(This column will not be the only piece we run on the best books of 2014. We will still run a separate Buried Treasures piece and several staff members will be sharing their lists of the best books they read this year.)
Each year, we ask the AAR staff to pick one book as the best romance published this year. Here are our picks for 2014:
Maggie: Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok was my number one read of 2014. I loved the Cinderella nature of the tale, the unique look into Chinese-American culture, the heroine Charlie and her irrepressible spirit and generosity and the gentle, hopeful nature of the love story. So few books do a good job of capturing what it’s like to be a first generation American but this novel, reviewed here, captured it perfectly.
Lea: What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson. These days I tend to listen much more than read and therefore that’s usually where I discover my favorite romances for the year. However, I’m a Rachel Gibson fan from way back when and when I saw that the narrator of her 2014 release was not to my liking, I devoured What I Love About You in print format, recalling all the reasons I love her writing – mainly her heroes!
LinnieGayl: My favorite romance of 2014 is It Happened One Wedding by Julie James. When I reviewed the audio version of the book several months ago I said that it was going to top my ballot in AAR’s Annual Poll (coming on January 12) in numerous categories, and that opinion hasn’t changed. This is a wonderful contemporary romance with witty dialog and a marvelous hero and heroine. How much do I like it? I’ve listened to the audio version multiple times and will probably do so again in a few weeks.
Anne Marble: I actually had a favorite book published in 2014, although it was middle grade/YA fantasy novel. The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This one snuck up on me. I was enjoying it well enough, but then, really interesting things happened partway through that made me really eager to see what happened next. Then there’s what the hero learns about himself at the end, and now he responds. Now I can’t wait for the next book.
The closest I got to romance was the Audible edition of Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines, the first book in a popular new adult series. However, while I liked the narration, I could have done without some of the NA cliches, such as the the badboy hero, the hot and cold relationship, the cliffhanger, etc.
Caz: Reading-wise, I’ve had a pretty good year. Doing a Power Search for DIKs, I see that I’ve managed quite a few, which is a good sign in terms of the quality of the books out there – especially given the recently heralded death of the historical romance – but it does make it difficult to pick ONE book from all of those I’ve read as my favourite of the year. I stick almost exclusively to one sub-genre, but even within that, there are romantic thrillers (Rogue Spy—review here), romantic adventure yarns (Night of a Thousand Stars—review here) romantic historical fiction (The King’s Falcon), romantic mysteries (A Grave Matter—review here) as well as books in which the romance is the central focus (Only Enchanting—review here).
Bearing in mind that my answer to the question “what was your favourite romance of 2014?” is likely to get a different answer depending on what day it is, today I’m going to plump for Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal. It was a difficult book to encapsulate in a 1500 word review, so it’s next to impossible to do it in a few sentences, but here goes… It’s a truly extraordinary story that contains a tender, sensual and beautifully developed romance at the same time as it explores social injustice and the terrible consequences endured by those women who were brave enough to stand up and be counted in the fight for women’s rights. The two protagonists are incredibly well-written and their mutual attraction just burns up the pages; and as one would expect of Ms Milan, the book is intelligently written, incorporating a lot of humour and the historical background is well-researched and integrated into the story.
Melanie: I’m picking Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown as my favorite romance published in 2014. I wrote a whole review about how much I loved it and why, but the short version is that it is lovely. The whole things reads like a poem, dream-like and realistic at the same time. It’s obvious a lot of research and effort went into it to make it as accurate as possible, and the story just shines on the Viking-era Iceland backdrop.
Haley: There were a lot of books this year that I really enjoyed but for my favorite book of 2014 I chose All Broke Down (review here) by Cora Carmack. The reason i think this won out over some of the other books I read, which were great as well, is that I think it deserves some recognition for being a stand-out options among the many New Adult novels. Carmack infuses her writing with tons of sexual tension, humor, and believable characters. If you’re kind of over the normal rote New Adult books that are nearly indistinguishable from one another, any of Carmack’s works will be a huge relief. All Broke Down, in particular, has the super sexy Silas Moore, who you will totally swoon for.
Rike: My favorite romance this year was Miranda Neville’s Lady Windermere’s Lover. I am a great Miranda Neville fan anyway, and I hugely enjoyed this book (review here). It’s a marriage of convenience story. The characters are neither unblemished angels nor unrepentant villains, but folks who are stuck in a situation and try to deal with it with a plausible mixture of kindness and common sense on the one hand, and stubbornness on the other – not the kind that makes me want to shake them, but the kind that makes them engagingly human.
Lee: I tend to read mostly contemporary, historical, chick lit and women’s fiction so my choices reflect those genres.
Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy was one of my favorites because of the historical detail, suspense and plotting. And another author who knows how to write adventurous tales with flawed characters is Sherry Thomas and My Beautiful Enemy (review here) was another fantastic read this year.
A UK release, The Unfinished Symphony of Me and You by Lucy Robinson, tells the story of a young woman with a beautiful voice but is too shy to sing in front of an audience. Well, there’s a lot more to the story than that, but just read it if you can.
I’m a huge fan of Cathy Lamb and her latest What I Remember Most is probably my favorite of her books. Ms. Lamb knows how to create heartfelt stories about people who are not perfect but try to live the best lives they can.
I also read lighthearted books too and one of my favorites was The Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne which is set in London. The events manager has to deal with the owners’ son who has just-returned from traveling and has been assigned to help her with upcoming weddings.
I also really enjoyed the lighthearted adventure in The Love Detective by Alexandra Potter. Sister Ruby is invited to spend time with sister Amy in India but Amy runs off with a yoga instructor and Ruby chases her all over the country. A fun book for the armchair traveler who might not be brave enough to visit India in person.
Dabney: I was a hard to please reader this year. I read book after book I liked but very few I loved. Of the few books I adored, the one I enjoyed most is Having Her by Jackie Ashenden. As I wrote in my review: There are books I read once and there are books I read again and again. Having Her is one of the latter. I read it for the first time two months ago and, since then, have read it again… and again. It’s sexy, unexpected, romantic, smart, and, in places, achingly sad. The novel meets my criteria for a superb erotic romance: the sex shared by the characters is integral to the plot and both are wonderfully done.
Lynn: Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart. This book was just a delightful little gem of a story (review here). It’s lighthearted fun, but with enough angst to make readers feel emotionally invested in the romance. I have a weakness for good “friends to lovers” stories, and this one’s fantastic.
Heather: My favorite book of 2014 was Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane. For me, it all came down to the hero Thorne. I had anticipated this one since reading the preceding novel Off the Edge (review here). Suspense in the perfect combination with romance with a hero who made my heart skip put Into the Shadows at the top of my list. I can’t get enough of this series.
Shannon: It’s so hard to pick just one book as my absolute favorite. I’ve read quite a few that I loved. However, the prize must go to J. A. Redmerski’s Song of the Fireflies. I loved the way the author depicted love. It’s not sugary sweet. The characters are incredibly flawed. I give Ms. Redmerski a lot of credit for painting such a stark, realistic portrait of what it really means to love another person more than yourself. Not only was this incredibly well-written, but the narration was phenomenal. So, whether you read it in print, or listen to the audiobook like I did, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Jenna: Due to a severe lack of reading in the last half of 2014 (long, boring story!), I didn’t think I had a favorite book this year. However, after checking I was glad to see that Mia Sheridan’s Archer’s Voice qualifies by virtue of both having been published in January, 2014 and my having actually read it soon after. As I said in my AAR review, this was the rare story that kept me pinned to my chair in order to finish. The obstacles that protagonists Bree and Archer face are very real, and Archer is a refreshing hero who suffers true damage rather than the kind that often makes you want to shake the guy and say “Just get over it already!” While a few of the plot points stretched believability (the heroine just so happens to conveniently know American Sign Language), I can easily recommend it to anyone looking for a power-of-love-to-heal story that rings true.
How about you, dear reader? What book knocked your socks off in 2014?
I know how difficult it must be to choose just one title as your best of, but agree The Suffragette Scandal was excellent.
Although I gave Larissa Brown’s Beautiful Wreck only 3.5 stars, it was still an outstanding read, and imo a potential 5 stars with a few tweaks. I’m very much looking forward to her next title.
Without Words by Ellen O’Connell was one of my favs for the year as well, and my second pick in historicals, behind Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon.
It was really tough – I’m having trouble writing up my “”best of 2014″” list because there were so many books I enjoyed reading! But I suppose I should be grateful I had such a good reading year :)
My top read of the year is My Beautiful Enemy, by Sherry Thomas. It is a very non-traditional historical. My top contemporary of the year is Betting the Rainbow, by Jodi Thomas. My top mystery/thriller is Lisa Gardner’s Fear Nothing. My top PNR/UF is Burn for Me, by Ilona Andrews.
Rounding out my Top 10 list are, in no particular order, The Suffragette Scandal (Courtney Milan,) Romancing the Duke (Tessa Dare,) It Happened One Wedding (Julie James,) The Hidden Blade (Sherry Thomas,) The Witch With No Name (Kim Harrison,) and Three Weeks With Lady X (Eloisa James.)
Thanks for the lists/recommendations.
Like Rike, I too am “”a great Miranda Neville fan”” and that pick matched more what is
tops for me. Besides Lady Windermere’s lover, I’d choose Noble’s The Game and the Governess, Ashley’s Rules for a Proper Countess, Eloisa James’ Three Weeks with Lady X, and Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. I also loved Hoyt’s Darling Beast, Ranney’s Witch of Clan Sinclair, and Robinson’s Wrong Cowboy.
I too am honored to be on this list. Thank you, Melanie, for your review and your inclusion here at the end of the year. I’m thrilled you liked Beautiful Wreck. I’m looking forward to reading some new-to-me titles and authors based on all these picks. Thank you!
You’re most welcome ^_^
The only problem with seeing everyone’s favorites is it definitely adds to my already bloated list of things to read! They all look so wonderful, though, I really can’t help myself.
My first Ellen O’Connell book, Without Words, probably is the best read for me for 2014. It was a good reading year though for new releases and so right on its heels would be Sherry Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy, Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy, Courtney Milan’s Suffragette Scandal, Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice, Deanna Raybourn’s A Night of a Thousand Stars, and Julie James’s It Happened One Wedding. I really like Loretta Chase’s Vixen in Velvet too.
Loved reading such an eclectic list of books. I did not know that Carolyn Crane had a new release after Off the Edge and so I will definitely be checking out Into the Shadows. Just read the blurb and it sounds good!
I believe Into the Shadows came out in July so hopefully we’ll have a new Associates book soon. :)
Thanks! I need to get caught up quickly.
Undoubtedly my favourite of the year was Marguerite Kaye’s ‘Never Forget Me’.
An unforgettable trilogy of WWI stories set around an aristocratic family in Scotland. Their lives forever changed by this terrible war, the family, in particular the elders, dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th Century. Each story is a beautiful, poignant romance, but all of the stories are interlinked back to the ancestral family home. I thought it beautiful, especially in this centenary year with all that this reminds us to be grateful for, not least the heartbreaking reminder of the poppies in the moat at the Tower of London, each poppy representing a British life lost…888,246.
Dearest Sylvie would make my short list for the top short stories of the year. Ms. Kaye did such a fabulous job of capturing a war romance in that tale, it was just exceptional.
It wasn’t my favorite of the year, but this one was definitely on my shortlist of top reads. I found it a beautiful collection, and I’m glad to see some good WWI historicals coming out now. As the war observances continue, I wonder if the time period will also continue to inspire authors.
I loved many of the books listed especially Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal….a beautiful book to be sure. I also loved Jeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Alchemy and Jade Temptress. Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder was a very different trope for a regency romance….I really liked it.
My favorite read for 2014 is tie between Magic Breaks (big Kate fan) by Ilona Andrews and Archangel’s Shadow’s (oh I loved that book) by Nalini Singh.
Thank you AAR!
Happy New Year fellow romance readers wishing you the best in 2015!
Just downloaded The Sufragette Scandal. Can’t wait to read it.
I am honored and thrilled that Rike picked my book for this list. Such wonderful company to find myself in. Thank you and Happy New Year to all at AAR.
My favorites coincided with some of your picks: It Happened One Wedding by Julie James, My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas, What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson, Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne and Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh.
Two books not on your list that I would add are: Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran and When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath. Honorable mention goes to Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long. Though not the best in the Pennyroyal Green series, it was still very good.
I enjoyed all those, too; some will be in my list of 2014 favourites.
I’m on the AAR staff (and yes I did choose a few books) but it’s always nice to see what the other staff have chosen as their favorites.
I love how varied our tastes are. I wasn’t familiar with several of these titles, so I’m heading to Amazon to check them out.
Song of the Fireflies is $1.99 for kindle today. Great timing! :)
Lee, I agree! I have put holds on The Honeymoon Hotel and What I Remember Most based on your recs. I also picked up Beautiful Wreck. Now to find the time to read . . . .
I’m flattered! :)
I agree for Ashenden’s Having Her and Huber’s A Grave Matter and I’d add Charlotte Stein’s Beyond Repair.
I loved Huber’s A Grave Matter. Such a good series.
I love the Lady Darby books and am eagerly anticipating book 4 in 2015.
I’m so glad someone else loved Mambo in Chinatown! It is such a great book. I agree that the price is off putting – I wish publishers would rethink the high prices of e-books especially for new authors. This is only Kwok’s second book, she is still establishing an audience. The price should be lower, imo. The book is worth it though. Definitely a gem.
I loved seeing Mambo in Chinatown as a best of book for 2014. I don’t know how many other readers have been able to read it because its pricey at $11.99 for kindle. Even the paperback is expensive! I waited forever for my library copy and finally gave up and bought it. So glad I did. It Happened One Wedding by Julie James is also close to the top of my list. I’m new to the author and I enjoyed the humor. I look forward to seeing the Buried Treasures lists.
I’d read a few by Julie James before It Happened One Wedding but that one set me off on a complete read of her backlist. And now I think I definitely need to read Mambo in Chinatown.
It Happened One Wedding was a favorite for me too. I didn’t think this was my best reading year until I tried to narrow down my choices. That was much harder than I anticipated!
I think I’m one of the few that It Happened One Wedding didn’t work as well for. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I read all of the other books in the series last year and loved them (except for the Twitter one). I’m thinking my expectations for IHOW were set too high.
I loved Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh. I felt it tied up one huge story arc and opened another huge one at the same time. It brought in so many past characters and storylines and introduced new ones, but with each having a purpose to the book at hand – not there for sequel baiting. There were scenes that said so much and hinted at things to come that were only mere paragraphs long but also advanced this plot. It seemed as every word was in the book for a reason. And then, there was the main romance that was deep, and touching and complete. The books just worked for me on so many levels. Were there things that were left unresolved? yes. Were they issues people had with some of the events? Yes.
But for me, it was such an enjoyable book, hitting on all the best things in the series, that the other stuff didn’t much matter to me. Can’t wait for the next one!
Shield of Winter was a great read for me too. It would definitely make the top ten percent of reads this year.
It’s on my TBR list, very near the top!
Sheild of Winter is undoubtedly going to make my tops lists for this year too.