Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Top Ten Lists

Sunita’s Best of 2013

Sunita’s Best of 2013

I want to echo what Jane said in her Best of 2013 post: “Reading is such a subjective thing so no doubt these lists have a number of books readers won’t agree with. The lists are not only flawed by the bias of the people creating the lists, but also by the books we haven’t read.” This is so true for me this year, not only because there are a lot of books published this year that I haven’t read yet, but also in my case because I read a lot of older and reissued books. I read books that aren’t by any stretch romances. I read fewer m/m romances and very few mainstream historicals. This year, I didn’t get to books by a lot of my autobuy authors, especially in category romance. Finally, I decided that I would limit myself to one book per author. With those caveats, here’s my list of my top 8 books of 2013, in alphabetical order by author:

Twisted by Laura K. Curtis Twisted by Laura K. Curtis. I enjoy Romantic Suspense a lot, but sometimes attempts to combine romantic interludes with dangerous situations don’t work well, and the heroines are all too often reliant on the heroes to rescue them. While this novel leans more toward the mystery and suspense side than the romance side, the characterizations and setting were so well done that the overall balance worked for me. Curtis makes Dobbs Hollow come alive, and she evokes the small-town gothic feel which can make mystery novels so atmospheric without lapsing into stereotypes. The book is heroine-centric, which I love, and Lucy is a strong, competent heroine who isn’t crushed by her difficult past. Ethan is a good match for her, and while I would have liked to see Lucy saving Ethan occasionally, I found their relationship to be much more equal than I usually do in RS, and I believed in their HEA.

Bone Rider by J. FallyBone Rider by J. Fally. This is a book that reads like a movie script, and trying to explain what it’s about it makes it sound like Mars Attacks meets Independence Day meets Innerspace, but with gay romance and Russian mobsters. This description would not be wrong, but it is so, so incomplete. The novel is long and full of different POVs and it takes the reader on quite a ride. It’s definitely not a book that will work for every reader, but if you read the first chapter or two and are sucked in, you’ll probably love it as much as I did. Riley, Misha, and McLane are one of the most intriguing and unusual love triangles I’ve met in my decades of reading romance, and the book never flagged, from the slam-bang start to the mostly unbelievable but also mostly satisfying finish.

The-Chocolate-Kiss-Florand-Laura-9780758269416The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand. It’s as hard for me to choose a favorite Florand story as it is to choose a favorite macaron, but this one wins my year. It’s my favorite type of romance: a fairy-tale setting with characters that feel as if we could run into them in our own lives. The location of the Île de France contributed to the other-wordliness of the story and enhanced the sense of Magalie’s retreat from the world around her. The hero, Philippe is as nuanced and complex as Florand’s best depictions, and Magalie, the heroine, is utterly captivating. And Magalie’s aunts, Geneviève and Aja, are both a subtle reminder of the varied types of enduring love that exist as well as much more than the somewhat dotty eccentrics they first appear to be. Best of all, it’s a fabulous enemies-to-lovers story.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayRiver of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. This companion novel to Under Heaven is set in a 12th century country based on the Song Dynasty of China. Like Kay’s other books, this is more historical fantasy than historical fiction; the characters are based on real people but it is not a fictionalization of those real lives. The writing is lush and elegant, and while this is primarily a novel of ideas, the romance between Ren Daiyan and and Lin Shan recalls the epic romances that many of us love to read and have trouble finding these days.

Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

The Firebird by Susannah Kearsley. This is a sequel of sorts to both The Shadowy Horses and The Winter Sea, but it can be read on its own. Like some of Kearsley’s other novels, it has parallel narratives set in the present and the past, with romantic story lines in both. I adore The Winter Sea, and the structure and story lines of The Firebird recall that book stylistically and substantively. Both Nicola and Rob in the present and Anna in the past are wonderful characters, and I especially loved Anna. It’s unusual and so welcome to read about a child who is smart and precocious but always feels like a child, and she grows into just the kind of woman you expect her to be. The Firebird is romantic in so many ways: the relationships, of course, but also the settings and the atmosphere.

haunted heart josh lanyonThe Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon. 2012 was a tough year for some of us when Lanyon was on sabbatical. This 2013 release marks the first novella of a series (Winter will be followed by the other seasons, so there will be four installments in all). It combines classic Lanyon character types and mystery plot with a dash of paranormal to create a mystery-romance-ghost-story. Lanyon is one of the few m/m writers who creates characters with traumatic backstories and then dials down the angst, rather than dialing it up to 11. This installment concentrates on the narrator, Flynn, and as the story progresses we learn more about why he feels he doesn’t have much to live for. He’s matched by an older, more mature love interest who has his own issues to deal with. The restrained style meant that the revelations hit me with greater force, and while there is definitely an HFN to this installment, I think the HEA is going to take quite a bit longer. For new readers who enjoy ghost stories, this is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Lanyon’s work.

The Lotus Palace by Jeannie LinThe Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin. I really enjoyed The Sword Dancer, Lin’s Harlequin Historical release, but this book is just so good in so many ways, it edged the former out when I had to make a choice. The added length gives it a texture and complexity that the shorter format doesn’t allow, and both the mystery plot and the romance can unfold at a leisurely pace. The setting of Tang Dynasty China in general and the Pinkang Li quarter in particular are beautifully realized. Wei-Wei and Bai Huang come from very different classes and have very different personalities, but their romance is believable and enthralling. Lin manages to overcome the major class barriers to the HEA in a way that makes sense for the time, and as I said in my review, “the way the context and the language reflected a more formal, hierarchical society while still showing the way romantic and familial love shaped people’s motivations and actions” made this an unmissable, memorable read.

Sleigh Bells In the Snow Sarah MorganSleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan. If I’ve had one complaint about Morgan’s category romances, it’s that I’ve found the shorter word count to be detrimental to a fully realized story, so I was very curious to see what Morgan would do in her first single title. It met all my hopes and expectations. This is a Christmas story for people who have decidedly mixed-to-negative feelings about Christmas (there are a lot of us out there), and Morgan is able to combine a fairy-tale storyline and setting with realistic characters. No one captures both the happiness and the sorrow of the holiday season like Morgan does, and she expertly mixes small-town romance with humor, warmth, and poignancy. And best of all, while the hero is terrific, this is a heroine-centric story with a number of interesting, strong women characters.

Jayne’s Best of 2013

Jayne’s Best of 2013

The last few years I’ve done these year end lists, I’ve come up short of 10. I’ve realized either I’m not reading the right books for me, I’m too picky a reader or I’m totally out of touch with what’s popular right now. So when my list kept growing all year long, I began to think – “OMG, I just might make the max this year!”

Well, not only did I make the max, I exceeded it – whoopee! In ecstatic acknowledgement of that I’ve decided to go over the limit of 10. Yes, yes I will. In order by grade and not much else –

Back-Across-the-StyxBack Across the River Styx by Karalynn Lee – This one is so good I read it twice just to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating about how good it is. When I finished it the second time, I was still as enchanted with it. Since I have more books on hand – print and ebooks – than I will probably ever be able to finish, the fact that I spent time rereading says a lot to me. Greek mythology is perfectly blended with romance. The story arc is complete and satisfactory. The use of historical fact is imaginative and ingenious. I’m running out of adjectives for how good this novella is.

story-guyThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – This one came in for its fair share of criticism but it drew me in from the start and didn’t let go. It’s beautifully written, emotionally engaging and about people who seemed real to me rather than hangers on which to drape an improbable plot. It made me smile as well as cry. It’s also made 2 other DA reviewers’ end of the year lists. ‘Nuff said.

Starting-From-ScratchStarting from Scratch by Stacy Gail – I usually hate amnesia plots, am tired of small town stories and kitsch so for this one to be one of my favorites for 2013 amazed me. Yes, it’s a little heavy on explanations of military life but these go to show what came between the hero and heroine and how much they have to overcome for their HEA. This also backs up the angst, giving it depth instead of leaving it to feel like a shallow check off list of faux emotions to me. I also enjoyed the relationship between the heroine and her best friend from childhood. I’ll be looking for his story.

geek-with-cat-tattooGeek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir – A cat as a narrator? Absolutely and it’s not a shifter story either. The second in this series of three cat siblings finding their forever owner or helping their forever owner find a HEA I loved this one even more than the first from last year. The hero’s shyness and the heroine’s self doubts are perfectly captured. Sam the cat is a wonderful matchmaker and if this one doesn’t make you want to donate to an animal shelter, you have a heart of stone.

Love IrresistiblyLove Irresistibly by Julie James – This is a wonderful relationship story between two well drawn, believable characters who have full lives, friends, believable backstories and can speak lawyer to each other. The conflicts are centered on them rather than an external villain and I felt that I got a multilayered view of them as people and why I should care about them and about them falling in love.

bridgeThe Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher – I think this is probably the most unusual blurb for a book to be offered to Dear Author this year. Two people determined to end it all who try and give the other a reason to live is not a storyline I come across every day. Could this possibly be anything other than a downer to read? Indeed yes, it could be. It’s also an illuminating trip through what two people think makes the best of New York City. The story doesn’t pull punches and never sinks to “feel good” attempts to diminish the real pain the characters have endured and still feel. The ending is hopeful and HFN but I appreciate the fact that it’s real and honest.

sweet-and-sourSweet and Sour by Astrid Amara – I read a lot of holiday themed novellas this year as well as more lgbt stories and this one is good enough to make the “best of” cut. It’s as much the ending of an old relationship as the beginning of a new one which takes a bit of finesse, IMO. It’s also a Hanukkah story and while I can understand that this isn’t considered a major Jewish holiday, it’s still nice to get a holiday story other than one about Christmas.

the-tilted-worldThe Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fenelly – Can an artiste of illegal whiskey and a revenue agent determined to uncover her identity and shut her down find their chance at love in rural Mississippi in 1927? Read this book and you will believe in their slow, gentle romance even as the raging, flooded Mississippi River threatens the town with total destruction. It’s not only a love story but a trip back in time I enjoyed making.

Rhythm-and-BluegrassRhythm and Bluegrass by Molly Harper – This is the second book in the series and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. It’s funny and yet a view of the struggle that many small and not-so-small US towns are faced with in an effort to modernize and survive in today’s global economy. I liked that the conflicts are real, the people are adult about how they deal with them and the hero and heroine have time to let their attraction sizzle a bit before jumping into bed. Nothing felt phony or made up – despite the town name.

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker – What, me read a book set in the world of Jane Austen? At the beginning of the year I would have laughed to think I would but here it is in my top reads of the year. The view of life from below stairs at Longbourn is what drew me in but the descriptions and depictions of the servants as they go about their lives while the major events of “Pride and Prejudice” go on above stairs is what kept me reading. The story, though, isn’t all about how the servants view the Bennett sisters finding love. Instead there is a romance for one of their own that seemed realistic to me. I not only want to believe in their HEA, I do believe it.

Knowing-the-ScoreKnowing the Score by Kat Latham – This one tackled me like a rugby player – in a good way. And by the time I finished it I knew a lot more about the sport than I had. It’s funny, has great dialog and uses UK/US slang brilliantly. The hero should be bottled and sold by the gross. He wins his heroine by being nice to her as well as admiring her work ethic instead of being a prick. The heroine’s virginity might put off readers but it’s made to seem reasonable for her given her past. By the end of the story, I felt that both of them had totally opened themselves to the other and were all set for their HEA.

passion-purple-plumeriaThe Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig – I rejoiced to see this book about an older heroine and older hero finding their HEA. I love that the heroine is shown as competent and intelligent. Also that her hero sees and admires this in her. The modern day parts of the story worked just as well for me which hasn’t always been the case in this series. It’s still going strong and I’m still anticipating the next one, which says volumes.

Carolina-GirlCarolina Girl by Virginia Kantra – Books about small town life often put me off by making the small town into a paean of wonderful. That’s not the case here as both the heroine and hero return to the small Carolina coastal town they couldn’t wait to leave. It’s also has a great family relationship arc that is being carried through the whole series. Though I think readers could start with this one if they wish. Both the hero and heroine mature, make concessions and help each other each with their individual goals as well as their relationship one.

Her-Hesitant-Heart1Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly – I love me a Carla Kelly historical and if it’s a western, that’s the cherry on top. This book might seem like just so much same-old, using standard Kelly tropes, with standard Kelly wry humor to tell the story of two deserving people triumphing over those who want to shame them and/or put them down for acting like honorable adults instead of asshats but, damn it, that’s what I love about her books.

Must Like Kids by Jackie BraunMust Like Kids by Jackie Braun – This isn’t the usual saccharine, baby filled Harlequin offering. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment but overabundance of secret babies and surprise pregnancies of this publisher leaves it wide open for such statements. Given the number of embarrassing tweets, live mic fuckups and other ways public people have dug themselves into holes this year, the set-up is inspired. I enjoyed watching a heroine who is good at her job and a hero willing to gracefully accept her expertise. The children of the story are realistic instead of being plot moppets. The relationship is allowed time to develop and the characterization remains consistent. Too bad about the cover.