2018 was not my favorite year. The world, including Romancelandia, was full of anger and sadness, and most of the time I felt as if I had no idea how to do my job well. I’d pick up a romance, try to read it, and, again and again, be resistant to its draw. By midyear, I despaired of finding books I loved enough to want readers to experience their magic. But I underestimated the strength of our world, and by the end of December, I found myself with a list of books I genuinely loved, all of which brought me joy. Here, in no particular order, is my list of the best of 2018.


A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy.

Caz and others on staff who read primarily historical romance are on record as saying that 2018 was a year in which historical romance was a let down. This book, I’m happy to say, is the very smart exception to that rule. Vincy’s debut is like champagne without the (for me) inevitable headache. It’s witty, smart, and damn enjoyable. And, even better, woven into all that lovely prose is a love story with depth. It’s not an exaggeration to say I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Buy it at: Amazon


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

I have a horribly short attention span. The only lengthy series in romance I’ve ever read all of is Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green. I’m usually able to stick with series for three or four books, but, after that, I’m out. So when I say I’ve read all nine of McMaster’s London Steampunk books and I am obsessively counting the days until the last one comes out, I’m telling you these books are special. The two listed here are very very good and really you should just start at the beginning with Kiss of Steel.  These book are sublime–they succeed on every level. Their world building, engaging characters, love stories that pack a punch, and philosophical underpinnings are all marvelous. Honestly, McMaster awes me. She’s just that good.

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

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


Sleepover by Serena Bell

In 2018, three women in my life lost their husbands way too soon. At the same time, Dr. Feelgood and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. Those two experiences made me think about what it would be like for me if I lost the love of my life. And, as horrible as that concept felt, I hoped for my imagined self–and for the women grieving–that I’d, at some point, find love again. And that’s what this perceptive, sweet, well-written book is about and it totes worked for me. Bell has always been an excellent scribe and here she’s at her best. This contemp features neighbors, one of whom is still processing the death of his beloved wife, whose chemistry and kids bring them together. It made me glad to be alive–it’s a gift of a book.

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


Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Everyone needs to read this book. It’s amazing. It’s a zombie, YA, alternate post Civil War story with the most kickass heroine since Katniss and everything, every single thing, about it is perfect. I listened to it over three weeks and, in that time, whenever I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that it’s not a stand alone and you must be prepared to be furious, when the book rockets to a close, that you have to wait until the prodigiously talented Ireland pens the next tome in Jane’s riveting tale.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Kobo


Malcolm & Isabel by Julie Anne Long

I think I’ve read everything that JAL has ever written and, out of all those books, I’ve only disliked two. She works for me. This novella isn’t perfect–novellas hardly ever are–but it’s full of all that makes JAL’s work such a gift. It’s very funny, full of insights about who we are and why we love and live the way we do, and has lovers worth rooting for. This is a story that made me happy and for that, I am thankful.

 

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


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This page turner is a Reece Witherspoon pick and on many year end best lists. It belongs there. Owens is a naturalist who’s written nonfiction and this, her first fictional forray, is a gripping story. The main character, Kya, has basically raised herself in the wild Outer Banks (the story begins in the early 70s) and her interactions with her world are complicated, complex, and compelling. This is a love story, a mystery, a coming of age story, and will make you wonder who you would be if you’d been raised away from society. I read it over the space of a day and have pushed it on everyone I know. It’s fascinating.

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


The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

One of my great literary disappointments this year was Tana French’s The Witch Elm which I could barely get through. (I adore French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.) Fortunately, I spied The Ruin and man did I enjoy it. McTiernan’s debut is French-esque in its dispassionate take on modern Ireland, its incisive prose, and absorbing mystery, but it doesn’t read like a copy. It’s its own wonder and if you love smart procedurals, I think you’ll love this book.

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


The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

There’s nothing I could say about this book that hasn’t been echoed by just about everyone who’s read it. Thomas is so singularly talented and this book, the third in her brilliant Lady Sherlock series, is amazing.

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


Sinner by Sierra Simone

Pretty much nothing about this book should have worked for me. I dislike older men/younger women romances, overtly religious protagonists make me antsy, and self-absorbed first person narrators annoy me. This book features all three of those and I loved it. Older dissolute guy gets talked into showing a young wannabe nun what she’ll be missing if she takes her vows. Trust me–it works. And it will make you think about what it means to have faith guide your life even as you read about the intricacies of butt sex. Simone is a writer I’d like to read more of. She challenges her readers in all the best ways.

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


A Touch of Flame by Jo Goodman

Everyone has things that toss them out of a story and for me, inaccurate medical stuff is a biggie. Goodman, a social worker, has consistently gotten health care right in all her works and, in this one, she really nails it. Her heroine, Ridley, is a female physician come to care for the souls of the small town of Frost Falls, Colorado at a time when almost no women were doctors. Goodman tells so many stories in here, all of them well. Ridley must overcome the distrust the town has for her sex and, as she and the sheriff, Ben, fall gorgeously in love, they must also save several of the town’s people from themselves and from those who would do them harm. I’ve liked almost all of Goodman’s historicals over the years and this one continues her stellar streak.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/iBooks/Kobo