Best of 2015

2015 was a mixed bag. I read some really great books, and got excited about quite a few things.

However there were also lengthy periods of time where I was either feeling a little blah about my books or I was downright fed up with reading in general, and with the repetition brought on by genre fads.

I saved myself from my reading slumps both by rereading, and also by buying books instead of accepting as many review books as I might have other years.

Every year I post my best reads of the year. Many are 2015 releases, but some are not. Not all of them are the Greatest Read Ever, but every one of these stuck with me in some way, and that’s what counts the most when it comes to a book.

The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

Ross Poldark (Poldark #1) by Winston Graham

Poldark_-_Ross_Poldark

His Wicked Reputation (Wicked Trilogy #1) by Madeline Hunter

His Wicked Reputation (Wicked Trilogy #1) by Madeline Hunter

Brown-Eyed Girl (Travis Family #4) by Lisa Kleypas

Brown-Eyed Girl (2015) (The fourth book in the Travis series) by Lisa Kleypas

Collateral Damage (Bagram Special Ops #5) by Kaylea Cross

Collateral Damage by Kaylea Cross

His Christmas Countess by Louise Allen

His Christmas Countess (Lords of Disgrace #2) by Louise Allen

Josette (When Hearts Dare #3) by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Josette (When Hearts Dare #3) by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Tall, Dark and Wicked (Wicked Trilogy #2) by Madeline Hunter

Tall, Dark, & Wicked by Madeline Hunter

This Book Will Change Your Life by Amanda Weaver

This Book Will Change Your Life by Amanda Weaver

Demelza (Poldark #2) by Winston Graham

Demelza (The Poldark Saga #2) by Winston Graham

Bitten (Women of the Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Bitten (Women of the Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Bared to You (Crossfire #1) by Sylvia Day

Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Danger Wears White (The Emperors of London #3) by Lynne Connolly

Danger Wears White (The Emperors of London #3) by Lynne Connolly

Reflected in You (Crossfire #2) by Sylvia Day

Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

Dead by Midnight (I-Team 7.5 An I-Team Christmas) by Pamela Clare

Dead by Midnight (I-Team 7.5 An I-Team Christmas) by Pamela Clare

The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3) by Anne Gracie

The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3) by Anne Gracie

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

Cold-Hearted Rake (2015) by Lisa Kleypas

His Housekeeper’s Christmas wish by Louise Allen

His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish by Louise Allen

In Debt to the Earl by Elizabeth Rolls

In Debt to the Earl by Elizabeth Rolls

The Lady Meets Her Match (Midnight Meetings #2) by Gina Conkle

The Lady Meets Her Match (Midnight Meetings #2) by Gina Conkle

Contemporary Romance for Christmas

This is not a comprehensive list, or even an original one.

I tend to recommend the same handful of books every Christmas, but if you’re looking for a contemporary romance for Christmas, here are a few suggestions.

The Way Home by Cindy Gerard

Review

The Way Home by Cindy Gerard

A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr

A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr

A Kirribilli Christmas by Louise Reynolds

Review

Christmas Reads A Kirribilli Christmas by Louise Reynolds

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Review

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

 Holiday Sparks by Shannon Stacey

Holiday Sparks by Shannon Stacey

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lori Wilde

Review

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lori Wilde

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Review

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Christmas in Cold Creek by RaeAnne Thayne

Review

Christmas in Cold Creek by RaeAnne Thayne

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr

Review

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr

Kentucky Christmas by Sarah Title

Review

Kentucky Christmas by Sarah Title

A Cold Creek Christmas Surprise by RaeAnne Thayne

Review

A Cold Creek Christmas Surprise by RaeAnne Thayne

The Week: 8th – 14th June

Canberra from Queanbeyan Australia 3rd May 2015 Sonya Heaney Sky Clouds Sunset

A random shot of sunset over Canberra, taken from the other side of the state border.

This week involved lots of cleaning, lots of sorting, lots of working on designs in Photoshop, nowhere near enough reading… I did pick up Christy Reece’s debut novel for a reread.

Now I have my grandmother’s old embroidery and cross stitch books (the #1 aspect of Ukrainian culture!) I’m determined to relearn the skills, starting next week. I ordered myself a couple of beginners’ patterns from a craft shop to practice with. Not pretty Ukrainian designs, but I need to start somewhere!

Sunday is the “forty day” church service for my grandmother’s death. It’s something you do in Ukrainian culture; have a special service after that period of time.

In other Ukrainian news, Russia is back in force, shelling all over the country, and destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure. We are still going back to Ukraine in less than a year. We will unless Putin literally is bombing the entire country by then.

There was a big drama in the media in Australia this week, and I saw it made the news in other countries too. A fundamentalist Christian went on national television and announced he was divorcing his wife if gay marriage became legal.

The people you know… This man was in my brother’s class at school and his brother was in mine. We even sat at the same table during our school formal (graduation prom thingy). I don’t know how such different people can be turned out of the same school and same part of town!

Poldark Love

Poldark_-_Ross_Poldark

Randomly interesting…

The Hunger Games Twilight Harry Potter

My review of Only Marriage Will Do by Jenna Jaxon

Only Marriage Will Do by Jenna Jaxon

My review of Escaping Reality (The Secret Life of Amy Bensen #1) by Lisa Renee Jones

Escaping Reality (The Secret Life of Amy Bensen #1) by Lisa Renee Jones

My review of It Started At Waterloo by Lynne Connolly

It Started At Waterloo by Lynne Connolly

My review of To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

After what Laura Vennetti and her son have been through, she’s avoided all contact with the police. Then her son brings detective Ethan Winter into their lives. Despite how appealing – and gorgeous – he is, it’s safe to say Ethan isn’t her dream man…

Immediately, though, Laura can see how different he is from her late husband. Ethan is thoughtful, considerate and a good influence on her son. Add in the intense attraction between her and Ethan and the temptation to give in is irresistible. To her surprise, Laura feels the wounds of the past healing, making her wonder if she could love this cop forever.

To Love a Cop by Janice Kay Johnson

This guy is supposed to be six-four, and attractive. I hate how they always use REALLY tall women and regular-sized men for their covers!

Well, this was brave!

You know, if any other author had written this book, I would have put it down after a few pages. It tackles some big, heavy, US-centric issues, and I know few people could have made it work. However, I love Janice Kay Johnson’s books, and so I made myself continue, and I’m glad I did.

This book is about US gun culture. That is the heart of the story. The heroine’s late-husband left his gun out, their little son accidentally killed someone with it, and then later the husband committed suicide. The sort of news headline that travels across oceans and even makes it onto television here.

How in the world do you write this story without upsetting half of America?! I think the author managed it.

I have never lived in a gun culture, and even coming from a military family, I do not know a single person who privately owns a gun or would ever consider buying one. Guns don’t factor into my existence, and so I look on things like gun shows and the NRA with total bewilderment.

I think this was a factual, unbiased representation of the situation. After all, major characters both own guns and teach gun safety classes, but guns are by no means glorified. It was as balanced as I think it could possibly have been.

On top of all the gun stuff, Johnson is just a plain good writer. She researches the bejesus out of her topics and can write people of all genders, ages and cultures convincingly. She writes realistic characters and believable romances. She has little nuances in their actions so they seem like real people, not creations from a book.

If there was one thing in this one I wasn’t so sure of, it was the way the heroine’s family did a total turnaround after years of heavy, horrible treatment, just because she spoke to them for thirty seconds. It was the only thing in the book I couldn’t believe in.

However, this was yet another good read by this writer.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

What I want to see in 2015: Contemporary Romance

The Homecoming (Thunder Point #6) by Robyn Carr

I didn’t read all that much contemporary romance in 2014, especially considering how popular it is at the moment. For some reason, whenever I brought up a list of review books, I rarely found it was the genre I was in the mood to read.

Rereading what I’ve typed, it sounds resoundingly negative. I’m not sure if that was my intention or not…

There were exceptions. Some of my favourite authors write in this genre, and if I see a name like Janice Kay Johnson or Robyn Carr pop up, I still get excited they have something new coming out.

From This Day On by Janice Kay Johnson

However, for the most part, I figure I’ve turned away from the genre a little because of:

  • The misogyny. Oh boy, but contemporary romance has become sexist! I blame it largely on the popularity of the Twilight series, which spawned a slew of sexist young adult books. Which created the horrifically anti-woman new adult genre. Which has had a massive influence on contemporary fiction in general. Heroines in this genre too often spend as much time hating other women as they do agonising over their relationships. Far too many of them have abusive female relatives and no female friends. The main conflict in the relationship more often than not is a beautiful blonde (always blonde!) ex-girlfriend who tries to break hero and heroine up.

I don’t want to spend my leisure time reading books that insult women.

  • The repetition. Publishers often actively look for tropes. The small town cowboy. The Plain Jane who doesn’t feel worthy of the hot man (cue the nasty blonde ex!). Tropes are great – I have my favourites (reunion stories!). However, I’ve started to find too many books read exactly the same as others.
  • Further on common themes: the same professions popping up over and over. Some days, reading through the Harlequin/Mills and Boon listings show that about 99.99% of contemporary romance heroines are either wedding planners or bakers. The men are all cowboys or former Navy SEALs (or former Navy SEALs who have become cowboys). It’s boring. It’s stopping me from even giving books a chance.
  • The issues. The last few years have seen a huge shift away from stories involving suspense of any sort, but nothing has moved in to fill the gap. I’d like to see characters tackling some more creative issues. If a mundane day in my everyday life is more interesting than what the characters are up to, then what is the point in the book? Even regular, everyday people go through extraordinary experiences. Contemporary romances should tackle them more often.
  • The sex scenes. Sex is not a story. The ever-increasing dependence on lengthy sex scenes in this genre is letting authors get away with abandoning any semblance of a plot. Of course I’m generalising a little, but I’ve started skipping most of those scenes because after a few books they start to feel samey to me.

I’d like to read more contemporary romance in 2015. I’m hoping to find some more original ideas. I’m hoping I won’t be DNFing so many books because of the sexist tone. I think the genre needs an overhaul, and I hope to see it soon.

Christmas Reads: Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

Reviewed HERE

Bringing Maddie Home by Janice Kay Johnson

There’s always one case

The moment police Captain Colin McAllister sees her on TV he knows. She may call herself Nell Smith, but she is Maddie Dubeau – the girl who went missing from Angel Butte, Oregon, years ago. She’s haunted Colin, and now the adult version of her is so captivating, he can’t stay away. He wants to help her recover her memories – even solve her case – without crossing a professional line.
But distance becomes impossible when the threats against her escalate. It’s clear someone is determined that Nell never remembers what happened to Maddie. Colin must keep her safe so that he can finally bring her home to his home.

Christmas Reads: One Frosty Night by Janice Kay Johnson

One Frosty Night by Janice Kay Johnson

Unexpected Christmas plans

Olivia Bowen would rather avoid this holiday season. Even her satisfaction at improving the family business doesn’t make up for the loss of her beloved father and the sudden tension with her mother. Olivia questions how much longer she can live in her hometown. And her decision is further complicated by Ben Hovik.

She should keep her distance—he broke her heart years ago. Yet his compassion and their still-sizzling attraction are seductive. Could she be falling for him again? When she spends Christmas with Ben and his teenage son, she wonders if this might be the first of many more…

One Frosty Night by Janice Kay Johnson

Janice Kay Johnson delivers “complete” stories. Her books have a solid, realistic romance, an excellent mystery, important and believable secondary characters, and they reveal their secrets slowly. I haven’t disliked anything I’ve read by her, and One Frosty Night was a really engaging read.

I love a bit of heartache in a story, and our hero here has amends to make when it comes to our heroine. A few years older than her, he dumped her for another girl when he went off into the big, wide world to study. She doesn’t see why she should be giving him a second chance now.

But there’s much more to the story than that. We start with a teenage girl found dead in the woods. Gradually it seems everyone in the town knows something, and everyone has a secret to hide. There’re tensions between mother and daughter and secrets between father and son. There’re a lot of things going on in this small town.

Yes, this book takes place at Christmastime, but I think the cover is a little silly compared to the depth of the story!

One thing I didn’t believe was that the heroine – who is the same age as me – would have been communicating via email through her adolescence. I didn’t even know what email was at the age she was apparently doing it, and we sure didn’t have the internet!

Recommended for people who like believable romances, small town mysteries, or who are tired of Christmas cheese and want something set in the season without the usual themes.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week 14th – 20th July

Australian Capital Territory flag at half-mast for Malaysia Airlines plane shot down by Russia. Canberra 19th July 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney.

Canberra flag at half-mast on Saturday.

Russia. Stop it. Get out of Ukraine and stop this war. For any normal country, shooting down a plane of international civilians would have been the final straw. Instead, after bragging about how many Ukrainians they slaughtered (I happened to be online and watching it evolve), they realised they were in the wrong and have been coming up with some shocking, horrific lies to try and cover their tracks. Accusing Malaysia Airlines of flying a plane of corpses was about the lowest they could go. Never has it been clearer what a fool Vladimir Adolf Putin is.

Russia has a long history of shooting down civilian planes and claiming they shot down enemies (Korean Air flight 007, for example). That they’re still doing it in 2014 is almost unbelievable.

A little note: it was not YOUR airspace when you shot the plane down. It was UKRAINIAN airspace.

Canberra flew all the flags at half-mast over the weekend, and we took flowers to the Dutch and Malaysian embassies, as well as leaving a sign at the Russian embassy. No doubt it’s already gone, but with no apology forthcoming, the Russians need to at least stop listening to the propaganda. A Canberra woman was amongst those killed.

I’ve read some interesting books this week, but I had to put the military suspense story I was reading aside for a bit – I was reading about planes being shot down at the time I found out about the actual plane that was shot down. I picked up a good late-Georgian era story instead, which I’ll review soon. I have to review it soon, because the silly publisher didn’t distribute review copies until four days before they wanted a review!

My review of The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet A Novel by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

My review of Only the Brave Try Ballet by Stefanie London

Only the Brave Try Ballet by Stefanie London

My review of Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal

Lost in Temptation (Sweet Temptations #1) by Lauren Royal

My review of Cop by Her Side by Janice Kay Johnson

Cop by Her Side by Janice Kay Johnson

My review of Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

My review of Knight of Love by Catherine LaRoche

Knight of Love by Catherine LaRoche

My review of Desire & Deception by Sahara Roberts

Desire & Deception by Sahara Roberts

Cop by Her Side by Janice Kay Johnson

Cop by Her Side by Janice Kay Johnson

Does she put her trust in him…again?

Lieutenant Jane Vahalik is done with Sergeant Clay Renner. He messed up their romance when he dished out too much male swagger. She gets enough of that on the job to put up with it in her personal life—regardless of how hot Clay may be.

Then her niece is kidnapped, and suddenly he is the only cop Jane trusts to lead the search. The rush of attraction sizzling between them surprises her. So does his determination to prove she’s wrong about him. It could be just the tense situation—or it could be Clay—but Jane’s feelings for him are growing. Maybe they deserve a second chance…

Cop by Her Side by Janice Kay Johnson

I’ve really liked the Mysteries of Angel Butte series. Janice Kay Johnson writes crime/mystery really well, which makes for a nice change from the usual babies and good girls theme the Harlequin Superromance line tends to focus on.

This is not the first book, but each book is a standalone (more or less – you’ll meet the characters in earlier books). Cop by Her Side is a self-contained mystery: the heroine’s sister is in a coma after being in a car accident, and her niece is missing.

A self-confident man, Clay had taken a serious hit that day. Since she’d walked away, he’d looked hard at a lot of crap he’d grown up taking for granted. What shook him most was discovering how much contempt for women had been embedded in his father’s “traditional” views of male/female roles.

I loved the way the author dealt with her hero. He was raised as a misogynist, and until he was caught saying cruel, sexist things about his girlfriend (the heroine), he’d never realised there was anything wrong with his behaviour. It was made all the worse by the fact his love interest was a higher-ranking policewoman, and he didn’t know how to deal with that. It was a nice character evolution to see, and one I’d LOVE to see more often in the romance genre.

I can see that this book might have startled some readers who are more accustomed to… cowboys… but I thought the strong focus on the mystery was a nice change. I’d been getting tired of the whole romance genre – too much “more of the same” – and this was the first book I’d been excited to finish in a few weeks.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 10th – 16th March

CrimeaUkraine23

The week Vladimir ‘Adolf Hitler’ Putin “officially” stole Crimea from Ukraine.

I’m posting this a day late, as we’ve been in Melbourne since Thursday for the Formula One Grand Prix and we only just flew home.

Melbourne Australia Formula One Grand Prix 16th March 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

The race was great fun and everything was going so well, and then the officials went and ruined it by making the result invalid due to some silly regulation breach. It’s really bad for the sport, for the spectators, for everyone.

There was a bit of bad weather, but nothing like we worried it would be. I think I made the same complaint last year, but I’ll say it again: what’s with all the cigarettes in Melbourne?! You can still smoke in cafés. At the track people have no qualms about sharing your table and then lighting up and wafting cigarette (or – worse – cigar) smoke in your face. Yuck!

Anyway, I’m a little behind on things now. I spent a week trying to cheer myself up with light and fluffy Regency romances, but apparently I don’t like light and fluffy Regency romances! All the inaccuracies and all that modern American dialogue drives me insane. So instead I got into a darker book and reread a favourite.

My review of Where It May Lead by Janice Kay Johnson

Where It May Lead by Janice Kay Johnson

My review of Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain

Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain

My review of Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

My review of Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

My review of Her Highness and the Highlander by Tracy Anne Warren

Her Highness and the Highlander (The Princess Brides, #2) by Tracy Anne Warren