As another year comes to a close, I find myself eager to make a bit of time to reflect on the stories I’ve read and reviewed for Joyfully Jay this year. Even without consulting the list of books for 2019, one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest: The Aurora Circus by Viano OniomohHell, I sent a physical copy to my cousin because I loved it so much and wanted him to love it, too. Oniomoh just paints a delightfully colorful, queer, complex world and captures the heartache of wanting to fit in so badly while also suffering with a case of imposter syndrome on steroids—only to have everything work out in the best possible way.

In direct opposition to this “ready to recommend it to anyone within hearing distance” title was Snapshots: Coup de foudre by Ellis Blackwell, a book I literally forgot about until I was combing my year’s worth of reviews. Once my memory was jogged, though, I remembered how much I enjoyed this take on instalove. Usually, the instalove trope feels like a lazy way to pair up the love interests. This book seems to focus entirely on what love at first sight might actually look like. Having it focus on well-to-do jet-setting rich guys doesn’t hurt, either.

The Things That Come by Dan Ackerman was another favorite of mine that stuck in my head a long time. This was a book that encompassed so many things: romance, extraterrestrials, attempted murder, single mothers, multiple shades of BAMF-ery. Part of the appeal was the sense of nostalgia for Sunday evening broadcasts of The X-files, another example of mixing paranormal with regular old abnormal. I really enjoyed the balance between two wildly divergent storylines: the MCs struggle with being catnip for aliens and the MCs falling in love with a Muslim boy and all the drama that incurs.

Another book that left a strong impression on me was A Soldier’s Horizon by T.A. Creech. I consider this a fairly rare book because the main characters aren’t humans or even shifters, but a half-snake/half-human mixed species. On top of that, the MC suffers a grievous injury worthy of exploration in fanfic.

Another book I read this year was colored with a bit of nostalgia: Realm of the Impossible by N.J. Lysk. As a teenager, a fan fic writer I liked also wrote original fiction and had a series that focused on the taboo of twincest. The series was electrifying and I was chuffed to find the same kind of complexity represented in Realm of the Impossible. Not only did the story grapple with falling in love with a sibling, but it took on gender norms in a very creative (if sometimes confusing) way.

Two last two titles that really stand out from among this years reads are A Fall in Autumn by Michael G. Williams and Beware Mohawks Bearing Gifts by S.A. Collins. The former reminded me of a hardboiled detective story, the kind you’d expect to see in black and white on TV and featuring Humphrey Bogart as the protagonist. The latter was an interesting reimagining of American history that turns First Nations people into paranormal guardians fighting to maintain the balance between light and dark forces. I loved how A Fall in Autumn spins a slow burn romance that seemingly barely kindles, but ends with a bang. The ending is happily for now and was marvelously upbeat after a book where the MC is at the mercy of his slowly dying body…and another example of the kind of ending that inspires fanfiction. With Beware Mohawks Bearing Gifts, I really enjoyed watching the main character slowly discover his sexuality is not strictly straight. He gets magically attached to a friend fairly soon in the book and completely misreads all his friend’s anxiety about what their magical connection means. That alone makes the book work a re-read to properly enjoy how clueless the main character is.

Of course, there were so many other books I read and enjoyed, but I think this is a great sampling of the books that really left an impression on me. I think it’s clear that I enjoy reading stories that feature diverse casts and books that end with the kind of happy surprise that leaves readers hopeful for a sequel yet (mostly) content if none are forthcoming.

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