I enjoyed reading in 2017. I read widely and much of what I read was good. So that’s a win.
Of the couple hundred books I read last year, these are the ones, in no particular order, that stood out.
Edge of Power by Megan Crane. (You can read Em’s B+ review here.)
Edge of Obsession, Crane’s first book in this series, was my pick for best book of 2016. The series came to a conclusion with Edge of Power, book four, and Crane ends it well. Wulf, King of the Raiders, is one of the series’ most interesting characters and the woman Crane pairs him with, Princess Kathlyn is his match. Their story would have been rewarding in and of itself. Edge of Power, however, also offers a compelling resolution to the political conflict between the Raiders and the truly awful Mainland theocracy. We needed a Handmaid’s Tale where the handmaid wins in 2017. Thanks, Megan–this book made me happy. (If you’re curious about the world Megan Crane created, here’s an interview I did with her last year.)
On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins. (You can read LinnieGayl’s A- review here.)
I loved Higgins’ first foray into women’s fiction, If You Only Knew, and was please to see her second, On Second Thought, didn’t suffer from the second book blues. The book is about a pair of sisters: Kate who is suddenly widowed at 39 and Ainsley who is unceremoniously dumped by her long term boyfriend the following week. The two women have never had an easy relationship and when Ainsley moves into Kate’s now too empty house, they confront their pasts and re-route their futures. Higgins makes you notice every character she writes, even the jerks, and her sense of place is vivid. It’s a joy to watch Ainsley and Kate move, with fits and starts, towards something rather like happiness, together and apart.
Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis. (You can read Maria Rose’s A- review here.)
It had been a while–five years–since any of Shalvis’ books made my good reads list. This one was a lovely surprise. Readers of the Heartbreaker Bay series have watched Ellie and Archer treat each other very carefully without knowing why. Shalvis does a nice job of revealing their sweet and rather sad backstory in the first quarter of the book. The limits self-imposed on Archer by that past are blown to smithereens when Ellie starts looking for Mr. Right. Shalvis’ trademark humor is here in spades as is her exceedingly well-done sex scenes. Ellie is every bit as much of a bad-ass as Archer and it was great good fun to watch the two of them turn into mush over one another. (Props too to Shalvis for making her contemporary romance seem, well, contemporary.)
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed. (You can read Kristen’s A review here.)
In her DIK review of this book, Kristen wrote:
I read Gather the Daughters in one sitting, veritably inhaling it as I casually let my household chores pile around me and my phone go unanswered. It has been a while since a novel wove itself around me so completely, not necessarily because it was suspenseful – although it was – but because it so thoroughly transported me to its world.
It’s a singular, horrifying, beautifully written novel. It’s the most memorable book I read this year–I’ve thought about it at least once a week and have discussed it with everyone I could. I can’t recommend it enough. (I talked to Jennie Melamed about her book–it is one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever done.)
I heard Young interviewed on NPR last year and immediately bought her book. It’s a debut novel, straight-up literary fiction, and–bonus points–set in Twain’s Twain-obsessed hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.
Laura Brooks left Hannibal ten years ago, in 1993, a year in which the mighty Mississippi river rose over its banks and flooded hundred of thousands of acres. She’s come back, having lost her job and her focus, and is immediately drawn into the lives of those she left–her best friend Rose whose divorce is going horribly, her difficult, resentful mother, and Sammy, the boy she left behind. Young is from Hannibal and her sense of place is incandescent. Her fly-over state America is as real as anything I’ve ever read.
This debut thriller is my favorite mystery novel of the year. It’s set in rural modern day Australia in a county so punished by drought that dust seems to float up from the pages.
Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns, reluctantly, to the hometown he fled twenty years ago to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend Luke. Luke, his wife, and one of his two small children are all dead, presumably at Luke’s hand. Not everyone thinks the murders went down the way they seem, however, and Aaron agrees to stay in town for just a few days to check things out.
It’s astonishing this is Harper’s debut–especially given she learned to write fiction through an online course. The resolution of what really happened in both Aaron’s childhood and to Luke and his family is complex and the reader is kept guessing until the final chapters. The second book in the series, Force of Nature, was released this week!
A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas. (You can read Caz’s review here).
There’s in nothing I can say about this book that hasn’t been said by everyone repeatedly. This series is amazing. The only thing I dislike about it is that it reminds me how damn much I miss Thomas’ historical romances.
I’ve read every suspense novel White has penned and she just keeps getting better. These are book one and two of a trilogy–June can’t come fast enough!–and they’re riveting.
Angie Pallorino begins the series as a detective in the Metro Victoria PD sex crimes unit. She’s a mess who’s also sharp, smart, determined, and sexy. She’s got demons she keeps at bay in dangerous ways but, despite all her self-sabotaging, she’s a ferocious advocate for the victims whose crimes she investigates. She and her boss James–he’s got issues as well–met over a bout of kinky anonymous sex and their relationship’s just one of many professional problems they’re both dealing with. The two books follow Angie and, to a lesser extent, James, as they take down a sadistic killer, gun for a terrifying crime syndicate, and explore their horrors of Angie’s past. Don’t start reading either of these unless you’ve got hours ahead of you–you won’t want to quit until you’re done and left craving your next Loreth Anne White hit.
Buy them at Amazon
Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap by Julie Anne Long. (You can read Kristen’s A review here).
Look, I’m still not 100% over the fact Julie Anne Long isn’t writing historical romances anymore. Such. A. Bummer.
But, with this book, she proves she’s instead writing stellar contemporary romances. I liked the first two books in this series but they didn’t wow me. This one did. I loved Max, Avalon, and their crazy, fucked-up love story. This book is funny as hell, wonderfully smutty, and a joy to read. (Thinking about the battle of the bands–it’s not what you think–still makes me smile. And the goats.)
Turn Me Loose by Anne Calhoun. (You can read Caz’s B+ review here.)
The Alpha Ops series doesn’t get enough press. It’s good and this book is the best thus far. It’s got a hero still dealing with having had cancer, a heroine who was once an informant for the hero and is still pissed about that, and a suspense plot that ticks along effortlessly.
Turn Me Loose kept me hooked from start to finish, and I raced through it in just a couple of sittings. Ian and Riva are well-rounded, flawed, but likeable characters whose issues serve to create an interesting conflict between them without turning the story into an over-the-top angst fest; their sexual chemistry is scorching and the love scenes are both tender and steamy. Ms. Calhoun does a great job with the suspense elements, too, gradually increasing the sense of peril and raising the stakes as our heroes become more closely enmeshed with Henneman. The writing flows smoothly and the story is well-paced, with the judicious use of flashbacks to give readers an insight into Ian and Riva’s complicated history.
What she said.