Once More with Feeling: The Best Ebook Romances of 2013

LJ 2013 Best BooksIn spite of what the opening paragraph of the article at Library Journal says, this is actually the third year that I’ve been asked to choose the Best Ebook Romances of the Year for Library Journal.

Just check the archives, if you’re terribly curious, here are the links to the 2011 and 2012 lists. This is one of the most fun things I get to do all year that can be more or less labeled as work, even though, as what I call reverse full-disclosure, Library Journal does not pay for the writing of this particular article or for the book reviewing I do for them.

Creating this list is always personal for me. These are books or series that I read or am in the middle of. They are the books that I gave either A ratings or 4.5 or 5 star ratings to, depending on where I did the review. Or in a few cases, B+ reviews of books I absolutely couldn’t get out of my head.

The first year, I was told to list 5 books. Last year, 5-ish. This year, my editor said 10 from the start. I think she figured out that I cheat and list series. I did again this year and went over the limit.

skies of gold by zoe archerArcher, Zoë. Skies of Gold. Avon Impulse. (Ether Chronicles, Bk. 5). ebk. ISBN 9780062241443. STEAMPUNK ROMANCE (4.5 star review)

The first four books in the Ether Chronicles (Skies of Fire, Night of Fire, Skies of Steel, Night of Steel) were on my 2012 list for good reason; this series is simply awesome steampunk worldbuilding. Also we have all the story possibilities inherent in a world war, but with airships and “ether” power. While Skies of Gold is a more than worthy successor to the first four books in the series, it is unfortunately the last book in the series. If you love steampunk romance, you’ll be enthralled. And then sad that it’s over.

forged in blood 1 by Lindsay BurokerBuroker, Lindsay. Forged in Blood I. ebk. ISBN 9781301493357. Forged in Blood II. ebk. ISBN 9781301349876. ea. vol: Lindsay Buroker. (Emperor’s Edge). FANTASY ROMANCE
I’ve adored the first five volumes of The Emperor’s Edge series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal) so much that I haven’t wanted to see it end. So I’ll confess that I put the entire series on the list even though only the last two books were published in 2013, and I’ve been saving reading the ending for a treat for myself. LJ was slightly puristic about things and only put the 2013 titles as the main entry on the list. The Emperor’s Edge is Epic Fantasy with a touch of Steampunk. The primary story isn’t a romance, but, and it’s a truly lovely but, there is a romantic subplot. Or maybe that’s sub-subplot. Our heroine convinces the best assassin not to kill her, and keeps on convincing him to help her, even though everyone tells her he’s just a heartless killing machine. Of course he’s not. Well, not completely.

[Bittersweet Blood by Nina Croft]Croft, Nina. Bittersweet Blood. Entangled. (Order, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781622669592. PARANORMAL ROMANCE (A- Review)
What a difference just a few days makes! At the time I wrote the article, I was just about to read the second book in Croft’s Order series, Bittersweet Magic (B+ Review). I didn’t want to jinx things by listing it, but I shouldn’t have worried. What’s so much fun about this paranormal romance series is that the standard definitions don’t really apply; the vampires maintain the Order of the Shadow Accords on Earth to prevent the Fae and the Demons from repeating their use of Earth as the battleground in the long-running Fae/Demon war. The contemporary fallout seems to be over the descendants of the Fae Juliet and the Demon Romeo of that war. But Demons are immortal, so Romeo isn’t dead. But his half blood daughter is ground zero for armageddon, and only the vampires can protect her. Make that one vampire with a personal “stake” in the result. The world-building in this just keeps getting better, and the love stories more complex.

black dog blues by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Black Dog Blues. Coffee Squirrel. (Kai Gracen, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781301668625. M/M PARANORMAL ROMANCE (4.5 Star Review)
This is a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic urban fantasy much more than it is a paranormal romance. There are several characters in this story who care a great deal for the elfin Kai Gracen, but Kai doesn’t even like himself enough to be ready for more than friendship with anyone else. He’ll get there, but he isn’t there yet. The story drops us into Kai’s world as it is; we know what he knows. We don’t know why or how the sidhe suddenly merged with what used to be our normal, just that Kai has to endure whatever crap gets thrown his way. It’s the person who emerges from the endurance that makes the story. That and dodging the dragons mating over the Mojave Desert.

Take What You Want by Jeanette GreyGrey, Jeanette. Take What You Want. Samhain. ebk. ISBN 9781619213746.
NEW ADULT ROMANCE (A- Review)
Ignore the New Adult label. Take What You Want is an absolutely marvelous contemporary romance that just so happens to be about two people in college. Ellen can’t go away for Spring Break, so she takes a vacation from herself. Just for a few days, she tries to be someone a bit different; instead of being shy and retreating into her books, Ellen buys sexy clothes on sale, goes to a townie bar and picks up the hottest guy in the place. She pretends to be “New Ellen” for just one night. Josh thinks no-strings-attached sex with a girl that he’s had a crush on since freshman year is a fantastic idea, but he knows exactly who she is. Ellen really doesn’t recognize him without his glasses. The next night is where pretense starts butting up against reality, because he wants to turn their one-night-stand into something more and New Ellen and regular Ellen have a difficult time deciding the difference between what they should want and what they do want.

armies of heaven by jane kindredKindred, Jane. The Armies of Heaven. Entangled. (House of Arkhangel’sk). ebk. ISBN 9781620611067. FANTASY ROMANCE (4.5 star review)
The fall of the House of Arkangel’sk is a deliciously complicated blend of the historic fall of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen with more than few tablespoons of the deviance, decadence and twisted political machinations of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. There is love to be found, but the path to reach it leads through dark places, and our preconceived notions of good and evil, right and wrong, do not apply in Kindred’s Courts of Heaven. The best man in the entire series is a demon, although he would never think of himself as good. The biggest fool is a certainly an angel, and he would definitely label himself as such. The series begins with The Fallen Queen (4.5 star review) and continues with The Midnight Court (A Review) before the conclusion in The Armies of Heaven. Prepare to be enthralled.

how to misbehave by ruthie knoxKnox, Ruthie. How To Misbehave. ebk. ISBN 9780345545305. (4 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Along Came Trouble. ebk. ISBN 9780345541611. (5 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Flirting with Disaster. ebk. ISBN 9780345541703. (A- Review)
Knox, Ruthie. Making It Last. ebk. ISBN 9780345549297.
ea. vol: Loveswept: Random. (Camelot). 4-vol. set. ebk. ISBN 9780804180436. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
This small town romance series set in central Ohio is all about the Clark siblings, Amber, Katie and Caleb. Knox specializes in contemporary romances where real people solve very real problems while going through major life experiences. The tension in her stories comes from the kind of situations that cause stress in ordinary life; trying to reinvent yourself, trying to maintain a marriage, dealing with grief, not dealing with grief, returning home, being part of the sandwich generation, financial stress. The difference is that Knox makes her characters people that we all identify with and lets them have a fantastically steamy romance while they resolve their problems. Her stories pull at your heartstrings and make you smile. Every single time.

case of the displaced detective omnibus edition by stephanie osbornOsborn, Stephanie. The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Twilight Times. SF ROMANCE
I adore Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings, with the exception of the whatever-it-is that Guy Ritchie birthed with Robert Downey Jr. (who should stick to Iron Man). But I seriously digress. I read, and reviewed, Stephanie Osborn’s Case of the Displaced Detective somewhat in its originally published parts: The Arrival (A- Review), At Speed (B+ Review) and The Case of the Cosmological Killer (B Review). In the case of Stephanie Osborn’s continuing opus, I very much admire her concept of a Holmes who is not quite our Holmes and has an excuse for being so. She has used theories of quantum physics to create not just a possible universe where Holmes would have been a flesh-and-blood person, but to create causality that would bring that person into our 21st century. He is not quite the “thinking machine” of Conan Doyle’s fiction because he is not supposed to be, and that opens up a world of possibilities. Real human beings, after all, feel real emotions as they solve mysteries. Sometimes they even fall in love.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversRivers, Mary Ann. The Story Guy. Loveswept: Random. ebk. ISBN 9780345548740. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (A- Review)
There was only one thing wrong with this story. It was too short, and at the time it was written, it was the only thing available by Mary Ann Rivers. The story is absolutely awesome, I wanted more by this author, and there just wasn’t anything else, yet.
What’s a “story guy”? A story guy is someone who may or may not be long-term relationship material, but who will, sometime in the future after the heartache is over, make a terrific story. Librarian Carrie West answers a personal ad from a very hot guy for one hour of kissing in the park every week. The answers to the questions about why this unattached and gorgeous man is willing to settle for so little for himself, and to make sure that no one is able to get attached to him, make for one marvelous and nearly heartbreaking love story. (And if you fall in love with The Story Guy you’ll probably also love Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy.)

Anything for You book coverScott, Jessica. Anything for You. Loveswept: Random. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.5). ebk. ISBN 9781301165766. (A+ Review)
Scott, Jessica. I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Forever Yours: Grand Central. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.6). ebk. ISBN 9781455554249. (A Review) MILITARY ROMANCE
Jessica Scott’s Coming Home series, which began in 2011’s Because of You (A Review) and continued in 2012 with Until There Was You (A- Review), is a military romance series that gets to the heart of what it means to love someone who serves in the military, because author Scott is herself a career army officer and is married to a career NCO. So instead of writing about the glory of the battlefield, she writes about the toll that deployments take on a family with inside knowledge of what it’s like to wonder if someone is coming home, and how hard it is to wait and worry. She’s able to convey the emotional cost to a soldier with a career-ending injury, not just because his body is messed-up, but because he’s lost his purpose and he’s worried about the people he’s left behind. If you want to read a military romance with real heart, read Jessica Scott.

That’s it for this list. The specific requirements for the Library Journal list were that they all had to be ebooks, either ebook-only or ebook-first, or ebook-mostly. In some cases, there is a print available on demand, but the ebook looks like the primary format, or it did at the time. Also, for this list, there had to be a romance in the story. Yes, a couple of times you have to be looking for the romance, it’s not the primary plot. But there had to at least be a romantic element.

I used to be able to put this list in preference order, but it’s gotten too big. And there’s kind of an apples/bananas problem. How do you compare a steampunk romance to a paranormal romance when they are both at the top of their respective trees?

I will do a “best of the year” list next week (which includes a few contributions from my friend Cass!) These type of lists are loads of fun. It’s great to look back and see what I’ve read and which books stick in the mind by the end of the year.

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