Random (but not really)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Books of 2020: Wrap Up

Just to point out some last few things, including pointing out some authors that might not have made the 2019/2020 cutoff.

Check Please Hockey

My favorite comic of 2020

This one was easy, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu. The first volume was published in 2018 but I read the whole thing this year. And then read it again.

The rest of my favorite comics of 2020.

Hither Page

My favorite mystery of 2020

This was a little harder to choose since I read a number of good mysteries, but I think that Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian ended up on top. Cat Sebastian is often hit or miss for me, but this story hit it out of the park with all my favorite tropes.

The rest of my favorite mysteries of 2020.

The Immortal Conquistador

My favorite fantasy of 2020

This was another hard choice, since although I didn’t read as much fantasy as I have in previous years, what I did read this year I enjoyed very much. So I went with The Immortal Conquistador by Carrie Vaughn, because it has one of my all-time favorite short stories, and is about one of my favorite characters in that series.

The rest of my favorite fantasies of 2020.

Boyfriend Material

My favorite romance of 2020

This pick was just as easy as Check, Please!, since I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished it, and forced myself to wait a couple months before going back to it. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall was my favorite romance, and tied with Check, Please! for my favorite book of the year.

The rest of my favorite romances of 2020.

Since I didn’t count books published before 2019 is my end-of-the-year roundup, I wanted to take the time to point out some of the books and authors that got me through 2020.

My Highest Rated Books of 2020

10/10 Books (Re-reads)

Small Vices, Audio Edition (1997) Robert B. Parker narrated by Burt Reynolds
The Rook (2012) Daniel O’Malley

Both The Rook and Small Vices are books guaranteed to take me out of my own head.

9.5/10 New Reads

Joy (2017) C.S. Poe
Check, Please! (2020) Ngozi Ukazu
Boyfriend Material (2020) Alexis Hall

All three of these books were new to me in 2020, and all three I went back and re-read, because they were the perfect antidote to everything raging inside my brain.

Most Read Authors (minus re-reads)

New Books Read

These are some authors I recently discovered whose stories were precisely what I needed to read as I struggled with everything happening in the world.

N.R. Walker (Romance)
Annabeth Albert (Romance)
Alexis Hall (Romance, Fantasy)
R. Cooper (Romance)
C.S. Poe (Mystery, Romance)
Roan Parrish (Romance)
Alexia Gordon (Mystery)
Joe Benitez – Lady Mechanika (Comic)
Josh Lanyon (Mystery, Romance)
Talia Hibbert (Romance)
Layla Reyne (Mystery, Romance)


Most Re-Read Authors

Most ReReads

There is some overlap with the most read authors, but I wanted to note that for some series there might be only one or two books that were especially good, but immersing myself in an author can be a different kind of comfort.

Sometimes it’s just about how a series or author’s writing style makes me feel.

Agatha Christie (Mystery)
Alissa Johnson (Romance)
Angel Martinez (Fantasy, Romance)
Candace Robb (Mystery)
K.J. Charles (Romance)
Patricia Briggs (Fantasy)
C.S. Poe (Mystery, Romace)
Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)
Courtney Milan (Romance)
Cat Sebastian (Romance)
Michelle Diener (Mystery, Romance)
N.R. Walker (Romance)
Sergei Lukyanenko (Fantasy)
Charlie Adhara (Fantasy, Romance)
Ada Maria Soto (Romance)


Highest Rated Authors

Highest Rated Authors

These are the authors who had (at least) one book I rated a 9/10 or higher.

Daniel O’Malley (Fantasy)
Robert B. Parker (Mystery)
Sergei Lukyanenko (Fantasy)
Charlie Adhara (Fantasy, Romance)
Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)
Agatha Christie (Mystery)
Ngozi Ukazu – Check, Please! (Comic)
Alexis Hall (Fantasy, Romance)
C.S. Poe (Mystery, Romance)
Aidan Wayne (Romance)
Marie Brennan (Fantasy)
Michelle Diener (Mystery, Romance)
K.J. Charles (Romance, Fantasy)
Patricia Briggs (Fantasy)
Ada Maria Soto (Romance)
Carrie Vaughn (Fantasy)
Courtney Milan (Romance)
Roan Parrish (Romance)
Angel Martinez (Fantasy, Romance)


So that’s what I read this year. It was a lot, but so was this year.

What authors and books did you turn to, to get you through everything?

The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Books of 2020: Stats

I started collecting numbers because I’m a geek, but I started sharing these stats because I heard one too many times on the internet the “complaint” that there aren’t any female authors writing good fantasy.

This is of course utter bullshit, so I decided I wanted to see just how many female authors I read as opposed to male authors. And then I wanted to look at all other different kinds of numbers.

Male vs Female Authors

Male Female Author

Some of these numbers are influenced by what I’ve been binge reading. For example, if I re-read Robert B Parker’s Spenser series, that’s 40+ books, which is going to shift the numbers significantly. Which is precisely what happened in 2004.

However, that doesn’t mean that every year I read a lot of mysteries I’m going to read mostly male authors. Because some of my favorite mystery authors are female, which is what you can see in 2016.

Genres Read

Genre Chart

On the other hand, you can see a clear link between the number of female authors and the number of romance books I’ve read. Because very few men write romance. Even the majority of MM romance I’ve found is written by women. Which is a subject that’s been discussed elsewhere, so I won’t do so here.

On the third hand, in recent years I have been trying to read even more diversely, seeking out books with POC (persons of color) and LGBT characters.

LGBT vs Straight Characters

LGBT Chart

White vs POC Characters

POC Chart

Another thing I keep track of is the type of book I’ve read, ie paper books, vs eBooks, vs audio books.

Book Format and Rereads

Guess what year I got my first eReader?

But I’d also like to point out those two lines on the chart, which are the % re-reads that year, and the % of books I own in multiple formats. I pretty much only read comics in paper format anymore, unless the book is not available in eFormat. So when my favorites become available, I will try to get them as eBooks so I can re-read them. However, I find it aggravating to pay market price for an ebook when I already own a paper copy of the book.

The library is helpful for this, because I can borrow a lot of books. But I do want to give authors money for the enjoyment I have had from there books. I just can’t justify paying $10 for a second copy of a book, when I have so many new books on my wish lists.

The second type of multi format re-read is audio books. In general, I can’t listen to fiction I haven’t read before. I love a good audio book, but I read MUCH MUCH faster than a narrator narrates, so audio is too slow for a first read. I tend to switch back and forth between audio books and podcasts when exercising and doing chores. This year was more book podcasts, so fewer audio books.

What I found most surprising is that the percentage of re-reads was lower this year than I expected it to be. There were a couple of months where it felt like I did nothing but re-read favorites, but apparently there weren’t as many of those months as I thought there were. But I still had a lot of re-reads this year. And to be honest, I may have rated new reads lower than I might have in another year, because a swath of what I normally read was just plain appealing this year. All I wanted was cozy and happy endings.

Regardless of what I wanted vs what I read, I finished a ridiculous number of books this year, blowing away previous totals and averages by a significant amount.

Min Max Average Chart

For seven of the twelve months, 2020 now holds my personal record for books read in a single month (since I started keeping count).

As of when I published this, I’d read 295 books. Which doesn’t include books that I DNF’d.

From the BookRiot book log (which does count DNFs) I also have a small breakdown of what I read this year.

Total Books Read 302
Books DNF 6
Total Pages Read 75061
Time Listened 3 days, 5 hrs, and 33 mins
Average days per book 5.35
Average pages per day 122.71
Average books per month 25.00


Yeah, I know, that’s ridiculous.

So that was my year in reading.

What were your favorite books this year? Was there anything you kept turning to to escape the 2020 dumpster fire?

The Books of 2020The Books of 2020!

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Books of 2020: Romance

I read a lot of romance this year. 65% of the books I read were classified as romances of some flavor, which is twice the romances I normally read (on average).

Why? That’s easy: a romance gives you a guaranteed HEA (Happily Ever After) so I know when I picked up a romance I was not going to feel worse when I finished it than I did when I started. Which this year really, really needed as far as I was concerned.

The majority of these books have boinking–mostly open door and sometimes explicit boinking. For individual authors, check a specific book, because most of Alexis Hall’s books are pretty explicit, but Boyfriend Material is pretty much closed door. (ie you know what happened, but you don’t get the explicit details.)

Winter Companion
The Winter Companion (2020) Mimi Matthews
Historical

This is the fourth and final book in her Parish Orphans of Devon series. The third book I didn’t much care for, but this story was better (though not quite as good as the first book).

This may have been the hardest book for her to write, since the hero here was so badly damaged as a kid–a blow to the head and almost drowning messed up his verbal pathways, so he hides himself, acting as stable master for one of his best friends.

On a good day, the words Neville formed in his mind could be translated into short phrases with minimal difficulty. He’d learned over the years how to keep things from getting muddled. How to say what he intended with the least fuss, even if that meant he must occasionally sound like a child.

Mimi Matthews is one of the first authors to come to mind when someone asks for a “clean” romance (ie, one without sex).

I read some other books by her I liked better, but they were older and so didn’t make the list.


The Duke Who Didn't
The Duke Who Didn’t (2020) Courtney Milan (Wedgeford Trials)
Historical (boinking)

This is a British historical romance, set in a small community that had been resettled by immigrants, and quickly became a place where those whose ancestors were not anglo-saxon could live in relative harmony and peace.

Chloe Fong only wants the special sauce her father has been working on for years to succeed. The sauce he created after his original recipe was stolen and he was left with nothing to make his way to England.

Jeremy Wentworth has never gotten anything out of being a duke. In fact his mother took him back to China for several years, to escape the misery she felt living in Britain. But Jeremy’s aunt brought him back to do his duty to the family. His yearly visit to the Wedgeford Trails has been the only time he’s felt he’s allowed to be himself–in a community that doesn’t know who he really is.

I think the best part of this story is The Big Reveal. And really, that’s all I can say without giving it all away.

I love Courtney Milan’s books because she brings people you don’t normally see in British historicals to the page.


Two Rogues Make a Right
Two Rogues Make a Right (2020) Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks)
Historical, LGBT (boinking)
I adored It Takes Two to Tumble. It’s essentially The Sound of Music with the nun replaced by a vicar. The sequel I didn’t enjoy as much, although I did enjoy the diversity of the characters.

This book has the “bad guy” of the previous two books as one of the romantic leads, and I was very very skeptical about his redemption.

However, the other romantic lead was Martin’s childhood best friend, and so we see what led Martin to his actions in the previous books from both Martin and Will’s eyes. Which made a huge difference.

It also didn’t hurt that Martin was so ill at the start of the book he was delusional. Hard to be angry at someone that pitiful.

That you come to understand why Martin behaved as badly as he did is a testament to the storytelling, since I really did not want to read a story about Martin after everything he’d done in the previous books.

Martin preferred not to think of Will’s time in the navy. He had a list as long as his arm of things to feel guilty about, and the only reason he could get by from day to day was to resolutely refuse to think about any of them.

Yet I did, and lo I came to understand why Martin acted as he did, and why Will was willing to forgive him. Well, that and the fact Martin really was done poorly by his father.


He’s Come Undone: A Romance Anthology (2020) Emma Barry, Olivia Dade, Adriana Herrera, Ruby Lang, and Cat Sebastian
Contemporary, Historical, LGBT (boinking)

This is an anthology with a little bit of everything.

Appassionata by Emma Barry – MF

Unraveled by Olivia Dade – MF

Caught Looking by Adriana Herrera – MM

Yes, And… by Ruby Lang – MF

Tommy Cabot Was Here by Cat Sebastian – MM

All the stories were good and well-worth reading.


Get a Life Chloe Brown
Get a Life, Chloe Brown (2019) Talia Hibbert
Contemporary (boinking)

I’ll admit that I like Talia Hibbert’s Ravenswood series better than her Brown sisters series, but this story is just good on so many levels, starting with having a plus sized heroine of color who suffers from chronic pain.

On top of that, it’s a fun story, and the hero is a complete cinnamon roll (ie an absolute sweetheart) who puts up with Chloe’s crankiness.

“You like to research everything,” he guessed. “No; you like to know everything. You’re one of those ‘knowledge is power’ people.”

“Knowledge is power,” she shot back.

“I bet you were a massive teacher’s pet at school.” He was grinning. Hard.

“I bet you were an aimless slacker,” she said archly.

“I bet you always file your taxes on time.”

She was clearly scandalized. “Who doesn’t file their taxes on time?”

As with all her books, she make sure her books have different kind of representation, so even if one of her books isn’t my cup of tea, it’s still good and worth reading.


Conventionally Yours
Arctic Sun, Arctic Wild, Arctic Heat (2019) (Frozen Hearts); Conventionally Yours (2020) Annabeth Albert
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

I don’t adore everything Annabeth Albert has written, but I adore every book in her Frozen Hearts series.

The hike took them over a long wooden bridge away from the road until River felt the familiar thrill he got when hiking away from civilization— all the obligations and expectations that rattled around his head faded until it was only him and this spot on the planet, the rush of being privileged to get to see all this abundance of beauty.

Her most recent book, Conventionally Yours, is just lovely. It’s about two rivals who are part of a group going to compete in a table top convention, both believing they need to win to escape their current lives

Most of her books have characters who are damaged in some way (which is totally my catnip) but it’s not a competition to see who is worse off, but instead both characters help each other.

They’re very sweet and aren’t super angsty, which has been pretty important for me this year.


Glass Tidings
Glass Tidings (2016) Amy Jo Cousins
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

What I liked best about this story is how it kept going in ways I didn’t expect.

Eddie is a nomad who ends up stuck in a small town after witnessing a hit-and-run. Grayson runs his family’s shop and draws further and further into himself every year.

Eddie liked men whose bodies were lived in. Strong where they needed to be, but sometimes soft too, because who had time for gyms when there were lives to be lived?

Neither trusts people, although for very different reasons, and their reactions to that fear of trust manifests in opposite ways: Eddie won’t stay in one place, while Gray holes up in his home. Neither wants to let another person in, which is at the heart of this story–both trying to learn to trust someone else and expand their worlds.


Boyfriend Material
Glitterland, Waiting for the Flood (2018) (Spires); Boyfriend Material (2020) Alexis Hall
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

Alexis Hall is my favorite author for 2020. Even when a book didn’t work for me, I still got why it was good, and managed to appreciate the things I didn’t enjoy.

Boyfriend Material may be my favorite book this year, although Check, Please! gives it a run for it’s money.

He writes broken characters (again, my catnip) who are struggling to make themselves better. In Boyfriend Material you don’t quite realize until you’re well into the story just how broken Luc is.

“You’ve been through a lot today,” he said. “There’s no need to diminish it.”

“Yeah, but if I don’t diminish things I have to face them at their normal size, and that’s horrible.”

He also uses humor to balance some of the darker themes in this stories, from suicide attempts to deep depression, countering them with snark and banter and ridiculousness.

His books have been a lovely discovery this year. I also read some of his fantasy books, one of which made the fantasy list.


Galaxies and Oceans
Galaxies and Oceans (2018), Upside Down (2019), Throwing Hearts (2020), Tic-Tac-Mistletoe (2020) N.R. Walker
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

Here is my other favorite new author of 2020.

Mostly because all those books above are so happy it was precisely what I needed this year. Also, most of the conflict (when there was conflict) was external, so there was no Big Misunderstanding between the characters that could have been solved if they had bothered to use their words with each other.

Upside Down is probably my favorite of the lot above. It’s an ace story, and has the two characters falling in love on the bus.

So, as the bus pulled in, my heart was dressed in neon Lycra, a bottle in one hand and a microphone in the other, singing Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” while my brain was stoic, arms crossed, working on some algorithm or genius equation that would determine indisputably, unequivocally, that I was the dumbest motherfucker on the planet for even entertaining the idea that Hennessy would be one, single. And two, remotely interested in me.

It’s really delightful, and I might possibly be Jordan.

My phone beeped in my hand and I tripped over my own feet, almost falling to the ground but catching myself just in time. “Motherfucker.”

It was just the book I needed to read this year, but really, every book in that list above is excellent.

I will note that Galaxies & Oceans does have TWs for intimate partner violence. It isn’t on the page, but you are in the aftermath of it. But the rest of her stories tend to be fluffy and happy with most of the conflict coming from the outside, and several have secondary romances–Throwing Hearts had my favorite secondary romance.


The Remaking of Corbin Wale
The Remaking of Corbin Wale (2017), Raze (2019) (Riven), Better Than People (2020) (Garnet Run) Roan Parrish
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

Roan Parrish writes romances that are often full of angst and may leave you weeping.

Which, you know, I love damaged characters, but this IS 2020 and I don’t have very much mental resilience right now. So although her Riven series is very good, Better Than People is probably my favorite book by her this year, since it was a less angsty.

“I worked at a c-company before.” He shuddered. “It was awful. Cubicles and p-people and no one would leave me alone.”

“What’d they do?” Jack asked, preemptively furious on Simon’s behalf.

Simon turned to him, eyes wide with horror. “Talked to me! Had b-birthday cakes and— and holiday parties.”

Yeah, there were damaged people who struggled, but it wasn’t quite so punch-you-in-the-chest-with-feelings.

If you’re up for angst, then definitely check out her Riven or Small Change series.


Blank Spaces
Blank Spaces (2016) Cass Lennox
Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT (boinking)

This book breaks my rule of limiting books to the current and previous year, because it was such a good book I couldn’t stop thinking about.

One character is ace, although he doesn’t realize that at the start of the story. He just knows he’s done with dating.

Vaughn knew how to pick them. He set the spoon down. “I’m not flirting with you.”

“Really.” Jonah’s voice dripped with disbelief. “You don’t call putting food in my mouth flirting?”

“No, actually. I share food with my eating companions regularly.” Vaughn mentally replayed their conversation. “What part of the last twenty minutes was flirtatious?”

Jonah’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me? Just how oblivious are you?”

(Reader? Vaughn is that oblivious.)

When someone steals paintings from the gallery where he works Vaughn ends up having to deal with the insurance adjusters who are (rightfully) suspicious since this is the third robbery they’ve reported.

Jonah, who is the junior partner of the insurance investigative team, spent his childhood and youth in foster homes, learning quickly he could rely on no one but himself.

To say that Vaughn and Jonah are opposites is a major understatement. I truly could not figure out how they were going to make a relationship work since not only were they very different people, but they also had needs that were at odds.

I ended up reading this book twice this year and could probably read it a third time.


Dine with Me
Dine with Me (2019) Layla Reyne
Contemporary, LGBT (boinking)

I read both Layla Reyne’s FBI series and very much enjoyed them. But once the pandemic started I really didn’t have the headspace for thrillers. This story is of a chef taking a farewell tour of some of his favorite restaurants, after a cancer diagnosis.

The best thing about this story is the amazing descriptions of the meals they eat.

(W)hen he tasted the chocolate soufflé with Earl Grey crème anglaise, it was beyond semi-orgasmic. Hell, beyond orgasmic. It was a night full of hot-sweaty-blow-your-mind-sex, in a baking ramekin and gravy boat. He eyed the latter, debating whether to turn it up and drink the remaining crème anglaise right from the boat.

Miller followed his gaze, accurately reading his intent. “I will think less of you.”

“I’m not sure I care right now.” The sauce was calling his name, loudly.

The next best thing was Miller coming to terms with his illness.

But also, the food.

She also made it onto the mysteries list, with one series completed last year, although I prefer the prior series a little more.


The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Books of 2020: Fantasy

Although the number of fantasy books I’ve read in recent years has remained relatively consistent, fantasy has dropped as a percentage of my reading, especially in recent years, with just under a third of the books I read this year having fantasy elements. (31% this year as opposed to 36% over the past decade.)

There are several series that I have been following ages for that remain auto-buys that made the list, but almost all of them are urban fantasy. Pretty much all those series need you to start at book one and move forward, but that’s not a bad thing, since a lot of these should be available to borrow from the library as ebooks or audiobooks.


False Value
False Value (2020) Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London)
Urban, Mystery, Police, Ongoing Series

This is the 8th book about Peter, although there have been stories about other characters in the series (especially comics).

The first part of the book jumps back and forth in time as we see Peter applying for a job at a Cybernetics Company. And Bev is pregnant–so Peter is living with her, so this is extremely confusing and somewhat worrisome.

Luckily, this book has all the snark you would expect from Peter.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want a personal friend in Jesus.”

I showed her my warrant card.

“But have you let the Metropolitan Police into your heart?” I asked.

Don’t even think about starting here. Go back to the first book and move forward, and check out some of the comics along the way.

And I highly recommend the audio books, since Kobna Holdbrook Smith is one of my favorite narrators, and makes everything he reads better.


Smoke Bitten
Smoke Bitten (2020) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson)
Supernatural, Ongoing Series

This is the latest Mercy Thompson story, and we get to spend a good deal of time with both Aiden and Wulfe.

Wulfe is one of the most fascinating characters in the series. He is a true chaotic neutral.

“Not fortunate,” demurred Wulfe, answering Aiden with a coyness that would have been more appropriate from a Southern belle in an old movie. In old movies, overacting was standard fare. “Not mere luck. I am stalking Mercy. Of course I was around, because that’s what stalkers do, or so I’ve read. It’s my new hobby.”

I love reading about Wulfe, but I am very very glad that I do not ever have to have an in-person reactions with Wulfe. Interestingly, there are other authors who have tried to have chaotic neutral characters in their stories–the problem is that once you spend time with them, then tend to be more chaotic good than chaotic neutral, which means when they try to make them the bad guys again, you don’t really believe it.

With Wulfe, you are fascinated, but also remain terrified of him, because he is terrifying.


Spells for the Dead
Spells for the Dead (2020) Faith Hunter (Soulwood)
Supernatural, Mystery, Ongoing Series

Unlike the most recent Jane Yellowrock book, this book mostly concludes the main story arc between the covers. Which is good because the past several Jane books have been exhausting, and nothing is better yet.

One of the strengths of the Soulwood series is just how annoying and realistic it makes work for a supernatural government agency come across. Nell is always doing paperwork as well as a fair amount of scut work when her particular skills aren’t needed at a site or investigation.

“Which is why you’re down here with us,” T. Laine said cheerfully. “Among your many talents is the ability to use old-fashioned equipment. Competency comes with repercussions.”

“Do not ask me to milk a cow or darn your socks.”

“You know how to do that?”

“No,” I lied, stern faced.

Additionally, we see her continuing to work out her relationships with her family. This has been important from the start, and I absolutely love how Nell comes to understand past actions in a different light, and uses that knowledge to try and make the present and future better for her family.

If you’re looking for audio books, this is another series with a fantastic narrator. Kristine Hvam does an excellent job.


Undeading Bells
Undeading Bells (2019) Drew Hayes
Supernatural, Ongoing Series

The latest book in the Fred, the Vampire Accountant series sees Fred and Krystal finally getting married! Unfortunately, there are things to do before that can happen.

You’ve got a whole day to be anxious, so don’t use it all up tonight. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This series is a delightful romp, and perfect for when you want something fun. Definitely start at the beginning, but you can easily gobble up all of these like potato chips.


The House in the Cerulean Sea
The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020) TJ Klune
LGBT, Alternate Timeline, Stand-Alone

If I tell you that Linus is a casework at an agency that looks after/regulates magical children, you might wonder how that could possibly be interesting.

He put on his pajamas, buttoning up the front. They were monogrammed with an LB on the breast, a gift from the Department after fifteen years of service. He’d selected them out of a catalogue he’d been given on the day of. The catalogue had two pages inside. One page was the pajamas. The second page was a candleholder.

It’s not just interesting, it’s fantastic.

We see Linus–an man stuck in a rut in his life, never expecting more, slowly stretching and growing, and it’s lovely.

Also, there are supernatural kids who are difficut and moody and also wonderful.

“You can pick out two flavors,” Arthur told her. “Nothing more. You don’t want to spoil your appetite for dinner.”

“Yes, I do,” she assured him.

It’s really lovely and I highly recommend it.


Wolf in Sheeps Clothing
Thrown to the Wolves (2019), Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (2020) (Big Bad Wolf)  Charlie Adhara
Supernatural, Mystery, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

This is the fourth book in the series, and again, do not start here. Go back to the first book.

Werewolves exist, but they are hidden from the normal world, and they aren’t much like fiction portrays them (you are born a werewolf–you can’t infect someone else).

Our characters are continuing to work on their relationship (I really like that aspect of this series, that the two have a good relationship, but things aren’t easy, and they have to learn to trust themselves and each other) when their agency sends them undercover to a werewolf couples retreat.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Cooper nodded. “Very helpful. How on earth will an evolved couple like us convincingly pretend to need counseling?”

I have really liked all the books in this series, and did a re-read before reading the most recent book because I enjoyed them so much.


Spooky Business
Spooky Business (2020) S.E. Harmon (The Spectral Files)
Supernatural, Mystery, Police, LGBT, Completed (?) Series (boinking)

This is the third book in the series, and finds the main characters attemping to make their relationship work, but there are still a lot of issues with trust. Which is a problem.

Also, Rain’s old boss at the FBI not only wants him back in his employ, but also hits on Rain–even knowing Rain is trying to make his relationship work.

Rain sees ghosts–he spent years trying to deny this, but at the start of the first book reached a breaking point and is trying to deal with that power and use it to help solves cold cases.

Rain is aggravating; he has spent so many years denying his ability to see ghosts, he often flat-out refuses to take steps to try and control that power. Which initially felt stupid, but then 2020 happened, and, well, people do stupid, self-sabotaging things.


The Immortal Conquistador
The Immortal Conquistador (2020) Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville)
Supernatural, Historical, Stand-Alone

This books is tangential to the Kitty the Werewolf series, and is about one of my favorite characters in the entire series: Rick the Vampire.

The story opens with one of my favorite short stories, “Conquistador de la Noche”, which tells how Rick/Ricardo became a vampire, and how he has managed to be a very different vampire than others around him. Rick–despite everything–does not lose his faith in G-d.

Captain Ricardo de Avila, you must accept what you are, let the creature have its will.”

Ricardo smiled. “I am a loyal subject of Spain and a child of God who has been saddled with a particularly troublesome burden.”

It’s a fascinating look at what someone might do with their immortality if they refused to accept tradition and what they are told they should be.


Spellbound
Spellbound (2019), Starcrossed (2020) (Magic in Manhattan) Allie Therin
Historical, Mystery, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

This is set in New York between the two world wars.

Rory works in an antique story, authenticating items brought to the store, because he can read an items history by touching it.

Arthur is a veteran of the Great War, and looking for someone to authenticate a relic.

(F)inishing school in London just makes you interesting.”

Arthur sighed into his drink. “I want to be the boring one. If I’m the most interesting person in the conversation, then I’ve chosen the wrong company.”

One of the interesting things about this story is that it is not just the illegality of homosexuality that is a problem for the two character, but also class differences. Arthur comes from a wealthy family while Rory is little more than a street rat, and it is very difficult for them to spend time together without rousing suspicions.


Gentleman Wolf
Gentleman Wolf (2019), Master Wolf (2020) (Capital Wolves Duet) Joanna Chambers
Supernatural, Historical, LGBT, Completed Series (boinking)

As a two book series, there is romance, but there is definitely no HEA/HFN in the first book, so don’t pick this up thinking it’s a romance.

This is a werewolf story that spans decades (and for some characters, goes back centuries)

There is a lot of angst in this story, as well as uneven power dynamics and torture (mostly off the page) and self-harm. So be aware of that if you think this story piques your interest.


Turning Darkness Into Light
Turning Darkness Into Light (2019) Marie Brennan
Historical, YA, Stand-Alone

This is book is related to the Lady Trent series, but is about her granddaughter, Audrey, who is making her way in the world.

But it’s so hard when I can feel everyone looking at me, waiting to see what I’ll do. Not my family, of course; if I decided I wanted to retire to a country cottage and spend my life growing roses— not even award-winning roses; mediocre, aphid-chewed ones— they would hug me and wish me well. It’s the rest of the world that expects me to do something spectacular, because Papa did, and Mama, and Grandpapa, and above all Grandmama. When am I going to prove my right to stand with them?

She receives an offer to translate some ancient Draconian texts which may shed light on both Draconian history as well as their interaction with humans.

There is an element of mystery to the story, as well as (much like the main series) so much anthropology and linguistics.

This story is a slow unfolding, and unlike her grandmother, Audrey doesn’t want adventure, but does love research, so we get to see Audrey doing the work she loves.

I know that sounds boring, but it isn’t. Its not a fast-paced adventure story, but it is a good story, and if you like it you should definitely read the Lady Trent series if you have not already.


The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Books of 2020: Mysteries

A third of the books I read this year had a mystery element, and not only because I re-read Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple mysteries. Mysteries have always been comfort reads to me–especially historical mysteries, so I did a lot of re-reading in that genre (which obviously isn’t reflected here).

I also read a fair number of cozy mysteries, because after March I just couldn’t handle violence and tension (and angst).

I’ve noted the various categories to which a story belongs, in case you’re wanting something specific (like I’ve been wanting this year).

Slippery Creatures
Slippery Creatures (2020) K.J. Charles (The Will Darling Adventures)
Historical, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

Will Darling returned from the Great War without a job or any direction. He discovers a bachelor uncle who takes him in, to Will’s surprise, leaves his bookstore to Will.

Will had gone to the War at eighteen, and come back five years later to find himself useless and unwanted. In Flanders he’d been a grizzled veteran, a fount of professional expertise who knew the ropes and had seen it all. Back in Blighty he’d become a young man again, one with little training and no experience. He’d been apprenticed to a joiner before the war, but that felt like decades ago: all he was good at now was killing people, which was discouraged.

Everything is going well until a thug insists that Will hand over an item–and Will has no idea what the man wants. The leads Kim to Will, a young rather dissolute man who ends up being much more than he seems on the surface.

Kim pretty much lies to Will throughout the story, but considering the work he does, it’s not really that surprising. Nor is it surprising that Will doesn’t take Kim’s lies very well, even if the two personally get along marvelously.

I have a soft spot for WWI mysteries, so this worked well for me. The second book in the series was also published this year, and it was good, but it wasn’t quite as good as this one.


A Stroke of Malice
A Stroke of Malice (2020) Anna Lee Huber (A Lady Darby Mystery)
Historical, Ongoing Series

This is the latest installation in the ongoing Lady Darby series. Sebastian Gage is a private inquiry agent, and Lady Darby (now Mrs Gage) was the widow of a notorious doctor who forced her to draw the illustrations for his anatomy textbook.

Oh. There’s a cholera outbreak. Which, well, 2020.

Her eyes gleamed in her pale face. “The cholera outbreak.”

Her simple reply sent a chill of fear whispering down my spine. The deadly disease that had ravaged Russia and the Baltic lands had reached the shores of Britain— despite all efforts to prevent it— in early November at the Port of Sunderland in northern England. From there, it had begun to spread to the north and south along the coast, leapfrogging its way closer to the densely populated cities, leaving death in its wake.

I highly recommend this entire series.


Hither Page
Hither, Page (2019) Cat Sebastian
Historical, LGBT, Romance, Stand-Alone (boinking)

This is another post WWII story, and possibly one of my favorite stories by her.

The main characters was a doctor during the war, and suffers from battle fatigue so much he is no longer to operate, but instead has become a country doctor.

“No, I assure you that I’m farther gone than most. And I wasn’t even a soldier. All I did was, as you said, stitch people up. What right do I have to—”

“No.” Page laid a hand on his shoulder. “What you’re not going to do is talk about shell shock or combat fatigue or brain fuckery as if it’s a special treat that you haven’t earned.”

Page was a spy and an assassin during the war, and the two of them end up looking into a local murder.


The Deadly Hours
The Deadly Hours (2020) Susanna Kearsley, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent, C.S. Harris
Historical, Anthology

This is four novellas, tied together by a single object–a cursed pocket watch.

I loved the idea, although the execution was a less than I wanted.

One story I straight-up hated.

Three of the stories had characters from existing books, which was somewhat problematic for the story tied to the book I hadn’t read, because I felt like I was missing something.

The final story, however, was fantastic. Plus, I did love how the themes (and the cursed watch) were woven through all three novellas.


The Safety Net
The Safety Net (2017/2020) Andrea Camilleri translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Inspector Montalbano)
Police, Ongoing Series

I’ll be honest. This book may have made the list because Andrea Camilleri died in 2019, so there are a dwindling number of Inspector Montalbano stories left.

As with all the other books, the story has loving descriptions of food and meals that Montablano has eaten.

The mere mention of the Baltic Sea got Montalbano’s brain whirring. Were there mullet in the Baltic Sea? Were there purpiteddri, baby octopi like the kind Enzo fed him, in the Baltic Sea? And, if so, what did they taste like? Surely they must have a different flavor, since he’d already noticed, for example, that the fish from the Adriatic Sea tasted slightly different from the fish in the Tyrrhenian. So one could only imagine the difference of flavor in a fish from so far north as Kalmar.

Unlike the previous book, this one had a decent mystery–although we don’t really quite see it until the second half of the book.

You shouldn’t start here but instead go back to the first book, The Shape of Water. Then you’ll have decades of these books to slowly savor as we rapidly approach the end.

(The English translations generally come a couple years after the Italian publication, so we do have a few more books left.)


Imperial Stout
Imperial StoutCraft Brew (2018), Noble Hops (2019) Layla Reyne (Trouble Brewing)
Police, LGBT, Romance, Completed Series (boinking)

This is a MM action-adventure-mystery. It’s a sequel of sorts to her Irish Whiskey series, which I utterly devoured. I didn’t love these characters quite as much as I did Jameson & Aiden, but I still gulped down the books.

You don’t need to have read the previous series to enjoy this, but you definitely need to read these on order, since both the mystery and the romance progress through the series.


Murder at Pirates Cove
Murder at Pirate’s Cove, Secret at Skull House (2020) Josh Lanyon (Secrets and Scrabble)
Cozy, LGBT, Ongoing Series

Josh Lanyon writes several LGBT mystery series, and most are the opposite of cozy, with romantic turmoil and explicit sex. This series has no on-the-page sex or violence, and although there is no romance yet, the main character has a crush on the local law enforcement officer.

On the one hand, it was nice to experience a profitable day. On the other hand, Scene of the Crime was probably not a sustainable business model.

Also, he’s the new owner of a struggling bookstore.

I really enjoyed these and have the next several books in the series on pre-order.


Southernmost Murder
Southernmost Murder (2018) C.S. Poe
LGBT, Romance, Stand-Alone (boinking)

Aubrey is the caretaker for an historical house–it’s a job he he is good at despite his narcolepsy. But he is not good at dealing with the skeleton that mysteriously appears in the property he cares for.

I eventually reached a fence in someone else’s yard I had to scale. And I did scale it, which impressed me to no end— but then I fell off the other side and into the Smith garden. At least there was no one around to see that.

It’s a fun story and although it’s tied into her Snow and Winter series (which I also recommend) it can be read by itself.


Requiem for Mr. Busybody
Requiem for Mr. Busybody (2020) Josh Lanyon
Short Story, Romance, LGBT

I love a good short story. But they aren’t always easy to find, as evidenced by the number of bad short stories and novellas I read this fall.

But Josh Lanyon usually writes good short stores, and this one is no exception. In 66 pages we have a murder mystery and a second chance romance, both well done.

Also, she did her research on disabilities, which is even more excellent.

Michael used to be a crime reporter, and used to date Len. Now his world is limited mostly to his apartment complex and his PA. So when his neighbor disappears, he calls his ex, who is a NYPD detective, to ask for a favor.


Ramen Assassin
Ramen Assassin (2019) Rhys Ford
Action, Romance, LGBT, Stand-Alone (boinking)

Trey Bishop’s life went up in flames, sprawled across all the tabloids. But he’s been sober for several years now–slowly putting himself back together. So stumbling across two men moving a dead body–men who then try to kill Trey–is not what he wanted or needed out of life. Luckily for him, the owner of the ramen shop (who Trey has had a crush on for months) appears seemingly out of nowhere to save Trey.

Trey was a disaster, but even though no one really believes it, he’s better, and tries every day to keep it together.

He’d taken his first drink in that office, stealing a sip of something expensive from an unmarked crystal decanter. It burned going down. Much like it burned coming back up. But the numbness it left on Trey’s tongue and eventually his brain was glorious.

Plus, there’s always something fun about an ex assassin turned civilian.


The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Books of 2020: Comics

I read a fair number of comics this year, but didn’t love some of them, and others were published well before 2019, which is generally my cut-off date (unless something has been re-released).


Check Please Sticks and Scones
Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones (2020) Ngozi Ukazu
LGBT, Romance

First, you MUST read Check, Please!: # Hockey which is the first half of this story. Although volume two is the one published this year, I’m going to talk about volume one. Because that’s where you need to start.


Check Please Panel

This is absolutely the sweetest most adorable thing I have ever read. It’s like being folded in a hug, and I’m not even kidding. I read through the entire thing online at least twice and also purchased and read the paper books, both to support the artist and because I prefer reading comics on paper.

Eric Bittle has gotten a college scholarship to play hockey. The only problem is that he was a figure skater and is terrified of being hit. So the team captain takes him under his arm and helps him out.

AND THERE IS LOVE! I just… I mean… this is one of the best things I’ve read in forever, and I have read a lot of books.

There is language (as you can see in the above panel) because these are college students AND hockey players. But really, aside from that it’s quite wholesome.

Plus:

It’s just SO SWOONY! Don’t believe me? You can read it online.


Heathen
Heathen Volume 1 (2017) Natasha Alterici
Historical, Fantasy, LGBT

I put this in because volume two was published in 2019 and the third and final volume this year. Honestly, the first volume is far and away my favorite, but the whole story is fascinating. I am going to re-read the third volume in a bit, because I couldn’t decided quite how I felt about it.


Heathen Panel

It’s the story of a young woman who is exiled from her community when she refuses to marry after being caught with a friend. She gets a talking horse and goes on an epic adventure, meeting Valkyries, pirates, and even Odin.


Lady Mechanika
Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte (2017), Lady Mechanika Vol 4: Clockwork Assassin (2018)  Joe Benitez
Fantasy, Steamponk

This is another comic I discovered this year, and read volume after volume until I ran out of published books.


Lady Mechanika Panel

Lady Mechanika has no memory of her past. Which may be for the best, since she was obviously part of a horrible experiment, where I mad scientists replaced her arms, legs, and eyes with mechanical ones. These give her amazing abilities but also set her apart from the rest of society.

Which she searchers for the monster who made her what she now is, she takes jobs and is a bit of an adventuress.

It’s a great story and has utterly gorgeous art.

This is another series where you are going to want to start at the first volume and work your way forward. Each volume is a mostly completed arc, but the main story arc is Lady Mechanika learning about her past with her discovering hints and clues in each volume.

I have ordered the latest volume and am eagerly waiting it.


The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Books of 2020: Great Romance Covers

I read a lot of romance this year. As the dumpster fire that is 2020 continued, I simply couldn’t stand to read anything that wasn’t going to end well. Really, I picked mostly happy, fluffy books, with little to no angst.

Because 2020.

Something to Talk About

Something to Talk About (2020) Meryl Wilsner – Berkley
Contemporary, LGBT

Cover design and illustration by Vi-An Nguyen

Cover the first that promoted me to read a book that I might not otherwise have been interested in.

The story was fine, but I didn’t like it as much as I liked the cover.

There’s something her that makes me keep looking at all the different bits, as my eye rovers around. In some ways it’s very simple–almost a line drawing–but you also see immediately what is happening–one woman is whispering into the ear of the other. It’s also a scene from early in the book, which is lovely.


Boyfriend Material

Boyfriend Material (2020) Alexis Hall – Sourcebooks Casablanca
Contemporary, LGBT

Cover design and illustration by Elizabeth Turner Stokes

I love absolutely everything about this book.

I love the bold colors and the boxes and subtle drawings of things and how Luc (it’s obviously Luc) is leaning casually while Oliver is upright and in a suit.

All I can think of is Luc saying “In the end I went with my skinniest jeans, my pointiest shoes, the only shirt I could find that didn’t need ironing.” Even if he’s not wearing a jacket here.

UGH. This story. Even looking at the cover makes me want to read it all over again.


Blank Spaces

Blank Spaces (2016) Cass Lennox (Toronto Connections) – Riptide
Contemporary, LGBT, Mystery

Cover art: L.C. Chase

This is another perfect cover. I love all the things about it–the colors, the space between the two, the pinkie join–everything.


Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit (2020) Kwana Jackson – Berkley
Contemporary

Cover art and design by Farjana Yasmin

This is another book where I was drawn to read book because of the cover, and ended up disappointed, because the story didn’t live up to the cover. Which makes me sad because I love almost everything about this cover, from the colors to the guy knitting to the yarn loops around the title.


Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient (2018) Helen Hoang – Berkley
Contemporary

Cover design and illustration by Colleen Reinhart

I think these drawn / comic style covers just really work for me. But the fact they’re standing on the long division symbol makes the entire cover for me.


Get a Life Chloe Brown

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (2019) Talia Hibbert – Avon
Contemporary

Cover design and illustration by Ashley Caswell

Chloe looks precisely as described in the book.

Precisely.

I love all the rep this cover gives. It’s lovely.


Meet Cute Club

Meet Cute Club (2020) Jack Harbon (Sweet Rose)
Contemporary, LGBT

Cover by Jack Harbon

He designed his own cover.

Let that sink in for a minute.

This cover that initially drew my attention to the book, was made by the author.

This shames every single terrible cover we’re still getting from major publishers.


Upside Down

Upside Down (2019) N.R. Walker – BlueHeart Press
Contemporary, LGBT

N.R. Walker & SJ York

This is a non-comic/drawn cover (thus breaking the trend) but I really adore it because everything about it matches the story. It’s simple and eye catching and cute.


Glass Tidings

Glass Tidings (2016) Amy Jo Cousins
Contemporary, LGBT

Cover art: L.C. Chase

This cover is gorgeous. No, it doesn’t tell you it’s a romance, although it does give you a hint of the story, with Eddie walking away.

But mostly it’s just so very pretty and evocative and I really want that as a Christmas ornament for my tree.


The Remaking of Corbin Wale

The Remaking of Corbin Wale (2017) Roan Parrish – Monster Press
Contemporary, LGBT

Cover design by Natasha Snow

Again, this book doesn’t tell you it’s a romance, but it also isn’t something you’d likely be seeing on the shelves of stores, and chances are someone looking at this story already knows about Roan Parrish, so if that is the case it does hint that this is going to be a somewhat less angsty story than is normal for her.

It also gives hints to the fact that you’re never quite sure if this is actually a fantasy or not. (I lean towards not.)

All the blues blues and the sky and the snow–it’s just another flat-out gorgeous cover.


The Books of 2020

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,Covers,Yearly Round-Up  
Next Page »

Powered by WordPress

books main pictures cats e-mail