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.
N.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.
Santino 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.
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.
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.
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:
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 civilizations 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.
TS 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 pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.
I've been binge reading bear-shifter books on KU for the past month and not writing much of anything although I have several posts percolating. I'll review my epic dive into TS Joyce's bear shifter books in the next few days but since I haven't posted my RT reviews here since May (Whoops!), here are the ones from the July issue!
Ride'em by Delphine Dryden -- I quite enjoyed this. I love Delphine and I laughed a lot reading this one. Kinky enemies to lovers at dude ranch.
Into the Blue by Chantel Cleeton -- Second chance love story. Great portrayal of pilot dealing with grief and PTSD and questioning the choices he made once. Great conflict.
SPECIAL Announcement: Two years ago I met up with Elisabeth Lane from Cooking up Romance at RWA and we had such a fabulous time talking face to face about romance. This summer I drove up to Montreal to meet up with Kay, from Miss Bates Reads Romance and despite having two days with her, we hardly scratched the surface about all the awesome romance conversations we could have. After my visit to Kay, we ended up talking on twitter about how awesome it would be to get a bunch more of rom reader twitter friends together to just hang around together and talk romance. The more we talked about it, the more possible it seemed. So we decided to get serious about it. We are planning on meeting up in Montreal, next summer, Aug 11-13, 2017 . Montreal is a very fun city and Kay is fantastic host! If you want to know more please visit:http://www.romancenovelmeetup.com/ and sign up for the update emails.
I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping. I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.
These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):
Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.
Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.
One Love collects a lot of great previously released multi-cultural romances along with one new story by Audra North. The stories are great introductions to some wonderful authors and are well worth the .99 price tag.
In Roxie Rivera'sHer Cowboy Protector, Cruz Montes, a heavily pregnant Doctoral student in Math, must go into hiding when her undercover DEA agent brother, Carlos discovers that her rapist and wanted assassin is looking back in town and looking for Cruz.
When his old army buddy calls him, Niall Campbell doesn't hesitate to step up and help. He will do his best to keep Carlos's sister safe even if he doesn't have much more than a desolate farm and war-honed instincts to offer.
If that seems like a lot of plot, it is only a fraction of what goes on in this book. Rivera's action packed plots are always intense, complicated and over-the-top. Somehow her books are fun to read despite the many hard topics she tackles. While I rolled my eyes at points, I enjoyed the ride.
Madison "Sonny" White left the behind medical school, a social climbing fiancee and the ever-present pressure of her parents' expectations to pursue a life of her own choosing. Flirting outrageously with the wickedly handsome stranger in a suit on her first night in a new town is a risk she would have never dared before but hopes never to regret.
Ian Landry almost always has grease under his fingernails from the engines he repairs on his off-days. His life is dedicated to caring for his younger sister and making a better life for both of them, so he rarely ever has an opportunity to share drinks with his friends at his old bar but he has cause to celebrate. Madison is alluring and a temptation he doesn't want to walk away from after one night, especially when they both awkwardly discover he is her new landlord the next morning.
All You Can Handle is the sixth book in Rochon's Moments in Maplesville novella series and is the kind of story I am always asking for: a small town romance that is sexy and fun, has a great sense of place and has POC leads. As soon as I finished it I picked up the rest of the series. If you are fan of small-town contemporary romances similar to Shannon Stacey's Kowalski series, pick these up. The first two are available as a free bundle.
The second-to-last story in the collection was Audra North'sCabin Fever, a second-chance-at-love story. The last time Rico Cardenas and Becca Neubaum saw each other their friendship fell apart with harsh words and a misunderstanding. It has been five years polite distance, punctuated by awkward avoidance, regret and unexpected challenges.
Rico and Becca's reunion is not easy. They have both grown up a lot in 5 years, their lives changing in directions they never anticipated and as much as they are familiar with each other, they need to get to know each other in a different way and learn lessons from how they hurt each other before.
I had previously read Liliana Lee's Obsession,Jill Sorenson's Wild for Him and Genevieve Turner's Summer Chaparral, so I didn't re-read them this time around even though I enjoyed them all when they were first released. Liliana Lee is the another name for Jeannie Lin, whose Tang Dynasty historical romances I adore. Obsession is first of a historical erotica series.
The events in Jill Sorenson's story Wild for Him, happen concurrently with her full-length novel Wild but can be read as stand-alone. Gwen Tagaloa is a tattoo artist who finds herself falling for her best-friend's long-distance-not-quite-ex-boyfriend Mitch when they work together to try to rescue Helen in the aftermath of massive earthquake.
Summer Chaparral is the first of Turner's historical romance Las Morenas series about three sisters from an Old Spanish family in a rapidly changing California. Jace and Catarina are both flawed people carrying heavy family burdens. They have to overcome a lot to turn their shot-gun marriage into a love match.
One Love provides a great mix of multi-cultural romances across genre and time-periods showcasing the amazing variety of multi-cultural romances available.
Meg Corbyn, Simon Wolfguard and the rest of the ensemble cast that make up the Lakeside Courtyard community and its connected settlements return in Marked in the Flesh as they try to figure out how save humanity from extinction as the HFL (The Human First and Last ) Movement's heinous attacks on the Others captures the interest of the Elders, the more primal and powerful beings in Thasia.
Meg and Simon's relationship is certainly on the back burner through this novel. Meg and Simon spend most of the novel involved in separate plots. Meg's primary focus is on being the Trailblazer, and working to find way to keep herself and the other Cassandra Sangue from cutting themselves into insanity and death. Simon and the Police Pack are working to try to mitigate the damage being done by the HFL to Human-Others relationships and preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Elders. His focus is the survival of those humans he has come to care for and planning for a life afterwards. While the novel does close with yet another step forward in intimacy between Meg and Simon, it just served to emphasize how little time they have spent together during the novel.
The novel's main theme seemed to be communication and isolation. Everyone in this novels is constantly scrambling to email and call each other in order to share prophesies, veiled warnings and urgent alarms. A significant part of the novel's plot is communicated via emails, speech excerpts or newspaper clippings. There is also a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretations. and intentional obfuscation. In the end however everyone clearly receives the message, and Meg figures out how to best help the Cassandra Sangue communicate their own. Despite the darkness and fear near the end of the novel there is a sense that at least the Cassandra Sangue will have a potentially brighter future.
While Marked in the Flesh is fourth book of a five book series, I could have easily confused it with a final book. A lot of storylines seem to be awfully close to their conclusions, while a few new mysteries were raised in the final chapters it seems to me that the final book will feel more like an extended epilogue as it deals with the aftermath of the world-shaking events in this volume.
I was not as emotionally invested in this book as I was in the others since Meg and Simon where not as involved but it was still compelling and I will be back for the concluding story.
I received a review copy of Marked in the Flesh from ROC/Berkley Publishing Group. Marked in the Flesh is scheduled to be released March 8, 2016.
Nice Small town romance, that was easy to enter despite being the third? book in a series. But it was a tricky review to write. There is a surprise revelation pretty far into the novel that I couldn't spoil. I struggled with how to address it.
This was a hard book to review. I really liked parts of it, but some elements were really problematic. Really liked the setting and premise. I don't know if it just me, but I found the names in this book very odd.
With their love lives in shambles, Jen, Ellie and Beth, best friends since boarding school, decide to reunite for a weekend of drinking & dancing at Bachelor/Spinster Ball in the Australian Outback, before they start over.
Win Me by Joan Kilby: Ellie is returning to Australia and her father's remote cattle station after spending years overseas learning all she can about cattle management. Coming home means facing Rick, her father's foreman, and the man she has been in love with most her life but who she thinks has never seen her as anything other than a kid sister and the boss's daughter. The Bachelor/Spinster ball revives old memories and new feelings.
Win Me started out really slow, burdened with most of background, set-up and exposition scenes in the series. The romance relied a bit too much on incomplete conversations and misunderstandings to hold my interest.
Woo Me by Karina Bliss: Jen's office romance has just ended in the worst way possible, her boss/boyfriend Karl, reuniting with his ex-wife. Frustrated and Angry, Jen plans on attending the Bachelor/Spinster ball in cow suit, as she is not in the least interested in find a new man. The cow suit attracts all the wrong kind of attention and Jen finds herself running into Logan, one of the security guards over and over again.
I didn't finish this one. Not sure why, but I just couldn't get into more than the first few chapters, I might try again at a later date.
Wait for Me by Sarah Mayberry: Beth's marriage to Country music superstar has imploded under the weight of his repeated infidelities. Sick of being hounded by the paparazzi, Beth returns home to Australia, sad and wary. The last person she expects to run in the Outback is her old friend Jonah Masters. Jonah has loved Beth for years, and even though they formed a strong friendship when his band toured with her husband's they never ever crossed the line into anything romantic.
I really liked this story. Beth is in an emotionally messy place, and really fears hurting Jonah, who has been nothing but good to her because of stuff she still needs to sort out from the end of her marriage. What really worked for me was that while the set-up could have lead to a lot of angst, it wasn't. Jonah is willing to wait for Beth, and Beth doesn't jerk him around. They talk about their feelings and act like grownups. I read the book in one sitting. It was sexy, emotional and romantic all at once.
I received review copies of Win Me, Woo Me and Wait for Me from Sarah Mayberry.
Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde: Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy. I think I am pretty much over these books. There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life). It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"
Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past. Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one. I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.
Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade. Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house. The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.
A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries. Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father. Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances. The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own. The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.