My 2018 in Books & Audio

My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks.  I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever.  Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either  story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket.  I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.

4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.

The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

My Year in Books at Goodreads.

And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.

Historical Romance

Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else.  Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception.  The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them  at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver.  Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself).  Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Womanwhich I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment.  On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband which was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016.  Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Duke and An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic.  Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist.  Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out.  K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Print and Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites.   Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.

Romantic Suspense

I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop.  In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did.  There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.

The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years.  Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.

My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive.  I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again.  It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas.  Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension.  The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful;  they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it.  Their relationship goes through terrific  highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.

Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER,  one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines.  I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well.  She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top.  And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.

Audio

I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!)  My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.

I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes.  But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees.  Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.

I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others.  I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home – which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.

Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general.  Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well.  Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.


As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019?  First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please!  Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year.  I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous.  I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April.  There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book.  Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific.  I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.

Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!

Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6) by Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

stars & stripes

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have managed the impossible: a few months of peace and quiet. After nearly a year of personal and professional turmoil, they’re living together conflict free, work is going smoothly, and they’re both happy, healthy, and home every night before dark.

But anyone who knows them knows that can’t possibly last. When an emergency call from home upsets the balance of their carefully arranged world, Ty and Zane must juggle family drama with a perplexing crime to save a helpless victim before time runs out.

From the mountains of West Virginia to a remote Texas horse ranch harboring more than just livestock and childhood memories, Ty and Zane must face their fears – and their families – to overcome an unlikely enemy and bring peace back into their newly shared world.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

This sixth book in the Cut & Run series sees a change of pace, a change of publisher and a change of narrator, with J.F. Harding taking over from Sean Crisden. I would have happily continued listening to Mr. Crisden until the end of the series, but I certainly won’t complain about the substitution, because Mr. Harding is an excellent performer and I knew he’d do a great job with these stories and – most importantly – characters who have become such firm favourites.

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have come a long way since they met and fell in lust in Cut & Run. They’ve grown together through a camping trip from hell, a luxury cruise that saw them targeted by international criminals, riots, bombings and anarchy closer to home and a road trip in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong (book five, Armed & Dangerous) – and by the time we reach book six, Stars & Stripes, are in a committed relationship that’s lasted for almost two years. Although there’s an engrossing mystery plot running in the background, Stars & Stripes focuses heavily on character and relationship development and allows Ty and Zane to be the sappy couple who are very much in love – and in the grand scheme of things it’s the calm before the storm of book seven, Touch & Geaux, which broke my heart, ripped it out and stomped on it several times over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Baltimore is a city in alarming distress. Rising violence is fanning the flames of public outrage, and all law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are catching blame. Thus the FBI’s latest ideas to improve public relations: a municipal softball league and workshops for community leaders. But the new commitments just mean more time Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have to spend apart when they’re happily exploring how to be more than by-the-book partners.

Then the latest spate of crime explodes in their faces – literally – throwing the city, the Bureau, and Ty and Zane’s volatile partnership both in and out of the office into chaos. They’re hip-deep in trouble, trying to track down bombers and bank robbers in the dark with very few clues, and the only way to reach the light at the end of the tunnel together requires Ty and Zane to close their eyes and trust each other to the fiery end.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Divide & Conquer, book four in the Cut & Run series, sees Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett back on land and at their desks after their not-so-relaxing Christmas cruise – and Baltimore in the middle of utter chaos. A series of riots, lootings, robberies and bombings has the police and FBI baffled and having to deal with an increasingly angry and fearful public. Ty and Zane are quietly spending as much of their free time together as they can but are careful to keep their relationship under the radar given the bureau’s rigid non-fraternization policy. The trouble is, it’s getting more and more difficult to hide what they are to one another and they’re both forever looking over their shoulders and second-guessing their actions whenever they’re around each other. Complicating things still further is Ty’s declaration of love at the end of the last book; he’s all in, but Zane has made no attempt to broach the matter since, and while Ty hadn’t expected a reciprocal declaration and knows that Zane cares for him deeply, the latter’s refusal or inability to say the words is causing a bit of uncertainty between them.

Still, they’re in a committed relationship and are at last able to spend time together just being a couple. Until, that is, the mysterious bomber – who seems to have been targeting law enforcement, firefighters and other public servants – steps things up and Ty and Zane (not at all surprisingly) find themselves in the middle of it and end up making targets of themselves. Being Ty and Zane, they don’t give a fuck, but their boss immediately pulls them in and off active duty as a protective measure, telling them that instead they’re going to be the faces of the bureau’s latest PR drive. Like the other law enforcement agencies and public servants, the FBI been getting a pretty bad press because of their lack of progress in identifying those responsible for the city-wide unrest, and they need to restore the public’s faith somewhat. Because Ty and Zane are competent, personable and pretty (!), they’re going to be giving lectures and talks, doing meet and greets – and in Ty’s case, getting involved with the cross-agency softball league that’s being set up as a way of fostering public goodwill.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back on the job, settled into a personal and professional relationship built on fierce protectiveness and blistering passion. Now they’re assigned to impersonate two members of an international smuggling ring-an out-and-proud married couple-on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. As their boss says, surely they’d rather kiss each other than be shot at, and he has no idea how right he is. Portraying the wealthy criminals requires a particular change in attitude from Ty and Zane while dealing with the frustrating waiting game that is their assignment. As it begins to affect how they treat each other in private, they realize there’s more to being partners than watching each other’s backs, and when the case takes an unexpected turn and threatens Ty’s life, he and Zane will have to navigate seas of white lies and stormy secrets, including some of their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

The books in the Cut & Run series I’ve listened to so far have been a lot of fun. They’re fast-paced, and the plotlines are frequently implausible, but then no more so than those found in the myriad of police procedural/FBI/CIA/CSI and other alphabet soup TV shows that abound, so I can generally just roll my eyes when things get a little bit too daft and move on. And what makes that so easy to do is the fact that the two central characters are just so damn addictive. FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are a couple of big, tough, alpha males who drive each other nuts, up the wall and to blows almost as frequently as they end up screwing each other’s brains out; they’ve both been around the block more than a few times and are carrying shedloads of emotional baggage (Ty from his time in the marines, Zane as the result of a past filled with tragedy and addiction); they’re intelligent, funny, sexy, perfect for each other – and brilliant at evasion and not saying what they mean, especially when it comes to the nature of their growing feelings for one another.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Sticks & Stones (Cut & Run #2) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sawyer Allerde

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they’re ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone’s sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they’ve so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.Ty and Zane, along with Ty’s father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods… where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all.

Each other.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B

Book two in the Cut and Run series, Sticks and Stones is a slightly different animal to the previous book, but was no less enjoyable. While our heroes have to face a number of suitably dangerous – and potentially life-threatening – situations, the storyline here is more character focused and the whole thing felt less ‘flabby’ than book one.

After a traumatic case which they barely came out of alive, FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are temporarily suspended from field work while they recover – physically and mentally. But things aren’t going as well as they should, and Zane, in particular, is likely to fail his psychiatric evaluation, meaning his FBI career is in the balance. Ty – who is like a kid on a sugar high at the best of times – is bouncing off the walls and eager to get back to work, so an enforced vacation isn’t exactly high on his wish list, but when his boss suggests – strongly – that he goes home to visit his family in West Virginia, and also makes clear he expects him to take Zane with him in order to try to help him sort himself out – Ty realises what’s at stake and wants to help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cut & Run (Cut & Run #1) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sawyer Allerde

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliché: total opposites, good cop – bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B-

I’m on a bit of an m/m romantic suspense kick at the moment, so this first book in the Cut and Run series seemed like a good fit. There are nine books in all – the first four co-written by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux, and the last five by Abigail Roux solo when Ms. Urban decided to stop writing. Cut and Run was originally published in 2008 (with the audio following in 2010) and I suspect it was a bit of a trailblazer in the genre – it certainly seems that way from reading reviews and seeing how many people loved the series and the central characters.

The whole series is available in audio with several different narrators; here it’s Sawyer Allerde (the others are Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding) who I’ve listened to once before, and he does a decent job overall, in spite of some pacing issues and pretty poor female voices (luckily, there aren’t too many women in the book so it’s not too great a problem.)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.