Random (but not really)

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Books of 2021: Wrap Up

Favorite Covers: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Favorite Mysteries
Favorite Romances
Favorite Fantasies
The Rest
Books that got me through the year

 

First

My Favorite Books

 

Top of the list? Murderbot!

All Systems RedThe Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (2017) 9/10, Artificial Condition (2018) 8.5/10, Rogue Protocol (2018) 8.5/10, Exit Strategy (2018) 8.5/10, Network Effect (2020) 9/10, Fugitive Telemetry (2021) 9/10

Science Fiction

I generally dislike SF, so I put off reading this series. But when I was in desperate need of a distraction, Murderbot was the perfect fix.


A Ladys Guide to Etiquette and MurderA Countess of Harleigh Mystery by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (2018) 7.5/10, A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (2019) 8.5/10, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (2020) 8/10, A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder (2021) 8/10

Historical Mystery, Cozy

I have always loved historical mysteries–even though the first “historicals” I read were actually Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. This series is a cozy historical series with a female lead, who does NOT go running into danger, but instead tries to be safe and do the sensible thing, but events overtake her.

I am really looking forward to the next book when it comes out.


The Charm Offensive

The Charm Offensive (2021) Alison Cochrun 9/10

Contemporary Romance, LGBT

Initially I didn’t even think I wanted to read this book, but by chapter two I was sucked in and in love with both characters.

I loved how Dev worked to keep Charlie calm and able to get through the day, but even more I loved how Charlie saw how hard Dev was working, and wanted to appreciate him.


A Marvellous LightA Marvellous Light (2021) Freya Marske (The Last Binding) 9/10

Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, LGBT

This is the first book in a new series, and it was full of things I absolutely adored.

It’s historical, with great fantasy world-building, and a side of mystery. And the two characters (eventually) talked about what they were reacting to.


Second

Publisher / Cover Roundup

An Unexpected Peril

Here are all the publishers who had more than a single cover I loved.

Berkley – 9 (Penguin)
self – 8
Kensington – 5
Carina – 3 (Harlequin)
Tangled Tree Publishing – 3 (Hot Tree)
Emporium Press – 2
Forever – 2 (Grand Central Publishing)

 

Although it was close thing, An Unexpected Peril (2021) Deanna Raybourn was my favorite cover, but as a whole, the mystery category had many many to choose from.


Third

I Read a LOT of Books

As I mentioned earlier, 2021 was a terrible year for me, so I went to my favorite form of escapism: reading.

This is the most books I have every read in a single year, since I started keeping track (2003).

Total Books Read: 335
Total Pages Read: 82788
Total Hours Listened: 7 days, 4 hrs, and 12 mins
Average days per book: 5.56
Average pages per day: 123

 

Genre

As you can see, an overwhelming majority of the books I loved were in the romance category. That is, of course, because a romance has an HEA, and those HEAs got me through the year.

Unfortunately for me, that means half the books I read had explicit sex scenes, so that was a downside.

But I did read my FIRST BOOK EVER with a chapter heading for aces!

Content disclaimer This chapter includes a sex scene. If you’d rather not read sexually explicit content, please skip ahead to chapter 23.

 

Author

As a reader of SFF, every couple years a guy complains that there aren’t any good female authors. (Seriously, I’ve been ranting about this since 2005.) So I started keeping track of the sex of the authors I’ve been reading.

As I have every year since 2012, the majority of the books I read this year were written by women, and when you take pseudonyms into account, more than three quarters of the books I read this year were written by women.

Why do I take pseudonyms into account? Because in genres like fantasy and mystery, women frequently take male pseudonyms or use their initials instead of a first name, to hide their gender. So I track those numbers as well: 7% of all the books I’ve read since 2003 have been written by women (overtly or subtly) hiding they are women.

 

 

Characters

 

With a couple of exceptions (Terry Pratchett, Robert B Parker, Ben Aaronovitch, FREX) I tend to prefer books written by women–and when reading primarily SFF, I tend prefer female leads; mostly because there is less blatant sexism and misogyny.

However, as is obvious from my love of SFF, I like reading about experience that are not my own, and so I started seeking out books by and about POC, as well as books set in places unfamiliar to me.

When I started reading romance, I discovered that many of the best books were sexually explicit, which sometimes gives me a feeling of dysphoria, plus, sex scenes are just boring. I soon discovered that MM romance was much easier for me to read, since I don’t feel as if I should be inserting myself into the story, so I also started reading a lot of LGBT stories–not just romances, but across all genres.

What this chart is showing is that I read a LOT of MM stories, and I still have work to do in reading more stories with POC representation.

 

Format

 

I read almost exclusive ebooks at this point, with the exceptions being cookbooks and comics. Since I have barely cooked or baked this year, all the paper books were comics.

And as you can see, almost half the books I read were rereads.

You can see here what years I’ve struggled with my mental health, by the percent of rereads in a year.

 

Fourth

Random bits and pieces

Country of Origin

 

Every once in awhile I come across a genre book / series that is translated into English, and I adore these books, since they (especially mysteries) give a completely different view of another country. And books written in English but set in a country that is not the US or Great Britain are also lovely.

I do need to branch out more, but at least it’s not all US & UK authors.

 

Ratings:

 

This is unsurprising, since I had so many rereads this year. What I did find interesting (and don’t have a way to track, is that some of the comforting rereads were ones I hadn’t rated above a 7 1/2. However, something about the story settled my mind and emotions.

For example, Dahlia Donovan’s Sin Bin series pulled me in and stuck in my brain, even if I didn’t always like the characters, or the trope wasn’t my thing. But for the most part I picked up books I loved, or was pretty certain I was going to love, to read this year.

 

And that’s a wrap for 2021. Any books I read in the next couple days will be shoehorned into 2022, just to make things easier.

I hope y’all read some amazing books this year, and I hope that the next year will be one that requires less comfort and more adventure.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Comfort Reads of 2021

This year was awful for me.

Really awful.

So I did a lot of rereading of books of favorites, or books that brought me comfort and allowed me a distraction from reality. And those two are not always the same thing. Some distracting books are not comforting, but none of the books have a cliff-hanger ending, and to me, all of the endings are satisfying.

This list is going to be a lot of books. But I read a stupidly large number of books this year, so this is kind of a drop in the bucket.

Small VicesI’m not even going to try to tell you what makes these books so good, just that each and every one of these served to pull me out of my own head when I desperately needed it. In fact, the first book I reached for after my father died was Robert Parker’s Small Vices, and the only reason the Miss Marple series didn’t make the list is because I had just finished rereading that entire series at the end of 2020

I do, however, want to note that several authors made this list in multiple genres, including C.S. Poe, who wrote books I adore in all three of my escapism genres. The others are Nicole Kimberling, Cat Sebastian, Aidan Wayne.

Fantasy

Big Bad Wolf series* by Charlie Adhara

The Wolf at the Door (2018), The Wolf at Bay (2018), Thrown to the Wolves (2019), Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (2020)

Supernatural Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred the Vampire Accountant

Fred, the Vampire Accountant series by Drew Hayes:

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant (2014), Undeath and Taxes (2015), Bloody Acquisitions (2016), Deadly Assessments (2018), Undeading Bells (2019)

Supernatural Mystery

 

Offbeat Crimes series* by Angel Martinez

Lime Gelatin and Other Monsters (2016), The Pill Bugs of Time (2016), Skim Blood and Savage Verse (2017), Feral Dust Bunnies (2017), Jackalopes and Woofen-Poofs  (2017), All the World’s an Undead Stage (2018); Brandywine Investigations*: Open for Business (2016), Family Matters (2018); Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists* (2017)

Supernatural Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

London Falling

Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell

London Falling (2012), The Severed Streets (2014), Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (2016)

Supernatural Mystery

 

C.S. Poe

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage* (2016)

Supernatural Romance, LGBT, Short story

 

Nicole Kimberling

Grilled Cheese and Goblins: Adventures of a Supernatural Food Inspector* (2018)

Supernatural Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

The House in the Cerulean SeaT.J. Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020)

Fantasy, LGBT

 

Aidan Wayne

Making Love (2017)

Supernatural Romance, LGBT, novella

 

Audio

Daniel O’Malley The Rook, Audio Edition (2012) narrated by Susan Duerden

Stiletto, Audio Edition (2016) narrated by Moira Quirk

Urban Fantasy

 

Mystery

Cut to the QuickJulian Kestrel Mysteries by Kate Ross

Cut to the Quick (1993), A Broken Vessel (1994), Whom the Gods Love (1995), The Devil in Music (1997)

Historical Mystery

 

Regency London series by Michelle Diener

The Emperor’s Conspiracy (2012), Banquet of Lies (2013), A Dangerous Madness (2014)

Historical Mystery, Romance

 

Cat Sebastian Hither, Page* (2019)

Historical Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

C.S. Poe Southernmost Murder* (2018)

Contemporary Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

Come Unto These Yellow SandsJosh Lanyon Come Unto These Yellow Sands* (2017)

Contemporary Mystery, LGBT

 

Nicole Kimberling

The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 1* (2015), The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2* (2015)

Contemporary Mystery, Romance, LGBT

 

Grasmere Cottage Mysteries (2018) by Dahlia Donovan

Dead in the Garden, Dead in the Pond, Dead in the Shop

Contemporary Mystery, Cozy, LGBT

 

Robert B. Parker Small Vices (1998) (Spenser)

Mystery, PI

Romance

Shores of DesireLescaut Quartet* by Tracy Grant

Dark Angel (1994), Shores of Desire (1997)

Historical Romance, MF, Mystery

 

The Turner series* by Cat Sebastian

The Lawrence Browne Affair (2017), The Ruin of a Rake (2017);
It Takes Two to Tumble* (2017) (Seducing the Sedgwicks)

Historical Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Sins of the Cities series* by KJ Charles

An Unseen Attraction (2017), An Unnatural Vice (2017);
Band Sinister* (2018)

Historical Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Georgette Heyer These Old Shades (1926)

Historical Romance

 

Better Than PeopleGarnet Run series* by Roan Parrish

Better Than People (2020), Best Laid Plans (2021); Riven*: Riven (2018), Rend  (2018); The Remaking of Corbin Wale* (2017)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Frozen Hearts series* by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Sun (2019), Arctic Wild (2019), Arctic Heat (2019)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Talia Hibbert *

Ravenswood: A Girl Like Her (2018), Damaged Goods (2018), Untouchable (2018), That Kind of Guy (2019);
Undone by the Ex-Con (2018), Work for It (2019)

Contemporary Romance, LGBT

 

C.S. Poe

Kneading You* (2016), Joy (2017), The Color of You* (2017)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT, novellas

 

Galaxies and OceansN.R. Walker

Galaxies and Oceans* (2018), Upside Down (2019)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

 

R. Cooper

Hottie Scotty and Mr. Porter* (2017), For Better or Worse* (2017), Jericho Candelario’s Gay Debut (2018)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Layla Reyne

Dine with Me* (2019)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

 

Aidan Wayne

Loud and Clear (2016), Play It Again (2019)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT

Blank Spaces
Cass Lennox

Blank Spaces* (2016)

Contemporary Romance, MM, Mystery, LGBT

 

Alexis Hall

Waiting for the Flood (2018) (Spires)

Contemporary Romance, MM,  LGBT, novella

 

Ada Maria Soto

And Everything Nice (2016)

Contemporary Romance, MM, LGBT, short story

 

* Boinking Books

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Books of 2021: Everything Else

Science Fiction

All Systems RedThe Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (2017) 9/10, Artificial Condition (2018) 8.5/10, Rogue Protocol (2018) 8.5/10, Exit Strategy (2018) 8.5/10, Network Effect (2020) 9/10, Fugitive Telemetry (2021) 9/10

Late to the game, I know. But in my defense, I tend to dislike science fiction, with just a handful of exceptions.

This is one of those exceptions.

I mean, this is the opening paragraph of the first novella.

I COULD HAVE BECOME a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

And it just gets better from there. I still have the latest book to read, but that’s I’ve been taking my time and savoring the stories.

 

Audio

Tales from the FollyTales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection (2020) Ben Aaronovitch narrated by: the author, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Ben Elliot, Felix Grainger, Sam Peter Jackson, Alex Kingston, Shvorne Marks, and Penelope Rawlins 8.5/10

Fantasy, Anthology

Despite there being other narrators besides Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, this was a great collection. Because of course we do get some Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, but we also get other narrators for other characters (such as Abigail).

I’ve always found Toby a pretty reliable magic detector. I’ve actually done controlled laboratory experiments that indicate that he can detect magical activity up to ten metres away, although false positives can be generated by cats, other dogs and the remote possibility of a sausage.

But most of all, Peter.

 

Murderbot Audio Editions: All Systems Red, (2017), Artificial Condition, Audio Edition (2018), Rogue Protocol, Audio Edition (2018), Martha Wells narrated by Kevin R. Free

Although the voice doesn’t quite match what I heard in my head, it is still very good.

When constructs were first developed, they were originally supposed to have a pre-sentient level of intelligence, like the dumber variety of bot. But you can’t put something as dumb as a hauler bot in charge of security for anything without spending even more money for expensive company-employed human supervisors. So they made us smarter. The anxiety and depression were side effects.

Because: Murderbot

 

Comics

Lady Mechanika Vol 6

Lady Mechanika: Sangre (2020) by Joe Benitez, M.M. Chen, Brian Ching, Martin Montiel 8/10

Steampunk

I love the story, but I also utterly adore the art.

Lady Mechanika Vol 6


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Monday, December 27, 2021

The Books of 2021: Mysteries

I read a lot of mysteries this year. Even more surprising, I read a lot of newly released mysteries.

 

Madison Square MurdersMadison Square Murders (2021) C.S. Poe (Memento Mori) 8.5/10

Police, LGBT

This is a new series in the same setting as the Snow & Winter series, with minor overlapping characters. Everett Larkin works on the NYC Cold Case Squad. He is an excellent detective, but an accident when he was a teenager changed his brain so that the past remains emotionally present for him. Forever.

If you know your romance tropes, this one is definintely grumpy/sunshine.

“Perhaps I’ve caught you at a bad time,” Joe suggested.

“You haven’t, I assure you.

One thing I struggled with was that the marriage of the main character was falling apart throughout the book. Which is rough going. Also, lots of triggers here for all kinds of dark things.

Yet, I did like it and can’t wait for the next one.


An Elderly Lady Is Up to No GoodAn Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (2018) Helene Tursten translated by Marlaine Delargy 8.5/10

Contemporary

This book! Elderly woman kills people who annoy her!

(S)he had learned that it was smart not to reveal that all her senses were in full working order; instead, she allowed people to act in accordance with their own preconceptions.

Seriously. It’s about an old woman killing people who annoy her. You either want to read it based upon that, or there is no way you’ll ever read it.


Murder Most ActualMurder Most Actual (2021) Alexis Hall  8/10

Cozy, LGBT

Alexis Hall + Clue + Everyone is snowed in.

“Belloc’s an ass,” declared the colonel.

The door burst open.

“Oh, is he?” demanded Belloc, who Liza would have bet money had been waiting outside for the perfect moment to make a big entrance. “But I wonder, would the great Colonel Coleman have the courage to say this to Belloc’s face?”

The colonel stared at him. “You’re an ass.”

This is very much over-the-top, and very much delightful.


Mango Mambo and MurderMango, Mambo, and Murder (2021) Raquel V. Reyes (A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery) 8/10

Cozy, Food

Miriam Quiñones-Smith has finished her PhD in food anthropology, but instead of becoming an author or education, she has moved back to Miami, where her husband was able to find a better paying job closer to support from his family.

“I’m a food anthropologist.”

“You dig up old food?” Ileana asked.

“No, I … I …” I’d never had it put that way before.

Although this is a murder mystery, it is also about Miriam finding her place in the world, both as a mother and daughter, and a woman whose life plans were upended and she has to decide who she wants to become.

Also, I now really wish there was a Cuban restaurant anywhere near me.


Arsenic and AdoboArsenic and Adobo (2021) Mia P. Manansala (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen) 8/10

Cozy, Food

Lila Macapagal has returned home both to reset her life after discovering her ex-fianace cheated, and also to help try to save the family restaurant.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been stared down by an elderly Asian woman, but It. Is. Terrifying. Don’t be fooled by the cute florals and jaunty visors— these women will end you, wielding nothing but their sharp tongues, bony elbows, and collapsible shopping carts.

Then (because this is a cozy) murder happens. Lots and lots of food described in loving detail here.


Poisoned PrimroseMotts Cold Case Mystery by Dahlia Donovan

Poisoned Primrose (2020) 8/10, Pierced Peony (2021) 8/10, Pickled Petunia (2021) 7.5/10

Cozy, LGBT

Despite her mother’s unhappiness about it, Motts moved to the cottage she inherited from her aunt and is making a go of living on her own for the first time. Being autistic and ace is complicated, but she has family and friends who love and look out for her.

“Hello. Please go away.”

“I brought a sack of chips and a chocolate bar.”

“Well, fine. Come in.”

Motts definitely does not search out crimes to investigate, and doesn’t particularly want to get involved, but when the situations are somewhat forced upon her, she becomes fascinated by the puzzles.


Model Citizen
Haven Investigations by Lissa Kasey

Model Citizen (2015) 8/10, Model Bodyguard (2016) 8.5/10, Model Investigator (2017) 9/10, Model Exposure (2017) 9/10

PI, LGBT, Romance, Boinking

There are books you love the entire time you’re reading them, and you finish that last page with happy sigh.

Then there are the books that you keep thinking about, weeks and months after you finished them. This series is in the latter category.

There is a lot of sex in this series. So it is definitely not for everyone. But it had plot twists that kept me guessing, and the characters just stuck with me, both the things they went through and survived, but also the way they learned to lean on each other and their found family for support.

This four-book PI series was full of twists and turns and unexpected routes.

It has tons of trigger warnings, but what I loved best was that the mental health aspects (which were many) were dealt with so well.

“You know that little questionnaire you get every time you go in? You’re supposed to answer that honestly, not mark what you think you should feel.”

I had thought it was just me. That it was my place to fix what was wrong with me. That I’d been given help and it was my fault it wasn’t working because I wasn’t trying hard enough.

After his brother’s death by suicide, Oliver took over the PI firm, putting his (very successful) modeling career on hold. But he is barely keeping his head above water, so one of his brother’s friends calls in another to help Oliver out.

This series has a LOT of sex, so it won’t be for a lot of people, but I really liked both the characters and the mystery.


A Ladys Guide to Etiquette and MurderA Countess of Harleigh Mystery by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (2019) 8.5/10, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (2020) 8/10, A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder (2021) 8/10

Historical, Cozy

Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh has finally ended her mourning. However, since she was the spouse with the money, her in-laws don’t want her to leave, since she is all that is keeping the estates afloat.

“And how clever of you to have your own money.”

I chuckled. “The credit goes to my father. He set up this account although the Wynn family resented it at the time. They were rather offended at the idea of a wife having independent means— not the English way, you know.”

But when it begins to look like her husband’s death was not accidental, she is drawn into a mystery.

There is a delightful amount banter.

“I confess I had no idea what you were trying to tell me. Fortunately, your sister did.”

“I shall have to brush up on my skills,” he said with a sigh. “Or we could devise signals.”

I widened my eyes. “Or we could just speak to each other?”

“Well, if you insist on taking the easy route.”

And one of the things I especially like is that she doesn’t stumble blindly into situations but instead tries her best to keep out of danger.


Murder Most FairMurder Most Fair (2021) Anna Lee Huber (Verity Kent) 8.5/10

Historical

This is the best book in this series in a while. A lot of the things that were bugging me are starting to slowly get resolved.

“(W)ell, I thought I was managing it. Until clearly I wasn’t.”

Don’t start here is you have not read the series, but if you start to wonder if you should keep going once you’re in the series, the answer is yes.


Death at the Crystal PalaceDeath at the Crystal Palace (2021) Jennifer Ashley (A Below Stairs Mystery Book) 8/10

Historical, Cozy

Kat is a cook who has befriended the lady of the house, and so is far more involved in the lives of her betters than is necessarily good for her. But it is out of wanting to help those in need, rather than an overwhelming curiosity.

I was the same person, and yet in this dress and hat with a young man to handle the tickets for me, I suddenly deserved the conductor’s politeness. It made one think.

I’m very much enjoying this series.


Subtle Blood
Subtle Blood (2021) KJ Charles (The Will Darling Adventures) 8/10

Historical, LGBT, Romance, Boinking

Third book (and perhaps last?) of the series.

Will Darling came back from the War and struggled until meeting an uncle he didn’t know he had. When the uncle dies, leaving his bookstore to Will, he is inadvertently drawn into intrigue, and meets Kim, who has wealth and a name, and initially never tells Will the truth about anything.

It’s also (as are all KJ Charles books) full of wonderful dialog.

“You can’t expect me to take your word for things when I could work myself into a frenzy about them instead.”

This is not the place to start, but there are only two prior books, so it’s easy to get caught up, and then you can enjoy the intrigue and adventure.


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Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Books of 2021: Fantasies

Several of these are also romances, because as said before, I needed happy endings and HEAs.

A Marvellous LightA Marvellous Light (2021) Freya Marske (The Last Binding) 9/10

Historical, Mystery, LGBT, Boinking

Robin accidentally ends up as the magical liaison to the prime minister when the previous liaison disappears.

This is a problem because (like most of the public) Robin was unaware that magic was real.

Robin had never tried to deliberately clear his mind. He had the absurd image of taking a broom to waves on a seashore, trying to sweep the water back out across the stones.

I am very fond of historical LGBT romances, since the setting gives the characters a reason not to discuss their feelings (what with it leading to pillory (or worse) if discovered) and this does that well, along with interesting world building, and a good mystery.

It’s not action/adventure and a bit slower in places, but that was just fine with me.


Paladin's GraceThe Saint of Steel series by T. KingfisherPaladin’s Grace (2020) 8.5/10, Paladin’s Strength (2021) 8.5/10, Paladin’s Hope (2021) 8/10

Fantasy, Romance, LGBT, Boinking

This series is about paladins to a dead god, who were taken in by the Temple of the White Rat–at least those who survived their god’s death were.

Paladins were never a class I had any interest in, however, she has created a group of delightful ones.

“Istvhan, you ever kill someone with an ice swan?” he whispered.

“I clubbed someone unconscious with a frozen goose once. That’s similar?”

The Bishop suffered a mysterious coughing fit.

“No, you had to use the goose as a bludgeon, didn’t you? For the swan, I figure you’d snap the head off and try to stab with the neck.”

“Hmmm…” Istvhan eyed the ice sculpture speculatively. “It’s pretty big. And not well balanced.”

“I figure you’d have to go two-handed with it.”

“I think I’d grab one of the candelabras instead. Some of those are nice and heavy.”

“Far too unwieldy. I could take you apart with the ice swan while you were still trying to get the candelabra off the ground.”

This series is fun–although I felt like the third book was the weakest in the series. But despite that, start with Paladin’s Grace and read forward, because even her weakest book in the series was quite good.


WonderstruckWonderstruck (2021) Allie Therin (Magic in Manhattan) 8/10

Historical, LGBT, Boinking

Third book in the series closes the story arc. Rory is struggling now the antique shop is gone, and they still haven’t found the man murdering for magic.

One of the things I particularly like about Rory and Arthur is that neither wants to take advantage of the other, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings, but they are the normal kinds of misunderstandings.

“We don’t owe our hearts to people who hurt us, even if they’re our blood.”

This is one of the many books I loved this year that was set in the Interwar period, when so much of the world was changing.


The Noblemans Guide to Scandal and ShipwrecksThe Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (2021) Mackenzi Lee (Montague Siblings) 8/10

Historical, YA

The third (and seemingly final) book in the series, it can stand on its own, but is more poignant seeing Monty and Felicity twenty years later.

It’s also about grief and guilt and mental illness and love.

“God, is this going to take years?”

“It’s going to take your whole life,” Felicity says. “But it doesn’t have to be the defining element of it.

Although you can read this as a stand-alone, the previous two books are very good, and well worth reading, and I highly recommend them. Just be aware that if you start with the first book, Monty is complicated, and it took quite a while for me to warm up to him.


What Abigail Did That SummerWhat Abigail Did That Summer (2021) Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London) 8.5/10

Supernatural Mystery, YA

This book is set at the time as Foxglove Summer. Abigail speaks to foxes and wants more than anything to learn magic.

This could be read as a stand-alone I believe, because Abigail is only peripheral to the River of London novels, although she does have her own place in the comics and short stories.

The fox is sitting in my lap and still nuzzling my chin, which is beginning to vex me so I tell it to stop.

“Don’t you like that?” says the fox. The voice is slightly wheezy and pitched high. I suspect this is a vixen. “In training they said it promoted co-operation in humans.”

If you’ve not read any of the books in the Rivers of London series, this might be a good place to dip a toe in and see if you like it. That said, my favorite way to enjoy this series is listening to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith be Peter Grant.


Out of House and HomeOut of House and Home (2021) Drew Hayes (Fred the Vampire Accountant) 8/10

Supernatural

The seventh Fred book find Fred & Crystal married and back home. Except that the invading vampire clan wants Fred gone, and is willing to burn down Charlotte to do it.

This series remains delightful. I mean…

With a quick recovery, Amy turned hard on the steering bars of her goat, setting a good angle on the goal and whipping her crosse forward.

You shouldn’t start here, but all the books are available and on Hoopla if not at your library.


Cry Wolf
Cry Wolf (2021) Charlie Adhara (Big Bad Wolf) 8/10

Supernatural, LGBT, Boinking

The fifth book in the Big Bad Wolf series. Part of the story is wedding planning, part of the story is Eli wanting Cooper to solve a mystery for him.

Also, this book has one of the best disclaimers I’ve read in ages.

Any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental. Though if you do know of a criminal plot involving werewolves that has taken place at any of these locales, that is a coincidence I would love to know about.

Don’t start here. Start at the first book, A Wolf at the Door (which is available on Hoopla) because the character arcs are really wonderful.


White Trash WarlockWhite Trash Warlock (2020) David R. Slayton (Adam Binder) 8/10

Supernatural, LGBT

I love the world building here, as it’s not like anything else I’ve read before (though there are bits and pieces that remind me of other magic systems). I also love that the story doesn’t shy away from showing real poverty–the kind with beat up trailers and broken windows covered with cardboard and tape and the cheapest foods at the store.

The parking meters had mouths where their coin slots should be. They undulated like hungry snakes, begging for coins. “How many of you can do that?” he asked. He fed the meter a few quarters. Contented, it tried to lick his face before closing its eyes and drifting to sleep like a cat in the sun.

The second book came out this year, however, I am very angry at it, because it ended on a big cliffhanger. Yet, I’m still planning on buying the third book as soon as it comes out.


Recipe for a CurseRecipe for a Curse (2021) Lissa Kasey (Romancing a Curse) 8/10

Supernatural, LGBT, Boinking

I actually got this free, and was expecting a mediocre short story. Instead a got a novella with marvelous world-building and complex characters.

Also, one of the main characters is a chef, so lots of food and cooking.

People didn’t like to think their quiet towns or pockets of wealth housed those with food insecurity, but I’d found that it was a reality everywhere. Even in upstate New York, buried in a small tourist area with large plots of land.

This is a pandemic story, which not everyone might be ready for, but I thought it was very well done.


Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
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Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Books of 2021: Romances

I read a lot of romance this year, because I desperately needed the HEA to help me escape reality. Although I did nothing but reread for seemingly four months, I did squeeze in some new and new-to-me books.

 

The Charm Offensive

The Charm Offensive (2021) Alison Cochrun  9/10

Contemporary, LGBT, Closed Door

I initially didn’t want to read this. I mean: reality TV dating show? Ew.

But It kept popping up as something I’d like, and so I decided to borrow it from the library. Then I all but devoured it in one sitting when it came in. Now I own it and have been holding off rereading, because it’s only been, like a month.

Charlie is a disaster. A famous disaster. After getting fired from the company he founded, he is in desperate need of an image rehabilitation.

Dev wants to call bullshit. A reputation of being difficult isn’t enough to blacklist you from any industry when you’re as white and male and traditionally handsome as Charlie, not to mention a certifiable genius.

And for some reason his PA and best friend thinks a reality dating show will do the trick.

“I have only drunkenly proposed to you twice, and I assumed you rejected my offers of a marriage of convenience because you intend to fall madly in love with a former Miss Alabama.”

“That… will not happen.”

“Because there is no former Miss Alabama on this season? Seems unlikely.”

This book ends up dealing with so many important subjects, from asexuality to mental health to casual homophobia and just how awful the TV industry can be.

It’s sweet, it’s affirming, and it was one of my favorite books of the year.

 

Best Laid PlansGarnet Run series by Roan Parrish : Best Laid Plans (2021) 8/10, The Lights on Knockbridge Lane (2021) 8/10

Contemporary, LGBT, Boinking

When I read Better than People last year, it was just what I needed. So I had high hopes for the rest of the series.

Best Laid Plans is Jack’s brother)’s romance. Charlie gave up his dreams to raise Jack after their parents died, and he ended up making a small success of the family business and generally being nearly everyone’s favorite person.

Rye is a mess, and when he inherits a house from a grandfather he never knew, he packs everything up and moves to Garnet Run. This does not seem to be a good decision.

“You need any help with…” Charlie gestured at the hardware equivalent to marshmallows, cheese, and spaghetti before him.

Like all Roan Parrish books, this is a good deal of focus on mental health, with it being treated as something that is simply a part of being alive. Although it can be read as a stand alone, the glimpses of Charlie you got in Jack’s book make the story all more poignant. It’s really just lovely.

The third book, The Lights on Knockbridge Lane is good, but wasn’t quite as good as the two stories that went before for. Neither character appeared in the earlier books–although characters from previous books did appear in this story.

This story also had a slightly different feel from the previous books in the series. Although Wes did have his own issues, most of the focus of the story was on Adam and Gus (his daughter) and how Gus wheedles her way into Wes’ house to see his exciting pets.

The kid parts were well done, which is always a plus, and Adam was written like a real parent, rather than someone with an adorable plot moppet.

It was a good story, I just didn’t love it as much as the previous two books.

 

Rosaline Palmer Takes the CakeRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (2021) Alexis Hall (Winner Bakes All) 8/10

Contemporary, LGBT, Mostly Closed Door

Another story with a single parent, Rosaline has been (mostly) making ends meet but she wants more, and hopes that winning THE big baking show will give her the push she needs to escape her current job and be more.

“I don’t want to be famous. I just want… enough money to pay for some things and enough people to think I’m good at baking that I might be able to get a slightly better job.”

“Truly. Yours is a hubris of Homeric proportions.”

As one expects with Alexis Hall, so tropes are subverted and things don’t go at all as you’d think they would.

Also, as one expects with Alexis Hall, there are complicated friendships and parental relationships, and things aren’t perfect, but that’s kinda lovely because life isn’t perfect.

Additionally, he was spot-on writing Amelie. I actually love kids in stories, except that so many people just get them wrong, with the kid sounding both too old and too young for their stated age. This story felt like he’d actually spent time around 8-year olds.

 

Sweetest in the GaleSweetest in the Gale (2020) Olivia Dade (There’s Something About Marysburg) 8/10

Contemporary, Boinking

This is three novellas, all set in the town of Marysburg: “Sweetest in the Gale”, “Unraveled”, “Cover Me”

Although these are romances, they are also about the struggles of life, including grief, and dealing with a health crisis while not having insurance.

Which is a lot, but it’s well done and lovely.

Why couldn’t he seem to feel the same about his own fracture, his own pain? Why couldn’t he greet his own healing with uncomplicated relief?

So although two of the stories covered deep and painful subjects, it was done with care and concern, and ended up being soothing.

 

Grumpy Bear (2021) Slade James (Bear Camp) 8/10

Contemporary, LGBT, Boinking

This story ended up being a surprise.

I was pretty sure that I had no interest in reading a story set in a men’s gay nudist camp that seems to be a good deal about casual sex, but yet–it was actually sweet, and one of the characters read as demi-sexual. So there is a lot of the two getting to know each other–including a discussions about science fiction.

He was just… hugging me like he’d been missing me for ages. And I thought it, I sent it out to him with my mind and my body, without saying a word, I’ve missed you too.

It was much sweeter than I was expecting it to be, and quite enjoyable. (Even with the boinking)

 

The Queer Principles of Kit WebbThe Queer Principles of Kit Webb (2021) Cat Sebastian  8/10

Historical, LGBT, Boinking

I tend to be hit and miss with Cat Sebastian stories–I love some and others don’t work for me at all.

This is one of the stories that worked.

After retiring from being a highway man and instead running a coffee shop, Kit is not pleased when a young nobleman wants him to help in a heist.

Of the young lord’s father.

One of the things I liked about this story were the little details that Percy noticed about Kit.

This time part of the web caught in Kit’s hair— which, given the state of Kit’s hair, was hardly surprising— and Kit carefully disentangled it. Then he murmured something that looked awfully like “beg pardon” to the spider.

There was a mystery as to what Percy’s father had been doing, and there was a lot of strategy and planning for the heist, which I enjoyed. Because who doesn’t love a good heist story?

 

The Gentle Art of Fortune HuntingThe Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting (2021) K.J. Charles 8/10

Historical, LGBT, Boinking

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne have come to London to seek their fortunes through marriage. But the young woman Robin has set his eye on has a protective uncle who seems to see through Robin and doesn’t trust him in the slightest.

“Wins fifty or sixty pounds a night.”

“That’s not huge.” It was vast amounts by normal standards, of course, entire sections of the annual accounts to John Hartlebury the prudent brewer, but mere tokens to a gaming baronet.

“It’s not breaking the bank, no. It’s the kind of money you can win at a gaming hell without attracting too much attention. The question is how many gaming hells he’s winning sixty pounds a night at, and how often.”

I don’t like enemies-to-lovers, so that made the story much harder for me to get into, but I did adore how much Robin and Marianne obviously cared for each other–and would do absolutely anything for each other, including give up their own happiness.

Not that there was anything wrong with Hart, but how Robin and Marianne would manage their own happiness as they tried to move beyond what they were was my favorite part of the story.

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Categories: Books & Reading,Yearly Round-Up  

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Books of 2021: Mystery Covers

Apparently most of the new books I read this year were mysteries. Plus, I discovered some new-to-me mystery series that I devoured.

 

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (2019), A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (2020), A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder (2021) Dianne Freeman (Countess of Harleigh)

A Ladys Guide to Gossip and MurderA Ladys Guide to Mischief and MurderA Fiancees Guide to First Wives and Murder

Published by Kensington Books. Cover artist Sarah Gibb

Historical, Cozy Mystery

I love the covers of these books, from the quirky cartoon-like characters to the title font.

Yeah, I know the title font is all curly and hard to read, but I love it anyway.


Fortune Favors the DeadFortune Favors the Dead (2020) Stephen Spotswood (Pentecost and Parker)

Published by Vintage Crime. Cover illustration by Rui Ricardo / Folio Art, Cover design by Michael J. Windsor

Historical Mystery, LGBT

This cover really evokes the feel of the book, from the WWII look to the strong noir atmosphere with the woman in heels and a red dress.

An Unexpected PerilAn Unexpected Peril (2021) Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell)

Published by Berkley. Cover art and design by Leo Nickolls

Historical Mystery

All of the covers in this series are gorgeous, and I really love the silhouettes as well as the mountains in the background that reflect part of the mystery.

Death at the Crystal PalaceDeath at the Crystal Palace (2021) Jennifer Ashley (Below Stairs)

Published by Berkley.  Cover art Ernesto Rogata and NorthScape

Historical Mystery

Although this is a lovely cover, I actually prefer the look of the earlier books, which had a woman on the stairs, a hand on the railing as she goes.

This cover has the stairs, but there was something about the view being mostly of a hand and arm that I particularly liked.

Still, this is a perfectly fine cover.

A Wicked ConceitA Wicked Conceit (2021) Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby)

Published by Berkley. Cover art by Larry Rostant. Cover design by Emily Osborne

Historical Mystery

These covers are always gorgeous–the woman moving away from you in a gorgeous gown into an almost monochrome setting.

Murder Most FairMurder Most Fair (2021) Anna Lee Huber (Verity Kent)

Published by Kensington Books.

Historical Mystery

The feel of these covers is quite different from the Berkley covers for Lady Darby.

These covers show how things have changed in the years between 1830 and 1920. In both, the women’s clothes help set the time period, but also how much things had changed in the intervening years.

Dead Dead GirlsDead Dead Girls (2021) Nekesa Afia

Published by Berkley. Cover art by Emma Leonard. Cover design by Emily Osborne

Historical Mystery, LGBT

Another cover that evokes the time in which it is set–in this case the roaring twenties.

This book is set less than a decade after the Verity Kent books, but it’s clear just how much times have changed, in both women’s dress and how she is clearly relaxed and comfortable in a speakeasy. Yes, there were class differences, but many things shifted amazingly rapidly after the Great War.

Interlude Snow & Winter Collection Volume OneInterlude: Snow & Winter Collection Volume One (2021) (Snow & Winter)

Published by Emporium Press. Cover Art by Reese Dante

Contemporary Mystery, LGBT

This is an entry into her Snow & Winter series (a collection of outtakes and short stories) and it perfectly matches the look and feel of the other books in the series, the monochrome washed-out view of how Sebastian most likely sees the world.

Madison Square MurdersMadison Square Murders (2021) C.S. Poe (Memento Mori)

Published by Emporium Press. Cover Art by Reese Dante

Contemporary Mystery, LGBT

This is a new series set in the same world as the Snow & Winter series. Unlike the Sebastian books, we get color, however, I love how things are fractal and fractured, which gives me a feel for how the main characters brain processes and remembers things.


The Whispered Word (2018), The Book of Candlelight (2000), Ink and Shadows (2021) Ellery Adams (Secret, Book, & Scone Society)

Whispered Word   The Book of Candlelight   ink and shadows

Published by Kensington.

Contemporary, Cozy

These are a little busier than I tend to prefer but the more limited color palette helps, and the title formatting makes it clear these are part of a series.


Arsenic and AdoboArsenic and Adobo (2021) Mia P. Manansala (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen)

Published by  Berkley. Cover art and design by Vi-An Nguyen

Contemporary Mystery

I know lots of people hate the cartoon / line block drawing type covers, but I really like them.

This cover has lovely bold primary colors, I like the action of her cooking (even if I don’t understand where her other arm is, or how her dachshund got up on her shoulder).


Poisoned Primrose (2020), Pierced Peony (2021), Pickled Petunia (2021) Dahlia Donovan (Motts Cold Case Mystery)

Poisoned Primrose   Pierced Peony   Pickled Petunia

Tangled Tree Publishing. Cover Designer: BookSmith Design

Contemporary, Cozy, LGBT

Another series with a consistent design across the series and bold colors.

Plus the cat.


An Elderly Lady Is Up to No GoodAn Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (2018) Helene Tursten translated by Marlaine Delargy

Published by Soho Crime.

Contemporary Mystery

I love everything about this cover.

It’s perfect.


Murder Most Actual
Murder Most Actual (2021) Alexis Hall

Published by Rakuten Kobo Inc. Original illustration & cover design by Monika Roe.

Contemporary, Cozy, LGBT

This is fun and queer and aside from her not wearing enough clothes in the cold and snow, pretty great.

I love the background bits of the guy falling down and the women in the window. They give you a hint as to how perfectly over-the-top this is going to be.


As in previous years, Berkley has the most great covers over-all, but Kensington was far closer than expected.

Berkley – 7
Kensington – 5
Tangled Tree Publishing – 3
Emporium Press – 2
Vintage Crime – 1
Soho Crime-1
Rakuten Kobo – 1

Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
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