Friday, August 1, 2014

Janga’s Best Books of 2014 So Far (Romance and Women’s Fiction)

Since my lists have been well received and since I have had requests to post my annual Best of 2014 So Far list, it seems appropriate to make that list one of my final posts. Despite cries that the historical romance is in its death throes, that genre dominates my list, claiming six of the ten spots. Contemporary romance and women’s fiction split the remaining spots equally. March 25 was an extraordinary release date; three of the books on my list were widely available to readers on that date. I have provided links my reviews of eight of the books.

Here are my choices for the top ten romance/women’s fiction novels from January through July (in order of publication):

How to Master Your Marquess (January 7), Juliana Gray
I have an abiding respect for authors who can operate within the conventions of romance while twisting those conventions just enough to give the reader something fresh. Juliana Gray excels at this. How to Master Your Marquis combines some truly dark elements with moments of madcap humor. It also features a hero and heroine who save each other. This one is five-star quality all the way.

The All You Can Dream Buffet (March 4), Barbara O’Neal
Whether she is writing as Barbara Samuel, Ruth Wind, or Barbara O’Neal, this author gives her readers books that pack a mighty emotional punch written in wonderfully lyrical prose. This women’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements celebrates online friendships and features four women of varying ages, ethnicities, and experiences. O’Neal also paints the setting in words so vivid that the reader feels as if she can see and smell the fields of lavender in bloom, hear the buzzing of the bees, taste Ginny’s streusel cake and Ruby’s watermelon salad, and feel the warmth of Lavender’s hug. I savored every word of this book.

Sweet Disorder (March 18), Rose Lerner
Rose Lerner is a writer whose books deserve to be big buzz books. Sweet Disorder with its cross-class romance, party politics plot, and not one but two bad mothers who seem disturbingly real is a treasure. Phoebe Sparks, widow of a newspaper editor and printer, and Nick Dymond, middle son of an earl and war veteran, are likeable and flawed, their meeting is credible, and their relationship is based on more than libidinal urges. Set in the town of Lively St. Lemeston, the story offers a portrait of ordinary life in the second decade of the nineteenth century and shows the extraordinary relationship between two complicated people who earn their HEA. And I love that the title is taken from a Robert Herrick poem which Nick quotes at a meaningful moment.

 Waiting on You (March 25), Kristan Higgins
Kristan Higgins blends the humorous and the poignant masterfully in this third novel in her Blue Heron series. As with the other books, Higgins adds a full cast of characters to the story, showing readers the family backgrounds that have made Colleen and Lucas the complicated people they are. Colleen and Lucas are fully dimensional characters whose actions and reactions readers will understand even if they sometimes wish they behaved differently. The cast of characters is large, but even those that appear fleetingly have individual quirks and a real presence. Plus, this is a reunion story, my favorite trope.

Three Weeks with Lady X (March 25), Eloisa James
There seems to be a broad consensus, with which I heartily concur, that this son of Villiers book is Eloisa James at her best. Thorn and India are both self-made characters whose pasts remain very much a part of their present. Their dialogue and their letters are witty and revealing, their relationship is has multiple levels, and the ending ranks among my all-time best. Charming, touching, complex, and brilliantly conceived and written, this is my favorite Eloisa James novel. 

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea (March 25), Julie Anne Long
Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series is one of the best overall series ever. In this latest novel in the series, Long takes Ian, a character who has served as a comic figure in earlier novels, and credibly transforms him into a complex hero with unsuspected depth and pairs him with an American-reared heroine who also hides complexity beneath a façade. Sweet and passionate, this emotionally satisfying tale also adds a layer to the ongoing story of Olivia Eversea. I turned the last page sighing over Tansy and Ian’s HEA and wondering how long I have to wait to return to the world of the Everseas and Redmonds.

The Winter Bride (April 1), Anne Gracie
The second book in Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters series features a strong heroine who has suffered devastating loss and has had the courage to survive events that would have destroyed a weaker person. That she has done so without becoming bitter or vengeful makes her all the more remarkable. Damaris deserves an accepting, tender, protective hero, and Freddy is all of these.
Like Damaris, Freddy keeps his past to himself, and even those who know him best and realize some of what he has accomplished accept him essentially as the light-hearted rake he appears to be. This book is just one more reason that Anne Gracie springs to mind everytime someone asks for book recommendations.

To Scotland with Love (June 3), Patience Griffin
I owe this one to a recommendation from PJ at the Romance Dish. “Read it,” she said. I did and found it just as wonderful as she said. The title may suggest this is just another Scotland-set historical, but it is a contemporary romance with a journalist heroine, Cait Macleod, who retreats to Gandiegow, Scotland, her childhood home, after the death of her faithless husband and discovers Gandiegow is also the place to which Graham Buchanan, a reclusive movie star, has retreated. Cait is confronted with her own past, a complex hero who challenges her at every level, and a test of her morality. This is a beautifully written debut novel, one I highly recommend.

No River Too Wide (June 24), Emilie Richards
Emilie Richards has written both romance and mystery, and she skillfully weaves elements of both into this women’s fiction story that includes domestic violence, insurance fraud, mother-daughter relationships, and growth for characters from the three women protagonists to a minor, once indifferent father. The third book in Richards’s Goddesses Anonymous series, No River Too Wide, like its predecessors, affirms what women can accomplish through their own powers and the help of friends.

The Game and the Governess (July 29), Kate Noble
In this first book in a new series, Kate Noble offers readers a heroine possessed of intelligence, strength of character, a lively sense of the ridiculous, and integrity in the fullest sense of that word. She makes a deliberate choice not to let anger and bitterness consume her. Her unlikely hero is a young aristocrat who lives on the surface, using self-indulgence to avoid thinking deeply about anything. Frankly, I found the first part of the book rough going because I disliked the hero, but the hero’s growth is central to this story. Ned grows into a man with a keener mind, a sharper conscience, and a larger heart, and I loved watching his growth.

What books are your best of 2014 so far?

1 comment:

Quantum said...

Thanks for sharing Janga... I'm going to try the Emilie Richards Goddess series which I can access in audio.

My favourite so far this year is 'The One Plus One' by Jojo Moyes. It is an enthralling and very unusual romance. Children are inextricably bound in and I will always remember the car trip to Scotland for the 'Maths Olympiad'. One of Moyes's best I think!