|Winter Berries by Michelle Buntin|
As you know, I mostly read Contemporary Romance, so I had a hard time narrowing down this category. I'm glad because it means that there were more than three good Contemporaries.
Ride with Me by Ruthie Knox
Every single one of her books was wonderful, but Ride with Me was my favorite. It’s a road trip story, with a grumpy, damaged hero and a heroine who is slightly jaded, but not grumpy at all. Nothing new there, yet the way she writes it makes all the difference. What Ms. Knox brought to the table is the certainty that even the oldest tropes and plot devices have room for innovation. Also, the heroine masturbates. How cool is that?
The reason why I didn't chose About Last Night is because I thought the characterization was a bit inconsistent (and the story a bit over the top). But please, go read both, and while you’re at it, get Room at the Inn (bad romance and all) and make it a party.
Can't Buy Me Love by Molly O’Keefe
Contemporary Romance has become synonym of cute, small-town series, and that needs to change. Can’t Buy Me Love takes some interesting risks, and the result is a strong drama that makes me wish for more books like it. The heroine is deceptively unlikeable. She hides behind her appearance and acts the role of the shallow materialistic woman, but she’s far from it, and when you look closely her charming mix of vulnerability and strength make her a wonderful lead. Then there’s the sport Romance angle, which is ugly and authentic, instead of hot and cute. It’s Contemporary Romance done right. (Review)
Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry
This is a story about regular people. The heroine is at the end of her rope financially, and it shows. The hero wants his life to be easy and uncomplicated, and he puts a real effort into making it that way. Their relationship develops slowly but steadily, and it follows a natural progression in an authentic and uncomplicated way. It’s a story completely devoid of bells and whistles that works beautifully.
Almost all the historicals I read weren't 2012 books. I was expecting to love Sarah McLean’s new series, but her book didn't work for me, and Sherry Thomas’ Ravishing the Heiress was a strong contender until the ending ruined it all. Fortunately, some great authors gifted us amazing stories.
A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
I read this a week ago, and I was blown away. It took some time for the goodness to come through, and I struggled a bit at first, but boy, the payoff was wonderful. This is an understated romance about two oddly matched characters. It’s about the transformative power of love, but also of discovering one's worth. It’s a long journey for these two, especially the hero, but it was worth it. Also, you can’t go wrong with bad sex.
The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
Ms. Milan is a master at novellas. I don’t know how she does it, but they work for me every time. The Governess Affair is probably one of my favorites. It features regular characters in a sub-genre known for its Dukes and Earls. It’s a sweet romance, with some angst and a lovely ending.
I don’t know what’s going on with Romantic Suspense. There are a few authors whose books I always love, but overall I feel this sub-genre needs more attention because it’s the most lacking. Hopefully things will change next year.
The Witness by Nora Roberts
Two reasons why this book made the list: 1. it was very, very good (flat ending, easy romance and all), and 2. after years of bad books, I felt like we finally got a book up to par with the stories that made Nora Roberts, well, Nora Roberts. I hope that she clings to her mojo, and keeps delivering. (Review)
Twisted by Laura Griffin
I liked this book because of the main couple. The hero is jaded and much older than the heroine. The fact that he was an experienced, famous FBI agent, and she a rookie cop, meant that he held all the power in their professional relationship. But when things get personal and intimacy develops, she's the one who plays the role of the aggressor and pursuer effectively shifting the power imbalance. In the bedroom she’s the one who gets to dominate, a dynamic that, in a way, permeates into their professional relationship. I liked that a lot and it made for a very interesting romance. On top of that, suspense is intriguing and key to the story, but never in detriment of the romance.
With a few exceptions, the PNR/UF books I read were not that great. Nalini Singh did some interesting things with her Psy/Changeling series, but it wasn’t good enough to make the list. So I’m left with a choice that, well, isn’t really PNR or UF.
Riveted by Meljean Brook
As I said, Steampunk isn’t PNR or UF, but this list has enough categories as it is, so let’s ignore that little detail.
Riveted is probably my favorite book of the year. I grew up surrounded by women, and when I read a book that has a nuanced depiction of the different relationships that develop between women, I feel like I’m in heaven. Unfortunately, that almost never happens, so I was extra happy when I read this book.
It’s a sweet, slow-building romance, with an incredible heroine and a hero who truly deserves her love. The world-building is strong and complex, but never overwhelming, and I was hooked from page one. (Reviews here and here)
Young and New Adult
Young Adult was one of the most successful genres of the year in terms of sales, and with said success came New Adult; something we’re still debating whether it's part of Young Adult, Romance or an independent genre. It made a lot of money, and it spawned a series of awful books as well as the new trend of purchasing any self-published novel that sells, regardless of its quality. But there were also plenty of great books, and those are the ones I want to highlight.
Easy by Tammara Webber
I think this was the self-published New Adult novel that caused the original chain reaction. It’s a great example of self-publishing done right. It features college-aged characters, and a sweet, mature and respectful romantic interest. The heroine learns to love and respect herself, and the underlying theme of girl power was a pleasant and welcome surprise. If we add that it’s addictive and romantic, it shouldn't come as a surprise that many tried to imitate it.
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
This was another favorite New Adult-ish YA, featuring authentic characters dealing with serious issues. The main character is a young man whose life was a mess, and joining the Marines in a childish impulse, was the final consequence of his immature decisions. But what started as a poor choice ended up changing his life, and the book shows us the good and the bad of such an important decision. I thought it was a powerful story about growing up, dealing with the consequences of our actions, grief, an about young soldiers who may have join the military for the wrong reasons and how war impacts their lives. It also has a sweet romance to lighten the angst. (Review)
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry deserves an honorable mention because it kept me glued to my seat. Of the three YA books on the list, this is the one I found more entertaining, but it’s so over the top, extreme and cheesy, that even I, blinded as I was by its delicious angst, could tell that it was a bit of a mess. The other books are far from perfect, but at least they were able to (mostly) keep the hyperbole at bay. (Review)
As I write this list I keep thinking: what did I read this year? Because I didn’t read Historicals, PNRs, and now I’m about to tell you that didn’t read that many M/M either. However, in this case, it doesn’t matter, because my favorite M/M was a book I read in January, and I knew it would remain a favorite regardless of how many books I read after it.
Irregulars by Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale
Irregulars is an anthology that could school all the others anthologies and teach them how to be outstanding. It features different stories loosely connected until they all come together in the last novella. You have to read this book in order because it is a cohesive set of stories, all original and excellent.
It’s equal parts romance, suspense and paranormal, and the stories take place in an alternative reality that looks a lot like ours, but with monsters peacefully --and not-so-peacefully-- coexisting with us.
Simply amazing. (Review)
My favorite Erotic story of the year, The Waiting Room (review), isn’t a 2012 book, so I can’t include it here (although I can mention it… See what I did there?) But there were many other books I loved.
Restraint by Charlotte Stein
I loved everything Ms. Stein published this year, but Restraint was the most special. The hero is repressed and the heroine is the instigator. The story is interesting, hot and fresh. Erotic Romance has to push boundaries and be slightly kinky, because that’s what the Erotic part is for: to give the author more room for creativity.
Her voice takes some getting used to, and not everyone will be able to do it. But once you get past that, the ride is very enjoyable. It’s not perfect, everything just happens and the lack of background or setup gives the novella an episodic, somewhat incomplete. But it was so easy for me to see past that. And I loved how original it was.
Honorable mention goes to Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun, because it was a hopeful story about grief, in which the sex was key to the character development and perfectly interwoven into the story. (Review)
That’s my list! There are different stories and characters, but the one thing they have in common is that I wish I could read them for the first time again.
Note: clicking on the titles will take you to their Amazon page.
Note: clicking on the titles will take you to their Amazon page.