Ever since joining Joyfully Jay, I’ve been privileged to read some amazing books, found some auto-buy authors, and been fortunate enough to — out of sheer luck — listen to some great narrators. Because I can be long-winded and overly hypberbolic, I’ll try to keep this list short and to the point (as much as I ever have a point.) Perfect for your holiday reading or gift giving, here are my 2019 favorites:
There are three sweet, heartfelt romances I’d like to remind you about. They are three books — one an F/F contemporary, one YA, and one a fairy tale — that have loving, caring, and sincere characters, happy endings, and all the warm fuzzy feelings you could hope for.
New Ink On Life by Jennie Davids won me over in the first page. The writing alone is wonderful. It has a quiet eloquence and the author managed to get across not only the thoughts and emotions of the two characters, but she made them feel so alive and vibrant that I felt like I knew them. There’s a lot of chemistry between Cassie and MJ and yet nothing feels rushed; the pacing is perfection and the story is well worth the read.
Showers, Flowers and Fangs by Aidan Wayne is a YA novel with all the fun and frivolity of a paranormal series and all the wide-eyed wisdom of a teenager. It’s an opposites attract, friends to lovers celebration of what makes people different. It’s about found families and fae magic, and is a wonderful rainbow of a story and I love it.
The third love story is The Musician and the Monster by Jenya Keefe, a Beauty and the Beast story that, for once, didn’t just give us a hero with a scar or a limp. Instead, Oberon, the Beast, is an alien from another reality and his otherness ie explored in great depth. Ángel is a wonderful hero, warm and human and neither a pushover nor a romantic. This is, by far, one of my favorite retellings.
The next two books are darker, unhappy, and often deal with difficult subject matter. And yet, there’s something about them that makes me remember them and even want to read them again. The first is the Art of Death by Bob Appavu, who gave us a new paranormal world and a murder mystery, lovely writing, complex anti-heroes, and a dark and damaged main character all too aware of his own failings. It’s also the first book in a series.
The second book is Threadbare by Elle E. Ire, a sci-fi story that deals with consent, identity, love, and forgiveness. It’s a bit of a cold book, and there is a rape scene, as well as several violations of trust on the part of the love interest, who takes actions against Vic (the main character) that have some consent issues. Even so, the author handled everything so well, and the writing is so good … please, give it a try.
Next is The Soulstealers by Jacqueline Rohrbach. Worldbuilding is my catnip. I can accept a threadbare plot or slightly weak characterization if the world is alive and vibrant, but when you have worldbuilding, plot, characters, writing, and a sense of adventure and humor, you have something amazing. While the romance was lovely and sweet, it was the heroine and the way she stood up for herself, the way she tried — and sometimes managed — to forgive those who were trying to kill her that made her so sympathetic. Also, Tam, the love interest, had some really great lines. A good book for for YA and fantasy lovers.
Next up is a series I strongly urge you to read, read, read, and that’s the Soulbound series by Hailey Turner. I’ve been reviewing the audio versions (though I also have the ebooks) and I have to say, they are the best books I’ve read this year in terms of world building, character interactions, all of it. This series is just flat out amazing and book three actually takes place in December, so you can celebrate Christmas right along with Pat and Jono and their pack. Do it!
I’ve also been reviewing the Rowan Harbor series by Sam Burns, and the final book of the series will be out soon. While there is some uneveness in the stories, with some being okay and others being great, they’ve been a fun, heartwarming read overall. They remind me of English murder mysteries, with a small town full of characters, and yet … somehow, no matter how bad things get, everyone always manages to do just the right thing, say just the right thing, and finish everything up in time for tea. They’re a heartwarming, soft and fuzzy set of books that I have been very much enjoying.
This year I’ve been listening to more audio books, and I want to bring special attention to some of the men who narrate the stories. Not all of the stories were 5 stars, for me, but these guys always manage to get four or more stars just based on how good they are at what they do.
- John Solo, who narrated Claimings, Tails, and Other Alien Artifacts by Lyn Gala, brought the main character to life so strongly that I don’t think I’d be able to read this book without seeing him through Solo’s perspective. He did an absolutely amazing job. Solo made Felix so human and Ondry so alien, and managed to make the sex scene charming and cute, rather than comical.
- Philip Alces, who co-narrated Snow Falling by Davidson King, has voiced so many books, and when he did Snow Falling, he did such a great job. Alces brought humor to Christopher Manos, turning what could have been a pompous alpha into someone with human foibles; he made him flawed and so real and I love how he reads action scenes. He takes the time to get the emotion
- Joel Leslie, who narrated Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews, managed to show a character’s growth all in the tone of his voice and the confidence with which his spoke. The way Leslie narrates at the beginning is edged with emotion, but at the end there’s such an ease. Somehow, he manages gives all of his characters such humanity and earnestness.
- Michael T. Bradley narrated Curses, Foiled Again by Sera Trevor. He adds humor into the story, and gives flair and drama to the vampire and a bitter, cynical edge to the witch. I’d really like to hear more of his work.
- And last, but never least, is Gary Furlong who has been narrating the Soulbound series by Hailey Turner. Have you bought the books yet, or the audio books? If not, why not? Because you really, really should, especially the audio books because Furlong is fantastic. While not every voice is distinct, he has to give character to a dozen and a half named and active characters in each book, sometimes more. He has to pronounce names from the Celtic pantheon, Mexican, Mesoamerican, and then have people speak in the right accents … it’s amazing what he can do and how easy he makes it sound.
There are more great books out there, and I’ve given out four and five stars to quite a few. These are just the ones that I remember most, that stuck with me the longest, and that I think deserve your attention. I hope you enjoy the December holiday of your choice (or be like me and enjoy all of them!) with food, friends, family and a good book or two.