Best of the Year 2020

Since The Hope Chest Reviews is not dedicated to the latest book releases, the majority of the books on this list were not published in 2020. Instead the list is compiled from the books that were read and reviewed during the 2020 calendar year. If you would like to view our picks from past years, please visit the archive.

Author of the Year - Winner

Gaelen Foley (3 - 4 ½ - 5 star reads in a row)

Author of the Year - Runner-Up

Jim Butcher (3 - 4 ½ - 5 star reads in a row)

Best Overall Romance

Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Best Alternate Reality Romances

Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian (5 stars)

Immortal Rider by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

The Sinner by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

A Warm Heart in Winter by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

The Jackal by J. R. Ward (4 ½ stars)*

Best Contemporary Romances

Fool for Love by Marie Force (5 stars)

Christmas at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn (4 ½stars)

Why Not Tonight? by Jacquie D'Alessandro (4 ½ stars)

Seductive Fantasy by Janelle Denison (4 ½ stars)

Maid for Love by Marie Force (4 ½ stars)

Best Erotic Romances

Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair (5 stars)

Slave by Sherri Hayes (4 ½ stars)

Need by Sherri Hayes (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romances (American)

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (5 stars)

Cherish by Catherine Anderson (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romances (Britain & Other Countries)

The Duke by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley (5 stars)

Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips (5 stars)

Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney (5 stars)

Simply Magic by Mary Balogh (4 ½ stars)

Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley (4 ½ stars)

Forever & Ever by Patricia Gaffney (4 ½ stars)

A Warrior's Heart by Margaret Moore (4 ½ stars)

Best Inspirational Romance

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (5 stars)

Best New Adult Romance

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles (5 stars)

Best LGBTQ+ Romance

A Warm Heart in Winter by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Best Romance Short Story

Movie Night by Nalini Singh (4 ½ stars)

Best Romantic Suspense

You Can't Hide by Karen Rose (5 stars)

Best Time Travel Romance

Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles (5 stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction Novellas

A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle by John Green (4 ½ stars)

The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson (4 ½ stars)

Best Children's Picture Books

The Dragon and the Unicorn by Lynne Cherry (5 stars)

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Fiction

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Novellas

Love Hurts by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Even Hand by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)

Best Graphic Novels

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 2 by Stephenie Meyer, Young Kim (5 stars)

New Moon: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 by Stephenie Meyer, Young Kim (5 stars)

Best Historical Fiction

Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Best Historical Fiction Novella

The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon (4 ½ stars)

Best Science Fiction

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (4 ½ stars)

Best Biographies/Memoirs

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (5 stars)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali, Delphine Minoui (4 ½ stars)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (4 ½ stars)

Best Non-Fiction Book

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (5 stars)

Best Christmas Stories

A Warm Heart in Winter by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Christmas at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn (4 ½ stars)

A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle by John Green (4 ½ stars)

The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson (4 ½ stars)

Most Surprising Winner

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (4 ½ stars) - Although I'd heard good things about this author, I'd never read anything by her before, nor had I read any straight-up science fiction that I can recall, but this turned out to be a great read. I was immediately drawn into this story about Quaddies, a group of humans who've been genetically engineered to have an extra set of arms where their legs normally would be, which makes them perfect for working in the zero gravity of a space station. However, they're essentially enslaved by the corporation that made them, and one normal man, Leo Graff, an engineer for the company who was sent to train them, sets out to free them instead. I was very much engaged by the action, adventure, and overarching plot of Leo trying to find justice for the Quaddies.

Funniest Read

A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle by John Green (4 ½ stars) - A delightfully humorous story of three best friends who become embroiled in an adventure-filled race to the local Waffle House in the middle of a snowstorm on Christmas Eve that ends with two of them discovering a bit of love and romance.

Biggest Tearjerker

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (5 stars)

Sweetest Romance

The best romance I read this year that has milder content.

Christmas at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn (4 ½ stars)

Steamiest Romance

For me, the steamiest romance doesn't necessarily have the most erotic content (although this time it does). Instead it's the book(s) that best combine hot, sexy scenes with a deep emotional connection that really make the pages sizzle.

Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair (5 stars)

Most Impressive Debuts

None of these was a 2020 release, but all of them were the debut books for each of these authors and quite impressive for a first effort.

Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair (5 stars)

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (5 stars)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali, Delphine Minoui (4 ½ stars)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (4 ½ stars)

A Warrior's Heart by Margaret Moore (4 ½ stars)

Best Overall Hero

Michael Hosea (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers)

Best Overall Heroine

Angel (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers)

Most Tortured Hero

Syn (The Sinner by J. R. Ward*)

Most Tortured Heroines

Both of these heroines are so tortured I couldn't choose between them.

Angel (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers)

Brianna Reeves (Slave and Need by Sherri Hayes)

Hottest Hero

Master Z (Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair)

Most Perfect Couple

Michael Hosea & Angel (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers)

Most Evil Villains

Isabel Cavendish (Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips)

Claude Bardou (Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley)

Duke (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers)

The Command (The Jackal by J. R. Ward*)

Algernon Sherbrooke (Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley)

Bruce Van Atta (Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold)

Most Memorable Supporting Characters

Andrew Ford (Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips)

Sterling Chase (Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian)

Damien Knight (Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley)

Jane & Francis Pocock (Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon)

Billy Blade (Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley)

Most Memorable Child Characters

Mary Cavendish (Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips)

Amy & Tom Davenport (Christmas at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn)

Noah (The Country Guesthouse by Robyn Carr*)

Keenan Aleine (Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh)

Geoffrey (Three Little Secrets by Liz Carlyle)

Thomas (Maid for Love by Marie Force)

Garret Daines (Mustang Wild by Stacey Kayne)

Andy & Mitch Malone (Redwood Bend by Robyn Carr)

Most Memorable Animal Characters

Georgie, Vixen, & Taverstock (Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips)

Janey's Menagerie of Special Needs Pets (Fool for Love by Marie Force)

Harvard (Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian)

Dolly & Bella (You Can't Hide by Karen Rose)

Gabe (Summer at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn)

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Leads

Characters with occupations or circumstances you don't often see in romance.

Syn (The Sinner by J. R. Ward*) - Serial killer

Master Z (Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair) - Sex club owner

Joe Cantrell (Fool for Love by Marie Force) - Ferry boat captain

Sophie Deene (Forever & Ever by Patricia Gaffney) - Victorian era businesswoman

Connor Pendarvis (Forever & Ever by Patricia Gaffney) - Political operative seeking mining regulation

Connor Danson (Hidden Summit by Robyn Carr) - In witness protection

Ashaya Aleine (Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh) - DNA Specialist

The Jackal aka "Jack" (The Jackal by J. R. Ward*) - Prisoner

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Plots

You Can't Hide by Karen Rose - A psychiatrist's patients begin committing suicide, but the detective assigned to the case quickly realizes they've deliberately been driven over the edge. All evidence points to the doctor, herself, but as new evidence comes to light, he realizes she couldn't have done it. When he discovers that her apartment is being surveilled, he offers her a safe place to stay, making things heat up between them. But neither can figure out who would hate her enough to do such a thing.

Slave by Sherri Hayes - A dominant reluctantly purchases a young woman who is being held against her will as a sex slave in order to free her. He then sets about trying to rebuild her trust and self-confidence in hopes that one day she might consent to being his submissive.

Forever & Ever by Patricia Gaffney - A young woman inherits her father's copper mine and proves to be an intelligent and shrewd businesswoman. A handsome miner comes looking for work, but little does she know that he's impersonating his brother and works for a progressive political organization that is trying to enact mining reforms. Despite the differences in their social stations, the pair begin to fall in love, but when she discovers who he is and his real reason for being there, it will put their relationship to the test.

The Jackal by J. R. Ward* - A female vampire breaks into a secret, underground, prison camp in search of the sister she believes was taken there fifty years earlier. As she struggles to navigate the labyrinthine maze, she meets a handsome male vampire who has been imprisoned there for over a century and strikes a bargain with him to help her, leading to feelings building between them. But eluding The Command who uses the prisoners as slave labor, getting rich off their enterprise, could prove deadly.

Best Opening Lines

"Five men stumbled out of the mountain pass so sunstruck they didn't know their own names, couldn't remember where they'd come from, had forgotten how long they'd been lost."      - The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

"After the funerals he was sent back to school. What else could be done with a boy, even one who had just become the wealthiest child in Great Britain?"       - Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney

"He still didn't know why the frog hadn't killed him."      - The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon

"Once upon a time, there was a guy, there was a girl, and some crazy shit went down. The end."      - Well Hung by Lauren Blakely

Best Overall Quotes
"We are all sinners-and yet our creator still loves us. And if the prerequisite for true romantic love was an unassailable history and character? The shit wouldn't happen for anybody. You're worthy of love. You deserve to be respected and cherished, and to get that, you don't need to be anything different than you are. You have been created for a reason. You're here for a reason. You have a purpose, and you have to believe that you'll find someone who will help you in that purpose. And until that happens? All you really need to know is that you don't have to be validated by anybody but yourself. You are enough."      - Butch (The Sinner by J. R. Ward*)

"It's been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we're protesting America."      - Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism)

"Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."      - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption)

"There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can't otherwise see; you hear things you can't otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us."      - Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption)

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."     - Anne Frank (The Diary of a Young Girl)

Funniest Quotes

"Do you play football?' Brandon asks.

'No.'

'Baseball?'

'Nope.'

Brandon is on a roll and won't stop until he's found the answer he's looking for. 'Tennis?'

'That would be a nada'

'Then what sport do you play?'

Carlos puts down his food. Oh, no. He's got a rebellious gleam in his eye as he says, 'The horizontal tango.'

...Alex stands and says through clenched teeth, 'Carlos let's talk. In private. Ahora.'

....Brandon turns to my dad with big, innocent eyes. 'Daddy, do you know how to do the horizontal tango?"      - Carlos & Alex Fuentes & Brandon Westford (Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles)

"Tofu tacos are not Mexican. I think putting tofu on anything and calling it Mexican is an insult to my people."      - Carlos Fuentes (Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles)

"So now it's space and time," he said. "You ever watch Doctor Who on PBS?"

"All the time," she said dryly, "on the BBC. And don't think I wouldn't sell my soul for a TARDIS."      - Joe Abernathy & Brianna Fraser Mackenzie (Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon)

Most Emotional Quotes

"I wish I could help you" I whisper.

"You are," he murmurs against my knee. "Just don't leave me, okay? Everyone leaves me."      - Carlos Fuentes & Kiara Westford (Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles)

"You don't think I'm . . . some kind of monster? That I'm not much better than him to have killed him like I did, in cold blood?"

"Never." Dante lifted her chin on the edge of his hand. "I think you're courageous, Tess. An avenging angel, that's what I think."

"I'm a freak."

"No, Tess, no." He kissed her tenderly. "You're amazing."
"I'm a coward. Just like you said, I always ran away. It's true. I've been afraid and running for so long, I'm not sure I can ever stop."

"Then run to me." Dante's eyes were fierce as he held her gaze."      - Dante & Tess (Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian)

"Every part of him wanted to stay with Jo. Make sure she was okay. Attend to her every need, bringing her the choicest food and cleanest drink, securing her a warm and dry shelter, along with clothes that were of fabrics and colors of her preference. He wanted to sleep with her up against his body, skin to skin, a dagger in his right hand, a gun under his pillow, a length of chain beneath the bed, to ensure her protection against anything and everybody that would hurt her."      - Syn (The Sinner by J. R. Ward*)

Most Romantic Quotes

"Look at me, chica." When she does, I repeat, "Eres hermosa."

"What does it mean?"

"You're beautiful."      - Carlos Fuentes & Kiara Westford (Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles)

"He just stared at her, feeling his very soul swell with love as she padded toward him, barefooted. He loved her eyes; he loved her smile; he loved her pale, slender arms. He loved her dainty ankles, skimmed by the hem of her chemise. He loved her gliding walk and the way her long, thick hair swung around her waist as she hurried toward him. God help him, he was her slave."      - Lucien Knight (Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley)

"You wrong yourself and me by assuming my interest in you is purely physical," he went on. "I told you I am eager to further our acquaintance. I want to know what you think about things. What you want out of life. What you dream."      - Lucien Knight (Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley)

Sexiest Quotes

"Did people... really kiss like that? She had had NO idea. She had imagined being kissed, and in her imagination she had been swept away by the sheer romance of the meeting of lips. In her naivete she had not considered the possibility that a kiss, as a prelude to sexual activity, might have powerful effects on parts of her body, in fact, even parts she had been only half aware of possessing. She ached and throbbed in all sorts of unfamiliar places"      - Susanna Osbourne (Simply Magic by Mary Balogh)

"God, I love your skin."

"My skin?" She glanced uncomprehendingly at her own arm when he rose from nibbling at her. "It's brown."
"It's melted chocolate and coffee with cream, exotic as the fucking desert, and so damn erotic. I have wet dreams about you naked on my sheets, your skin smooth and hot from the sun's rays."

She swallowed, chest heaving. "You make me sound edible."

He purred. "You are."       - Dorian & Ashaya (Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh)

"A few minutes?" Feeling suddenly shy, she crossed her arms over her chest. The smile on his face widened, becoming touched with the feral wildness of the cat. It made thinking difficult. "I believed males needed a longer recovery time to mate."

"Not this kitty cat." Rising to his feet, he said, "Get ready to play."      - Dorian & Ashaya (Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh)

Prettiest Covers

The Dragon and the Unicorn Book Cover

The Dragon and the Unicorn

by Lynne Cherry

Hidden Summit Book Cover

Hidden Summit

by Robyn Carr

Simply Magic Book Cover

Simply Magic

by Mary Balogh

Sexiest Covers

Well Hung Book Cover

Well Hung

by Lauren Blakely

Lady Chamberly's Choices Book Cover

Lady Chamberly's Choices

by Meta Mathews

Hostage to Pleasure Book Cover

Hostage to Pleasure

by Nalini Singh

Most Interesting/Unusual Covers

Possession Book Cover

Possession

by J. R. Ward

 The Jackal Book Cover

The Jackal

by J. R. Ward*

Christmas at Conwenna Cove Book Cover

Christmas at Conwenna Cove

by Darcie Boleyn

 *This book was published in 2020.

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