"So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a hand print on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend..." Stephen Schwartz - Wicked
Dedicated to the bestest uncle. You are the hand print on my heart and my inspiration. I will miss you dearly. Goodbye, Uncle Jim.
Farewell 2015. This year in romance saw the return to historical romance of two authors who had left to journey into other genres: Lisa Kleypas and Eva Leigh, aka Zoe Archer. This year has gone by in a flash and a number of times I had to turn to some old classics for some good reading. My A-Team Project came in handy this year. I was also excited this year to find Grace Burrowes and her amazing huge backlist.
We bid farewell to some of the authors we lost this year: Jackie Collins, E L Doctorow, Kate Kelly, Tanith Lee, Colleen McCullough, Terry Pratchett, Ruth Rendell, Ann Rule, Bertrice Small.
Welcome to some debut authors who crossed my radar: Marissa Campbell, Lila Bowen, Kathleen Kimmel, Rebecca Adler, Jean Flowers, Anna Harrington, Anna Bradley, Susanne Lord, Cheryl Hollon, Eileen Richards, Mitchell Kriegman, Cynthia Tennent, Renee Graziano.
Outstanding list! These are my favorite books that I've read this year. Not all of the books on this list were published in 2015, they just happen to be ones that I've read this year. They are listed in no particular order.
1. Courtney Milan, Once Upon a Marquess - 2015
2. Grace Burrowes, The Traitor - 2014
3. Grace Burrowes, The Captive - 2014
4. Grace Burrowes, Daniel's True Desires - 2015
5. Eva Leigh (aka Zoe Archer), Scandal Takes the Stage - 2015
6. Meredith Duran, Luck Be A Lady - 2015
7. Loretta Chase, Last Night's Scandal - 2010 (Project A-Team)
8. Loretta Chase, Mr. Impossible - 2005 (Project A-Team)
9. Jo Goodman, A Season to be Sinful - 2005 (Project A-Team)
10. Elizabeth Boyle, Love Letters from a Duke - 2007 (Project A-Team)
11. Elizabeth Boyle, This Rake of Mine - 2005 (Project A-Team)
12. Elizabeth Boyle, Something About Emmaline - 2005 (Project A-Team)
13. Victoria Alexander, The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress - 2015
14. Julie Anne Long, It Started with a Scandal - 2015
15. Madeline Hunter, His Wicked Reputation - 2015
16 Susanna Ives, Wicked My Love - 2015
17. Isabella Bradford, A Sinful Deception - 2015
18. Miranda Neville, The Duke of Dark Desires - 2014
Disappointment List. Now it is time to talk about books that were a big disappointment for me this year. Remember these books may not necessarily be bad; in fact some of them might even be "ok." But we are talking disappointment, and in some instances they are pretty big disappointments. Some authors I hold to a higher standard than others; I expect more from some than others. Sometimes a book just doesn't live up to all the hype, it doesn't meet my expectation of that hype. Maybe it's the unlikeable characters in the book who disappoint. Does this mean I will never read another book from that author again? Of course not, just look at some of the authors who made my list. And remember, these are my disappointments. In no particular order:
1. Amanda McCabe, The Demure Miss Manning - 2015
2. Lisa Kleypas, Cold-Hearted Rake - 2015
3. Julie Anne Long, The Legend of Lyon Redmond - 2015
4. Sally MacKenzie, What to Do with a Duke - 2015
6. Elizabeth Boyle, The Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress - 2009 (Project A-Team)
7. Sophia Nash, The Kiss - 2008 (Project A-Team)
8. Caroline Linden, Love in the Time of Scandal - 2015
9. Julia London, The Devil Takes a Bride - 2015
10. Julia London, The Trouble with Honor - 2014
11. Jade Lee, 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake - 2015
12. Anna Campbell, A Scoundrel by Moonlight - 2015
13. Paula Quinn, The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor - 2015
14. Manda Collins, A Good Rake is Hard to Find - 2015
15. Mary Reed McCall, Beyond Temptation - 2005 (Project A-Team)
16. Mary Reed McCall, On Sinful Pleasures - 2006 (Project A-Team)
17. Sabrina Jeffries, If the Viscount Falls - 2015
18. Jillian Hunter, Forbidden to Love - 2015
19. Julia Quinn, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy - 2015
Mommie Dearest! No More Wire Hangers!!! Oh those dysfunctional families we love to hate. There seems to be a plethora of them in romance novels. Those neglectful fathers, unkind mothers, jealous sisters, conniving brothers, capricious cousins/uncles/aunts. They drug/lock/gamble/barter away those innocent heroines. They force them to wed loathsome fops. To say nothing of all those poor heroes who can never luv another because of something his father/mother/brother did. They are allll horrible and they populated many of the books I read in 2015. For your perusal, here are my nominations for the 2015 Mommie Dearest award:
1. Cam's father from Scandal Takes the Stage, by Eva Leigh. This guy showed up in Forever Your Earl and he was a dominating, conniving man then and he was only a Godfather in that book. I thought for sure he would show up in this book and ruin his son's life, but that didn't happen. Oh sure, he was there but besides some grumbling he didn't do anything. I'm assuming he will show up in some other book to ruin their lives.
2. Not one but a whole troop of irritating MacLawry clan make their presence known in Some Like it Scot, by Suzanne Enoch. The worst part of all was that each member of this obnoxious family had their own stories. But there is one member of this family who really stands out and that was tyrannical Ranulf. Oh, Ranulf! And, to think I really liked you when you were a hero in your own story, The Devil Wears Kilts. Now you are just an arrogant blockhead.
3. From The Unsuitable Secretary, by Maggie Robinson, we have a father who is drugging his daughter because a woman's place is in the home - slaving away.
4. Felicity. Felicity is part of a series within a series created by Elizabeth Boyle. Felicity even had her own story in Love Letters from A Duke, which I loved. However, in Confessions of a Little Black Gown she turns into a mean-spirited shrew and I was glad I read the books so close together this time. It's amazing how much characters can change from one book to another - and, that's the "good" guys.
5. Julia, the self-centered, mercenary sister from A Wicked Pursuit, by Isabella Bradford. Julia steps all over her sister in this book.
6. Speaking of sisters, we have another horrible one in Daphne from Say Yes to the Marquess, by Tessa Dare. And to think I always wanted a sister.
7. The Duke of Trimby who forces his grandson into living off of other to get him to toe the line from 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake, by Jade Lee. By the way, his plan doesn't work.
The winner of the Mommie Dearest Award for 2015 is a snotty character from 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake, by Jade Lee - Lady Eleanor. Lady Eleanor really got on my nerves. She is soooo arrogant, she has placed herself far above allll the other mortals - the unclean of the world. In this book she thinks the heroine was born under a rock. Lady Eleanor shows up again in another book this year, One Rogue at a Time. She even goes as far as making her half-brother enter through the back entrance. Of course, he's her illegitimate half-brother, so he is dirt under her fingernails. I have heard rumors that she will be getting her own story. If those rumors are true, she needs to fall a long way to be palatable.
Bonehead heroes. Why Bonehead you may ask. Well, originally I was going to call them jerks, but someone (a male) thought that might be a little harsh. Ok, I'll change jerk to bonehead - that will be soooo much better. These guys are the heroes, or at least they are supposed to be the heroes. Most of them belong in a cave. They use women, are jealous or obsessive or possessive or domineering or cruel or unfaithful or oblivious. Rarely do these guys ever apologize or grovel. They make me mad. Here are my nominees for the Steve Morgan Bonehead Award for 2015:
1. Alec from A Wicked Way to Win an Earl, by Anna Bradley. All I can say is "Oh, grow up!" Since when is deliberately ruining someone heroic?
2. Devon from Lisa Kleypas' Cold Hearted Rake. A man who is not only rude, but has a mean streak to accompany that rudeness. Any woman taking this guy on would have to have a really hard shell, and our heroine didn't.
3. Not Quite a Lady, by Loretta Chase, brings us Darius. He seems to have no compunction to leaving his seed in any container. Even knowing the heroine's background he doesn't change his tactics. He was an insensitive clod.
4. Lachlan, Mr. Oblivious from Mad, Bad and Dangerous in Plaid, by Suzanne Enoch. Talk about shallow. It only takes a pair of giant bazooka's to get this guy’s attention.
5. Harry, the self-indulgent user from A Wicked Pursuit, by Isabella Bradford.
6. Dom, from Sabrina Jeffries' If the Viscount Falls. Once again, we have another example of an irritating loser who is a bad boy. But he's a handsome bad boy, so that must make it ok to be a controlling, obsessive bonehead. He was just lucky that in this book he was paired with an equally irritating heroine - serves him right. By the way, another nice guy gets the shaft in this one - Edwin.
7. James from Jillian Hunter's Forbidden to Love the Duke. The heroine musssst love him. How do we know that? Because he tells us so - over and over and over and over.
8. The laughter was missing in Julia Quinn's The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy. I found nothing funny about this stinkin' rotten cad. A game player, a trickster, a sneak, and not a funny one. Boooo Richard.
9. Vander, another Bonehead loser. In Four Nights with the Duke, by Eloisa James, we have another case of a bad boy behaving badly. He's mean, atrocious, and rude. He treats her horribly while all the time he is lusting after her. Loathsome loser guy.
10. From Dukes are Forever, by Anna Harrington, we have Edward. Oh Edward, he can never trust another woman because of his mother. Of course, our heroine does something in this book which Edward naturally misunderstands. And, what does he do? Well he sends her off alllll by herself into the wilderness of England - someplace that has moors. Oh, the betrayal!
11. Coming in at a close second was Dash from The Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress, by Elizabeth Boyle - 2009. Part of my Project-A read. I was hoping that my memory had played me false with this cad, but it hadn't. He manipulated the heroine Pippin. He was unscrupulous. This is another example in Romanceland of wishing that the nice guy would win over the supposed hero.
12. And, the winner of the Steve Morgan Bonehead Award is someone we waited for years and years and years to meet. Lyon Redmond. The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julia Anne Long. Oooooo, this guy burned me up. This is the one we waited for? This egotistical creep. He can disappear for years and years, do what he wants. He can jump in to any bed he wants, but his one true luv must stay true to him. He kidnaps, he lies, he whines, he expects everyone to kiss his big - foot. He must have it allllll his own way and Olivia must be the one who grovels to him. Urrrggggg - what a slime-guy.
While I'm in the Bonehead section I just have to say, there seemed to be a lot of horrible so called heroes this year who were chosen over some really nice guys. I don't know about everyone else out there in Romanceland, but I for one am getting tired of the nice guys losing to someone because they are "bad boys" and bad boys get the girls. Not all handsome rakes, bad boys, zillionaires, etc. make for a pleasant HEA.
Sidekicks aka Secondary Characters aka Supporting Cast. Sometimes they steal a scene, sometimes they steal a whole book. Sometimes they are the only good thing in a book. They make us cry, they make us laugh, and sometimes we love them so much we demand the author write a story about them - then we don't like them so much. But the best ones are in the book to add humanity to the leading characters. They are the straight men who are there to make the others look good. Here are some who were memorable for me this year. And, this just may be the year of great supporting characters who are children.
1. Regardless of how disappointed I was with Lisa Kleypas' Cold-Hearted Rake, the character of West was so strong I wanted to know more about him. He overwhelmed the story and stole most of it from the hero. I suspect in the future we will see him starring in his own book.
2. John, from The Legend of Lyon Redmond. This guy deserved so much more than what he was handed in this story. He should have got the girl - and once again authors - why can't nice guys finish first? John, you were robbed!
3. Another child wins our hearts in The Reluctant Governess, by Maggie Robinson. Sunny, the light in her father's eye. She also had more chemistry with the heroine in the story than the heroine had with the hero. Not probably a good idea for a romance book.
4. Two adorable children show up in Lord Perfect, by Loretta Chase. Olivia and Peregrine. What scene stealers! What comic relief! These two were just plain fun and they get their own story in Last Night's Scandal.
5. Then there are the darling, loyal pick-pockets-in-training from A Season to Be Sinful, by Jo Goodman. Pinch, Dash, and Midge tug at a few heartstrings in this book. They are part of the reason this is such a wonderful book.
6. Two characters take center stage in Four Nights with the Duke, by Eloisa James: Chuffy the alcoholic uncle and Charles Wallace, the young nephew of our hero. Charles is the only thing in this book that makes Vander seem human.
7. It Started with a Scandal, by Julie Anne Long. A great story which also has a great character in Jack. And, once again, a child. He's a wonderfully precocious child who has a great relationship with his mother.
8. In Say Yes to the Marquess, by Tessa Dare, we are given some comic relief by Bruiser, the wonderful trainer of our hero, Rafe. Also present in this book is the mathematical genius Phoebe, sister of our heroine. I would imagine that at least one of these characters will get their own book.
9. This is not the first time the Duke of Montgomery has shown up. He's made his appearance in most of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. He has always been dangerous, lethal and we have never known whether he is a villain or a hero. He appeared in Dearest Rogue this year and soon he will have his own book Duke of Sin. So, I guess he's going to be a hero, but he's one of those guys that could have gone either way.
10. Coming in at a close second: Nick O'Shea. What an absolutely dangerous, fascinating character Meredith Duran gave us in Lady be Good. This guy steals not only the scenes but the book. This was also a case of a secondary character who is still fascinating when he gets his own book, Luck be a Lady.
And the winner/winners: Danny. Danny from Daniel's True Desires, by Grace Burrowes. This kid misses his father. Sure his father isn't really his biological father and he's living with his biological mother and she's trying soooo hard. But Danny is just not happy, so he runs away and eventually joins a group of delightful boys who become "the rotten boys." What a great bunch of hooligans. They were a delight to read and they added so much to this story. These were fully-realized characters. Every page they were on was magical.
2015 Garlic Breath Award.
When someone has garlic breath in a romance, what are they? All together now: v-i-l-l-a-i-n-s. Sometimes they have yellow, crooked teeth and bald heads, but watch out! Not all villains can be spotted right away. Some can be very cleverly disguised and sometimes we don't know if they are a villain or a hero. This year there were a few surprises. Here are some villains that caught my eye.
1. Sometimes the villains in romance are just toooo stupid to live. For instance the villain in The Prince and I, by Karen Hawkins. This guy is not able to find the person he's looking for, even when they are right under his nose. He can't seem to follow trails and he is blind to the smoke that has to be coming from their hiding place. He's pretty pathetic.
2. On the other hand we have the absolutely crazy, out of his head, over the top, can't be anything else but the villain in General Bolkhov from Lady be Good, by Meredith Duran.
3. Sometimes in books we run across women who could be a Disney villainess. Sophia Nash created a horrible mother in The Kiss. All this woman needed was a car and some spotted dogs - even if the book was historical.
4. It used to be, in the good old bodice-ripper stories that there were plenty of insane, jealous mistresses who were the villains of the piece. In Beyond Innocence, by Emma Holly, the mistress doesn't take being dumped so well. This book was written in 1998 and that may explain the bad mistress. Also added to the lethal mistress was her psychotic aunt.
5. I have come across a lot of ways of getting rid of villains in books: falling off of cliffs, sinking in quick-sand, going down with the ship, duels, the Island of Misplaced Villains, but a heart attack seems rather - funny. And, probably that's not what the intent was in Love in the Time of Scandal, by Caroline Linden.
6. In The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor, by Paula Quinn, we have a pretty scary, dangerous, lethal female villain. She was quite possessive of the hero. No one could have her - too bad she was shipped off to the Island of Misplaced Villains.
7. There was the group of silly men who could have been a motorcycle gang but belonged to a horse group from A Good Rake is Hard to Find by Manda Collins.
8. There is the typical evil steward who is kicking Scottish people off of their land in Pleasured, by Candace Camp. This time he's doing a lot of it with the hero’s permission.
9. Then we have the disappearing villains from I Loved a Rogue, by Katharine Ashe. They appear, lock up the heroine, drug her, then just sort of vanish.
10. I did have a surprise villain this year. He was actually quite sexy. From What a Lady Demands, by Ashlyn MacNamara, it was hard to reconcile his physical presence with what he actually turned out to be. I guess you can't always tell a book by its cover.
This year’s Garlic Breath award goes to Girard. This year when I found Grace Burrowes, I found an absolutely great character in Girard. In The Captive, Girard actually tortures the hero, but then Girard is given his own book and the new name of Sebastian. I had trouble making up my mind just which category Girard/Sebastian belonged in and finally decided on villain, because that's what he is in The Captive. But in The Traitor we are introduced to a totally complex Girard/Sebastian. Girard/Sebastian is one of the most intriguing characters I've read this year. And, Girard/Sebastian didn't have any garlic breath. Girard/Sebastian was allll characters: a secondary, a villain and a hero - a truly memorable guy.
Gus Award. W.C. Fields is credited with saying, "Never work with children and animals." He knew that they steal scenes. Here is a list of some of the cuddly pets that may have stolen some scenes this year.
1. Not quite that cuddly, but still loved by our heroine - the lobster from Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot. The lobster was at the center of this story.
2. I finally had a funny moment while reading 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake, by Jade Lee. That was due to the turkey who is disguised as a Dodo bird.
3. From The Captive, by Grace Burrows, we have two ugly, stupid dogs who go a long way to comfort a silent lonely child.
But, my favorite animal this year was from yet another Grace Burrows book, The Traitor. Peter Francis Danforth - a cat. The hero’s initial reaction to him is priceless. The moment of reconciliation between Peter and our heroine is beyond poignant - a tear may even form in the corner of one’s eye.
Timothy Toad Award.
And, now it's time to give the floor to those willy-wooley mainstays of most romance novels. Without them what would we do? Maybe look at big - thighs. So, let's have a look at some of the grand Timothy Toads and cohorts who have crossed our path this year.
1. As I mentioned above, sometimes Mr. Toad has a cohort, a sidekick so to speak. In the case of One Rogue at a Time, by Jade Lee, we have a finger oops moment. It was very memorable.
2. From Scandal Takes the Stage, by Eva Leigh, we have Cam and his legendary Mr. Toad. Not only is it legendary but it is somewhat magical because it is still healthy when in reality it should have fallen off from years and years of use.
3. There were numerous tent sales this year in the land of Toads, especially if there happened to be a kilt around. Poor Bear from Jennifer Ashley's The Stolen Mackenzie Bride was in a constant state of arousal. I'm not sure how these tent sale heroes maneuver.
4. Then we have the outdoorsy Timothy Toad from Julie Anne Long's The Legend of Lyon Redmond. Any time this guy was near a grain of sand, or a waterfall, he was peeking his head out.
5. Every year we have an overactive fellow. Ever eager, ever up, ever needy. In the case of the Mr. Toad from Sally MacKenzie's What to Do with a Duke, he may be up all the time but he never sees any action. He's just on our hero's mind - a lot.
6. Another Toad who should have fallen off years ago was in Not Quite a Lady, by Loretta Chase.
7. When words create visuals. Emma Holly presented us with a gigantic Mr. Toad in Beyond Innocence. How big was he? It was so big that our heroine could not wrap her hands around it. Let me clear that statement up for you - that was hands, as in plural, as in two hands. She couldn't get two hands to wrap around it. Now, this presents us with an interesting visual. Either Mr. Toad is so big he's scary or her hands are disturbingly little, either way they should be in a science fiction book not an historical romance.
8. Then there are the Mr. Toads who are trying to break into show business and go touring with their hand-puppet sidekicks. Thank you Cara Elliott from Sinfully Yours for another great visual.
9. There was the one track mind Mr. Toad from Four Nights with the Duke by Eloisa James. Nothing could deter this guy from plunging, neither rain, nor sleet nor snow nor blackmail, insults, jealousy, nor hatred keep this guy from trying.
10. It was eyes-glaze-over time with the Toad from Pleasured, by Candace Camp. Stop already. Page after page after page of flipping, plunging, and moisture - everything started to blur.
11. I love references to foreign films. In The Templar's Seduction, by Mary Reed McCall, which is loosely based on The Return of Martin Guerre, it isn't the size of our hero’s shoes which gives him away but the size of his Timothy Toad. It is, of course, bigger.
12. There were so many close to winning nominees this year. I had another stop-you-have-to-be-kidding moment in Sinful Deception, by Isabella Bradford. This one involved a spit-too-ey moment into a hand. Ewwww.
13. There is always something amazing in a story when I have to reach for a yardstick. This is what happened in Karen Ranney's Scotsman of my Dreams. Yes, this guy gets an honorable mention and you will notice I said "yardstick,” not ruler. For those who don't deal in inches a ruler is 12 inches long while a yardstick is 36 inches. I'm not going to do the conversion to centimeters for you.
14. Our runner up is Mr. Big Timothy Toad from Madeline Hunter's His Wicked Reputation. Not only did Mr. Big do flip flops and gyrate through many scenes, he was capable of touching the womb. Now, I interpreted the touching as hammering, either way I have to say - ouch!
15. Another runner-up. This is my list, so I can have more than one runner-up. There are scary Mr. Toads out there. In Jillian Hunter's Forbidden to Love the Duke this Timothy has a giant knob. Yikes! I hope the knob is on the top and not the side. However, considering that the heroine’s barrier is all the way up to her diaphragm, he probably needs the extra add-ons.
16. And, the last runner-up is from The Duke of Dark Desires, by Miranda Neville. Sometimes it's not just Timothy who leaves us with a lasting impression, it's his helpers. In this case it is his buddy Mr. Rolling H. Sac. By the way I understand the H. stands for Harry.
The winner of this year’s prestigious Mr. Timothy Toad award is: From a short story by the highly imaginative Sabrina Jeffries, The Heiress and the Hothead, comes one of the most unforgettable before-I-die moments I've ever read. This death defying Mr. Toad may lack the length, girth, or color of others of his ilk, but his fearless maneuvering while a house is on fire around him is stupefying and it is a moment in Romanceland history which I'll never forget. It provided me with quite a bit of laughter. I wonder if there is some kind of a connection between this Mr. Toad and the title of this story The Heiress and the "Hothead?" One can only wonder. This is one memory it will take me a lonnnng time to forget.
2016. I'm looking forward to some new series that a number of authors have started. Lisa Kleypas, Courtney Milan, Eva Leigh. I'm terribly excited I have found Grace Burrowes. I'm thinking her books may help fill my in-between moments. And, authors, keep those Timothy Toad moments coming - they make my day.