It’s hard to believe 2017 is coming to a close. As I review, I make a diligent effort to shelve books I think are ‘best’ compared to other books I’ve read, and this year – much like last year – historical romance dominates. I also think it’s important to note that while I generally prefer to ‘read’ my books, three audiobooks top my Best of 2017 list. The books are terrific, the audio versions are transcendent. Without further ado, my favorite romance novels of 2017 are:
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, narrated by Christian Coulson
I loved TGGTVAV when I read it and awarded it a DIK in my review. I didn’t think the audio version could improve on the text… but boy was I wrong. Christian Coulson (you know him as the young Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies) somehow takes everything wonderful about this marvelous book and elevates it. His narration perfectly captures our hero, Henry Montague, and he does a great job with the two major secondary characters as well. The story is brilliant – funny, romantic, bittersweet and exciting – and worth your time in any iteration. (But the audio is the bomb).
A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase, narrated by Kate Reading
This first book in Ms. Chase’s new Difficult Dukes series, is wonderful. Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, returns from a year abroad and is quickly pressed into service as groomsman to his close friend the Duke of Ashmont. He’s surprised to discover Lady Olympia Hightower, only daughter of the Earl of Gonerby, is the bride-to-be, but happy to help his friend. Only, nothing about the wedding day goes right. The bride bolts, Ripley is forced to follow and Ms. Chase delights and charms her readers as Ripley tries and fails to return Olympia to Ashmont. He’s delicious and wry, she’s wickedly funny, sharp and awesome, and this love story made me smile. The audio book is even better. Ms. Reading is amazing and her narration improves this already wonderful book.
A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas, narrated by Kate Reading
I put off reading this new series from Ms. Thomas because some reviewers said it lacked romance. For the record, it doesn’t. So… obviously that was a mistake. The Lady Sherlock series is romantic, complex, engrossing and so clever it makes me want to force anyone who claims to ‘love’ novels to read it. Or, like me, listen to it. Ms. Thomas moves past all the world building of the first book and crafts A Conspiracy in Belgravia into another even more fascinating and dramatic novel. Ms. Reading masterfully captures the voice of Charlotte Holmes, the assorted secondary characters who inhabit her world, and I CAN’T WAIT for the conclusion to the series. I’ve purchased the audio books for my mother, father, sister and co-teacher… It’s terrific.
The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian
Ms. Sebastian, who released her début novel just last year, is on a roll. Each book she releases is better than the last and this third novel is funny, poignant and wonderful. I loved the two principals: starchy and proper Julian Medlock and his protegé (of sorts) Lord Courtenay, rogue, libertine and rake who needs Julian’s help in order to rehabilitate his public image. Theirs is an opposites attract match made in heaven and I enjoyed every single bit of their fumbling, bumbling, sexy courtship.
The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan (part of Hamilton’s Battalion: A Trio of Romances by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan & Alyssa Cole)
The Hamilton’s Battalion anthology is uniformly good, but this novella from Ms. Milan is a cut above. John Hunter is a black soldier fighting with Hamilton’s forces who longs for home. Henry Latham is the British soldier he helps desert as the battle concludes. Henry repays the favor (?) by offering to join him on the 500 mile walk back to Rhode Island. Enemies, friends and ultimately lovers, the evolving relationship between opposites John and Henry is poignant and deeply moving. I never wanted their journey – or this story – to end. Ms. Milan is a master of the novella, but The Pursuit of… is my favorite of hers.
Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn
I follow Ms. Clayborn on Twitter and when I saw she had a début releasing in October, I was tempted to pick it up – but overwhelmed with other books for review. Début novels have been a bit hit or miss for me this year, so I simply moved on. But then I got sick. I struggled to find a great historical romance and turned to contemporary. I’m not sure why I picked up the Clayborn… but I’m so, so, so glad I did! It’s wonderful. The set-up is compelling, believable and clever, and the principals are magic together. She’s brilliant, he’s delicious and everything – EVERYTHING – about Ms. Clayborn’s debut just hums. Romantic, sexy, smart…I stayed up too late reading it and woke up early so I could revisit favorite parts before heading into work. Ms. Clayborn’s follow-up novel will jump to the top of my TBR the moment it’s released.
An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles
The Sins of the Cities trilogy was tremendous but this second novel trumps the others – largely because of the dynamic pairing of bitter enemies Nathaniel Roy, crusading journalist and truth seeker, with Justin Lazarus, the Seer of London, a professional liar who preys on the grieving and gullible. From the moment they meet, their chemistry is scorching, and the story is impossible to put down. Ms. Charles is a tremendous writer, and it’s difficult to pick any of her books as a favorite (okay, I will – I love Think of England)…but An Unnatural Vice is arguably one of her best.
How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall
There are riffs on 50 Shades of Gray… and then there’s this one by Alexis Hall. It’s a doozy. When Oxford student Arden St. Ives solicits a donation from Caspian Hart, he unwittingly sparks the attention and interest of the billionaire tycoon. A subsequent visit proves the attraction is mutual, but once that simple premise is established, nothing unfolds as Ardie hopes. Caspian is distant and closed-off, Arden is sweetly devoted and infatuated, and theirs is a match made in…well, as the novel concludes, we aren’t quite sure. I liked the 50 Shades novels well enough, but Mr. Hall’s sophisticated, queer twist on the trilogy is far superior in every way.
The Pirate and I Katharine Ashe
I’m a big fan of Ms. Ashe and I’ve enjoyed all her novels. She also has a knack for writing charming and delightful novellas featuring secondary characters. In The Pirate and I, she pairs reluctant pirate Charlie Brittle with perfumer Esme Astell, a girl he once knew in another – better – life. Charlie is the best sort of hero – kind and good, but deliciously wicked and naughty, and Esme – bright, intense and beautiful, is his perfect match. Esme nurtured a tendré for Charlie long ago…and when Ms. Ashe brings them back into each other’s lives, sparks fly. Charming, delightful, romantic… The Pirate & I is just wonderful.
His Mistletoe Wager by Virginia Heath
I hate to admit I had such low expectations for this novel, but then, I’ve yet to be blown away by any of the many holiday stories that come out this time every year. Well reader, my mistake. His Mistletoe Wager is so great I’ve read it twice! Ms. Heath introduces two appealing principals and sets their courtship in motion via a wager that’s both awful and wonderful in equal parts. I enjoyed everything about this story (the swoony hero! the kid!) and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author.