My 2020 in Books & Audio

2020, huh? I don’t think I need to expound on that particular dumpster fire except to say that I feel lucky to be someone who has managed to read/listen to books pretty much as normal throughout it all. Books – and writing about them – have provided a much-needed escape from everything going on “out there”, and there have been times this past year when I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

So, what was I reading/listening to in 2020? Well, according to Goodreads (which shows an average rating of 4.1 stars overall), I read and listened to 269 books in total (which was 30 fewer than 2019) – although I suspect that number may be slightly higher as I sometimes forget to mark any re-listens I do. But just taking the new reads/listens, I listened to almost as many books as I read – 52.9% ebook and 47.1% audio, according to this new spreadsheet I’ve been using, and almost three-quarters of the total were review copies.

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 152 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 36 3 star books and 6 2 star books. (Books sorted by rating.)

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, only around 17 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest of that 77 are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total. Looking back at my 2019 Books & Audio post, those numbers are fairly consistent, although I didn’t have any one stars or DNFs in 2020, which isn’t a bad thing!

The books that made my Best of 2020 list at All About Romance:

Reviews are linked in the text beneath each image.

As usually happens, I always have a few “also-rans”, books I could have included if I’d had the space:

If you follow my reviews, you’ll already know that in 2020, I awarded more top grades than ever to a single author, which isn’t something that’s ever happened before; sure, I give high grades to some authors consistently (Sherry Thomas, KJ Charles and Meredith Duran spring to mind) but those have been one every few months or per year – not nine in a single year! So, yes, 2020 is, in my head, the Year of Gregory Ashe 😉  I could have chosen any number of his books for these lists as they’re all so very good.

Sadly noticeable by its (near) absence on these lists – historical romance.  I said in my 2019 post that the amount of really good historical romance around had been declining for a while, and although there were some excellent  historicals around in 2020, they were fairly few and far between. Many of the best came from Harlequin Historical – Virginia Heath’s Redeeming the Reculsive Earl is a lovely, funny and warm grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-(and neuroatypical) heroine, while Mia Vincy continues to demonstrate her mastery of the genre with A Dangerous Kind of Lady, a sexy, vibrant, not-really friends-to-lovers story in which the leads embark on a difficult journey of self-discovery while coming to realise how badly they’ve misjudged each other. The “modern” historical is a term being coined for novels set in the more recent past, and Asher Glenn Gray’s Honeytrap, the love story between an FBI agent and Red Army office that spans thirty-five years, would proibably have made my Best of list had I read it in time.  Annabeth Albert is a big favourite of mine; Feel the Fire is book three in her Hotshots series, a second-chance romance that just hit the spot.

Audio

When I struggled to read something – which fortuantely, didn’t happen often – I could usually find something in audio that suited my mood, plus the fact that there are still back-catalogue titles coming out of books I haven’t got around to reading means that audio is always my preferred method of catching up!  I listened to a lot of pretty good stuff over the year, but for my 2020 Favourites for AudioGals, I stuck to titles to which I’d given at least ONE A grade (usually for the narration) and nothing lower than a B+.

So that was 2020 in books and audio.  I’m incredibly grateful to those authors and narrators who continued to provide me with such great reading/listening material through what has been an incredibly trying time for all of us;  I know some who have really struggled to get words on a page this year, and I just want to say that you’re worth waiting for and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.

As for what I’m looking forward to in 2021… more of the same, really – lots of good books!  There are a number of titles I know are coming up in the first part of the year that I’m really excited about – the third Lamb and the Lion book from Gregory Ashe – The Same End – is out at the end of January, and I’m also eagerly awaiting new adventures with North and Shaw and Theo and Auggie. Then there’s book three in KJ Charles’ Will Darling Adventures, Subtle Blood, at least three (squee!) new books from Annabeth Albert, including the fourth Hotshots book; and a new instalment in Jordan Castillo Price’s long-running Psycop series (Other Half) due out in January, although I’ll be waiting for the audio because Gomez Pugh’s incredible turn as Victor Bayne is well worth waiting for.  (I really must catch up with JCP’s ABCs of Spellcraft books, in audio, too!).  There’s a new book in Hailey Turner’s  Soulbound series coming soon, a new instalment in Jay Hogan’s Southern Lights series, and later on, I’m hoping Josh Lanyon’s The Movie Town Murders will be out this year – I need more Sam and Jason! – and I’m looking forward to new books in her Secrets and Scrabble series.  I’m looking forward to more from Lucy Parker, Loreth Anne White, Garrett Leigh, Rachel Reid, Roan Parrish… There are new books slated from many of my favourite authors and narrators, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reading and listening.

I’ll be back this time next year to see if my expectations were fulfilled!

Blue on Blue (Bitter Legacy #3) by Dal Maclean (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong


This title may be downloded from Audible via Amazon

After three years working as a private investigator, newly reinstated Detective Inspector Will Foster still holds himself responsible for the death of an officer under his command. But he’s returned to the Met bent on redeeming himself and that means bringing down gangland boss Joey Clarkson.

Will’s prepared to put in long hours and make sacrifices for his work, even if it comes at a cost to his nascent romance with international model, Tom Gray. After all, Tom has a history of wandering but crime is a constant in London. And Will has committed himself to the Met.

But when a murder in a Soho walkup leads Will into the world of corruption, he finds himself forced to investigate his own friends and colleagues. Now the place he turned for redemption seems to be built upon lies and betrayal. And someone is more than willing to resort to murder to keep it that way.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Sometimes you read or listen to a book you intend to review and then sit staring at the screen wondering how the hell you can possibly encapsulate what you just experienced in a review and do the book justice. This is one of those times, because Blue on Blue, the third instalment in Dal Maclean’s incredible Bitter Legacy trilogy just… blew me away. In fact, every book in this series of complex, gripping, superbly written and expertly narrated romantic mystery/procedural/suspense novels has done that, and the series as a whole is easily one of the very finest of its kind.

Note: Blue on Blue is the third book in a trilogy and doesn’t really work as a standalone. There are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

Newly returned to the Metropolitan Police, Detective Inspector Will Foster is doing the job he loves and has, for the past nine months, been living with the love of his life, Tom Grey, postgraduate student and part-time model. (Their story leading up to this point is told, from Tom’s PoV, in Object of Desire). Blue on Blue, which is told from Will’s PoV, opens with Will and his colleagues attending the funeral of an officer who was shot in the line of duty and then, somewhat incongruously, moving on to the party being held to celebrate the engagement of DI James Henderson to Ben Morgan (Bitter Legacy). He’s on his own – Tom is in LA on a modelling job and Will is finding their separation a bit tough, especially as he’s started to receive anonymous texts containing photographs of Tom with another man – obviously another model – in moments of relaxed intimacy. On edge at the party, Will is almost relieved to get a shout – a young woman has been found dead in a Soho walk-up, and the South Kensington MIT (Murder Inverstigation Team) is still on rotation so it’s Will’s case.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Object of Desire (Bitter Legacy #2) by Dal Maclean (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Tom Gray is one of the world’s top models – an effortless object of desire. Self-contained, elusive, and always in control, he’s accustomed to living life entirely on his own terms. But when Tom comes under suspicion in the gory death of his employer, his world spirals into chaos.

Someone’s framing him. Someone’s stalking him. And as old secrets come to light, Tom finds his adversary always one step ahead. Will Foster is the only man Tom trusts to help. But Tom brutally burned all bridges between them two years before, and Will paid a bitter price.

If he wants to survive, Tom must prove his innocence to Will – and to the world.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Object of Desire is Dal Maclean’s second book and the second part of the mystery/suspense trilogy that also comprises Bitter Legacy and the forthcoming Blue on Blue (out in audio in May). It’s not absolutely necessary to have read or listened to Bitter Legacy in order to fully appreciate Object of Desire; the stories are self-contained, although some of the characters from that book appear in secondary roles here – and Bitter Legacy is fantastic, so you’re missing out if you don’t read or listen to it!

Tom Grey had finished his chemistry degree and was planning on doing a Master’s in forensic science when he was ‘spotted’ by Pez, a booker at Echo, a London modelling agency. Now a successful, highly sought-after model, Tom’s job is, literally, to be an object of desire, and he’s very good at it, gorgeous, aloof and unattainable both on and off camera. His life is exactly how he wants it – he has a boyfriend, Nick, he maintains a friends-with-benefits relationship with Pez, and has casual hook-ups whenever he feels like it; he’s in control, always keeping the upper hand in relationships and never allowing anyone too close.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Detective Sergeant James Henderson’s remarkable gut instincts have put him on a three-year fast track to becoming an inspector. But the advancement of his career has come at a cost. Gay, posh and eager to prove himself in the Metropolitan Police, James has allowed himself few chances for romance.

But when the murder of barrister Maria Curzon-Whyte lands in his lap, all that changes. His investigation leads him to a circle of irresistibly charming men. And though he knows better, James finds himself enticed into their company.

Soon his desire for photographer Ben Morgan challenges him to find a way into the other man’s lifestyle of one-night stands and carefree promiscuity. At the same time his single murder case multiplies into a cruel pattern of violence and depravity.

But as the bodies pile up and shocking secrets come to light, James finds both his tumultuous private life and coveted career threatened by a bitter legacy.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

OMG, this book! My good friend Em has been nagging me to read Bitter Legacy ever since it came out (in 2016) and I’ve honestly been intending to read it… but time and other commitments have conspired against me and I just haven’t got to it. So when I saw it was coming out in audio I eagerly snapped it up for review and am happy to report that it’s every bit as good as Em said it was. It’s a complex, brilliantly written and constructed combination of mystery and seriously fucked-up, angsty romance, Gary Furlong’s narration is superb and I was completely captivated by all fourteen-plus hours of it.

Detective Sergeant James Henderson is one of the Met’s (Metropolitan Police) rising stars. He’s on the professional fast-track, his instinct and ability to think his way around and through complicated situations contributing to a high success rate, and his modesty and congenial personality give rise to strong and comfortable relationships with his colleagues. He loves what he does and feels he’s in a better place professionally than he’s ever been… which is something of a contrast to his personal life, where he lacks confidence and is still smarting from the pain of his father’s rejection two years earlier after James finally came out and told him he intended to pursue a different career to the one expected of him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.