When you read Romance, all four seasons are seasons of love. As the song asks, “How do you measure a year in a life?” I measure in books. This year, Goodreads tells me I’ve read 208 books so far. Will probably end with 215. It’s a good number, but way below my average before I started writing. It will probably go down even more in 2018 as I plan to write 2 books and a novella. One thing won’t change, though. I will always be reading. I need to.
On to the list. I have loved so many books this year. These below are some of those I gushed about in 2017. I rated them five stars, posted about them in social media, and recommended them to as many people as I could. Many of these were not published this year, but I only read them for the first time in 2017. Some are rereads. All are amazing.
January: My first five-star rating of the year went to a craft book: Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. I used it extensively when I revised Boracay Vows to get it ready for pitching. I have this in both ebook and paperback. I’ve since recommended it to my writing group.
February: The best new book of the month for me was Lisa Kleypas’s Devil in Spring. The Wallflowers is my favorite of her many series of books and seeing Marcus, Evie, and Sebastian again made me really happy. Pandora and Gabriel held their own. My short Goodreads review read: “Lisa Kleypas did it again. Gabriel and Pandora, Sebastian and Evie – they all made me laugh, cry, love, and learn. It’s unputdownable.”
March: I feasted in books this month. My friend Eva Moore released her debut novel Someone Special and I loved it. I said in my review, “This story is so real to me. Like I’ve met these people in real life. Eva made them come alive for me. The situations and emotions are things I myself have been in and felt. This book is not just about the romance between Dani and Nick, but also about friendship and community.
If there was a book I gushed over the most, it has to be Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game. I put it on hold at the San Antonio Library in November, but I didn’t get it until March. That’s how long the queue was for this book. When I got it, I devoured it in a couple of hours and immediately wanted to reread it. I posted about THG on OSRBC, I friended Sally Thorne and joined her fan club The Flamethrowers. I’ve since gotten my own digital and paperback copy. Now if only I can get it signed by Sally, my fangirl-ing will be complete. My review reads, “Five glowing stars. I am so envious of Sally Thorne for writing this outstanding first novel. This book is fresh and young, and utterly delightful. Josh and Lucy are fantastic characters, their chemistry is electric. I adore their conversations. I’m always antsy when they weren’t talking. I didn’t want the book to end. I want to read more. One of my new favorites.”
Another great find in 2017 is Katy Regnery’s The Vixen and the Vet. I was looking for Beauty and the Beast retellings to prepare for the live action movie and this came up on my search. It was also OSRBC’s New School Book of the Month in March. As with Sally Thorne, I also friended Katy on Facebook, became one of her Katy’s Ladies, and received a signed copy of The Vixen and the Vet. This was my review: “5 stars. A perfect 10 stars, if possible. This has to be one of the best romance novels I’ve ever read. Will definitely be on my Top Ten. I couldn’t put it down once I started. I cried and cried. Great writing.”
April: I read 26 books in April and I rated 6 of them 5-stars. That’s a fantastic percentage.
Nora Roberts’s Born in Fire was OSRBC’s Old School BOTM for April and I reread all three books in the series. I rated Fire and Ice 5 stars, Shame 4 stars. My reviews were long so I won’t repeat them here, but this is a highlight: “Even though this was a reread for me, I savored every word as if I was reading it for the first time. This book proves why Nora Roberts is my most favorite romance writer ever.”
I’ve been reading Sophie Jordan’s historical romance novels since 2010, but she didn’t become an auto-buy for me until her contemporary Devil’s Rock series. The third book, Fury on Fire, is my favorite. “Five red-hot stars. For me, Fury on Fire is the best of the three Devil’s Rock books so far. Both North and Faith are such great characters. I felt so much for North and what he had gone through inside the prison. I like it that although the attraction was there from the start, they didn’t act on it until later. I also liked that there was no heavy external conflict and that the HEA was not drawn out.”
I didn’t read Susan Elizabeth’s Phillips’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine when it was OSRBC’s BOTM in July 2015. I don’t remember why and I regretted that I hadn’t read it sooner. It was wonderful. Here’s my review: “5 Lucky Charms-flavored stars. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a genius. She has the gift of making me laugh out loud and cry like my heart is breaking. All of the characters in Nobody’s Baby but Mine are wonderful. Jane, Cal, Lynn, Jim, Annie, Ethan, Kevin – they’re all great, crazy but in a good way. I really enjoyed this and would recommend it to romance readers looking for happy books with substance.”
Nalini Singh’s backlist is daunting, especially her Psy/Changeling series. I wanted to read her so bad I decided on her Rock Kiss series as my entry into her world. The second book, Rock Hard, is my most favorite of the four books. I said, “Five rock-hard stars. This is the kind of books I want to be able to write – characters like Charlotte and Gabriel, who have strengths and flaws, who grow up in the course of the book; stories about real people in today’s world, who experience pain, joy, victories, failures; and stories of friendship, family, and love. Rock Hard has all of these. It has humor, conflict, and heart.”
I didn’t discover Lorraine Heath until OSRBC made Texas Destiny its Book of-the-Month in June 2015. I’ve been collecting her books ever since. I wanted to read in order so I started with the Scoundrels of St. James before going into the Scandalous Gentlemen. Oh boy, was I rewarded for my patience when I finally reached The Duke and the Lady in Red. This is easily one of my Top 25 favorite historical novels of all time. “Hurts so good. Five heartrending stars. I’m still ugly crying up to now. I’ve been warned about this book. It’s going to make you cry, my friends said. The feels! I can’t express how amazingly this romance novel breaks my heart and yet put it back together again. Avendale, he is so flawed, yet so heroic. Rose – what a heroine, a swindling angel. And Harry. He was the best part, the heart of the book.”
May: This was the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and I prioritized those authors whose heritage could be traced to the biggest continent and largest ocean in the world.
Sherry Thomas is a new-to-me author in 2017, but I quickly fell for her fluid use of the English language. “Five sumptuous stars. Delicious is the first book by Sherry Thomas that I’ve ever read and if this is any indication of her style of writing, I’m sure I’ll read more. Her voice is unique, the hero and heroine are not your typical characters in historical novels. She’s 33, he’s 37. She’s a cook, he’s a politician. More than her atypical characters, there’s the way Ms. Thomas lays out the scenes. All your senses are engaged, especially when she described food. I swear, my mouth was watering at the thought of eating madeleines. I could feel the sweat on my face while I was reading the bathtub scene. The book made me cry three times. And, at the very end, it made me smile so big. It deserves all the luscious stars I could give it.”
I’ve been reading Alisha Rai since when she was still self-publishing. Her first book under Avon is probably her best. “Five stars. I’ve read Alisha Rai’s work before and her books have always been sexy, but this series, I believe, has the most depth. She expertly laid out Nico and Livvy’s second-chance love amidst their shared complicated family history. This book would always score high for me due to the multicultural characters. That it delivered in the storytelling was a big bonus. I cried, I smiled, I blushed, I felt for all the characters. As a writer of multicultural contemporary romance, I would look to this work as a model of how a book of the sub-genre can be told well.”
Also in May were rereads of After the Night and Sarah’s Child by old school favorite Linda Howard and The Best is Yet to Come from Indie Goddess Bella Andre’s new Summer Lake series.
“Sarah’s Child is one of my most favorite romance novels, one I reread every Mother’s Day. Sarah and Rome are such memorable characters, their story so, so affecting. I love Sarah for her strength. She is self-sacrificing without being a martyr. For all that Rome is such a difficult character, I could never hate him, especially that he loved and cared for Sarah in his own way, and he did change in the end. I also loved the secondary characters- Max, Marcie, and Derek. They provide a good balance of humor and support into the seriousness of Sarah and Rome’s relationship. I cry at the same exact places, every single time. I adore this book. I consider it one of Linda Howard’s best works ever.” After the Night: “This is one of Linda Howard’s steamiest books, but there’s also humor and mystery. One of my favorites of her books.”
The Best is Yet to Come was the first ARC I received from Bella Andre for being a member of her VIP Street Team. She used my review in a graphic to promote the book during the launch. “Five sweet stars. I love the sweet, small town, reunion story of The Best is Yet to Come. There’s real conflict, but Bella did not make it so heavy that you’ll feel depressed while reading it. I appreciate that I could like and dislike Sarah at the same time. I understood her internal struggle and fears. I like that Calvin is strong yet can admit to weaknesses and mistakes. What I liked the best is feeling as if I’m part of the world that Bella is building in Summer Lake. I’m excited for this new series. It has all the elements that I love in a contemporary romance- family, friendship, community, and love. It made me smile and tear up. There’s a freshness and depth to Bella’s writing here.”
June: Another mixed bag of new-to-me authors and reread of a favorite.
After The Hating Game, I was looking for enemies-to-lovers, slow-burn books and found Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series. The second book, The Chocolate Kiss, is my absolute favorite. “J’adore ce livre. Enemies-to-lovers, slow burn, multicultural, strong characters, french pastries, hot chocolate – I love everything about The Chocolate Kiss. This book just made me so happy while reading it. I smiled, I cried, I felt for both Philippe and Magalie in their journey to love. Secondary characters were fleshed out well. The descriptions were lavish, evocative, and as decadent as chocolate. I could picture the people and the scenes in my head as I read. It’s sexy, heartwarming, magical.”
Sarah MacLean is the founder of the Old School Romance Book Club (OSRBC) and I fell in love with her books ever since I read A Rogue By Any Other Name. In preparation for the launch of The Day of the Duchess, a bunch of us reread The Rogue Not Taken. This was my review: “TRNT made me laugh, cry, and fall in love with both Sophie and King, and Warnick, and the handsome doctor, even Matthew, the footman. Engaging storytelling, snappy dialogues, great character-building- this book has all of the reasons why Sarah MacLean has become one of my favorite historical romance novelists.”
I went on vacation to the UK in June and I decided to read books set there. Lucy Parker’s Act Like It is another book recommended for those who have THG hangover. “I really enjoyed this book. There are so many funny moments and touching ones, too. I loved that the characters are multi-dimensional, not cardboard cut-outs. Lainie and Richard’s fall into love was a journey I willingly traveled with them. There were several characters introduced, but in no way did they overshadow the leads, not even Will. I loved the sparkling dialogue.”
July: Continued the UK trend, dove in to the new Sarah MacLean when I got back to the US, and finally read my ARC of Jill Shalvis’s Lost and Found Sisters which I received from her way back in March. I was also busy with Camp NaNo so I did not read a lot this month.
Multicultural romance is the genre I write in and it’s one I love to read. Melissa Blue’s Under His Kilt series hits the right notes for me. “Five kilted stars. Wonderful relationship building. Fell in love with both Victoria and Callan. And the Baird, Douglass. Just visited Scotland last week and loved it there. Obviously, Melissa Blue did, too.”
Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis: “Five heartwarming stars ✨ I’ve had this book since March and I can’t believe I didn’t read it until now. It’s wonderful. It’s got everything: romance, friendship, community, and family. There’s humor and pathos. The characters are well developed and relatable. It even had the most lovable “villains”. This is a triumph for Jill Shalvis.”
Sarah MacLean’s The Day of the Duchess was excellent as expected. “Devoured it in four hours. Cried from page 2 up to p. 364. Laughed as well, especially with the suitresses. Was a monster and dog-eared pages of my favorite lines (at least 15). Groveling Haven redeemed. ❤❤❤ all the Dangerous Daughters/Soiled S’s.”
August: Another fabulous month of reading with lots of ARCs coming from both NetGalley and Edelweiss and established favorites.
Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me: “It has all the elements I love in a romantic comedy. First, it’s really funny with witty and zippy dialogues, hilarious but probable interactions and situations among characters. Second, the hero and heroine are likable and relatable with enough strengths and weaknesses to make them real. I like that Min is full-figured but wasn’t ashamed of it and didn’t try to lose weight to get her man. I liked that Cal has vulnerabilities but is also confident about himself and he really, really knew Min. I love that they tried to stay away from each other yet fate kept bringing them together. I appreciate that they got each other’s backs when it comes to defending the other against their awful families. I also like that although there are a lot of secondary characters in this book, their presence is all because of Min and Cal. I love the friendship, the cat, Elvis, even the families. I love the Stats nickname (that’s me), the cute shoes, the Chicken Marsala, and the doughnuts. This book just hits the right spots for me.”
“SEP should teach a course on character growth in romance novels and Kiss an Angel should be her textbook. Everyone in this book, from Daisy, Alex, Brady, Sheba, and Heather were different people at the end of the book from who they were at the start. The readers get to know them, feel for them, hate and care for them. They were not just names on paper, they’ve become real people. All because of the writing genius of Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I absolutely adore this book. It took me on an emotional journey I was only too willing to traverse. I laughed, I wept, I smiled, I got angry, I loved. I loved all the characters, even the minor ones like Trey, Kevin, Max, and Amelia. But, i especially loved the animals – Glenna, Tater, and Sinjun. Kiss an Angel has just become one of my favorite romance novels of all time.”
Kate Meader is another new-to-me author who I became really friendly with. I joined her fan group Kate’s Kittens and I’ve been privileged to receive advance review copies of her books from NetGalley this year. She is so versatile, writing about food, firemen, and sports with equal competence. “Five icy-hot stars. Kate did it again! She delivered another book with a delicious hero one can’t help but fall in love with, a strong heroine you can relate to, a fascinating story you enjoy following along, and fully-fleshed out secondary characters whose future books you’re looking forward to reading. Irresistible You is funny, but also addresses several heavy issues like sexism and violence against women. It’s super sexy and incredibly fun to read.”
In my opinion, Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal is one of the year’s best books. “I devoured this book in two hours. Had tears in my eyes from laughter beginning at Chapter One and throughout the book. Teared up in the end as well from Ash’s fears for his child. The dialogue is sharp, witty, clever, and laugh-out-loud funny. The characters were sympathetic and utterly likable. The attraction between Emma and Ash was strong from the start. Their love scenes were steamy.”
Kerrigan Byrne is another author I discovered through OSRBC. I’m looking forward to meeting her in person next year. “The Scot Beds His Wife, despite its unfortunate title, reinforces my love of the Victorian Rebels series. It has all the elements that I adored in the four earlier books – loads of angst, electric chemistry between hero and heroine, sizzling lovemaking, heart-pounding action, and most especially, the far-from-perfect and diverse characters. What Scot has more of that the others don’t is the lightness of humor balancing the heaviness caused by all the tragedies that are constantly befalling the Rebels and their loved ones.”
“The title of the book, Beautiful Lawman, refers to Sheriff Hale Walters and I love him even though he started all judgmental and tight-assed. He ended up so in love I forgive him for his early behavior. That he’s yummy and so heroic wasn’t too bad, either. But, the star of the book for me is Piper. Sophie gutted me with Piper’s struggles to be a parent to her sister Malia and her determination to rise above the desperate situation she was in when no one was willing to help because of her family history. I got emotional reading this book because I felt so much for what Piper had to go through, what she has to overcome. She was shunned, looked down upon, but she remained strong and resolute. In the end, she truly deserved her victorious happy-ever-after. Another thing I loved about this book is the hot sexytimes. Sophie Jordan’s latest works have become increasingly sensual and I’m loving the extra heat and sizzle of her stories.”
September: Feedback from Beta readers for Boracay Vows started to come in this month and I was in full revision/edit mode. There were still a few gems I managed to indulge in this month.
Lorraine Heath’s When the Marquess Falls: “Cried my eyes out. Short, but oh-so-sweet. The Marquess of Marsden was my favorite part of The Viscount and the Vixen. Reading his full story just about broke my heart. It’s not your typical HEA, but I believe he and Linnie got it in the end.”
J.D. Robb’s In Death is the longest series I’m still following and loving. Now up to fifty-five books and novellas, it remains fun and fresh. “In other In Death books, sometimes the murder mystery overpowers the love story, but not in Secrets. Here, the death is in the background, only a tool employed by J.D. Robb to show the continued growth of the relationship between Eve and Roarke. There is humor and snark, pathos (oh Summerset!), comfort, and intelligent procedural to solve the crime. There’s friendship, collegial camaraderie, community, and family. But, above all, there’s heat and so much love. Scary Roarke and Bitch Cop Eve Forever!
Katy Regnery’s Unloved: “Five heart-rending stars ✨ My eyes are swollen from the tears I shed. My throat aches from the lump that kept forming as I read Unloved. My heart is both heavy and light. I knew it was going to be angsty. I was prepared, but I still felt so emotional. Every now and then you need a book that will break your heart and piece it back together again. Unloved does that.”
October: While my editor worked on copy edits, I read.
Eloisa James’s The Beauty Tamed the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings and this month, A Kiss at Midnight became another. “A Kiss at Midnight is a funny, witty, sexy, touching fairytale with plenty of clever Shakespearean references mixed in. Kate is a delightful Cinderella, smart, feisty, feminist. Gabriel is a not-so charming prince, one who takes his responsibilities seriously. Their attraction is not quite instant, but strong nonetheless and it’s based on banter and character more than appreciation of physical attributes.”
Y’all can probably tell by now that Lorraine Heath is one of my favorite authors. I’m still slowly working on reading all her books. Sweet Lullaby is a real jewel. “This book was cry-a-minute for me. Jake is the best beta hero I’ve ever read. He has suffered so much in his life yet his capacity for love is still boundless. Lorraine Heath always writes remarkable heroes. Her male voice is truly outstanding. Reb is a good heroine. Her actions and reactions, including her confusion, are understandable. It’s not her fault that Jake was drawn better than her. Sweet Lullaby is melodramatic but I don’t mind it. Published in 1994, it doesn’t read old or dated.”
I requested Roomies from NetGalley because I’ve seen a lot of raves for Christina Lauren’s books but I haven’t read them before. Well, I appreciate being gifted the ARC because I was impressed. “This book is a great introduction to new-to-me authors and I will be adding their books to my TBR mountain ASAP. What’s admirable is that they are two writers but Roomies has one unified “voice”. You cannot tell who wrote which part. It was so seamless. The conversations flowed. The situations and the characters’ actions and reactions were all plausible. There was no suspension of disbelief. I laughed, I cried, I gushed with the romance, I blushed during the love scenes, I got angry, I sympathized. I felt everything Holland went through. That’s why I am giving Roomies all the five stars. Books that engaged all my emotions usually get the top score. Roomies deserves nothing less.”
Bella Andre and her Sullivans have become my go-to reads when I need comforting from all the chaos of life’s realities. I’m often reassured that love, friendship, and family are still some of the most important things in the world. That’s why I read romance. That’s why I love You Do Something To Me. “It’s obvious that Bella loved writing Alec Sullivan. He’s strong yet vulnerable, resolute but also unsure, tough and a softie at the same time. He’s what you want your romantic hero to be – honest about his intentions and takes great care of the heroine. Cordelia is a worthy match for Alec. She has her strengths and brings out the best in him. She helps the real him to come out. She can stand on her own but is happiest when she’s with him. I really enjoyed this sweet and sexy friends-to-lovers romance. Anytime a book makes me smile and tear up, it’s sure to get high marks.”
November: Launch month of Boracay Vows plus NaNo meant I only got to read 6 books including mine.
My author review: “Boracay Vows will always be special to me as it’s my first born. Krista has a little bit of me and Blake has a little bit of my hubby in him. The food, hats, and shoes–they’re all me. So is the female friendship. And the closeness of family relationships.”
I took time out of preparing for the launch of my debut novel Boracay Vows and writing my second novel Singapore Fling during naNoWriMo to read Cherish Hard and I consider it time well spent. “As usual, Nalini Singh tells a great love story not just between Isa and Sailor, but also between them and their friends and family. It’s a story that anyone can relate to, even though the characters might not look like them. I love that this book is multicultural and it reflects the reality of the world we’re living in right now. I adore that Isa is older than Sailor and she’s a full-figured woman with the normal insecurities, but with innate confidence as well. I love that Sailor is oh-so-sexy with a big heart. Like Rock Hard before it, Cherish Hard is a keeper for me.”
I’ve been on a Lisa Kleypas binge lately and I am enjoying it so much. On Sugar Daddy: “It’s barely a romance novel, but I loved it anyway. Lisa Kleypas has a very strong historical voice and an equally strong contemporary one. I honestly believe she had poured more of herself in this book and the rest of the Travis series. She obviously knows Texas and Texans. I’ve only been to Houston once, but after reading Sugar Daddy I feel so familiar with it I felt like I lived there during the time I was reading the book.”
December: LK binge continued.
“These days, all we see in the news are reports of sexual harassment to the point of assault–mostly made by men against women. We need a reminder that there are still men out there who cherish and protect women. One such man is the Blue-Eyed Devil himself: Hardy Cates. Next to Roarke, he’s my favorite contemporary romance Book Boyfriend. He doesn’t get a POV, that’s all Haven, but boy does he leap out of the pages of the book. Even in the first book Sugar Daddy he dominated each scene he appeared in. Lisa Kleypas must love him very much because she wrote him so beautifully. Here’s why I keep giving Blue-Eyed Devil five stars: it’s real to me. Haven and Hardy, Churchill, Liberty, Gage, Jack, etc. are not mere characters in a book. They are real people. And that’s why I love Lisa Kleypas. Because she created them and made them come alive. That is an incredible talent. I will always buy her books, even when I hate their covers.”
“Five stars. This is my third reread of A Wallflower Christmas and the time I enjoyed it the most. I actually upgraded my rating from four to five. I loved revisiting the Wallflowers and this is a great wrap-up to the series. The bonus story of Rafe and Hannah’s fall into love was well-done and I adore its development even though it’s short. The toy soldier and love letter more than made up for Rafe’s earlier boorishness with the forceful first kiss and the teacup incident. One of the best parts of this novella though is this quote: “A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.”
So, here they are, the books I loved in 2017. It was a happy reading to me the whole year long. Hopefully, it will be the same in 2018.