the passionate reader picks the best of 2014

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HH2015 was a great reading romance year for me. I read widely across genres and found many a book I’d happily recommend. (You can see all my reading and ratings on Goodreads.) Here, however, are the books I loved the best.

My pick for most enjoyable historical romance of the year comes from Eloisa James. Ms. James, when she’s on her game, writes some of the wittiest romances around. Three Weeks with Lady X  is full of sparkling, sexy exchanges between its heroine, Lady Xenobia India St. Claire, and its hero, Thorn (Tobias) Dautry (the illegitimate son of the Duke of Villiers, the hero of A Duke of Her Own.) I love almost everything about this book–the hero’s grand gesture at the end seemed a bit much–especially the letters Xenobia and Thorn send one another while she is overseeing the refurbishment of his estate. Three Weeks with Lady X is my favorite work by Ms. James in several years.

Mary Balogh is a consistently strong writer of historical romance. Only Enchanting has a wonderful love story with a heroine who has decided to, after a life of small rewards, to go for the gusto. The man she lets seduce her is just the hero she needs although he certainly doesn’t think so. I recommend it wholeheartedly. 

Many many reviewers have included Joanna Bourne’s Rogue Spy on their Best of 2014 lists. Add me to that list.  I remain in awe of Ms. Bourne’s plotting. Rogue Spy is set during 1802, the same year that The Spymaster’s Lady takes place. It is, chronologically, the middle book of the Spymasters series, and, though we’ve encountered Pax (the hero of Rogue Spy) in the later books, his story is a completely engrossing surprise.

Cecilia Grant’s A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong is a tart, smart holiday novella. I wrote my review at All About Romance for it after reading it once. I’ve since read it again and it’s risen in my estimation. (I originally gave it a B.) Ms. Grant is justifiably known for the clarity and crispness of her writing and, in this work, her characterizations as well as her humor are astute. This novella, like her debut A Lady Awakened (review here), takes a romance cliche–here, the fake marriage–and turns it into something new.

Last September, my social media feeds were full of readers raving about Frozen by Meljean Brook. It’s a novella and was (and still is) priced at .99. I’ve read a few of Ms. Brook’s steampunk love stories and enjoyed them so I downloaded Frozen. I’m glad I did. Ms. Brook doesn’t spend a great deal of time world-building here and that’s a good thing. Her focus is on her lovers and the curse they must break to find their HEA. There’s just enough paranormal here–a giant, a clan of werewolves, and soothsaying mother–to give the story intrigue but the heart of the tale is its lovers and they are a compelling pair. Continue reading

Siege Warfare: Meditations on Medieval Romance with Author Elise Cyr

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Originally posted on Badass Romance:

Besieged by love? How many times have you read something like “her emotions were under siege” in a romance novel? I feel like this metaphor is common, and compelling, yet I’ve never really unpacked it. For one thing, it suggests a traditionally gendered experience, in which the hero is the pursuer, surrounding the heroine with his army of manly charms until she accepts and gives in to the inevitability of surrender/conquest.

What makes this work in genre romance is that while she may be “conquered” by the hero’s love, the heroine surrenders as much to the power of her own corresponding emotion as to the conquering male. The siege as romantic metaphor sort of circles in on itself, since the besieged is frequently “starving” herself of love/emotion while the besieger “attacks” by providing rather than depriving. (I know there must be examples of the metaphor used with the genders reversed and…

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REVIEW: Ros Clarke’s AN UNSUITABLE HUSBAND And Reluctant Wife

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the passionate reader:

This review is so well-written I had to share it.

Originally posted on Miss Bates Reads Romance:

An Unsuitable HusbandMiss Bates once listened to a CBC radio program called “The Myth of the Secular,” which argued that the demise of religion in the public sphere has not come about as Western philosophical thought assumed. During one of the six episodes, a Muslim theologian presented an alternate view to the West’s traditional notion of faith originating in revelation and followed by practice, the most dramatic example being Paul’s road to Damascus moment. She argued that non-Western notions posit that gesture and practice, the physicality of religious ritual, in other words starting with the body, can lead to and sustain faith, understanding, and thought. Faith follows from practice. (One interesting addendum in support of this argument are testimonies from martial arts’ practitioners for fitness’ sake; they find themselves interested in, even adhering to, the Eastern philosophy in which their exercise routine originates.) Miss Bates, what are you talking about, you’d rightly…

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Cara McKenna’s Hard TIme: the mini-review

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Hard Time by Cara McKenna

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book and I give Ms. McKenna props for yet again giving readers an unlikely hero. That said, the hero seemed too perfect to me. I felt as if, in order to compensate for his one failing–a belief in violence as an act of punishment against the unreedemable, Ms. McKenna was afraid to give him a single other failing. I did, however, marvel at how well Ms. McKenna does “setting.” The prison, the downtrodden almost dead Michigan town, even the step above skanky bar the heroine lives above are all so vividly portrayed, I could imagine myself there. If you, like me, are tired of books where real life takes a backseat to florid portrayals of lives where the super-rich play at being geniuses, this book will strike you as bracing in the best way.
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Unfixable by Tessa Bailey: the mini-review

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UnfixableUnfixable by Tessa Bailey

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I loved this book up until the end and then it just burned up for me. This is a 3.5 star book for me! Also, the heroine is maybe 18 and I think the hero is closer to 30. His age and the gap didn’t bother me as much as her youth.

Still, it was a really fun read and now I am dying to go to Ireland.

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Lexxi Callahan’s Sweetened with a Kiss: the mini-review

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Sweetened With a Kiss by Lexxi Callahan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked lots about this book. The writing is crisp and often moving. The couple has a lot of genuine heat and hurt and Ms. Callahan explores them both well.

I struggled though, to understand the plot for the first half of the book. Sweetened with a Kiss reads as though it is part of a series. Characters and background events are presented as a given and yet I felt utterly not clued-in. This made the first hours I spent reading the novel disconcerting. I also found the end far too speedily and tidily resolved. It felt as if all these serious threats evaporated overly easily.

Still, Sweetened with a Kiss was a fun read and, if you like bossy, alpha heroes, you’ll really like Stefan!

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Juliana Ross’s Improper Proposals: the mini-review

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Improper Proposals (Improper, #3)Improper Proposals by Juliana Ross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well written but far too full of sex scenes that don’t further the emotional connection between the leads, Tom and Caroline. There’s a formality to the writing that is at odds with the tenor of the novel. I guess I don’t want to read a erotic romance that reminds me of a lesser Austen work.

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