Best & Worst of 2013

Since The Hope Chest Reviews is not dedicated to the latest book releases, the majority of the books on this list were not published in 2013. Instead the list is compiled from the books that were read and reviewed during the 2013 calendar year. If you would like to view our Best & Worst picks for past years, please visit the archive.

Author of the Year - Winner
Robyn Carr (7 - 4 to 5 star reads in a row)

Author of the Year - Runner-Up
Kerrelyn Sparks (3 - 5 star keepers in a row)

Best Overall Romance
Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Best Alternate Reality Romances
Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon (5 stars)
All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars)
Be Still My Vampire Heart by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars)
The Companion by Susan Squires (5 stars)
The Hunger by Susan Squires (5 stars)
The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars)
The Burning by Susan Squires (4 ½ stars)

Best Contemporary Romances
Angel's Peak by Robyn Carr (5 stars)
Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts (5 stars)
Moonlight Road by Robyn Carr (5 stars)
The Newcomer by Robyn Carr* (5 stars)
Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr (4 ½ stars)
The Wanderer by Robyn Carr* (4 ½ stars)
When I Remember by Sharon Edwards (4 ½ stars)
Xavier's Loving Arms by KT Grant (4 ½ stars)

Best Erotic Romance
Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty (5 stars)

Best Historical Romance (American)
Early Dawn by Catherine Anderson (5 stars)

Best Historical Romances (Britain & Other Countries)
Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt* (5 stars)
Penelope by Anya Wylde* (5 stars)
A Perfect Secret by Donna Hatch* (5 stars)
Sleepless at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro (5 stars)
Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie (5 stars)
Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt* (4 ½ stars)
Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge (4 ½ stars)

Best Inspirational Romance
Sweet Music by David Bond (5 stars)

Best Male/Male Romance
Lover at Last by J. R. Ward* (4 ½ stars)

Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance
The Host by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

Best Romantic Short Stories
A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection by Heidi Ashworth, Joyce DiPastena, Sarah M. Eden, Donna Hatch, Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore (5 stars)
The Christmas Present by Lori Foster (4 ½ stars)
Hard Drive by Ambrielle Kirk (4 ½ stars)
Loving the Boss by Shawn Lane (4 ½ stars)
Snakes & Jails & Puppy Dog Tails by Mallary Mitchell (4 ½ stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (5 stars)
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (5 stars)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (5 stars)
Bras, Boys and Blunders: Juliet and Romeo in Bahrain by Vidya Samson (4 ½ stars)

Best Fantasy Fiction
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)

Best General Fiction
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (5 stars)

Best Inspirational Fiction
Love's Abiding Joy by Janette Oke (5 stars)

Best Non-Fiction Books
Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin (5 stars)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (5 stars)

Best Children's Picture Book
Tears for Nanertak by Skip Hofstrand (5 stars)

Most Surprising Winner
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars) - I don't read much straight-up fantasy (ie fantasy that isn't romance) and had never really read an urban fantasy before, so I didn't fully know what to expect when I picked this book up. I was very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was. Harry Dresden, as the slightly geeky wizard/private investigator, makes a great hero, so much so that he's now one of my biggest literary crushes.

Biggest Disappointments
These two books ended up tying for this award. I normally love paranormal romance and had heard good things about both series. Unfortunately, these first books in their respective series left something to be desired and were lackluster reads for me.

A Quick Bite by Lyndsay Sands (3 stars) - The lack of meaningful character development and the author's overly wordy writing style were the two major contributing factors in my dissatisfaction with this story.

Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear (3 stars) - Sub-par character development, flat love scenes with no real romance to speak of, and the author's rough-around-the-edges writing style were my main issues with this one.

Funniest Reads
These two books from the Love at Stake series get to share this award. Kerrelyn Sparks has a real talent for making humor an organic part of her stories and really making me laugh out loud.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars) - This one had several funny lines that caught me off-guard and completely cracked me up.

The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars) - The hero's use of vampire mind-control on the heroine's no-good ex leads to a couple of scenes of utter hilarity.

Biggest Tearjerker
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (5 stars) 

Best Christmas Stories
All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (5 stars)
The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere (5 stars)
A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid (4 ½ stars)
The Christmas Present by Lori Foster (4 ½ stars)

Sweetest Romance
The best romance I read this year that has milder content.
A Perfect Secret by Donna Hatch* (5 stars)

Steamiest Romances
For me, the steamiest romance doesn't necessarily have the most erotic content. Instead it's the book(s) that best combine hot, sexy scenes with a deep emotional connection that really make the pages sizzle.
Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt* (5 stars)
Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty (5 stars)

Most Impressive Debuts
None of these were 2013 releases, but they were the debut books for each of these authors and quite impressive for a first effort.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (5 stars)
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (5 stars)
Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie (5 stars)
Storm Front by Jim Butcher (4 ½ stars)

Most Underwhelming Reads
The books/short stories I had the hardest time finishing, and/or found to be the least satisfying.

Do or Die by E. R. Baine (2 stars) - Confused the heck out of me.

Home for Christmas by Dianne Castell (2 stars) - Too silly and contrived to be remotely believable to me.

No Mercy by Thea Devine (2 stars) - Even after finishing I had more questions than answers, and the supposed romance left me cold.

Joy Restored by Jude Urbanski (2 ½ stars) - I saw too many missed opportunities for much deeper character and relationship development.

Best Overall Hero
Acheron (Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon)

Best Overall Heroine
Margaret "Megs" St. John (Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Most Tortured Hero
Acheron (Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon)

Most Tortured Heroine
Eden Paxton (Early Dawn by Catherine Anderson)

Most Frustrating/Annoying Hero
Russ Palmer (The Cowboy's Lady by Debbie Macomber) - This pig-headed male chauvinist had such antiquated notions about women he seemed like he'd come from a much earlier generation.

Most Frustrating/Annoying Heroine
Bella Wilder (Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear) - I didn't entirely dislike Bella, but her illogical, reactionary behavior to almost every major event in the story and her stubborn insistence upon running away and/or mating a human to supposedly protect the hero really frustrated me.

Hottest Hero
Asa MacIntyre (Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty)

Most Perfect Couple
Godric & Margaret "Megs" St. John (Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Most Evil Villains
Asharti (The Companion & The Hunger by Susan Squires)
Artemis (Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon)

Most Memorable Supporting Characters
Haymitch Abernathy (Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins)
Uncle Jeb Stryder (The Host by Stephenie Meyer)
Apollo Greaves (Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt*)
Bob (Storm Front & Fool Moon by Jim Butcher)
Xcor & Layla (Lover at Last by J. R. Ward*)
Rejar (Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy)
Rawley Goode (The Hero by Robyn Carr*)
Fidelia (The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks)
Carlos Panterra (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks)
Marshall Wilson (The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere)

Most Memorable Child Characters
Rose Riordan (Angel's Peak by Robyn Carr)
Jamie Stryder (The Host by Stephenie Meyer)
Constantine Draganesti (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks)
Zach & Haley Eisley (The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere)

Most Memorable Animal Characters
Danforth (Sleepless at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro)
Her Grace (Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt*)
Mister (Storm Front & Fool Moon by Jim Butcher)
Christmas & Gracie (A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid)

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Leads
Characters with occupations or circumstances you don't often see in romance.
Jana Jasper (Your Planet or Mine? by Susan Grant) - State senator
Jack Dalton (Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer) - Former boxer/prison escapee
Sierra Murphy (Never Too Much by Lori Foster) - Landscaper
Devon McAllister (The Hero by Robyn Carr) - Cult escapee
Jean-Luc Echarpe (The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks) - Vampire/Fashion Designer
Rebecca Price (Xavier's Loving Arms by KT Grant) - Barista who is recovering from an eating disorder
Simone Dubois (Dream Chaser by Sherrilyn Kenyon) - Medical Examiner
Sarah Dupre (The Wanderer by Robyn Carr) - Coast Guard helicopter pilot
Andre Lefebvre (Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge) - Fur Trader/Wilderness Explorer
Ellie Baldwin (Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr) - Exotic dancer turned church secretary

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Plots
Angel Tears by Milan Cucuk - This romance is written more like the hero's memoir. He is a homeless drifter who meets a doctor and finds that they share an instant connection that quickly turns into much more. Her ex-boyfriend, however, is maniacally obsessed with synthesizing a substance known as angel tears which Ana may possess. A lovely story of star-crossed lovers with a suspense sub-plot and a supernatural twist.

Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge - An intrepid explorer and the daughter of a courtesan enter into a marriage of convenience and embark on an adventurous expedition deep into the heart of the Canadian wilderness.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer - Earth has been overrun by an alien race known as souls who cannot live without a host body. A soul is implanted into her human host. and they must share the body as they defy the soul's own kind in a race to save the human's loved ones.

Nemesis, Unlimited series by Zoe Archer - A covert "Robin Hood" type organization made up of people from all walks of life in Victorian England helps people who fall through the cracks of the system to obtain justice and perhaps even a bit of revenge.

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Settings
The Companion by Susan Squires - North Africa during the Regency era.

Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge - Colonial Canada when it was still known as New France and was mostly unexplored wilderness.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer - Caves deep in the Arizona desert.

Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer - The seedy underbelly of Victorian London.

What the Bride Didn't Know by Kelly Hunter - Istanbul, Turkey

Best Overall Quotes
"I have always been a firm believer in God and the power of prayer, though to be honest, my faith has made for a list of questions I definitely want answered after I'm gone."     - Noah Calhoun (The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks)

"Love doesn't please itself by seeking revenge. Love sacrifices itself for the good of others."     - Emma Wallace (Be Still My Vampire Heart by Kerrelyn Sparks)

"What was it that made this human love so much more desirable to me than the love of my own kind? Was it because it was exclusive and capricious? The souls offered love and acceptance to all. Did I crave a greater challenge?...Or was it simply better somehow? Because these humans hate with so much fury, was the other end of the spectrum that they could love with more heart and zeal and fire?"     - Wanderer (The Host by Stephenie Meyer)

"Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I'm a bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers - all that sort of thing."     - Harry Dresden (Storm Front by Jim Butcher)

"‎It isn't enough to stand up and fight darkness. You've got to stand apart from it, too. You've got to be different from it."     - Harry Dresden (Fool Moon by Jim Butcher)

"It's easy to look at people and make quick judgments about them, their present and their past, but you'd be amazed at the pain and tears a single smile hides. What a person shows to the world is only one tiny facet of the iceberg hidden from sight. And more often then not, it's lined with cracks and scars that go all the way to the foundation of their soul."     - Acheron (Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon)

"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured."     - Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain)

"We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally."     - Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain)

Funniest Quotes
"Well?" Ron said finally, looking up at Harry. "How was it?"
Harry considered it for a moment. "Wet," he said truthfully.
Ron made a noise that might have indicated jubilation or disgust, it was hard to tell.
"Because she was crying," Harry continued heavily.
"Oh," said Ron, his smile faded slightly. "Are you that bad at kissing?"
"Dunno," said Harry, who hadn't considered this, and immediately felt rather worried. "Maybe I am."     -Harry Potter & Ron Weasley (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling)

In the Old Language, she hissed, "If any harm shall befall him, I will come after you, and find you where you sleep. I do not care where you lay your head or who with, my vengeance shall rain upon you until you drown."
That last word was drawn out, until its syllable was lost in more growling.
Dead silence.
Until Doc Jane said dryly, "Annnnd this is why they say the female of the species is more dangerous than the male."     - Layla & Jane (Lover at Last by J. R. Ward*)

"Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face."     - Harry Dresden (Storm Front by Jim Butcher)

"Before he had time to figure it out, his walkie-talkie crackled and a voice came on. He punched a button. "Sheriff here. What's up?"
"Someone called about a public disturbance behind Schmitty's bar," a woman's voice reported.
"Cathy use the proper code number," Billy growled.
"There ain't no number for a guy acting like a cockroach!" the woman yelled. "He climbed into their Dumpster and he's wallowing in the trash."     - Sheriff Billy & Cathy (The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks)

"Jean-Luc glanced at the coach. "Who is that man? What is that machine?"
"It's a dunking booth."
"Ah, I understand." Jean-Luc nodded. "If he does not drown, then he is a witch."
"No, he's just a creep. It's a game."     - Jean-Luc Escharpe & Heather Westfield (The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks)

Most Romantic Quotes
"I want to be with you forever. I want to be beside you every night, holding you close, whispering to you that I love you more than anything in the world, that you turned my whole world upside down just when it needed to be turned upside down. I want to make forever promises to you out loud, in front of God, and I want you to promise to be my woman, my wife, my one and only love, my best friend and my conscience. You're never easy, Ellie, but you're sure never boring..."     - Noah Kincaid (Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr)

"I love you," she said, speaking clearly so that there might be no confusion. "I love you utterly and completely. I love your elegant hands and the way you smile with only one side of your mouth - when you smile at all - and I love how grave your eyes are. I love that you let me invade your house with nearly my entire family and yours, and never even turned a hair. I love that you made love to me when I asked you, purely for politeness' sake, and I love that you got mad at me later and made me make love to you. I love that you let Her Grace and her puppies construct a nest out of your shirts in your dressing room. I love that you've spent years selflessly saving people in St. Giles - although I want you to stop right now. I love that you killed a man for me, even if I'm still mad at you about it. I love that you saved my letters before we even knew each other well, and I love the curt, overly serious letters you wrote to me in return."
She looked at him very seriously.
"I love you, Godric St. John, and now I'm breaking my word. I will not leave you. You may either come with me to Laurelwood or I'll stay here with you in your musty old house in London and drive you mad with all my talking and relatives and... and exotic sexual positions until you break down and love me back, for I'm warning you that I'm not giving up until you love me and we're a happy family with dozens of children."
She paused at that point because she'd run out of breath and looked at him.
His face had gone still and for a moment her heart sank and she had to fortify herself for a battle.
But then his mouth quirked like that and he said, "Exotic sexual positions?"
And she knew even before he said anything else that it was all going to be fine - more than fine. It was going to be wonderful."     - Megs & Godric St. John (Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

"You are perfect the way you are." Blay's voice was strong. "There is nothing wrong with who and what you have always been. I'm proud of you. And I love you. Now... and always."
Qhuinn's vision got wavy. Hard-core.
"I'm proud of you. And I love you," Blay repeated. "Always. Forget about your old family... you have me now. I am your family."     - Blaylock (Lover at Last by J. R. Ward*)

"It's not the face, but the expressions on it. It's not the voice, but what you say. It's not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it. You are beautiful."     - Ian O'Shea (The Host by Stephenie Meyer)

"I don't want you forgetting how different our circumstances are. If you die, and I live, there's no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You're my whole life." Peeta says. "I would never be happy again. It's different for you. I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard. But there are other people who'd make your life worth living.
"No one really needs me," he says, and there's no self-pity in his voice. It's true his family doesn't need him. They will mourn him, as will a handful of friends. But they will get on.... I realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies. Me.
"I do," I say. "I need you."     - Peeta Mellark & Katnis Everdeen (Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins)

Sexiest Quotes
"I want to undress you, touch you, kiss you, taste you. And then I want you to taste yourself on my mouth." He kissed her again, hot and strong and long. One hand crept to her clothed breast, kneading it. "I want you hard and hot and deep and fast. And then I want you slow and sweet. I want you to wrap those beautiful long legs around me. I want you under me and on top of me and sitting and standing. I want to see your eyes when pleasure makes you light up. I want to hold you when you come down and try to find your breath. I want everything with you, Ellie. I care about you more than I've cared about a woman in so long. I hardly recognized the feelings. I'm dying for you."     - Noah Kincaid (Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr)

"Why? What kind of man would pleasure his woman by hurting her." Angus paced across the path. ''Tis a man's duty, nay, his privilege, to give his woman all the pleasure she can bear. She should be panting and writhing with pleasure."
Emma remained silent, staring at him. Did she not believe him?
He walked toward her. "A real man would take all night if need be to make sure his woman was fully sated. She should be screaming that she canna endure any more."
Emma's eyes widened.
"It should be a man's greatest pleasure to see his woman shuddering in the throes of passion."
She took a deep breath and shifted her weight from one foot to another.
He paced back and forth. "Only when she is begging for him should a man see to his own needs. And he should never, ever harm her.' He stopped in front of her 'Am I totally wrong in this?"
"No," she squeaked.     - Angus MacKay & Emma Wallace (Be Still My Vampire Heart by Kerrelyn Sparks)

Prettiest Covers

 Lord of Darkness

Lord of Darkness
by Elizabeth Hoyt* 

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Duke of Midnight

Duke of Midnight
by Elizabeth Hoyt* 

 

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