Sometimes characters standout on their own, separate from the story or romantic relationship. Other times a character doesn't fully shine until they are paired with their partner who brings out their best. And on rare occasions, a character becomes lost when they are paired up. Thus, you'll find, maybe I really liked a heroine/hero but not when they are part of a couple and maybe I really like a couple but not separately.
*The books eligible could be published in any year, they simply had to be read by me in 2016.
Clicking on book cover brings you to my review if I wrote one or Goodreads page if I didn't.
Best Heroine Nominees:
1. Riley Kincaid - Nobody's Hero by Bec McMaster
Besides, she needed someone to argue with. Someone who challenged her to stand at his side, not just step in front of her to protect her. Someone who pushed her to be the woman she knew she could be, not just the type of woman he wanted.
If you've been looking for a self-sufficient, level-headed, and action star in her own right heroine, look no further. Riley was my favorite part of this story and I could read about her all day; she kicked butt.
2. Anna Winters - The Dutch Girl by Donna Thorlund
"You mean you will let us have novels?" asked the taller one, who must be Jannetje.
"As long as you do your other reading and advance in all of your subjects, I see no reason that you should not read novels."
"Reverend Blauvelt says they give women ideas."
"Well, someone has to," said Anna.
There is some great feminist thinking from Anna, which could still be discussed today. Because of the fraught period and woman's issues of the time, Anna is put into some harsh and difficult situations. Her courage, will to survive, and ability to fight to maintain her sense of self was a story to behold.
3. Vivian Swift - Heart of Deception by Taylor Chase
Anger rose to the fore, and he pulled away from her. "Nothing has changed. You still want to rule me."
Her eyes went black when he thwarted her, a darkness that could devour him. Then a small flame flickered in their depths. Silent laughter. "Maybe I want you so much because I can't rule you."
"That won't stop you from trying."
"Or you from resisting." Her lips curved, the small taunting smile mocking herself as well as him. "Are you afraid of losing?"
"No." A lie to add to all the other lies. Already too much had changed because of her.
"Then savor the struggle, my rebel." Viv laughed openly now. Her gleaming eyes invited him to join in the mockery.
The story initially starts off following the hero but oh boy, does the heroine waltz in and steal the show. It almost felt like the heroine's part was first written for a male character and the author decided to switch it up and create one bad-ass woman; one of the most real in her honesty, sexual desires, and sense of self. This was published 20yrs ago and it makes me want to weep with how many written heroines today fall very short of her.
4. Livvy Kane - Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
While I thought Nicholas started off with a stronger spotlight, Livvy grows brighter and brighter with each new insight to her character. Livvy was such an amazing look at strengths and weaknesses that were laid bare with inner struggles that were a painful beauty to behold. Her struggle to try and manage her feelings to what she thinks is acceptable and still respect her herself had so much depth. We also learn of a very real struggle she deals with, I loved how the author didn't use to define her but showed how she is in some ways fashioned from it. Our heroines don't always get to be everything; Livvy was a fantastic multi-faceted woman.
5. Marged Evans - Truly by Mary Balogh
She was still angry. Perhaps angrier with him than she might have been because she was angry with herself.
Oh, Marged. I can see some great discussions happening about this heroine. The quickest and easiest assessment to make of her is bitter and hateful. Our heroines have to be kind, softhearted, and forgiving at all times, don’t they? Marged burns that thought to the ground. Marged is angry, she's angry that Geraint left her when she loved him as a child, she's angry at the system that killed her husband, and instead of crying on the inside, she flings her anger at Geraint. For every review I see that says they hated the heroine, I want thesis after thesis discussing the complexity of burdens of womanhood, their rights and privileges during this time period, how women are “allowed” to behave, and how individuals deal with convoluted emotions.
6. Jess Koirala - A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Maybe she was shouting, but she couldn’t tell. “What could she have done differently, Nikhil? What? Stayed home? Stayed in places where you could have taken care of her, where you could have done with her as you pleased?” Sold her, starved her, told her who could and could not touch her.
She spun around, shaking so hard she could barely manage it. She couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him. Her skin felt too tight around her. Her scar felt like it would split at the seams, unable to contain the rage inside her. In all they’d done to her, she’d never questioned the colossal injustice of it. Of walking down the streets of her town and needing to wrap herself in her own arms, behind books, under layers and layers of clothes. She had done every single thing she could. Always.
And she had never, not for one moment, thought it was her fault.
She’d never for one moment not known it was them. The bastards who had taken everything. Her uncle who had taken her home by never giving her one. The man who’d bought her and taken her childhood. Those monsters who had taken her body. She’d never blamed herself. She’d felt only anger. ANGER. Such intense anger it had seared the wounds shut. Cauterized them.
But to hear Nikhil blame Jen for what those bastards did to her, to watch him be what she told herself every day all men couldn’t possibly be, someone who shoved all responsibility on women because he could, someone who stood apart and took comfort in not bothering to understand—it made the anger unbearable. Because there was Joy. And he would never be this. Because how could she stand it if he were?
“You okay?”Nikhil said behind her.
She was standing at the kitchen counter. The hard concrete clutched in her fingers. She hadn’t noticed herself move. That level of anger was unacceptable. It took away her awareness, her control. She tried to loosen her grip but couldn’t.
“I didn’t mean it was her fault,”he said behind her.
Actually, that’s exactly what he had meant.
It was easy to blame Jen. So he did. It wasn’t just him. The rest of the world did it too. All the time. Blame those who had been hurt. So they could live in the world that didn’t know how to stop those who did heinous things. In a world that let them get away with it.
The second half of the story is where our heroine really shines, we get such an incredible look and delve into the heroine's pain and how it has changed her and her actions. She's struggling but there is beauty in her struggle and amazing strength. Jess was a complex heroine who told a lot of women's stories.
7. Lady Joanna Hawkforte - Dream Island by Josie Litton
I was a big fan of this heroine, she was a fighter. The time period and her circumstances dictate a more sedate personality but she circumvents such ideals awesomely. Joanna more than meets the hero in courage and strength and challenges him to be a better man.
8. Jane Mason - A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Where had this woman come from? Her voice was made of steel and her dignity, unbreakable.
I gave Jane's character 5 stars in my review. From the way she had to survive under her uncle, to deciding she couldn't do it anymore, and how she owned her decisions. She is a bleeding heart liberal who gets knocked sideways by realities a bit but instead of shunning knowledge or being too embarrassed to acknowledge when she is wrong, she takes her licks and keeps on. Her courage was magnificent.
9. Wren Heyden - Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
Her instinct was to hide behind veils within veils, and she had done it for so long that she did not know how to cast those veils aside.
Born with a large birthmark covering half of her face and a mother who put vanity above all else, when Wren turns ten, her aunt takes her from her home and eventually she and her husband adopt Wren. Unfortunately, those important formative years with her cruel mother keep Wren from having any self-worth. Wren always wears a veil to cover her face unless around her aunt and uncle. When they die she becomes incredibly lonely and decides to buy a husband. You'll feel awful for Wren as she uses an ice queen persona to keep her pain and self shielded. Her yearning to protect herself but also connect with the hero was a moving emotional journey.
10. Lisa Johansen - Fever by Elizabeth Lowell
I want to claim Lisa as my buddy if there is ever an apocalypse, girl can get it done. Her background makes her sweet innocence believable and not icky and we do get glimpses of her backbone when she stands up to and challenges the hero. Lisa is a great heroine to remind us that not all brave and strong heroines need to come in brash, cocky, or predominant personas; there is strength in quietness too.
This was such a tight four-way race between Marged, Livvy, Jane, and Vivian; all four were such amazing heroines. What put Marged over the top for me was her anger, which is something our heroines don't always get to be. They get to be kind and so very forgiving but Marged is anger and even though it sometimes makes her wrong, she feels it. She grows and learns in her journey but never lost her fire.
Best Hero Nominees:
1. Nicholas Chandler - Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
"You're not my secret anymore. My love for you is bigger than anyone who might try to tear us apart." He paused. "I won't leave you, Livvy. You don't have to trust me completely right now, but watch me. Watch me fight for you this time."
We are started off with Nicholas' point of view and what a deep emotional start it was. We learn that on Livvy's birthday she texts him her coordinates, he travels to her, and they have sex for that one night a year. Nicholas starts off as the brighter focus of the two with his barely contained torment, weight of struggling to take care of the business and his family, and inability to stop craving Livvy. There is a tiny little bit of martyr syndrome to him, but ultimately, his character and heart was wonderful to read.
2. Colonel Joe "Breed" MacKenzie - MacKenzie's Mission by Linda Howard
Joe was a mixture between Rhett Butler and Ryan Gosling's character from the Notebook; you could say he was a sassy, strong, and hot hero. I think we all deserve to meet a Joe at some point in our lives.
3. Sebastian Audley - The Wicked Cousin by Stella Riley
Sebastian is a hero that you can't help but fall in love with. The pain and sense of loss (both brother and sense of self) when his twin brother dies is heartbreaking. The way that Riley took this instance and constructed how it affected Sebastian, his family, and therefore their relationships added immense depth, you'll feel this story. Before we are introduced to Sebastian we learn of his persona but just like the heroine learns, the true man is much more. His character make-up was so rich, confident, and teasing but yet vulnerable and shy at times. He was no one-trick pony or cardboard cutout, if you're a hero-centric reader, you don't want to miss Sebastian and his gorgeous garnet hair.
4. Tacitus Everard, Marquess of Dare - Again, My Lord by Katharine Ashe
Hero was so patient and caring and I couldn't help but fall in love with him.
5. Geraint Penderyn, Earl Wyvern - Truly by Mary Balogh
But Geraint had always felt disliked. Not that he had ever been self-pitying about it. But he had built defenses, of which Aled, as his one close friend apart from Marged Llwyd, had been aware. The defense of not caring a fig for anyone as a child. The added defense of aloofness as an eighteen-year-old and the firm hiding behind his newly acquired Englishness and his gentleman's manners.
We don't get heroes like Geraint very often; he was the epitome of still a hurt, lonely child inside mixed with strength, compassion, and courage. The author did an amazing job showing how people create defense mechanisms to help them survive and how this can help and hinder them in their personal relationships. Geraint had such strength and kindness in his heart and I loved him for it.
6. Arran McKenzie - Wild Wicked Scot by Julia London
She was suddenly reminded of a young dog here at Balhaire who'd been badly injured by a trap that had been set illegaly. When the gamekeeper determined the poor dog could not be saved and, futhermore, would suffer in his last hours, she had watched Arran scoop the dog up in his arms and carry him from this very hall with tears on his face. He'd taken the dog into the woods and mercifully put it out of its misery. She shivered at the painful recollection of how he'd grieved for the dog.
I knew Arran was going to make it on this list when I read this book back in February, my crazy dog lady heart would have it no other way. He's also extremely caring to the heroine in the bedroom and has a moment where a couple of his lines had me making sounds that probably only happen at the Cheesecake Factory when they bring me my red velvet cheesecake. They're crosses between gasps, sobs, happiness, and heart palpitations.
7. Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon - These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
If you liked Val from Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, you're going to love our hero Justin, definitely an inspiration for him. I knocked Val off this list because I thought Justin was a slightly better version and the original! of the suave, wily, wicked, and sexual rake. I was a big fan of Justin and his wit, he was constantly miles and moves ahead of everyone else.
8. Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford - No Other Duke Will Do by Grace Burrowes
What a lovely smile he had. A little off center, a bit conspiratorial, and---who would have thought?---a touch dashing.
A recluse Duke with a treasure of books, how could he not be on this list? :) Burrowes gave us a deep portrayal of what being short of funds did to Julian; his quiet desperation as he tried to keep all his responsibilities afloat. The tenets livelihood, his sister, his brother, and the Haverford legacy were all dependent on him and gave the reader a deeper sense of what being a duke entailed; not all balls and gaming clubs. Julian was a quiet, deep, and weighty character.
9. James Trevenen - Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly
As she stood watching, he turned and blew her a kiss. You're a rascal, she thought.
James has PTSD from what he had to do to survive alone on an island for 5 years and thinks he is haunted by another survivor of the original shipwreck. James' story of survival is spread out throughout the book until we get the ultimate grizzly details of how he became the lone survivor. It's rough, disturbing, and courageous stuff to read and I enjoyed how the author didn't shy away from James' emotions. He was a hero who was witty, courageous, strong, utterly capable, and kind; he's a sexy one.
10. Adam Rutledge, Viscount d'Arque - Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt
Look, any hero that visually resembles this ^^^, yeah, going to make it on my best heroes list and to my delight, d'Arque had the personality to back up the looks. The absolute caring way he treats his grandmother was shown brilliantly and provided some depth of character. His sheer sexiness though, steals the show. He's able to keep himself rather emotionally contained, except when he gets around the heroine and then we get to see cracks form in the façade; I live for the cracks. He's sexy, smooth, sparking, and a bit unraveling when he's with her and I loved every second of it.
This may be a little bit of recently read-itis but it can't be ignored that I will spend more time of my life than is healthy wishing the author had chosen to write a full length novel for d'Arque and his heroine. There's a point where d'Arque says:
"I want you." He fought to keep his voice level. Civilized. "In every way."
The way this is dragged out of him had me thinking of Sebastian St. Vincent. In a full novel, I think d'Arque would have seriously challenged St. Vincent in the eyes of many romance readers for favorite rake. As it stands though, Hoyt gave us just enough for him to be my favorite hero of the year.
What heroine and hero captured your heart this year?
Next time, Best Couple...