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

Nonfiction:
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:

15 for 15: My Most Anticipated Books for 2015

750px-Elongated_circle_2015.svg

I took a look at last year’s list, and was surprised and pleased to discover that I read almost everything I was looking forward to, and even better, liked them! (I have the other two books, but just haven’t gotten a round tuit yet. This is what TBR piles are made of.)

It’s also hard not to miss the trend. The books I’m looking forward to are sequels to things I read last year or new pieces of ongoing series. It is difficult to anticipate something if you don’t know that it exists.

And even though these books aren’t being released until sometime in 2015, I already have arcs for a few of them, and have even read a couple. So far, the stuff I’m looking forward to is every bit as good as I’m hoping it will be.

Speaking of hopes, the dragon book is for Cass (Surprise, surprise!) She adored the first book in the series, liked the second one a lot, and has high hopes for the third one. Because, dragons.

So what books can’t you wait to see in 2015? 

 

Most anticipated in 2015:
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie
Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13) by Laurie R. King
The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi
Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery #3) by Susan Spann
The Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2) by Erika Johansen
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Pirate’s Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson
Ryder: American Treasure (Ryder #2) by Nick Pengelley
Shards of Hope (Psy-Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh
The Talon of the Hawk (Twelve Kingdoms #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Terrans (First Salik War #1) by Jean Johnson
The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

14 for 14: My Best Books of the Year

 

2014 digital numbers

I do three different “best of the year” lists in different contexts. This is my personal list, but…I also do a Best Ebook Romances of the year for Library Journal, and I’m one of the judges for the SFR Galaxy Awards, which is effectively a best SFR of the year list.

So there are repeats. After all, if it was one of the best in one context, there’s an awfully good chance it will be one of the best in another if applicable. Even so, when I looked at my A+, A and A- reviews for the year, I had too many choices.

That being said, I have wondered whether I could (or should) keep going with the theme of “besting” the same number of books as the year. So far, it is working all too well.

bollywood affair by sonali devIn the romance category, I have three that stood out from the other terrific books I read this year. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev was an absolute standout. (It’s also on my LJ list). Dev’s book is a slow burning romance and an introduction or exploration into Indian-American and Indian culture. Her heroine is a good girl with a little bit of defiance, and her hero is a bad boy who discovers how much fun it can be to be good.

Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala is a great fantasy romance and the first book in her Twelve Kingdoms series. In this one, what I loved was the number of different ways that the road to hell gets paved. Her hero and heroine want to do the right thing for both their peoples, and are lucky enough to fall in love in the process. But this is a story about the fight for the soul of two kingdoms, and a lot of men do evil in the name of either good or power. This one goes surprisingly well, if sadly, with Maleficent.

Robin York, better known as Ruthie Knox, told one of the best New Adult stories I have read so far in the genre in Deeper and Harder, the story of Caroline and West. These are real people facing real problems, including a “wrong side of the tracks” type of love story. They overcome a lot of obstacles, with a lot of love, but also quite a bit of heart-rending pain.

No Place to Hide by Glenn GreenwaldI read a bit more nonfiction than usual this year, and two titles have stuck in my head long after I finished. Partially for the topics they cover, and also significantly for the marvelous writing style. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald reads like a spy thriller, but it is a cautionary tale about the case of Edward Snowden, the NSA papers he released, and the subsequent persecution of the reporter who covered the story. It will make you look at everything you read that purports to be true with a much more critical eye.

Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker reads like a legal thriller, but it tells the story of the fight for marriage equality using the lens of the case against Prop 8 in California. Becker was embedded with the legal team during the five years that this case wound its way to the Supreme Court, and her “you are there” style of reporting will keep you on the edge of your seat.

ryder by nick pengelleyTwo books don’t fit into categories at all well. Ryder by Nick Pengelley is action/adventure, with a heroine who is a combination of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and Robert Langdon from The DaVinci Code. Ayesha Ryder kicks ass, takes names and discovers secrets that weren’t meant to be revealed in a delightful thriller.

The Bees by Laline Paull feels like a bit of an allegory – it is social commentary about human behavior disguised as bee behavior. But it is also a story about listening to your own inner voice and absolutely NOT blooming where you are planted. You will find yourself rooting for the bee, and laughing at some of her observations that hit close to home about both bees and us.

The urban fantasy series Mindspace Investigations by Alex Hughes continues to wrap me in its web. This year’s entries in the series are Marked and Vacant, and the one word titles represent something in the life of the series protagonist, Adam Ward. Adam is a recovering drug addict, a police consultant, and a telepath. He’s also in love with his equally damaged but otherwise normal police partner. The layers created in this post-apocalyptic but still mostly functioning version of suburban Atlanta are fascinating. It is just close enough to now to recognize what is still going right, and what went wrong.

queen of the tearling by erika johansenIn epic fantasy, my favorite this year was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is in the classic mold of the hero who is raised in obscurity to become the ruler, but the hero is a heroine. This one has the feeling of the King Arthur story, but with a Queen instead. So Queen Kelsea is a fish very much out of water who has to learn fast to save her kingdom. Unlike so many retellings of the Arthur story, Kelsea operates in shades of grey; good choices can have every bit as costly an outcome as bad choices, sometimes more costly. She is learning by the seat of her pants while attempting to preserve her kingdom and fighting with everyone on all sides. A marvelous coming-of-age epic fantasy on a grand scale.

But this year, so many of my memorable reads were in my first love, science fiction.

Two books that I am not going to say a lot about because it’s all been said. These were bestsellers and were covered everywhere.

ancillary sword by ann leckieJohn Scalzi’s Lock In is a murder mystery wrapped in a near-future science fiction setting that, as is usual for Scalzi, has as much to say about our current society as it does about the future in which the book is set. This one works on multiple levels, and has a surprising twist that will tell you a bit about yourself as well. Great fun and an awesome read.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie is a worthy sequel to the “sweeping all the awards winner” Ancillary Justice. This series is fantastic space opera with a unique point-of-view character from a galaxy-spanning empire with a fascinating culture and a very different way of managing its far-flung holdings. Whatever you might have heard about how good this series is – it’s even better than that.

damnation by jean johnsonJean Johnson’s Theirs Not to Reason Why series concluded this year with two books, Hardship and Damnation. Johnson’s series, like Leckie’s, is epic space opera, but Johnson is firmly in the military SF camp with this series. Her heroine rises through the ranks of the Space Force as the story is told, while she fights an interstellar war, first as a grunt, but eventually as Commander of the Armies. The thing that makes this series unique is that her heroine, Ia, is a precognitive who knows what has to happen, but still has to move heaven, earth, the central command, and everyone she ever meets into the right place at the right time to save the universe in a future that she will never live to see. Awesome from beginning to end.

Soulminder by Timothy Zahn was a complete surprise. Zahn is probably best known for his Star Wars fiction, but this is something completely different. As with Scalzi’s Lock In, Soulminder is SF of the laboratory type, where it is a scientific discovery that fuels the story arc. Also as with Lock In, there is a definitely plot thread about the way that humans will take something potentially good and pave the road to hell with it. (Soulminder was published before Lock In, so any resemblance is unintentional). For hard science SF, Soulminder has a surprising amount of story concerned with keeping one’s soul. It is a tale that embodies the principle “for evil to flourish, it is only necessary that good men do nothing.” It’s also about what happens when those good men stop doing nothing.

forever watch by david ramirezLast but not least, The Forever Watch by David Ramirez. If you threw Gorky Park, Blade Runner, one of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang into a blender, along with spice from The Matrix and Madeline Ashby’s Suited, you might come up with a story that has some resemblance to The Forever Watch, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. The Forever Watch is epic SF of the generation ship type, and it was one of those books that I shoved at people because I was so captivated. And it has one of those ending plot-twists that makes you re-think the entire story.

And that’s my top 14 for the year. 2014 was a wild ride, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store! What were your favorites of 2014? Do share! We all need more awesome books to read!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-5-14

Sunday Post

It’s the first Sunday Post of 2014. It took me a couple of tries to get the title set up. That “14” looked really strange in the header on first (and second) glance.

How often have you caught yourself writing the wrong year so far?

This was the week of the “list” posts. It was fun to look both back and ahead, to do the best of the year post and the most anticipated post in the same week. Although it was funny (funny weird not funny ha-ha) to see that there were books on the 2013 most anticipated list that hadn’t been published, and books that had been published that I hadn’t managed to get to.

Frank Zappa was right, “So many books, so little time.” And OMG it was Frank Zappa?

Here’s to another year of fabulous books!

Current Giveaways:

Paperback copy of Big Sky Secrets by Linda Lael Miller (US only)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card from the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop is Brooke A.
The winner of the Cathy Woodman giveaway is Holly L. and she’s decided on a copy of The Sweetest Thing as her prize.

big sky secrets by linda lael millerBlog Recap:

A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Books of 2013
Heating Up the Holidays: Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, D+; Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, A+; After Midnight by Serena Bell, B+
Happy New Year 2014
A Look Forward: My Most Anticipated Reads for 2014
B Review: Big Sky Secrets by Linda Lael Miller
Q&A with Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (72)

beg me to slay by lisa kesslerComing Next Week:

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson (blog tour review)
Beg Me to Slay by Lisa Kessler (blog tour review + giveaway)
Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt Jr. (review)
River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz (review)
Sharp by Alex Hughes (review)

A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Books of 2013

2013 blockAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back and attempt to decide which books were the best of the year.

OK, so this list is the best of my year. Why not? Everyone else is doing it!

But seriously, it’s both a surprise and a delight to look back and see which books got one of the rare A+ ratings. Or even just an A. (Along with the discovery that I need to do a better job of tagging to make them easier to find.)

There aren’t a lot of romances on this list. Not because I didn’t read some good ones this year, but because, well “reasons” as Cass says. Mostly because I do a separate list of the Best Ebook Romances for Library Journal every year, and also recap that list here at Reading Reality. So romance gets pretty much covered.

And speaking of Cass, she contributed her trademark snark to this list. Along with a dose of draconic awesomesauce.

These are the books that stuck with me this year. Sometimes to the point where I was still telling people about them months later, or where I am haunting NetGalley, Edelweiss or the author’s website looking for news of the next book in the series or their next book, period.

Cass’s thoughts on her faves are very definitely hers. And her picks probably won’t surprise anyone who has seen her dragon shoes. (Note from Cass: Do you want to see my dragon shoes?! They are amazing!)

Whatever your choices were for this or any other year, I hope you enjoyed every single page of them!

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanSpider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman (A+ Review).  This is a case where life parallels art in a manner that is fitting and poignant. In the story, Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernie Manuelito picks up the case after retired “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is gunned down in front of her outside a local diner. In real life, Anne Hillerman picks up the case of continuing her father Tony Hillerman’s mystery series by changing protagonists, using a female officer sandwiched between conflicting roles to solve the mystery of who shot the man she loves as an honorary father.

 

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (A+ Review) This was simply stunning, and there’s no other word to describe it. The light gets in through our broken places, and that’s what this 9th book in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series explores, the broken places in every single character involved. These are mysteries, but Gamache is not a detective who solves crimes by examing forensics; he solves crimes by studying people.

Imager’s Battalion (A Review) and Antiagon Fire (A Review) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. One of the things that I have loved about Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio has been his main characters. Both in the original trilogy (Imager, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Intrigue) and in this second series, we have a fantasy hero who is a grown up but still has to face the coming-into-his-power scenario. The women in the series are strong and resourceful in their own right, and the political challenges and machinations are never-ending but still make sense. I just plain like these people and can never wait to read more of their adventures. His protagonists make things happen without needing to be king or princeling. Fantastic.

Bronze Gods by A.A. AguirreBronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre (A Review) I just swallowed this one whole and came out the other side begging for more (which is coming, see tomorrow’s post). Bronze Gods is a masterful blend of steampunk, urban fantasy, mystery and police procedural, tied together with some truly awesome worldbuilding and the fantastic partnership of two characters who need each other to remain whole.  This one blew me away.

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest (A Review) If Bronze Gods is steampunk as urban fantasy, then Fiddlehead is steampunk as epic. Fiddlehead is the culmination of Priest’s long-running Clockwork Century alternate history steampunk epic, and it’s a doozy. She started with poisonous gas knocking Seattle back to the stone age in Boneshaker, and rippling that event into an endless U.S. Civil  War. With a reason for zombies to be part of the mix. Fiddlehead brings it all to roaring conclusion, and almost aligns history back to the world as we know it. Epic alternate history.

Garden of Stones by Mark T BarnesThe Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes (A Review) This one blew me away. Library Journal sends me books to review, and it’s hit or miss. This was one that absolutely surprised and delighted me. It is epic fantasy, and the world is not just complex, but the reader starts in the middle. There’s no gentle introduction. You feel that this place is ancient and has eons of history, as do all of the characters. It’s immersive and amazing. If you like your fantasy on the complicated side, with lots of betrayals, The Garden of Stones is a treat.

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen (A Review) These are not the kind of monsters I usually read about, and this was not the kind of review I usually write. But the 1985 Bears were my team, and I’ve never been able to explain why that year was so damn much fun to anyone else. This book does it. And at the same time, I can’t watch a game now without thinking about this book, and what it has to say about CTE and the high cost of playing the game we all loved to watch.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers (A Review) This is the one carryover from the Best Ebook Romances list, because it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out. The Story Guy was Mary Ann Rivers debut story, and it was an absolute winner. What makes it so good is that the issues that have to be overcome in this story are real; there are no billionaires or fantastically gorgeous Hollywood types in this tale, just an accountant and a librarian (go us!) who have real-world roadblocks to get past to reach a happy ending, if they can.

The Grove by Jean Johnson (A Review) This one is in Jean’s fantasy romance series, the Guardians of Destiny. And that series is a loose followup to her Sons of Destiny series. I’ve read both, and they are just tremendously fun. The fantasy worldbuilding is terrific, the romance is hot, and her heroines and heroes are always equal. No alpha-holes and no doormats need apply. (Her military science fiction series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, is also marvelous!)

The Human Division by John ScalziThe Human Division by John Scalzi (A- Review) Last but absolutely not least, John Scalzi’s return to his Old Man’s War series. Old Man’s War is one of my favorite books ever, and I pretty much shove it at anyone who even hints that they like SF and haven’t read it. So anything new in the OMW universe is automatically worth a read for me. The Human Division took the story in the new directions that followed from the end of The Last Colony, but left LOTS of unanswered questions. There was quite a bit of Scalzi’s trademark humor, but this is not intended as a funny book like Redshirts. I think this story is going to go to some dark places before it ends. But it’s awesome.

Honorable Mention: Clean by Alex Hughes (A+ Review) I adored this urban fantasy set in a post-tech wars dystopian future. Her flawed hero reminded me so much of the version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, but her messed-up Atlanta looked like a bad version of a place we could all too easily get to from here. The ONLY reason it didn’t make the “Best of 2013” list is that I’m late to the party. Clean was published in 2012.

Contributions from Cass:

natural history of dragons by marie brennanA Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (5 Star Review) because it was THE LITERARY EMBODIMENT OF DRACONIC PERFECTION. There is no more amazing depiction of dragons out there. It easily soared above my previous Dragon Favorites, and utterly crushed the Dragon Posers people are always trying to torment me with.

UPDATE FROM CASS: I invented a new rating scale for this one. I did not give it a mere 5/5 stars – but rather 15 stars. Nothing Marlene read this year hit that level of awesome. Come back sometime in February (March?) and see my feelings on the sequel. 

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams (4 Star Review). Though I was a wee bit nervous when, at the WorldCon Mad Science Panel, certain contributors had some suspiciously specific ideas about how to rain mayhem and destruction down onto the audience. (Someone give Seanan a Hugo just to distract her from setting off an international incident. Please?)

parasite by mira grantParasite by Mira Grant (4.5 Star Review) Parasites freak me right the fuck out. There is nothing more horrifying to me than a society where MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS tell everyone to ingest a goddamn tapeworm as a cure-all. Could I see the sheep doing it? Yes. Which only amps the terror up.

So that’s our list for 2013. What’s on your list?

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-29-13

Sunday Post

Last weekend was a little too wild. When the movers left Saturday night, we were in the middle of an absolute sea of boxes. I think I was completely shell-shocked last Sunday. I’m so thankful that Cass stepped in and took over the beginning of the week.

Cass also contributed to Monday’s upcoming Best of 2013 and Tuesday’s Most Anticipated of 2014 lists. She gave just the reason I was begging for to have 13 books in the 2013 list and 14 books in the 2014 list. Now that’s what friends are for–an excuse to overindulge when you really, really need one.

I also posted my Best Ebook Romances of 2013 list on Friday to recap the annual article from Library Journal.

Recapping the year is always fun. It’s great to take a look back at the books that were so awesome. But then, there are always the ones that got away. And there are so many bright shiny new ones coming soon!

2013-Midwinters-Eve-HopCurrent Giveaways:

Winner’s Choice of The Sweetest Thing or Country Loving by Cathy Woodman (US/CAN only) ends 1/4
The Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop continues through December 31. I’m giving away a $10 giftcard to the winner’s choice of Amazon or B&N, but there are nearly 200 other stops on this hop. There’s still plenty of time to get in on the fun!

clean by alex hughesWinner Announcements:

Because of last weekend’s moving panic, there are two week’s of winner’s announcements to catch up on. Without further ado <drumroll, please>

The winner of The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed is Erin F.
The winner of The Seduction of Miriam Cross by W.A. Tyson is Shelley S.
The winner of Clean by Alex Hughes is Jo J.
The winner of Sail Away With Me by Kate Devaux is Jen M.
The winner of Chaos Bound by Rebekah Turner is Natasha D.
The winner of Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter is Ann V.

The Sweetest Thing by Cathy WoodmanBlog Recap:

D+ Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop
Series Shakedown: Incryptid Short Stories by Seanan McGuire
Under the Tree: Happy Chrismukkawanztice!
B+ Review: The Sweetest Thing by Cathy Woodman + Giveaway
Once More with Feeling: The Best Ebook Romances of 2013
Stacking the Shelves (71)

Heating Up the HolidaysComing Next Week:

Best Books of 2013
Most Anticipated Books of 2014
Heating Up the Holidays by Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers and Serena Bell (review)
Big Sky Secrets by Linda Lael Miller (blog tour review + giveaway)

Once More with Feeling: The Best Ebook Romances of 2013

LJ 2013 Best BooksIn spite of what the opening paragraph of the article at Library Journal says, this is actually the third year that I’ve been asked to choose the Best Ebook Romances of the Year for Library Journal.

Just check the archives, if you’re terribly curious, here are the links to the 2011 and 2012 lists. This is one of the most fun things I get to do all year that can be more or less labeled as work, even though, as what I call reverse full-disclosure, Library Journal does not pay for the writing of this particular article or for the book reviewing I do for them.

Creating this list is always personal for me. These are books or series that I read or am in the middle of. They are the books that I gave either A ratings or 4.5 or 5 star ratings to, depending on where I did the review. Or in a few cases, B+ reviews of books I absolutely couldn’t get out of my head.

The first year, I was told to list 5 books. Last year, 5-ish. This year, my editor said 10 from the start. I think she figured out that I cheat and list series. I did again this year and went over the limit.

skies of gold by zoe archerArcher, Zoë. Skies of Gold. Avon Impulse. (Ether Chronicles, Bk. 5). ebk. ISBN 9780062241443. STEAMPUNK ROMANCE (4.5 star review)

The first four books in the Ether Chronicles (Skies of Fire, Night of Fire, Skies of Steel, Night of Steel) were on my 2012 list for good reason; this series is simply awesome steampunk worldbuilding. Also we have all the story possibilities inherent in a world war, but with airships and “ether” power. While Skies of Gold is a more than worthy successor to the first four books in the series, it is unfortunately the last book in the series. If you love steampunk romance, you’ll be enthralled. And then sad that it’s over.

forged in blood 1 by Lindsay BurokerBuroker, Lindsay. Forged in Blood I. ebk. ISBN 9781301493357. Forged in Blood II. ebk. ISBN 9781301349876. ea. vol: Lindsay Buroker. (Emperor’s Edge). FANTASY ROMANCE
I’ve adored the first five volumes of The Emperor’s Edge series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal) so much that I haven’t wanted to see it end. So I’ll confess that I put the entire series on the list even though only the last two books were published in 2013, and I’ve been saving reading the ending for a treat for myself. LJ was slightly puristic about things and only put the 2013 titles as the main entry on the list. The Emperor’s Edge is Epic Fantasy with a touch of Steampunk. The primary story isn’t a romance, but, and it’s a truly lovely but, there is a romantic subplot. Or maybe that’s sub-subplot. Our heroine convinces the best assassin not to kill her, and keeps on convincing him to help her, even though everyone tells her he’s just a heartless killing machine. Of course he’s not. Well, not completely.

[Bittersweet Blood by Nina Croft]Croft, Nina. Bittersweet Blood. Entangled. (Order, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781622669592. PARANORMAL ROMANCE (A- Review)
What a difference just a few days makes! At the time I wrote the article, I was just about to read the second book in Croft’s Order series, Bittersweet Magic (B+ Review). I didn’t want to jinx things by listing it, but I shouldn’t have worried. What’s so much fun about this paranormal romance series is that the standard definitions don’t really apply; the vampires maintain the Order of the Shadow Accords on Earth to prevent the Fae and the Demons from repeating their use of Earth as the battleground in the long-running Fae/Demon war. The contemporary fallout seems to be over the descendants of the Fae Juliet and the Demon Romeo of that war. But Demons are immortal, so Romeo isn’t dead. But his half blood daughter is ground zero for armageddon, and only the vampires can protect her. Make that one vampire with a personal “stake” in the result. The world-building in this just keeps getting better, and the love stories more complex.

black dog blues by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Black Dog Blues. Coffee Squirrel. (Kai Gracen, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781301668625. M/M PARANORMAL ROMANCE (4.5 Star Review)
This is a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic urban fantasy much more than it is a paranormal romance. There are several characters in this story who care a great deal for the elfin Kai Gracen, but Kai doesn’t even like himself enough to be ready for more than friendship with anyone else. He’ll get there, but he isn’t there yet. The story drops us into Kai’s world as it is; we know what he knows. We don’t know why or how the sidhe suddenly merged with what used to be our normal, just that Kai has to endure whatever crap gets thrown his way. It’s the person who emerges from the endurance that makes the story. That and dodging the dragons mating over the Mojave Desert.

Take What You Want by Jeanette GreyGrey, Jeanette. Take What You Want. Samhain. ebk. ISBN 9781619213746.
NEW ADULT ROMANCE (A- Review)
Ignore the New Adult label. Take What You Want is an absolutely marvelous contemporary romance that just so happens to be about two people in college. Ellen can’t go away for Spring Break, so she takes a vacation from herself. Just for a few days, she tries to be someone a bit different; instead of being shy and retreating into her books, Ellen buys sexy clothes on sale, goes to a townie bar and picks up the hottest guy in the place. She pretends to be “New Ellen” for just one night. Josh thinks no-strings-attached sex with a girl that he’s had a crush on since freshman year is a fantastic idea, but he knows exactly who she is. Ellen really doesn’t recognize him without his glasses. The next night is where pretense starts butting up against reality, because he wants to turn their one-night-stand into something more and New Ellen and regular Ellen have a difficult time deciding the difference between what they should want and what they do want.

armies of heaven by jane kindredKindred, Jane. The Armies of Heaven. Entangled. (House of Arkhangel’sk). ebk. ISBN 9781620611067. FANTASY ROMANCE (4.5 star review)
The fall of the House of Arkangel’sk is a deliciously complicated blend of the historic fall of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen with more than few tablespoons of the deviance, decadence and twisted political machinations of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. There is love to be found, but the path to reach it leads through dark places, and our preconceived notions of good and evil, right and wrong, do not apply in Kindred’s Courts of Heaven. The best man in the entire series is a demon, although he would never think of himself as good. The biggest fool is a certainly an angel, and he would definitely label himself as such. The series begins with The Fallen Queen (4.5 star review) and continues with The Midnight Court (A Review) before the conclusion in The Armies of Heaven. Prepare to be enthralled.

how to misbehave by ruthie knoxKnox, Ruthie. How To Misbehave. ebk. ISBN 9780345545305. (4 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Along Came Trouble. ebk. ISBN 9780345541611. (5 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Flirting with Disaster. ebk. ISBN 9780345541703. (A- Review)
Knox, Ruthie. Making It Last. ebk. ISBN 9780345549297.
ea. vol: Loveswept: Random. (Camelot). 4-vol. set. ebk. ISBN 9780804180436. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
This small town romance series set in central Ohio is all about the Clark siblings, Amber, Katie and Caleb. Knox specializes in contemporary romances where real people solve very real problems while going through major life experiences. The tension in her stories comes from the kind of situations that cause stress in ordinary life; trying to reinvent yourself, trying to maintain a marriage, dealing with grief, not dealing with grief, returning home, being part of the sandwich generation, financial stress. The difference is that Knox makes her characters people that we all identify with and lets them have a fantastically steamy romance while they resolve their problems. Her stories pull at your heartstrings and make you smile. Every single time.

case of the displaced detective omnibus edition by stephanie osbornOsborn, Stephanie. The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Twilight Times. SF ROMANCE
I adore Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings, with the exception of the whatever-it-is that Guy Ritchie birthed with Robert Downey Jr. (who should stick to Iron Man). But I seriously digress. I read, and reviewed, Stephanie Osborn’s Case of the Displaced Detective somewhat in its originally published parts: The Arrival (A- Review), At Speed (B+ Review) and The Case of the Cosmological Killer (B Review). In the case of Stephanie Osborn’s continuing opus, I very much admire her concept of a Holmes who is not quite our Holmes and has an excuse for being so. She has used theories of quantum physics to create not just a possible universe where Holmes would have been a flesh-and-blood person, but to create causality that would bring that person into our 21st century. He is not quite the “thinking machine” of Conan Doyle’s fiction because he is not supposed to be, and that opens up a world of possibilities. Real human beings, after all, feel real emotions as they solve mysteries. Sometimes they even fall in love.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversRivers, Mary Ann. The Story Guy. Loveswept: Random. ebk. ISBN 9780345548740. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (A- Review)
There was only one thing wrong with this story. It was too short, and at the time it was written, it was the only thing available by Mary Ann Rivers. The story is absolutely awesome, I wanted more by this author, and there just wasn’t anything else, yet.
What’s a “story guy”? A story guy is someone who may or may not be long-term relationship material, but who will, sometime in the future after the heartache is over, make a terrific story. Librarian Carrie West answers a personal ad from a very hot guy for one hour of kissing in the park every week. The answers to the questions about why this unattached and gorgeous man is willing to settle for so little for himself, and to make sure that no one is able to get attached to him, make for one marvelous and nearly heartbreaking love story. (And if you fall in love with The Story Guy you’ll probably also love Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy.)

Anything for You book coverScott, Jessica. Anything for You. Loveswept: Random. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.5). ebk. ISBN 9781301165766. (A+ Review)
Scott, Jessica. I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Forever Yours: Grand Central. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.6). ebk. ISBN 9781455554249. (A Review) MILITARY ROMANCE
Jessica Scott’s Coming Home series, which began in 2011’s Because of You (A Review) and continued in 2012 with Until There Was You (A- Review), is a military romance series that gets to the heart of what it means to love someone who serves in the military, because author Scott is herself a career army officer and is married to a career NCO. So instead of writing about the glory of the battlefield, she writes about the toll that deployments take on a family with inside knowledge of what it’s like to wonder if someone is coming home, and how hard it is to wait and worry. She’s able to convey the emotional cost to a soldier with a career-ending injury, not just because his body is messed-up, but because he’s lost his purpose and he’s worried about the people he’s left behind. If you want to read a military romance with real heart, read Jessica Scott.

That’s it for this list. The specific requirements for the Library Journal list were that they all had to be ebooks, either ebook-only or ebook-first, or ebook-mostly. In some cases, there is a print available on demand, but the ebook looks like the primary format, or it did at the time. Also, for this list, there had to be a romance in the story. Yes, a couple of times you have to be looking for the romance, it’s not the primary plot. But there had to at least be a romantic element.

I used to be able to put this list in preference order, but it’s gotten too big. And there’s kind of an apples/bananas problem. How do you compare a steampunk romance to a paranormal romance when they are both at the top of their respective trees?

I will do a “best of the year” list next week (which includes a few contributions from my friend Cass!) These type of lists are loads of fun. It’s great to look back and see what I’ve read and which books stick in the mind by the end of the year.