2011 went down, I think, as the first year in nearly 20 that no romance novel landed on my Keeper Shelf. I did add two books, but both were fiction of the literary variety.
2012 proved to be even worse for me as a reader. Nothing I read all year landed on my Keeper Shelf. And the list of “thisclose to loving” books I read last year is pitifully short—and includes just two romances. Which sucks for me as a romance reader, but sucks worse for me as a writer of romance reading. In almost twenty years of keeping track of what I read, I’ve never not added a book to my Keeper Shelf.
Here are my Almost Keeper romances:
The Proposal by Mary Balogh (which I reviewed at Amazon)
Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.
Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?
The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo’s devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.
The Proposal kicked off the Survivor’s Club series and is a Bedwyn sequel. According to Balogh’s website, the Survivor’s Club will include seven books. If you’ve not read it, the paperback release is planned for June. An e-book only novella, The Suitor, will be available for download in late summer, just before October, when book two in the series, The Arrangement, will be published. Unlike the first book in the series, the second is to be published directly in paperback.
I loved the lead characters in The Proposal. I loved their backstories. I loved how they interacted with each other. What I didn’t love was this: I felt Balogh relied too much on psychological discussions. Those conversations made the book more accessible to me as a reader in 2012, but as a “wallpaper history” reader, whenever I’m aware of an anachronism, it probably stands out to others in flashing neon lights.
Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh
With wings of midnight and an affinity for shadows, Jason courts darkness. But now, with the Archangel Neha’s consort lying murdered in the jewel-studded palace that was his prison and her rage threatening cataclysmic devastation, Jason steps into the light, knowing he must unearth the murderer before it is too late.
Earning Neha’s trust comes at a price—Jason must tie himself to her bloodline through the Princess Mahiya, a woman with secrets so dangerous, she trusts no one. Least of all an enemy spymaster.
With only their relentless hunt for a violent, intelligent killer to unite them, Jason and Mahiya embark on a quest that leads to a centuries-old nightmare... and to the dark storm of an unexpected passion that threatens to drench them both in blood.
Archangel’s Storm is the fifth book in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. Both Jason and Mahiya have heartbreaking backstories and make for a perfectly matched couple. Not only did I fall in love with them, I remained as in love with the author’s lush writing and the world these characters inhabited as I was when I read Archangel’s Blade the year before. And yet...while I appreciated that Singh didn’t infodump about the series, it’s one of those books that gave me a bad case of Reader’s Vertigo. I needed a brief recap or thumbnail sketch up front to remind me of the Guild Hunter’s long arc.
And these are my non-romance Almost Keepers. One is non-fiction. The other two are fiction.
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Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son by Buzz Bissinger
A terrific story about the sportswriter’s attempt to better understand and connect with his special needs son.
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Attenberg’s modern novel about a Midwestern Jewish family landed on Amazon’s list of top ten novels for 2012.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Harold and the Purple Crayon mixed with Forrest Gump in Jonasson’s debut novel, which sold millions before reaching the U.S.
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Let’s get back to my WTF? The obvious response is that I’m reading the wrong thing. Or I’m burned out. Neither is precisely correct, but the answer is in there...somewhere. So perhaps it’s time to go back to my romance reading roots. Which means cutting way back on urban fantasy and erotic romance. It means primarily reading historical romance, some contemporary romance, and a little paranormal romance.
I’m going to take a reading journey in 2013 to see if, as a reader of romance for nearly 20 years, I can fall in love again. I’ll need to stop sighing when a historical romance comes my way, assuming I’ve read it a dozen times before. I’ll need to ask other readers for recommendations, with a commitment to try one recommended read a month.
I want to fall in love again and hope you’ll find my journey of interest. If you are also in the doldrums as a reader or, more specifically, a romance reader, I’d love to hear from you and invite you along a similar journey. And if you’re nowhere near the doldrums, that you’ll share your recommendations.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.