Eleven years ago, on December 7, 2011, I claimed the domain The Novel Approach and posted my first review on the site for Hayden Thorne’s evocative and gorgeous YA Fantasy Renfred’s Masquerade. Though that wasn’t the first review I’d ever written—I’d got my start a couple of years before that at two other (now long-gone) sites—it was the beginning of something I could never have imagined. While this blog has morphed quite a bit over the years, my love for the community and my respect for the authors who feed my insatiable appetite for reading has not wavered.
I can’t begin to predict what The Novel Approach will look like in the coming year. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve exhausted all my words and have nothing of value left to say (a couple thousand reviews written over the course of 12 years will do that!), but I am looking forward to quite a few books in 2023 with tons of anticipation. I hope we can share our love for them with each other :)
A Warm, Joyous, and Happy New Year to you all!
The Best of 2022
The Hourglass Throne by K.D. Edwards: I have fallen madly, deeply, and irrevocably in love with this series and its characters, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. K.D. Edwards’ conception of this world and my enduring investment in the lives of his characters not only remains unchanged but strengthens with each book, with each challenge, and with each hardship heaped upon them. The Tarot Sequence series is, beyond measure, my love of exceptional storytelling exemplified.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White: In the Acknowledgments of Hell Followed with Us, Andrew Joseph White confesses that his debut novel “began life as a fit of rage.” This is noteworthy because that rage bleeds from every drop of e-ink and every word he accumulated that coalesced into this staggering, powerful, and beautiful story. Hell Followed with Us is not my story. I will never know firsthand what it means, or feels like, to walk in Benji’s shoes. That doesn’t mean I can’t love him, though, and I did. Immensely.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart: Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo is a book that contains multitudes. It is a full-circle novel that deliberately places Mungo in harm’s way and then shows us how and why he got there, and how he survived. It is lyrical. It is steeped in despair. It is a brutal story—both physically and sexually violent. It is a desperately lonely story. It is heartbreakingly cruel. It is bittersweet. And yet . . . and yet, in the end, there is still a glimmer of hope for young Mungo.
Deadbeat Druid by David R. Slayton: While indulging my every love of lush, evocative storytelling, David R. Slayton also developed a cast of characters who more than undertook the responsibility of this journey; they carried it admirably. Deadbeat Druid navigates life and death, and because this is Adam’s world, Life and Death. It delivers Adam and Vic to a new beginning, not because it was preordained but because they went through hell and back to get there. It’s a story of family and all the complications and heartaches and conflict and love and bitterness that comes with them. It’s a story of magic and mysticism, where friends and allies aren’t always human. It is brilliant, lavish Fantasy.
Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk: Set in the 1940s, and utterly rife with noirish overtones that add color and vibrancy to the story, C. L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End is a sublimely beautiful tale of the lengths one woman will go to for the sake of love. What would you do in the name of love, even though you knew the end? That’s the question C. L. Polk asks and answers in ways that define the emotion at both is simplest and most complex. This story is not simply a test of faith, it’s an act of courage. It’s love at both its most selfish and its most unselfish. It’s love at its most eternal and its most finite. It is love at its most unspoiled in an imperfect world.
Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon: There is no character I would label as the hero of this story, or even the antihero, for that matter. Everyone in this book is either a psychopath, a sociopath, a narcissist, an enabler, a manipulator, a victim, or any combination of these traits. Bath Haus is one of the best Thrillers I’ve had the intense pleasure to read in quite some time. For readers who love to dig into what makes a character tick, this book is rife with opportunity. Avarice, jealousy, lust, duplicity, complicity, and addiction are mere threads in the whole cloth of the story. I was kept guessing from the start.
Too Like the Lightning by Travis Beaudoin: Too Like the Lightning is a gorgeous book and most certainly one of the loveliest contemporary romances I read this year. It’s literary fiction wrapped up in a love story, written in lush and evocative prose that outpaces the dense and sweltering atmosphere of a Florida summer. I loved the contrast between Andrew and Coley and the ways in which Coley encouraged Andrew and made him want to change for the better. What began as lust grew into something much richer and more profound, something intense and electrifying, and when the past called and Andrew answered, he learned a life lesson about prioritizing what was priceless, perhaps a little fragile, certainly beautiful and irreplaceable.
The Forgotten Dead by Jordan L. Hawk: As a bit of a paranormal junky who’s watched plenty of ghost hunter shows, I say with utmost sincerity that Jordan L. Hawk pushed all my happy reader buttons in The Forgotten Dead. For those who’ve read Hawk’s Spirits series, you may see a hint or two that the OutFoxing the Paranormal series is its distant kin, though it’s not necessary to have read the Spirits books first. It was simply fun to make the connection. As is always the case with this author’s works, the characters are wonderfully, beautifully diverse, and the haunting is . . . well, chillingly haunting perfection.
The Doctor by C.S. Poe: On a scale of one to sublime, author C.S. Poe has penned a dreamy chef’s kiss-worth of post-Civil War steampunk in her Magic & Steam series. The secrets that continue to surface along with the peril and chaos that inevitably ensue from their revelation leaves little room for doubt that Gillian Hamilton and Constantine Gunner (aka Gunner the Deadly) have a long fight ahead of them before they get anywhere close to a happy ending. The Doctor is full of some wicked surprises and gruesome illustrations of the evil that people are capable of when seeking to play gods and monsters. This sinister plot is deftly woven and deliciously teased out to keep readers on the hook from one chapter to the next, never sure whom to trust or what perils will challenge these men next.
Incarnate by Justin Schuelke: The Incarnate Accounts series is just plain fun. Justin Schuelke, the architect of this fantastically original and imaginative story, has elevated my esteem for the art of storytelling another notch. The way this world is built, the way its characters are revealed, and the inclusion of the reader in the lessons Emery Luple has to teach us is utterly unsurpassed in not only its creativity, but Emery’s charm went a long way toward investing me in his adventures. I lost track of how many times I read something in Incarnate that made me grin, but let’s just say it was a lot.