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The Best of 2018 – Keira’s List

It’s that time of the year again when I have to agonize over which books to remove from a list that starts out as long as my arm. It’s a good problem to have, meaning I read wonderful books this year – poetry, nonfiction, general fiction, literary fiction, and children’s picture books as well as romance. However, for AAR, I have included only romance novels published in 2018; I will cover the remaining books on my personal blog. My choices include novels published from the beginning of January through the end of November; December works always get shafted in these lists.

So in no particular order…

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole is such a talented writer. I have liked everything I have read by her, and A Princess in Theory is no exception. This is a fanciful story, a modern fairytale; with a prince of a make-believe African kingdom and his lost betrothed, whom he finds, beguiles, loses, and wins all over again. What could’ve been a clichéd plot is made magical by Cole’s writing. What I really enjoy about her books – other than the storytelling – is the authenticity of her research and the depiction of characters who have interests and passions beyond their relationship with each other.  If you’ve never read Cole before, or never read a lighthearted story by her before, do pick this book up. I promise you won’t regret it.

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

A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen

I enjoyed this historical romance right from the beginning, but halfway through I fell head over heels in love with it. I thought the prequel to this book, The Lady in Red, was an ‘A’ read, but this is even better. The sexual tension between the protagonists practically hums through the pages of this book. What I liked about this book is that both of them are open-minded and attuned to nuance where the other is concerned. I read this story with curiosity and enjoyment, consistently surprised by reactions that seemed unpredictable and fresh to the genre and yet just right for the story Bowen was telling. The characters in all their complexity and humanity made me care for them as they’re easy to root for: intelligent, thoughtful, courageous, loyal, and despite their tough backgrounds, decent and affectionate.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple BooksBarnes & Noble/Kobo

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

This is an impassioned, emotionally wrenching tale that leaves you shell-shocked by the end. Only the best stories in the hands of good writers can do that to you. When you read one of Duran’s books, you realize how carefully crafted it is, whether it is emotional nuance, word choice, or plot detail. This is a Victorian-set, Count of Monte Cristo-esque tale that goes back and forth across nearly four years. How are the protagonists to overcome his demons and brutalization? Can he to trust that she will offer unwavering support and stay steadfast despite his mercurial temperament? Duran keeps us guessing and trying to puzzle it out right to the end as she unfolds their complex connection to each other that at times feels like two steps forward one step back. That they can come to love each other just as they are now feels like a monumental victory over their trials.

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

Making Up by Lucy Parker

Parker’s Act Like It and Pretty Face were on my Best Books of the Year lists in the past, so this third book was my most-anticipated read of 2018, sight unseen. And it exceeded my expectations. Parker really knows how to bring the cosmopolitan world of London Theater alive with a diverse set of characters. I really like that Parker’s protagonists are not tropes; they are uniquely their own selves. For example, the hero isn’t a typical alpha, nor is he a typical beta. He’s sweet and caring and unsure in some situations, but he is also strong and self-confident in others. She has low self-esteem and is plagued with self-doubt, but she is also talented and loving and kind. They’re good to each other, and each one grows to be a better person because of the love of the other person. What better recipe can there be for a long-lasting relationship than that?

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple BooksBarnes & Noble/Kobo

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon

Menon’s debut, When Dimple Met Rishi, made a huge splash when it came out last year, and so has From Twinkle, With Love. The protagonists are both shy and awkward, but support each other to overcome their self-consciousness and their unsure unassertive personalities to becoming the confident, secure people they’ve always wanted to be. Right from the cover all the way to the last page, I was struck by the effervescent joy in the story. Whether in its triste moments or its humorous moments, its wistful moments or its loving moments, the 16-year-old heroine lives life to the fullest with every emotion possible. The overall impression of her is one of happiness, even when it is disguised or deprecated. Her motto is to change lives through film, and this epistolary novel is written as a series of dated letters by her to various notable female film directors.

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

The Prince by Katharine Ashe

Simply, wow! The Prince is written with such delicacy and subtlety, that it makes the undercurrent of sexual tension thrumming throughout the story all the more powerful. Cohabiting for most of the book doesn’t mean that the leads fall into bed within the first few days, which is how many books would set up their relationship. They fall in love well before they give in to their lust, and they do so only when it is integral to their story.

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

Untouchable by Talia Hibbert

This is a treasure of a story. The way each of the protagonists sees each – tenderness, awareness, joyfulness, and high regard – sets the tone for this story. The protagonists are so self-aware of their strengths and failures, as well as their capabilities and weaknesses, that being allowed to spy on their thoughts in addition to seeing how they react with each other makes for a rich reading experience. Hibbert handles her characters’ mental illnesses and developmental challenges with a gentleness that allows them to talk about their experiences without fear of judgment. Mental illness takes different people differently, and in showing her characters’ challenges and disparate reactions, which aren’t magically erased or cured by their HEA, Hibbert allows her readers to see themselves in these characters’ struggles and triumphs.

Buy it at: Amazon

Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau

On the surface, this is a story of two people in their 30s discovering love after nearly 20 years of friendship and their romantic relationship unfolding against the backdrop of family drama. But the story is truly about relationships: relationships between the protagonists, between the parents, parents and children, siblings, extended family and love interests. It is a story of how you exist within yourself and with others and how every action of every person you interact with has repercussions, small and large, on you. With deep insight and delicacy, Lau navigates all the tricky human relationships in this book with an assuredness that is as entertaining as it is appealing.

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

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

This was my first K.J. Charles book, and I was swept away by her talent, craftsmanship and attention to detail. In this book, Charles shows how social class, race and religion in early nineteenth century society affect her cast of diverse characters differently and how they each adapt to the other as they work through their own particular joys and challenges. This story is a masterclass in consent: what it means, what its scope should be and how it should be employed in a relationship. I was charmed by both of the heroes: one, a world-weary sophisticate, and the other, a conscientious ingénue. This tale is made poignant by the patience and thoughtfulness each shows the other that allow them to be true to themselves and honest with each other.

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

My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes

I loved this book. Burrowes writes with such expressive precision to tell a story of such complex emotions, a detailed network of plot threads and characters whose motivations are as complicated as they are heartfelt. There’s decency here, and kindness and thoughtfulness as well. And insight, intuition and generosity. From utter despair and rage to happiness and boundless optimism, this is a story that spans the gamut of human emotion. This story is a marriage of convenience trope where they vow to honor their marriage vows, which implies loyalty and trust owed to the other above everyone else. The story then unfurls within this framework, and so no matter the problems that crop up, the protagonists always fall back to this established line.

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

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