The Ideal Romantic Hero

Jaime-Lannister-jaime-lannister-29020283-458-533Every once in a while I will fall in love with a hero. Kit from Mary Balogh’s A Summer to Remember comes to mind. I loved his laughing eyes. I loved his sunny nature. As I typed this half a dozen scenes from the book came to my mind and I found myself with a smile on my face. I love Kit, it’s that simple. I also love Francis from Balogh’s The Famous Heroine. It’s his sense of humor which drew me, his sense of chivalry, his amazingly cheerful personality. Francis is a happy person and I just can’t imagine anyone being miserable around him.

Those are romance heroes. Sometimes I will also fall in love with a hero in a book that is most definitely not a romance. Will Laurence from Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon springs to mind. There is no romance in this novel but there is plenty to love about Will. He’s honorable and loyal and kind. He may not have much of a sense of humor but he has an outstanding sense of duty. Yes, by the time I had closed the pages of that book I had lost a piece of my heart to Will.

I also love another hero from a dragon centric novel – Jamie Lanister from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga. However, where Will, Kit and Francis are all my ideas of a complete dreamboat, the type of man I am absolutely attracted to between the pages of a book (or in film or TV) as a romantic hero, Jamie definitely is not. Jamie is a terrific character – complex, riveting, growing and changing as the many hundreds of pages unfold – but I will not lose my heart to him romantically. His demons are too much for me, his depths too deep. I love what he brings to the book but I sure don’t fantasize of traveling through time and universes to meet him. In fact, the thought of it kind of scares me. With Jamie, you’ll never know how that encounter could end up.

There is another character in that saga about whom I am about to take a highly controversial stance. Ned Stark to me is no dreamboat. He’s no Jamie whom I love but not that way. He’s a douchebag. When we first meet dear Ned he’s about to chop the head off a man who was running from the Wall in fear for his life. Ned shows no mercy – the law is the law blah blah blah. He ignores what the man says – which by the way was actually pretty darn important. He could have redeemed himself after that moment but he doesn’t. And that is due in large part to his treatment of the Jon and Caitlin situation. Jon is, to all the people in Winterfell, Ned’s bastard son. Caitlin, Ned’s wife, hates Jon.

She makes his life very difficult. She is openly hostile. Ned never really deals with the issue – and he is sitting on some information that could make the whole thing disappear, which is hinted at very clearly in book one. But even if he hadn’t had that intel, he still should have intervened. Seeing a child emotionally abused when you are that child’s parent? Unforgivable to me.

The above is not an analysis of Ned as a character – it’s an analysis of Ned as a romantic hero. Ned as a character is – complicated. I have complex feelings for him and his role in the world of Ice and Fire. But as a romantic hero he’s not that complicated – he’s completely lacking. I couldn’t fall for him. At all. He has too many character traits that are just a complete turn off, too many actions highlight those traits throughout the book.

One of the great things about fiction is that it invokes these visceral reactions. Sure, a great novel can be thought provoking but when you are talking romance you are talking the heart. These instinctive heartfelt reactions toward heroes or heroines show that the author has done at least one thing right – they have created a character we are responding to. Especially in romance where we are deciding quite simply whether or not the character works for us in the role of romantic hero or heroine.

I’ve been thinking about what makes a hero work for me romantically the last few months as we have done the Dreamboat or Douchebag columns. I know his treatment of the heroine is paramount. I can accept the questionable actions of a hero like Jamie from Outlander if the character strikes me as thinking of his heroine with love and kindness. Jamie does. He risks himself to save Claire. He listens to her. He talks to her. Their partnership may not always be an equal one but there is a partnership and it improves with time. Jamie works for me as a romantic hero because on top of being an honorable, decent human being he’s a good lover, not just physically but emotionally.

Something else that I love in a hero is the accepting of the heroine for who she is. Jamie works darn hard at accommodating who Claire is. She is more outspoken than the women of his time, she is different in many other ways too. He doesn’t try to make her “grow up” or whatever other excuse a hero dreams up for making his heroine change. He does try to help her fit in better with his community for both their sakes but I didn’t see that as him trying to change the core of who she is. I’ve never been able to enjoy Balogh’s The Plumed Bonnet for that reason. For all the hero’s protestation that he doesn’t want to change the heroine he does nothing but try to change her. That’s not love in my book –it’s Stepford Wifing a convenient body.

Beyond his treatment of the heroine I fall for a hero who is kind to kids and the elderly (even if he is shy or awkward about it), a man who has a good sense of duty and integrity, someone who at their core is what I consider a decent human being. He can have flaws – Luke from Elizabeth Camden’s Beyond All Dreams is arrogant, overbearing and has a nasty temper but I love him anyway. He respects his heroine, he loves her, he accepts who she is. And who she is is someone who combats his arrogance with gentle wit, refuses to yield to his bossiness and who demands he get that temper under control. He’ll always try to get the upper hand, there will still be times when he stomps off in a rage, and he may on occasion try to act superior; they’ve worked it all out. I can love him because I see him in a great relationship with his heroine, I see him have all the traits I admire and like with a real person I can be reasonable about the rest. Perfect characters are boring anyway.

Now I am going to put the question to AAR staffers – what makes you react to a hero not intellectually but emotionally? What traits make up your romantic hero? What traits tend to be deal breakers?

Dabney: My answer for the hero is the same as mine for the heroine. He needs to deserve his happy ending.

Melanie: I’ve been sitting here thinking about it, and (alongside Dabney’s “needs to deserve his happy ending”) I think that whatever his faults may be, he must be ultimately redeemable. And not redeemable by “the love of a good woman” or such rot, but has to work to redeem himself. Some of my favorite heroes are dark and damaged, but work to move themselves past their history, and not solely because of their current/future/potential love interest. There’s something about what is basically a self-made man (not about money, but about themselves) that is incredibly appealing. In a romance novel, that type of hero will put that same effort into their relationship with the heroine. I’m a little in love with him already just thinking about it.

Lee: I like heroes who have a softer side and a good sense of humor and are willing to really listen to what others have to say, especially what the heroine wants to contribute to the conversation. Deal breakers are smokers/drinkers/guys who sleep around (especially in historicals though I know they probably did that in real life).

Mary: A good hero for me is one who listens; one who sees beyond the superficial and, if not at first, eventually learns to see their heroine (in the case of a heterosexual couple) as their equal. An ability to compromise is also an essential quality. No one wants a doormat be they male or female, so as in real life, people who are different have to be able to work out those differences in order to live in some kind of harmony. A good hero also shows how they love the heroine and doesn’t just say the words. They certainly do not have to be perfect. Perfect characters are pretty boring in my opinion. But if they are deeply flawed, there needs to be believable growth and redemption. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was about 11-12 years old. For the first half of the book, I HATED DARCY! I never would have guessed at that point he would become one of the most iconic heroes of all time. What turned the corner for Darcy was his becoming self-aware. So, I want a hero who can think. They do not have to be educated, but for their character to resonate with me, they need to be intelligent. Being nice to children and animals helps too. :0)

Readers, what are your thoughts? What characteristics does a hero need to have for you to deem him swoon-worthy?

Maggie AAR

 

 

Posted in Characters, Dabney AAR, Defining Romance, Heroes, Lee AAR, Maggie AAR, Mary AAR, Melanie AAR | 14 Comments

Haley’s Best of 2014 List

SThis past year was a slow one for reading for me. I didn’t get to nearly as many books as I did in 2013 and the ones I did read weren’t as good as I would have liked. I guess some years are odd that way. I ended 2014 thinking I didn’t have any gems to mine for a “best of” post, but luckily I took a look back and was reminded that I really did read some books worth sharing in 2014.

All Broke Down by Cora Carmack – I shared this one in our collective post for our favorite books of the last year. If I am being honest, it probably wasn’t my favorite, but I had read it more recently than its competitors so it was fresher in my mind. That said, I do think this is a truly steamy read that is worth your time. I adored the male lead, Silas Moore. He is the kind of bad boy I wish I could have had a fling with in college. If you’re leery of the New Adult genre, this one would be a good place to start trying it out. It fits the typical elements of New Adult without being overly annoying and it is still plenty sexy.

Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra – Kantra really has a strong series with her Dare Island books. All four have been great and Carolina Blues is no exception. There is a lot of depth to the characters and so much verisimilitude that you won’t feel like you’re reading another hackneyed small town romance. You don’t need to read the series in order so feel free to start with this one, although I highly recommend the previous three as well.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen – I love pretty much everything by Allen. I dream of being able to write with the whimsy and magic that she infuses into her words. Allen had a battle with breast cancer in between the writing of Lost Lake and her previous book so getting to buy this book made me immensely happy because it showed that she had survived her ordeal and not lost that same sense of wonderment that made her previous novels so wonderful. Lost Lake deals with the revisiting of old memories as well as coping with loss, yet it has such a current of hope running through it that it is irresistible to me. I don’t want to give anything away, but I treasured the alligator parts of this story almost as much as the apple tree in Garden Spells, which is my all-time favorite by Allen.


Maybe This Christmas and Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan – Morgan became a favorite of mine over the last year so that is why she gets two books on the list. I really enjoyed both of these books so much and it is hard to choose a favorite between the two. I know that when I originally read them, I preferred Suddenly Last Summer, but I have found myself thinking more about Maybe This Christmas to the point where I would like to read it again. Both books have a lot of heart and address familial relationships, as well as getting over the past, besides just focusing on the main couple. I highly recommend this entire series.

Shimmer by Paula Weston – This actually would have been my over-all favorite book of 2014 for our AAR Staff collective post, however, I was reluctant to include it because it is hard to track down. It is technically not out in the U.S. yet (lucky U.K. and Australia, I’m jealous) but I love the series so much that I ordered it internationally. Maybe that means it could be my favorite book of 2014 and 2015 thanks to this release-date loophole? This is one where you need to read the whole series to understand the story and you won’t regret having to go back at all. All of Weston’s books are packed with action and romance with the perfect hint of paranormal. It is categorized as Young Adult but please don’t let that scare anyone away. The characters are all of adult age (just young, kind of, there’s a paranormal catch to that) and you will totally eat up Raffa. He is the sexy, mysterious angel your reading has been missing. There is still a lot of back story that has yet to be revealed about the main character Gabe (or Gabby) and I am on pins and needles waiting for the fourth book to answer my questions. For U.S. readers, you can get a hold of the first two books in the series in the states already and, if you love these as much as I did, you will probably be anxious to get your hands on Shimmer by whatever means necessary.

AAR Haley

 

 

Posted in Best of List, Haley AAR, Romance | Tagged | 2 Comments

It’s the 20th Anniversary of Lord of Scoundrels!

AAR feels old! We can’t believe many of us first read Loretta Chase’s classic romance Lord of Scoundrels 20 years ago! We first reviewed the historical romance in 1997. The review was written by a reader who gave the book an A. In the review, she wrote:

One of the greatest thrills about reading, for me, is to begin a new book and within the first few pages realize that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I get a shiver and I breathe a sigh of contentment and just fall into state of near total euphoria. This book will reside on my bedside table for months or longer, so I’ll have it near to reread a favorite bit of dialogue, a particularly wonderful scene or simply experience the same heartfelt emotion it evokes in me one more time. I cherish these books. I live for these books. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase is one of these books.

A staff member reviewed the book again in 2009 and wasn’t quite as charmed. That time, the book got a B-. Our reviewer wrote:

Ultimately, what brings the grade down to a B- for me is the feeling that Jessica has a lot of very unromantic work in front of her to ease both Dominick and Dain’s transition into emotional maturity. Clearly, many, many AAR readers would disagree with my assessment, but in my humble opinion Lord of Scoundrels simply attempts too much.

Many of our readers do disagree. The novel has been chosen as the #1 romance in our top 100 poll four out of the five polls. It won the RITA for best Short Historical Romance and has been translated into at least fifteen languages including Turkish and Vietnamese.

I asked AAR staffers what they thought of the book. Several adored it. Several did not. Most had read it–many consider it part of the mythical romance novel canon.

What do you think of Lord of Scoundrels? Do you love Jessica? (I do.) Think Dain is a dreamboat (or a douche)? Are there scenes that make you sigh with joy whenever you read them? (For me, it’s the meet over the pornographic watch that gets me every time.) Are there things in the book that make you want to hurl the tome against the nearest wall? Have you never read and never will or do you read it again and again?

We want to know your thoughts/feelings about Lord of Scoundrels. And, thanks to our generous friends at Avon, we’ve got gifts for some lucky commenters. We’ll be giving away two signed copies of Lord of Scoundrels as well as a selection of Ms. Chase’s prodigious backlist. In addition, for those on Twitter today, Avon is asking readers to share their thoughts on the book, memories about reading it for the first time, favorite scenes, favorite lines, anything! They will be giving away signed copies of the book randomly to folks using the hashtag #LOSlove.

So, dish away!

Posted in All About Romance, Book news, Books with Buzz, Historicals | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

Eagerly Awaited February Books

After looking at the February release list , it seems like many of us are in the mood for a historical. Or perhaps some suspense. It’s looking like a promising romantic suspense month, too. What’s your pleasure for February?

Title and Author Reviewer
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn Blythe, Dabney, Caz, Lee, Rike, Alex, Mary, LinnieGayl
Catch a Falling Heiress by Laura Lee Guhrke Catch a Falling Heiress by Laura Lee Guhrke Dabney, Caz, Mary, Lee
Closer Than You Think by Karen Rose Closer Than You Think by Karen Rose Lynn, Maggie
Tempted by the Soldier by Patricia Potter Tempted by the Soldier by Patricia Potter Caroline, Maggie
In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams by Karen Ranney In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams by Karen Ranney Mary, Lynn
Beyond Limits by Laura Griffin Beyond Limits by Laura Griffin Maggie, Heather
Forbidden to Love the Duke by Jillia Hunter Forbidden to Love the Duke by Jillian Hunter Lee
In for the Kill by Shannon McKenna In for the Kill by Shannon McKenna Dabney
Ace's Wild by Sarah McCarty Ace’s Wild by Sarah McCarty Mary
The Spinster Bride by Jane Goodger The Spinster Bride by Jane Goodger Lynn
Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner Maggie
New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick Lee
The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell Heather
Fairest by Marissa Meyer Fairest by Marissa Meyer Melanie
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner Lynn
Teardrop Lane by Emily March Teardrop Lane by Emily March Lee
Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger Maggie
Born of Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon Born of Fury (mass market reissue) by Sherrilyn Kenyon Rike, Melanie
Posted in All About Romance, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Rose Lerner on her latest hero, being Jewish in Regency England, and an interesting bit about Ivanhoe

TPAsh, the hero of my Regency romance True Pretenses, is a Jewish con artist who grew up in a London rookery and has been passing as a Gentile for a number of years. The heroine Lydia is the daughter of a baron. For various financial reasons, they are considering a marriage of convenience. (Well, Ash actually wanted Lydia to marry his brother for convenience, but she had other ideas…)

Dabney emailed me to say that while she was reading, she wondered “if Ash could ever come out [as Jewish] and not have it ruin him. What did it mean at the time to be poor and Jewish, wealthy and Jewish, or married to a Jew?”

As you can imagine, the short answer is, “it’s complicated.” Before I get into it, I just want to say that I’m going to talk primarily about my hero and heroine’s specific situation, and about Jews who wanted (for a variety of reasons) to be accepted into Christian British society, and not about the majority of Jews in Regency England who lived, worked, socialized, and married within the Jewish community.

Based on my research (if you want to know more, I highly recommend The Jews of Georgian England 1714–1830 by Todd Endelman), I don’t think that simply the fact of being Jewish would “ruin” Ash. He wouldn’t lose his property, his and Lydia’s marriage once performed would not be voided (getting an annulment was hard during the Regency), he wouldn’t have to flee town.

The primary consequence Ash would face if he told everyone in the heroine’s hometown that he was Jewish would be a lot of annoying, depressing, upsetting, prejudiced bullshit. Ash puts it like this: “If I told everyone I was Jewish, it would be the same life, with the same people, except that everything would be more difficult, and I’d have to hear them do and say things that would make it hard to like them.”

A number of Jewish people were accepted into the upper echelons of Christian high society, to a degree anyway. For example, Benjamin Goldsmid (a government loan contractor) was friends with Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton (among other notables), once entertained the King and Queen as drop-in dinner guests, and had the Prince of Wales over for an afternoon. (Endelman mentions that the future Regent’s visit “scandalized the more orthodox members of the Jewish community since the Prince had selected the Jewish Sabbath for his visit and Goldsmid had not wanted to offend him by suggesting another day”!)

Sir Walter Scott's 1820 Ivanhoe featured a "fair Jewess" in love with a Christian knight. The ending, in which Ivanhoe married a Christian girl, was unpopular with readers. As you can see, poor Rowena didn't make it onto the cover of this Classic Comic! Thackeray's sequel killed off Rowena and made Rebecca Lady Ivanhoe...but he had her convert first, something Scott's Rebecca flatly refused to do.

Sir Walter Scott’s 1820 Ivanhoe featured a “fair Jewess” in love with a Christian knight. The ending, in which Ivanhoe married a Christian girl, was unpopular with readers. As you can see, poor Rowena didn’t make it onto the cover of this Classic Comic! Thackeray’s sequel killed off Rowena and made Rebecca Lady Ivanhoe…but he had her convert first, something Scott’s Rebecca flatly refused to do.

There was a sort of unpredictable algorithm for how accepted you could be based on (1) how much money you had and how good your parties were and (2) how British you were willing to be. The markers in the British assimilation spectrum were things like “dressing in British fashions,” “not keeping kosher,” “donating money to Christian charities,” etc. The end of the spectrum was conversion, and rich Jews who hoped to integrate fully into British society did convert. Whether they were truly 100% accepted is doubtful, but they certainly got much closer.

This passage from Endelman’s book really stuck with me:

Thomas Babington Macaulay, the great parliamentary spokesman for Jewish emancipation*, wrote to his sister Hannah in 1831 that a costume ball given by the financier Isaac Lyon Goldsmid**…had ‘a little too much of Mary St. Axe [a Jewish neighborhood in the City] about it,—Jewesses by dozens, and Jews by scores.’ He explained to her that after the ball he could not fall asleep right away, as ‘the sound of fiddles was in mine ears, and gaudy dresses, and black hair, and Jewish noses were fluctuating up and down before mine eyes.’

*”Emancipation” in this context means Jews being allowed to become voters, hold public office, take commissions in the military, etc.—things which during the Regency required taking an Anglican oath and therefore excluded all non-Anglicans.

**Benjamin’s nephew.

And that guy was a promiment pro-Jewish politician. I’m sure that was fun to deal with from your Christian friends!

(If you want to read more “witty” Regency anti-Semitism—not to mention other forms of racism and prejudice—check out Charles Lamb’s “Imperfect Sympathies”, which appeared in London Magazine in 1821 as part of his wildly popular Elia essay series. You’ll probably want this footnote: Hugh of Lincoln’s Wikipedia page.)

Something conversion did unquestionably make far easier was intermarriage, because there was no secular marriage in England at this time. The only way to be legally married was in a religious ceremony. Which meant that if a Jew and a Christian wanted to marry each other openly, one of them had to convert (at least nominally).

All that said, as Dabney astutely pointed out, my hero Ash is dealing with two flavors of intermarriage: Jewish/Christian and very poor/aristocratic. Of the two, very poor/aristocratic would probably shock Lydia’s social circle more. Ash is not a wealthy Jewish financier. His mother was a sex worker, and he’s a swindler and an ex-housebreaker. That he could never admit and reasonably expect to be received anywhere or do business with anyone. Probably even just admitting what neighborhood in London he was from would be enough to ostracize him.

As for what it meant to be poor and Jewish to Christian poor people…you were still looking at a lot of bullshit from a lot of people, and very likely violence of some kind at some point(s) in your life. But there were plenty of intermarriages and interfaith friendships. Large portions of the urban working poor and urban criminal underclass, who cared less about social status and reputation, also cared less about religious strictures. Intermarriage was simple if you didn’t feel that an official marriage ceremony was required! Among Londoners, many Christians who married Jews even converted to Judaism (especially if the woman was the non-Jewish partner).

Endelman even notes: “Integrated teams of pickpockets, housebreakers, and shoplifters, while never coming to constitute a majority of cases, appear with increasing frequency from the 1770s”!


 

Rose Lerner is the author of four historical romances. Her latest is True Pretenses. She is giving a way a e-book of True Pretenses. To be entered in a drawing for that, make a comment below.

Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Guest Posts, Heroes, Historicals | Tagged | 53 Comments

AAR’s Buried Treasure Picks for 2014

AAR art4Each year, the AAR staff picks their favorite Buried Treasure–a book that ran under the radar or that we think many readers may have missed. Last year’s list–which you may read here–featured books by Tessa Bailey, Caroline Linden, and Jay Bell, just to mention a few.

This year, several staff members felt they hadn’t encountered a Buried Treasure, so our list this year is a little shorter than last year’s. Here are the picks from the staff who did indeed find unheralded gold.

TKFCaz: I’ve already mentioned my Buried Treasure as being one of my favourite books of 2014 -  The King’s Falcon by the British author, Stella Riley.  She’s been a favourite author of mine since the first book of hers I read back in the 1980s and A Splendid Defiance is still one of my all-time favourites.  Ms Riley wrote a handful of novels set in the 17th and 18th Centuries back in the 80s and 90s, and had finished the second book in a projected series of novels set during the English Civil War when she stopped writing and just… disappeared!

But now she’s back, and if one didn’t know any better, would have no idea that she’s had a gap of more than twenty years in her writing career.  Having spent the last couple of years revising and digitally republishing all her novels, this year she published a new book – the very long-awaited third book in her Civil War series, The King’s Falcon. The end of the previous novel, Garland of Straw saw the execution of King Charles I, and Falcon follows the exiled King Charles II to Paris with his rather disparate group of courtiers and soldiers.  The hero is Colonel Ashley Peverell, soldier, spy and doer of the king’s dirty work. While in Paris, Ashley becomes smitten with a talented young actress, and although he has nothing to offer her, their mutual attraction proves impossible to fight.  Ms Riley’s attention to historical detail is fantastic, and she creates the most wonderful romantic tension between her two leads while at the same time skilfully weaving together a number of different plot-threads which culminate in the uncovering of a nefarious scheme which could have potentially explosive consequences.

She has already said that she plans to continue with this series, and that there are more books in the offing.  I, for one, can’t wait!

RikeMy favorite Buried Treasure in 2014 was An Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett. Everett is an autobuy author for me: She writes Regencies but always with a unique set-up, and she is never afraid to putting her protagonists in (for a historical romance) most unusual situations, and through the emotional wringer. In , the hero is to inherit an earldom from a distant cousin – if the cousin’s widow does not bear a male child. Both hero and heroine of this novel have experienced poverty, and the fortune at stake may make all the difference to them. As a result, they are torn between their worries about the future and their liking for each other. As with all Everett novels, I love the “real” problems that the characters have and the fact that they are people who are mostly good persons but also struggling how to find their way.

MMLee: I always check the category “On Order New Fiction” on my library’s website to see if there are books that might appeal to me.  I read the summary for Making Marion by Beth Moran and from looking at the cover thought it would be a light hearted story set near Nottingham, England.  But it was a story of a young woman who had a not very wonderful childhood with her mother and was searching out what really happened to her father.

tDWMRowan Coleman’s The Memory Book is being released in the US in May as The Day We Met.  This is a real tearjerker about a mother and wife who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

MotYAnother mom book is the sweet and funny Mother of the Year by Karen Ross.  A daughter is trying to make her way in the world but who can’t compete with her tv star/journalist mom’s life.

Dead RomanticDR by Ruth Saberton (one of my favorite chick lit authors) was very entertaining.  An Egyptologist in London is applying for a promotion at a museum with mummies but doesn’t know that she was the inspiration for a huge Christmas song written after she kissed a young man at an out of the way train station in England ten years ago.

PGDabney: I was heartily surprised by how much I loved Personal Geography by Tamsen Parker. An author friend on Facebook was raving about the book but when I read the blurb–high powered sub who can’t commit finds a beta dom she can’t resist–I didn’t think it would do much for me. I’m not the right reader for most BDSM works. But I loved this novel not only for its delicate and nuanced story of how two strong people balance the scales of love and power but also for the insight it gave me into why BDSM works so strongly for those who seek it.

NMMNGAmy Andrews’s No More Mr. Nice Guy was a close second for my favorite book of the year. It’s practically perfect in every way. The heroine, newly single after a long-term unsatisfying relationship, makes a sexy to-do list which her best friend’s utterly adorable older brother finds and decides its his job to fulfill.  The book is one of the best combinations of sweet and oh so sexy out there and the hero has made it to my top ten list. It’s a joy from start to finish.

HHMy adoration for Jackie Ashenden’s Having Her is well documented. It was a DIK read for me (review here) and my choice for Best Book of the Year. So so so good.

FI rarely read paranormal romance but a friend recommended Meljean Brook’s novella Frozen and for that I thank her. This is a stand-alone love story about a woman and the cursed man she falls for. Ms. Brook is highly acclaimed for her world-building in her Iron Seas and Guardians series but that’s not on display here. Here the focus is on the two leads, the tough choices they face, and the strength of the love they have for one another. It’s well-written, suspenseful, and satisfying.

MiCMaggieMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok is a fabulous Cinderella story that did not receive nearly the buzz it should have. Heroine Charlie is marvelous – you can really root for her.

The Jade TemptresstJT and Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin. I was stunned when Lin was moved to e-book only – she’s clearly not getting the buzz she needs and deserves..  She writes beautiful, poignant novels filled with characters that are wondrously alive and easily transcend cultural barriers. Both of the books she published this year were outstanding reads for me.

WaLMDLynnWhat a Lady Most Desires by Lecia Cornwall. The Napoleonic Wars get lip service in more than a few early 19th century-set historicals, but this book was one of the better romances I’ve read that actually deals with the war and makes it an integral part of the story. The plot held my attention, and the author captured the emotional upheaval of the characters quite well.

CR If I get a runner up, it would be: Code Runner by Rosie Claverton. This second book in the Amy Lane mystery series really hit its stride, and I’m starting to really look forward to the adventures of the agoraphobic computer prodigy and her ex-con assistant. These books deserve to be more widely known and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Did you read any books this year that you loved but no one seems to be talking about? If so, please share them with us.

Thanks!

 

Posted in Best of List, Buried Treasures, Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Lee AAR, Lynn AAR, Maggie AAR, Rike AAR, Romance | 14 Comments

LinnieGayl’s Favorite Romances of 2014

As time approached for this year’s IHOWannual AAR Reader Poll, I found myself thinking more and more about my favorite romances published in 2014. As one of the three AAR pollsters – along with Cindy and Lee – I get to look at all of your selections each year. But my favorites? Some years it’s harder than others. For most of 2014 I was in a huge reading slump so read far less than normal. But I still have a few favorites. I tend to think of them in terms of the categories available in the Reader’s Poll, so for better or worse, my favorites are:

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James – This wonderful contemporary romance gets my vote for Best Romance, Best Contemporary Romance, Best Romance hero, Best Romance Heroine, and Best Romance Couple. I gave the audiobook an A here. Sidney and Vaughn are a wonderful heroine and hero, and the dialog sparkles throughout.


That Summer by Lauren Willig – This gets my vote for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. Like Ms. Willig’s Pink Carnation series, this standalone switches between a modern story and a historical story (set in 1850s London). While not a straight romance, there’s a strong romantic element, with a definite HEA, in the contemporary portion of the book.


Santa’s Playbook by Karen Templeton – I read this holiday romance late in the year, and it immediately jumped over every other category romance I’d read to be my choice for Best Category Romance of 2014. I’ll confess that Karen Templeton is a comfort read for me. I don’t love every book she writes, but there’s something about her voice that speaks to me, and this one is a real favorite.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger – This third in the author’s steampunk series gets my vote both for best Young Adult Romance and Best Paranormal Romance. Sophronia and her friends are now in their second year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, a school located in a dirigible in which the girls learn how to be intelligencers (I read it as spies). Sophronia and her friends get into all kinds of trouble as they board a train to take their classmate back to a werewolf pack in Scotland. This gets my vote both for Best Paranormal Romance and Best Young Adult Romance. I found the book to be a lot of fun, and am very curious to see what happens in the next.


River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz – I’m happy to pick as my Best Romantic Suspense Ms. Krentz’s latest book. The author’s early books – in particular Trust Me (DIK review here) – are what led me into the romance genre. For years I bought her books – in hardback – on the day they were released. But years of paranormal elements had me abandoning that practice. I was delighted when the author announced that this would be a non-paranormal, straight romantic suspense, and wasn’t disappointed. I agree with Maggie’s assessment of the main characters, as being a key to this book: “A large part of what made this book so fun to spend time with is the characters. Mason and Lucy are terrific. You’d want to sit next to them on a plane or be stuck near them in a long line. The author does a great job of fleshing them out and letting you experience them as real life human beings. They’ve had money concerns. There have been -and still are – family issues. But both of them are nice, solid, kind people.”


Rock Courtship: A Rock Kiss Novella by Nalini Singh – I owe many thanks to the AAR readers who suggested this as a possible read for Best Short Story of 2014. I tend to avoid New Adult romances, and generally dislike romances featuring movie stars or rock stars, but this sounded intriguing. I’ve read a few other short stories, but this gets my vote for the Best Short Story of 2014 and also for Best New Adult. Part of the author’s Rock Kiss series, this features David, a member of a hit rock group and their publicist Thea. David is sweet and in love with Thea (and definitely in lust as well). Thea values her career and wants to just be friends. David’s pursuit of Thea is sweet, funny, and deeply romantic. I intend to pick up more in the series.


Dead Romantic by Ruth Saberton – If we still had a chick lit category this would get my vote for best chick lit of 2014. The author is new to me, but my friend and AAR colleague LeeB recommended it as she knows I like all things Egyptian as well as chick lit. Cleo Carpenter, is an Egyptologist who works at a fictional London museum. After a major accident Cleo sees ghosts everywhere, including a dead rock star who needs her help with his brother, Rafe Thorne. While parts of the book are funny and light, there’s also a darker side focusing on how a number of characters – including the heroine and hero – deal with the death of major loved ones. I adore this book, and will definitely read it again, and Rafe Thorne gets my vote for Most Tortured Romance Hero.


The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan – This gets my vote for Best European Historical Romance. Caz gave this an A here and it’s definitely an A for me. I no longer read a lot of historical romance, but this year discovered, and have enjoyed, some books by Ms. Milan. With only a few exceptions I have voted for Eve Dallas as Best Kick-Ass Heroine in the AAR Reader Poll. This year my vote goes to Free, whom Caz describes as a “passionate activist and campaigner for womens’ rights, who continually places herself in danger because while the world is a terrible place – she refuses to be cowed and is determined to make it better.” I loved Free and Edward, and they’re a close second for my favorite romance couple of 2014.

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The annual AAR Reader Poll is open!

best ofWith the blush of the New Year still hovering in the air, we are pleased to announce, for the 18th year in a row, the AAR Annual Reader Poll is now open! We hope you will help us take a look back to find the best romance books the year 2014 had to offer.

The AAR Annual Reader Poll began in 1996, and each year many readers find new and exciting reads as a result of your votes. But how can you possibly decide what’s the best of 2014? Well, some AAR readers keep spreadsheets, Goodreads/Librarything shelves, or charts in some form or another. If you do, hopefully those will help you complete your ballot. If you haven’t kept a spreadsheet or reading chart (and there are just as many readers who don’t), you can always use the Power Search function at AAR to search for reviews from the 2014 reading year. In Power Search you can search by genre, reviewer, year published, grade, and other categories which should help you in filling out your ballot.

The poll will be open for just two weeks starting today, Monday January 12th and will close at 12:00 midnight U.S. Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, January 25th, 2015. We encourage all our AAR readers to participate in this poll. Once again, the poll will be hosted offsite at surveymonkey.com (see the end of this post for the actual link).

There are now 24 different categories listed on the ballot but remember, for your ballot to be valid, you only have to vote in a minimum of six (6) categories. The average AAR reader votes in about 10 categories but some readers vote in all categories.

With 17 years worth of polls under our belt we can safely say that almost every year we make changes to the poll and this year is no different. The romance genre has an ebb and flow that opens up new categories and leaves behind themes that were once popular. After many successful years, we are eliminating the Best Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction category as reader response has fallen until we couldn’t get enough votes in the category to declare a winner. Second, thanks to reader comments after last year’s poll (and on the forums this year), we’ve split the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy from two categories to three: (1) Best Paranormal Romance (ghosts, witches, weres, vamps, shapeshifters); (2) Best Fantasy Romance (genies, fairies, dragons, and elves); and (3) Best Science Fiction Romance (other planets, aliens, futuristics, dystopian, and genetic mutations). Finally, we are adding a new category, thanks to reader comments, for Best LGBT Romance.

In the past, many people have posted on the boards that the winners don’t reflect their favorites. Keep in mind, this poll can only be successful with your participation, so please take the time to vote to make sure your favorites get tallied!

Look for the results to be posted at AAR in February. Ready to vote? Click here.

CindyS, LeeB, and LinnieGayl

 

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Caz’s Favourite Books of 2014

I’ve already nominated Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette ScandalTSS as my favourite book of 2014, but I was also very fortunate in having found quite a large number of new books which I really enjoyed – hence this column, because just choosing one book and leaving at that was just impossible!

For me, the biggest event – book-wise – of 2014 was the return of one of my all-time favourite authors, Stella Riley. Ms Riley wrote a handful of novels set in the 17th and 18th Centuries back in the 80s and 90s, and had finished the second book in a projected series of novels set during the English Civil War when she stopped writing and just… disappeared!

TKFOver the last couple of years, she has revised and republished all of her novels and this year, published the very long-awaited third book in her Civil War series, The King’s Falcon. The story follows the exiled King Charles II to Paris and focuses on Colonel Ashley Peverell, soldier, spy and doer of the king’s dirty work. While in Paris, Ashley becomes smitten with a talented young actress, and although he has nothing to offer her, their mutual attraction proves impossible to fight. The author’s attention to historical detail is fantastic, she creates the most wonderful romantic tension between her two leads while at the same time skilfully weaving together a number of different plot-threads which culminate in the uncovering of a nefarious scheme which could have potentially explosive consequences. It’s an absolute treat for fans of historical romantic fiction and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Grace Burrowes, who is, thankfully, an incredibly prolific writer and one who manages to sustain a very high quality of storytelling in her many books. In the summer, she published a trilogy of books under the collective title Captive Hearts, which told the interweaving stories of three men whose experiences of war had changed them profoundly.

TTMy favourite book of the three is The Traitor, which tells the story of a man who, by virtue of his being half-French and half-English, found himself on the wrong side during the Napoleonic wars. After the war and back in England, he’s a marked man who expects death almost daily – so how can he possibly allow himself to fall in love, and with his aunt’s young companion, of all people?

Two of my most eagerly awaited books of 2014 also make this list – Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy and Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn Reckoning. In each case, I found myself angrily cursing the long wait between the book I’d just finished and the next one – but the wait was worth it. The latter is the last in a trilogy that has a very interesting premise – supposing Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who had lived to succeed him? Ms Andersen TBRdoes a terrific job in all three books of juxtaposing the factual with the fictional, crafting a heartfelt and sometimes heart-breaking romance amid the myriad intrigues of the Tudor court. And Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy was every bit as good as I’d hoped – an enjoyably complex plot interwoven with a beautifully written romance. Thomas Paxton (Pax) is a terrific character – quiet, highly intelligent and deadly; there’s something incredibly sexy about a quietly competent hero!

NoaTSDeanna Raybourn’s Night of a Thousand Stars was one of those books I just KNEW was going to be a DIK from the moment I read the opening line: “I say, if you’re running away from your wedding, you’re going about it quite wrong.”

It’s a funny and exciting adventure story that moves from England to Damascus in the 1920s. Poppy March – niece of Lady Julia Brisbane from Ms Raybourn’s series of Victorian mysteries – finds herself unwittingly caught up in a fast-moving intrigue when she travels to the Middle East on the trail of a man she believes may be in need of help. It’s a truly joyous romp featuring an intrepid heroine and possibly the sexiest vicar in all of romantic fiction!

OEThe fourth book in Mary Balogh’s Survivors series is the best so far. Only Enchanting is a beautifully wrought and gently moving story of two emotionally wounded people trying to navigate their way through the issues that have shaped them in order to forge a lasting and loving relationship.

AGMAnna Lee Huber’s A Grave Matter, the third in her Lady Darby series, combines a carefully thought-out mystery with the continuing romance between the eponymous heroine and the gorgeous and enigmatic Sebastian Gage. Keira Darby has really grown as a character throughout the books, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next instalment.

WtDWWIn spite of its rather clichéd title, I loved Lorraine Heath’s When the Duke Was Wicked. I’m a massive fan of “friends-to-lovers” stories, and this is one of the best I’ve read in a while. It’s a beautifully written and poignant story that packs a real emotional punch, and even though I had a couple of reservations, it’s still one of my favourite books of 2014.

FMTMeredith Duran has been an auto-buy author for me ever since I read her for the very first time, and her latest book, Fool Me Twice had me spellbound from start to finish. The story of a man so devastated by his wife’s faithlessness that he turns in on himself to find the very darkest places in his soul and the determined young woman who brings him back from the brink is not always an easy read, but it’s a completely gripping one.

Honourable mentions must also go to Loretta Chase’s Vixen in Velvet, full of wonderfully witty dialogue, engaging characters and a truly sensual romance; Juliana Gray’s ViVHow to School Your Scoundrel, because I’m a sucker for a bad-boy-made-good; Sarah MacLean’s terrific final installment in her Rules of Scoundrels series Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover,  and Katharine Ashe’s MlMlMy Lady, My Lord, a wonderfully refreshing and funny twist on the story of an antagonistic couple who have known each other for years and who need a nudge in the right direction from… well, I’ll leave you to discover that on your own if you haven’t read it yet!

AWtBWAs an audiobook fan, I’ve also been fortunate enough to listen to some truly wonderful books in the past year, too. Some have been new releases, but almost all my 2014 favourites are audiobooks of older titles which are new to the format. It’s difficult to choose just a few, but I’m going to pick another Joanna Bourne title, this time The Black Hawk, which is an exceptional story enhanced by a terrific performance from narrator, Kirsten Potter. Tessa Dare’s A Week to Be Wicked TBHis a wonderfully warm, funny and tender romance wrapped up from an engagingly memorable performance from Carolyn Morris. Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, is my all-time favourite book of hers, and the new audio version narrated by Phyllida Nash was another highlight of my listening year. Other favourites included Kate Readings superb narrations of Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker series, and Nicholas Boulton’s superlative performances in two Laura Kinsale titles – Lessons in French and Uncertain Magic.

I’ve had a really good year, both in terms of reading and listening – I hope you’ve been as lucky with your choices as I have, and here’s to an equally good 2015!

Posted in Best of List, Caz AAR | Tagged | 15 Comments

Melanie’s Best of Romance List for 2014

Top books of 2014, huh? Sometimes I feel picking my favorite books is something similar to picking one’s favorite child – nigh on impossible. To be honest, I didn’t read a whole lot of books published in 2014 – most of my books this year were older publications, and those that weren’t were mostly review books for AAR. I was able to pull out a few that were particularly memorable.

To make things a bit easier, I split my list in between things I read and reviewed for the site and a few of the other romance-related books I read over the course of the year. After going through my list of books I’ve read this year, though, I’ve come to one conclusion – I read far too much.

Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown

BW

The writing here was just absolutely beautiful. The story was a bit slow to start, but honestly? I didn’t really care. It’s not the kind of book I would read and reread regularly, but it is definitely one I’m keeping. Plus, the author is working on a companion novel (according to her website), which I am seriously looking forward to.

Paradox Lost by Libby Drew

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I’m a fan of a well-done sci-fi, and this was well done. I liked the varying timelines, and how everything fit together so well. Just, in general, it works.

The Wrong Cowboy by Lauri Robinson

tWC

This one was really just adorable. I mean, flat-out cute-as-a-button kind of adorable. There’s not really any other way to describe it. Too cute. Like puppies and kittens playing together in a basket or something.

Transcendence by Shay Savage

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I am honestly not sure why I liked this as much as I did. There were some odd moments, but overall it was definitely an interesting read. It’s not often you read romance completely from the guy’s point of view. And without any dialogue. But yeah, I liked it. And everything is neatly tied up in the end.

Born of Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon

BoF

I don’t know why I love these books so much, but I really, really do. Kenyon writes some seriously f*cked up heroes – tortured, abused as children in a variety of ways (neglect is the best case scenario for many of them), and her heroes of The League series are some of the most scarred. They are definitely not realistic, and the romances are out there, but I love these stories, and I read each new one as they come out.

Prince’s Fire by Amy Raby

PF

While my favorite of this particular series was the first one, Assassin’s Gambit, I enjoyed this one, the third in the series, more than I was expecting. We didn’t get much of our heroine, Celeste, in the first books, but she’s interesting – she’s shy and extremely intelligent, and the romance is tempered by a healthy dose of political intrigue.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

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Okay, so maybe this one isn’t really romance, but the whole series is focused around the central plot of fairy tales – that counts right? This one focused more on moving the series along, but there are several different fairy tale relationships moving along with the story, and the next two in the series should be out next year.

 

I actually didn’t get through half the books I wanted to read this year (too distracted by TV. And job searching. And the final Hobbit movie, which ripped my soul out and stomped on it). And I have a backlog of things-to-read on my Kindle (over 600 files, at last check). Here’s to hoping 2015 has me finishing up more of those!

I did manage to hit my reading goal for the year, though. How about you? Did you read as much as you wanted this year? What does your book backlog look like?

Posted in Best of List, Melanie AAR | Tagged | 8 Comments