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Janine’s Best of 2010 List

In alphabetical order by author:

*Full disclosure from Janine: Meredith Duran is my critique partner and good friend.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

24 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 11:35:48

    You surpassed me in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I don’t know why I thought you didn’t like the series. Must be confusing you with someone else and I still haven’t read MWT’s last book yet. I’m kind of savoring it. Great list. Need to look up Dia Reeves.

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  2. Janine
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:19:17

    I added a couple of parenthetical comments and review links to the list, since every book has been reviewed here.

    @Keishon:

    You surpassed me in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I don't know why I thought you didn't like the series. Must be confusing you with someone else

    Maybe because it took me over a year to read catch up to Catching Fire? I did enjoy all of them. The first one is my favorite. Mockingjay, my second favorite in the trilogy, barely made my list, because it was a painful read at times, but I thought it was very well written, so I gave it a spot.

    and I still haven't read MWT's last book yet. I'm kind of savoring it.

    Since it takes her about four years to write each of her books, you might as well savor a while. But read it while you still remember the characters. Sophos especially, since he’s the main character of this book. I enjoyed this book so much, though I would have loved a little more Gen and Attolia.

    Need to look up Dia Reeves.

    Bleeding Violet rocked. One of the Book Smugglers (Ana, I think) loved it too. Reeves is really a unique and different writer.

    Lastly, I should probably mention that though I left my crit partner Sherry Thomas’s book, His at Night, off my list, it wasn’t because I didn’t adore the book. Rather, it was because the critique process was particularly intense and therefore I feel less objective about that book than I usually am about her books.

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  3. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:50:44

    I’ve read only three of the books on the list, but I didn’t count them as my best reads. I’ve heard such great things about the Hunger Games Trilogy, but I have a bias against YA, lol.

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  4. Estara
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 14:00:13

    Since I don’t necessarily count the books released in a current year as my best ones, I’d have different names (for example, Katherine Eliska Kimbriel re-released Fires of Nuala which I never read in the 80s and it was definitely among my most favourite books this year), but lots of your picks where among my favourite reads in general, which encourages me in believing that what you read and review well will also be to my taste. Win situation ^^.

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  5. Jennie
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 17:12:42

    There’s definitely some overlap between our lists, as you’ll see when mine is published. I really need to read The Iron Duke.

    Incidentally, I read four of the books on your list very recently: Play of Passion, I Kissed an Earl, A Conspiracy of Kings and Last Night’s Scandal – I loved the last one, but the other three didn’t work as well for me. Especially the Julie Ann Long – I think I’ve starting to like every other book from her or something like that. She really goes up and down for me much more than any other author that I generally really like.

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  6. Karenmc
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 17:23:49

    I read historicals almost exclusively, and I agree with your choices in that category (and can add His at Night, because I never critiqued it ;). I put a big toe into the water of world-building with The Iron Duke and loved it. Guess I have to snag a copy of Burning Up so I can read Here There Be Monsters.

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  7. Vi
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 18:16:38

    Wicked Becomes You is my favorite Duran book. Gwen and Alex were a delight to read. I also love His At Night as well.

    I’m making it one of my goals to read Brook’s Guardians series next year. I just love the way she tells a story.

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  8. Janine
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 18:56:18

    @Evangeline Holland:

    I've read only three of the books on the list, but I didn't count them as my best reads.

    Sorry to hear that. Can you say which ones?

    I've heard such great things about the Hunger Games Trilogy, but I have a bias against YA, lol.

    Interesting. I think YA is the most creative genre right now, and I find I’m reading more of it than I have in the past.

    @Estara:

    Since I don't necessarily count the books released in a current year as my best ones, I'd have different names (for example, Katherine Eliska Kimbriel re-released Fires of Nuala which I never read in the 80s and it was definitely among my most favourite books this year), but lots of your picks where among my favourite reads in general, which encourages me in believing that what you read and review well will also be to my taste. Win situation.

    Great to hear that. Do you list your favorite reads of the year anywhere, Estara? Post a link if you have.

    @Jennie:

    There's definitely some overlap between our lists, as you'll see when mine is published.

    Cool.

    I really need to read The Iron Duke.

    Yes you really do! But I loved “Here There Be Monsters” even more, so if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend starting there.

    Incidentally, I read four of the books on your list very recently: Play of Passion, I Kissed an Earl, A Conspiracy of Kings and Last Night's Scandal – I loved the last one, but the other three didn't work as well for me.

    Last Night’s Scandal rocked. It’s quite possibly my favorite romance of the year. As for the other three, none of them were perfect, but I enjoyed them all very much.

    Especially the Julie Ann Long – I think I've starting to like every other book from her or something like that. She really goes up and down for me much more than any other author that I generally really like.

    Interesting. That book had a slow-to-grab me start but I thought the second half was stupendous. It’s the first one of her Pennyroyal Green (Eversea/Redmond) series that I’ve loved. Even though I have liked the other books in the series, I haven’t enjoyed a Julie Anne Long book this much since The Secret to Seduction, which was four books ago.

    I feel somewhat similarly about Play of Passion — it’s the first Nalini Singh book I have thoroughly enjoyed since Angels’ Blood which is also four books ago. But then, where the Psy/Chageling series is concerned, I seem to like the wolf stories best for some reason.

    I’m curious what it was you didn’t care for about A Conspiracy of Kings? I thought it was more involving than The Thief or the first half of The Queen of Attolia.

    @Karenmc: Nice to hear my taste in historicals matches up with yours. Here There Be Monsters is terrific! And if you want to dip your toe further into historical world-building subgenre, I really recommend Shana Abe’s drakon series starting with The Smoke Thief.

    @Vi: Glad you enjoyed Gwen and Alex. I take it from your comment that you are also an Iron Duke fan? That book was so fresh and different. I need to re-dip my toe in the Guardians series sometime as well.

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  9. Vi
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 20:21:55

    Yes, I so love The Iron Duke and Here There Be Monsters. I’ve found ways to give this book even to my non- romance reading friends. :)

    I just re-read your review of I Kissed an Earl. I’m still torn about reading this book. I haven’t yet quite found a Long book that I enjoy, not that I’ve tried many of her books.

    I would like to say that of the historicals, Marry Me by Jo Goodman is also on my Top 10 list. Such an amazing book. I’m sad to leave the town of Reidsville behind.

    Let’s talk about Wicked Becomes You again. Gwen and Alex are now one if my favorite romance couples. I hope Ms. Duran doesn’t take offense to me saying this: when I hear the cheesy over-used phrase of “You complete me,” I think of them. They really do complete and complement each other well. *sighs dreamily* Sorry for this rambling, lol.

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  10. Janine
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 21:19:21

    @Vi: As Jennie said, Julie Anne Long’s books can be a bit uneven, so I would encourage you to keep trying. Maybe you can get I Kissed an Earl from the library?

    I haven’t read the Goodman book yet. I really need to try her again.

    I hope Ms. Duran doesn't take offense to me saying this: when I hear the cheesy over-used phrase of “You complete me,” I think of them. They really do complete and complement each other well.

    I doubt she will! That is really a huge compliment to any author of romantic books.

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  11. Karenmc
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 21:29:14

    Come to think of it, I’ve read The Smoke Thief, liked it in some ways, but was thrown off by the dragon flying over London. Maybe I’m more open to fantasy now and I might try the other two Drakon books.

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  12. Jennie
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 00:27:45

    Interesting. That book had a slow-to-grab me start but I thought the second half was stupendous. It's the first one of her Pennyroyal Green (Eversea/Redmond) series that I've loved. Even though I have liked the other books in the series, I haven't enjoyed a Julie Anne Long book this much since The Secret to Seduction, which was four books ago.

    I was looking back at my grades for previous books of hers, and the Eversea/Redmond series particularly has been up and down for me. I gave The Perils of Pleasure a B-, but I think it was a low B- because in my memory I found that book irritating. But I liked Since the Surrender quite a bit more – I gave it a B+ but it was a high B+.

    I gave I Kissed an Earl a B- too; I just felt the story and many of the elements were too cliched. It’s too bad, because I did like Violet as a heroine.

    I feel somewhat similarly about Play of Passion -’ it's the first Nalini Singh book I have thoroughly enjoyed since Angels' Blood which is also four books ago. But then, where the Psy/Chageling series is concerned, I seem to like the wolf stories best for some reason.

    And I’m the opposite; I don’t mind a changeling in one of the roles, but I find the Psy more interesting, and there’s more balance in a Psy/changeling pairing. Plus, if I have to read the phrase “predatory changeling male” one more time, I may just scream.

    I'm curious what it was you didn't care for about A Conspiracy of Kings? I thought it was more involving than The Thief or the first half of The Queen of Attolia.

    I think I got a little weary of the structure of Turner’s storytelling – the way that important details are hidden from the reader until she chooses to reveal them. I really like it in the first book; it was unusual and interesting. The first and second books both featured Gen prominently, and that structure fit his character, plus which he was such a compelling character that I would’ve read anything about him.

    In The King of Attolia, most of it was not from Gen’s POV, so key facts were being withheld from the main protagonist along with the reader. Whereas in A Conspiracy of Kings, we have a hero, who, while likable, was less compelling than Gen, and the same structure. It just struck me as too clearly manipulative in this case.

    That said, I did like A Conspiracy of Kings – I just didn’t love it.

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  13. Estara
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 08:54:15

    @Janine: Well, I haven’t managed to sustain my own blogging drive, but since I discovered GoodReads.com I’ve re-discovered my book rating and reviewing drive ^^ – so I’ll just link you to the books I read in 2020 lined up according to rating with 5 stars first, most recent at the top – those would be my favourite reads since April 2010(when I joined GoodReads – I haven’t managed to add the books I read previously) – rereads included.

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  14. Janine
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:05:47

    @Karenmc: I think she’s up to five drakon books now. The fifth came close to making my list this year but didn’t quite break into my top ten. But it may be that Brook’s books work better for you partly because they are speculative in a different way — more SF romance (where the changes are technology based) then fantasy/paranormal romance.

    @Jennie:

    I gave I Kissed an Earl a B- too; I just felt the story and many of the elements were too cliched. It's too bad, because I did like Violet as a heroine.

    As I said in my review, I can see some weaknesses in the book, like the sweetness of the sailors and title of earl not fitting Flint’s character at all. Plus there were a lot of copyediting errors I noticed that I later heard were present not just in the ARC but also in the published book.

    But having said that, I loved not just Violet’s tremendous growth as a person, but also the amazing chemistry between her and Flint, and the way Long made the huge conflict between them (he wants to capture her brother and brings him to justice, which would mean execution) reverberate so deeply. I was tremendously moved by that, and I also thought the writing (annoying copyediting errors notwithstanding) was some of Long’s strongest in scenes like the one I quoted in my review.

    Re. Play of Passion:

    And I'm the opposite; I don't mind a changeling in one of the roles, but I find the Psy more interesting, and there's more balance in a Psy/changeling pairing.

    I can’t articulate why, but I prefer the wolves to the leopards. And though I’ve enjoyed all the books in this series, I think I would enjoy the Psy more if they weren’t almost always female.

    The combination of inexperience with touch, whether sexual or not, and being trapped in the ‘net, has been done a lot at this point, and it gives her Psy heroines a degree of helpless vulnerability that, though it can be enjoyable, isn’t what I’m looking for from the series at this point.

    Caressed by Ice (a wolf/Psy) story, was one of my favorites precisely because the usual gender roles were reversed and Mercy from Branded by Fire is my favorite of the heroines because she’s so much the opposite of helpless. Now, if Singh ever wrote about a Psy male still trapped in the PsyNet I would be in heaven, and if she wrote about two trapped Psy falling in love I would float high above heaven, but it looks like the PsyNet may fall before that happens.

    What I loved about Play of Passion was the younger man/older woman matchup, the fact that Indigo was an experienced heroine with lovers in her past, and most of all, Drew’s playful personality. I had tremendous fun reading it because of all that, so on my list it went.

    Re. A Conspiracy of Kings, I agree that withholding information from the reader is a lot less in Sophos’ character than it is in Gen’s, but it bothered me less than it did you, maybe because I had the sense that information was being withheld all along? I didn’t feel it was sprung at me. I do agree that this aspect was less fresh in ACOK than it was in the earlier books, but on the other hand, I loved certain aspects of Sophos’ arc (esp. when he was torn about whether to claim the throne that was his), the dreams he had, and the romantic moments, though few, were so romantic. Plus as much as I love Gen I think there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing, so I’m glad Turner mixed it up some with this book.

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  15. Janine
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:19:33

    @Estara: Intriguing list! There are so many books there that I haven’t read, but I liked most of the ones I have.

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  16. Estara
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:27:27

    @Janine: See, where we intersect, we have similar tastes. When Jan was still reviewing manga I could always trust that I’d have a high chance of liking her picks, too. Nifty!

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  17. Janine
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 18:22:19

    @Estara: I miss Jan’s reviews! I don’t read manga, but Jan always had such interesting things to say. Every once in a rare while she says something on the DA email loop and I perk up. I hope she finds the time to return to reviewing someday.

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  18. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 01:22:47

    @Janine: Bayou Moon, Wicked Becomes You, and The Iron Duke. You’ve already read my opinions on Bayou Moon, I think, I reviewed WBY on my personal blog a few months ago, and The Iron Duke did not work for me as a romance, since I hated Rhys with a fiery passion, but it worked for me as steampunk fiction. As for my bias against YA, it’s a bit irrational, but since my years of teenage angst are only a decade behind me, I’m not so keen on revisiting it in fiction. :D

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  19. Janine
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 02:07:19

    @Evangeline Holland: I didn’t know you had a personal blog! Even though my own opinion on the book is different (there’s something about Meredith prose that grips my emotions so strongly that I happily overlook things that might bother me more if the language weren’t so fine), I think that’s a very well written and thorough review. You should do more of them!

    I liked Rhys from The Iron Duke quite a bit though I would have liked more insight into his POV earlier on.

    I have friends who feel similarly about the genre YA but I find that some of the books (and IMO The Hunger Games trilogy is among them) have almost no teenage angst whatsoever and feel like books written for adults that happen to feature teenage characters.

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  20. Estara
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 03:54:08

    @Janine: Yes, so do I. Let’s hope ^^ – but real life needs to come first, of course.

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  21. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:29:55

    @Janine: I go through phases with blogging, which is why I don’t really advertise it very much, lol. But thank you!

    I outlined my hesitance to review in that post, but another reason I hesitate to write reviews is because I don’t have strong emotions about a lot of what I read, even if the book is 5 star/A+. So it’s a testament to Meredith’s skill that I was moved to write about my reading experience!

    Rhys hit all of my buttons. I am definitely not a fan of heroes like him, and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth when authors pair He-Man-Shag-a-Lot’s with extraordinary (for the historical setting) heroines. Heroes who try to use the heroine’s sexuality to bend her to his will are never likable in my book, and I just couldn’t warm up to him after his aggravating lust-thought introduction.

    Re: YA–I told you it’s irrational. *g* But I will try The Hunger Games, since it sounds rather similar to the Noughts & Crosses series by Malorie Blackman.

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  22. Janine
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 15:08:50

    @Evangeline Holland: Interesting that you don’t have strong emotions about most of what you read. It’s the opposite for me…

    Re. Rhys in The Iron Duke, I put a lot of that down to the fact that we saw him mainly through Mina’s POV early on in the book, and she was predisposed to think poorly of him.

    Let me know what you think of The Hunger Games if you can. I hope you enjoy it!

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  23. Tweets that mention Janine’s Best of 2010 List | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Dec 13, 2010 @ 22:44:04

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by M Desmond O'Brien and Janine Ballard, vi. vi said: @JanetNorCal Check out @Janine_Ballard's Best of List http://tinyurl.com/24k2qmv Both @meljean's steampunks are on it. [...]

  24. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 06:18:44

    @Janine: I think it’s because I’m a bit jaded about the romance genre. I admit that the ennui is mostly because I am a writer and write what I don’t see in romance, but when I’m reading new releases, it takes an excellent book to suck me deep into the emotion of the prose and the plot and to not see the writing and the common tropes. However, I do have old stand-byes that continue to grip me as much as they did when I first read them, and I’ve found plenty of new books I adore outside of the romance genre.

    Re:The Iron Duke I didn’t detest him until the first scene in his POV, which was fairly early on in the book. I just don’t like heroes who try to dominate the heroine sexually in order to force her to admit she wants him. It just feels icky and it disturbs me that these type of heroes don’t take their heroines’ capabilities and character seriously until she gives into his desire for her. This sort of thing is somewhat common in sf/f and paranormal romance, and I just don’t understand the reasoning behind presenting bad-ass, intelligent, and gifted heroines who are just waiting for the hero to awaken them sexually. What does that say about women? That we’re incapable of being fully-rounded, experienced human beings unless we have sex with any man who desires us or whom we find desirable? And why is the first thought in a hero’s brain, when he and the heroine are dealing with monsters and aliens and politics, about bedding her? IMO, it’s insulting to the heroine’s intelligence and capability, and it always comes across as another facet of the ‘forced seduction’.

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