Top 10(ish) of 2021: Best of 2021

Welcome to my best books list for 2021, on this next to the last day of the year. As part of @KimberlyFayeReads Top 10 of 2021 this is supposed to be a list of my 10 favorite books of the previous year.  I have NEVER had any luck at reducing this list to 10. Not ever in 10 years of trying. So this isn’t my Top 10. Instead, it’s every book this year I gave either an A++ or A+ rating to over the course of the year, plus one I gave a Starred Review to in Library Journal but made the mistake of not writing up for Reading Reality.

There are some trends in this list over the years. There’s more SF and Fantasy than any other genre, has been for a while, and the trend looks likely to continue. (Yes, I’ve already read ahead. A bit. Just a bit.) The rest of the list is a mix of mystery/thriller – whether historical or contemporary- and one lone work of women’s/relationship fiction that was utterly awesome and even more so when considering it was the author’s debut novel. She’s set a high bar for herself and I’m looking forward to her future work. But that’s tomorrow’s post!

The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory
The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill
Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Isolate by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson
Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter
The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
The Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick
A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
The Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah
A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris
White Top by M.L. Buchman
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Best Books of 2020

Welcome, on this last day of 2020, to my annual “Best Books” List!

2020 has been a hell of a year in so many ways, but it’s been a great year for reading, even if there have been a lot of changes or outright delays in publication.

I’m not sure whether it’s emblematic of this year, of my need to escape this year, or the feeling that all contemporary stories had a bit of SFF in them as no one predicted the pandemic – who could after all – but all but one of my best books this year, the books I gave an A++ (that’s A-double-plus) rating to are either science fiction or fantasy or sit on the border between the two.

It also says a ton about the year that several of the books I loved best this year qualified as competence porn. The world seemed to be going to hell in a handbasket and I needed to read stories where people were not just doing good but good at doing good. Or even good at doing bad.

There are also two series on this list, because I either read the whole thing or most of the thing in 2020 or because the latest book in the series came out in 2020 or a bit of both.

So, drumroll please! Here is the list of my very best, most transportive readings of 2020.

A Chorus of Dragons (series) by Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings, The Name of All Things, The Memory of Souls)
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (this is in spite of the controversy, the book was awesome and she’s promised to do better)
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny
The City We Became by N.K. Jemison
The Dragonslayer (series) by Duncan M. Hamilton (Dragonslayer, Knight of the Silver Circle, Servant of the Crown
A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

But, but, but, because the above list is almost entirely SFF, I’d like to highlight my favorite reads in other genres this year. It’s not just that these all got A or A- ratings, but that they stuck with me through the remainder of the year. Just think of these as the very honorable mentions!

Horror: Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark
Romance: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Historical: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan
Women’s Fiction: The Secret Women by Sheila Williams
Thriller: This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf
Mystery: Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Tomorrow starts a new year. On Monday I’ll be posting the list of the books I’m most looking forward to in 2021.

Happy New Year!

Best of 2019 Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Best of 2019 Giveaway Hop, Hosted by Bookhounds.

Every year has its highs and its lows, its bests and its worsts – and 2019 was no exception. But 2019 is over, and its time to take a look back – at least at the books.

This blog hop is all about those best books list that everyone does at the end of the year. My list was posted as Best of My 2019 on Boxing Day (12/26) 2019. Since I just couldn’t reduce the damn thing to only 10 books, it’s long. It’s really, really long.

And that’s all to the good for you. Because the prize in this particular hop is whichever book from that list you want, either in print or ebook. If you would really rather have a $10 Amazon Gift Card I’ll send the winner one of those instead, but I really want to share my favorite books. So if you say you want a book, it will be the currently available print copy – paperback if there is one, hardcover if there isn’t. Unless you are in the US and want an ebook. I don’t think I can send ebooks outside the US, but the giveaway is open to everyone so print (up to $25) is probably the best option.

Now it’s up to you. I want to share my favorites with you, and my list was long enough that there is plenty to choose from, at least something from most genres. And all good! So tell me which book you would want in the rafflecopter below and cross your fingers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more best books and best bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Best of My 2019

I give up. Not on doing this list, but on pretending I have any kind of clue about how long it’s going to be or why it needs to be a certain length. I’ve seen plenty of lists where it’s everything that got a certain rating or a certain marking – and I’m going with that because this year was awesome.

I’m also noticing changes in my reading. There were more than a few audiobooks on the list this time. The treadmill is really, really excellent for getting into the right book and losing track of both where I am and what I’m doing. The laughing out loud bit gets me some strange looks.

I also see that theres a lot of SF and Fantasy on the list. It’s not totally skewed that way, but definitely more SFF appears than anything else. Probably more excellent SFF than I’ll have room for in my Hugo nominations, but that’s actually a good thing!

Without further ado, here’s the list of my A+ Reviews for 2019, whether the book was published this year or previously. It’s my list and my story and I’m sticking to it.

Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski
A Better Man by Louise Penny
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (audio)
The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead
Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
A Chorus of Dragons (The Ruin of Kings/The Name of All Things) by Jenn Lyons (audio)
Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker (audio)
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter/European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman/The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl) by Theodora Goss (audio)
The Green Bone Saga (Jade City/Jade War) by Fonda Lee (audio and ebook)
The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (audio)
Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (audio)
The Passengers by John Marrs
Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep
Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews
The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman
The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre
To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Best Books of My 2018

I really, really, really had to stop my trend of adding an extra book each year. It was cute in the beginning, but it’s getting rather unwieldy. And certainly can’t continue indefinitely. This feels like the time to stop. In other words, I looked into my time machine, had a vision of “25 for 2025” and OMG “35 for 2035” and balked. Time to end the trend NOW.

Especially since this year’s A+ books were just so awesomely awesome.

This year’s list may seem a bit heavily weighted towards science fiction and fantasy – only because it is. Not only are those my go-to genres, but this year I was part of the committee that selected the Best SF/F books of the year for Library Journal. Working on the committee introduced me to even more great SF/F than I had already found myself! The whole list is at LJ, apologies if it’s behind a paywall.

And not that there weren’t plenty of mysteries and romances in the Grade A category, because there certainly were. But the A+ reviews are rare because they represent, for me at least, the best of the best of year. I did need ONE Grade A to get the total up to 10. Unmasked by the Marquess made the list, even though it wasn’t quite an A+, not only because it was excellent but because it managed several things that have not been done before and managed them excellently well. It’s a Regency romance with a nonbinary protagonist published by a traditional romance publisher. (Say that three times fast!) And it’s marvelous all the way around.

So without further ado, here’s my own very personal list of the Best 2018 Books That I Read in 2018. (Links are to my reviews)

Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Planetside by Michael Mammay
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

17 for 2017 : My Best Books of 2017

I always say I’m not going to keep doing it this way, that the numbers just can’t keep going up every year, but then I get to actually doing the list and discover that it works out. Again.

This is my list of the best books of my year, with a couple of Amy’s in the honorable mentions because she loved them so much. These are the books that either stuck with me, or that I kept trying to shove into other people’s hands, or both.

There’s more non-fiction this year than usual. It seems like it was a great year for narrative non-fiction that reads every bit as well as fiction. A couple of these are going to end up on my Hugo Awards nomination list, because they were absolutely awesome science fiction and/or fantasy that deserves a recognition. A special shout-out to The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis, her amazing debut novel, which was my first A+ review for the year.

And a grateful shout out to Kevin Hearne and his publishers for A Plague of Giants. I heard about this book while writing my SF/F Spotlight article for Library Journal, and just had to have it. Kevin not only gave me a quote for the article, but also helped me pester the publisher to get me an eARC from NetGalley (and, as it turned out, Edelweiss). I cast that net as wide as possible and hooked a real gem.

I have two other best lists, but they have different venues, and also different sets of restrictions, where this list is  whatever I want it to be. My best e-originals for 2017 are part of the Library Journal Best Books 2017 mega-article. And my best SFR for 2017 will appear in January, as part of the SFR Galaxy Awards.

Although 2017 certainly had its ups and downs in real life, the year in books was fantastic!

Best Books of 2017:

American War by Omar El Akkad
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
Grant by Ron Chernow
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
The Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Wildfire by Ilona Andrews
The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

Honorable Mentions:

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Kith and Kin by Kris Ripper (guest review by Amy)
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Outsystem by M.D. Cooper (guest review by Amy)
Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Best E-Originals of 2016

I debated whether or not to post this, but decided to do so just in case it ever gets lost from the LJ archives. This is my original text for my Best E-Originals 2016 column for Library Journal. Up until this year, it has been posted as a separate column, but this year my picks were gathered in with all the other picks from LJ’s genre fiction reviewers, and split between the top 5 and the rest of the list. So here’s the original, in its unedited entirety, for my own archives. And hopefully for your reading pleasure, or for additional books added to your own towering TBR pile.

Best Books 2016: E-Originals

It’s that time again. Time for the best books of the year lists. For the fifth year in a row, I am pleased to add my Best E-Originals to the throng. In the early days of this list, back in 2012, it was all romance. And while romance is still a big part of ebook-only and ebook-mostly publishing, every genre now has its share of excellent books published in e first or only. As more publishers create ebook-specific imprints and more established authors take advantage of the possibility of being hybrid authors, this trend can only continue. I’m looking forward to more great books and more expanded possibilities every year.

final flight by beth catoCato, Beth. Final Flight. Harper Voyager Impulse (Clockwork Dagger #2.6) ebk. ISBN 9780062411280. $0.99 FANTASY

Set in the world of the author’s award winning Clockwork Dagger series, this steampunk adventure is a tightly packed little story with a surprising emotional punch. It is a story about the costs and horrors of war, set in an insular and isolated setting. A ship’s captain is commandeered by his government to conduct a dangerous mission. As the journey continues, he comes to the realization that the cause he has sworn his life to is not just, and that his government is using nefarious means to produce unspeakable ends. Instead of blindly following orders to the ultimate death of his ship and crew, he discovers that if they band together, they can strike a blow for what is good and right, and possibly snatch a sliver of hope for freedom. In a well-drawn fantasy setting, this story strikes a surprising and poignant parallel to the journey of United Flight 93 on September 11.

for crown and kingdom by grace draven and jeffe kennedyDraven, Grace and Kennedy, Jeffe. For Crown and Kingdom. Self-published. Ebk. ISBN 9781533742049 $3.99 FANTASY ROMANCE

This duology contains fantasy novellas by Draven and Kennedy, both centered around the theme of the high cost of being a ruler, and accepting that no gift comes without a terrible cost. In Kennedy’s story, The Crown of the Queen, we have a story that serves as a bridge between the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms that has covered her previous three books, and the story of the world that will be built because of that victory. So here we have the story of a young woman who must rule because she is needed, and must accept that the cost of her victory was the death of the mad king who came before her, a man who was also her father. It is also the story of the librarian who comes out of the shadows to force the queen she has spent her life making to do what must be done for the good of the kingdom. Draven’s story, The Undying King, feels like a myth of a time long gone. An immortal king has exiled himself to a ghost city. He is discovered by a cursed woman who needs his powers as much as he needs someone to rescue him from his loneliness. A man cursed to eternal life falls in love with a woman who has been cursed with death. Everyone that Imogen touches dies, except Cededa who cannot die. They are perfect for each other – until the world intervenes and tries to tear them apart.

mad lizard mambo by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Mad Lizard Mambo (Kai Gracen #2). DSP Publications. Ebk. ISBN 9781634777445 $5.99 M/M URBAN FANTASY

In my second Best Ebook column, all the way back in 2013, I included the first book in the Kai Gracen series, hoping against hope that the author would return to this world. At the time, Kai was a labor of self-published love on the part of the author, so the future was uncertain. Here we finally have the second book of Kai’s adventures, and it is every bit as good as the first. Kai is an elf and a licensed bounty hunter in the very dystopian future that has resulted when the secret worlds of the fae and the sidhe, the Underworld of Celtic mythology, crashed into 21st century Earth with disastrous results. Kai, an outcast who is not part of either the fae world he was born to or the human world, hunts and kills the strange and deadly creatures that now roam the wild spaces of this new world, like the dragons flying over the Mojave Desert. But Kai has also spent his life as a pawn on both sides of the divide, and he finds himself forced on a dangerous quest to uncharted lands to protect his friends and perhaps find out a bit more of who he really is and why he was created. The danger is deadly and the worldbuilding here is utterly absorbing.

seducing the bachelor by sinclair jayneJayne, Sinclair. Seducing the Bachelor. Montana Born: Tule. (Bachelor Auction Returns, Bk. 3). Apr. 2016. 179p. ebk. ISBN 9781944925413. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY WESTERN ROMANCE

This contemporary western romance is also a military romance, as the hero has come home at the end of his second deployment under orders to deal with his emotional baggage before he even thinks of signing up for a third hitch. Although there’s some mention of PTSD, most of what Colt Ewing is carrying around in his emotional duffle bag goes back to his childhood with his abusive, alcoholic uncle. The story is all Colt’s, as he learns that he isn’t defined by his past, and that he has a future if only he’s willing to reach for it – along with the woman and her son who make him realize that he deserves his own happily ever after.

lonens war by jeffe kennedyKennedy, Jeffe. Lonen’s War (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 1)
Kennedy, Jeffe. Oria’s Gambit (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 2)
Kennedy, Jeffe. The Tides of Bara (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 3)
Ea. vol: Brightlynx Publishing. $2.99. FANTASY ROMANCE

The first three books of this projected four-book series wrap an epic fantasy around a romance that feels like it will be one for the ages. Lonen and Oria first meet across a bloody battlefield, as Lonen has just conquered Oria’s kingdom. But Oria is merely a princess, and as soon as Lonen leaves her country, the powers that be overturn the peace that Oria brokered. Lonen returns to avenge the betrayal, only to discover that Oria is not the author of it, but is the hope of salvation for his people. And possibly hers. This fantasy story points out that just as handsome is as handsome does, barbarism is as barbarism does, and Oria’s supposedly civilized people are much more barbarous than his in all the ways that count. Their willingness to grab power at any cost to maintain their corrupt hegemony has made them an enemy that must be conquered at all costs if the world is to survive. Lonen and Oria’s marriage of convenience turns into a marriage of passion as she breaks out of the chains her people bound her in to become the queen and savior that she was meant to be.

just give me a reason by rebecca rogers maherMaher, Rebecca Rogers. Just Give Me a Reason. Loveswept: Random. Feb. 2016. 185p. ebk. ISBN 9780804181495. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Just like the other LJ Starred Review in this list, this book is memorable because it is just a bit different. The heroine is about to become a single mother, pregnant and perfectly content to raise her child on her own. The hero has just gotten divorced, and needs to spend every waking hour saving his failing business. Neither of them trusts that other people will be there for them, and with good reason. But the heart wants what the heart wants. Neither of these people are looking for a happily ever after – more like the reverse. They both expect to be alone and prefer it that way. This is a story about love as a compromise, where they each get just enough of what they need to cobble a relationship together.

caught up in raine by lg oconnorO’Connor, L.G. Caught Up in Raine. (Caught Up In Love bk. 1) Collins-Young Publishing LLC. Apr. 2016. 308p. Ebk. ISBN 9780990738152. $3.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

What makes this lovely contemporary romance stand out is the way that it realistically explores a theme that is more often tittered at than done well. Jillian Grant is a 42-year-old widow and romance novelist. She is dealing with the grief and guilt of her past by fictionalizing it into her romance writing. When she first meets 24-year-old Raine MacDonald, she is struck by his strong resemblance to the hero of her work-in-progress, who is himself a stand-in for her first love. Their age difference keeps Jillian from believing that Raine could possibly be interested in her, but tragedy in his past has made him grow up earlier than is usual. She is just what he never realized he was looking for, if they can both figure out whether the man Jillian has fallen for is the man that Raine is, or the one he looks like. For readers who enjoy older woman/younger man romances, this is one of the few that deals realistically with both the joys and the issues that inevitably arise..

documenting_lightOttoman, EE. Documenting Light. (The Hellum and Neal Series in LGBTQIA+ Literature Book 1) Brain Mill Press. Aug. 2016. 292p. Ebk. ISBN 9781942083436. $4.99. GLBT ROMANCE

This is a story that works well on multiple levels. It is both a romance between two contemporary characters who identify as genderqueer, and an exploration into the past, through a photograph that seems to portray long-lost family members who were just like the contemporary couple, and whose existence has been, not merely shrouded in mystery, but deliberately locked away. So when Wyatt brings the old photo to the local historical society, it presents Grayson with a puzzle he can’t wait to solve. And as these two trans characters being to explore a relationship, they also explore the buried past. And deal with the difficult present, as both are estranged from their families as a result of their gender identities. Well-crafted stories with transgender characters are a bit scarce, but this one seems to have hit that difficult mark.

emperors arrow by lauren dm smithSmith, Lauren D.M. The Emperor’s Arrow. Carina Press. July 2016. 160p. ebk. ISBN 9781460397435. $3.99 FANTASY ROMANCE

This is a fantasy where political skullduggery plays an important role both in getting the hero and heroine together and in showing the number of ways that the heroine subverts stereotypes, both among her own people and for the reader. The Emperor holds a contest that seems to be not dissimilar to the reality TV show The Bachelor, where every noble family in the empire is expected to send a daughter to compete to become Empress. They are hostages for their family’s good behavior, but don’t realize that. Except for the warrior Evony of Aureline, whose people are considered barely civilized, but are unquestionably loyal to the throne. The Amazon Evony is looking for a man to sire a child, as all the women in her tribe have done. The Emperor discovers that Evony is the only one standing between him and certain death. That they discover that they love each other is a problem that neither of them ever expected. This is Smith’s debut novel. She won the Grand Prize in Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write Contest, and they were absolutely right. She can.

pets in space by se smith et alPets in Space by S.E. Smith, Susan Grant, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Alexis Glynn Latner, Lea Kirk, Carysa Locke. Cats, Dogs and Other Worldly Creatures Books. Oct. 2016. 566p. Ebk. ISBN 9781942583400. $3.99. SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE

This is a tremendously fun collection of novellas that all feature pets who travel the galaxies, along with their humans. The settings range from an intergalactic cruise liner to a canine cyborg from outer space looking for a pack of his own here on Earth. While some of the stories feature the earth-typical cats and dogs, admittedly with some extra-terrestrial powers, not all the pets are familiar. Or even biological. One story features a komodo dragon, who is hiding his identity as a real dragon. One young engineer on a generation ship has turned his miniaturized robot drones into a family of pets. And one young explorer has adopted a bunch of electrical sparks called a telfer. But in each story, the humans and their otherworldly pets save the day, generate more than a few laughs, and find their happily ever after among the stars.

Honorable Mention

fall of poppies by heather webb et alA Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson
Ea. story: William Morrow. $0.99 HISTORICAL FICTION

E-book publishing makes many things possible, or at least reasonable, than was true in the days of print-only publishing. So it is with A Fall of Poppies, a beautiful and heartbreaking collection of stories set on November 11, 1918, the day that formally ended the Great War, World War I. The stories in this collection focus on that singular moment when the war ended and the survivors had to face the wreckage left behind and figure out how to pick up the pieces, or even what pieces to pick up. As a collection, different stories will speak to different readers, although they all serve their theme well. The collection as a whole is available in both paperback and ebook. But one of the lovely things that ebook publishing has made possible is the commercial viability of publishing short stories and novellas as single titles. All of the stories in this collection are available individually as ebooks. So readers can choose to purchase their favorite authors, or the stories that have been most recommended to them, without having to purchase, or feel obligated to read, the entire collection.

16 for 2016: My Best Books of the Year


2016 fire lettersAnd here we are again, for another wrap up of best books of the year. This year, just like every year, compiling this list is both a labor of love and and a pain in the ass. It’s always fascinating to look through the backfiles of my reviews here at Reading Reality, as well as everything I read for The Book Pushers, Library Journal, and the on-hiatus Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

I do all my end of the year wrap-ups in one glorious binge. So I don’t have to wade through the year recently past over and over, once for my Library Journal Best E-Originals column, once for this list, again for the SFR Galaxy Awards and once more with feeling (mostly groaning) to figure out which books I can’t wait for that are hopefully being published next year.

The lovely thing about the years going by is that each year gives me an opportunity to add one more book to the list. This is also the bad news, as it’s getting extremely unwieldy and I’m going to have to stop at some point. So this year it’s just a list. Attempting a narrative got unconscionably long-winded, to the point of confusing what was and wasn’t where. Next year I may try a “Top Ten” in each category as separate posts. We’ll see.

I’m always interested to see how my best books list compares to others. If you are really curious, and want to add an additional mountain to your current TBR pile, Largehearted Boy compiles a list of ALL the best books lists every year. It’s awesome, and awesomely intimidating if you have even a glimmer of a thought about reading them all.

But here’s mine for 2016…(all links are to my reviews)

Science fiction:
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Honorable mention:
Admiral by Sean Danker
Indomitable by WC Bauers
The Invisible Library/The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
The Liberation by Ian Tregillis




Fantasy (Epic and Urban):
Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson
Cast in Flight by Michelle Sagara
The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
Revisionary by Jim C. Hines
The Tale of Shikanoko (Emperor of the Eight Islands, Autumn Princess Dragon Child, Lord of the Darkwood, The Tengu’s Game of Go) by Lian Hearn
Treachery’s Tools by LE Modesitt Jr.

Honorable mention:
Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes
Teeth, Long and Sharp by Grace Draven, Antioch Grey, Aria M. Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Mel Sterling

Spaceman by Mike Massimino

Honorable mention:
Carry On by Lisa Fenn
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Romance and Women’s Fiction:
Assassin Queen by Anna Kashina (fantasy romance)
Family Tree by Susan Wigg (women’s fiction)
Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick (historical romantic suspense

Honorable mention:
Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh (paranormal)
Daughters of the Bride by Susan Mallery (women’s fiction)
Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford (romantic suspense)
Hell Squad: Finn, Holmes, Shaw by Anna Hackett (science fiction romance)
Wild Man’s Curse/Black Diamond by Susannah Sandlin (romantic suspense)

Historical fiction:
Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Honorable mention:
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Mystery (historic and contemporary)
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear
When Falcons Fall by CS Harris

Honorable mention:
A Maiden Weeping by Jeri Westerson
Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann
White Mirror by Elsa Hart

Looking back over the year, I don’t think I can pick a single favorite, or even two. But if I had to, I would probably go with A Great Reckoning and When Falcons Fall. As much as I love SF and Fantasy, it tends to be the mysteries that stick with me at the end. And every entry in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series has been an absolute winner for me. I am eternally grateful to the person who introduced me to Gamache.

But that’s a wrap for this year. Next week, I’ll be looking forward to the books I’m most anticipating for 2017. Also looking back just a bit to see how the books I was so eagerly waiting for at the beginning of 2016 actually turned out.


16 for 2016: My Most Anticipated Books of 2016

2016 neon numbers

Looking back at last year’s list, it is always good to discover that the stuff I wanted to read last year isn’t still on my TBR pile for this year, either because I didn’t get around to reading it, or because the author didn’t get around to finish it.

Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood stayed on the list for a couple of years due to a delay in publication. The next book in that series hasn’t been announced yet, so while I definitely want to read it when it happens, first I have to know it’s going to happen.

Also like last year, most of the books are the “next” book in ongoing series that I follow. If I like something a lot, I tend to keep going. On my other hand, there are more non-series books on here than usual. Generally that’s because I’m familiar with the authors, but in the case of Reader, I Married Him, I’m looking forward to that book as kind of a mirror reflection of Jane Steele, which itself is a funhouse mirror reflection of Jane Eyre. We’ll see.

And there are three books in the list that either have no titles or even tentative titles. Likewise, they have no cover pictures. No publication dates either. Which has no influence whatsoever on the amount of bated breath that I am waiting for them with!

The Alchemy Wars #3 by Ian Tregillis
The Blockade (First Salik War #3) by Jean Johnson
Brotherhood in Death (In Death #42) by J.D. Robb
Cat Shout for Joy (Joe Grey #19) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12 by Louise Penny
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Confederation #7/Peacekeeper #2 by Tanya Huff
The Fate of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #3) by Erika Johansen
The Forbidden Heir (Four Arts #2) by M.J. Scott
Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence #5) by Max Gladstone
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Murder of Mary Russell (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #14) by Laurie R. King
Reader I Married Him by Tracy Chevalier et al.
The Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford #8) by Charles Todd
Treachery’s Tools (Imager Portfolio #10) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
The White Mirror (Li Du #2) by Elsa Hart

15 for 2015: My Best Books of the Year

2015 winding down

As always, compiling my best books of the year list is both a labor of love and a pain in the ass. On that one hand, I have to go through my entire year’s reviews at Reading Reality, The Book Pushers, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly and Library Journal. I inevitably miss something, as I did when I put together my long list for the Best of 2015 Giveaway Hop and left out The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, which was thought-provokingly awesome.

It’s also a surprise to me that no romances ended up on the final list, although Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz and Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh made the longlist. There are two entries that have a touch of fantasy romance, but they felt much more like epic fantasy with a romantic subplot than purely romance.

How will mine stack up to yours? Read the entries and see for yourself.

ancient peace by tanya huffBased on this list, I enjoyed my trips to other worlds a lot this year. An Ancient Peace by Tanya Huff (reviewed here) is the lone pure SF title to make my list. I loved An Ancient Peace because it is epic space opera/military SF in a series I was so sorry to see end. And I’m so glad that it hasn’t.

I also really liked Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, but it wasn’t quite as good as the first two books in the series, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. Jean Johnson’s The Terrans should have made the list, but I finished the second book in the series, The V’Dan, a couple of days ago. And as my review at The Book Pushers elaborates, The V’Dan just didn’t stick the dismount. Awesome 9/10ths of a book, and the last 1/10th fell a little short.

Four titles on the list are epic fantasy in one way or another. Or at least they felt epic to me.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (reviewed at The Book Pushers) is an absolutely marvelous economic empire type fantasy. It is also a convoluted story about making bargains with the devil, paying the price, and finding out in the end that you have become the devil you intended to fight.

Both The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy and Uprooted by Naomi Novik are epic fantasies with a strong romantic subplot.

In The Talon of the Hawk (reviewed here) we see the epic conclusion to a journey of sisterhood. Three princesses become three strong queens who have to cut the shackles of their past to achieve a painful if necessary future. Talon is the story of the oldest princess and heir, and Ursula makes a strong, determined and absolutely fascinating warrior princess who has successfully put her emphasis on being a warrior, and can’t be bothered with the princess folderol – until she has to step up and be Queen.

uprooted by naomi novikUprooted by Naomi Novik (reviewed at The Book Pushers) is also a heroine’s journey, but in this case the heroine is a mage rather than a warrior, and she is also anything but a princess. And the story turns all the tropes about the village sacrificing the maiden to the dragon completely on their heads. It’s a terrific coming-of-age story and a marvelous tale where the battle between good and evil is not required to be invested in a big bad monster but still evokes plenty of evil.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho and The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott were the two “honorable mentions” in this category.

Two urban fantasies also made the list, Last First Snow by Max Gladstone and A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly.

Last First Snow (reviewed here) is the latest entry in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. Even four books in, I still see this series as an urban fantasy set in an epic fantasy world. On the one hand, the underlying plot of this story is all about urban renewal (or urban removal) and the way that the projects always get spun and the original, generally poor, residents always get the shaft. But it’s also a story whose progress and conclusion are monitored by necromancer-lawyers, and whose protagonist is a failed priest who succeeds in the wrong place at the worst time.

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (reviewed here and on my Best E-Originals list at LJ) is pure urban fantasy, with a twist. The long and awkward title is a summary of the book, but the reader only figures that out as it unspools. What makes this book different and compelling is its heroine Marley Jacob. Marley is one of those traditional, strong, kick-ass, magic wielding urban fantasy heroines. Only 30 years later, and she is waging peace instead of war, which is much, much harder. Not so much “age and treachery beat youth and skill” as “age and experience beat youth and recklessness” but it works. The dragon in Puget Sound was a nice touch for this former Seattle resident.

mechanical by ian tregillisOne final trip to another world made this list. The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis (reviewed here). In the author’s Alchemy Wars, the year is 1926, and the world has gone down a different path than the history we know. In the 17th century the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens discovered the method for creating mechanical servitors. The slave-race of “clakkers” has made life much easier for humans, but the slaves are more than just mechanical parts. They may not be biological, but they have free will and the desire to forge their own paths. How they will achieve their freedom is anyone’s guess, but it is bound to upset society as they know it. I’m in the middle of book two in this series, The Rising, as I write this. And so far, it’s equally as awesome as The Mechanical.

There’s a saying that “the past is another country, they do things differently there.” While I’ve discovered that I like historical romance less and less as time goes by, my love of history, historical fiction and historical mysteries continues unabated.

One piece of nonfiction made my list, and it’s specifically narrative nonfiction. In other words, even though the story is all true, the author spins it out in the best narrative fiction style. Erik Larsen’s Dead Wake reads like a compelling story, as well as a fascinating look at the end of a Golden age and the early years of World War I. Through diaries, letters and survivor interviews, Larsen makes the Lusitania sail again.

Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino, Freedom of Speech by David K. Shipler and The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell were “runners up” in nonfiction.

shakespeares rebel by cc humphreysThere were several historical fiction titles that made my final list. Shakespeare’s Rebel by CC Humphreys (reviewed here) is a gripping story of the later years of both William Shakespeare and Elizabeth I, as seen through the eyes of an actor who should never have been near the halls of power. John Lawley finds himself an unwelcome and sometimes unwitting observer as Shakespeare struggles to write Hamlet and Gloriana makes herself a fool for love one last time. It feels like you are standing amongst the groundlings at the Globe as this marvelous tale unfolds.

Two of my favorites this year were historical, but covered a much, much later period. A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott gives the reader an entrée into Hollywood’s Golden Age through the eyes of a young scriptwriter befriended by Carole Lombard. As our heroine watches Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh bring Gone With the Wind to glorious technicolor life, we also see her world as the stage darkens over the run up to World War II. A coming-of-age story wrapped in a love story surrounded by a war story.

And then there’s The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson. In its early 1960s setting, we see the conditions that led up to the rise of feminism, but that isn’t the real story. The real story is of one woman who is living the road not taken every night when she dreams. But as she explores her two very different lives, she is forced to confront the less-than-idyllic situations that make up both of her possible presents – and she is forced to figure out which life is real, and which is merely an illusion. As I said in my review, this one really got me in the feels.

nature of the beast by louise pennyAlthough I also read a lot of mysteries this year, one stood out over all the rest. That was The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. As always, Louise Penny’s latest character study, with retired Surêté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache leading the investigation, was the best mystery I read all year, and one of the best books as well. Gamache’s four sayings that lead to wisdom resonate for me with every book, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.” In this case, I know I’m not wrong, and I know you won’t be sorry if you read this series. Start with Still Life. But the more of it you read and the more you know about the characters, the more fascinating it becomes.

As is evidenced by this list, I enjoy historical fiction. I particularly love the place where historical fiction meets mystery in historical mysteries.

One of my best books this year is another latest entry in an ongoing series, A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd, 7th in his Bess Crawford series. As World War I is finally beginning to wind down, this story finds nurse Bess Crawford visiting one of her former patients, only to discover that something is seriously wrong back home. Her duty as a nurse is all about patching up the wounds of war, but she uncovers a wound that she can’t patch. This is a story about the evil that men (and women) do in the name of justice. It’s also a story about just how easy it is to stoke mob violence, and how simple it is to turn blind prejudice into murder.

And for my two best books of the year. (Drumroll, please!)

These books aren’t much like each other, making it difficult to say that one is better, or more superlative, that then other. But I’ll try.

jade dragon mountain by elsa hartJade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart (reviewed here) is a beautiful and evocative piece of historical fiction wrapped around the conundrum of a solving a murder. On a deadline and with very little support (and the detective’s possible own execution waiting at the end). Li Du is an exiled Imperial Librarian turned wandering scholar in early 18th century China. He stumbles over the death of a Jesuit priest, and refuses to let the local magistrate pronounce a lazy and face-saving verdict of death by natural causes. As Li Du pokes his curiosity into the dark corners of the regional palace administration, he finds a quiet rebellion that no one is willing to admit exists, and a plot to overthrow the Emperor that has been years in the making. He could walk away from saving the Emperor who exiled him. In the end he risks his own life in the service of the truth. And as Li Du winds his way through the court intrigue that he hoped to leave behind, we get a fantastic peek into a world that was closed to Westerners even at the time, and that peek is utterly absorbing.

And I saved the very best (at least according to my reading) for last.

grant park by leonard pitts jrMy favorite book of 2015 is Grant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr. This is a story that fictionalizes and encapsulates two pivotal moments in 20th century American history, and views them through the eyes of two men whose lives were forever changed by those events. In 1968, Malcolm Toussaint and Ben Carson are young men marching for civil rights in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. They are both there in Selma the moment when King was gunned down. And their lives were never the same. Forty years later, in 2008, they both work for one of the major Chicago newspapers on the eve of Barack Obama’s election. Toussaint is now a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist (not unlike the author) and Carson is his editor. Toussaint choses to throw his career away by publishing one angry column about his exhaustion at White America. He is utterly certain that in spite of the polls, Obama will not be elected. In the column, he pulls no punches, he pretends no remorse. He’s tired of being lied to. Unfortunately for Carson, Toussaint needs one last lie to get the column published – he uses Carson’s credentials to login to the system and approve the column to go to press. In the aftermath, both men lose their jobs. Then a couple of white supremacists kidnap Toussaint to use as a symbol in their terrorist act against the possibility of a black President. As Toussaint tries to save himself, Carson hunts him down in the hopes of getting a bit of payback at being collateral damage. But as the plot winds down, and the terrorists wind themselves up, both men reflect on that long ago afternoon, and how far we’ve come. And how far we haven’t.

And that’s a wrap for this year. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at the books I’m most looking forward to in 2016. In the meantime, here’s the covers for all the books mentioned in this list: