Best of 2015 list.
For my end of the year list I usually try to include the most memorable books for me, so if I cannot remember the book without looking through my reviews it does not make the list.
1. Astrid Amara “Song of the navigator’
I was in love with this book since the moment I bought it and inhaled it. I enjoyed this writer’s work before but as I said in my review her artistic choices do not always work for me and I have not had much luck with betrayal/slavery stories where betrayed guy forgives the one who did the betrayal. More often than not I do not find them convincing. Not so here – Cruz and Tover stayed with me long after I read the book and I still remember them vividly.
2. M. Keedwell “Dark economy”
And to think that but for my friend’s recommendation I could have missed this one. I have not read too many memorable historical romances in the last year and considering that historicals are one of my favorite subgenres, I consider this to be an unfortunate occasion. This is a historical mystery and some reviewers found that romance was secondary storyline, but to me there was so much unresolved tension between protagonists that I was extremely happy with the romance in this book. We have excellent antagonistic chemistry between the men which is based on real conflict. Cadell is a medical student who is robbing graves because he genuinely wants to become a better surgeon and to help people and he does not have enough bodies to practice on and Blaine knows that robbing graves is still illegal and he wants to catch Cadell because he is sure that Cadell is guilty. The main storyline of the book is Cadell investigating a murder because he becomes suspicious about what happened to one of the men whose body he was going to dissect and he decides to go and get justice for the deceased. I enjoyed this one a lot. Review Here
3. Charmed and Dangerous anthology.
I thought this was a very strong offering – I think I enjoyed six or seven stories in this anthology, but the reason it made my list was mostly because of once again Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale. Here is what I said in my review about their stories.
Ginn Hale – Swift and the Black Dog
When Jack Swift killed a tyrant and won the revolution he became a national hero. But someone in the new government prefers dead heroes to living, swearing, cynical wizards. Caught between bullets, revenge and desire, Jack had better be swift indeed.
From my review:
I think for me this story was the darkest and the best in the anthology. It is no secret that I love Ginn Hale’s work, but for me past performance is no guarantee of the future success even with my favorite writers, so I definitely did not approach this story as a guaranteed win. This novella explored the themes of what consequences winning the revolution can often be for its participants and for the society.
Astrid Amara – The Trouble With Hexes
P.I. Tim Keller has a problem. And the only person who can solve it is his ex-boyfriend, Vincent, whose job as a hexbreaker was the reason they broke up. It’s hard admitting he was wrong, especially when coughing up organs. But there’s a missing person to find, a hexmaker to hunt down, and a romance to repair before Tim breathes his last.
This was one of the most romantic stories in the anthology for me. Although it is a standalone novella, this story made me feel as if I had known Tim and Vincent for a long time. In a world where characters in m/m books often forget that they have jobs and professional responsibilities, it was so refreshing to read about two men who, despite being deeply in love with each other, broke up because Tim could not handle the demands Vincent’s job put on him and his health. Of course I could see why Vincent, who is essentially a magical healer, would not stop helping sick and often dying people to get rid of hexes, but I also get how Tim just could not deal with what Vincent’s job demanded from him. There is nothing better to make you believe in the realities of magical healing than to see the consequences of a deadly hex on yourself. When Tim comes to see Vincent again, he is very ill and if they do not act fast he might die pretty soon. I could feel the love and regret between these two. And neither of them wanted to get his heart broken again, but love was still there and of course it ends well. I anticipate rereading this story more than once.
Full review of the anthology could be found here.
4. Joanna Chambers “Unnatural”
I thought this book was lovely. As the blurb states, this story is about Captain Ian Sinclair, who briefly appeared in “Enlightened” as Murdo’s friend.
I loved this book despite the fact that for most of the story not really much happened in the present storyline, but the author made me care about these guys so very much that I just was so eager to figure out what is stopping them from being together and how they could overcome it.
5. Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) – Ilona Andrews.
At the end of the previous book in what I can probably call my favorite urban fantasy series the writers send the main characters Kate and Curran in the new direction. Curran resigned from the position of Beast Lord of Atlanta and they went to live quiet suburban life. If anybody can imagine Kate and Curran’ life ever being quiet that is ?. I think of this book as relative quiet before the push to the last confrontation with the series Big Bad (if he is still the Big Bad, because I am honestly not sure anymore).
6. “Affiliations, Aliens and Other Profitable Pursuits” by Lyn Gala.
I reviewed the first two books here and I loved the conclusion as well, however I hope that this is the last book in the series. I loved it, I just do not feel there is much left to explore in the characters and the plot – in fact plot wise not much really happens in this one already.
Review to come.
It’s that time of year when bloggers turn their minds to their favourite reads and try and come up with clever lists and pithy statements about the books they loved best that year. Alas I’m all out of pithy statements, but I had plenty of books to choose from. As it happens, all my favourite reads were released in 2015 – which represents no more than that I read more new releases this past year than I did last year.
Here they are, in no particular order:-
Doing No Harm by Carla Kelly
This book was like a warm snuggly blanket of delicious. Even though it contained some heavy themes, it was completely charming.
She laughed and slapped his head, which made him grab her and kiss her, not on the forehead this time. Her arms went around him as though they did this every day, and they stood together in a tight embrace.
She drew away first; he had no immediate plans to ever move.
The Deal by Elle Kennedy
Oh, man, I loved this book so hard. If I absolutely had to choose a No. 1 favourite for the year, it would probably be The Deal. Probably.
Garrett climbs on the bed and lies down, resting his head on a mountain of pillows. I’ve never met anyone who sleeps with so many pillows. Maybe he needs them to cradle his massive ego.
The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen
Bella was always one of my favourite characters from the Ivy Years series and her books totally lived up to expectations for me.
It’s hard to admit you’re just in someone’s periphery when you imagined you were closer to the center of their world.
The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan
Loved Gray and Ivy. Loved the banter, loved their chemistry. Total win.
“I nearly wet myself when I saw him,” Fi prattles on. “Jay-sus, he’s hot. And freaking huge. A veritable mountain of sexy.” She fans her face with exaggerated movements. “Seriously, Iv… You could climb him like Everest, make base camp at his cock, and tackle the rest in the morning.”
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish
Beautifully written debut.
Maybe the point of I love you is that it is a tether. A connection so you can find your way back to someone even when shit seems huge and unmanageable on your own.
Him by Elle Kennedy & Sarina Bowen (which I reviewed at my own blog)
Elle Kennedy AND Sarina Bowen. It’s a twofer.
“Yeah? Hit me. What’s good about going gay?” I nudge him back under the table.“Well, dicks,” he says. “Obvs.”
Ride Steady by Kristen Ashley
Who knew Joker was going to be such a wonderful hero?
“What can I give you, Butterfly?” he asked quietly.
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Susanna Kearsley never fails to satisfy. Two beautiful romances. Very special.
His logic made me smile a little. “No.”“Then I’m the variable.” Lowering his mouth to mine, he set about convincing me, and did a thorough job of it. I wanted to believe.
He said, “You never need to change for me.”
The Girl Next Door by Amy Jo Cousins
This book was all about Cash for me. I loved his humour and his kindness. He made me laugh and he made me awwww. Plus; holy hotness Batman.
“Are you flexing your pecs at me?”
He was a truthful guy, but, dude…
“No way.” He duplicated the movement, tried to figure out what else could have caused him to twitch like that. “Stomach cramp.”
(There is one more in my full length novel list but as it was written by someone from Dear Author I won’t include it here. If you want to know what it is, hit me up on Twitter. @Kaetrin67)
Favourite Novellas and Short Stories
Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker
Just beautifully written, this moody BDSM novella was a stand out.
Curled up in his lap, my head resting against his chest, I start to calm. By the time he’s helping me dress then spooning me on my side of the bed, he’s eased me enough to fall asleep. When I startle awake in the middle of the night, coming to consciousness with the feeling of freefalling with no wings, he’s there. He doesn’t usually hold me through the night, probably because it’s uncomfortable lying on the gap between the beds, but tonight he is. The selfless gesture of concern is touching.
“Go to sleep, little bird. I’m not going anywhere.”
Luminous by AE Ash
Another one that was beautifully written, the words were evocative and gorgeous.
Luminous. That was the word that appeared in her mind. He was luminous and impossible and bleeding out right in front of her, curled in fetal position, eyes closed. Gold skin, gold hair, dark red blood. The fireball had dropped here, and the dream had led her outside today—no helm and no idea what she was walking into.
[Tor founder Tom] Doherty confirmed that after two years Tor Books had yet to see any downside to their decision. Distributing ebooks sans DRM has not increased the number of pirated ebooks or visibly decreased sales of Tor titles, thus proving that DRM serves no actual purpose other than locking consumers into existing retail channels. –The Digital Reader
The Kickstarter is looking to raise $1 million and wants to accomplish three goals: bringing Reading Rainbow to the web, creating a version meant for teachers’ use in classrooms, and setting up a not-for-profit with the goal of giving Reading Rainbow away to low-income schools for free. Other schools and individual families will still be able to use Reading Rainbow on the web, but they’ll have to pay a subscription to access it — for personal use of the iPad app, that’s about $60 per year. –The Verge
I struggled to come up with my list this year, and that is my excuse for being pathetically late (is it still 2012?). A few books went on automatically as soon as I read them, while others took more agonizing over. Slightly more than half are by authors I’ve read and admired in the past, but the rest are new to me. Looking over the final list, I gave special consideration to books that were unusual or pushed against genre conventions. But I also enjoyed stories that adhered to the standard romance framework and executed it really well.
The list is in alphabetical order by (lead) author’s last name.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (review to come). The latest installment in the Vorkosigan series, this is Ivan’s story. It’s been ages since I last read a Miles book, but I was immediately immersed in the world. Bujold makes Ivan competent and hero-ish without altering his character from the previous books, and even though I’d forgotten a lot about the Vorkosigan universe I was rarely lost. It speaks volumes for Bujold’s skill that I think a newbie could start here and still get a great deal of pleasure from reading it. And for Miles veterans, it’s wonderful to see Ivan finally get center stage, with enjoyable supporting turns from the rest of the cast.
Lean on Me by HelenKay Dimon (review here). Generally I’m not a fan of small-town family series, but I followed Dimon here from her Romantic Suspense categories and she totally won me over. The heroine is a driven, ambitious, solitary mountain climber who has to find a new profession, and the hero is a high-school quarterback star turned small-town businessman. It’s a an excellent example of a well-known setup being given new life through skillful execution and judiciously applied twists to the formula.
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand (review here). I read this two weeks after returning from a Paris vacation and felt as if I right there again. The heroine can be a bit annoying, but the hero is scrumptious: he’s confident to the point of arrogance about his gifts, but he also recognizes his limitations and others’ strengths. The romance is terrific and the patisserie setting will make you head for the kitchen even if you’ve just finished a meal.
One Starlight Night by Carolyn Jewel (novella in Midnight Scandals anthology, review here). I don’t know why readers don’t talk about Jewel the way they talk about Thomas, Duran, Milan, and other authors whose writing style is beloved by so many. Jewel is one of the best writers of historical romance, in my opinion; her prose creates a hypnotic, seductive world in which anything can happen. She writes stories that resonate for readers today without doing violence to the historical record and without turning her 19th-century characters into visitors from the 21st century. The romance in this novella is intense and gripping, and while the context and backstory are sketched rather than spelled out, I was so caught up that I barely noticed.
Irregulars by Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrida Amara, and Ginn Hale (review to come). I’m reading less m/m this year, but this book would stand out in any year, among books from any genre. The four novellas can be read independently, but you wouldn’t want to because the way they are linked is so ingenious. Each story reflects the style and sensibility of the author who wrote it while at the same time adding aspects that aren’t in the authors’ solo-authored works, and together they create a cohesive, fascinating world. This is a book that rewards careful reading and can be reread more than once.
Dark Soul series by Aleksandr Voinov (reviews here, here, and here). Part 1 starts out looking like a skillfully executed but predictable mobster m/m story and then becomes much, much more. There’s BDSM, gender-fluidity, happy married heterosexuals, mayhem and violence, and that’s just in the first half of the series. The characters are all complex and nuanced, and Voinov never takes the obvious path. The later installments are weighed down by the complexity of the interlocking individual stories and there are a few too many important characters, but the twists and turns keep coming, right up to the surprisingly optimistic ending.
The Girl With the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir (review here). A poignant, bittersweet, but ultimate uplifting novella narrated by a very endearing cat. I swore I would never read cat books but not only did I read it, I loved it. Max is most definitely a cat, with no superpowers other than the ability to narrate this story. Through his eyes we see his human, Melody, and her attempt to build a life as a young widow. The book has the dark themes that mark other books by Weir, but it is also witty and humorous, and there is most definitely an HEA for Melody. Max, on the other hand, has just begun his adventures.
There are books that I felt were exceptional this year and books that I thought were good. A best of list, though, should be about exceptional books. Some of my picks are controversial and I expect to hear about it in the comments!
One I put on the list and took off three times, ultimately deciding it didn’t belong (Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay). In the end, I was unable to identify 10 best books of the year as so many of them would have tied for the 9 and 10 spot (like Sarah Mayberry’s Suddenly You or Karina Bliss’ Bring Him Home). I didn’t put Kristen Ashley on the list because while I read more of her books than any other authors’ books in 2012 and I probably lost about three weeks of my life compulsively reading through her backlist, they needed more editing to rise to a “best of” on my list.
I feel good about my list of eight books. They presented something different and fresh for the genre. They challenged me and I think about these titles long after the book is done. Many of them I’ve re-read in 2012 at least once and can envision re-reading for many years to come.
- Riveted by Meljean Brook (Review here) – What Brook does with disability and otherness in her stories is unmatched. Further, every book contains a new couple, unrecognizable from previous couples.
- A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant (Review here) – This was a genre bender, in my opinion. A stunning debut that I’ll revisit for years to come.
- Easy by Tammara Webber (Review here) – One of the two self published books on my 2012 list, I think Webber will be a standard bearer of the New Adult sub genre. She writes girl positive stories and tackles difficult issues.
- Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (Review here) – When I was done, my heart ached for the two protagonists.
Heat by R. Lee Smith (Review here) – This book took me places that were uncomfortable and unsavory. I could not stop reading. The world building was tremendous.Not published in 2012.
- Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady. (Review here) – In a year of paranormals that mostly failed for me, this layered post apocalyptic steampunk story gave me meaty worldbuilding and a rich romance.
- Ravishing the Heiress by Sherry Thomas (Review here) – Thomas’ trilogy was a challenge for me. I responded negatively to the first one and felt discontent with the last, but this book took me through the angst wringer and left me a heap of worn out emotion.
- Can’t Buy Me Love by Molly O’Keefe (Review here) – Tara was such a great and different and challenging heroine.
Review by January. Gripping, riveting and involving story – not great literature (the prose and characterization were serviceable), but super-readable. I read it in a day; it’s been years since I’ve read a book from start to finish in a single day. So I have to give it an A for that alone. I continue to realize that I have a weird attraction to (sort of) dystopian, man-against-nature themes.
At Your Pleasure, Meredith Duran, B+
Dabney’s review is here. I ranked this one so highly mainly on the strength of the writing and the tight plotting. I actually found the characters, especially the hero, somewhat problematic, and I didn’t like the power imbalance between the hero and heroine. But it was romantic and absorbing, and I did believe in the HEA. As with Thomas, Duran’s prose more than makes up for elements that don’t work as well for me.