I seem to have spent a lot of my time in 2012 in a perfectly pleasant way, catching up with older romance writers from across the pond – authors such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Lisa Kleypas and Diana Gabaldon – all best-sellers in the States but not so widely read here in the UK. It’s been fun trying out these new (to me!) writers, but as December draws to a close I’ve been starting to feel as though maybe I’ve been stuck in a time warp this year.
Then I had a good look back through my shelves and realised I’d read more new novels in 2012 than I’d thought. Mind you, on reflection maybe it’s not so surprising I’d forgotten half of them. I’ve found a lot of the romance novels from 2012 a little disappointing, and there haven’t been that many that have made an impression.
I read two of the romance novels on the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel of the Year 2012 shortlist, for example. One of these was Summer of Love, by Katie Fforde. (This went on to win in the contemporary romance novel category.) I’d never read any Katie Fforde (or at least if I had, I’d forgotten), which you might find surprising, since she’s one of the best-selling romance authors in the UK. So, I was looking forward to reading her latest novel, but I have to say I found it quite disappointing and plain forgettable. Maybe her world isn’t for me. The characters are all quite middle-class and seem to have very little to trouble them apart from what time to open the Pinot Grigio. Still, this won’t stop me trying another Katie Fforde novel, because there must be something there that makes them so appealing to many other readers. I suspect maybe I’ll keep reading them and forgetting, though, like some sort of literary groundhog day.
The other RNA novel I read was Please Don’t Stop the Music, by Jane Lovering. This went on to be overall 2012 winner, which I found surprising. The novel was OK, I quite enjoyed it – the dialogue was sharp and funny, for example - I was just surprised that nothing stronger had come out of 2012.
Then there was Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, of course. Is there anyone who didn’t read this in 2012? Actually, I only read half of it and got bored. I wrote about why, and how Chico Marx ruined it for me, in this post.
Top romance novels of 2012
In spite of everything, after much rifling through shelves, I’ve come up with three romance novels plus a surprise favourite from 2012 that I actually did enjoy:
Eloping With Emmy, by Liz Fielding Liz Fielding is one of my favourite Mills & Boon authors. Emmy is a spoiled heiress, but witty and charming in a Grace Kelly sort of way. When her father puts a lawyer, Tom Brodie, on her tail to stop her marrying a fortune-hunter, she leads him a spirited dance across England and Fance. It was a fun read.
Dancing With Danger, by Fiona Harper Fiona Harper is another of my favourite M&B’s. This is a totally different read to Eloping With Emmy (it always amazes me that there can be such a massive variety of reading within the Mills & Boon format.) I find Fiona Harper a more intorspective writer than most, but in a good way. Her ballet dancer heroine finds herself going stale at the peak of her career. She runs away from ballet for a spell on a reality TV show on a tropical island, but her survival expert host is underwhelmed when she first appears. Allegra seems too fragile to survive. Of course, she’s far tougher than she looks, and there are lessons to be learned for both hero and heroine. The ending was a little silly, but I don’t think people come to Mills & Boon expecting real life.
The Man She Loves to Hate, by Kelly Hunter To be fair, this was published in 2011, but I read it this year. I’d never read any Kelly Hunter before, but after this novel I definitely will be reading more. I thought the opening was superb. The hero and heroine work in a ski resort. For family reasons they never speak – Jolie’s mother had a scandalous affair with Cole’s father – but at the start of the novel a blizzard finds them both trapped in the same cable car. Jolie is covered head-to-toe in ski-wear and for a while she manages to convince Cole she’s a boy, but of course the longer they’re trapped there the harder it is to pass off her disguise. I thought the beginning was excellently written, gripping and claustrophobic. Unfortunately the end of the novel petered off, but it’s worth a read for the opening sequence alone.
Dear Miss Landau, by James Christie This is by far and away my favourite romance of 2012. Of course, strictly speaking it’s not a romance novel, but it’s a sort of a love story and I liked it so much I sneaked it in anyway! Dear Miss Landau is the true story of a meeting between two unlikely personalities from totally different worlds. The Miss Landau of the title is Juliet Landau, the actress who plays Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The author, James Christie, lives in Glasgow – about as far from California as you could get. He is a Buffy fan fiction writer, and devoted to all things Drusilla. James Christie mails Juliet Landau his fan fiction and, to his great surprise, Miss Landau replies! And so an extraordinary meeting is set up. But what makes this story even more extraordinary, if that’s possible, is that James Christie suffers from Asperger’s. His book covers his journey from Glasgow to California, most of the way by Greyhound. This is a remarkable achievement for someone who needs a familiar routine and who struggles with social interchange. His descriptions of the difficulties he faces along the way provide a real insight into what it is like to live on the autism spectrum. James Christie comes across as an intelligent and thoroughly nice guy, and Juliet Landau as that rare thing – a star who is also actually a really likeable person. I’m not surprised James Christie is devoted to her. It might not be a romance novel in the true sense, but in the words of James Christie’s editor, this story “is a love story.” And a heart-warming story, too!
So, I hope you enjoyed my selection! Did you read any great novels I missed out on this year? If so, please let me know! You know how much I love to hear about new authors! :)