Cheers, friends, Happy New Year and welcome to the final post of our Best of 2018 reviewer picks!!! We’ve brought another year to a close, another Simply the Best countdown to an end, and it’s been so much fun looking back at some of the outstanding books we’ve read and shared our reflections on in the past twelve months.
I had a difficult time shortening my list this year. It was an extraordinarily brilliant year filled with debut authors, new-to-me-authors, and an eclectic mix of genres: from some fairly hardcore BDSM to Steampunk to Horror to Urban Fantasy to Mystery to heartwarming Contemporary Romance. I think I covered it all, and one title even came in hot and squeaked its way onto my list at the eleventh hour. That’s the fun of reading, though: experiencing the unexpected everyday miracles between the covers of a book.
So now, here are my picks and don’t forget to check out the giveaway too!
The Hazard and Somerset Series by Gregory Ashe – Amidst the suspense—the at times almost unbearable suspense in this series—is the relationship between Hazard and Somerset, which has always held an undercurrent of residual trauma informing the fragile love that began building from the moment Hazard returned to Wahredua. The relationship that has, somehow, grown from the ashes of a troubled past which entwines with the investigation the detectives are deeply and personally embroiled in is tried and tested in various ways in Criminal Past, the final book in this chapter of their lives, and at times the doubts and questions were equally almost unbearable to read. Every single moment, however, was one of decisions and growth, and at a crucial point for John-Henry, Ashe penned one of the most intense and gorgeous moments of redemption and a relationship coming full circle that I’ve ever read. The growth and growing awareness of forgiveness between these two characters is a thing of beauty. They are quite possibly two of the most beautifully flawed men ever to grace the pages, and the way Ashe deconstructs and puts them back together again is exceptional.
The Hazard and Somerset series is profound; from execution to engagement, it’s one of the best series I’ve ever experienced and is, without a doubt, the best I’ve read this year.
Agent Bayne by Jordan Castillo Price – It’s been eight years since I picked up Among the Living, book the first in the PsyCop series, and eight years since I discovered that author Jordan Castillo Price had not only brought two fantastic protagonists to life, but that she’d done so with intricate detail and precise execution in an alternate reality that isn’t only intense and densely woven but is also a love story tucked in between murder investigations and ghost encounters on the streets of Chicago. Every time I open a PsyCop book and Vic starts speaking, it’s like hopping back into the middle of a chat with an old friend—albeit a usually oddish, non-sequitur sort of conversation—but no matter how long it’s been, I fall back in sync with him in no time at all.
The true testament of the adroit storytelling here, however, is the author’s disappearance into her narrator. Victor Bayne is given full agency, is a fully realized character who’s motivated by external voices and events to draw the listener into his story. Something that, in reality, would probably make him feel uncomfortable, being the center of our attention, and is one of the reasons I love him—that in his efforts not to draw attention to himself, we readers are drawn to him in every single way.
There are any number of couples out there—those characters we love, the ones who, when we mention them by first name, everyone else knows exactly who we’re talking about—Vic and Jacob are that couple.
Breaker of Chains by Jordan L. Hawk – We romance lovers tend to forget that the beginning of a relationship doesn’t spell the end of issues to overcome, and that’s especially true here. Obviously I knew there was going to be a critical arc in the storyline—this is a JLH book, after all—but here is not where I expected to be left. The emotional sucker punch Hawk delivers to readers in Breaker of Chains is on point and succeeds in exposing a single imperative in the series arc: it shows us beyond the shadow of a doubt that Caleb and Gray living an existence that straddles two such diametrically opposed realities, each of those realities leaving them more and more isolated, would be the catalyst that compels them into actions and decisions that they believe they can weigh against John and their love for him—a miscalculation that invites serious repercussions and caused me to see, from a new angle, Grayleb as the ‘other’ they truly are. Caleb and Gray have always had a certain sangfroid about them, which is why I love them as drakul and host, but there’s never been any mistaking that their passion runs right alongside it, their passion for John as well as their passion for ridding their world of paranormal entities, not on SPECTR’s behalf but on behalf of Gray’s bloodlust—the term ‘crime of passion’ exists for a reason.
Breaker of Chains is yet another excellent addition to one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series, and I remain in awe of the -verse and in love with its characters. As ever, I’m #TeamGrayleb.
Object of Desire by Dal Maclean – Author Dal Maclean comes out strong and delivers another outstanding whodunit with her second literary outing, Object of Desire. The emotional quotient in Maclean’s writing runs high, as much here as in Bitter Legacy, her first novel. One thing this author does, something she excels at, is to write genre non-conforming romance. And by that I mean that the relationship between her characters doesn’t run the traditional lines of meeting, falling in love, overcoming an obstacle or two, and then living happily ever after. As was the case with the relationship between James and Ben in Bitter Legacy, it’s now Tom and private investigator Will Foster that Maclean puts through their paces and, in turn, her readers along with them. Through the internal conflict of a relationship that ended badly two years earlier, leaving Will hurt and reeling, to the external conflict that brings he and Tom back into each other’s orbit—a murder case in which Tom is being eyed as a likely suspect—it’s Will being hired to clear Tom’s name that leads them, together, into a web of deceit and danger, with more than a few viable suspects and as many twists and turns as one would expect in the investigative process of a set of gruesome deaths.
The way Maclean constructs the investigation with plenty of gasp-worthy moments to tantalize readers into ‘just one more chapter’, and allowing that to run adjacent to Tom denying his true feelings for Will, makes for such a well-balanced reading experience—the romantic in me rooting for Tom and Will while the mystery lover side ooh’d and aah’d at each new morsel of information that kept me wrong-footed all the way to the final, thrilling revelation.
One Man’s Trash by Marie Sexton – It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that’s brought me to tears, but it’s now time to reset the counter thanks to Marie Sexton’s One Man’s Trash. The title of this novel is a perfect expression of what is between its covers. What one person may consider worthless, another will see as precious, and that comes to epitomize the relationship between Taylor Reynolds and Warren Groves. They begin to fill each other’s broken places, and Marie Sexton spares no small amount of heartache and hope getting her characters or her readers there.
Though not for the faint of heart, this novel is exceedingly gorgeous. Much like fire uncontrolled or the ocean uncontained can be beautiful and yet leave havoc in its wake, Taylor sweeping into Warren’s life and laying waste to his stark and lonely existence is awesome to watch. Their backstories are each designed to elicit a deep emotional response from readers, and Sexton crafts it all with a deft hand. Taylor’s story in particular comes with some major triggering potential, but to reveal those warnings would also be to offer up too many spoilers, so consider yourself placed on notice that if you lean towards a less gritty romance, this book is not going to offer you that safety or comfort. That’s not to say it’s without its gentle and touching moments, but there is also a pervading deep darkness to it that is not glossed over. The ways in which Warren comes to help Taylor cope with the demons that torment him drew the lines of unconventional and yet there was never a gratuitousness to it. There is one scene in particular that is raw and painful but is not designed to serve as pointless masturbatory fodder. Instead, it grafts the lines and boundaries around Warren and Taylor’s relationship and illustrates how far Warren is willing to go to love Taylor wholly and unapologetically.
A Light Amongst Shadows/A Hymn in the Silence by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood – One of the singular highlights of York and Altwood’s collaboration on this series is their ability to draw every scene, whether it be terrifying or sedate or romantic, in such a way that one can’t help but be drawn into the story visually or emotionally, or both, simultaneously. Their work is clever, intricate, and detailed, though never in a way that reads as anything but fast paced and purely entertaining. And if one happens to learn something along the way, well, we are all the more enriched for the experience. Not to be outdone, however, is their gift for characterization and the seemingly effortless ability to draw their readers into the lives of the people who populate this series. James and William are flawed and each come from families that are the direct cause of the challenges they work to overcome, and I appreciate that the authors avoided the handy love-conquers-all fix to the personal issues they face. James and William still each battle their own proverbial demons but rather than weakening them, it only serves to illustrate their strength and courage and will to survive, especially in the face of William’s addiction to laudanum and the additional temptation of alcohol to further help him cope.
A Ferry of Bones & Gold by Hailey Turner – To put none-too-fine a point on it, A Ferry of Bones & Gold is one of the best Spec Fic books I’ve read so far this year, or any other year for that matter. If you like Urban Fantasy at all, go buy this book now. If you’ve never read Urban Fantasy but love a richly detailed and brilliantly told story filled with all manner of mythological and supernatural beings, go buy this book now. Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series used to set the UF bar for me, but the Soulbound series might become my new measuring stick—it’s just. that. fabulous.
I’ve become pretty adept at knowing within the first few pages of a book whether or not I’m going to connect with an author’s writing style and narrative voice. Hailey Turner drew me in from the first sentence and held me rapt with every paragraph and page after. This author’s descriptive talent and bold imagery pours out of every page and into the mind’s eye, carrying readers along on former Combat Mage Patrick Collins’ mission to rescue an immortal—a powerful immortal—from an enemy with a deep, dark connection to Patrick’s past. I won’t divulge anything beyond this, though, because every nuance, every secret, every scrap of information that Turner metes out so expertly should be experienced at the moment you read it on the page.
Exhale/Bleed by Joel Abernathy – One of the welcome surprises about Abernathy’s wolves is that they aren’t humans who morph into big, fluffy canines. They aren’t civilized people in wolf form, nor are they domesticated wolves in human form, and that was on impressive display the first time Jack Mullins witnesses Alpha Nicolae Ursache transform into something monstrous. The circumstances by which Jack and Nicolae are introduced and then forced to remain together revolves around their shared connection with Francesca, Jack’s wife, and their teenage daughter, Ellie. It’d been just Jack and Ellie since Francesca was murdered…but there are things Franny had withheld from them that have now surfaced to cause no small amount of trouble. The way this matrilineal society is crafted gives readers the clear picture that even in human form, these weres have to work hard at living as and among them. They don’t subscribe much to human emotional cues, and residing in urban areas seems more a test of their strength and will power not to kill people than it is to offer them the illusion of being human themselves. This brings up a moral point in the story in relationship to their need to hunt—if their prey is the dregs of humanity, is it murder or justice? Not a new theme in fiction but always food for thought.
As Exhale did for Jack and Nicolae, Bleed gives Mason and Vasil a solid beginning to a long-term future. The five-year time jump between Exhale and Bleed gives way to what will be another leap ahead in time, as the protagonist of the third book in the series, Shift, is Jack and Nicolae’s adopted son Andrei, who is still a somewhat feral child at the end of this novel. The teaser that Abernathy shares at the end of Bleed does exactly what it was meant to do—has me anticipating the next book and feeling grateful that I found this series.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk – In a blend of the mystical, the mysterious, the murderous, and with an added bit of steampunk, Polk has created a world of intrigue and awesome imagination. I was thoroughly enthralled with this story from page one as Miles’ narration invites readers into his life, the hospital, the challenges he faces in hiding who he is, what he is as well as what he is capable of doing, and into the sinister miasma that affects some of the veterans in the psychiatric ward, an affliction that drives those men to commit murder. Miles is immediately the sympathetic hero of this story as a deadly mystery is delivered to his doorstep by Sir Tristan Hunter. Their meeting is accidental but Nick Elliott’s death is anything but, and just before Nick perishes, he not only tells Miles he’s been poisoned, but he also offers Miles an invaluable gift. One Miles doesn’t realize the full extent of until much later. This propels Miles into danger as well as into Tristan’s life, as Tristan has been assigned to investigate what’s happening to the Aelanders, and especially to those who’ve lived through the war with the Laneeri.
Betrayal, political intrigue, the lust for power, prejudice and revenge are the counterpoint to heroism and a love story that’s superbly written and supremely spellbinding. Witchmark is a crunchy sweet paranormal fantasy steampunk lover’s brain candy. I recommend treating yourself to it.
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree by Selina Kray – Kray metes out clues and details in perfect portions throughout this novel to keep readers on the hook and guessing who is responsible for a gruesome and particularly horrific murder, all while displaying the desperate measures taken by some women who found themselves in the midst of unplanned, and often unwanted, pregnancies and on the doorstep of the Daughters of Eden. Some might even say at the Daughters’ mercy as it becomes clearer that the cult of personality practices to deceive. The action and suspense were, at times, so all-consuming that it was difficult not to speed read to get through it, but every single morsel doled out was something to be savored nonetheless, and it all built to a climactic moment that then led to everything I’d been waiting for when it comes to the mystery of Hieronymus Bash himself.
Hiero’s past has been a source of intrigue through these first two novels and often, when Tim would get too close, our dear Bash would throw on a façade worthy of the stage, playing coy and diverting to avoid discussing or revealing anything of a personal nature. Hiero’s past is an unavoidable specter, however, and comes back to visit him in a particularly nasty fashion in this installment of the series, which confounds and frustrates Tim because it is a clear signal to him that regardless of how close he and Hiero have grown over the past months, there is still a significant part of Hiero that doesn’t trust Tim with his secrets. I appreciated how Kray used the setting and its details to further entrench Hiero in his memories and how, in the end, Tim realized he didn’t need to uncover all of his lover’s mysteries in order to love him, but when Hiero finally did reveal his past, Tim knows it was the greatest gift he could have been given.
Oz by Lily Morton – There is nothing like a good hook to set the proper tone of a story, and Morton offers that up in a singular fashion when Oz comes home to find his boyfriend (who also happens to be his boss) has not only stuck a landing dick-first in another man, but he’s had the audacity to do it in their bed, and then has the nerve to be angry at Oz for being miffed about it. From this moment on, I knew there was something special about Oz and that, in spite of his bad track record with men, a lot of that had to do with the fact he just hadn’t found the right man yet, a man who was kind and gentle and thoughtful, and who Oz could laugh with. Because when two people can laugh together, it makes going through the difficult times a bit less treacherous. Little did Oz know that man would end up being a member of the aristocracy.
Every moment Oz and Silas spend together on-page drives this story towards its inevitable conclusion. There is almost a sense of awe and wonder as their relationship morphs, grows and also, at times, feeds into Oz’s insecurities. Why would a man such as Silas ever be interested in a commoner like Ozzy Gallagher? Oh, but Oz is anything but common, and Silas is a man worth fighting for and holding on to. There is no doubt by story’s end that they belonged together and that the tone and nature of their relationship defines the series’ title, Finding Home. There is also no doubt by story’s end that my heart was nothing but a shmoopy little puddle of joy.
The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards – Author K. D. Edwards’ debut novel, and the first book in his Tarot Sequence series, is nothing short of a feat of inspired storytelling. I’ll admit to knowing less than nothing about the Major Arcana cards in a tarot deck, or the Minor, for that matter, when I began reading The Last Sun, which did nothing to hinder my love of it in the slightest but, having done a little research after finishing this action-packed and imaginative epic, I have an even greater appreciation for how the author wove the tarot aspects into almost every detail of the plot and into the development of his characters as well; his hero protagonist, Rune St. John, in particular. Rune, aka Rune Sun of the Sun Throne which was destroyed and, upon its destruction, brought unimaginable horrors down upon a young Rune, is The Sun card in reverse at present—things are not sorted for him yet, but there is a horizon upon which to focus, and I’m excited to go on his journey to see how the cards may fall.
Betrayal, avarice, the lust for power, and, for Rune, a bit of vengeance, goes hand-in-hand with battle after battle after battle as Rune and Brand succeed in rescuing Addam from his captor but then quickly discover that the evil turned loose upon New Atlantis is a destructive force far beyond any they’ve ever met before. They must not only fight it but find who summoned it in order to vanquish them and deliver justice—not only for their sins of the present but of the past as well.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
28 thoughts on “Simply the Best 2018: Lisa’s Fave Books and a Giveaway”
Happy New Year!
I really loved Witches for Hire by Sam Argent. The way the world wasn’t introduced, but had to get learned by the reader while reading, was lovely.
Other favs were The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger (witty), Creature by Kim Fielding (innocent and sweet) and His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto (happily asexual).
Happy New Year!!
Thanks for sharing your list. Happy new year.
I knew Lane Hayes and N.R. Walker but I started listening to their work in 2018 and just for that the year was a great one! Leaning into Forever by Lane Hayes, On Davis Row by N.R, Walker and Broken by Nikola Haken are my top 3 reads of the year that passed ^^
Lisa, Thanks so much for another wonderful and final year! It’s been amazing! Best wishes to you and Happy New Year!
Happy New Year! Favourites reads from 2018 are NR Walker’s “Private Charter” and “Evolved” Felice Steven’s “Man Up” Series.
I loved Forever & Ever by Tere Michaels and Riven by Roan Parrish.
Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert and Private Charter by NR Walker were two of my favorites from this year.
Grilled cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling. So nice to have all of Keith’s stories in one place!
So, so many favorites but I just finished 2 by Josh Lanyon, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks and The Ghost had an Early Checkout. Both were very good.
Also read Breaker of Chains, loved it too! Going to have to add many of the ones on this list to my TBR pile!
I loved several from your list…Agent Bayne, Witchmark, Object of Desire, Oz. I just finished The Ghost Had An Early Check-out …but I love everything Josh Lanyon. :-)
Happy New Year!
Thank you for your list! I see a lot of books I need to check out on it. Some of my favorites were Robbie by Ella Frank, At Attention by Annabeth Albert, and Ben’s Rainbow by Victoria Sue.
Great list! You have several of my favs on there – Breaker of Chains by Jordan L. Hawk, The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards, A Ferry of Bones & Gold by Hailey Turner, and A Light Amongst Shadows/A Hymn in the Silence by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood.
This is a great list! I added a few titles to my own TBR list. Thank you!
I really enjoyed A Ferry of Bones and Gold too!
Sinfully Mine introduced me to a new author, Nicky James.
Happy New Year! What a great list, I am looking forward to reading many on your list.
First try didn’t go through and I wrote a bunch of things so, this time I’m only going to post the series I enjoyed reading in 2018. Charlie Cochet’s THIRDS, Mary Calmes’ Change of Heart, Lucy Lenoxo’s Made Marian, Amelia Faulkner’s Inheritance. I always wait until all the books in a series are out before I go into marathon mode and read them all back to back.
Happy New Year to The Novel Approach Crew and their Loved Ones!
Really needing to catch up on PsyCop and SPECTR so I can get to your two favs – I’ve designated January and February as “catch up on series” months:) It really was a great year for books – I was trying to update my GR list and realized just how many wonderful books I’d read this year!
Looks like a good mix. Thank you for sharing you best of 2018! Happy New Year =)
I rave about everything Hailey Turner writes, she has me in awe of her amazing talent to breathe life into a story! Sheena Himes also has this awesome talent.
I agree with many of the books in this list, after all, some of my favourite authors are here (Jordan L. Hawk, Jordan Castillo Prize, Gregory Ashe, Hailey Turner). One of my favourite books this year was Boy Shattered by Eli Easton
This is the year I actually started using Goodreads properly i.e. for cataloguing my favourite reads. I’m appalling at remembering titles and author names :). But you have a couple in this list I’ve read and loved, for all the reasons you so articulately and passionately express and so I’m bookmarking all the others. I also loved – in no order and from OMG such a long list since I started spending more time reading than writing – Steve Burford’s Summerskill and Lyon for a UK-set crime series (only 2 so far sob), Lyssa Em’s Escorting the Escort for flawed character delight, Hank Edwards Plus Ones for gay men’s dating lives with wit and heart, Dev Bentham’s layered and richly rewarding characters in Learning from Isaac (a re-read for me), all of Harper Fox’s Tyack and Frayne series – new one out this year! – and I just finished Suki Fleet’s Foxes, where my heart was aching and in my mouth all through, yet love triumphed.
This is the only list so far where I haven’t either read or got at least one book so I shall be looking extra hard here!
I enjoyed a great many series combinations
Pins and Needles BJ Thomas
Color of you CS Poe
Farlough Xavier Mayne
I really liked One Man’s Trash and Terms of Service by Marie Sexton. Loved Riven and Rend by Roan Parrish. My favorite series is the Seven of Spades by Cordelia Kingsbridge. Can’t wait for the final book!
Happy New Year!
Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series was one of my loveliest finds this year.
So many cool books on your list! I definitely need to read more of them…