Dear readers and friends, if there’s one quotation that ran through my mind this annus horribilis, it’s Fitzgerald’s, “It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence, or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well” (The Great Gatsby). And we have lived it every single day since March, when the subtle rumbling of the covid avalanche came to our attention. Then, lockdown … and a strange, united elation of singing from balconies and applauding health care workers and a kind of strange peace for those of us staying home that took the form of bread-baking and staring out windows. And, what I thought would be “reading time”, despite WFH. It wasn’t. Not the reading time part: instead a length of days, lost, in dream and lethargy. Of the books I did read, few stood out. Here they are.
MISS B’S BOOK OF 2020: I had one memorable book this year and it wasn’t a romance. My book of the year is Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing.
I’ve long loved Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne contemporary mystery series and with, at long last, a new release, I caught up with the series and loved them all: One Was A Soldier, Through the Evil Days, and the latest, Hid From Our Eyes. I discovered Anne Cleeves and loved The Long Call (sad to hear it’s only a two-book series).
I discovered a new author in Allison Montclair and am now committed to yet another historical mystery series (the first one, thus far, was the best), The Right Sort of Man. I also started, mid-way, Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set series, loved #3, Murder At Kensington Palace. I started a new series with its début, Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, and would highly recommend Tessa Arlen’s A Woman of World War II series. Another beloved series had a superb addition this year, not only because my favourite historical-mystery-sleuths finally consummated their relationship and it was, of course, Deanna Raybourn’s A Murderous Relation. C. S. Harris’s latest St. Cyr historical mystery proves yet again that her books only get better and deeper and I loved Who Speaks for the Damned.
I didn’t read much historical romance, but I did find a few gems, including some a new-to-me author, Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. I also loved Julie Anne Long’s Angel In a Devil’s Arms.
MISS B’S HISTORICAL ROMANCE OF THE YEAR Netflix’s adaption of Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, though I’ve never been a Quinn fan. There’s something near-sneering in her romance ‘tude and treatment. I loved the adaptation of what I’ve always thought a mediocre historical romance. Though the series overdid the Lady Thistledown element and spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME on the Featherington narrative (except for Penelope, she was wonderful … unlike Eloise, who was strident and annoying), the leads, “Daphne” and “Simon,” were sexy as heck and most likeable. They beautifully encompassed several favourite romance tropes: the banter of I-don’t-like-you-but-I-may-love-you, friends-to-lovers, and marriage-in-trouble before it even began. As always, romance does wonderful work of making communication, physical and verbal, the vital element to achieving an HEA. Everything else is tumult and struggle and hurt. Daphne and Simon hurt each other in so many ways that it makes their love for each other reach the pinnacle of what romance is truly about, caring for the other person, flaws, foibles, and fancies. My favourite character, other than Penelope, was Jonathan Bailey’s Anthony Bridgerton. He had the best hair, pulled off that most odious of facial enhancements, side-burns, and imbued Anthony with a struggle between privileged, sulky immaturity and the ill-sitting mantle of responsibility and duty.
I tend to read more contemporary than historical romance. This year, again, not many stood out, but I did much enjoy a long-established writer who is totally-new-to-me, Meg Cabot’s No Judgments. I also continued my reading of Lucy Gilmore’s Forever Home series and found a diamond in Puppy Christmas. Another new-to-me author I loved was Angelina M. Lopez’s Lush Money. Only one romance competed with Lucy Parker’s (see below), Mia Sosa’s hilarious The Worst Best Man.
This was the year the HP and I parted ways, except for one terrific read in Dani Collins’s Cinderella’s Royal Seduction. I read only one lovely category romance, Michelle Douglas’s Redemption of the Maverick Millionaire.
I also used to read more romantic suspense; only one novel stood out in terrific-ness, Adriana Anders’s Whiteout.
MISS B’S CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE OF THE YEAR I adored and will continue to adore Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, but this year’s #5 may be my favourite (were it not for the wonderfulness of The Austen Playbook, argh), Headliners. I may have to waver and let reading dust settle before I determine a definitive favourite. After all, Charlie’s book is coming!
One 2020 highlight for Miss B was her Sunday Afternoon/Evening Romance Book Club on Twitter, with Ros Clarke, Keira Soleore, and Mary Lynne Nielsen. Thus far, we read and debated the merits of Cecilia Grant’s “A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong” and A Lady Awakened, Lucy Parker’s Act Like It, and Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise. We’ve taken a hiatus for the holidays, but join us, or lurk to your heart’s content, starting January 10th, when we begin discussion of Kate Clayborn’s Beginner’s Luck.
Wishing you and yours, and the entire world, a better 2021!