Best of 2016

I get the impression I’m missing out on a lot of good books in my attempts to keep up with my review books! However, I did get to read some fantastic books by some of my favourite authors this year.

Yet again, I read more historical fiction than I intended to. I wonder if this is something that will ever change!

In no particular order, here are my favourite reads of 2016:

Marrying Winterborne (Ravenels #2) by Lisa Kleypas

Marrying Winterborne (2016) by Lisa Kleypas

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Taking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks #4) by Cindy Gerard

Baron (The Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

Baron (The Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters #4) by Anne Gracie

The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters book 4) by Anne Gracie

How to Rescue a Rake (Book Club Belles Society #3) by Jayne Fresina

How to Rescue a Rake (Book Club Belles Society #3) by Jayne Fresina

Sister of Mine: A Novel by Sabra Waldfogel

Sister of Mine A Novel by Sabra Waldfogel

Kiss, Kiss, Bark! by Kim Williams Justesen

(Yes, I enjoyed this Middle Grade book enough to buy a copy after finishing my ARC!)

kiss-kiss-bark-by-kim-williams-justesen

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3) by Madeline Hunter

Tycoon (The Knickerbocker Club 0.5) by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon (The Knickerbocker Club 0.5) by Joanna Shupe

The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

the-dare-and-the-doctor-winner-takes-all-3-by-kate-noble

The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen

The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen mills and Boon Cover

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Someone to Love (Westcott #1) by Mary Balogh

someone-to-love-westcott-1-by-mary-balogh-australian-cover

Plus, one that isn’t out until next month, but I have already read and enjoyed:

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The Week: 21st – 27th November

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Hot and sunny start to the week in Canberra. And the last of the spring flowers in the garden.

I feel like a proud parent, but here are our two baby magpies. I filmed them on Friday afternoon (and the video is a bit shaky because I was trying to fix my hair at the time!). Apparently every magpie family has its own song, and every late-spring-early-summer the young birds start practicing their singing.

These two are disturbingly tame. They try to follow me into the house! Their parents drop them off here at about five-something in the morning, and they stay here all day, until around sunset (I swear, they’re the same as humans!). They’re so cute. Also, they like standing on one leg for some reason.

(I’m going to rant a bit now, so you might want to skim to the next part!)

We went to see The Nutcracker on Saturday night. Back when I was a ballet dancer, there was nothing better than dancing in falling snow.

However, I AM deeply upset they not only called a dance in act two the “Russian dance”, but that they called it the “Gopak”.

“Gopak”, which is actually the Hopak (because Ukrainian and Russian alphabets are different), is the national dance of Ukraine, and has NOTHING do to with Russia. Talk about “cultural appropriation”! On Saturday night it got THE biggest cheer out of all the dances, and it makes my heart hurt.

HERE is the proper Ukrainian (not Russian!) dance! Skip to two minutes in to see the big tricks.

One of the men looks disturbingly like my brother, who used to do this stuff a little while ago.

However – has anybody heard of the book Mao’s Last Dancer? It was also made into a movie. It’s a true story about a Chinese dancer who was forced into the communist system as a ballet dancer, but then defected to the United States, and now lives here in Australia. We got to talk to him, Li Cunxin, again last night, for the first time in ages. He is the director of the ballet company we went to see.

My review of Someone to Love (Westcott #1) by Mary Balogh

someone-to-love-westcott-1-by-mary-balogh-us-cover

My review of The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

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My review of The Governess Was Wild (Governess #3) by Julia Kelly

the-governess-was-wild-governess-3-by-julia-kelly

You Had Me at Christmas #1

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You Had Me at Christmas #2

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You Had Me at Christmas #3

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The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

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Dr. Rhys Gray and Miss Margaret Babcock are friends—strictly friends. But over the course of the year, as they exchange dozens of letters, they share personal details that put them on the path to something more. When Dr. Gray helps Margaret realize her dearest dream and she comes to his defense in the uproar that follows, it seems that their connection cannot be denied. But will their relationship stand the scruples of society and jealous intendeds, or are they destined to be only friends, and nothing more?

The Dare and the Doctor (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

Kate Noble writes wonderful historical romances. They are full of truly unique characters, have plenty of plot rather than just having characters flit around ballrooms for no good reason, and they bring nineteenth century England to life.

I’d give The Dare and the Doctor five stars if it wasn’t for the fact the entire book is written in out of place US English (perhaps the most mistakes I’ve ever come across), and a few times it nearly drove me to distraction! Noble writes a lot of books set in or about England; there’s no excuse at this point.

Otherwise, I really loved this one. The author takes us into different parts of the London of the day, exploring the day-to-day as it was, and bringing the city to life. She gives her characters interesting occupations, and researches them thoroughly, but we are never bogged down in boring details.

I love how distinctive each one of her characters is. Our heroine here is SO socially awkward, and yet she is aware of it and not unhappy with who she is. Our hero is such a genuinely decent and thoughtful man, but stands up for himself when he needs to.

I also like that there’s not time wasted on mental lusting and too much sex, and we get a complete romance instead. Too many authors are forgetting to have their characters fall in love these days, but that’s never a problem with this author’s books.

However, it’s disappointing to have the fantastic atmosphere of the book ruined with wording that stood out like a sore thumb and made me groan with frustration.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an author of many books set in Britain to know words like autumn and arse. Astley’s Amphitheatre was a real place, and that is a real name, and the spelling of places like these cannot be changed just because they brought up red squiggly lines on the editor’s Word document!

I also sort of wish the characters had stopped blinking all the time. Double blink was used as a reaction so many times it nearly made me start doing it!

This book will work fine as a standalone, as it is a story pretty well self-contained. I think there’re two points where events of past books are referred to directly, but they are easy enough to understand.

For me, The Dare and the Doctor was a really good read. I liked the uniqueness of the characters and the plot they found themselves caught up in, and I would happily recommend it.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

 

A side note:

I was reading an ARC, so maybe the actual book will be fixed, but I’m not the only one who has noticed Noble’s books tend to come chock-full of typos and other errors. I do hope this is fixed, but seeing as the blurb on the cover of the last book mixes up loose and lose, I’m not so sure…

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

Cecilia Goodhue is a schoolteacher with a past, living with her sister and her husband in a tiny English village. Resigned to a quiet life, Cecilia is surprised when she finds out that her young cousin has run off with a man of no means.

Cecilia had once been a teenaged girl who also fell for a young man’s charms—only to be devastated by his betrayal. Determined to not let her cousin meet the same fate, she heads off to London to but is shocked when her investigation leads her right to the front door of the very man who broke her heart: Theo Hudson.

Together, they reluctantly embark on finding her cousin and returning her to her family. During their searching in London, it soon becomes clear that they both remember their short-lived romance differently and perhaps now, years later, they have a fresh chance at love.

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

I liked this. Novellas are hard, and I think reunion stories (like this one) are the way to go most of the time, as page time doesn’t have to be wasted with the main characters getting to know each other.

Kate Noble writes stories that are light in tone, but there is always something serious underneath. Our hero and heroine were in love and tried to elope ten years earlier, only to be caught before they reached Gretna Green, where they were lied to and broken up.

So when they meet again by accident ten years later, each thinks the other was the betrayer.

I love reunion romances, and I love that there was angst here. The fact this is the Regency era means that while the hero was able to get on with life and exist in society, the heroine was shamed and packed off and sent away. Though the tone of the story is light, HER story is quite sad.

Now, this book happens at a very fast pace, with most of it happening on one day. I do think this was a little bit fast for a solid reunion, but I went with it. People change a great deal in ten years, especially when they were so young when they were together before, and so I think a little longer for them to learn each other again might have made the reunion a tad more convincing.

However, this was a little niggle, and I didn’t actually pay much attention to the timeframe as I was reading. The author’s characters and her world were engaging enough for me to overlook it.

My only other complaint was that the characters kept saying off of instead of off!

I would recommend this one, especially if you enjoy reunion stories with a little bit of angst.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 21st – 27th July

 Canberra MH17 Service 26th July 2014

Canberra Ukrainians hosting a memorial for the MH17 victims yesterday.

We had a huge memorial service for MH17 yesterday. All kinds of politicians and embassy representatives (from pretty much everywhere except Russia) attended. The only one missing? Anyone representing Tony Abbott’s Federal Government. That man is distancing himself from the whole thing because he still wants Adolf Putin to come to Australia. Bastard.

It should be remembered that since the plane went down, more and more and more innocent Ukrainians have been slaughtered for no reason. What is happening to them is just as bad, but it doesn’t make the news because nobody gives a damn about Eastern Europeans. Especially not Germany or France.

I’ve read a number of so-so books this week. One pretty good one, and then nothing that inspired me much. Nothing much is exciting me at the moment. I went through a phase like this a few months ago, and I know the only cure is to accidentally come across something unexpected and amazing! I wonder how I’ll manage that.

My review of Return to Homecoming Ranch by Julia London

Return to Homecoming Ranch (Pine River Book 2) by Julia London

My review of Temptation in Shadows by Gena Showalter

Temptation in Shadows by Gena Showalter

 

My review of The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

My review of Christmas in July by Debbie Mason

Christmas in July (A Christmas, Colorado Novel Book 2) by Debbie Mason

 

My review of Claimed by the Laird by Nicola Cornick

Claimed by the Laird by Nicola Cornick

My review of KCPD Protector by Julie Miller

KCPD Protector by Julie Miller

My review of Tempting Target by Savannah Stuart

Tempting Target by Savannah Stuart

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

Three friends. One Wager. Winner takes all.

The Earl—‘Lucky Ned’ Ashby. Pompous, preening, certain that he is beloved by everyone.
The Miller—John Turner. Proud, forced to work as the Earl’s secretary, their relationship growing ever more strained.
The Doctor—Rhys Gray. Practical, peace-loving, but caught in the middle of two warring friends.

Their wager is simple: By trading places with John Turner and convincing someone to fall in love with him, Ned plans to prove it’s him the world adores, not his money. Turner plans to prove him wrong.

But no one planned on Phoebe Baker, the unassuming governess who would fall into their trap, and turn everything on its head…

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

I haven’t read any historical books by Kate Noble before, and I admit I wasn’t sure about this one because of a view I’d formed before even trying it. However, a few issues aside, I really enjoyed it, and I think one of the main reasons was that the author took the time to develop the characters and the attraction before throwing them together.

I realised about halfway through The Game and the Governess why I was enjoying it so much, and why it was different to so many other historical romances I’d read. Often I start to get bored at the halfway mark, but I wasn’t with this book because the relationship was still developing. It wasn’t rushed. They hadn’t been sharing a bed for a hundred pages already, so there was still somewhere for the connection between them to go.

There was an actual story happening, and it was good.

Something I have a feeling some readers struggled with was the hero’s attitudes early on. However, I really appreciated that the author was able to portray the attitudes of the aristocracy correctly. There’s no point getting upset that an earl was ignorant about the effect his behaviour would have on others. Of course he was clueless about the maid needing help. I know we all like to romanticise the earls and dukes of 19th century England, but there’s a lot about who they were that isn’t quite so pretty. Plus, he woke up to himself in the end.

I know some readers don’t like books where a relationship is based on a deception, but I think that the way it evolved here was believable. At the beginning, neither hero nor heroine knew who the other was. They didn’t know they’d end up together, so indifference was more than justified. I think because readers are so used to characters who jump into bed together on page two, this was a big change. I liked it.

Something else I really appreciated was the lack of mental lusting. I didn’t realise until it wasn’t there how much historical romances depend on endless descriptions of physical beauty to show attraction. I don’t remember one instance where the hero was described that way, and only a few passing mentions were made of the heroine’s appearance. These people fell in love because of who they were, and that meant they actually had to do things like have conversations before deciding they were destined to be together.

The book has its “wallpaper” moments, where there characters don’t act at all like someone in 1822 would have. There are a few silly characters. As it was balanced out with lots of positives, I found I didn’t mind. The only thing I missed was some sort of epilogue. I’m not an epilogue fan generally, but this book ends rather suddenly.

In the past I’ve read comments about this author’s books and how they are careless with the language. There were definitely some moments where wrong words were used. Americanisms were pretty rampant, and having the characters more than once use the modern American word tarp grated very badly.

This wasn’t a perfect book, and there was the odd thing here or there that I didn’t love about it. However, I also really liked it, and it showed me a thing or two about what’s missing from many of my recent reads. I’d recommend it.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Currently Free: A Grosvenor Square Christmas

A Grosvenor Square Christmas is free at the moment. It has contributions by Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly and Kate Noble. Now that Australians are being forced to shop on Amazon Australia, I’m going to have to link to that one, but it’s also free in other countries!

A Grosvenor Square Christmas

Four breathtakingly romantic tales of a Regency Christmas from four bestselling romance authors.

Down through the years, enchantment touches a tall grey house in Grosvenor Square. The legend of Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball promises true love and happiness to one lucky couple. Who will feel the magic this winter?

1803 – The Seduction of a Duchess by Shana Galen

Rowena Harcourt, the Duchess of Valère, never forgot the handsome footman who helped her escape the French Revolution. For fourteen years, Gabriel Lamarque has loved Rowena—now at Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball, has fate finally delivered a chance to win her hand?

1818 – One Kiss for Christmas by Vanessa Kelly

Nigel Dash is London’s most reliable gentleman, a reputation he never minded until he fell in love with beautiful Amelia Easton. Unfortunately, Amelia sees Nigel as a dependable friend, not a dashing suitor. At Lady Winterson’s famous Christmas ball, Nigel vows to change Amelia’s mind—by sweeping her off her feet.

1825 – His Christmas Cinderella by Anna Campbell

At the season’s most glittering ball, a girl who has never dared to dream of forever after discovers a Christmas miracle.

1830 – The Last First Kiss by Kate Noble

Susannah Westforth has always loved Sebastian Beckett – but he’s only ever seen her as a friend. When Sebastian takes his Grand Tour, Susannah transforms herself into a woman he’ll notice. Now Sebastian is back, just in time for Lady Winterson’s Christmas ball – but the last thing he expects to see is his little Susie, all grown up…

You’re invited to join the whirling dance at Lady Winterson’s sparkling Christmas ball, where miracles happen and true love shines forever. How can you resist?