Kaetrin’s best of 2020
Well, 2020 pretty much sucked. I suffered my way through a number of reading slumps and spent a long time doing something I hardly ever did before – re-reading. I turned to comfort reads for weeks at a time because things were just awful. I didn’t read as many new release books this year as I normally would and toward the end of the year my reading and reviewing mojo took a major dive so I kind of expected my best of list would be really small. However, I did find 9. For the most part, these books had a higher bar than in previous years – it was much harder to gain and keep my attention. All of these books did that and they delighted and moved me along the way.
In no particular order my top 9 books of 2020 are:
Headliners by Lucy Parker
You really do have to read The Austen Playbook first (no hardship) but this was a wonderful start to my 2020 reading.
“People come into your orbit and you bring out the best in them.” There was an odd note in Nick’s voice, as if he were speaking almost against his will. “You make people feel good about themselves.” Little upward-tilted lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. “Present company excepted.” Slowly, he added, “You make people want to be…better. Happier. You strike a match. Ignite positive change.” His smile now was faint and fleeting. “Sparks.”
Strange Love by Ann Aguirre
This delightful interplanetary alien romance was one I reviewed at my own blog. It was fun and sweet and different and there’s a talking dog!
“…I enjoy the way you respond to me. It’s beautiful that it feels effortless.” He paused, seeming to choose his words with care. “I have never pleased anyone without trying. Never felt that who I am is enough. You are a miracle, Beryl Bowman. My miracle.”
Candy Hearts by Erin McLellan
I reviewed this book at my own blog. It’s fantastic. Kinky and funny and sweet and sexy. Loved. Honestly, get this book.
William licked the sweat off Benji’s shoulder, then dipped his head and kissed the stretch of skin below Benji’s armpit.
He’d never had a guy target his armpit, but it was the second time William had done so. It sent a ticklish, jumpy sensation to Benji’s stomach. He groaned, wanting to be touched there harder. Or maybe lighter. Or wetter. He simply knew it felt weird and good. Benji certainly hadn’t expected William to teach him things about his own body, but lifelong learning was a noble pursuit. He’d heard that from a librarian once.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
CW: anxiety, depression, grief
This book has wonderful characterisation, delightful witty banter and some hot sex. There are also some most excellent turns of phrase and word pictures, revealing character and adding to the rich tapestry of the story. For example, here:
She pinned her eyes to the slightly dented chrome doors as she waited, Jo’s words circling in her mind like a children’s merry-go-round. Perhaps the motion was why they made Dani feel slightly nauseous.
“I’m not in love with her,” Zaf gritted out. Because he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. There were lines and boxes and sensible paths, and Dani was over the line and out of the box and in the middle of the woods, so no, he was not in love with her.
Sweetest in the Gale by Olivia Dade
It’s an anthology and I enjoyed all three stories very much but the standout by far was the “title track”. CW: Grief, substance abuse, cancer
Sweetest in the Gale is overtly about subtext. That seems like a contradiction in terms but you’ll have to trust me on that one. There are layers to it but even I, who freely admits I’m not all that good at subtext, found it easy to read the signs. I suspect however, I could find even more on re-read.
No, not everyone enjoyed interpreting subtext. Not all the time.
He closed his eyes.
Metaphors and poetry are wonderful. But sometimes people need to hear the actual words, love. Marianne had cupped his face, stroking her thumbs over his cheeks, her hair tumbled on a shared pillow. Sometimes I need to hear the actual words. ‘I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m sad. I love you.’
Sometimes I can’t find direct words that encompass everything I want to say, everything I feel, he’d protested.
Consider them handholds. Her fingers were warm and tender on his skin. Easily grasped in hard moments. Easily understood. Easily supplemented with a few good metaphors or lines of poetry. I know your family didn’t talk about feelings, but you’re direct about everything else in your life, Griffin. You can do it. It’ll just take some practice.
There are multiple layers to it but even I, who freely admits I’m not all that good at subtext, I found it easy to read the signs. I suspect however, I could find even more on re-read.
Someone to Romance by Mary Balogh
Janine and I reviewed this one together as we have done the other books in the series. Unlike most of our other reviews however, on this one, we had quite divergent opinions. Given that it’s appearing in my best of list, it’s pretty obvious which side I came down on! :)
I really love the way Balogh discusses personhood in so many of her books and this one in particular.
What had offended her was her assumption that he saw her as a commodity rather than as a person. Did he? He very much feared she might have a point. She wanted him to see her for what she really was—or perhaps that should be who she really was, quite independent of all the attributes that made her one of the most eligible ladies in England.
He had been taken aback by her outburst. She had been seriously upset with him. Not so much with his presumption in informing her that he intended to marry her as with the fact that it was not her he wished to marry, but rather the titled, wealthy Lady Jessica Archer, sister of the Duke of Netherby. Just as though they were two quite separate entities.
Strangely, stupidly, the possible truth of that had not struck him until she said it. He had assumed that the Lady Jessica he saw was the whole person, that there was no more to her than the appearance she presented to the world of beauty, elegance, poise, arrogance, and entitlement. She would perfectly suit his purpose, he had decided almost the first moment he saw her. Even her beauty would suit him. One of his first duties as Earl of Lyndale, after all, would be to produce sons. She would be an attractive bedfellow, he had thought, if perhaps a trifle cold.
Which of them, then, had been the arrogant one?
A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane
CW: Extreme violence and gore, rape, torture, abuse (mostly – but not all – off page).
This is one I reviewed at my own blog too.
This book blew me away. I was caught up and invested in the story right from the beginning and the book did not let me go until the final page. Yes, it’s violent – the CWs aren’t for show – but the worldbuilding, the characters and the romance were just fabulous.
From my review:
I liked the word pictures and the way that the book showed, over and again, that together, Maddek and Yvenne were greater than the sum of their parts, perhaps best illustrated here:
“I am Nyset’s heir. The goddess Vela looks through my eyes. She will guide my aim. But I need your strength.”
His head snapped down, his dark gaze searching hers. Only a breath passed before he was suddenly behind her, all around her. His left hand gripped the bow beneath her grip, his fingers closed over her fingers, and it was as if his hands were hers when they pulled the bowstring together.
Love Hard by Nalini Singh
My favourite of the series by far. Loved this. Hard. (heh)
There were lots of little gems dropped into the story which showed how well the pair worked in all the ways.
He’d found that sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder. Reaching back to grip his thighs, she angled her head a fraction more. She felt his lips curve against her even as he slid one hand around her waist and pressed it flat against her stomach. The idea of Jake smiling as he kissed her, of Jake enjoying doing things to her that pleasured her, it melted her in ways that were far deeper than sex.
Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs
I reviewed the audiobook of this one but I then went and did a series re-read from start to finish (so far) and read the ebook of Smoke Bitten at the end of it so I’m counting it.
It doesn’t work as a stand-alone of course and I don’t want to say too much about the plot but oh boy is it goooood.
I’m going to have to try these Erin McLellan books.
@Jayne: They’re so good!!
2020 was horrible. It’s easy to understand why some readers are finding it hard to get absorbed in a story when it feels like the world is disintegrating. I was lucky not to have that issue; I actually read more than I usually do. Maybe I needed the escape? Since I live in what is now the world epicenter of Covid cases I’m cooped up most of the time. It’s good to be able to get away, even if only in the pages of a book.
I think I need to try that Nalini Singh series, and those Erin McLellan books.
@Marg: I hope you like them!
@Janine: I still can’t read!! *cries*