Miss Bates’s Stand-Out Books: 2018 Edition

Dear friends and readers, another year with Miss Bates in the waning light of blogs everywhere. Romance review blogging has given way to Twitter, #bookstagram, etc. and you can find me there, as well as Goodreads and Netgalley, if that’s where you get your reviews. The new and shiny is always a temptation, but I happen to think that the best engagement for reading books is writing about them. So I shall continue to do so. Thank you for reading, commenting, and plain old sticking by me and whatever idiosyncratic reading thoughts and opinions I throw your way. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, prosperous, inspired and inspiring 2019 and oodles of wonderful books.

I had a great reading year, exceeding my Goodreads goal of a hundred books. I enjoyed many romance novels this year and expanded my non-fiction reading to balance out the HEAs. Below are the best books I read in 2018. I started this post on the first of 2018 and it blossomed with many-a-title till December 31st. It originally had over 30 “favourite” titles. My criteria for the final twelve that follow was simple: if I could vividly remember scenes, ideas, characters, or atmosphere, then it merited inclusion. If the book was “great” at the time of reading but faded over time, well then, it was excised. I hope to articulate, with a few lines for each, what stayed, lingered, and impressed me … strictly from memory, so these will be, at best, impressionistic “reviews”.

In A Category By Itself: The Best Book I Read This Year

 … was Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet (2010), a memoir he wrote, but never intended for publication, making it all the more remarkable, while fading, failing, and dying of ALS. I originally thought to read Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, but decided to read what I thought would be a humbler, *littler* book before tackling the tome. It turned out memorable and profound. Judt writes with humour, erudition, and perspicacity about himself, America, Israel, being Jewish, education, identity, growing up in England and all things English. What stayed with me most were his essays on a wildly eccentric German teacher, measuring time by train journeys, and musings on food, love, cars, and family. And, finally, one brilliant, prescient essay, “Edge People,” where, even at the start of our troubled decade, he found in our clinging to “identities” the very source of Western anxiety and hate of the other:

Being “Danish” or “Italian” or “European” won’t just be an identity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes. The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the privileges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps. Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand “tests” — of knowledge, of language, of attitude — to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch or French “identity”. They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people. My people.

Great All-Around Reads

were Susanna Kearsley’s Bellewether and Barbara O’Neal’s The Art Of Inheriting Secrets, both published this year. I loved Bellewether for the hero and heroine of Kearsley’s historical narrative thread, their nocturnal meetings, their language barrier (hey, I live in Canada, we’re all about language barriers), and their untragic HEA. I also absolutely loved it for the modern romance thread, with its museum setting, complex, but practical heroine, divine First Nations hero and the gift of footware. I loved O’Neal’s Inheriting Secrets for its, like Kearsley’s, humble, thoughtful, almost #feralspinster heroine, the interweaving of past and present, its gothic estate setting, the Indian food, the beautiful, loving hero of the dark eyes and curly hair. Kearsley and O’Neal are also wonderful writers: clear, elegant, moving.

Favourite Historical Romances

were few, but fabulous: Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s Free Fall and Caroline Linden’s An Earl Like You, both published in 2018. I also adored an early Carla Kelly, Libby’s London Merchant, published in 1991. I loved the Barry-Turner for its hero and heroine, their introvert-extrovert pairing, their working out of their marriage-of-convenience, and for the heroine’s growth from naïveté to a delightful, un-jaded wisdom. Linden’s Earl was memorable for its, like Barry-Turner, working out of a marriage-of-convenience between two wonderfully compatible people. It made for a nice pairing to the Barry-Turner, with their heroes of probity without being stuffy, heroines of delight without being silly. As for Carla Kelly, what I loved about it was how cleverly Kelly made the hero not the hero and how, like the heroines of the other historical romances I loved this year, she has to mature and recognize her worth and the worthiness of her life-partner.

Favourite Contemporary Romances

were more numerous because contemporary tends to be my romance of choice. I loved Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star (2017) for its going-deaf hero and coming to terms with the very thing that means so much to him, the priest-heroine and her flock of eccentrics, and a narrative that doesn’t need to be inspirational to be inspiring. I loved Carly Bloom’s Big Bad Cowboy (2018) because it was funny, the plot moppet, a hoot,  like an agitated, messy Puck, the hero had the best of alpha and beta qualities, and the heroine was a gardener! I loved Kate Clayborn’s Luck Of the Draw (2018) because the hero was stalwart and an EMT, my favourite kind, the heroine was ambitious and riddled by guilt, and they had to work together to make something good happen, despite their animus. I loved Caitlin Crews’s A True Cowboy Christmas (2018) because it managed to be a not-simply-convincing but inspired contemporary marriage of convenience, because the heroine was an “invisible” spinster, because the hero was so clueless about his own feelings, because he is foiled by his own heart, and because it was the tenderest romance I read this year. I also loved Roni Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away (2018) because it managed to make a romance out of a high school shooting convincing, psychologically wise, and still give us a sigh-worthy HEA.

Great Romantic Suspense

was to be found only in Anne Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose (2017). I loved it for the reunited bad-girl and the cop who arrested her hero, for the complex, cancer-survivor hero, and for the heroine’s vocation to bring food and work to disadvantaged youth. (Honorable mention goes to Nicole Helm’s Wyoming Cowboy Justice, even though the suspense plot was lame, the bearded bad boy hero and upright and occasionally uptight heroine, and their McCoy-Hatfield family feud, raised it above your run-of-the-mill romsuspense.)

Let’s see what book-greatness 2019 has in store for us, dear readers!

38 thoughts on “Miss Bates’s Stand-Out Books: 2018 Edition

  1. The Tony Judt memoir sounds amazing: I will definitely look it up. My mother has read quite a bit of his writing, I think, but I’m not sure if she’s read this one, so I’ll tip her off too, just in case. Sounds like a pretty good year overall! And I couldn’t agree more that “the best engagement for reading books is writing about them.” Here’s to a good year!

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    • Thank you so much and all the same to you! I really want to tackle the big Judt: POSTWAR, but I may save it for my long break like March’s two weeks, or the summer. Wishing you a great reading and otherwise year and looking forward to reading about your adventures in teaching and reading. 🙂

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  2. Great List Kay! I hope Anne Calhoun is still writing, she didn’t release anything in 2018 that I know of. Of the ones you listed, I read and enjoyed Free Fall, Luck of the Draw, A True Cowboy Christmas and Turn Me Loose. Best of luck finding great reads in 2019!

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  3. Just love Carla Kelly! I’m mostly a historical romance reader, with a few contemporary romances here and there, and I appreciate your reviews for helping me choose the occasional contemporary novel. Happy new year!

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    • And a happy new year! I hope 2019 brings MORE historical romance my way: every year, the contemporary tips overboard and the histrom stays minimal, hoping to see that change this year. Happy reading year to you and all the best in health and happiness for 2019!

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  4. What a wonderful treasure trove of books you’ve read! I now have a few more to add to my “to buy” list. Particularly The Art of Inheriting Secrets. There’s something about finding connections and ways to communicate when there are language barriers to prevent it. Plus gothic, curly-haired hero.

    So glad to read Libby’s London Merchant made your list this year! One of her best IMO. I, too, loved the non-hero hero and the way the heroine’s journey to maturity was the key to seeing him for the treasure he really was. Ditto on the Linden! And thanks again for that rec and kick in the pants!

    I don’t read a lot of contemporary but I did read and enjoy Linda Howard’s The Woman Left Behind. Though I guess it’s more Rom/Susp genre. All of these genre nuances sometimes confuse me. 🙄 Not a difficult job – confusing me.

    My favorite historical rom this year was Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. Jenny is a heroine I love – she strides forward decisively, making and finding her own happiness. She’s a mover and a shaker but in a more quiet sensible way. That she didn’t generally care for “fiction” in reading material made me do a head-tilt, but she admits Miss Austen’s Sense & Sensibility is her favorite book. How could I not love her then? Willig’s The English Wife is also right at the top for me this year. I think, I believe, that’s another rec I can thank you for!

    Simone St. James’ hist/paranormal/mystery (good grief, another genre/sub sub genre thingie) was, as expected, enthralling for me. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (Ann Barrows/Schaffer) tops historical fiction for me this year as did Susan Schaller’s biography, “A Man Without Words” is a love story to language itself.

    Great post, Miss B! I hope next year’s reading is just as enjoyable!

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    • Thank you for sharing your reads! English Wife and Woman Left Behind made my original list, but were excised because I, for the life of me, couldn’t recall even one scene. That may say more about my memory than it does about the books, but they were both books I really enjoyed, most definitely.

      I loved the Potato Peel book with a love of a thousand suns when it came out!!!

      Wishing you and yours a wonderful year and looking forward to more bookish writings to share and enjoy!

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      • And many blessings to you and yours throughout the year, Miss B!

        The Potato Peel book was such a powerful book! One of those books I allotted only a certain a few pages to read at a time after the first few pages and then would greedily devour my next allotment and whine because it went by so quickly. Rinse repeat. I forcefully slowed way down toward the end trying to delay the inevitable while I tortured myself wondering what would happen to the characters next.

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        • I pushed it onto friends and parishioners and everyone had the same response, as you, did to it. So it tends to memorable winner for so many: it’s too bad we lost the author. Her niece, who brought it to publication, a writer, came out with a novel, but I couldn’t get into it. Here’s to many good books for us in 2019!

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  5. Thank you for all your reviews! I treasure them and definitely use them for picking up what I read next! A very very happy, healthy, and peaceful new year to you!

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  6. What a great reading year. You make me want to get back to reading more romance—to rediscover my enthusiasm for it.

    I listened to Postwar several years ago, and I remember thinking it was incredible, but that’s all. I think it’s probably better absorbed in print. The memoir sounds great.

    Like you, I find I engage best with books when I write about them, and I’m hoping to do that more in 2019. Also comment more as my small contribution to Keeping Blogging Alive.

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    • It really really was quite a better reading year! Not up to the first few blogging years, but still so much better than the last two. I’ve been in a new position at work and my learning curve was huge, add administrative changes and the pressure on my time, focus, and energy was NOT on reading, so glad to have had a bit more of myself back.

      I hope you read the memoir, it’s so sharp and knowing, a true great mind. I want to tackle Postwar, maybe over the summer. I’m going to only do shorter nonfiction during the school year. I read Frankopan’s The Silk Roads while working and I think it took me like the entire academic year.

      I always miss your blog and would love to see you write more about your reading, romance would be great, but anything you’re reading would be great! And thank you for reading and commenting!

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  7. Dear Miss Bates, I really enjoy reading your reviews and you’ve introduced me to some terrific authors. I’m so happy that you plan to continue blogging. The Anne Calhoun was one of my favourites as well and I’m disappointed that she hasn’t released anything recently or, as far as I can tell, have a new book coming out. I also enjoyed the books by Caitlin Crews, Carly Bloom and Kate Clayborn; thanks for those recommendations. Happy reading in 2019.

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    • Thank you so much! A joyful, healthy, book-filled year! I’m so glad you found enjoyment in my humble recs. They were wonderful, those authors you’ve mentioned. The non-sighting of a Calhoun is breaking my heart: I just hope she’s okay and may have something in the wings for us in 2019. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  8. Your criteria of “best of” is mine as well. I always include every book I rated 5-Stars (or an A grade). Then I look at everything I read that rated 4-Stars (or a B grade) and include the ones that left a lasting impression. If I can remember (positive) particulars, sometimes 11 months after the fact, then yeah – it was a winner.

    And I NEED that Anne Calhoun book. Like, right now. Off to see if work has it…

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    • You really really do need that Calhoun book: she writes the romsuspense without chest-thumping, without the puerile stupidity we see too often in it. Two complex, ethical in their own way but not idealized characters, sharing an equal relationship and sexy as heck too. I just hope she may have more in the making.

      Yeah, I tend to the non-critical over-enthusiasm and often rate too high at time of reading … usually because I’m so darn GRATEFUL after a dud for something half-way decent. In retrospect, I can be more measured in my response and if I can’t remember hide-nor-hair of the thing, then how good was it? But if it stays with me, then absolutely … I’m thinking maybe I’ll go through my posts *some day* and do a best of retrospective. *famous last words* but I do like to blog-dream …

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  9. I love that you are continuing to blog. Once I leave my study cave, my aim is to return to blogging as I miss it. Meanwhile, I loved your 2018 list. More to add to my ever growing TBR.

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  10. I am so happy that you are continuing with your blog. I love your thoughtful reviews. My reading year was dismal, not in terms of what I read, just in terms of how much (I think that I finished 30 books in total – both audio and reading). Some of it was just “life,” but I have also realized that time spent on social media just saps my patience and energy (the eternal “crises du hour”). So, my goal this year is to spend more time reading books and reading blogs – thoughtful commentary and discussion is what I need!

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    • First, thank you so much! Secondly, I think we’ve all been struggling with reading and focussing. The world feels like it’s amidst upheaval and that can’t help but cause anxiety. I agree with you: that’s my plan too. More reading, less futzing around on social media, my focus really needs work. I’ve lost it. I read, but in spurts.

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  11. I want to thank you, again, for bringing The Art of Inheriting Secrets to my attention. Squeeeee!!
    I loved that one so much and I doubt I would have found it without your lovely review. I also enjoyed exchanging more squeees over Bellewether. I’ve not even bothered to shelf that one–I keep it handy to re-read favorite bits.
    I am glad 2018 was a good reading (and reviewing) year for you. And I’m looking forward to reading about your 2019 books.
    Happy New Year!

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    • Oh, you’re most welcome! And a happy, healthy, book-filled new year to you and yours!

      Sigh. Aren’t they both just perfect reads: wise, well-written, so loveable and memorable. I hope both O’Neal and Kearsley gives us something to enjoy in 2019. And it’s been great chatting books on GR with you!!! Looking forward to more of the same in the new year.

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  12. I love your reviews, Miss Bates. I put the Megan Crane on my wishlist after I read your review (and fingers crossed I get to read it soon). Evidently I’m now going to have to get the Judt, the Bloom and Bellewether. I had an eclectic reading year. I discovered Sherry Thomas, and while I’ve only read “My Beautiful Enemy” so far (brilliant book!), more of hers will feature in my future. Other stand outs were Virginia Kantra’s “Carolina Dreaming”, “The English Wife” by Lauren Willig, and Kate Atkinson’s “Transcription.” Looking forward to your 2019 reviews!

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    • Thank you so much!!! (I don’t know why WP didn’t show me comment notifications till now, sorry for the tardy reply 😦 I hope you do read the Judt, Bloom, & Kearsley’s Bellewether. They’re all pretty wonderful! In eclectic and different ways. I loved The English Wife too and it almost made my year-end list, I loved the detecting leads so much, but wasn’t as keen on the murder narrative. And Thomas’s Hollow Of Fear is pretty terrific too. I love Kantra!!! I should go back to her. And Atkinson … more exclamation marks. We seem to have very similar reading tastes 🙂

      Wishing you a belated happy healthy new year and so many good books!

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  13. Thanks for all the great reviews! Historical romances are my first preference, but I tried and loved “A True Cowboy Christmas”, so thanks for inspiring me to venture into a contemporary. My favorite new author discoveries this year were Anne Cleeland(both her historicals and contemporary police procedural series), Mimi Matthews(great historical authenticity), and Martha Wells(her sci-fi Murderbot Diaries), I also continued to enjoy some of my favorite go-to authors, Elizabeth Hoyt, Sharon Cullen, Elizabeth Essex, and I loved Linden’s “An Earl Like You”.

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    • Thank you for reading! I’m so glad your venture into contemporary romance is pleasurable: that really is a stand-out book. It’s the leads and Crews’s psychological insights that make them so sympathetic, complex, interesting, and worthy-of-reader-love. And Linden’s An Earl Like You, like the Crews, so much love for those two. I’ll have to see what I can manage of your new faves …

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