Sunday, February 7, 2016

Back In The Saddle?

OK, so now it's been over a week since I last blogged.  Did Wendy fall off the face of the Earth?  Did her TBR Mountain finally collapse on top of her and she remained trapped under the crushing weight of paperback novels until a hunky Greek Tycoon arrived (don't I wish) to pull me free, sweep me in a passionate embrace and bruise my lips with punishing kisses?

Yeah, no.  Mores the pity.  No, I fell down the work-sleep-work-sleep-maybe-I-should-eat-something rabbit hole.  So to fill the blog void, I thought I'd provide updates.  I promise to keep the whining to a minimum (hey, first time for everything, right?).

Reading.  What's that again?  I haven't really been reading.  At all.  And this is probably not a good thing since I promised two (count 'em two!) First Looks for Heroes and Heartbreakers for end of February releases.  You know, the shortest month on the calendar.  I foresee some power reading in my very near future.

What has been keeping my interest is audio books.  I discovered that work has three Barbara Michaels books on audio and I've been a swooning nostalgic mess ever since.  I pretty much read all the Barbara Michaels I could get my hands on during my teens, avoiding the books with blurbs that were more overtly woo-woo-ish.  I started with the audio book of Be Buried in the Rain, only remembering from my teen years that it was one that "I really liked."  I really liked it as an adult too, and was struck much more by the romance this second time around.  As a teen I read Michaels for the Gothic mystery "stuff" - the romances were incidental to me.

I'm now listening to Black Rainbow, which is a historical and well....not nearly as good as Be Buried in the Rain.  But it's amazing how nostalgia colors the reading experience.  I think if I was entirely new to Michaels and Black Rainbow (although I read it SO LONG ago, this is almost like I'm reading it for the first time) I'd be entering Minor Rant Mode, but here I am.  Swooning Nostalgic Mess.  After I wrap this one up, I need to take a break (my hold for the Burt Reynolds' memoir on audio came in - don't judge) and then I'll dive into Someone in the House.


So I still haven't seen the new Star Wars.  And now I've just started watching Downton Abbey.

Yes, Wendy is JUST NOW starting Downton Abbey.  This is what hype does to me folks!  I bury my head in the sand until it dies down, y'all get ticked off that the show/movie/whatever "jumped the shark" and THEN, I figure it's safe to start watching.

I've got one episode left in Season One.  I figure by the time I'm through all five seasons on Amazon Prime, the final season will be available for me to stream or download or buy or whatever.


Yoga.  Yeah, I was doing so well with yoga for a while.  I am a librarian, but these days my job is mostly administrative work which means Wendy sits at a desk.  A lot.  Yoga is a nice counter-balance to desk work.  Loosens up the hips, opens up the shoulders, and by the end of a nice one hour session I'm relaxed, loose and sleep like a baby.  A baby that had bourbon and Xanax slipped in with her formula.

But then work got busy, I got lazy, and fell off the wagon.  With a thud.  And not that I'm a svelte young thing anymore, but honestly it is possible, even for me, to let myself go even moreSo....

Back on the yoga wagon.


Here in the States it's Super Bowl Sunday.  I have no pony in this race but will watch the game anyway while consuming completely regrettable junk food and hoping for some decent commercials.  It's also the signal that the most magical time of year is almost upon us.  That's right Bat Cave followers....


Depending on the team, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training starting February 17.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The One Where Wendy Talks About Diversity

I'll let you in on a secret: if you ever want to see a librarian cat fight - bring up the subject of book labeling.  As in the practice of actually putting identifying genre label stickers on physical books.  You think Donald Trump having a snit with Fox News is brain-bleed inducing?  Yeah - librarians and labels

For the record, labels drive me insane.  If Wendy really was Queen Librarian of the Universe (and not just a legend in my own mind) there would be only two (potential) labels on library books - the spine labels (because the books need to be organized on the shelf somehow) and "New" book stickers for recent arrivals.  That's it.  No romance labels, no mystery labels, no librarians making themselves crazy trying to figure out what genre label to put on the steampunk noir novel that features a female detective.  No librarians losing their damn minds and covering the entire book spine with genre labels because they can't make a decision on those cross-over genre books. 

Seriously.  Librarians make themselves nuts over labels and we waste an unnecessary amount of time, energy and money charging up this completely useless hill.  Especially in this world of hyperlinks, metadata, and online catalogs.  It's more pointless now than it was 30 years ago.  And before any librarians show up in my comments section to talk about how the patrons demand genre labels - no they don't.  And the two that do demand them would get over it.  I've survived libraries as a patron and as a librarian that did not do genre labels and oh look, I'm still alive to tell the tale.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

When I see break-out collections and genre labels in libraries, I immediately think "other."  You are shoving those books off to a corner and treating them as "different."  It also keeps patrons in their cozy, comfortable ruts and gives them tunnel vision.  Yes, if you only read romance and that's all you want (or think you want) to read - going to your one section of the library or just looking for that romance label is easy.  But it also doesn't expose you to the "others" that you might actually like.  Hey, you might pick up that science fiction novel, read the first page and be all like "meh."  But what if you weren't?  What if you were exposed to it, picked it up, read the first page and thought, "let me try this?" 

Which brings us to diversity.  For the sake of disclosure (and because it's honestly no secret), I am the Whitest White Girl To Ever White.  Those who have met me in person will attest that I'm so white I'm practically see through.  So when it comes to the issue of diversity in publishing, writing and reading, this is where I'm coming from.  White Girl from a Comfortable Middle Class, Midwest Background.

When I discuss the romance genre for a librarian audience I, of course, tackle sub genres.  And for the sake of that discussion I always include "multicultural" and "LGBT," even though I personally loathe the practice of making them separate sub genres.  However, the beauty of being a presenter is that you have a captive audience, which means I can expound on  my personal feelings of this practice.

They're not separate sub genres.

How is a historical romance featuring black characters different from a historical romance featuring white characters?  How is a romantic suspense novel featuring a Latina heroine different from a romantic suspense novel featuring a white heroine?  How is a contemporary novel featuring a Chinese hero different from a contemporary featuring a white hero?  The answer is - they're not.  They're a historical romance, a romantic suspense, a contemporary romance.  Period.  End of story.  End of discussion.


There's power in representation

Here's the thing: it's very easy for me to have that opinion as the Midwestern White Girl.  It's easy for me to go to the book shelf and see loads of potential fictional characters who may look like me, think like me, have experiences I can relate to.  If I was a Midwestern Black Girl?  My choices would be much more limited.

There's power in representation.  I hope that at some point in your reading life, or in your entertainment-consuming life in general, you've seen or read something that validated your experiences.  That moment when you think, "How did this author know this about me?"  Like the author personally interviewed you and put your experiences in a story.  That's powerful for all readers, but especially in young readers.  There's huge appeal in reading about someone who is "just like them" and going through experiences that they can relate to.  There's comfort in that.  There's validation in that.  There's the realization that they have value and they are not alone.  That's powerful, amazing, stuff folks.  It's why a lot of librarians get out of bed in the morning and do this job.  It's why a lot of authors sit their butt in the chair and pour out their imaginations on to a blank page. 

Which brings me back to the idea that Multicultural and LGBT are sub genres.  I tell librarians it's about knowing your community. It's important to know your community.  Really, it's the only way to do your darn job with any effectiveness.  That said?  Even with a large POC or LGBT service population I still don't think these are separate sub genres.  I'm sorry - I don't.  I'd rather find ways to highlight these stories in a way that isn't taking the easy way out and slapping a stupid sticker on them.

Because at the end of the day I think labels make librarians lazy"I don't need to know my collection because the patron can just look for the little rainbow sticker" or "All the Urban Lit is next to the Mystery Section."  Instead of sitting on our butts and pointing in the general direction, I don't know - I kind of think we should get back to curating a bit more.  Knowing our collectionHaving conversations with people.  Highlighting books with shelf-talkers and inclusive displays.  Doing a romance display for February (because we can't seem to get away from the Valentine's Day ghetto...) - and tossing in some Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Jeannie Lin and KJ Charles right next to Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, Jayne Ann Krentz and Mary Balogh.

It's all about exposure.  When I'm talking reader's advisory with patrons and we're chatting about books - I do everything in my power to avoid the "R" word unless they drop major clues that they won't get all huffy about my promoting "trash."  After I book-talk a romance (without actually saying the "R" word) and they're still not interested?  Hey, I tried.  But avoiding the "R" word trigger at least gave me a fighting chance.

I think diversity and representation are damn important.  But I also believe very strongly that the books shouldn't be treated as some sort of "other."  Just as the romance genre as a whole shouldn't be treated as "other" by the publishing and reading community at large.  Just as I get annoyed with a Literary Wunderkind sniffing disdainfully over "trashy bodice rippers" - I also get annoyed that somehow a romance novel featuring a lesbian couple is different.  No, it's not. It's a romance novel.

All of this is a long-winded way of me expressing my views on current conversations around the genre.  While I do think signal-boosting the diversity issue is important, and should continue to happen - I also feel strongly that diverse books and authors must be included in the larger genre conversation and not operate out on the fringe.  At the end of the day, it's all romance.  I want to see the entire rainbow represented in book reviews, recommendation lists, and workshop panels.  Not relegated to their own corners - but all together, jumping around in the same big ol' mosh pit.

But maybe this is an overly simplistic world view, especially given my experiences, the advantages I've had in life etc.  But man, labels.  They make me twitchy.  Am I doing a disservice by not intentionally signal boosting the diverse characters in some of my reviews ("Hey, over here!  This contemporary Christmas novella features a black heroine!")?  You could make the argument that I am.  But I feel strongly that the novella featuring the black heroine isn't any different from the novella featuring the white heroine.  At the end of the day they're both romances and my enjoyment (or dislike) of either is not going to have anything to do with the character's race, ethnicity or who they like to have sex with (well, unless who they like to have sex with is an Alphahole - in which case I'll have issues).

My sticking point with the diversity discussion as it currently exists in Romancelandia is that often it devolves into what I call Looking For A Cookie.  Over here! Look at me! I'm promoting diversity! I do think there's a way we (and by we I mean Practically See-Through White Girls like myself) can signal boost and promote diverse books without coming off as misguided or self-serving.  And my way of doing it is moving those books right into the stream of my normal blogging, reading, tweeting, and signal boosting activities.  Could I, personally, be doing a better job of reading more diverse books?  Gods yes, of course I could.  But nobody in the Romance Genre Mosh Pit is immune to the horrors that is Wendy's TBR Mountain RangeJeannie Lin is languishing right next to Marguerite Kaye and the new Beverly Jenkins is smacking me in the face next to the last Laura Lee Guhrke book I still haven't read.  But, and here's the point, they're there - waiting for me.  And I'll get to them eventually.  And hopefully I'll love them all, write glowing blog posts and people who stumble across those posts might actually pick the books up for themselves. 

That's always been the mission of The Bat Cave.  To share what I'm reading (The Good, The Bad, The Why Dear Lord Why?!), and expose other readers to books and authors they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: A Virtuous Ruby
When I first heard about A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Hughley many moons ago (it was a RWA Golden Heart finalist in 2013) I knew I was going to have to read it.  It's a series set in the early 20th century, around The Great Migration - when rural blacks were heading to industrial cities looking for better opportunities (education, jobs, getting away from Jim Crow...).  On the historical level, this book is exceptional.  On the personal level?  Well it all depends on what you're looking for.  But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit...

Ruby Bledsoe has earned the reputation of resident troublemaker in Winslow, Georgia.  She joins forces with her Uncle Arlo who thinks there should be a local chapter of the NAACP and better working conditions at the mill in town, owned by the wealthiest white man in town, Paul Winslow.  The town is named after him so that'll give you a get a good idea of his character.  Anyway, Ruby and Arlo are getting to be a problem - which leads to Arlo getting lynched and Ruby ends up getting raped (and subsequently pregnant) by Paul's son, David - a childhood friend of Ruby's, just in case all that wasn't horrifying enough.  These incidents take place off page (although Ruby has a flashback of the rape later in the book) and we start the story with Ruby finally leaving the family home for the first time in nearly a year.

She leaves home in time to meet Dr. Adam Morson, a new doctor in town just stepping off the train.  Adam studied medicine at the University of Michigan and didn't get thrown out on his ear (or worse) because he's so light-skinned he can pass as white.  Ruby, who helps women in town as a midwife, takes one look at this fancy doctor passing himself off as something he isn't and....let's just say she's not impressed.  Turns out he's the by-blow of none other than Paul Winslow - who paid for Adam's education and has now called him to Winslow to be the "colored doctor."

From a conflict standpoint, this is not an easy read.  I'll be honest, as much as I love romance, I've waded through some silly and outrageous conflict in my time.  In contrast, this conflict is so very real and so very tough.  I'm not an end reader.  Never have been.  And yes, I knew this was a romance and knew it was going to have a happy ending.  That said?  I was still tempted to peek.  I think a big part of the reason was how recent this history is and how echoes of this history are still reverberating across the American landscape.  It's not going to be a book for everybody.  I think everybody should read it because Huguley handles tough conflict so very well - but if you're an escapist, fluffy, lollipops sort of romance reader (and there's nothing wrong with that by the way) - this one is not easy.  I admire it for not being easy ain't easy.

Because of the nature of the conflict there are trigger warnings all over this story.  I literally spent this entire novel fearing for Ruby's life.  In Ruby's world speaking out can get you killed.  Then she's raped, and naturally this is her "shame" to bear.  She has brought shame on her family.  She was asking for it.  She used to crush on David and chase after him so she must have thrown herself at him because of course.  Then there is baby Solomon who is evidence of "her shame."  To add to the rage-inducing nature of this conflict, Huguley has to go and write complex characters.  There's no one-dimensional evil villains here, in a story where it would have been so easy to write nothing but one-dimensional evil villains.

The romance builds slowly.  The attraction is immediate but for all the reasons already stated, Adam and Ruby can't drop everything and jump into bed.  Which brings me to another point - these characters don't jump into bed together at the first flutter of hormones and Huguley does not ignore the fact that faith plays a role in their everyday lives.  These are people of faith.  They live their lives by a moral code.  Faith and the church are an intregal part of their lives and this romance is firmly in "just kisses" territory.

This is either going to be make-or-break for the reader.  I'll be honest - while I welcomed that the author didn't blatantly ignore the impact the church would have on (and in) this community - it's a lot of "church stuff."  In fact there's more Churchy McChurchy Stuff in this book than in 95% of the inspirationals I've read.  That said, I didn't feel like the author was trying to convert me or push "an agenda" and with this story you cannot simply ignore the influence of the church - but I also "get" that some readers pretty much want no whiff of religion in their romances.  And since this book isn't marketed as an inspirational romance, I think it's worth mentioning.  Mileage is going to vary depending on where you fall.

My final verdict?  This was an exhausting read - in the respect that it wasn't an easy one.  Not because the author is a poor writer or I disliked the characters - but because I spent a lot of the book outraged by the circumstances the characters found themselves in through no fault of their own.  It's not easy to read about Ruby wanting basic civil rights and common decency - only to be raped by a childhood friend.  It's not easy to read about Adam making the choice to pass as white just so he can get an education and become a doctor.  But then history very rarely is easy, of which Huguley has so capably reminded us. 

Final Grade = B

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: Curveball

 Buy The Book
The Book: Curveball by Charlotte Stein

The Particulars: Contemporary erotic romance novella, digital-only, 2013 w/ Xcite (edition I have), 2015 Self-Published

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: At some point this was a freebie, and having just discovered Charlotte Stein, I immediately snapped it up.  These days, Stein is now an autobuy.

The Review: One of my personal goals for the TBR Challenge is to focus on my print TBR.  So much so that when I was traveling last weekend I actually packed a print book to read.  I got 100 pages into that book before admitting I was bored out of my skull and DNF'ed it. I wasn't home, so the print TBR was off limits which meant it was the Kindle or nothing.  So I went scouring through my non-review pile and found this short (roughly 80 pages) by Stein. And I loved every single word of it.

Judy has just split from her boyfriend so when her brother offers her a vacation aboard his "yacht" (OK, small boat), she says yes - expecting it just to be her brother and his wife and a nice chance to get away.  She did not expect Steven Stark, her brother's BFF to also be on board.  Judy and Steven grew up together.  He was always around dragging her brother into various scraps and was there to tease her and give her noogies.  Judy is...well let's call her festively plump and Steven is also a big guy, with a body builder-like physique.  He's also a playboy, jumping from one girl to the next, skipping over Judy who nursed a serious crush on him back in the day.  But something inside her snaps on this trip.  It's probably the "funny" story that Steven tells about falling into bed with a "big girl," while Judy's brother and sister-in-law laugh uproariously.  That story, Judy's reaction to it, set off a chain of events that, naturally, lead to something more between Judy and Steven.

I am convinced that Stein is almost single-handedly saving erotic romance from its trend-chasing self.  I know this is only a short story (which will likely be the biggest gripe for most readers), but the tension in this book!  The steamy sexual tension!  It's the kind of book where I was gripping my Kindle saying to myself, "Dear Lord when are they going to kiss already?!?!?!"  And when we finally get to the first actual sexual shenanigans scene?  Skinny-dipping in the Antarctic would have been welcomed.  Literally that's why you should read this story.  Yes, I know it's first person, present tense, we don't get the hero's point-of-view and it's a 80-page novella but DEAR LORD THE TENSION!!!!!!!

Minor quibbles come in at the end.  The I-love-yous may have been a touch fast, but at least these two people have a shared history.  Although there is no marriage proposal - so it's not like the author completely lost her mind.  The hero is - well, still slightly problematic.  He's kind of a jerk at times, but in the grand scheme of Romance Novel Jerk "Heroes," I'm not sure he'd even register on the scale in the genre world we're currently residing in.  He's more of a jerk from the "doesn't always think things through before he says them out loud" school.

Did this change my life?  OK, probably not.  But it's so well done.  It's textbook on what erotic romance really should be but sadly isn't always.  In fact I think it needs to be downloaded immediately and put in a "Break Glass In Case of Emergency" folder.  Read it after you slog through another book that confuses kink for tension or one that tries to convince you that the wannabe Dom "hero" isn't really a psycho stalker.

Final Grade = A-

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for January

For those of you participating in the 2016 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, January 20.  This month's theme is We Love Short Shorts!  This theme is all about shorter works - so short stories, novellas, category romances etc.  It's my way of easing us in gently.  But what if you personally loathe shorter reads?  Hey, no problem!  Remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  It's not about the themes but reading something (anything!) out of your TBR.

Also, it's not too late to sign-up for the 2016 TBR Challenge!  You can find more information about the challenge (and see the list of participants) on the Information PageIf you'd like to sign-up, please leave a comment on this post and let me know where you will be posting your commentary.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Notes from the Bunker

I haven't blogged in over a week and seeing that many days of inactivity in a row on the blog tends to make me twitchy.  For the past thirteen years of Bat Cave Gloriousness, I've tried to be fairly consistent with blogging - posting anywhere from once to three times a week.  And yet, here we are.  So to fill the void y'all are getting a hodge-podge.


I spent most of 2015 mired in a reading slump and it seems to have carried over to the start of 2016.  It's not that I'm reading "bad" books.  It's more like I don't have the energy or mental brain power to pick up a book and actually read.  I'm traveling over the weekend so I'm hoping being stuck in airports and on airplanes provide a kick start.


I still haven't seen Star Wars.  Yes, I'm an extra special kind of unicorn.

In bookish news - I got through The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo on audio.  This was a recommendation from Keishon and I liked it, but wasn't over the moon in love with it.  I'm glad I listened to it because I truly don't think I would have lasted reading the print version.  It's a long book, with loads of set-up, dual time lines (World War II and early 2000s) and the mystery is fairly intricate.  There's a very deliberate pace to the story which made it slow-going at times.  I did end up enjoying it (it was a B read for me), and I'll continue on with the series - but Nesbo doesn't strike me as the kind of writer I'm going to be able to "binge" on...even in audio format.  I'm going to need breaks in between books.
I'm in the process right now of listening to When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning.  This is another book I'm glad I'm listening to on audio because I think it would be a slower read for me.  I have a lot of thoughts about this one - mostly when you juxtapose the history of the World War II home front against the current climate of the American public.  It's really striking.  Also I'll admit I'm highly annoyed that ultimately the librarian's efforts early on were dismissed out of hand when they were up against something they couldn't control - format.  World War II was really when the paperback format took off in popularity (in large part because of paper rationing and publishers having to adopt the format to fit the serviceman's unique needs), and librarian-organized donation drives mostly collected hard cover books, because that's what was widely available.  Also the profession, by that time, had shifted to largely female-dominated so yet another example of how "those in power" slapped down the librarians (who were a bunch of women anyway so what did it matter?) gets my hackles up.

Baggage, I haz it.

Anyway, I'm not massively in love with this book (yet - I'm only about halfway through), but I could see it provoking some good book club discussions if you have the sort of book club that could discuss historical vs. current events without breaking out into fisticuffs. 


Speaking of book clubs - coming up in February I'm taking part in a webinar for the library database NoveList which will be all about romance book clubs.  It's being moderated by Lisa Schimmer, RWA Librarian of the Year 2014 (and the bee's knees) and we'll be joined by Jennifer Lohmann, Harlequin SuperRomance author, librarian and all around good egg.  Jennifer has run several book clubs for her Day Job (and has a romance-centric one!) and they've asked me to join the discussion to talk about the TBR Challenge!  That's right TBR'ers - we're going to be famous.

Also, I encourage you to check to see if your local library subscribes to NoveList.  It's what we in the profession call a "reader's advisory" tool - and it's fun to search subject headings, browse the lists of suggestions and hunt down titles that may interest you.  It covers all ages, and while it's predominantly known as being a fiction tool, they do feature non-fiction as well.  Lisa's been instrumental in overhauling the romance lists - where you can now find everything from Men In Kilts to Lesbian Love Stories.


The plan was to spend most of 2016 catching up on ARCs I did not get read in 2015 (because I suck like that - SO MUCH TO READ!!!!).  I've got a pile of great books waiting for me and I'm at the point where I have things scheduled in a queue.  Here's hoping I find my reading mojo while turning over rocks in the Bat Cave bunker...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Year In Review: Numbers, the Best and Honorable Mentions

Once upon a time I used to keep a semi-detailed spreadsheet as a reading log and would do multiple posts recapping my year in reading.  Yeah, those days are long gone.  I now keep track of my reading using GoodReads, which while nowhere near detailed as my old method, makes up for those shortcomings thanks to convenience.  So sit back, and be prepared to dive into this probably too-lengthy post.

My goal was, as it always is, to read 100 books.  I ended up hitting 80, which includes DNFs and audiobooks.  Real Life was busy this year, so the fact that 80 books touched my hands is pretty amazing.  Here's how the numbers breakdown:

A Grades = 10
B Grades = 28
C Grades = 26 (3 Stars on GR, which also included "low" B-)
D Grades = 6
DNFs = 10
Audiobooks = 16

A grades were up, as were DNFs.  The rest of these numbers are pretty par for the course with what I normally do.  The bulk of my reading consistently seems to land in the B/C range.

But let's get on with the good stuff, after the short disclaimer that these books represent multiple publication years.  I'm forever perpetually behind and why should a great read not get mentioned just because it wasn't a 2015 release?

So what were the books I read that knocked my socks off in 2015?    Let's start with the A grades

Title links take you to full reviews

A Soldier's Heart by Kathleen Korbel
  • Twenty year old category romance about a former Army nurse heroine suffering from PTSD and the hero, one of her former patients in Vietnam.  Korbel has self-published some of her older books, but not this one (yet).  Here's hoping it's available in digital soon.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (audiobook)
  • I could of sworn I read this as a kid, but I don't think I actually did.  The plan was to listen to the rest of the books this year, but I didn't quite get there.  There's always 2016!
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O'Keefe
  • My first single title read by O'Keefe and man, what a book. I got gut-punched in the second half and stayed up way past my bedtime to speed read to the finish line.
Seven for a Secret (audiobook) and The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye
  • Addicted.  I was completely, hopelessly addicted to (and obsessed with!) this historical mystery series which turned out to "only be a trilogy" and ::sob::  Wonderful, amazing, historical detail.  They're dark stories (trigger warnings all over the place), but holy mother I think historical romance fans would dig this series.
Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist
  • A gentle read that sizzled with sexual tension (but no actual insert-tab-A-into-slot-B) and an amazing Americana vibe.  Historical romance fans may have lost Pamela Morsi but we have gained Gist.
The Nanny Plan by Sarah M. Anderson
  • Anderson writes some damn fine category romance and this one was a showstopper.  A heroine determined to not repeat her mother's mistakes, a hero figuring out life now that he's "new money" and OMG - actual class issues!  Class issues are part of the conflict.  Ignore the baby on the cover people, just read this book already!
Something About a Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson
  • A second appearance my Anderson, this novella is a dynamite example of how the format works well in the right author's hands.  Sexy, fun, emotional, and a perfect happy ending for a the short page count. 
Sweet Agony by Charlotte Stein
  • Remember when erotic romance was about more than just whatever kinky crap the author could throw on the page?  Yeah, I miss those days too.  Stein has certain writing tics that won't be for every reader, but OMG - this book!  The tension!  The desire!  The passion! 
Harlot by Victoria Dahl
  • It wasn't everything I wanted it to be, but the emotional heft of this novella was really striking.  Dahl excels at writing heartbreak and dialogue and I spent the entirety of this story having my guts ripped out.  Also she makes the happy ending work in a realistic manner, which is no small feat given the characters and plot.
Now on to the Honorable MentionsThese were B rated books that "stuck with me" even though they didn't necessarily pass my OMG Must Reread Some Day test.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall
  • A wonderfully emotional m/m romance about a clinically depressed (and intellectually snobby) writer and a wannabe model with a spray tan.  Trust me, it's good.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (audiobook)
  • Nail-biting suspense that almost found me chain-smoking through the last couple of CDs.  King won an Edgar Award for this book and dude.  Totally deserved it.  I couldn't wait to get stuck in traffic on my commute to listen to more.
Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann
  • I've enjoyed other books by Lohmann, but I think this might be her most accomplished work to date. She avoids the pitfall of turning her paraplegic hero into a trope, she doesn't whitewash the heroine's past mistakes, and she gives us a believable romance. 
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (audiobook)
  • Historical women's fiction that is a Tearjerker with a capital T (in bold, outlined in neon) about two sisters and their experiences in Nazi-occupied France.  Bad things happen.  People die.  It's not a romance.  But it's dynamite women's fiction and my #1 with a bullet suggestion if you're looking for a book club read.
The Fighter and the Fallen Woman by Pamela Cayne
  • I've pimped this book all bloody year long.  Former prostitute heroine turned mistress to crime lord heroine falls for the hero, hired muscle and boxer.  The longing, the angst, the emotional ache of this story.  Happy, happy sigh.
Everything I Left Unsaid by Molly O'Keefe
  • OK, so it ends on a cliffhanger, doesn't stand alone, and I'm the only person on the planet who wasn't in love with the second book (The Truth About Him).  But this book?  Oh man, it's great.  A near perfect blend of women's fiction, suspense and erotic romance.  O'Keefe may have broken the mold with this one.
Tempted by Molly O'Keefe
  • Oh look, my third mention of O'Keefe in this Best Of round-up.  I swear, she's not paying me.  This is her second historical western featuring a heroine who desperately wants to be more as society is holding her back, and a hero struggling to find a way to tell her how he feels, even as he questions his ability to be everything she needs and deserves. 
Rise by Karina Bliss
  • Bliss delivers in turning Zander into a full-fledged romantic hero and pairs him up with a fantastic heroine, who is a scholar and writer.  I never thought I'd find a rock n' roll romance that would work for me, but this one does.  Better yet?  Bliss has set the stage to turn this into a series.  The secondary characters here are fantastic.
Scarred Hearts by Bonnie Dee
  • Not gonna lie - there are problematic elements in this story that, I think, may stop some readers cold (there's some pretty disturbing violence in the second half of the story).  But - how often does one come across a historical romance (post-WWI) that takes place in Kentucky hill country?  Yeah, like never.  Plus I'm a sucker for beta (virgin!!!) heroes and heroines who are desperately trying to live down their disreputable pasts.
And that my friends, is that.  The highlights of 2015, just in case you missed them the first time around.  Now it's time to officially close that book and start a new one.  Wendy's 2016 Year in Review.  Hopefully lots of good stuff awaits me.