I both love and hate these sorts of round-ups. On the one hand, I like to look back over my reading year and see what I’ve enjoyed (and try to forget what I didn’t!) but on the other, narrowing it down to a “best of” can be difficult if one has had a good reading year, something I count myself fortunate to have had in 2015.
Looking back through my reviews of books published, I’ve given one A+ (my only one in the almost three years I’ve been reviewing for AAR), which went to K.J Charles’ A Seditious Affair, which is also my top pick of the year. I’ve given 5 A grades and 13 A- grades, so my choices have come from that group and also include a couple of titles I haven’t reviewed here. In no particular order, then, my other nine choices are:
Lorraine Heath’s Falling into Bed With a Duke. I’ve not read a huge number of Ms Heath’s books (yet), but she never fails to impress me with the way she zeroes in on the emotional hearts of her characters and their stories. This particular story, of a young woman who was so fed up with men seeking to marry her for her money that she was prepared to live without marriage, but not passion, was incredibly well written, and the chemistry between the sexy, but troubled hero and the forthright heroine was scorching.
Deadly Peril by Lucinda Brant. This author’s books have been my major discovery of the last couple of years, not least since she started putting them out in audio format using the splendid Alex Wyndham as her narrator. But this is a print book, the most recent in her Georgian mystery series featuring the handsome, fiercely intelligent and urbane former diplomat Alec Halsey. The attractions of this book are many; not only is Halsey a delicious hero, Ms Brant weaves a gripping, complex story and sets it in a fictional place that feels so real I was tempted to look it up on the map! This book – and its two predecessors – are a must for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries with a strong helping of romance on the side.
Another for fans of the same is Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning, the first in her new series of Victorian set mysteries featuring the outspoken and independent Veronica Speedwell. The book was a delight from start to finish, with Veronica and Stoker striking sparks off each other from the start and continue their often sexually-charged banter throughout the book. The mystery is well constructed and set up the series well, leaving me both satisfied at the end and wanting more!
Stella Riley is one of my all-time favourite writers of historical fiction and historical romance, and her books regularly make my “best of” lists – they’re THAT good. The Player is the third in a series of romances set in Georgian England and tells the story of a man who fled the country when he was wrongly accused of causing the death of his fiancée and who has spent so long playing a part that he has forgotten who he really is. His return to England is necessitated when he inherits a title he never wanted, and the story tells how he, with the help of the right woman, of course, re-discovers himself and finds love. Ms Riley has a talent for creating the most swoonworthy heroes, and Adrian Devereux is no exception. I’m really excited at the prospect of this series coming to audio next year.
I’m not much of a reader of Young Adult books, but Sherry Thomas is a favourite author regardless of what she writes, so I wasn’t going to let her Elemental Trilogy pass me by. The Immortal Heights is a splendid finale, bringing together all the fantastical plot elements to a triumphant finish and providing a satisfying conclusion to the romance between Prince Titus and Iolanthe Seabourne, whose relationship starts in wariness and distrust (in The Burning Sky) and turns into the sort of true, everlasting love that is aspired to in most romances. Here, however, I believed it. These two may have been young, but the strength of the attachment between them is palpable, their love for one another never in doubt.
Eva Leigh’s Forever Your Earl was another favourite, the first in a new series from this author (who also writes as Zoe Archer). Having read some of her other books, I had high expectations for a strong heroine, drop-dead sexy hero, witty, sexually charged banter and scorching chemistry between the protagonists – and Ms Leigh delivered on all counts. Some aspects of this story about a female newssheet editor who gets to accompany a rakish earl on some of his more disreputable excursions are a bit far-fetched, it’s true, but the author more than makes up for that with the aforementioned chemistry and banter, and also makes a number of very sharp observations on the role of women in society at the time.
Elizabeth Hoyt’s Dearest Rogue (the eighth book in her Maiden Lane series) was one of the books I was most eagerly anticipating in 2015, and while it had a few weaknesses, it lived up to my expectations. There’s something about the pairing of the young, vivacious, but blind Lady Phoebe Batten with the older, dour ex-soldier James Trevillion that pushed all the right buttons. Perhaps it’s because I had come to know both characters over the course of several books, becoming acquainted with Trevillion’s courage and sense of honour and with Phoebe’s strength of character and determination not to let her disability define her that made their romance that much more touching; whatever it is, theirs is one of my favourite pairings of the whole series.
I loved Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy, which was set in an alternative Tudor timeline and which concluded last year. Ms Andersen has now embarked upon another series, this time set in the reign of Elizabeth, and in which she has a daughter by her husband, Philip of Spain. I never thought I’d be engrossed by such a concept, but the author does a terrific job of weaving her own story in amongst actual historical events, so that sometimes, it’s necessary to kick back and think about what really happened and what didn’t! The heroine of The Virgin’s Daughter is Lucette, daughter of Dominic and Minuette from the previous series, and the story grabbed me from the first. Anyone looking for something a bit different in an historical could do a lot worse than give Laura Andersen a try.
I can’t write a “best of” without mentioning Grace Burrowes, who is a favourite author of mine. I’ve read a number of her books this year, but I think the best of them is The Duke’s Disaster, which features what is probably my favourite trope of them all, the marriage of convenience. What the author does so well in her own inimitable style, is to paint a realistic portrait of the situation faced by two people who marry for the sake of expediency and then realise that they will have to work at it if they’re going to have any chance of making a go of things. Most impressively, Ms Burrowes takes an old, well-used trope and finds something new to say about it.