It's the end of the year and time to reflect on the good books we've read this year! We at Team H&H asked our bloggers to name one (Yes, really. Only one.) book that they'd pick as their top read of 2016. For some, it was a very easy choice, but others, not so much. We're thrilled to bring you their list of 26 swoonworthy 2016 reads.
Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
Susan Wiggs celebrates the love, loss, hope, and the rebirth of a woman who is forced by unavoidable circumstances to re-evaluate her life after a tragic accident. Emotionally honest and poignant with a delightful thread of humor running through it, Family Tree introduces us to Annie Harlow, a reality show producer who wakes from an injury with her life shattered. Readers share a front row seat with Annie as she returns to her childhood home to recuperate and piece together her fragmented memories. Told in alternating chapters from the past and present, Wiggs takes Annie back through her high school years to the present date, forcing her to view her life and the choices she made through new eyes. Family Tree is a story of one woman’s journey through betrayal and pain to emerge triumphant as she learns to embrace the new challenges life has in store for her.
Picking one book for all of 2016 is like eating just one potato chip—nearly impossible. I wanted to cheer everything Molly O'Keefe wrote this year because she's seriously an MVP. Ditto for all of Jeffe Kennedy's fantasy romance releases. And how can I gloss over Kit Rocha's sexy, soapy, gut-wrenching series-ender Beyond Surrender or Sonali Dev's A Change of Heart, which made me cry five times?
But when it boils down to one—kinda like in the Highlander movies—I have to go with Hold Me by Courtney Milan. The Cyclone books just keep getting better and better, and Jay and Maria's love story has everything: humor, angst, geekiness, beautiful characterization and engaging prose. There's even a glow-in-the-dark shark! That it's a diverse, inclusive book, only makes it all the sweeter. I can't wait for more from this cast of characters and Courtney's talented brain!
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne! Fun banter, sexy shenanigans, and real characters—this book really had it all. Lucy and Josh's games had me smiling from first page to the last.
My best read of 2016, A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams, is actually a retelling of the opera, Der Rosenkavalier, re-imagined for 1920s New York. Society matron, Theresa, finds the magic is gone from her marriage, but found in her affair with the much-younger Octavian, aka The Boy. When her brother, Jay, needs a go-between to deliver an heirloom ring to Sophie, his own much-younger fiancée, cupid hits - Octavian and Sophie. Fabulous historical atmosphere, standout characters, and happily ever afters despite all the odds.
My pick is Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton, book two in her fabulous Hudson Valley series. I absolutely loved her size 18, cheese-loving, ultra confident heroine, Natalie. This contemporary romance combines a hunger for sex and food in delicious ways and even more than the city girl goes country theme, wowed me with Natalie's refreshing attitude toward body image. Her belief in herself helped me with some of my own struggles around my weight. Plus as a grammar nerd, the “great big ass” discussion was priceless.
At the Brink by Anna del Mar
It's insta-attraction when for Billionaire ex-SEAL Josh Lane and the artistic Lily Boswell when Lily's hideous, in-paper-only husband uses her to score a deal. But their arrangement becomes more than either Josh or Lily bargains for as obsession takes hold. Will Lily succeed in a mission she didn’t know she would be capable of undertaking? Or will Josh lose the one woman who would capture his heart as well as the depth of his kink?
The Beast by J.R. Ward
The Warden's latest in the Black Dagger Brotherhood reboot just barely edged out A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (which I LOVED) by getting me excited about a series I thought was no longer in the cards for me. I cried when I read this book. Cried! I never cry when I read. Ward took my favorite couple and made them my favorites again. She made me feel the camaraderie of the Brotherhood again. She made me want to read vampires again. And I want more.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is my favorite romance read of 2016! I usually have close five way ties of best but after reading this gem I couldn't get it out of my head. I am always looking for that gut busting and heart aching story to read and I found that in this book. So that's why this is my best romance read of 2016.
For my “Best of 2016” book it'd have to be Looking Inside by Beth Kery. I know I'll be re-reading it - and I wrote the FL for it at H&H too.
The Player by Kresley Cole is my selection for the best book of 2016. I loved the characters, the sex was hot but more importantly, Kresley Cole once again played my emotions like a maestro. In The Player, Vice seduces Dmitri for his money, and he falls for it completely. I continued to read even knowing that once the con came to light, Dmitri, who had spent his whole youth being betrayed and abused, will be destroyed by his love for her. Even as Vice falls in love with Dmitri, I know there would be no stopping the inevitable destruction of his fragile trust. And just as I was ready to give up my faith in any kind of a HEA, Kresley Cole pulls a fast one that left me stunned. Although it was the last of a trilogy, it had little crossover and can be read as a standalone.
My best read for 2016 was not a 2016 release; it actually came out in 2012: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This is an imaginative, adventurous and altogether fun read. I loved that the lead character worked in a very idiosyncratic (to say the least) bookstore and that the author geeked out on things I have been known to geek out about, like typefaces. Even more, Sloan did a fantastic job bringing the bookstore to life in my mind's eye. I loved bookstores my entire life (until I went to work in one), and the romance I associate with bookstores will never die for me. Sloan's book really played into that. The ending is a little on the saccharine side, but since the book itself had plenty of wryness, I wasn't terribly bothered by it. This is a great story, whether you read it or you listen to it. I've done both.
My read of the year is A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. I loved that the plot was completely turned on its head and my favorite secondary character got major screen time and actually was made into a primary character.
My choice would be The Dare and the Doctor by Kate Noble. It was my favorite read of the year because it was a witty historical romance with an unconventional horticulturalist heroine and a dedicated doctor, who have no idea their friendship is really true love. Catnip extraordinaire!
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins, definitely a top historical of the year!
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
2016 felt like a strange, depressing year, so I’m picking the book that made my heart do a happy dance, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. Thorne is a debut author, I have no idea where she has been hiding, but I want more! The Hating Game is a charming office romance. The characters Josh and Lucy are work enemies determined to make each other miserable. Their game escalates when they start competing for a big promotion. I love the enemies-to-lovers trope and this was well executed. There was no insta-love between these antagonists. A mercy for lovers of the slow burn! The combination of mind games, banter and chemistry made me grin the whole way through. While this is a contemporary take on the old screwball comedy romance, it was surprisingly tender and sweet. Don’t miss this one!
“It's so haaaaard,” she whined, and not in a “Gosh, it's wonderful that it's so long and hard!” kind of way but “hard” as in, “I read too many good books this year, how can I pick just one?” kind of way!
But, I can do this. I can offer up the best of the best, and for 2016, it's The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman. It's a beautifully crafted love story that unwinds like a Western story told around a campfire. You can't rush the action, because that would detract from the storytelling, so settle in with the Pancakes and Israel (aka “Mr. Roundbottom”) and get ready to be charmed and entertained.
His Royal Secret by Lilah Pace
The richly developed characters, and often raw but always honest emotions in Lilah Pace's two part series left me with images of the book playing out like a movie in my head. Watching our guys traverse the formal trials of royalty and love was breathtaking. The secondary characters leap off the pages with the same intensity as our heroes. Finally, the declarations of love, for me, were quite possibly the best I've ever read - I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking of them now. Grab part two, His Royal Favorite so you can keep the love train rolling, you won't be disappointed.
In 2016, I read so many great books that picking one seems almost seems like an impossible task. However there is one book that stands out—because I’ve re-read it or listened to it multiple times. That book is Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh. What makes this book so memorable is that it is a whole book of happy endings—an epilogue of sort for all the couples and storylines from previous books. It’s a joyous book—filled with couples in love, cute babies, and a warm sense of family.
Seduced by the Sniper by Elizabeth Heiter!
This author's style of writing intensifies the sexual tension between the hero and heroine while the in-depth research Heiter has included grips the reader to the point they never want to leave the story.
I think I'm probably biased by the fact that it was the last book I read but I'm going to throw my vote at Blood Vow by J.R. Ward. I loved it because it has the old school feel of the earlier BDB books, before the world got so large and included so many characters. Also, the secondary couple in the book were my all time favorite BDB couple, Rhage and Mary.
I know I'm late joining the Black Dagger brotherhood fan club, but I'm just infatuated with Dark Lover by J.R. Ward. This world is not only dark and mysterious with complex characters and interwoven plot lines, but featured a deliciously sexy erotic romance between a powerful and tormented vampire King, Wrath and is soul mate, Beth. Hands down my 2016 favorite!
Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein
A truly emotional, erotic romance. Couldn't put it down!
Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt is marketed as historical fiction, but it's really so much more - a perfect blend of historical western, romance, and suspense. The slow-build romance between a female doctor accused of murder and a US Army Captain was one of the best I read this year and this book kept me positively riveted from the first page to the last. However, as much as I loved it, it is worth noting that the story features some ugly history and a fair amount of violence (in other words: bad things happen to good people). The second book in the series, Blood Oath, is due out in May and I cannot wait!
Choosing one book just about killed me! But the book that keeps popping into my head is Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino. Even though I read this book back in July, the characters have taken up permanent residence in my amygdala. Everything about this book is my kind of romance crack. I love how Ms. Carlino juxtaposes the back story of our main characters—forever immortalized in a novel written by our hero—with the unfolding of their relationship present day. This book within a book is fast paced, melts my heart, and makes me squee. Especially Jase, our hero. He’s so yummy, he makes my insides melt to mush. Finally, our HEA and the final reveal is perfection. Le sigh...I am in love.
My pick for best romance of 2016 is Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton. Clayton's plus-size-and-loving-it heroine Natalie is an inspiration, from her love of cheese to her feelings for Oscar the dairy farmer, who loves everything about her. It's confidence inspiring, so sexy, and bursting with romance in this really fun Hudson Valley set novel. It's romance with a greater message, and it's among Clayton's very best work.
My favorite book of 2016 has to be Beginner's Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes. I seriously cannot get this book out of my head. Kaya was such an amazingly relatable character and the way the story unfolds is just so satisfying. This is one of those great examples of a story where you truly want the couple to live happily ever after. I can't wait to see what Six has in store next.
The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux
This was one of my favorites in 2016. It's so difficult to pick just ONE book for an entire year but The Girl from Summer Hill does the trick. Why? Because it updates the greatest romance classic of all time, Pride in Prejudice, in a very enjoyable way.
The plot matches up a burnt-out Washington DC chef with a surly actor, casting them as Elizabeth and Darcy, in a contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice (and they play Elizabeth and Darcy in a modern play rendition as well—so many layers!). Are you thinking it's the most rinse/repeat plot of all time? Believe me when I say that Jude Deveraux pens a compelling and believable story. Perhaps most intriguingly, she examines some of the more difficult parts of P&P (cough Lydia cough) through a modern lens.
Chef Casey shows love through the food she prepares for friends and family whereas taciturn actor Tate lives up to everyone’s worst impression of a Hollywood diva. It doesn’t help that Devlin, who’s playing Wickham, drips poison about Tate into Casey’s impressionable ears. Overall, a fabulous, breezy read that cuts deeper than one might expect.
Manties in a Twist by J.A. Rock. (The Subs Club #3)
It was a tough call between this one and the first in the series, The Subs Club, because they're both extraordinary, but ”Manties" won out for being so sweet and cheerful. Yes, a book about pony play (among other things) is sweet and cheerful! I love the way this series is not only about all different kinds of kink, but also expresses so many different emotions around being kinky; the young lovers in this story are still experimenting and figuring things out, with sometimes hilarious and sometimes very hot results.
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