Kazza’s Books of the Year: 2017
This is my fifth year of book review blogging and the year has been an interesting reading experience. I’ve reviewed fewer books than usual, although I’ve still read a lot of books. I’ve actually read a lot more than I’ve reviewed, sometimes I just wanted the book to be for me, and sometimes my life has been too hectic to review. I would definitely call this year the year of the reread. I have reread a lot of books in 2017 – it’s interesting to see the books you feel connected to over and over, and some that aren’t the same on further inspection, but they aren’t counted for the purposes of this list.
Thanks, as always, to my fantastic and very supportive blog partner, Cindi. You make reviewing fun as we talk about books – and life – behind the scenes. You also help with some of the assorted downsides of blogging, because they exist, which makes blogging easier for me. I’m not sure that I would still be reviewing so intensely five years on without you there to make this blog a great space. I say the following words with the utmost veracity – You’re simply the best. Better than all the rest… Earworm. Are you singing that song now, Cindi? My gift to you 😀
I can never leave this off my book wrap for the year – thank you to the people who support us in some way. It could be subscribing, commenting, simply dropping by, tweeting or shouting out a review, the messages about reviews that helped you decide where your book budget went, or genuine recommendations of books you think I might enjoy. That connection is fantastic. I also say this every year, because I remain amazed, I can’t believe how many people read On Top Down Under’s reviews. Cheers to you for getting through my mostly tome-like reviews, you deserve a medal 🙂
To the authors: You create characters, worlds and realms that give us readers hours of enjoyment, excitement, some drama, even some eyebrow raising moments. Words can share some understood pain, experience, they also give us hope and joy. It’s all a journey and I love being taken along. Being personal, there are times your writing is with me at the oncology ward when my husband is waiting for his latest round of blood tests – trust me, I get stressed every single time. I never go there without my Kindle as moral support. You help me when I have arrhythmias, although trying to keep calm while my heart is already racing or erratic is madness…. but it’s worth it to me. Your writing helps readers enjoy something different, or they challenge us to think a bit harder about other people, situations, circumstances, times. Sometimes, with the special books, we feel like we know and relate to these characters, these people. For romance readers, and that’s a lot of what this blog focuses on, your writing gives us love, and allows us into the passion and bloom of first romance, or the lasting and deep love that comes with time. They give us the world – this one or amazing possibilities of others. Thank you for your creativity.
Lastly, I hope more people will sit down with a book and a cuppa and think about peace and love, not war. That’s my I hope for 2018 and beyond.
Wishing you all a peaceful end to 2017. A good 2018. May it be all that you hope for. Perhaps even better. May good things happen to you and yours – including some miracles. In the meantime, here’s to reading and the books that inspired me, made me think, or stayed with me for various and sundry reasons in 2017.
For anyone who is interested, all book covers take you to Amazon. All books are reviewed on this blog by me. The associated publisher is named and also linked to the book on the top line of each one for ease of further investigation.
My Book of the Year for 2017 is –
How to Heal a Life by Sloan Parker – Contemporary Psychological Gay Romance. Sloan Parker.com
I was waiting for this book. After Walter and Kevin’s story, knowing six young men had been abducted and held hostage, that Seth was in a bad way, that it impacted Raymond Vargas so personally and profoundly, I had to read their story. I was not a alone. So many readers seemed to be waiting and holding their collective breath about what would happen next for these two. I know I really needed to know how it turned out for them because I would think about them here and there – waiting. It took Sloan Parker a little longer to write this series book because I believe she went back to the drawing board for this pair to make the story right by the MCs. I can say without any shadow of a doubt that it was totally right and totally worth the wait for How to a Heal a Life.
I was nervous going in, how would two highly anticipated characters measure up? Would I feel the connection that was so tantalisingly in front of my face in book #1? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes. Their love story is built around some powerful hurt/comfort. The writing is empathetic and mature. It is well paced, sensitive, and their relationship is full of communication, support and healing. Everything I could have hoped or asked for I received tenfold from this – at times – intense but deeply romantic and loving story. How to Heal a Life is my Book of the Year for 2017.
My other favourites of 2017 are:
Empathy for a Killer – Sarah Masters – Psychological Crime/Thriller. Gay Romance. Pride Publishing – I had never read this author before but this book blew me out of the water. The title is perfect. Absolute empathy for a serial killer. Not easy to achieve but Sarah Masters did such a good job with the characters, the plot, and the enmeshing of lives and feelings. The title’s serial killer has a POV throughout, and it lends the narrative so much more emotional weight. There is a romance between two British detectives but it isn’t steamy and while their working life is good their personal lives are building as walls come down. They’re also trying to tie together several murder cold cases and some current ones. If you like police and serial killers and a romance that isn’t the top priority but still an important aspect then this is a must read.
Becoming Kerry – Lynn Kelling – Contemporary Genderqueer Romance. ForbiddenFiction. Poignant and bold and addicting best sums up Becoming Kerry. Lynn Kelling writes some of the most memorable main characters of anyone I’ve ever read. I never forget her MCs, even her secondary characters pop, because they all leave an indelible mark on me in one way or another. Here’s a story where you put it down and know that here are two characters who were meant to be together. Kerry and Ewyn. Ewyn and Kerry – sections of a perfect circle. In typical Lynn Kelling style, these MCs have to work for it, Ewyn feels the loss of his brother every day and Kerry is coming into the person they need to be to feel comfortable. It’s emotive and it’s dramatic and it’s just right.
These Violent Delights by Jess Whitecroft – Contemporary Gay Romance. Self Published. This author came out of nowhere for me. A total ‘oh my god, this is so good’ surprise read of 2017. It was backed up by the fun and snarky Going Sasquatch. Great writing. Plenty sexy. Humorous. Addictive characters. Clever contemporary romance writing. What happens when a ballet dancer and student, also part time webcammer, and a college professor notice each other in more than just the classroom sense of the word, and under quite random circumstances? A lot of fun, a lot of heat, a great connection, lots of humour, and a grabs you by the genitals writing style. Look out for Jess Whitecroft, she’s one extremely talented writer and I can’t wait to read more by her very soon.
Risky Behavior by L A Witt & Cari Z – Crime. Suspense. Gay Romance. Riptide Publishing. Risky Behavior is the first in the Bad Behavior series. I’ve enjoyed them all but I decided to add only one book from a series on this BOTY list otherwise the second book would be on here too. The Bad Behavior series is one of the best series in the gay romance/ MM genre right now. Good procedural aspects, memorable MCs and secondary characters, plenty of emotion or suspense. A flexible delivery based on the individual circumstances of each book all make this a must-read for those who like a bit more plot with their romance. Simply put, this is excellent reading. LA Witt and Cari Z need to keep writing together.
Nocturne by Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt – Paranormal – Vampire. Gay Romance. Prescourt Books. My gorgeous old-school vampire, Thaddeus Dupont, is back with his beloved Sara and I could not have been happier with the way things went. Sigh, I love this pair. There are only a few series that make it hard for me to wait until the next one arrives – this is one of those, and it’s definitely one of my absolute favourites. Some murder in New Orleans, a bit of jealousy, a bit of bad blood to be sorted, demons on the loose, witchy shenanigans, ongoing religious themes, and the backdrop of Mardi Gras makes for a great story set amidst moneyed parties and a vibrant and slightly more intense atmosphere. Vespers, book #1, was also on my BOTY list last year. If you love vampires and the humans they fall in love with go and grab this series.
Wallaconia by David Pratt – YA/Gay Fiction. Beautiful Dreamer Press. A poignant coming of age story written by one of the best gay fiction writers currently writing. I don’t often read YA anymore, and I’m truly not fond of coming of age stories, because I feel too old for teen stories nowadays. I only read this book because it was by David Pratt, I’ve loved his previous books, and he did not disappoint me. Jim Wallace has his own place that he goes to when he needs to be him and to be free – Wallaconia. Along comes an older gay man who is like a mentor, and not in any sexual way. He’s a friend. Someone a lot of young people should have to help guide them during the difficulties of young adulthood, particularly when you combine being gay. Particularly when you’re too scared to admit it to anyone in your life. When you feel like you’ll conform to a heteronormative lifestyle against your own best interests to please your parents. Because, well, what happens if they don’t support you? The fear of many (young) gay people about coming out. A charming and memorable read.
Parasite by Soren Summers – Horror – Zombies. Sci-Fantasy. Gay Romance. Self Published. I think one of the more disappointing things to learn is that Soren Summers is no longer going to be writing in the genre. It is so disheartening to me because he really is an intelligent and creative writer. But if you don’t write contemporary romance with quite a bit of sex it’s harder to get people picking up your book. Bye, Soren Summers. Thanks for the Vertex series. Jarod and Gabriel and Vertex will always hold a special place in my heart and I know at least one person pining over Jonathon Hargrove. Fabulous world building, characters and action are the hallmark of this series. I picked Parasite over Paragon for this BOTY list because I liked this one a dash more and I’m only allowing myself one book per series this year. If you want to read some excellent writing with substance, here it is.
Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt – Historical. Gay Romance. Universal Buy Link. A credit to the detail of a writer sticking perfectly within an era. Set in 1950’s Seattle, with all the details down pat, Liv Rancourt develops two characters who are different in their outlook to being same sex attracted, their individual fit within society, who come together because of the 1955 Sea Follies. Russell is part of the troupe before he’s off to university, and his girlfriend is a water ballet girl. Skip falls for the gorgeous Poseidon-esque Russell when he sees him while Skip’s playing in the band. A look at the difficulties of the time when being same-sex attracted, someone who is a Midwestern boy next door and who is in the closet – he’s going to marry his girl and have babies as is expected – and Skip who doesn’t advertise his sexuality but is most definitely out and known to the local police. Beautifully written historical with truly memorable characters.
Off the Beaten Path by Cari Z – Paranormal – Shifters. Gay Romance. DSP. A somewhat different spin on some other shifter stories and worlds – the pack structure, origination of the werewolves, lands, government intervention . Off the Beaten Path had my attention from the very beginning to the very end. I’m not fond of children in novels, particularly romance, but I liked Ava and it worked perfectly for the story being told. Another book with not so much steam, more plot and character driven, that I am so glad is a series. A quality shifter book in a genre where it’s hard to find books that aren’t Alpha and Omega centric, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. I am really looking forward to more in this world, more about Ward and Henry, little Ava, and the unusual composition and members of the La Garita pack.
Dali by E.M. Hamill– Sci-fi. Suspense. LGBT – Third Gender MC. NineStar Press. Fantastic sci-fi featuring the eponymous changeling Dali who is grieving the loss of their partners in a terrorist attack. Dali is self destructive at first, they lost so much, including an unborn child, but now Dali is trying to get to the bottom of what happened and why. The politics and machinations behind it all. There is action and emotion in Dali, character building and depth. I felt for them and their pain. I also appreciated and applauded their attempts at helping others and I loved Gor, Dali’s best friend from Zeried. There is superb world building in this novel, a fantastic plot, and the concepts, ideas and issues around difference and gender resonates in the here and now – I truly hope it’s better in the future. If you like sci-fi and with a queer bent this is a cracker.
Backdoor Politics by Dark Gay Fiction. ForbiddenFiction. Oooh, this was dark – heed ALL my warning tags before reading the review. One of the darkest books I have read and absolutely not in quite a few people’s wheelhouse. However, C L Mustafic took a wholly unlikeable character, made him the sole narrator, went full speed ahead with no deviations to his persona at any point. No attempt to make Kamal redeemed for the sake of a happy ending or softening him in some way. Completely and darkly dysfunctional and gutsy writing drew me in and held me until the last page. The best way I can describe Backdoor Politics is memorable, intense, chilling, jaw dropping, nasty.
Calon Lan by Elin Gregory – Historical Gay Fiction. Manifold Press.
This is a beautiful shorter novella about two men who return from WWI and have the opportunity to meet and be together again on a farm in Wales; about as perfect as it could have been for gay men of the era. Everything about this novella is well crafted – the writing, which is first class, the characters, the narration by Bethan, Alwyn’s sister. Bethan loves her brother but he is a wounded, more sombre young man now. Bethan is a joy as the narrator and through her eyes we see the quiet love between Alwyn and Joe. This book will make you shed a little tear, but mostly Alwyn and Joe will make you fall for them and just smile like the dickens.
Call to Arms Modern LGBTQ+ Fiction of the Second World War by Various Authors– Historical LGBTQI Fiction. Manifold Press. If you like historical gay fiction and you like short stories and anthologies, this is one of the best you will read. There are seventeen stories which cover the era, predominantly set in Europe, but there is one cracker of a story set in China. Most of the letters of the rainbow alphabet are given representation with love and care during a difficult time in our world’s history. The shorts are meticulously researched and edited and the quality of writing is high across the entire anthology.
The Worst Werewolf by Jacqueline Rohrbach – Paranormal – Werewolves. LGBT – Gay MCs. NineStar Press. I thought this the best queer debut book of 2017. It’s a book about different packs and werewolves, as opposed to shifters, and about a left of centre relationship, I say that because it is an atypical book that doesn’t fit neatly into expected “MM” tropes or concepts. There is a romance, of sorts, but it’s unconventional and I can see this book is part of an infinitely larger story. I also enjoyed Speak With the Dead by the same author, so there is a lot to like about Jacqueline Rohrbach for future reading. This book is rich in world building, plot and modern lore. It’s humorous one minute and then slips into horror the next. I still remember all the characters and the story vividly months and months after finishing and that is part of the criterion for my Books of the Year.