Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Year in Review - My Best and Worst of 2008

Well, I've been reading the other blogs, and I realized I've been remiss in not having a Best and Worst of 2008 for my blog. The reason I never came up with the idea myself was because I figured my reading this year was too eclectic, all over the place - I reviewed a lot of books (about thirty-seven) this year, and as I read, my standards and reviewing practices changed, and I didn't always read the newest books that were just out, but books I just felt like reading - ones I picked up at libraries and used book stores as well as the ones hot off the presses.

But as I searched my archives, I realized 2008 was the year I really came into my own as a romance reviewer. My blog's existed for four years, but I've only really reviewed romance in a consistent fashion for about a year. So, to celebrate finishing a year of solid romantic reviewing, here is Gossamer Obsessions' Top Five Best and Worst Books of 2008:

Top Five Best Books of 2008:
#5: Not Quite a Lady, by Loretta Chase
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Use of a Secret Baby Award
Why It Was Awesome: The characterization's what blew me away with this one - no one was really a villain in this book. The heroine and hero's romance is mainly imperiled by their own secrets and personal problems, which their relationship helps them overcome. Even the romantic rival was such a decent guy you wanted him to have a novel of his own! Plus, this is my first Loretta Chase novel - of course it's going to get an A!

#4: And Then He Kissed Her, by Laura Lee Guhrke
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Romance Title Award
Why It Was Awesome: My favourite reason for liking this book is the development of the romance - I've encountered so many "love at first glance" stories in romance that it was enchanting to read about two people who'd known each other in a completely asexual way for years, only for the heroine to suddenly grow a spine and the hero to fall in love with it.

#3: An Offer from a Gentleman, by Julia Quinn
Grade: A
Alternate Prize: The Best Book You'll Ever Read Once You're No Longer Doubled Over With Pain In a Hospital Waiting Room Award
Why It Was Awesome: This was a book that definitely improved from a second reading, in context with the other books of the Bridgerton series. It's the ultimate proof that romance authors do not need to pack the cliches in with a crowbar to provide romantic drama that people want to read about. We have a hero who isn't dark, doesn't brood particularly frequently, and isn't conflicted with daddy issues - and yet he's still sexy. Yes, somehow this works.

#2: Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Crusie
Grade: A+
Alternate Prize: The Biggest Commercial Plug for Dove Bars Award
Why It Was Awesome: This was kind of the opposite of The Secret Pearl - while Pearl was a subtle, moving, and for the most part, sexless romance, Welcome to Temptation was a hilarious jam-packed slapstick soapy murder mystery sex romp with a wildly varied cast of characters and a roller-coaster of a plot. Blending winsome humour and a well-realized small-town setting, Welcome to Temptation was just plain fun.

#1: The Secret Pearl, by Mary Balogh
Grade: A+
Alternate Prize: The Least Sexy Deflowering Scene Award
Why It Was Awesome: After reading a lot of oversexed romance, The Secret Pearl floored me by exploring a beautiful and moving romance between two people who didn't have much sex at all - in fact, the hero and heroine barely touched. The heroine actually had to fight a physical revulsion for the hero for much of the book. Still, I believed the passion these two shared and cheered when these two people got their HEA after surmounting near-impossible obstacles.

And now, the best of the worst:

Top Five Worst Novels of 2008

#5: The Runaway Duke, by Julie Anne Long
Grade: C-
Alternate Prize: The Romance That Really, Really Made Me Hate Redheads Award
Why It Sucked: Despite a genuinely enjoyable writing style, Julie Anne Long's protagonists were some of the most annoying characters I'd ever read. Critics lauded the heroine particularly - something I couldn't come to grips with, as she took her attitude cues from the colour of her hair (red, of course!), had all the common sense of an orphaned baby duck, and wanted to be a doctor in 1820s England, for fuck's sake! Plus the hero had a corny fake Irish accent, a poor regard for responsibility, a disturbing age gap with the heroine, and continued to call the heroine by the nickname she had when she was twelve ("Wee Becca") even after they started having sex. Ick. No thanks.

#4: An Order of Protection, by Kathleen Creighton
Grade: D+
Alternate Prize: The What Did You Expect From a Book You Picked Out At Random From A Garbage Bag? Award
Why It Sucked: This book was just poorly, poorly written. The author gives us a heroine who's a space case and is continually compared (by the author's terrible grasp of metaphor) to small, cute, helpless baby things (kittens especially), only for the author to tell us fifty pages in that this character is 42 years old. Not to mention the heroine is emotionally manipulative, selfish, possibly slightly mentally disabled, and "adorably" "Southern". Oh, and she solves crimes better than the FBI and the police department put together!

#3: The Duke Next Door, by Celeste Bradley
Grade: D
Alternate Prize: The Stop Bitching At Each Other and Have Sex Already Award
Why It Sucked: The characters in this story seemed too stupid to be true - none of their actions made any sense, and I couldn't really see any real person in their situation doing the same thing. We have a man who tells neither his wife that he has a daughter, nor his daughter that he's married, until the two girls meet each other face to face. We have a heroine who decides that annoying the everlasting shit out of her husband is the way to his heart. We have a hero who bonds with his daughter by letting her point a loaded gun at an inn full of drunken louts. Could someone explain to me the part of this novel that was supposed to make sense?

#2: Gilding the Lady, by Nicole Byrd
Grade: D-
Alternate Prize: The Regency Scooby-Doo Award
Why It Sucked: Hmmmm, let's see - the plot's ridiculously contrived, the historical setting is pure tacky wallpaper, the plotting was simplistic and for the most part nonsensical (an evil fake Belgian dancing-master thief???), and the characters shallowly drawn. This pretty much embodies the historical romance that the ignorant public assumes historical romances to be like. Basically, the author seemed to have a poor understanding of the period, of character building, and of the romance genre as a whole!

#1: Sweet Trouble, by Susan Mallery
Grade: F
Alternate Award: The Biggest Douchebag in the History of Time Award
Why It Sucked: This is an interesting Worst Novel for me - there were parts of this novel I genuinely liked (the female characters and the heroine, for one thing). But this novel happened to come burdened with the absolute WORST HERO OF ALL TIME. I've read romances where I didn't really believe the chemistry, where I was kind of m'eh about the happily ever after, but this was the first romance novel I read where I didn't want the hero to get an HEA. At all. I would rather the heroine have dated, had sex with, fallen in love with anyone else. A janitor. A recently released sex offender. A dog from a Jennifer Crusie novel. The mere presence of the hero demeaned and cheapened the heroine. When she tells him she's pregnant, he dumps her after calling her a slut. When he finds out about his kid five years later, he sues for custody for revenge, planning to dump the kid he really couldn't care less about at a boarding school or with a nanny. When his nefarious plans to sue for custody are found out, he wins the heroine back in fewer than ten pages by buying her expensive presents. Believe me girls, nothing says "sorry for trying to steal your kid" like a diamond tennis bracelet. Uglier still, the whole novel seems to buy into the hero's belief that the real reason he never got to spend time with his son was because his girlfriend had too much of a slutty past - after all, if she hadn't been a total skankwhore party girl before they'd met, he'd have believed her when she told him the kid was his. Right? RIGHT?

Also, before I sign out here - I the only one who notices the common colours of purple and pink in all of the Worst of 2008 covers? Is that a weird coincidence or what?


  1. Good picks!!

    And that is very odd about the worst books having similar colour schemes. LOL

    I've only read two of your top 5. Welcome to Temptation and Not Quite a Lady. Both excellent authors. :P

  2. Loved your lists! I really need to read Welcome to Temptation - I've read nothing but glowing reviews on it.

  3. ~ames~ --> but hey! Now you have three more books to try out! Hahaha.

    Leslie --> It's sooo good. I wasn't expecting it to be, frankly - I loved Bet Me, but after reading Crusie's "Getting Rid of Bradley" and "Anyone But You" in quick succession kind of dimmed her star for me.

  4. Yeah and the good thing is I already have them in my tbr pile. LOL

  5. LOL - very few of those were published in 2008.
    As for your worst book of the year - the first book in the series was mine and I had no desire to get past into 2 or 3!!

  6. Hey I didn't know that you had a blog! I'm so glad that I found you and man you picked some of my faves for your list (which is a great list btw) and I didn't know there was anyone else that liked An Offer from a Gentlemen just like me, I'm so glad that I was wrong on that one. =)

  7. Anonymous2:34 AM

    I was supposed to order And Then He Kissed Her a while ago, but didn't. Now I saw that you recommended it and I had to buy it. Thanks - it was amazing!

  8. Kristie J --> yeah, I know about the dates, but a lot of my romance reading then (and still now) involves me exploring new authors to see which ones I like - and oftentimes I go for their early stuff. I basically just review every romance I read, so because I'm cheap most of the times I read books from used book stores and libraries that tend to be a little older. I'm fully warned about Susan Mallery, though - I'm never going near her books again.

    Rowena --> An Offer from a Gentleman is a fantastic novel. I'm still exploring the Bridgerton series (next up: Romancing Mr Bridgerton), but up until now Offer from a Gentleman is my favourite.

    Maija --> I'm glad you enjoyed it! Her books are good, although And Then He Kissed Her is, in my opinion, still the best book in her Girl-Bachelor series.