My 2018 in Books & Audio

My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks.  I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever.  Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either  story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket.  I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.

4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.

The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

My Year in Books at Goodreads.

And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.

Historical Romance

Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else.  Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception.  The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them  at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver.  Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself).  Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Womanwhich I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment.  On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband which was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016.  Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Duke and An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic.  Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist.  Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out.  K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Print and Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites.   Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.

Romantic Suspense

I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop.  In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did.  There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.

The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years.  Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.

My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive.  I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again.  It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas.  Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension.  The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful;  they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it.  Their relationship goes through terrific  highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.

Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER,  one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines.  I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well.  She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top.  And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.

Audio

I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!)  My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.

I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes.  But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees.  Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.

I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others.  I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home – which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.

Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general.  Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well.  Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.


As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019?  First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please!  Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year.  I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous.  I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April.  There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book.  Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific.  I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.

Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!

A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy

a wicked kind of husband

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It was the ideal marriage of convenience… until they met

Cassandra DeWitt has seen her husband only once—on their wedding day two years earlier—and this arrangement suits her perfectly. She has no interest in the rude, badly behaved man she married only to secure her inheritance. She certainly has no interest in his ban on her going to London. Why, he’ll never even know she is there.

Until he shows up in London too, and Cassandra finds herself sharing a house with the most infuriating man in England.

Joshua DeWitt has his life exactly how he wants it. He has no need of a wife disrupting everything, especially a wife intent on reforming his behavior. He certainly has no need of a wife who is intolerably amiable, insufferably reasonable … and irresistibly kissable.

As the unlikely couple team up to battle a malicious lawsuit and launch Cassandra’s wayward sister, passion flares between them. Soon the day must come for them to part … but what if one of them wants their marriage to become real?

Rating: A-

I love it when I pick up a book by a début or new-to-me author and find myself quickly engrossed by it – which is exactly what happened with Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband.  I’m a sucker for a good marriage-of-convenience story, and this IS a good one; well defined, complex characters, strong writing and excellent dialogue, all combine to make this an entertaining and emotionally satisfying read, and one I’d urge fans of the genre to check out.

The second eldest of four sisters, Cassandra DeWitt has been the linchpin holding her family together since her father’s unexpected death a couple of years earlier. Her mother exists in her own, laudanum-fuelled world and her eldest sister is married and lives elsewhere with her husband, so it’s fallen to Cassandra to manage the household, estate and her two younger sisters… who have no concept of all that Cassandra does for them and certainly no appreciation for it.  For some months, the behaviour of nineteen-year-old Lucy has been becoming increasingly outrageous; Cassandra realises that being cooped up away from society is the likely cause, and that it’s time to find her sister a husband.  In order to do that, however, Lucy will need to make her society début, which means going to London… something Cassandra hasn’t done in the two years since her marriage to wealthy industrialist Joshua DeWitt – whom she hasn’t seen since their wedding night.

Cassandra’s father arranged her marriage in order to enable her to continue to reside at of Sunne Park after his death, and she didn’t question it, because at the time, she was still reeling from the fact that the man she loved had eloped with someone else.  She recalls very little about her bridegroom other than that he was rude and abrupt, and is content to have nothing whatsoever to do with him.  For the past two years, it’s suited her to remain in Warwickshire – in accordance with Mr. DeWitt’s preference (read – insistence) that she stay there – but she can do so no longer; she determines to approach her grandmother, the Duchess of Sherbourne, to ask her to sponsor Lucy’s season, and in order to do that, Cassandra will have to go to London.  As luck would have it, Mr. DeWitt is due to travel to Liverpool, so as long as Cassandra times her visit to take place whilst he is away, he won’t even know she’s in London.  You know what they say about the best laid plans…

I’m sure there’s no need for me to elaborate more on the plot, but the journey on which Ms. Vincy takes her characters – and her readers – is an exceptionally entertaining and insightful one, as Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt match wits (!) cross (metaphorical) swords and slowly find that their arranged marriage has become far more than the mutually convenient union it was initially supposed to be.

Joshua DeWitt grew up as heir to the Earl of Treyford and was, until the age of fourteen, as pampered and privileged as any other scion of the peerage.  But his life, and that of his siblings, changed drastically when the earl was discovered to have married their mother bigamously, and the former countess disappeared, along with her daughter, and Joshua and his two brothers were cast out and left to their own devices.  Joshua went to work in Birmingham and thanks to the unlooked for kindness and aid from a stranger – Cassandra’s father – settled his brothers in their chosen professions, built himself a trading empire and now owns “four factories, three estates and a growing fleet”.  He may no longer have the social standing he once did, but money talks:

“They recoil because he is an industrialist, but receive him because his investments make them rich… meanwhile he goes where he pleases, says what he pleases and no one dares get in his way.”

Joshua is blunt, devoid of tact, lacks patience, doesn’t suffer fools at ALL, let alone gladly, and full of energy and ideas.  He likes his life as it is and is used to being obeyed without question by everyone around him, so the sudden appearance of the woman he married in order to repay his obligation to her father is unwelcome and irritating.  He wants to pack her off back to Warwickshire; she has no intention of leaving until she has secured her grandmother’s agreement to sponsor Lucy.

But even as he is adamant that Cassandra must leave London, Joshua is reluctantly impressed by his wife’s determination and her ability to give as good as she gets:

“You’re meant to be in Warwickshire,” he said.

“You’re meant to be in Liverpool.”

“I did not give you permission to come to London.”

“I did not ask your permission.”

“You should…  Let me explain, Mrs. DeWitt, how marriage works.”

“Oh, please do, Mr. DeWitt, I’m all agog.”

“I am the husband, so I make the rules to suit me.”

“And I am the wife, so I change the rules to suit me.”

And worse… she might even be likeable. Which would be disastrous.

“You seem puzzled,” said his disruptive wife, as they reached the gate. “Have I said something to puzzle you?”

“Most of what you say puzzles me.  It’s almost as though you have a mind of your own.”

“Please don’t vex yourself. I’ll try not to use it too often.”

Cassandra is an admirable heroine, one who operates within the conventions of society but still manages to be anything but the meek, obedient spouse those conventions suggest she should be.  She’s quick witted and easily able to hold her own against her irascible husband, but there’s a hidden vulnerability to her, too, a vulnerability that Joshua soon recognises lying behind her suddenly fixed smiles and diplomatic manner which speaks to his protective nature and makes him want to fix all her problems and encourage her to “stop giving up your space. Fight for what is yours.”

Both principals are compelling, likeable but flawed characters who leap off the page, and the secondary cast is also superbly drawn and rounded out. Neither Joshua nor Cassandra is your usual, stock-in-trade historical romance character, the chemistry between them is terrific, and their frequent verbal sparring is a complete delight.

“What happened to you last night?” she said. “It looks like someone punched you in the face.”

“Someone did.”

“Does that happen often?”

“Not very.”

“Oh.”

She took a knife and quartered her pear.

“Is that it?” he said

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“That’s all you have to say? ‘Oh.’” She looked at him blankly. “Where’s the love and sympathy, wife? You aren’t wondering what happened? You aren’t wondering if I’m in pain? You aren’t wondering if your dear husband will be all right?”

“Mainly I’m wondering why you don’t get punched in the face more often.”

The author has managed to put her own spin on a very well-worn plot device, bringing a degree of unpredictability to her story that enables it to transcend the trope.  Her writing is intelligent and energetic, and the story is by turns funny, poignant, sexy, angsty and, most importantly, romantic.

With that said, the book does have a few flaws; Lucy’s antics are a bit over the top and there’s some anachronistic dialogue and behaviour in places, but otherwise, A Wicked Kind of Husband is one of the best historical romances I’ve read all year; a sparkling début that’s landed Mia Vincy very firmly on my list of authors to watch.