Cindi’s Favorite Books of 2013
In 2013 I fell in love with some fictional characters and despised others. I discovered a magical Valley with River Dwellers and fell in love with a young boy and his angel. I watched a character who I felt was beyond redemption become a new all-time favorite. I laughed as a man discovered his gayness at a very advanced age – and acted on it. I saw pastries used as weapons. I revisited beloved characters and I watched men find love again after an unbearable loss. I cried as I watched the plight of the homeless and a main character die for his cause. I wanted to cover my eyes as a young man recovered memories of a childhood so horrific that his adult life was almost destroyed as a result. I grieved along with a man who was mourning his beloved father and who fought like hell to find those responsible for his death. I watched serial killers learn the meaning of karma and some who haven’t quite met her yet. I saw countless couples find their happily-ever-afters. I shed more tears than I ever have this year while reading – some happy, a lot not. I even discovered the love of flesh-eating zombies!
The books listed stood out above all for me this year. Only #1 is numbered as I could never pick favorites from the others, and those are listed in random order. Most books are in the LGBT genre, but not all. There are extra categories at the bottom of this post listing my sentimental favorite of 2013, my favorite erotica book and my favorite book published by a first-time author.
This is a thank you to every author who has sat down before their computer (or taken pen to paper) and written the words that have so entertained me (and countless others). So to every author whose book I’ve read this year, whether your name is on this list or not, I say thank you! Thank you for the countless hours of entertainment. Thank you for the laughs and yes, thank you for the tears. Thank you for showing me things I never would have seen without your talent.
I also want to extend a huge thank you to my blog partner and friend Kazza K, who took a chance on this southern girl by asking me to collaborate on what is now On Top Down Under Book Reviews. Thank you, my friend, I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble we can get into in 2014!
My books tied for the #1 spot for 2013 are –
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men and Azrael and the Light Bringer (Valley Books) by Eric Arvin
Published by Wilde City Press on April 24, 2013 and August 14, 2013
LGBT (G), Fantasy
This should surprise no one. My love of the Valley books is well known. They are not just my favorites of 2013, they are two of my favorite books of all-time. Eric Arvin has written a story so epic (I’m including both books in that statement) that I am still blown away months later. The characters, the world they live in and all the stories told are absolutely phenomenal. I was already a fan of Eric Arvin before I read these books. They placed him up there as an all-time favorite. The writing is pure genius. The story takes you places you will never go in other books, unless the author writes more in the series. You have to read both expecting to be taken on a different kind of journey than the norm. There are a lot of characters introduced and the world in which they live is not always easy to grasp at times. Go in expecting serious fiction, not a love story.
So congratulations to Eric Arvin, who took my top spot for books published in 2013. You made me smile. You made me cry. You introduced me to a wonderful new world and some of the most amazing characters I’ve ever seen. The covers are gorgeous and perfect for each book.
A video interview of Eric Arvin discussing both books (and others), published on On Top Down Under in October, can be found here.
The rest of my favorites of 2013 –
M/M, Angels, Angst, Fantasy, Grief
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 25, 2013
When I finished this book I did something I’ve never done in all my years of reading. I contacted the author privately about the book. Why? Because I’ve never read a book that had grief written so real that I could personally feel it like I did this book. I don’t know TJ Klune personally, though I’ve followed him all over the place since I read his first book. Until I read this I had never felt the need to contact an author just to say “Thank you” but I did with Into This River I Drown.
Benji Green is mourning the loss of this beloved father five years after his death. He knows he didn’t die in an accident and all Benji cares about is finding those who killed him. I assure you that if you haven’t read this that a lot of tears will be shed once you do. I lost my sister four and a half years ago and I know grief. It’s debilitating. There are no words to describe what one goes through when they lose someone close. You can’t be there for anyone else, though they are mourning as well. You can’t function some days. It’s like you are in a black hole and you feel that there is no hope of coming out of it. This is how the grief is written in this book. You aren’t just reading it, you’re feeling it. For that reason, this book will forever hold a special place for me. TJ Klune has felt the grief. He’s lived with the loss of his beloved father. I have no doubt it was a difficult story to write and I applaud the author for writing it so well. This is the only book (of fiction) that I’ve ever read where I wanted to give the author a huge hug when I was done. If you’ve read it, you know why.
M/M, Contemporary, Angst, Grief
Published by Dreamspinner Press on January 21, 2013
After The End tells the story of a man who lost the love of his life and feels that he can’t go on. When the opportunity for new love comes into his life, he fights it. He feels that he is dishonoring the memory of the man he loved above all else. This not an easy read but it tells the story of finding love again and in the end, it shows that it’s okay to move on. I started crying within the first few pages of this book and didn’t stop until long after the end. What starts as a heartbreaking story of loss later becomes a beautiful story of finding love again.
One of the best, most touching stories I’ve ever read.
M/M, Contemporary, Angst, Mystery, Past Abuse, Psychological
Published by Dreamspinner Press on July 22, 2013
What happens when a boy is brutally abused as a child and witnesses something so horrific that he blocks out years of his life? What happens when he tries to commit suicide years later but has no real conscious reason for doing so? You get Kevin. Kevin has had a difficult life. He experienced things that no one (child or adult) should ever experience. He wanders along through life knowing that things are not as they should be. But yet he’s terrified of opening the door to recover old memories. Only with the patience and love of another man is he finally able to face his childhood.
This is a very difficult read and anyone going into it must read the warnings put in place by the author before the first chapter. Billy’s Bones contains content that would be considered triggers to victims of sexual abuse.
Crack The Darkest Sky Wide Open (Anthology) by Eric Arvin, Abigail Roux, TJ Klune, S.J.D. Peterson, S.A. McAuley, Jason Huffman-Black
M/M, Angst, BDSM,Contemporary, Fantasy, History,Military, Paranormal
Self-Published on May 17, 2013
Each story in this anthology is unique. One is gruesome. Others will tear on your emotions but for different reasons. Some are disturbing and others will make you stop and think. You may say “What the hell did I just read?” more than once or you may be cussing an author for tearing your heart out. Regardless, you will enjoy this collection of stories by some very talented authors. If you can read the last one, John & Jackie by TJ Klune, without shedding a few tears then I have to say that nothing can get to you. I have read all of his others and loved them all, but this is his best hands down in my opinion. The foreword by Eric Arvin is hilarious.
M/M, Contemporary, Self-Discovery
Published by Dreamspinner Press on May 21, 2013
Raining Men was my biggest shocker of the year. Rick R. Reed took a character that I loathed in Chaser and made me fall in love with him in Raining Men. I did not believe it was possible. If you’ve read Chaser you know that Bobby is a horrible human being. He’s a user. An abuser. He’s self-centered and only cares about himself, others be damned. He betrayed his best friend in an unforgivable way and I knew when I ended that book that nothing would change my opinion of him. Well, I was wrong. 5% into Raining Men and I was feeling sympathy for Bobby. By 15% I was rooting for him. By 40% I was head over heels in love with him. Only a truly talented author can take a character like Bobby and make him out to be a good guy in the end. Rick R. Reed did it brilliantly.
You can read an interview by Rick R. Reed, published on On Top Down Under in October, here.
M/M, Contemporary, Humor
Published by Dreamspinner Press on October 14, 2013
Serenading Stanley has the best cast of characters that I have seen in a John Inman book and I’ve read all of his adult books. With every John Inman book I go in expecting a bit of humor and Serenading Stanley is no different. Only in this book there is more than just the classic humorous story. It tells the story of two men who are quite different from each other who have to work through a lot to get their happily-ever-after. One feels he’s not good enough. The other just wants someone to love him for what’s inside instead of just the out. A fantastic story.
You can read an in-depth review with John Inman, published on On Top Down Under in October, here.
M/M, Contemporary, Abuse, Homelessness, Past Sexual Abuse, Short Story
Published by Wilde City Press on July 31, 2013
Pudding Jones was very difficult to review. It was heartbreaking to read. This story is about real issues and real problems that occur daily in cities all over the world. Pudding Jones may be the main character but this tells the story of many. I ended it with tears running down my face and as I type this now – almost two months later – I am still feeling the effects of this story. The author should be applauded for tackling the subject of homelessness and writing it in such a realistic way. Only 58 pages but more said in those few pages than some 300 page books I’ve read.
LGBT (G), Horror, Paranormal, Young Adult
Published by Bold Strokes Books on August 13, 2013
I have been a fan of Greg Herren since I read Timothy a year ago. I have read several of his, written as Greg Herren and his pseudonym Todd Gregory. I have enjoyed them all. Lake Thirteen, however, is his best yet in my opinion. It is billed as Young Adult and it is a book for older teens but after reading it, I knew that it was the perfect book for those of all ages. It’s not often that I review YA books on On Top Down Under but after reading this I knew it would be reviewed on here as well as our YA sister site, Greedy Bug Book Reviews.
This is a story about friendship, family, ghosts and second chances – only not in the way one would expect. The author took a story that seemed improbable and made it so believable that I could not turn the pages on my Kindle fast enough. I kept waiting to see how everything would be resolved and when it was? Brilliant.
Not only is Lake Thirteen by Greg Herren one of my favorite books of 2013 at On Top Down Under, it will take my #1 spot for best Young Adult book of 2013 on Greedy Bug.
M/M, Paranormal, Series, Shifters
Published by Dreamspinner Press on November 15, 2013
I have to confess. I have read thousands of books in my day but my favorite couple ever are the two main characters in the Sanguis Noctis series, Jed and Red. I know, I’m not supposed to pick favorites but I was head over heels with both guys only a few pages into book one of this series. Jed is a bad-ass mercenary and Red is his shy, shifter boyfriend. They are as different as night and day but perfect for each other. In Bloodlines, we were reintroduced to Victor and Randall (both important characters in the 2nd in the series, Blood in the Sand). The story is Victor and Randall’s but yet it’s not. There are several stories going on at once and each one is critical for the story as a whole. From Jed and his hilarious cat-loving and explosion ways to Red’s sweetness and the nerdiness of both Victor and Randall, every single page was entertaining. This ended with a major cliffhanger but one that was expected. I will be counting down the days until book number four is released.
M/M, Anthology, Horror, Humor, Paranormal, Violence (not for the squeamish)
Published by Wilde City Press on July 17, 2013
I’ve read a lot of anthologies over the years but Zombie Boyz is the first one I’ve ever read where all of the stories got 5 stars from me. The strange thing? I don’t do zombies. Ever. I don’t read the books. I don’t watch the television shows. I don’t watch the movies. So why did I read this anthology when I hate anything zombie? Look at the six authors who contributed.
Some of the stories are silly, some are sweet, some are grotesque and some will make you cry like a little girl (hello TJ Klune and Eric Arvin!) You will laugh. You will say “awww” a couple of times and you will definitely say “ew!” more than once. I can definitely guarantee a few tears. But in the end, you will be glad you read this great collection of zombie shorts.
M/M, Contemporary, Humor
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 12, 2013
A hilarious tale of dognapping, kidnapping, a scorned lover, a psychotic family, a really old grandfather who suddenly discovers he’s gay, disturbed employers, donuts, a cute dog and the two men in the middle of it all. This book had me laughing from the first few pages and I didn’t stop until I got to the end.
This is John Inman at his best. Loving Hector is one of the most entertaining (and hilarious) books I’ve read in a very long time. This author does laugh-out-loud humor well.
M/M, Contemporary, BDSM, Cowboys, Series
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 8, 2013
BDSM. Cowboys. Need I say more? Oh, and check out that cover. Hot!
I’ve been a fan of Andrew Grey for awhile now and I always look forward to his releases. While nothing will ever compare to Love Comes Silently for me, A Wild Ride comes very close.
A one-night stand between a cowboy and a stockbroker ends up turning into more when elderly Hy hires the stockbroker to handle his financial matters. Imagine the surprise of all involved when it is revealed that the cowboy is Hy’s grandson. There is a bit of drama and a few misunderstandings and it takes awhile for these complete opposites to accept that they are right for each other but in the end everything comes together beautifully. Hy is one of the greatest characters I’ve ever seen. You can’t help but fall in love with him.
Contemporary, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-Romance, Thriller
Published by DarkFuse on February 26, 2013
Sometimes I’ll read a book and find myself rooting for the bad guy. Strange, right? That was definitely the case for me with Stalking You Now by Jeff Strand. A disturbed individual is stalking a man who is out with friends. The ‘victim’ is completely unaware that he will not be making it home that night. The stalker has been planning the other man’s demise for a very long time. Revenge is a horrible thing. Only things don’t go even remotely as planned for the killer.
There is not much I can say about this book without giving it away. I will say that it’s brilliantly written and the resolution was perfect. It’s not often that I am able to step away from my normal genre to revisit my old favorite – horror – but I am very glad that I did this time.
A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas
M/M, Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller
Published by Dreamspinner Press on May 13, 2013
Two men hook up for what is supposed to be a one-night stand. They end up meeting later under the circumstances of a murder. Deciding to continue with a no-strings type of relationship, each man tries to convince himself that the relationship is nothing more than a casual weekend thing. What neither expects is to fall in love.
There is murder, suicide and a lot of secrets. They must work together to solve the reasons behind each. One for personal reasons and the other, for professional. A great mystery and love story. There are quite a few cringe-worthy situations but each one is written well. An outstanding debut novel.
Whiskey and Wry (Sinners #2) by Rhys Ford
M/M, Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Past Abuse, Psychological, Series
Published by Dreamspinner Press on August 19, 2013
When I read Sinner’s Gin, the first book in the Sinners series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book. It ended with a cliffhanger that had me counting down the days (and stalking the author’s blog) until it was released. I was so not disappointed. This is an excellent addition to the Sinners series and I can’t wait to read #3. Sinners Gin was my first by Rhys Ford and I became an instant fan. There is a reunion scene in this book that had me crying big ugly tears. It was beautiful. A great story.
Note that the 3rd Cole McGinnis book was also released in 2013 and also got 5 stars from me. I chose to spotlight Whiskey and Wry as Sinners Gin (and Miki and Kane) were my firsts by this author and hold a special place for me.
Contemporary, Graphic Violence, Horror, Mystery/Suspense, Non-Romance, Psychological Thriller
Published by DarkFuse on October 6, 2013
It’s rare for me to be blown away by the ending of a book. I can honestly say that I was blown away by the ending of Hell’s Door. I thought I saw what was coming and I was correct in a sense but the author threw something out there that took me so much by surprise that I had to go back and reread the last ten or so pages to make sure I read it correctly. If you are going to read this, avoid all reviews with spoilers. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ve always loved thrillers that kept me guessing until the end. If I am thrown off by something I didn’t see coming, I call that an excellent book. Hell’s Door is definitely an excellent book. Not for the squeamish, as the violence is extremely graphic but highly recommended for others.
M/M, Contemporary, Humor, Opposites-Attract
Published by Dreamspinner Press on February 15, 2013
Sometimes TJ Klune will make you laugh so hard that you are almost wetting your pants. Tell Me It’s Real is one of his most hilarious stories to date. From two complete opposites (with one being as dumb as a rock – the author’s words, not mine) to a two-legged dog, a homophobic parrot, a drag queen named Helena Handbasket, much-too-accepting-about-their-son’s-homosexuality parents, a funny grandmother, a menstruating ghost who may or may not be real (he put out a box of tampons… just in case)… , and various other secondary characters and you have one hell of a funny book.
Because I have a sense of humor, I will say that (unlike some) vagina jokes do not offend me (and I have one!) and I’d be willing to bet the author doesn’t really hate women. 😉
M/M, Contemporary, BDSM, Military, Mystery/Thriller
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 19, 2013
All Stunt Folger wants to do is go to work, come home and do the occasional scene at the nearest BDSM club. Getting kidnapped by a hot ex-con (Alex) is not in his plans. Falling in love with said ex-con is really not supposed to happen. Thankfully, there is more to Alex than being a former prisoner and a current kidnapper.
Mountain Prey goes from being very serious one minute to being hilarious. A very entertaining book.
M/M, Contemporary, Military, Mystery
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 10, 2013
This is a great book about survival, cruelty and two men who find love under the most unusual circumstances.
Looking at other reviews of this book it makes me wonder if I read the same book that some of the others read. I found this to be an outstanding story. Parts aren’t very realistic but it’s fiction. I was involved from the first page and sucked in until the very end. Parts are a little hard to read because the violence and cruelty aren’t glossed over. Keep that in mind if you plan to read Hunt & Pray.
For the second year in a row, Kazza K and I chose to add a sentimental favorite to our “Best of” lists. This book may not have gotten 4.5 or 5 stars from us but each book is special in some way. Also, this year we have added the “Best Erotica” category and the “Best New Author”. The latter spotlights a book written by an author who was published for the very first time in 2013. In the case of mine, the book in this category did get 5 stars from me when I rated it and belongs on my list of best books published in 2013.
M/M, Contemporary, Cinderfella, Homelessness, Insta-Love, Opposites Attract, Short Story
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 17, 2013
Two complete opposites come together under unique circumstances. One is extremely wealthy. One is homeless. The moment they meet is magical but one runs, knowing he could never be good enough for the other. My heart broke after reading the first few lines and it was made whole again at the end.
This book is extremely unrealistic and this is noted strongly in other reviews. I am normally the first to say no to insta-love but I am a sucker for fairy tales. This is as close to a fairy tale as it could get. Granted, it ends quite suddenly and I wish there would have been an epilogue added but in the end, it was a very sweet and moving story.
Cinderella has always been my favorite (it’s where “Cindi” came from) and I have always been a sucker for a sweet and sappy happily-ever-after. For that reason, Small Miracles is my sentimental favorite for 2013. It made me cry like a little girl and then it left me feeling good inside.
M/M, Erotica, Fantasy/Paranormal, Humor
Published by Dreamspinner Press on July 8, 2013
I will simply post the epic blurb for this and say enough said. 😉
After Vorgell the barbarian fucks himself with a unicorn horn, he ends up in a cell with Maddog, a pretty young thief. It’s lust at first sight for Vorgell—but honestly, he can’t help it. Unicorn horn is a potent aphrodisiac, and now he can’t stop thinking about sex. Luckily, Madd is one male witch who knows how to put Vorgell’s new magical body to good use when he tricks Vorgell into a kiss that helps them escape.
Vorgell may desire sex in general—and Madd in particular—but Madd has no intention of being screwed by a man twice his size. He has problems of his own, including an enchanted collar that causes him to desire his most hated enemy. He wants that collar off as soon as possible, but that requires stealing a basilisk egg from the castle they just escaped.
Drawn together by lust and magic, the two men join forces and soon find themselves up to their necks in witches, wizards, and trouble. Vorgell and Madd might just be perfect for each other, but first they have to survive long enough to find out.
Best Book by a First Time Author
M/M, Ghosts, Paranormal
Published by Dreamspinner Press on January 7, 2013
Both Kazza K and I are all about reading books by first-time authors. We have our favorites who have been around for awhile but we love reading books by authors who have never published before. In 2013 I had the pleasure of reading many books by authors published for the first time this year. Others made this list and they deserve to be there. However, The Haunting of Timber Manor by F.E. Feeley, Jr. stood out for me. Don’t get me wrong, the others are outstanding as well but this one? Stood out above the rest.
I love books about ghosts – good or bad ones – and I love a good romance. The Haunting of Timber Manor has both the ghost and the couple who are trying to find their happily-ever-after in the midst of it all. The way the author put the two together in this book is outstanding. This is a well-written novel and no way would anyone reading it know that it is the first published work by F.E. Feeley, Jr.
I became an instant fan and will be reading anything and everything this author puts out in the future.