Each year, we ask the AAR staff to pick the best romances published this year. This year, we’ve included picks from some of our favorite guest reviewers as well.
Here are the AAR picks for 2015:
Mary: I pick Carla Kelly’s Doing No Harm. (My DIK review is here.) Doing No Harm has all of the elements of a romance that will stand the test of time. Great characters, a great story about a time in history that doesn’t get the attention it deserves (Highland Clearances), and a love that develops from genuine friendship. It tells us that heroes/heroines can be found in unlikely places and although none of us can save the world, we can all do our part. The writing is lovely and has poignancy that brings both sad and happy tears.
BJ Jansen: My book of the year is a collection of stories called Liberty and Other Stories by Alexis Hall. It was released on the 4th of January and was not bettered in 2015. In Liberty and Other Stories, the author revisits the steampunk world–with its aetherships and romantic adventurers–we met in his novel, Prosperity. What reader would not lament, swoon, gasp, sigh and cheer over stories regarding a dashing skycaptain, pirates, rogue scientists, adventurers and spies. I highly recommend reading Prosperity first as these stories are prequels, sequels and parallels to that book. Just the titles here give me a thrill: Shackles, Squamous With a Chance of Rain, From the Journal of Mrs. Miranda Lovelace, Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies and Liberty. This collection is a rare joy.
Sara Elliot: It’s The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. (Our review is here.) I loved the darker tone to the story and felt the couple had one of the best romances I’ve ever read. It had an Old-School feel to it with its Alpha hero and tough but sweet heroine. To me, it was similar to Lord of Scoundrels or Dreaming Of You, both highly praised titles.
Caz: A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles is the second book in her new Society of Gentlemen series, and is an utterly superb, character-driven romance set against a richly detailed historical background. (My DIK review is here.) The two central characters are, at first glance, a disastrous mis-match; a dyed-in-the-wool Tory who is a senior Home Office official and a lowly bookseller who writes and publishes anti-government polemics, but the relationship between them is beautifully romantic and gorgeously written. The story is set in England in 1819/20, a time of great political unrest when the plight of the poor was ignored by the upper echelons, leading to mass discontent and a growing determination by a brave few to speak out against such injustice. KJ Charles combines both the political and romantic elements of her story with consummate skill – all the characters are fully-rounded, the two principals are especially memorable and they way they arrive at their hard-won HEA is both poignant and believable.
Caroline Russomanno: I’ll take Sherry Thomas’s The Immortal Heights. (Our DIK review is here.). I don’t even care that we already put it in two gift guide columns. It’s that good. The final installment of the Elemental Trilogy (which starts with The Burning Sky and continues with The Perilous Sea), The Immortal Heights picks up with the hero Titus and the heroine Iolanthe in mortal peril as they alternately flee and chase the evil Bane across the mage world and late 1800s Europe and North Africa. So many trilogies start out powerfully and fail to stick the landing. That most definitely does not happen here. Technically excellent writing, tight and tricky plotting, a well-developed and internally consistent magical world, a diverse cast, a great leading couple, the satisfying and worthy finale to three books of adventure, love, and danger… and footnotes! What more could you want?
Lynn Spencer: My book of the year is The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James. (Our DIK review is here.) Tales of mediums and seance don’t usually do it for me, but this one had appealing characters, a spooky atmosphere, and a compelling mystery. I couldn’t put it down.
LinnieGayl: This was a close one for me, but I’m going for Rise by Karina Bliss as my best romance of 2015. (A close second would be Rock Hard by Nalini Singh). I raved about Rise in a Pandora’s box with Dabney and in a DIK review. I never thought Ms. Bliss could turn Zander into a hero; I hated him in her earlier What the Librarian Did. But she succeeded, and made me truly care about him and the heroine. I can hardly wait for the next installment by Ms. Bliss. And what is it about these New Zealand and Australian authors? Suddenly my favorites are Karina Bliss, Nalini Singh (for her contemporaries), and Sarah Mayberry.
Anne Marble: My pick is Redemption Road by Katie Ashley. It’s a motorcycle club romance, but unlike many of these groups, the group is trying to go legit. There are gritty elements, of course (both the hero and heroine are abuse survivors), but the hero is actually… nice! (In the case of motorcycle club romances, it might be a good sign if one of the few negative reviews on Amazon calls the hero “the biggest biker wussy.”)
Ulysses Dietz: My favorite book of 2015: How to Be Normal Person by TJ Klune. Klunatics everywhere had been awaiting with bated breath the release of this book, and it was surely worth the wait for us. In a world of male/male romance, Klune’s novel broached the rather dodgy topic of how one could possibly have an asexual romance between two men It is full of laugh-out-loud humor, oddball characters (in ADDITION to the two protagonists), and deep, heart-filling emotional truth. I have to say, TJ Klune really sells asexuality. Gustavo Tiberius is one of the cutest, most endearing socially dysfunctional people I’ve ever read; and Casey Richards is the most adorable, charming asexual hipster I’ve ever heard of. This book is not just a landmark in TJ Klune’s career as a beloved author; it’s a landmark in m/m romance. And about time.
Rike:I really enjoyed Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh. (Our review is here.) I’d been curious about Imogen and what happened to her for years, and I was greatly pleased by the book. Percy was a lovely departure from the rather haunted heroes of this series, and I liked how he and Imogen helped each other to find their lighter and more serious sides respectively.
Alexandra: Dark Horse by Michelle Diener would have to be my favorite 2015 read, although there are a lot of good ones to choose from. (Our DIK review is here.) Too often I think my “favorite romance of the year” is really my “favorite romance on my mind during December.” But while it’s true that I’m in the mood for Fantasy/Sci-Fi romance at the moment, what with Star Wars coming out and all, I can tell that Dark Horse is going to continue to stand as one of my favorite books. It just has everything–a complex plot, great characters, grand adventure….
Heather S: I’m going with The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan as my favorite book of 2015. (My DIK review is here.) I loved this steamy tale of a quiet hulk of a man falling for his best friend’s sister-in-law. The course of true love never did run smooth though, and our protagonists have to overcome plenty of obstacles before they can be together. Their story is simultaneously fun, charming, and emotional.
Maggie: My top book of the year is Radiance by Grace Draven. (My DIK review is here.) Ildiko is the niece of the Gauri king, a beautiful young woman who knows she is fated to be a marriage pawn. Brishen is the second son of the Kai king, with six nephews between him and the throne. He has always known his family would use his marriage to secure an alliance. When the Gauri and Kai make a trade agreement, Brishen and Ildiko serve as the symbols of that alliance. In most romance novels this would mean pages and pages of the two squabbling against their fate and each other. In this gem of a tale we see how a marriage of convenience between two intelligent, thoughtful people can turn into a stupendous love match. Easily my favorite romance of the year because of its two incredible leads and the sweet, sexy love story.
Shannon:My top romance of 2015 has to be The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward. (Our review is here.) I was skeptical at first, just because this was a total departure for the author. No vampires, no angels, nothing paranormal at all. However, I was hooked into the story really quickly, and it was over way before I was ready for it to be.
Haley: A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas–this may have been my favorite new book of 2015. It is YA, but seems to be more grown up that some other books in the genre. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps East of the Sun West of the Moon, set in a world where humans live precariously alongside dangerous fae. The world that Maas has built is anything but Happily Ever After. Feyre’s family is on the brink of starvation and poor when she kills what she thinks is a wolf in the woods. That wolf was actually a fae in disguise, and as retribution, Feyre must go live with the High Lord of the Spring Court. The best reason to read this book is Tamlin, the High Lord. He is everything you want in a sexy leading man. This is perfect for those that love fairy tales or fantasy romance. I would save this one for older teens, as the sexuality is more frank (although not explicit) than some YA. I also think it is perfect reading for adult romance fans as well.
Lee: I choose The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long. (Our DIK review is here.) Readers have been waiting patiently over the years to find out what actually happened to break up Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea. There was a huge pressure on Ms. Long to wrap up her series. And she did it very successfully in my opinion. I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Long’s prose and humor and both were present in this lovely story.
liz blue: Favorites of anything is more a category than one thing for me. My top “book” for 2015 is really 3 separate books, but I’ll go with the one I’ve both re-read already and isn’t a sequel: Misfits by Garrett Leigh. Not only is this one of my few favorite reads of the year, it’s hands down the best menage book I’ve read. Each of the three men is a fully developed and sympathetic character. All are perfectly flawed and complement one another in the relationship. POV shifts happen in large segments of the book, and it’s wonderfully written for each man. The book is emotional and brilliant. The Other Side of Winter by GB Gordon and Life, Some Assembly Required by Kaje Harper round out my 2015 faves shelf. (My DIK review of the latter is here.)
Keira Soleore: For my top pick of 2015, I choose This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman. (Our DIK review is here.) Calico is a bounty hunter. Quill’s a lawyer, cattle rancher, and federal marshal. They meet in a brothel. She threatens to shoot him. And out of such improbable details comes a tender love story. Calico has had a tough upbringing but she’s revels in it and is proud of the unconventionality. Quill’s had a traditional upbringing but has a problematic relationship with his religious family. And yet the two are drawn together emotionally when they’re brought together to play bodyguards to a daughter-father duo. I liked the suspense aspect of the story as well. It’s nuanced and despite small details dribbled here and there, the answer’s not obvious. The leads had disagreements, but there was no immature bickering. They settled their differences responsibly and respectfully. They are people I could like in real life.
Dabney: I’m going to cheat and pick a favorite romance novel and a favorite romance novella. Last year, my pick was Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X (Our DIK review is here.) I read Ms. James’ next entry into her Desperate Duchesses series, Four Nights with the Duke, at the beginning of this year. I enjoyed it. I read it again in May. I really enjoyed it. And, after deciding to read it again this month, I realized I loved it. (Our review is here.) The heroine, Mia, is one of the most successful popular novelist in her time and Ms. James, clearly having a blast, begins each chapter of Four Nights with a Duke with a draft of Mia’s latest work-in-progress. Xander couldn’t be less like Mia’s hero, the hilariously sensitive Frederic, but he’s fabulous and just what Mia really needs. This book is witty, sexy, and smart.
In last year’s best of 2014, Melanie and I both picked Larissa Brown’s Beautiful Wreck as one of our favorite books of the year. (Our DIK review is here.) This year, Ms. Brown produced a novella, Tress, that is like nothing I’ve ever read. (My DIK review is here.) Tress is a dark fairy tale with a heroine whose apprehension of reality isn’t reliable–think R.D. Laing. One night, across a field, she sees a woodsman and, in her mind, the years rush away. Their story, written with glorious precision, (Ms. Brown is a logophile’s dream) is magical.