annual reading highlights

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 3 (Final roundup)

It’s time for the third and final post in my 2017 reading highlights. At this point I will explain that for the past couple of years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, assigning them a rank out of 10. So far my top ranking is 9.

Favourites for the year!

A ranking of 9/10 means I adored the book all round — story, writing, characters etc. It means the book resonated with me and I keep thinking about it and will almost certainly re-read, maybe more than once. A 9/10 generally means it is pretty well written, or at least there’s something I love about the writing, although it may not necessarily be perfect from a craft perspective.

In 2017, I rated the following 12 books and series as 9/10:

  • Spindrift — Amy Rae Durreson
  • Stygian — XX (name removed)
  • Spirit — John Inman
  • Spectred Isle (The Green Men book 1) — KJ Charles
  • Sins of the Cities (series of three) — KJ Charles
  • The Community (series of three) — XX (name removed)
  • Wolfsong — TJ Klune
  • Bear, Otter, and the Kid (series of four) — TJ Klune
  • House of Cards — Garrett Leigh
  • Preacher, Prophet, Beast (Tyack & Frayne book 7) — Harper Fox
  • Locked in Silence (Pelican Bay book 1) — Sloane Kennedy
  • Murder in Pastel — Josh Lanyon

The above list will likely explain why I focused on TJ Klune, XX and KJ Charles in my first highlights post, and then spotlighted three “spooky house” stories in my second highlights post.

Here are a few thoughts on the remaining novels in the above list.

house-of-cardsHouse of Cards by Garrett Leigh is one of the multi-author Porthkennack series, which spans both contemporary and historical m/m romances set in the fictitious village of Porthkennack in Cornwall. For starters, I’m instantly attracted to anything set in a Cornish village, and I love all the Garrett Leigh books I’ve read; she writes about broken characters wonderfully well.

Here, a tattoo artist flees a toxic relationship and finds himself staying with a friend (another tattoo artist) in Porthkennack. In addition to the gorgeous setting, it’s all the small details I love: the beloved old-style tattoo machine, the chicken rescue activities, the smuggling(!), the fascinating secondary characters. I’ll be reading this one again soon, so I can dive into the next one by Ms Leigh (Junkyard Heart).

preacher-prophet-beastPreacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox is the seventh in her Tyack and Frayne series. It’s also the only novel-length installment and takes our heroes and their daughter to some interesting and horrifying places, centred as usual around paranormal happenings in Cornwall, and specifically their new family home on Bodmin Moor.

This is a wonderful series that takes Gideon (a policeman) and Lee (a psychic) from their first meeting (in the brilliant Once Upon a Haunted Moor) through dating, marriage, fatherhood… and in this installment they’ve been married for three years. It’s a series (mostly longish novellas) I will re-read over and over again.

locked-in-silenceLocked in Silence is the first in a new series from the extremely prolific Sloane Kennedy. It’s very different in style from her popular Protectors and Barretti Security series — and a level above, I think. This one is more grounded in reality. More poignant, as both men have been wrongfully accused and vilified for different transgressions.

The premise is not earth shattering: a concert violinist returns to his home town broken and in disgrace, only to discover his childhood nemesis suffered a tragedy that broke him and ensured he’s never left… But the journey is layered and complex, with all the feels. I hope Ms Kennedy returns to Pelican Bay soon.

murder-in-pastelFinally, Murder in Pastel is a republication of one of Josh Lanyon’s early works (originally under another pseudonym, apparently). I’m a big fan of Ms Lanyon, whose novels usually revolve around some form of crime to be solved. This one is a whodunnit set in a seaside art colony in California, and involves the usual cast of eccentric characters.

The viewpoint character is a young mystery writer and son of a renowned painter who disappeared a decade ago, along with his masterpiece painting — so, in addition to the person who inevitably gets murdered, there’s a cold case to solve too. It’s kind of timeless, the way it’s written, and it’s probably now one of my favourite Josh Lanyon novels. (The Adrien English series would come first.)

Also worth mentioning

In my personal ranking system, a rating of 8/10 means it’s above average in terms of my enjoyment, and I logged 45 of these. I’m not gonna list them all, but here are some particularly worth mentioning:

  • Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files is kind of x-men meets military adventure series (3 books)
  • Undaunted by Devin Harnois is a secondary world quest fantasy with vampires and werewolves(!)
  • Anna Butler’s Taking Shield series is excellent award-winning military science fiction set in the far-distant future (4 books so far, more to come)
  • NR Walker’s two-part Imago series is set in Australia with butterflies, her Thomas Elkin series is a three-part May-December romance featuring architects, and Switched is a fabulous standalone novel about a man who discovers he was switched at birth
  • Leta Blake’s Slow Heat is a sophisticated take on the MPreg non-shifter genre (if you can get past the whole MPreg thing)
  • Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt brings 1950s rock n roll to life in a gritty romance with jazz and synchronised swimming
  • Amelia Faulkner’s incredible Inheritance series features ancient gods and psychic powers in San Diego
  • Silver Scars by Posey Roberts is about two scarred men who meet through a work secondment
  • Renae Kaye’s The Blinding Light set in Western Australia is about a guy who takes on a housekeeping job for a blind man

And that, my friends, is the end of my annual reading highlights. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve been very patient.

If you read in the m/m genre, I hope you’ve found a few interesting ones to try. There are certainly heaps of speculative fiction titles listed — both urban paranormal series, classic science fiction and some fantasy.

Thanks for reading this post! I wish you all another fabulous year of wonderful books.


This post has been edited to remove references to a particular author, who was revealed to be seven shades of unsavoury.

Reading Highlights from 2017 – part 1 (Three standout authors)

Here we are again at the end of another big year of reading. The total comes to exactly 200 novels and novellas, of which 30 were re-reads.

I didn’t reach the same giddying heights as last year (242 total), which I count as a win, because it means I exercised a bit more restraint. Still, 200 is an average of around four per week, so… Maybe only a tiny bit of restraint. Heh.

When it comes time to reflect on twelve months’ worth of books, I always wish I wrote more reviews of the books I loved during the year, rather than trying to do them justice at the death. But, you know what? I was too busy reading them. Maybe next year.

As I did for the 2016 highlights, I’m going to write a series of posts over the next few weeks. This time, however, they’ll be arranged by theme rather than month.

To start with, I’m going to reflect upon three standout authors I encountered this year through significant bodies of work: TJ Klune, [XX– name removed] and KJ Charles.

Only one of them was new to me (TJ Klune). Indeed, I’ve previously read several brilliant books by each of XX and KJ Charles, both of whom consistently stand out above most of the others in the m/m genre.


TJ Klune

How come it took me so long to find TJ Klune? He’s written some of the most iconic works in the m/m genre, and I suspect I’ll be working my way through his backlist for a while.

My first experience of Klune was just last month (November) through one of his newer novels, Wolfsong, which is a beautiful (and beautifully written) wolf shifter story. It’s more sophisticated than most paranormals, with a strong plot about an isolated shifter pack under threat from an evil wolf and a human who becomes part of their pack. It covers a blend of shifter politics and folklore, paranormal fantasy, and a love story — with themes of found family, vengeance, belonging and loyalty. Brilliant. (I think there’s a sequel coming — can’t wait!)

Then I dived into Bear, Otter, and the Kid, TJ Klune’s first novel, which is centred around Bear, whose mother abandoned him when he was 18, leaving his six-year-old kid brother, Tyson, in his care. The premise is heart-wrenching, but the whole series (also comprising Who We Are, The Art of Breathing, and The Long and Winding Road) is amazing and filled with so much heart.

The series takes place over about 15 years, and is about the (fierce) bond between brothers and found family and waiting and fighting for love. The first two books are centred on Bear at 21 as he falls in love with Otter (his best friend’s older brother). Bear is such a wonderful character — completely neurotic with a wild imagination, but so devoted to taking care of his genius (vegetarian, ecoterrorist-in-training) nine year old brother, Tyson. Otter, a little older and calmer, is the perfect addition to their family.

The Art of Breathing is Tyson’s story as he comes of age and finds love; then The Long and Winding Road returns to Bear’s perspective to tell Bear and Otter’s story, no longer focused on raising Tyson, as they grow their family.

I read the four ‘BOATK’ books back-to-back and ended up with a major book hangover. (Just now, reading this over before I post, I feel a little teary.) They are deeply emotional (although hysterically funny in parts) and beautifully written. I laughed (a lot), I cried, I loved. Just fabulous.

KJ Charles

Once again, KJ Charles has produced a wonderful historical series in Sins of the Cities — comprising An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice and An Unsuitable Heir. Set in Victorian London with Dickensian influences, this series features fabulous, colourful characters from different walks of life and an overarching mystery surrounding an aristocratic family.

In An Unseen Attraction, the main characters are a boarding house keeper (who is the half-Indian half-brother of an unlikable duke) and a taxidermist (or ‘stuffer’). Their romance is very sweet, as someone is murdered and the nature of the mystery comes to light. An Unnatural Vice is about a journalist who gets embroiled with a charlatan spiritualist who holds a clue to the mystery; it has a very different feel, and the whole of this novel is imbued with the London fog of 1892.

The third book, An Unsuitable Heir is my favourite of the three. One of the main characters is a gender fluid acrobat, who discovers he’s actually a lost duke. His non-binary gender identity is dealt with wonderfully well — complicated by the expectations of the time, particularly with issues of male inheritance. I also loved the love story between him and the ‘enquiry agent’ (private investigator) who tracked him down.

I deliberately waited until the whole series was released before reading — and I’m really glad I did, since the mystery spans all three books and many of the characters are present in all three as well. Loved it.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also loved KJ Charles’s book, Spectred Isle (Green Men Book 1). This is a historical paranormal spin-off of the Simon Feximal series, set in London after the Great War. This one has demons and archaeology and occult events and creepy things happening. And, of course, a love story, this time between an archaeologist and an occultist. There are more to come in this series, I believe. (Yay!)

(For the record, my other favourite works of KJ Charles are The Society of Gentlemen series, and the standalone novel, Think of England.)

XX

Content removed…


 

This post has been edited to remove references to a particular author, who was revealed to be seven shades of unsavoury.

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 3

So the final reading tally for the year is 242 novels and novellas, of which 204 were new (clearly I got some reading done in the last week or so, some of them ‘holiday stories’).

I was going to write a single post about my favourites from the year, but I had too much to say it turns out, so it became three posts. This final post covers September to December. (Read part 1 (January to April) and part 2 (May to August) if you dare…)

September

weightoftheworldI spent much of September (and in fact August) re-reading Alexa Land‘s massive First & Forever series (13 books and counting…) in preparation for reading the latest ones I hadn’t yet read (10.5, 11 & 12). Of these new ones, I was pretty blown away by Who I used to be (12), which dealt with themes of heroin addiction and HIV positive status. Both the main characters are introduced in earlier novels, and although it was an intense book to read in parts, it was also incredibly uplifting and accented with many wonderful and familiar characters. This series deals with all manner of issues — some serious as in this novel, some much less so — and it’s like sitting down with a bunch of old friends every time. (The 13th book in the series just came out and is sitting on my kindle…)

The other memorable book for September was Weight of the world, by Devon McCormack and Riley Hart. Riley Hart is one of my favourite m/m authors, so it was pretty much a given that I’d read this. It’s written alternating first person POV (I think, from memory) and is about a guy (Zack) who was talked off the ledge (literally) by another guy (Rob)… who ended up jumping himself half an hour later. Shocked and trying to understand what happened, Zack seeks out Rob’s brother Tommy and the two become, er, friendly. It’s a fairly simply but deep story about dealing with grief and healing and love.

October

overexposedI read quite a few good ones in October… The first I want to mention is The Game Changer by Kay Simone. It’s about a ‘straight’ quarterback who gets injured and has to undergo physical therapy — and the relationship that ensues with his physical therapist. It’s a fairly simple story, but it deals with the issues of intolerance when it comes to sports stars and I really liked the way it was written.

I also really liked Overexposed, the fourth book in Megan Erickson‘s ‘In focus’ series. I’ve liked all the books in this series a lot — this one was set mostly on the Appalachian Trail and made me want to walk at least some of it.

Model Citizen by Lisa Kasey features an interesting main character who is both a male ‘femme’ supermodel and unlicensed private investigator, a bit out of his depth trying to run his brother’s PI business after his brother is killed. It’s both mystery and interesting character drama, with a love story developing with his brother’s friend who helps with the PI business.

Three’s Company by N.R. Walker is about two guys who are running a hotel and invite a male guest, Wilson (who’s just out of a relationship), into their bed for fun… and things get a bit more serious than anticipated. Wilson is a chef, and naturally there’s ample opportunity in a hotel for him to step in and make himself indispensable.

Finally, It was always you is an anthology featuring novellas from several of my favourite authors along the theme of ‘best friends to lovers’. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, but I really really liked this one!

November

daringfateThe fourth book (this time a novella) in Riley Hart‘s Crossroads series was Jumpstart. I love this whole series, especially Crossroads (one of my top 5 for last year). I’ll automatically buy anything Riley Hart (and her alter ego Nyrae Dawn) writes.

I also really enjoyed Megan Erickson‘s m/m paranormal, Daring Fate. This was set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have completely died out, leaving only werewolves (human/wolf), weres (which have three forms: human, wolf and scary beast thing), and zombie weres. I thought the world setup was great, with the weres and werewolves living in pack-based compounds, each headed by an alpha, trying to avoid getting killed by zombie weres. The story itself is your classic ‘fated mates’ trope you find in shifter romances (which I don’t mind), and I liked the way it was handled.

Finally for November, there was Heidi Cullinan‘s fourth book in the ‘Minnesota Christmas’ series, Santa Baby (although it’s a stupid title). I found this book really interesting, because it takes the couple from the second book (Sleigh ride) and adds a third man to their relationship. But it isn’t an equal menage m/m/m relationship. Basically the new addition (Dale) is polyamorous, which seems to mean for him that he prefers to be with men who are already in a relationship. He falls in love with Gabriel… who learns that he seems to be polyamorous too. It takes a bit for Gabriel (who is a fairly conservative librarian) to come to terms with this, but surprisingly his partner (husband?) Arthur is remarkably accepting of this new development. And this may be because Arthur (a dom) recognises that Dale is a sub, so they end up in their own non-romantic D/s relationship. Confused yet? Well, it may not be your cup of tea, but I found the character dynamics really interesting.

December

sevensummernightsMy favourite book in December was Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox. I love love loved this book, which was definitely one of my favourites for the year. Set post WWII, it’s a complex weave of archeological and mythological mystery, the after-effects of war and post-traumatic stress, and a passionate love story between Rufus, an archaeologist, and Archie, a most unconventional vicar. It’s multi-layered and wonderful and I reviewed it in full here.

I was also thrilled to discover Lucy Lennox, who published the first three novels in her Made Marian series. Borrowing Blue and Taming Teddy were swiftly followed by Jumping Jude. Each book is completely different, but each features one of the Marian brothers.

Borrowing Blue mostly takes place over a week at a vineyard where Blue’s sister is getting married, with Blue falling in love with the brother of the groom, who happens to be the owner of the vineyard. Taming Teddy takes place over several months, with Blue’s brother Jamie, a wildlife expert in Alaska, being pursued by wildlife photographer Teddy for a photographic feature. Jumping Jude takes place concurrently with both these books, and is about the relationship between Jude Marian, a country music superstar, and his bodyguard, Derek. These books are sweet and simple love stories, but there’s something about them that elevates them above much of the genre fodder.

Finally, I have just finished The Aftermath by Kay Simone. This was sitting on my kindle for at least half the year, because it’s loooong (>600 pages) and I was admittedly avoiding the time commitment. But I’m glad I finally read it. The central premise is the relationship between a high school senior (Daniel) and his young English teacher (Will). Some of the conflict is derived from fear of discovery, but just as much is the result of Will’s baggage. It’s written from a third-person omniscient perspective, but gets well into the heads of both main characters. I loved all the literary discussions — the novel references many great works in some detail as part of English classes and also general discussions between the two men — and the almost literary narrative style. I do think it’s too long, but overall I found it beautiful.


And that wraps up the annual highlights! From all the novels I’ve mentioned in the last three posts, I thought I’d make a top ten (in the order I read them):

  1. Adrien English mysteries (series of five) – Josh Lanyon
  2. Out of Focus – L.A. Witt
  3. Kings Rising – C.S. Pacat
  4. Broken – Nicola Haken
  5. The Society of Gentlemen (series of three) – K.J. Charles
  6. Absolution – Sloane Kennedy
  7. In the middle of somewhere/Out of nowhere – Roan Parrish
  8. Priddy’s Tale – Harper Fox
  9. Between Ghosts – Garrett Leigh
  10. Seven Summer Nights – Harper Fox

I’m still a huge fan of Harper Fox, Josh Lanyon, L.A. Witt, Megan Erickson, Santino Hassell, Alexa Land, Riley Hart, Heidi Cullinan… and was pleased to discover Sloane Kennedy, Garrett Leigh, Kay Simone and most recently Lucy Lennox (among many others).

And now it’s 2017 and I have kindle full of more books… I wish you all a glorious year of reading.

The other two 2016 highlights posts: January to April | May to August

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 2

Climbing out of my post-Christmas stupor (and read-a-thon), it’s time for the second installment of my annual reading highlights. You can read January-April highlights in the previous post. This post will cover May-August. Once again, all the highlights are from the m/m romance genre.

May

inthemiddleofsomewhereThis month is noteworthy for the discovery of Roan Parrish, whose books In the middle of somewhere and then Out of nowhere are wonderful. The first is about Daniel, a guy who takes a college teaching position in a small Northern Michigan town, where he meets the reclusive Rex, a local furniture maker. In addition to being a gorgeous love story, it’s about Daniel’s struggles to connect with his auto-mechanic father and brothers (who live in Philadelphia), and reconcile their differences. Told first-person present-tense (which I love), this story is not high action drama, but instead deep and soulful and character-complex. It’s a beautiful book.

Out of nowhere is about Daniel’s brother Colin, portrayed as excessively homophobic and vicious towards Daniel in the first book, but who is in fact dealing with his secret developing relationship with social worker, Raphael. (That was probably a bit of a spoiler for In the middle of somewhere, but it can’t be helped — sorry!) This book runs in parallel for much of In the middle of somewhere — and I loved seeing some of the same events from the opposing viewpoint. Set in Philadelphia, much of it around a youth LGBT centre, Out of nowhere a very different book from the first. Colin’s journey is more angst-ridden, and his transformation more profound than Daniel’s. This is also a fabulous book, but I think as a pair these two make more than the sum of their parts.

iftheseascatchfireAnother fabulous book for May was If the seas catch fire by L.A. Witt. (Yep, she’s definitely one of my favourite authors.) This one is high action and high angst, involving the forbidden romance between two hitmen. It’s set in an Italian Mafia-ruled American town in which Dom’s is one of the ‘ruling’ families. Meanwhile, Sergei is a lone wolf assassin with his own quest for vengeance. The two cross paths, fall in love, and although it’s not exactly a Romeo & Juliet scenario, there are plenty of conflicting agendas. Dom is actually a gentle and decent man trapped by circumstances, while Sergei is the victim of past wrongs in need of redemption. The road to these two finding a way to be together involves plenty of assassinations (some of them heartbreaking), plenty of danger (I was shaking in my boots), the highest of high stakes and OMG it is soooo good.

But wait, there’s more! Another memorable read for the month of May included Saving Samuel by Nicole Colville. This is m/m/m about Daniel (a firefighter), Samuel (who Daniel rescues from a burning building), and Milo (a cop who’s in a casual relationship with Daniel… and who is also investigating the case of the burning building). Samuel has a mysterious and tormented past that sees him in need of protection, and who better than a hunky fireman and police officer, who find their difficult relationship just needed the addition of a third to make it work?

June

giventakenMore L.A. Witt in June, this time a paranormal menage trilogy involving werewolves and vampires… The Tooth & Claw trilogy comprises The given and the taken, The healing and the dying, and The united and the divided. The premise of these books sounds so unlikely, and the covers are not so great, but despite all this I decided to trust in LAW and I ended up loving the whole series.

It’s set in a alternative NW America (both USA and Canada), in which werewolves are accepted in human society and hold a fair amount of power, but vampires are hunted and reviled. These books involve road trips and car chases and plenty of werewolves with guns. There are also betrayals and hidden sanctuaries and a vampire turned into part werewolf and a werewolf turned into part vampire… and it’s just so crazy it’s awesome. Not to mention an interesting m/m/m relationship.

My other favourite book in June was Strong Signal (Cyberlove – book 1) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell. This was about two gamers — one who is a reclusive gaming genius with a live feed on one of the gaming channels, and one who is deployed in the Middle East. They fall for each other online, but the second half of the book is what happens when they meet in person. It’s fabulous.

July

priddyIn July I absolutely fell in love with Priddy’s Tale, a gorgeous new novella by Harper Fox. I loved this so much I immediately read it again and wrote a full review. It’s a fantastical tale about a lost young guy who lives in a Cornish lighthouse and falls in love with a charismatic merman. Set in the wild and exciting south-western tip of Cornwall, Priddy’s Tale filled with magical and impossible things, and infused with beautiful language and an abundance of ocean-themed imagery. I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. Utterly beautiful and one of my highlights of the year.

I discovered the English author Garrett Leigh in July. The first I read was Misfits, which I loved. It’s another m/m/m, this time involving a chef and his restaurateur lover/business partner, who have an open relationship that leads to the addition of a guy who turns out to be the missing link in their relationship and partnership.

betweenghostsEven better, though, was Between Ghosts, which is set among a British SAS unit in Iraq during 2006. Connor is a journalist embedded with the SAS unit, who is seeking closure and answers related to his brother, killed in Mosul three years earlier.

Nat is the commander of the unit, and their love story takes place amid the drama and blood and terror of war. I loved the vivid setting — it gives amazing insight into the conditions faced by the British troops. And there’s plenty of danger and intrigue as the SAS unit seek out certain sensitive information and attend to their duties. I loved this book so much.

August

It was a quieter month of reading in August, but one of my favourite books for the month was yet another by L.A. WittRunning with Scissors. This one is set around a popular rock band. I also enjoyed the first three books in Santino Hassell‘s Five Boroughs seriesSutphin Boulevard (which was a re-read), Sunset Park and First and First.


So many great books — I just want to re-read them all right now! I’ll publish the final installment of 2016 reading highlights in the new year.

(Read January to April)

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 1

Gosh. How many books have I read this year? (So far 235 books and novellas, of which 198 were new and 37 were re-reads… and still counting.) My inner bookworm continues to devour and my finger continues to madly one-click. In fact, there’s been more one-clicking, because someone introduced me to bookbub.

Bookbub is a website that sends me emails with daily e-book deals in my selected genres (and authors), with direct links to Amazon. There’s many a $1 (or free) book sitting on my kindle, just waiting for me to get around to reading it… I do realise this still adds up in $ terms, but I just tell myself I’m supporting the authors. And if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to finish it.

I’m no longer trying to kid myself that I’m reading much of anything other than m/m (or m/m/m). I could probably count the non-m/m books read this year on one hand. (Actually, I did branch out and try some f/f this year, but so far that hasn’t captivated me much.)

But one of the fabulous things about m/m is that it spans all genres — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, crime/thrillers, historical, deep angst-ridden drama… even comedy, although that’s not my thing. So I bounce around from genre to genre, depending on my mood.

This year, there have been some fabulous new releases from favourite authors, and I’ve discovered some new authors as well. Over three posts, I’m going to summarise my favourites month by month, with some wrapping up at the end. This post covers January to April.

January

fatal-shadowsThe absolute highlight of January — and maybe the year — was Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series (Fatal shadows, A dangerous thing, The hell you say, Death of a pirate king, The dark tide). I do not have the words to say how amazing, fabulous, wonderful this series is, in terms of the love story arc across five books. Each book is an individual mystery, but it is not until the end of the final book that the relationship between Adrien and Jake resolves — and it’s breathtaking. I was numb the afternoon I finished The dark tide, and poured out my feelings onto the page in a post I never did publish. I was so raw. Nothing I wrote encapsulated what I felt. Even now, 11 months later, my heart still rushes as I remember the ending. Aaaaand, there’s a sixth Adrien & Jake novella due out in mid-January. I will be feverishly re-reading these books and slipping straight into that one. My heart rushes just thinking about it.

coldfusionJanuary was also the month Cold Fusion by Harper Fox came out. This book has wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland. Love it. (See my full review here.)

And I also loved Out of Focus by L.A. Witt. This one is m/m/m and deals with a couple of guys who have been together for a decade, and who like to bring submissives into the bedroom from time to time… and they find an adorable guy they decide to keep. It’s not heavy BDSM, and deals more with the relationship side of things. I’ve come to adore m/m/m books where I can believe in all the sides of the relationship. LAW has started a series where she writes the prequels for couples who feature in her menage stories, and I would love to read how Dante and Angel first got together.

February

kingsrisingThe highlight for February was the much-anticipated Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat, third book in the Captive Prince fantasy trilogy. I was so worried this wouldn’t live up to the anticipation, because I adored the first two in this series — which I re-read prior to launching into the third. Aside from a few wobbles at the start and the end, Kings Rising was awesome and I love love love this fantasy trilogy so much. Like with the Adrien English series, I had a major book hangover once I finished. To quote myself: “Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.” I reviewed Captive Prince/Prince’s Gambit here and Kings Rising here.

Other great reads for February were Shifting Gears by Riley Hart (the sequel to Crossroads, one of my top 5 for last year, and still one of my all-time favourites), Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the Love Lessons series), and Tough Love also by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the fabulous Special Delivery series).

March

brokenIn March, the best book I read was Broken by Nicola Haken. This is an example of deep angst-ridden drama/romance, and deals with triggery themes of self-harm, depression and suicide. It’s incredibly intense and well-written. I felt pretty wrung-out at the end, but the wonderful thing about this genre is that the books usually end with hope and healing and the power of love. I will definitely be reading this one again.

I also read Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, which is the sequel to Him. Him was probably one of my favourite reads last year (new adult, ice hockey players). Us didn’t reach the same heights, but I enjoyed it.

April

More brilliance in April! This time from K.J. Charles and her Society of Gentlemen series (The ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh (novella), A fashionable indulgence, A seditious affair, A gentleman’s position). These are English historicals, and not the usual kind. There is a whole host of upheaval going on, with a dash of political activism and class conflict and of course the terrors of discovery. Oh my, this series is brilliant. It’s exquisitely researched and crafted from both a plotting and writing perspective. And each book is completely different. A must for fans of historicals.

absolutionAnother of my April favourites was Absolution by Sloane Kennedy. This was my first encounter with this author, who is a veritable machine when it comes to her publishing frequency. I’ve since read most of her books — Absolution is the first in her Protectors series, another of note is her Barretti Security series — but Absolution is probably my favourite. It’s m/m/m and deals with Jonas (an artist with a traumatic past), who is the target of hitman Mace (don’t hate him; there’s a reason), and Cole (an ex-Navy SEAL whose sister Jonas once knew). The fates of all three men intersect around a thriller-style plot, and… aw, they are so sweet together. This one works for me, because Kennedy takes the time to build the three sides of the relationship and I believed in them.

I also enjoyed Imperfect Harmony by Jay Northcote, not least because it’s set around a community choir, which reminded me of my own singing experiences of the past few years. She’s another new author for me this year, and I’ve enjoyed several of her books.


Stay tuned for Part 2: May – August reading highlights between Christmas and New Year. I’m glad I started writing this early!

If you’re interested, read my Reading Highlights from 2015 post as well.

Reading highlights from 2015

Well. Another year of obsessive reading. In fact MORE obsessive reading than the previous year. Did I say I was going to ease back?

In the past year, I read 128 new novels/novellas, again mainly in the m/m romance genre. This is more than twice as many books as 2014.

It was a year when I madly one-clicked based on Amazon algorithms and recommendations, a year when my obsession with certain series saw me blowing off work on more than one occasion, a year when I probably didn’t get enough sleep. On one particular Saturday night I didn’t actually sleep at all.

Although I didn’t blog monthly about books as I did in 2014, I did keep a record of everything I read and re-read, which is enabling me to write this round-up of another year in reading…

Five favourite reads of 2015

carrytheoceanCarry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan — This book saw me murmuring aloud ‘This is amazing’ from pretty much the first page. A true celebration of humanity, Carry the Ocean brings us the stories of two young men who are wide of the mean. One has autism, the other severe depression and anxiety. Through friendship and love and acceptance of each other, they find independence and happiness. This is such a beautiful and insightful and important book. I reviewed it at length last month.

floodWaiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall — This is a gorgeous gentle m/m romance (novella), which I loved for many reasons, not least the literary prose and the fact that one of the main characters is an environmental engineer. It takes place over one day as flood waters rise in an Oxford street, while people run around laying sandbags. It covers topics like game theory and book restoration and just feels so real. I always planned to review it properly, but didn’t get around to it. Sorry.

crossroadsCrossroads by Riley Hart — Two straight men move into houses next door to each other, become mates and fall in love. Sounds far-fetched, right? But oh my it works. I love the way their relationship unfolds — it feels so very natural, and the challenges they face as they come to terms with their own self-identities and the reactions of their respective families. I just want to keep re-reading it! (And I absolutely love the cover for this one.)

captive princeCaptive Prince/Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat — A prince is betrayed and sold as a slave to the prince of a neighbouring and hostile nation. These character-driven fantasy books encompass international politics, court conspiracies, reluctant alliances, army maneuvering — all wrapped up in the complex and slowly developing relationship between the two princes. In my view, these need to be read and considered together. I love the characterisation and am hanging out for book 3, which is due out in February. (Thank all the gods.) I reviewed these at length for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in September.

The best man by L.A. Witt — I’m not sure exactly why, but this is another book I just want to keep re-reading. Jon’s ex-boyfriend has gone straight and wants Jon to be the best man at his wedding. Naturally he’s having trouble dealing with this — and moving past the relationship. He meets bartender Liam for his first post-relationship hook-up, but then they keep hooking up and end up dating. Except Liam’s noxious ex isn’t quite out of the picture and creates havoc… I guess I just like Jon and Liam together.

Favourite authors of 2015

Harper Fox — In 2014, it was all about Harper Fox, whose books I still love. Thank heavens she published a few more in 2015, including Last Line 2 (a slice of supernatural and espionage), Guardians of the Haunted Moor (Tyack and Frayne mystery #5), and Marty and the Pilot. (I re-read several others too!)

Josh Lanyon — After reading a few Lanyon books in 2014, I started working through his backlist in 2015. I read a total of nine, with my favourites being Strange Fortune (fantasy quest) and Winter Kill (serial killers in Oregon). Josh Lanyon’s crime novels in particular are really good.

Alexis Hall — In addition to Waiting for the flood, I read and loved For Real (world weary sub meets eager young dom) and the acclaimed Glitterland. I’m a huge fan of Alexis Hall’s literary writing, although I haven’t read the acclaimed Prosperity series yet.

Mercy Celeste — I first stumbled upon the fabulous Light from the Dark (autistic reclusive genius who can’t talk gets bodyguard), which prompted me to read Behind Iron Lace, Out of the Blues and Let it go (among others). One of my favourite indie author discoveries for the year. Her books are fairly angst-ridden, especially Let it go.

Heidi Cullinan — Another great discovery. I read 11 Cullinan novels, including the afore-mentioned, wonderful Carry the Ocean. Other highlights were Nowhere Ranch and the ‘Special Delivery’ series. It should be mentioned that Carry the Ocean is on a different plane to the others, which are still great, albeit rather kinky!

Riley Hart — Another of my big finds for the year. In addition to Crossroads, I enjoyed the Blackcreek series (especially #1 Collide) and the ‘Broken Pieces’ series (tasteful m/m/m and some kink).

N.R. Walker — An Australian author! I reviewed Walker’s ‘Red Dirt Heart’ series for the AWW Challenge, plus read the first two of her ‘Cronin’s Key’ (urban fantasy) series as well.

L.A. Witt — In addition to The best man, I read and enjoyed several others (six in total), including Conduct Unbecoming (forbidden love between officer and enlisted marine on Okinawa) Changing Plans (Hawaii!) and What he left behind (more tasteful m/m/m).

Alexa Land — Land’s ‘Firsts and Forever’ series (10 books and counting) is wonderfully fun and just kept sucking me in, one after the other. Her paranormal series (Tinder Chronicles and Feral) is not bad either.

K.J. Charles — This hugely popular m/m author is inexplicably a bit hit and miss for me. But I’m loving her Regency m/m series ‘The Society of Gentleman’.

Keira Andrews — Right at the end of the year I picked up Semper Fi (post WW2 historical about former army comrades in love) and Kick at the darkness (more or less a zombie apocalypse romp plus werewolf that sounds ridiculous, but was loads of fun).

Other books I loved in 2015 (not covered in author list)

  • Karen Joy Fowler — We are all completely beside ourselves (critically acclaimed novel about family, animal wellfare, ethics & psychology)
  • Juliet Mariller — Dreamer’s Pool (straight fantasy, reviewed for AWW)
  • Liv Rancourt — The secret of obedience (see my review)
  • Megan Erickson — Trust the Focus and Focus on me (boys on road trips with plenty of angst)
  • Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy — Him (boys and hockey!)
  • Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn — Vespertine (celibate priest reunites with recovering drug addict rock star… heart-wrenching)
  • Santino Hassell – Sutphin Boulevard (deals with alcoholism… gut-wrenching)
  • Elin Gregory — On a lee shore (historical romp with pirates!)
  • Amy Lane – Clear Water (environmental scientists at work!)
  • R.G. Alexander — Curious (best friends to lovers with a bit of kink)

Tempted to try m/m?

If you’re a little bit intrigued by my recent reading adventures and wondering where to start on your m/m journey, here are my recommendations:

  • Everyone should read Carry the Ocean (Heidi Cullinan) just because it’s amazing. It’s much bigger than the love story.
  • If exquisiteness of writing and a more literary style is your thing, try either Waiting for the flood or Glitterland by Alexis Hall.
  • If you love lyricism, place and imagery, try Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. Or the popular Tyack and Frayne (supernatural/crime) series, commencing with Once upon a haunted moor.
  • If you like mainstream crime/mystery with a side of romance, and not very explicit sex scenes, try Josh Lanyon’s Winter Kill or Stranger on the shore.
  • If you love romance series with hilarity, a fair bit of depth and a large cast of characters, try Alexa Land’s Firsts and Forever series, starting with Way off plan.
  • If you like historical romance, try Think of England or A fashionable indulgence by K.J. Charles. Or Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, starting with Provoked.

Other good books to start with would be

  • Crossroads (Riley Hart)
  • Smoky Mountain Dreams (Leta Blake) — it’s long at over 400p, but so worth it. One of my favourites from 2014.

All right, time to stop… Thus ends my overview of 2015 reading. My mission for 2016 will be to read a bit more diversely, especially in the fantasy genre. I also spent far too much time reading in 2015 and I really do need to pull myself back. (Oh, the irony!)

I intend to sign up for the Australian Women Writers challenge again too. Although I only posted three reviews last year, they covered seven books, so I’m going consider that as meeting my quota of four books reviewed. I’m also pretty sure I already know what the first two AWW reviews for 2016 are going to be!

What I read in 2013

It’s becoming a habit of mine at the end of each year to reflect back on the books I’ve read in the past 12 months — and invariably I decide the list is not long enough, or diverse enough, or recent enough and I resolve to do better. (Here’s what I read in 2012.)

This year will be no exception. In fact, my total for this year is so embarrassing I contemplated not writing this post at all. But I’m going to come clean.

Once again I’ll break them down into medium…

Audiobooks

NightingaleIn 2012 I listened to an estimated 19 audiobooks in the car during my 1.5 hours in the car as I commuted to and from work five days a week. This year I didn’t have that commute, so I’ve only made it through four that I can think of:

  • Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (see my review here) and its sequels, Grass for his Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon. (This trilogy is a beautiful fantasy set in a fantastical world reminiscent of feudal Japan.)
  • Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (This is the first in Carey’s acclaimed fantasy series about a courtesan spy, and one of my favourites.)

I’m currently listening to Kushiel’s Chosen (sequel to Dart) in the car and Santa Olivia (also by Carey) on my other MP3 player when I go walking.

Paperbacks

Among_Others_(Jo_Walton_novel)I’ve started a few, but only managed to finish two that I can think of:

  • Banished by Liz De Jager (This is a YA paranormal I picked up as an ARC at World Fantasy and read on the plane on the way home. I don’t think it’s actually been released yet from Tor UK. Woot! Something recent!)
  • Among Others by Jo Walton (See my review here) (This won lots of SF awards a couple of years ago.)

I’m currently reading Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke, a popular Australian fantasy author. I’m also making my way through For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.

Kindle e-books

shadow-queenI’m kind of shocked how few kindle books I’ve finished this year. I can think of only two I care to mention:

Once again, there are a couple of others I started but haven’t persevered with. (There were also a few random romance novels consumed.)

So that pitiful total comes to about eight books. Eight. In a whole year. I’ve re-counted several times and can’t come up with any other total. Yes, I’m officially embarrassed.

Maybe I’ve forgotten a few?

Actually I did also beta-read novels for three writing friends, so I guess they could sort of be added to the tally…

***

So what has gone wrong? I’m pretty sure I wrote a whole post about how I wish I was still a bookworm not so long ago, mainly focused on identifying activities that have displaced my reading time, so I won’t repeat myself. Bottom line: I’m just not spending enough time reading.

But another thing I have noticed is my inability to find the books I want to bury myself in. I’ve always loved immersing myself in books, but I don’t seem to be choosing books that will give me that fix.

Perhaps I need to be more ruthless at abandoning books that aren’t gripping me. I’ve never been someone who has to finish every book I start — I’m too slow a reader to waste time doing that. But sometimes I find myself reading a book that I genuinely want to finish, except at the end of each day I find excuses not to read it. This means I turn off the light without reading anything. And I don’t start anything new, because I have real plans to finish the one I’m already in the middle of.

It’s a conundrum…

All this has made me wonder what I’m looking for in a book. What is that secret X-factor that will lure me to pick up my book even when it’s late? (Just one chapter… Just one more… It doesn’t matter if I only get four hours sleep… Sleep? Who needs it? Is that the birds chirping I hear? Oh, shit, the sun is up…!)

I’ve always believed it’s characters I truly care about, a journey that excites me, a world that I wish I could visit, and a well-constructed (and well written) story. An emotionally powerful love story doesn’t hurt either.

These are the books I try to select, but my strike rate hasn’t been very good of late. If I’m honest, I think I’m veering towards the more critically acclaimed and they’re not meeting all my criteria.

I’m particularly disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which was to read and review a mere four books by Australian women. I read and reviewed two and part-read a couple more. It seriously shouldn’t have been that hard.

Anyway, it’s been extremely poor showing in 2013. I figure things can only get better from here. Much as I hate the necessity, I’m going to be diligent in scheduling in reading time for 2014, just to make sure I do a certain number of hours per week!

How did you go with reading this year? What’s the best book you read? Will I like it?! (Heh)

 

What I read in 2012

I ‘read’ something like 30 books in 2012 (as far as I can remember). This isn’t a huge total, but it’s quite a few more than I suspected. ‘Not reading’ was one of my huge frustrations last year — I couldn’t seem to fit it in!

Thank all the gods for audiobooks. Around two-thirds of the books I enjoyed last year were played to me in the car during my horrible work commute. This completely justifies my car-purchasing criterion of a USB media input for the car stereo system. Without audiobooks, I would have been tearing my hair out.

So what did I read?

In the car:

Robin Hobb marathon (8) — A friend lent me the audiobooks of pretty much all Robin Hobb’s works and I listened to The Liveship Traders trilogy, the first two of the Rain Wild Chronicles, and the complete Soldier Son trilogy. My favourites are definitely the Liveship books, but the Soldier Son books included some very interesting aspects… I always intended to blog about them but never got around to it.

Two by Kate Morton (2) — This year I listened to The Shifting Fog and The Distant Hours. I enjoyed both these modern/historical sprawling tales in Morton’s unique style, but not as much as The Forgotten Garden, which I loved a few years ago.

Several by Jasper Fforde (4) — I’ve just completed the first four of the Thursday Next books. The first, The Eyre Affair, is the best by a long way. These are not my usual reading, but they’ve been some light entertainment in the car.

Several by Kerry Greenwood (~4) — I’ve listened to about four of the Phryne Fisher 1920s detective novels. These are a lot of fun, and a fascinating view of Melbourne in the 1920s.

1984 (1) — I had never actually read George Orwell’s 1984, sad but true. I think it’s one of those books whose magnificence is revealed by the time you finish it. I’m not sure I liked it, but I appreciated it for sure.

That’s 19 audiobooks (at least)

In paperback:

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (3) — I had to read these to see what all the fuss was about, and enjoyed the first one in particular. They are very well written, although probably a bit grim and dark for my usual tastes. (Please NOTE: There are some other books I have not read, despite all the hype…)

Necklace of the Gods (aka Eona) by Alison Goodman (1) — I have just now completed the stunning sequel to The Two Pearls of Wisdom (aka Eon), after attending the launch nearly two years ago. This is writing and plotting and storytelling I can only aspire to… I might have to focus on this duology in some more depth at a later date.

Two Nightrunner novels by Lynn Flewelling (2) — I have a soft spot for this fantasy series, although I don’t think the later ones (The White Road and Casket of Souls) match the first three. Nonetheless, a good fantasy romp in a traditional style.

That’s a mere 6 paperbacks! I can’t think of any others…

On the kindle:

My kindle reading hasn’t been too much more voluminous, and has consisted mainly of a few releases by some of my online WANA buddies (once again, I haven’t gotten around to posting about any of them yet…). The most notable are:

Wicked Sense by Fabio Bueno — This is a YA paranormal, which is evidently selling VERY well indeed.

A Vampire’s Deadly Delight by Liv Rancourt — A novella about a woman who harbours a vampire-slaying superhero within. Very entertaining and original.

The Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare — Sharon’s first paranormal romance publication.

In addition to the above:

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott — I was a beta reader early this year for this recently released novel by my very good friend. It’s a modern gothic fairy tale about two sisters and their not-so-imaginary friend. The prose is lyrical and this fairy tale goes to a very dark place (as do most of Kirstyn”s works). I hope to have Kirstyn on the blog in a few weeks to tell you more about it.

Forever and Ever, Amen by Liv Rancourt — I was lucky enough to score an advanced readers copy of Liv’s forthcoming paranormal romance publication. I will post more detailed thoughts closer to its release date!

That’s another 5 on the kindle, plus possibly a few more…

I’m not especially happy with this tally, especially as there are so few recent releases on there. And especially given how few I actually read as words on the ‘page’… PATHETIC!

One of my missions for 2013 is to allocate more dedicated time for reading the old fashioned way (and here I count the kindle!). I’m not going to set myself a target number, but I would like to get back into the habit of reading in the evenings.

After all, reading is one of the cornerstones of being able to write well.

Moreover, I have this PILE of paper backs I want to read… actually, multiple piles. And then there are all the titles I wrote down throughout the year as other bloggers wrote posts or answered questions — on this blog or theirs — about their favourite books. Aaargh!

Of course, there is the risk that I commence reading at around 11pm and then find myself propping my eyes open with toothpicks at 2 or 3am… As has been happening this week. Somehow I need to find a happy medium.

How did everyone else go with their reading this year?