Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 Year In Review: The Cream Of The Crop

After pouring over my spreadsheet one final time, here are the books that truly stood out for me in 2009. Since I read quite a bit of category romance this past year, it's no surprise that they make up most of the titles on this list. Further proof for the naysayers who think every book Harlequin publishes has to be about a tycoon, virgin secretary or secret baby. Ahem. Anywho, on with the show. (Title links lead to full reviews)

Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress by Nicola Cornick, Harlequin Historical, Regency Scotland, March 2009, Grade = A-
I'll admit that I'm a Nostalgia Ho, and this story flipped that switch hard. It took me back to the days when I was a wee lil' Super Librarian, browsing the local public library shelves as a teenager, and reading all those wonderful first person narrated "woman in peril" stories. A heroine with gumption, a rakish hero, and a soap opera style plot that made my heart swoon. I loved every blessed word of it.

A Not So Perfect Past by Beth Andrews, Harlequin SuperRomance, Contemporary Romance, April 2009, Grade = A-
Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot tolerate weak heroines. So it's a little surprising that I liked this story so much. Heroine whose abusive husband left her, is about to evict the ex-con hero who is renting the apartment above her bakery when fate steps in. Not only does he stay in the apartment, she ends up hiring him for a construction job - defying everyone from her asshole ex to her family in the process. The heroine is wet dishrag at the beginning of the story, but it's wonderful to read about her transformation. This is the type of book that will divide readers, but damn, it worked for me.

A Holiday Romance by Carrie Alexander, Harlequin SuperRomance, Contemporary Romance, June 2009, Grade = B+
Carrie Alexander is one of my favorite HSR authors, and this book is a great example of why. After her mother leaves her money in her will (with the stipulation to have "an adventure") heroine takes a home-swap style vacation to Arizona. It starts out a little bumpy when she finds herself staying in a condo in a retirement-type community, but it quickly heats up when she meets the hero, the driven and ambitious manager of the resort. Two normal grown-ups, and not a kid or tycoon in sight. It's great.

Evil At Heart by Chelsea Cain, St. Martin's Minotaur, Suspense, September 2009, Grade = B+
The third book in the author's Beauty Killer series, this entry felt a little like a placeholder after the wiz-bang, bare-knuckle, first two books. But what can I say? I'm still well and truly hooked.

Highland Rebel by Judith James, Sourcebooks, Historical Romance, Restoration British Isles, September 2009, Grade = B+
Great time period, great conflict, and a wounded hero (who doesn't wallow) who'll sell his loyalty to the highest bidder (so long as they have a shot in Hell at being the winning side). A heroine who starts out a bit rocky, but with an intriguing back story, who calls the hero on most of his bullshit (love that!). Nice romantic couple, good use of history, and a realistic ending. Trust me. Once you get past the first 50 pages, it's fantastic.

Tale of the Dancing Girl by Grace D'Otare, Harlequin Spice Briefs, Historical Erotic Romance, November 2009, eBook short story, Grade = B+
Exotic Middle Eastern setting, a widowed heroine who vows to never love another soldier, and an Army Colonel hero determined to catch her eye. Sizzling sexual tension, romantic storyline, and a happy ending. Loved it.

Under The Boss's Mistletoe by Jessica Hart, Harlequin Romance, Contemporary Romance, November 2009, Grade = B+
Sometimes all I want from the romance genre is two adult characters who talk to each other. I was desperate for that when I picked up this book, and it delivered exactly what I wanted. Heroine who has finally landed a job that she "likes" working for a wedding planner, finds herself working with the hero, a reformed bad boy turned CEO that she knew as a teenager. She's romantic and chaotic; He's determined to over-compensate for his past with the right job, right tie and right girl - no matter how boring they are. Naturally, sparks fly.

Let It Ride by Jillian Burns, Harlequin Blaze, Contemporary Romance, May 2009, Grade = B
Wounded Air Force officer hero is in Las Vegas when he falls in lust with Keno girl heroine. He's got it bad, but she shoots down fly-boys better than any missile. His buddies egg him on, plus he's really determined. The heroine thwarts his advances like second nature, but ultimately is drawn to him thanks to her loneliness and his persistence. I read Blaze for "fun and sexy" and this story has a wonderful emotional depth, coupled with "real" conflict. The only misstep was a sex scene that pushed one of my hot buttons.

The Man Most Likely by Cindi Myers, Harlequin American Romance, Contemporary Romance, May 2009, Grade = B+
Former slacker ski-bum hero falls in lust with heroine's voice over the phone. Then he meets her in person and she's....fat! Size 16 (oh thank you Lord!) heroine runs her own business (chocolate shop, naturally) and is used to people underestimating her. The hero is chaffing at the notion many of his slacker buddies have that he'll wash out at being a "grown-up" and revert back to his ski-bum ways. They fall for each other, but are left with the question of if their relationship has a shot in Hell at working. The conflict is completely centered around perceptions, and I really adored the fact that the author didn't heave it all on the heroine's shoulders.
And those are the nine books that really cooked for me in 2009. The way it's shaping up, I think this will be my last post in my yearly reading recap. I just don't have the energy or desire to delve into the "bad" books, and there's not really a need for a summary post as far as I'm concerned. Besides, it's always better to end on a high note anyway, right? I encourage you to read the full reviews for any of these books that might interest you. That's where you'll find more nitty-gritty details on what worked, or didn't work, for me.

All in all, I was fairly pleased with 2009 - but naturally I'm hoping for bigger and better in 2010. Namely I want to be more consistent. Read a little every day, instead of going on huge feast or famine binges. Oh, and the ever ubiquitous Read More Out Of My Mammoth TBR pipe dream. I sucked at doing that this past year. Here's hoping I have more resolve in 2010.


inthehammockblog said...

Great list!! The Nicola Cornick one looks so good!

Lori said...

Lots of these sound really good. I tend to stick with the HH, Blaze, or HSR lines these days. I also loved A Not So Perfect Past. I think I love the HSR line so much for many of the same reasons as you - but I love that they are almost always about normal people having a relationship. Period. Yeah, you get the occasional secret baby, but not nearly as often as other lines.

Cheryl St.John said...

You are bad for my addiction, do you hear me, BAD. I just ordered three of these books on your recommendation. I swear I give my online classes just to build up my Paypal account and buy more books.

Katie Mack said...

I have three of these books in the TBR (O'Tare, Burns, and Andrews), so yay! I have good reads to look forward to. And I think I'm going to have to check out the Alexander and Myers. Maybe the Hart. Maybe.

Leslie said...

The nostalgia that always gets me is the mail-order-bride trope. I could eat those up! LOL

I like the sound of the Beth Andrews. Ex-cons can have so many layers to them. And they're automatically bad boys so that's always a plus!

Kristie (J) said...

I think it's interesting that so many of your favourites are series books. I think I read fewer series books this year than I have for quite some time - no reason - I just didn't get to reading them. I usually try to as they are great for 'padding the numbers' *g*

Keira Soleore said...

I love the Nicola Cornick! I'm really interested now to pick up "The Man Most Likely" by Cindi Myers--a brave book. I was surprised to not find Jo Goodman's western on your list.

Wendy said...

InTheHammock: I haven't really seen other reviews on the Cornick, and I'm curious how it will work for other readers. Like I said, it really flipped my nostalgia switch!

Lori: Reviewing HQ for Sybil has allowed me to leave my comfort zone and try other lines. But yeah, if I had my druthers? HH, HSR, SSE, with the occasional Blaze and American thrown in.

Cheryl: Look at it this way. Most of these were Harlequins, so they're not as expensive :)

Katie: Carrie Alexander also has written for Blaze, but I love her HSRs. She could write nothing but HSRs and I'd be one happy girl.

Leslie: The hero in the Andrews is fantastic, which is a good thing since he carries the book for a while. Like I said, the heroine has to undergo quite a transformation.

Kristie: I just flat out read more of them this year. Hence why they make up the bulk of my list. Every single series book on this list? Yeah, reviewed it for Sybil.

Keira: Sigh. That's because I haven't read the Goodman yet! I know! I know! I am a sick, sick woman. I need to kick my reading mojo into gear and get to it soon.

Kristie (J) said...

Wendy, Wendy, Wendy - you haven't read the Goodman book yet???? It's a WESTERN Wendy!!!!

lbgregg said...

I had no idea you moved. I thought you'd just been busy. My reader showed no Wendy.

::bangs head::

I'll be catching up now. Thank you. Nice place.


Wendy said...

Kristie: I know! I'm a bad, bad Super Librarian :(

Lisa: Eeek! Too think you've been missing out on my "wisdom" all this time. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Although I don't usually read Harlequin's romance line, I picked up Hart's "Contracted: Corporate Wife" after reading your post, a "marriage of convenience" plot. It was very well-written and had a "realness" to it that was refreshing. Unfortunately, the next one--"Business Arrangement Bride"--was nearly the same story with different characters. Is that typical?

Wendy said...

Anon: Honestly, I couldn't tell you. Under The Boss's Mistletoe was the first book by Hart I'd ever read. So I can't say if her books have a "same-ness" to them or not - since I've only read the one.

I did pick up a couple more of her titles this weekend. One of which was Barefoot Bride (heroine loses job, loses boyfriend, then her lottery numbers come up) and naturally now the other title I bought completely escapes me.

I need more caffeine.

Gail Dayton said...

Jillian Burns is a good friend of mine, so I'm tickled pink you thought her book was one of the best of last year. (I loved it too.)

Also wanted to let you know that I picked up the superLibrarian ebook bundle from Harlequin. Loved THE DOCTOR'S WIFE and THE LAWMAN'S BRIDE. I'm sure I'll love THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER when I get to it. :) Thanks for doing this. Also for all your reviews. You feed my addiction, but in a good way. :)

Wendy said...

Gail: What really stuck with me was the conflict of that story. I thought Burns did a lovely job with it - and it really gave the story an added emotional punch.

And I'm so glad you like the St. Johns! Yippee!

Lynn Spencer said...

You do realize you're feeding my series romance addiction, don't you? I already read plenty of these, but I'm quite intrigued by the ones you mention here.

Also, I adored Highland Rebel. I can't wait to read Juditih James' next book!

Wendy said...

Lynn: We series romance fans need to stick together :)

I was one of like 3 readers who wasn't enamored with Broken Wing (I disliked it more than I liked it), but thought the author had potential and give Highland Rebel a go. I'm so glad I did!

Cheryl St.John said...

Currently reading A Not So Perfect Past and A Lady Like Sarah