I had big plans for 2016. I was going to equal or better my number of books read in 2015, my goal for which was 500 books (which I surpassed). As it turns out, I just made it to 400 books read this year. I was going to get back to my first love – historical romances – and read a ton of them. That didn’t happen, as I’ll be lucky to get to fifteen of them by the end of the December. I joined a reviewer challenge in January, committing to reading at least one book in different romance genres than my norm, specifically Urban Fantasy, Young Adult and Steampunk. As of mid December I’ve yet to read any in those genres. What kept me from these goals? Well, I joined AAR as a reviewer, which is a decision with which I’m very happy but requires more time spent to write thoughtful and comprehensive reviews. And, in a nutshell, the offerings provided in the genres I love were just too numerous and too wonderful! Contemporary romance, erotic romance, paranormal and sci-fi/fantasy romance with both heterosexual and LGBTQ characters took up all my time, leaving me no room to explore anything different. Narrowing down my choices to ten (well, it’s really twelve, as I cheated with two of them which are duologies) was a challenge, but I’ve managed and feel very confident in my choices. I hope you’ve read some of them, or will consider putting them on your own to-read lists!
Giving It Up by Audra North
This erotic romance by Audra North is part of her Pushing the Boundaries series and is the story of two acquaintances who don’t particularly like each other but keep getting thrust into each other’s company due to mutual friends. When Beatrice overhears Warren calling a Dominatrix, she volunteers her services instead. The catch is that she’s just as new to the world of kink as he is. Learning the ropes together (so to speak) results in them also becoming intimate on an emotional level. It’s a refreshing change to read a BDSM romance not set in a sex club and with two characters who are just discovering their own sexual boundaries.
To Have and To Hold by Serena Bell
The Returning Home series is centered on war veterans and the challenges they face once their missions are over. Some have physical injuries, some have mental ones, and this story features a man with both. Hunter comes back from the war with a traumatic brain injury that’s resulted in a permanent amnesia of events that happened in the short term. He remembers that his first wife died, and he remembers his daughter. What he doesn’t remember is that he’d been in the middle of falling in love when he left. But Trina, who expects the man she loves to be returning to her finds instead one who looks at her like she’s a stranger in his own home. It’s a poignant and emotional tale about love lost and love found again.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
I expect I’ll see this book show up on many ‘best of’ lists this year, as this debut novel by Sally Thorne came into my reviewing sights as a result of so many people raving about it and when you read it you’ll see why. It’s an absolutely delightful workplace romance, with stellar banter and an enemies to lovers trope where the sizzling sexual tension (my favorite!) pulls the couple into a romance they can’t resist.
Until I’m Yours by Kennedy Ryan
Asked to narrow down my choices to one book to rule them all, it didn’t take long for me to decide on this story by Kennedy Ryan, which gets my number pick one pick for the year. She tackles sensitive subjects (in this case a past sexual assault) with care and caution, yet is able to deliver a wholeheartedly enjoyable story. This particular tale is about a model, Sofie, who is tasked with encouraging a philanthropic entrepreneur, Trevor, to invest in her father’s company. What she finds is a man unparalleled in her experience, who believes her when others fail and supports her in her time of need, never doubting her word. Trevor has a permanent place on my book boyfriend shelf.
Beard Science by Penny Reid
The quirky and wonderful indie author Penelope Reid never fails to delight in offering up fresh and inventive stories and characters. The Winston Brothers series is a spin-off of the Knitting in the City series, and is set in rural Tennessee, featuring six bearded brothers and their romantic entanglements. Beard Science is about Cletus, a man who believes he knows everything that’s going on around him until he’s blackmailed by the Banana Cake Queen Jennifer to help find her a husband. It’s my favorite of the series and will give you many laugh out loud moments.
Lilah Pace made a grand entry into the romance world in 2015 with her controversial rape fantasy story Asking for It. Here she switches things up with her first male/male romance and tackles an interesting and provocative storyline involving a gay member of the British royalty who is next in line to the throne and the relationship he has with a nomadic journalist. The story is sexy and emotional and feels grounded in reality with its exploration of the monarchy behind the scenes and the consequences worldwide to Britain having an acknowledged homosexual king. While His Royal Secret does end on a happy for now note, the sequel is equally good and both together make for an excellent and timely story.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Amy Jo Cousins
Amy Jo Cousins was on my ‘best of’ list in 2015 for the first story in her Bend or Break series, Off Campus and its sequel Real World. Between a Rock and a Hard Place is actually composed of two stories, Love Me Like a Rock and Hard Candy. While able to be read independently of each other, they really belong together because they take two men, Austin and Vincent who are longtime friends with benefits and split them into finding the men with whom they really belong. It’s an interesting idea because the normal way to approach this would be to have them realize that they love each other and end up together. Instead, she takes the realistic conclusion that if they are already able to sleep together without committing to a romantic relationship then there must be something missing, something they will find with someone else. Two novellas, two happy endings, four people in love. Brilliant.
Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti
I’ve never been interested in ‘zombie’ romances, and I don’t watch The Walking Dead. But I’ve read Rebecca Zanetti before, and really enjoyed her paranormal and contemporary romances, so I thought if anyone could attract me to the genre, it would be her. The result is a story I devoured in hours. I was enthralled with the worldbuilding and the characters and the whole idea of a bacterium being responsible for the human race devolving to its basic instincts of survival. The romance is super sexy (this one straddles the erotic/contemporary line), perhaps because of the intensity of the situation the characters find themselves in. There is no time for second guessing, you’re either all in or you’re out. It’s exciting, fast paced and well worth the read.
Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
I may be making up a new genre here, with the term ‘modern historical’ (I tried googling it, to no avail) but when the book is set in the 1960s, using the term ‘historical’ tends to conjure up something at least pre-WWII so I’m going with it. Earth Bound is the second full novel (but third story) in the Fly Me to the Moon series. (Sorry for the Frank Sinatra earworm – you can blame the authors). It’s about the race to space as you might guess, and once again, it’s the second year in a row for this author duo and this series to end up on my ‘best of’ list. It’s about the engineers who don’t have the glamorous Life Magazine articles the astronauts of the American space program do. They are the ones spending long hours calculating trajectories and orbits and anything else required to get an American into space before a Russian. Earth Bound is about a supremely intelligent female engineer and her male counterpart who are having a secret affair, balancing the stress of their responsibilities with their growing emotional entanglement. Fantastically researched with smart writing and setting details that make this a wholly unique series. I just hope you aren’t like me and after reading any of the books in this series, dream that you’re strapped into a rocket and launched into space, only to wake up before reaching your destination. #TrueStory
Inversion Point by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen
And still on the topic of space, this one is the opposite end of the spectrum with a story completely of the authors imaginations but one with spectacular worldbuilding and empathetic characters. Felix and Zander were soldiers in a brutal war with the alien Stin species and have not escaped unscathed. Now, with Zander as an intergalactic diplomat they discover that they must have a truce with their mortal enemies to investigate a heretofore unknown species that could be friend or foe. Inversion Point is the fourth story in the Chaos Station series, and again, it’s a credit to this author duo that they are appearing on my ‘best of’ list two years in a row with the self titled Chaos Station getting the nod in 2015. To keep a series fresh and exciting and interesting, especially with the same two main characters appearing in each book is a feat in itself but they’ve done it and marvellously well. It’s best to start at the beginning with this series, but each book does have a happy for now ending with no cliffhangers, and the story is complete in five volumes.