Kazza K’s Books of the Year: 2016
The quote in our Books of the Year GIF is attributed to Frank Zappa, but I think it’s been said by many a reader over the years. I know I genuinely throw out ‘not enough time’ when someone asks me why I haven’t read a certain book or books; it’s true, so many books, so little time. This year it seems incredibly apt for me as well as Cindi, so it was readily agreed upon as our general 2016 motto. This has not been an easy year. There are a multitude of reasons why I probably should not have been reading and reviewing as I have, my son nearly died in January and while much better he is still recovering. My beloved husband of thirty two years is fighting leukaemia. Not to be outdone, I have Sick Sinus Syndrome, and arrhythmias have been seriously kicking my butt, but I love books and I’ve enjoyed the escapism during some complicated times.
As always, I’m sending out a huge cheers! to our fellow readers and subscribers. Thank you for supporting our blog. On Top Down Under Book Reviews, in its current format, has been running for just over four years and we really do have a wonderful support base. The growth of the blog always seems unbelievable to me, the comments amazing and, for me personally, I remain utterly blown away that so many people read my reviews. I’ll always endeavour to write in depth reviews as openly as I can for any reader wanting to see whether they may or may not be interested in reading a particular book.
Cindi is a tremendous blog partner and helps make On Top Down Under Book Reviews feel like home. She’s my friend as well as a fellow reader and it’s always great to be able to talk behind the scenes about books, life, and what both of those mean to us – this year has seen a lot of talking about life. We have a harmonious blog because we gel and work as a team, we have since day one, and I couldn’t do this without her.
In any given year I read a lot of books but I don’t review everything on here, there’s a lot that goes into my blog reviews and it can be taxing and time consuming, I need to feel it to review a book because I have so much going on- other reviews of mine can be found on Goodreads.On OTDU you’ll find the reviews I’ve had time to review and those I feel strongly about, one way or another. As for my BOTY list, the books themselves are quite diverse and they are all outstanding in their own right. It really is hard to compare them but it’s something I do for other readers, and as recognition of the authors who write beautiful words that really speak to me and keep me reading in any given year. 2016 has actually been a stellar year for books, in my opinion, I could easily have doubled my BOTY list. To the authors on my list, thank you for making my 2016 reading year memorable for all the right reasons, and thank you for helping me through some difficult times.
My Book of the Year for 2016 is –
Reaping Fate by A.J. Rose. It’s not easy finding sequels where the original main characters not only stay true to the essence of who they originally were, MCs you grew attached to as a reader, but they also develop into so much more. That’s what AJ Rose has managed with Reaping Fate. Reaping Havoc was such a good book, it was one of my favourites last year, I was worried what might happen to Mitch and Nate, no need to worry, they are even better. In order to be my BOTY an author has to make me feel a great deal for the MCs because I’m a character obsessive – and I love Mitch and Nate. They’re dream characters that AJ Rose seems to have an incredible affinity with, it shows in the effortless yet loving way they continue to be written. She is an accomplished writer at the best of times, but this series is something special. Not only are Mitch and Nate beautifully drawn, but the secondary characters also make an impact, regardless of whether they are more integral or just passing through – Katherine, their overseer, and Wes, Nate’s friend and local cop, have stepped up to the plate without detracting from the main characters. There’s also Kelly and Logan, two characters passing through but nonetheless impactful. The world building is alive, and it’s expanded on further in Reaping Fate, developing perfectly in well-paced increments for the series. This is shaping up to be one of the best and most unique series in the genre and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Reaping Fate is an amazing book and a very fitting book for my Book of the Year: 2016.
It’s Halloween, Reaper Con is in full swing and Mitch and Nate get to meet the new Reaper in town, Sebastian, and his human husband, Richard. They’re fun, flirty and charming but Nate isn’t as convinced as Mitch. Once the fun of RC is over, how do you walk a fine line between your contract with the Reapers peak body – Divinity – when you’re upset about a local serial killer? A rather sociopathic individual who has one of you in their manipulative and dangerous crosshairs. You look for a loophole and hope in the meantime that Death doesn’t get pissed off with you. If you haven’t read this series and you like something different, something in a contemporary paranormal vein, go grab Reaping Havoc first and get started because this series is joyous and seriously good reading.
Monster by Soren Summers. Currently there are 14 reviews of this book on Goodreads, and I can’t fathom why there’s not more. I know it’s written by a first time indie author, but for the right readers, and I know there’s lots of you out there, this book is incredibly good. Take a chance. If you like murky corporations doing what they do best, including mysterious aspects – the Vertex building seemingly having a life of its own – two flawed but incredibly interesting MCs, and Jarod and Gabriel are nothing if not intriguing and gorgeously offbeat, this is a must read. I’ve reread Monster since I first read it a few months ago and it’s part of my BOTY for all the reasons I love to read – terrific storytelling, addictive characters, a great premise backed up by the quality and strength of the writing. I’m really looking forward to what’s next in the world of Vertex – pudding- loving anomalies and test experiments included. I’m particularly interested in Jarod and Gabriel, what they’ll do, where they’ll end up. But it isn’t just them, there are so many possibilities with specific characters that stood out in Monster. If you want reading that is refreshing in the genre, something entertaining, with a creep factor, humour, organic-to-the-story sex, and some gory moments, pick up this really, really good book and read the stuffing out of it. Soren Summers; he’s a writer to follow. One more series for my non-series reading self.
bare by Lynn Kelling. I’ve discovered that I have a serious Lynn Kelling addiction. One of the best writers I’ve come across in a long time, she continues to mix up her style with great aplomb. I love psychological reading and Lynn Kelling gives me that – something taboo, check, she’ll give me that too. Then there’s bare, something lighter, sexy as sin but also full of relevance in today’s conservative climate. Although generally writing on the darker side, this book, while making a statement about gay conversion/reparative therapy and religion, is a lighter read. Very much driven by instinct, passion and romance, bare takes an unsure, sexually repressed nineteen year old from a controlling home and judgemental small town and matches him up with a liberal and open-minded artist with some kinks, kindness, natural charisma, and plenty of patience. There are also fascinating secondary characters with potential for their own books. If you have ever thought you’d like to read Lynn Kelling, start with bare because it’s super sexy, the MCs, Adam and Ev, a total delight, and it’s more accessible for those who don’t want dark but still like depth to their story. It’s very, very good. It’s very, very sexy and it’s very, very well written.
Vespers by Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt. Terrific paranormal/urban fantasy with one of the best vampires you’ll read in any book – Thaddeus Dupont. Biting and sex, I love this combo and Vespers delivers…yes…although it is not a sex-fest, it concentrates on plot first and anything else fits around that, as it should be in an UF style book. Vespers was such a surprise, I thought it would be like a lot of fluffy books in the genre but this book has depth. The MCs have such distinct voices, which makes any book that much better.
What do you do when you end up miles from your home, meeting your new boss in the middle of a bayou shooting a crossbow and talking about demons? Having to take care of dietary requirements for your new employer, which means more than him being vegan? Okay, weird OH&S workplace conditions aside, this is one crazy, fast and fantastic ride. Ironically, another series for this non-series reader.
Caged Jaye by Lynn Kelling. First of all I want to note that this is a brave book. It’s not easy to write this type of story in the “MM” genre. It’s deeply psychological. It’s an unapologetically gritty and dark book that is not a romance, but there is affection, albeit it in a different form. It perfectly fits the scenario in the book. It perfectly fits Jaye Larson’s journey from a sweet nineteen year old working in retail, who was brutalised one night and, incredulously, incarcerated to be further brutalised in the penal system, to the young man who presents in Zusk, Alaska, in Arctic Absolution. I cannot wait to follow the next step for Jaye, Dix and Cash. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart and I advise you heed warning tags and/or read my review first. As a note, this is the prequel to Arctic Absolution but written after that book – you can read this first.
Foxes by Suki Fleet – Evocative. Emotional. One of the best couples appear in this book. It has the sweetest and most gentle of narrators – Danny. Suki Fleet is an outstanding storyteller. I’m older so I’d love to see her write something with slightly older characters, or at least one older character, maybe more adult than New Adult, but I guess she’s a young author with a young voice, so I get it. I hope younger readers pick up her books and for those who do, I really hope you see something inspiring in the books Suki Fleet writes. Her prose is beautiful, at times stark and gritty, but written with so much heart. If you read in the gay romance genre, particularly New Adult, you have to pick up at least one Suki Fleet book because she always paints an incredible picture and gives a voice to those who are somewhat atypical.
Drawn In by Barbara Elsborg. Some favourites of mine mesh – cop and PI, angst, sex in all the wrong places and times and in all the right ways. There’s dry humour, some suspense, an investigation and mystery. Once I read the blurb of this book it hooked me, I was looking for this exact book when it came my way and to my great relief the writing delivered everything I wanted it to. Flawed characters trapped in their individual set of circumstances that collide in a hot and dramatic way. Set in London and feeling like it’s set in London, Drawn In is riveting, contemporary, and has interesting arcs, well developed characters and a great plot. I could not ask for any more than was delivered.
Tempting Tristan by Melissa Foster. A new to me author, but a very successful het romance writer, Melissa Foster does a great job with her foray into gay romance with Tempting Tristan. I really enjoyed this book. I fell for the MCs, Tristan and Alex. I’m not generally about the ‘alpha’ male, preferring quirky or softer characters, but in this book alpha was made into something quite sweet and important for the MCs. A lovely tale of one man coming back from war to his grandmother’s home to seek out a man his grandmother talked about. Tristan sounded so caring and he was there when Alex’s grandmother died so Alex has to create an opportunity to meet him. Both MCs have baggage, but Alex needs the most help over hurdles. A highly engaging love story from a very polished writer.
Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt. This was always on my BOTY prelist. I was interested when I first saw that gorgeous cover and then when I read the very first paragraph I was gone, totally engrossed in the story and the characters right through until the very end. I prefer Brandon Witt writing emotionally charged books like Under a Sky of Ash, along with fantasy, I hope he decides to travel those paths again because it’s when he shines most brightly, when the depth of emotions of the characters pull my emotions out so much more – like Isaiah, Ben and RJ. This book has angst, humour, love, emotion, friends, hurt/comfort all wonderfully drawn together. If you’re nervous about the emotionally charged writing know that there are some great secondary characters who balance the story out, and Under a Sky of Ash has a genuineness to the writing that makes it memorable.
The Hunger Man by Scott D. Pomfret – What can I say about this book? It’s simply sublime, the writing pure quality. The history, while (deliberately) manipulated, is perfect for this literary fictional piece, with unforgettable MCs and secondary characters. Ireland and the Great Potato Famine are the beautiful-terrible backdrop to the sweeping story, the research that has gone into this book is immense and for that alone I have the utmost respect for the author and the book. The Hunger Man is powerful, intelligent, moving and emotional. The three primary narrators have distinct and vibrant voices – Ciaran Leath is something else. Even if you have to step outside your usual reading zone or genre, I say go for it, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Rented Heart by Garrett Leigh. I finally read something by Garrett Leigh, I’ve wanted to for the longest time but simply didn’t. I’m glad it was this book. Rented Heart is a really satisfying and engaging rent boy story with fully developed and lovingly written MCs, as well as Jamie, Zac’s best friend… and addict. It has an appropriately melancholy tone but it’s also humorous and well rounded. I was fully invested in knowing how this story was going to develop and end for Liam and Zac – because it could have gone a couple of different ways. These guys have great chemistry and their distinct feelings and issues intertwined and built nicely. The well named Rented Heart stirs emotion, it is full of ticker and depth. A moving, sexy and touching story, filled with a good sense of place – believably set in England. Terrific MCs, a good backdrop and interesting friends/family make this book incredibly appealing.
Black Sheep Boy: A Novel in Stories by Martin Pousson. Weaving of stories about a boy growing up gay, growing into a man in the 70s to the 80s in Louisiana and New Orleans. Metaphors and magic realism converge with beautiful writing that is as far from pretentious as you’ll find, but at the same time it is one of the best pieces of literary queer fiction you’ll read. The author is quite the storyteller and Black Sheep Boy is quite the story. Gripping reading that pulls you into its clutches and won’t let you go, even after you finish.
Thank you for stopping by and checking out my Books of the Year. Until next year, from Down Under…