Best of the Year 2018

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 2018. Instead the list is compiled from the books that were read and reviewed during the 2018 calendar year. If you would like to view our picks from past years, please visit the archive.

Author of the Year - Winner

J. R. Ward/Jessica Bird (8 – 4 ½ - 5 star reads in a row)

Author of the Year – Runner-Up

Lisa Kleypas (3 – 5 star reads in a row)

Best Overall Romance

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Best Alternate Reality Romances

Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione (5 stars)

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

Blood Fury by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

The Thief by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Envy by J. R. Ward (4 ½ stars)

Best Contemporary Romances

A Man in a Million by Jessica Bird (5 stars)

Big Rock by Lauren Blakely (5 stars)

Pure Temptation by Vicki Lewis Thompson (5 stars)

The Family Gathering by Robyn Carr (4 ½ stars)*

Touched by Angels by Debbie Macomber (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romance (American)

Blue-Eyed Bandit by Stobie Piel (4 ½ stars)

Best Historical Romances (Britain & Other Countries)

Confessions at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro (5 stars)

Not the Duke's Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (5 stars)*

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (5 stars)

Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas (5 stars)

Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips (5 stars)

Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney (4 ½ stars)

Ravished by Amanda Quick (4 ½ stars)

Best Male/Male Romance

Blood Fury by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Best Romance Novellas & Short Stories

Good with His Hands by Lori Foster (5 stars)

Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye (5 stars)

Against the Odds by Lisa Kleypas (5 stars)

Carter's Story by Lucy Monroe (5 stars)

Colton's Story by Lucy Monroe (5 stars)

Dearest Ivie by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

The Wedding from Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Reception by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Arts Magica by Kay Hooper (4 ½ stars)

Eternity Embraced by Larissa Ione (4 ½ stars)

A Deal Is a Deal by Lucy Monroe (4 ½ stars)

Echo of Silence by Nalini Singh (4 ½ stars)

Best Romantic Comedies

Big Rock by Lauren Blakely (5 stars)

Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips (5 stars)

Best Romantic Suspense

Consumed by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Best Time Travel Romances

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Blue-Eyed Bandit by Stobie Piel (4 ½ stars)

Best Young Adult Fiction

The Death Cure by James Dashner (5 stars)

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Fiction

Small Favor by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Best Fantasy Novellas

It's My Birthday, Too by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Day Off by Jim Butcher (5 stars)

Best Historical Fiction

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (5 stars)

Best Biographies/Memoirs

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler (5 stars)*

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa (5 stars)*

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (4 ½ stars)

Best Non-Fiction Books

Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree with and Maybe Even Change the World by Justin Lee (5 stars)*

Resist and Persist: Faith and the Fight for Equality by Erin Wathen (5 stars)*

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (4 ½ stars)*

The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian by Brian D. McLaren (4 ½ stars)

Best Christmas Story

Touched by Angels by Debbie Macomber (4 ½ stars)

Most Surprising Winner

Big Rock by Lauren Blakely (5 stars) - This author has a huge fan following and all of her books tend to rate highly, but I have to admit that I went into reading this one perhaps a tad skeptical. Most of the time I tend to steer clear of rom coms, because they often seem to be lacking in depth and rarely satisfy my appetite for a great, emotional love story. But this one surprised me on so many levels. The first few lines of the cover blurb left me a tad worried that the hero might be an egotistical jerk, but I ended up falling for him hook, line, and sinker. This was an absolutely fun, delightful read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Funniest Reads

I couldn't decide between these two, so I'm nominating both.

Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips (5 stars) - This story takes the concept of Midsummer madness to a whole new level, making for a romantic farce that completely charmed and delighted me.

Day Off by Jim Butcher (5 stars) - A group of half-baked, wanna-be young wizards making threats, a pair of lusty werewolves with fleas, and his apprentice, Molly, blowing up the basement laboratory all prevent Harry Dresden from enjoying his rare day off.

Biggest Tearjerker

Dearest Ivie by J. R. Ward (5 stars)*

Sweetest Romances

The best romances I read this year that have milder content.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

Steamiest Romance

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.

Big Rock by Lauren Blakely (5 stars)

Most Impressive Debuts

Only one of these was a 2018 release, but they were the debut books for each of these authors and quite impressive for a first effort.

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa (5 stars)*

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (5 stars)

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (4 ½ stars)

Best Overall Hero

Edward Cullen (Twilight & New Moon by Stephenie Meyer)

Best Overall Heroine

Carolyn Turner (Confessions at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro)

Most Tortured Hero

Lee (The Island by Lisa Henry)

Most Tortured Heroine

Anne Jewel (Simply Love by Mary Balogh)

Hottest Hero

Jeremiah "Mac" MacDougal (Pure Temptation by Vicki Lewis Thompson)

Most Perfect Couple

Daniel Sutton & Carolyn Turner (Confessions at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro)

Most Evil Villains

The Volturi (New Moon by Stephenie Meyer)

Charles Ripkin (Consumed by J. R. Ward*)

Vitoria Benloise & Throe (The Thief by J. R. Ward*)

The Denarians (Small Favor by Jim Butcher)

Byzamoth (Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione)

Devina (Envy by J. R. Ward)

Vornis (The Island by Lisa Henry)

Most Memorable Supporting Characters

Tremayne & Roxanne (The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper)

Adrian & Eddie (Envy by J. R. Ward)

Jack & Miranda (Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips)

Lizzie Wemyss, Kezzie & Josiah Beardsley (A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon)

Derek Craven (Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas)

Romina (Blood Fury by J. R. Ward*)

Kynan & Gem (Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione)

Michael Carpenter (Small Favor by Jim Butcher)

Ehric & Evale (The Thief by J. R. Ward*)

Alice Cullen (New Moon by Stephenie Meyer)

Most Memorable Child Characters

Mandy McCabe (The Miracle Baby by Janice Kay Johnson)

David Jewel (Simply Love by Mary Balogh)

Francis & Belle (Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips)

The Archive (Small Favor by Jim Butcher)

Emma, Zach, & Grace (Twelve Days by Teresa Hill)

Most Memorable Animal Characters

Dog (Envy by J. R. Ward)

Nicholas's Penguins (Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney)

Adso (A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon)

Daniel's Menagerie of Misfit Animals (Confessions at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro)

Tess (Not the Duke's Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt*)

Soot (Consumed by J. R. Ward*) 

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Leads

Characters with occupations or circumstances you don't often see in romance.

Anne Ashburn (Consumed by J. R. Ward*) - Arson investigator

Derek Craven (Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas) - Gambling hall owner

Serena Kelly (Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione) - Artifacts hunter

Harriet Pomeroy (Ravished by Amanda Quick) - Fossil hunter

Freya de Moray (Not the Duke's Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt*) - Works undercover for the Wise Women, an organization that helps other women in need.

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Plots

Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye - When the electricity goes out, an accountant and an EMT find themselves trapped in a dark office-building elevator together. A trauma from the hero's past leaves him terrified of the dark and enclosed spaces, and he soon finds himself fighting to stave off panic. But the heroine's lovely voice calms his troubled mind. With nothing better to do, they spend the next several hours simply talking and getting to know one another. Without the preconceived notions of each other's physical appearance to get in the way and with only a meeting of hearts and minds to connect them, an attraction soon takes root and sparks begin to fly.

Midsummer's Knight by Tori Phillips - When the king orders a roguish knight and a twice-widowed lady who've never met each other to marry, they both harbor doubts about their betrothed. In a bid to put those doubts to rest before heading to the altar, they each devise a scheme to pretend to be someone else to suss out the other one. A whimsical farce of Midsummer madness soon ensues as they each fear they've fallen for the wrong person before slowly beginning to figure out the truth.

The Miracle Baby by Janice Kay Johnson - A widow with a young daughter who's dying of leukemia seeks out her late husband's estranged identical twin brother in hopes of him being a bone marrow donor match. When that falls through, she makes the bold proposition that they create a new child together, because he's the only one who can help her make a baby that might be a match. Having a child together is a huge step that ends up bringing them closer together, but how can he be sure that when he kisses her, she's seeing him and not his dead twin?

The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper - A powerful master wizard falls in love with his beautiful apprentice, but a relationship between them is forbidden by a law so ancient no one knows exactly where it originates. In fact, he's not even supposed to be teaching a female wizard. When the wizard's council demands that he strip her of her powers, he can't bear hurting her in any way, so he instead sets out to discover why this law was made. Their quest takes them on a trek through time to the lost continent of Atlantis in a desperate bid to change history.

The Island by Lisa Henry - An art dealer travels to a private island owned by a crime lord to sell him a stolen painting. While there the evil baddie decides to bring out his new "toy," a captured and tortured DEA agent, whom he expects the art dealer to use as his personal slave. Trapped on the island, he no choice but to play along, while trying not to be as monstrous as his host. Under different circumstances, the agent would be just the kind of guy he'd go for, but in this setting, he can ill afford to feel compassion. But when it becomes clear that the agent is going to die in the worst possible way, can he go along with it, or will he sacrifice everything in a rescue attempt?

Most Unique/Unusual Romance Settings

Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye - A stalled elevator

Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione - Egypt

The Island by Lisa Henry - Fiji

Best Opening Lines

Lore had always believed that when it came to sex, the more the merrier. Too bad for him that when "more" meant more than just himself, people tended to die. (Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione)

It was a scene straight out of a nightmare. Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, stood on the threshold and gazed into the cheerful little anteroom of hell. (Ravished by Amanda Quick)

I'd never given much thought to how I would die -- though I'd had reason enough in the last few months -- but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer)

It was in the spring, on a dark April evening, when Detective Thomas DelVecchio Jr. learned that nightmares could in fact make the jump out of the mind and into real life. (Envy by J. R. Ward)

The Psy Council tried to outlaw Christmas once. ("Beat of Temptation" from Wild Invitation by Nalini Singh)

Best Overall Quotes

"It's peaceful. Death can be a release and a relief for the person, and that is a blessing. The thing is, a lot of times, it is work to die. It requires physical and emotional effort. What sucks is that for most, particularly if they're dying out of sequence, it's a job they don't want. It's about loss of control, loss of function, loss of identity and independence...loss of choice and decision, of family and friends. But if you can let go of all that, what comes with it is freedom. A soaring freedom, the soul released from its temporary prison of mortality."     - Ivie (Dearest Ivie by J. R. Ward*)

"To love and be loved is the most powerful of human needs."     - Clare Morgan (Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney)

"Love all of God's creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love."     - Brian McLaren (The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian)

"If imagination is what enables us to conceive of and enjoy stories other than our own, and if empathy is the act of taking other people's stories seriously, certainty deadens or destroys both qualities. When we are caught up in our own convictions, other people's stories-which is to say, other people-cease to matter to us."     - Kathryn Schulz (Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error)

Funniest Quotes
"How old are you?"

"Eighteen years out of my transition. You?"

He raised his cocktail glass. "Three hundred fifty-eight years and two months."

"Not even middle-aged."

"No." He smiled. "Not old. Now, if we were humans, this would be inappropriate."

"Well, you would be dead. So yes, necrophilia is creepy."     - Silas & Ivie (Dearest Ivie by J. R. Ward*)

"Punctuality is for people with nothing better to do"     - Harry Dresden (Small Favor by Jim Butcher)

"Tayla cursed under her breath. "I was just explaining to Eidolon that Sin is a Smurfette."

Wraith swung his big body around to study Sin with blue eyes that were very different from Shade's, E's. and Lore's. Sin's, too. "Nah. Smurfette is way hotter."

"What the fuck is a Smurfette?" Eidolon was seriously getting annoyed now.

"There's this cartoon called The Smurfs," Tayla explained, slowly, as though Eidolon were the child here.

"They're these little blue people, and they're all male. But one day a female shows up. She shouldn't exist, but she does."

Eidolon considered that for a second. "How did she get there?"

"An evil wizard named Gargamel made her," Tayla said. "In a lab or something."

"So you're suggesting that an evil wizard made Sin?"

"Of course not, silly. I'm just saying she's a Smurfette. A lone female amongst males."

Eidolon frowned. "Did the Smurfette mate with the males?"

"Dude." Wraith grimaced. "It's a cartoon."     - Tayla, Eidolon, & Wraith (Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione)

Most Emotional Quotes

"All I ever had before you was nightmares. But now I dream. Because of you."     - Wraith (Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione)

"Don't stop talking to me, Makenna. I need your words. Your voice."

"I don't know what to say is all. I want to take away your hurt."

His cheek lifted into a smile under her hand. "Thank you. But sometimes I think I need it. It reminds me I'm alive. And it makes the good times that much better. Like right now, being here, with you."     - Caden & Makenna (Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye)

"I love you," he told her, wiping impatiently at the tears that kept trickling down his face. "I couldn't say it before. I couldn't --" He clenched his trembling jaw, trying to control the hot flow of tears. It only made them worse. Giving up, he buried his face in her hair. "Bloody hell," he muttered.

Sara had never seen him so undone, had never imagined it possible. Stroking his dark head, she whispered meaningless words, trying to give him comfort.

"I love you," he repeated hoarsely, burrowing against her. "I would have given my life to have one more day with you, and tell you that."     - Derek Craven (Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas)

Most Romantic Quotes

"No. It was because it was the first time I made love to anyone. You can call me a liar or anything else, but do not doubt me on this. And I swear to you that you were the first, and you will be the last."     - Wraith (Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione)

When the Warrior pulled her half onto his lap and she felt the hard bulge of his erection thrusting up from his groin pressing into her hip, Katya grew nervous. She pulled away, gasping, and pressed him back with her hand on his chest. "Wait! Wait." She licked her tingling lips and touched them with her fingertips, wondering what she'd been thinking to awaken this sleeping giant. What had happened to her vow to fight him off with all her strength?

Turan's dark eyes glowed like two banked coals ready to ignite into flame. "Please. More," he begged hoarsely. "Please."

She suddenly realized that, despite the fact he could snap her in two if he wished, she was the one with the power. He didn't intend to hurt or force her."     - Katya & Turan (The Warrior's Gift by Bonnie Dee)

"You're not asleep, and you're not dead. I'm here, and I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. I was thinking of you, seeing your face in my mind, every second that I was away. When I told you that I didn't want you, it was the very blackest kind of blasphemy."     - Edward Cullen (New Moon by Stephenie Meyer)

Sexiest Quotes

"Mmm." The vibration in his chest pressed against her back shot sparks of hot lust through her. "I love you this way." He guided his erection to nudge her entrance. "I love you every way."

Katya smiled and pushed back against him. "I love you, too."     - Katya & Turan (The Warrior's Gift by Bonnie Dee)

"She felt him tremble with the force of his need. He spoke just beneath her ear, his voice thick with tormented pleasure. "You have to leave, Sara ... because I want to hold you like this until your skin melts into mine. I want you in my bed, the smell of you on my sheets, your hair spread across my pillow. I want to take your innocence. God! I want to ruin you for anyone else."     - Derek Craven (Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas)

"But here's the secret to success when you possess a much-larger-than-average-size cock. You can't just wave it around like a big bat. You've got to treat it like a baseball manager does a closer. A cock with firepower is your secret weapon, and it's worth its weight in gold if you know what to do with the rest of the lineup. Meaning, the dick should never be the star of the show. The woman's name should be the one in lights, and you need to make her feel that way from start to finish. Warm her up right. Use all your tools-hands, fingers, mouth, tongue, words."      - Spencer Holiday (Big Rock by Lauren Blakely)

Prettiest Covers

Cinnamon and Roses Book Cover

Cinnamon and Roses

by Heidi Betts

Twelve Days Book Cover

Twelve Days

by Teresa Hill

Sexiest Covers

Big Rock Book Cover

Big Rock

by Lauren Blakely

Hearts in Darkness Book Cover

Hearts in Darkness

by Laura Kaye

Ecstasy Unveiled Book Cover

Ecstasy Unveiled

by Larissa Ione

Most Interesting/Unusual Covers 

Twilight Book Cover

Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer

New Moon Book Cover

New Moon

by Stephenie Meyer

Inspired Book Cover

Inspired

by Rachel Held Evans

*This book was published in 2018.

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