Friday, November 2, 2018

Nine Years and Counting - - Best Books of 2015

I love to look back at favorite books from years past. It's a chance to revisit stories that brought me great pleasure or, sometimes, discover a book I may have missed the first time around. Posted on December 28, 2015, here are the Dishes favorite books of 2015. It was, indeed, a very good year!

Our Best Books of 2015

I seem to say this every December but this year, 2015, truly was an exceptional year for romance fiction and choosing my top ten was more difficult than it has been in years. While we're all looking forward to the new stories awaiting us in 2016, Janga, Lisa, Manda, Hellie and I have taken a moment to look back over the past twelve months and put together lists of our favorite books of 2015. 

Janga’s Top Ten Romance Novels of 2015

This reader has found 2015 a very good year. Among the 352 books I read in 2015, I gave 4.5-5.0 stars to slightly more than 16 percent of them.  Although I read roughly the same number of historicals and contemporaries, more than half of the books that left me raving to friends and preparing for a reread were historicals. Selecting a top ten from the forty plus romance/women’s fiction titles on my A list was a difficult task that involved rereading sections of books and frantically reordering a dozen times or so. Because I am still wavering on how I rank the top ten after I move past #1, I list them in order of release date.

1.     Rise, Karina Bliss (January 14)
This was my top contemporary read of the year, and I’m not really a fan of rock star romances. But Bliss won me with this redemption story of a bad-boy musician who is risking everything on a comeback and the college professor/Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whom he convinces to write his biography. These are flawed, intelligent characters who should not work as pair but who do regardless. They left me rooting for them as individuals and as a couple. Bliss made a believer out of me. Now I want to know what’s next in the Rock Solid series.

2.     It Started with a Scandal, Julie Anne Long (March 31)
With readers panting for Lyon and Olivia’s story, the book before the long-awaited conclusion to their romance could have been a colossal failure. Instead, Long gives readers a cross-class romance that ranks with the best in the genre. Two people who are all wrong and all right for each other fall in love in an unforgettable tale. Then, there’s a child who totally won my heart. I love this book!

3.     This Heart of Mine, Brenda Novak (March 31)
Novak’s eighth novel in her Whiskey Creek series is a romance with a heroine who has just been 
released from prison and a hero who became a single father at eighteen. I think Novak deserves special recognition for moving off predictable paths with the characters in this series. I give this my Best of Series Award and consider it one of the best books this prolific author has written.

4.     The Color of Light, Emilie Richards (July 28)
Emilie Richards has been on my auto-buy list for more than two decades, and this story about a woman pastor, a priest experiencing a crisis of vocation, and the imperfections and overcomings of a contemporary congregation earned a spot on a special keeper shelf for comfort rereads. I think it is her best since Prospect Street (2003).

5.     Luck Be a Lady, Meredith Duran (August 25)
Duran had two winners this year, but Luck Be a Lady edged out Lady Be Goodbecause I so admired Duran’s ability to take a man who behave immorally and an ice queen devoid of human attachments and make me not only believe in them as hero and heroine but also root for their HEA.

6.     Not Always a Saint, Mary Jo Putney (August 25)
MJP is one of my never-fail authors. I’ve loved every book of hers, but some are more beloved than others. This one falls in the latter group. Daniel is a good, although imperfect, man who tries to live a life of wholeness, that is, a life in which his choices reflect his beliefs. He falls for a “wicked widow” with an immediacy and intensity that surprises even him. I love a rogue as much as any romance reader—and MJP has created some classic rogues—but I also love a deftly crafted good-guy hero.

7.     Forever Your Earl, Eva Leigh (September 29, 2015)
Since Eva Leigh is also Zoe Archer, she is not eligible for debut of the year honors, but she counts as my discovery of the year (via PJ’s recommendation). This book made me an instant fan. I especially loved the intelligence of the characters and the gender reversal of a heroine passionate about her work and a hero in need of substance and meaning in his life. Plus the prose is wonderful with the sound and sense melding of poetry.

8.     The Legend of Lyon Redmond, Julie Anne Long (September 29)
This is it: my top read of the year! My expectations were so high that I was afraid to turn the first page for fear that it would disappoint, but those fears proved groundless. Long weaves together the tangled past and present of Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea with skill and grace and gives enough of a glance at their future to leave readers with a happy sigh. This book was everything I hoped it would be and more, and it left me an even more devoted fan of Julie Anne Long.

9.     Dukes Prefer Blondes, Loretta Chase (December 29)
Fans have been asking for Lady Clara’s book since the Dressmakers series began, and Chase delivers in the best book of the series. I don’t want to preview my upcoming review or to include spoilers, so suffice it to say Chase offers further evidence of why she justifiably has the reputation of being one of the best writers in the genre of romance. I’ve read DPB twice and I’m sure I will be rereading it again.

10.  Anything for You, Kristan Higgins (December 29)
Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron series has become one of my all-time favorite series, and the combination of humor, emotional power, and superior storytelling that characterize this book demonstrate how the series has earned that distinction. AFY is the story of Connor O’Rourke and Jessica Dunn, two characters in whom many fans are already invested, and it is a blue ribbon winner. A review of this book is also forthcoming.

Glancing over this list, I long to reread them all, but I am also reminded of books I loved almost as much that are not on the list. Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series continues to be incredibly good. Manda Collins and Madeline Hunter gave me all-time favorite heroes. Tessa Dare and Eloisa James gave me books with humor and heart that I cherish, as I do the books by Kim Law, Julia London and Marilyn Pappano that moved me to tears. Grace Burrowes proved as addictive in contemporary romance as in historicals, Anne Gracie and Rose Lerner, in their usual fashion, added books to my keeper shelves, and Lauren Willig ended a beloved series with wit and grace. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but 2015 was a very good year for this romance reader.

Lisa's Top Ten   

1.      When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
2.      Trade Me by Courtney Milan
3.      Suddenly One Summer by Julie James
4.      The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean (12/29 release)
5.      The Liar by Nora Roberts
6.      Fallen by Carey Baldwin
7.      Hero by Night by Sara Jane Stone
8.      The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long
9.      Dead by Midnight by Pamela Clare
10.    Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt

Manda's Top Ten  (in no particular order)

Beyond Limits -- Laura Griffin

We've been waiting a couple of years to see Elizabeth LeBlanc and Derek Vaughn get their HEA and it was worth the wait. I especially loved that Elizabeth was great at her job and didn't need to be rescued. Griffin never fails to keep me riveted and her subtle characterization makes her romantic suspense some of the best out there.

Closer Than You Think -- Karen Rose

When I heard Karen Rose was moving the action of her romantic suspense novels back to Cincinnati,  I was a little worried we'd be leaving all out favorites from her Baltimore books behind.  But I shouldn't have worried. Both Faith and Deacon put in appearances in previous books, and Karen Rose's tight plotting and stellar characterization are present no matter where her books are set. I loved this one,  even when I was gasping at some of the over the top twists.

Still the One -- Jill Shalvis

I usually think of Jill Shalvis as a writer I can go to for laughs and witty banter--and there is plenty of that here--but I didn't expect to find myself nodding in recognition at her description of how it feels to distrust your own body. Darcy Stone's struggle to regain her mobility after a bad auto accident is chock full of moments like that for me. And her romance with hunky physical therapist AJ is sweet and funny. Shalvis at her best.

The Other Side of Midnight -- Simone St.James

With her trademark combination of period detail and paranormal mystery, The Other Side of Midnight is a poignant and powerful addition to St. James's canon. Set in the years after WWI when England is mourning the loss of a generation of young men, it's the story of a reluctant medium and a determined policeman.  Wonderful book.

The Shameless Hour -- Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen was one of my happiest discoveries this year.  From the first book her Ivy Years series has pushed boundaries,  and The Shameless Hour is no exception. With a virgin hero and a heroine who isn't afraid to own her sexuality, this book takes on the issue of campus sexual assault with insight and humor without feeling like an after school special.  Plus it's just a solid romance with a cute and sexy beta hero.

The Friend Zone -- Kristen Callihan
I kinda hate Kristen Callihan. Okay,  maybe jealous is a better word.  Not only does she write amazing paranormal historical romance,  but she also has written one of my favorite New Adult romances of the year. Gray Grayson and Ivy MacKenzie are funny and sweet together and their story hits all the right notes. It's smoking hot, but also incredibly tender. This is just damn good romance.

Taking the Heat -- Victoria Dahl
Take one sexy male librarian,  one surprisingly innocent advice columnist and add strong attraction and you've got the makings of Victoria Dahl's latest Jackson Hole set contemporary romance.  Fresh and funny, sexy and sweet,  I adored sexy beta hero Gabe and his mad skillz (librarianish and otherwise). And Veronica's self doubt over her failed attempt to leave home for the big city really hit close to home for me.

Dark Wild Night -- Christina Lauren
There needs to be a word for that feeling you get when a couple you've been rooting for over several
books finally gets together. If there was such a word Dark Wild Night would be next to its definition in the dictionary.  Lola and Oliver surprised me in a great way. Their own story was both sweeter and sexier than I expected.  And I loved it. If Comic Book Guys are like Oliver sign me up!

Irresistibly Yours -- Lauren Layne
Fun and frothy, sexy and sweet,  Lauren Layne's contemporary romances set amid the exciting world of New York magazine publishing are another of my favorite discoveries this year.  Complete with a charming meet-cute this funny,  sexy friends to lovers story deserves to stand out in the crowded contemporary field.

? -- ?
Since there's still a month to go,  and I'm an optimist, I'm leaving the #10 slot blank.  Because it always makes me nervous to compile a list of the best books of the year before the year is over. So, here's to finding #10 and another year of new discoveries. 

Hellie's Favorite Books of 2015

I’ll be honest: picking favorite romance novels for me is like picking my favorite M&Ms out of the giant bag. I mean, sure, I love the green ones, but are the orange ones that bad? No. They’re all awesome and make me feel a big pile of mush and goodness when I’m in their presence. And I can’t stop consuming them.

But I’ll give it a shot.

If you’ve been around my reviews a while, you would imagine this is going to be a list of ONE. Because there’s only one book that came out this year that I absolutely cared about more than I could about my own firstborn with Tom Hiddleston.

     THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND by Julie Anne Long 
      Oh, BFF, Jules, you lived up to your own legend. This book was magical, funny, romantic, and angsty-angsty goodness. I had to wait a long time for this Happily Ever After, but it was brilliant.

      IT STARTED WITH A SCANDAL by Julie Anne Long
      The penultimate leading up to Lyon’s book. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in it now because I still have Lyon’s ballad in my head, but I remember loving and rhapsodizing about it at the time.

      WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT by Tessa Dare
      I feel like I’m saying this with every new Tessa Dare series, but really the Castles Ever After is her best series. (I will undoubtedly say it about whatever series she writes next.) But OMG, I could not stop laughing in this book. The scene with the bog—I think I cackled a lung out of my body just reading it. Then I wanted to read it aloud to someone and act it out so they could enjoy it as much as I did.

      SAY YES TO THE MARQUESS by Tessa Dare
      Much like It Started With a Scandal—I can’t tell you much about it other than I laughed and enjoyed it mightily at the time.

      COLD HEARTED RAKE by Lisa Kleypas
      Being we have waited AGES for a new Lisa Kleypas historical, I think this is on most everyone’s favorite list this year. She writes the most delicious rakes of all time.

      SWEETEST SCOUNDREL by Elizabeth Hoyt
      OMG! The scene with the highwaymen. Asa is so BADASS and delicious and I loved him so dearly. I just love Elizabeth Hoyt heroes. They’re not conventional, but they are wholly, WHOLLY masculine and sex-on-a-stick.

     THE STRIKER by Monica McCarty
      I cannot get enough of her books. This story was sadder than many of the others in this series (though her stories are typically emotionally powerful and you are put through the wringer each time you read one). I was so worried this couple wouldn’t work out because there was so much to let go of. Relationships where a betrayal of trust occurs are terribly hard to put back together, especially when the betrayal is something as large as large numbers of men lost in a battle.

Now the next three I haven’t actually read yet because they’re due later this year, et al, but they’re on this list because I have a good feeling I will want them on this list.

      THE ROCK by Monica McCarty
      THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN by Sara Maclean
      ANYTHING FOR YOU by Kristan Higgins

PJ's Top Ten (in no particular order)

Mistress Firebrand: Renegades of the American Revolution by Donna Thorland (March 3)

Thorland continues to bring the passion and danger of the American Revolution to life through her well-developed characters, believable scenarios and impeccable writing. Her characters leap from the pages, so realistic that it's often difficult to discern the historical figures from the fictional. If you enjoy historical romance set amidst the American colonies' struggle for independence, Donna Thorland should be your go-to author. 

Montana Cherries by Kim Law (July 28)

A complex, compelling story that delves into the impact of mental illness on a family. This emotional, contemporary romance was originally meant to be a stand-alone but Law has since decided to write more stories for the Wilde family. If any characters deserve happy endings, it's these and I'm delighted that the talented Kim Law has decided to take them on. 

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist (May 5)

In Tiffany Girl, as well as her other Chicago World's Fair books, Gist creates a sense of time and place that draws me into the world of her characters as if I'm traveling their journey with them. Her research is impeccable and her well-formed characters come to life through the pages of the book. She brings 1893 New York City to life in this intriguing look into the lives of the independent, working women known as the Tiffany Girls.  

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis (June 30)

Second Chance Summer has everything I look for in a contemporary romance: spot-on dialog, a rich and real depth of emotion, laughter and tears, a sizzling romance, and a patchwork family that has captured my heart. Lily and Aidan are complex characters who have been given a second chance but only by overcoming fear and guilt, and finding forgiveness and acceptance will they have a shot at a happy ending together. This is Shalvis at her best!

The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long (September 29)

I waited a long time for this book. A long time. The final story in Long's Pennyroyal Green series, this brings us the highly anticipated journey of Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea. When expectations are as high as they were for this story, the fear of disappointment is always lurking. I'm delighted to say that Long not only met my expectations, she blew them them straight out of the water. The best way to describe my feelings for The Legend of Lyon Redmond, my top book of 2015, is through the final paragraph of my 5-Star, Top Dish review of the book: "Like a beautiful symphony, The Legend of Lyon Redmond hits every note perfectly, creating a masterpiece that brought me to tears and filled my heart with joy. It's my favorite book of 2015. Years from now, when people are asked to list their all-time favorite books, I fully expect Lyon and Olivia's enduring love story to be among those at the top. It really is that good."

Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh (September 29)

Smart writing, an intelligent, independent heroine, fast-paced action, a rich secondary cast and a worthy hero who captured my heart highlight this outstanding historical romance by Eva Leigh. Leigh, who also writes historical adventure and historical paranormal romances as Zoe Archer has been a favorite of mine for years but I think she's hit a new high with this first book in her The Wicked Quills of London series.

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt (November 24)

My favorite book in an outstanding series of favorites, Sweetest Scoundrel is lush, sizzling, deeply emotional, and endearingly romantic. I adore an earthy, rough-around-the-edges hero with a vulnerable heart and Asa Makepeace is one of the best. Pair him with a repressed spinster who has never known desire or love and who carries a dark secret in her heart and I'm there. Asa and Eve are among my all-time favorite heroes and heroines and their story is a keeper. 

Obsession Falls by Christina Dodd (September 8)

I love a good suspense thriller that engages all my senses and keeps me glued to the pages. Obsession Falls grabbed me from the get-go and took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions from the shocking beginning to the OMG twist at the end. Fast-paced, intense, and filled with more twists and turns than a mountain road, this is a story that refused to let go. I read the entire book - 401 pages - in one day, forgetting about everything but these characters and their gripping story. 

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare (December 30, 2014)

I've been a Tessa Dare fan since her debut. She never fails to delight me with the charm and humor of her books. Though both of her 2015 releases were 5-star reads for me, this one edged out When a Scot Ties the Knot for "best of" honors. Rafe and Clio captured my heart with their determination to make their mark despite the vulnerability they hid from the world and delighted me with their banter. I may never look at wedding cakes the same way again. 

Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane (May 18)

Carolyn Crane blew me away with this intense, gritty, romantic suspense thriller that pairs deeply flawed characters fighting for their lives. This is not my usual type of reading but I couldn't turn away from the book and I'm still thinking about the main characters more than six months after reading their story. Crane's writing is exquisite, with multi-layered, complex, supremely flawed characters within a world that is painted in such perfect detail that I was right there with them every step of their non-stop, action-packed journey. 

There were many exceptional books published in 2015. A few that didn't make my top ten cut but deserve honorable mention are: Home by Morning by Kaki Warner, The Striker by Monica McCarty, It Started with a Scandal by Julie Anne Long, Playing with Fire by Kate Meader, The Spring Bride by Anne Gracie, Good Earl Gone Bad by Manda Collins, Four Nights with the Duke by Eloisa James, Rogue Spyby Joanna Bourne and The Match of the Century by Cathy Maxwell. As Janga mentioned above, it was a very good year for romance! 

There were also many outstanding novellas published this year. A few of my favorites were Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare, A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell, Her Pirate from the Past by Caro Carson, and Melting Point by Kate Meader.

      Tell me about some of your favorite books from 2018. One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM, November 3, will receive a signed copy of Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James and a signed copy of Chasing Lady Amelia by Maya Rodale. (U.S. only)


  1. No Earls Allowed by Shana Galen, For the Duke's Eyes Only by Lenora bell, Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean, The Bride Who Got Lucky by Janna MacGregor, When A Duke Loves a Woman by Lorraine Heath. All were so good!

  2. While I have enjoyed several books very much this year, the one that stands out just now is The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. It was such an unusual but well crafted story.

  3. The duke by Kerrigan , highland conquest by Alyson , tattered by Devney Perry

  4. The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews, Cottage by The Sea by Debbie Macomber, Maybe For You by Nicole McLaughlin and Catch Him if You Can by Jennifer Shirk.

  5. The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter is such an emotional read. It's already in my reread shelf.
    The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. I also just read an older book by Dorethea Benson Frank last week called Plantation and then Low Country Summer , the follow up book. Wonderful reads.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com

  6. The 12 Dogs of Christmas. Had me crying.
    Karen T. (Nat's mama)

  7. My favorite fiction books year-to-date are (in no particular order)
    The Hollow of Fear (Sherry Thomas,) The Christmas Sisters (Sarah Morgan,) The Prince (Katharine Ashe,) Closer Than You Know (Brad Parks,) Sisters Like Us (Susan Mallery,) and Now That You Mention It (Kristan Higgins.)

  8. The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas, The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne, Hard Sell by Lauren Layne, Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis, and Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

    No need to enter me in this giveaway :-)

  9. I've enjoyed Janna MacGregor's books