This year I read a lot of books, I don’t have an exact number but I think it was over 200 books. Not all of them were published in 2011 and not all of them were good, some of them were huge disappointments (I’m looking at you Susan Elizabeth Phillips), but I think that overall it was a good year for romance novels.
I admit that most of the Contemporary Romances of the year were either mediocre or good, but just a few were truly outstanding, and only two books made my list:
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell: I love this book so much that I want to make out with it! It had such a beautiful and realistic portrayal of friendship between two women, the hero was adorable and the story was fun and original. Half the book is told from the hero’s POV and half is told in form of emails between the heroine and her friend. Epistolary novels are not usually found amongst the romance genre although Meg Cabot is probably the most famous exception to this, but Attachments was different mostly because you do get some break from all the letters and that makes the book flow a bit better (review).
Sweet as Sin by Inez Kelley: this was one of the first books I reviewed (if you read my review you will see that I have gotten slightly better at reviewing, or so I hope). It was the touching story of a guy with a lot of issues and the woman who helps him heal. The hero is a YA writer and illustrator, and there’s also a story within a story told from his characters’ POVs, so there’s an original touch as well. This book was sinful, dark and sexy, an excellent contemporary drama with a lot of heart and a very sweet love story (review).
Some other books that deserve honorable mentions are Susan Andersen’s Playing Dirty, with the wronged heroine and the groveling, repentant hero; Sarah Mayberry’s All They Need, with the touching portrayal of Alzheimer’s and domestic abuse; and finally Julie James’ A Lot Like Love, with one of the best dynamics between the leads I have read all year (reviews here, here and here).
I didn’t read that many Historical Romances this year, but what I did read was very good, in fact one of my favorite –if not THE favorite- books of the year was a historical romance (kind of):
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley: since the main love story takes place in the past I’ll label this as a Historical Romance, but the part of the story that takes place in the present is just as important so it can go both ways, historical and contemporary. The Rose Garden was probably my favorite book of the year, it was the most beautifully written, the most compelling and it had a very sweet, albeit subtle, love story. It starts a bit slow and the time-travel aspect was a bit unbelievable, but it works and the ending was exciting and very satisfying (review).
Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean: this was the third book in the Love by Numbers series (you can read my review of the first one here) and it was a great ending for a fantastic series. The story of the straight-laced and proper Duke who looks down on the heroine for being a bit wild and for being illegitimate was just fantastic. Ms. MacLean was able to redeem one of the most unlikable characters in the series by pairing him with the most likeable character, Juliana was just a joy to read and it was great to see The Duke of Disdain fall at her feet.
Honorable mention goes to The Turner Series by Courtney Milan. The story of three brothers saddled with crazy names that were quite different from each other: Ash, the kind but ruthless older brother who falls in love with the enemy; Mark, the virgin who falls in love with a courtesan; and Smite the upstanding magistrate who falls in love with the woman who keeps showing up in court for all the wrong reasons. This series also has a great novella that’s another testament to Ms. Milan ability as a storyteller (review).
When it comes to Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and PNR (I’m putting them all together because to be honest half the time I can’t tell the difference), I know this was the year of Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever, but since I haven’t read the series *gasps* I can’t include it on my list.
Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison: this was one of the best books of the year, and one of the best fantasies. Ms. Harrison created a fantastic word, filled with every magical creature you can think of, and managed to reinvent shifters in the process. The other books in the series were considerably weaker than this, but this one is still one of my favorite new series of the year (review).
Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews: I know I’m probably alone in this because not everyone loved it (as far as I can see most people hated it), but I loved this novella and I can’t wait to read more about this world. Part of the Angel of Darkness Anthology, we got to meet yet another fantastic world penned by the talented Ilona Andrews. It was a bit confusing at first, the romance was muddy at best, and the hero was scary with a capital “S”, but the story grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the very end. And since we’re talking Ilona Andrews I also want more Kinsmen books, Silver Shark (and Silent Blade but that’s a 2009 release) was full of awesome and I think there’s so much potential there, it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite series, the St. Helens books (Amaryllis, Zinnia and Orchid) by Jayne Castle (AKA Jayne Ann Krentz). Hopefully next year we’ll get more! (Reviews here and here)
Honorable mentions go to Ilona Andrews’ Fate’s Edge (the love-fest stops here, I promise!) I know I’m part of the minority again but Kaldar was one of my favorite characters and I was so happy to see that he was getting his own book. We get to see the kids again, which was a pleasant surprise. Another great book was Meljean Brook’s Demon Marked (review). The ending was surprising, the heroine was amazing and I am a fan-girl so I feel the need to include Ms. Brook on the list (feel free to disagree with me on the comments) and I feel like the book deserves it.
Despite having read and loved lots of Romantic Suspense novels this year, I didn’t have a hard time choosing my favorite, which coincidentally was the last one I read in the genre:
If You Hear Her by Shiloh Walker: this book was everything I love about the genre, it had a creepy evil villain, a fantastic courageous heroine that was conscious enough of her weaknesses as to not have a single TSTL moment in the whole book, a loving and protective hero that didn’t treat the heroine as a helpless idiot, great secondary characters that made you wonder if they were good or evil, one of the hottest sex scenes of the year, and a cliffhanger ending that left me wanting more and excited about the next book. (Review)
Other books that deserve a special mention are Cold Touch by Leslie Parrish, a great book for those who love Romantic Suspense with a paranormal touch, Breaking Point by Pamela Clare with a tortured hero (literally), not the best book in the I-Team series, but still a great addition (this one has a TSTL sex scene where the hero and heroine end up flashing the whole search party, yikes!), and Deadly Descent by Kaylea Cross, a military romance where the heroine is the one doing the saving (at least at first). (Reviews here, here and here)
I had a hard time choosing the best YA of the year, mostly because I didn’t read many YA since I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, I did enjoy some books, this one in particular:
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: this was a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss, a book I loved despite having a somewhat unbelievable plot and a lot of very ridiculous and immature angst. Lola and the Boy Next Door had great things going for it, but the main one was PARENTS. Yep, there’s a whole set of parents that are both present and responsible (and also two guys, give it up for the gay dads!). They were by far my favorite part of the book and it gave a more realistic feel to the story (not to mention that they were hilarious). In this book there’s a lot of teenage angst, which I don’t particularly like, but it wasn’t annoying, and the hero, Cricket, was adorable. This is a safe bet for fans of YA, and given how popular Ms. Perkins is, my guess is that you already know it.
I read other YA books that in my opinion were better than Lola, but they weren’t published this year (which I just realized) so I might write a different post about them. And I also read some that were published this year but they were so full of ridiculous WTFckery and poorly used clichés (I won’t name names *cough* The Ubecoming of Mara Dyer *cough*) that I can’t possibly include them here.
I have difficulties differentiating Erotic Romance from regular Romance with a lot of sex, but I did read some books that I could definitely see as erotic and sensual reads, these were my favorites:
Curio by Cara McKenna: the heart of this book was the hero, who happens to be a male prostitute. It was a very hot book, with a lot of sex, and it featured a heroine that took some getting used to, but it was one of the best erotic romances of the year. My main issue with it was that I felt like the heroine was objectifying the hero, and it took her some time to see beyond the hotness to see the person inside. The ending was a bit rushed and more of a promise of a HEA than a real HEA, but I was glad that it was like that. This book was more about self-discovery than romance.
Versed in Desire by Anne Calhoun: Anne Calhoun is one of my favorite Erotic Romance writers (you should read Liberating Lacey if you haven’t). I wished she wrote full-length stories, but I guess we’ll have to settle with shorts like this one. The story is about Corryn and her boss’ best friend, Luke, who also happens to be the company’s VP, so they must fight their mutual attraction since it would be completely inappropriate to engage in a relationship. Needless to say, they give in to temptation and hotness ensues.
I read a lot M/M books this year, and I loved pretty much all of them. I had a hard time choosing my favorites because there were so many quality stories that deserve to be mentioned. But since I want to keep this short –and failing miserably at doing so- I’ll just mention these:
Muscling Through by JL Merrow: I loved this novella! It’s about two very mismatched guys that couldn’t be more perfect for each other. The ending was a bit rushed and the main conflict seemed forced, but it was a fantastic story and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Ms. Merrow was a new-to-me author and ever since reading Muscling Through I fell in love with her voice and her backlist.
Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan: a lovely and touching story about two people dealing with loss and trying to regroup, rediscover life and heal both mentally and physically. It was one of those books were the characters really have to struggle to achieve their happily ever after, which makes the ending much more rewarding and sweet.
Honorable mention goes to Come Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon. A Mystery/Suspense about a guy who used to be a cocaine addict and suddenly finds himself involved in a murder investigation, and the police chief who loves him. A lovely story about redemption filled with realistic characters.
I didn’t read many Chick Lit or Women’s Fiction books this year, and I didn’t like most of them. On the other hand this was the year I discovered Sarah Addison Allen and I loved every single one of her books, but my favorite Chick Lit book of the year was:
To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell: this book deserves to be on the list just because of the hero. He was hilarious and a good departure from the usual alpha-male that we so often find in romance novels. It was a great story about second-chance at love with a heroine that had to learn how to let go (and she takes the whole book to do it) and a very patient hero that’s living proof (or should I say written?) that good things come for those who wait (review).
Honorable mention goes to The Love Godess’ Cooking Club by Melissa Senate, it had such a heartbreaking beginning that by chapter two I just wanted to see the heroine happy. Last but not least there’s Already Home by Susan Mallery, a great book but the main reason it has a place on this list is because the hero’s name is Dragonfly, and I didn’t want Lola’s Cricket to feel alone. (Review)
That’s it! I bet once I hit post I’ll remember another book I loved, but these are the year’s highlights. What’ about you? Did your favorite book of the year made the list?