Miss Bates’ Favourite 2014 Reads and Your Potential 2015 (Re?)Reading List …

It’s been a wonderful year at Miss Bates Reads Romance, thanks to everyone who dropped by to read, comment, and make Miss Bates’ life that much brighter and happier by her presence. She takes this opportunity to wish you a hearty new year, full of joy, laughter, love, inspiration, conviviality … and great books!

Miss Bates read over eighty-five books in 2014: some forgettable, some precious rereads, some by new-to-her authors; others, familiar and beloved. She kept a running list of books that struck her at time-of-reading; in the past weeks, she pruned pruned pruned. Below you’ll find titles that resonated: the memory of whose scenes, characters, and turns of phrase provokes a smile, thought, or question. They may not be perfect, but, for sundry reasons, Miss Bates holds them close to her heart. (Miss Bates links to her original review and keeps to a few lines about each title.)

Contemporary Romance

Her Rancher Rescuer, Donna Alward: Her Rancher Rescuera romance that turns the idea of the powerful, morally superior knight on its head. Alward shows how great-guy Jack Shepard hides behind his shining emotional “armor.” Heroine Amy Wilson, who at first appears flighty and frivolously flirty, reveals an iron will without rescinding a soft heart, and leads the way to unfreezing her emotionally-blocked rescuer.

Special Interests and Private Politics, Emma Barry: Private_PoliticsSpecial Interestsa unique series for its setting in the fraught political atmosphere of Washington D. C. Young, educated, funny, and politically committed, Barry’s heroes and heroines, Parker and Millie, Liam and Alyse, respectively, flawed as they are, much as they compromise, enact quirky, at times adorably awkward, but always sublime, romance. Also, they’re really sexy!

An Unsuitable Husband, Ros Clarke: An Unsuitable Husbanda modern marriage-of-convenience that convinces (NOT an easy feat), Clarke’s slow-growth-to-love tale of an ambitious heroine, Theresa, and soccer-royalty, French! hero, Emile, moved Miss Bates deeply. Miss B. loved that the heroine struggled, not with feelings of relationship inadequacy, or doubt, but the attractions of spinsterhood!

Mr. Family, Margot Early: Mr_Familylike Clarke’s above, a convincing modern marriage-of-convenience of two broken, grieving people, Kal and Erika, the heat and wonder of Hawaii, and how they’re healed of grief and loss by taking emotional chances on intimacy and love. (Mr. Family is the first Early Miss Bates read, but she’ll be looking at that back-list big-time!)

Under the Boss’s Mistletoe, Jessica Hart: Under_Boss's_MistletoeHart’s tale of what happens when you meet the bad-boy you kissed ten years ago and he’s as stiff and closed off as a Christmas cracker is one of the best Christmas-set romances Miss Bates has read. No one equals Hart in portraying vulnerability and poignancy with such a light, humorous, and elegant touch. (Miss Bates is so happy Hart has a lengthy back-list to dip into and enjoy!)

Never Been Kissed and Between the Sheets, Molly O’Keefe: Never_Been_KissedBetween_the_Sheetsthere’s A LOT of O’Keefe on Miss Bates’ year-end list. Because for contemporary romance that is deeply aware of everyday issues we contend with and deep needs we hide, O’Keefe does it best hands down. And, joy of joys, she’s ventured into historical romance! See below. 😉

The Promise of Rain, Rula Sinara: The Promise Of RainSinara’s “promise” is for a renewed life for hero and heroine, Jackson and Anna, just as the earth receives rain when it’s parched. This is one secret-baby plot everyone can love: thoughtful and poignant. Also, loving and irresistibly loveable elephants and a unique-for-category-romance African setting.

Pretender To the Throne, Maisey Yates: Pretender To the ThroneYates’ HP is everything the category should be: angsty, sexy, over-the-top; beneath the surface: exhibiting real humanity, vulnerability, and depth of relationship. It’s all encapsulated in dialogue by two of the sharpest-tongued protagonists you’ll ever meet in romance, Xander and Layna. It’ll blow you away.

Historical Romance and Romance-ish

Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran: Fool Me TwiceDuran writes some of the best in the romance sub-genre that suffers most from the word generic. The cross-class trope is her strength and, as in Miss Bates’ favourite A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, she makes the socially unequal emotional equals, with a listing, in this case, in favour of the punchy, beautiful heroine, Olivia Holladay. Hero, aristocratic Alastair de Grey, Duke of Marwick, agoraphobic, sharp-tongued, and autocratic, and Olivia, not messed up at all, calls him on everything. It’s everything good in historical romance.

Married By Christmas, Karen Kirst: Married_By_ChristmasKirst wrote an inspirational marriage-of-convenience and a second-chance-at-love that is heartfelt and sensuous, with details of tree and snow and Montana mountain range and desire with the merest touch and glance. Hero Caleb O’Malley and heroine Rebecca Thurston fall in love despite all their preconceptions and barriers … even the villain is nuanced and interesting. (Married By Christmas is Miss Bates’ first Kirst, but she’ll be going back to the earlier titles in this series!)

The Jade Temptress, Jeannie Lin: The Jade Temptressa stunning hybrid of Tang-Dynasty-set historical romance and murder mystery with a ninth-century hard-boiled detective, Constable Wu Kaifeng, and lady of the night, Mingyu: choices meld with resolutions and answers are difficult. Loss is only a breath away, but Lin leads her protagonists to a new and better life, believable, striking, original. (Sadly, Lin isn’t writing in this vein any longer, but Miss Bates may break her anti-steampunk rule to look at her latest.)

The Game and the Governess, Kate Noble: The_Game_and_the_GovernessNoble tackles the cross-class romance in what may, at first, appear a gimmicky way, but there’s nothing trite about what the hero, “Lucky” Ned Ashby, learns on his way to loving a most unusual, stoic, yet joyful governess-heroine, Miss Phoebe Baker, Miss Bates’ favourite kind.

Seduced, Molly O’Keefe: Seduced-by-Molly-OKeefe-300x450Miss Bates hardly has words to describe how good this O’Keefe novella-ish is; O’Keefe transitions from contemporary to Western, post-bellum, historical romance with all the beauty of language and sentiment that she’s known for in the former. A story about all the ways that war, domestic, national, and internal, breaks heroine, Melody Hurst, and hero, Cole Baywood, and the seeds that love, understanding, and respect, even a modicum of them, can plant to create new life. If you read one historical romance this year, let it be this one.

Silence For the Dead, Simone St. James: Silence_For_the_DeadSt. James’ hybrid of historical-ghost-story-gothic-romance fiction, set in the Great War’s aftermath, isn’t all woo-woo and illicit, stolen kisses, though there’s delicious bits of that too, it’s about healing the wounds of war by making peace with the past and taking a chance on a love-filled future. Jack Yates, broken veteran, stalwart, beautiful, young, and Kitty Weekes, inexperienced nurse, escapee from a domestic war, stronger together than apart, uncover the secrets of a house haunted by injustice and fall in love.

A Cowboy For Christmas, Lacy Williams: Cowboy_For_ChristmasMiss Bates’ last romance read and post/review of 2014 is a moving, thoughtful novel about healing the soul through acts of love. Daisy Richards is angry and devastatingly sad after she loses an arm in an accident involving her Christmas cowboy, Ricky White. Ricky lives his new-found faith in giving Daisy her strength and confidence back. Simple acts like choosing a Christmas tree and throwing snowballs show how shared laughter and opening oneself up in heartfelt exchange, and some nicely zingy physical attraction, bring love and friendship together.

Classic Romance

Devil’s Cub and The Convenient Marriage, Georgette Heyer Devil's_Cub(1932 & 1934): Convenient_Marriage_2this was the year Miss Bates cemented the Heyer-love and these two titles are the reasons why. Read Devil for the sensible, strong, admirable heroine, Mary Challoner, who takes on bad-boy Dominic Alistair till he’s putty; and read Marriage for the hero, Marcus Drelincourt, Earl of Rule: all-knowing, wise, gentle, kind, and rawr-sexy as he wins the too-young, stammering spendthrift, dark-browed Horatia.

Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, Carla Kelly (1989): Miss_Chartley's_Guided_TourKelly takes a hero, Matthew Bering, who’s no hero material: weak and defeated and afraid, throws in his old love, the eponymous Miss Omega Chartley, and lovely moppets and tells the story of two people who haven’t any room for spontaneity, or love. Their innate decency, nay, their goodness, leaves no room but to let love back in, take a chance, and thus win it all.

Damsel In Green and Fate Is Remarkable, Betty Neels (1970 & 1971): Damsel_In_Green_3Fate_Is_Remarkable_2007the Neels-love has been long established for Miss Bates; these two titles only made it richer and deeper. No one imbues the world with more beauty and purpose than Betty Neels and these novels and their couples, Georgina and Julius, Sarah and Hugo, respectively, exemplify what makes Neels great: pristine, clear prose, a sense of decorum and tradition, an aesthetic for old and tried and true objects, and romance, nay, courtships, like a still lake, with knowing, deeply affected heroes and delightful “good-girl,” hard-working, but given to a little vanity and pique, heroines.

Madam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart (1953): MWYT_2011Miss Bates’ first Stewart and most definitely not her last. La Grande Dame of gothic romance, in whose footsteps writers like St. James (mentioned above) and Susanna Kearsley follow, wrote her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk? to beguile us ever with sophisticated prose and characterization … except for a delightful penchant for the sensational plot. Widow Charity Selborne, her byronic hero, Richard Byron, and his son, David, confront a cast of post-WWII villains, villains carrying the ghosts of that war with them. Charity and Richard’s interactions are fraught with sensuality and acrimony, but Charity’s good sense and loving sensibility heal Richard of the mess his life’s fallen into … oh, and Stewart can match car chase scenes with Ian Fleming any day.

What are your favourite 2014 reads? Miss Bates invites you to join her for another year of reading and discussing good and bad, high and low, sublime and prosaic …

23 thoughts on “Miss Bates’ Favourite 2014 Reads and Your Potential 2015 (Re?)Reading List …

  1. Madam, Will You Talk was one of my best reads of the year, too–I read it after seeing your review. Silence for the Dead is in the TBR because I so enjoyed Simone St. James’s first two books. They also came my way via your reviews . . . as did Jessica Hart. And I still need to try the O’Keefe, which intrigued me when you wrote about it. Here’s to another great year of MBRR, and happy 2015 to you!

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    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed the Stewart, St. James, and Hart: they’re such keepers, those titles. & they really are a feast for the head and heart. I loved the O’Keefe more and more as I distanced myself from it, but it has such resonance. I just couldn’t quit it.

      Thank you very much for the time you take to comment and your good wishes!

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  2. Nice list. The Jade Temptress made mine too, and The Game and the Governess came thisclose to making the cut. I’ve been wanting to try that Molly O’Keefe and will look for your review.

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    • Thank you! Lin’s book really blew me away! I liked Noble’s novel because I appreciated how nuanced her characters were: especially the hero, Ned: who was so flawed, I doubted she could redeem him. But she did, quite believably. I also liked that the governess worked through her anger to reach an almost Buddhistic sense of balance. I really liked that. I do so hope you’ll try the O’Keefe: even though it made me uncomfortable in place when I read it, it stayed with me, picking at me to think about it. It’s really a brave story.

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  3. I’m right in the middle of reading Fool Me Twice. I’m liking it a lot, although I’m not entirely sure I like the hero and heroine together, if that makes any sense. Still, I find Duran to be a very interesting writer.

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Game and the Governess, and I mean to read more O’Keefe and Lin since I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of theirs. (Only one book each, admittedly.) I also want to try one of Emma Barry’s books.

    Mary Stewart is one of those authors who I’ve read (2-3 books?) yet didn’t really make an impression. She’s obviously a good writer, yet didn’t quite speak to me, I suppose. Heyer, otoh, I motored through a substantial number of her books and have hugely fond memories. Will have to revisit one day.

    Thank you for the list. I enjoy end-of-the-year reading posts.

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    • Your comment about the heroine and hero of Fool Me Twice is most interesting because I totally bought into them together. She’s just so no-nonsense to his shenanigans and won’t take any gaff from him. He’s exactly what she needs and he’s well … going to get her out of her financial straits. And he is sexy. So I went with it, but I do see what you might mean. I find Duran a most interesting writer too: since I read her début, Duke of Shadows. I think she’s lost a bit of her gravitas since then, or maybe she’s just trying to reach a “bigger” audience, but I’ll still read her.

      I’ve read SO much O’Keefe and she never fails to amaze me with all the deep dark nasty places (not ick in content, but harsh in emotions) that her characters expose. That’s really her greatest strength: her ability to lay character wide open.

      It took me three tries to get “into” Stewart, so don’t give up yet! I must say this one totally captured me, but others … not. I will be reading and writing about another couple of her titles this year, probably over the summer.

      Thanks for the great comment! Happy new year!

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  4. A number of these are also going to make my Best Of list, just as soon as I put a post together. Donna Alward, O’Keefe’s western, and Lacy Williams. Nice to see so many category romances on someone else’s Best Of list. I mean, I can’t be the only one, right? LOL

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    • I am so glad to be in your company! Alward, O’Keefe, and my latest discovery, thanks to you, Williams, are likely to stay on my year-end lists if they sustain what they’ve been doing …

      For most of the year, I love to read category romance: it’s just so perfect for a working spinster. It’s a fully developped narrative journey and yet, two nights and you’re able to read a novel, without losing any threads …

      I can’t wait to read your list!

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  5. Miss Bates, I agree with your earlier observation that Duran’s more recent works don’t have as much gravitas. I’m a fan of hers, and I love her female characters. But when Duran writes lighter and funnier, as in Your Scandalous Summer and Fool Me Twice, I feel like there’s a clash with the darkness that’s always in her books. For me, FMT really epitomized that clash . . . and there were times that I wished she’d written it with all the seriousness of Duke of Shadows or Written on Your Skin.

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    • Your comment really hits the nail on the head about Duran’s more recent work. I like it and it’s historical romance that I’ll read over most others simply because she doesn’t bore me. You’re so right when you say that “there’s a clash with the darkness” … I think, other than my gravitas comment, that her work isn’t as engaged with historical class either. Before, she was aware of how her characters arose out of their historical context … now, it’s as if what’s happened is what I think happens to most historical romance writers: they give up context, for appearance. It’s late and I hope I’ve made some sense here … 🙂

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      • You’re making sense. I think Duran’s next one has a pickpocket heroine–she’s mentioned in passing in FMT as being a lockpicker. If that’s the case, maybe we’ll get another cross-class romance that we love as much as A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal.

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  6. I agree with quite a few on this list, but especially Fool Me Twice. It was actually the first of Duran’s books that I’ve read, so now I need to read more of her earlier stories to see how she’s developed (especially given these comments).

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    • Duran is one of my favourite historical romance writers and she sometimes, I think, doesn’t get the reader-love … I think her earlier work is even better than the lighter touch she’s used lately. I’ve been rereading DUKE OF SHADOWS (2008 release), her début, and it’s held up marvelously well.

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  7. Happy New Year, Miss Bates! I looked through my pile of books after reading this post, and realized that I had more disappointments there than books I just loved. However, one that I really enjoyed (and didn’t think I would) was Abigail Strom’s Cross My Heart – since I have a teenager myself, I didn’t expect to enjoy the tale of the heroine’s struggles with her heart throb single neighbor’s daughter as a subplot to their love story 😉 But, it was so well done that I did. The ending was too pat, but the book in general was very good. I also really liked your recommendation, Return of Mrs. Jones! Sadly, I picked up a huge pile of HP’s a few weeks ago at my library book sale and have been disappointed with nearly all! What category “categories” so to speak do you recommend to replace my long love affair with Harlequin Presents?

    I’ve been thinking about what to read this year, and here is a thing I’m interested in doing. Since so much historical romance owes a ginormous debt to Heyer, I want to pick one of her books, and then read a couple of modern romances based on the same trope (marriage of convenience, runaway, strong minded heroine, etc.) and see how they look next to each other. Think it would be fun! Anyway, best wishes to you (and Mama B) for all happiness in 2015!

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    • And a happy, healthy, and successful new year to you and yours as well! Thank you very much for the recommendation: I’m keeping a running list this year.

      I read quite a few HPs this year that were so disappointing, but my strategy, which I’d recommend, because I love me my category romance so much, is to “ignore” category (I don’t read the Nocturnes & rarely the inspie romantic suspense) and read by author. I do try an new-to-me author once, I did that a few times this year, but overall I’ve been disappointed. I have some tried-and-true category authors, especially HP and I stick with them: Sarah Morgan, Caitlin Crews, and Maisey Yates. I really enjoyed The Return of Mrs. Jones and hope to see more of her … but no bites so far. I’m glad you liked it!

      I think your Heyer idea is terrific: whatever Heyer you decide to read, do try to include some Rose Lerner. I think she’s a bit of a natural Heyer-descendant. I also have been listening to Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels and I’m amazed at all the connections I’ve been able to make to Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, which I read and loved this year, especially the “shooting” scenes. I think those two would make for a great combination.

      All the best to you for a great reading year too!

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      • Thank you for the writer recommendations – always the best place to start and I’ve a bit behind the times on HP I guess. I get some of these! Also, I see Sweet Disorder is your next review, so must also follow Rose Lerner advice! She has LONG been on that neglected TBR pile.

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        • You’re welcome! The Lerner is terrific: it’s easy to say you’ll like it. If you haven’t read her début, IN FOR A PENNY, it’s also wow. This is a broader canvas.

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  8. Dear Miss Bates
    Your lovely post prompted me to get out my trusty book log where I record only date read, title and author. I skimmed though the 100+ titles and wrote down the ones I immediately recognized as ones I loved. At the end of the exercise I had 13 books (across all genres). In romance it was one contemporary (Julie James-It Happened One Wedding), one urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews- Magic Breaks) and 4 historicals (the Duran, Courtney Milan-Suffragette Scandal,and Sherry Thomas’ two book story-The Hidden Blade and My Beautiful Enemy). So almost half of my top 13 were romances. Not too shabby.
    The ones that stuck with me the most, however, were ‘Girls at the Kingfisher Club’ by Genevieve Valentine(a jazz age retelling of the dancing princesses fairy tale) and ‘The Goblin Emperor’ by Katherine Addison (palace politics fantasy with a young hero who unexpectedly inherits the throne.)
    This year I hope to make a dent in my TBR (which right now consists mostly of science and history non-fiction). I have all these good intentions , but i keep getting side-tracked by ‘gotta read it now’ fiction. First one up in that category is Miranda Neville’s new one (what is taking the library so long??)

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your reading year: it’s lovely to hear what others enjoyed and remember. I’ve heard very good things about that Julie James in audio and I might end up listening to it. I love all things Jazz Age too: it’s my love of The Great Gatsby, I think.

      Oh, the Neville is The Duke of Dark Desires … I’d like to read that one too. It has my favourite character from Lady Windermere’s Lover as the hero. Also, I don’t know if you’ve read the previous one to Windermere, The Ruin Of A Rogue, but I loved it.

      I hope your reading year is a wonderful one and all your books are keepers!

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