2015: My Favourite Books

I was going to start off by saying I felt that I had read fewer books over 2015 that had really captured my imagination compared to previous years. These are the books where I find it hard to let go of the characters and their world after the last page, and they’re the ones that end up on my annual favourites list.

Then I looked at my previous years’ summaries (this is obviously why I do them), and in 2013, I “only” had seven on my list.  So having eight* in 2015 hasn’t been that bad considering.

*I also have 30 books which would occupy the Honourable Mentions spots (if I had them!) so I’m not feeling that bad.

My Very Favourite Books Read During 2015 (in random-ish order)

Kate Sherwood‘s MARK OF CAIN (M/M contemporary romance): This one narrowly missed my cutoff for 2014 favourites – I think it was one of the first books I read in 2015.  Sherwood made a really unlikely pairing (Mark’s a gay priest, Lucas’s an ex-con who was jailed for killing Mark’s brother) more than work for me.  (Also, this one prompted a rather large glom of Sherwood’s backlist.)

Naomi Novik‘s UPROOTED (fantasy): This very lovely fantasy is making the rounds of the Best Of lists, and it’s made mine too. UPROOTED was an unexpected surprise from the author of the very different Temeraire books, and earned a place on my keeper shelf.

Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy‘s HIM (M/M NA romance): I already knew I loved Sarina Bowen’s writing; I discovered I loved Elle Kennedy’s writing as well this year.  And this collaboration more than lived up to its promise.  It was funny, sexy, and romantic (plus sports romance – always a bonus!).  I’m thrilled there will be a sequel in 2016.

KJ CharlesA FASHIONABLE INDULGENCE and A SEDITIOUS AFFAIR (M/M historical romance): KJ Charles’ writing is always pitch-perfect, regardless of genre.  I fell hard for the first two installments of her Regency trilogy – both packed full of political intrigue and tension – and am eagerly awaiting the third.

Kate Elliott‘s COLD STEEL (fantasy): I was not convinced by the first book in this trilogy at all. But I kept reading and was amply rewarded by the final book.  COLD STEEL brought the entire story together – I was totally engrossed in the rich fantasy world dreamt up by Elliott, and rooting for Cat and Vai (and Bee!) all the way.

Lois McMaster Bujold‘s GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN (SF): Slightly cheating here as this is technically a 2016 release, but I bought the e-ARC direct from Baen because well, a new Vorkosigan.  I don’t know if it’s my favourite in the series (MEMORY probably still holds that spot), but because of the significance of this book to the series arc as a whole, it could not not be on this list.

Lynn Kurland‘s PRINCESS OF THE SWORD (fantasy romance): I finally got around to starting Lynn Kurland’s much-loved Nine Kingdoms series this year, and well, why did I wait so long?  PRINCESS wraps up the first trilogy in the series – I adored the humour and the chemistry between the two leads in these books, and spent quite a few late nights reading just one more page.

Finally, not on this list because they’re technically re-reads, but ahead of Manna Francis‘s new Administration 2015 release, I splashed out and bought the series as ebooks (most of the stories are also available for free online). They’re probably not stories for the super-squeamish as sex and violence abound in this SF dystopian series, but the story, the character arcs, and yes, the romance kept me engrossed and living in Toreth and Warrick’s world for a good few weeks.  There are hints of another sequel, and I cannot wait.

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A Few 2015 Musings

I can’t believe it’s the last week of 2015.  Eeep.  (And yes, I’ll probably be saying something similar in 52 weeks’ time.)

For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful day.  And for those who don’t, I hope you took full advantage of the long weekend (and possibly the sales? I know I did *clears throat*).

I’ve started pulling together my 2015 reading stats (geek alert!) and while I always wait until January for my annual “best of” posts (because I may just read that perfect book on the 31st), a couple of things have already jumped out at me.

20560137Firstly, I’ve not been great at reading new-to-me authors this year.  In fact, I only read four new-to-me authors in the first six months of 2015.  That’s pretty poor considering that around one-third of authors I read used to be new-to-me as recently as a couple of years ago.  In a way though, I think the lower numbers this time around are because I have discovered so many new-to-me authors over the previous years and had to keep up with their releases…

24920901Secondly, the majority of my reading continues to be in the romance genre this year (with fantasy a close second still, though).  When I started blogging (way back in 2007…), romance was very definitely my first love (pun intended).  For whatever reason (okay, possibly because everything started feeling a bit same-y in romancelandia, but also because of the growth and quality of YA SFF), the number of fantasy books I read increased significantly.  It feels that I’ve returned to the romance genre now, though the subgenres I read are rather different.  Back then, it was all about the historical for me; now, there’s a lot more contemporary in the mix.

23775601Finally (and I think linked to the above!), almost half of the books I read over the year came from non-traditional publishing routes (I’m counting both self and indie-pubbed in this category).  And interestingly (to me, anyway), around two-thirds of the romance books I read fall into the non-trad category.  IMO, the e-publishing revolution removed the barriers to entry for stories that feel fresh and new, and brought me back to the romance genre.

Right, enough navel-gazing for the day. I’m keen to hear what you thought of your 2015 reading year (or 2015 in general, I’m not fussy!).  Post links if you’ve been super-organised and done your 2015 wrap-ups already!

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My previous annual roundups over the past few years:

2014: Favourites and year in numbers

2013: Annual wrap-up and Q&A

2012: Year in summary

 

A Very Tiny Facelift

Because my WordPress Custom Design upgrade expires soon, and the price of the annual subscription keeps on increasing.  I do like all the free themes from WordPress.com though and it’s so easy to use, so I’m not planning on migrating to another platform any time soon.

New theme is Lovecraft (I know, the irony) Hemingway Rewritten and the header image is something I knocked up quickly using PicMonkey, because my previous word cloud image looked a bit rubbish in this theme.  I’d like to change it to something a bit more book-ish at some point, but with my track record, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actually updated my blog, so while I don’t think I’ve broken anything, shout if you see any missing links (or if the colour and/or font makes anything too illegible).  I’m not too attached to anything at the moment, and I’ll probably continue tweaking it over the next weeks.

Genevieve Cogman’s THE MASKED CITY

25761086I’m trying to figure out what kind of disclaimer I should stick on this post. Genevieve Cogman‘s debut fantasy THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY was so much fun that I immediately pre-ordered its sequel, THE MASKED CITY (to put that into context, I only do that for a handful of new releases), and I was halfway through my Kindle edition when I received an email saying that I won the Goodreads giveaway for the physical book (also, that makes it two Goodreads giveaway wins in a year, after four years without winning anything – I’m not entering any more giveaways until 2020 now).  So technically, I received a review copy of THE MASKED CITY, but I also shelled out my own money to read this on release date.  Consider all biases disclosed…

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

So – I should really stop using the word “fun” to describe this series, right?  (See overuse in review of first book.)  Maybe delightful?  Enthralling?  Satisfying?  All of those and more.

I had high hopes for this sequel, and I wasn’t disappointed.  If anything, it was even better than I remembered and I was rapidly sucked back into Irene’s world right from the start.  This time around, the action mainly takes place in alternate-Venice (with detours to a couple of other worlds, and of course, the Library), interspersed with some very cool train scenes (think James Bond on the Hogwarts Express – or is that just me?) and epic last-minute escapes.  

The remarkably persistent Irene carries the book.  Let’s face it, a kick-ass librarian (who uses the Language as her primary weapon) sneaking into very dangerous enemy territory to save her assistant is totally my kind of heroine.  It’s not all action though – I’m also enjoying the personal interplay between Irene and Kai (and possibly Irene and Vale?), there’s some interesting undertones of attraction mixed in with the bonds of loyalty there.  Add in a few genuinely scary villains (and not-villains) in this book, and some rather intriguing new characters (who I can only hope make an appearance in the third (and final?) book) and it all makes for an incredibly satisfying read.

THE MASKED CITY more than fulfils the promise of the first book, and I need to know what happens to Irene and her gang next (yes, the reader is left dangling ever-so-slightly at the end of the book, though not quite enough to trigger my cliffhanger hatred).  It’s been a remarkably fun enjoyable two books so far, and I really hope Genevieve Cogman sticks the landing.

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Review copy courtesy of Goodreads giveaway (kind of, anyway)

Also, bonus link: Genevieve Cogman @ Charles Stross’s blog explaining why Librarians don’t do Christmas presents.

Three Fun Links

27781572Do you know what a “larrikin” is?  I had no idea – my vocabulary obviously doesn’t stretch to Australia slang!  Kelly Hunter explains what a larrikin is (and isn’t).  There’s also an excerpt from her new-ish contemporary romance A BAD BOY FOR CHRISTMAS (I really enjoyed this one – she always manages to pack so much story (and chemistry) into a category-length romance).

You’ve noticed the new Vorkosigan covers, right?  The cover artist Ron Miller wrote an interesting post on good cover design.  I’m a bit on the fence about the new covers – they’re better than some covers Lois McMaster Bujold has had (understatement of the year, possibly) but I’m not entirely sure they’ll appeal to new readers.  Here’s LMB’s post talking about the alternative cover concepts (also interesting!).

And this totally made me smile.  Olivia Hunyh is such a great illustrator, and I adored her Google Doodle tribute to LM Montgomery.  Check out the Anne of Green Gables scenes she captured in the second two doodles – they are so perfect!

Books for December

It’s a quieter month for new releases (in comparison to the previous couple of months, that is), but I’m really looking forward to these new releases – hopefully I’ll get a few chances to sneak away and finish these before Christmas…

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25339379Mercedes Lackey‘s CRUCIBLE (fantasy): It wouldn’t be December without a new Lackey-edited anthology, and this time, she’s back to Valdemar!  Sorry, I had to add an exclamation mark as Valdemar will always be one of my favourite fantasy worlds.  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve found the stories in these anthologies a bit hit-or-miss, but it is the land of Heralds and Companions.

In March 1987, Mercedes Lackey, a young author from Oklahoma, published her first novel, Arrows of the Queen. No one could have envisioned that this modest book about a magical land called Valdemar would be the beginning of a fantasy masterwork series that would span decades and include more than two dozen titles.

Now the voices of other authors add their own special touches to the ancient land where Heralds “Chosen” from all walks of life by magical horse-like Companions patrol their ancient kingdom, dispensing justice, facing adversaries, and protecting their monarch and country from whatever threatens. Trained rigorously by the Herald’s Collegium, these special protectors each have extraordinary Gifts: Mindspeaking, FarSeeing, FarSpeaking, Empathy, Firestarting and ForeSeeing, and are bonded for life with their mysterious Companions. Travel with these astounding adventurers in these original stories.

Out now

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25761086Genevieve Cogman‘s THE MASKED CITY (fantasy): I thoroughly enjoyed Genevieve Cogman’s debut THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY when I read it earlier this year, and snapped up THE MASKED CITY as soon as it went on sale.  I’m halfway through the book at the moment, and liking this very fun take on alternate-Venice very much.

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

Out now (UK only, sorry!  I think the US release for the first two books is scheduled for 2016)

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26009556LB Gregg‘s WITH THIS BLING (M/M contemporary romance): I was reminded of how much I liked LB Gregg’s writing when I finally got around to reading her recent(-ish) release HOW I MET YOUR FATHER.  I’m not normally a fan of May/December romances, but she made the relationship believable (and funny!), even when working within the constraints of a novella-length story.  So I’m looking forward to her latest installment in her Romano/Albright series.

Caesar Romano’s catering career is doing better than he’d ever dreamed. And so is his love life—even if his boyfriend’s house in Staten Island is way too far from civilization for his liking. But then in short order, Caesar is duped into helping his cousin propose, is tricked by his best friend and business partner into appearing on live television, and is harassed by a thug-like personal trainer and his far too beautiful wife. In fact, Caesar is almost too busy to notice that something is troubling his PI boyfriend, Dan Albright.

Almost.

Laid-back, open, charming—that’s the impression hunky former NYPD Detective Dan Albright gives everyone. Caesar can add sexually adventurous and a bit of an exhibitionist. But he also knows that Dan is hiding something—something dark and a little dangerous—and when Dan’s silence over his mysterious past threatens to harm them both, it’s Caesar’s turn to save the day.

But then again, a break-in, a gallery party, an heirloom ring, a new suit, and a stalker with bad BO are all just a typical week for Caesar Romano.

Out Dec 7

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25241403KJ CharlesA SEDITIOUS AFFAIR (M/M historical romance): I love KJ Charles’s writing, and I’ve loved the previous stories in this series.  She always creates this sizzling chemistry between the main leads, and the historical setting isn’t just period wallpaper.  This book will be shooting right up to the top of my to-read list on release date.

K. J. Charles turns up the heat in her new Society of Gentlemen novel, as two lovers face off in a sensual duel that challenges their deepest beliefs.
 
Silas Mason has no illusions about himself. He’s not lovable, or even likable. He’s an overbearing idealist, a Radical bookseller and pamphleteer who lives for revolution . . . and for Wednesday nights. Every week he meets anonymously with the same man, in whom Silas has discovered the ideal meld of intellectual companionship and absolute obedience to his sexual commands. But unbeknownst to Silas, his closest friend is also his greatest enemy, with the power to see him hanged—or spare his life.

A loyal, well-born gentleman official, Dominic Frey is torn apart by his affair with Silas. By the light of day, he cannot fathom the intoxicating lust that drives him to meet with the Radical week after week. In the bedroom, everything else falls away. Their needs match, and they are united by sympathy for each other’s deepest vulnerabilities. But when Silas’s politics earn him a death sentence, desire clashes with duty, and Dominic finds himself doing everything he can to save the man who stole his heart.

Out Dec 15

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Also on my radar:

  • Ilona Andrews‘ surprise novella, MAGIC STARS.  No idea when the actual release date is (or even a plot synopsis), but I’m expecting (or hoping for?) a December one.  It has Derek and Julie, and that’s all I know.  Totally buying though.
  • Jayne Ann Krentz‘s SECRET SISTERS – she’s one of those authors I can’t just quit, even if I haven’t loved her recent romantic suspense books.  Probably one I’ll try and borrow from the library though.