It’s time again for the Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hella Good Authors, DABWAHA, a March-madness popularity contest of romance and related works run by Jane of Dear Author and Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Voting begins in just a few minutes!
I’m participating by listing, and commenting on, the nominated books that I’ve read. As usual, there are a lot in some categories, fewer in others, none in one group. For once, one of the LGBT* nominations is f/f, and one features a trans* character.
There’s also an f/f book in the Paranormal/Science Fiction/Fantasy category, illustrating one problem of this classification system. An astute commenter points out that I got this wrong; this is the m/f book in between the two f/f books in the series. Which still leaves me wondering about those categories, but never mind.
Love Irresistibly by Julie James. I liked this book, but I didn’t love it as much as I have some of the author’s previous books. I will always remember it as the book where the main characters open champagne bottles with corkscrews.
Sleighbells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan. Another reliable author, and this book was really good. It has elements of romantic comedy, with the heroine very much a fish out of water. It was a warm, fuzzy read.
Run to You by Charlotte Stein. This wasn’t as compelling as some of her others, but it’s a very hot book. Stein writes interesting erotic romance — I never feel like her characters are types, as they are unique individuals with complex sexual desires, not just standard fetishes.
Caught in Amber by Cathy Pegau.
Lesbian science-fiction romance, and it’s good in all three of those ways. Okay, so I was thinking of the third book, not the second, in this series. The main couple in this book is straight. It’s still a good story, though. Original world building and strong characters made me recommend this series to folks who don’t usually read f/f.
Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith I DNFed this book. I read the first section (in the heroine’s point of view), and it made me very uncomfortable; what I heard from others and read in reviews made me decide that it wasn’t going to get better for me.
Skies of Gold by Zoe Archer. The world of the Ether Chronicles is very well done in the whole series — strong steampunk, with an interesting vision. Archer’s writing often includes very strong heroines (of the “kick ass” variety) and powerful action scenes. I loved this third book even more than its predecessors in the series, which is saying a lot; both main characters are damaged and wary, but they are also strong and intelligent, and the romance and action plots balance in an almost perfect way.
Ripped by Sarah Morgan. I had a little trouble getting started with this one — I just couldn’t buy the initial set-up. But I trust the author, so I picked it back up and ended up liking it. I thought the “how could this hot rich guy want little old scientist me” was a bit thin as a conflict, but I guess that’s why it was written as short fiction.
Unbuttoned by Maisey Yates. I felt that this conflict, in contrast, was almost too much for the length of the story. It felt rushed in a couple of places, and I’d have preferred a little more development instead of the epilogue — I liked the pre-epilogue ended. But this is a solid novella, featuring “big brother’s best friend,” a favorite trope of mine.
Back to the Good Fortune Diner by Vicki Essex. We did a group read of this book. I liked parts of the book very much, and I was glad to see a romance with Asian American characters. But there were some unquestioned stereotypes and other problematic elements that kept it from being a real hit.
His Until Midnight by Nikki Logan. I enjoyed this book; it has an interesting set-up that reminded me of Same Time Next Year. The tight focus on the two main characters, and their focus on each other during their meetings, really drew me into the intensity of their feelings. It’s always tricky when a romance novel features attraction that began when one party was married, but this one takes pains to ensure that there’s no infidelity.
The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry. Mayberry is one of my favorite authors of contemporary romance, and this book is a good example of why. I got sucked right into the characters’ lives, and the things keeping them from committing to love were believable, so that I got really caught up in whether they’d be together or not. The heroine is physically rehabbing, and both characters have reason to want solitude, but they each have a friendly dog, so they are forced to interact. Funny and touching, if a little cliché at the end.
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas. If I had to settle for one romance author’s books for the rest of my life, it might be Thomas. Every book is different, but they are all terrific. In this one, Thomas takes on the marriage of convenience (my favorite!) and puts her own twist on it. A couple of time she came perilously close to the edge for me — that edge being the point where you just want to smack both characters for being afraid of trust and honesty when they so obviously love each other. But we never went over the edge, because each time I accepted the psychology for why these two couldn’t trust each other (or themselves) sooner.
The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin. Lin’s Tang Dynasty romances just keep getting better and better. This murder mystery takes us deeper into the Pleasure Quarter of the Imperial City and also offers another look at law enforcement. The hero is a delightful Scarlet Pimpernel figure, and the heroine is one of Lin’s best — a quiet woman who discovers her own value while mostly concerned about others. As with the author’s other books, I don’t feel like I’m having too much information shoved at me, and yet I feel that I understand enough about the time and place to appreciate what the characters are experiencing. That’s not a balance that all authors can manage, especially while telling a powerful love story AND a mystery. The mystery aspect may be a little under-developed, if you like detective fiction that gives you enough clues to possibly solve the crime yourself. I was so caught up in the romance that it didn’t bother me at all.
The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan. This is a really good book. Jane and Oliver are wonderful main characters; there’s a nice balance of comedy and drama in their romance. Like a lot of readers, I was almost more interested in the secondary romance between Jane’s sister Emily, who has epilepsy, and an young Indian law student. I wanted more of that! As usual, Milan combines strong writing, excellent research and innovative thinking into a romance that kept me guessing and then left me satisfied.
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare. I spent this whole book wondering how the author was going to pull off the ending — I mean, it’s a romance, the two main characters are obviously in love, but the situation seems impossible. At least, it seems impossible. It’s the Pygmalion problem: you *can* teach a lower-class girl to “pass” as a member of the upper class, but what then? Does she return to obscurity (“What am I fit for now?”), or does she live a lie, denying her real past and any family connections, living in fear that she’ll be discovered? I have been disappointed by plots like this before (Julia Quinn’s An Offer From a Gentleman comes to mind, because the book/characters don’t seem to acknowledge the very real difficulties faced by those who want to fool the ton. I should have known that I could trust Tessa Dare. I won’t say how she manages it, but I was not at all disappointed in the choices made that brought about the story’s happy ending. And along the way, signature Dare humor (some with a twist of pathos), delightful repartée, intelligent and strong characters, good friendships and family relationships (and some not-so-good ones repaired), and a really, REALLY strong romance.
Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer. A lot of action and risk-taking make this an exciting book; the series concept of a company trying to avenge injustice in Victorian England is a little much for me to accept, but if you just go with it, it works. There are strong women who can think and shoot, and men who can accept those things. Those wanting historical romance that’s not all about the aristocracy should welcome this book and its sequels.
Young Adult / New Adult
I read a few YA books this year, but nothing that made this list.
His Kind of Woman by Nona Raines.This was my TBR Challenge read this month (see the post before this one). It’s novella length, a sweet sexy read, and it has an adorable transwoman heroine.
Code of Honor by Radclyffe. This is a series I’ve been meaning to read. I bought this one, and I’ve read a few chapters, and it’s solid. I love the idea of the President’s daughter being an out, married lesbian! The only reason I haven’t read more is that my series compulsion is twitching, and I’d have to go back and read seven books to read in order.
Captive Prince Vol. 1 by SU Pacat & CS Pacat. A DNF for me. I tried because there was a lot of squeeing on Twitter, but it was not for me.
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn. I liked this story, set in colonial Kenya in the early 20th century. It’s a rather dark romance, because mostly it’s about life in Africa being harder and more dangerous, although also more rewarding, than the heroine expects. Both main characters are rather misfits, and their coming together is difficult. I thought the book characterized indigenous people fairly, and it certainly doesn’t glorify the British Empire, but I know some readers objected to the appropriation of the Masai experience. Longer review is here
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Another DNF. I didn’t feel that this book was working for me as a romance.
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. Another fabulous book by one of my favorite authors. As usual, she blends paranormal, historical and romantic elements — this time much of the action in the present and the past happens in Russia. I thought all three aspects of the book were brilliant.
Longbourn by Jo Baker. I just got this on digital loan from my library. I hear mixed things from other readers, but if it makes it past the first round, I’ll probably have read it and have my own thoughts.