Saturday, January 9, 2010

2009: My Fave Reads (and Un-Favorites)

It's nearly a week after my 2009 stats post, but I'm finally getting around to posting my list of favorite reads from 2009. At first I was planning on picking the "best" books from only the pool of books that were both published in 2009, and that I actually read in 2009. But when I started choosing books I discovered that I wasn't happy with those rules. Yes, I'm going to have to follow those rules when choosing my selections for the AAR poll, but who says I have to follow them on my blog too? I say I don't, so I'm not gonna.

So with that in mind, the following books were chosen using only one rule: I first read them in 2009. Some were published in 2009, some were published earlier, so I'm not calling this my list of Best Books of 2009. Instead, these are my Favorite Reads of 2009.

(Hyperlinked book titles will take you to my reviews.)

Contemporary Romance
Under the Influence
Author: Nancy Warren
Published: 2009
Grade: A-
It was a really close decision between this one and Hot Under Pressure by Kathleen O'Reilly, but Under the Influence wins it by an itty-bitty margin. I picked this book up because I happened upon Cindy's review -- this was before I really started blog-hopping so I have no idea how that happened -- and just fell in love with it. It's light, funny, sexy, and has a gender role-reversal plot (usually it's the heroine in a service position, and the hero as the high-powered executive). Because this book also happens to be a series romance, it's my pick in that category too.

Erotic Romance
Crossing Borders
Author: Z.A. Maxfield
Published: 2008
Grade: A-
Normally I don't go in for romances where one or more of the protagonists is under the age of 25, but this one really worked for me. Tristan is only 19 to Michael's 26, and this age difference is a source of conflict between the two, in addition to Michael's job as a police officer. This one was emotional, compelling, sexy, and romantic. Really it's one of the best erotic romances I've read, period.

Romantic Suspense
Fever Dreams
Author: Laura Leone
Published: 2004
Grade: A-
After reading Leone's awesome Fallen from Grace, I started tracking down her backlist. Fever Dreams was originally issued in 1997, but in 2004 this revised version was released by Leone's then-publisher Five Star. It's an adventure romance set in a fictional South American country that erupts in civil war, and is an edge of your seat, I-can't-possibly-put-this-book-down experience.

Out of the Deep I Cry
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
Published: 2005
Grade: A
Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. *Sigh.* Two of the best romance protagonists, ever. Out of the Deep I Cry is the third book in Spencer-Fleming's incredible series following this Army chopper pilot / Episcopalian priest and the Chief of Police in fictional Miller's Kill, New York. After hearing my AAR colleagues Rachel and Lynn rave about this mystery series, I just had to give it a shot. Oh. My. God. I read all 6 books (that are out) in about a week and a half. I couldn't stop myself, nor did I want to. I've loved them all, but Out of the Deep I Cry was just spectacular. It features a compelling mystery dating back to the 1930s, and one of the hottest, sexiest, most emotional kiss-scenes I've ever read.

Paranormal Romance
At Grave's End
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Published: 2009
Grade: B
Currently the only paranormal series I follow is Frost's Night Huntress series, although I haven't had the chance yet to read her latest entry in that series, Destined for an Early Grave, so I can't compare these two 2009 releases. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Cat and Bones in At Grave's End, and look forward to reading more of them in the future. This book is also distinguished as, IIRC, the only paranormal romance I read in 2009 that I actually enjoyed.

Historical Romance
Lord of Scoundrels
Author: Loretta Chase
Published: 1995
Grade: A-
After hearing so many readers rave about this book, I finally got off my ass and read it when it was one of the picks for the AAR Book Club. I am so thankful, because I just loved this book. Jessica Trent quickly became one of my favorite romance heroines, and I must say that she rocked my world when she actually shot Dain. I know a lot of readers don't like that scene, but I thought it was awesome. I guess I was expecting traditional romance fare and a heroine who threatened but wasn't really willing to pull the trigger (heh). While I enjoyed the entire book from start to finish, I found the first half much more solid than the second half, hence the minus attached to the A grade.

Women's Fiction
Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
Author: Pamela Morsi
Published: 2009
Grade: A-
I don't read much Women's Fiction or Chick Lit, but I couldn't resist the premise of a forty-something bar owner grandmother heroine paired with a younger man. When I started the book I wasn't sure if I was actually going to like Red, but as the book wore on and Morsi peeled away the layers of her character, I grew to not only like her, but have a great deal of respect for her. The big reason I didn't like Red in the beginning is that she seemed like a terrible mother and grandmother. But at some point I realized that Red wasn't actually so terrible; that was her opinion of herself, not others' opinions of her, but because the book is told from Red's perspective, in the beginning (when you're only getting her view of herself) you're only seeing the bad stuff. 

Most Disappointing Book
What I Did for Love
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009
Grade: C+
I was so very excited that SEP had a new book coming out last year and I was thisclose to buying the hardcover. Then I read LinnieGayl's less-than-stellar review, and because she's normally a big fan of SEP like myself, I decided to wait and get it from the library. I'm so glad I did, because I was really disappointed with this one. It was kind of like a cross between SEP's older saga-style women's fiction books and her contemporary romances, only without her trademark humor. For most of the book we know the heroine far better than the hero, which is a problem because the heroine only sees the jerk the hero used to be, hence the readers see him as a jerk. It took far too long for me to like Bram, and I was disappointed that this one wasn't funny like SEP's romances usually are. What I Did for Love is far from the worst book I read last year, but it was the one that I was most eagerly anticipating that didn't end up paying off.

Least Favorite Book (aka Worst Book)
Lucky in Love
Author: Carolyn Brown
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009
Grade: F
What can I say about Lucky in Love? How about that I hated everything about it, from the pushover hero, to the selfish heroine, to the frustrating Secret Baby plot, to the extreme head-hopping, to the 40-page epilogue final chapters, and especially the constant references to feces and/or bowel-movements. It was a chore to read this book. Had I not been reading it for review there is no way in hell I would have ever forced myself to finish it. I can't even make myself think about it anymore; I just want to banish it from my memory.

Biggest Gloms
Elizabeth Hoyt
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Megan Hart

Favorite New Author Discovered
Julia Spencer-Fleming

So that wraps up my Favorite Reads of 2009, plus a couple of un-favorites. Have you read any of these books? What did you think?


Lauralyn said...

Ooh. Such a very nice Google alert today.

Thanks so much for your kind words!

Katie Mack said...

Lauralyn - You're welcome. I really enjoyed the book.

Wendy said...

I'm always impressed with readers who can break down their "best of" lists by sub genre. I lack the discipline.

And oh goodie - I have the Pamela Morsi in the TBR!

~ames~ said...

I've been interested in that Pam Morsi, she's an author I discovered in 2009 as well. Also, Crossing Borders looks good!

I liked Under the Influence and hated that Carolyn Brown. :P

Jill D. said...

That's a totaly bummer about the SEP. I have that on my list to read. I guess I'll skip that one and pick something else from her back list, cuz I haven't read that many of her books (only a few from her Chicago Stars series).

You are in for a treat with Destined for an Early Grave. That is my favorite so far with that series and it just blew me out of the water. I hope you like drama, though because there is a lot in that book.

Kristie (J) said...

I really enjoyed Warren's Under the Influence too. I haven't read many series books but up until the current book I'm reading (Sarah Mayberry's She's Got it Bad) it was my favourite series book.
An I'm also a dedicated fan of Lord of Scoundrels. I love the part you grayed out and that's one of the things that has set it apart for me.
I haven't read SEP for a while now - didn't care for her latest releases