Since as readers we always want the good before the bad, I thought I'd start off my synopsis of 2006 reads by talking about the good stuff first. Yeah, it's all going to go downhill from here - but think of this as a handy shopping list for the next time you're over at Amazon. In order in which I read them; click on the titles if you want the original blog post:
1) Hope's Captive by Kate Lyon (2006, western) - Hands down the worst cover of the year. Seriously, someone over at Leisure's art department needs to be shot. Or drawn and quartered. Or at the very least stoned to death. Anyway, a wonderful, emotionally rich story with some knock-your-socks-off historical detail. I no longer have sympathy for Regency nuts who whine about the proliferation of wallpaper historicals. Leave your comfort zone and try this western.
2) The Roofer by Erica Orloff (2004, crime) - I amended my records to indicate this was a keeper. I originally rated it a "B" but it was the sort of book that stuck with me for months after finishing it. Not a romance (not even close), rather a crime novel about a young woman raised in Hell's Kitchen by her small-time mobster father and linked to her drug and alcohol addicted brother by a terrible secret. It's gritty, it's dark and it ain't for sissies. If you have delicate sensibilities just forget I ever mentioned this book - it's not for you.
3) Married by Midnight by Judith Stacy, Harlequin Historical 622 (2002, American) - Stacy is a hit or miss author for me, and this has been her biggest hit so far. When the heroine finds out that the hero only married her to win a wager she declares war. Of course by this time the hero is in love with his wife (he just doesn't know it) and must spend the rest of the story groveling. Can't help it, I love men who grovel.
4) 4th Of July Picnic by Pat Pritchard, Cheryl Bolen and Tracy Cozzens (2004, western) - While all the stories were very strong in this anthology, it's the Cozzens tale that pushes this one over the edge. The hero sells patent medicine and the heroine buys his tonic thinking it will cure her club foot. The hero feels like a shit-heel and decides to help the girl any way he can. I love characters with dubious morals/motives. Funny enough though, if you read the original blog post I rated all the stories in the B range, but gave it an "A" in my personal records. Frankly, it's the strongest multi-author anthology I've ever read, and that Cozzens story just stuck with me - so that's why I'm including it on this list.
5) The Seduction Of Samantha Kincaid by Maggie Osborne (1995, western) - Not the strongest Osborne book I've read, but still really great. A heroine who actually lives like a man (no flowing locks stuffed under a hat!) so she can be a bounty hunter and track down the outlaw who shattered her family. The hero is that outlaw's brother, and he's looking for him to - so he can kill him himself! Dark, gritty, truly wonderful. Damn Osborne's eyes for retiring on me!
6) All U Can Eat by Emma Holly (2006, contemporary erotica) - Emma Holly is the Queen of Erotica and all those other writers are merely pretenders to her thrown. A heroine with moxie, hot sex, and a yummy hero make this a fun, fun read. I really wish she'd ditch her mainstream stuff and concentrate on erotica full time - but what do I know?
7) A Reason To Live by Maureen McKade (2006, western) - Take that New York! You keep telling me that the western is dead, but it wouldn't be dead if you dumped Cassie Edwards and focused more on writers like McKade! A heartbreaking story carried by a heroine so haunted by the Civil War that she fears she's going crazy. Couple that with a wounded hero, plenty of angst and a happy ending and I'm happier than a hog in - well you know. To make it even better? Two more books to follow, making this one a trilogy! A western trilogy in this current anti-western romance climate makes me happier than a hog in - well you know.
8) The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith (2006, contemporary) - Again, take that New York! Already named one of the best romances of 2006 by Library Journal, it was self-published by Belle Books (a small press the author owns with several other Southern writers). Another emotional story about a former Hollywood It Girl, now scarred forever and the man she falls in love with, still haunted by memories of 9/11 and the death of his wife and child. Beautiful. I went on a Deborah Smith buying bender after finishing it.
These were the great books I read. The books that stuck with me, fooled me into thinking that the characters were real, and caused me to make an emotional investment. Next blog post? The honorable mentions. The best of the "B" reads.