not taking time to read for fun. That had a very adverse effect on my entire life.

Being a list maker by nature, I thought if I kept a list of books I read, at the end of the year I would see that I’d done more reading than I thought I had, and it would boost my mood. Deciding to do this is one of the better choices I’ve made.

That first year I logged probably a dozen books, and my reading diet was very focused on fantasy, which is one of the main genres I write in. In the years since, as I continue keeping my list, the number of books I read in a year has steadily increased, and so has my reading diet. I try to read much more widely now, which has been very good for me, too.

2020 was, as you know, a challenging year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, we opened the door to let the old year out and the new year in. (This is an old tradition.) We actually opened multiple doors. We thought about opening the windows and taking off the roof too, but it was pretty freaking cold outside. Still, I commanded the old year to “get the hell out,” and Fabulous Offspring #1 actually grabbed a broom and swept our entry hall onto the front porch to really make sure 2020 took a hike. (We are nothing if not committed to our metaphors.)

During the pandemic, particularly in the spring and early summer, I saw a lot of people online lamenting about not being able to sustain enough focus even to read. I felt that. It hit me, too. But then — even though doing actual creative work, such as writing, and actual teaching work, such as grading papers, felt nigh impossible for a while — I did manage to get back into reading. For fun. For stress relief. For calming my mind before bed. This even helped me start writing again.

And wow, did I read a lot.

This is not nearly all the books I read this year. Some were on my Kindle. Some are up in Fabulous Offspring #1’s room, and I don’t have time to find them. Some are at school in my classroom, some went through my Little Free Library, and some have been lent out to other friends.

This year I enjoyed my way through a whopping 41 books, possibly the most I’ve ever accomplished in my adult life, and definitely the most in a single year since I began teaching. So without further ado, here is my list — with some caveats:
* This year, I am including titles that I re-read. I didn’t use to but think it has value now. However, if I read a book on here more than once this year (and that did happen in at least a couple of cases), I am listing it just the once.
* I am not listing any books I began but did not finish.
* This list also does not include manuscripts I’ve read but which are not yet published. There were several of those (because critique groups, yo).

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Circe by Madeline Miller
Limit Theory by Ronald E. Holtman
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Charles Bewitched by Marissa Doyle
Office Hours by Katrina Jackson
Blaze by Christa Tomlinson
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
40-Love by Olivia Dade
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch
Royally Bad by Nora Flite
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
F in Exams: Pop Quiz by Richard Benson
The Kontrabida by Mia Alvar
Catacombs by Jason Zencka
The Rogue King by Abigail Owen
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Blood King by Abigail Owen
Once Two Sisters by Sarah Warburton
Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
On the Edge by Brittney Sahin
Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Sweetest in the Gale: A Marysburg Story Collection by Olivia Dade
Feng Shaun (Wallace and Grommet)
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby
All Together by Brill Harper
World’s End by Clare Beams
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

If you would like a review of any of these books, please tell me in the comments, and I’ll do my best for you! Similarly, last year it was requested that I rank the romance titles I’d read by heat level, so if you want those for this year as well, I’m happy to do it. Just drop me a note in the comments.

November Book Chat With Kara

Last month my friend Kara and I got together virtually to discuss some witchy books we liked, in honor of Hallowe’en, and it was so much fun we’ve decided to keep doing it!

Today we had another one, this time about books we loved and are excited to recommend in three different categories: books with non-human creatures who are very human, books outside our comfort zones, and books with strong female protagonists.

We hope you have had a wonderful holiday, if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving (which is quite a big deal here in the US), and that you’re otherwise having a splendid November, regardless of whatever celebrations may or may not be going on where you are.

Monday Earworm: Etta James

Happy Monday. Enjoy this lovely song by a groundbreaking woman.

Also, if you’d like to help support the libraries at the preK-12 school where I teach, this week we’re having our annual Book Fair, and this year it’s all online. Three of my titles are available there, too! Look in the “Special Guest and Community Authors” section, and you’ll find Finis., Homecoming, and The Sharp Edges of Water there for sale. You can buy my books and support both our libraries and me as an author, plus pick up some books that make excellent holiday gifts or treats for yourself. Win-win-win! I hope you’ll consider it. The Book Fair is up only for this week, a limited engagement. And in case you click through for a look and some shopping, thank you so much!

Witchy Weekends: Something Different

First, Happy Hallowe’en! Today’s will be the last installment in this year’s Witchy Weekends series. I hope you’ve been enjoying it this year (and every year, for those of you who have been here for a while).

Today I’m posting something very different, because, honestly, I just wasn’t able to produce another scene in “The Frog Wish” this week that I felt satisfied with. I’m not one of those authors who feels The Muse must descend in order for me to write anything. I’m realistic enough to understand that stuff has to get done regardless of whether I feel “inspired” in some grand or mythical sense.

However, part of that realism is recognizing that I have multiple projects happening at the same time, and sometimes those projects have deadlines, and some of those deadlines are more pressing than others. So while I’m loving “The Frog Wish” and having a lot of fun with it, it is definitely a side lark, and the more pressing business of the new novel I’m currently writing had to take precedence this week.

However, I do have something else to offer you. The video I’ve posted below is a book chat between my friend Kara and me, about witchy books for the season and some movie adaptations we’ve been enjoying. I hope you’ll find it interesting. We certainly had fun chatting with each other, enough that we might do it again in the future. So stay tuned.

Have a very nice and safe Hallowe’en, if you’re celebrating it, and otherwise, see you in November!

HOMECOMING Book Launch Event Tomorrow!

EDIT:  For those of you who missed the live event, click here to watch it in full. It was fun!

Hello from Authorland! I’m so excited because tomorrow is the official launch party through Blue Willow Bookshop for my newest book, Homecoming! Due to in-person events being generally unwise right now, there being a pandemic and all, this event will be held live online. I will miss seeing a bookstore full of people to help me celebrate. However, the very good news is that since the event will be livestreamed online, my friends and family who live in all kinds of other places that aren’t Houston can join us! Yay! (And I hope you all will!)

This afternoon I’ve been signing books: pre-ordered copies of Homecoming as well as some back-catalogue goodies. You can still get yours! Go to Blue Willow’s site by clicking here to order copies of my books and to find the link for their Facebook Live page where the event will be broadcast. (I don’t believe you need a Facebook account to tune in, either, since I was able to access the live feed from a computer where I wasn’t logged in at all.)

The event will be tomorrow afternoon, Saturday, October 24th, at 4:00 central time. (So that’s 5:00 eastern, 3:00 mountain, and 2:00 pacific.) After my interview, you will be able to ask questions. I hope to “see” you there! (It would be such a treat to interact with some of my blog readers in this different way as well!)

Thank you, as always, for your kind support of me and of my work.

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that in October I have a series called Witchy Weekends, and this year I’m continuing writing a fairy tale. You can read parts 1-4 here. Read on for part 5.

***

The Frog Wish (continued)

“Do you know if there’s any food here?” Eleanor asked after she’d been jogging after Reginald’s hopping form for at least fifteen minutes. At least this activity had taken the edge off the cold. He stopped and turned to look at her.

“I’ve been eating this whole time,” he said, “but my guess is you don’t like mosquitoes.”

“Clever of you.” She just barely prevented herself from snarking about frogs’ legs. “You said sometimes people come here? Humans? How long do they usually stay?”

And did they bring food with them? And did they come of their own volition? And were they trapped here? She had so many questions but didn’t think Reginald would bother answering if they come at him in a volley.

“There’s a market road about two clicks ahead.”

“Market of what? Is there a village around here somewhere?”

“All kinds of things. And maybe? I’ve never seen any settlements in these woods.”

Eleanor looked around at the silvery landscape. Trees as far as the eye could see, and only shadows between them. The trail they’d been traveling wasn’t even well established: she’d had to stop several times to extract pebbles or leafy twigs from her shoes. At least she’d put on sneakers when she started moving the bedroom furniture. Furniture she’d really love to get back to right this very minute. “How many times have you come here?”

“Ribbit.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Ribbit.

“Fine, don’t answer me. But I really need food, and so far I haven’t seen anything Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” (Part 5)”

Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns

So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!

But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.

Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.

That said, let us commence with…

 

THE FROG WISH

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him. 

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.” 

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said. Continue reading “Witchy Weekends: “The Frog Wish” Returns”

Just A Little Video With Something Nifty And An Invitation

Self-promotion is the least wonderful part of being an author. (Actually, waiting on various aspects of the publishing industry beyond one’s control is the least wonderful part, but self-promotion is a noteworthy second.)

But I made this video, so I hope you’ll watch it and take heed of the excellent developments therein.

And here’s the link you’ll be wanting after you watch it.