Goodbye 2014. What a year! it certainly seemed to go by fast. During this year we bid a fond farewell to The Romance Reader website. TRR was one of the first romance book review sites to hit the worldwide web. It was an outstanding example of fairness, and influenced many present day sites. This year I said goodbye to Tracy at Tracy's Place aka Ahhhhhromance. After considerable reflection she decided to call it a day. Thank goodness I can still catch her on Goodreads and Book Binge. I do keep checking back to see if she's changed her mind. So far she hasn't.
Let's talk about me. This year I began two projects. One of those projects I forgot I was doing, however, my A-Team project is still going strong. In fact, because of my A-Team, my 2014 Outstanding list is larger than it would have been.
Farewell. Voices that have been taken from us this year: Aaron Allston, Maya Angelou, Benita Brown, Mary Rogers, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Mary Stewart, Leslie Thomas, Aimee Thurlo.
Welcome. Some debut authors who have crossed my radar: Sheila Athens, Ann Bennett, Kat Beyer, Elle Daniels, Kaitlyn Davis, Kelly Bowen, Sally Orr, Krassi Zourkova, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Maggie Hall, Catherine Finger, Charlee Fam, Rachel Lacey, Laura Johnston, Sara Raasch, Amy Ewing, Marcus Brotherton, Anouska Knight, Gabriel Weston, Tiffany King, M.P.Cooley, J.C. Nelson, Carrie Stuart Parks, Carolyn Dingman, Rachel Allen, Edoardo Albert, Julia Fierro, Kathryn Ma, Mary Rickert, Downey Greene, S.E. Green, S.R. Savell, A.J. Larrieu, Kate Breslin, Anne Leonard, William Shaw, Patricia Bradley. Congratulations!
Outstanding! These are some of my favorite books of the year - and this year my list is heavily populated with some old classics. In no particular order:
1. Julia Ross - The Seduction, 2002
2. Elizabeth Boyle - The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane
3. Amanda Quick - Rendezvous, 1991
4. Jennifer Ashley - Rules for a Proper Governess
5. Lisa Kleypas - Then Came You, 1993
6. Lisa Kleypas - Devil in Winter, 2006
7. Bettina Krahn - Behind Closed Doors, 1991
8. Bettina Krahn - Caught in the Act, 1990
9. Courtney Milan - The Suffragette Scandal
10. Deborah Simmons - The Last Rogue, 1998
11. Suzanne Enoch - A Matter of Scandal, 2001
12. Caroline Linden - It Takes a Scandal
13. Meredith Duran - Fool Me Twice
14. Eloisa James - Three Weeks with Lady X
15. Mia Marlowe - Plaid Tidings
16. Joanna Bourne - The Spymaster’s Lady
17. Joanna Bourne - The Forbidden Rose
18. Joanna Bourne - Rogue Spy
19. Joanna Bourne - The Black Hawk
20. Elizabeth Hoyt - Darling Beast
Classics! Now for some fore-v-e-r and e-v-e-r golden classics. Instead of putting these on my 2014 Outstanding list, I decided they deserved a list of their own. These books always make me feel good. Even with the passing years and changing language, they remain close to my heart. They also represent what I consider some really fine romance writing. And I will read them again and again.
1. Mary Jo Putney - The Rake, 1998 (aka The Rake and the Reformer, 1988)
2. Laura London - The Windflower, 1984 (happy anniversary!)
3. Loretta Chase - Lord of Scoundrels, 1995
4. Judith Ivory - The Proposition, 1988
5. Deborah Simmons - The Vicar's Daughter, 1995
6. Lisa Kleypas - Dreaming of You, 1994
Disappointing. Disappointing is such an interesting word, don't you think? We.., I'm about to apply that word to a number of books I read in 2014. The following list contains books I was disappointed in for a variety of reasons. Maybe I had high expectations for a book and they weren't met. There are also some authors I hold to a higher standard and sometimes they just have bad days. Sometimes I've been misled by bombastically glowing reviews only to discover not everyone has the same taste. Of course, maybe just maybe I don't like it. Maybe the writing is sloppy, the characters cardboard, the hero a bonehead and we have a TSTL heroine. Whatever the reason here is my list of books I was disappointed in this year:
1. Victoria Alexander - The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding
2. Elizabeth Essex - A Scandal to Remember - short story from Christmas Brides
3. Valerie Bowman - It Happened Under the Mistletoe - short story from Christmas Brides
4. Robert Galbraith - The Silkworm
5. Manda Collins - Why Lords Lose Their Hearts
6. Michele Sinclair - A Woman Made for Sin
7. Sherry Thomas - My Beautiful Enemy
8. Nancy Martin - A Little Night Murder
9. Jude Deveraux - The Black Lyon, 1980 - a wallbanger if ever there was one
10. Miranda Neville - Lady Windermere's Lover
11. Loretta Chase - Vixen in Velvet
12. Louise Allen - Scandal's Virgin
13. Valerie Bowman - The Unexpected Duchess
14. Kasey Michaels - What a Hero Dares
15. Madeline Hunter - The Counterfeit Mistress
16. Jillian Hunter - The Countess Confessions
17. Manda Collins - Why Earls Fall in Love
18. Loretta Chase - The Lions Daughter, 1995
19. Loretta Chase - Captives of the Night, 1994
20. Laura Lee Guhrke - When the Marquess Met His Match
Now to the prestigious awards.Mommie Dearest Award. No more wire hangers! As everyone knows there are a lot of angst-filled heroes and downtrodden heroines in Romanceville. Do you ever wonder why these people are the way they are? Well, it's because there are boatloads of horrible relatives to make them miserable. From the dominating mother, forcing marriage down someone's throat, to the evil uncle slipping poison into some virgin's tea, romance books are loaded with them. Lucky for us, 2014 was no different. For your perusal:
1. From The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander we have Mrs. Channing. Mrs. Channing had a secret for 32 years. You see, she told her son Jackson his father died when he was two. And, she neglected to tell her husband (who she left shortly after the honeymoon) that he was a father. The worst part was that at no time did she ever show any contrition.
2. The guardians of Merrie from Caught in the Act, 1990. What a pair of conniving, murderous couple. They work really hard trying to separate Merrie and Jack. It's a good thing Jack is a manly man.
3. The mother-in-law from hell in Bride of a Scottish Warrior by Adrienne Basso.
4. The in-your-face mother from Meet the Earl at Midnight by Gina Conkle.
5. From Scandal's Virgin by Louise Allen, we have the mean mother who actually tells our heroine that the baby she had is dead. I guess that was supposed to protect her somehow.
6. Two meanie mommies from Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner. I'm not sure which one of the mothers is the most horrible. The heroines mother who constantly browbeats her daughter - you're-too-fat-you're-stupid-you-can't-do-anything-right. Or. The hero's mother who had political ambition for her sons. She was domineering, controlling and had her hands up all of her sons' cavities deciding what allll their lives were going to be. It was almost too much. Two monster mothers in one story.
And the winner is Laetitia's mother from Eloisa James' Three Weeks with Lady X. What a truly horrible mother. She is all the Disney villains rolled into one - a truly obnoxious person who should never have been a mother (great job writing a mean person, Ms. James.)
Bonehead heroes. These guys irritate me. They are supposed to be our heroes, they are supposed to be men our heroines fall in love with. However, they can't forget the first women they ever loved or that bad woman who broke their heart by marrying their best friend - oh, boo-hoo alllll women are tarts. They use women, they are cold, they lie, and they are jealous, possessive, obsessive, and unfaithful. They jump to conclusions and their apologies are either non-existent or a pitiable "sorry." Here are my nominees for the Steve Morgan Bonehead Hero award:
1. Cormoran Strike from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowlings. Yes, I know he's a private eye not technically a romance hero, but he is a leading man. However, for me the days of Sam Spade - "all women are dame" is in the past. While I may consider Sam Spade a classic detective, and The Maltese Falcon is one of the best gumshoe stories ever, the Sam Spade mentality is a thing of the past and I expect better of the men of today. Cormoran Strike coldly uses women, and on top of that he's a know-it-all. He's a whiney poor-me-I-lost-a-leg-guy. He needs to shed the Sam Spade persona and come into the 21st century.
2. This year we have a Bonehead heroine in the form of Perdita from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. This woman just could not get past her distrust of men because of her horrible dead husband. Her blinders made it impossible for her to see the delightful beta hero standing in from of her. What a harpy.
3. Bonehead heroes can be oblivious, and that is what we have in A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. For almost 200 pages our hero, Reece, wanders around his ship hearing a woman's voice. I'm not sure why it didn't click in his brain that there was a real live female on his shop - it's not as if he's a whacko, he doesn't normally hear voices.
4. Normally, we have Bonehead Heroes, but I would like to mention a Bonehead secondary character: Gus, Nora's boss in A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin. Nothing says sexual harassment more than this guy.
5. Penthurst, our chest thumping, bossy, know-it-all hero from The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter.
6. Let’s not forget Avery, our juvenile, jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion guy in Scandal's Virgin by Louis Allen. In fact, this book had numerous obnoxious characters. They were all irritating and this book almost hit the wall.
7. The Handsome Stupid Man, aka Gavin Norwood from The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter. Gavin was a great secondary character, but when the time came for his own book it didn't work. This is an assumption kind of guy and all of his assumption were wrong - alllll of them.
8. Coming in a close second was Damien from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville. Here is a guy who blames everyone but himself for his problems. He is spoilt, he is callus, he jumps to conclusions and he holds grudges. He has to be one of the worst friends ever. He almost won the bonehead award, but there was a real horrible stinker-hero this year, thanks in part to my A-Team Project. I have no idea what I was thinking in 1980 when I first read this book and actually liked it.
Our Bonehead Winner-ur-Loser for 2014 is Ranulf de Warbrooke from The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux. Granted this book was written in 1980, the era of true bodice rippers, but even so this guy takes the cake. How anyone could find this jealous, possessive, violent rapist romantic is beyond me. The heroine is so innocent, so in love, never understanding what she did wrong - and, she did nothing wrong. All the problems are created by his pig-headed-jealousy - he is an abusive creep and he never should have been a hero.
Sidekick aka Secondary Characters aka Supporting Cast.
Oh those great scene stealers, those characters we hope show up again in the next book. Sometimes they are good enough to have their own book. When this happens sometimes they live up to our expectations - Derek Craven. Sometimes they should never have a book of their own but do - Sebastian, Duke of St. Ives. And some we just keep hoping we will see again - Cat. Well, here is my 2014 crop of secondary characters who either stole the show or I'm hoping for a sequel or both.
1. The Duke of Montgomery, a seemingly frivolous fop, from Elizabeth Hoyt's Darling Beast. I want Montgomery's story to be next but I'm going to have to wait. Sigh.
2. Andrew, Sinclair's high-energy son from Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley. I thought the scenes with Andrew in them were very realistic. What made them even better was that they were in the pages of a book and not my living room. I loved the realistically drawn Andrews. He made me smile.
3. Sometimes secondary characters have very small parts in the book, but they are still capable of stealing scenes and that is what happened in Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter. MacPhee, the Scottish blacksmith was absolutely funny and his small comical part added to the story. His heavy Scottish brogue was wonderful and his interaction with our hero was a hoot.
4. Fagan from My Highland Spy by Victoria Roberts is already doing hero bickering with his future heroine, which makes me want to buy his book. He made a great supporting character, hop he can stand on his own.
5. We have a whole boatload of secondary characters in the ship's crew from A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. This was a case when the secondary characters overpowered the story.
6. Baron Torgne Sigund from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn - the bigger-than-a-tree-trunk guy was half of a very combustible team.
7. In It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden, it was nice to have an affectionate, loving family in the Westons. Their parents were portrayed as loving. The siblings were loyal one minute and bickering the next---just like real siblings. It was a refreshing change from the usual evil family fare.
8. Freddie from Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett. I loved Freddie; he was beautifully written. His honesty enhanced the story and gave it a bit of humor. Freddie's character allowed the hero to appear sympathetic and loving.
9. Only in the world of fiction can a ghost be a great supporting character. That is what happened in Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe. Yep, Brodie the ghost not only has his own mystery surrounding him but he is also the surrogate father of our heroine Lucinda. Brodie has always been there for Lucinda, and at time their relationship is very poignant.
And the winners are, yes this year we have a tie. It's really not fair to the other secondary characters this year that I read two classic books with two all-time bestist of the best supporting characters...Derek Craven from Then Came You. And Cat from The Windflower, who never got his own story...ahem. I don't believe I need say any more about these two wonderful creations.
Garlic Breath Award. Gather 'round kiddoes...what does SidneyKay say about how to spot a villain? Look for a character with garlic breath and/or yellow teeth. Yes, yes, they are our villains. Here are some of the villains that slithered off of the pages this year...and some didn't even have garlic breath.
1. The omnipresent villain from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. He knew every place our heroine was going to be before anyone else, including her. If must have been his minions that made him so psychic.
2. This is one of the first time I've nominated an historical person in this category...let's give a round of applause to Elizabeth I as portrayed in Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. This book is a sequel; however in this story time has not been kind to Elizabeth. She is now a jealous, vindictive, possessive, crafty woman who is downright scary in her obsession with the heroine.
3. Villains from older books showed up this year. First Francis Beaumont from Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase, a liar, pander, and drug addict who get his comeuppance and Ismal/Esmond from The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase. Ismal is a very evil, irredeemable villain in The Lion's Daughter. He shows up as the hero in Captives of the Night, but even the change of his name to Esmond doesn't make him hero material.
4. Coming in second is Jack from Falling for the Highland Rogue by Ann Lethbridge, a really spine-tingling creepy guy who doesn't need smelly breath to make him bad.
And, the winner of the Garlic Breath Award for best villain of 2014 is from another older book. This time it is Edward from The Seduction by Julia Ross. This guy is so creepy the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He is a master manipulator, has so many moves that you really don't know what he's up to. Edward is a wonderfully sinister man created from the pen of a gifted author.
Gus Award. Once again there seemed to be a shortage of cute animals that caught my eye this year. Ho, those little balls of fluff or those mangy, slobbering, smelly mongrels or those disgruntled-don't-touch-me felines who almost steal the show. Yes, it's time for the scene stealing creatures that inhabit our books. (I'd say four legged but sometimes they have fins.)
1. The ferret from My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne is my first nominee. That little guy added a bit of humor while still managing to point the good guys in the right direction. Nothing handier than a ferret who can find somebody who's kidnapped.
Fasten your seat belts! It's time for the Timothy Toad award. What would we do without our Mr. Toads populating our books? Some of them are big-big-enormous, some are very very talented, angry, even red, hot, silky, soft/hard with giant bulbous purple heads...sounds appetizing doesn't it. Here are this year's stand-outs:
1. Tristan, Sabrina Jeffries' hero from How the Scoundrel Seduces. Tristan's Mr. Toad has a mind of its own and so do his giant thighs. While Tristan may have a problem with women, his Mr. Toad doesn't pay Tristan any mind. Nope that guy is sending out all kinds of signals to our heroine, signaling her from across the room, waving his head - letter her know of his availability.
2. This year we have one of the most boring Mr. Toads ever. From A Woman Made for Sin, no matter how hard he tries, after pages and pages of recreational activity Chase's Mr. Toad does nothing but make us fall asleep.
3. Then we have the Tree Trunk Mr. Toad from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. Just the thought of a giant throbbing tree trunk headed my way makes me want to run in the other direction. To say nothing of the bark. Ouch!
4. Then we have a disgusting, can't-get-love-without-a-drug Mr. Toad from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville.
5. Let’s take a look at the interesting Mr. Toad from The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman. Not only is the Mr. Toad in this book a gymnast - all that flipping and flopping and plowing made me downright dizzy - but this Mr. Toad had a sidekick. Yep, he had a helper in the form of some big over-sized fingers. Yes-siree Bob, Derek had a handful of frenzied chipper-choppers, delving and digging whenever they could.
6. And, who could forget the Mr. Toad from Meredith Duran's Fool Me Twice! This amazing piece of equipment was made for one thing and one thing only and that would be whankee-roo-who; it didn't seem that Alistair did anything else with his Mr. Toad - like pee.
7. Then we have a Mr. Toad who is starting his own business. People who like to camp can go to this guy. The number of erect poles produced by the Mr. Toad from Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives was simply amazing, just the thought of all those tents was astounding.
8. From The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter there's the Mr. Toad who thinks our heroine is a ventriloquist - really, conversation cannot be had when one's mouth is occupied entertaining you, Mr. Toad.
And the winner of this year's prestigious Mr. Toad award goes to the amazing Mr. Toad from Why Earls Fall in Love by Manda Collins. Granted this guy had some help and our heroine must have had quite a cavern in her valley. Timothy Toad and his cohorts were busy little fellas: tongues, fingers, elbows, kitchen sinks, and all of them thrusting, sucking, shucking; why, I could even hear an occasional echo. May there was even a lantern down there. Who knows they might even find Jimmy Hoffa.
Once again I have to thank you guys for making by days a little lighter. A number of you have provided me with some pretty big yucks and I bet I will find more of you in 2015.
2015. I'm happy for Deborah Simmons, who seems to have a new book out, It Had to Be You, even if it isn't a historical. I'm looking forward to an upcoming historical release from Lisa Kleypas and keeping my fingers crossed that she still has that historical romance magic. Also, Courtney Milan is going to try her hands at contemporary romance. She is promising to continue writing her historicals. I hope she is able to keep her promise because I will be crying my eyes out if I'm not able to read at least one Courtney Milan historical a year.
“Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay,
I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same,
I must be going.” - Groucho Marx