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Best of List: The Fall’s Top Reads

December 7, 2017

By Miranda Owen

As a fan of romance novels, and somebody who loves making lists, I’m instantly drawn to the many “Best of…” book lists that come out as the year draws to a close. I’d thought about doing one that encompasses the entire year, but then I was struck by how many fabulous books have been published just this fall alone. With each new book I read, the list of books that have blown my mind kept growing. I’ve read some amazing books by a few of my favorite authors, but I’ve also been lucky enough to stumble on one or two books by authors whose books I haven’t read in the past.

Three books by new-to-me authors are: WHAT THE EARL NEEDS NOW by Michelle Willingham, A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe, and A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR by Loretta Chase. Based on other readers’ recommendations, I read and enjoyed LORD OF SCOUNDRELS by Loretta Chase, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading another book by her until now. I was initially drawn to A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR because of the runaway bride theme. After a page or two, the delightful witty banter had me hooked. Watching the Duke of Ripley thoroughly flummoxed by his feelings by Lady Olympia Hightower, the beautiful but flakey Duke of Ashmont try to get a clue, and the flurry of amusing traveling scenes make for an entertaining farce. Like the Duke of Ripley in A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR, Julius Hatcher in A DARING ARRANGEMENT has his world turned upside-down by a woman. I love a good “pretend relationship” story, and this book is a great example of why that trope is so much fun. For me, A DARING ARRANGEMENT has elements from my favorite Lisa Kleypas historicals as well as classic romantic comedies from the 1930s and 40s – with a little mystery thrown in. WHAT THE EARL NEEDS NOW has a tortured hero, but I think this is first and foremost a wonderful “second chance at love” story. At the beginning of this story, Matthew Larkspur almost blows his chance with his true love in a misguided attempt to be noble – thankfully that doesn’t last long. The meat of the story is after Matthew realizes (with the help of a few friends) that he needs Lily. What follows is a charming and sensual courtship, with an air of mystery and a few thrills thrown in.

I love paranormal romances, and this fall has produced some truly spectacular stories by a few of my favorite authors: KEEP ME CLOSE by Cynthia Eden, DARK LEGACY by Christine Feehan, DREAMING OF A WHITE WOLF CHRISTMAS by Terry Spear, and THE BRIGHTEST EMBERS by Jeaniene Frost. Out of all of these stories, KEEP ME CLOSE is not what most people would characterize as “paranormal”, but Cynthia Eden’s super soldiers have superhero strength combined with intriguing psychic abilities. The guys in KEEPME CLOSE are basically vampires and werewolves without the fangs or fur. I love Christine Feehan and Terry Spear, but normally their styles are completely different. While these two author’s fictional worlds are normally such opposites, their two fall releases have something crucial in common. What I love most about DARK LEGACY and DREAMING OF A WHITE WOLF CHRISTMAS is the way the hero and heroine in each story are in sync and act as true partners in the stories. In DARK LEGACY, Dragomir is a fierce and chivalrous knight and Emeline is a fierce fighter in her own way. Dragomir and Emeline respect and admire each other for the person they are. In DREAMING OF A WHITE WOLF CHRISTMAS, Candice Mayfair and Owen Nottingham meet up years after a chance and enchanted first sighting. The second time around, Candice and Owen are wowed by how much they have in common and the easy way their relationship develops. THE BRIGHTEST EMBERS by Jeaniene Frost deals with angels, demons, and prophecies rather than the usual paranormal suspects. THE BRIGHTEST EMBERS makes a great cap on an exciting trilogy because the series is very character-driven (and those characters are amazing), and the love story is truly epic in scope. This last book in the trilogy is very much so about the couple rather than the group dynamic, and Adrian is a to-die-for conflicted hero.

My historical romance picks all have phenomenal heroines. The heroine in THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE by Kerrigan Byrne makes that story something exceptional. It seems like Samantha Masters lives a dozen lifetimes in THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE. Rather than let one villain dampen her spirit, she strikes back and makes her way in the world, and finds an adventure. Samantha is a woman who can handle a gun and has no time for smooth-talking Scotsmen trying to scam her. Her resiliency and vibrancy are what draw the hero to her. The lush locales also make THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE worth checking out. Alec Mackenzie, in ALEC MACKENZIE’S ART OF SEDUCTION, is a much different Scotsman than Kerrigan Byrne’s Gavin St. James. The draw of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzies series are the impressive and swoon-tastic heroes. Alec is on a mission to find and free his brother. True to his sterling character, he marries the woman he falls in love with along the way, rather than use her as a pawn. I adore Mary Balogh’s books, but I was greatly looking forward to SOMEONE TO WED for one reason – the hero. Alexander Westcott, newly minted Earl of Riverdale, is the epitome of a “nice guy” hero. Alexander proves why nice guys deserve a second glance, and are just as interesting as any bad boy. The heroine in SOMEONE TO WED is just as extraordinary. Wren Heyden is something of a contradiction and an enigma to many. While Wren hides her face from society, she lives more independently than most single woman of her time. Frustration and attraction soon turn to admiration and love as Alex and Wren get to know each other. In LADY ELEANOR’S SEVENTH SUITOR, Anna Bradley has several characters describe Camden West as being both a hero and villain. This complicated hero would be enough of a reason to read this book, but the shrewd heroine and the ridiculously delicious amount of sexual tension is the icing on the cake.

In addition to romances, I’m also a sucker for a good mystery – mainly cozies. PURRING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE by Liz Mugavero is a lively cozy mystery set in a small town around Christmas time. Mugavero tells a story that immediately sucks you in – with humor, interesting characters (both heroes and villains), multiple puzzles for the reader to put together, as well as a smidge of suspense. The “Amory Ames” mystery series by Ashley Weaver is not exactly what I’d describe as a cozy series, but I love it anyway. Amory and Milo Ames channel Nick and Nora Charles, but with a little more baggage. The passionate, and sometimes problematic, marital relationship gives the mysteries they get involved in an added zing without being tiresome. ESSENCE OF MALICE provides a fascinating look at a cut-throat family of parfumiers. Exotic scents and locations mix with shady characters to entertain readers.

It’s ironic to me how much I enjoy sports-themed romances while not actually being much of a sports fan myself. THE FINAL SCORE by Jaci Burton, PLAYED by Jen Frederick, and NO TIME TO EXPLAIN are all books by some of my favorite authors. THE FINAL SCORE and PLAYED are both about friends who become lovers, but they have some key differences. In THE FINAL SCORE, Nathan and Mia are both in the sports business in one way or another and both have tested out what a relationship between them would be like with sex thrown in. In THE FINAL SCORE these two BFFs are at a point in their lives where they need to take a chance or have the opportunity gone forever. PLAYED is also about two friends, but they are still in college and have a different dynamic than Nathan and Mia, who have their college years behind them. In PLAYED, two friends are going through many changes in their lives and these changes make it harder to keep their deeper feelings for each other secret. Jaci Burton and Jen Frederick are both extremely skilled at telling a character-driven story with red-hot erotic scenes that are tailor-fit to the specific characters involved. Kate Angell’s Barefoot William series features many stories with heroes who are baseball players for the Richmond Rogues team. Unlike the other two stories, the hero and heroine in NO TIME TO EXPLAIN are strangers who meet up in a very unconventional, yet amusing, way. As with previous books by Kate Angell, the dogs in this book are well-written secondary characters and a big part of what makes these books so much fun. The hero in NO TIME TO EXPLAIN is a bit of a modern-day rake, but Kate Angell keeps things relatively light with a nice balance of sweet and sexy.

ALL I WANT FOR HALLOWEEN by Marie Harte and A RANCHER’S HEART by Vivian Arend both feature strong heroines and alpha males who work well with their hands. In ALL I WANT FOR HALLOWEEN, tv personality Gear Blackstone meats the woman of his dreams at a costume party. A fun setting soon turns into the setting for a passionate make-out session, which then turned into a scene of violence when Sadie wallops Gear’s annoying ex. As with many other contemporary romances by Marie Harte, the humor and eroticism are perfectly balanced and make for an enjoyable tale. In A RANCHER’S HEART, Caleb Stone is a hardworking rancher and single father who is hard not to fall for. When Tamara comes to work as the nanny, the two soon realize how perfect they fit together. The supporting characters, including Caleb’s daughters, are an integral part of the story and make it more satisfying. Both stories by both authors are undeniably sexy and great stories.

CHERISH HARD by Nalini Singh and DIRTY SCOUNDREL by Jessica Clare both have a hero and heroine who have a history and get a chance to at a “do-over”. In CHERISH HARD, Sailor Bishop first sees Isa Rain and is captivated by her. Isa is a beautiful dream that haunts Sailor for years. Now, years later, Sailor and Isa cross paths and it’s magic. Sailor Bishop has now become one of my favorite heroes, with his natural charm and earnest adoration of Isa. In DIRTY SCOUNDREL, Natalie Weston and Clay Price have a history that is complicated in large part because of the machinations of her father. There are moments in DIRTY SCOUNDREL that make a happy ending for Natalie and Clay seem almost impossible, but the love between them is evident despite all the obstacles in their way. As the title would imply, things between Natalie and Clay get messy before they get better, but they also get super steamy.

IT’S GOTTA BE YOU by LuAnn McLane and INFAMY by L.P. Maxa both have rock star heroes, but the similarities in these stories end there. LuAnn writes about characters who are anchored by their close family relationships and friendships. The Heart brothers in LuAnn McLane’s Heartthrob series are extremely close, and they’re sweet guys. In IT’S GOTTA BE YOU, two former big-name rock stars reunite and develop some genuine sparks while attempting a fake romance. The focus in IT’S GOTTA BE YOU is 100% on the romance and development of the relationship. In INFAMY, family also plays a big role in the story – but not necessarily in the same way that it does in IT’S GOTTA BE YOU. Landry Cole comes from a family of rock stars, so it might seem like fate that she winds up in love with hotshot drummer. Like DIRTY SCOUNDREL by Jessica Clare, L.P. Maxa writes a natural and entertaining dialogue between her characters that make them seem very real to the reader.

Fabulous Fall Reads:

INFAMY by L.P. Maxa
DIRTY SCOUNDREL by Jessica Clare
CHERISH HARD by Nalini Singh
A RANCHER’S HEART by Vivian Arend
PLAYED by Jen Frederick
ESSENCE OF MALICE by Ashley Weaver
KEEP ME CLOSE by Cynthia Eden
DARK LEGACY by Christine Feehan
SOMEONE TO WED by Mary Balogh
THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE by Kerrigan Byrne
WHAT THE EARL NEEDS NOW by Michelle Willingham

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