It’s the most wonderful time of the year — when we look back on all of the great books we’ve read over the past 12 months. All during December the RT editors are sharing their favorite reads of 2014. Won’t you reminisce along with us? (Apologies to your TBR pile.)
Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett — I can’t speak for anyone else, but even as a fan of paranormal romance, I’ve been a little burned out on vampires and werewolves. So when I heard Jenn Bennett’s new paranormal series was set in the 1920s Chinatown of San Francisco … and was all about ghosts? GIVE ME THIS BOOK, I shouted at the heavens. Not only is this a fun, fresh use of supernatural elements in a genre that could use some reinvigorating, but our hero and heroine — Winter and Aida — have insane, combustible chemistry. As if that weren’t enough, Bitter Spirits hints at another romance, one between Bo Yeung and Astrid Magnusson, Winter’s sister. Bo is such a wonderful, scene-stealing secondary character in Bitter Spirits and I can’t wait to see him take center stage as the hero in the upcoming Grave Phantoms. Swoon!
Yes Please by Amy Poehler — Amy Poehler has been making me laugh for a long time. In high school, I was absolutely obsessed with the Upright Citizens Brigade, the sketch comedy show airing on Comedy Central. It still cracks me up, every single time. In Yes Please, which is part memoir, part self-help and part humor, Poehler is as hilarious as you’d expect, but she also shows off just how sharp, smart and strong she is. She’s unapologetically prickly, a trait I find irresistible in my role models, while still possessing a deep sensitivity toward others. The chapter about learning how to accept when you’ve screwed up and apologize with sincerity is worth the price of the book all on its own.
Sweet Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren — It’s no secret that Sweet Filthy Boy was my favorite erotic romance this year. With a drunken quickie wedding in Vegas and a smoking hot French hero who sweeps our heroine off to Paris, how could I resist? But even though I was smitten with Ansel’s considerable charm, it’s Mia who won me over. This is really her story, of standing up for herself — against her father and even against Ansel — and of coming into her own as an adult. But don’t worry, erotica fans: there are plenty of sweet filthy interludes in this emotional tale.
The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre — I’ve mentioned I love tough, badass women, right? Well, “tough” or “badass” is probably a massive understatement when we’re talking about Deanna/Jessica, the lead of The Girl in 6E. Deanna is a hermit who never leaves her apartment, and with good reason. She’s just barely able to control her homicidal urges, so she earns money as “Jessica,” a webcam girl working out of her bedroom. When Deanna begins to suspect that one of her webcam clients has kidnapped a young girl and may be sexually abusing her, Deanna wrestles with the idea of finally leaving her home to track the kidnapper down — and save the girl. Aside from the thrilling premise, The Girl in 6E has a genuine moral crisis at its center, as Deanna grapples with her dark impulses for the sake of a greater good.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay — Much like Roxane Gay, I’m probably a bad feminist. But, according to Gay, that’s better than not being a feminist at all. Most of Bad Feminist, a fantastic collection of Gay’s essays about the intersection of culture and feminism, centers around how impossible it is to be a perfect paragon of feminist virtue. Whether she’s defending her love of Sweet Valley High or sharing a bracing account of her own sexual assault, Gay is firm, unflinching and always insightful. And she’s one hell of a live-tweeter: twitter.com/rgay
Between the Sheets by Molly O’Keefe – There was a time where I would’ve said I wasn’t a huge fan of contemporary romance. Between the Sheets made me a full-fledged convert. With a host of tropes that I tend to shrink from — an Alzheimer’s-afflicted parent, an emotionally wounded child — O’Keefe’s novel wasn’t something I was even sure I wanted to read. I owe our Website Director Elisa Verna a huge thanks for essentially forcing me to read Between the Sheets for our August Seal of Excellence — which it won. I loved every minute of this poignant, truly satisfying romance. O’Keefe gives the reader enough individual time with Ty and Shelby — Ty struggling to parent his troubled son and Shelby’s efforts to take care of her mom — that you will absolutely ache for this couple to end up together.
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine – Rachel Caine’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of phenomenal. I could write a thousand superlatives about Prince of Shadows, and it still wouldn’t be enough. Instead of Romeo and Juliet, Caine shifts the focus to Benvolio — who gets his thrills by thieving as the mysterious Prince of Shadows — and Rosaline, Juliet’s cousin. While every character is engaging and well crafted, Caine’s treatment of Mercutio deserves a special mention. She envisions him as a gay man in hiding, torn apart by grief over the execution of his lover. It’s beautiful and devastating. And the inevitably bittersweet conclusion is just pitch-perfect.
Reaper’s Stand by Joanna Wylde — Oh my god. This book. I read Reaper’s Stand within a day while I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic. I chose this book over swimming in the ocean. I chose this book over getting quietly drunk by the pool. Here’s why: Reaper’s Stand is an utterly addictive blend of romantic suspense and erotica. I don’t want to spoil any of the — majorly insane — plot twists, but just a imagine hot, brawny biker dude colliding with a headstrong, mature heroine who refuses to put up with his shit. Oh, and neither of them can stay out of trouble. Whenever Reese and London aren’t trying to kill one another, they’re burning up the bedroom. Reaper’s Stand is sexy, exciting and impossible to put down. Just make sure you block out a free 24-hour period before starting it.
The Tears of the Rose by Jeffe Kennedy — It is a truth universally acknowledged that I’m a sucker for spoiled, sheltered heroines who lose it all, and then have to find their own way in the wilderness. (Think Cordelia Chase’s brilliant character arc in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.) At the beginning of The Tears of the Rose, beautiful pampered princess Amelia is in mourning over the loss of her husband. While this is undeniably a romance — spoilers: Ash is hot — Kennedy gives Ami something even more important than a partner: a purpose. And Ami’s transition into a woman with a richer inner life is so complex and well done; Ami never stops loving her fallen husband, Hugh, but she recognizes that her love for him belongs to a different, more innocent life. With Hugh, she was a child; with Ash, she is a woman.
My Real Children by Jo Walton — My Real Children is tied with Prince of Shadows for the esteemed honor of Book That Made Me Ugly Cry The Most in 2014. In her advanced age, Patricia Cowan is living in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s — but her illness is complicated by the fact that she’s not only forgetting things; she’s remembering two completely different lives. In one, she suffers an unhappy, abusive marriage but gives birth to four wonderful children; in the other, she has a fulfilling domestic partnership, a satisfying career and is a mother of three — but lives in a world where nuclear attacks are an ever-present threat. Walton offers a masterful, deeply moving examination of the victories and losses, tragedies and triumphs, that are inextricably tied to the choices we make. I loved each of Patricia’s families and desperately wanted them both to be “real.” You will, too.
See any of your 2014 favorites? Sound off below! And stay tuned all week as we revisit our favorites from the year.