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 , , , , | 39 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 | 58 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.



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

Posted in Best of List, LinnieGayl AAR | Tagged | 12 Comments

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


Posted in Annual Reader Poll, Best of List, Cindy AAR, Lee AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Polls | Tagged | 4 Comments

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!

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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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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?

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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


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