KJ’s 2016 Reading Roundup plus giveaway

This year I mostly read the news, obsessively, while everything caught fire. But I also read some books.

I’ve been making more effort to review on Goodreads recently, in large part to jog my terrible memory. I didn’t think I’d been great about it this year, but in fact I still have enough fabby reads listed for a good hefty summary post, so here it is. Romance, SFFH (that’s sci fi, fantasy and horror) and a bit of non fiction.

I have been trying to diversify my reading and seek out more own-voices writers, particularly in romance—it was not flattering to me quite how much of a conscious effort that took at first—and it’s made a huge difference to my reading enjoyment, with the vastly increased range of ideas and perspectives, characters and topics and settings and lives on offer for me to splash in.

These are in no particular order apart from Documenting Light, which is first, and for which there is a giveaway if you scroll to the end. (But read the post first. I put effort into this, you know.)

A competent person would include covers but I have a stinking cold and a sick child, so, not competent.

Romance

Documenting Light by EE Ottoman (trans, m/nb)

If you’re going to read one book based on this rec list, make it this. Real, emotional, beautifully written, fascinating story of two people, one trans, one nonbinary, who are really just trying to get by and find one another. It’s all about being seen, now and in history; about small touches and little braveries that add up to big stuff, and it’s lovely.

A Champion’s Heart by Piper Huguley (m/f)

Extending her series about sisters finding love in the early years of the 20th century. This one is set in the Great Depression, with a boxer returning to find the woman he left behind. Superb historical detail—the black family’s journey out of the South is hair-raising; the casually dropped racism is hair-curling—and intense spirit of place and time, as ever with this author, who is also not afraid to show her previous heroines in an unsympathetic light. /applauds wildly/ Faith informs the book very heavily, but doesn’t offer easy answers.

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner (m/f)

This historical series is so good with its small-town setting and concentration on local life and interaction. This book is the story of a starchy valet turned butler and the freewheeling housemaid he falls in love with. It’s brilliant on the minutiae, which brings the atmosphere to life and feeds into the characters, and a hot, sweet romance too. And how often do you see servants in starring roles in British historicals? Not enough, that’s how often.

Fit by Rebekah Wetherspoon (m/f)

Another great series, this one contemporary. I glommed all three in like 36 hours but the first remains my favourite. BDSM that doesn’t take itself seriously—this book is laugh-out-loud funny—and a gorgeous heroine who is properly fat and doesn’t have to get thin for her HEA. All too rare. Loved it.

Eleventh Hour by Elin Gregory (m/m)

I LOVE THIS. A world weary spy is partnered with a back-office chap of no experience but a talent for cross-dressing in order to carry out a surveillance operation on an international terrorist of the Joseph Conrad school. Wonderful 1920s atmosphere, great sexual tension, utterly delightful leads, exciting plotting. Just gigantic fun.

Daughters of a Nation by Alyssa Cole et al (m/f)

A historical romance anthology from the authors of the excellent The Brightest Day collection. Tough, timely POC-focused romance set at various point in the struggle for suffrage in America. This is important stuff that needs to be remembered and written and these authors are doing a cracking job of that.

Gays of our Lives by Kris Ripper (m/m)

I love this whole contemporary series with all sorts of leads, including f/f and trans characters, and recommend them all so far. This one is laugh-out-loud funny at points and its narrator, Emerson, may be the grouchiest hero ever committed to paper, a gloriously misanthropic git.

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant (trans, m/m)

I don’t think I can improve on my description of this as a hot bath and fluffy towel of a book. Delightful happy-making short read with a prickly young trans man and a really irritable boss getting to know one another. Give yourself a lunchtime lift.

Roller Girl by Vanessa North (trans, f/f)

A really lovely, uplifting book about the women of a roller derby team. I kind of want a book about each one of them. Loved Tina and Joe and all the female friendships and fun. Actually wanted to play roller derby for a brief moment. Lovely.

Shatterproof by Xen Sanders (m/m)

Dark, lyrical, weird, magical, scary. A very fairytale feel for a paranormal story about depression and despair, and about finding hope in the darkness. A super intense, immersive read of the kind that really takes over your brain. I loved it.

 

SF, Fantasy, Horror

The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L Howard

If you haven’t read the Johannes Cabal series and you like sarcastic and occasionally lethal necromancers, Lovecraftian parody, genre bending, and fun, oh boy you are in for a treat. I love all five books. For heaven’s sake read in order, this is #5. I think Johannes Cabal The Detective is my favourite but all of them are hilarious, plotty, gleefully demented and sometimes deeply warped.

Bonesy by Mark Rigney

I glommed the entire Renner and Quist series. American gothic horror with a sense of humour, pairing a redneck and a dodgy ‘priest’ investigating mysteries. Very likeable, frequently very horrifying indeed.

Skin Deep Magic by Craig Laurance Gidney

This and his other short story collection Sea Swallow Me are outstanding. Gidney is a terrific, inventive, evocative writer who ought to be more widely known. Romantic, fantastical, strange, sometimes really dark and scary. Superb stuff.

Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett

Is it another series I glommed like a cartoon squirrel going through a tree? Why yes it is. Absolutely wonderful fantasy with an understated m/m romance at the centre, delightful world building, huge warmth, interesting plots and a new one coming out next year oh my god I cannot wait. Read them all!

The Serpent by Claire North

The first of three linked spec fic novellas with a lovely concept about a mysterious mystic game-playing sect. You need to read all three, really, but I think this was my favourite. I want the author to write more in her Kate Griffin persona though, I miss Matthew Swift.

Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Sequel to the utterly glorious urban fantasy The Rook. I loved this one just as much. Ingenious, funny, twisty, well-plotted, lovely strong female leads, and vast quantities of gleeful inventiveness.

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Not sure whether to put this under romance or fantasy, both are valid. A nice twisty political/mystical conspiracy plot in a well developed mitteleuropeanish fantasy setting; a delightful slow burn f/f romance. Hugely readable fun.

 

Non-fiction

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla et al

This has been getting column inches for a reason. A terrific collection of essays about the British immigrant experience, from all kinds of perspectives that often don’t get space. Often angry, often hilarious, always thoughtful. Should be required reading for every Brit.

Dirty Old London: the Victorian Fight against Filth by Lee Jackson

Let’s not mess about. Either you read that title and thought, Wow, Victorian drains, plumbing and rubbish disposal? That sounds intriguing! or you didn’t. If you did, I highly recommend this. Packed full of fascinating and often stomach-churning facts.

Bright Young People by DJ Taylor

I was thinking of writing a romance series about the Bright Young Things of the 20s and 30s, but then I read this book and realised I’d rather floss with barbed wire. It’s noteworthy they couldn’t even tolerate themselves. Really interesting social history of a generation at an extraordinary point in time, as long as you don’t mind shouting “Oh my God you insufferable entitled twat!” at the pages a lot.  A useful companion to this would be Among the Bohemians, which is about people around the same period who were kind of like the Bright Young People but generally with less privilege and more talent, so you’ll be shouting “Oh my God you insufferable smug twat!” instead.

If you are going to read about the Bright Young Awfuls, I strongly recommend Crazy Pavements by Beverley Nichols which is a pre Vile Bodies expose novel, and also a queer romance under the thinnest possible veil, written in the 1920s.

Richmond Unchained by Luke G Williams

Biography of a black British boxer who competed for the English title, became a national superstar, and was a guard of honour at the Prince Regent’s coronation as George IV. An amazing story, as thrilling as any novel. The author’s a boxing journalist, and it shows because the accounts of Richmond’s two big fights are heart-stoppingly exciting.

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson

It’s about the history and practice of decapitation. What would you like me to say?

________________

Because it’s Christmas and because I want people to read it, I am giving away an e-copy of Documenting Light to a randomly chosen commenter here. Just name one good book you read this year in the comments to be considered! Draw will be made on 16th December.

________________

My most recent release was the story ‘The Price of Meat’ in the All In Fear queer horror anthology. Wanted, a Gentleman releases on 9 January, and then my new Victorian trilogy Sins of the Cities starts in February with An Unseen Attraction.

 

42 replies
  1. Wendy Clements
    Wendy Clements says:

    I read some of the same ones you did, as well as yours. I really like Rose Lerner, too. Also Eleventh Hour. I have others on my TBR. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I really liked Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop. She is sort of amazing to me because she’s written at least three series now and all the worlds are very different and very fleshed out (no pun intended) which can be difficult to do really convincingly in fantasy. That said, I always like your books, that’s a given. One I felt really silly reading but enjoyed quite a bit was Abercrombie Zombie by K.Z. Snow. I was just in a crummy mood and it really made me laugh. I would recommend it.

    Reply
  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    Oh I read so many books this year that I adored!

    Okay … here ya go – Everyday History by Alice Archer. There was something about the concept that took my breath away, and I loved the way it was written.

    Reply
  3. Holly Tunstall
    Holly Tunstall says:

    I have read so many books this year but i think the best book (or series?) was the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat. I read all three books within a fortnight (might’ve been my exam study leave fortnight but was totally worth it). Would recommend those books to literally anyone! Hope you enjoy.

    Reply
  4. Julie B.
    Julie B. says:

    Thanks so much for an amazing list, KJ! Definitely one I can see myself coming back to when it’s time for my next book splurge.

    One of my fave books I’ve read this year is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. It’s YA fantasy, which used to be my life’s blood in my early-mid teen years, but I’ve drifted away from it since then for multiple reasons. I gave this one a chance though and did not regret it. There’s multiple romances going on along the tight plot, including the beginnings of an m/m one, and where I would normally be slightly annoyed by the “typical” m/f romances in YA fantasy, this book managed to make them interesting for me in a new way and kept the two brilliant female characters independent, aware of what they deserve and all around incredible characters 🙂

    Reply
  5. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    The Bourbon Thief by Tiffany Reisz earlier this year was pretty special. I loved the Original Sinners series so much and I’m happy to read anything this talented woman writes. This one is a Southern Gothic with so many twists & turns and family secrets, you can’t help but keep reading.

    As a Brit I had to train myself to read ‘bourbon’ as bur-bon (dark, sexy liquor) instead of bor-bon (non-sexy type of biscuit). But once I’d got over that I enjoyed this book immensely. As ever, the well developed, multi-layered characters & excellent dialogue that you would expect from Tiffany Reisz, plus awesome unexpected plot twists, made this book hugely enjoyable.

    Reply
  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Great list! I also loved Eleventh Hour and Rollergirl, both fun in different ways. I think my favorite book this year was For Real. I go back and forth about Alexis Hall’s books generally – like but don’t love them – but this one was utterly stunning.

    Reply
  7. Elin
    Elin says:

    Oh thank you *cwtches*

    I was interested in the Bright Young Things too, as a potential short in the Eleventh Houriverse, but … they were just a little bit loathesome, weren’t they? All that conspicuous consumption of wealth and lack of care for the people who were desperate for a fair wage, health care, etc etc

    Reply
  8. Bodi
    Bodi says:

    You turned me on To Melissa Scott on a previous list, and her Astreiant novels have moved to the top of my favorites list. Point of Hopes was no exception. I also loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Brilliant fairy tale with so many twists, great depiction off female friendship, and a believable romance that doesn’t overwhelm plot.

    Reply
  9. iam
    iam says:

    Thanks for the recs!
    My favourite book (or rather, series) this year was Falls Chance Ranch by Rolf&Ranger. It’s more of an unedited WIP available online, and it’s ridiculously long and I loved it to pieces. Since I’m not sure if it even counts as book: I also loved Kings Rising by CS Pacat. Wonderful end to her beautifully heartbreaking and -warming trilogy.

    Reply
  10. Angela
    Angela says:

    The book that gave me the most happy this year was Panies by Alexis Hall. It was you that recommended it too. 🙂 Not only was it fantastic, but it introduced me to Alexis Hall. Also Gays of Our Lives was pretty damn good.

    Reply
  11. Georgie Wickham
    Georgie Wickham says:

    Best book this year – “Earth Bound” by Emma Barry (the feminist fight in 1960s NASA – unusual background & cracking romance) was runner up to Zen Cho’s “The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo” (love and other emotions in 1920s London, through the eyes of a sharp-tongued Malaysian writer). Or maybe the other way round.

    Reply
  12. Susan
    Susan says:

    I discovered The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series this year and love it! Since I was a classics major in college, some of the history is familiar to me, except for the British events. Thanks to the internet, I google any and all events that pique my interest and have learned a lot. Thanks for the list. Due to your recommendation, I bought Shatterproof!

    Reply
  13. Liv
    Liv says:

    So many good books on this list! Also, to come up with one good book I read this year, I had to scroll back through my kindle, which was lovely because it reminded me of so many of my favorites. One I particularly liked was Hard Candy by Amy Jo Cousins. Vinnie and Bryan were so good together!

    Reply
  14. Summer
    Summer says:

    I used to log all my books in Library Thing and then Life Intervened. ::waaah:: This year I do remember one I really, really enjoyed “Laughing All the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman” by Zarqa Nawaz, a Canadian Muslimah. She is *HILARIOUS*. It was an impulse grab at at the library on my way to a lakehouse weekend and I got some stares at the pool as I laughed to the point of tears, but it was totally worth it. I am recommending it to everyone.

    Reply
  15. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing this great list. Thanks to your suggestions, I’ve added a bunch to my TBR list. Two stories that I loved this year were: “Coffee Boy” by Austin Chant and “Spy Stuff” by Matthew J. Metzger. Wonderful, thoughtful, loving and all-around lovely reads.

    Reply
  16. Jain
    Jain says:

    The best book I’ve read this year is *Cuckoo Song* by Frances Hardinge. Historical fantasy YA with more than a touch of horror, it’s noteworthy for the originality of its fantasy elements, a beautifully drawn post-WWI setting, and a nuanced examination of familial relationships.

    Reply
  17. Alice
    Alice says:

    I also second Frances Hardinge, though I’d go for the Lie Tree – creepy and furious, this is full of Victorian problems with doing science and being female (both separately and together). Also The Raven and the Reindeer by T Kingfisher – a very satisfying retelling of the Snow Queen with an f/f romance at the core

    Reply
  18. Jayne
    Jayne says:

    Oh good – was going to come and give you a smack if Johannes Cabal and Stiletto weren’t on here. And as we have similar taste I’m going to buy some of your recs despite some truly terrible covers…

    Reply
  19. Jude
    Jude says:

    I’m rather wary of reading like a suck-up, but in all honesty, my favourite books this year were yours and Alexis Hall’s. All of them. Aside from those, Ginn Hale’s Rifter series was a gripping read, with terrific world-building. And Dara Marks’ Inside Story is the first book I’ve read about writing that made sense to me, in that it aligns with the way I already think and write, and showed me how to build on those inclinations to write more effectively.

    Reply
  20. Andy
    Andy says:

    Well, other than finding, tripping over and falling into mm stories with actual males in them (not women in breeches, thank you very much) I’m going to have to say Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Born of Legend. Among the insanely intertwined plot threads, classical references and enough realism to keep the whole thing moving forward, the whole series is lovely work.

    Small press, well, yes, as I mentioned. All of yours, Jordan L Hawk and a few one offs like Eleventh Hour, generally I haven’t found many I would recommend. However, I do have to mention Olivia Cunning’s book Insider since it combines a poly romance with music. Something I’m very fond of. And with that, I’m going to leave some column inches for others.

    Reply
  21. cleo
    cleo says:

    Wait, there’s another Astreiant novel coming out next year?! That’s great news.

    I don’t think I can name just one good book. I read a lot on your list and in the comments – here are a few that I don’t think have been mentioned as much.

    Alyssa Cole was one of my discoveries this year – I glommed her Off the Grid post-appoc PNR and it was so much fun (both m/m and m/f pairings). And I finally read her novella in The Brightest Day anthology and it lived up to the hype.

    I loved, loved Marie Sexton’s Trailer Trash – m/m ya set in 1980s Wyoming. It’s one of her best works (imo) – she really captured the era and high school and first love. The hfn is satisfying and believable and I really didn’t know how she was going to pull it off.

    I love Kris Ripper’s Queers of LA Vista series. I can’t recommend it enough. I just finished the latest one yesterday. My favorite so far is The Butch and The Beautiful (f/f).

    Reply

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