A quick look through my reviews here and at my Goodreads stats shows I read and enjoyed a number of really good books in 2017. As usual, narrowing this “Best of” list down to ten has been tricky – I usually start out with four or five titles that will make the list no question, and then face whittling down the other ten-fifteen “possibles” to complete my selection. Those books are all deserving of a place, and if I were writing this column a week from now, it would probably look different. But today it looks like this. Given the trouble I have actually picking favourites, putting them in order of preference is pretty much impossible – so this list is not in any sort of order whatsoever.
A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Meredith Duran is far and away one of the best authors of historical romance working today –or indeed, at any time over the past few decades. Amnesia plots can be tricky to pull off, but she does it with aplomb in this story of a corrupt politician whose memory loss allows him to become the man he should have become before events sent him down the path to the dark side ;) Boasting an intriguing plot, a compelling romance, two engaging but flawed progatonists – A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time.
Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles
Set in the 1920s, Spectred Isle is the first book in the author’s Green Men series set in an England threatened by supernatural forces. A powerful arcanist from an ancient family and a disgraced archaeologist are mysteriously thrown together as it gradually becomes clear that both have an important role to play in defending the realm from attack from beyond the veil. Containing fantastic world-building, wonderful characters and a sensual romance between two lonely, haunted men… and one of the spookiest scenes I’ve ever read, Spectred Isle is an utterly captivating mix of adventure, mystery and romance all bound up in old English folklore, myth and magic.
A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase
I adored this story of two people who fall in love with the right “wrong” person during a disastrous, three-day road trip. Ms. Chase imbues her story with humour, poignancy, tenderness and sensuality, sprinkles in a large dash of insight adds a soupçon of wonderful dialogue and, in the Duke of Ripley, serves up one of the most charming, witty and gorgeous heroes of the year. I will echo what Em said in her Best of post, which is that while the book is extremely enjoyable, the audiobook version, narrated by the wonderful Kate Reading is sublime.
An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles
I loved the whole Sins of the Cities series, but this middle instalment is something special. Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is preparing an exposé of the fraudulent practices of The Seer of London, a fake – albeit an incredibly clever fake – spiritualist who preys on the grieving and the vulnerable. But when Justin Lazarus becomes unwittingly embroiled in the hunt for the missing heir to a wealthy earldom, things take a dangerous turn and the man who had been his bitterest enemy suddenly becomes the only man he can turn to for help. This delicious enemies-to-lovers romance is full of scorching sexual tension, wonderful dialogue and beautifully tender moments; and the two protagonists are utterly compelling.
Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
I LOVE a good marriage-of-convenience story, and this is one of the best I’ve read recently. Mary Balogh writes wonderful character-driven romances that put the focus firmly on the emotional lives of her characters and on those small things that mean a lot. Alexander Westcott has spent years sorting out his family finances and has finally reached a place where he can start to focus on his own life, when he unexpectedly inherits an earldom he doesn’t want. Unfortunately however, his title is an empty one, and he can see only one way forward that will enable him to restore his new estates to working order and to fulfil his responsibilities to his dependents. He must marry for money. Wealthy but reclusive businesswoman Wren Hayden offers a logical solution to Alex’s problem, and to her own – that she wants Someone to Wed – and thus begins an incredibly rich and emotionally satisfying tale I savoured from start to finish.
Pretty Face by Lucy Parker
It’s the very rare contemporary romance that grabs me, but this (and Ms. Parker’s previous Act Like It) have proved to be the exception to the rule. Set amid the hurly-burly of London’s West End theatre-land, this is the story of a young actress trying to escape type-casting and a workaholic director who fall for each other against the odds and when a romantic relationship between them could ruin her career. There’s much to love about this book, not least of which is the fabulous dialogue, the wonderful characterisation and the fact that Ms. Parker has so brilliantly captured the crazy world of the British entertainment industry. Add to that a swoonworthy hero and a gorgeously sensual romance, and you’ve got a real winner.
Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne
In this sixth book in her acclaimed Spymasters series, Joanna Bourne sets her story in a post-Napoleonic London. Severine de Cabrillac operates a discreet detective agency, and her reputation for never letting up once she’s begun an investigation brings her to the attention of the handsome but infuriatingly enigmatic half-Spaniard, Raoul Deverney, who is in London to investigate the murder of his former wife and the disappearance of her twelve-year-old daughter, Pilar. The sparks fly from the very first page, as Sevie and Raoul circle each other, warily assessing each other and trying not to admit to the attraction that simmers between them. The chemistry between the pair is all the more delicious for being understated, the story is insightful and intelligently written and the mystery plot is extremely well done. It’s no wonder this book is showing up on so many “best of” lists this year.
The Drowned Girls by Loreth Anne White
I’m a relative newcomer to the world of romantic suspense, but I’ve managed to find some superb writers and books in that short time. The Drowned Girls introduces readers to Detective Angie Pallorino, a hard-working detective in a sex-crimes unit whose ball-busting, hot-tempered manner have earned her few allies among her male colleagues. She’s not always likeable, but she’s dedicated and gutsy – the pressure of her job and events in her personal life are taking their toll and she’s on a self-destructive downward spiral when she picks up the case of a murdered girl which bears hallmarks of a serial offender she had tried and failed to put away years before. This one kept me reading late into the night (as did its sequel, The Lullaby Girl, also worthy of a place on this list) as the author’s intricately plotted story twists and turns and propels us towards an exciting, high-stakes climax.
Buy Now: Amazon
Tinderbox by Rachel Grant
Rachel Grant has become my go-to author for romantic suspense, and I was absolutely enthralled by this action-packed, politically astute and steamy story set in the Horn of Africa, one of the most dangerous places in the world. The book opens with a bang – literally – and the pace never lets up from there as our protagonists get caught up in a plot by a corrupt regime headed by a despotic warlord … it’s complex and extremely relevant and I was swept up in it from start to finish. Tinderbox is a terrifically constructed, well-researched, edge-of-your-seat story – a great read in print, but the audio version – narrated by the extraordinarily talented Greg Tremblay – is completely un-put-downable.
The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian
I listed Cat Sebastian as one of my “new discoveries” of 2016 following her fabulous début, The Soldier’s Scoundrel. And here she is again, on my Best of 2017 list with another superbly written, multi-layered and strongly characterised historical romance, this one featuring an uptight gentleman for whom respectability is everything and the louche, devil-may-care rake whom he has undertaken to rehabilitate in the eyes of society. With two protagonists who really are like chalk and cheese, one may expect the sparks to fly and goodness me, how they do!
Among my Also-Rans were A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas, Marry in Haste by Anne Gracie, The Wicked Cousin by Stella Riley and Ruining Miss Wrotham by Emily Larkin… but alas, it just wasn’t possible to squeeze them all in. How do my favourites rank alongside yours?