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!