I read a lot of pre-2015 books this year, and a lot of autobuy authors, so I wasn’t sure I had enough to do a Best of 2015 list. But I read some really good books and I wanted to highlight them, so in no particular order, here they are.
Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark
This book blew me away when I read it. I came upon it serendipitously, knowing almost nothing about the author, but I read the first chapter and was hooked. It’s everything I want in a contemporary romance: interesting, self-aware characters, a genuine conflict between the hero and heroine, main characters who are embedded in a social world that matters to them, a luscious, slow-burn love story, and terrific writing. As I said in my review, the book is first and foremost a romance, but it also explores family relationships, friendships, and the joys and demands of creativity. Both Daisy and Wade have to figure out their own journeys before they can make one together, and we are with them all the way. A wonderful, memorable book. My review is here and Janine’s review is here.
The Puffin Island Series by Sarah Morgan
Sarah Morgan’s second small-town New England series, the Puffin Island series, was just as enjoyable for me as last year’s O’Neill Brothers trilogy, maybe even more so. These stories revolve around four women college friends (there is a prequel novella that kicks off the trilogy of novels) and are set on a small vacation island in Maine. The relationships range from opposites attract to enemies-to-lovers to estranged lovers, so there’s something for everyone. The first novel sets the scene and introduces all the characters, and it’s heavier on the small-town aspect, with lots of supporting characters. The second and third are more tightly focused on the relationships; I loved them all. I’m a sucker for Morgan’s writing style and story choices, and I have a weakness for small-town romance, so if I can be said to have a type of romance catnip, this is it.
Kaetrin’s review of the first novel is here. For some reason the books are released later in North America than they are in Europe, so the third novel won’t be published here until 2016, but you can order print copies of the UK releases from somewhere like The Book Depository if you don’t want to wait.
Tigers on the Run by Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy has been one of my favorite m/m authors for years, and I was thrilled at the appearance of a third installment in the ongoing love story of Simon and Declan. At this point the two are secure in their relationship, but they still have their ups and downs, thanks to recurring and new characters. Kennedy introduces a new, younger character into the mix of recurring characters (and I understand he will be the focus of a new novel), and some old conflicts are finally resolved, with these two storylines generating most of the conflict and tension. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting this world again, in which grown-up people negotiate real-world problems and disagreements and come out stronger at the other end. That’s my idea of a satisfying romance. I agree with some of the criticisms about Simon’s lack of professionalism, but the pluses of the novel far outweighed the minuses for me. Sirius’s and my joint review is here.
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Every year in which a new Kearsley novel is released is a good year. I held off reading this for months, because her writing rewards close attention and I was in a romance-reading slump, but when I finally did read it I wasn’t disappointed. There are two storylines as usual, one contemporary and one historical, but no supernatural/paranormal element. The contemporary story was enjoyable, but I loved, loved, loved the historical one. It’s a suspense plot, there’s a road romance, and the hero and heroine are wonderful (the way the hero was transformed from an ominous presence to a warm, loving man was perhaps the best part of the book). This book came close to The Winter Sea for me, which is my all-time favorite Kearsley. Kaetrin’s review is here.
The Warlord and the Nightingale by Jeannie Lin
I read almost no newly-released historical romance anymore, but for Jeannie Lin’s books I drop everything and one-click. I reviewed A Dance With Danger earlier this year and liked it a lot, and I also enjoyed Clockwork Samurai, the Japan-set followup to Gunpowder Alchemy that was released earlier this month. In between, Lin published The Warlord and the Nightingale as a standalone short set in the Gunpowder Chronicles steampunk world (it had originally been published in February as part of a fairy-tale anthology). Oh, readers, it is so, so good. I am not a fairy-tale-reading person, so I didn’t know the details of the original she was riffing off, but I was completely captivated by the main characters, the setting, and the story. In less than 40 pages Lin gives us characters we care about in a context whose richness is achieved through the lightest brush strokes. The end comes far too quickly; I wanted more of everything! But it’s such a satisfying read. If you don’t believe me, believe my husband, who found it on his Kindle, read it without knowing anything about the story or the world, and declared it one of his top reads of 2015.
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
I broke my no-ARCs rule for this first installment in de Bodard’s new fantasy series, set in a post-apocalyptic Paris, and I’m not even a little sorry I did. As she does with all of her work, de Bodard throws you into the story at the deep end and you just have to go with her. The action revolves around fallen angels who are organized into Houses and who are in conflict with each other. In addition, there is an world under the Seine, which is made up of people from the French colony of Annan. The action revolves around Philippe, who is from Annan; Isabelle, a newly fallen angel, and several powerful House members and leaders. No one is entirely good or entirely bad, and the characters clearly have layers of complexity that this first installment only begins to plumb. The world-building is imaginative, and the intersection of imperial France and colonial Annan is fascinating. The story is labyrinthine at times and you really have to concentrate and pay attention, but it’s so worth it. I can’t wait for the next installment. Janine’s and my joint review is here.