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My Favorite Books Published in 2014

I read a lot of good books this year, some really great ones, and a lot of okay ones. This is purely subjective list of  some of my favorite books from this year. Not all the book on this list were 5 star books for me, but they are books that I still think about & I am genuinely glad I read in 2014.

  • Private Politics by Emma Barry: 
    Friends (or friend of a friend) to lovers story, Liam is a beltway blogger who has unrequited crush Alyse a fundraiser for girls' literacy non-profit. He tries to hide the extent of his crush so he can help her unravel a possibly dodgy donation scam at her non-profit without it getting truly awkward.

    Why is it a favorite? Liam was my favorite hero this year. He is shlubby, earnest, smart and hugable. His quiet competence is  the anti-dote to every alphahole hero out there.

  • Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry.
    Maggie has never had an orgasm & wants to use Rafael for sex and is scared of wanting more with him since he might not be over his ex.

    Why is it a favorite? It has one my favorite romantic scenes. I just loved that Rafael wanted read the heroine's favorite book (a romance) because he wants to get to know her better. My husband did the same when we first started dating. We still trade recommendations 20 years later.  

  • Think of England by KJ Charles:
    Opposites attract, historical romantic suspense where country-house mystery tropes are up-ended.

    Curtis has come back from the war maimed and determined to find out who responsible. When he first spots DaSilva he can't stand him, seeing in him everything he mistrust as Daniel is dark, jewish, gay & a modernist poet, but as the novel progresses Curtis comes to realize that DaSilva is a true hero of great worth and has to rethink ing his prejudices and assumptions about himself. 

    Why is it a favorite?
    I smiled so much reading this book, loved the wit and language in the book. I loved that we only had Curtis POV, and that he had to grow and rethink his whole life.

  • The Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook:
    I am just going to be honest and say that I have yet to read a book by Meljean that I haven't loved.

    Zenobia is spinster writer, who has decided to go on the run, traveling the world under an assumed name to stay ahead of kidnappers who would love to use her against her brother, Archimedes Fox, a treasure hunter whose adventures she has made famous in her books. When Ariq, the Kraken King, rescues her from her sinking ship, she is launched into her greatest adventure. 

  • Why is it a favorite? Action, Adventure, Romance! I love that Meljean keeps expanding her sprawling, diverse & vibrant world.

  • Hard Time by Cara Mckenna:
    Anne Goodhouse is a outreach librarian in a depressing Michigan small town. Every week  her job brings her to the Cousins Correctional Facility where an inappropriate infatuation with an inmate turns into secret scorching epistolary relationship that neither is sure can survive once he is released.

    Why is it a favorite?
    The letters! They are simply amazing. Anne was sure she couldn't want or desire again, but Collier reawakens her. The letters are beautiful,romantic, raw, intimate and hot.

  • Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett:
    Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger, rich, powerful, & dangerous in 1920's San Fransisco. But when an unknown rival curses him with a plague of ghosts, he turns to Aida, a nomadic medium, who can see ghosts and repel them, to save him. Together they must figure out who is trying to kill Winter before they succeed.

    Why is it a favorite? 2014 is the year where I tried to and tried to fall back into love with historicals, which meant I read a lot of non-regency historicals. I loved the time period, setting & multicultural cast. I also enjoyed Grim Shadows (Book 2) & I can't wait for the 3rd book coming next year, with a Chinese American hero.

  • Countess Conspiracy & Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan.
    Both this novel and novella featured women who have passions for science & math but work in obscurity and the men who recognize how brilliant they are & do all they can so they shine. The obstacles these couples face are huge, the stakes felt real and I was very invested in their HEAs.

    Why are these a favorite?  Loved Sebastian in Countess Conspiracy, his patient/sacrificial devotion for Violet was so romantic. Rose Sweetly was a fascinating character, smart, guarded & determined. I loved that the book gives us a glimpse of a little featured segment of British society, the black Victorian middle class.

  • Code Runner & Binary Witness by Rosie Claverton:
    Book 1 & 2 of the Amy Lane Mystery series, the books are set in modern-day Cardiff and follow Amy, an agoraphobic hacker and consultant for the Cardiff police force and Jason Carr her house-cleaner/Guy Friday, who is a  former street tough and felon. They have a gentle and unlikely partnership.

    Why is it a favorite? The mysteries are smart and engaging. But what sold me on the series was the relationships. I loved watching Jason and Amy grow to depend on each other and how their relationship challenges and strains their relationships with others. I can't wait to read more from Claverton because I don't think she is scared of letting the relationships continue to grow and change.
  • Into the Shadows (The Associates #3)by Carolyn Crane:
    Nadia, the daughter of a deposed crime-boss, is searching for her mother by raiding her father's former holdings with the help of her former bodyguard and some mercenaries. Thorne is her former lover, a double agent within the most dangerous of the gangs who claimed her father's crime empire.

    Why is it a favorite? I was trying to break up with tortured heroes and then Crane upped the ante, with Thorne & sucked me into a secret baby story  (which I normally hate). Nadia and Thorne are broken in such interesting ways. They are both looking for redemption while fearing they can never earn it.  I couldn't help but root for these two souls to find love & acceptance with each other.

  • The Others by Anne Bishop.
    This is sort of a cheat because only one of the three The Others novels I read this year was actually published in 2014, Murder of Crows, Book #2, (Written in Red, was published March 2013 & Vision in Silver will be out March 2015) but I loved this series too much to leave it off my list.

    This Urban Fantasy/Alternate History series,  this is the story of Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who flees an institution where rich and power humans cut into her for profit, claiming a name and life for herself. She is taken in by a community of Terra Indigene, the elementals and shape-shifters who rule vast portions of Thasia. Her interactions with the Terra Indigene, and with Simon Wolfguard in particular will change the history of humanity in their world.


    Why it is a favorite? The friendship and budding romance between Simon and Meg is lovely. I have no assurance they will have a HEA but I have grown deeply attached to them, and I love seeing Meg curiosity and desire for life transform her world.

 I hope you had a wonderful year of reading in 2014 and I hope you find books that inspire, comfort and awaken you in 2015.


Gunpower Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles) by Jeannie Lin

Cover53780-mediumThis summer I read Jeannie Lin’s beautiful “Lotus Palace” and the beauty of that book won her a place on my auto-buy list. I have been stockpiling her other earlier China-set historical romances for the TBR.

Gunpower Alchemy is the first book in the Gunpowder Chronicles a steampunk flavored speculative/alternative history fiction series set in China during Qing Dynasty & the Opium Wars. The series follows Soling a young woman whose father, once the Chief Engineer of the Empire and head of the Ministry of Science, was executed by the Emperor when China's navy fell before the Yangguizi’s steam-powered iron-ships. Ten years later, the Yangguizi (English) control many of the China’s port cities, insurrectionists are raiding cities in the interior,  opium addiction is at all time high. Soling has grown up in poverty, taking care of her opium addicted mother and younger brother Tian after they were were exiled from Peking. There is nothing genteel about their situation, but Soling has managed to provide for them, attaching herself to the village doctor, learning to practice acupuncture and training to be a healer, while slowly selling the few of her father’s precious trinkets and inventions they were able to bring with them out of Peking to ensure her mother always has her next dose. When she travels out of her small village to the provincial center to get a better price for the last of these treasures, a foreign-made metal puzzle box, she doesn’t realize that her life will be changing dramatically once again.

The world-building in Gunpower Alchemy is fantastic. Lin creates vibrant  steam gunpowder-punk China, with acupuncture inspired bio-mechanical devices, gunpowder powered junks, and delicate kite-like dirigibles and gliders. The world of the Gunpowder Chronicles is both familiar and surprising. The world never feels artificial but instead feels lived in and grounded by the weight of the well-developed characters that inhabit it.

Jin Soling is recruited by the Crown Prince to track down her father’s associates in an effort to reclaim some of his discoveries for the benefit of the empire. Some of these men are outlaws on the run from the Emperor since her father’s execution. The Crown Prince sends her to work with Chang-wei, her father’s protege, to whom she was once betrothed. They had never met, but have been ghostly presences  in each others lives, haunting each other with might-have-beens. The stakes are very high for Soling through out the story. If she successfully fulfills this quest, she could see her family honor restored and secure a better future for her brother Tian, but if she fails she could die a world away from the family that depends on her.  Chang-wei tries to dissuade her from participating, and feels great responsibility for her but Soling refuses to stay home when there is a chance to better her own life and that of her family.  In the end she has the resourcefulness, observational skills and occasionally the right life-experiences to help her and Chang-wei to survive the many perilous situations they encounter. 

This novel is the first of a projected three stories following Soling and Chang-wei and and while we have resolution to one storyline in this book, the overarching plot of the Opium Wars & internal insurrectionist threat against the empire remain. The romantic plot is progressing and clearly will continue to develop in the next book.

I loved roaming around Lin’s Gunpowder-punk China, meeting mad or madly brilliant scientists, tinkerers and engineers, to face down passionate and ruthless rebels, whose cause is not unjust but who pose great danger to Soling and her family. I loved how Soling, Chang-wei, & Yang all wrestle with how they should balance the demands of Emperor, Nation, Family and Self. I can’t wait to read more.

 

4.5 Stars

A review copy of this novel was made available by Penguin Group: Intermix via NetGalley


The Kraken King by Meljean Brook

Krakenkingpart1-184x300Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh were my gateway drugs into Romance. Back in early 2012, I started watching Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. One of the early bookclub selections was the Iron Duke, which I was lucky enough to get from my local library. I was sucked into the her Steampunk/alternate history world, The Iron Seas, where the Horde (Genghis Khan’s mighty empire) had overrun Asia and Europe and had enslaved great swaths of the world through nanobots hidden in sugar.

 

Meljean Brook hooked me with her fantastic world-building and in every book, novella and short since she has expanded the world a little further. We have traveled to the zombie infested European interior, infiltrated the New World settlements, discovered hidden Scandinavian villages, traveled to remote African trading posts, and met colorful characters from up-tight New Worlders, rebel sultans, imposing blacksmiths, pirate queens and outlandish archaeologists. From the most powerful of English Dukes to orphan gutter rats, Meljean Brook has populated the world with fascinatingly diverse characters.

 

Krakenkingpart2-184x300In the Kraken King, the focus shifts from the west to Australia and the eastern fringes of the Golden Empire. Zenobia Fox is a writer used observing and never participating in the adventures she chronicles, even though she is also the daughter of notorious traitor and brother to trouble-making adventurer. Her connection to Archimedes Fox, the star of her serials and brother is no longer a secret and she can no longer hide out in her quiet North Sea village. Too many ransom seeking kidnappers have come bursting through her door, so she decides it is time stop being a sitting duck and to venture forth and see the world for herself. When her friend Helene needs a companion for a urgent trip to the Red City, she leaps at the opportunity. However she is soon leaping from the wreckage of her airship when it come under attack by marauders off the coast of Australia. She leaps right into the arms of one of the most dangerous men in the world, the former rebel Ariq the Kraken King.

 

The first two parts of this serial were fantastic. Great character development and tension as Arriq and Zenobia try to figure each other while trying to keep their own secrets and those of the one they love. I don’t usually sign up for serials usually waiting for the collected edition to come out as I did with Ruthie Knox’s Roman Holiday but this is one I would happily recommend. Each part has it own arc within the larger Kraken King story arc and are long enough to be satisfying. Zenobia, Ariq and the Eastern fringes of the empire hold lots of surprises for the reader and I can’t wait to learn more about them all.

 

The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster published April 15, 2014

The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm will be published April 22, 2014

The Kraken King and the Fox’s Den will be published April 29, 2014

The Kraken King and the Inevitable Abduction will published May 6, 2014

The Kraken King and the Iron Hear will be published May 13, 2014

The Kraken King and the Crumbling Walls will be published May 20, 2014

The Kraken King and the Empress’s Eyes will be published May 27, 2014

The Kraken King and the Greatest Adventure will be published June 3, 2014

 

The serial will be republished in a collected edition sometime after Aug 2014.

 

A review copy of The Kraken King, Part 1 & 2 were provided by Penguin/Intermix for review purposes