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Reading Discoveries of 2016

2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people.  For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard.  I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.

However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy.  Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and  small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy.  Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill.  If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling.  After reading  Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.

Mrfine_250 (1)HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world.  The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining.  The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of  Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books.  I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt"  and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.

I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce  & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.

Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations is the backdrop in these romances.  The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.  


Ruby Dixon
’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to  kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.

Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.




Reading in 2015: 12 Favorite Reads of 2015

My reading year has been pretty fabulous.  I read a lot of good books and I had the opportunity to talk about those books with other people on twitter, on blogs and in person. Talking about books even disagreeing about them is one of my favorite things. Thank you so much for being part of my reading community.

These are some of my favorite books I read this year.

  

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Party Lines by Emma Barry

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie

Beyond Innocence by Kit Rocha

Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The Spymaster Lady by Joanna Bourne

Giving it Up by Audra North

The Martian by Andy Weir

Seduced by Molly O'Keefe

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

 


Recent Reading, Mini-reviews for August.

41yZWcEnKqL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days into a Mars mission astronauts must abort their mission when a storm threatens to destroy their only way home.  Mark Watney, Ares 3's botanist and mechanical engineer is struck by flying piece of debris and thought dead. The rest of the crew are forced to leave without him.  But Mark isn't dead. 

The Martian was a very intense, engrossing love letter to mechanical engineers and astronauts.  I love the way the story alternated between Mark's daily logs, flashbacks and chapters of the crew and Earth-based mission control as they all worked to try to save Mark. Mark's exciting, often humorous tale of survival is part thriller, part McGuyver in Space with lots and lots of science. 

511u3trvy9L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_The Farmer Takes a Wife  (Las Morenas 0.5) by Genevieve Turner:  I really liked the way the characters communicated or failed to communicate about their needs and dreams. I was particularly impressed by Turner's depiction of Laura's claustrophobic home life.

After two years of admiring her from afar Marcus Gries finally worked up the courage to start courting Laura Kemper.  Laura however flattered by Marcus's attentions and personally attracted can't even imagine getting married, not if it means leaving her family behind.

51DIJwGR48L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Ransom by Julie Garwood: Last month I read the Bride and enjoyed it so much, I immediately one-clicked on Ransom earlier this week when it was on sale, because so many people had mentioned it as one of their favorite Garwoods during our discussion of the Bride.

Ransom was delightful. Although superficially quite similar to the Bride (headstrong heroine who is her Highlander warrior beau's only weakness) the tensions and complicating factors such as the local political climate were quite different. I loved the misunderstandings and trickery, it was fun and over-the-top without becoming ridiculous.  I loved the female friendships and the political savvy of the heroine. I was heartbroken by the outcome of family subplot in the story but it felt true and consistently characterized. 

A young Englishwoman rescues the Alec the son of Scottish Laird, taken as part of plot track down an incriminating jeweled box that once belonged to King John's late mistress.  Brodick Buchanan rescues them both and soon becomes attached to Gillian, whose bravery and strength he greatly admires and respects. Gillian's mission is complicated by Brodick's desire to protect her from harm.

51P9B684rxL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh: Back when I first started reading romance and I was looking for some PNR that measured up to Singh's fantastic Psy-Changeling series I ended up reading a ton of Lora Leigh's Breed books.  They had some similar elements (complex and involved world-building, dark agendas and alpha-male protagonists), but they lacked Singh's sense of humor and joy. I eventually came to realize that her Breeds book were just not for me. I did eventually try some of her contemporary romances, which I enjoyed more.

Wicked Lies however was not a good choice for me. Wicked Lies did not work well at all as a stand-alone with it byzantine plot and the tons of backstory.

Wicked Lies was a second chance at love story.  Annie Maynes has been hiding and running from the men who tried kill her and murdered her mother for over a decade. After her last protector dies, she opts to hide in plain sight, ready to finally confront the men she thinks are responsible. Jazz Lancing is a ladies man, casual no-strings friendly hookups are the only kinds of relationships he has had since the girl he meant to wed died. Jazz is drawn to Annie, who won't have anything to do with him. I liked the initial between Jazz and Annie before he found out who she really was.

However there was a lot of WTF revelations involving the Kin (a secretive mountain man militia) and and interactions between Annie and Jazz and her brothers I just didn't buy especially once I realized they weren't some sort of werewolf clan (ultra-possessiveness & macho-machoness).  Lots of ultimatums issued and ignored, and the way Jazz manpain/grief manifested into building a dream house for his 'dead' dreamgirl absolutely no sense to me. 

I received a copy of Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh from St. Martins Press via NetGalley.

Other reading:  This month I read and reviewed four books for RT's November issue. I continue to build knowledge about parts of romland I don't often venture to.  I did enjoy several of them. I also did some more beta reading this month. I really enjoy beta reading.  It is satisfying and fun to have a conversation about a book that can actually affect the shape of a book.


Signal Boost (Off the Grid #2) by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost is the second novel in Alyssa Cole's post-apocalyptic series Off the Grid for Carina Press.  A mysterious event has damaged  the world's or at least North America's electrical grid and crippled communication systems.  In Radio Silence, John leads his best friend Arden out of Rochester, NY to his family's well stocked remote cabin.  There John's big brother Gabe and Arden unexpectedly fall in love.  Signal Boost is John's story and a continuation of the post-apocalyptic plot.

Pre-Flare, John or Jang-wan as he known to his family was a happy gay man, studying computer science and sharing an apartment with Arden. Post-Flare, his life has become stifling and monotonous, he lives for his pre-dawn conversations with Arden before the rest of the family wakes.  The predictable routine of his Post-Flare life is upset when he tackles an intruder trying to pilfer tomatoes from their vegetable garden.

Mykhail was an astro-physics graduate student Pre-Flare, home on extended leave to take care of ailing relative. His Post-Flare life has been incredibly traumatic. He hasn't had any of the comforts the Seong family has enjoyed. He has experienced the horrible things since the Flare and has very little to live for. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that if he find his way back to his former college campus he can  help get the grid up and running again. Mykhail is convinced his former professor and graduate adviser was one of the few people prepared to respond to this event.  

Jang-wan & Mykhail immediately hit it off.  Mykhail is funny, interesting and they connect over long conversations about the cosmos while stargazing. Jang-wan jumps at the opportunity to be of  use. His orienteering skills can get Mykhail to Burrell where his computer skills might be again be of use. 

On the road Jang-wan & Mykhail get to know each other a lot better and face perilous situations. Jang-wan learns all about Mykahail's complicated family, and the life choices.  The heightened emotional situations they experience on the road eventually breakdown Mykhail's resistance to his attraction and admiration for Jang-wan.  The story takes a big shift at this point, moving from trek-road-trip romance to romantic suspense. Many things don't seem right at Burrell College and  Mykhail's will to pursue their relationship is very quickly tested.

I was really looking forward to this book. I enjoyed Radio Silence a great deal and the teaser chapter for Signal Boost was fantastic. But uneven pacing & world building issues tripped me up.  I liked the characters, but I liked the idea of them together more than I liked the execution of it.  Jang-Wan and Mykhail's lengthy conversations about the stars and astrophysics felt like they had been cribbed straight from Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos series.  Jang-Wan & Mykhail's complex emotional and relationship issues  were abandoned in the last quarter of the novel, replaced by a larger set of issues. The action scenes and intrigues were exciting but I felt Mykhail & Jan-Wan's romantic arc suffered.  

 There was a lot of great potential in this story but it did not quite live up to my expectations.

I received a review copy of Signal Boost from Carina Press via NetGalley


Returning to Historical Romance: Countess Conspiracy, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished and Wild Burn

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I started reading romance after reading a fun paranormal retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, "Almost Persuaded" by Mary Balogh.  At the time I didn't realize how significant Balogh is to modern historical romance.  I ended up reading through several of her series enjoying the Bedwyn Saga most of all. I then read most of Julia Quinn's and Stephanie Laurens' books.  I eventually discovered Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Cecilia Grant and Sarah Maclean.  However right around that time I was also starting to get burned out.  I was reading 1.5 books or so a day for over a year, and so at a certain point the plots, the balls, the boots and estates were all running together.  All the authors I have named here are amazing and I loved their books, it was all the nameless others that eventually burned me out.

I ended up taking a sabbatical from Historical Romances and instead started reading Contemporary Romance instead.  I have read all the variations, from NA, small-town, sporty, urban, to MC, but at the end of the year I finally found myself missing historicals.

Jane from Dear Author on twitter suggested Historical Romance reading challenge. One historical a month for 2014.  This seemed like a do-able goal for me.  There were a couple of new releases by trusted names that I could see myself trying and I have a large TBR collection on my kindle of books I bought before I stopped reading historicals.

First up for me was Courtney Milan's Countess Conspiracy.  I had loved the first book of The Brothers Sinister series and two related novellas but I had DNF'ed (Did not finish) the 2nd, Heiress Effect.  It was in fact one of the last Historical I attempted to read last year.  Heiress Effect simply didn't grab me, and while intellectually knew it was a well written book, I just had no interest in finishing it which made me realize I needed to take a break.

I was however very interested in reading about Violet and Sebastian.  Supporting characters in the previous books, Violet is a cool, collected, witty widow, whose friendship with Sebastian a droll, devastatingly handsome and intellectually scientist-rake was deep, genuine and seemingly platonic.

In the Countess Conspiracy we discover that what we thought we knew about Violet and Sebastian, their public personas, are facades they have carefully cultivated to hide their true feelings and agendas.  Violet is not simply an ultra-proper Countess but secretly a passionate obsessive scientist, responsible for most of the work Sebastian has presented as his own for the past decade.  Sebastian isn't just a easy-going pleasure-seeking rake, but a devoted friend and co-conspirator with Violet whose choice to present her work for her, and to hide his true feelings for her, is coming a great personal cost including his brother's respect and possibly the opportunity to be the guardian to his beloved nephew.

The romance in this story was breathtaking. I just loved reading Violet start to break out of her icy-shell, to reclaim herself, and take the risk to love Sebastian after all the has secretly suffered. Sebastian is now my favorite historical hero.  So swoon worthy in his admiration for Violet, his willingness to sacrifice so much for her sake and just simply valuing her and understanding her. There is no overbearing alpha-hole in this book!

Honestly it was the perfect return to Historical Romance book for me.  No Balls, older characters, real stakes.  Characters talk about their feelings and problems, turn to their friends for help, and  it has the nerdiest declaration of love I have ever read.

 

5 out 5 for the Countess Conspiracy.  

A digital ARC of this book was provided by the author via Netgalley for review purposes.

 

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No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah Maclean is the third book in her Rules of Scoundrels series. I liked the first, A Rogue by Any Other Name, despite thinking the hero was almost irredeemable due cruelty in the beginning and I adored the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover with its tortured hero, and spunky bespectacled heroine.

In No Good Duke Goes Unpunished we finally learn the details of the crime that drove Temple, the large undefeated brawler Duke, and third of four partner-owners of The Angel gambling club from society.

Temple is suspected of ruining and killing his father's fiancée Mara Lowe.  Mara Lowe's body was never found and Temple’s recollections of that night are few and hazy.  He has lived for over a decade with society's fear and disdain but most of all with the uncertainty and fear that he might be a killer.

But Mara Lowe is not dead but instead hiding in plain sight running a foster home for unwanted society bastards.  She would have been content to continue to do so except her brother has gambled away their family fortune but more importantly for Mara the funds she uses to run the Home that he was holding in Trust for her.  

When Mara first approaches Temple he is solely focused on revenge and heaping on Mara the scorn he has endured.  Mara is flinty, independent and constantly unbalances him with her deviousness.   Maclean crafted an intriguing romance that was as much about Temple and Mara forgiving and risking trust as exploring the repercussion of abuse and rejection.  Despite a heart-stopping climax the real payoff in this book is the revelation we are given about Chase, the upcoming protagonist of the 4th book in the Rules of Scoundrels series.  It honestly stole the thunder of Temple's story and had me re-reading the book to admire Maclean's deft writing.

4 out 5 for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.

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I follow and enjoy interacting with Edie Harris on Twitter. I have read and enjoyed her sexy contemporary novels Stripped and Sparked set in current day Hollywood.  At the end of last year she gifted me a copy of her Regency era Historical Romance mainly set in France, The Corrupt Comte.  I have started but not yet finished reading it, although I am intrigued by the amoral anti-hero Gaspard and his quest to save and enrich himself by seducing the vulnerable Claudia. I liked everything about it, the language, the setting and characters except for the fact that it made me too anxious.  I need to find time to read it and enjoy without distractions. 

I did however stumble upon a copy of her post-Civil War Western Wild Burn in the NYPL's e-book collection.  This is probably the first non-steampunk Western I have ever read.  The book opens with ex-nun and frontier-town schoolteacher Moira Tully being accosted by a dusty, dangerous, bearded gunslinger, Delaney Crawford.  A tarnished Confederated survivor, Crawford is the Mad Dog Killer, employed by the US Army to hunt down Cheyenne outlaw warrior bands.  Their first encounter is fraught and nearly fatal to Moira's good friend and neighbor, John White Horse. Crawford has been summoned to Red Creek Colorado to hunt down Cloud Rider and his band that might be threatening the mining community despite the fact that the only Cheyenne in the area is a small peaceful community attempting to integrate in order to avoid expulsion. Crawford, White Horse and Tully come to realize there is a conspiracy afoot, and they must untangle it before it cost the lives of White Horse's people.

I thought Harris did a great job portraying a complex and ugly time in American History. She doesn't shy away from the ugly racism, misogyny and genocide in the American West.  Her characters are both a product of their time, and simply people trying to do their best with the hands that they were dealt.  Red Creek feels like a living town, with diverse people.

I thought Harris did a particularly good job with Moira Tully's complicated back-story.  How Moira comes to lose her faith and vocation in the same night before moving West was heartbreaking, and her bravery in the face of violence admirable. I particularly admired how realistic the reasons for Moira choosing the veil were in the first place.

 I do wish however that Moira and Delaney's connection had evolved more slowly.  Although Moira struggles with her insta-trust of Delaney, it still bothered me.  I believed that she was attracted to him, interested in him and that helped overcome her fears but I struggled with how safe she felt with him despite all the reasons she shouldn't have. Moira didn't understand it and neither did I.

4 out 5 Stars for Wild Burn