Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Best Books in 2020

I guess I should have expected this list to be weird given how 2020 has gone so far.  In what world would I have expected 30% of this list to be nonfiction?  Even the fact that the other 60% are entirely romance or paranormal fantasy is would have been odd for me a couple of years ago.  And not a single fantasy or science fiction novel?? WHAT HAS HAPPENED??  

Actually I'm pretty ok with how this lines up - it's made for an interesting reading year.  I am surprised that I had exactly ten 5 star books for the year so far - usually I have to pare it down at least a little.  I think it's been hard for me (and I imagine many of you) to get fully lost in books in quite the same way I usually do.  It's also meant that I have a wide range of publishing dates and genres in the list below and I'm glad to be reading a little more diversely than I had been for most of my serious blogging time on here!

The Hot Zone - Richard Preston

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

God, the irony of the first book I read this year being about epidemics.  This was one of the most interesting books I've ever read - Richard Preston manages to make the workings of academia and medicine very approachable in this.  It's also graphic and horrifying and suspenseful, which is not what I generally expect from a nonfiction novel.

I had actually planned on recommending this to basically anyone and everyone because I thought it was really important people realize how easily an epidemic can happen but ummmm.....welp.  If you are someone who is prone to panic, doesn't do well with graphic bodily fluid descriptions, or are in general overwhelmed by the world I would pass on this one. That being said I do highly recommend it so even if you pass on it for now it's worth coming back to sometime down the road.

The Brightest Fell (October Daye, #11)

It is absolutely ridiculous how well Seanan writes.  She is constantly managing to up the ante with this series without it feeling cheap or contrived and I don't even know how it's possibly to consistently do this over 11 books!!  If you have not started this series, the fact that I am raving about ALL of her books ever, but consistently this series over the past year or so you should definitely take a look at it.  It's paranormal fantasy (deals with fae), urban fantasy (set in San Francisco), has diversity with race, sexuality, and gender that all feels very organic to the story rather than token characters.  And if you don't take my word on it, Christina at A Reader of Fictions has tons of reviews on Goodreads (as well as the review I linked above).

No Humans Involved (Women of the Otherworld, #7)

I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring Armstrong's Otherworld series.  When I discovered that each book in the series focuses on a different character, I wasn't sold at all on this concept because I had loved the first main character so much.  I decided to keep reading anyway and I am so glad I did.  I really like that each book expands the world, and the characters all interact so you do see them repeatedly although not necessarily every book (and some of them do get repeat opportunities as the main character!), but at the same time they are very self contained stories.  You'd miss out on things if you didn't start with the first book, but many of these you could read entirely as a standalone.  Armstrong also manages to make each character feel so distinct from each other which is really impressive as the cast is giant and I find that I have a harder time distinguishing first person narratives from each other.  This particular book features a couple I've been excited for throughout the series, even though I wasn't sure how I felt about the female lead.  She has ended up being one of my absolute favourite characters and it is really cool seeing how she has evolved through many different characters stories and then in her own.  Definitely a staple series of the paranormal genre!

Dreaming of You (The Gamblers of Craven's, #2)

Sarah MacLean and Jen from Jen Reads Romance host a podcast called Fated Mates and it is an absolute delight.  If you love romance you should be listening to this already - they give great recs and have really interesting and thoughtful takes on romance as a genre.  If you are at all interested in romance I also recommend this for people new to the genre - they will point in you in all the best directions!

All of this is to say that I don't think I've gone more than two episodes without them mentioning Derek Craven at least once.  They even made a Derek Craven day!  He is the ultimate romance hero for at least Sarah (but ranks up there for Jen too).  I wasn't sure how I would feel about his given that it was written in the early 90s, and older romance books can often be...problematic.  And guys, this book is absolutely BONKERS with the plot, but hooooooooly moly is Derek Craven swoonworthy.  (*disclaimer - must like alpha males for this to work for you I think).  Sara Fielding is an absolute delight, and definitely a favourite heroine. This one definitely stood out despite me approaching it with high expectations!

Tracey Livesay has quickly become a new favourite and someone I know I can trust to buy a book and I'll like it.  She features interracial couples frequently, which we all know is something I love to see in my books as someone who is in an interracial relationship.  She writes such human characters - flawed and tough and caring.  This book in particular features a neuro-divergent male lead who is brilliant and pushing the boundaries of new tech and a career driven woman who is at the top of her field. Often it's the men who put up these walls and are tough with a secretly vulnerable inside, but this time it's Chelsea who you see struggle through a lot of the emotional turmoil and growth. I really love this couple and have really enjoyed the other book in this series that I've read!

Wicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1)

Would this year be complete without a Sarah MacLean novel on this list?  Bonus: her last book in this trilogy comes out in TWO DAYS!! Did I pre-order a signed copy of it? YOU BET I DID.  Even better? This one features a wallflower and I am HERE for a good wallflower story.  It features all the angsty boy not feeling like he deserves the girl, a heroine who was not a very nice person originally. It's also not a ballroom romance, which is pretty rare for historical fiction - the male MC is a smuggler/person who transports ice which is super cool.  It's always nice to find out interesting things while also getting all the swoons.

The Walmart Effect - Charles Fishman

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works - and How It's Transforming the American Economy

This is one a friend of mine gave me to read about.....two or more years ago.  It was slow going for me at first (hence why it is making this list so much later than I started it), but I am SO glad he let me borrow it for such a long time because it is a hugely important book.  I generally avoid nonfiction like the plague, and I know next to nothing about economics, and haven't really made much effort to change either of these things.  Fishman does a great job of tackling how Walmart effects micro-economies (ie small towns) and global economies, as well as how Walmart has affected the literal ecology of places and how it has changed corporate attitudes.  It's important to note that while Fishman clearly has concerns about Walmart (rightfully so based on the numerous different types of research done for this book) he is also clear that he doesn't really blame Walmart - it is after all, entirely a product of a capitalist society.  He asks a lot of questions about how as consumers we want things immediately and cheaply - and then delves into the costs of what that means.  The main point of this books is that even if you don't shop at Walmart it absolutely has an affect on every product you buy and everywhere you shop.  This is another important one that I highly recommend everyone read.

The Mercy Thompson series is another urban fantasy series that has become a staple of my reading.  (If you like paranormal romance, Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series is also excellent).  This may be my favourite book in the series to date - the last few books have dealt with the fallout of Mercy making these giant decisions on a political level.  This one deals with more emotional fallout and it is SO GOOD.  I don't want to talk too much about this one for those of you who have not read the rest of the series, but this is a staple of the urban and paranormal fantasy genre and a really great series to start with. (Other than October Daye obviously). Bonus points: Mercy half Native American so there is lots of skinwalker lore and runs her own mechanic shop which isn't just used as a prop to make her seem tough and independent (which she is) - she clearly loves cars and it shows up in plenty of plot points throughout the series.

Dear Girls - Ali Wong

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life

Ok so technically this is a memoir which isn't exactly the same as nonfiction, but whatever it counts!  Ali Wong is HILARIOUS, and reading a book about her escapades is always a good time.  I especially loved her stories about her falling in love with her husband and what it's like to be a new mom.  It's hilarious and gross, but so full of love.  If your someone who doesn't like crass language this isn't for you, but if it doesn't bother you this is a great one to pick up!

I honestly didn't think I was going to like this one when I started - I'm always a little leery of second chance romances depending on the circumstances surrounding why the first chance didn't work out and the male MC wasn't really my taste (I straight up can't remember his name even though I KNOW I could look it up).  So how does a romance with a male lead I'm ambivalent about end up on this list? EVERYTHING else about this story rocks (and tbh I think the male lead will work for a lot of other people).  I have been waiting for Violet to get her story so I'm glad she finally gets her HEA.  I LOVED how Violet's family - blood or adopted came out in full force to make sure she was ok.  The MC's are also in their 40s which is positively ancient by most historical romance standards and it is so refreshing to get that! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Best Books of 2019

Best Contemporary

This Song Will Save Your Life

This book felt so....real.  I'm really picky when music shows up in my books, and although this was not a classical music book I can always tell when an author really doesn't get what it means to be a performer or musician.  This author? She gets it.  There's a lot to unpack in this one - social misfit, bad relationships, suicide attempts, but it somehow it manages to keep to story engaging without hurling you into an emotional tail wind. (I run away from heavy books generally speaking. I read like...one a year). I would recommend this one even to people like me who don't read a lot of contemporary fiction!

Honorable mentions: Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Best Fantasy

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)

Non-Western based fantasy is one of my favourite types of settings, and The Poppy War does not fail to be everything I dreamed of on that front.    Based on Chinese history (specifically the Second Sino-Japanese War which I definitely read up on after finishing the book).  There's some badass magic, absolutely GORGEOUS world-building, and characters who you will love and hate in equal measures.  If you want brutal heart stomping as well, then yeah this is your book.

Honorable mentions: The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

Best Paranormal Fantasy

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

An Artificial Night (October Daye, #3)

It's no surprise that Seanan shows up on this list, I've been a huge fan of her work under the name Mira Grant.  This is the first time I've tried one of her paranormal series and by god the things she manages to do!  This is book 3 of the series, and it's the book where I think the series really starts to find it's pacing.  It is ridiculous how Seanan is able to keep the stakes so high in each book (I'm on book 12 right now I think) - it never feels like she is copping out or that things get easier.  The stakes just change, and the relationships change and it is so crazy to me seeing where the characters start out.  I will definitely be rereading this series frequently because there are so many things you don't realize she's planned out by planting small things in these early books.  

Honorable Mentions: Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong
Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews

Best Science Fiction

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

I have mentioned SO MANY TIMES on the blog that Shusterman's Unwind is basically  a life changing book that everyone needs to read.  And guess what?  So is Dry.  It has all of the intense adrenaline pumping moments of Unwind, the utterly heart wrenching emotional beats, and characters you love (and love to hate).   It is also particularly relevant in today's world with all the wildfires in Australia, and the fires in California and...it's just so scarily easy to see this world happening.  I grew up in the area that they are describing, so it felt especially real to me.  I've been there for the drought rations, I know the parts of the cities the name.


Honorable Mentions: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Best Novella

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5)

Considering how much I ADORE Milan's Brothers Sinister series, it is incredible that she managed to write a novella I love even more - especially because I'm usually not much of a novella girl.  This had ALL the feels, and the characters are heart breaking and gorgeous and wonderful and UGGHHHH.  Plus, it obviously has that hot x factor I get in Milan's stories.  If you haven't read her Brothers Sinister series DO, and this is a great place to start!

Honorable Mentions: How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger 
Small Magics by Ilona Andrews

Best Non-Fiction

Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion

It's probably no surprise to any of you that a book about Douglas Adams (and specifically his work on Hitchhiker's Guide) made it onto my favourites list.  What is surprising is just how well Neil Gaiman was suited to write it - particularly since at the time he was basically a no-name writer. I'm not sure I'd recommend this for non-Adams aficionados..but really everyone should be so I am saying that.

Best Thriller/Mystery

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6)

This book was INSANE.  Tana French always manages to create a weirdly atmospheric/fabulism kind of vibe to her books (which is a very odd choice for a thriller generally speaking, but has become the most iconic part of her writing in my opinion).  This one is no different...except that it REALLY messes with your head. You're solving mysteries on so many different levels...this is probably my favourite Tana French so far.  Definitely recommend listening to it on audio as well, the narrator, Hilda Fay, was fabulous!

Best Graphic Novel

The Prince and the Dressmaker

This book is absolutely ADORABLE.  If you need something that is thoughtful, pretty, and pure fun pick this one up.  It was the perfect palate cleanser after reading Neal Shusterman and Patrick Ness back to back (...which...tell me why I did that again?)

Best Historical Romance

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister, #4)

The Brothers Sinister series is one of my all time favourites in historical romance, and Milan manages to top my already high standards with this one.  Free has been a favourite character of mine who pops up in the other books and god I just LOVE her!  I really struggle with remembering names and keeping characters straight across romance, but she is definitely one I never mix up.  It's dark, it's funny, you've got a male lead who loves everything about how strong Free is...it's like it was written specifically with everything I love in mind.

Honorable mentions: The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
     The Other Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Best Contemporary Romance

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Trade Me (Cyclone, #1)

Ok so I didn't mean to pick so many Courtney Milan books as my favourites but...I can't lie about it right?  This book was EVERYTHING.  EVERYTHING.  So many things about the gender roles are flipped, it's interracial, it's so thoughtful with how it deals with some pretty tricky subject material, family is featured, friendship is featured.  It had all the feels, all the swoons, and beautiful writing to boot.  When I saw my library didn't have the rest of this series I immediately bought the next one (Which is, shockingly, excellent.  Who would have guessed?)

Honorable Mentions: One and Only by Jenny Holiday
 A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

Best "Other" Romance

Guardian by Emmy Chandler

Guardian (Prison Planet, #1)

This book basically changed the entire trajectory of my reading for the next couple years is my guess.  Until this year I pretty much exclusively read historical romances.  I started reading contemporaries and my mind was kind of blown that there were so many out there that really spoke to me.  I thought I was going out of my comfort zone and reading really diversely!


This book is so far from a historical romance.  It's crazy dark, (TW: rape, violence, etc) and somehow managed to make consent at the forefront all the time, it's ridiculously hot, and there's this whole massive world building involved.

GUYS. ROMANCE. WITH HUGE AMOUNTS OF WORLD BUILDING.  This is a thing that exists??? I can have all the sci-fi/fantasy places I want and it can be dark and intense AND I can be guaranteed a happily ever after???  As someone who read high fantasy for 90% of my reading life, I've felt a little lost now that I've lost my stomach for the brutal big fantasies.  This? This could save my reading life.

Late as usual, but again...not a surprise for anyone still reading.  What were your 2019 favourites?