Friday, January 9, 2009

The Blog About the Best

Like everyone else out there, I love making lists of my favorite stuff this time of year. So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite reads for 2008. Clicking on the links below will take you to the authors website or to my review of their book at RomanceJunkies.

What were some of your favorites? Feel free to post here and tell me about them!

Best Historical/Best New Writers
The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne - Where has this woman been hiding??? This was fabulous. Bourne mingles real historic figures such as French spymaster Fouche with a cast of fictional characters so vivid and complex, I was convinced they must be real people as well. She does a masterful job of developing the romantic tension between British spy Robert Grey and his fiesty quarry Annique. But I think even more than the romance, I loved her accurate depiction of France and Britain in the early days of the Napoleonic Wars. Slap a different cover and different title on this and guys like my husband would lap this up for its wonderfully complicated espionage plot and its thorough attention to history. A well-written story and a wonderful romance! 

Dark Temptation by Allison Chase - Chase released two books this year: this one and its companion, Dark Obsession. Both offer wonderful gothic romance in the manner of Victoria Holt or Daphne Du Maurier, but with a good bit more sex. All the classic elements of the genre are here - the sexy, tortured hero with the slightly scary temper; the plucky heroine determined to uncover his dark secret; the lonely manor house on the rocky coast of Cornwall; and yes, even a ghost or two. Daphne would be proud!

Best Contemporary
Letters to a Secret Lover by Toni Blake - This was a tough call for me, because I read so many contemporaries. And my idol Lani Diane Rich also had a great book out this year. But Toni wins for the fantastic new concept (at least new to me) of farewell sex. Toni really steams up the pages with this one. Alternately funny and moving, it's the story of two people who are both running from their pasts. Advice columnist Lindsey flees to a quirky rural town after her high-profile engagement end in an awkward public incident involving a window washed, a nude photo and a strawberry cake. Once ensconced in Moose Falls, she meets Rob Coulter, a man running from a much darker, much uglier past.  The two find themselves falling in love and seem destined for an easy, comfortable life together until Rob's past threatens their future. I was moved by Lindsey's struggle to forgive herself for neglecting a now-deceased elderly relative, but Toni Blake's story also made me laugh out loud at Lindsey's messy breakup and her plans to bring a hip big-city sensibility to the sleepy town of Moose Falls. The chemistry between Lindsey and Rob leaps off the page and the love scenes were so hot they fogged up my glasses!

Best Science Fiction
Moonstruck by Susan Grant - I loved this book. Moonstruck reminded me of all those classic space epics I adored in my youth - things like Asimov's Foundation series. Two galactic empires have fought a long and bitter war. When one empire collapses and sues for peace, an uneasy truce results.

Admiral Brit Bandar has made vengeance against the Drakken her life's work, so she's pretty ticked off when she's given command of a diplomatic vessel that will boast a combined crew of Coalition and Drakken forces. The name of the ship is Unity and the very idea is so repugnant to Brit, she can't even say the ship's name out loud. Imagine how annoyed she is when she learns that her first officer is Drakken. And not just any Drakken, either. It's Finn Rorkken, a Drakken Warleader and pirate she chased all over the galaxy and never managed to capture. Brit can't stand the idea of the guy being anywhere near her ship. Until she finally lays eyes on him and discovers he resembles her long-dead husband. Grant does a beautiful job of gradually unfolding Brit's complicated feelings as she tries to relearn what it means to be a woman and not just a soldier. Moonstruck offers a vivid, believable science fiction universe combined with a sensitive, sexy love story. A great discovery!

Best Fantasy
Ack, I couldn't decide, so here's two!
Soul of Fire by Sarah Hoyt - Set in an alternate Victorian age, this is a marvelous tale of a magical British Empire, full of strange and original images, including kingdoms of were-monkeys and were-tigers. Everyone in this alternate world possesses at least a little magic; the issue is merely how fairly the magic will be distributed. Peter Farewell is a shapeshifter, and he serves an ancient goddess who seeks to keep any one kingdom from trying to hoard all the magic to itself, as the British are doing. I highly recommend SOUL OF FIRE, as well as the first book in this series, HEART OF LIGHT, which introduces Peter but focuses on the adventures of his friends Nigel and Emily Oldhall. Both books create a vividly realized world of magic and feature wonderful, well-rounded characters. Peter is a fantastic creation. He's a charming yet fierce dragon – but also a man, and one who's willing to make any sacrifice for the woman he loves.
Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra - Caleb Hunter is the lonely police chief on a small island community in Maine. He's a solemn, reserved guy who's gotten used to being alone. Then he meets the perfect woman, Margred. Unfortunately, Margred's not a woman - she's a selkie, a legendary sea creature who's able to shift from human form to seal form. Virginia's depictions of Margred's underwater homeland are beautifully described, and Margred is an intriguing creation. She's likable, yet she truly comes across as an entirely alien creature who has real trouble grasping the petty concerns of the short-lived humans and trying to experience the emotions they feel.

Two great ones here:
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming - When I grow up, I want to be Julia Spencer-Fleming. Best writer in the world for combining a truly complex, intelligent mystery with a deeply moving, hugely complicated love story. The lovers are Clare Fergusson, a highly unconventional Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the guilt-ridden, recently widowed Chief of Police in the upstate New York town of Miller's Kill. Watching these two find their way to one another over the course of the six books in this series has been alternately heartbreaking and delicious.

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson - Jeri Westerson's first "Medieval noir" novel is a triumph. Her vivid depiction of life in fourteenth-century London made me feel like I was right there with Crispin, her down-on-his-luck hero. This was a real page-turner, with a lively pace and a cleverly constructed crime. A wide and colorful cast of suspects kept me guessing about the murderer's identity right up to the end. Beyond the well-developed mystery, though, VEIL OF LIES is also a moving character portrait of Crispin, a disgraced hero striving to create a place for himself in a society that now considers him a nonentity. This is an exciting story and Jeri Westerson is definitely an author to watch.


  1. Hey Lynn!
    What a great list you've got going here :)) And as cowardly as it is I've got to take my usual way---I read way too many good books to even be able to make up a list of faves. Off the top of my head I've got to say I did more non-fiction reading this year than is my usual. So, here's a small sampling of what I read and loved, in no particular order :))

    Four Seasons in Rome--Anthony Doerr
    French Fried Harriet Welty Rochefort
    French By Heart Rebecca Ramsey
    Blame it On Paris Laura Florand
    Waiting Debra Ginsberg
    My Life in France Julia Child
    Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain

    And one also one old favorite that I re-read Hemingway's Moveable Feast!

    Thanks for such a great topic, Lynn! Ellen

  2. Good list! I'll add Master of Torment by Karin Tabke and Promise For Tomorrow by Liz Kreger.

  3. Ellen, I Loved WAITING and KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. My mother was a waitress and I pretty much grew up in restaurant kitchens. They were wonderful books. I was trying to confine myself just to ones that were published in 2008, or my list would have been impossible to narrow down! Even now, I'm starting to feel bad because I'm thinking of a bunch of other good books I read this year by Kelli Stanley, Cynthia Eden, David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman . . . Well, you get the idea!

  4. Edie, thanks for posting. I've heard a lot of good stuff about that Karin Tabke book - I'll have to check it out!

  5. Well pooh.... I just knew I'd do something like this. It's those lists, they get me every time! Here I was thinking READ (insert embarrassed squeak) in 2008.....

    And Woo-Hoo, I'm thrilled to meet another member of Tribe Restaurant! I did my share of waiting, but mostly I wore black and whites and tended bar. Sure was fun :)) Ellen

  6. Excellent list Lynn. I've add most of them to me 'wish list' at amazon!


  7. Lynn, thanks for the list of good reads. I'm putting Spymaster and Sea Witch on my list to read. Both sound perfect for a long winter weekend.

  8. Sue, sounds like reading this blog is going to cost you ;-)

    Misty, those two were excellent, I really enjoyed them. I believe sequels to both are out now as well.