LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Jeffries’s Latest “Sinful Suitor,” Quinn, Graham, March, Shupe, Plus RWA News | Romance Reviews, April 15, 2016

FRIENDS INTO LOVERS Whether people feel the chemistry from the first meeting, hate each other on sight, or don’t feel much of anything (OK, that’s rare, I’ll admit), there are many paths to love—and romance readers know them all. One of the more enduring motifs is the one in which the protagonists start out as friends (or become friends) and eventually passion ensues. In historical romances, this sometimes happens within marriages of convenience or family-orchestrated engagements; in contemporary tales, it’s usually less formal, although not always, as Susan Mallery’s Best of My Love demonstrates. Per these novels, friendship can definitely have its benefits.

BOLSTERING BONDS

redstarBalogh, Mary. Only Beloved. Signet: NAL. (Survivors’ Club, Bk. 7). May 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780451477781. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698411326. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Content with her quiet country existence as a well-respected music teacher, 39-year-old Dora Debbins is speechless when George Crabbe, the Duke of Stanbrook, comes to call and offers a proposal of marriage. But with all of his fellow Survivors now happily wed, George realizes that he wants a friend and companion of his own—a wife—and Dora, a woman he met once and never forgot, is the only one who will do. Surprisingly, Dora accepts, and their journey from friendship to love is as exquisite as one could wish—and the perfect conclusion to one of Balogh’s most compelling series. ­VERDICT A pair of wonderfully matched protagonists find happiness and a wonderful helping of romance in this unforgettable, danger-tinged story. It tugs at the heartstrings and will leave fans thoroughly gratified. Balogh (Only a Kiss) lives in Canada.

redstarJeffries, Sabrina. The Study of Seduction. Pocket. (Sinful Suitors, Bk. 2). Apr. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781476786070. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476786155. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

studyofseduction.jpg4416When a rejected suitor won’t leave her alone, sharp-tongued Lady ­Clarissa Lindsey agrees, albeit somewhat reluctantly, to let curmudgeonly Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, act as her escort during the upcoming London Season. She needs protection and Edwin needs help with his social skills if he’s ever to find a wife. If they can manage to get along, the arrangement just might work. And as they soon become friends, it does—until a vicious threat that neither of them can ignore sends them straight to the altar and into a new relationship that ends up better than either had in mind. VERDICT Graced with pleasingly wrought characters who develop beautifully and a crafty villain you’ll love to hate, along with clever dialog and rapier wit, this compelling, deliciously seductive story takes the classic marriage of convenience to a new level and sets the stage for the next in the series. A delectable and rewarding read. Jeffries (The Art of Sinning) lives in Cary, NC.

redstarMallery, Susan. Best of My Love. HQN: Harlequin. (Fool’s Gold, Bk. 22). May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780373789191. pap. $8.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459293892. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Appalled to realize he’s turned into a one-night stand jerk when it comes to women, charismatic Aidan Mitchell is determined to change his ways. When pastry chef Shelby Gilmore, who has relationship issues of her own, suggests that they agree to a six-month platonic friendship so they can hang out together and learn what makes the other gender tick, he says he’ll give it a shot. The results are touching and hilarious and surprise them both—although not the rest of the town. A hero who needs to figure out how to appreciate and respect women and a battered heroine who must learn to trust men strike a bargain that ends brilliantly. VERDICT This insightful, laughter-laced story fairly crackles with sexual tension and has a lot to say about friendship, love, and relationships. Heartwarming and memorable. Mallery (Marry Me at Christmas) lives in ­Seattle. [An April LibraryReads pick.]

Quinn, Julia. Because of Miss Bridgerton. Avon. Apr. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062388148. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062388155. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

With their homes in Kent only three miles apart, the Rokesbys and the Bridgertons were practically family, and although it rarely crossed her estate-focused mind, forthright Billie Bridgerton assumed that if she married at all, it would be to one of the Rokesby boys. It just would never be George Rokesby, Viscount Kennard, the condescending, serious eldest son and heir, the one brother with whom she’d never gotten along. But when George tries to help Billie down from a roof and ends up trapped on top of the structure with her, their relationship begins to shift, and despite their resistance and the inevitable ups and downs, it’s only a matter of time before they are made to yield to their feelings. A pair of childhood acquaintances who couldn’t stand each other growing up are thrown into a tizzy when they realize they are falling in love. VERDICT This lively, effervescent Georgian tale takes place a generation before Quinn’s wildly popular Bridgerton series and nicely adds to the family history. Quinn (The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy) lives in the Pacific Northwest. [An LJ Editors’ Spring Pick, ow.ly/ZVCzS; a March LibraryReads pick.]

Woods, Janet. Foxing the Geese. Severn House. Apr. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9780727885821. $28.95. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

At the advanced age of 24, independent Vivienne Fox knows her chances at marriage are dwindling, but she’s not about to wed without love—and she definitely doesn’t want to attract a fortune hunter by spreading the news of her recent surprise inheritance. So she keeps it a secret, even from Lord Alex LéSayres, a childhood acquaintance she is coming to love but who needs to marry money for the sake of his property. Pleasantly delineated supporting players (especially a lecherous villain, a shallow cousin, and a cruel, thoughtless aunt), excellent detail, and an accurate knowledge of the period provide a good sense of time and place and vivify the sparkling era. VERDICT With wit and grace, Woods spins a romantic tale of a heroine who yearns to be loved for herself and a responsible hero who must choose between family obligation and the woman of his heart. An engaging, slightly sexy romp with a classic Regency air. Woods (Different Tides) lives near Freemantle in Western Australia.

A Different Road

redstarCarr, Robyn. What We Find. Mira: Harlequin. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780778318859. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459292475. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

whatwefind.jpg4416Stretched to the breaking point by crushing personal disappointment and work-related stress, neurosurgeon Maggie Sullivan leaves Denver for a much-needed rest and heads to the Rockies and Sullivan’s Crossing, her father’s general store and family campground. Her hope is to decompress, heal, and get her life back on track. The last thing she wants is another relationship. Cal Jones isn’t looking for one either; he’s in the Rockies on another mission entirely. But when Maggie’s father has a heart attack and Cal and Maggie both remain at the camp to help, they are hard-pressed to resist the attraction that flares between them. Descriptions so vivid the scent of pine and the rattle of wind in the aspens wafts from the pages and add depth and a strong feeling of place—a place that readers might like to revisit. Insightfully realized central figures, a strong supporting cast, family issues, and uncommon emotional complexity make this uplifting story a heart-grabber that won’t let readers go until the very end. VERDICT A rewarding (happy) story that will appeal across the board and might require a hanky or two. Carr (Wildest Dreams) lives in Henderson, NV.

Feehan, Christine. Fire Bound. Jove. (Sea Haven: Sisters of the Heart, Bk. 5). May 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780515156119. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698197756. PARANORMAL ROMANCE

For years, brilliant glass artist Lissa Piner has led a deadly double life, quietly living with her “sisters” and their protective spouses, the Prakenskii brothers, on their Sea Haven farm while secretly and methodically avenging her birth family’s brutal deaths. Now in Europe on business, Lissa has a chance to wrap up her personal vendetta and address the evil stalking her sisters and their husbands. If only she can keep Tomasso, the annoying and far-too-seductive bodyguard, from getting in her way. Casimir Prakenskii, assassin and master of disguise, has been sent by his brothers to keep her safe, and he’s not letting her out of his sight. Treachery, merciless violence, and fire-driven passion ramp up the tension in this nonstop adventure that adds another welcome puzzle piece to Feehan’s compelling series. VERDICT Swift, intricate, and over-the-top steamy, this vengeance-filled, page-singeing romantic thriller keeps fans on an adrenaline high as lethal, perfectly suited principals ensure that an assortment of depraved villains get their just desserts. Feehan (Dark Promises) lives in Northern California.

Goodman, Jo. The Devil You Know. Berkley Sensation. May 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780425277447. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698180857. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Discovered on Pancake Valley ranch land by precocious, “nearly ten” Annalea, self-­proclaimed “bad man” Israel McKenna, horribly battered, barely conscious, and missing his memory, is taken in by tough-minded rancher Willa Pancake. But the generational feud between the Pancakes and their unsavory neighbors, plus the growing attraction between Willa and Israel, take things in an unforeseen direction. These wary lovers acknowledge their pasts and settle a few outstanding scores. ­VERDICT Wonderfully flawed individuals, unexpected plot twists, refreshing humor, and the appearance of folks from This Gun for Hire, as well as references to Goodman’s other earlier books, make this another of the author’s must-read historicals. Fans will be pleased. Goodman lives in West Virginia.

redstarGraham, Heather. Flawless. Mira: Harlequin. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780778318811. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459292482. Contemporary romance

flawless.jpg4416Although Kieran Finnegan’s real job is as a criminal psychologist, she often helps out at her family’s Irish pub, a lower Manhattan fixture that she now owns with her three brothers. Finnegan’s is a warm, friendly place that welcomes all comers—until a rash of diamond heists and their deadly copycat thefts bring Kieran and FBI agent Craig Frasier together in a bewildering search that seems to lead right back to the bar, raising unwanted suspicions. A savvy, observant heroine with an unknown murderer on her trail and an intuitive G-man discover romance as well as danger as they track down a band of clever killers. Enriched by authentic family concerns and vivid descriptions, this tale will make fans yearn for a Finnegan’s of their own. VERDICT Intricate, fast-paced, and intense, this riveting thriller blends romance and suspense in perfect combination and keeps readers guessing and the tension taut until the very end. Graham (­Bougainvillea) lives in southern Florida.

March, Emily. Reunion Pass. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Eternity Springs, Bk. 11). Apr. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250072979. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466884922. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

When vet school–bound Lori Reese and photographer and white-water rafting expert Chase Timberlake drift apart as their career goals take them in opposite directions, they gradually realize that they will never be together. Fate, however, has other plans, and when Chase ends up back in Eternity Springs, an emotional wreck after an adventure gone terribly wrong, Lori knows that, despite the past—and the presence of his reality show star fiancée—her feelings for him haven’t died. She will do anything to help him—even bullying him into taking on a foster puppy. A wealth of humor lightens the story’s more serious issues. Deeply in love, this conflicted pair finally come to terms with their feelings and what really matters most in life. ­VERDICT This realistic, poignant, soul-wringing romance overflows with friends, family, and small-town charm and adds another satisfying chapter to March’s popular series. March (Heartsong Cottage) lives in Texas.

Miller, Linda Lael. Once a Rancher. HQN: Harlequin. (Carsons of Mustang Creek, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780373779680. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459292529. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

From the moment titian-haired Grace Emery walks into his office on his family’s sprawling ranch with her rebellious teenage stepson in tow, documentary filmmaker Slater Carson knows he wants to know her better. However, to wary Grace, divorced ex-cop and manager of a local resort and spa, wealthy, good-looking Slater has all the signs of a man to avoid. But Mustang Creek is a small town, and that will be hard, especially when events keep throwing them together—and when the attraction between them begins to sizzle. Difficult characters and tense situations add a touch of danger to the mix. ­VERDICT Two people with vastly different backgrounds discover a true partnership in a story that burgeons with Western flavor and rural, ranch-life charm. A solid start to a promising series set in Miller’s beloved Mustang Creek. Miller (Christmas in Mustang Creek) lives in the country near Spokane.

Quick, Amanda. ’Til Death Do Us Part. Berkley. Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780399174469. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698193611. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Fearing that his sister is being taken advantage of by a charlatan matchmaker, popular mystery author Trent Hastings heads to Cranleigh Hall to confront the owner of the introductions agency in question. However, self-reliant, unconventional Calista Langley is not about to be intimidated, even by someone as formidable as Trent—something that both annoys and intrigues him more than he wants to admit. When he learns that Calista is the victim of a bizarre stalking, they join forces to track down the villain and are compelled to deal with their growing attraction as they are drawn into a web of murder and insanity. VERDICT An intrepid heroine and a dashing, equally brilliant hero spar their way to love in this engaging, well-plotted Victorian romance that is rife with witty repartee, ­fascinating ­historical detail, and a delicious salting of humor. Just plain fun. Quick (Garden of Lies) lives in the Seattle area. [An April LibraryReads pick.]

Roberts, Nora. The Obsession. Berkley. Apr. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780399175169. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780698197008. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Two days before she turns 12, Naomi Bowes rescues a woman from a cellar in the West Virginia woods near her home and discovers that her strict, Bible-thumping father is a sadistic serial killer. Stunned but determined to be strong, Naomi is taken in by her uncles and swept off to the East Coast (along with her mother and young brother) to begin a new life as Naomi Carson, eventually becoming a brilliant freelance photographer. Yet the taint of her father’s crimes lingers, and for years her own nightmares keep her on the move. Now, 16 years later in a quiet seaside community on the other side of the country, Naomi has finally found a place that feels like home—and a man she’s coming to love. Then the killings start, and the links to the past are impossible to ignore. A talented woman haunted by her father’s insanity but determined to live life on her own terms and a solid renaissance man lay old ghosts to rest and help bring a scoundrel to justice. VERDICT This riveting tale benefits from an immensely likable supporting cast and its rewarding blend of suspense and romance. Brief glimpses into the killer’s mind add a chilling touch to a story you won’t be able to put down. Roberts (Stars of Fortune) lives in Keedysville, MD. [An April LibraryReads pick.]

Roberts, Sheila. Home on Apple Blossom Road. Mira: Harlequin. (Life in Icicle Falls, Bk. 9). Apr. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780778318798. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459292451. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

The last place Colin Wright wants to be is back in Icicle Falls, especially for his grandmother’s funeral, and he definitely doesn’t want to see Mia Blair, the girl he once thought he loved. But Grandma Justine is still calling the shots, and when her will sends Colin and Mia on a treasure hunt to find their inheritance (with no outside help allowed), the barriers between them begin to crumble, and they are forced to recognize their true feelings. The past and present are linked by a series of well-done flashbacks, and chatty letters from Grandma are a bonus. VERDICT Engaging, sweet, and dusted with humor, this emotional romance tugs at the heartstrings as a headstrong pair who were always meant to be together find their way back to each other. Simple and satisfying. Roberts (Christmas on Candy Cane Lane) lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Shalvis, Jill. Nobody but You. Grand Central. (Cedar Ridge, Bk. 3). Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781455586806. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455586790. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

On an extended leave after his best buddy is killed in action, Army Special Forces officer Jacob Kincaid heads home to Cedar Ridge to rest, recover, and try to make peace with his family. Imagine finding a sexy redhead living on a boat tied up to the dock at his rented cabin! Sophie Marren, recently divorced and struggling to make ends meet with an eclectic assortment of temp jobs, is living on her only asset and has no other affordable options. Attraction sparks between them from their first hilarious encounter, and as Sophie and Jacob have both sworn off love, they see no problem with enjoying each other. Since they have agreed they won’t fall in love, there’s no danger at all. VERDICT Lively, quirky, and brimming with sass, this sizzler blends serious, heartfelt moments in with the fun and is a delightful addition to the series. Shalvis (My Kind of Wonderful) lives in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe.

redstarShupe, Joanna. Magnate. Zebra: Kensington. (Knickerbocker Club, Bk. 1). May 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781420139846. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420139853. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

magnate.jpg4416Frustrated by her brother’s dismissive attitude toward her plans to open a stock brokerage firm, socialite and sub rosa investor Elizabeth Sloane goes to the one man powerful and wealthy enough to help her—steel magnate Emmett Cavanaugh. But Emmett rose from the squalor of Five Points and has little regard for members of the privileged upper classes, even lovely, smart ones such as Elizabeth—until she makes him a wager he can’t refuse and their lives take a startling turn. A cast of well-defined supporting characters (Emmett’s young siblings are most memorable and an underhanded villain is wonderfully despicable), an inconvenient—or make that convenient—historic snowstorm, and a thread of mystery keep the pages turning. VERDICT A determined heroine ahead of her time and a daring, sometimes ruthless entrepreneur who clawed his way to the top find validation in an engaging romance that successfully launches a trilogy highlighting New York’s opulent Gilded Age. Quotes from American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness (1883) introduce each chapter and provide perspective on the ­social attitudes of the times. Shupe (The Lady Hellion) lives in South Orange, NJ.

Second Time Around

Garwood, Julie. One Pink Rose. May 2016. 162p. ebk. ISBN 9781501131448. $1.99.

Garwood, Julie. One White Rose. Jun. 2016. 128p. ebk. ISBN 9781501131455. $2.99.

Garwood, Julie. One Red Rose. Jul. 2016. 160p. ebk. ISBN 9781501131462. $2.99.

ea. vol: Pocket Star. (Clayborne Brides). HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Three very different “brothers,” who bonded as homeless New York street urchins, meet their matches in the rough and tumble Montana Territory of the 1880s (with a little help from the meddlesome “Mama Rose”) in these three historical novellas that were first published by Pocket in 1997. The youngest Clayborne brother escorts a fiery Boston mail-order bride to her intended and falls in love in Pink Rose. A rancher helps deliver a widow’s baby in White Rose and succumbs to the mother in this humorous story with a dangerous edge. A scholarly hero and a heroine with a secret star in the multicultural romance Red Rose. This engaging trio are spun off from ­Garwood’s For the Roses (1995).

RWA PREVIEW & AWARDS

2016 Romance Writers of America Librarians Day Reminder

rwa2016.jpg2116Although the schedule for Librarians Day, the daylong event targeted to local library professionals, wasn’t quite ready as of press time, it’s not too early to register for what is sure to be an entertaining, informative day of romance-focused presentations and discussions and interactions with authors, editors, and librarians. The date is Wednesday, July 13; the place is San Diego; and the cost is a mere $25, with lunch included! Luncheon speaker is Jennifer Armentrout. To register and for more information, go to ow.ly/ZZo8X.

Presented to a “librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre,” this year’s award winner is Robin Bradford, Collection Development Librarian for Timberland Regional Library system in southwestern Washington State and a frequent contributor to LJ.

Presented by the Public Library Association and established to “provide a public library the opportunity to build or expand its romance fiction collection and/or host romance fiction programming,” this year’s $4,500 grant goes to the Elkhart Public Library, IN.

Established to help “develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers,” this grant funded two research projects this year: Kelly Choyke’s “The Power of Popular Romance Culture: An Ethnography of Feminism, the Romance Genre, and Womanhood in North America,” and Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois’s “Shifting Identities and ­Reimagined Careers: Romance Authors and the Self-Publishing Revolution.”

For “the article that appears in print or in another medium that best depicts the romance genre in a positive light,” this year’s Veritas is awarded to Kelly Faircloth, “How Harlequin Became the Most Famous Name in Romance,” Jezebel.com (ow.ly/ZVWMC).

industry newS

In a surprise move, Samhain Publishing announced that it would be shutting down its operations over the next few months. Founded in 2005 and an early leader in digital-only romance publishing, the house says it has been losing market share over the past few years and can no longer sustain its business (ow.ly/ZVX6E). Samhain was a major player in the romance ebook market—although it published in other formats, as well.

One of the most popular romance authors writing today, Nora Roberts has signed with St. Martin’s Press for six books—one stand-alone title, a trilogy, and two futuristic police procedurals written under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb. Her most recent titles were published by Penguin Random House, most often under its Putnam and Berkley imprints. Her first title with St. Martin’s is scheduled for 2017.

This article was published in Library Journal's April 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)

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