Juliana’s Top Picks for 2011

The reviewers at Fiction Vixen will be posting their favorite reads from 2011 this week. Our picks are not necessarily books published in 2011, but rather books we read in 2011. 

Juliana’s Top Picks for 2011

So surprise, surprise, this was a very difficult exercise for me! Having to edit or pick and choose—we know this is not my strength. There are 18 books on the list and yes, this is the list after I edited it and cut several books out. I know. I’m pitiful. What can I say?! It was a good reading year.

2011 was a year of firsts for me: I bought my first eReader (a NOOK Touch) so I could easily review for NetGalley, and I began reading PNR, erotica (including BDSM), Elizabeth Hoyt, and LGBT romances. I also started to review with the fabulous ladies here at FVBR and to them and all of Fiction Vixen’s readers: it has been amazing being part of this community, thank you!

I organized the books into groupings, but they are in no particular order. I added some descriptions and most of them have quotes (which in some places were edited due to space). Happy holidays to everyone and hope that your 2012 is full of many enjoyable romances!

Historical Romance New Releases

Heiress in Love (Ministry of Marriage, #1) by Christina Brooke ― First-time author Christina Brooke’s romance features a young, very self-contained widow and a wary, cynical hero, both of whom have been wronged and have a hard time trusting people.

Constantine’s fingertips brushed her chin, then tilted her head up. He bent his head toward her. “Each moment we’re apart, I ache for you, and I cannot wait to have you in my arms again.” He kissed her, softly, deeply, and long.

Romancing the Countess (Romancing, #1) by Ashley March ― March’s first book was panned, but the book summary of this one intrigued me and I’m glad I took a chance on it. Loved the heroine, who has always been conventional and is now determined to be anything but; also loved the hero, who feels like he has to keep her in line … even though he’s increasingly charmed by this new side to her personality.

“Oh? And what was I to say? I beg your pardon, Lord Wriothesly, but your wife seems to have acquired a distinct liking for my husband’s cock. Would you mind kindly retrieving her to your own bed?”

A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran ― Duran’s latest book had a setup that I didn’t think I would go for and two main characters whom I didn’t really like at first, but it ended up making their romance that much sweeter, because I fell in love with the characters right alongside them falling in love with one another.

He smiled at her: he simply couldn’t help himself. He was so glad she’d wandered into his house to kill him.

Follow My Lead (The Blue Raven, #3) by Kate Noble ― Would have been one of my all-time favorite HRs if not for a little stumble with its ending; great main characters with a slow-building and utterly sweet romance (lovely beta hero alert!).


Elizabeth Hoyt

While historical romance has always been my main sub-genre, over the years I had never read any books by Elizabeth Hoyt. This ended up being an example of book summaries doing more harm than good, because they had always convinced me that there was very little substance to her stories or her characters―and how wrong I was! I started with Wicked Intentions and quickly read almost every single other book on her backlist. She’s now one of my favorite romance writers and To Seduce a Sinner was one of those rare 5+ star books: out of all the 600+ romances that I have read so far, it is one of the top three.

To Seduce a Sinner (Legend of the Four Soldiers, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt

“I watched you for years,” she whispered. “I watched you and you never saw me.”
“I see you now,” he said.
“You didn’t even know my name.”
“I know it now.”
“You …” She swallowed, trying to focus her thoughts. “You didn’t know I existed.”
“I do now. […] I can’t change the past,” he said. “I can’t unbed the women I fucked before I knew you. Knew who you were.”
His eyes raised to hers, and the blue of them was so bright it nearly illuminated the room. “But I tell you now that I will never bed another woman besides you in my lifetime. You are all I want. You are all I see now.”

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

“There’s something about her,” Caire said in a low voice. “She cares for everyone about her, yet neglects herself. I want to be the one who cares for her.”

And because I couldn’t choose only one …

It was a strange thing, this feeling of empathy. He’d never experienced it before. He realized that what hurt this woman hurt him as well, that what made her bleed caused a hemorrhage of pain within his soul.

The Raven Prince (Princes Trilogy, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt


Historical Romance

The Portrait by Megan Chance — Another 5+ star read this year. This author hasn’t written many books and this one she wrote over fifteen years ago. The hero is bipolar (aka manic depressive), which is something I’ve never seen in any leading romance character, and as I have the same illness I was particularly touched and affected by this story. It truly moved me. Hated that it had the Things Left Unsaid ploy, but even that couldn’t bring down the rating.

The thought made his chest tight. Not seeing her again, not touching her … It was absurd how desperate it made him feel. But there was no choice, and he knew it. He knew what happened to the people who stayed with him, God knew he’d seen it a hundred times before. He could picture it in his mind, knew that eventually he would see a painfully familiar look in her eyes, the same look he’d seen in those of his family, of his friends. The dull expression, the fear, the pain. And finally, the good-bye.

“They say they love you and then they leave.”

Well, it was true. It had always been true. And he suffered for it not just because he was losing them, but because he knew he’d beaten them down, because by leaving they were only trying to survive.

Scandal by Carolyn Jewel — Excellent. Just wonderful and so full of quotes that it honestly became frustrating! My favorite setup is the ne’er-do-well, aimless, and charming rake who almost unwillingly falls under the spell of the quiet, plain, wallflower girl, so I could not have been more pleased with this book.

Anxiety pressed in on Banallt, which annoyed him to no end. What he wanted from this moment was proof she hadn’t taken possession of his heart. That his memories of her, of the two of them, were distorted by past circumstance. They had met during a turbulent time in his life during which he had perhaps not always behaved as a gentleman ought. They had parted on a day that had forever scarred him. He wanted to see her as plain and uninteresting. He wanted to think that, after all, he’d been mistaken about her eyes. He wanted his fascination with her to have vanished.

None of that had happened.

And because I (again!!) couldn’t choose only one …

With Sophie, the compulsion to stare came from someplace deep inside him, and he could no more stop himself from looking at her than he could stop breathing.

Compromised by Kate Noble — I absolutely adored the relationship between Gail and Max. It was so lovely seeing their animosity turn into friendship, interest, and then love. The one thing that bothered me was the love “square” (as opposed to triangle) component; could have done without.


Erotic Romance (aka Where I Declare My Undying Love for Fifty)

Anyone who has followed any of my reading this year had to know that Fifty Shades was going to end up on this list. To say that I became an obsessed fan is probably putting it lightly. I don’t even remember how I stumbled across the first book, but I absolutely, positively adored it (shout out to my fellow Team Fifty Shades peeps!). I feel a deep and abiding love for Christian Grey, a.k.a. Fifty Shades and cannot wait till #3 comes out … Yes, yes, I know he doesn’t exist―shh! Let me keep my illusions.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) by E. L. James

“Why don’t you like to be touched,” Ana whispered, staring up into soft grey eyes.
“Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.”

Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades, #2) by E. L. James

“Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?”
My mouth drops open. “Kinky fuckery?” I squeak.
“Kinky fuckery.”
“I can’t believe you said that.” I glance nervously at Taylor.
“Well, I did. Answer me,” he says calmly.
“I like your kinky fuckery,” I whisper.


Contemporary Romance

One Reckless Summer (Destiny, #1) by Toni Blake — Lust-based romance is not my thing and there’s no getting around it with this book: it starts off as pure lust (you’ll need a fan at the ready). But you know what? I loved it. So there! 😛 Started off with sex, ended up with love, and I found it believable. A joy to read and at one point it honestly had me close to tearing up.

So, for her, I’ll try. I’ll trust. I’ll … open myself. I’ll … be this guy I’ve never been before and don’t even known how to be—this goofy “in love” guy, this guy who takes care of his woman, this guy who gives more than he takes.

Negligee Behavior by Shelli Stevens — Unexpectedly delightful. This author has previously written only erotica, but while there was definite sizzle, this is firmly on the CR shelf. I loved the heroine; she was realistic, funny, and intelligent. The hero was sexy and a surprising sweetheart. Loved the chemistry between them and really enjoyed watching Brandy come into her own.

Whisper Falls (Destiny, #3) by Toni Blake — Loved Whisper Falls because of its fantastic hero. Lucky Romo is one of the best CR heroes I’ve ever read and I adored him, utterly and completely. Had a few problems with Tess here and there, but Lucky more than made up for it.


Paranormal Romance

As I mentioned, this was my first year reading PNR and so far it’s been a little uneven for me. I’ve realized that the standard PNR heroine is … well, let’s just say she’s often not my type … in the sense that I usually start having homicidal fantasies about her within the first few chapters of the book. With the Chicagoland Vampires series, I disliked Merit at first, but grew to like her much more in books 3 and 4. While I have soured on the series for various reasons, Ethan Sullivan remains one of my all-time favorite heroes, right up there with Fifty.

Twice Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires, #3) by Chloe Neill

“You think I haven’t thought about what it might be like to return to my rooms at the end of the night and find you there―to find you in my bed, to have your body and your laugh and your mind? To look across a room and know that you were mine―that I’d claimed you. Me.”

He drummed a finger against his chest. “Me. Ethan Sullivan. Not the head of Cadogan House, not the four-hundred-year-old vampire, not the child of Balthasar or the Novitiate of Peter Cadogan. Me. Just me. Just you and me.” He moistened his lips and shook his head. “I don’t have that luxury, Merit. I am the Master of this House. The Master of hundreds of vampires I’ve sworn to protect.”

“I’m one of your vampires,” I reminded him.

He sighed and rubbed a hand across his forehead. “You are my greatest strength. You are my biggest weakness.”

Hard Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires, #4) by Chloe Neill

“I will never be far behind you.” He tipped up my chin so that I could do nothing else but look back into his eyes. “Do the things you need to do. Learn to be a vampire, to be a warrior, to be the soldier you are capable of being. But consider the possibility that I made a mistake I regret—and that I’ll continue to regret that mistake and try to convince you to give me another chance until the earth stops turning.”


Historical Fiction

The Lady Julia Grey series is a historical fiction mystery series that a GR friend turned me on to. The first book was fabulous, made it onto my all-time favorites list, and should not be missed; the interactions between the two main characters, Julia and Brisbane, are hilarious and literally had me laughing out loud. The others I’ve read in this series have yet to measure up, but were enjoyable nonetheless.

Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia #1) by Deanna Raybourn

“Did you mean what you said? You will pursue this?”

Brisbane sipped at his tea. “I suppose. I have a few other matters that I must bring to conclusion, but nothing that cannot wait. And I have no other clients questioning either my integrity or my courage at present.”

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    • says

      I know, right?! What was up with that. And it was all the more distressing since everything else was so absolutely perfect!!! Still awesome though, agreed :-)

  1. Andrea says

    I have only read one of these books. I’ll be adding them to my “to-read” list. I’m loving your lists, thanks for doing them!

  2. says

    I can’t believe Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt isn’t on this list. I just finished it and I am in LOVE with Charmin Mickey. It’s the first historical I have been emotionally attached to in years.

    • says

      I know, Jay! I know :-(. Please don’t hate me. It was on the list, but ended up being one of the ones that I cut. I knew some of the other girls would have it on their list and I go more into this in my review, but I had been so excited about that book – had discovered Hoyt and read her backlist right before it came out – that it was a little anti-climactic and I think I’ll end up loving it even more the second time round because of that.

  3. says

    I have got to get on the ball with Elizabeth Hoyt and Meredith Duran. I’ve heard only great things about both so I need to get to reading!

    I was not a fan of “Fifty” but I know I’m in the minority.

    Adding more to my list thanks to you, Juliana!

    • says

      Adding on to Sophia – Hoyt is a must read and hope you love her as much as we do! In a way, I liked that I had avoided her, because it made for such an enjoyable surprise and a treasure trove of books to read since she has a considerable backlist.

      Duran is also fantastic. Have loved every book of hers that I have read. Her style and characters are very different from other authors, which makes for a nice change.

      Hope you like the others!! :-)

  4. says

    I’ve read and loved all of Hoyt’s books (except the latest) and simply loved To Seduce a Sinner as well! The next one is great too!. I also loved March’s book, I’m reading her first, and I must admit, I’m sputtering through it and am about to give up.

  5. says

    I am so glad that you tried Hoyt because her books seem to have quite a lot of substance to me!

    I loved that first Raybourn book! I am not sure where you are up to in the series, but the last two in particular were excellent!

  6. says

    Wow, Juliana. That’s quite a list! I can’t wait to give that Duran a try. I absolutely adore her writing. It feels so rich and involved. I haven’t read To Seduce a Sinner but that quote has me intrigued. Is it a secret crush book?

    I can’t believe The Portrait is on your list. *pouts* I can’t seem to track down a copy of that book. There’s no way I’m paying $20 for it though. Man, those out of print sellers sure charge an arm and a leg. I’ve finally got to #8 in the queue at paperback swap. Maybe one of these days I’ll get lucky.

  7. says

    Isn’t Kate Noble fab? I love her work. And Scandal by Carolyn Jewel. I can’t wait for her next one! :) So much fun reading your reviews here at FV! Looking forward to 2012 :)