Willaful’s Best of 2014
This was such a rough reading year for me, I was surprised to see my overall total was 469 books, including audiobooks, novellas and short stories. It made much more sense when I realized that 208 of those were DNFs. So my actual total for the year so far is 261 books, down from 383 last year. This includes 60 rereads, and I’m rather proud that I gave myself permission to reread so often.
Comparing this list to my 2013 choices, I see it reflects what I think of as my tastes more accurately, with five historical romances, two of which are m/m stories. There are a fair number of repeat authors: Cara McKenna, Laura Florand, Courtney Milan, and Robin York (who also writes as Ruthie Knox.) Rather than dealing with rankings, I’m listing the books alphabetically.
Beguiled by Joanna Chambers (Reviewed by Sirius)
The entire “Enlightment” trilogy was very good, but the second book — often the weakest in a trilogy — stood out as exceptional historical romance. The setting is fascinating: Scotland in the midst of an opulent, over-the-top pageant to celebrate the visit of King George, with the excitement of the populace verging on riotous. But it’s the development of the relationship, the changing hearts and minds of the main characters as they realize they’re capable of having deep feelings for each other, that makes it so satisfying. The trilogy format works really well for this slow-burn love story.
Deeper by Robin York (Reviewed by Rose)
With my love for angst, New Adult would seem to be a subgenre made for me, yet I find much of it unpleasant to read. I think Deeper was a deliberate attempt to deliver the expected enjoyable aspects of NA romance — intensity, uncertainty, the powerful rush of growing into yourself — without the cringeworthy sexism and already stale plot points that permeate so many books. It delivers beautifully, using a perturbing, relevant plot — the heroine is the subject of revenge porn — to stress sex-positivity and personal growth.
Hard Time by Cara McKenna. (Reviewed by Jane)
This didn’t impress and astonish me quite as much as Unbound did last year, but it was still intensely exciting. The sometimes uncomfortably creepy story of a prison librarian and an inmate, it’s practically the definition of forbidden, this-is-a-really-bad-idea romance but Eric’s courtship of Annie — via letters that she’s transcribing for him — is so sexy and powerfully yearning, you can’t blame her for succumbing. (There’s no reason to regret it, either.)
Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry (My review)
As is common for Mayberry, this contemporary romance delivers the funny, the sexy, and the sad all in one. It’s about two free spirit types who have a quick fling, and then discover years later that they’ve both grown up. And none too soon, because the shit is about to hit the fan. I found it unexpectedly fresh and very moving.
The Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin (My collaborative review with Sunita and Jayne)
The follow-up to the wonderful The Lotus Palace (which sadly, I read too late to put on my Best Of last year) is another gorgeous mystery/romance set in ancient China. Immersive scene-setting, intricate class issues, and an exploration of the themes of authenticity and artifice make it a particularly sophisticated, intelligent story, yet it’s also very accessible.
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan (My review)
Although I had some issues around this Victorian set story as an historical, the romance part completely won me over. The main characters are both very sharp and tough, which highlights the tenderness of their feelings for each other. I also appreciated the heroine’s strong, hopeful message about what it means to be a feminist activist.
Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand (My review)
The sequel to Snow-Kissed, one of my best of 2013, is another fairy-tale inspired story, with powerful emotions and a gorgeous use of metaphor. I thought it a bit overcrowded by characters from previous books, but loved the playful sexiness, which is especially good to find in a story about a middle-aged couple.
I wasn’t really a fan of Lerner’s previous two books, so was very glad that peer pressure caused me to read this one anyway. It’s our all-too familiar Regency England seen through a different lens, with a focus on middle- and working-class people and what politics mean in their lives. I enjoyed the richness of the romance and the complex family relationships.
Think of England by KJ Charles. (My review, with some concerns from Sunita in the comment thread)
I can’t think of another book this year that simply gave me as much pleasure to read as this one. Except for some shocks at violent moments, I smiled and chortled and swooned all the way through it; it brought back many happy memories of reading classic British literature, but with a delicious new perspective. There are two unexpected heroes, and I fell madly in love with both of them.