Kazza’s Books of the Year: 2018
This post, my Book and Books of the Year, is a celebration of wonderful writing. These books have kept me entertained, sometimes at difficult points. I’ve visited pack, places with a much colder winter than I ever experience, revisited areas in a book I’ve been to in real life. I’ve also travelled through future time and space, gone back in time to a different era or two, enjoyed alt-historical tales, and found myself in the middle of colonised land and a war. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve turned up in the thick of kink, kicked my heels up with some drag queens, and watched several teens grow through friendship and adversity into young men. I’ve also found four new-to-me authors, they’re on this list, and that bodes well for my future reading. The sheer entertainment value and escapism I’ve been afforded by books once again is immeasurable and very much appreciated.
My reviewing has always been about marrying up as many readers as possible with what I consider a good book. Or at least putting my thoughts out there for anyone wondering or looking. When I get the chance, I wander about online looking for anything promising. Often I’m seeking out something really specific that can seem impossible to find. Even though I receive more than a few review requests, I still buy a lot of books myself. I’m happy when readers pop on here to look about for something that might appeal to them. I don’t always read the more popular genre authors, or even the most commercial books, I’m purely driven by what sounds like it could be good, interesting, different. If I can find something that excites me, and that others might not have considered or even noticed before, then I’m happy to maybe play a part in matching a reader, or readers, with a good book or a new-to-them author. I believe most readers want to spread the word of a good book and that’s why On Top Down Under exists.
Every year it’s difficult compiling this list because a) it does take a lot of time and b) good books do get left off. A lot of these books are akin to comparing apples to oranges. How do you actually compare a dark paranormal to an historical? A Sci-fi to an erotic novel or novella? A contemporary romance to fantasy? A novel to a novella? All I can do is work off my gut feel about the individual books and how they moved me, how I felt the world was, what characters left an indelible impression. I sat in my office the other night and thought, which character’s names do I remember? How much of this book or that one can I recall? What was it that moved me, made me feel something, or spoke to me on some level? What I answer to these questions forms a HUGE part of the criteria for what books make my BOTY. Just how memorable the events or writing was, how good the characters were – characters are vitally important to me. Also, did the overall book elicit strong emotion – whether that be happiness, fear, sadness, anger, joy, surprise….
As always, a big thanks to Cindi for lurking with me in the background. You’re my hand-holder extraordinaire, and sharing reading thoughts and notes and pictures with you is never, ever dull 😀 Merry Christmas, my friend. You’ve been missed this year. Here’s to us being on the blog together again in the new year. It’s a far better place with more than just me on here, and one BOTY is plain old boring 🙂
While I remember, a few people have reminded me that they can’t subscribe to this blog. That’s true, our subscription button has been missing for quite some time. I do apologise, but my life has been such that a missing subscription button has been low on my priority list. This current blog will be archived in December and a new, simpler, cleaner review blog will be appearing at the beginning of January, if not slightly before, complete with an actual subscribe function.
It’s been stiff competition this year for my Book and Books of the Year. I’ve read some excellent stories throughout 2018. I’ve chosen those that have stayed with me for the various reasons I mentioned previously in this post.
All books on my BOTY are reviewed on this blog except one, which is on Goodreads and amazon only. A link to a review is provided in the body of the each book’s details below.
My Book of the Year for 2018 is –
The False Moon by Jacqueline Rohrbach.
Paranormal. Genre Fiction – NineStar Press, amazon
The Immutable Moon series delivers everything I want and need in paranormal – it’s darker, an interesting world, I’m made to think, and there’s a blurring of lines between good and bad. Blessedly, the characters are flawed, multi-faceted, intriguing. There’s a fierceness at times, bloody moments occur, sometimes there’s caring, not too much, and it’s shown in unusual ways. Romance does form part of the overall arc and while it is important it isn’t simply about that. Tovin and Garvey are the primary characters, yes, but they are among an ensemble cast who all have important roles. Oh yes, and the snarky humour is absolutely the cherry on top of the writing, I love it. It is nigh on impossible for me to find books like this in my primary genre – gay romance, queer fiction/lit/LGBTQ – I usually have to step outside to find this kind of reading.
When The False Moon came out this year I was exceedingly nervous picking it up because I had a raft of what ifs floating around my mind. What if the voices had altered? What if Tovin and Garvey didn’t get to see one another, or the author had changed their trajectory? What if the plot wasn’t furthered? What if the vampire arc fell flat? I love vampires – and my girl Molly is something else. What if I simply didn’t like the follow up? Any of those things would have been gutting for me because my expectations were high – I take my favourites seriously. When I find a paranormal like this, every fibre of my being wants it to be so good. Passionate, invested-reader what ifs are real, and they’re torturous. However, when I started reading, my trepidation turned to total relief and then rejoicing – I was back, my characters were back, the plot progressed really well, and all was good, better than good. The False Moon took the world, the plot, the characters that started in book #1 and further expanded on everything, progressing the story perfectly. This book is gritty, it’s funny, it’s delightfully quirky, and it’s queer. It has immense heart and forethought to the storytelling, starting with the characters and plot, definitely with awesome chapter headings – Be the Raptor, Dead Asshole Scientist, Over the Top Dead, The Lifestealer, Beautiful – that are more than just headings, they all have meaning and depth. Overall, it surpassed book #1 and all of my feelings were given a workout. This is one of those series that could do with some more reader love. It doesn’t neatly slot into ‘MM’ so it slips in between the cracks, which is a damn shame. If you’re thinking about reading this book, and I hope you do, I advise strongly that you start at book #1 to get the necessary background information.
I am incredibly grateful that Jaqueline Rohrbach is writing this series. It really is intelligent, this world of werewolves – as opposed to shifters – and packs, and politics. This improbable and unlikely pair of Tovin, an anxious human who finds himself in the thick of a world of blood servants and werewolves, other supernatural beings being further introduced, and all because of a bad first date, or as I call it – Dategate. And my special Moon Dog – a ‘lesser’ werewolf – Garvey, who loves his ‘sweet treat’ (Tovin) but isn’t exactly a sweep-someone-off-their-feet kind of guy, uh, wolf. No. He’s a survivor first, with loyalty to his pack driving him. He’s also a manipulator of other’s schemes. Ah, but feelings, Garvey, they get you every time. When I finally put the book down, and as I reviewed it, I told my family that I knew I’d found my front runner for my Book of the Year, and it continually met my criteria as I reflected on it. In a year of stiff competition, and I’ve read some high calibre books this year, it remained my favourite, making it a most fitting Book of the Year: 2018.
All That Drag by Jess Whitecroft.
Contemporary. Gay Romance – amazon
This is a fabulous book that kicks off a fantastic series. I’m only picking one book out of a series to represent a writer on my BOTY. It was hard because every book in the FuBar series has been 5 stars. At the end of the day, the story of Adam, aka drag queen Bunny Boyle, and Adam’s drag bar, FuBar, got me totally invested. Adam walks in on his ex of a decade, Ryan, ‘boning’ the barman, Justin, and that starts some balls-to-the-walls humour, sexy times – including ménage – emotion and snark from thereon in. Then there’s the stealthy Helena (Montana) Heels, Bunny’s best friend – don’t give her molly – and gorgeous, guileless yet naughty Justin. There’s also a cast of interesting, well-rounded characters living in and around FuBar in Pittsburgh who help make this series what it is. Jess Whitecroft is an auto-buy author for me because I love her style. She writes a terrific story. All That Drag is fun, camp, the characters are thoroughly engaging, and bloody hilarious. The social commentary is razor sharp and adds to the dynamic of a good drag story. A must read book.
Alaska by Cate Ashwood.
This book holds a special place in my heart as I read it at a particularly difficult time. Holden and Gage helped me through, they made me happy, they kept me engaged. I really did cheer for their romance, wanting them to find their happiness. I fell in love with their love and with them. I don’t even like the cold but I think Sawyer’s Ferry is a great place, full of interesting side characters. This is book #1 in the Sawyer’s Ferry series, I’ve since read book #2, and it remains my favourite because of these particular MCs and their particular story. The overall writing had a great balance of emotion. How could they be together, this younger surgeon from New York City whose father sends him a directive to get Holden back into the business or not bother coming back to his own job or family again? It made for good reading as a clock counted down on the pair of them. It’s also smoking hot, perfect for those readers who enjoy well written, sexy contemporary gay romance. The effortless writing style, overall storyline, and great characters make Alaska easy to read and hard to put down.
Ánh Sáng by Barry Brennessel.
Historical. Gay Fiction – Manifold Press, amazon
I’ve read Ánh Sáng several times, initially in Manifold’s WWI anthology A Pride of Poppies and now this standalone version, an extension of the original short into a novella. Set in French Indochina, Ánh Sáng follows two boys who meet when young and become friends, eventually developing deeper feelings of love for one another. Life is not easy for Bùi Vân Minh and Ngô Công Thao who live in a colonised land. The writing delivers a great sense of time and place, the research and history behind it is meticulous. The period of WWI is not typically looked at from this perspective either. In difficult times the boys’ love is innocent, beautiful, complex. This is a powerful story, it’s superbly crafted, and it breaks my heart every time I read it. In the six years of this blog, Barry Brennessl has twice been my Book of the Year. He writes with such depth, his stories are always thoughtful and beautifully written, he never fails to create a truly visceral reading experience – Ánh Sáng is no exception.
The Bibliophile by Drew Marvin Frayne.
I was attracted to The Bibliophile by the synopsis so I initially requested it from NetGalley. At first I didn’t feel a pull into the epistolary, journal style of writing, but once it clicked, wow, this book managed to exceed what I’d hoped for. The writing is literary in quality, and while there is a romance there is also an erotic tone and a kink undercurrent. Set predominantly in 1888 but through to 1890 in Idaho, America, it is a well written snapshot into the period. Nathaniel Goldsmith gets more than he bargains for when his father recalls him from university and his much prized libraries and books in Boston to learn the family business. He’s sent to start his education toward ‘being a “real man”‘ with a horse breeder and trainer who works for his father and lives in a shack on the edge of Goldsmith land. Nathaniel and Cayuse Jem are characters that shall remain with me over time, and there are others in the book I won’t easily forget either. The Bibliophile is beautifully written and was one of the finds of the year for me.
Reckless by Jess Whitecroft
Historical. Gay Romance – amazon
Jess Whitecroft is one of the most underrated, most versatile, and truly creative writers in gay romance or MM. In Reckless, Whitecroft mixes her writing up yet again within genre, this time opting for the early 1700’s in and around the Caribbean. Jem, a twenty three year old cross-dressing molly, thief, and habitual liar, and Henry, a nineteen year old, sun-kissed, virgin pirate – how much gold is in that sentence? – find each other in the most unusual of circumstances and places. And it works in a rollicking good way, oozing adventure, romance and love. Henry and Jem. Jem and Henry. No matter which way you say their names, this pair have a wonderful chemistry. And, if you care to listen, they have a fantastic tale to tell you as well.
The Story of Us by Barbara Elsborg.
New Adult. Gay Romance – amazon
Barbara Elsborg knocked it out of the park with her writing in this New Adult book set in London over ten innocent, complex, and devoted summers. From mid-teen years though to mid-twenties, The Story of Us covers familial abuse, friendship, betrayal, hope, mental health issues, religion, loyalty and love, and it’s set around recent real life events in London and Manchester that the majority of readers will know about.
I hope Barbara Elsborg returns to New Adult writing because this one had age appropriate voices from mid-teens to young men in their mid-twenties. Secondary characters were also well developed and they were really likeable or you could struggle with how heinous humans can be. The Story of Us is a deeply emotional story, it feels so personal as you read. It’s also incredibly hopeful. I cheered for first love and I hoped for forever love. I cheered for their happiness. Another book that grabbed my heart and didn’t let go until the very end. Caspian and Zed are two very memorable characters.
A King Awakened by Cooper Davis
Alt-Historical. Literary Gay Romance – amazon
I truly love this alt-historical romance that Cooper Davis has written between King Arend Tollemach and Julian Baribeau of Agadir. The prose is glorious, literary, it perfectly suits the story. A King Awakened is part two of this tale, the first being A King Undone. When Julian came from Temple Sapphor as a concubine in the first book he fell for the ruler of the Western Provinces – go big or go home. He’d never been claimed by another man because while he is handsome, his body powerful, his turn of phrase and his actions are considered more effeminate. Thankfully King Arend sees all of Julian’s qualities and accepts and loves him unconditionally – but, not going to lie, it was rocky for a while. Arend is a character at sea, and the first book saw a toing and froing, a slow emotional and physical burn to match that. This time around, Arend knows exactly what he has in Julian and will do whatever it takes to ensure he keeps them together. Quality writing.
To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen
I had never read Kelly Jensen before this book but the blurb sounded interesting and unusual. Bram lives on the isolated mining planet of Alkirak, a place where the men he’s had sex or a relationship with in the past have moved on or they aren’t compatible. He joins a companion site that offers him a chance at finding a partner. Gael lives in the underworld of Zhemosen and when things go awry he needs to get away. His friend signs him up to the same companion site as Bram. Gael and Bram interact briefly at first, more during the time taken to get from one part of the system to another. Bram thinks Gael is gorgeous, shy, and Gael likes the older Bram. There are several aspects of To See the Sun that make it good – the world building is vivid, the writing is polished and comfortable. Adding to this, the MCs are very easy to like. It even has a child in the book as a strong secondary character, which I didn’t know about before reading. I am not a fan of children in my romance reading and I still loved it – that speaks volumes about the book.
Private Charter by N.R. Walker.
Contemporary. Gay Romance – amazon
I grabbed this while cruising around Amazon looking for something to read. I was bored and in one of those ‘I can’t find a thing to read’ phases. I was looking for shorter but I ended up grabbing this because it sounded nice, and it was. It was wonderfully laidback with two interesting Aussie guys in the glorious Aussie setting of the Whitsundays in Queensland, a place I know to be one of the most gorgeous in the world. A couple of weeks sailing around the Whitsundays with a friend with benefits has the ambitious Stewart feeling happier about his time away from work, until his friend backs out. Suddenly it’s a private charter with him and the very together, very attractive owner of the yacht, Foster. Sexy and skimpy white cossies play a huge part in the ‘hey, getting Foster to fuck me sounds great’ idea that Stewart has percolated. It takes Foster a little while to decide if he can mix business with pleasure. This is one sexy read. It’s also well written – the food, the water, the area are all like a picture postcard, a very well written one. Private Charter is fun. Happy. Sexy. Light. Great escapist entertainment.
In This Iron Ground by Marina Vivancos.
Paranormal. New Adult. Gay Romance – amazon
Another new-to-me author Marina Vivancos delivers a psychological, emotional New Adult, coming-of-age paranormal book with In This Iron Ground. It had a great title, interesting burb, and a good cover so I was interested. This came to me as an ARC via a blog tour sign up. Luckily it delivered everything the synopsis promised it would. I had one hell of a ride with (initially) fourteen-year old Damien who is human and knows monsters exist, but they definitely aren’t werewolves, and (then) fifteen year old Hakan who is a werewolf and knows a loving family and a good pack. This book covers a period of five years for both boys and ends on a HFN – pretty realistic for teenagers. In This Iron Ground provides good psychology plus strong emotion. The writing is often lyrical and rounds this book out very nicely. Magnetic reading.
Siege Weapons by Harry F Rey.
Well, this was a real surprise package for me. I didn’t quite know what to expect going in. I’ve never read the author before so I was interested but unsure. I did not expect the level of quality sci-fi writing, it’s vivid, real, with just the right amount of sci-fi details to transport you to another galaxy and another time. Then there’s the kink and I swear I was not expecting the brutality of it, my jaw dropped for a while, but I loved that surprise and shock aspect. I don’t want to be comfortable 9 times out of 10. I want different, and Siege Weapons delivered. I’ve since read the second book and I’m enjoying this series. This book stood out a bit more because I felt the pain of Captain Ales losing his planet. It made me stop and think about how I’d feel if Earth was destroyed, if I were the only survivor – it would be devastating. The undercurrent of sadness and loss around Ales is perfectly portrayed. It’s palpable. There are other, smaller moments that stand out as well. Siege Weapons is on my BOTY list for 2018 because it’s so memorable.
Thanks for checking out my Book and Books of the year for 2018. Hope to see you again next year for our 7th year of book reviews.