This was a year of mostly "adventure" reading for me--trying new authors, new genres, and stepping out of my comfort zone. Most of the time I enjoyed what I read, and a few times I was blown away.
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. I'm only halfway through this book at this point, but I already know that it'll go down as my favorite book of the year. A 500+ page book about Thomas Cromwell, the commoner who eventually became the right hand of Henry VIII, wouldn't be a page-turner in most hands, but Hilary Mantel is no ordinary writer. Within a few pages, I understood why she won the Man Booker prize in 2009 for this book. As soon as I finish this one, I'll be picking up Bring Up the Bodies, her second book about Cromwell, which just came out this year. Mantel is a phenomenal author at the top of her game. (Though I'm glad I'd watched "The Tudors" a few years ago; this helped me keep all the players in Wolf Hall straight!)
Fake Kate, David Wailing. I LOVED this book. It was amazing from the very start, and the author has true talent. The story sucks you in and doesn't let go (I was late to an appointment because I just couldn't put it down). I laughed many times while reading because the descriptions and characterizations were so utterly on the mark. Wailing is especially good at writing female characters; I never felt any false notes in how he portrayed the main character, Belinda.
Fake Kate is loaded with twists and turns, so many that I was surprised over and over while reading--just when I thought I knew where the story was going, bang--nope, we're headed somewhere else. Somewhere even better! I also loved Wailing's Bang: Memoirs of a Relationship Assassin.
Note: You can get Fake Kate for FREE on Amazon Dec 23-27th!Deadly Addiction, Kristine Cayne. I loved Kristine Cayne's first book, Deadly Obsession, but this one is even better. She's managed to blend a great suspense story full of twists and turns with a very hot romance. I highly recommend it, especially if you love romantic suspense. (Full disclosure: Kristine is my critique partner, but I'm certainly not the only one who thinks she's awesome--RT Book Reviews gave her first book, Deadly Obsession, 4 1/2 stars, Top Pick! status.)
Lover Reborn, J.R. Ward. The latest in Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" series. If you've never heard of it, all you need to know is it's about bad-ass, kick-ass vampires, and if you love paranormal romance, you need to read these books NOW! This is now my third favorite BDB book (#1 being Z's book and #2 being Hollywood's). I had no idea how J.R. Ward was ever going to make things good for Tohr again, but she did. Lover Reborn is a realistic portrayal of grief and rebuilding that made me cry several times. The subplots blended in seamlessly and kept the book moving. One of the best books in the series. I can't wait for the next!
Juliet, Anne Fortier. A beautiful retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" as well as an examination of the real-life events in medieval Siena, Italy, that inspired Shakespeare's play. The author alternates the story between modern-day Siena and the story of Julie Jacobs and her relationship with Alessandro Santini, and the medieval story of Giulietta Tolomei and Romeo Marescotti, who were victims of the feud between the Tolomei and Salimbeni families--a rivalry that echoes into the present day. Both storylines are fascinating and rife with secrets, passion, and betrayals.
The Italian setting (both modern day and medieval) is rendered with exquisite detail and left me longing to explore Siena someday. If you love Italy and love great love stories, pick this one up!
The Good Daughter, Diana Layne. An exciting Mafia story (any guesses why I was drawn to it? ;) ), with a little romance woven in. Diana Layne has a gift for dialogue and drawing characters with a few words; I could picture her characters quite clearly and "hear" them perfectly. She also writes vivid, punchy, action scenes. The story has a number twists and turns, along with surprises, both good and bad. I very much liked the characters of Nia, Sandro, and Angelo (one of the mobsters). Their parts of the story were very absorbing, and Nia and Sandro's love story was touching. Again, I'm not the only who thinks this book is great: RT Book Reviews gave this one 4 1/2 stars, Top Pick! status. The Good Daughter is a prequel to Layne's "Vista Security" series, and I've already bought book 1, Trust No One, which I expect to be as good as this one.
Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte, Diane Kelly. I don't normally read humorous suspense stories, but I thought I should branch out and try something new. I'm so glad I did. This book made me laugh out loud several times (no easy feat) and chuckle many more. It's a good thing I wasn't reading it in public or people would have thought I was a lunatic.
Breaking Point, Pamela Clare. This is the first Pamela Clare book I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. Very exciting romantic suspense about an undercover U.S. Marshal and a journalist who are kidnapped by drug dealers in Mexico. Gritty, twisty, and steamy--you won't be able to put it down. (Although this is not the first book in the "I-Team" series, they appear to be only loosely linked, and it wasn't a problem to read this one out of order.)
Blindsighted, Karin Slaughter. Karin Slaughter gives Thomas Harris a run for his money. While her villain in this book isn't as charismatic, the crimes are inventive and gruesome, and they'll stick with you a long time. I really liked the main characters, Sara, Jeffrey, and Lena. All of them were well-drawn and you come to care about them even when they do things that are less than likable. Slaughter's writing is a cut above most of what I've found in other serial killer books.
A word of caution: This book isn't for the faint of heart. It is very gritty, and Slaughter doesn't spare you the details.
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness. Exciting start to the series, and a great take on witch, vampire, and demon lore. I wish there'd been a bit more about the demons (or daemons, as they're called), but perhaps that will come in later books.
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. I enjoyed this one quite a bit; I'm sure it'll make a good movie. I even got choked up during one part, and I could hardly tear myself away from the book once it got going. (There's a little slowness in the first quarter while Cline is setting everything up, but it's worth your while to get oriented before the story takes off.) Your enjoyment of the book is probably proportional to how much you remember the 80's and whether you played a lot of arcade games back then. If you're a child of that era like me, you'll find yourself smiling a lot.
Anvil of the Craftsman, Dale Amidei. I don't normally read political thrillers, but I'd heard so many great things about this one, that I had to pick it up, and I'm so glad I did. Though the first quarter was a little slow at times, I was soon absorbed in an engrossing story about what it takes to win a war and rebuild a nation--in this case, Iraq. One of the things I really liked about this book is that you don't just get the point of view of the good guys; you get many perspectives, and by the end, I felt that I had a much better understanding of the Iraq conflict and the various peoples involved in it.
Extremely well-researched, with taut, thrilling action scenes (I was ready to high-five the characters at the end) and well-rounded characters.
Sempre, J.M. Darhower. J.M. Darhower's Sempre is a blend of genres--part young adult romance and part grown-up Mafia story; truly The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet. And somehow the author also manages to tackle the subject of human trafficking. The scenes of life in the Mafia are chilling, and the conclusion of the book was wrenching.
Walking the Edge, Zee Monodee. This book had me guessing over and over and over. I wasn't sure how it would end or what was going on until late in the story. I'm not going to say much about the plot or the characters because I don't want to give anything away. At the beginning, I thought I knew what the story was going to be, but I so didn't!
Rogue Rider, Larissa Ione. As usual, great chemistry between the hero and heroine (Reseph and Jillian). Despite everything Reseph did as Pestilence, you're rooting for him to overcome his demons (literally). Jillian was quite likable and strong without being bitchy. I had no idea how Ione would ever redeem Reseph, but she managed to do it. I'm sad to see the Lords of Deliverance series end, but I'm glad the Demonica series is continuing with Reaver's story, which sounds like it's going to be a doozy!
I don't normally run across any erotic romances that I'd put on a list of my favorite books of the year, but this year there were two:
A Measured Risk, Natasha Blackthorne. It's set in the Regency period, has a too-die-for alpha hero, a likable heroine, and an interesting storyline. I really enjoyed this book and ripped right through it. Blackthorne puts you smack into the characters' heads and bodies, so you feel what they feel, and the chemistry between the leads was electric. Definitely one of the best erotic romances I've read this year. Jonathan Lloyd, the Earl of Ruel, is my Christian Grey!
Broken, Megan Hart. One of the best erotic novels I've ever read. Megan Hart has serious writing chops. This isn't a "romance-y" book--the emotions are real and raw, and the situations are heartbreaking. The tension mounts and mounts, and I didn't know how the story was going to play out until it did. I won't say any more for fear of spoiling the book.
If you want to see more of my recommendations, feel free to friend me on Goodreads.
It's your turn: What books have you enjoyed most this year?