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.
Witch Please by Ann Aguirre is an entertaining paranormal rom-com that nibbles at some important social issues without treading into heavy-handed territory.
Danica Waterhouse lives with her first cousin Clementine in a small midwestern town. They own a fix-it shop and perform technomancy, a form of magic that repairs broken gadgets, appliances, and electronics, for their fellow townspeople. The catch, though, is that they can’t let anyone know they’re using actual magic, because for one thing, they can’t let people know that witches (the actual magical kind who have metaphysical powers) are real, and for another, they don’t want to bring witch hunters onto themselves and their coven. (Or, as they like to call themselves, their “book club.”)
The challenge comes in when Danica meets Titus, a mundane (i.e. not a witch), and they have instant romantic chemistry. And since this book is firmly in the romance genre, working out whether they’ll end up together is most of the plot. But the journey through that plot is pretty fun.
I won’t lie, this book feels like a confection sometimes, and not just because Titus is a supremely talented baker. But Witch Please does begin to explore deeper issues, too, including real-life dangers and prejudices against pagans, bigotry rooted in fear, emotional manipulation within families, and the importance of ride-or-die friendships against the pull of one’s heart.
Other reviews online have made some valid points about some of this book’s features and quirks that are not satisfying for every reader, particularly Titus’ arguably underdeveloped bisexuality and the question of whether the varying gray shades of honesty within their relationship would work well in the real world.
The second book in this series focuses on Clem, and the foundation of her storyline is significantly developed, dovetailing quite nicely with Danica’s in this first book. I haven’t read the second one yet, but since I generally enjoyed Witch Please, at some point I’m sure I probably will.
What fun witchy books have you read? Or entertaining romances? Tell us in the comments!
January was a wee bit hectic, so Kara and I pushed off our book chat until this week, and since it’s valentines season, we’re tackling books with romantic plotlines (category romance or no).
You’ll hear in this video that I make reference to my Reading Year in Review lists. (If you want to see those, here they are for 2019 and 2020.) I always invite my readers to request reviews of any titles on those lists — it’s never to late to ask, if you want to know about them — and this year a few people wanted to know more about Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, so I’ve done that review in this month’s book chat video. (More reviews are coming, so if you requested one, please don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, even if it’s been a minute.)
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:
Charles Bewitched (Doyle)
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.
Slippery Creatures (Charles)
Teach Me (Dade)
Office Hours (Jackson)
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.
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!
After I posted my 2019 Reading Year in Review, there were a couple of requests for me to give a ranking of the category romance novels I’d read according to their heat levels. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. While there are several different explanations for how to rate such things, Continue reading “2019 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level”
It is no secret to people who know me that I hoard books, maybe a little bit. We have thousands of books in our house and have given up any pretense of calling our living room anything but a library. I have an entire bookshelf in my bedroom just to house my TBR list. The acquisition of books that interest me makes me feel genuinely happy and excited about life because I cannot wait to read all those stories. Our Little Free Library might have been constructed in part to help me make peace with letting go of books now and then because we don’t live in a Tardis or have an Undetectable Extension Charm on our house (more’s the pity).
But yo, my job is not to be a Reader Just For Fun. So sometimes it takes me longer than I’d like to get around to reading books on that TBR bookshelf.
Over Spring Break, I finally read The Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien, a novel which had sat on my TBR bookshelf for several years, enticing me with its romantic-comedy plot and not-pink cover art, and seriously, I cannot believe I waited so long to read it! I devoured it in three days and loved loved loved it!
This book is a romance, but it’s a very sweet one — meaning the main plot of the story is about an amorous relationship, but it’s not an explicit read. I would feel comfortable recommending this book to my high school students who enjoy romantic comedies.
And the comedy? I laughed so much in the first several chapters of this book that I had to put it down occasionally until I finished giggling. Lothlorien’s voice is strong and funny, and her writing style, very engaging. I will admit the book isn’t a laugh-a-minute all the way through: the comedy does dial down just a bit as we get into the thick of the plot to make way for a compelling story. The characters are fun and realistic, I genuinely cared about what was happening to them, and the writing is really good from sentence-level to narrative architecture.
This book is called The Frog Prince but it doesn’t have tons of parallels to the Grimm Brothers’ “Iron Heinrich.” (Think Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and “Beauty and the Beast.”) Lothlorien’s book is pretty original. But if you want an enjoyable romantic comedy in a modern setting with the same kind of feels as a fairy tale, this book is a good choice for you.
The summer isn’t over yet, and if you’re scrambling around trying to find something else to read before August and/or the school year settle in upon you, allow me to make a couple of recommendations…