2020: My Favourite Books

Better late than never. Or something like that. I suspect “…but it was 2020” is going to be sufficient excuse for a while.

Despite (or because of) everything, I did have a good reading year. Reading, more than ever, was my escape route from the endless days of lockdown in 2020. There are only so many times you can walk around your local neighbourhood before the novelty wears off…

Here are my very favourite reads of 2020, in no particular order:

Lucy Parker’s HEADLINERS (romance): IMO Parker has completely mastered the art of modern grown-up romance. This was utterly delightful and satisfying.

Anna Butler’s THE GOD’S EYE (romance): The final book of her Lancaster’s Luck trilogy was one of my most anticipated of the year, and this was note-perfect. Great tension, mystery, and chemistry.

Mongie’s LET’S PLAY (young adult): I dipped my toes into the world of Webtoons in 2020, and found myself completely charmed by this graphic novel.

Jodi Taylor’s PLAN FOR THE WORST (fantasy): Every instalment of St Mary’s is always a treat (plus it comes with history lessons, as bonus). It’s hilarious non-stop action, which doesn’t take itself too seriously until it is, somehow.

Dal Maclean’s BLUE ON BLUE (romance): I love how present-day London comes alive in these books. She has a knack for the police procedural, and the romance was just so good.

Rachel Neumeier’s COPPER MOUNTAIN (fantasy): Her Black Dog books were one of my favourite series of 2019, and I loved revisiting her take on werewolves. In fact, I ended up re-reading the entire series again and yeah, just as good as the first time around.

Next up – my 2020 reading stats…

Thoughts of the Rambling Type

In no particular order:

43208022You may have noticed that I’ve given up on posting a monthly list of new releases I’m planning to buy – while that was a useful reference point, it was, well, too much like enforced blogging for me (if you want to see my list though, I basically use Goodreads to keep track).  However, two upcoming April releases that I have to mention as they have me rubbing my hands together in glee (and also releasing within a few days of each other, help!) are Lucy Parker’s THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK (her h/hs just spark off each other) and Jodi Taylor’s HOPE FOR THE BEST (it’s the 10th book in, and the series is still as madcap fun as ever).

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40957180Related to this, I’ve been meaning for a while to do a post about passion in books and why I need it to connect with the characters… no, not that kind of passion.  Lucy Parker and Jodi Taylor’s books could not be more different in genre and plots – the former is contemporary romance, while the latter is slightly futuristic time-travel.  But I love both equally and the common theme is passion.  Parker’s characters are passionate about theatre and performing, Taylor’s are passionate about history and discovery.

It was a Twitter comment by an author that clarified this for me (apologies, can’t remember who now), who said something along the lines of “people care about things and so should your characters”.  Like if I was putting myself in a book, even if it had nothing to do with the plot, I’d make sure to reference my slightly obsessive love for bookstores.  I think this explains why I sometimes bounce so badly off a book – the characters may be doing and saying the right things, but there’s no depth.  It also explains why I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s SF books and Elizabeth Peters’ historical mysteries equally, despite them being shelved in completely different areas in bookstores – Miles Vorkosigan and Amelia Peabody have their own obsessions, and they propel the story forward.

Is this another term for character-driven stories?  Maybe.  I’m just late to the party!

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Finally, a topic that has been done to death, I know, but price points for e-books – I was all excited about Alexis Hall’s fantastical take on Sherlock Holmes and was ready to pre-order… then I saw the £9.99 price, and came to a screeching halt.  Eeeuurrrghh.  For a trusted author, and I’m talking known quantities so really, an ongoing series that I’m loving, I would pay around £6?  Okay, perhaps £7 max.  Scanning down my recent Kindle orders list (and it’s a very long one), I think I’m probably averaging around £3 per ebook – some higher, others lower.

What I do when an expensive e-book lands on my radar is either:

  • Place the book on my ereaderiq price watch list – this is a free service that tracks Kindle price drops.  They run on donations, and I donate as they save me so much money!  The link is to the UK version and they also have US and Canada versions. More often that not, the initial price will drop, either when a new book in the series is released, or when the mass paperback version is released.
  • Reserve the book from my local library – a bit hit or miss, as they usually only purchase books if there’s a UK publisher.  Also they’ve changed their reservation system, which means you can’t reserve pre-orders, only when the books actually arrive, which in turn means I’ve to really remember to do this.

What I don’t do is pay full price.  And if by the time the price drops come through, I’ve forgotten my initial excitement about the release, I don’t buy – there are so many books out there.  I know this sounds a bit me, me, me and people must be buying enough e-editions at £10 to make the pricing strategy worthwhile, but it’s one I really struggle with.

2017: My Favorite Books

Happy New Year everyone!

I’ve done my by-now traditional collation of reading stats – numbers to follow in a separate post, but I will say that despite everything (or perhaps because of) 2017 threw at me, I’ve read more books during the past year than I have in previous years.  By far.  Obviously, there’s nothing like comfort reading.

Having said that, the list of my favourite 2017 reads is shorter than previous years.  In no particular order, these were my very favourite books I read during the year:

Lucy Parker’s PRETTY FACE (contemporary romance): You know when you keep re-reading passages in a book because you really want to savour the words properly?  That was PRETTY FACE for me.  Her leads had an amazing connection with chemistry a-plenty, the dialogue sparkled, and the London setting rang so true.  Basically the perfect romance for me.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s IN OTHER LANDS (fantasy):  I loved this portal fantasy when she serialised it on her blog, and this polished and expanded version is even better.  There’s hidden depths underneath the trademark SRB snark, and social commentary and humour are combined with ease.  Elliot shines as the pacifist hero who grows up but never loses his sense of wonder.

CS Pacat’s THE ADVENTURES OF CHARLS, THE VERETIAN CLOTH MERCHANT (fantasy): Yes, it’s very much a short story (26 pages according to Goodreads), and no, it wouldn’t work for anyone who hasn’t read the Captive Prince trilogy.  But for those who have, this was the perfect capstone to the trilogy, packed full of humour and emotional pay-offs – Charls is the most excellent of narrators, and Laurent and Lamen are on form throughout.

Glynn Stewart’s OPERATION MEDUSA (SF): For an author I only discovered in October, I’ve done a really good job of flying through Glynn Stewart’s backlist (helped very much by Kindle Unlimited, I admit).  OPERATION MEDUSA was packed full of action and suspense, and ended his Castle Federation series in the most satisfying way.

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Ah, because that was such a short list, here are some other books/authors I had a lot of fun reading over 2017:

All of WR Gingell’s books, which is very much the kind of fantasy that appeals to me (intrepid yet sensible heroines, strong friendships, slow-burn romances… you know what I mean).  A few of her books that I liked especially: Shards of a Broken Swords trilogy, WOLFSKIN, and MASQUE.

Ditto for Kate Stradling – again, I read her entire backlist over 2017.  Specific recs: GOLDMAYNE, A FAIRY TALE (a take on a rather obscure fairytale), the duology A BOY CALLED HAWK and A RUMOR OF REAL IRISH TEA (inventive and twisty YA, give it a go even if you’ve been dystopian-ed out), and her Ruses duology (in theory standalone fantasy, but reading the first gives the second much more depth).

Another YA fantasy series I’ve enjoyed is Intisar Khanani’s Sunbolt Chronicles – there’s two books so far.  The first is offered as a freebie now and again so keep an eye out for it, but be warned, it has a rather abrupt ending.  The second, MEMORIES OF ASH, is more of a complete story in itself, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

SK Dunstall’s Linesman books made up a really fun space opera trilogy, with intriguing world-building that hooked me from the start.  I read all three back-to-back, and wasn’t disappointed.

Sports romances are my catnip, and I’m loving the author pairing of Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.  Despite my initial misgivings about the title of the series, I’ve really liked GOOD BOY and STAY.

Last but not least, KJ Charles nailed it with SPECTRED ISLE, her M/M historical romance set in the aftermath of WWI.  She interweaves the paranormal with the ordinary so seamlessly, and always gets the period feel just right.

Books for February

There are quite a few February new releases on my radar – most of which I’m definitely buying, with a couple of maybes.  Help.

The definites:

30753493Wen Spencer’s THE BLACK WOLVES OF BOSTON (urban fantasy): I may not love all her books, but Wen Spencer writes so very readable characters, while always delivering something a bit different.  I’ve already finished this, and although I had trouble keeping up with the multiple POVs and also some reservations about one of the central couples, it was fun, and her werewolves and vampires weren’t the bog-standard UF ones.  I’ll be picking up the next book.

REBUILD A LIFE, SAVE A CITY

Silas Decker had his world destroyed when he was attacked by vampires outside of New Amsterdam. He rebuilt his life a dozen times in the last three hundred years—each time less and less successfully. Now he lives alone, buried under a hoarding habit, struggling to find some reason to wake up with the setting of the sun.

Eloise is a Virtue, pledged to hunting evil.  What she doesn’t know is how to live alone in a city full of strangers who know nothing about monsters.

Seth is the sixteen-year old Prince of Boston, ward of the Wolf King.  Now he is left in a city that desperately needs his protection with enemies gathering all around.

Joshua believes he is a normal, college-bound high school senior.  His life is shattered when he wakes up in a field, covered with blood, and the prom committee scattered in pieces about him like broken dolls.

These four must now come together to unravel a plot by Wickers, witches who gain power from human sacrifices and have the power to turn any human into their puppet. Four people who lost everything struggle to save Boston by saving each other.

Out now

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33642764Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell’s HARD WIRED (contemporary romance): I’ve really enjoyed Santino Hassell’s Five Borough series, but this co-authored Cyberlove series started off on a too-angsty note for me.  I liked the second book more though, and have already bought this one.  I find the tech angle in these books fascinating – I’m not a Luddite by any means, but online gaming is pretty much a different world for me.

My FallenCon agenda is simple: sit on a couple of panels and let people meet the real me. Jesse Garvy—mod of a famous Twitch channel and, if I ever come out of my shell, future vlogger. I definitely didn’t plan to sleep with a moody tattooed fan-artist, but he’s gorgeous and can’t keep his hands off me. There’s a first time for everything, and my first time with a guy turns out to be the hottest experience of my life.

But the next day, I find out my moody fan-artist is Ian Larsen AKA Cherry—someone I’ve known online for years. And he’d known exactly who I was while shoving me up against that wall. Before I figure out whether to be pissed or flattered, the con ends.

Now we’re back online, and he’s acting like nothing happened. But despite the distance between us, and the way he clings to the safety of his online persona, we made a real connection that night. I don’t plan to let him forget.

Out now

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25670396Jacqueline Carey’s MIRANDA AND CALIBAN (fantasy): I keep on changing my mind on this one.  On one hand, I usually buy every book Jacqueline Carey writes.  And it’s a Shakespearean retelling, which makes it even more intriguing.

On the other hand (!!sorry, kind of spoiler-ish!!), apparently it’s not exactly a HEA (to be fair, the back cover copy refers to Miranda and Caliban’s “doomed relationship” and I suspect the retelling will stay close to the original).  Not that I need a HEA in a fantasy, but I kind of want to read uplifting books at this point in time. I’ll probably wait on more reviews before deciding.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin–the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

Out Feb 14

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32613865Lucy Parker’s PRETTY FACE (contemporary romance): Speaking of uplifting books, this has to be one, right?  There was (deserved) buzz around Lucy Parker’s debut, and I’m looking forward to reading this.

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Out Feb 20

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31368090Lisa Kleypas’s DEVIL IN SPRING (historical romance): I ended up DNF’ing the second book in this series (possibly a “it’s not you, it’s me” thing), but I’ve high hopes for Evie and Sebastien’s son’s story.

An eccentric wallflower…

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake…

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot…

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy-and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven…

Out Feb 21

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30517107KJ Charles’s AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION (historical romance): A new KJ Charles is always a treat, even more so when it’s the first of a trilogy.

A slow-burning romance and a chilling mystery bind two singular men in the suspenseful first book of a new Victorian series from K. J. Charles.

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship…

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding… it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

Out Feb 21

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31141489Julianna Keyes’s UNDECLARED (new adult romance): Julianna Keyes’s UNDECIDED was an unexpected reading gem last year, and I’m glad she’s writing more in the NA genre.

Kellan McVey is Burnham College’s most prolific athlete, partier, and ladies’ man—and that’s just how he likes it. Returning to reign for his third year, he wants nothing to change. Then Andrea Walsh shows up.

It wasn’t too long ago that Andi and Kellan were lifelong friends, mortal enemies, and, for one hot summer, more. Then Kellan left and Andi stayed behind.

Kellan thought he’d moved past that last summer’s heartbreak, but with Andi sitting next to him in class, befriending his friends, and battling for the same once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity, he’s starting to remember why he hated her…and why he loved her.

Kellan has a long list of reasons that falling for Andi again is a terrible idea, though every new moment together challenges that theory. But Andi’s all too familiar with Kellan’s love ’em and leave ’em approach—and she’s found someone else to get serious about.

Burnham’s campus king has never had to fight for a girl, but if he wants Andi to give him another chance, he’ll have to do the one thing he’s never had the nerve to do: admit it.

Out Feb 27

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30255973Ellen Emerson White’s A SEASON OF DARING GREATLY (YA): Angie’s review means that this book is pretty much a must-read for me.  I loved EEW’s The President’s Daughter series, and this reminds me that I’ve a couple of her backlist titles sitting in my TBR pile.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Cafferty just made history. Her high school’s star pitcher, she is now the first woman drafted by a major league baseball team. Only days after her high school graduation, she’ll join the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class A Short Season team . . . but not everyone is happy to have her there.

On top of the pressure heaped on every pitcher, Jill must deal with defying conventions and living up to impossible expectations, all while living away from home for the first time. She’ll go head-to-head against those who are determined to keep baseball an all-male sport. Despite the reassurance of coaches and managers alike, a few of her teammates are giving her trouble. The media presence following her at each game is inescapable. And to top it all off, Jill is struggling with the responsibilities of being a national hero and a role model for young women everywhere. How can she be a role model when she’s not even sure she made the right choice for herself? Didn’t baseball used to be fun?

This literary and engrossing story of a young woman trying to mark out a place for herself in a male-dominated world will captivate fans of Friday Night Lights, The Art of Fielding, John Corey Whaley, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Out now

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25538649Julie Cross’s OFF THE ICE (YA romance): And another sports YA!  I adored Julie Cross’s gymnastics-centred Letters to Nowhere series, so keen to see what she does with ice hockey.

All is fair in love and hockey…

Claire O’Connor is back in Juniper Falls, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be. One semester off, that’s what she promised herself. Just long enough to take care of her father and keep the family business—a hockey bar beside the ice rink—afloat. After that, she’s getting the hell out. Again.

Enter Tate Tanley. What happened between them the night before she left town resurfaces the second they lay eyes on each other. But the guy she remembers has been replaced by a total hottie. When Tate is unexpectedly called in to take over for the hockey team’s star goalie, suddenly he’s in the spotlight and on his way to becoming just another egotistical varsity hockey player. And Claire’s sworn off Juniper Falls hockey players for good.

It’s the absolute worst time to fall in love.

For Tate and Claire, hockey isn’t just a game. And they both might not survive a body check to the heart.

Out Feb 28

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30243858Marko Kloos’s FIELDS OF FIRE (SF): And an SF to round things off.  I’ve an ARC of this, so will be posting a fuller review shortly.  It’s a solid installment in the series, and long-time readers won’t be disappointed.

The time has come to take the fight to the Lankies.

Mars has been under Lanky control for more than a year. Since then, the depleted forces of Earth’s alliances have rebuilt their fleets, staffing old warships with freshly trained troops. Torn between the need to beat the Lankies to the punch and taking enough time to put together an effective fighting force, command has decided to strike now.

Once again, seasoned veterans Andrew and Halley find themselves in charge of green troops and at the sharp tip of the spear as the combined military might of Earth goes up against the Lankies. But if there’s one constant in war, it’s that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy…and the Lankies want to hold on to Mars as badly as humanity wants to reclaim it.

Out Feb 28

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And finally, the ones I’ll be (hopefully) requesting from the library:

Kelley Armstrong’s A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE (mystery): It’s a follow-up to last year’s CITY OF THE LOST, which I liked but didn’t love.

Sophie Kinsella’s MY (NOT SO) PERFECT LIFE: Her books are a bit hit or miss with me, so it’s a library request (especially as it’s a hardcover).


randombookrec

Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer’s CECELIA AND KATE: OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT (fantasy): I wandered over to scan my bookshelves for this pick.  I adore this utterly charming fantasy, in which the story unfolds through letters between the above-mentioned Cecelia and Kate.