Miss Bates’s Best of 2016: It’s All In the Romance

happy_new_yearAs 2016 draws to an end, Miss Bates offers new-year wishes to her readers: may 2017 bring good cheer, good friends, hearty constitutions, and every book be a keeper! Every year is marked by a particular reading mood and this year was harried for Miss Bates. A new job and responsibilities made reading and reviewing more infrequent than she would’ve liked. Maybe because of this, however, Miss Bates was reminded, as she winds down her reviewing year with a final “best of” post, what a soul-sustainer a life-long love of reading is. No matter how busy the week, how laden with tasks the week-end, even a half hour in another place or time, with characters working their way to an HEA, buoyed her spirits and gave her renewed strength for entering “once more unto the breach”. Romance itself had a lacklustre year. As you’ll note from her “best of” choices below, there are as many older roms as recently published ones. Romancelandia lost its unified magic and its controversies paled in light of world events. Review blogging felt quaint, which might be in keeping with Miss Bates’s own persona, but the loss of waning, or shut-down blogs saddens her. And yet, the genre’s message remains true and good: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world. Reading, thinking about reading, and engaging in dialogue about what we read with others, which is what MBRR always wants to be about, still feels right to Miss B.

Here follow the best romance journeys Miss Bates read in 2016. She approached this year’s list with the idea that what romance does best is offer its reader emotional engagement: if a romance gripped Miss Bates and she’s still in its emotional thrall, it made the cut.

Contemporary Romance

Let_It_BreatheTawna Fenske’s Let It Breathe (2016) Clay, a man of hard-earned sobriety and humility, returns to his hometown and reunites with Reese, the woman who’d rescued him time and again until … she didn’t.

Juggling_Briefcase_and_BabyJessica Hart’s Juggling Briefcase and Baby (2010) Hidden-heart-of-gold Lex, staid, strait-laced, and fastidious, is putty in the hands of ex-girlfriend free-spirit Romy and baby daughter, the irrepressible, shortbread-gumming Freya.

outlaw_cowboyNicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy (2016) Delia and Caleb, both determined to save something or someone other than themselves, are this year’s winning couple at resisting the heart’s call.

Cuff_MeLauren Layne’s Cuff Me (2016) Grumpy, introvert-softie Vin flails with emotional helplessness at pixie-partner’s, Jill’s, engagement, this year’s best comeuppance romance.

Saving_Maddie's_BabyMarion Lennox’s Saving Maddie’s Baby (2016) Even if the reunited-husband-and-wife trope weren’t perfectly executed in Josh and Maddie’s story, then Lennox’s redemption of the TSTL heroine would be … ahem, cue eight-month pregnant heroine entering a collapsed mine shaft.

Some_Kind_Of_WonderfulSarah Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful (2015) Morgan rocks the reunited-husband-and-wife trope in Zach and Brittany. Like Fenske’s Clay, Zach wins the wounded-silent-type award. Morgan is a romance writer who gives her heroes as much emotional vindication as her heroines.

Take_Me_CowboyMaisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy (2016) Miss B’s “best of” choices in contemporary romance couldn’t go a year without Yates. Anna and Chase’s friends-to-lovers dance evokes all their well-kept insecurities. Anna gains in confidence and embraces her sexuality as well as her heart and Chase’s sexually savvy charm flounders.

Historical Romance

RogueKatharine Ashe’s The Rogue (2016) Ashe’s cross-class romance about master-swordsman “Saint” and the woman who broke his heart six years ago, Lady Constance Read, shines brighter when it transforms into the story of reunited protagonists bringing justice to the innocent.

hunterKerrigan Byrne’s The Hunter (2016) An unabashedly melodramatic romance and new author discovery for Miss Bates! She loved the interplay between assassin Christopher as he resurrected emotionally and intrepid London-actress, Millie LeCour, who took him on … internal and external scars, muscles, and monosyllabic avowals.

Secrets_At_CourtBlythe Gifford’s Secrets At Court (2014) Miss Bates yearns for medieval-set romance and Gifford’s is exactly, sublimely that. Her protagonists, Anne and Nicholas, serve kings and queens, but their burgeoning relationship leads them to create their own world, beholden to no one, built of love and beauty.

duke_of_sinElizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin (2016) Miss Bates’s ROMANCE OF THE YEAR! Hoyt writes one of the best not-quite-redeeming-the-hero romances she’s read in the story of dissolute Val Napier and housekeeper Bridget Crumb. Every romance reader looks for a romance writer to echo Heyer’s greatness and Hoyt accomplishes this in Duke Of Sin.

Study_Of_SeductionSabrina Jeffries’s The Study of Seduction (2016) Miss Bates’s favourite histrom trope, the marriage-of-convenience, is used to perfection in Jeffries’s story of laconic, introverted Edwin and effervescent social butterfly, Clarissa. Her protagonists are loving, likeable people whose convenient marriage brings out the best in each other.

Inspirational Historical Romance

Reclaiming_His_PastKaren Kirst’s Reclaiming His Past (2016) Miss Bates will read any amnesia plot, but Kirst’s romance about memory-deprived Grant and Good Samaritan Jessica, who rescued him as he lay bleeding and wounded, is about allowing love to unearth, heal, and transcend the past.

family_for_holidaysSherri Shackelford’s A Family For the Holidays (2016) Shackelford’s pretend-marriage romance is this year’s drollery romance: maybe it’s poking fun at old-fashioned Westerns, or hilarious plot moppets, but Miss Bates chuckled through this one. Yet it doesn’t stint on the romance for protective, loving lawman Jake and intrepid, tender-hearted Lily.

Vintage Romance

Barefoot_In-GrassJudith Arnold’s Barefoot In the Grass (1996) Beth, a woman scarred and strong, meets Ryan, a builder of homes who keeps his heart behind a wall of roguish charm. Beth may carry physical and confidence scars, but she’s learning to walk barefoot in the grass and Ryan must change to follow her there.

Gallant_WaifAnne Gracie’s Gallant Waif (1999) Surly former-soldier Jack and his energetic, bossy housekeeper Kate win the sheer delight award in Miss B’s reading year. Miss B’s favourite scenes are when Kate smashes things and/or Jack splutters. She resurrects him, though, and he adores her.   

fifth_day_xmas_vintageBetty Neels’s The Fifth Day Of Christmas (1971) What more can Miss Bates say than Neels as the Great Affirmer does it again: Dutch doctor Ivo is loving, kind, and yet cheeky and charming. Nurse Julia Pennyfeather, who accompanies him to Holland to nurse The Other Woman, wears a soft, pink wool dress for Christmas dinner and rules his heart and soul.

HEA Honourable Mentions

Though not romances per se, the following titles were terrific nonetheless and offer wonderful HEAs.

Named_Of_DragonSusanna Kearsley’s Named Of the Dragon (1998) Lyn has to solve a mystery, massage egos, and survive a pulse-pounding chase scene. Lyn and Gareth’s slow road to love is the lovely reward to the gothic world Lyn enters when she spends Christmas in Wales.

Blue_CastleLucy Maud Montgomery’s The Blue Castle (1926) One of Montgomery’s greatest achievements, the put-upon Valancy breaks away from social and familial strictures to live wildly in the woods. There she meets a mysterious woodsman …

Murder_On_Last_FrontierCathy Pegau’s Murder On the Last Frontier (2015) Though a historical murder mystery, Pegau’s novel has an incipient romance between lady-journalist Charlotte and Cordova, Alaska’s deputy marshal James. Charlotte’s beauty, intelligence, thirst for social justice match his twinkling blue eyes, protectiveness, and moral uprightness. A couple worth waiting for … 

Dutch_GirlDonna Thorland’s The Dutch Girl (2016) Anna and Gerrit are caught in the mixed and painful loyalties of the American revolutionary war. But a kitten named Scrappy and the pull of heart and hearth, of sacrifice and care for the other, bring them to an HEA-haven that transcends history.

What were the best HEAs you read this year, dear reader?

(Miss Bates received Fenske’s Let It Breathe from Montlake; Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy from Sourcebooks Casablanca; Layne’s Cuff Me from Forever; Lennox’s Saving Maddie’s Baby, Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy, Gifford’s Secrets At Court, and Kirst’s Reclaiming His Past from Harlequin Books; Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful from HQN; Byrne’s The Hunter from St. Martin’s; Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin from Grand Central; Jeffries’s The Study Of Seduction from Pocket; Kearsley’s Named Of the Dragon from Sourcebooks Landmark; Pegau’s Murder On the Last Frontier from Kensington; Thorland’s The Dutch Girl from NAL Penguin, via Netgalley. She received Ashe’s The Rogue from Avon, via Edelweiss; and, Shackelford’s Harlequin-published A Family For the Holidays from the author. Every other title she bought for herself, or was gifted.)

16 thoughts on “Miss Bates’s Best of 2016: It’s All In the Romance

  1. I have no optimism for 2017 myself, but I absolutely love those of my fellow readers who do–because their enduring joy in reading and defiant hope for better in the future helps me cope with my own less rosy view of life.

    So here’s a heartfelt thank you, my dear Miss Bates.

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    • 🙂 It is people like you, AztecLady, among others, that give me hope for the future: you care, you speak out, and you’re principled. As Margaret Mead said? wrote?, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Keep well, keep blogging, and all the best of the new year to you and yours! Looking forward to seeing more of you in 2017! And, you’re most welcome!

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  2. Best wishes for 2017 to you too, Miss Bates, and to Mama B! May it bring you more good reading. This is a great list. I think my own favorite HEA this year was Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked, tied with Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy, so, not brand new ones, but lots of fun. Yay for bluestocking heroines! Thanks for all your kindness and good cheer on Twitter.

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    • You’re most welcome! And the best that 2017 can bring to you and your family: unity, strength, love, and inspiration!

      I discovered Tessa Dare this year and was completely charmed. I adored A Week To Be Wicked and especially the bluestocking heroine and her fossil. Love reading all the new stuff coming out, but I think it’s even MORE fun to discover older books, so Milan’s and Dare’s are great recs! Thank you! Getting to know you over Twitter has been a boon to the year! Here’s also hoping that 2017 brings clement weather we can drive in in our respective oh-so-Canadian cities! 😉

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  3. We have no overlaps in our year’s best (mine to be posted at a later time)!

    Thank you for keeping your blog going despite your new and hectic job. I often find that when I let my romance novel reading to fall by the wayside due to all the other commitments I need to meet, I become despondent about our world. It is romance reading that keeps me positive. As you said “love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world” – Love and reconciliation is a powerful way to fight anger and hate. Embracing love, embracing romance is positive even when everything seems so difficult. Critically engaging in romance narratives is a powerful tool in promoting love and positivity. Romance blogging is as quaint as my blog is shallow – it is all smoke and mirrors 😉

    All the best for the New Year to you and Mama B. xx

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    • And a blessed, happy, healthy, and reading year to you and yours! Reading, in general, and especially romance, sustains us and gives us the possibility of other worlds and other ways of being. It isn’t frivolous, or leisurely, but the work of the imagination … and I think that’s why we’re despondent when we’re not reading! I hope our 2017 is filled with books and reading-time!

      P.S. I’m really looking forward to your best of post!!

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  4. Happy New Year! Thanks for all the great reviews and book talk.
    I loved Madeline Hunter’s Tall, Dark & Wicked trilogy…although I haven’t read the last one yet. And Miranda Neville’s Burgundy Club quartet, and “The Cryptographer” by Alice Wallis-Eton, although her 2 books that followed it were a disappointment. I got up to Book 8 of the Pennyroyal Green series, “It Happened One Midnight”, and they just keep getting better and better. But a lot of my favorites this year were older books. I somehow had never read Heyer’s “The Toll-Gate” and fell in love with it. I got a lot of joy out of Louise Allen’s backlist.
    I was surprised by how much I liked “Duke of My Heart” by Kelly Bowen, because I am usually allergic to the cutesy titles. I read(and reread) more than my share of old Signet Regencies and Harlequin Historicals, because the closer it got to Election Day, the less I was able to concentrate enough to finish the longer books.
    btw, I follow Donna Thorland on FB and Twitter, and she didn’t know about your review of her novella in the “Christmas in America” collection-she was very happy when I pointed her to it.

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    • Thank you for those wonderful recs! I have quite a few Hunters in my TBR and I loved the first three books in the Pennyroyal series! Wicked fun, aren’t they? For my classic rom reads this year, I have Spencer’s Gamble, Stewart’s Nine Coaches, and Heyer’s Regency Buck. They’re all stacked up and waiting for the summer to come … which is really jumping the reading gun, but hey, with all the snow and ice and cold we’re getting, something to look forward to. And Miss Bates is a planner if nothing else. 😉

      The American election has brought home many sad things, not just for my American friends, but the world. Your country is too big, too important, and too powerful, not to make waves across the globe. I completely understand your feelings. I hope reading and books sustain you through what will be a fraught presidency.

      Thank you so much for letting Donna Thorland know about the review: sometimes Miss Bates isn’t very good at keeping track of tweeting and informing her own reviews!

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  5. All (but one – the Gifford, because I haven’t read it yet!) of your historical favourites are also mine 🙂 I have got as far as thinking about my “best of” post … but that’s it so far! I must get to it!

    Happy New Year and here’s hoping there will be plenty of good books for us to read and discuss.

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    • Really?!!! About the histroms?! That’s fabulous! “Kindred spirits,” as Anne would say. I do hope you read the Gifford, it’s such a rich romance. Much better than I ever expected and written with such sensitivity to time and place. Really, I want to Twitter-yell at Gifford: “Write faster!”

      And a happy, healthy, love- and book-filled new year to you!!! Yes, many many good books to chat over!

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  6. During a year that tried my soul and the prospect of four to eight more to come I fear will do the same, your thoughtful, sane and insightful reviews have been a haven. I hope that you continue your discussions for many more years and I thank you for taking/making the time to refocus on ideas that we can share without prejudice.

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    • Aw, thank you! While your comment warmed me heart and soul (what a lovely thing to write) I’m saddened by the four, not eight, surely not eight!?, years ahead of us. You are our closest neighbours and allies, and I hope that, by whatever veil protects you, saner, better heads prevail. As for MBRR, it feels right and good and I’m going to happily, gladly, keep reading and writing, especially because of readers like you. 🙂

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