2011 In Retrospect

Looking back on this year of reading, there were a lot of good books. I’m not at all a hierarchical thinker, so I can’t do a “top ten” list or anything like that. But I read some terrific books, so here are some thoughts — sorted by genre, but otherwise in no particular order.

Historical Romance

The standout authors for me in this genre were:

Courtney Milan — her Turner family books were all terrific, and her novella Unlocked was one of the best things I read in any genre all year.

Miranda Neville — The Amorous Education of Cecilia Seaton was funny, sweet, sexy, and all-around enjoyable.

Julie Anne Long — despite the occasional anachronism, Long writes love stories that really suck me in. I’ve enjoyed all of her Pennyroyal Green books so far, especially What I Did for a Duke, and I also liked her re-issued backlist title, To Love a Thief.

Meredith Duran — A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal was a wonderful book; my favorite by this author since Duke of Shadows. I loved how the book explored issues of class, much like Milan’s Turner books, and didn’t focus solely on characters of the upper class or with unbelievable rose-colored glasses on characters of the lower classes.

Joanna Bourne — what can I say? She writes beautifully, and I can’t imagine not loving anything that comes from her pen.

Victoria Dahl — It’s Always Been You was a really wonderful reading experience for me. I loved how brave and vulnerable the main characters were.

Contemporary Romance

I enjoyed a number of books in this category this year, mostly by three authors:

Victoria Dahl — I have an automatic bias in favor of a book about a micro-brewery, and the Donovan brothers books were all good. It was the second book, Bad Boys Do, that spoke most strongly to me, but that’s probably a biography thing. Dahl’s heroes are all men I can imagine knowing, and wanting, in real life, and her heroines are incredibly varied and interesting — vulnerable (a word I use a lot in reference to Dahl’s characters), yet ultimately strong.

Julie James — A Lot Like Love was a great book, but this year I also read an older James title, Practice Makes Perfect. That’s now on my short list of books to recommend to my friends who aren’t regular romance readers.

Jill Shalvis — I have to say that sometimes Shalvis’ characters make me want to grab them and shake them. But I keep reading, which isn’t the case with some other contemporary writers; in fact, I have trouble putting her books down.

Science Fiction Romance

My big discovery in this genre was the writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — their Liaden Universe stories are amazing, and I can’t believe I didn’t listen to my friend and Twitter buddy GrowlyCub sooner. “Local Custom” was the story I started with, and I read five or six back-to-back right afterwards.

Sara Creasey’s Scarabeus books were great. Interesting scientific speculation, and she engages the kinds of questions about human power and frailty that I believe are best suited to futuristic fiction.

Zoe Archer, whose Blades of the Rose books were among my very favorite books of 2010, published science fiction romance this year that I really liked. A lot of my favorite science fiction, even when romantic, is not particularly sexy. Archer writes both hot sex scenes and hot action sequences, and I highly recommend Collision Course and the upcoming Chain Reaction.

Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy

A few authors continue to be reliable for me in this genre:

Meljean Brook — the Guardian books are complex and compulsively readable. I know this series is ending soon, but I’m excited for the big finale and confident that Brook will continue to write terrific books in whatever genre she chooses. Her Iron Seas series is fabulous — both the novella “The Blushing Bounder” and the full-length installment Heart of Steel released in 2011 were great, and I am eager for more!

Nalini Singh — the Archangel series is branching out into new couples now, and so far I really like that. Singh has created some very intriguing characters around Raphael, and I find myself wanting to read more about all of them.

Carolyn Jewel — it feels strange to include a friend on this list, but it felt even stranger when I tried to leave her off. I first met Carolyn because I liked one of her books, and I continue to admire and enjoy her work. Her Immortals series is smart, sexy, and gripping — I have to be careful when I start one, because I usually can’t stop in the middle. In addition, she has been able to re-issue some of her older books, along with Liz Maverick and other writers, in the Crimson City series.

Ava Gray/Ann Aguirre — the two installments in Gray’s Skin series that came out this year were quite good, and I’m disappointed that there are no more books scheduled. Whether the focus is the paranormal, as in Aguirre’s Corinne Solomon books, or the romance, which is meant to be the distinction under the Gray pen name, this author rocks. She writes believably, with strong world building, and her characters often face moral dilemmas or trade-offs that feel real, not contrived or with obvious solutions. She writes tough, smart characters and isn’t afraid of moral ambiguity.

Holiday TBR Challenge: Regency Christmas Proposals

My book for this month is an anthology of three stories published last Christmas by Harlequin. I have to admit that I haven’t read the third one yet (hey, it’s finals week here), but I enjoyed the first two. The Soldier’s Christmas Miracle, by Gayle Wilson, is an interesting twist on the wounded soldier theme. Snowbound and Seduced, by Amanda McCabe, is a delightful second-chance story. Both are long enough to develop the characters and their relationships in levels of conflict appropriate for the shorter length. Despite the anthology title, I didn’t feel that these stories were really about proposing — which was fine with me! In real life I often find that the fuss made about the proposal, and subsequently the wedding, is inversely proportional to the real value of the marriage. As I have asked more than one young couple seeking advice, “Do you want to GET married, or do you want to BE married? They aren’t the same thing.” I was pleased that both of these stories took the relationship seriously, not just the a popping of the question.