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, Santino Hassell and KJ Charles.
Only one of them was new to me (TJ Klune). Indeed, I’ve previously read several brilliant books by each of Santino Hassell and KJ Charles, both of whom consistently stand out above most of the others in the m/m genre.
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.
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.)
Santino Hassell is an author that always delivers. He writes across a few different m/m genres and seems to be getting more prolific.
This year, I particularly enjoyed his paranormal series, The Community — Insight, Oversight and Sightlines. Set mostly in contemporary New York City, the series is about conspiracy, unrest and mystery within a community of psychics (telepaths, empaths, etc). Once again, I waited until all the books were released and then read them back-to-back. It’s an exciting series (also a little disturbing), with three separate love stories and an overall series arc.
In Insight, a young empath discovers the existence of the Community as he’s searching for answers around his twin’s apparent suicide. Oversight is centred on the privileged son of one of the Community’s founders as he starts to uncover disturbing truths about the organisation. His half-brother, the most powerful psychic in the Community and also the most exploited, brings everything to a head in Sightlines.
The three books in the Community series were the pick of the Santino Hassell novels I read this year (with one exception), but I also enjoyed the third (Hard Wired) and fourth (Mature Content) books in the Cyberlove series, co-written with Megan Erickson (although I think the first two, Strong Signal and Fast Connection, are better books).
I haven’t got around to reading the latest releases in the Five Boroughs series, but I did read the sports romance Illegal Contact (The Barons – book 1) which I liked but didn’t love. The final Hassell book I read this year was Stygian — which I did love. It’s fabulous! But I’m going to talk more about that in the next post…
… which will be about spooky paranormal stories among other things.