As time approached for this year’s annual AAR Reader Poll, I found myself thinking more and more about my favorite romances published in 2014. As one of the three AAR pollsters – along with Cindy and Lee – I get to look at all of your selections each year. But my favorites? Some years it’s harder than others. For most of 2014 I was in a huge reading slump so read far less than normal. But I still have a few favorites. I tend to think of them in terms of the categories available in the Reader’s Poll, so for better or worse, my favorites are:
It Happened One Wedding by Julie James – This wonderful contemporary romance gets my vote for Best Romance, Best Contemporary Romance, Best Romance hero, Best Romance Heroine, and Best Romance Couple. I gave the audiobook an A here. Sidney and Vaughn are a wonderful heroine and hero, and the dialog sparkles throughout.
That Summer by Lauren Willig – This gets my vote for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. Like Ms. Willig’s Pink Carnation series, this standalone switches between a modern story and a historical story (set in 1850s London). While not a straight romance, there’s a strong romantic element, with a definite HEA, in the contemporary portion of the book.
Santa’s Playbook by Karen Templeton – I read this holiday romance late in the year, and it immediately jumped over every other category romance I’d read to be my choice for Best Category Romance of 2014. I’ll confess that Karen Templeton is a comfort read for me. I don’t love every book she writes, but there’s something about her voice that speaks to me, and this one is a real favorite.
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger – This third in the author’s steampunk series gets my vote both for best Young Adult Romance and Best Paranormal Romance. Sophronia and her friends are now in their second year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, a school located in a dirigible in which the girls learn how to be intelligencers (I read it as spies). Sophronia and her friends get into all kinds of trouble as they board a train to take their classmate back to a werewolf pack in Scotland. This gets my vote both for Best Paranormal Romance and Best Young Adult Romance. I found the book to be a lot of fun, and am very curious to see what happens in the next.
River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz – I’m happy to pick as my Best Romantic Suspense Ms. Krentz’s latest book. The author’s early books – in particular Trust Me (DIK review here) – are what led me into the romance genre. For years I bought her books – in hardback – on the day they were released. But years of paranormal elements had me abandoning that practice. I was delighted when the author announced that this would be a non-paranormal, straight romantic suspense, and wasn’t disappointed. I agree with Maggie’s assessment of the main characters, as being a key to this book: “A large part of what made this book so fun to spend time with is the characters. Mason and Lucy are terrific. You’d want to sit next to them on a plane or be stuck near them in a long line. The author does a great job of fleshing them out and letting you experience them as real life human beings. They’ve had money concerns. There have been -and still are – family issues. But both of them are nice, solid, kind people.”
Rock Courtship: A Rock Kiss Novella by Nalini Singh – I owe many thanks to the AAR readers who suggested this as a possible read for Best Short Story of 2014. I tend to avoid New Adult romances, and generally dislike romances featuring movie stars or rock stars, but this sounded intriguing. I’ve read a few other short stories, but this gets my vote for the Best Short Story of 2014 and also for Best New Adult. Part of the author’s Rock Kiss series, this features David, a member of a hit rock group and their publicist Thea. David is sweet and in love with Thea (and definitely in lust as well). Thea values her career and wants to just be friends. David’s pursuit of Thea is sweet, funny, and deeply romantic. I intend to pick up more in the series.
Dead Romantic by Ruth Saberton – If we still had a chick lit category this would get my vote for best chick lit of 2014. The author is new to me, but my friend and AAR colleague LeeB recommended it as she knows I like all things Egyptian as well as chick lit. Cleo Carpenter, is an Egyptologist who works at a fictional London museum. After a major accident Cleo sees ghosts everywhere, including a dead rock star who needs her help with his brother, Rafe Thorne. While parts of the book are funny and light, there’s also a darker side focusing on how a number of characters – including the heroine and hero – deal with the death of major loved ones. I adore this book, and will definitely read it again, and Rafe Thorne gets my vote for Most Tortured Romance Hero.
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan – This gets my vote for Best European Historical Romance. Caz gave this an A here and it’s definitely an A for me. I no longer read a lot of historical romance, but this year discovered, and have enjoyed, some books by Ms. Milan. With only a few exceptions I have voted for Eve Dallas as Best Kick-Ass Heroine in the AAR Reader Poll. This year my vote goes to Free, whom Caz describes as a “passionate activist and campaigner for womens’ rights, who continually places herself in danger because while the world is a terrible place – she refuses to be cowed and is determined to make it better.” I loved Free and Edward, and they’re a close second for my favorite romance couple of 2014.