Friday, January 2, 2015

Wendy's Best Reads Of 2014

Long time readers here at the Bat Cave will know that I tend to spread out my Year In Review over the course of multiple posts.  Over the years I have streamlined this process considerably and this year it's going to be (just) two posts.  This one (which will be a long 'un) and a final post recapping my 2014 TBR Challenge.  On with the show.....

I tracked a total of 119 books over at GoodReads this year.  Here's how my ratings broke down:

5 Stars (A Grades) = 8
4 Stars (B Grades + "high" B-) = 49
3 Stars (C Grades + "low" B-) = 41
2 Stars (D Grades) = 7
1 Stars (F Grades) = 1
0 Stars (Did Not Finish) = 13

Even if I subtract my DNFs, I still read over 100 books this year - and since 100 is always my goal every reading year, I'm pretty happy with that.  I also started tracking my audiobooks half way through the year (first time I started keeping track of these!) and of that 119, 13 were audios.  Per usual?  The bulk of my reading fell somewhere in the middle.  Once again shattering the myth that Wendy iz a Mean Girl.  Very few books get "A" grades, but conversely, very few books get "D" or "F" grades.

So what were my favorite reads of 2014?  Let's start with the A, or 5 Star, books.  Also, please note that not all of these books were 2014 publication dates.  I did dip into the TBR this year.

Title links will take you to full reviews.

The Best of the Best (A Grades):

Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath - Start to finish and damn near perfect, I loved this western historical so much I was tempted to take leave of my senses and give it an A+ rating (for the record, I don't believe in 'em).

The Man Behind the Mask by Barbara Wallace - Contemporary boss/secretary category romance featuring a legitimately haunted wounded hero.

Her Rancher Rescuer by Donna Alward - Contemporary category romance with a heroine, overlooked and dismissed by previous heroes in this series, finds her Prince Charming.  A Prince Charming who gets a serious wake-up call when she informs him she'll never be anybody's second best ever again.

Now and Forever by Logan Belle - Contemporary erotic romance, second (and last) in a duet featuring a 40-something heroine battling breast cancer and her sexual "wing man" - a hero who has been running from serious relationships his entire adult life.  Both novellas are now packaged in a 2-for-1 digital edition.  Buy it. Now.  Do eeeeet.

Intrusion by Charlotte Stein - Contemporary erotic romance featuring two characters touched and haunted by violence.  Smoldering, simmering passion that made me swoon.

There's Something About Ari by L.B. Gregg - Contemporary male/male romance novella featuring a friends-to-lovers theme and characters with a serious amount of past baggage to work through.  Sweet, tender, I feel in love from the first chapter.

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams - Historical inspirational western featuring two characters haunted by fear and shame.  Wonderful scene setting and the author avoids the trap of "pitying" her characters.  Williams' best book yet.

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff - Non-fiction that is part true crime, part memoir written by a journalist during the period of the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal and the auto industry bail-out.  The author is an ass and the entire book is grim as hell, but I was sucked into this audiobook like whoa!  Recommended by work colleagues and I devoured it.

Honorable Mentions (B grades that "stuck with me")

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens - Pyschological suspense that seriously messed with my head and kept me thoroughly riveted during my commute (audio).  Dark, violent, but wow - what a ride.

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye - Historical mystery and again, another audio listen, about a former bartender who joins the newly formed New York City police department.  I don't think this would have worked nearly as well for me had I read it (a lot of period language and slang!), but the narrator (Stephen Boyer) was fantastic and I want to continue on with the series.

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham - Historical romance that is part two of a duet.  Divorced heroine falls for the hero, a man she's known since childhood and who isn't "good enough for her" according to their respective stations.  A real heartbreaker in parts, very emotional.

Secrets at Court by Blythe Gifford - An extremely well-done medieval featuring plenty of political intrigue, Vatican meddling and a romantic couple in the eye of the storm.  Probably one of the best done medievals I've read in a long while.

Crazy, Stupid Sex by Maisey Yates - Contemporary erotic romance featuring a geek heroine who doesn't take any crap from the playboy hero. Sexy and fun.

It Had To Be You by Delynn Royer - Prohibition era "girl reporter" gets caught up in the murder investigation of a dead mobster.  Hero is a cop who grew up in the old neighborhood with said dead mobster.  Fun mystery and romance, hope it turns into a series.

His Hometown Girl by Karen Rock - Contemporary category romance about a heroine who works for a farming conglomerate and goes back to her Vermont hometown to buy-out her various former neighbors.  Standing in her way is the hero, the boy she left behind who is now running his family's farm.  Great conflict and no easy villains.

Never Forget Me by Marguerite Kaye - Three linked short stories set during various years of World War I.  Loved the framework of the stories and found it a wonderfully emotional collection, finding hope even during the most darkest of hours.

Seduced by Molly O'Keefe - A gritty historical western set post-Civil War featuring a heroine married to the worst sort of man and a hero, turned bounty hunter, looking for his scattered family. If you've been waiting for someone to pick up Maggie Osborne's baton?  Yeah, this is it right here.

Tempted by a Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson - Contemporary category romance featuring a recovering alcoholic heroine turned horse trainer and a playboy hero who is still drowning in the bottle.  Emotional, gritty, and oh-so-satisfying.

Looking back on 2014, frankly - I'm glad to see it go.  While some exciting things happened in my personal life (New Job! Our vacation in London!) on the blogging front it was, without a doubt, a year to forget.  It was the year where I seriously considered whether or not I should "keep on, keepin' on."  But looking back at my reading, I'm reminded again of the importance of ignoring the noise and focusing "on the work."  I was lucky enough to discover three of my "A" reads during the month of December, and boy howdy - it was just what the doctor ordered.  I discovered the joy again.  Here's hoping that joy carries over to 2015.


Keira Soleore said...

Wendy, I always look to you for western recommendations, so I'm picking the Heath up. I enjoy Blythe Gifford's medievals--she's one of the few who does good research and uses it wisely. Thanks for the two recs.

Anna Richland said...

December was an excellent reading month for me too - writers don't always let themselves read guilt-free, and I did, and that was perfect. I suspect superlibrarians and bloggers may have some of the same issues with reading for pleasure? Feeling filled with "I should be reading X" when it's not that fun? I'll try some Lorraine Heath on your recommendation - thank you.

Jamie Brenner (aka Logan Belle) said...

Thank you so much for including me on this list! Means the world to me and starts my '15 off to a smile and renewed writing optimism! Wishing you and all of your devoted readers a wonderful new year!

nath said...

Woohoo! Isn't it always awesome when we reach our goal? :) Good stuff, Wendy!!

So glad that Lorraine Heath made your list. Always happy when my favorite authors make it into people's top :) LOL. Although that one, I haven't read.

Just read your review of Crazy Stupid Sex and guess I'll be picking that one up soon :)

Blythe Gifford said...

So delighted to be on this list! Thank you, thank you! Also shouting out to friends Molly O'Keefe, Sarah M. Anderson, Maisey Yates, and fellow HH authors Michelle Willingham and Marguerite Kaye. I'm in great company!

Terri Brisbin said...

Wendy -- thanks so much for mentioning some Harlequin Historicals as your favorites in 2014! Our line is often lost between the rest of the categories and single title - so your inclusion of 3 of ours is wonderful!!

And congrats to all the fabulous books/authors you chose! Huzzah!

Cheryl St.John said...

Always to Remember is one of my all time favorites. I always trust you when it comes to the picks, so bought a few of these. Can't wait to dig in!

Wendy said...

Keira: The Heath is SO good. I've had it in my TBR forever - I could just kick myself for that. So happy it's available digitally now, because it was damn near impossible to find after it went out of print.

Secrets at Court was my first read by Gifford. I have to be in the right mood for medieval, but even so I could kick myself for not trying one of her books sooner. I loved the history and I thought she delivered a compelling romance around it all. I need to go digging through her backlist.

Wendy said...

Anna: Mine was a matter of finding the right books at the right time. All of my December gems were sitting in my pile of ARCs! I've just go SO many ARCs! I knew I had great reads waiting for me, it was just a matter of getting to them.

Wendy said...

Jamie: I loved those two novellas so much. I'm glad you've got them packaged together now. I remember having to wait for this second one after reading the first and OMG, it nearly KILLED me! LOL

Wendy said...

Nath: I know you're not wild about westerns, but Always to Remember is SO good. And I know you like Heath. You totally need to try it.

Crazy Stupid Sex was just a fun read. Yates is one of the few authors I happily go glomming on in Harlequin Presents. I've had a lot of luck with her books.

Wendy said...

Blythe: I had been thinking that I didn't read as much HH this year, but then I went back and looked over my records. I read quite a bit! And of course, I still have plenty waiting for me.

Wendy said...

Terri: HH is probably my favorite Harlequin line. I went through a period where I had horrible Regency burn-out, and HH kept me in historicals during those years.

Wendy said...

Cheryl: OMG, Always to Remember was SO GOOD! I just might have made an ass out of myself talking to Heath about that book at RWA this summer. Uh, just maybe. I'm surprised she didn't leave the conference hotel, head to the nearest police station and file a restraining order.

S. said...

There's nothing like starting a book and realizing it's perfect. So, thankfully you kept on the blog to give us, fellow readers, something else to look for.
Have a great year!

bookish29 said...

This is a good idea for a round up - so good, in fact, I'm going to steal it! :P

I've written so many "best of" bits and pieces for various places that doing another one for my own blog would be repetitive - so I'm not above pinching other peoples' ideas ;-)

Looking at my GR stats, I see that most of my books fall in the 3-4 stars range although I think there are more in the 4 star bracket - I had a good year.

Linda Fildew said...

Wendy: what a wonderful way to start the New Year. As Senior Editor for Harlequin Historical, I'm delighted to see Blythe Gifford, Michelle Willingham and Marguerite Kaye feature on your list. Thank you. Editors as well as authors and readers eagerly await your reviews! While Regencies are ever-popular for us, these excellent authors show the wide range of time periods we encourage in Harlequin Historical. I hope you enjoy many more HH in 2015.

Wendy said...

Sonia: December was a great month for me, and 4 of my "A Reads" happened in December! That has never happened to me before and it was a great way to finish out the year.

Wendy said...

Caz: I looked through my archives and was shocked at all the different formats I've used for these posts. This year I started having anxiety seeing so many "best of" posts in December (I've always done mine in early January) that I wanted to make sure I got mine out in a hurry once 2015 hit. Which left us with the above mess :) But somehow it worked.

Wendy said...

Linda: I read fairly widely within Harlequin (well, not Nocturne - but I'm off paranormals at the moment, so that explains that), but Harlequin Historical is my favorite. I have a major soft spot for that line. It saw me through an unfortunate period of Regency Burn Out and kept me in historical romances by feeding my western addiction.

Now I want to drop everything and hit my HH backlog. I've got Marguerite's last two books, plus Christine Merrill's last one still waiting for me.....