Best Books of 2017 – Romance!
I freely admit it: I lean on the Romance genre more than I do other types of books. I use them as reading mood-changers and table-clearers; I retreat into them when I want to spend an hour with an author who’s a consummate professional intent only on telling me a fun story with a happy ending … and I do that retreating proportionally more when I’ve got more real-world stuff to retreat from – which was so often the case in 2017 that I almost started to take it for granted. As a result, I think I read even more romance novels than usual, and these were the best of them:
10 Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis (Avon) – In Jill Shalvis’ latest “Heartbreaker Bay” novel, he-man security-guy Archer Hunt feigns indifference to his long-time flame Elle Wheaton as she dates her way through half the semi-eligible semi-losers in the Bay area, but he’s secretly sabotaging her attempts to forget him – and the sheer absurdity of every detail of such a plot should torpedo the whole enterprise. But Shalvis is the queen of champagne-light contemporary romance, and Accidentally on Purpose is a veritable vacation into absurdity.
9 Last Night with the Duke by Amelia Grey (St. Martin’s) – The latest in Amelia Grey’s wonderful “Rakes of St. James” series slightly skews the standard pattern of the series: in this outing, the Duke of Griffin isn’t reveling in his scandalous position in London society but rather trying to live it down so that his reputation doesn’t attach to his innocent twin sisters. But then he encounters Esmeralda Swift, the women he hires to be the chaperone of his sisters, and Grey gets to indulge in her talent for flying sparks.
8 Rescue Me by Susan May Warren (Revell) – In this second book in Susan May Warren’s “Montana Rescue” series, the stalwart Deputy Sam Brooks is stubbornly certain that he’s in love with Sierra Rose, and most certainly not her dreamy, impulsive sister Willow. Warren’s readers know otherwise from virtually the first page, and the pure fun of the book comes from Warren playing with their good-natured frustration like a yo-yo until the book’s fantastic climax-scene.
7 It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke by Maya Rodale (Avon) – The basic premise of Maya Rodale’s latest book – a fish-out-of-water newly-anointed duke (in this case raised in, hold onto your pearls, America!) finding love when he assumes his ancestral estates – cropped up half a dozen times in 2017, but as usual, Rodale writes it to sparkling perfection, generating a plot from a smooth combination of random chance and slotted fortune. And also as usual in a Rodale romance, a much older supporting character steals every scene she’s in.
6 Face the Flames by Jo Davis (Berkley) – You know for certain that you’re in a romance novel when the hero is named Clay Montana, but the Clay Montana doing the he-man duties in Jo Davis’ “Sugarland Blue” novel is more textured than he needs to be (a Jo Davis speciality): he’s recovering from an auto industry when he witnesses a robbery, and the connection he makes with police detective Melissa Ryan has all the fireworks required in a romance novel but also plenty of human connections.
5 The Truth About Love and Dukes by Laura Lee Guhrke (Avon) – The latest revelations in “Dear Lady Truelove,” the truth-telling scandal-column at the heart of Laure Lee Guhrke’s novel, has finally pushed the Duke of Torquil over the edge – he’s determined to uncover the mystery author’s identity, and all card-carrying romance readers will be able to guess what happens next. But Guhrke orchestrates it with such skill that the book, like so many other titles on this list, forms a perfectly blissful escape from the cares of the world.
4 The Final Score by Jaci Burton (Berkley) – In Burton’s 13th “Play-by-Play” sports romance, everything is set up for a standard romance: the city’s football star and the operator of a sports management firm come together after years of separation, and you might just expect the rest to follow suit. But no: Nathan Riley and Mia Cassidy are far more concerned with not ruining their friendship than they are with hopping into bed – indeed, they’re worried that hopping into bed will be the thing that does the damage. Their interplay is so wonderfully done that – horrors! – you almost don’t care whether the bed-hopping eventually happens or not.
3 Some Kind of Hero by Suzanne Brockmann (Random House) – Again, the premise here – a tough-as-nails Navy SEAL instructor becomes the awkward guardian of fifteen-year-old girl and is suddenly feeling vulnerable when she disappears – could practically write itself in the hands of a less talented romance author. But Suzanne Brockmann takes the narrative in unexpected directions, starting with making a romance author the Navy SEAL’s concerned neighbor. The meta-element is likewise somewhat predictable, but again, here it’s handled with a complete conviction that carries the day.
2 Wrecked by Cynthia Eden (Avon) – It’s surprising to me, looking back at my Romance reading in 2017, how many of my favorites were contemporary romances; given the national and international news at my fingertips every day of 2017, I’d have expected that I’d want to retreat entirely into my beloved Regency romances (even the sexually supercharged modern variation on the theme). But no: plenty of contemporary romances pulled me in this year, and this one, the sixth in Cynthia Eden’s “LOST” series, was a prime example. Sexy LOST agent Ana Young and sexy FBI agent Cash Knox (again, only in a romance novel…) verbally spar with each other while increasingly desiring each other, and as programmatic as all that sounds, I loved the result.
1 Lady Be Bad by Megan Frampton (Avon) – Lady Eleanor, the main character in this, the best Romance of the year, is determined on a top-shelf loveless marriage in order to restore her family’s good name, but when she meets her intended husband’s happy-go-lucky brother, the careful plan goes awry, and the whole of the plot, with all if its twists and turns, is handled beautifully and with enormous energy by Megan Frampton, particularly in the parrying of personalities that shines throughout the book.