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Best of 2012 by Jane

There are books that I felt were exceptional this year and books that I thought were good. A best of list, though, should be about exceptional books. Some of my picks are controversial and I expect to hear about it in the comments!

One I put on the list and took off three times, ultimately deciding it didn’t belong (Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay). In the end, I was unable to identify 10 best books of the year as so many of them would have tied for the 9 and 10 spot (like Sarah Mayberry’s Suddenly You or Karina Bliss’ Bring Him Home).  I didn’t put Kristen Ashley on the list because while I read more of her books than any other authors’ books in 2012 and I probably lost about three weeks of my life compulsively reading through her backlist, they needed more editing to rise to a “best of” on my list.

I feel good about my list of eight books.  They presented something different and fresh for the genre.  They challenged me and I think about these titles long after the book is done.  Many of them I’ve re-read in 2012 at least once and can envision re-reading for many years to come.

  1. Riveted by Meljean Brook (Review here) – What Brook does with disability and otherness in her stories is unmatched.  Further, every book contains a new couple, unrecognizable from previous couples.
  2. A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant (Review here) – This was a genre bender, in my opinion.  A stunning debut that I’ll revisit for years to come.
  3. Easy by Tammara Webber (Review here) – One of the two self published books on my 2012 list, I think Webber will be a standard bearer of the New Adult sub genre.  She writes girl positive stories and tackles difficult issues.
  4. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (Review here) – When I was done, my heart ached for the two protagonists.
  5. Heat by R. Lee Smith (Review here) – This book took me places that were uncomfortable and unsavory. I could not stop reading.  The world building was tremendous.  Not published in 2012.
  6. Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady. (Review here) – In a year of paranormals that mostly failed for me, this layered post apocalyptic steampunk story gave me meaty worldbuilding and a rich romance.
  7. Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas (Review here) – Thomas’ trilogy was a challenge for me. I responded negatively to the first one and felt discontent with the last, but this book took me through the angst wringer and left me a heap of worn out emotion.
  8. Can’t Buy Me Love by Molly O’Keefe (Review here) –  Tara was such a great and different and challenging heroine.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. Megan
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:11:15

    I haven’t read all of these, not by a long shot, but I put the Grant and O’Keefe on my top 3 list for the year. I keep waffling about the Thomas book, because she puts her characters through so much agony it can be painful to read. I need to get the other ones on your list, too. Sounds like I’ll really like Easy and Heat. Thanks!

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  2. Rosario
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:27:41

    I’m still doing mine, but 4 of yours will almost certainly be on it (Riveted, A Lady Awakened, Easy and Ravishing The Heiress), and I think Can’t Buy Me Love will be just off. But then there are two more of yours that I didn’t like at all and DNFd (Pushing The Limits and Hearts of Darkness).

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  3. Tamara Hogan
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:50:30

    I found “Heat” a disturbing, challenging read, in the best possible way. The world-building, as Jane mentioned, is fabulous, and craft-wise, I’m STILL trying to pick apart exactly how and why I came to care about (gulp) Kane – quite a feat!

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  4. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:52:41

    Riveted and Easy are on my best list as well. I’ll check out the others.

    Heat is probably the worst book I read all year. I hate it more every time I think about it. The subject matter was disturbing, yes, but there were plot and worldbuilding flaws throughout. It started out great and I loved the intensity. For me, it quickly devolved into mindless violence & humiliation.

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  5. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:54:06

    @Megan: I recommend reading January’s review of Heat first.

    @Rosario: I think I may be only one of a few who enjoyed Hearts of Darkness, but I thought she did a great job of inventing a new and different world with a mix of different mythologies. The conflict seemed insurmountable and the romance well blended but I’ve seen a lot of people have the same reaction as you did.

    I’m a little more surprised that Pushing the Limits did not resonate with you but completely understand your points (http://rosario.blogspot.com/2012/11/pushing-limits-by-katie-mcgarry.html). The high school aspect of the story did seem to be exaggerated, but it is a YA book and I wondered if it wasn’t age appropriate (I can’t seem to make that judgment very well).

    I read your Easy review last night and agreed on all points. ;) I thought Good for You by Webber was even better than Easy but I couldn’t put it on my list because it was published in 2011.

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  6. Dabney
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:54:19

    I’d have put Heat on my list too. (I stuck to books published in 2012.) I’ve reread it several times this year and every time I find it engaging, sexy, thought provoking, and disturbing.

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  7. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:02:13

    @Dabney: Ah, did I mess up the pub date on Heat. I screw this up regularly.

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  8. Brie
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:04:56

    Our lists are quite similar, but to me the ending of Ravishing the Heiress ruined what was otherwise a wonderful story. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Heat, but I thought it was a very interesting story and I’m glad I took the risk. The awful prequel novella put me off reading Heart of Darkness, but maybe I’ll reconsider. Everything else, I 100% agree with you.

    I think my 2012 had more memorable reads than yours, even though I felt it was an overall mediocre year.

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  9. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:08:19

    @Brie: Yes, there were few real stand outs for me but all Best of lists are flawed because they are based only on what we read and not the entire body of books published. I have books on my TBR list that could have been awesome but I just couldn’t make it through.

    I think one difference between this last and the last year’s lists have been the lack of category books on my list. I’ve been a heavy reader of categories, but this year I replaced categories with self published books. I think the emotional energy from the self published books was stronger even if the technical writing and professional production wasn’t there.

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  10. KT Grant
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:09:59

    Easy is one of my favorite books this. Definitely in my top 10. IMO, Easy is what a perfect New Adult book is. Lucas puts to shame most love interests I’ve read in YA and NA and even some adult romance this year.

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  11. Erin Satie
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:31:40

    A Lady Awakened and Easy also made my list this year. Heat would have made my list last year, when I first read it , but I didn’t make one. Still a phenomenal book.

    Sea of Tranquility came pretty close to making my list – I ended up thinking it was too similar to Easy and one thing I prioritize on my list is variety. Still, I wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t read the review here.

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  12. Rosario
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:39:10

    @Jane:

    Oh, that’s great to hear about Good For You, as I just went and bought every other Tammara Webber I could find. It looks like it’s the third in a trilogy, though. Do I need to read that in order?

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  13. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:43:32

    @Rosario: I read backwards and I think it worked out better for me because the male protag is a villain in the previous two books. I thought Book 1 and 2 in that series was decent but definitely not as good or as romantic as Good for You and Easy.

    I was impressed with how Webber took the do gooder stereotype and made her so accessible. Often that type of character is presented as uptight and in need of shaking up but that wasn’t the case. She provides the stabilizing influence that Reid needed. I know for some, the HEA seems a little too premature but it made sense for me. I believed.

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  14. Courtney
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:49:32

    Jane, I generally agree with your reviews so I’m going to give some of these a try. I recently returned to Sherry Thomas and started the Fitzhugh Trilogy with “Beguiling a Beauty.” I enjoyed it (didn’t love it) since I thought it sort of petered out in the end. I think Sherry Thomas may be one of those authors who once she uses a device, continues to return to it (such as the flashbooks). I quit reading her years ago after her second (or was it third?) book where it seemed as though all she could write was the “we-were-once-married-and-now-long-separated-will-return-to-lovers,” trope. Maybe it’s the same with the flashbacks since that seems to be of concern to some of the reviewers on Amazon as well for this and other books of hers.

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  15. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:51:18

    @Courtney: I don’t know that I have read a ST book that does not have flashbacks. I would love to see one though. They are not my favorite type of writing device.

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  16. Courtney
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:53:36

    Jane-I think you’ve read more Sherry Thomas books than I have, so you’re likely correct. I think it’s too bad because I think Thomas is an incredibly gifted writer and storyteller and her writing could be even stronger without the flashbacks.

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  17. Mandi
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 11:55:52

    very interesting list Jane…I really need to try Easy and Pushing the Limits.

    The first 3/4 of Ravishing the Heiress would make my list. I’d have to leave off the end ;)

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  18. Kati
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 12:51:49

    Easy just missed being on my list. I think it’s because I read Good For You first, and fell hard for it. I also really enjoyed Easy, but Good For You resonated more with me.

    I still haven’t read Riveted, despite that fact that I’ve literally not seen a single review that was less than gushing about it. But I just don’t love Steampunk, and I’m not sure my dislike of the genre can outweigh Meljean’s brilliance (and I mean that sincerely).

    I also have Can’t Buy Me Love, but for some reason haven’t read it. I think it might be because I have this perception that it’s what I call “Ha-Ha” romance, which I just don’t do.

    But then, our reading tastes generally are so similar, Jane, I think I need to reconsider.

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  19. Erin Satie
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 13:08:39

    @Kati:

    Kati – all the laughs in Can’t Buy Me Love are the sort that distract you from the fact that the author is gearing up for a sucker punch to the gut. It’s a funny book but in a bittersweet, painful way. Very emotional.

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  20. Readsalot81
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 13:18:11

    I will have to buy a Cecilia Grant novel. I’ve heard more than a few reviewers and friends I trust rave about her books. I think I’ll do that this weekend.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on Easy and Pushing the Limits. I don’t consider myself a huge YA lover (though I’m reading more & more so maybe that’s changing) and those were two of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Pushing the Limits made me cry.

    Hearts of Darkness – Bah. I admired the intricacy of the worldbuilding but the characters just left me cold and I ended up DNF’ing it.

    I still haven’t read Riveted yet, though I loved the Iron Duke & her IronSeas novellas.

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  21. cleo
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 13:44:26

    Of the books you mention that I’ve read, I love, love, loved Riveted and Suddenly You (and I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to Sarah Mayberry). I didn’t like Can’t Buy Me Love as much as you did – I liked the heroine a lot, but the romance fell flat for me. I have A Lady Awakened and Pushing The Limits, as well as Bring Him Home, in my TBR pile.

    I’ve been enjoying these best of 2012 lists – it makes me reflect on my year in books. This was my first full year owning an ereader – I’ve read a lot more than previous years and I’ve been more adventurous (at least in romance). This was the year that I discovered m/m romance – and that is entirely because of DA. I bought my first (Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton) based on a review by SarahF and read it in Jan. And then I went on to read 100+ more m/m romances. I also went on a major BDSM romance glom thanks to all the “if you liked 50 Shades of Gray” type threads on DA and SBTB.

    This is kind of ott but I’d love to see an open thread on “best books I read in 2012 because of DA” – not necessarily books published in 2012 but books or authors discussed / reviewed at DA in 2012 that resonated with us.

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  22. Dabney
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 14:05:47

    @Jane: Maybe next year we can make two lists: the best books we read published in 2013 and the best books we read.

    If I had made a list of the latter, Heat would certainly be on it. So would Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman, The Price of Innocence by Susan Sizemore, Unclaimed by Courney Milan, and The Photograph by Penelope Lively.

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  23. ancientpeas
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 14:10:56

    I think I’m the only person who hated A Lady Awakened. I got it on Audio and it’s the first and only audiobook I have ever returned. Not liking this book makes me feel like I’ve missed something that everyone else sees. I was bored silly and I really didn’t like the heroine. Admired her for miles and didn’t like her. Weird, but that’s the way I felt.

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  24. Jen
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 14:47:15

    I’ve read 5 of the 7 books on your list.
    Easy is easily (har) one of my favorites.
    Riveted was wonderful, although I admit that Brook’s books trip me up a bit in regards to world building. But I adored the romance, absolutely loved it!
    A Lady Awakened was okay. The lyrical prose became sing-songy after a while.
    Pushing the Limits and Can’t Buy Me Love were just huge nopes for me. I guess I just didn’t feel like either book had real heart. It felt like the authors were trying too hard to make their characters tortured and deep.

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  25. Courtney
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 15:55:16

    @ancientpeas-I had the same reaction to “A Lady Awakened.” It just didn’t work for me on a lot of levels, which is the nature of reading and books. Like I said above, I “generally” agree with Jane and the other reviewers here, but now and then they’ll recommend a book that I don’t connect with. That said, I had the same experience with this book that I’ve had with Courtney Milan, Julia Quinn, and Eloise James- tons of trusted recommendations (from readers whose taste I share), didn’t work for me, BUT I could see why so many loved the books. Does that make sense? For me, if I don’t connection emotionally in some way with at least one of the main characters, I’m not going to love the book.

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  26. ancientpeas
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 18:13:45

    Courtney, yes I see what you mean. But for me it was actual dislike of the book. Not just ambivience but outright dislike. I listened to the 50 shades series and liked it more than A Lady Awakened. I’m horrified at myself for that. But the heroine just got on my last nerve and then sat there telling me I was a bad person for not admiring her more. I kept listening, stopping, listening to something else, putting off listening to it, dropped listening to it when Iced came out and then finally finished. Like slogging through glue. And I don’t blame the narrator. It was Susan Erickson and she’s normally great.

    I did better with the two Sherry Thomas books though. I read those and liked them. I still have to read Beguiling the Beauty. I liked Can’t buy me love and I did like the Iron Duke but I’ve fallen behind on the Iron Seas books so I need to catch up. I think my taste is normally lower brow and more formaliac than Jane’s (just from looking at her other reviews). I have comfort zones and I tend to stay in them.

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  27. LJD
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 20:44:33

    I haven’t read any of those! Although I’ve bought one, and have another three on my wishlist.

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  28. Jane
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 21:21:50

    @KT Grant: I loved the story more for the girl positive message than Lucas but well rounded characters on both sides make for a stellar story.

    @Kati: Can’t Buy Me Love, like Erin Satie says, is not a ha ha romance. There are moments of witticism, but it’s more like SEP than Rachel Gibson.

    @Readsalot81: Riveted was fantastic. Just amazing.

    @cleo: I think your idea is a great one Cleo! I’ll have to post that next week some time.

    @Jen: I can see your complaints about PtL and Can’t Buy Me Love. I was reading another New Adult book the other day and emailed a friend about it. She asked me why so many NA books featured psychological trauma. Sometimes it does seem manipulative and forced.

    @ancientpeas: I don’t think your taste is low brow at all. I have my own favorite tropes too. I think we all do.

    @Courtney: I think we all have those experiences – the books that others loved that you don’t get. Mine is Karen Marie Moning’s Barron series. I thought book 1 was pretty good and books 2-4 were boring and book 5? pretty much a let down.

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  29. cleo
    Dec 22, 2012 @ 16:10:18

    @Jane: Awesome!!

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  30. Jess (The Cozy Reader)
    Dec 22, 2012 @ 20:33:16

    I’m very interested to hear why Sea of Tranquility got on and off the list so many times?

    I LOVED that book. I disagree with the other comment of it being too much like EASY. I liked EASY too but Sea of Tranquility was much better.

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  31. Jane
    Dec 22, 2012 @ 20:54:42

    @Jess (The Cozy Reader): I loved how the author brought it home for me but felt that the pacing was laborious, particularly in the beginning.

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  32. In Which I am Validated by Year-end Lists « Cecilia Grant
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 15:30:33

    [...] Lady was named by Romance Around the Corner, The Librarian Reads (check it out, offspring, Mom is on a list with John Green!), Radish Reviews, Erin Satie, Shallowreader, Megan Frampton at Heroes & Heartbreakers, and Jane at Dear Author. [...]

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