This year we were blessed with some outstanding new books which made 2017 a great year for reading but sure didn't help Janga and me whittle our "best of" lists down to ten titles. I'm adding a few bonus books to my list because there were titles that, while they didn't make the top ten cut, still needed to be mentioned. There were just so many good books!
PJ's Top Ten for 2017
Between the Devil and the Duke by Kelly Bowen (Jan 31)
One of the things I most enjoy about 2017 RITA award winner Bowen's books is her skill in creating complex, intelligent, fascinating characters who are outside the norm. Alex and Angelique, hero and heroine of Between the Devil and the Duke are perfect examples of that skill. Gifting them with sparkling dialogue, sizzling passion, family secrets, heartwarming emotion, and a mystery with twists and turns aplenty showcases this brilliant match, landing Alex and Angelique on my list of all-time favorite couples. Secondary characters, both good and bad, shine vibrantly in their respective roles, moving the story along without taking the focus off the hero and heroine. Readers of the series will delight in catching up with characters from the first two books while those new to the series will have no difficulty reading Between the Devil and the Duke as a standalone.
STOLEN:A Cassidy & Spenser Thriller by Carey Baldwin (Feb 14)
Baldwin is an expert at crafting intricately-woven psychological thrillers filled with twists and turns that always keep me reading late into the night and guessing until the very end. Just when I think I have everything figured out, she throws in another twist that leaves me gasping. I love that! Her skills as a medical doctor, a psychologist, and a gifted writer are put to good use in the creation of complex, compelling characters - especially villains - and the perilous circumstances in which she places them. I eagerly look forward to every book she writes. STOLEN is part of a continuing series but can easily be read as a standalone.
My Kind of You by Tracy Brogan (Apr 18)
I had so much fun reading Brogan's first book in her new Trillium Bay series that I was still awake reading at 2:30 am and laughing so loud I thought I was going to wake the people in the condo next door. It's a funny, heartwarming tale with a wonderful cast of characters, intriguing family dynamics, and Brogan's signature humor. If you're looking for a contemporary romance that will touch your heart and tickle your funny bone, I highly recommend My Kind of You.
White Hot / Wildfire by Ilona Andrews (May 30 / July 25)
The magical universe Andrews has created within present-day Houston and the characters that populate it are so vivid and realistic that they, their magical abilities, and their fictional world seemed normal as I lost myself within these two books, the second and third in Andrews' Hidden Legacy series. These characters stayed in my mind for weeks after reading these books. The suspense! The action! The romance! Andrews reeled me in hook, line and sinker and I went willingly, captivated from beginning to end.
Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean (June 27)
I laughed, cried, winced, sighed, and cheered as I traveled this unexpected journey of MacLean's creation. Sera and Mal (Haven) are flawed, complex characters who won my heart and I assure you that before starting this book, I was absolutely certain "won my heart" and "Duke of Haven" could never coexist in the same sentence. If you enjoy historical romance rich with humor, deep emotion, complex characters, and hard-earned happy endings, give this one a try.
Devil's Cut by J.R. Ward (Aug 1)
The third and final book in Ward's Bourbon Kings trilogy was all I had hoped for and more. Filled with love, lust, murder, betrayal, mystery, and more, this saga set within the rich and powerful Kentucky bourbon-making Baldwin family is complex, compelling, fast-paced, and supremely satisfying. Also addictive. I turned the final page at 4:30 am after reading all - night - long. If you enjoyed TV's Dynasty or Dallas then you'll want to get your hands on Ward's Bourbon Kings trilogy. Read the books in order: The Bourbon Kings, The Angel's Share, and Devil's Cut.
Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap by Julie Anne Long (Aug 29)
Julie Anne Long continues to hit my 'best of' lists with the third book in her Hellcat Canyon series. It's funny, endearing, emotional, and oh, so romantic. The final chapter had me sighing, crying, and sighing some more. Long's command of the English language is breathtaking while her characters are exquisitely drawn, beautifully flawed, continually evolving, and vividly realistic. I'm in love with this series and eagerly anticipating the next installment: The First Time at Firelight Falls, due out May 29, 2018.
Montana Heat: Escape to You by Jennifer Ryan (Aug 29)
If you're looking for riveting romantic suspense with a western flair that grabs hold and refuses to let go, you need to be reading Jennifer Ryan. Montana Heat:Escape To You is a truly chilling tale that I could not put down. I lost count of the number of times I gasped, ached, sighed, and, finally, cheered as I read this book. The twists and turns kept me engaged, the action had my pulse racing, and the emotional intensity of complex, multi-layered characters Beck, Ashley, and Adam's journey captured my heart. I can't wait to see what Ryan brings readers next.
Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt (Oct 17)
This darkly emotional historical romance brings Hoyt's Maiden Lane series to a conclusion and, in my opinion, is one of her best books. Raphael, one of my favorite Hoyt heroes, is also one of her most tortured with a past that is complex, compelling, and heartbreaking while Iris, his heroine, has the tenacity, intelligence, sensitivity, and heart to not give up in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Hoyt breathes life into these complex characters, creating a harrowing story with danger around every corner, a heart-wrenching, emotional journey that affected me at a visceral level, and a hard-won triumph of love over evil that filled me with hope and joy. This is not an easy story to read but is one that is exceptionally well written and destined to stay with me for a long time.
Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (Oct 31)
You know that feeling you get when you discover a fictional family that is destined to find a special place in your reader's heart? It's how I felt when introduced to Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, Johanna Lindsey's Malorys, and, now, to the Wildes of Lindow Castle. James brings readers a smart, witty, romantic story with an eclectic, blended family that piqued my interest, engaged my emotions, and is well on its way to capturing my heart. I'm excited to find out what adventures James has planned for all of them. If Wilde in Love is any indication, I should probably start clearing off more space on my keeper shelves.
Bonus Titles: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare, Scandalous Ever After by Theresa Romain, Marry in Haste by Anne Gracie, The Woman Who Couldn't Scream by Christina Dodd, The Highlander's Princess Bride by Vanessa Kelly, Starlight Bridge by Debbie Mason
Janga’s Top Ten for 2017
Note: My list is in chronological order according to publication date. If I had had to number these wonderful books 1-10, I would still have been deciding, second-guessing, and reordering on January 1, well past PJ’s deadline. I should also mention that there are another couple of dozen books that I ranked 4.5-5 stars. Each one helped make 2017 a glorious reading year for this romance reader.
On Second Thought, Kristan Higgins (Jan. 27)
Kristan Higgins always makes me laugh. In this one, she also makes me cry. I think the wake scene shows her genius as well as anything she has ever written. Her description of grief is so real and powerful that reading a passage like this one—"And every day takes you further from the time he was alive, slicing you with the razor-sharp realization that these days would never be celebrated again. . . . All those dates that held no meaning for anyone on the outside, but were slashed into the hearts of those of us who’d been left behind.”—hurts and heals my heart.
A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, Meredith Duran (Feb. 28)
Compelling characters (an intelligent heroine and a hero ripe for redemption), tropes I like given a twist, and conflict (internal and external) demanded my attention from beginning to end—all these plus Duran’s lovely, lucid prose made this one a winner. I called it “a novel as close to perfect as any historical romance in my memory” when I reviewed it. Ten months later, I still feel that way.
Lady Be Bad, Megan Frampton (July 25)
I love Frampton’s humor, and I found the combination of physical humor and witty dialogue a real delight. I also loved the realness and the complexity of the sisters’ relationships. Alexander and Eleanor are so good together—funny and vulnerable, sweet and sexy, smart but without all the answers.This was a wonderful first book in a series that left me highly anticipating the books to come.
Map of the Heart, Susan Wiggs (Aug. 22)
Wiggs made Bethany Bay, Delaware, and Sauveterre, the Palomar farm in Provence, real to me. Not only Henry, Julie, Camille and Finn but also other characters in both the twentieth and twenty-first century sections of the novel come alive in these pages. I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelves for books that show the past impinging on the present, that deliver a big, multilevel emotional punch, and that conclude with happy resolutions for characters I love. This one qualified on all counts.
Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap, Julie Anne Long (Aug. 29)
I can’t get enough of this series! I especially loved Avalon and Mac’s first conversation about their past (intense), their first kiss as adults (Julie Anne Long writes great first kiss scenes), the first consummation scene (which sent the sizzle meter soaring), the Grand Gesture that precedes the HEA (totally sigh-worthy), and of the declaration: “Three words that contained worlds and the past and the future. They were as beautiful and intricate as the house...” Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap left this reader with a blissful smile and increased eagerness for the next Hellcat Canyon book.
The Summer That Made Us, Robyn Carr (Sept. 8)
“Dysfunctional family” has become a cliché, but Carr shows how dysfunction happens—and the results are anything but cliché. This story of women and their relationships to one another and how these relationships define, balance, support, wound, and heal these women made me cry and left me thinking about these characters and the truths their story holds. This was another Robyn Carr book that left me grateful I’m a reader.
Chasing Christmas Eve, Jill Shalvis (Sept. 26)
Spence and Colbie are likable, intelligent characters, a bit battered by life but loyal to those they love, passionate about their work, and possessing a keen sense of humor. Spence’s tribe all have parts to play in this story, and I loved their interactions. This is my favorite book in this favorite Shalvis series. And it’s a Christmas book that deserves that description.
Wilde in Love, Eloisa James (Oct. 31)
I'm a huge fan of intelligent romance. I love humor done with wit and style. I love meeting characters that interest me and charm me and earn a spot in my heart. All these are reasons enough for this book to earn a place on my list. Then there is the fact that reading it was such fun—and getting the literary allusions makes me feel smart. I loved this book from the Darcyesque cover to the Caribbean island epilogue. I am wild about the Wildes of Lindow Castle!
Someone to Wed, Mary Balogh (Nov. 7)
After all these years, Mary Balogh can still surprise me. She did with the pairing of Alex, an almost perfect beta hero, and Wren, as uncommon a romance heroine as her name suggests. But I loved them as individuals and believed in them as a couple and became more engaged than before with the Westcotts and their world. It does not surprise me that this Balogh book left me superlatively eager for the next one.
A Duke in Shining Armor, Loretta Chase (Nov. 28)
A runaway bride and a difficult duke and Loretta Chase’s inimitable wit and heart—how could this story fail? Olympia and Ripley are smart and funny and perfect for each other and for this Chase fan, who thinks everything this author writes is amazing but found this one required reordering my top favorite Loretta Chase books.
Special Mention: Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (June 6)
This book is not a romance, but it is a haunting, heartbreaking read with a sweet ending that leaves enough questions to keep the story credible. I read it in August, and I’m still thinking about it. I think it is Wingate’s best work, and I have to include it on any list of my best reads of 2017.
What were your favorite books of 2017?
Four people who leave comments before 11:00 pm (Eastern), December 31st will each receive one print book from my conference stash. (U.S. only)