How quickly the end of 2013 has come round! And what an eventful year it’s been. This is the year I finally became a real published author, and I can still hardly believe it! My debut novel, The Silk Romance, was released in May, followed by my second, The Antique Love, at the end of August. Both had some good reviews (phew), and I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to leave their reviews out there for others to read.
Now it’s time for me to ‘pay it forward’, as they say, and leave some reviews for the romance novels I’ve enjoyed most this year.
So here they are, a bizarrely eclectic mix, with something for everyone (I hope), and in no particular order! :)
Longbourn, by Jo Baker A retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants – and an absolutely inspired idea! I’m a massive Austen fan, especially of P&P, so I wasn’t sure when I began reading this novel whether I’d enjoy it, but I really did. The Bennett sisters’ love lives are interwoven with the lives of their servants in a brilliant way. The story focuses on the housemaid, Sarah, and her romance with the Bennetts’ mysterious footman. The domestic chores are described in all their detail, including washing Lizzie’s muddy petticoats after she visits Jane at Netherfield, and also Lydia’s “dirty laundry” when she returns with Wickham. A new and inventive slant is given to the characters of Mr and Mrs Bennett. I enjoyed pretty much everything Jo Baker did in this novel, apart from a few liberties with some of the characters, which stretched my belief. But it was still my favourite romance of 2013 and I loved it :)
The Best Man, by Kristin Higgins I’ve read some fabulous heroes this year, but Chief of Police Levi Cooper is absolutely one of my favourites, and a man I totally fell in love with. This is an American “small town” romance, with really witty dialogue and a highly entertaining read. One passage jarred, and that was the appearance of a transvestite in a “comic” incident that had more of the flavour of a 1970s club type humour. If you can overlook that part then the rest of the book was well-written and funny. This was the first Kristan Higgins book I’ve read, and she’s a talented writer. I know just how hard it is to entertain and keep a reader’s interest, and Kristan Higgins manages it seemingly without effort. And did I mention the gorgeous hero? :)
The Governess Affair and A Kiss for Midwinter, by Courtney Milan Strictly speaking these are 2012 books but I’ve put them here as I read them recently and they are novellas that introduce 2013’s The Brothers Sinister series. These were the first Courtney Milan books I’ve read, and again, I absolutely loved the heroes. I thought the opening scenes in The Governess Affair were brilliant. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed them that I could even overlook the fact that the 19th century English hero kept saying “normalcy” – and not even just once. (I wrote before about Americanisms in Regency romances.) In fact there was a “whole bunch of other stuff” (see, I can do it, too) that pointed to an American walking about as an English lord, but I loved the books anyway. I went on to read the other books in The Brothers Sinister series, but sadly didn’t like them enough to overcome “the great language and cultural divide” :( 21st century USA intruded too much in 19th century England. But that’s just me. If you’ve read them yourself, I’d love to know what you think!
The Last Telegram, by Liz Trenow I wrote a full review of this historical romance here because I loved it so much. It’s set in a silk mill in East Anglia which is given over to the production of parachute silk during the second world war. The romance is between a Jewish refugee and the daughter of the mill owner, who goes on to keep the mill going by herself after her father dies. It was a memorable story, with a strong heroine, and the details stuck in my mind for long afterwards.
Gringa – A Love Story, by Eve Rabi ‘If I knew an asshole was going to murder me that warm, summer’s day in Mexico, I’d have done things differently that morning. I would have had pizza for breakfast, skipped the sunscreen and written my family a farewell letter. The letter would be poignant and heart-rending…Nah. I would have told them to go fuck themselves.’
This book comes with a warning – not for the faint-hearted. It has one of the best opening paragraphs I read this year. The novel was originally released as a series called Gringa – In the Clutches of a Ruthless Drug-Lord. Whilst most writers would be mortified to be found guilty of stereotyping, Eve Rabi just whacks us round the head with it like a wet fish. The heroine is American, so has to be blonde, blue-eyed, from a dysfunctional family with bratty teenage siblings. The hero is Mexican, so…fill in the stereotype blanks. I really wanted to read this to find out how the author would get away with it, and also, how she would create a romance between these two unlikely people. She succeeded on both counts. I noticed that a reader on Goodreads had shelved this under ‘so-bad-it’s-good’. Is it OK to say I enjoyed this book? Am I un-PC? It’s a story that’s stuck in my mind, and made me think about stereotypes and stereotypical romances. I’ve thought too much about it to go into in a short paragraph. Eve Rabi’s book is raw and emotional and in a weird way reminded me of some of the punk bands I saw as a student. I still haven’t read Obsessed With Me – When She Rejected His Advances, He Set Out to Destroy Her yet. I need a long night and a bottle of vodka.
And now for something completely different….!
Wild Stawberries, by Angela Thirkell I told you there was something for everyone :) Wild Strawberries was first published in 1934, but I’m including it here because Thirkell’s books went out of print for quite a while, and Virago Press has only just started re-releasing them. This was probably my favourite read of 2013, and I was so massively excited to discover this author I wrote a gushing review and joined the Angela Thirkell Appreciation Society straightaway. This book is brilliant. The author is witty, funny, satirical and wrote about a host of characters in a small English village before the war who I totally fell in love with, including (again) a fine romantic hero. I followed this up by reading High Rising, which I also enjoyed, although not quite as much (a hard act to follow, though, to be fair). I’m now reading Thirkell’s Private Enterprise and…oh no! I’m becoming sadly disillusioned with Angela Thirkell :( How gutting when your expectations are so high. But I don’t want to spoil Wild Strawberries for you. It’s honestly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so if you choose nothing else from this list, please choose this one!
There were so many other books I enjoyed this year I feel bad not adding them all to my list, but I can’t go on and on for ever sadly. (Well I could, but I daresay you’d get bored!) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reading and getting to know new authors this year.
How about you? Have you read any of the books on my list? And what were your favourite novels of 2013? Please let me know – I’d love to hear from you!
And finally thanks so much to everyone who’s read and followed my blog this year. When I first started writing here just over a year ago I felt like Billy No Mates, just talking to myself about books and reading every day. I remember the first time anyone commented and how excited I was. I had a friend! Thanks so much, and I wish you a happy 2014!