So, in lieu of a reading list, here's a flow of consciousness list of romances (which means I probably read or at least re-read them this year, but I'm not entirely sure). And it's a romance list... just 'cause.
I've been hitting the Christmas Novellas lately. Mainly because I'm pressed for time and they're short. Plus, they're a little cheesy but seasonal, and I can get into that sometimes.
Clearing out my book case the other week, I found an old copy of Mary Balogh's Under the Mistletoe. I have a soft spot for Mary Balogh even though she can be quite hit or miss. I honestly don't remember two of the novellas, but I did enjoy "The Family Christmas," about an estranged couple who had had an arranged marriage. It's fairly high up on the sweet scale, but I can do that for Christmas.
The other Christmas novella I remember from this year was Christi Caldwell's tale of a lonely bitchy rich girl whose family forgot about her at Christmas (and it just struck me how that sounds like Home Alone... Except in the Regency period). Not a lot to say about the plot but it was easy and enjoyable, especially compared to the other Christi Caldwell book that I remember from... I don't know when I read it, but it has stuck in my memory as an angst-o-rama. Annnnngggssttttt!!!
Angst-o-rama (not a Christmas story) Victorian Christi Caldwell is My Lady of Deception I don't remember the details so I could be wrong about parts of it, but from what I remember the heroine's family were Irish terrorists. Horrified by her thuggish (and abusive) father's brutal (and explosive) tactics, the heroine contacted the British Government who pretty much turned her into an informant (leaving her in the hands of said abusive father. The sense of dread and danger in this one is no doubt why it's listed as "dark" on its blurb. It's dark as compared to most Christi Caldwell novels but in terms of 'dark' it doesn't begin to compare to a book book by GRR Martin). The British also sent in an agent... who was captured by the father and tortured. The heroine tried to aid the agent in captivity and eventually arranged his escape (which got her beaten and left for dead by her father... but she was taken to an indigent hospital and eventually recovered.) Upon his release, the hero discovered that his fiancé had married someone else during his captivity and, when he discovered what had happened to the heroine, he felt obligated to aid her. And (for reasons I don't remember at all) this included marrying her. The heroine had naively idolized the hero... too much. More than he deserved, because he breaks her heart. I don't remember all of it, but the climax stuck in my memory because it did not go the way I had expected. The hero did something that was just incredibly difficult to forgive. So difficult that I'm not sure that I believe that the heroine forgave him... and that's after months of NOT forgiving him and leaving him. And, even though I could sympathize with the hero's decision, it was just such a devastating betrayal (NOT infidelity) that it was angst-city. I can't help but think this book needed another couple of chapters, because there needed to be more time to build to a happy ending because the hero needed to grovel more.
Another in the genre -- the historical spy genre -- that also happens to fall into the Christmas novella genre, is Grace Calloway's The Lady Who Came In From the Cold , set some 12 years after Waterloo. Heroine had been an orphan raised to be a spy who, when under cover as a gypsy 'camp follower' for her mission was treated well by the hero... such that he became her "ideal" (with her back story, she hadn't experienced much chivalry or compassion in her life). When the war was over, she transformed herself with a fake identity in order to pursue him... and won him. At the start of the novella, the pair has been married for 12 years. It looks like the story is part of a series and that at some point in that series of books she had been blackmailed over her secret, and that in whatever previous book this was, she had thought the secret buried. In the novella, even though the blackmailer is dead, he had taken steps to ensure that she would be exposed. So after 12 years of happy marriage her husband is faced with the discovery that his wife isn't who he thought she was. Her name and identity are fakes. She had slept with men during to her missions (and had faked virginity when she had married him), etc. He feels (understandably) betrayed. The reader privy to her back story, has great sympathy for her and know that she truly loves him. Angsty but not as angsty as the Christi Caldwell spy story. Although, the spy stuff is all backstory in this one. The plot is about her secret being exposed via blackmail, the subsequent estrangement.
And since I'm listing Regency spy stories, I read (perhaps this year?) a pair of connected Grace Burrows' stories The Captive and The Traitor. I, pretty much, only remember "The Captive" because it led to "The Traitor." The Captive is all about PTSD of a Napoleonic war hero who had been a prisoner of war and who wanted revenge on his jailor/torturer (The Traitor). Honestly, the torturer is the more sympathetic character. The Captive is okay, but pretty well-worn territory that leads to learning that vengeance isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
"The Traitor" was somewhat more original than "The Captive." The Captive wasn't the only former prisoner that was seeking vengeance on The Traitor. There's a line of them ready to challenge him to duels. Pretty much everyone in England wants him dead. Turns out that he was only half French. He was half English. He just happened to be visiting his French Grandparents in his youth when hostilities broke out and he was given the choice between joining the French Army or being killed. So he chose the military, despite his possessing a British title and with British loyalties. He had used his position as best he could. If he could ransom the British prisoner, he would (sometimes using his British estate via a relative to supply the money that would actually buy the British officer's freedom), or he would "oops" sometimes arrange an escape or a prisoner swap, etc. But for all that he tried to survive the war and protect who he could, he's now a "traitor" with a target on his back, loathed, and everyone wants him dead. He's also a pretty tortured guy who never asked for any of this. Strange that the 'traitor' was the more sympathetic and generous hero. I actually liked this the better of the two books.