I’ve already nominated Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal as my favourite book of 2014, but I was also very fortunate in having found quite a large number of new books which I really enjoyed – hence this column, because just choosing one book and leaving at that was just impossible!
For me, the biggest event – book-wise – of 2014 was the return of one of my all-time favourite authors, Stella Riley. Ms Riley wrote a handful of novels set in the 17th and 18th Centuries back in the 80s and 90s, and had finished the second book in a projected series of novels set during the English Civil War when she stopped writing and just… disappeared!
Over the last couple of years, she has revised and republished all of her novels and this year, published the very long-awaited third book in her Civil War series, The King’s Falcon. The story follows the exiled King Charles II to Paris and focuses on Colonel Ashley Peverell, soldier, spy and doer of the king’s dirty work. While in Paris, Ashley becomes smitten with a talented young actress, and although he has nothing to offer her, their mutual attraction proves impossible to fight. The author’s attention to historical detail is fantastic, she creates the most wonderful romantic tension between her two leads while at the same time skilfully weaving together a number of different plot-threads which culminate in the uncovering of a nefarious scheme which could have potentially explosive consequences. It’s an absolute treat for fans of historical romantic fiction and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Grace Burrowes, who is, thankfully, an incredibly prolific writer and one who manages to sustain a very high quality of storytelling in her many books. In the summer, she published a trilogy of books under the collective title Captive Hearts, which told the interweaving stories of three men whose experiences of war had changed them profoundly.
My favourite book of the three is The Traitor, which tells the story of a man who, by virtue of his being half-French and half-English, found himself on the wrong side during the Napoleonic wars. After the war and back in England, he’s a marked man who expects death almost daily – so how can he possibly allow himself to fall in love, and with his aunt’s young companion, of all people?
Two of my most eagerly awaited books of 2014 also make this list – Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy and Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn Reckoning. In each case, I found myself angrily cursing the long wait between the book I’d just finished and the next one – but the wait was worth it. The latter is the last in a trilogy that has a very interesting premise – supposing Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who had lived to succeed him? Ms Andersen does a terrific job in all three books of juxtaposing the factual with the fictional, crafting a heartfelt and sometimes heart-breaking romance amid the myriad intrigues of the Tudor court. And Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy was every bit as good as I’d hoped – an enjoyably complex plot interwoven with a beautifully written romance. Thomas Paxton (Pax) is a terrific character – quiet, highly intelligent and deadly; there’s something incredibly sexy about a quietly competent hero!
Deanna Raybourn’s Night of a Thousand Stars was one of those books I just KNEW was going to be a DIK from the moment I read the opening line: “I say, if you’re running away from your wedding, you’re going about it quite wrong.”
It’s a funny and exciting adventure story that moves from England to Damascus in the 1920s. Poppy March – niece of Lady Julia Brisbane from Ms Raybourn’s series of Victorian mysteries – finds herself unwittingly caught up in a fast-moving intrigue when she travels to the Middle East on the trail of a man she believes may be in need of help. It’s a truly joyous romp featuring an intrepid heroine and possibly the sexiest vicar in all of romantic fiction!
The fourth book in Mary Balogh’s Survivors series is the best so far. Only Enchanting is a beautifully wrought and gently moving story of two emotionally wounded people trying to navigate their way through the issues that have shaped them in order to forge a lasting and loving relationship.
Anna Lee Huber’s A Grave Matter, the third in her Lady Darby series, combines a carefully thought-out mystery with the continuing romance between the eponymous heroine and the gorgeous and enigmatic Sebastian Gage. Keira Darby has really grown as a character throughout the books, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.
In spite of its rather clichéd title, I loved Lorraine Heath’s When the Duke Was Wicked. I’m a massive fan of “friends-to-lovers” stories, and this is one of the best I’ve read in a while. It’s a beautifully written and poignant story that packs a real emotional punch, and even though I had a couple of reservations, it’s still one of my favourite books of 2014.
Meredith Duran has been an auto-buy author for me ever since I read her for the very first time, and her latest book, Fool Me Twice had me spellbound from start to finish. The story of a man so devastated by his wife’s faithlessness that he turns in on himself to find the very darkest places in his soul and the determined young woman who brings him back from the brink is not always an easy read, but it’s a completely gripping one.
Honourable mentions must also go to Loretta Chase’s Vixen in Velvet, full of wonderfully witty dialogue, engaging characters and a truly sensual romance; Juliana Gray’s How to School Your Scoundrel, because I’m a sucker for a bad-boy-made-good; Sarah MacLean’s terrific final installment in her Rules of Scoundrels series Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, and Katharine Ashe’s My Lady, My Lord, a wonderfully refreshing and funny twist on the story of an antagonistic couple who have known each other for years and who need a nudge in the right direction from… well, I’ll leave you to discover that on your own if you haven’t read it yet!
As an audiobook fan, I’ve also been fortunate enough to listen to some truly wonderful books in the past year, too. Some have been new releases, but almost all my 2014 favourites are audiobooks of older titles which are new to the format. It’s difficult to choose just a few, but I’m going to pick another Joanna Bourne title, this time The Black Hawk, which is an exceptional story enhanced by a terrific performance from narrator, Kirsten Potter. Tessa Dare’s A Week to Be Wicked is a wonderfully warm, funny and tender romance wrapped up from an engagingly memorable performance from Carolyn Morris. Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, is my all-time favourite book of hers, and the new audio version narrated by Phyllida Nash was another highlight of my listening year. Other favourites included Kate Readings superb narrations of Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker series, and Nicholas Boulton’s superlative performances in two Laura Kinsale titles – Lessons in French and Uncertain Magic.
I’ve had a really good year, both in terms of reading and listening – I hope you’ve been as lucky with your choices as I have, and here’s to an equally good 2015!