Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008 Year In Review: The Best Of The Best

Despite my sad and pathetic reading totals in 2008, I managed to read quite a few quality books this year. Here's a look at the books I graded in the A range. Click on the titles to see full reviews.

His Secret Past (Harlequin SuperRomance 1491) by Ellen Hartman. This is only Hartman's second published book, and it knocked my socks off. Two characters with mountains of personal baggage, a compelling Big Secret-style plot, and oodles of emotion. She's now officially on my autobuy list.

Fathers & Daughters series by Karen Templeton (Silhouette Special Edition). Sybil nagged me to read the first book in this series, Dear Santa, and after that it was all down hill. Characters that felt and acted like real people, along with compelling conflict, have made Templeton one of my go-to authors for series romance. Books in order are Dear Santa, Yours, Mine...Or Ours?, and Baby, I'm Yours.

Outlaw Bride by Jenna Kernan (Harlequin Historical). What I so love about Kernan's work for HH is that she writes westerns pre-Civil War. Her stories have a wonderful frontier quality to them, and she generally writes heroines with some gumption. This story features a heroine pushed to the edge and a hero who is determined to give up on life. Great stuff.

by Chelsea Cain (Suspense). The second book in Cain's Gretchen Lowell serial-killer saga, this book literally was a white knuckle read for me. I know a lot of readers who poo-pooed the twist in this one - but for me, I loved it (and felt Cain did some foreshadowing, so y'all shouldn't have been all that shocked). This was one book I literally could not put down, and in a year where I read only 64 books? That means something. I was putting a lot of books down this year, this wasn't one of them.

Revenant by Carolyn Haines (Suspense). Another suspense story, this one featuring a damaged heroine that knocked my socks off. Loved the Deep South setting, which gave this story a gothic tone. Also enjoyed the tabloid news angle, the cold case and the heroine's destructive nature. I really hope Haines continues to revisit these characters in future books. Review was on now-defunct Paperback Reader blog, which has been dismantled. Take my word for it - great suspense novel.

In Too Deep by Portia Da Costa (Erotic Romance). Definitely one of the lighter and more fun reads I had this year. Adored the librarian heroine, and I'm always a sucker for a hero who pines after the heroine from afar. Smokin' hot love scenes, that never ventured into Bizzaro World (which seems to have over run this sub genre of late).

The Man Behind The Cop by Janice Kay Johnson (Harlequin SuperRomance 1489). I adore series romances that feature emotional story lines, so it's kind of amazing I hadn't discovered Johnson prior to this year. This one packs real emotional punch, with a heroine who has only seen the worst in men, and a hero who thinks he's nowhere near good enough for her.

The Rebel And The Lady by Kathryn Albright (Harlequin Historical). I'm beginning to think I'm in the minority on this book, as I've yet to find a reader who adored it as much as I did. I suspect the reason I loved it so much was I read the author's first novel, which was pleasant but nothing all that special. This story though? Wow! Loved that she used The Alamo as a backdrop for the romance, that the story featured honest-to-goodness, not cliche-riddled Mexican characters, and a hero who doesn't start out all that hero-worthy.

Princess Mia by Meg Cabot (Young Adult). The second-to-last book in the Princess Diaries saga. This one was mainly graded an A because I found it a marvelous return to form. Mia has grown up a bit (finally!), Tina Hakim-Baba continues to rock my world, and there's little to zero "Lily Bullshit" in this installment. A great entry in the series. Sorry, no review.

Next up? The best of the honorable mentions. Stay tuned.


Portia Da Costa said...

Honoured to be on your list, Wendy!

Happy Reading in 2009. :)

ps. still no definitive word on a reprint of The Tutor, but I live in hope.

Valerie said...

Thanks for the list! I'm not living in the states so I don't have the luxury of going to the library (or even a decent English bookstore) to browse. I've bought so many books that I've just tossed to the side in aggravation that I can't keep throwing good money after bad. I'm going to read through your suggestions!!!

Valerie - Still surrounded by the French who all think they're literary critics

Rosie said...

I'm so danged jealous of all you industrious people who have their lists and stats for 2008 up already. Oh, and your last post with all that detail of your reads? Ho-leee! I'm just feeling good (and relieved) about getting everything on my spreadsheet. You've inspired me to add 'genre' to my list though.

Ellen said...

Wendy--I was delighted to see His Secret Past on your list. That's some exciting company my little book is keeping!

P.S. Love that ring! My hubby got me a lap desk. Granted, it's a very nice lap desk with a light and everything, but still...I think I may send him a link to your post. For purely informational purposes. ;-)

Thanks for your support!

Brie said...

His Secret Past seems like something I would like reading. I'm not a big contemporary reader and am trying to change that, plus I like characters with baggage that are able to work through it and find love.

I've been meaning to read Heartsick by Chelsea Cain for some time now. I've heard very interesting stuff about this series. I need to get to it.

I love these best of lists, they give me a look at books that I otherwise wouldn't have come across.

Wendy said...

Portia: I continue to hope!

Valerie: Definitely, reviews, reviews, reviews. Research is critical when you don't have the luxury of heading to the closest Borders and browsing all day. Have you looked into BookMooch? It's like Paperback Swap, where you trade books online with other readers. I know a couple of other overseas readers who use BookMooch.....

Rosie: My spreadsheet is really, really simple. My records just look more intensive than they really are :) And definitely add a genre category! I find it interesting to look back and realize things like "Wow, I only read 2 paranormals last year?!?!"

Ellen: It's been a while since I've gotten jewelry, so it was a nice surprise. Loved His Secret Past, and looking forward to your 2009 releases!

Brie: His Secret Past is great! Great characters, compelling storyline and really emotional. And I have adored the Chelsea Cain series. A must read for suspense fans.

Karen Templeton said...

Oooh...The Best of the Best? So very honored, m'dear. :)


sybil said...

I should get extra credit cuz I give good rec.

Do you still have a copy of that review? You should repost it. Wonder if she is doing anymore of that series? I remember digging out the ARC after reading your review. Didn't like where it ended and couldn't find any news on more of them.

Wendy said...

Making a note...

Bake cookies for Sybil.

You know, I'm not sure if I still have a copy of my Revenant review on file somewhere. I'm guessing not. And I know why you didn't like the ending - because the relationship stuff was left hanging LOL. But 'tis a suspense novel, so the relationship stuff is allowed to stay messy ;)

sybil said...*/http:///

I don't see it... but didn't look really hard...