Since I began reviewing for Numbers on the Spine in June, I have read over seventy books, some of which, unfortunately, are still sitting beside my desk awaiting their reviews. As we reach the end of 2012, I have made a final push to write up my favorites.
The following list catalogues books that have made a lasting impression–the ones that I look back upon with fondness or have–when possible–squirreled away on my “to keep” bookshelf because I am loathe to part with them. The books did not always receive the highest possible marks, but there is something about them that remains compelling, even months after I put them down.
Without further ado, here are my Top Ten in no particular order:
- Lady Elizabeth’s Comet (Warner Books) — The heroine is a true scholar and scientist. The hero is a radical raised to an unexpected position in the aristocracy. This atypical, first-person romance stands out for its honesty, scrupulous accuracy to the period, and excellent character development.
- The Duke’s Wager (Signet Regency Romance) — This book redeemed the “Reformed Rake” trope. Three characters are tested to their breaking-points with sensitivity and deftness. Plus, Edith Layton unforgettably exposes the ugly side of Regency society.
- Birds of a Feather (Fawcett Crest) — Opposites attract. Or at least the protagonists think they are opposites. The bespectacled, dowdy heroine and the seeming fribble of a hero are enemies until they are accidentally engaged. Kudos for the author’s deft portrayal of her characters and their witty dialogue.
- The Wicked Cousin (Warner Library of Regency Romance) — Although I was disappointed with some aspects of Zabrina Faire’s book, I have a great affection for the hero–a kind-hearted, grossly obese, virginal figure of mockery in society.
- The Waltzing Widow (Fawcett Crest) — A wild ride between two stubborn protagonists–a hero who mistakes the heroine for a fortune hunter and a heroine who torments him in return. What can I say? The Waltzing Widow is a really fun book.
- One Unashamed Night (Harlequin Historical) — The widow of an abusive alcoholic meets a man who is hiding the fact that he’s going blind. A wild fling in a barn during a snowstorm leads to much more, including excellent character development.
- The Reluctant Thief (Signet Regency Romance) — Although the book is a bit uneven, Kihlstrom’s cross-class romance, her dual-identity hero, and her boldly nurturing heroine make this novel memorable.
- A Proper Taming (Avon Regency Romance) — “Beauty and the Beast” retold, but better. An outspoken, bold heroine meets a a giant country bumpkin who happens to be an Earl. For goodness sake, the protagonists meet after Portia hits Connor over the head with a bedwarmer! What a beginning!
- Cousin Cecilia (Fawcett Crest) — Pride and Prejudice, a spinster matchmaker, witty dialogue, and well developed secondary characters make Joan Smith’s book memorable.
- For My Lady’s Honor (Harlequin Historical) — The only non-Regency to make my top-ten, this Medieval romance has staying power because of the truly epic sex scene in the middle of the novel.
I want to mention two other books. They were not the most memorable that I read this year, but they are my favorites of their genre (so far) and have encouraged me to explore non-Regency/non-historical/non-Gothic romances.
- Passion to Protect (Harlequin Romantic Suspense) — Two high school sweethearts have a second chance at love when the heroine’s criminal ex-husband breaks out of jail. Scary, detailed, with well-developed characters.
- The Witch’s Initiation (Harlequin Nocturne) — It’s no secret to returning readers that I struggle with the Nocturnes I’ve read. Elle James’s book gives me hope there are others in the line that I will fall in love with. Though I had much to criticize, I liked The Witch’s Initiation, and it left me hoping she will write sequels.
The winners are . . .
- Joan Smith, author of two of my top ten books.
- Fawcett Crest, publisher of three of my top ten books. Since two of those three were written by Smith, the runner-ups should be noted: Warner and Signet.*
- The Regency Period by an overwhelming margin: nine out of ten.
* Harlequin Historical also had two books on my top ten list. However, Harlequin also had more books that I considered weak.