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The Best of 2023 – Caz’s List

2023 has been another pretty good reading year for me, although I will admit that I’ve reached a stage where I carefully curate my reading – life’s too short to read crappy books – which undoubtedly contributes towards the large number of A and B grades I give throughout the year. That means I’ve had to leave some books off this list because it would have taken me over my alloted ten :( **

Because a lot of the books I read for review are books in same-couple series, I’m presented every year with the problem of which book to choose to include on my Best of list, because I hate picking, say, book four, when it really doesn’t make sense without reading the other three! So perhaps I can ask you, dear reader, to take as read that I’m recommending entire series as much as I’m recommending individual books in those cases.

Okay, so here are my favourite books of 2023.

The Girl in the Wind by Gregory Ashe

I know of no other author who can maintain such a consistently high quality of output while publishing five or six full-length novels and a handful of short stories every year, but Gregory Ashe continues to do exactly that. Not only did he bring us his take on the legendary Sherlock Holmes with his brilliant Adventures of Holloway Holmes series in 2023, he also embarked upon an epic crossover series of four books featuring four of our favourite Asheverse couples – Hazard and Somerset, North and Shaw (Borealis Investigations), Theo and Auggie (The First Quarto) and Jem and Tean (The Lamb and the Lion), with each couple taking the narrative lead in one book. The Girl in the Wind is book two, and I’ve chosen it simply because I adore Theo and Auggie – the story in this book is told from their perspectives, and as always, the author does a great job of balancing out an intriguing mystery full of thrills and danger with ongoing relationship development. Like the other couples in the series, Theo and Auggie are in a committed relationship, but they still have to work on it, and I really like that aspect of Gregory Ashe’s writing, that he shows us what happens after the HEA. The Iron on Iron series is a real tour-de-force; we have an overarching plotline across all four books, and Mr. Ashe does an amazing job of keeping every single character perfectly IN character; their personalities and voices are very distinct yet they are never anything other than themselves. This series is probably not the place to start with Mr. Ashe’s work, as some degree of familiarity with these characters and how they’ve come to be where they are when the series starts is necessary, but for the author’s myriad fans, this series is a must. The final book – Hazard and Somers’ book – is out in early 2024 and it promises to be one helluva finale. I can’t wait.

Buy it at Amazon

Best Supporting Actor by Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm

Best Supporting Actor is book three in the Creative Types series and, for my money, the best of the lot. It’s a sexy, emotional and insightful opposites-atract romance set in the world of live theatre that makes terrific use of the intimacy of a small-scale production and the play-within-a-play scenario to develop the romance. The research is excellent and I’ve long been a fan of both authors’ skill in crafting thoughtful and intelligent stories and characters, conveying intense emotions in a realistic way, and creating situations that allow the characters to come together organically. It’s a superb read and a gorgeous love story full of heart and humour.

Buy it at Amazon

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles

I suppose it’s inevitable that there will be a book by KJ Charles on my Best of list every year! This time around it’s the second in her Doomsday Books duology and easily the best historical romance of the year – A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel. As always, the author imbues her story with a real sense of time and place, peoples it with wonderfully complex characters who, while flawed, are easy to root for, crafts a fascinating and intricate plot which unfolds at just the right pace, and infuses the whole thing with humour, warmth, insight and intelligence. It’s a superb combination of mystery and romance, and the love story – between a reluctant Earl and his super-efficient, wily (and captivating) secretary – centres personal growth, honesty and compassion as these two seemingly mis-matched men fall in love and work out how to be together.

Buy it at Amazon

Cloud White by Fearne Hill

This final book in Fearne Hill’s Nailed It! Trilogy marks her second appearance on one of my Best of lists. Cloud White is an angsty, emotional friends-to-lovers romance featuring two long-time best friends who, thanks to a combination of insecurities and bad timing have been dancing around each other for years. Ms. Hill is going from strength to strength as a writer; she’s incredibly good at balancing the dark and light in her books, and here, the genuinely funny humour, the warmth of the friendships and the depth of the characterisation act as a beautiful counterpoint to the angst, the hurt and the soul-deep pining in the story. It’s not always an easy read, but it’s an incredibly good one that will break your heart, make you laugh and make you want to throw things, sometimes all at once.

Buy it at Amazon

Inevitable Disclosure by Nicky James

I could have picked either of books four (Inevitable Disclosure) and five (Defying Logic) in Nicky James’ exceptionally good Valor and Doyle series of mystery/romances for this list – they’re both terrific reads that combine clever, complex plots with the continued and skilful development of the central relationship, and both stories present a particular career-based dilemma for one of the leads. In the end, I picked Inevitable Disclosure simply because I could only pick one of them! Nicky James does a tremendous job of balancing the central relationship that is the beating heart of these books with gripping, intricate mysteries that unfold at a good pace and which really put our heroes to the test. Quaid and Aslan have come a long way, both individually and as a couple, since we first met them, but relationships take work and they still have things to learn about each other. This is easily one of the best romantic suspense series of recent years – if you’re a fan of the genre and haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and get stuck in!

Buy it at Amazon

Twisted Tome by Vanora Lawless

Vanora Lawless is my “discovery” of 2023 – I read (and loved) her Imperfect Illusions, a paranormal historical romance from 2022, and immediately pounced on its follow-up, Twisted Tome when it came out in October. Unlike many book-twos in trilogies, this one doesn’t suffer from ‘middle-book-itis’ or feel like filler – it’s another cracking story full of action, nail-biting tension and swoonworthy romance as Elliot and Sully and their team are charged with a mission fraught with danger but vital to the war effort. The balance between plot and romance is excellent – the author keeps the action moving at quite a lick, building tension and raising the stakes, and the historical background is clearly very well researched. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in late 2024.

Buy it at Amazon

Broadway Butchery by C.S. Poe

C.S. Poe is another author who’s appeared regularly on these lists, and for very good reason. The mystery in this third book in her Memento Mori series is every bit as complex and twisty as those that have preceeded it, and there’s the added element of the gradual reveal of a bigger picture. The cases Larkin and Doyle have investigated have all involved some element of Victorian funereal ritual – death masks, mourning photographs, and now, black crêpe – and connections between them are beginning to appear. The relationship between the troubled Everett Larkin – whose unique memory condition means he’s unable to forget pretty much anything – and “the treasure of his heart”, Ira Doyle, continues to be deeply romantic and totally swoonworthy, and the author does a wonderful job of balancing the light and the dark by incorporating plenty of humour alongside the more gruesome aspects of the story. Clever, beautifully written and extensively researched, this is another fantastic instalment in the series.

Buy it at Amazon

Until You by Briar Prescott

I’ve read and enjoyed books by this author before, but Until You really blew me away. It’s an emotional, touching and heartfelt slow-burn love story about a young man who, for good reasons, has spent most of his adult life avoiding attachments of any kind. Then he meets someone who makes him feel for the first time in years, and who forces him to admit how much he wants to love and be loved, to feel happy and secure – only for life to take yet another unexpected turn. It’s a compelling read – funny, insightful, heartbreaking and sexy – and I couldn’t bear to put it down. Incidentally, I could easily have chosen the next book in the series – And Then You – for this list, because it’s every bit as good. You can take your pick, because neither will disappoint!

Buy it at Amazon

Time to Shine by Rachel Reid

It was hard to believe that Rachel Reid could possibly come out with something as good as the later Game Changer books, but Time to Shine was every bit as fantastic a read as it was a very different one. In this story, two young hockey players – one of them already a superstar, the other still working his way up through the ranks – who are very different personalities, somehow stumble into friendship and then into more in this brilliantly written and delicious, achingly tender slow-burn romance. Like the Cat Sebastian book below, Time to Shine isn’t plot-heavy and works so well because of the humour, the wonderful characterisastion, the chemistry between the leads and some truly insightful writing.

Buy it at Amazon

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

The second historical romance on my list this year is set in New York in 1959 and is Cat Sebastian’s best book yet. We Could Be So Good is one of those books I’ve seen described as “vibes over plot” – which doesn’t always work for me, but this time, it really did.  The story is tightly focused on the romance between a hard-working reporter and the son of the owner of the newspaper he works for; the cross-class element is mostly in the background (although far from ignored) and centre stage is given to these two guys working out who they are, who they want to be and how to make that happen. The writing is absolutely beautiful; lyrical and insightful with lots of gentle humour and a wonderful eye for historical detail, and the story is extraordinary in its ordinariness – heartbreaking, uplifting and utterly delightful.

Buy it at Amazon

** The books I had to leave off (after a great deal of thought and swapping in and out on an almost daily basis!): Once a Rogue by Allie Therin; 10 Things That Never Happened by Alexis Hall; The Mechanics of Lust by Jay Hogan.  I suppose it’s never a bad thing to be faced with an embarassment of riches!

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