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. (Update 4.4.18: Last month it came to light that the author known as Santino Hassell misrepresented themselves, and multiple accusations of catfishing and harassment were made public. Most if not all Hassell's co-writers and publishers have pulled back their shared projects and ended contracts, and I would no longer recommend based on what I have learned since originally publishing this post.)
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.