One of my favorite things about the end of the year is all the lists. I love to see what other readers (and listeners and viewers) loved, loathed and look forward to.
But when I thought about doing my own “Best of” list, I found not many books stood out. It’s not you, books, it’s me. This was a somewhat turbulent year, and a lot of the time I was reading to mute my feelings and distract myself. Here are some highlights, though:
Historical Romance: I came to romance-reading through Austen and Heyer. Historicals were my first love, and my best romance reads of the year. Sherry Thomas’ His at Night (2010, but won a RITA this year) and Miranda Neville’s Amorous Education of Celia Seaton: smart, funny books that played with genre conventions in interesting ways. I also really liked Eloisa James’ When Beauty Tamed the Beast, though I’d count it as more fantasy than historical.
Contemporary: I think the standout was Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, which is as much a rather belated coming-of-age story as a romance. I really liked Victoria Dahl’s “Midnight Assignment” in Harlequin’s New Year (last year) anthology Midnight Kiss. I need to get to her Donovan books ASAP, because those are contemporaries I hope to love. A lot of the contemporary romance I read this year was category-length from Harlequin. Some of those were very enjoyable, but not especially memorable. I think that’s partly because I read short books when I’m stressed so they didn’t get my full attention.
Books I Can’t Explain My Love For: I discovered Jayne Castle/Jayne Anne Krentz’s Harmony series (on audio) this year. I don’t think they’re great books, but I enjoy them like crazy, and they got me through some pretty dark nights.
Happy Discoveries: Sara Creasy‘s sci-fi-with-a-bit-of-romance Song of Scarabaeus and Children of Scarabaeus. I enjoyed the science stuff, but to be honest, my favorite part was the way the psychic “leash” between Edie and Finn made this like a marriage of convenience story on steroids. If they didn’t find a way to stay physically close and work together, Finn would be dead. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (Midnight Riot) taught me that while I don’t like much paranormal romance, urban fantasy can work for me–when it’s truly urban. Regency reissues are great quick comfort reads for me; they usually feature smart dialogue. I enjoyed books by Jo Beverley, Joan Wolf, Joan Smith, Patricia Wynn and Gayle Buck, thanks to Twitter recommendations. Meg Maguire/Cara McKenna (romance under MM name, erotica under CM): I haven’t read a lot yet, but liked what I have read. Unusual, flawed characters. Jill Sorenson for sexy romantic suspense with real characters and interesting settings. That’s a good list of discoveries, actually, but there’s not a lot of new straight-up romance there.
Re-reading Magic: I adore Diana Wynne Jones, and her death was the occasion for revisiting a favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle. I read it to my daughter, and listened to it in the car with both kids. Everyone loved it. I also enjoyed revisiting some Victorian favorites for work: Dickens’ Bleak House and Gaskell’s North and South. Both still great. That led to my Middlemarch re-read, which you may have noticed I’m stuck on.
Other Successes: The most engrossing literary fiction I read this year was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I read much less mystery than usual this year, a lot of it on audio, but I continued my love for Julia Spencer-Fleming with One Was A Soldier. The Episcopal priest heroine is home ground for me.
Non-Reading Highlights: Surprise! Kittens! Also, Twitter and blogging, both new for me this year. Those conversations have been enriching, and so much fun.
Reading Goals: New Year’s Eve. Ugh. The panic of an impending new term which I’m not quiiite ready for collides with the pressure to come up with grandiose self-improvement projects. So these goals are modest and aimed at lessening anxiety:
1. Read more outside of the romance genre. For the last couple of years, I’ve read mainly romance. It’s been a great “discovery,” but towards the end of this year, I realized I was burning out and a lot of my reading felt tired and familiar. I need more variety.
2. Don’t buy every book that sounds interesting. The problem with e-reading is that it’s easy to buy and hard to see just how many unread books have piled up. But my e-TBR especially is now big enough to be causing me real anxiety. I can’t decide what to read, I can’t concentrate on what I am reading because I feel there’s something else I should be reading instead, I’m reading too many books at once . . . . This is not fun. I’m going to keep a wishlist and whittle down that TBR.
The way my workload worked out this year, I was half-time last term and will be full-time, and back in the classroom, in January. That will make reading and blogging time harder to carve out, but I want to keep doing those things. I’m teaching academic writing, not a literature class, so I don’t know that I’ll blog much about what I’m teaching, but you may find me talking about urban livability and thesis statements if things get desperate.
Happy 2012, everyone! Here’s to good reading ahead.