A while back, over on our no-promo-allowed Romance Bookmark loop, Shelley Munro posted her favorite books for the year and asked us to share ours. To my embarrassment, I had to scramble to remember what books I've read. Most years I read over 100 books, sometimes over 300 in the year. In order to keep track of them, I've normally kept a spreadsheet of them. This year? For some reason I didn't. And I don't think I got anywhere near the triple digits. I felt guilty reading other people's books when I should be working on my own.
So I dug around on my shelves and through the piles of books that have spilled onto the floor, and talked with my friend Nicole who reminded me of some we'd discussed whenever we got together for coffee. To be honest, Nicole has great taste and I've learned to rely on her recommendations. And for her prods to get me off the computer and reading someone else's book.
I choose books mainly through word of mouth. Once I find an author I like, I scour out every book they've written. Hopefully they'll deliver a great read on all their books. It doesn't always happen that way. Ask Dani who sent me a whole boxful of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series because she was in love with them. I'm sorry, Dani, I tried. I really, really tried. But to be honest, if I'd bought the first one myself, I would have put it down after 50 pages. But because Dani had gone through the trouble and expense of shipping them all the way from Texas, I struggled through the first, second and third in the series. I stopped after that. The recommendation that generally seals the deal is if the book is in my local Chapters bookstore and has a sticker "Recommended by Janine." Janine is the lady in charge of the romance section of Chapters--everyone in our area knows that if Janine recommends it, it's a GREAT book. (And Janine is married to her own real life hero--he's a former SAS agent, who just got back from Afghanistan. Safely, thank God!) Sometimes I'll pick up a book based upon recommendations I see over on Twitter, but that can be rather hit-or-miss since other people's tastes differ from mine.
Of the books I remembered I have read this year, for the most part I was unimpressed by some of the sequels of series I've previously loved by big name authors. Luckily enough, this year turned out to be a year of finding new authors, both new to me, and/or new to publishing. Authors I've added to my "Buy their Book" list? Deidre Knight, Bella Andre, Jo Davis, Beth Kery, Lorelei James, Ann Aguirre, Vivian Arend, Catherine Wade -- but OMG they've written some GREAT books that I absolutely adore. And I fell in love all over again with authors I'd already loved - Patricia Briggs, Maya Banks, Lauren Dane. Hopefully I'll be reading them all for years to come.
These aren’t books that were necessarily released in 2009, but ones I’ve read this year, and are memorable enough that I remember them after such a busy year which speaks volumes in itself. And they're not in any specific order, just as I remembered them or pulled them off my keeper shelf. So here we go ...
Best Books I’ve read in 2009
- Deidre Knight’s Butterfly Tattoo . It's long, 120K but I love a book that takes me longer than 90 minutes to read. It's a little different as each chapter flips back and forth between the hero and heroine's POV (which I find incredibly interesting). But what grabbed me and sucked me in is the emotion Deidre managed to pack into the pages, Michael's grief put an ache in my own chest. It's the story of two damaged souls as they try to recover from horrible tragedies they've endured--in Michael's case the loss of his long-term lover, Rebecca from a vicious attack by a stalker (reminiscent of actress Teresa Saldana's attack.) I loved it so much I bought not only the e-copy, but pre-ordered the paperback as soon as I saw it appear on Amazon and the Book Depository sites. It comes out next month, by the way, so if you don't like ebooks, you can buy it as a paperback. (I'd link to Samhain's My Bookstore and More but they don't let you pre-order :( )
- Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach’s Mexican Heat. This is a m/m romance that follows one hero's POV through half the book, then flips to the other hero's POV for the second half. Another emotional read where they put one of the guys through absolute hell. Apart from the fabulous writing, I really appreciated that, while the heroes get their Happy-Ever-After ending with each other, Laura and Josh didn't wimp out trying to fix Gabriel and Miguel's problems by some miraculous deus ex machina at the end. It's another book that I'll buy in paperback. One note, there are paperback versions of this book on Amazon and Book Depository already as it was originally published by MLR Press. But the version I read was a re-release by Samhain edited by my former editor, Angela James, and I believe there are some differences, so I'm hoping Samhain'll release their paperback version soon too.
- Bella Andre’s Wild Heat. Whoa mama, firemen are hot hot hot this year. And Bella's book is no exception. The fact that I just placed an order for the next in the series, Hot as Sin, should tell you how much I loved this one. Bella's firemen are the ones who fight the wildfires, the smoke jumpers who often find flames jumping over their heads or racing up a hill to where they are.
- Jo Davis's Trial by Fire. It's the first one in her firefighters series. I've read the two that follow in the series, and they're good too, good enough that I should have them on my honorable mention list, but Trial by Fire is my favorite so far. Jo's firemen are the urban type, dealing with all sorts of different situations--traffic accidents, house fires, you name it. The hero has a very unromantic-though absolutely realistic name of Howard; thankfully he has the nickname Six Pack.
- Beth Kery’s Wicked Burn. I was thrilled when Beth offered to be part of my birthday bash this summer because I love her Wicked Burn. I've read her Sweet Restraint as well, but Wicked Burn is my favorite. It's one of those books I pull out and thumb through, trying to figure out how she managed to pack so much emotion into a few words. Plus her hero Vic Sabian sure knows how to burn up the pages. ;)
- Lauren Dane’s Laid Bare. O. M. G. Another hot hot book filled with emotion. (sensing a theme here?) Her heroine is a rocker with piercings and tattoos and funky hair, but she's so down to earth. So human. Flawed. Hurting. *Pats chest* And her hero is not without flaws either, but he grows as you watch him. And the connection between the two of them is almost palpable. This is another book I'll be pulling out to examine Lauren's technique. She is a master of storytelling.
- Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace. This one totally surprised me. The first surprising thing about why I liked Grimspace is it's not technically a romance, though there is definitely a connection between Sirantha Jax and March that builds throughout the story. The second, and for me, more surprising aspect, is I'm not normally a science fiction lover these days. Oh, I used to be. After all, the first stories I wrote back when I was 7 were knock-offs of the original Star Trek series--yes, during its first run back in the 60s! I can't count the number of times I've seen Star Wars -- and yes, Gizmo Guy and I went to its first run while we were dating in the 70s. I was a Battlestar Galactica fan of the first series in the 80s. I love Arthur C. Clarke's books -- one of my all-time favorites is his Childhood's End. But after watching knock-off after knock-off that sometimes were little more than fanfic, I've grown jaded. So you have to write a really good sci-fi to keep my interest. Grimspace knocked my socks off. Once I started reading, I ended up curled up in my chair until three in the morning finishing it. That's a sure sign for me that the book will be on my keeper shelf.
- Patricia Brigg’s Hunting Ground -- Patricia's books aren't shelved in the romance section, but under Fantasy. However Hunting Ground really is a romance in my eyes because her Alpha and Omega series follows newly turned werewolf Anna and mystical werewolf Charles as they figure out their relationship – it’s filled with tender moments, and sometimes touchingly funny, to see Charles discovering little parts of Anna as she relaxes around him, and how they have to control their wolf counterparts. I love PB's Mercy Thompson series too, but her A and O series has an equal place in my heart. (I'd link to Patricia's website, but it's down for a couple days as they move servers. Normally it's www.patriciabriggs.com)
- Lorelei James' Long Hard Ride. Yes, I'm ashamed to admit it took me until this year to discover Ms. James' Rough Riders series. I first discovered her two days before my first book Private Property released because Lorelei posted an excerpt over on the Samhain Cafe that mirrored a scene I'd written in Private Property. I remember shooting off an email crying (literally) to one of my critique partners about how unoriginal I was, where here I thought that scene had been unique mirrored one in Lorelei's excerpt. I whined and moaned about how everyone was going to think I'd ripped her off and would never believe that I'd not read her books before. The glutton for punishment that I am, I bought the book that the excerpt had come from (Long Hard Ride). After reading it, I wanted to crawl into the ground even more because it was so frickin' good! I ended up buying the entire series, including a paperback version of Long Hard Ride. I loved them all, but this will always be my favourite. Ms. James is up there on my "Erotic Romance Goddess" pedestal.
- Maya Banks Songbird. If you haven't guessed it yet, I love a story that can make me cry. Songbird had me sniffling right from the get-go. I pull it out every now and then and try to figure out how Maya can pack such emotion along with a tight story in so few words. It's a novella. Yet it feels and reads like a novel. Maya's another one up there on the "Erotic Romance Goddess" pedestal.
- Vivian Arend’s Wolf Signs. Like Maya's Songbird, I pull Viv's Wolf Signs up from time to time trying to figure out how she can create a world with werewolves that's so believable, that so detailed, to have to characters connect and fall in love and yet keep the story to a novella length. Wolf Signs is unique in that it has a deaf heroine and Viv handles it with such aplomb and such ease that you forget it, and you almost want to stand up and cheer when the hero and heroine finally get together and ... well, read the book and you'll understand. I loved Vivian's Tidal Wave and the sequel to Wolf Signs, Wolf Flight, as well, but Wolf Signs is the one that grabbed and held me first.
- Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Acheron. This was a pleasant surprise because Sherrilyn is one of those hit-or-miss authors for me. Acheron can be hard to read if you have delicate sensibilities because Sherrilyn puts Ash through some really nasty stuff in his childhood. If you haven't guessed it, I love books that torture the heroes and heroines, though not usually so literally as Ash is. Plus it's a deliciously long book to sink my teeth into, although I bought it as a hardcover so it's a wieldy tome some days. But worth it. Sooo worth it.
- Erin McCarthy’s Flat Out Sexy. I won this book thanks to a "Save the Contemporary" contest over on Smart Bitches. It was the first time I'd read anything by Erin McCarthy. I enjoyed her writing so much I'm buying more of her books now! What better recommendation can there be than that?
- Catherine Wade’s Another Time Around – It’s Ghost meets Truly, Madly, Deeply and while it's just as sad as both of them, it never gets maudlin as Cate adds little touches of humor to keep it level. I'd bought it, but I have so many on my TBR list, that I hadn't gotten to it until one of my critique partners emailed me after I hosted Catherine here on my blog promoting it. Dani raved about it, told me I just HAD to read it, that she'd cried so many times while she'd read it. So I hauled it out that night and ... yeah, another late night, and another box of tissues later, Another Time Around firmly earned its place on my Keeper Shelf. And yes, when it comes out in print, I'll be buying the paperback version too! Sometimes there's nothing like actually holding the book in your hand and turning the pages.
- Ann Aguirre’s Blue Diablo. Yup, Ann's got another book on my keeper shelf -- this one is the first in her Corinne Solomon series. It's not a sic-fi this time, but an urban fantasy. (By the way, in order to satisfy the FTC, I should disclose that I won Blue Diablo from Ann in a twitter contest, but it has absolutely no bearing on whether I liked it or not. I'm too picky a reader, and my reading tastes too eclectic to play that type of game.)
- Nora Robert’s McKade Brother series – a blast from the past, I loved this series the first time around in the mid'90s I believe it was. But when we moved earlier this decade, I cleared my shelves and gave away boxes and boxes of books. Including *sob* my beloved McKades. So I was thrilled to see them re-released so I could tuck them back on my shelf this year. Harlequin has rebound Rafe and Jared's stories into a single paperback. I love bad boy Rafe.While I wasn't as thrilled with Jared's behavior, I loved his heroine, Savannah. (I'm looking forward to them releasing Devin and Shane's story. Okay, Devin's story. Although I loved Shane I wasn't thrilled with his heroine. Dang it, I spent $50 worth of books yesterday. When I went looking to see when/if Devin's story was out, I found it over on the Book Depository and now I've just put in yet another order! Hi, my name is Leah, I am a book addict!)
- JK Coi’s Immortal series – The whole series is NY worthy in my humble opinion. JK's up there with JR Ward. In fact lately, I'd say she's better than JR. I love the world she's created, and the heroes and heroines populating it. Buy it before the end of today before Linden Bay completely disappears and Samhain removes it from their shelves. :(
- Victoria Dahl’s I initially tagged her Talk Me Down for an honorable mention, but you know, I love her whole contemporary series -- Talk Me Down is the first in the series, and in an absolutely inspired marketing move, since Talk Me Down is about an erotic romance writer, Victoria's written the book her character, Holly Summers, is writing. The Wicked West has been released as a novella in eformat only--come on, it's a great book, and worth trying an ebook if you've never given them a shot before. Start Me Up, the second in the series, is equally as good, and I'm looking forward to reading the third book, Lead Me On, when it arrives in my mailbox (it releases Jan. 2010, so it should be soon!) You can find out more about all the books by following either link -- Victoria's got all her books on the same page.
One final shout out -- not for a book but for a book seller. I generally try to support Canadian booksellers when I can. But around here there's only one bookstore that sells new books, and that's Chapters. They bought out everyone else, so I'm stuck with them whether I like them or not. I don't like that I pay more for the book in the store, than I do online, but to support my "habit" I have to forego the pleasure of browsing the actual books on occasion, and buy them from a website. However, in order not to spend a buttload of money in shipping costs, I'm forced to buy in bulk -- as in over $50 before I get free shipping from Chapters/Indigo. There are days I want to buy a single book and I don't want to pay as much if not more than the book costs to have it mailed. Amazon.ca isn't much different. That's why I love using The Book Depository. There are two sites -- the UK one, and the US based .Com one -- I tend to find more sales on the .Com one. So why do I support a non-Canadian firm? Because they ship to Canada (and over 90 other countries) without charging exorbitant shipping fees. Doesn't matter if your book is $2 or $20, you don't pay shipping. No, I'm not getting a kickback to promote them. I just like saving money.
Another reason I love them? Because they read this blog and changed their policy because of something I wrote. Me! A single blogger with a tiny following. I'd made a comment back in August about how they didn't ship to Croatia where one of my readers lives. Since she was also a winner of a book here on my blog I couldn't get a book shipped to her -- not from TBD, Chapters, Amazon or even Harlequin. I had to order the book, have it shipped to me here, and then mail it. So I was paying double postage costs. Kieron over at TBD responded and the next day he came back and said they were now providing free shipping to people in Croatia. That was classy. Thanks, Book Depository. You get two thumbs up from this book buyer!