Friday, January 3, 2020

Reading Year in Review 2019

It's time to look back on my reading year that was 2019.  All in all, I had a pretty good year!  My goal is to always hit 100 books and I finished up with 106!  OK, so I do count DNFs and novellas but whatever...106!  Also, I never do a Best Of for just the past year list because I'm always so perpetually behind in my reading and, quite frankly, if the best book I read in 2019 was published in 2015....I WANT TO TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT!  So yeah, it all goes into the blender for me and comes out hopefully as a delicious and nutritious smoothie.  Here's how the numbers broke down for 2019:

5 Stars (A grade): 6
4 Stars (B grade): 41
3 Stars (C grade ; low B-): 31
2 Stars (D grade): 14
1 Star (F grade): 5
DNF (Did Not Finish): 9
Audiobooks: 19

My A, F and DNF grades are pretty consistent from previous years. 2019 saw me righting the ship with more B grades than C grades (yippee) but my D grades were up and that's no bueno.  My audiobook numbers are also way down. A byproduct of a shorter daily commute and me not listening while I exercise. I need to spend more time on my elliptical in 2020.

Now, let's talk books.  Here are the ones I really enjoyed this past year. This list includes all my A grades plus the memorable B grades that had staying power.

(Title links will take you to reviews unless otherwise noted)

The Romance (in no particular order):

The Captain's Vegas Vows by Caro Carson (2018) ; Harlequin Special Edition, Contemporary Romance - What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas when the military heroine realizes that the man she hastily married (and has no memory of...) is also stationed at Fort Hood. A category romance that fires on all cylinders, it's got an amnesia plot and a romance that features a couple who hastily weds and then has to try to figure out if they can live together.

The Bachelor's Baby Surprise by Teri Wilson (2018) ; Harlequin Special Edition, Contemporary Romance - Ignore the baby on the cover and the oopsie-doodle we did it once and now I'm pregnant trope - this is a charming, fun, romantic comedy featuring a Most Eligible Bachelor Hero who is smitten from the moment he lays eyes on the heroine. This is screaming for a movie adaptation.

Her Knight in the Outback by Nikki Logan (2015) ; Harlequin Romance, Contemporary Romance - An emotionally hefty romance featuring a heroine desperate to find her missing brother and a traveling-for-work hero who hitches his wagon to her.  Compelling conflict and a black moment that damn near ripped my guts out.

The Million Pound Marriage by Michelle Douglas (2018) ; Harlequin Romance, Contemporary Romance - She's a poor little rich girl who needs money to send her dead brother's fiance to rehab, he's her dead brother's BFF who is being forced to marry by his overbearing grandfather. Naturally, a deal is struck and they both get more than they bargained for. It's the heroine that made this a stand-out read for me. At some point in this book she challenges ever single man in the story. Every. Single. One. She's glorious.

Passion's Song by Farrah Rochon (2016) ; Kimani Romance, Contemporary Romance - It has friends-to-lovers and a pretend relationship, which is reason enough to love it.  But what's really memorable? The world-building. The romance is set in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, and there's a fantastic neighborhood backdrop that Rochon drops her characters in the middle of. Delightful.

Seduced by the Badge by Deborah Fletcher Mello (2018) ; Harlequin Romantic Suspense - It was a rough year for me and romantic suspense (So. Many. Idiot. Heroines.) and this book gave me some hope that maybe the sub genre isn't totally doomed.  Cop heroine from out of town hooks up with the hero to bring down a sex trafficking ring.  Great world-building, great neighborhood feel (Chicago!) and a lovely family dynamic (the hero's family) that the author is mining for more books in the series.

Wanted: Billionaire's Wife by Susannah Erwin (2019) ; Harlequin Desire, Contemporary Romance - A tight, well-plotted, well-written debut Desire featuring a heroine with her back against the wall (and not in a good way...) and a hero who hires her to find him a wife so he can close a business deal. Sure the plot is borderline absurd, but Erwin writes the heck out of it and it sings from the first page to very last.

A Debutante in Disguise by Eleanor Webster (2019) ; Harlequin Historical, Historical Romance - OMG, this book! The heroine leads a double-life in order to go to university and practice medicine and the hero is suffering from PTSD thanks to Napoleon.  Emotionally stunning with a heroine desperate for a life but hemmed in by what society deems "acceptable" for her gender. 

Their Amish Reunion by Lenora Worth (2018) ; Love Inspired, Contemporary Inspirational Romance - Amish hero leaves community to become a Navy SEAL and returns home for good when his father takes ill and a mission goes sideways. Coming home also means seeing the girl he left behind, now a young widow (she married his BFF) with two children.  Yes it's an Amish romance and yes there's a lot of "God stuff" but this one is rip-your-guts out emotional and amazingly written.

Broken Rules by Michaela Grey (2018) ; Erotic Romance, BDSM, M/M - Originally published by Dreamspinner, this is now available in a self-published edition. This has BDSM and a sex club (I'm honestly sick of both) and yet I still LOVED this book because the world-building and romance are OMG AMAZING!  Dom hero takes on new sub client, a poor little closeted rich boy who is an epic jerkface. An erotic romance that is more than just "hot sex" - it's seriously kinky (like, erotica kinky) but never, not once, loses sight of erotic romance's most important asset - passion. So. Much. Passion!  The black moments are epic with emotional moments that ripped my guts out - and jerkface gets put through the wringer. These are two heroes who have to work for their happy-ever-after. I finished the last page and immediately wanted to start the book all over again to wallow around more in this world. Don't miss it.

A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev (2018) ; Contemporary Romance - Dev spins an emotionally complex fairy tale about a Bollywood princess held captive by her long-term health issues and the hero from the wrong side of the tracks held captive by his sense of obligation to her father.  Never have I wanted a happy ending more for a romantic couple.

Bad Neighbor by M. O'Keefe (2016) ; Contemporary Romance - I love it when O'Keefe writes with a bit of dirt under her fingernails. Heroine moves into a seedy apartment complex near the airport after bailing out her younger sister (yet again) and falls for a grumpy new neighbor who fights in underground (and illegal) MMA matches. The world-building is on fire and on point.

Off Limits (affiliate link) by Vanessa North (2018) ; Contemporary Romance, F/F - I never wrote a review for this because it was part of my judging packet for the 2019 RITAs (no sense in keeping that quiet now given that RWA is burning to the ground). Heroine who is a concierge at a club that caters an LGBTQ+ clientele, moonlights as a singer in a punk band and ends up falling for a woman who is the daughter of Hollywood royalty. I loved the premise, the concierge angle, and the world-building was dynamite.

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (2019) ; Historical Romance, F/F - The passion, the longing, oh the romance! Heroine nursing a broken heart falls for a widowed countess while trying to convince men they actually have brains. Smart women weaving their way through societal BS to get their happy ending and working the system to their advantage?  More please!

Lady Be Reckless by Megan Frampton (2018) ; Historical Romance - I have a checkered past with light historicals, having been burned one too many times by the improbably cutesy. This one worked very well for me. A heroine in the mold of Austen's Emma who is playing matchmaker for the illegitimately born hero, in the hopes of convincing her sister's former beau that she is The One for him. Oh, silly heroine. It's a Victorian, but the light, frothy tone reminded me of lighter Traditional Regencies (that's a compliment!), I adored that the hero was smitten right out of the gate, and there's a nice growth arc for the heroine.  Also, dynamite sisterly dynamic between the heroine and her sisters. I plan on reading more in this series. (Disclaimer: Frampton is my former editor at Heroes & Heartbreakers)

Not Romance, Still Awesome:

The Sun Down Motel (affiliate link) by Simone St. James (2020) ; Gothic Suspense - My review will go live on February 18, but do yourself a favor and preorder this now.  Heroine whose aunt disappeared in 1982 retraces her steps to upstate New York, to a town that time has forgotten and a motel that was seedy when it was newly built. Light romantic elements, creepy Gothic atmosphere, with tinges of horror around the edges. What makes this book a must read though is how St. James centers the ENTIRE novel through the female gaze. The heroine, her aunt, a local cop (the only woman on the force) and a freelance photographer.  The subtitle of this book should be Bitches Getting Shit Done.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts (2019) ; Historical Fiction - The story of Maud Baum, daughter of a famous suffragette and wife to L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books. The story moves back and forth in time, from the MGM studio lot and trying to look out for a young Judy Garland, Maud's growing up years, her courtship and marriage to Frank.  You don't need to be an Oz fan to enjoy this book - which casts a 77-year-old woman as heroine.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019) ; Teen Historical Fiction - Chinese-American teenager uncovers family secrets as she anonymously pens a Dear Abby-style column for a local newspaper, and navigates the upstairs/downstairs world of a wealthy Atlanta household at the dawn of the suffrage movement.  Another great read with light romantic elements featuring a clever girl who learns to move through and around societal roadblocks on her quest for the truth.

Reading Goals for 2020:

The same as usual - I want to get through 100 books. I also want to get back on track with my reread of Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone mystery series.  I got through 14 books last year, but only read one this year - getting sidetracked by romance and contest judging obligations. I want to get back to Sharon and the gang this year.


Jess said...

Oh ! I also read and enjoyed Seduced By The Badge. I really need the heroines to be present in a romantic suspense novel.

Wendy said...

Jess: OMG, me too! I can't tell you how many romantic suspense books (and audiobooks) I DNF'ed last year because of idiot heroines. The heroine in Seduced by the Badge took risks, but she was competent, good at her job, and hallelujah!