Saturday, July 6, 2013

Best Romance Novels of 2013: January-June 2013

Last month Amazon announced their Best of 2013 January through June. I had read seven of the ten on their list of romances, but I knew my own choices would look very different. And I knew, given how many books I had read the first half of 2013 that I marked as keepers, that I would have a tough time choosing only ten. To make things easier, I decided to limit my choices to full-length novels, to select only one book per author, and to eliminate books written by good friends and Vano buddies. The last was particularly wise since I loved How toEntice an Earl by Manda Collins (a January release), Captain Durant’s Countess (a February release), Meant to Be by Terri Osburn (a May release), and Any Duchess Will Do (also a May release) and reviewed them all. 

So, with those restrictions in place, I chose my top ten romance reads of 2013 so far. Since seven out of ten are historical romances, I guess I can cancel my post on why the historical romance is alive and well on my bookshelves. “Best” in this context is totally subjective. These are the books I read that sent me back to reread sections as soon as I finished the first reading, that gave me characters who lingered in my mind well after I closed the book, that inspired me to give a shout out to others romance readers saying, “Oh, you need to read this one.”

Janga’s Best of 2013 So Far (in order of publication)

 One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, Sarah Maclean (January 29)

One Good Earl Deservesa Lover is a difficult book to categorize. The title suggests a light-hearted romance, and I appreciated the ambiguity of the “one good earl.” In many ways, the story is a romantic comedy. There are some deliciously funny scenes that left me laughing out
loud—the initial meet scene in Cross’s office, Pippa and Castleton’s dance at their betrothal ball, Pippa’s interview of Sally Tasser. But there are also scenes of great poignancy and even darkness. The allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost are sometimes amusing, a few times melodramatic, but in a real sense the owners of the Fallen Angel know hell is more than slang for
a gaming house. The mix makes this story more complex and more richly textured than most romantic comedies.

The Autumn Bride, Anne Gracie (February 5)

A blend of humor and poignancy marks The Autumn Bride as distinctly the work of Anne Gracie. In this first book in the Chance Sisters series, Gracie has woven another tale of complex family relationships, delightful secondary characters, and a love great enough to win over all the obstacles life throws in its way. I loved everything about this book—the “sisters” who create a family out of affection and need, the hero as disillusioned boy and as honorable man, and the gallant, all together wonderful Lady Beatrice, who almost steals the book from the lovers.

Maybe This Time, Joan Kilby (March 5)

Maybe This Time is one more reason anyone who loves contemporary romances that offer compelling characters and complex situations with a different slant should give Harlequin Superromances a try. This novel gives readers a reunion story in which Emma and Darcy Lewis, a divorced couple, must deal with an unplanned pregnancy after a single night together. They have unresolved feelings about the death of their first child that were a contributing factor to their divorce, and Emma’s pregnancy brings them back to the fore. Emma is determined to limit Darcy’s role in her child’s life, and Darcy, convinced that he’s a poor parent, is equally determined to provide financial support but leery of emotional involvement. After their son is born, Emma’s view of herself and her world shatters. She has problems breastfeeding the baby, who is a colicky, cranky infant. The combination of sleep deprivation, stress over nursing, and self-disgust over her failure to love her child pushes Emma to the point of a breakdown. Darcy, forced to become more involved in the day-to-day care for his son, discovers he is more competent than he thought and that his love for his child is immeasurable. They find their second chance for an HEA, but it is hard won and fraught with missteps.

The Best Man, Kristan Higgins (February 26)

In The Best Man, Kristan Higgins gives readers a story that combines scenes worthy of a twenty-first-century Lucille Ball with scenes that will have readers reaching for a hanky to catch the tears. Faith is a wonderful heroine, funny and flawed and endearing. Levi is a total guy--uncomfortable with emotions (his own and those of others), deeply committed to taking care of problems, and a better man than he himself will ever recognize. These are characters who will engage readers’ attention and capture their hearts. But Higgins gives readers more that a great romance in this book; she gives them a complete world set in a place so real one can see the clouds over the lake and smell the grapes growing on land saturated in family history. Beyond Faith and Levi, Higgins includes a large cast of quirky characters, each of whom possesses a distinct, individual presence. Faith’s large family (three generations of them), Levi’s co-workers, the citizens of Manningsport, Jeremy Lyon, and Blue (There has to be a dog. This is a Kristan Higgins story.)—each adds something special to this book. I fell in love not just with Faith and Levi but also with the place and the people to which they belong. This is the only book on which Amazon editors and I agree.

The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After, Julia Quinn (April 2)

I’ve been a Bridgerton fan since I first read The Duke and I, and I loved this collection. Each second epilogue added a moment I could appreciate to the overall Bridgerton story, and collectively they allowed me to return briefly to a fictional world where I spent some of my most cherished reading hours, a world where true love is forever and families banter, badger, and bear one another’s burdens through the years. As for Violet’s story, it was the perfect ending. Quinn says Violet became her favorite character over the course of the series and that writing “Violet in Bloom” was a “labor of love.” I think that shows as Quinn gives us a look at almost the full span of Violet’s life, a life well-lived with long joys and deep sorrows but overall a life that proved happily ever after, even if it denied Violet the conventional HEA. 

Sweet Madness, Heather Snow (April 2)

I enjoyed the earlier books in Heather Snow’s Veiled Seduction series, but Sweet Madness is truly extraordinary with a portrayal of “battle fatigue,” as PTSD was then labeled, so stark that it packs a knockout blow to the reader’s heart. This is a rare romance in which the heroine, Lady Penelope Bridgeman, “saves” the hero, Gabriel Devereaux, in a manner consistent with who she is and what she could credibly be expected to know in time in which she lived. She is no miracle worker, and Gabriel’s progress is slow. Penelope has her own wounds that need healing, and  Gabriel’s tenderness and belief in her are wonderful to see. This is a book that merits more attention than it has received. It has “romance classic” written all over it.

Once Upon a Tower, Eloisa James (May 28)

A captivating story, characters who are heartbreakingly young and real, and prose so gorgeous you can hear music—Once Upon a Tower, a blend of Rapunzel, Romeo and Juliet, and the storytelling gifts that are uniquely Eloisa James, has them all. This just may be James’s best book yet. I loved it so much that it took a top ten list to explain my reasons. James excels in marriage-in-trouble tales, and this story of Lady Edith “Edie” Gilchrist and Gowan Stoughton, Duke of Kinross, who are so young that they are still in the process of exploring their own identities, strikes a particularly resonant chord. The secondary romance between Edie’s father and stepmother, Layla, a gem of a character, repeats the theme with an older couple. If you love historical romance set in the timeless world of fairy tales that will bring a tear to your eye, a smile to your lips, and leave you rejoicing that you are a romance reader, you don’t want to miss this novel.

Carolina Girl, Virginia Kantra (June 4)

I read so many small-town series now that it’s tough for a new one to hook me, but Virginia Kantra did it with her Dare Island series. I loved Carolina Home, and I think Carolina Girl is even better. Kantra avoids the mistake many authors make with small-town settings. Dare Island is neither generic nor idyllic. It is a specific place with good and not-so-good qualities. Meg Fletcher and Sam Grady have a long history, but they also have new things to discover about one another, and Kantra gives them the time to make the discoveries. The reader also sees Meg and Sam’s relationship within the contexts of other relationships. The secondary characters exist for a purpose rather than merely serving as background figures. I loved their story, and, as with the first book, I turned the last page already eager for the next book in the series.

A Woman Entangled, Cecilia Grant (June 25)

Cecilia Grant is one of the best writers to join the romance communities in the past few years. Each of her books is extraordinary, and each is different from the others.  Romance fiction is filled with tales of aristocrats who marry outside their class and somehow avoid the usual consequences of that choice. I have delighted in many such stories, quite willingly suspending disbelief. Many of these books are cherished keepers. But I think it’s worth taking note of this novel that shows a more realistic view, including the effects on the generations that follow of marriages that may be happy but may not be “good.” A Woman Entangled is a beautifully written novel, a darn good story, and a different slant on an old trope. The protagonists are not perfect, or even always likeable. Kate Westbrook sometimes seems shallow, and Nick Blackshear sometimes seems hard and unforgiving. But underlying Kate’s desire to win acceptance from her father’s family is a conflict addressed by no less than Jane Austen, as Grant indicates with the Austen allusions, and Nick is not a bad man. He is a good man who is forced to make a tough choice and chooses professional and social survival over family feeling. He wounds himself as well as his brother by his choice, and he feels guilty. Both Kate and Nick grow and change as the story moves toward its conclusion, as readers want their heroes and heroines to do. Only imperfect beings are capable of growth.

It Happened One Midnight, Julie Anne Long (June 25)

In this eighth Pennyroyal Green book, Long weaves a story that pairs two people who should never be a match and makes me believe they are perfect for each other. She makes the impossible seem destined and the unexpected seem ideal. Thomasina de Ballesteros  sees in Jonathan Redmond all that he is and all that he is capable of becoming. If ever a heroine deserved a hero to cherish her, Tommy does. And Jonathan’s heart is large enough to cherish all the pieces of who she is. Theirs is a story that, from the opening scene through the epilogue, never makes a misstep. Once again Long gives readers a book in which true love is characterized by the ability to see the essential self of the beloved that lies beyond the masks created to protect and conceal. Tommy makes an important distinction between love and romance. She, like Jonathan, comes to understand that love ennobles the giver and renders meaningful small, daily expressions.  It Happened One Midnight is deeply romantic, but even better, it is a heart-shatteringly beautiful love story with a sigh-evoking HEA.

What do you think of Amazon’s list? What are your top reads of 2013 so far?

Links to reviews are to my reviews here, at The Romance Dish, or at Heroes and Heartbreakers except for the books that I did not review.


Marnee Bailey said...

Smart to leave our the Vano buddy novels. That frees up some space on my list too.

Great compilation, Janga! Insightful as always. :)

Terri Osburn said...

Regardless of the exception, I wouldn't belong among this list anyway. But I appreciate the mention.

As always, I've read very few of these, but have no doubt they're all wonderful reads. Someday I'll get back to reading a book a week. I miss those days. And to think, all these and there's still six months to go!

Deborah Stein said...

What a weird Amazon list even by their standards. My top ten includes six of yours--Gracie, Kilby, Higgans, James, Grant and Long--and the Dare. It also includes Ruthie Knox, Flirting with Diaster, Jodi Thomas Can't stop believing and Hoyt Lord of Darkness.
It would include Knox's Big Boy too if it weren't a novella.

Janga said...

Thanks, Marnee. I might have omitted my Vano buddies from the list, but I do love reading their books and celebrating their success. I look forward to adding you to that list.

Janga said...

Ter, I love Meant to Be, and I eagerly await the next two Anchor Island books.

I know you've been busy writing. Just think how many great books you have waiting to be read when you get a bit of time.

Janga said...

Deb, I loved Can't Stop Believing and Lord of Darkness too. They would have been on my list if I had named a Top Twenty.

Karen Counts said...

I would have to add to this list a great romance novel called "Come Fly With Me" by author Judith Whitmore ( It is a fantastic love story featuring strong, intelligent lead female character, Kate and her future love interest, Rick (the sexy loner pilot!). Kate is in a loveless marriage and turns to flying as a way to escape reality. Lucky for her she is trained by Rick :) and sparks fly (no pun intended). Rick thought he had given up on love and was enjoying the single life until he met Kate. It really is so much more than your everyday love story. There are some really surprising plot twists and turns that lead the reader through adultery, a death, ruby smuggling and a daring rescue! I highly recommend it!

Karen Counts said...
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