best of 2020 badgeIt’s always fun and interesting to look back at my year of reading. There are always books that stand out immediately and ones that linger throughout the year. It remains a true privilege to be part of the Joyfully Jay blog and have access to so many books and the worlds these authors create from words.

A Plump of Woodcocks by Suanne Laqueur

plump of woodcocks coverThis book features extended scenes featuring the men of the Venery series and is not intended to be read as a standalone. I read this book early on in the year and the characters from this series will forever stay with me. While the book does contain many intimate scenes, that is not all this book is. Every single story in this collection is layered with the deep emotions that make this series shine. The author acknowledges Stef and Jav by saying that, “Writing them always feels like coming home,” and each word encapsulates that feeling. Laqueur certainly dips her words into something truly special and this book was a true highlight of the year.


The Fish Tales series by Suanne Laqueur (narrated by Vanessa DeSilvio)

the man I love audio coverI would also like to mention another of Laquer’s series, The Fish Tales series, that I listened to on audio this year, but did not review for the blog. The trilogy starts with The Man I Love, which was first published in 2014, with the audio following in 2017. The storyline is primarily MF with an adjacent LGBT relationship that works as a catalyst. The book focuses on Daisy and Erik, and their close group of friends, (extra shout out to stand out character, Will) through 15 years as they meet in college and fall forever in love until an act of violence unravels everything. Laqueur’s words work to cut and soothe, at times simultaneously, while at others showing the highest joys and the lowest despair. This is an incredible story of love, friendship, loss, bottomless pain, and profound second chances. Vanessa DeSilvio, as the narrator, adjusts her range for every character and offers an intense and heartfelt performance to an already extraordinary story.


Book of Orlando by Laura Lascarso

book of Orlando coverThis book is the first in the Mortal and Divine series and has an innovative storyline that at times edges darker and at others plunges deep into those darkest parts of man and immortal. It’s a complex story where Henri, an immortal, falls in love with Orlando, a human, setting the scene for a forbidden relationship. There are parts of this book that are violent, abusive, morally ambiguous, and devastating as Henri and Orlando have a jealous, possessive, and obsessive claim to each other, but their love for each other shatters boundaries. With clever writing and a storyline that kept me hooked straight through the second book, Bloodborn Prince, the start to this trilogy was an addictive read.


They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Narrated by Adam Crouch, Robbie Daymond, Bahni Turpin)

they both die at the end audio coverIt was difficult to let this book go after I listened to it as I would get caught up again thinking about the story. The title of this book is meant to give it away and there is no last-minute reprieve for main characters, Mateo and Rufus, and the beginning spells out the end. Based on a reality where a phone call alerts the characters to their death with 24-hours notice and a way to find a last friend, Mateo and Rufus connect on their End Day. Both Mateo and Rufus are insanely likable characters and the tension is intense anticipating exactly how and when they will end their day. The audio was close to perfection and this story is designed to haunt you well past the chilling last line.


Reunion by Ariana Nash

This is the last book in the Silk and Steel series and it was everything I needed and everything the characters needed to close out this phenomenal series. The books are intended to be read in order, the journey starts with book one, Silk and Steel, and this book speaks to the heart of the relationship between Lysander and his brother, Akiem. It was incredibly easy to fall back into this world and Nash’s world building skills remain superior. There is a little bit of everything in this shorter book as the men fight, love, reveal deeply hidden secrets, and show us a glimpse of the future for all the men. If you ask me what my favorite Nash series is, it would be whichever one I am reading right then. Special acknowledgement to a standout character of the year, elf warrior Eroan Ilanea, and all of the times characters get to shout out his full name for many different reasons with a range of different emotions, which adds some extra special humor to this dark series.


Remember Me by Avril Ashton

remember me coverThe beginning of the book is designed to keep you off balance as the pieces come together to form the complete picture and I was so invested in finding out what was going on. Ashton keeps adding layers to this story as hints of the characters’ history take on more shape as the book progresses and the entire picture becomes clear in a world of gangs and violence and betrayal. With cameos from favorite characters and storylines that crossover and weave together seamlessly, Remember Me reaffirmed the thrill of reading an Avril Ashton book.


Sometimes, Always by Suki Fleet (featured in the Gifts for the Season Anthology)

gifts for the season coverThis is a follow up to Fleet’s Sometime There’s Stars and shows Peri and Echo after the end of that book and it was the prefect story for them. Peri and Echo have an all-consuming love that is soft and sweet and Fleet does what she does best here as she describes the special bond they share. It’s truly amazing what Fleet can do with words and this a perfectly magical holiday story for a couple that perfectly complements each other.


No Place Like Home by Garrett Leigh (featured in the Gifts for the Season Anthology)

It is difficult to imagine anyone reading Leigh’s Roads series and not having an incredible soft spot for all things Pete and Ash. I had no idea this was even their story until I opened the first page. Leigh was able to once again capture the essence of Pete and Ash and their enduring relationship and they are what dreams can become. This one wouldn’t work without having read the Roads series, but if you have, I am sure you will share my enthusiasm for more Pete and Ash.


Author of the year, by sheer volume alone, goes to Gregory Ashe as I have read 19! Ashe books this year. I went back to an older series of his, The Hollow Folk, that I have not gotten to, and quickly became absorbed into that world when I started Mr. Big Empty. It’s told from the troubled point of view of sixteen-year-old Vie Eliot as the violent, paranormal world around him rises up to claim him. It was difficult to emerge and then move on from this novel as I was completely and absolutely drawn into everything that made up the exceptional character of Vie, including one potential love interest, Emmett Bradley. Which leaves me with a longing for #Vemmett forever.

Another Ashe standout is Wayward, part of the extended Hazard and Somerset series. There are a lot of books to choose from starring these men and for Ashe to keep the momentum going with detailed and in-depth character development sets this series apart. It’s Hazard and Somers’ relationship that drives this series for me, and this book devoted more personal time for them. Their banter and antics together make for incredible writing and add levity to dealing with Hazard’s unchecked PTSD, family interference, and the cesspool of residents that make up their small town. Their relationship is a true journey in every sense of the word, the payoffs Ashe creates is worth it every time, and the reveal at the end of this book had me looking toward what we will see from Ashe in 2021.