I love romance novels. I’m an unapologetic fan of the genre and I’m happy and willing to share my sentiments with, well anyone, who expresses even the slightest bit of interest in books or my opinions about them. As this year comes to a close, I think I read more books than any year previously – and most of them, if not all, are romance novels I discovered on the All About Romance site. I haven’t loved everything I read, but I enjoyed pretty much all of them. That said, I do have a few favorites and though it’s difficult to narrow my choices down to just ten, it’s a challenge I’m happy to meet. Oh, and one more thing before I list my favorites. This was the year I discovered m/m novels (so many! so great!), and quite a few make an appearance here. If you’ve yet to try an LGBT novel, make this the year you broaden your horizons and pick one to try! I’ve given you a few terrific ones to start with. And just in case anyone cares (ahem), my 11th book pick would be Pansies, by Alexis Hall. It probably deserves a spot in the top 10 – but as long as I tell you how AMAZING, ROMANTIC and GREAT it is, I’m okay just mentioning it here. Happy reading!
Wolfsong by T. J. Klune
Heading into December, I found it difficult to decide whether The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, or The Soldier’s Scoundrel, by Cat Sebastian was my favorite book of 2016. I was sure nothing could top either book until I decided to read T. J. Klune’s Wolfsong, on a whim over Thanksgiving. I read a lot of m/m (it’s become one of my favorite genres), but I’m not a big fan of shifter/paranormal. So, though I heard good things about the book, I resisted it. Fortunately, I was bored (ha!) and in the mood for something different during our long Thanksgiving road trip and I decided to read Wolfsong. To say that I liked it is an understatement. I loved it. Everything about it – the evolving relationship and romance between Ox and Joe , the shifter/paranormal elements, the dialogue, the love between family/pack, the conflict… Mr. Klune gets everything pitch perfect. Romantic, bittersweet, and wonderful, Wolfsong, is easily my favorite book of 2016.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
That said, Wolfsong did have some real competition when it came to picking a favorite this year. I also absolutely loved The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Funny, sweet, romantic and really just delightful in every way, I recommend this book to everyone I know. I even started a book club just to make all my friends read it! I knew it would be universally loved. It was. Everyone enjoys The Hating Game, including my girlfriends who only reluctantly admit they like romance novels (annoying!). I can’t wait for Ms. Thorne’s next book, and I will be auto-buying it the moment it goes on presale.
The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
I live in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s the last place I would ever expect to find a terrific historical fiction writer, let alone one who writes m/m. So imagine my surprise when I heard some of my favorite authors promoting The Soldier’s Scoundrel, and, after a bit of digging, discovered the author – Cat Sebastian – lives quite close to me. That was a neat surprise – but then I read her book. And that was an even better surprise! It was fabulous. I read a lot of historical fiction, and quite a bit of m/m (contemporary and historical), and The Soldier’s Scoundrel is the perfect mix of both. The historical elements are spot on and the m/m romance is passionate and sexy. I’m not sure I’m recommending this to my ultra conservative, Catholic mom, but I might. It’s that good.
The Earl by Katharine Ashe
I love Katharine Ashe’s Falcon Club series. It’s produced two of my favorite historical romance heroes (Lord Leam Blackwood from When a Scot Loves a Lady, and Wyn Yale from How a Lady Weds a Rogue), and I would award a B+ or better to every volume in the series. The Earl stars Peregrine, the Falcon Club’s secretary, and the anonymous Lady Justice, pamphleteer and moral crusader. Over the course of the first three novels, these two have engaged in a well-publicized, acrimonious, tit for tat public correspondence with each other. Their relationship changes when Lady Justice is forced to ask Peregrine for help finding a missing girl. Witty dialogue, great chemistry, hot sex and utterly romantic – The Earl is, as Caz says in her review, “historical romance at its best”. A/BN/iB/K
First and First by Santino Hassell
My favorite new-to-me author of 2016, is Santino Hassell. I started with the Five Boroughs series and then glommed my way through his entire catalog. His writing is terrific, the stories are compelling, and his couples are some of the best in fiction. Raised in wealth and privilege on the Upper East Side, Caleb Stone finds himself lost, insecure and lonely. He wants more from his life but lacks the confidence to reach for it. A drunken hook-up (which he can’t remember) with Oliver Buckley changes everything. Oli is confident, not afraid to take risks, and, after the brief reveal of Caleb’s deeply passionate side on New Year’s Eve, he’s determined to drive Caleb out of his comfort zone in bed and out of it. Caleb doesn’t do casual, and Oli doesn’t do relationships. First and First unfolds as these two discover just what it means to trust in someone else, and to find love where and when you least expect it.
Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt
I waited patiently for Ms. Hoyt to finally give us a story about the Duke of Sin, Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, and it was worth the wait. He’s a great villain – handsome, vain, shameless, wealthy and deliberately provocative. But he meets his match when his housekeeper Bridget Crumb takes it upon herself to spy on him. Montgomery, intrigued by his prim and proper housekeeper, is unable resist her. Crumb, desperate and determined, finds herself falling for her sly and charming employer. In the Duke of Sin, Ms. Hoyt doesn’t pretty up her hero or make him out to be a better man than he is, and Bridget is an excellent match for the hijinx of our favorite deliciously naughty duke.
The Forgotten Room by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I read The Forgotten Room shortly after it was published and promptly purchased copies for my mother and two sisters. Three women, three time periods and a love story that transcends time. What more could you ask for in a romance novel? I read the whole novel anxious to figure out how each of the women was connected to the others. I’m still marveling how the pieces all fit together. The writing is strong, the story is lovely and the secret – once revealed – is heartbreaking. So good.
Undecided by Juliana Keyes
When friends want a great NA recommendation, this is my go-to book. At its heart, Undecided is a love story about the perils of judging a book by its cover. Ms. Keyes takes a familiar romantic trope – friends to lovers – and applies it to the world of college dating. Nora, our heroine, is just the right balance of confident and insecure. Crosbie, our hero (oh reader! He is!), is the great guy forever in his best friend’s shadow. With sharp and often funny dialogue, charming characters, a strong grasp of what college life is sometimes like, and just the right amount of angst for a book about twenty-somethings, Undecided is NA at its best.
Forevermore by Kristen Callihan
The Darkest London series is wonderful. I don’t read a lot of fantasy/paranormal novels (I’m not sure why – I’ve liked everything I’ve tried!) – but a friend I trust recommended I try them, and I’m so glad I did. Forevermore is the seventh and final chapter of the series and though it ultimately isn’t my favorite, I still enjoyed every moment and loved catching up to characters we met in previous books. Ms. Callihan once again writes two complex characters who have to overcome obstacles in their past and present in order to be together. As usual, the sex is steamy, the dialogue is witty and sharp, and the plot filled with twists and turns before the happily ever after. Sin is a terrific hero and his love for his Little Bird transcends the page.
Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean
Oh my! I do love a good thriller and this one is a treat. It’s also one of those books that defy you to review it without spoiling the plot or the romance. The book blurb sums it up quite nicely without giving anything away (go read it!). Suffice it to say, it is a bit dark and I struggled with my love/hate feelings with the principal characters. There was a lot of hate. A lot. But a lot of love for the book. The writing is terrific, the murder plot keeps you guessing ‘who did it’ until the bitter end, and the romance… well, it puts you through the wringer. You should definitely read it. And then somehow become my friend so we can talk about it.