I want to spend my year reading books I love, and while that often means taking chances on new releases, I also spend a lot of time catching up on the books I missed from previous years. Please join me and some of my fellow AAR reviewers as we celebrate the books we finally got around to reading – and finally learned what all the fuss was about!

Caroline:

A Wicked Kind of Husband and A Beastly Kind of Earl by Mia Vincy

Historicals that manage witty dialogue and clever writing without modernism and slapstick are unusual, so Vincy is a delightful find. I also enjoy authors who interpret “society” in a “behavioral straightjacket” kind of way, and Vincy’s schemy, reputation-obsessed ton is precisely my style. Caz reviewed both of these here, and Caz’s word on historicals is pretty much gold. Go read Mia Vincy.

Trashed by Mia Hopkins

A gritty look at a chef and an ex-con (but current gang member) trying to make a go of it in Los Angeles. Hot and sweet at the same time, and definitely a keeper.

After Hours by Cara McKenna

I adored this working-class erotic romance starring a new psychiatric nurse and one of the orderlies at the hospital where she’s taken her first job. Want a hero who wins you over by who he is, not what he has? This is your book.

Beautiful Wreck and So Wild A Dream by Larissa Brown

I desperately needed to escape this summer, and these Viking time-travel books took me there. The writing is evocative, and the author balances giving medieval Iceland a magical golden tone with presenting meticulously researched life in a precarious place.

 

Artistic License by Elle Pierson (Lucy Parker)

While other people have raved over Lucy Parker’s latest, Headliners, I personally much preferred this unburied treasure: Parker’s first book, published as Elle Pierson. An art student and a security guard meet during an attempt to damage a collection. Mack’s conventionally ugly face captivates Sophie with its geometry, and when she asks him to model, something starts to bloom.

Non-Romance:

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The author’s lively presence on space Twitter convinced me to give her Hugo- and Nebula-award winning alternate history a try. I could not put it down. A meteorite strikes Earth in the early 1950s, triggering cataclysmic global warming and necessitating an acceleration of the space program so desperate that the American establishment might even be open to lady astronauts and astronauts of color. This is not a romance but it’s romance-safe: the heroine Alma is married to Nate from the beginning and I promise they’re okay.

Caz:

My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster

I read so many ARCs every year, that I don’t have a lot of time to read older books (even though I want to!), but the TBR Challenge does give me a chance to slot some in, and I’ve been slowly working my way through the books in Bec McMasters brilliant London Steampunk series.  My Lady Quicksilver is book three, and bears all the hallmarks of the series; a sexy AF hero, an intrepid take-no-prisoners heroine, lots of action, plenty of steam and a superbly developed romance.  If you haven’t read anything by this author yet, do yourself a favour and go back to Kiss of Steel and start there – I promise you won’t regret it!

Charlotte:

Silence for the Dead; The Other Side of Midnight; An Inquiry Into Love and Death, by Simone St. James

I found St. James because of the many good AAR reviews for her work. She has a formula for many of her books, which is why I clustered them together: heroine in haunted 1920s UK hooks up with complicated, devastatingly good-looking former soldier/RAF pilot hero. It works SO WELL. I have a tendency towards starting her books at bedtime, reading until the wee hours, and then finishing them the next afternoon.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This book captures the singular intimacy of having sex with the right person in a way that blows me away on repeat reads. And by ‘singular intimacy’ I mean there’s nothing like completely and utterly throwing yourself into the erotic and the raw with someone you’re attracted to and falling for.

Lord of the Fading Lands/Tairen Soul series (Book 1), by C.L. Wilson

I discovered this series because a friend gave me the first book in a Secret Santa last year. Best. Gift. Ever. Wildly cliffhanger-y and gripping for five books straight, the Tairen Soul series mixes solid fantasy with paranormal-soulmate connection, HEA romance (and flying shifter cats!). If you’re looking for something like Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses but a little less YA/WF, try this.

Girl Waits with Gun/Kopp Sisters series, by Amy Stewart

This WF/HF is set in the nineteen-teens, with a heroine who really existed: Constance Kopp got involved in a nationally covered dispute with a shady local business owner in New Jersey after he hit her and her sisters in a car accident. Not only did Constance take him to the woodshed, she got herself a job as a sheriff’s deputy! I’ve read four of the five books in the series (the WWI-set book six is due in 2021). Constance and her sisters are like a sitcom family—hilarious and cozy. Stewart changes between first-person and third-person narration from book to book. Books one, two, and four are all narrated by Constance and are my personal favorites.

Maggie:

Ocean Light by Nalini Singh – AAR reviewed this book and gave it a well deserved DIK status. This is a lovely romance with a wonderful HEA.

Maria Rose:

Any Old Diamonds by K.J. Charles

I’m trying to catch up some of the K.J. Charles series books that I have missed in the last couple of years, and Any Old Diamonds has taken a new spot on my keeper shelf. This story has some really fun twists as the tables get turned on a jewel thief who is a part of a revenge plot. It’s got a fake friendship that turns into a real romance and some intriguing secondary characters that have made me put the rest of the series on my ‘read these ASAP!’ list.

An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles

An Unnatural Vice is another of the K.J. Charles’ books that I’d been meaning to read for ages (having read An Unseen Attraction when it released in 2017) and finally took the opportunity as part of my ‘binge K.J. Charles’ books’ month.  Just like the first in the series, the worldbuilding of late 1800s London is captivating, as are the characters in this mystery romance. Combined with an opposites-attract trope plot, it’s a compelling read. I particularly enjoyed the look behind the scenes at how a psychic works their tricks.

The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

I started Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms with the bridging novel to the Uncharted Realms series, The Pages of the Mind. This summer I was determined to catch up on the earlier books and I read The Mark of the Tala, The Tears of the Rose and The Talon of the Hawk (as well as a bunch of inter-story novellas).  Of the three main novels.  the last was my favourite though they all are really well done fantasy romance novels with complete couple romances and an overall worldbuilding story arc. Ursula’s journey from obedient daughter of the High King to a powerful ruler in her own right, as well her romance with a hired mercenary who becomes her consort is exciting, adventurous and page turning from start to finish.

Marian:

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Chanel Miller’s memoir begins with her sexual assault and goes on to describe the investigation, the trial, and her struggle to both pick up the pieces of her life and to understand how this had happened. After the assailant was found guilty of three felonies but sentenced to only six months (because the judge felt a longer sentence would have “a severe impact” on him), her victim impact statement went viral. Written with just as much emotion and honesty, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to see a spotlight shone on the treatment of victims.

The Work of Art by Mimi Matthews

Phyllida Satterthwaite is called “The Work of Art” for her looks, which include eyes of different colors, but there’s much more to her than her appearance. Likewise, there’s more to Captain Arthur Heywood than the leg injury which prevents him from walking normally, riding or shooting (he needs to keep a hand on the cane). These two come together in a warm-hearted and well-written romance by Mimi Matthews, who puts them through an emotional wringer at first. The Duke of Moreland, who wants Phyllida for his collection of beautiful objects, and the trusted relatives who secretly groom her for the position of bought-and-paid-for trophy are realistically villainous, while Phyllida and Arthur are a great couple who turn their friendship into a successful marriage. This is one of the best romances I’ve read this year.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Elizabeth Holmes was the founder and CEO of a multibillion-dollar startup called Theranos, a company which promised to revolutionize medical laboratory tests with its innovative testing kits. The only problem was that these didn’t work. They often malfunctioned or (which was worse) gave erroneous results.

So Holmes covered it up. Charismatic and ambitious, she was often able to use sheer force of personality to win over investors, while in company headquarters, different departments were isolated from each other and staff pressured to show complete loyalty. This non-fictional account of the rise and fall of Theranos, by John Carreyrou, was one I’d wanted to read for some time, since I’m a medical laboratory technologist, but it’s so clearly written that anyone can dive in—and be fascinated by how far the fraud went.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

China Mieville’s novel Un Lun Dun starts out a little like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with animals and strange people recognizing Zanna as someone special. But when Zanna and her friend Deeba follow a runaway umbrella, they end up in UnLondon, a bizarre version of the city. If Alice Through the Looking Glass had a one-night stand with The Phantom Tollbooth, this book would be their secret baby.

Because this is written by China Mieville, the imagination factor is off the charts. And although this is a YA novel, there’s no romance, just a girl’s adventures through a sometimes dangerous but always fantastic city. I won’t spoil much, though I will say it was a nice change for the Chosen One to actually be Deeba, the sidekick (who’s also a PoC). The only disappointing thing about this book is that in the list of mirror-image cities—UnLondon, Parisn’t and so on—Mieville didn’t include Toronot or Montunreal.

The Body by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of those science writers who makes their topic not just easily graspable but fascinating into the bargain. In this book, he starts out microscopic, at cell level (Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turns cancerous, and your immune system captures and kills them), and expands to the major organs of the body, their significance, sometimes their history—and, of course, the various things that can go wrong with them. The best part is his chatty style, which often made me feel as though he was addressing me directly, and just as often made me feel the inner workings of my body were fascinating. Kind of a downer to read the end, which is about how we die. But I still enjoyed this book immensely; it’s entertaining and informative and very much a recommended read.


What about you? What books are you ready to belatedly sing the praises of? Have you read any of the ones listed here – or are you now planning to?

 

Caroline Russomanno
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.