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!

In the Blood (Metahuman Files #4) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Running out of time.

Captain Jamie Callahan is frustrated with his team constantly being at the mercy of the enemy in order to further the MDF’s goals. To make matters worse, his father’s political campaign is ramping up, and Jamie’s every move is being watched by the media. He is acutely aware of all the eyes trained on him, his team, and Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan in particular. Meanwhile, Kyle would give anything to stay in the shadows, but he refuses to leave Jamie’s side, no matter the scrutiny. Staying out of the spotlight becomes impossible when their families are threatened and vital choices about their future together can no longer be ignored.

Desperate measures.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin and Agent Sean Delaney are enjoying their time together as a couple when Sean’s past catches up with him. As Alpha Team’s long-running mission gets derailed in the worst way possible, Alexei discovers the enemy is playing for keeps, and neither he nor Sean are in any position to beat the odds and win the game. As for Sean, he’s worried that even if they make it out alive, Alexei may never forgive him for giving into the enemy’s demands.

Stand your ground.

Manipulation is the name of the game, but Jamie is done playing by everybody else’s rules. So is the rest of Alpha Team, because if there’s one thing Jamie’s team knows? It’s that they’re a family – and you don’t mess with family unless you want to get hurt.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content- A

Hailey Turner’s futuristic Metahuman Files series has got better and better with each successive instalment as the overarching plotline moves inexorably towards what is sure to be an exciting, nail-biting finale in the fifth and final book, In the Requiem. In audio, we’ve reached book four, In the Blood, and in it – to use the vernacular – the shit hits the fan big time. The author does an absolutely fabulous job here of weaving the suspense plotline – concerning the search for a terrorist group intent on making metahumans of their own – with the storylines surrounding Alpha Team’s captain, Jamie Callaghan and his difficult and sensitive family situation, his secret romance with Kyle Brannigan (the team’s sniper), and those featuring the series’ other romantic couple, Kyle’s adoptive brother Alexei Dvorkin and his lover, former CIA agent Sean Delaney. The ante is well and truly upped here as Jamie’s father’s presidential campaign heats up and Jamie and his team find themselves backed into a corner by the man who has become their nemesis. I’ll just pause to say that while these books can probably be listened to as standalones, I wouldn’t recommend it; the author does give plenty of backstory in each book, but listeners will get far more out of the experience by going back to book one, In the Wreckage, and following the story from the beginning. Plus – Greg Boudreaux narrates all the books. It’s a no brainer, right?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Dying isn’t what it used to be.

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t-though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the otherplane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For 70 years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago – and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together – permanently.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: A-

I know some audio listeners who prefer not to listen to books they’ve already read in print, but I’m the opposite – if I enjoy reading something, I’m always up for experiencing it again, and as I don’t have much time for re-reading, audio is the perfect way for me to return to a favourite story. Of course, sometimes I don’t do that because there are some narrators I dislike listening to, but when a favourite book gets paired up with a favourite narrator – Bring. It. On! Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet is a funny, sexy and exciting paranormal romantic mystery with a unique premise; I loved it when I read it earlier this year, and loved it just as much in audio – which, given it’s narrated by the ever fabulous Greg Boudreaux – will come as a surprise to exactly no-one.

Wes Cooper is a ghost. Well, no, he’s not. But he’s not alive either. Back in 1933, he was shot and killed by his lover Michael (in a suicide pact gone wrong), but Michael’s sister was a witch who cast a spell to bring Wes back to life. The spell worked wonderfully – in fact, it worked TOO well, because not only did it bring Wes back, it made him immortal and left him with the ability to exist in both the living plane and the otherplane, the shadowy place between the living world and the world beyond, and to effortlessly slip between the two.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Invitation to the Blues (Small Change #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Eight months ago Jude Lucen fled his partner, his career, and a hospital in Boston after a suicide attempt. Now back in Philadelphia, he feels like a complete failure. Piano has always been his passion and his only escape. Without it, he has nothing. Well, nothing except a pathetic crush on the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Faron Locklear came to Philly looking for a fresh start and has thrown himself into tattooing at Small Change. He’s only met Jude a few times, but something about the red-haired man with the haunted eyes calls to him. Faron is blown away by Jude’s talent. What he isn’t expecting is the electricity he feels the first time they kiss – and the way Jude’s needs in bed speak directly to his own deepest desires.

Jude and Faron fall fast and hard, but Jude has spent a lifetime learning that he can’t be what the people he loves need. So when the opportunity arises to renew his career in Boston, he thinks he has to choose: music, or Faron? Only by taking a huge risk – and finally believing he’s worthy of love just as he is – can he have the chance for both.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

I suppose it was a given that a book written by Roan Parrish and narrated by Greg Boudreaux was going to hit me squarely in the feels; the author’s beautiful, lyrical writing combined with the narrator’s ability to zero in on and convey every single bit of emotion in that writing is a match made in audiobook heaven. Invitation to the Blues is a gentle and moving love story featuring a musician living with depression and the artist whose love and understanding makes a huge difference in his life. It’s the second book in the author’s Small Change series, but although characters from the first book appear in this one, Invitation to the Blues works perfectly well as a standalone.

Following a suicide attempt, Jude Lucens simply up and left his manipulative boyfriend and his life as a successful musician in Boston to return to his home town in Philadelphia, feeling like a complete failure and unsure what happens next. He’s moved into his brother’s apartment (Chris has moved in with his girlfriend, Ginger – their story can be found in the previous book, Small Change) and has taken a job for which he’s extremely ill-suited at the coffee shop Chris owns. Knowing things aren’t going well, Jude needs to find other work, but the question is what? Music and playing the piano are his life and all he really knows how to do, so he decides to see if he can find work as a piano teacher.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In the Shadows (Metahuman Files #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Take a chance.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin doesn’t trust easily, and he most certainly doesn’t trust spies. He’ll work with them if ordered to, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Except Agent Sean Delaney is proving to be the exception to the rule. There’s something about Sean that gets under Alexei’s skin and won’t let go. Alexei would be lying if he said he wasn’t interested in what lay beneath the agent’s mask. When they’re assigned together for a mission, Alexei vows to keep Sean safe all while trying to coax the hot agent into his bed.

Hold onto hope.

Agent Sean Delaney has spent his entire adult life living a lie for his country. When the MDF tasks him with finding evidence of criminal wrong-doing against the owner of a private military company, Sean knows exactly how to play the game to get what he wants. He just doesn’t know how to handle Alexei’s advances, nor his own attraction to the younger soldier. Being a spy is lonely work, and Sean knows he should keep his distance, but saying no to Alexei is impossible from the moment they first kiss.

In a world of lies, the truth can be deadly.

When the mission takes a turn for the worse, the only thing left to do is run. In the wake of betrayal, and in the path of danger, can their fragile trust survive the battle?

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

In the Shadows is book three in Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files series of military/sci-fi/suspense novels which features an elite, tight-knit unit of men and women who acquired very unique powers following their exposure to Splice, a deadly chemical that kills almost all who come into contact with it. Those not killed by the chemical are changed at DNA level and become metahumans, each possessed of some sort of superpower that ranges from telepathy to telekenisis, from super strength to shape-shifting. There’s an overarching plotline running throughout the series which means it’s advisable to listen to the books in order – and there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

The first book, In the Wreckage, introduced listeners to Captain Jamie Callahan and Alpha Team of the Metahuman Defence Force and set in motion the series’ main plotline – the hunt for a terrorist group known as the Sons of Adam who is trying to create metahumans of its own by conducting experiments on human subjects. In book two, In the Ruins, the action moved to London, and Alpha Team was joined by MDF Intelligence Agent Sean Delaney – formerly of the CIA – in an operation between the MDF and the UMG (its UK equivalent) to gather evidence about the Russian government’s involvement – via the Russian Mafia – in those experiments as part of its plan to create an army of metahumans. During the course of these novels, Jamie and Alpha Team’s sniper, Kyle Brannigan, became lovers and are now in a long-term relationship that has to remain a secret because of the MDF’s strict non-fraternisation rule. Keeping their relationship a secret is hard on both of them, and Jamie also has to deal with the pressure being put on him by his wealthy family to quit the military and go into politics like his father, who is likely to earn the Republican nomination for the upcoming Presidential election. Jamie has no intention of leaving the MDF, but agrees to a compromise; he’ll accompany his father on the campaign trail when he can, and by the time In the Shadows opens, he’s doing just that. With Jamie’s absence (for part of the story anyway), the focus of this novel shifts slightly and moves away from Jamie and Kyle as the main romantic couple – but never fear, all the other things that work so well about this series are still very much in evidence; skilful worldbuilding, sexy love scenes, superbly written action scenes and the terrific camaraderie between the members of Alpha Team, who all have very specific parts to play and are never just “window dressing”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him – much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever – at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again – and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rend isn’t an easy book to read or listen to, but it’s one that well repays the time spent with it. It’s the tale of a marriage on the edge of collapse and a troubled young man who is dealing with some very real, very deep emotional issues – and I came away from it having experienced laughter and tears, moments of joy, moments of pain and everything in between. When an author can do that simply through the arrangement of words on a printed page… it’s powerful stuff. And when you then take those words and give them to a narrator of the calibre of Greg Boudreaux – who I knew would nail, absolutely and perfectly, every single emotion behind them – there was never a doubt that I was going to be reduced to a pile of emotional rubble by the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform #7) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The camping trip from hell may be the first stop on the road to happily-ever-after.

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rough Terrain is the seventh and final book in Annabeth Albert’s consistently entertaining Out of Uniform series. It’s always hard to say goodbye to favourite characters and the worlds they inhabit, but it’s a series I revisit regularly in audio as all the books are excellently performed, making it well worth investing the extra time needed to listen as opposed to read them.

We met Renzo “Rooster” (he hates the stupid nickname!) Bianchi in earlier books in the series, and if you’ve read or listened to any of them, you’ll remember he makes fitness videos which have gained him a large online following. He’s good-looking, super fit (well, he’s a SEAL, so I suppose he’d have to be!) and comes from a large, close-knit Italian-American family he loves very much and misses a lot; to that end, he’s recently applied for a posting nearer home, but doesn’t really expect it to happen. His family members all accept his bisexuality, although he knows his mother secretly hopes that when he does eventually settle down it’ll be with a woman so he can get started on giving her (yet more) grandchildren.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.