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Jayne’s Best of 2013

Jayne’s Best of 2013

The last few years I’ve done these year end lists, I’ve come up short of 10. I’ve realized either I’m not reading the right books for me, I’m too picky a reader or I’m totally out of touch with what’s popular right now. So when my list kept growing all year long, I began to think – “OMG, I just might make the max this year!”

Well, not only did I make the max, I exceeded it – whoopee! In ecstatic acknowledgement of that I’ve decided to go over the limit of 10. Yes, yes I will. In order by grade and not much else –

Back-Across-the-StyxBack Across the River Styx by Karalynn Lee – This one is so good I read it twice just to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating about how good it is. When I finished it the second time, I was still as enchanted with it. Since I have more books on hand – print and ebooks – than I will probably ever be able to finish, the fact that I spent time rereading says a lot to me. Greek mythology is perfectly blended with romance. The story arc is complete and satisfactory. The use of historical fact is imaginative and ingenious. I’m running out of adjectives for how good this novella is.

story-guyThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – This one came in for its fair share of criticism but it drew me in from the start and didn’t let go. It’s beautifully written, emotionally engaging and about people who seemed real to me rather than hangers on which to drape an improbable plot. It made me smile as well as cry. It’s also made 2 other DA reviewers’ end of the year lists. ‘Nuff said.

Starting-From-ScratchStarting from Scratch by Stacy Gail – I usually hate amnesia plots, am tired of small town stories and kitsch so for this one to be one of my favorites for 2013 amazed me. Yes, it’s a little heavy on explanations of military life but these go to show what came between the hero and heroine and how much they have to overcome for their HEA. This also backs up the angst, giving it depth instead of leaving it to feel like a shallow check off list of faux emotions to me. I also enjoyed the relationship between the heroine and her best friend from childhood. I’ll be looking for his story.

geek-with-cat-tattooGeek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir – A cat as a narrator? Absolutely and it’s not a shifter story either. The second in this series of three cat siblings finding their forever owner or helping their forever owner find a HEA I loved this one even more than the first from last year. The hero’s shyness and the heroine’s self doubts are perfectly captured. Sam the cat is a wonderful matchmaker and if this one doesn’t make you want to donate to an animal shelter, you have a heart of stone.

Love IrresistiblyLove Irresistibly by Julie James – This is a wonderful relationship story between two well drawn, believable characters who have full lives, friends, believable backstories and can speak lawyer to each other. The conflicts are centered on them rather than an external villain and I felt that I got a multilayered view of them as people and why I should care about them and about them falling in love.

bridgeThe Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher – I think this is probably the most unusual blurb for a book to be offered to Dear Author this year. Two people determined to end it all who try and give the other a reason to live is not a storyline I come across every day. Could this possibly be anything other than a downer to read? Indeed yes, it could be. It’s also an illuminating trip through what two people think makes the best of New York City. The story doesn’t pull punches and never sinks to “feel good” attempts to diminish the real pain the characters have endured and still feel. The ending is hopeful and HFN but I appreciate the fact that it’s real and honest.

sweet-and-sourSweet and Sour by Astrid Amara – I read a lot of holiday themed novellas this year as well as more lgbt stories and this one is good enough to make the “best of” cut. It’s as much the ending of an old relationship as the beginning of a new one which takes a bit of finesse, IMO. It’s also a Hanukkah story and while I can understand that this isn’t considered a major Jewish holiday, it’s still nice to get a holiday story other than one about Christmas.

the-tilted-worldThe Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fenelly – Can an artiste of illegal whiskey and a revenue agent determined to uncover her identity and shut her down find their chance at love in rural Mississippi in 1927? Read this book and you will believe in their slow, gentle romance even as the raging, flooded Mississippi River threatens the town with total destruction. It’s not only a love story but a trip back in time I enjoyed making.

Rhythm-and-BluegrassRhythm and Bluegrass by Molly Harper – This is the second book in the series and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. It’s funny and yet a view of the struggle that many small and not-so-small US towns are faced with in an effort to modernize and survive in today’s global economy. I liked that the conflicts are real, the people are adult about how they deal with them and the hero and heroine have time to let their attraction sizzle a bit before jumping into bed. Nothing felt phony or made up – despite the town name.

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker – What, me read a book set in the world of Jane Austen? At the beginning of the year I would have laughed to think I would but here it is in my top reads of the year. The view of life from below stairs at Longbourn is what drew me in but the descriptions and depictions of the servants as they go about their lives while the major events of “Pride and Prejudice” go on above stairs is what kept me reading. The story, though, isn’t all about how the servants view the Bennett sisters finding love. Instead there is a romance for one of their own that seemed realistic to me. I not only want to believe in their HEA, I do believe it.

Knowing-the-ScoreKnowing the Score by Kat Latham – This one tackled me like a rugby player – in a good way. And by the time I finished it I knew a lot more about the sport than I had. It’s funny, has great dialog and uses UK/US slang brilliantly. The hero should be bottled and sold by the gross. He wins his heroine by being nice to her as well as admiring her work ethic instead of being a prick. The heroine’s virginity might put off readers but it’s made to seem reasonable for her given her past. By the end of the story, I felt that both of them had totally opened themselves to the other and were all set for their HEA.

passion-purple-plumeriaThe Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig – I rejoiced to see this book about an older heroine and older hero finding their HEA. I love that the heroine is shown as competent and intelligent. Also that her hero sees and admires this in her. The modern day parts of the story worked just as well for me which hasn’t always been the case in this series. It’s still going strong and I’m still anticipating the next one, which says volumes.

Carolina-GirlCarolina Girl by Virginia Kantra – Books about small town life often put me off by making the small town into a paean of wonderful. That’s not the case here as both the heroine and hero return to the small Carolina coastal town they couldn’t wait to leave. It’s also has a great family relationship arc that is being carried through the whole series. Though I think readers could start with this one if they wish. Both the hero and heroine mature, make concessions and help each other each with their individual goals as well as their relationship one.

Her-Hesitant-Heart1Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly – I love me a Carla Kelly historical and if it’s a western, that’s the cherry on top. This book might seem like just so much same-old, using standard Kelly tropes, with standard Kelly wry humor to tell the story of two deserving people triumphing over those who want to shame them and/or put them down for acting like honorable adults instead of asshats but, damn it, that’s what I love about her books.

Must Like Kids by Jackie BraunMust Like Kids by Jackie Braun – This isn’t the usual saccharine, baby filled Harlequin offering. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment but overabundance of secret babies and surprise pregnancies of this publisher leaves it wide open for such statements. Given the number of embarrassing tweets, live mic fuckups and other ways public people have dug themselves into holes this year, the set-up is inspired. I enjoyed watching a heroine who is good at her job and a hero willing to gracefully accept her expertise. The children of the story are realistic instead of being plot moppets. The relationship is allowed time to develop and the characterization remains consistent. Too bad about the cover.

REVIEW:  The Accidental Werewolf 2 : Something About Harry by Dakota Cassidy

REVIEW: The Accidental Werewolf 2 : Something About Harry by...

The Accidental Werewolf 2 : Something About Harry (Accidentally Friends #8) by Dakota Cassidy

Dear Ms. Cassidy,

I knew, from the first time I picked up one of your books, that your novels and I would be the best of friends. There was just something about the myriad of characters – from the motherly Marty to the foul-mouthed, homicidal Nina – and the oft-times hilarious situations they found themselves in that called to me. That friendship was cemented one evening at a convention (whose name I forget) when you plopped down next to me and started chatting as if we were old friends. So when I saw you had a new book coming out, well, it was a no brainer.

Once again, you didn’t disappoint.

Human accountant extraordinaire for Pack Cosmetics, Harry Emmerson, has a great job (which he loves) custody of his niece and nephew (whom he loves more than life itself, though he’s a little in the weeds with the whole “parent” thing), and a teensy tiny little hirsuitism issue that just started. Mara Flaherty is a chemist at Pack, friend to all, and a werewolf woman with a dream – all she wants is to have a baby. She doesn’t necessarily want, or need, a man to do it – especially not with current Pack laws. Thanks to her brilliant mind and a misplaced bottle, Mara gets her baby – only he’s full grown, Harry (and hairy), and comes with plenty of attitude. It’s up to the Mara and the ladies of O.O.P.S to help Harry adjust to his new state of being (despite his obvious reluctance and insistence he’ll find a way to reverse it). There are just a few tiny (read: major) wrinkles. First of all, what Mara did isn’t only illegal, but absolutely game changing for the entire werewolf community. She’s facing jail time, if not worse, if the gang can’t conjure a way out of it. Secondly, someone is decidedly unhappy about the burgeoning romance – or at least togetherness – between Mara and Harry. And whomever it is will stop at nothing to see them apart. The largest wrinkle of all? Mara has been in love with Harry almost since the moment she saw him. And now he’s got some serious issues about his creator.

Filled with hilarity and enough twists and turns to make a West Virginia mountain road jealous, the story is everything, and more, I’ve come to expect from one of your books. The characters are well developed and, in some cases, so over the top that I’m looking for the roller coaster and Candid Camera crew. I was rather surprised that Harry, upon discovering his driving need for waxing and shaving care, didn’t look around for Ashton Kutcher’s “Punk’d” cameras.

Now, lest readers of this review think that your books are all fluff and no stuff, let me just say this: Despite all of the laughter and outrageous situations, you tackle some fairly heavy topics head on, without slowing down, in what SHOULD seem like a bull-in-a-china-shop maneuvers. But they’re not. In many cases, they’re so subtle and delicate, that realization has the light bulb not only going off, but exploding in shards of paranormal-scented brilliance. I love how you tackled a factor of Pack politics I’ve not really seen done anywhere else. What happens when a werewolf female wants a baby, but doesn’t necessarily want any of the male choices available to her? I’ve seen it handled in other stories, but you attacked it with subtlety wrapped in Nina’s fangs. It wasn’t until I’d read further into the book that I was able to see the way you coiled the question around, wrapping it up in plot and insane situations. And I think I love you for that.

There were times, however, that the story felt just a little bit draggy. The beginning, while clever and funny, lacked the oomph I’ve come to expect. It was almost a difficult book to get into, with a little struggle to maintain interest. Newer readers might be a bit put off by Nina’s sharp fangs and sharper words if they’re not used to the level of, shall we say, earthy, orally gifted, creative levels of verbal expression characters like Nina so often employ. That is to say – the book can get downright crass in places. You can dress a pig up in a tutu and tiara and take it to the ballet, but it’s still just a pig in a tutu and tiara.

Overall, I loved the book. Reading it was like settling in to catch up with old friends over high-octane hot cocoa. My current dream job is to be the new receptionist and part-time call-taker for O.O.P.S. Do you think the ladies are hiring?

Forever with Fur and Fangs,

Mary Kate

 

As a reader who’s old enough to know better and young enough to not
care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to
offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in
one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and
anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my
parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt
started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds
of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s
land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s
children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room
downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I
didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent
working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first
responders, and trying to dig my writer/editor/reviewer husband out
from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of
romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and
self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.

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