As of December 18, I have read 447 books this year. Because I have read so many books for review and those books overwhelmingly have been romance, I have read even more romance novels and novellas this year than I typically do, more than 80 percent of the books I’ve read. Many of them I loved, but these are the twelve (in order by release date) that I loved most, that I am surest I will be rereading, that I have recommended most enthusiastically—publically and privately-- to other romance readers. Honestly, I tried for a top ten, but I just couldn’t cut two from this list. I have provided links to my full reviews that were published here, at The Romance Dish, or at Heroes and Heartbreakers.
How to Dance with a Duke, Manda Collins (January 31)
This book is a wonderful blend of romance and mystery with protagonists who not only lust after one another and fall passionately in love with one another but who also genuinely like one another and enjoy talking and laughing together. I love an HEA I can believe in with all my heart. JJ review
Rainshadow Road, Lisa Kleypas (February 28)
I loved the characters who fall in love despite their best intentions to be friends with benefits, I love the magic realism that works as it is supposed to, blurring the line between what is real and what seems magical, and I loved the mix of heat, heart, and humor. And I especially loved Kleypas’s refusal to allow the Big Misunderstanding.
A Week to Be Wicked, Tessa Dare (March 27)
As I said in my review back in March, “My favorite romance novels are those that involve my brain, touch my heart, tickle my funny bone, and satisfy my love for lucid, textured prose. A Week to Be Wicked satisfies on all counts.” All that and a smart, bookish heroine too—and a road trip! JJ review
The Witness, Nora Roberts (April 17)
This story of opposites who overcome all kinds of obstacles to move toward the best kind of HEA—a long, loving stable relationship--is Roberts at her best. It is romantic suspense that gives the reader edge-of-the-seat suspense and a slamming ending without sacrificing anything in the romance. And it’s her 200th book!
A Gentleman Undone, Cecilia Grant (May 29)
Grant creates characters with whom I become totally engaged, she works within genre conventions but pushes the boundaries, and she writes the kind of prose that sends me back to reread passages that are symphonies of sound and sense. Both her books are extraordinary, but the second one, a dark story shot through with the light of intelligence and persistent love, is the more memorable for me. JJ review
Can’t Buy Me Love, Molly O’Keefe (June 26)
In her first single-title novel, O’Keefe characters who are engaged in redefining themselves and coming to believe that with all their rough edges they still can be capable of loving and worthy of being loved. Her characters are not conventional romance novel protagonists, but they are richly human and believable and unforgettable. TRD review
Ravishing the Heiress, Sherry Thomas (July 3)
One of the things that made 2012 a reading year to celebrate is that it brought three books by Sherry Thomas. I loved all three of the Fitzhugh books, but this one is my favorite, and Millie—smart, brave, and vulnerable--is one of the most remarkable heroines I’ve encountered in my years of reading romance. The book also has my favorite line of the year. Venetia, Fitz’s sister and heroine of Beguiling the Beauty says to Millie, who has paraphrased with some bitterness Byron’s claim that “Friendship is Love without his wings”: “No, my dear Millie, you are wrong. Love without friendship is like a kite, aloft only when the winds are favorable. Friendship is what gives love its wings.” TRD Review
The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James (August 28)
This may be my favorite ugly duckling romance ever. I loved the use James made of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, loved the reverse transformation, and loved that while the world may have believed the duchess changed from ugly duckling to swan, the duke never saw her as less than beautiful. H &H First Look
His Very Own Girl, Carrie Lofty (September 4)
This is a World War II romance in which the characters are complex and compelling, and the physical and emotional brutality of war so real that I felt disoriented when I left the world of the book. Lofty is an exceptional writer, but this is my favorite of all her books. TRD review
A Notorious Countess Confesses, Julie Anne Long (October 30)
The book is a winner on all counts, but Adam Sylvaine is my favorite romance hero of the year: a rare vicar hero who is convincing in his role as a spiritual leader but is also fully human, with a man’s passions and flaws and vanities. He is as aware of the political element of his work as he is of the spiritual. The Pennyroyal Green series is one of my favorite series, and this is my favorite among a group of cherished books that now numbers seven. H & H First Look
Barefoot in the Rain, Roxanne St. Claire (October 30)
St. Claire gives her readers her usual love story with characters that capture the heart and the imagination, she weaves in real life concerns that make this an important issues book, and she also goes a step beyond to push her readers to consider questions about the human capacity for change and for forgiveness. Are some things unforgiveable? Can people who are guilty of heinous actions change? Is harboring even deserved anger and hatred worth the prison sentence it imposes on the heart that holds such darkness? JJ review
The Importance of Being Wicked, Miranda Neville (November 27)
What happens to a young lady who elopes at seventeen? Neville’s first book in a new series provides one answer to that questions and gives her readers a delicious scandalous heroine/stuffy hero romance that in typical Neville passage is engaging and a bit different. JJ review
Other Books I’ve Loved:
Favorite Category: Within Reach, Sarah Mayberry
An excellent romance and a powerful and moving look at grief and recovery.
Favorite Novella: “Seducing the Pirate,” Eloisa James
A pirate hero who seduced me in a heartbeat in my #1 fun read of the year.
Favorite Memoir: Paris in Love, Eloisa James
Witty and warm and wise, generous and honest--this is a book to be read and reread. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and, through its rich sensory details, it gave the sights and sounds and tastes of Paris to me. I loved it! H & H First Look
Favorite Mystery: The Buzzard Table, Margaret Maron
The 18th book in my favorite mystery series continues to combine a look at the family relationships, immediate and extended, of Judge Deborah Knott with a mystery that weaves current issues and questions of conscience and morality that transcend the historical moment. And Maron does all this with a Sothern accent. (PW review)
Favorite Historical Fiction: The Book of Madness and Cures, Regina O’Melveny
An unmarried woman physician in 16th-century Venice sets out to find her father in this book that combines vivid historical background with a contemplative journey and musical prose. JJ review
Favorite Women’s Fiction: Home Front, Kristin Hannah
An extraordinary look at war, losses of various kinds, and their effects on soldiers and their families presented from the point of view of a female helicopter pilot. (Kirkus review)
Favorite General Fiction: Dear Life: Stories, Alice Munro
A collection of stories, most of them set in the 1940s and 1950s featuring rural and small-town characters in Ontario, manages to be spare, empathetic, and memorable. I, for one, am grateful that Munro continues to be productive into her eighties. USA Today review
Favorite Southern Fiction: The River Witch, Kimberly Brock
Southern in voice, style, and story, this is an exceptional debut--beautiful, haunting, and unforgettable, with a lyrical blend of past and present, natural and supernatural.
Favorite Poetry: The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010
One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more poetry, and I did. I particularly loved two collections: Thrall by Natasha Trethewey, the current poet laureate, and A Thousand Mornings by the wondrous Mary Oliver. Both found a permanent home on my bookshelves, but when forced to choose one favorite for the year, I had to go with this lifetime collection of an underrated poet who wrote powerfully of race and gender and change. PW review
Favorite Nonfiction: Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, Marina Warner
Reading Warner’s examination of the stories of Scheherazade (or Shahrazad, the name Warner uses), a character the New York Times called “the muse of all great fantasy writing,” made me long for the days when I would have found new inspiration for my world literature classes in its pages. PW review
What were your favorite romance novels of 2012? What other books made the reading year memorable for you?