My 2019 in Books & Audio

Before I started writing this post, I took a look at the one I wrote for 2018 – My 2018 in Books & Audio – to see what I had to say about the books I read and listened to and about the things I was hoping for from 2019.  Sadly, my biggest wish – for more winners in historical romance – not only didn’t come true, but didn’t come true in spectactular fashion; I read and listened to considerably fewer historical romances in 2019 (around 60) and of those, only 15 garnered a B+ (4.5 stars) or higher (actually, that was 11 historical romances plus 4 historical mysteries), and only two made the Best of 2019 list I wrote for All About Romance.  Looking at the upcoming release lists for 2020, I can’t see that situation improving; very few of the book blurbs for upcoming HR make me want to read them.

So… what did I read and listen to instead?  My Goodreads stats show that I read and listened to 299 books and audiobooks in 2019, (that figure includes maybe a dozen or so audio re-listens), which is over 40 books more than my total for last year.

Of that total, 66 were 5 star reads/listens, 184 were 4 star reads/listens – by far the biggest category – 35 were 3 star reads/listens, and there were 9 2 stars, 1 1 star and 1 unrated DNF.

Of the 66 highest graded, around a dozen were actual A grades; I award an A- 4.5 stars but bump the star rating up to five.  (And in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a B grade story will get bumped up because of A grade narration). The 4 star ratings cover books/audios I’ve given B-, B or B+ grades, which is quite a large spectrum as it ranges from those books which are given qualified recommendations (B- is 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars) to those which are almost-but-not-quite DIKs (Desert Isle Keepers), the 4.5 stars (B+) I don’t round up.  I had around the same number of 3, 2 and 1 star ratings as last year, which is at least consistent!

The books that made my Best of 2019 list at AAR are these:

(although I cheated a bit and actually included the whole Not Dead Yet and Borealis Investivations series!)

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

I had a list of “also rans” that I would have included had I had more space:

Charlie Adhara’s Thrown to the Wolves was – I believe – originally to have been the final book in her Big Bad Wolf series, but she’s since announced there will be a fourth (yay!).  In TttW, we finally get some backstory for the enigmatic werewolf Park when he takes Cooper home to meet the family, together with a clever mystery, complicated family dynamics and a well-deserved HEA that’s perfectly in character. Cordelia Kingsbridge’s A Chip and a Chair was one of my most anticipated books of the year and didn’t disappoint, bringing the rollercoaster ride that was the Seven of Spades series to a rolliking, satisfying close.  KJ Charles’ Gilded Cage was (I think?) her first m/f romance; a sequel to Any Old Diamonds, it features tough-as-nails lady detective Susan Lazarus and the other half of the Lilywhite Boys in an intriguing murder mystery with a superbly written and swoon-worthy second chance romance.  Sally Malcolm’s Twice Shy is a lovely feel-good romance between a young man struggling to bring up two young children left to his care following the deaths of his sister and brother-in-law, and a school teacher still dealing with the fallout of a failed marriage and career.  The romance is warm and tender and funny and simply thrumming with sexual tension and chemistry and is guaranteed to warm the heart and produce happy sighs.

Historical Romance made another really poor showing in 2019; of the authors I’ve previously counted on to deliver really good stories full of interesting and appealing characters, only a few actually managed to do it.  KJ Charles and Mia Vincy made my Best of 2019 list, but Lara Temple (The Rake’s Enticing Proposal), Virginia Heath (The Determined Lord Hadleigh), Janice Preston (Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir) and Marguerite Kaye (The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage) all put out excellent books this year, and I enjoyed Evie Dunmore’s début, Bringing Down the Duke and am keen to read whatever she comes up with next.  I still haven’t got around to reading Julie Anne Long’s Angel in a Devil’s Arms, which has appeared on quite a few Best of lists, so I hope I’ll enjoy it when I get around to it!

I also enjoyed a few historical mysteries; Sherry Thomas (The Art of Theft), Andrea Penrose (Murder at Kensington Palace) and Anna Lee Huber (Penny for Your Secrets) released new instalments in their current series and Cat Sebastian (Hither, Page) began a new one set in an English village post WW2 that combined a cozy mystery with a simply lovely romance.

Audio

I did a very quick count the other day, and think that, for the first year ever, I actually listened to more books than I read (by a very small margin).  I counted around 150 audiobooks (and probably missed a few re-listens because I often forget to mark those at Goodreads) which is half my total of 299 reads/listens. And according to the spreadsheet I maintain of books and audios I’ve picked up for review, I had an equal number of books and audiobooks to review in 2019. I have definitely struggled, at times, to find books I want to review and have filled the gap with audiobooks.  So many are released each month, and I especially love it when backlist titles are made available for authors whose work I enjoy but stand no chance of actually getting to in print!

I chose the following as my Top Five audiobooks of the year at AudioGals:

I also cheated here by including the whole Not Dead Yet series! – which is actually the only title (titles) written in 2019; all the other books were written before last year, but didn’t come out in audio until 2019.  But that’s par for the course with audio; not all of them are released simultaneously with the print/digital versions.  The “also rans” for my audio Best of 2019 list were:

All boast top-notch performances and got at least an A- for narration, and the stories got at least a B+ each; and quite honestly, I could have substituted any of them for the list I actually posted at AudioGals; my favourites tend to change depending on how I feel from one day to the next!  Had I listened to Lily Morton’s Deal Maker before I complied my list, that would certainly have made the cut, too!

So that was 2019.  What am I hoping for in 2020?  I’d like historical romance to get back on track, but I don’t see that happening in a big way and expect to be reading even more selectively in the genre than I’ve done this year.  I’m hoping for more from Mia Vincy and will be checking out more from Evie Dunmore.  Right now, most of the good HR is coming from Harlequin Historical authors, so I’ll definitely be reading more from them. In contemporaries, I’m looking forward to two new series from Annabeth Albert (Hotshots and True Colors) as well as to catching up with her Perfect Harmony series in audio, and to making my way through Lily Morton’s backlist – I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the audio of Risk Taker (with Joel Leslie at the helm) and hope she’s planning more audio releases in 2020.  I’ll be snapping up the finale of L.J Hayward’s Death and the Devil series as soon as it comes out, nabbing more Victor Bayne (and Gomez Pugh!) in the next book(s) in Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series, and inhaling more Hazard and Somerset from Gregory Ashe. KJ Charles promises some 1920s pulp mysteries, there’s another book to come in Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series, so I’m looking pretty nicely set for the first part of 2020 in terms of reading and listening!

I’ll (hopefully) be back again this time next year to tell you now it all panned out!

American Love Story (Dreamers #3) by Adriana Herrera

This title may be purchased from Amazon

No one should have to choose between love and justice.

Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward… together.

Rating: A-

Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers, a series about a group of four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York, seems to get better and better with each book.  American Love Story is the third instalment and I loved it.  It’s complex and romantic while remaining grounded in reality; the two leads are principled men who come from completely different worlds and their HEA is hard work and hard won; the secondary characters are well-rounded and the relationships between them well-written, and I loved the romance, which is intense, sexy, angsty, tender and superbly developed.  On top of all that, the author tackles some difficult topics – institutionalised racism among them – and takes a long, hard look at the immigrant experience in the US, and does it so skilfully that the reader is completely drawn into the world she has created. There are no info-dumps or soapboxes here, just a damn good story that isn’t afraid of telling some unpleasant truths while also telling a tale of love, friendship, shared experience and shared ideals.

Around a year before this story begins, Haitian born Patrice Denis, a Black economics professor and activist, met Assistant District Attorney Easton Archer, and the insanely hot chemistry between them led to some insanely hot hook-ups.  At the end of his visit to Ithaca (to help his friend Nesto (American Dreamer) set up his business) Patrice went back home and that was that – except now, he’s accepted a tenure-track position at Columbia University, and even though he strenuously denies it when his friends tease him about his having moved to Ithaca because he wants to reconnect with Easton, deep down, Patrice can’t help but admit – to himself – that there is perhaps just a tiny kernel of truth to their teasing.  But anyway, it doesn’t matter. Even though Patrice is completely captivated by Easton all over again the moment he sets eyes on him once more, there’s no possibility of anything long-term happening between them. They’re too different; he a black immigrant who has worked doubly hard for everything he has, Easton from a background of wealth and white privilege; he a long-time activist for racial justice, Easton part of the system which is failing people of colour so badly. No, being with Easton would mean compromises Patrice just isn’t prepared to make.

Easton is still desperately attracted to Patrice, and senses the reverse is true, but he remembers Patrice’s tendency to keep him slightly at a distance and to close himself off when things get too heavy, so Easton doesn’t push.  He makes his interest clear and waits for Patrice to come to him – which Patrice eventually does, and they resume their physical relationship, but this time, they start to spend time together out of bed as well as in it, and to Easton’s delight (and Patrice’s confusion) start to get to know each other properly, talk about some of the issues that have arisen between them and are building a real relationship.  The connection between them is as strong as it ever was, and they take care to communicate with each other, but even so, it’s not easy or simple. Patrice can be very judgmental, and holds everyone –including himself – to an incredibly high standard, not taking time for himself, feeling he doesn’t deserve to be happy while there is still so much of the good fight to be fought.  He’s passionate in his beliefs, and he’s right to be angry about the injustice faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis – but he’s also exhausting to be around, and his desire for perfection takes a serious toll on his relationship with Easton, who feels like he’s constantly treading on eggshells around him:

 “I can’t be in a relationship where I’m constantly one mistake from being iced out.”

The big external conflict in the story comes when the local police in start performing more traffic stops than usual on young men of colour.  Easton is every bit as furious about what’s going on as Patrice is, but is in a tricky situation.  He wants to talk to the sheriff and make it clear the situation is unacceptable and must stop, but he’s ordered to take a softly-softly approach by his boss, who doesn’t want to rock the boat and lose the support of local law enforcement.  Easton is a good man and a highly respected lawyer who cares passionately about justice and has built a reputation for aggressively prosecuting cases of sexual assault and domestic violence; he wants to see the officers responsible for the stops receive more than a slap on the wrist and to suggest that the department should have some anti-racism training.  But his hands are tied and he’s forced to sit back and wait.  Patrice recognises Easton’s frustration and appreciates his desire to do more, but he doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait and see, a fact that’s brought home to Easton in a forceful and scary way.

Patrice and Easton are two complex, flawed and very well-realised characters, and while there’s no question they care for each other deeply, the author doesn’t gloss over the difficulties inherent in their relationship.  In spite of their intense and powerful mutual attraction, Patrice feels, deep down, that being with Easton will mean having to compromise his beliefs, while Easton struggles under the weight of expectation placed upon him by those around him, including his incredibly judgmental father and his boss, who is trying to persuade him to run for DA.  Much as he wants to be with Patrice, he slowly comes to the realisation that he can never live up to his expectations and that he can’t be in a relationship with someone who won’t meet him halfway.

“I can’t keep getting pushed away every time things go awry.  My parents have made me feel like I wasn’t enough, my whole life.  I can’t do that with you too…”

Both men learn new things about themselves, each other and the world around them as a result of their association.  Easton, who has worked hard against injustice, comes to see there’s even more he can do, while Patrice has to learn that his insistence on perfection isn’t having a good effect on those around him and that he needs to achieve a better balance in his life if he’s not to run himself into the ground. When the novel ends, it’s clear that Patrice and Easton are in it for the long haul, and committed to making things work between them – and work it is; American Love Story is quite possibly the only romance I’ve ever read that ends with the central couple acknowledging that that work is just beginning.

As with the other novels in the series, there’s much to enjoy in addition to the complex, well-written romance.  The supporting cast is strongly characterised and the relationships between them are brilliantly drawn; these guys would do anything for one another and know they have each other’s backs, no matter what.  Ms. Herrera has created a group of relatable, engaging individuals and continues to portray their experiences as immigrants to the US with incredible insight, showing clearly what they bring to the table and their passion for what they do.

If you’re already following this series, then you’ll need no encouragement from me to pick up American Love Story as soon as it’s released; if you haven’t, then it can be read as a standalone (all the books in the series can), or you could just hop back to American Dreamer and start there.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

American Fairytale (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily ever after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man with whom he had an unforgettable hookup turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.

Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: He knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.

Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.

Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B+

American Fairytale is the second book in new-to-me author Adriana Hererra’s Dreamers series, which features four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York. The story – a romance between a self-made billionaire and a social worker – definitely lives up to its fairytale moniker; it’s sexy and wonderfully romantic, the protagonists are compassionate, decent men, and while there are a couple of “uh-oh” moments, the author doesn’t overdo the angst, instead spending time on developing their relationship and showing us exactly why they’re so perfect for one another.

Social worker Camilo – Milo – Briggs is residential programs director at New Beginnings, an agency that works with disadvantaged people from all walks of life, and he’s passionate about helping to make life better for his clients. He meets handsome, charming and wealthy Thomas Hughes at a swanky charity benefit, and right from the start, they’re captivated by one another, the intense attraction that flares between them culminating in a swift but hot sexual encounter that leaves them both reeling. But afterward, Milo starts second-guessing himself, rattled because something that should have been just a bit of fun has started to feel like something much more intense – and he leaves the event without saying goodbye or expecting to see Thomas Hughes again.

(These guys clearly don’t read enough romance novels!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.