As 2020 comes to a close, I want to take a moment to wish you all the best in 2021. If you’ve struggled this year in any way, I hope there has at least been a modicum of comfort found in the books you’ve chosen to escape into for a while, and that they’ve brought you a few moments of joy in these otherwise turbulent times.
If you’re anything like me, ignoring the outside world to focus on those quiet reading moments wasn’t always easy this year. I’ve read fewer books than in years past, and I gave up on nearly as many books as I finished. It was not a year of patience for books that didn’t grab me from the start, but it wasn’t until I was compiling this list that I realized how many truly remarkable books I read over the past twelve months. Narrowing down my Best Of list was all the harder for it.
It has, inarguably, been a time like no other, and I hope that whatever genre you’ve gravitated to, whatever books you’ve chosen to get lost in for a while, those hours brought you a little happiness and sparks of faith and hope in their happily ever afters. If you’ve found new authors to love this year, excellent work! Trust me, you did well as long as the authors and those books made you happy. Own that happiness. You deserve it, you earned it, so don’t let anyone snatch that away from you.
Though it’s been hard to hold on to those stray silver linings this year, here’s a reminder that you’re very much appreciated.
I wish you all the joy in the coming year ❣
~ Lisa ~
Best of 2020 & a Giveaway
So how about a little gratitude to end the year, hm? I’m so grateful for the books I read in 2020; some I happened across by sheer dumb luck, some are by authors I’ve loved for years, some are debuts, and some were recommended by fellow readers.
I have the great pleasure of getting together with Jay (of Joyfully Jay) and author Jeff Adams every quarter on the Big Gay Fiction Podcast to chat about books, and today’s episode is all about a few of Jay’s and my favorite books of the year. My picks (excl. my most anticipated book of 2021) are included in my giveaway. You can check that out HERE. And check out a complete list of back episodes HERE.
And now, here they are, a baker’s dozen of my favorite reads in 2020!
– I said in my review of Bitter Pill, all the way back on January 20th, that I was adding it to my Best of 2020 list. That held true through the year. Price has routinely delivered a special sort of brilliance through these characters, but this book bumped that up by several notches, and did so through an unexpected character and in an emphatically touching way.
– In keeping with my theme of foresight, I predicted The Wrath of Wolves would make my Best Of list on January 6th. Kelley York and Rowan Altwood impressed, awed, and captivated me with a diligence and dedication to their characters and this world that left me chilled and breathless at the same time. Superb storytelling and irresistible characters set against an excellent alternate historical backdrop populated by various supernatural entities elevates this series to the top of its class.
– There’s little more gratifying than finding a new author and then being able to say, with utter sincerity, “What an absolutely stunning debut novel.” Russ Thomas’s Firewatching is taut and suspenseful and a whole host of other, equally complimentary, superlatives. This book throws some great twists and turns into its mystery and the investigative procedural, and there was nothing I didn’t love about it.
– The Iron Crown is every bit as passionate and poetic as the previous two books in the Darkest Court series. It is a journey of love and honor and heroism and sacrifice, building up everything that had come before it into a pure and impeccable consummation of high fantasy and romance and my love of the trilogy. M.A. Grant weaved this epic tale with skill and a lyricism that only enhanced its telling and elevated the beauty of the central relationship between Lugh and Keiran.
– Proving that her debut novel, Witchmark, a book that made my Best of 2018 list, was not an anomaly, author C.L. Polk offered up its sequel, Stormsong, this year, and absolutely nailed it. Snakes in the grass, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, murder, theft and a coverup, the mystery within the mystery—Polk handled it all with such a deft and talented hand, and she offered up a sweet and sincere romance between its heroines, Dame Grace Hensley and Avia Jessup, along with the corruption and danger.
– Excellent world building, a creative use of historical figures, and an abundance of danger and intrigue came together to make The Fell of Dark one of the best books I read this year. Full of suspense, surprises, excellent world building, outstanding character building, sharp prose and dialogue, a deep dive into the realms of sorcery and magic and the undead, and an ending that left some cards on the table for a sequel (fingers crossed, though this book is excellent on its own), it all came together in an exciting and action-packed way.
– If Spellbound (book one in the Magic in Manhattan series) was a homerun, Starcrossed is a slam dunk—to badly mix sports metaphors. Once again, Therin offered up a knock-out of a storyline to further the intrigue and danger and, of course, to advance the romance between her pair of polar opposites, Rory Brodigan and Arthur “Ace” Kenzie. This book is made of mayhem and romance, and I loved every word of it.
– The Soulbound series is, hands down, some of the finest Urban Fantasy out there. Turner continues to mine the deep well of legend, lore, fairy tales, and nightmares to throw danger Patrick Collins’ way and, by association, Jono and their pack as well. Never, ever let it be said that Turner under-writes an action scene; this author is so proficient at escalating the danger and drama to pulse-pounding levels that she could teach a master class in how to bait readers into fits of anxiety.
– Speaking of debut authors and lucky finds! I’m truly, madly, and deeply in love with SoRelle’s His Lordships Mysteries series, and, more specifically, Alfie Pennington and his childhood love, Dominick. Alfie’s and Nick’s backstories add all the poignancy to this story of mystery and danger, and their second chance at love leads to a great twist to the mystery at the end of His Lordship’s Secret that drives the story to its exciting climax.
– Astor Glenn Gray tells a compelling story in Honeytrap, filled with all the emotional weight one would expect between two people who are foes feigning allyship. Daniel and Gennady are spies for two diametrically opposed countries, each having been given their orders not only to track down a failed assassin but to dig up anything that might be worthy of blackmailing each other. There’s so much to recommend this novel—the heart and humor, and the poignancy that comes naturally to a relationship that wasn’t supposed to be, but which builds and endures despite the sorrow and adversity.
– When it comes to the expectations of a new Gregory Ashe series, readers can rely on several things: 1) Someone is going to die; that’s just a given. 2) The ensuing investigation will exacerbate and escalate the danger. 3) The MCs will not be okay, at all, emotionally, though they’ll put up a plausible front—at least until they don’t. 4) The journey to some semblance of okay will be rife with tension, secrets will be kept, and mistakes will be made. 5) There will be a solid, often gut-punching reminder that humor isn’t always about laughter but about masking pain. The Same Breath has all the earmarks of what makes a Gregory Ashe novel a Gregory Ashe novel, and waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop between Teancum Leon and Jem Berger became a study in anticipatory heartbreak, something with which his readers are all too familiar.
– If you’ve ever finished a book, read its final words, and the best you could come up with in the moment was “Wow,” you’ve read a book a lot like White Trash Warlock left me feeling. This is David R. Slayton’s debut novel, and holy Urban Fantasy, did I ever love the world he built in this book. Even the term warlock gets a makeover, but the true highlight of the story is its hero, Adam Lee Binder, who’s so charming and relatable, and who isn’t here to overwhelm us with his magical prowess but to make us sympathize with him as an every guy, which I did in every way.
– Restored is a gorgeous new standalone in Chambers’ popular Enlightenment series, the perfect fusion of sexy, poignant, and romantic. It is the story of two men who must find a way to begin again on equal footing, to forgive mistakes of the past, and to embrace that they’ve each found a loving partner in someone who knows who they truly are. The author pulls out all the emotional stops, early and often, which all culminates in an ending that sealed this as my favorite Historical Romance of not only the year, but that I’ve read in a good while.
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