It’s almost July, and we’re half way into 2012. For romance readers, this means that several thousand romance novels have been published this year. Amazon has announced their list of the ten best so far. I’ve only read four on their list. Evidently the Amazon editors love some subgenres that I don’t read at all.
You might think realizing this would make me a more adventurous reader. You’d be wrong. I have over a hundred new books on my Kindle and several dozen more on my print TBR shelf, most of them 2012 pubs and most of them romances. Among the romances, almost without exception, the books are historicals, contemporaries, or books with strong romantic elements. A few are romantic suspense, and I know of a few paranormals I’ll be adding later this year. But mostly I’m loyal to the subgenres I like best. Clearly I’m having problems finding time to read the books I know I want to read; I lack motivation to add those I might not like to the list.
All of this chatter is prefatory to presenting my choices for the ten best romance novels of 2012 for January through June (in alphabetical order by author since it would take more time than I have at the moment to rank order the books). Surprisingly, the Amazon editors and I actually agree on two. :) The comments are excerpted, sometimes slightly modified, from my reviews. I didn’t set out to choose only books I had reviewed, but it worked out that way. Clicking on the titles will take you to the original reviews.
To my top ten, I added two other books that I loved, although neither is labeled “romance novel” in my reading journal. One is a memoir and my favorite book of the year across categories. I’ve read it three times and know I’ll return to it many more times. The other is a YA novel, a rare book that I read solely on the basis of a GoodReads recommendation and loved.
A Weekto Be Wicked, Tessa Dare
I’ve been a Tessa Dare fan since I read and gave top scores to her entries in Avon’s Fan Lit competition. I’ve read and loved the eight novels and two novellas that preceded A Week to Be Wicked, but I think this is her best book yet. Minerva and Colin are both characters who fall within the conventions of romance fiction (the bluestocking and the rake) and yet manage to be fresh and original. They are funny and flawed and completely engaging—an unexpected pairing that, against all odds, feels perfect.
At Your Pleasure, Meredith Duran
Meredith Duran is quite simply one of the best writers I’ve read. Her characterization is superb, her plots compelling, and her prose lucid and powerful. She also offers her readers the gift of difference in a genre more accustomed to sameness. Duran sets At Your Pleasure in England in 1715, the year after the coronation of George I. The possibility of a Jacobite rebellion was real; some scholars believe it was a more serious threat that the rebellion of 1745. Most readers of historical romance fiction are familiar with the rudiments of the latter rebellion, having encountered references to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Battle of Culloden, and Cumberland’s brutal suppression in novels from Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders to those by Veryan, Gabaldon, Canham, and countless others. The political climate of England in 1715 when Catholics, including Catholic aristocrats, were denied the right to worship, to vote, to be educated is less familiar. Duran captures the realities of the period without slamming her readers in the face with a history book. And she combines historical accuracy with emotionally credible actions and reactions. . . . If you like your romances intense, dark, emotional, and romantic in the truest sense, you will not want to miss At Your Pleasure.
A Gentleman Undone, Cecilia Grant
Like many other readers, I was won over by [A Lady Awakened, Grant’s first book]. I loved Grant’s fresh take on an established trope and her way with language. I fell in love with these same qualities in A Gentleman Undone. It is a darker book than the first one, but voice, style, and a pushing-the-boundaries approach to the conventions of romance fiction are the same. So is the author’s gift for crafting words and sentences that left me giddy with delight over their precision and perfection.
Rainshadow Road, Lisa Kleypas
Lucy and Sam deserve each other. Yes, they have great chemistry, and the novel contains some wonderful love scenes that are a mix of heat, heart, and humor. But they are more than sex partners. They talk to one another, revealing themselves through sharing their histories and their thoughts. They laugh together. They like each other. I don’t want to include spoilers, so I’ll just say there are two incidents in the novel where Kleypas had a choice about what her characters would do, one fairly early in the story and one near the end. In both cases, one choice would have destroyed the book for me. It would have become just another in a long list of books that leave me regretting the book that could have been if only . . . Both times, these characters make the choice that maintains the integrity of the people I have come to believe they are.
Can’t Buy Me Love, Molly O’Keefe
Near the end of the novel, Victoria voices a truth all the characters must learn: “We’re more than our mistakes. . . . More than our pasts. We can be more than the things we let define us.” Once Tara and Luc accept this truth, they can accept their flawed selves and open their hearts to receive the love that is waiting for them. These sentences are thematic not only for Can’t Buy Me Love but also for Molly O’Keefe’s work generally. It is a theme that was present, if less directly articulated, in The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill, the first O’Keefe book I read, a theme I found throughout the backlist I then glommed, and one that resonates in her newest work of category fiction, Unexpected Family.
Can’t Buy Me Love is a single-title debut worth celebrating. Molly O’Keefe tells a great story that evokes laughter and tears, and she does something more. She reminds her readers of a truth we all need to learn.
No Longer a Gentleman, Mary Jo Putney
Talk about tortured heroes. I found Grey’s transformation during his imprisonment and afterwards persuasive. I thought Cassie, with her history, her courage, and her understanding of the man Grey had become, was the perfect heroine for him. I loved their story!
A Night Like This, Julia Quinn
The second book in the Smythe-Smith series is one of the feel-good romances of the year. It picks up where the last one left off, at the annual family musicale first made famous in Quinn’s beloved Bridgerton series. Once again Quinn does what she does best: she takes a standard Regency plot—governess with a big secret that puts her at risk falls for gallant aristocratic hero—and adds the touches that makes the story uniquely and delightfully hers. Anne is an immensely sympathetic and likeable heroine. Because of a mistake in judgment made when she was very young, she has been barred from all she has known and loved and forced to depend upon her own resources to survive. Life has made her cautious but not bitter, and it has not destroyed her sense of humor.
But Daniel is the star of the book. Horrified by the results of the absurd duel, he accepts responsibility for maiming his friend, although his shooting him was an accident. His affection for his family is unmistakable, and he is the very pattern of a man totally blindsided and inebriated by love.
The Witness, Nora Roberts
It’s a long way from a horse rancher and groomer (Irish Thoroughbred, Nora Roberts’s first published book) to a computer programmer and a cop—more than three decades and two hundred books. But Nora Roberts, the best known romance writer on the planet, has always known “it all goes to character” and work informs character. This book bears Witness to that.
Beguiling the Beauty, Sherry Thomas
Complex, compelling characters, an unusual and emotionally powerful plot, and prose with the range and beauty of music—what more can a reader ask for? Maybe more of the same. I am confident that’s what Thomas will provide in the next two books in her first series. My recommendation is to put Beguiling the Beauty on your must-buy list, and while you’re at it, you should add Ravishing the Heiress (Millie and Fitz’s story, July 3) and Tempting the Bride (Helena and her hero’s story, October 2).
Overseas, Beatriz Williams
Just a week or so before I read Overseas, I commented to a friend that the idealistic Brooke, whom poet W. B. Yeats reputedly described as “the handsomest young man in England,” would make a wonderful model for a romance hero. I felt as if Julian were a gift in response. I loved him. I loved the book. If you are a romantic who believes that love can be eternal, I predict you’ll love it too. My only complaint is that I really wanted to read the full poem that gives the book its title. A few lines just weren’t enough for this romantic. I don’t think I’ve ever before recommended a time travel romance (not even Gabaldon, whose books I couldn’t read—sacrilege, I know), but I definitely recommend this one.
A Bonus Duo
Paris in Love, Eloisa James
Underlying all of the last things, of course, is her consciousness that life itself is ephemeral. “Along with the rest of humankind,” she writes, “I inherited faulty genes, all of which are programmed to die.” But in the meantime, there is life to be lived with love and grace, memories to make for the next generation, and time to be spent generously and wasted extravagantly. Looking back on the year her family spent in Paris, James draws a conclusion about what she, Alessandro, Luca, and Anna learned: “We learned to waste our moments—together.”
I consider the time I spent reading Paris in Love thrice time well spent. James gave me Paris, she sent me back to the poetry of Auden, and she reminded me that lazy moments now and then do not disturb the universe.
Good for You, Tamarra Webber
I loved Good for You with its out-of-control, hot celebrity hero and VBS-teaching, Habitat-for-Humanity volunteering heroine. I haven’t reviewed this one, but for those of you who read YA, I highly recommend it.
How many of Amazon's list have you read? How many of my list have you read? What's on your best of 2012 list so far?
Note: I tried posting covers with the descriptions of the books, but they kept messing up. My knowledge of html code is minimal, and I couldn't fix the problem. The covers do appear on the links.