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…

Oh Hey

It’s been a while, huh? I will not miss you at all, 2020.

Every time I thought about writing a blog post, it felt like something somewhere in the world would go up in flames (literally or metaphorically, or sometimes both) and… I just didn’t have the headspace to craft anything resembling an actual post. I have a half-finished draft titled “Pandemic Reading”, which I started back in May, and never quite got around to completing*.

But this weekend, it feels like there is a glimmer of hope in the world. Yes, we’re in a kind-of lockdown in England, but (and it may just be me) it doesn’t feel like it’s a lockdown – I haven’t exactly been out shopping/partying/whatever-ing in the past few months so it’s not a huge change. Trump is on his way out, and hopefully, so is all the divisive rhetoric that seems to have been a substitute for actual thought everywhere.

And I feel like I should start talking books again (before something else blows up?). I’ve just started re-reading Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog series. The latest instalment, COPPER MOUNTAIN, reminded me of how good these books were and I am thoroughly enjoying re-acquainting myself with Natividad and the world of Dimilioc again. I have fond memories of being glued to the final pages of the previous book while on holiday in New York City and taking a sneaky break in the NYPL Reading Room to finish off the story, because I had to know how it ended.

Up next on my list is Megan Whalen Turner’s RETURN OF THE THIEF (hurrah!), though I am debating whether I should re-read the entire series before starting this one to make sure I don’t miss any single detail.

*I totally glommed SJ MacDonald’s Fourth Fleet Irregulars series over this period. There’s a bit of a bumpy start to the series and it’s slightly repetitive if you read all ten books back-to-back like I did, but it’s one of those series that is somehow a comfort read even if it’s the first time you read it. Also, it’s in Kindle Unlimited if you have a subscription. Oh, and ignore the covers.

2019: My Favourite Books

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m doing my now-traditional yearend reading wrap-up, and either I’m getting pickier with age or I’ve really had a so-so reading year (very likely).  Excluding re-reads, I’ve only had two 5* reads in 2019.  And I thought having only four 5* reads in 2017 was bad…

So my two very favourite books of 2019:

KJ Charles’ ANY OLD DIAMONDS (romance): KJ Charles continues to be an autobuy author for me this year, and ANY OLD DIAMONDS lived up to my expectations.  I went in thinking the pretext was slightly flimsy, and uh… I was wrong, to say the least.  An utterly delicious and satisfying romance.

Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG (fantasy): I finished making my way through Neumeier’s entire backlist this year and have no regrets.  BLACK DOG (and its sequels) is a bit different to the rest of her novels in the sense it’s urban fantasy, but not your everyday urban fantasy.  As I said earlier in the year, “Yes, there are werewolves and action, but it’s full of feels and relationships, and of course, great worldbuilding”.

And because that feels a bit light, here are some of my other favourite reads of 2019 – not quite 5* reads, but not far off either.

  • Obviously, the rest of Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog series, including all the short stories
  • T Kingfisher’s CLOCKWORK BOYS was such a fun hilarious romp – I’ve bounced off her fantasy books before, but this one really worked for me
  • Mary Burchell’s Warrender series – as I said here, the combination of period-contemporary London and Burchell’s evident love of music was catnip to me, and I pretty much inhaled these books
  • Alex Acks’ WIRELESS AND MORE STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES was the perfect follow-up to last year’s MURDER ON THE TITANIA – they’re madcap steampunk heist stories with heart, and more people need to read them
  • And last but not least, I feel Kate Stradling’s writing gets more and more confident – her Cinderella retelling SOOT AND SLIPPER was beautifully-written, and her surprise release OLIVER INVICTUS ended Oliver’s story on the most perfect note

 

 

 

 

 

Gloms Galore

It’s barely March and I’ve flown through the backlists of three authors so far this year.  That has to be some kind of a record.  I will caveat this by saying most of the books have been in Kindle Unlimited, which helps!

31311850The first author is probably no surprise if you’ve read my previous post.  I started Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG on an outward-bound flight, and by the time I flew back from holiday, I’d read all three novels in the series, plus the two short story collections.  I’ve had the first book on my Kindle for ages (I suspect I picked it up when it was free at some point), and for some reason, it’s never really appealed – it’s a rather unevocative title, perhaps?  But once I opened the book, Natividad’s story grabbed me and I was hooked.  This is Neumeier doing urban fantasy, so it’s not your standard UF – I loved it.  Yes, there are werewolves and action, but it’s full of feels and relationships, and of course, great worldbuilding.

And having read all Neumeier’s KU books, I’ve tracked down the rest of her backlist in print, mostly because the (traditionally published) e-versions are being listed at silly prices, and umm… the covers are beautiful.  I’m easily swayed like that.  I’m now the proud owner of four Neumeier hardcover/trade paperbacks, which is probably the most print books I’ve bought for a while.  Totally worth it, I have to say.

73764Having finished with Rachel Neumeier’s backlist, I then picked up Mary Burchell’s MASQUERADE WITH MUSIC, partly because Jayne @ Dear Author had been singing Burchell’s praises for a while and also because it was free.  It turned out to be the twelfth book in what is rather grandly titled “The Warrender Saga”, but is really a loosely-connected series with the main characters from the first book making appearances (sometimes cameos, sometimes more) in the following books.

Needless to say, I inhaled the whole series (and yes, all in KU) – there was something about the old-fashioned charm and romance in these books, combined with the author’s very evident love and knowledge of music, which was just what I needed.  Reading all thirteen books in one go makes Burchell’s favoured plots quite obvious – there is liberal use of the Big Misunderstanding (which I quite like), as well as ones where the heroine deliberately conceals the truth and it all comes unravelled at some point (this, I like much less).  The books were written over the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and so are period-contemporary in nature; I love discovering books like these as I feel they give more of an unfiltered perspective on the era as opposed to being written through a modern perspective – does that make sense?

And finally, my latest explorations have been within Jonathan P Brazee’s military SF backlist.  He caught my eye when one of his stories was nominated for the Nebula awards, and I noticed most of his MilSF books were in KU.  It’s going to sound like damning with faint praise (and maybe it is!), but they’re fast-paced and undemanding reading, and the kind of books I need right now.

First Reads of 2019

How’s 2019 treating you so far?  It was a bit of a shock to the system to have to get through my first full five-day working week for quite a while – ah, January, I have not missed you at all!  Also my “bury head in sand” approach to Brexit is not quite going to work over the next few weeks, I suspect.  Aarrgghhhh.

3328803So it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been inclined to escapism reading-wise.  I started the year with a bit of a Rachel Neumeier glom, finally getting around to reading THE CITY IN THE LAKE.  Don’t let the cover put you off – I find it vaguely Scream-like (probably why it was languishing in my TBR pile), which is the complete opposite of the actual story.  CITY is a lovely and beautifully-written fantasy, with characters you totally root for.  It’s technically shelved as YA, though I didn’t really see why.

11965823I then flew through her Griffin Mage trilogy (UK readers – you can get the e-omnibus for the bargain price of £3.99, btw).  All three books are very much standalone stories, but both the world-building and characters grow more multi-layered and complex as the series progresses, with the final book capping off the trilogy on a very satisfying note.  I thought the third book was probably the strongest, with Miethe’s story pulling me in right from the start, though the ease of connection I had with her may be somewhat due to me being familiar with the setting and (at least some of) the characters.

I ended the week by reading her short story collection BEYOND THE DREAMS WE KNOW, which had stories set in the worlds of some of her previous novels (and as bonus, is available in Kindle Unlimited).  It was a delightful collection of stories – after my recent Neumeier backlist exploration, there was only one story where I wasn’t already familiar with the setting (and the story made me want to read THE FLOATING ISLANDS ASAP).

I’m having a tough time pinning down exactly what it is about Neumeier’s writing that so appeals to me.  Her stories have a different feel to a lot of other fantasies being published nowadays – they’re not OTT in terms of emotions nor are they action-packed, and they definitely don’t have unrequited love or love triangles as an integral part of the plot.  But they’re not boring either – her writing’s beautiful and evocative, her stories character-driven, and they’re all set against the backdrop of some really well-developed settings and cultures.

If I had to come up with authors who I think write in a similar manner, perhaps Sharon Shinn, Sherwood Smith or Andrea K Höst, with the caveats that I don’t think Neumeier’s romance subplots are as front-and-centre as Shinn’s, Smith’s books lean much more towards YA (IIRC), and Höst’s stories have a fresher feel to them IMO. If you’ve read Rachel Neumeier, which other authors do you think are similar?

Books for February

Not a massive number of new releases on my list this month, which means I can ramble on a bit more?

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17874997Suzanne Brockmann‘s DO OR DIE (romantic suspense): Pre-ebooks (yes, in those long ago days), the big decision when it came to new releases was whether I would (a) pre-order and get the online discount, but wait a bit longer to get my hands on them or (b) haunt my local bookstore on the off-chance they actually had them in on release date, and pay full price.

With Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter books, I usually went with option (b) – that was how much I loved them.  After the 16th (or so) book, she wrapped up that series (to be fair, it was probably about time) and ventured into a near-futuristic world, which was umm… a bust for me (to put it mildly), and I resigned myself to the fact that I was just not loving her books anymore.  And then she announced she was starting a Troubleshooters spin-off series – I guess I’m not the only one who didn’t love her new series?  So new protagonists etc but a (semi-)familiar world – I’m hoping this one has both the action-packed story, humour, and chemistry that her Troubleshooter books always brought to the table.

TL;DR version: I pre-ordered the ebook and am reading it right now.

Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs. Or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the U.S. government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his own kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission… for reasons he will not–or cannot–reveal.

But saying no is not an option. Especially not to Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s bespectacled, beautiful, and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, she not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible-style operation, whether he likes it or not.

Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty.

Or die trying.

Out now

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18143924Sharon Lee‘s CAROUSEL SUN (urban fantasy): Or small-town fantasy.  I mentioned this in my January new releases because Baen releases the ebook a month early, so although technically a February release, I’ve already read this.  I was looking forward to this follow-up to CAROUSEL TIDES – I had a couple of minor niggles around pacing and voice (which I mentioned in the comments to Laura’s GR review – and will get my own review up at some point…), but overall a decent read and I really like the unusual (for a UF) setting.

 A gripping contemporary fantasy thriller from master storyteller Sharon Lee, award-winning co-creator of the highly-popular Liaden Universe® saga.

When magic meets mundane, sparks fly: these are exciting times in Archers Beach, Maine! A unprecedented Early Season has united townies and carnies in an effort to expand into a twelve-month resort, recapturing the town’s former glory.

Kate Archer, owner-operator of the vintage wooden carousel, is caught up in the excitement—and is quite possibly the cause of it. Because Kate leads a double life, as carny, and as Guardian of the land. Her recent return to the home she had forsaken has changed the town’s luck—for the better—and energized the trenvay—earth and water spirits who are as much citizens of the Beach as their mundane counterparts.

But the town’s new energy isn’t the only change afoot. Joe Nemeier, the local drug lord, whose previous magical consultant was vanquished by Kate, has acquired a new ally—and this one plays with fire.

Out now

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085286-fc222Diana Wynne Jones & Ursula JonesTHE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA (MG fantasy): I had to double-check the publication date on this as I think the US version is out later in April, but yes, the UK version looks to be pubbed end of February.  This is the book that Diana Wynne Jones was in the midst of writing when she passed away, and I believe her sister finished it.  So I’m not entirely sure it will be “proper” DWJ – but the plot sounds totally DWJ and I cannot wait to read it.

The brand new and final novel from the magical and whimsical pen of ‘the Godmother of Fantasy’, Diana Wynne Jones; co-authored with her sister Ursula Jones.

Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); AND the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

Out Feb 27 (UK)

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Other books I’m interested in:

Tell me about your February new releases list – any must-gets I’m missing?