I can hardly believe it, but we are just a week shy of being half-way through 2011. I like to take some time at the halfway mark to reflect on my reading year. I’ve read 215 books since January 1, 155 of them romances published this year. I’ve added a substantial number of keepers to my groaning bookshelves, and reviewing my reading journal made me want to reread some of them already. I love making lists, and predictably my reflection led to list making. I intended to select a top ten, but after I had chosen eight, I couldn’t choose another two from among a cluster of ten. Eighteen top romances made me sound distressingly indiscriminate, and frankly, I am too summer lazy to comment on eighteen books. These eight (in alphabetical order by author) are standouts--books that remain fresh in my memory, books in which I highlighted passages and put exclamation points in the margins, books that I plan to read again and again.
Note: I have reviewed seven of these books, either here or at The Romance Dish or on Goodreads. The titles link to those reviews. For The Orchid Affair, which I did not review, I link to the excellent review at Austenprose.
Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, Lisa Dale
This is one of those women’s fiction/romance hybrids that I’m partial to. It’s also one of the best views of a marriage that disintegrates rather than explodes and of the effects that disintegration has not only on the marriage partners and their children but also on the extended family. Dale’s writing is lovely.
When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Eloisa James
I really love what Eloisa James is doing with traditional fairy tales. She maintains a perfect balance between being true to the tradition and subverting it. I described WBTTB in my review as “a tale rich with humor, high in sizzle factor, and substantive in its portrayal of love as a healing, transforming power.”
My Favorite Countess, Vanessa Kelly
This is a rare book, both in its redeemed heroine and in its doctor hero who is an accoucheur, the 19th-century version of an obstetrician. The HEA in this case is hard won, but watching these two move toward their happy ending is a joy. You can read my full review here.
Defiant, Kris Kennedy
I still marvel that Kris Kennedy has me reading Medievals. This is her third, and all are remarkable reads. As I said in my review, Defiant, like The Conqueror and The Irish Warrior, has “a richly storied, historically accurate background; compellingly developed characters, primary and secondary; great chemistry between the hero and heroine; and superb prose.”
What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green), Julie Anne Long
As of 06/23/2011, this is my book of the year. It has everything I want in my romances: wonderful, fully realized protagonists, a love story that is fresh, secondary characters who play meaningful roles, love scenes that have a purpose beyond titillation, and beautifully crafted prose. It even has a great cover that fits the book!
Heartbreak Creek, Kaki Warner
This is the first book in Warner’s new Runaway Brides series, and it’s a winner. It’s a mail order bride story filled with humor, poignancy, and vivid characters. I’ve recommended it to everyone who will listen to me.
The Beach Trees, Karen White
A lyrical, evocative story of a woman’s journey with a strong romantic element, this book has a sense of place so powerful that the reader can almost smell the ocean. I’ve been a Karen White fan for a long while, and I think this may be her best work so far.
The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig
I can still remember reading the phrase “silly ideas couched in intellectual unintelligibility” in the prologue of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and stopping to rejoice in having found another author I could label “kindred spirit.” This is the seventh book in the series, and like all the others, it confirms that first impression. The romance is present in the book, both with Eloise and Colin and in the major characters within the historical fiction, but history gets the emphasis in this story set in post-revolutionary Paris.
What books have you read since January 1 that you consider among the best of 2011?