Reviews by Dabney here and Janet here. Sublime, gorgeous tale of an honorable but emotionally scarred soldier and an even more scarred ex-prostitute who is another man’s mistress. I love Grant’s characterization, her prose and the way her stories unfold.
A Lady Awakened, Cecilia Grant, A
Review by Jane. I knew this book was special from the opening pages (actually, I’d have known even before if I better trusted the buzz I’d heard; and being that I’m not that plugged into the romance community, you must know the buzz was loud). Grant gained instant auto-buy status from me.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, A
Review by Dabney. I wasn’t going to include this since it’s most definitely *not* a romance (if anything, it will put one off of marital love for life), but I saw that Dabney had included it in her top ten list, and I figured if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me as well. I don’t read thrillers, but Gone Girl gave me a bit of an idea of what it’s like to sink into a really thrilling thriller – “page turner” is a cliche, but it applies here. I know some people didn’t like the ending, but it worked for me – perhaps because I have, I think, a perverse take on the heroes and villians of this novel.
On the Island, Tracy Garvis Graves, A
Review by January. Gripping, riveting and involving story – not great literature (the prose and characterization were serviceable), but super-readable. I read it in a day; it’s been years since I’ve read a book from start to finish in a single day. So I have to give it an A for that alone. I continue to realize that I have a weird attraction to (sort of) dystopian, man-against-nature themes.
Ravishing the Heiress, Sherry Thomas, A-
Jane’s review is here. I have a friend who was frustrated by this book, and I totally understand why. The hero’s blindness to the heroine’s devotion to him for pretty much the entire book was almost painful to read at times. But I read just about every frustrating page on the verge of tears; I was that emotionally invested. That doesn’t happen to me very often, and I have to commend a book that manages to tug my heartstrings so thoroughly.
Beguiling the Beauty, Sherry Thomas, B+
Jane’s review here. Clearly, I liked this a bit better than Jane did, though I agreed with her criticisms, by and large. The hero’s obsessive “love” for the heroine when he doesn’t even know her is borderline-creepy. What I liked was the homage to Judith Ivory’s Beast, and the honest and thorough depiction of what it means to be as beautiful as the heroine, Venetia, is. Beautiful heroines are a dime a dozen but I really like books that examine what it might mean for a woman to stand out in that way in society.
Tempting the Bride, Sherry Thomas, B+
Review by Kati here. This one was almost an A- for me (as was Beguiling the Beauty, come to think of it). This trilogy by Thomas is interesting to me because each of the books can be fairly criticized as pretty flawed, and I can understand, with each of them, why even a Thomas fan might not like one or another of them. In the case of this book, we have the hoary cliche of amnesia, as well as both hero and heroine who are immature and frankly unlikable at times. Yet each book in the series ended up moving me and absorbing me so much. I value that above a flaw-free book.
At Your Pleasure, Meredith Duran, B+
Dabney’s review is here. I ranked this one so highly mainly on the strength of the writing and the tight plotting. I actually found the characters, especially the hero, somewhat problematic, and I didn’t like the power imbalance between the hero and heroine. But it was romantic and absorbing, and I did believe in the HEA. As with Thomas, Duran’s prose more than makes up for elements that don’t work as well for me.
The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James, B+
My review is here. I liked this a lot, perhaps not quite as much as When Beauty Tamed the Beast, which made my top ten list in 2011. This is one of several romances on this list that had gender-imbalance issues that bugged me. I can’t fault a writer for writing realistically about what it meant to be a woman in 19th century England, but ultimately I think featuring themes that I don’t love does bring my grade down a little bit for these books. But The Ugly Duchess has very appealing characters and sparkling prose, so it does belong on this list.
The Importance of Being Wicked, Miranda Neville, B+
Joint review with Janine here. I was glad to have another chance to try Neville since my first experience with her was just so-so. This complex and romantic tale was a good deal better, and I’ll be looking forward to diving into the rest of her backlist.
has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson,
Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.