Best of 2016

Cooking Up Romance 2016 Best Reads

Cooking Up Romance 2016 Best ReadsLast January, I set out to read 100 books off my TBR pile. And guess what? I did it! I still have 662 on it, but whatever, let’s just ignore that. I also read a ton of aliens, shifters and cyborgs, none of which actually made it onto this list because I think if I mention Ice Planet Barbarians one more time, my entire group of reading friends might revolt. But despite my plans for the year, I ended up reading more 2016 new releases than I thought. So here are the best of those (plus a couple from 2015 that I read this year) in no particular order.

The Reluctant Berkserker by Alex BeecroftThe most recent book I adored was The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft, which came out in 2015. I heard a lot about it at the time, but I am notoriously suspicious of “buzzy” books. In this case, I needn’t have been. It takes place in Anglo-Saxon England and tells the story of a “scop” (basically a sort of bard) and a warrior. The bard is delicate and beautiful and not engaged in a high status job. The warrior is big and burly and a good representation of the society’s conception of real manhood. But neither are quite what they seem. The exploration of this dynamic and detailed interplay between pagan and Christian cultural forces made The Reluctant Berserker one of the most interesting romances I’ve ever read.

Managed by Kristen CallihanManaged by Kristen Callihan actually did come out this year. I pre-ordered it on the basis of a promo quote, realized it was the second in Callihan’s new rock star series, and then read the first book, Idol. Idol was great–a rock star hiding out from the world makes friends with a regular girl. But Managed was spectacular. The rock band’s manager meets a social media marketing expert on an airplane as he’s freaking out about flying. Sophie Elizabeth Darling completely made this book for me. She’s so much like the real women I know that she just leaped off the page for me. And Gabriel Scott, the David Gandy look-alike band manager, clashed with her perfectly. I will be eagerly awaiting new additions to this series.

Beyond Surrender by Kit RochaBeyond Surrender by Kit Rocha, also released in 2016, was the last book of the immensely popular Beyond series, a post-apocalyptic, dystopian, erotic romance series that evolved from orgies and whiskey into a complex political and cultural critique. This book featured Nessa, the O’Kane’s whiskey distiller, and Ryder the head of Sector Five, but most characters from all eight previous novels make an appearance so it’s really impossible to pick up the series here. There was a lot to resolve, but it was all tied up well. There are some heart-breaking moments and I tweeted at Bree Bridges (one half of the writing duo) with threats and exclamation marks at several points during this suspenseful read, but everything worked out in the end. And 2017 will bring a new spin-off series featuring Gideon’s Riders of Sector One, which I am very much looking forward to.

A Gentleman's Position by KJ CharlesA Gentleman’s Position by KJ Charles was my favorite book of 2016, and for that matter, easily one of my top five books of all time. It’s an m/m Regency romance about Lord Richard Vane and his valet David Cyprian that takes full advantage of awkwardness imposed by the historical time period. Richard is consumed by duty and class-consciousness. David, while just as powerful in his own way, does not have the same status or wealth. He has had a crush on his employer for some time, but Richard’s hidebound attitude about the impossibility of the relationship prevents them from taking the next step. It’s full of pining and sexual tension and a subtle upsetting of tropes. It’s impossible to detail everything I loved about this book in a brief snippet like this, but as I said in my Goodreads review, A Gentleman’s Position is a small miracle. Even if you’re not normally an m/m reader, read this book. It’s one of the best Regencies I’ve ever read.

Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve TurnerEarth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner is the latest in their 1960s space program historical romance series, also a 2016 release. I love historicals set in unusual time periods and aside from romance actually written in the 60s, I don’t think I’ve read anything else set in this period and certainly not in this setting. Eugene Parsons is the engineer in charge of all the other space program engineers and he is extremely focused on their mission. He’s also Charlie Eason’s boss. She’s a brilliant engineer who doesn’t get a lot of credit from anyone–except Parsons. The book is one of the sexier things I’ve read by these authors and the workplace context is especially rich. This is the third book in the series, but the others are just as good.

Where There's A Will by Cari ZWhere There’s A Will by Cari Z was probably my most talked about book of 2016. It’s the third in the m/m Panopolis superhero series. I’m not sure why it seems to have been largely overlooked, but everyone I mentioned it to was immediately intrigued, bought it and loved it. The first two were about the same two characters, one of whom is a supervillain. This one is about a superhero named Freight Train and a new and intriguing doctor and continues to reveal the cultural and political landscape of Panopolis, in which nothing is as it first seems. Not only are the romances compelling–as a result of his super power, Freight Train is touch-starved and how that plays out is absolutely heart-breaking–but the world-building is vibrant without overtaking the entire book. I did a full review of it earlier this year, but couldn’t help but include it in my best reads of 2016 list.

So Sweet by Rebekah WeatherspoonSo Sweet by Rebekah Weatherspoon was a 2016 read that surprised me. I wasn’t sure about the premise of the first book, where a young woman goes to a meet-up to introduce girls to rich men who agree to support them in exchange for…favors. I should have known better. I’ve read a bunch of books by Weatherspoon and I should have just trusted that she’d handle it well. And she handled it better than well. This series ended up being one of the highlights of 2016 for me. It was crazy sexy, which I expected, but also completely fluffy and adorable, which I didn’t. The heroine is black, fat, bi, fierce and completely hilarious without ever tipping over into “sassy”. And the hero is a dreamboat of the first order–a care-taking alpha billionaire who actually listens and responds appropriately to the heroine’s wishes. Don’t hesitate to pick this one up. It has the perfect tone to start off your 2017 right.

Finally, Bonds of Earth by GN Chevalier came out in 2012, but I didn’t hear about it until this year. It’s the story of a proto-physical therapist who comes back from WWI and gets a job as the gardener to a wealthy, but broken young man who was injured during the war. The process of them falling in love and making each other whole again is totally fraught and heart-breaking and until the end, you’re really not sure they’re going to get it together. Plus it’s another unusual setting which always earns points from me. I’m devastated that this author hasn’t written anything else because this book was just so damn good. I read it during the 24 in 48 Readathon last January and that’s coming up again–you can sign up here. It’s really fun to read for a lot of hours with others doing the same.

So that wraps up 2016! I’ve got a list of 2017 releases that I’m highly anticipating so look for that…ya know…some time. That said, my New Year’s resolution is to write a post a week so hopefully that will appear sooner rather than later. Hope you had a great New Year’s Eve and that you’re looking forward to a fresh start in 2017.

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