I’ve read some terrific books and some dire books this year – which is par for the course when you review as many of them as I do – but my genre of choice, historical romance, was, in the main, fairly disappointing in 2018.  Even some of the authors I can usually rely on to deliver absorbing stories with emotional depth featuring appealing, multi-faceted characters haven’t delivered to their usual standard, and I’ve found myself looking to other sub-genres more than ever before to supply the steady diet of strong and compelling reads I need in my life!  I’ve found myself most often gravitating towards romantic suspense to fill the void, and I’ve probably picked more m/m titles this year than in the past, as that sub-genre has – for me – been where the imaginative storytelling and strong writing has been most often found.  Luckily for me, some of the authors I’ve chosen for this list have had more than one book out this year, and in some cases, it’s been difficult to pick a favourite.

Here, then, and in no particular order, are the books that have really stood out for me over the past twelve months.

The Wolf at the Door by Charlie Adhara

I’ve never been one for werewolves, vampires and shifters, but Em’s review of Charlie Adhara’s début novel earlier this year made me want to read this one, and I’m so glad I did.  It’s a terrific story, following a cop who was injured in the line of duty (in what he didn’t know at the time was a werewolf attack) who is recruited to a new unit in which human detectives are partnered with their werewolf equivalents.  Needless to say, the protagonists get off to a rocky start, but the author does a superb job of developing their relationship as they move from suspicion to respect, admiration and then liking, while the sexual tension between them sizzles like nobody’s business!  The central characters are brilliantly drawn, the mystery is intriguing and Charlie Adhara balances out the two elements – the romance and the suspense – incredibly well.  The Wolf at the Door is an amazing first-novel, (book two, The Wolf at Bay is pretty good, too!) and I’m chomping at the bit to read the final book in the trilogy when it comes out in the Spring.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

Ten years after Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, first appeared in Meredith Duran’s incredible début novel, The Duke of Shadows, readers were finally treated to his story, and boy, was it worth the wait! The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an intense, angsty tale that is sometimes hard to read, but is nonetheless a compelling tale of a man’s struggle to find his place after having his life ripped away from him, and a beautifully detailed portrait of a marriage torn apart by malicious intent and greed.  The principals are stubborn, flawed characters it’s impossible not to root for, and their love-story is both  passionate and powerful.  Meredith Duran is, without doubt, one of the finest writers of historical romance around, and I enjoyed every single moment of this complex, deeply sensual and beautifully written novel.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Firestorm by Rachel Grant

This final book in the author’s Flashpoint series hooked me in on the first page and didn’t let me go until the end. Rachel Grant is far and away my favourite author of m/f romantic suspense, and I’ll read anything she writes, but this series has been exceptional; fast paced stories with lots of action and steamy romances, Ms. Grant’s books are incredibly well researched and politically astute, and her love of history and archaeology shine through in every line.  Firestorm features a couple who have been verbally sparring and butting metaphorical heads throughout the series, who have to go undercover and pose as a couple in order to get important inside information on the bad guys.  Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, and they find themselves on the run, facing untold dangers as they work together to prevent disaster while trying to keep a lid on the explosive chemistry zinging between them.  Seriously, this stuff is better than the movies!

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

An Earl Like You by Caroline Linden

Another favourite author, Caroline Linden produced two exceptionally good novels this year, but my favourite is this one, the second in her current Wagers of Sin series.  An Earl Like You is one of the best marriage-of-convenience stories I’ve ever read, and in it, a throroughly decent and kind man finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to do the best thing for his family only to discover that he may have achieved that at too high a personal cost.  It’s insightful,  intelligently written, strongly characterised and gorgeously romantic – definitely one of the best historicals of 2018.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

One-Eyed Royals by Cordelia Kingsbridge

The Seven of Spades series was my BIG discovery of 2018, and I’ve enthused wildly about it to anyone who will listen!  It’s a five book series – One-Eyed Royals is book four – with one overarching plotline concerning the search for a particularly enigmatic, clever serial killer whose calling card –literally – is the seven of spades playing card left on each of his or her victims.  All the plotlines are complex, utterly compelling and immensely satisfying, and the two central characters – a hard-boiled detective and a bounty hunter-turned-PI – are equally so; they’re chalk and cheese, one garrulous and outgoing, the other tightly wound and intensely controlled, and yet together they’re one hell of a team, and the chemistry between them is off the charts.  I’m not the best when it comes to working out whodunit in mysteries, but I usually have at least a vague clue – not so here, though.  I have absolutely NO idea who the Seven of Spades is, and I can’t wait until the final book comes out next Spring to find out. I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and if you’re a fan of m/m romantic suspense and haven’t read it – seriously, you’re missing out BIG time.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

Despite its unappealing cover, this is an enjoyable and excitingly original novel. Salt Magic, Skin Magic tells the story of a young lord being held captive by unseen forces and the industrial magician employed by his family to investigate instances of witchcraft since his arrival at their country estate. The plot is intriguing and tightly-constructed, laden with mysticism, magic and suspense and it’s skilfully combined with a warm, tender romance between two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum whose relationship evolves naturally and organically from antagonism and suspicion to trust, affection and soul-deep belief in each other. I’m eagerly awaiting more from this talented author.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

I’m an unashamed Sherry Thomas fangirl so I’m sure the inclusion of this title will surprise nobody.  Her Lady Sherlock series of historical mysteries are superbly plotted and peopled with complex, flawed yet engaging characters, and The Hollow of Fear is no different. It also promised developments in the unusual relationship between Charlotte Holmes and her closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton – and Ms. Thomas didn’t disappoint on that score (well, sort of!), as Charlotte has to prove Ash innocent of the murder of his estranged wife. It’s the best yet in what has been an all-DIK series for me – and I can’t wait for more.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles.

K.J. Charles has published three excellent books this year all of them DIKs, but much as I loved the swashbuckling snark of The Henchmen of Zenda, Band Sinister just pipped it to the post for inclusion in my Best of list. It’s a sexy, warm, witty trope-fest and works brilliantly as an homage to the traditional regency and a tribute to those who dared to think enlightened ideas in a time of entrenched views. The cast is diverse in terms of belief, race and sexual preference, the central romance is tender and, well, romantic and every single character is well-rounded and wonderfully real. It’s a funny, clever book that is, quite simply, a bloody good read.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

You Only Love Twice/To Catch a Rogue by Bec McMaster

Both of these went straight on to my keeper shelf, and I can’t choose between them – so I’m not going to!  Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series is simply brilliant.  Fast-paced, clever, witty, and superbly-conceived, featuring complex, unique characters and intriguing, high-stakes plots, these are books three and four in the series and I can’t wait for the fifth and final book next year.

Buy You Only Love Twice at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Buy To Catch a Rogue at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Between the Lines by Sally Malcolm

Another author who has made my DIK shelf multiple times this year, Sally Malcolm has so far published three terrific m/m contemporary romances set in the fictional holiday town of New Milton.  Perfect Day was a fabulous re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and the Christmassy novella, Love Around the Corner (which deserves a place on this list as well) a swoonworthy take on the pen-pals-who-don’t-know-they’re-in-love-with-each-other trope. I went with Between the Lines, though, a beautifully written and gorgeously romantic enemies-to-lovers story that captivated me from start to finish.  Ms. Malcolm has a real gift for imbuing her characters with a true depth of personality and for creating strong emotional connections between them.  She’s firmly on my ‘must read’ list, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her in 2019.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy

Okay, I’m sneaking this one in at the last minute as I read it just before the end of 2018 and had actually compliled this list before I started it.  But I can’t not mention it because not only is it the best début HR I’ve read since 2016, it’s one of the best historical romances I read all year.  It’s a marriage-0f-convenience story in which the reluctant spouses agreed to live apart and when the novel opens, haven’t seen each other since their perfunctory wedding night two years earlier.  He’s a whirlwind of energy, always on the go and completely satisfied with his life the way it is; she is content running her family’s home and estate, but has to ‘break’ her husband’s rules and travel to London in order to arrange a Season for her troublesome younger sister.  This book has it all – it’s very funny without being silly, has real emotional depth without being melodramatic and  the protagonists are incredibly well-rounded, complex, flawed – and perfect for each other.

Buy it at: Amazon

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