(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.
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?