Monday, January 4, 2016

Year In Review: Numbers, the Best and Honorable Mentions

Once upon a time I used to keep a semi-detailed spreadsheet as a reading log and would do multiple posts recapping my year in reading.  Yeah, those days are long gone.  I now keep track of my reading using GoodReads, which while nowhere near detailed as my old method, makes up for those shortcomings thanks to convenience.  So sit back, and be prepared to dive into this probably too-lengthy post.

My goal was, as it always is, to read 100 books.  I ended up hitting 80, which includes DNFs and audiobooks.  Real Life was busy this year, so the fact that 80 books touched my hands is pretty amazing.  Here's how the numbers breakdown:

A Grades = 10
B Grades = 28
C Grades = 26 (3 Stars on GR, which also included "low" B-)
D Grades = 6
DNFs = 10
Audiobooks = 16

A grades were up, as were DNFs.  The rest of these numbers are pretty par for the course with what I normally do.  The bulk of my reading consistently seems to land in the B/C range.

But let's get on with the good stuff, after the short disclaimer that these books represent multiple publication years.  I'm forever perpetually behind and why should a great read not get mentioned just because it wasn't a 2015 release?

So what were the books I read that knocked my socks off in 2015?    Let's start with the A grades

Title links take you to full reviews

A Soldier's Heart by Kathleen Korbel
  • Twenty year old category romance about a former Army nurse heroine suffering from PTSD and the hero, one of her former patients in Vietnam.  Korbel has self-published some of her older books, but not this one (yet).  Here's hoping it's available in digital soon.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (audiobook)
  • I could of sworn I read this as a kid, but I don't think I actually did.  The plan was to listen to the rest of the books this year, but I didn't quite get there.  There's always 2016!
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O'Keefe
  • My first single title read by O'Keefe and man, what a book. I got gut-punched in the second half and stayed up way past my bedtime to speed read to the finish line.
Seven for a Secret (audiobook) and The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye
  • Addicted.  I was completely, hopelessly addicted to (and obsessed with!) this historical mystery series which turned out to "only be a trilogy" and ::sob::  Wonderful, amazing, historical detail.  They're dark stories (trigger warnings all over the place), but holy mother I think historical romance fans would dig this series.
Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist
  • A gentle read that sizzled with sexual tension (but no actual insert-tab-A-into-slot-B) and an amazing Americana vibe.  Historical romance fans may have lost Pamela Morsi but we have gained Gist.
The Nanny Plan by Sarah M. Anderson
  • Anderson writes some damn fine category romance and this one was a showstopper.  A heroine determined to not repeat her mother's mistakes, a hero figuring out life now that he's "new money" and OMG - actual class issues!  Class issues are part of the conflict.  Ignore the baby on the cover people, just read this book already!
Something About a Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson
  • A second appearance my Anderson, this novella is a dynamite example of how the format works well in the right author's hands.  Sexy, fun, emotional, and a perfect happy ending for a the short page count. 
Sweet Agony by Charlotte Stein
  • Remember when erotic romance was about more than just whatever kinky crap the author could throw on the page?  Yeah, I miss those days too.  Stein has certain writing tics that won't be for every reader, but OMG - this book!  The tension!  The desire!  The passion! 
Harlot by Victoria Dahl
  • It wasn't everything I wanted it to be, but the emotional heft of this novella was really striking.  Dahl excels at writing heartbreak and dialogue and I spent the entirety of this story having my guts ripped out.  Also she makes the happy ending work in a realistic manner, which is no small feat given the characters and plot.
Now on to the Honorable MentionsThese were B rated books that "stuck with me" even though they didn't necessarily pass my OMG Must Reread Some Day test.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall
  • A wonderfully emotional m/m romance about a clinically depressed (and intellectually snobby) writer and a wannabe model with a spray tan.  Trust me, it's good.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (audiobook)
  • Nail-biting suspense that almost found me chain-smoking through the last couple of CDs.  King won an Edgar Award for this book and dude.  Totally deserved it.  I couldn't wait to get stuck in traffic on my commute to listen to more.
Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann
  • I've enjoyed other books by Lohmann, but I think this might be her most accomplished work to date. She avoids the pitfall of turning her paraplegic hero into a trope, she doesn't whitewash the heroine's past mistakes, and she gives us a believable romance. 
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (audiobook)
  • Historical women's fiction that is a Tearjerker with a capital T (in bold, outlined in neon) about two sisters and their experiences in Nazi-occupied France.  Bad things happen.  People die.  It's not a romance.  But it's dynamite women's fiction and my #1 with a bullet suggestion if you're looking for a book club read.
The Fighter and the Fallen Woman by Pamela Cayne
  • I've pimped this book all bloody year long.  Former prostitute heroine turned mistress to crime lord heroine falls for the hero, hired muscle and boxer.  The longing, the angst, the emotional ache of this story.  Happy, happy sigh.
Everything I Left Unsaid by Molly O'Keefe
  • OK, so it ends on a cliffhanger, doesn't stand alone, and I'm the only person on the planet who wasn't in love with the second book (The Truth About Him).  But this book?  Oh man, it's great.  A near perfect blend of women's fiction, suspense and erotic romance.  O'Keefe may have broken the mold with this one.
Tempted by Molly O'Keefe
  • Oh look, my third mention of O'Keefe in this Best Of round-up.  I swear, she's not paying me.  This is her second historical western featuring a heroine who desperately wants to be more as society is holding her back, and a hero struggling to find a way to tell her how he feels, even as he questions his ability to be everything she needs and deserves. 
Rise by Karina Bliss
  • Bliss delivers in turning Zander into a full-fledged romantic hero and pairs him up with a fantastic heroine, who is a scholar and writer.  I never thought I'd find a rock n' roll romance that would work for me, but this one does.  Better yet?  Bliss has set the stage to turn this into a series.  The secondary characters here are fantastic.
Scarred Hearts by Bonnie Dee
  • Not gonna lie - there are problematic elements in this story that, I think, may stop some readers cold (there's some pretty disturbing violence in the second half of the story).  But - how often does one come across a historical romance (post-WWI) that takes place in Kentucky hill country?  Yeah, like never.  Plus I'm a sucker for beta (virgin!!!) heroes and heroines who are desperately trying to live down their disreputable pasts.
And that my friends, is that.  The highlights of 2015, just in case you missed them the first time around.  Now it's time to officially close that book and start a new one.  Wendy's 2016 Year in Review.  Hopefully lots of good stuff awaits me.


Kate said...

Deeanne Gist goes into so much detail about daily life in her books, I just wallow in them :) I found the hero a bit hard to like in this one, but still rated it highly.

Jamie Brenner (aka Logan Belle) said...

As always, your year end list is fascinating. I've read a few that made your top, and I did love Glitterland, and The Nightingale just gutted me. So glad you included it!

Wendy said...

Kate: Yeah, but he ends up coming around in the end :) His type is one that wouldn't work (AT ALL!) for me in a contemporary, but in a historical romance, in that time period, I could roll with it.

Jamie: I listened to The Nightingale on audio and by the end I was ugly-crying through my commute. I was kind of lukewarm on it in the beginning, but oh man - what a second half! I think ALL the book clubs need to read it. A slice of women's fiction we don't get all that often.

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Sweet Agony and Harlot are on my "read soon" list.

nath said...

80 is pretty good considering how busy you are! and out of them, more than 10% were As!! that's a pretty good reading year in my book!!

I remember quite a few books I said I should read... Hopefully, it'll happen this year :) Thanks for all the suggestions!

I'm updating my spreadsheet... and I wonder if I'm getting even more pickier ^_^;

cleo reader said...

I also read about 100 books, although some (many?) were novella length - I'm counting them because it's too hard not to count them, and hey 100 anything is pretty impressive.

The only ones on your list that I've read are Soldier's Heart, Anne of Green Gables and Glitterland, but I loved to liked all of them. And Tiffany Girl and Harlot are on my wishlist. I wish Deanne Gist's books were cheaper, although I have found a few by her in my library.

~ames~ said...

80 books is pretty good! And 10 As!

I'm going to have to find the Lyndsay Faye and Pamela Cayne books ASAP. Those sound like my catnip. Thanks for recs!

Wendy said...

HMCW: I hope you enjoy both of them as much as I did!

Nath: I felt like was slumping all year long - although not as far as quality goes. It was more like it was a struggle for me to get motivated to read. 10 A grades feels like a lot for me. I remember some years where I was lucky to hit around 4 or 5 :) So maybe I'm getting softer in my old age LOL

Cleo: Yeah, Gist is published by Howard Books - so trade paperback prices :( I also count novellas (hell, I even count DNFs!) because I figure if I read it, that means it left the TBR pile which means....IT COUNTS! lol

Ames: With Lyndsay Faye be sure to start with the first book (which I read in 2014) - Gods Of Gotham. It's a trilogy where each book builds on the next so you really have to read them in order. The first two are definitely out in paperback now although I loved them on audiobook if you listen to audio :) said...

Hey Wendy, 80 isn't too bad at all. I have some comments for you on your list:

Lyndsay Faye: I am really excited to read her and I am so happy to see that she made your list not once but twice. I have both books on my device so I'm looking forward to them.

Kristin Hannah, I've seen the stellar reviews for her latest book and I know she does tearjerks with a capital T, so I avoided the book. I think sometimes she's manipulative of people's emotions which is a major reason why I stopped reading her but it sounds like it's a nice read.

As for romance, Bonnie Dee is usually pretty good so I'll give that one a look. Yes, I hope we read some great books in 2016! Onward and beyond! or something like that.

Wendy said...

Keishon: Like I mentioned to Ames - be sure you start Lyndsay Faye with the first book, Gods of Gotham. It really is a trilogy that is best read in order (IMHO). Also, be prepared for some period (1840s) slang. It takes some getting used to at first but you do pick up an ear for it after a bit. I hope you enjoy them. I just loved that series to bits.

The Kristin Hannah was a slow starter for me, but as the story advances I loved seeing the character growth. I know what you mean re: manipulation and I didn't have that reaction with this particular book. I think the World War II setting helps and, again, nice character growth over the course of the story.

My full-length review of the Bonnie Dee title includes a spoiler, in case you're interested. The violence that pops up in the second half was a hard and fast nope for some romance readers and I know more than one person who DNF'ed it after "that scene." said...

Will read in order, thank you ma'am for the heads up.