Each month, we ask our bloggers to share the best thing they’ve read (or things, plural, if our bloggers declare a tie ’cause they just can’t choose). It doesn’t have to be a new book, as evidenced below; just something that made the month sparkle a bit more.
Without further ado, here’s the installment for July 2014 (and if you’ve missed any, be sure to check out past recs via the Related Posts section at the bottom of the post):
Despite being published in 1996 and winning a RITA in 1997, I just got around to reading Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath. It knocked the wind right out of me. A hero labelled a coward for refusing to fight is the target of retribution by the heroine, who lost a beloved husband and three brothers in the Civil War. Setting her plan in motion means spending time with the hero, and eventually she realizes how wrong she and the rest of the town are about him. Turns out they might not know much of anything about true bravery and courage. It has since been reissued digitally and I cannot stress enough how amazing this story is. A true classic not just for historical westerns fans, but all romance aficionados.
This month I am feeling the love for quirky characters. From the description One Plus One by JoJo Moyes didn’t appear to be sad so I made the plunge —and I loved it. Unique characters- from the admirable, but not perfect heroine to the quirky kids to the flawed hero. Then there is the appealing romance. This was my introduction to her works, and after reading this one, I bought another one. Then in the middle of the month I discovered A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Talk about a curmudgeon—Think Swedish Ebenezer Scrooge! But his inflexible, and stern demeanor hides a man of principles and integrity. I have to tell a somewhat funny story about the book. I bought the audio version and I was listening to it at the dentist's office. It was during a pause in the procedure that I reached a very poignant scene. Tears just seeped out of my eyes, and rolled down my face. My dentist was flummox because he wasn’t doing anything. I had to explain that I was crying because of the audio book. Funny, Poignant, this is a story of how a man’s life changes once a rambunctious family moves in next door. There is a bit of a love story with flashbacks, but it is not a romance. But it is a wonderful story of interpersonal relationships.
My best of July is Brian Lee O'Malley's Seconds. A strong follow-up to the Scott Pilgrim series, Seconds is about second chances and how to embrace the imperfection in everyday life.
Hands down, my best of July was Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase. It's the finest, most entertaining Chase novel I've read in ages, and that's saying something because she's always good. I loved this book, the characters, the fabric porn, all of it. Every time I think of the line “I was busy!” it makes me smile.
Chase fans will love it, others new to her writing should check it out.
I also gave high marks to The Escape by Mary Balogh. The hero had severe war injuries to his legs, and is partially disabled. It was a typically well-done Balogh, and will be enjoyed by her many fans.
The best thing I read in July was Prisoner by Lia Silver. Werewolf Marine hero meets genetically-engineered assassin heroine while held captive in a secret government lab. Adventures and romance and truly outstanding dialogue ensue. It reminded me a bit of Suzanne Brockmann, and a bit of Marjorie Liu.
Give Me Grace by Kate McCarthy is my top read of July. I couldn’t put it down. The beginning draws you right in, as there are some major puzzles in the story. Grace took the brunt of the monetary responsibility after their mother passed away. She left her family behind and made a name for herself as an international model. Called to be her brother’s back up bass player when their current player is out of commission, she drops everything to reconnect with him. She meets Casey, part of the “Badass Brigade”, and sparks immediately fly. Quickly falling under Casey’s spell, Grace tries to do some backpedaling to stop the avalanche of emotion she’s feeling. The story covers family secrets, catfights, red-hot alpha males and a mystery waiting to be solved.
My best read of July is The Sleeping Night by Barbara Samuel. This gem of a WWII era historical romance delves deep into the forbidden romance of Angel Corey and Isaiah High, Childhood friends in the sleepy town of Gideon, Texas. Angel and Isaiah share a love of reading that binds them for life, their friendship growing to an unshakeable love that neither war, distance nor prejudice can tear down. For Caucasian Angel and African-American Isaisah, life isn't easy, and readers may doubt that HEA can ever be theirs, but never fear, love conquers all.
Having the love interest of a story catch the attention of the main character with a smoldering gaze across the common room of a prison is not normally something that would appeal to me. Somehow, Cara McKenna tactfully approaches the story of how Eric and Annie meet in Hard Times. With an initial bold move on Eric's part, he finds a way to let Annie, the new prison librarian, know where things stand. The gradual build of their relationship from steamy exchange of letters to a post-release continuation of their story was enticing in itself for me to keep reading.
What really tipped the scale was Annie's growth throughout the story from abused ex-girlfriend status to a strong, independent woman who wasn't afraid to take what she wants. The setting, a small, depressed Michigan town, created the backdrop for the story but didn't overwhelm the happiness that seemed on the horizon for the pair. It was a refreshing take on situations that can crop up in real life and the questions faced by those involved about right and wrong or how much a person is willing to sacrifice for love. It highlighted the idea that, in life, mistakes are made, but second chances can be intensely satisfying.
My favorite read of July was Nalini Singh's Shield of Winter. The titles of the Psy-Changeling books make me giggle every time but the content is always smart, sexy, and action packed. SoW features a beautiful empath and an iceman who isn't afraid to read a manual or two to turn the heat up. Good times!
I have to add my voice to the folks (I'm guessing you'll get a few) for Courtney Milan's latest—The Suffragette Scandal. I got sucked in because it's a Milan book and the first review I read about it referenced “puppy cannons.” There is, honest and true, a discussion of puppy cannons - both need and feasibility. When you get past the first inhaling of this novel and then start unpacking all the nuances of the women's liberation and female rights you realize that much of the message of what Free is fighting for continues today. Puppy cannons & thimbles of bluebells to all.
The best thing I read in July was NOT a romance. And I didn't even MISS the romance! It was Daniel O'Malley's The Rook, a—how to describe it?—a humorous fantasy noir that begins with a woman waking up in a body that isn't hers, and she has to figure out who stole the memories of the woman who had the body before her, and how to navigate a secret paranormal society whose hierarchy is based on chess pieces. It's as though P.G. Wodehouse entered the supernatural world with a very sharp heroine and some mwa-ha-ha type villains.
I usually like my romances like I like my coffee—dark and steamy... Okay I really don't like my coffee dark, but the simile couldn't be passed up! However, I broke my usual reading habits when I picked up Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams—the story of a relatively conservative couple (one a pastor, the other a modern 28-year-old virgin, which you don't hear of so often anymore) who embark on a marriage of convenience to secure Daniel the Pastor a position in their hometown church.
When reading outside of my comfort zone, I need at least one element to cling to and the marriage of convenience trope is one of my favorites. I hadn't known of the inspirational elements when I started reading this book, and I don't know if I would have picked it up otherwise. Noelle is very aware of this fact, leading with an author's note about how this book won't be inspirational enough for inspirational readers, and will be too inspirational for contemporary readers, but she wanted to write a book that simply had faith as a large factor for these two characters—like it is in many young people's lives (especially in the South where this story takes place). In the end I'm so glad that I kept reading just based on the trope, because there were still sexy times (just after marriage), and there was the affection, love, and character growth that you need to see in any great romance.
The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a young adult story of magical realism that centers around Door County and two new friends: Maggie and Pauline. Girls are going missing throughout Door County and no one can determine the reason. Maggie, a new resident, finds herself befriending next-door neighbor Pauline, the girl who seems to have everything. The backdrop of disappearances and the musings of a spectral narrator that seems to live in the ether of Maggie’s new house create a frame for the haunting friendship of the two girls. Then there’s Pauline’s Liam. Liam and Pauline have been tied together by the hands of fate, friendship, and permanent hometown proximity, and their unresolved romantic entanglement becomes even more complicated when Maggie finds herself attracted to Liam when Pauline goes away. The Vanishing Season is a story of friendship, of love, of lost keys and mute ghosts and the way that the world quietly shifts around us.