Cover of Fresina's The Wicked Wedding of Ellie Vyne

Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne by Jayne Fresina

Wicked Wedding will be published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 1, 2013. I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher.

Summary from Fresina’s website:

By night Ellie Vyne fleeces unsuspecting aristocrats as the dashing Count de Bonneville. By day she avoids her sisters’ matchmaking attempts and dreams up inventive insults to hurl at her childhood nemesis, the arrogant, far-too-handsome-for-his-own-good, James Hartley.

James finally has a lead on the villainous, thieving Count, tracking him to a shady inn. He bursts in on none other than “that Vyne woman”…in a shocking state of dishabille. Convinced she is the Count’s mistress, James decides it’s best to keep your enemies close. Very close. In fact, seducing Ellie will be the perfect bait…

Ellie and James have known each other for seventeen years and they have disliked each other for nearly as long. In fact, they have been sworn enemies for most of that time, ever “since her disreputable stepuncle ran off with James’s mother, for an adulteress affair that caused the scandal of the century.” But their personal war began “when she found James Hartley, one lazy, summer afternoon, napping under an oak tree, apparently having emptied a jug of cider and eaten the contents of a small picnic basket all to himself.” Ellie thought, “what else could she do but draw on his face? She just happened to have an ink pot in hand. After she’d run back to her aunt’s cottage to fetch it.” She was ten at the time, him twenty. He never forgave her.

Ellie is something of an outlier. “Her mother was a shipwrecked, pregnant widow when she married Admiral Vyne, and nothing was known about Ellie’s decease father…. Then along came Charlotte and Amelia, her mother’s children by the admiral, and Ellie had a new family. After her mother died, they were all reliant on Ellie to look after them.” And the way in which Ellie is now taking care of them is to dress as the Count de Bonneville and to rob the rich from under their noses.

James is not without his own story. Fresina writes: “Two years ago, he’d made a mortal fool of himself by proposing marriage, for the second time, to Miss Sophia Valentine, who finally rejected him in favor of another man. A humble farmer.” In addition, “a decade ago, he’d lost an illegitimate son…. Ten years later when Sophia threw him over forever, she accused him of having deserted the pregnant housemaid, of deliberately leaving her and her newborn son to die alone. James had been shocked, horrified.” Sophia also happens to be Ellie’s best friend.

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[FYI: this is not in any kind of order. And, as always, I have a list (that I try to keep updated) of my favorite romance novels.]

How the Marquess Was Won by Julie Anne Long (regency romance)

This is the sixth book in Long’s Pennyroyal Green Series. Technically published on December 27, 2011, odds are high I didn’t actually read it until like January 2, 2012. And since I’ve read it probably 8 times in 2012, it gets to go on this list. From my review:

I think I love this book because they just love being around each other so much. That is never in doubt. Instead, this is a story about how a marquess, who is desperate to secure land through marriage to another member of the elite, lets go of that dream in order to follow his heart. It about watching them learn what the other one loves. It is about courtship, even when they know they shouldn’t be courting (and the courting they do is in secret with gifts passed when others are looking, sweet notes that aim for the heart, and stolen embraces).

If you are into technicalities, Long’s seventh book in the series, The Notorious Countess Confesses, definitely came out this year and is nearly as good. I spent time recently reviewing the entire wonderful series (of which Marquess is my favorite).

My review for How the Marquess Was Won.

My review for The Notorious Countess Confesses.

Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas (historical romance)

This is the first book in a trilogy, all three of which were published this year and I would HIGHLY recommend all of them. My review for Beguiling the Beauty:

When I read this passage, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, I’m in love with these two characters now. I must know what happens to them.” Thomas’ descriptions leave no room for wondering who these characters are, what motivates them. It is such a reassuring feeling as a reader and it tethers you so completely to the narrative. You cannot, by this point, escape investing in them.

A Lady Awakened and A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant (regency romances)

A Lady Awakened was Grant’s debut novel and it, like How the Marquess Was Won, was released just before the end of the year in 2011. And I know I did not get a chance to read it until early in January this year. And I didn’t read it, I devoured it. And I was VERY lucky to become friends with Ms. Grant (via Twitter) and secured myself an advanced copy of A Gentleman Undone, which I also consumed nearly in one sitting. From my praise-filled post on Grant’s writing:

Grant is a master at pushing the story forward until the end (in both novels, despite knowing – believing – that somehow these characters would end up together, I was unsure until almost the very end how it would happen). She writes the most amazing sex scenes: many in A Lady Awakened were full of uncomfortable moments that make you feel how weird Theo and Martha’s arrangement would have been and how tightly closed Martha’s emotions and heart were from her physical body; in A Gentleman Undone, when we finally get the first sex scene between Lydia and Will, it is not ideal and the joy we expect is not present (and rightly so).

Grant does not force a story to go where it shouldn’t, doesn’t allow characters easy outs for sake of a specific narrative, and doesn’t tie up all the strings into a pretty bow. These people make sacrifices, they navigate the space they are allotted, and they do their imperfect best.

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox (contemporary romance)

I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary but since reading Knox’s debut novel, Ride With Me, which is also excellent, I have been more willing to give it a try. And while Knox has sort of converted me to contemporary romances, she has certainly made me a believer in all things written by Ruthie Knox. I feel very lucky that I can say that what Knox has coming out in the first months of 2013 will only continue her amazing streak of top-notch, funny, hot romance novels (and short stories).

My review of About Last Night (which also includes a review of Ride With Me).

A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare (regency romance)

This is one of my most favorite romance novels ever, which means it’s one of my most favorite novels ever. It is the second in a series. While I did not love the first one the way I did A Week to Be Wicked, the third one in the series, A Lady by Midnight, is phenomenal (my review). And to top it all off, Dare wrote a great short story titled “The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright” (my review).

From my review of A Week to be Wicked:

Minerva and Colin’s chemistry is never forced. You don’t doubt it at all when they fall in love. It doesn’t happen to early in the story, nor too late. The reasons that Colin fights it make sense. All of their motivations make sense.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Re-reading parts of the book to write this review have me considering reading it yet again (that, I think, would be the fourth time thus far).

Bravo, Tessa Dare.

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase (regency romance)

Chase is always a good bet. I love her stuff. Scandal Wears Satin is no exception. From my review:

But, look. I read lots of romance novels and I don’t choose to spend time writing reviews of them. I knew I would be reviewing this one when I got the second sex scene between Sophy and Longmore. These two characters clearly like each other from the beginning, though neither will really admit it. Even after they have made love once, their prickliness does not diminish. And Chase – oh, bless her – captures it all so perfectly in the banter between them during this scene. I love this scene so much I’ve probably already read it four (or ten) times. It makes me chuckle each time. Hell, I’m chuckling now just thinking about it.

At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran (historical romance)

Not only did I get to read this amazing book but I got to review it for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, one of my most favorite sites on the interwebs. From my review:

More than anything, it is Nora’s reality as a high-born woman maneuvering in this dangerous political landscape that I found most interesting. English common law held that a woman was covered legally by her father and then husband (for this reason, it is referred to as “coverture”). She could not own property, sign contracts, or earn wages under her own name but also, in many cases, was not able to be held legally responsible for her actions. Widows, like Nora, had more power under the law but for high-born women, even if they legally had some power, they were restrained culturally and socially by their position. Duran captures this magnificently.

The Wedding Fling by Meg Maguire (contemporary romance)

A delightful, quick read with a very satisfying and believable happily ever after. From my review:

The best part is the ending. They fall in love quickly (something I normally roll my eyes at even in the best novels). But then, after Will’s secret-keeping comes to light and Leigh flees, time passes. And when they do come back together in the end, Maguire does not write it as some sappy, cliched moment. Leigh is measured and she is careful and she acknowledges her fears at the same time that she decides that her happiness is wherever Will is. Will is not exonerated for what he did but Leigh does forgive him. It just felt real and honest.

Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry (contemporary romance)

Just go read it. You’ll thank me later. From my review:

This book is so incredibly hot, the chemistry between the characters written to perfection. You cannot stop reading it once you start. At least, that was my experience as I read deep into the night even knowing that I was going to pay for it with a serious lack of sleep. It was well worth it.

The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne by Jayne Fresina (regency romance)

Okay so it is not technically out until January 1, 2013 but I read it a couple of weeks ago so, for me, it counts in 2012. And I absolutely loved this book so not including it would be wrong. Delightfully fun. Ellie is such a great leading lady, with wit and drive to spare. From my review:

As I was reading this book, I realized that there was a lot going on. And yet, I was never confused. I knew who everyone was and why they were there. It is quite the narrative juggling act but Fresina does it well.

I so thoroughly enjoyed reading every single word of this book. Watching these two characters, who start from a place of deep animosity, become lovers and friends is just a damn good time.

What were your favorites this year?

Cover of Sherry Thomas' Beguiling the Beauty. A woman, who we see only from the mouth, down, is sitting on a chair. She's wearing a lavish read dress, her hand on her hip. Her legs are crossed, exposing both of them from the knee down. She has on no shoes.

Sherry Thomas’ Beguiling The Beauty is already on “My Favorite Romance Novels” list because I read it a while ago and loved it (that’s how the list works, folks. I like to keep things simple).

Re-reading it, though…damn, I love Sherry Thomas. Does anyone do painful separation between the two protagonists better? This woman has destroyed my heart and patched it back together as many times as I have read her work.

Normally I copy the summary of the book from another source but will try to sketch my own today (I know my own weaknesses and one of them is summary of plot).

Christian de Monfort, the Duke of Lexington, has loved the extremely beautiful Venetia Fitzhugh Townsend Easterbrook since they were both nineteen years old. He saw her from afar and loved her instantly. She was already married to Mr. Townsend, though. And when Mr. Townsend died and before Christian could swoop in, Venetia wed Mr. Easterbrook (and by the time of the story, she has been made a widow twice over). Christian continues, mainly in his dreams, loving and lusting after her during both her marriages and after. He comes to hate himself (and her) for it and these feelings work their way into his interests as a scientist and naturalist. He paints a story of her greed leading Mr. Townsend to kill himself and believes all the rumors that Mrs. Easterbrook cuckolded Mr. Easterbrook throughout their marriage. He determines in his own mind that this has to do with a shallowness and vanity borne from her remarkable beauty.

This is the background. The story, though, begins in Boston.

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