It's time to close another year of book blogging and look back at all the wonderful reads I had in 2011 to see which ones stand out as my favorites. There's no scientific method for selecting my best reads nor does it necessarily mean that they were a five-star read. My picks are simply books that made an impression on me -- either the writing or the characters struck me as unique....and they definitely land on my keeper shelf.
Here are my top choices for 2011 by category with a link to the review - hope some of them are your favorites, too. (Note: Not all of them are 2011 releases.)
BEST LITERARY FICTION AND MY TOP PICKS:
These two beautiful and poignant novels left me feeling that I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to the characters when their story was over and are at the top of my "favorites" list.
Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman
The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
And now on to some other awards:
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION:
The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware
BEST HISTORICAL MYSTERY:
The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress, editor
BEST TIME TRAVEL:
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
BEST GEM FROM THE PAST:
Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald
BEST SCARED THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF ME:
House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine
BEST NOT-YOUR-TYPICAL ROMANCE:
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (This one was a hoot!)
BEST SMOKIN' HOT ROMANCE:
Untamed by Pamela Clare (You might not want to read this one at work --ahem--.)
WISH I'D GOTTEN IT FROM THE LIBRARY AND SAVED A FEW BUCKS:
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
BEST PIRATE ADVENTURE:
Sea Witch by Helen Hollick
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston.
She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
THE BEST 'JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS' PRESENT:
The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon
BEST AUTHOR EVENT: Romance Writers' of America Book Signing in New York - Wonderful event in NY this summer and had the opportunity to meet Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourn, and the always-fabulous Lauren Willig! (Also had a chance to meet up with book blogging buddy Julie @ Outlandish Dreaming! (waves at Julie)
QUOTED IN REVIEWS: I was thrilled to notice in the paperback edition of Nocturne by Syrie James, a blurb from my review was used. Thank you, Syrie!(My blog was formerly called Slice of Life.)
Hope your year was filled with good books and all good things! See you in 2012!
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
A big thanks to Miss Moppet of The Misadventures of Moppet for creating and providing reading recommendations for the Royal Mistress Challenge. I enjoyed this challenge very much and found several books by Susan Holloway Scott to be perfect for exploring the world of court intrigue and forbidden romance. I have a few more of her books which I'll get to in 2012.
Royal Affairs by Leslie Carroll (4 stars)
The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott (4 stars)
Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar (3.5 stars)
Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott (4 stars)
Friday, December 9, 2011
It's that time of year when I begin to look back at my reading challenges and make a summary post of my results. I like to keep things simple and select only those challenges that fit easily into my normal reading habits, and since I love time travel or time slip novels, this one is an easy category to complete. A big thanks to Alyce of At Home With Books for hosting this challenge and creating a suggested reading list for the past few years. I understand she will not be hosting again in 2012, but I certainly will continue to explore books in this fascinating category.
I can't wait to start visiting around the blogosphere as my favorite book bloggers start wrapping up their "year end" and "challenge" posts. Let the fun begin!
Here's my list with a link to the reviews for the TIME CHALLENGE/TIME SLIP NOVELS:
Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine (3 stars)
House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine (4 stars)
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon (short story - 4.5 stars)
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (4.5 stars)
Midnight on Julia Street by Ciji Ware (3 stars)
Legacy by Jeanette Baker (3.5 stars)
Passage by Connie Willis (3.5 stars)
All in all, a fairly good group of time travel books read this year with the lovely historical romance, The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley being my personal favorite in this category. No surprise there as just about everything by Kearsley lands on my keeper shelf. A strong second place read was Barbara Erskine's House of Echoes , a delightfully haunting story with time travel and the supernatural.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
A hand-picked cadre of warriors, they had the fierce courage of their Scots forefathers, combined with the stealth and cunning of the Indians who lived beside them in the wilderness. Battling the French in no-holds-barred combat, they forged a new brand of honor, became a new breed of men…
Iain MacKinnon had been forced to serve the British crown, but compassion urged him to save the lovely lass facing certain death at the hands of the Abenaki. He’d defied his orders, endangered his brothers, his men and his mission, all for a woman. But when he held Annie’s sweet body in his arms, he could feel no regret. Though he sensed she was hiding something from him, it was too late to hold back his heart. In love and war, there are times when the only course of action is… Surrender.
Book news! Pamela Clare's MacKinnon Ranger series has a new publisher and the books are getting a fresh cover look and new material added as they are re-released.(And it's available on kindle.) If you love a great adventure, an historical setting during the French and Indian War, and a passionate love story, then Surrender is for you!
As Pamela explained on her website, her previous publisher had strict guidelines for the length of books they printed. She was forced to cut some material from Surrender to meet those guidelines. Now, the story has been tweaked to include scenes that Pamela feels will make the story even more enjoyable, and I'm glad she was given the opportunity to write Iain and Annie's story the way she originally intended. I'm sure she made an already terrific book even better.
I won a signed copy of this newly released edition, so I'm looking forward to reading it again. (My glowing review of the original version is here.)
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Ready to throw off a generation of Puritan rule, all England rejoices when Charles Stuart returns to reclaim the throne. Among those welcoming him is young Barbara Villiers Palmer, a breathtaking Royalist beauty whose sensuality and clever wit instantly captivate the handsome, jaded king.
Though each is promised to another, Barbara soon becomes Charles’s mistress and closest friend, and the uncrowned queen of his bawdy Restoration court. Rewarded with titles, land, and jewels, she is the most envied and desired woman in England––and the most powerful.
But the role of royal mistress is a precarious one, and Barbara’s enemies and rivals are everywhere in the palace. Even kings can lose their heads to treason, and swirling political intrigue brings new threats and danger—until not even Charles himself is safe.
In this world where love is no more than a game, and power the ultimate aphrodisiac, only one woman holds the key to it all: Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland, and the royal harlot."
A delightful and very sensual portrait of the beautiful Barbara Villiers Palmer, mistress of the merry monarch, King Charles II. The world of 17th century England comes alive as Susan Holloway Scott recreates this fascinating period of history when the exiled Charles Stuart returns to the throne.
As a young woman, Barbara learned early on that her beauty and self-assurance were powerful assets, and she was not afraid to be adventurous. Her first encounter with His Majesty occurred when she happily agreed to act as a courier to secretly bring gold to Charles in Flanders; her husband, Roger Palmer, was also eager for her to gain favor with the king by informing him of the Palmer's loyalty and sacrifices made on behalf of the crown. Enchanted by Barbara's beauty and charm, this was the beginning of a long and passionate relationship that lasted many years and produced several (illegitimate) children. Knowing she had a powerful sexual hold on the king, she flaunted her position as royal mistress and accumulated jewelry, titles, and land. Her presence at the palace was a source of pain to the barren Queen, Catherine of Braganza, and there were enemies who plotted to see her removed from royal favor.
Through the great plague, the fire of London, and the decadent world of romance and intrigue at the court, Royal Harlot was a fascinating look at a woman who many vilified as an evil, immoral woman who had too much power with the king; however, Scott's portrayal left me feeling that despite her choices, Barbara, the Countess of Castlemaine, was a strong woman that was not ashamed of the way she lived her life, and was not one to live with regrets. I think she would approve of the way Susan Holloway Scott recreated her.
Title: Royal Harlot
Author: Susan Holloway Scott
New American Library
Thursday, December 1, 2011
'No one lives for ever. But the truth survives us all'.
"Kate Murray is deeply troubled. In front of her lies a dead man, a stranger who only minutes before had approached her wanting to tell her about a mystery, a long-forgotten murder. The crime was old, he'd told her, but still deserving of justice. Soon Kate is caught up in a dangerous whirlwind of events that takes her back into her grandmother's mysterious war-time past and across the Atlantic as she tries to retrace the dead man's footsteps. Finding out the truth is not so simple, however, as only a few people are still alive who know the story - and Kate soon realises that her questions are putting their lives in danger. Stalked by an unknown and sinister enemy, she must use her tough journalistic instinct to find the answers from the past - before she has to say goodbye to her future."
Originally published under the pen name Emma Cole, the new Every Secret Thing e-book is Susanna Kearsley's contemporary thriller. I am a fan of her historical/romantic suspense titles (particularly those with a time slip element), so I was curious to sample her contemporary mystery. It was a well-crafted dual storyline thriller that had me guessing until the end how all the threads tied together.
Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist working on assignment in London when she is approached by an elderly gentleman who tells her....
"I have a story I could tell you, if you're interested...there's a murder in it.
An old murder, but one still deserving of justice."
Being far too busy working on her assignment, Kate doesn't give the elderly man much of her attention. He gives her his card and invites her to call him when she has more time, and leaves with a very mysterious comment.
"Oh, and do say hello to your grandmother for me. I hope that she's well....
You have her eyes, you know."
But Kate never has opportunity to learn more of the cryptic message about an old murder as Andrew Deacon is dead within minutes.
This shocking event leads Kate to begin using her journalistic skills and instincts to begin investigating the secret that Andrew Deacon had wanted her to know. Her investigations bring to light her grandmother's secret past during WWII that she kept hidden throughout her lifetime. But more people will die, and every step that Kate takes to uncover more information causes more danger. No one can be trusted and people are not all who they seem to be, and someone will stop at nothing to keep the story from being uncovered. Going under cover with a different name and look, Kate's clues lead her to Lisbon where wartime spies and secret business deals left someone getting away with murder many years ago. Clue by clue, she desperately tries to fit the pieces of the puzzle together before the murderer strikes again.
While this mystery was fast paced and suspenseful, the strength of the plot for me was the lovely back-story that unfolded of two ordinary people making an extraordinary sacrifice as part of their duty during the war. Fate brought them together briefly, but their short time together left a lasting bond. Their sacrifice was not unrealistic as Kearsley based her story on the true British Security Coordination in NY, a spy agency established under the cover of the British Embassy and Passport Office, where the United States, Britain, and Canada shared intercepted intelligence during WWII. It was a very interesting piece of history that was new to me.
A bit of a departure for me as I don't usually read many contemporaries, but a treat if you are looking for something unique from Susanna Kearsley.