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

Jane’s Best of 2013

Every year we post our Best of the Year book lists. 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. There are so many I’ve bought based on other’s recommendations but just have not gotten around to reading.  I’ve learned that the purpose of these lists are two fold — to help readers find books they may have missed and to generate discussion.

When I created my list, I went through all the books I reviewed. Some of the books that I gave Bs to I scarcely remembered so those went off the list. Two of the top spots went to non contemporaries even though my list is weighted toward those. Fair or not, extensive and complicated worldbuilding sells me more than anything.

Finally, there is only one historical on the list.  After about the midway point of this year, I gave up reading historicals altogether.  They no longer transport me and I don’t know if it is because of the stale storylines or the language or the characters. I hope that a new year will give me a new perspective on historicals.

Last Hour of Gann R Lee Smith1) Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith.  This is the only book I gave an A to this past year. I felt that despite some of the issues with the book, it was well constructed and it offered the type of story I hadn’t read in a long time. At 400,000+ words, it was an epic story with amazing world building.  As a reader who eschews books of faith, that this one stuck with me is remarkable. The zealot and the atheist fell in love and changed each other’s world view.  While some may find this book too demeaning for women, I actually view it as one of the more feminist book’s I’ve read. The entire patriarchal structure of the Gann world is changed because one woman triumphs over her oppressors and convinces her loved one to live on.  Amber is a survivor like none either and Meoraq was her equal.

the-winning-season2)  The Winning Season by Alison Packard.  There was so much to love about this book from the tall, confident heroine to the journey of the hero.  I’m a huge fan of sports romances and often the sports aspects let me down because either sports is misused because the author doesn’t know jack about it or because its not well baked into the storyline.  In The Winning Season, you can’t separate the sport setting from the story, it’s that integral. When the story first starts, its hard to believe that you can forgive a hero who tells the heroine she’s too manly for him but the journey from his dark space to the loved one at the end is great. Kelly, the heroine, is multilayered. She has issues being a taller, big boned girl but she’s not overwhelmed by her body issues. She’s smart and unafraid and willing to tackle the brooding Matt.

Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh 3) Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. I waited ten books for the answer to who was the Ghost. I posted a long thesis why I thought it was one particular character and I waited, with bated breath, for this book to deliver on a seven year promise that Singh started in Slave to Sensation.  And boy did she deliver. There were so many clues that Singh planted throughout the series that all led up to this epic conclusion. I’m amazed at the consistency of the worldbuilding and how the characters stayed true to their past depictions while still softening enough to fall in love. Bring on the Arrows!

White Balance by Ainslie Paton 4) White Balance by Ainslie Patton. This was a book that took me by surprise. It’s quiet intensity snuck up behind me and I remembered this book far after I’d finished the last page. It’s a story of grief and of friendship. Of second chances and quirks of fate. While rather long, I appreciated the meandering path because I felt so much more connected to these characters the longer I spent with them.

Reaper's Property by Joanna Wylde5) Reaper’s Property by Joanna Wylde.  In a year of motorcycle books, this is one that stands out for me and not just for the gritty realism, but I appreciated how Wylde tries to acknowledge the overt misogyny of a motorcycle club and how a woman finds her own agency while still loving a man whose occupation and life is focused on a brotherhood that almost by definition excludes women. Horse and Marie have a crazy relationship and it’s not one that I could live in but it works in this fictional setting. Even better, in a genre where the heroes do most of the rescuing it was pretty awesome to see Marie be the “hero” at the end.

Crash-into-You-mcgarry6) Crash Into You  |  Dare You To by Katie McGarry.  When I looked at the list of reviews, I couldn’t quite figure out which of the two of McGarry’s 2013 releases I liked the best.  Dare to You was different because the female protagonist butted up against the more sexually innocent male protagonist. I also felt that it was more Beth’s story whereas Crash Into You was more Isaiah’s story but the two are almost duologies because Beth and Isaiah were a couple I thought destined to be together who find their happy ever afters with someone else.  Both books have the same “flaw” in that they both rely on a fairly manipulative event at the end to bring about the climax.  But in both books, I didn’t care. I still loved them both. (P.S. if you loved McGarry’s work you owe it to yourself to check out Sabrina Elkins Stir Me Up.)

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare7) Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare. This is the only historical in a sea of contemporaries and the thing that stands out most for me is the sparkling wit of the dialogue and the amazing heroine Pauline. In fact when I reviewed this book, I said that the only question was whether the Duke was worthy of Pauline and thankfully he was. Pauline cared for her sister but wasn’t a martyr for her family. She was a practical romantic as well. In some ways, Pauline is a little Mary Poppins-ish (practically perfect in every way) but the manner in which Dare writes the character makes her deliciously delightful, like Mary herself.

Fading by E.K. Blair8) Fading by E.K. Blair.  I read a lot of indie books this year. I might have read more indie than traditionally published books and a LOT of indie books use the assaulted / raped heroine as the basis for their angst. It’s so overused that it’s almost comedic in a sad way. But Blair’s treatment of the subject is serious and thoughtful. The rape of the heroine isn’t used just as device to create conflict; instead the recovery is at the very center of the book, particularly when the heroine tries to love someone again. It’s not a perfectly written book and the detached voice in which it is told was hard to embrace at first, but it’s a book I remember still today.

Hotter Than Ever9) Hotter Than Ever by Elle Kennedy. I don’t think funny ever gets enough credit but it’s just as hard to make someone laugh as it is to make someone cry–maybe harder. Kennedy has an effortless way to pull off hilarious situations. Her strengths include crude, funny banter between her SEALS, amazingly hot and joyful sex between the characters, and believable happy ever afters set against a large cast. This story is a menage between two men and a women who struggle with not only falling in love together but convincing their friends and families that this relationship is right for the three of them.

Here Without You Webber10) Here Without You by Tammara Webber.  In this last book of the Between the Lines series, Webber explores the happy ever after between average college student Dori and her famous actor boyfriend Reid. Throw in a secret baby with an ex and it seems like a junior Harlequin Presents.  But where other authors would villainize the ex, Webber makes you care for Brooke and yes, even cheer her on. This isn’t a love triangle, though, but three people learning how to trust each other and placing a small child’s needs before their own.  The child only makes Dori and Reid’s bonds stronger and the child turns Brooke from girl into woman.

Honorable mention

Uses for Boys Erica Lorraine Scheidt Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. This book is not a romance but a haunting Young Adult novel about a young girl, ignored by her mother and abandoned by her biological father, who desperately wants the love of her mother. Her mother is too busy chasing after the next man to pay attention and at the precocious age of thirteen the girl learns that boys will pay attention to her in exchange for sexual favors. In those stolen moments on the way to school on the bus or the back hallways at school, Anna thinks she finds a replacement but those feelings are illusory. All too soon the girls are shunning her and boys are treating her poorly but still Anna, like her mother, chases that elusive flame of love in the arms of the opposite sex. In the end, the great romance you want to see is the one Anna seeks the most – the love of her mother or a mother figure. You don’t get that as a reader because it’s not realistic, but I think the conclusion is just as satisfactory.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Jamie Beck
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 06:36:48

    Ah…this came out at the perfect time for me. I just finished The Goldfinch last night and am hunting a new book. I’m particularly intrigued by your summary of White Balance, so I think I’m going to check that one out. Thanks for the list!

  2. Loosheesh
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 08:07:15

    I apologize in advance for the length but this is just my commentary on Jane’s top books (and mostly directed to her) so feel free to ignore …

    The Last Hour of Gann – well, I’m just shocked (shocked, I tell ya!) that this one is on your list. Lol. It’ll be on mine as well.

    The Winning Season – while I preferred the author’s first book (Love in the Afternoon) I really liked this one. I didn’t like the way the misunderstanding at the end was resolved and I didn’t understand, from the description of the heroine, why she was labeled as “fat” by other people?? I don’t know jack (!) about baseball but its portrayal in the book felt very authentic.

    Heart of Obsidian – Another one going down on my top 10 list. I love this book; I love this series. To be able to say I know (and guessed correctly!) the identity of the Ghost was a great payoff in itself. You nailed it here: “I’m amazed at the consistency of the worldbuilding and how the characters stayed true to their past depictions while still softening enough to fall in love.”

    White Balance – haven’t read this one but I own it. I’ve read two Ainslie Paton books that I enjoyed a lot and I’ve been buying up all her stuff since. I like how she does long without being ramble-y.

    Reaper’s Property – I’m still in flux on how I feel about MC romances (I’ve read so few) but this one sounds interesting. It’s gone on to the ‘maybe’ list.

    Dare You To/Crash Into You – I just started the series and I love it so far! I was afraid it would be too YA for me but it’s totally not that. I’m 20% into Dare You To and I’m all in. Can’t wait to get to Crash Into You – I want Isaiah’s story so bad (and I just love that cover!).

    Any Duchess Will Do – I’ve never read Tessa Dare but she’s on my (long) list of authors to try.

    Fading – I bought this on your recommendation but I have yet to get to it :(

    Hotter Than Ever – I don’t read menage so this one is out. Plus I don’t think Elle Kennedy books are for me; I read a novella (and something else; can’t remember what) of hers and I didn’t like it at all.

    Here Without You – I waited for months for this book to be released and I bought it as soon as it became available but when I discovered that, while it wasn’t necessary to read the first two books in the series, it would certainly make for a better understanding of Brooke, it all fell apart for me. I never read the first two books and I never wanted to. I put Here Without You aside and tried reading the first book (Between the Lines) but my mental block is still firmly in place. Ergo, Here Without You is, presently, way down the TBR list :(

    I like to leave my own best-of-the-year list for right at the end of the month. I made a half-year top ten list at the end of June, and I guess a couple of these will find their way on my final list.

  3. Jorrie Spencer
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 09:07:36

    I enjoy reading best of lists! Even when I haven’t read any of the books. (Although I have read some of these authors. And have White Balance on my iPad.)

  4. Rosie
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 09:26:56

    Wow, I haven’t read any of these. But I always love reading end of year top 10 lists to see some potentially good ones I missed. I do own the Dare book, and want to read it eventually. I have to wait until I’m in the perfect mood to believe a duke/barmaid story. :)

  5. Tabs
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 09:52:15

    Heart Of Obsidian, Reaper’s Property, Any Duchess Will Do, and Hotter Than Ever are all in my top 10 as well.

    And I have to say, the “joyful” in the “joyful amazing sex” is my favorite thing about Elle Kennedy’s books. They’re so fun! And everyone is having such a good time! I had such a huge smile on my face the entire time I was reading “Hotter Than Ever.”

    Have you read Ainslie Patton’s “Detained”? I believe it’s a fairly recent release and it had me enthralled when I read it a few weeks ago.

  6. Loosheesh
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 10:23:26

    @Tabs: I’ve read Detained and I was enthralled as well. Other than the obvious episode in the beginning, I felt the characters, especially Will, were “detained” in so many other ways, and that at the ending they really are “released” (again, especially Will) from the past, free to move on with their lives together.

  7. SusanS
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 10:50:01

    Just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for all of the interesting, intelligent articles and reviews. I just started following DA this year and it has really enriched my reading experience.

    Thanks to DA, I discovered Sarah Mayberry, Ainslie Paton and several others, and have snatched up some bargains thanks to the Daily Deals posting. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for 2014!

  8. Andrea
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 11:38:47

    Very cool list!

    I just bought The Winning Season bc I love sports romance and the relationship b/w Kelly and Matt sounds great.

    I’m going to be starting Reaper’s Property very soon and your rec has me very ready to give this series a go.

    I haven’t read Uses for Boys, but I love that you point out that it’s not a romance. A lot of bloggers took issue with the story not being a romance, and Anna’s lack of self-respect. I kind of thought that was the point of the story, her journey.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  9. Tabs
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 13:08:59

    @Loosheesh: I hadn’t thought about the “detention” and “release” aspects but you are totally right!

    I usually get too anxious to enjoying plots that are particularly “twisty” because the inability to predict what’s going to happen next makes me really nervous. But Detained really grabbed me and Patton’s so skilled that I found myself trusting that she would be come through and things would end in satisfactory manner despite me having no idea what that would look like. And she totally did. Great book.

  10. Jane
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 17:30:58

    @Loosheesh: My reading path for the Between the Lines series was Book 3 first then book 2 and then book 1. That I ended up liking Brooke seems improbable.

    @Rosie: Dare sells it really well.

    @Tabs: I have not read Detained yet. Buying it and I’m going to save it for my holiday vacation so I can really spend time immersed in her writing.

    @SusanS: Thank you so much! I had warm fuzzies after reading this.

    @Andrea: Some readers feel that Horse isn’t very romantic and the two have a really effed up relationship but it works for me. I loved the big climactic scene and Marie’s actions.

  11. Jane
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 17:31:41

    @Jamie Beck: I think Patton is a really interesting writer. Everything I’ve read of hers has been really thoughtful.

  12. Courtney
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:00:38

    @Rosie: I loved The Winning Season and bought it on your recommendation, Jane! I also lived JB Salsbury’s Fighting for Flight and JR Ward’s Lover at Last.

  13. Meredith
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:10:25

    Written in Red by Anne Bishop. I don’t often feel that prolific writers improve over time but this book proved me wrong.
    Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster, which I wouldn’t have found without Dear Author.
    After Hours by Cara McKenna. Yow.
    This has not been a good year for books. I feel like the self publishing craze has made it so much harder to find great reads.

  14. Jane
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:16:05

    @Courtney – I have the Fighting for Flight book. I’ll have to check it out.

    @Meredith – I’m afraid to read Written in Red after the last Bishop debacle.

  15. EvelynS
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:40:44

    That was a great list! I will definitely look into the books that I haven’t read yet. I do have to agree with Heart of Obsidian!! That was my favorite book in 2013!!

  16. Lori
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 19:43:57

    Last Hour of Gann would probably be my #1 book choice as well, followed by Cottonwood. I think 2013 was the year of R. Lee Smith (and thank goodness for that).

    I know I have Tessa Dare’s book on my TBR pile, I’ll have to add Reaper’s Property and Hotter Than Ever. If something made you laugh Jane, then it’ll be definitely worth trying.

    2013 for me was the year of Kristen Ashley. I read Motorcycle Man and didn’t love it, then got pulled into the Colorado series and the rest and finally tried MM again and well, Tack is my book boyfriend forever and ever. That woman knows how to tell a story!

  17. Mzcue
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 20:04:33

    I have not read any other stories by Anne Bishop, but I would also include Written in Red as one of my favorite books of the year. I’m partial to shifter stories, but they do seem to run together after awhile. In contrast, I found Written in Red to be an original take, especially the prickly relationships among shifters and non-shifting beings.

    I’d also include the novella, “Snowfall,” by Mary Ann Rivers, which is one of the stories in the anthology, Heating Up the Holidays. The powerful role of erotic passion in breaking through the emotional impasse between partners recovering from tragedy and its resulting estrangement blew me away.

    The darkness of Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Heart made it a 2013 highlight for me.

    Thanks to Dear Author, I found a number of great romances with more mature characters. Among those, Sandra Antonelli’s Basic Renovation stands out for me.

    For me, it’s been a very good reading year.

  18. library addict
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 21:36:34

    I loved Heart Of Obsidian, too. I glommed the entire Psy/Changeling series just before its release just so I’d be able to read it on release day. I had discussed the series with several reading friends and read some of Jane’s posts through the years. Not sure why I thought I woulnd’t like the series.

    I also really enjoyed Shannon Stacey’s Love a Little Sideways and Carla Negger’s Declan’s Cross.

    Kat Katham was my favorite debut author and Rebecca Zanetti (besides Nalini Singh) was my big find of the year. And I gobbled up Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney series. After having not liked her first two books I am so glad I gave her another chance.

    I have the Lizard book in my TBR. I’ve started it twice and just haven’t been in the mood to read it. I don’t want to make myself read it becuase then I know I won’t enjoy it. That’s how I am with historicals, too. I was so burned out of them around three years ago, so have just been stockpiling Sarah MacLean, Maya Rodale, and Tessa Dare. Plus I have the last two Julia Quinns and the last Lady Most anthology in my TBR pile, too. The only historicals I’ve kept up with are Amanda Quick and Alissa Johnson (though I think I still have her latest release to read). But one day when I am in a historical mood I will (hopefully) enjoy them all.

    It’s often difficult for me to come up with a year’s best list because so many of the books I read are not new releases.

  19. Janine
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 21:51:52

    @Meredith& @Mzcue: I started reading Written in Red but stopped shortly into it because I had serious concerns about the worldbuilding in which non-Europeans are literally made into “Others.” I searched online to see if anyone else had a similar take on it and found this blog post on which articulated my concerns better than I could.

  20. Becky
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 22:15:05

    It wasn’t until book 5 that you finally listed one I own–but still I haven’t read it yet. Any Duchess Will Do had me “laughing too loud” (14-year-old daughter’s words) on a plane ride–I told her she could move over with her grandmother instead, but she declined the invitation. I’ve got Katie McGarry’s latest waiting for Christmas break–can’t wait!–and Fading’s another one I picked up on sale and am anxious to read. If only I didn’t ever have to sleep….

    The top and bottom of the list, though, I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. Thanks for the suggestions–clearly the idea of a diminishing TBR pile is just a myth. ;)

  21. Mzcue
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 22:27:33

    @Janine: Was it just that cut and dried? I have a vague recollection of the world geography being peculiar, but nothing so blatant as racial delineation of who’s a shifter and who isn’t. Unfortunately, I read a library copy of the book so I can’t easily go back and check.

  22. Janine
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 00:49:39

    @Mzcue: I only got a couple of chapters into it, but that was the impression I had. I had mixed feelings because the section I read grabbed me, and part of me wanted to continue, while another piece of me felt that it would be too guilty a pleasure to continue reading and that I wasn’t sure I wanted to promote the book with a DA review.

  23. TerryS
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 01:15:32

    I love this type of list. I’m always curious about everybody’s “favorites.”

    The Last Hour of Gann was by far my favorite book this year. My list would also include the Alison Packard, Katie McGarry and Joanna Wylde’s books. (Two of your books, Fading and White Balance are still in my TBR pile – you know that huge pile that keeps multiplying daily.)

    To your list, I would add my only historical entry – Carla Kelly’s, Her Hesitant Heart, along with Anne Calhoun’s Uncommon Passion, Cara McKenna’s After Hours, Jennifer Lohmann’s The First Move and Laura Florand’s Snow-Kissed. That leaves one space open. I can’t decide between Sandra Antonelli’s A Basic Renovation and Kat Latham’s Knowing the Score both of which I enjoyed.

    It was definitely a good reading year for me.

  24. Mzcue
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 09:19:10

    @Mzcue: I goofed. I confused two books that both have “snow” in the title. The excellent novella, “Snowfall,” by Mary Ann Rivers, which is one of the stories in the anthology, “Heating Up the Holidays,” is about a young woman coming to grips with a devastating personal loss through the passion and devotion of a new lover. It has just a touch of “The Gift of the Magi” about it, along with great emotional depth and heat.

    But I should not have confused it with Laura Florand’s story from earlier this year, “Snow-Kissed,”which is indeed about “the powerful role of erotic passion in breaking through an emotional impasse between partners recovering from tragedy and its resulting estrangement.”

    I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that I’d confused the two. Obviously, both stories have stuck with me in a significant way, and I would include them on my “best reads of the year.” My apologies to all for the fuddled-brain-ed-ness.

  25. Brie
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 09:38:33

    @Janine: That article is spot on! I read Written in Red a few weeks ago and noticed how problematic and flawed it was, but I couldn’t put it down. Guilty pleasure, indeed.

  26. jodi
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 06:18:10

    I read Written in Red when it first came out. I was afraid to, because of her non-Blood books, which I don’t particularly like. This…was interesting. It wasn’t as good as even the worst Blood book, but it wasn’t as bad as the others. What made it more interesting was the fact that it was the story of Jaenelle from the point of view of the Kindred, only without Jaenelle and the Kindred. I’m hoping the series gets better and I’m willing to buy book two. I’m hoping she can stage a come back like Jim Butcher.

  27. Jane Davitt
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 12:39:32

    I bought the Elle Kennedy and enjoyed it but ran up against something I’ve seen and was annoyed by in another m/m add an f menage; namely the way ‘bisexual’ is defined by the male characters as ‘must have sex with a woman, any woman, at regular intervals because the mindblowing orgasms with the man I love just aren’t enough.’ Umm. Yeah. We should all have that problem…and that’s not how I understand the definition of the word.

  28. jane
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 16:43:01

    @Lori: I love me some Kristen Ashley too and I spent about three weeks devouring her huge backlist and while I love her books, I felt like sometimes the writing wasn’t where it could have been.

    @Mzcue: I want to read Antonelli sometime. She’s on my TBR pile…

    @library addict: I’ve got Rebecca Zanetti cued up for my holiday reading. Have heard great things about her work.

    @Becky: Lord, I know it. I feel like my TBR pile is longer than Santa’s naughty list.

    @TerryS: Jayne enjoyed Kat Latham’s book as well.

    @jodi: You guys are convincing me to read the Bishop.

    @Jane Davitt: I guess it worked for me because the two guys weren’t in a committed relationship at the time or at least that’s the interpretation that I got.

  29. Pamela
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 10:52:08

    I read the Last Hour of Gann because of your post on it, and it is one of my FAVORITES of 2013 as well. I haven’t read most of these others (except for Reaper’s Property and Heart of Obsidian, LOVED both) so I am DEFINITELY going to check these other recs out. I needed some new to be books!

%d bloggers like this: