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

PL

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

T

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

Speaking of Audiobooks: Top Ten Listens of 2014

Lord of Scoundrels lgIt’s good news all the way around when looking back at romance audiobooks in 2014. The selections were more diverse than ever and we saw a significant rise in overall quality as well. Despite my Dreaded Burnout of 2014, I listened to approximately 80 audiobooks last year. But wait, that should be qualified a bit – I attempted to listen to that number although I officially tagged a number of those DNFs. I only sporadically kept records on my Goodreads shelf which caused a good amount of confusion when I started putting together this list a few weeks ago. New Year’s Resolution #5 – Keep up records at Goodreads.

The Top Ten Romance Listens

1. Lord of Scoundrels – Loretta Chase

Narrated by Kate Reading

Romance audio fans responded with great delight to the audio release of Lord of Scoundrels. It had been at the top of many audio wishlists with Ms. Chase taking first place in the Romance Author’s Backlist You Most Want to See in Audio at our 2011 and 2012 Favorite Romance Audiobook Polls. Kate Reading’s tremendous performance further enhanced this perennial romance favorite making Lord of Scoundrels all the more entertaining. The print version has reigned as number one in AAR’s Top 100 since 2000 and the audio version has great staying power as well. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

Burn for Me2. Burn for Me – Ilona Andrews

Narrated by Renee Raudman

The first in the Hidden Legacy trilogy, Burn for Me, introduces us to a completely different world from that seen in either the Kate Daniels or The Edge series. Although you won’t find the classic romantic HEA here, it is definitely romantic and I’m eager to see the progression of Nevada and Rogan’s relationship over the course of the trilogy. The suspense is intense, the worldbuilding outstanding, and the narration first-rate. Key to my enjoyment was that narration as I listened to Renee Raudman elevate Burn for Me into the ranks of my Top 2014 Listens. Renee brings every little detail to life, superbly emphasizing each piece of humor while expertly pacing the action scenes as the suspense builds.  Publisher – Harper Audio

Out of Control latest3. Out of Control – Suzanne Brockmann

Narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank

In August 2013, I shared with readers my all time favorite print romances. Number four on that list was Out of Control, the fourth entry to the Troubleshooter (TSS) series. Winning the 2002 Best Romance and Best Hero awards here at AAR, I recall being amazed at Brockmann’s storytelling and I simply loved this book that features more than one romance but totally satisfies on every level. In 2013, there was an audio version available for listening but it didn’t begin to do justice to the content and my rereads were strictly reserved for the print version. I was excited when I discovered that Blackstone Audio had plans to re-release the first six books in the TSS series during 2014 with new narrators Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank (although they are certainly not new to the series). Listening to the new audio version of Out of Control, I was completely entranced during the entire seventeen hours as I heard it performed as written – an exciting experience for this Brockmann audio fan. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

A Different Blue sq4. A Different Blue – Amy Harmon

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

When I made notes on A Different Blue after finishing my listen, my first thought was “Absolutely wonderful!” It was that delightful surprise we are always hoping to find when trying a new author. The talented Tavia Gilbert is the reason I listened but I stayed as I became intrigued with this beautiful story that contains a romance but centers on a remarkable young woman who doesn’t know her age or parentage but is striking in her confidence and pragmatism about life. The friendship she strikes up with her young British teacher is real (there are no worries here about an inappropriate teacher/student relationship) – the whole audiobook is real. Tavia’s impeccable performance adds another level of enjoyment to this already moving tale. Overall, it is such a refreshing change of pace. Publisher - Tantor Audio

One Plus One5. One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Narrated by Elizabeth Bower, Ben Elliot, Nicola Stanton, Steven France

Take a hard-working mom who can barely make ends meet with a mathematical genius of a young daughter, a teenage stepson (who has more than a few problems of his own), a depressed absent husband, and then add a big slobbering dog and you have a glance at Jess’ life. Now add a mathematical contest that could offer her daughter a scholarship to an otherwise unattainable school and an almost-stranger by the name of Ed who is a wealthy IT nerd of sorts who is in trouble for some unintentional insider trader and you have the setting for a road trip that is both funny and heartwarming. The story is told from four POVs and therefore is performed by four narrators. The resulting multi-cast audio is of excellent quality and pure fun as well. And for die-hard romance fans like me, there is a satisfying romance tucked in. Leave thoughts of Little Miss Sunshine behind – this one’s better and only slightly similar. Publisher – Penguin Audio

It Happened One Wedding lg6. It Happened One Wedding – Julie James

Narrated by Karen White

When it comes to contemporary romance (my favorite sub-genre), there are few authors who write it as well as Julie James. Paired with narrator Karen White (who has narrated all of her books), her audiobooks are both fabulous and BIG fun. When grading a new James/White audio release, I can’t help but compare it to their other audios and it becomes a mind game of comparing the best to the best. It Happened One Wedding (IHOW) isn’t the very best one of all but it still rates far above other contemporary romance audios published in 2014. Rather than a suspense sub-plot you will find in a number of her FBI/US Attorney entries, this one is character-driven which I far prefer – it reminds me of her funniest book, Practice Makes Perfect (except – the sensuality level in IHOW is much hotter). Karen has perfected the art of performing contemporary romance and knows how to make the most of each situation and I find myself laughing out loud as she serves up the humor just right. As with each of Julie James’ audiobooks, I was delighted all over again. Publisher – Tantor Audio

Uncertain Magic FB7. Uncertain Magic – Laura Kinsale

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

One of Laura Kinsale’s earliest books (1987), it was my first Kinsale read and remains to this day one of my favorites. It would be unfair to compare this to other 1980s romances as it doesn’t have that feel or the characteristics of romances written during that era. It features a slightly paranormal aspect and has a bit more of a traditional romance feel to it than the other Kinsale books. It has always seemed a little “magical” to me but not in the paranormal way. Let’s start with the hero’s name – Faelen. I love that name. It is aptly titled as it has a feel of uncertain magic – is it magic or the machinations of some unkind human? Uncertain Magic isn’t as complex as other Kinsale titles but it is an easier book to listen to for it. And Nick Boulton – if you haven’t yet listened to one of his narration, you simply must. An incredible actor, he adds depth to the tale simply with his telling. I can’t see myself ever simply reading a Kinsale book again. I’ll choose to entirely savor it instead as I listen to the work of this audio dream team. Publisher – Hedgehog, Inc.

Targeted8. Targeted – Katie Reus

Narrated by Sophie Eastlake

Katie Reus is a new-to-me author that I just happened upon with Targeted although Sophie Eastlake’s narration strongly influenced my choice. It’s so much easier to try a new author with a well-known and trusted narrator doing the telling. A romantic suspense featuring tough guy Jack Stone, he’s not too tough in the way we are seeing so much these days. A former Marine sniper and current NSA agent, he’s a class act who is totally in charge but without the need to show it with his every move or comment. I guess you could say he’s an alpha hero in beta clothing. Sophie works for the company he’s investigating for smuggling and the two are equals as they go on the run together. Both Jack and Sophie are highly likable and fully developed characters and the romance and action are mixed evenly. Sophie Eastlake performs each character true to the author’s words and adds that other whole level of enjoyment we expect in the best audiobooks with perfect pacing and an understanding of the romance. Rarely does a new-to-me author make it to my Top Ten Listens but I was so nicely surprised. I’m hoping she continues to deliver.  Publisher – Tantor Audio

Mean Streak lg9. Mean Streak - Sandra Brown

Narrated by Jonathan Davis

When I think of the best in Romantic Suspense audio, my mind immediately turns to Sandra Brown. I revel in each and every one of her new releases. Mean Streak was no exception with tightly woven suspense, a mystery that keeps you guessing, and a romance that is truly satisfying and more intricate than most of Brown’s recent releases. It features an inscrutable yet highly desirable hero (no clue of his name for the first half of the book) paired with a levelheaded pediatrician heroine who is a marathon runner. With each of Brown’s new releases, you can expect top-notch narration and Jonathan Davis delivers in that aspect as well, though when compared to the quality of Brown’s other audio releases over the past fourteen years, the narration falls more into the B+ range. However, Mean Streak is an outstanding listen falling into the A- range overall. As with other Brown favorites, I’ll definitely be listening again – probably more than once. Publisher – Hachette Audio

One Summer10. One Summer – Karen Robards

Narrated by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields

Although technically not a new audio release, One Summer (original print date 1993) was released in audio format in 2000 (audio cassette) and 2002 (CD). And then it was lost. With the rare exception of the well-worn library copy or the used online purchase, it was an official hard-to-find with few enjoying this wonderful contemporary romance made even better by Kate Fleming/Anna Fields’ splendid delivery. Blackstone Audio rereleased One Summer in digital format last February and it was such a gift to hear another Anna Fields’ narration. Overwhelmingly chosen as the Favorite Romance Narrator in the 2011 Speaking of Audiobooks Favorite Romance Audiobooks Poll, Anna Fields is sorely missed – particularly by the romance audio community. Publisher – Blackstone Audio

And more…

Sometimes I think I should turn this into the Top Twenty Listens list but then I imagine myself wishing I could make a Top Twenty into a Top Twenty-Five and so on. So, I’ll just take a minute and mention a few others that were given high consideration for today’s list:

Brockmann, Suzanne – Over the Edge narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank

Chase, Emma – Tied narrated by Sebastian York

Frost, Jeaniene – Up from the Grave narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Sheridan, Mia – Archer’s Voice narrated by Emily Durante and Kris Koscheski

Simsion, Graeme – The Rosie Effect narrated by Dan O’Grady

Thomas, Sherry – The Luckiest Lady in London narrated by Corrie James

And now a little fun…

Best Romance Listens Released Prior to 2014

Andrews, Ilona – Steel’s Edge narrated by Renee Raudman

Briggs, Patricia – Bone Crossed narrated by Lorelei King

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth – First Lady narrated by Anna Fields

Best Relistens of 2014

Brown, Sandra – Envy narrated by Victor Slezak

James, Julie – Practice Makes Perfect narrated by Karen White

Kleypas, Lisa – Blue-Eyed Devil narrated by Renee Raudman

London, Julia – All I Need Is You narrated by Renee Raudman

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth – Kiss an Angel narrated by Anna Fields

 

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles on interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks - keeps growing and now has 915 members. We started this group four years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Our number grew by almost 40% in 2014! Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.

Enjoy your listening.

- Lea Hensley

 

Posted in audio books, Best of List, Lea Hensley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Eagerly Awaited January Books

And just like that, it’s 2015! Even though my TBR pile remains ridiculously huge, I can’t resist taking a look at the January new releases list to see what books I just need to try. It looks like most of my AAR colleagues want to start the month off with new books, too. What about you?

Title and Author Reviewer
Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare Lynn, Dabney, Heather, Lee, Caz, Alex
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen Dabney, Haley, Maggie, Heather
The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville Rike, Mary, Caz
A Single Kiss by Grace Burrowes A Single Kiss by Grace Burrowes Caroline, Lee, Mary
Freedom to Love by Susanna Fraser Freedom to Love by Susanna Fraser Caz, Rike, Lynn
Firefight by Brandon Sanderson Firefight by Brandon Sanderson Jean, Maggie
Burned by Karen Marie MOning Burned by Karen Marie Moning Alex, Dabney
The Marshal by Adrienne Giordano The Marshal by Adrienne Giordano Rike
Hot and Bothered by Serena Bell Hot and Bothered by Serena Bell Dabney
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley Before I Go by Colleen Oakley Lee
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner True Pretenses by Rose Lerner Caz
Trust No One by Jayne Ann Krentz Trust No One by Jayne Ann Krentz LinnieGayl
Make Me Lose Control by Christie Ridgway Make Me Lose Control by Christie Andrews Mary
Love Me If You Dare by Toni Blake Love Me If You Dare by Toni Blake Haley
Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden Lynn
Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Teresa Romain Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain Caz
Can't Always Get What You Want by Chelsey Krause Can’t Always Get What You Want by Chelsey Krause Lynn
Bride for a Knight by Margaret Moore Bride for a Knight by Margaret Moore Rike
Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell Maggie
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley LinnieGayl
Perdita by Hilary Scharper Perdita by Hilary Scharper Lynn
With This Ring by Carla Kelly With This Ring(reissue) by Carla Kelly Caroline
Posted in Book news, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

AAR Picks the Best of 2014

(This column will not be the only piece we run on the best books of 2014. We will still run a separate Buried Treasures piece and several staff members will be sharing their lists of the best books they read this year.)

Each year, we ask the AAR staff to pick one book as the best romance published this year. Here are our picks for 2014:

MiMaggieMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok was my number one read of 2014. I loved the Cinderella nature of the tale, the unique look into Chinese-American culture, the heroine Charlie and her irrepressible spirit and generosity and the gentle, hopeful nature of the love story. So few books do a good job of capturing what it’s like to be a first generation American but this novel, reviewed here,  captured it perfectly.

LeaWILaYWhat I Love About You by Rachel Gibson. These days I tend to listen much more than read and therefore that’s usually where I discover my favorite romances for the year. However, I’m a Rachel Gibson fan from way back when and when I saw that the narrator of her 2014 release was not to my liking, I devoured What I Love About You in print format, recalling all the reasons I love her writing – mainly her heroes!

IHOWLinnieGayl: My favorite romance of 2014 is It Happened One Wedding by Julie James. When I reviewed the audio version of the book several months ago I said that it was going to top my ballot in AAR’s Annual Poll (coming on January 12) in numerous categories, and that opinion hasn’t changed. This is a wonderful contemporary romance with witty dialog and a marvelous hero and heroine. How much do I like it? I’ve listened to the audio version multiple times and will probably do so again in a few weeks.

TITAnne Marble: I actually had a favorite book published in 2014, although it was middle grade/YA fantasy novel. The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This one snuck up on me. I was enjoying it well enough, but then, really interesting things happened partway through that made me really eager to see what happened next. Then there’s what the hero learns about himself at the end, and now he responds. Now I can’t wait for the next book.

The closest I got to romance was the Audible edition of Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines, the first book in a popular new adult series. However, while I liked the narration, I could have done without some of the NA cliches, such as the the badboy hero, the hot and cold relationship, the cliffhanger, etc.

TSSCaz: Reading-wise, I’ve had a pretty good year.  Doing a Power Search for DIKs, I see that I’ve managed quite a few, which is a good sign in terms of the quality of the books out there – especially given the recently heralded death of the historical romance – but it does make it difficult to pick ONE book from all of those I’ve read as my favourite of the year.  I stick almost exclusively to one sub-genre, but even within that, there are romantic thrillers (Rogue Spyreview here), romantic adventure yarns (Night of a Thousand Starsreview here) romantic historical fiction (The King’s Falcon), romantic mysteries (A Grave Matterreview here) as well as books in which the romance is the central focus (Only Enchantingreview here).

Bearing in mind that my answer to the question “what was your favourite romance of 2014?” is likely to get a different answer depending on what day it is, today I’m going to plump for Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal.  It was a difficult book to encapsulate in a 1500 word review, so it’s next to impossible to do it in a few sentences, but here goes…  It’s a truly extraordinary story that contains a tender, sensual and beautifully developed romance at the same time as it explores social injustice and the terrible consequences endured by those women who were brave enough to stand up and be counted in the fight for women’s rights.  The two protagonists are incredibly well-written and their mutual attraction just burns up the pages; and as one would expect of Ms Milan, the book is intelligently written, incorporating a lot of humour and the historical background is well-researched and integrated into the story.

BWMelanie: I’m picking Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown as my favorite romance published in 2014. I wrote a whole review about how much I loved it and why, but the short version is that it is lovely. The whole things reads like a poem, dream-like and realistic at the same time. It’s obvious a lot of research and effort went into it to make it as accurate as possible, and the story just shines on the Viking-era Iceland backdrop.

ABDHaley: There were a lot of books this year that I really enjoyed but for my favorite book of 2014 I chose All Broke Down (review here) by Cora Carmack. The reason i think this won out over some of the other books I read, which were great as well, is that I think it deserves some recognition for being a stand-out options among the many New Adult novels. Carmack infuses her writing with tons of sexual tension, humor, and believable characters. If you’re kind of over the normal rote New Adult books that are nearly indistinguishable from one another, any of Carmack’s works will be a huge relief. All Broke Down, in particular, has the super sexy Silas Moore, who you will totally swoon for.

LWLRike: My favorite romance this year was Miranda Neville’s Lady Windermere’s Lover. I am a great Miranda Neville fan anyway, and I hugely enjoyed this book (review here). It’s a marriage of convenience story. The characters are neither unblemished angels nor unrepentant villains, but folks who are stuck in a situation and try to deal with it with a plausible mixture of kindness and common sense on the one hand, and stubbornness on the other – not the kind that makes me want to shake them, but the kind that makes them engagingly human.

USOYAMLee: I tend to read mostly contemporary, historical, chick lit and women’s fiction so my choices reflect those genres.

Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy was one of my favorites because of the historical detail, suspense and plotting.  And another author who knows how to write adventurous tales with flawed characters is Sherry Thomas and My Beautiful Enemy (review here) was another fantastic read this year.

A UK release, The Unfinished Symphony of Me and You by Lucy Robinson, tells the story of a young woman with a beautiful voice but is too shy to sing in front of an audience.  Well, there’s a lot more to the story than that, but just read it if you can.

I’m a huge fan of Cathy Lamb and her latest What I Remember Most is probably my favorite of her books.  Ms. Lamb knows how to create heartfelt stories about people who are not perfect but try to live the best lives they can.

I also read lighthearted books too and one of my favorites was The Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne which is set in London.  The events manager has to deal with the owners’ son who has just-returned from traveling and has been assigned to help her with upcoming weddings.

I also really enjoyed the lighthearted adventure in The Love Detective by Alexandra Potter.  Sister Ruby is invited to spend time with sister Amy in India but Amy runs off with a yoga instructor and Ruby chases her all over the country.  A fun book for the armchair traveler who might not be brave enough to visit India in person.

HHDabney: I was a hard to please reader this year. I read book after book I liked but very few I loved. Of the few books I adored, the one I enjoyed most is Having Her by Jackie Ashenden. As I wrote in my reviewThere are books I read once and there are books I read again and again. Having Her is one of the latter. I read it for the first time two months ago and, since then, have read it again… and again. It’s sexy, unexpected, romantic, smart, and, in places, achingly sad. The novel meets my criteria for a superb erotic romance: the sex shared by the characters is integral to the plot and both are wonderfully done.

MNQPLynnMr. (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart. This book was just a delightful little gem of a story (review here). It’s lighthearted fun, but with enough angst to make readers feel emotionally invested in the romance. I have a weakness for good “friends to lovers” stories, and this one’s fantastic.

 

ItSHeather: My favorite book of 2014 was Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane. For me, it all came down to the hero Thorne. I had anticipated this one since reading the preceding novel Off the Edge (review here). Suspense in the perfect combination with romance with a hero who made my heart skip put Into the Shadows at the top of my list. I can’t get enough of this series.

sotfShannon: It’s so hard to pick just one book as my absolute favorite. I’ve read quite a few that I loved. However, the prize must go to J. A. Redmerski’s Song of the Fireflies. I loved the way the author depicted love. It’s not sugary sweet. The characters are incredibly flawed. I give Ms. Redmerski a lot of credit for painting such a stark, realistic portrait of what it really means to love another person more than yourself. Not only was this incredibly well-written, but the narration was phenomenal. So, whether you read it in print, or listen to the audiobook like I did, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

AVJenna: Due to a severe lack of reading in the last half of 2014 (long, boring story!), I didn’t think I had a favorite book this year. However, after checking I was glad to see that Mia Sheridan’s Archer’s Voice qualifies by virtue of both having been published in January, 2014 and my having actually read it soon after. As I said in my AAR review, this was the rare story that kept me pinned to my chair in order to finish. The obstacles that protagonists Bree and Archer face are very real, and Archer is a refreshing hero who suffers true damage rather than the kind that often makes you want to shake the guy and say “Just get over it already!” While a few of the plot points stretched believability (the heroine just so happens to conveniently know American Sign Language), I can easily recommend it to anyone looking for a power-of-love-to-heal story that rings true.

How about you, dear reader? What book knocked your socks off in 2014?

Posted in AAR Jenna, AAR Shannon, Anne Marble, Best of List, Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Haley AAR, Heather AAR, Lee AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Lynn AAR, Maggie AAR, Melanie AAR, Rike AAR | Tagged | 33 Comments

There’s a new AAR coming in 2015!

2015.pngSometime in the next six months, AAR will change in some significant ways. It is time for us to update our software platform and we are leaning strongly to switching to a WordPress based site. We hope this will accomplish a whole host of great things including but not limited to faster loads, more interactive content, and a cleaner interface. That day is still far off in the future and in order to get to where we want to be–the best romance novel focused site on the Web!–we will be asking for input.

No input matters more than that of our readers–although that of our staff is an extremely close second. So today we’re asking you: What do you love most about AAR? What would you like to see us do differently? What features do you think are a must-keep? Are there those you think are a must-go? What do you wish we would consider doing? What would you loathe for us to contemplate?

We’ll be asking these questions several times as we begin to work with a designer and we’re genuinely interested in your constructive feedback, no matter how minute. Please feel free to offer your insights in the comment stream below or, if there’s an idea you’d prefer not to share with the masses, please email Dabney directly at dabneyataar@gmail.com.

We are excited for 2015 and we hope you are too!

Posted in All About Romance | 40 Comments

Tara Tropeful’s Holiday Letter

IMG_4807I wasn’t even sure I’d find the time to write my annual holiday letter this year. Whoa Daisy, 2014 was a busy year. Between getting married to the love of my life and finding my perfect, fulfilling and oh so rewarding career, I’ve barely had time to watch Scandal!

As I’m sure you recall, at the end of 2013, I was devastated after my fiancée Hutch left me for his stepmother and her son. The school I’d worked for since college closed after its headmistress, said stepmother, absconded with the school’s funds and its soccer coach, said fiancée. I was down on my luck and suffering from low self-esteem.

But last New Year’s Eve, my life changed. I was planning on spending the night alone in my tiny apartment, watching “Love Actually” for the millionth time, when my old roommate Sabrina called me in a panic. Her brother, Beau, a Navy SEAL, was in town unexpectedly and needed a date to a big party Baldur, Sabrina’s Icelandic celebrity chef boyfriend, was having at his restaurant, Matur. I hurriedly highlighted my hair, pulled on my favorite tiny red dress, and Ubered to the festivities. It was a magical evening. Beau was broad shouldered and gorgeous with raven hair cut just a little too long. As the last seconds of last year ticked away, we looked into each other’s eyes–his were the green of purloined emeralds–and, suddenly, our lips met.

When Beau told me in the morning that he was heading back that night to his submarine so he’d be back in time for his next assignment–singlehandedly taking out the biggest arms dealer in Costa Rica using a strategy based on the teaching of modern Vikings, I was crushed. I was sure this alpha male with eyes the color of a new leaf glistening in the rain was the man of my dreams. I sobbed into my mimosa(s) and vowed, henceforth, to guard my fragile heart.

I realized I needed to focus on getting a job so that I could afford both my rent and the vet bills for Princess and Duchess, the two gentle strays I had taken in after finding them wandering about nearby Picture Perfect Park one wintery day. Every morning I scoured the ads online, searching for another teaching position, but no one seemed to be hiring Elementary Calligraphy teachers. Finally, in desperation, I accepted a job as a receptionist at Broad Peter Industries, the wildly successful company owned by the Cabesa family and run by the eldest Cabesa son, Ricardo.

I thought I was going to be working for Human Resources, but, after just one day on the job, I was mysteriously reassigned to work directly under Ricardo Cabesa. I didn’t know much about the man other than what I read in the society pages: He was 37, worth billions, and had a different overly tall supermodel in his bed every week. I will confess, I was a bit terrified of working for someone with such a reputation, especially when Human Resources told me Mr. Cabesa required absolute discretion on the part of those who worked in his “inner sanctum.”

The first few weeks of working for Mr. Cabesa flew by. I was learning so much about the company and its complicated business–they made money by moving money from one country to another via a system run entirely on Samsung cell phones.

Then, one day it happened. Mr. Cabesa asked me to come into his office and shut the door. I was nervous, but he was a sublimely sexy billionaire with golden hair that put the sun to shame and eyes as blue as a clear Maldivian sea. I found myself obeying his command. Once there, he took me by the hand and led me into a smaller chamber lined with mirrors, hidden behind a pale puce door I hadn’t noticed any of the hundreds of times I’d been in his office. We were there, alone, and, as he leaned into whisper in my ear, I found myself growing weak with desire coupled with fear.

“I need you to do something,” he growled. I steeled myself. “What?” I asked, sure he was going to require me to do something, well, you know. “I need you to wax my back.” “What?!?!” I yelled. “You heard me. I need it. I have a date with Giovanna Ana Beatriz, Brazil’s highest paid model tonight and I missed my aesthetician appointment today.”

Well, what could I do? Let me just say, the man has a low pain tolerance.

Even though Mr. Cabesa was paying me the big bucks to help him with his personal grooming, I knew it wasn’t the job for me. So, on the first of May, I quit and, after packing all my possessions into six suitcases, moved back in with my parents who, due to their allergies, gave me, Princess, and Duchess the room over the garage. Honestly, returning to the small town of Sugar, Texas was not what I’d hoped for myself at the ripe old age of 25. Jobs are scarce in the Southern part of East Texas. Finally, after weeks of searching, I was hired as the office manager of Best County’s Sheriff’s Office. (I think my handwriting won them over.)

Well, let me tell you, that office was a disaster when I started. The current Sheriff, one Cade Slade, was as challenging a man as I’ve ever met. I don’t think any one has ever been as rude to me as he was–the man defined the word cocky. Everything about his strong jaw, mobile lips, and silver eyes made me crazy. And not only was he impossibly handsome–that man’s backside in a pair of worn jeans would make Angelina dump Brad in a heartbeat–he was also arrogant. He was so sure that his eight years of being the head lawman for the County made him an expert on how the cases should be filed. Really, as if anyone is still using that ancient last name, first name system. But, I am a strong woman and I didn’t back down. I explained that if the cases were organized first by type (murder, assault, theft, streaking) and then by importance (the nuances of this did prove to be difficult to agree on), the office would work more smoothly.

Sheriff Slade and I butted heads for months but, incredibly, despite his pig-headed behavior, something about him made me damp and bothered. I tried to ignore the stirrings his 6’6″ toned, pretty much perfect body created in my belly, but, the man is gorgeous. He, however, did not appear to have the same feelings for me. I mean, yes, we did keep accidentally having multi-orgasmic sex in the file room, but I knew it meant nothing to him.

Then, fate intervened.

Beau, the buff and brave Navy SEAL I’d met at New Year’s, came to town to do some necessary to the nation undercover work. One rainy fall night, I walked into the town’s only bar, The Sip and Slip, and there he was. He bought me a Cosmo–actually four–and asked if he could walk me home. He swept me into his arms as we stood on my doorstop on Sweet Pea Lane and kissed me and I knew he was… not the one.

Cade Slade had stolen my hoo-ha and my heart. As I pulled away from Beau’s embrace, about to tell him goodnight, the man of my fevered dreams pulled up in his vintage pick-up, jumped out, and strode up the driveway.

“You’re mine, Tara,” he hollered. “I was staying away from you because you deserve more than just a small town hero but I can’t do it any more. Marry me, run the office, and make me the happiest man in the world. But first, I’m gonna kick this guy’s ass.”

Well, you will be relieved to know, I was able, with the help of Princess and Duchess, to keep the boys from needing more than a few stitches. Beau left–he later began dating Cade’s little sister Carrie–holding an ice pack to his beautiful brow and Cade and I finally had sex in a bed. We were married on Christmas Day. And, not only did Best County embrace my filing system, it’s now being used by all the surrounding counties in Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

So, all in all, my year turned out like a dream come true. I hope yours did too! Wishing you the best in the New Year.

All my love,

Mrs. Tara Tropeful Slade

Posted in Dabney AAR, Romance reading | 8 Comments

An interview with Sharon Cullen

Sharon Cullen’s latest book, His Saving Grace, is a moving story featuring a loving couple who have to find a way to live together again after one partner – the husband – suffers a traumatic injury.  HSG

Lord Michael Ashworth left his home and his beloved wife, Grace, almost a year earlier, to join his regiment in the Crimea.  Some months later, Grace receives the devastating news that Michael has been killed – only to have him reappear on her doorstep without warning several months later.  While she is overjoyed to see him, it doesn’t take her long to realise that all is not well – and thus begins the couple’s journey towards remaking their life together.

It’s an emotional and sometimes difficult read, but I nonetheless enjoyed it very much, and wanted to learn more about the inspiration for the book. I’m very pleased to welcome Sharon Cullen to All About Romance.

Sharon: Thank you so much for having me and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed Michael and Grace’s story. I’m so glad you reached out to me and asked me to do an interview.

Caz: One thing that stood out as I was reading is that this is obviously a story that is very close to your heart.  What or who was your inspiration for the book?

Sharon: The inspiration for Michael and Grace came from my own life and from my husband who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. Michael and my husband are a lot alike and Grace and I are a lot alike but they are also very different. It’s hard to explain other than Michael is based on my husband but he is not my husband.

Traumatic brain injuries (any traumatic injuries for that matter) affect not only the injured but everyone surrounding the injured—the spouse, the children, friends and close family. Every aspect of your life is shaken to the core and that was what I wanted to portray in His Saving Grace.

Caz: Such a very personal story must have been a difficult one to contemplate.  Was there any one thing that set you going, or was it a combination of things?

Sharon: It took a few years for me to write this book. I started and stopped so many books with heroes who had traumatic brain injuries but none of them seemed right. It wasn’t until I started writing historical romance (rather than contemporary romance) that I realized the mistake I’d been making. Every time I started writing a contemporary romance with a hero with a brain injury the science kept getting in the way. Obviously we know so much more today than we did two hundred years ago when it comes to the workings of the brain. I kept getting caught up in all of that instead of what I wanted to concentrate on—the effect of the injury on those involved.

When I thought about writing this story as a historical I knew I’d found the right characters. I had to do a little research to discover what was known about the brain during different time periods. The Victorian time period seemed to fit the best and so that’s when I set the story. Doctors knew a little about the brain, but not nearly as much as we know now. Basically Grace and Michael were on their own dealing with the after-effects. Once that was all established the story just flowed.

Caz: Because of the personal nature of the story, did your writing process change, or did you find you could approach it in the same way as any of your other books?

Sharon: The writing process did change a bit. I had to do very little research with this book other than what I didn’t know about the Victorian time period. When it came to researching the effects of a brain injury I didn’t have to do any research at all and therefore I didn’t get caught up in the minutiae that I sometimes get caught up in. You could say that this book almost wrote itself.

Caz: I know from our interactions that you’re keen to raise awareness of the problems faced by those suffering from and caring for sufferers of TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries).  Having based the novel loosely on your own experience, could you tell us a little more?

 Sharon: On May 9, 2011 my husband took our Labrador retriever out for a bicycle ride. They had been doing this for years. My husband would hold the leash and the dog would run beside the bike. They both loved it. But this time something happened and to this day we still don’t know what that was. All we know is that a witness saw my dog run into the middle of the street and sit down to stop traffic. It was then she noticed my husband on the sidewalk lying beside the bike, semi-conscious. He was rushed to the closest hospital. By the time I arrived the helicopter had been called to air lift him to the closest trauma hospital. He had shattered his skull in two places and had to have part of it removed to allow for the swelling of the brain. He was in a coma for nine days, in neuro ICU for eleven days and in a rehabilitation hospital for fourteen days. He had to relearn how to walk, talk, feed himself and dress himself.

Like Michael he was not the same man who left for that bike ride. He was angry and withdrawn. At first he needed constant care and he was in outpatient therapy for five months which required my presence as well since he couldn’t drive and he couldn’t remember things five minutes after he was told.

Like Grace I was suddenly shoved into the role of caregiver and I had no idea what I was doing or what I could do help him. What I did know was that I would do whatever it took and together we would get through this.

No one recovers 100% from a brain injury and that was one of the things I wanted to stay true to in His Saving Grace. I didn’t want a miraculous healing because there is no such thing with traumatic brain injuries.

But you can learn to live with it and to move forward to live a full, happy life and THAT’S what I wanted the reader to come away with.

Caz: Well, I think you’ve succeeded admirably.  I certainly came away from the book feeling as though Michael and Grace were going to make it as a couple, even though they were facing a long period of adjustment.

Sharon: Yes! I’m so glad that’s what you took away from this book. By their very nature romance books have a happily ever after. I wanted to show that you can still be happy and have a promising future despite the fact that you’re living with something like this. Like I said earlier, no one recovers 100% from a brain injury and I wanted to stay true to that while still giving the characters and the readers hope that Grace and Michael would live a happy life.

Caz: I enjoyed the book very much, but I think it’s fair to say that while it’s certainly very romantic, it’s not a romance in the traditional sense – you know, boy meets girl. boy and girl fall in love and then move towards their HEA.  Did that fact present any particular problems?

Sharon: There are plenty of romances that start with a couple already married and who face hardship. I think what makes this book so different is that Grace and Michael’s hardships are ones that aren’t normally explored in a romance. Most of the disabled heroes I’ve read have lost a limb or an eye or maybe have a disfiguring scar. I don’t believe I’ve ever read of a hero who has a brain injury.

Caz: I don’t think I have, either – or not one incurred under the same circumstances.

 Sharon: But did it present me any particular problems while writing this story? No. Because at its heart, this book is still a romance. This is still a story about two people trying to find their way to love. In a lot of ways I consider Michael’s injured brain the villain of the story. Every story has to have a villain, right? This one is a little different—silent and invisible and not to be slayed as easily as a human villain. But this villain still needs to be overcome and I hope that’s what the reader comes away with.

Caz: Were you ever worried that you were writing a story readers might find overly depressing or unpalatable?

Sharon: I know I deal with things that aren’t normally mentioned in a romance—depression and the fact that whatever is ailing Michael will never be fixed—and that’s exactly what I set out to do when I started writing His Saving Grace.   There are definitely parts that are depressing and I do force the reader to face some things that are difficult, but I never thought they were emotions that would turn the reader away. My hope was that rather than depressing the reader I would make the reader cheer for Michael and Grace and want to continue reading to achieve that happily ever after.

Caz: Was there one particular point at which you thought – “okay – now I have to write this story”?  Or was it something that crept up on you?

Sharon: It took me three years to finally sit down and write this story even though my friends had been telling me from the beginning that I needed to write a story like this. I waited that long because I had to help my husband heal and then I discovered that I needed to heal as well. It was very difficult to dig deep and dredge up all of those emotions but it was so worth it. There were times as I was writing and Grace’s heart was breaking that mine was breaking all over again as well. There were times when Grace was feeling helpless that I was experiencing that same helplessness but never once did I consider not writing this story.

Caz: Sharon, thanks so much for joining us today and for sharing such a personal story with our readers.

Posted in Caz AAR, Interviews | Tagged | 9 Comments

Caroline: Why I won’t be contributing to any Best of 2014 lists

MSDespite the fact that I read a large number of books this year, and that I posted several DIKs, I can’t contribute to “Best of 2014” lists. Why? Most of my reads aren’t from 2014. Nearly every 2014 romance I read this year was for for review here, and I didn’t have enough that I loved to vote meaningfully. I’m a huge reader, but for a variety of reasons, a few of which I’ll list below, I’m simply not a new-book reader.

Review filters: I admit to freeloading off of the rest of you: I wait for AAR reviewers, or the forums, or other review sites to generate some buzz around a book before I check it out. I hoard both my time and my budget, and I want not to waste them on lousy reads.

Space and cost: I’m a book hoarder, so I decided a few years back not to buy books unless I’m sure I will want to reread them. I lean on my library heavily, but that can mean signing up for long waitlists or placing an ordering request. Either of these done any time after July can take a popular 2014 book into 2015. This not only saves me money on books I realize I don’t want to keep, but it also saves me money because by waiting, I can sometimes find a book in a UBS, bargain bin, or online. I know, I know – it’s not good for authors, and I do try to buy their new books when I’m sure I want them. But on the whole, I’m selfish here.

Graphic novels: While every now and then, I get a manga while it is still in English-translation release (this year I read Midnight Secretary and Library Wars), I usually prefer to wait until the entire series is out. That’s for two reasons. First, I can’t always find out if the series is going to have a happy ending until the whole thing is out (marketing classifications for graphic novels are not the same as in genre fiction, and a central relationship is often enough to get them called “romance” no matter how they end). Second, I like to binge-read the entire work. Waiting months for Volume 3 and another year for the final Volume 11 drives me bonkers. Hardly any series comes out in full during a calendar year, and I don’t like to select just one volume for a “Best of” list when what I really enjoyed was the full work.

What about you guys? Do any of you feel left out of annual lists, and even the AAR annual poll? Or do you read enough new books to feel like you have something to say? If you don’t read new books, is it for the same reasons as me?

 

Caroline AAR

 

Posted in Caroline AAR | 8 Comments

We’re Opening four Special Titles Listings!

BMWe hope you are all having a lovely time baking holiday treats and choosing gifts for the your friends and family. Hopefully there is also some time left for reading (although we know from experience this is not always the case in December). With everything being a bit busier than usual, we have decided to open this month’s Special Titles Listings late enough to extend until after the holidays. We’re hoping that if not straight away, you will find a moment to nominate some titles in the more quiet days.

When we looked at the lists this time, we realised with some astonishment that almost all of them have been opened and revised since we took up this task a bit more than two years ago. This means we will be able reopen some of the more popular lists quite soon. In the meantime, here are four more lists that have been neglected so far: All in the Family, Guardian/Ward Romances, Twins, and Plus-Sized Heroines.

The All in the Family list contains romances between relatives both by blood and by marriage. Quite a few of these books can be tricky in the eyes of the readers: In some cultures, for examples, marriages between first cousins is a taboo, whereas in others it isn’t. This means that as a reader from Central Europe I am just fine with Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy marrying her cousin Charles – especially since they never knew each other while growing up – but I know there are readers with different cultural backgrounds who find this difficult to swallow. In a similar vein, some readers find marriages problematic where one partner has been the lover/husband/wife of their new romantic interest in the past. On the other hand, the list also contains titles in which someone falls for a sibling’s best friend, for a step-sibling or an in-law. Reading how the dynamics of family play out in such romances can be great fun, and often they provide a more fully-fleshed cast of secondary characters than many romances do. If you nominate a title for this category, can you very kindly tell us how the characters are related (i.e. foster siblings or sibling’s best friend)?

Guardian/Ward romances can be difficult for modern sensibilities as well. Often they contain a relationship between a younger woman and a much older man. The obvious inequality of power can be further complicated by the rather problematic move from parental/filial emotions to sexual desire. This said, in a skilled hand they can work wonderfully well. As an example, take Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck, where the hero is astonished to find himself guardian to a girl not much younger than himself, and is torn between his desires and the duties he needs to fulfil. In this list we also include romances with protagonists who take on a guardian-like role, like Georgette Heyer’s Frederica, so there does not have to be a strictly legal guardian/ward relationship.

Now Twins are fun (mostly). They can be found in any number of books where the twins in question play on the fact that nobody can tell them apart, and use this to get their own way. In a more serious vein, a twin may be asked to take on a sibling’s role as part of a criminal investigation – in the worst case, their twin is dead. Other books seriously explore the issues that may stem from being only part of a whole, and the development necessary to emancipate even from this close relationship.

The Plus-Sized Heroines list contains both characters who are curvy and who are unusually tall, so very kindly indicate this when you nominate a title! These heroines often feel inadequate or awkward due to their height and/or size, or in the case of being perfectly happy with themselves, they instead have to deal with rude remarks and preconceived notions from the people around them. They may further feel insecure when it comes to finding a romantic partner, because they do not fulfill the general ideal of female beauty.

We are looking very much forward to your nominations! In the meantime, take our heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful books you have contributed to these lists in 2014. We very much appreciate your input, and hope for more great suggestions in 2015!

- Rike Horstmann, LinnieGayl Kimmel, and Cindy Smith

 

Posted in Cindy AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Rike AAR, Special Titles Lists | 7 Comments

TBR Challenge – Happy Holidays!

NTLMGI’m a Christmas story junkie (a confession surprising no one who reads my reviews, I’m sure), so for the last month of 2014′s multi-blog TBR challenge I decided to go after a different sort of holiday read. Why not Mardi Gras? And so I read Kimberly Lang’s No Time Like Mardi Gras. It’s only been on my Kindle since February 2014, but it still made me feel nostalgic. I’m pretty bummed that Harlequin is discontinuing their KISS line, as many of the books I read there have featured strong writing and a modern feel that belie the Pepto-pink covers.

No Time Like Mardi Gras isn’t the best of the KISS books I’ve read, but it’s not a bad book either. Since it seems to be a character-driven romance at heart, it really could have used a little more attention in the characterization department. That fix would have elevated it into the ranks of the some of the better humorous romances – the ones that manage to be both hilarious and poignant.

Or, perhaps it’s better stated that many of the best funny books tend to be memorably humorous because they’re poignant. Instead, I’d describe this read as fun but uneven,and I’d give it a B-.

Jamie Vincent moved to New Orleans to get a fresh start after her life pretty much went spiraling down the drain. However, getting settled in a new city with no network to depend on is a completely new experience for her and it’s not going all that well. Her roommate seems to be her one social outlet and so she’s third-wheeling it with the roommate at Mardi Gras while said roommate seems intent on watching a particular band play and hopefully hooking up with her crush from said band. It looks pretty bleak until she meets Colin Raine in a bar and he offers to show her to sights of Mardi Gras in the city.

The two have a fabulous time, and there’s more than a little bit of attraction going on there. When the two get separated by a crowd and then kept apart by a big misunderstanding, I was inclined to roll my eyes, but then the author does something a little bit different: Jamie and Colin talk it out. They don’t resolve everything perfectly and immediately but at least they start talking. Sadly, that’s a step up for many couples in Romanceland.

What ensues is a fun and sexy fling that gradually grows more serious. And most of the time it’s plenty of fun. Jamie’s issues from the great blowup of her past life(which she’s determined to keep as secret as possible for way too long) get a little tiresome, but given what her secrets are, I could understand why she’d react strongly even as I got irked with her on occasion. Colin’s a likable hero and in the end, he and Jamie seem like a fun couple. I totally did not get Jamie’s over-the-top obsession with all things Mardi Gras, but to each their own.

- Lynn Spencer
—————
xmasspirit Originally published in 1996, Patricia Wynn’s The Christmas Spirit is the whimsical tale of an elf who falls in love with a human. I always like a bit of whimsy at this time of the year, and this has that quality in spades, while also being romantic and sweetly sensual.

Sir Matthew Dunstone, a well-known explorer, has returned from an arduous trip searching for the source of the White Nile in the grip of a severe illness. To make matters worse, his fiancée has married his ex-partner, whose accounts of their trip have blackened Matthew’s name and ruined his reputation amongst the African Association, the society to which they both belong.

A broken man subject to bouts of fever induced hallucination, Matthew is not at all surprised to find himself talking to an elf one night. Thinking the sprightly apparition to be no more than the product of a disordered mind, Matthew is unperturbed and several conversations take place, during one of which the elf – Francis – tells Matthew about his sister, Gertrude (Trudy). The following night, Francis brings Trudy to see Matthew while he is sleeping. She immediately likes the look of the man who, despite his weakened state is obviously quite handsome, and when Francis wagers that she won’t be able to get him to follow her “into the mists”, she immediately takes the bet.

Shortly afterwards, Trudy takes human form and presents herself at Matthew’s house on the pretext of wanting him to make a donation to The Society for the Relief of Indigent African Natives. Matthew is not at all pleased at being disturbed, but is unable to take his eyes from the ravishing beauty with the devastating smile who introduces herself as Miss Faye Meriweather. And Trudy is surprised to discover that Matthew is far more handsome and imposing a man than she had previously thought – and also that in spite of her best efforts and most winsome smiles, he appears to be immune to her charms.

After his initial attempt to fob her off fails, Matthew begins to discover that perhaps there is something to be said for emerging from his self-imposed seclusion and, more than that, as the days pass, realises his health is drastically improving. In his dreams, he is visited by a female elf who bears a striking resemblance to Faye, a circumstance he puts down to the impure thoughts he is starting to entertain about that young lady who could, of course, never enter a gentleman’s bedchamber or sit on his bed tenderly stroking his hair. But Trudy’s touch is magical, and her nocturnal ministrations really are helping Matthew to regain his health and strength, which in turn, helps him to confront and dispel the rumours concerning his mental state and his supposedly dishonourable actions on his last trip.

Trudy is walking a dangerous path. While it’s all well and good for her to ensnare a human, to let things happen the other way around is unthinkable. A human in elven lands has much to gain – or so Francis thinks – whereas for an elf to fall for a human means she would lose her magic and begin to age in the same way that humans do. Francis reminds Trudy of their bet and her intention to enslave Matthew, but it’s too late. Trudy has fallen in love with a human and loves him far too much to consign him to a life beyond the mists as little more than a pet. There is no other way for them to be together – or is there? It’s Christmas after all, and the perfect time for dreams to come true.

The Christmas Spirit is a quick read, which fulfilled my desire for a quirky, fluffy story. The characterisation isn’t especially deep, and I have to say that other than the winter-time setting and a few mentions of Father Christmas, it doesn’t feel especially Christmassy either – but It’s light-hearted and entertaining and I enjoyed it, nonetheless. C+

- Caz Owens

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