In this book list and episode of the She Reads Romance Books Podcast I’m discussing all the romance books I read in December 2023 and sharing what I really think of them – including which books I recommend you buy because they are so good and which books I suggest you just borrow. Tune in for a few most anticipated romance titles as well as some must-read books coming in 2024.
Episode 26: December 2023 Reading List: What to Read & What to Skip!
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Books Mentioned In this Episode:
- Throne of the Fallen
- Kingdom of the Wicked
- A Festive Feud
- Caught Up
- Iron Flame
- Snowed In
- Funny Story
- Hot Revenge For Hire
- Fangirl Down
- Ruthless Vows
- Fish Out of Water
- Heartless Hunter
Episode Show Notes:
Hey readers! Happy New Year!
I think that’s the first time I can say that this year on the podcast as last episode I was too focused on gushing over all of my favorite book boyfriends of 2023. I hope you had a chance to catch that episode because I talked about all of my swoon-worthy heroes of the year.
I’m definitely ready to kick off 2024, I don’t know about you. I have a few new things in store for the blog but at the same time I’m still recouping from everything that went on in 2023 which was a lot!
Just to go over a few highlights, I posted over 200 new book lists, published the book club journal, and created the A Year of Reading Romance Card Deck, which you need to get your hands on if you haven’t already.
I was featured in news articles and was a guest on some podcasts and of course launched the She Reads Romance Books Podcast in 2023. So thank you dear readers and listeners for joining me on this journey and I hope you will continue to tune in and visit she reads romance books in 2024.
Before I get into my book list for December I was reflecting on some of my reading goals for the upcoming year. Now I’m not crazy about goal setting or a stickler to them but it’s fun to just give myself some guidance on what I want to accomplish in my reading for the year. And, if you’re following me on Instagram, which I hope you are, then you saw my post on my reading goals for 2024 and one of them is continue to read new authors to me. I love finding new authors that just wow me and I checked out two in December which I’ll talk about in a few minutes.
My other goal, which I embraced this year and want to continue into 2024, is having no shame in putting books on my DNF pile. I used to just slog through books that really weren’t grabbing me and I’m no longer doing that. If I’m not resonating with a title and feel like I’ve given it a shot, or even if it’s not worth that shot, then I stop reading it and move on.
I can’t tell you how freeing that is because there is just a plethora of books waiting for my attention on my TBR list so I’m no longer just sucking it up and finishing a book I don’t like. And you can bet that I’ll share which books go on my DNF pile in these monthly reading recaps so you know what I like and maybe more importantly what I don’t like sometimes.
If you have a reading goal for 2024, share it in the comments on the blog or share it on Instagram on my post or tag me as I’d love to hear it.
OK, onto my list of December 2023 romance reads and what I really thought about them.
First up is Throne of the Fallen by Kerri Maniscalco which is her adult debut novel.
She’s most known for her young adult fantasy series, Kingdom of the Wicked, which I have not read yet but I have all three books at home and am eager to get started on it after reading Throne of the Fallen which earned a nomination for Best Romantasy in the 2023 Goodreads Choice Awards.
This is a fantasy romance with a bit of suspense about a dark prince battling a curse and the artist whom he tricks to join him in the game that he needs to win to save his fallen kingdom. I mentioned her previous series which is the love story of one of the seven princes of Hell, Wrath, but Throne of the Fallen is about Prince Envy. And after reading this book I hope she writes books for the remaining princes of hell!
I really enjoyed this book and gave it a 4 star review. What I liked most was that it read like a historical romance and fantasy romance blend. It’s hard to explain why but the writing and the setting descriptions really made it feel like I was initially reading a historical romance but then the intrigue of this game that Envy is playing and desperate to win kicks up and I found that pretty interesting as well.
The game takes him to the studio of Camilla Antonius because the next step in the game requires her to paint a specific picture for him but what he doesn’t know is that whatever Camilla paints can come to life so there is more than meets the eye about Camilla. After she paints the painting, something happens that propels her to join him on his game (I won’t say what so I won’t give away any spoilers) and what ensues is them traveling to different worlds and trying to solve clues to win this game and break the curse on Envy’s kingdom.
While it was maybe a bit slow at times, which is why I didn’t give it 5 stars, I enjoyed the game and the clues they had to work through. It was also a pretty spicy book which I also love, not going to lie. These two were super hot together and had some amazing chemistry. Envy had this rule that he was only with someone once – he thought it was all someone could handle, but he was guarding himself – and Envy and Camilla built up this great tension to their one and only night but Camilla knew what she was doing when taunting the man who of course wound up wanting more.
Envy gains power when he invokes his sin in others so it was fun for him to try at times to make Camilla jealous but the woman constantly kept him on his toes.
I enjoyed this romantasy and highly recommend it.
Since it was December, I decided I should read a few more holiday romance books and a few Christmas romance books that released in 2023, the first being A Festive Feud by Maren Moore.
This was my first Moore book but it is the second in her Strawberry Hollow series which is all christmas romance books with another one set to release in 2024. This one was getting some buzz on Booktok and Instagram so I wanted to give it a try. And I’ll say overall it was a cute read and I’m glad I read it but it was just that – a cute holiday romance which I gave 3 stars.
And this folks is why Kindle Unlimited is fantastic. I honestly read this book because it was available in Kindle Unlimited. I’m always hesitant to shell out cash for a romance author I haven’t read before whereas checking out someone’s work on KU is risk-free in my mind. I can read a book that catches my eye but if it was just OK or I didn’t like, then no worries. I just return it and find something else to read.
I picked up A Festive Feud because it’s an enemies to lovers romance and you know how I love a good enemies to lovers book. And this was my pick for the December Romance Book Reading Challenge which was to read a book in your favorite trope so yay. Mission accomplished.
A Festive Feud is also a small town romance where two families have been feuding with each other for years and who throw competing Christmas parties for the town. The Worthingtons have been having a posh, upscale christmas party for generations but then the Pearce family moves into town and they aren’t invited to the Worthington party so they start throwing their own party every year with both families trying to sabotage the other’s party.
But this year Jackson Pearce and Emma Worthington get into a bit of a fight/struggle which ends in some costly damage and their penance is to pair up and organize ONE Christmas party for the town together. So it turns into a bit of a forced proximity romance with these two who have always been attracted to one, now forced to plan this party.
I liked how Jackson and Emma were really attracted to one another so it wasn’t hard for them to put the feud aside and the ending was to be expected and adorable. So overall it was a fun read, just not one I see myself rereading.
I used to love to binge-read entire series of romance books one after another and I don’t really do that as often now but I totally binge read the Windy City series for which this is book three. They are all so good but Caught Up is my favorite. This book made my list of best romance books of 2023 and I talked about it on that episode but I’ll rehash it again.
Kai is a single dad and a starting pitcher for Chicago’s MLB team. He didn’t know he was a father until his 6 mo old was dropped on his doorstep but he is hell bent to do anything and everything to raise his son right, even take him on the road with him which isn’t an easy thing to do as a single parent who’s a professional athlete. And he’s not doing a great job of it, firing nanny after nanny, which is why his manager and friend tells him to hire his daughter as his new nanny for the summer and that’s Miller.
She is a professional pastry chef who’s kicking ass in her field and taking names but she’s lost her muse. So she’s hoping to find her spark and spend time with her dad while taking care of Kai’s little cutie. She just didn’t anticipate falling for Kai in the process and vice versa.
This book became a favorite because I loved everything about it. Kai was such an easy hero to love because he loved his son, he loved his brother and he eventually got on board with Miller being his nanny. And once he got to know her, he was really supportive of her career. I loved the date that he organized for her and how, once he finally gave into his feelings, he let his alpha male come out in the bedroom.
Miller too was amazing as this go-getter and incredible chef, but I felt for the guilt she shouldered for so long and her relationship with her dad brought me to tears. Manny, her father, was amazing any time he appeared in the story.
I especially liked that this wasn’t your nanny romance where the younger, innocent nanny falls for the alpha hero. Miller was this strong heroine who was ready let Kai flounder but she stayed to help him out and wasn’t afraid to tempt him because she wanted him. I’m so glad I binge-read this series to get to this book. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.
The next book I read was Iron Flame. Finally! Though I was eagerly awaiting this book and it released in early November, I didn’t get to it until this month but it was worth the wait.
Where Fourth Wing set up life as a dragon rider and the truth that is being hidden in Basgaith, Iron Flame gave us more world-building and the first test to Violet and Xaden’s budding romance. They already had so much stacked against them and life didn’t get much easier for the two connected lovers in book two of the Fourth Wing series.
So Fourth Wing left off on quite a cliffhanger so it was great to pick up right where it left off. The beginning did feel a bit long for me where Xaden and Violet kept arguing about telling each other EVERYTHING, but that’s OK because when you fall for a series and two characters like I have with these two, you want as much as you can get so I was happy to just go with the flow of the 600+ page book!
While I missed the contests of the first year Rider Quadrant, this book gave more tests of strength to Violet, especially with the new commander. Those scenes didn’t hold back and I really got sucked into the dubious world she was trying to maneuver in.
I also liked the addition of the other fliers and the tension that a certain character brought to Violet.
While Violet is obviously the heroine of the story, it seemed like EVERYTHING was on her shoulders.
Of course I ate up every moment between Violet and Xaden. I fell hard for Xaden in Fourth Wing but man did he step up and become one of my favorite book boyfriends of 2023 after reading this one. The moment when he finally voiced his feelings to Violet was epic and I was a total goner. So yeah, a great book, a 4 star read for me and I cannot wait for book three!
Check out my full review of Iron Flame.
Next up was another new Christmas romance book for 2023 which was Snowed In by Catherine Walsh. Another author I had yet to read before this one and another book I read with Kindle Unlimited.
Catherine Walsh had been on my radar because I love that she writes books set in Ireland or with Irish characters and this was her second holiday romance. It’s a fake dating romance so that’s what also drew me into the story because I think those are always fun in holiday romances where you need a fake date to get your family off your back during the holiday festivities.
This book is about Megan who is dreading going home for the holidays because she hasn’t been back in five years I think – not since she left her fiancé, the town’s golden boy, at the altar. Before going home she runs into Christian, a guy she used to go to high school with who is also not looking forward to going home for the holidays because he’s the unattached one in the family and everyone thinks that’s somehow wrong or sad. So they end up coming up with a plan to fake date each other so they have back-up around their families when they go home.
I rated this 3.5 stars because it was a good book with great writing a fun, cozy story. There was actually a lot more behind why Megan left her fiancé at the altar that slowly comes out which I wasn’t expecting but made you understand her more, root for her more and feel for her when she’s been ostracized by her friend group. I would recommend it as a fun holiday romance and will read more of her work, I just won’t be rereading it.
After that book I was ready to start looking forward to 2024 so I read my advanced reader copy of Funny Story by Emily Henry.
This book made my most anticipated romance books of 2024 list because it’s Emily Henry and you know her book is going to be on the bestseller list so I wanted to see what she had to bring in her latest release. And overall I’d say that I liked it and recommend it. It didn’t knock off People We Meet on Vacation as my favorite book of hers but I loved the set up of this story and really fell for the characters.
This is a roommates to lovers romance between two people who get their hearts broken in the worst way.
When Daphne’s fiance realizes he’s actually in love with his childhood best friend Petra, she’s left stranded and proposing to be roommates with the only person who could possibly understand her predicament: Petra’s ex, Miles Nowak. The roommates mainly avoid one another, until one day, they form a tenuous friendship and a plan where they will post deliberately misleading photos of their summer adventures together to make their exes jealous.
I’ve heard so many stories from people I’ve met about how they’ve met their friend or their significant other. This idea of an origin story is universal to all, and I loved how Henry used that fact as the jumping off point for Funny Story. The fact that two exes, whose exes dumped them to be together, end up falling for each other in this story was too hard to pass up and had me loving this story before I even cracked a page.
Seeing their depression and the difficulty they both had in moving on made me believe that they could fall for someone else. If this was an instalove romance I wouldn’t have bought it, but instead, it was a sweet, slow burn that showed their human, hurt side without brushing those feeling aside or under the rug.
The two things that I would change or why this was not a five-star read for me is that it felt like their background stories could’ve just been a bit tighter. I understood how Daphne and Miles’ pasts shaped their previous relationships and selection of partners but I wanted to understand Miles a bit more.
I would have also loved to have seen them post more online of their “fake relationship” to build up more tension between them but that angle of the story just seemed to form as an idea and quickly fade away.
But I will say how she wrapped up the ending in the epilogue to come full circle was brilliant. If you are an Emily Henry fan I would definitely read this book. Hers seem to have this sadness tone to them at times and this one did but yet it was also really uplifting too. I’m glad I read it.
Next up was a book I just randomly picked from my HUGE Kindle library of books. I like to do that every so often, just scroll through my KU library of free books I’ve downloaded from various places over time and just pick one to read. And this month I picked Hot Revenge for Hire by Lili Valente.
I was in the mood for a boss romance and this one caught my eye because it’s about a guy who helps women get the revenge they deserve against their crummy exes. Sebastian aka Bash is the one-man show and CEO of the company but he has a trusty virtual assistnant, Penny, who he’s never met but who he’s gotten to know really well through emails and texts.
He finally comes face to face with her and of course thinks she’s gorgeous when she enlists Bash’s help with her ex – her ex who is about to marry her mother and she has to be the maid of honor at the wedding. Yikes!
I rated this 3.5 stars because it was a fun read and Bash was one awesome dirty talker. Their connection was fun with off-the charts chemistry but I didn’t rate it higher because the ending and epilogue were a letdown. If you like dirty talkers though I’d put this on your TBR list.
Next up is a book that already has a spot on my best romance novels of 2024 list and that’s Fangirl Down by Tessa Bailey.
So aside from my favorites of the month I was reading a lot of OK books so when I could tell this was going to be a GREAT book from the first chapter I was so giddy.
This is a sports romance about Wells Whitaker -once golf’s hottest rising star, but whose career has taken a nosedive leaving him with only one fan who’s always believed in him. Yet when Wells finally decides to up and quit the sport in a blaze of glory, his fangirl finally goes home leaving him with nothing. Determined to make things right, Wells shows up at Josephine’s door with a wild proposal: be his new caddy, help him turn his game around, and split the prize money she desperately needs.
But I’ll start by saying that this book is why I read romance. It has everything that I love about the genre. I had to read it in one sitting because I completely and utterly fell in love with the main characters, the story, and just everything about it. It is perfection.
I really didn’t want to say good bye to these characters because they were so much fun. Josey runs a golf pro shop that recently got destroyed in a hurricane so she needs cash to rebuild it and to renew her medical insurance so she can get the insulin she needs since she’s a type 1 diabetic. But she’s a really funny, sassy, strong heroine who doesn’t want to be coddle due to her diabetes.
Wells was the perfect man for her because he didn’t treat her with kid gloves. And Wells is one of those heroes with a wounded heart who never felt worthy of love or sticking around for yet Josephine was his fan girl, through and through, no matter what. She not only believed in him when he was at the lowest point of his career, but was able to help him look at things differently without being all preachy, though he would mock her for trying to sound all Zen-like.
I think what I loved most is that this book was just a great mix of humor, steam and intriguing storyline without unnecessary dramatics, without miscommunication or noncommunication, and without overly depressing back stories. There was no third act breakup. Even the moment of conflict was just so endearing given the place where it was coming from.
I have so many sections highlighted in this book that I’m going to be rereading over and over again they are so good! I cannot recommend this book enough. Fangirl Down which releases this February. Go and preorder stat!
Check out my book review of Fangirl Down.
The last book I sneaked in for December which I finished at 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve while my kids and I were waiting for the ball to drop was Ruthless Vows by Rebecca Ross.
This book released on December 26 and I immediately went out to purchase it that day with the gift card that I got to my local book store for Christmas because I was anxious to complete Iris and Roman’s story that started in Divine Rivals which is a young adult fantasy romance that I devoured and loved so much.
It picks up two weeks after Iris returns home from the battle front but without Roman who is missing. Iris however and her fellow correspondent Attie, are given another chance to report on Dacre’s movements, and try to intercept the god’s attempt to take over their city.
So the Divine Rivals series is a duet so I knew that the conclusion was coming in this book. While the first book sets the stage for this battle between the two armies fighting for either Dacre or the goddess whose name I’m totally blanking on, it really was about Iris and Roman and their slow burn love story and the way they fell in love while writing letters back and forth with their enchanted typewriters. I loved it.
But this one had less hopefulness and love as it’s underlying thread and was a bit more morose. There was definitely more world-building to explain what was going on with the gods and how Iris was trying to help the soldiers and citizens of Oath while Roman was trying to regain his memories. Because of this there was less of them so it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I still gave it 3.5 stars because Ross can write and it’s a great story, but I wanted more Kitt and Iris which didn’t come for quite a while.
If you love romantasy and want to read a duet and not a long winded fantasy series then I do recommend it.
OK, so that wraps up my list of December romance reads and my review of them and I hope it gave you books to add to your TBR list. You can also check out my post on my 2023 Reading List to see all of the books that I read in 2023, all 120+ of them and the ratings I gave them. I have readers who have told me they love to see everything I read in one place and especially to see what I thought of popular books of the year as sometimes I don’t always love them like everyone else and there is definitely one I can think of off the top of my head where I was in the minority. You’ll have to see if you can find it.
To give you a taste of what to look forward to in my January what to read and what to skip episode, I just finished Fish Out of Water by Katie Ruggle and will be reading Heartless Hunter by Kristen Ciccarelli next, another one of my most anticipated romance books of 2024 so stay tuned for my thoughts on those.
Happy reading…because life is better with a love story!
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