Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
This has been a challenging year for me personally, which has resulted in more weeks away from my CC2K post than I would like. Still, the one thing that has kept me going through the good and the bad has been reading, and I’ve done a lot of it this year.
So here, without further ado, are my top 10 books for 2013:
Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
In the 6th book of the Kate Daniels series, Ilona Andrews proves that long-running series with romantic subplots do not have to fall victim to the so-called “Moonlighting Curse.” Kate and Beast Lord Curran may have mated, but their relationship is still complicated by Kate’s jealousy and self-doubt and Curran’s reluctance to trust and unwillingness to share his burdens. The book also takes the plot of the series to some interesting new places, dragging Kate closer and closer to the one confrontation she can’t back down from, but fears she cannot win: her father. This has been one of my urban fantasy favorite for a long time, but by bringing the conflict between Kate and her father into the forefront, Andrews has breathed new life into the series, and I find myself even more anxiously awaiting the next book.
Binding the Shadows by Jenn Bennett
Jenn Bennett’s Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series keeps getting better and better. The world Bennett has created is unique, but I think the greatest strength of this series are the characters and relationships. Cady and her taciturn half-demon boyfriend, Lon, have one of the greatest relationships I’ve seen in urban fantasy. Rather than engage in the will they/won’t they tension of other series, Cady and Lon get together in the first book. Now, three books in, Cady and Lon are a solid pair. Once you add Lon’s teenage son, Jupiter, into the mix, they really begin to feel like a family, and they’re an easy bunch to root for. Add in a gripping plot and an unexpected cliffhanger, and you have a book that has left me counting down until the next release for the last seven months.
Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan
Every book in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series is a worthwhile read. But in Shadowdance, Callihan has released the strongest book in the series since Firelight in early 2012. Callihan’s late 19th century London takes elements of both paranormal and steampunk fiction and combines them in a way that’s completely unique. Mary Chase has been tasked to track a vicious killer who’s going after demons and other supernaturals. She has good reason to suspect Jack Talent, her partner in the investigation and a man whom she’s had a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with for years, is actually the killer. Too bad that the more time she spends with him, the more she finds herself drawn to the aggravating, enigmatic man. The book benefits from the intricate, but not overbearing, worldbuilding, as well as keeping some of its secrets from readers until the very end. Intense, star-crossed romance with an element of mystery. How could I resist?
Tempt the Stars by Karen Chance
One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is that Cassie is a basically ordinary young woman who gets thrust into a world of vampires, ghosts, demons, and gods, and she deals with it very much the way you’d expect an ordinary young woman to do. She’s got untapped power, but she’s frequently in over her head and she doesn’t always know who to trust. She sometimes makes bad choices and bad decisions, but she’s easy to root for because she’s always trying her best to do what’s right. This time around, Chance wisely focuses more on the interpersonal dynamics than on the (often overly convoluted) world building, and as a result Cassie gets to reflect on how she feels about the two men in her life. Taking a step back from the mythology and worldbuilding also ensures that this is an easier book to follow than its predecessors were while still being grounded in the fantasy world.
Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane
So many romantic suspense series focus on a couple on the run from someone, usually a serial killer. (There are a lot of serial killers in romantic suspense.) The man usually has some macho profession, like cop or Marine (or ex-Marine who is now a cop). Crane turns the whole concept on its head with a plot that reminded me of Pierce Brosnan/Rene Russo romp The Thomas Crown Affair. Angel is a safecracker lured into one last theft. Cole is under deep cover investigating a killer. Their roles bring them into direct conflict with one another—which of course means that sparks fly. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and it’s everything you could want in a romantic suspense. I never thought I’d like Crane’s romantic suspenses as well as I liked her urban fantasies. But if she keeps churning out work like this, I’ll be her fan for a long time to come.
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
As much as I enjoy historical romances, I’ve gotten sick and tired of the beautiful virgin heroine too poor for titled men, but otherwise a perfect Regency woman. It was original when Jane Austen did it, but it hasn’t been since then. So that’s why Dare’s Spindle Cove series. Spindle Cove is not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Spinster’s Cove” because the women there are regarded as societal outcasts, which means that we get to have romance novels that thumb their noses as the conventions of the time—not to mention the conventions of the genre. This time around, we have a wayward duke being pushed into marriage by his mother. Any woman will do, she tells him, so the duke chooses Spindle Cove’s poor barmaid. While this book doesn’t reach the heights of last year’s entry in the series, A Week to be Wicked, Dare’s books are always fun, fulfilling reads, and she’s become an auto-buy for me.
Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
All right, I’ll admit it: I’m sick of vampires. Yet when Jeaniene Frost writes about vampires, she’s on my auto-buy list. Why? Because her vampires are fun, sexy, and dangerous, and they make me remember why I loved vampires in the first place. Not only can Frost make the overused vampire feel original, but she also managed to make fiction’s most ubiquitous vampire, Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula, feel new—not to mention hot and sexy. In the second book in Frost’s Night Prince series, Vlad and Leila’s relationship deepens as danger grows closer and closer. Although this was intended only to be a two-book series, Frost announced around the time this one was published that there would be a third book to complete the arc. I, for one, am glad we get to spend one more book with this pair.
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean
This is a historical romance…for nerds. Lady Pippa Marbury has always been the plain, socially awkward sister, and gaming hell owner Cross might be an earl, but he’s also a societal outcast. Both are too smart for their own goods. Much of the story revolves around their witty banter with one another. But thankfully, MacLean doesn’t skimp on the sexual tension either, so we’re left with a fun, sexy book with an unconventional couple—in any era—front and center.
The Tied Man by Tabitha McGowan
This was a book I couldn’t shake for weeks after I read it. At times both romantic and horrifying—sometimes both at the same time—more than anything it left me wanting more. The tale of Lillith and Finn, trapped at a lavish estate together by a deranged woman, borrows a lot from fairy tales (especially Beauty and the Beast) but it’s much more Grimm Brothers than Disney. Romance purists might not like the extremely dark, violent turns in the story, but as someone who revels in the dark side, it was my kind of book.
Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
I don’t rank these listings, because it’s usually so difficult to pull a top 10 out of the hundreds of books I read in a year. But if I were to rank the list, this book would be in the number one spot. This is the 12th book in Singh’s Psy/Changeling series of paranormal romance novels, and it’s the best to date. It follows Kaleb Krychek, a telekinetic with off-the-charts mental powers and a nearly nonexistent conscience, and Sahara, the woman he’s loved since childhood who has been missing for seven years. One of the things that distinguishes Singh’s paranormal romances from a lot of the others on the market is that she takes considerable time developing not only her characters, but her world. In this book, we see a lot of the threads that have been developing over the last 11 books come to a head: the growing insanity of the Psy, the instability of the Silence protocol, and Kaleb’s relentless quest for power. This book allowed a morally ambiguous character to become a hero in a way that felt authentic to his character. Of all the books I read this year, this was the one I went back to and re-read over and over again.