Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
2012 wasn’t a big year for me, reading-wise. Of course, “not a big year” for me is pretty much what equates to “I read nonstop” for almost anyone else. I didn’t keep as careful track of the books I read in 2012 as I did in 2011, but I’d estimate that I read about 100 books.
Overall, I’d say that most of my 2012 reads have been…well, lackluster. I don’t know whether that’s been caused by a decline in the quality of reading material available, but I suspect it’s more me than anything else. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump this year. I feel like a lot of the stuff I read just regurgitates the stuff I’ve read before. But what that means is that the stuff that sticks out REALLY sticks out.
So I’m going to highlight the 10 best, in alphabetical order by author:
Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews. This book provides a solid conclusion to Andrews’ Edge series. I have to admit, I was a little dubious before reading this one. The hero, Richard, had been introduced in previous books, but he’d always seemed like a little bit of a drip. But I shouldn’t have worried: Richard was a great hero, and we got to see more about what makes him tick. The heroine, Charlotte, is incredibly strong—but not in that typical sword-wielding, ass-kicking way that you often see in paranormal novels. Andrews—the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team—did something in this series that many authors fail at: they created the perfect blend of romance, action, science fiction, and fantasy. They also ended a series by leaving the readers wanting more.
Firelight by Kristen Callihan. This is an awesome genre-blend of steampunk, fantasy, mystery, and romance. A young woman with deadly abilities is forced to marry a man she barely knows who continually covers his entire face and body due to some mysterious disfigurement. My favorite romances are always the ones that have more than just boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love going on. This one hooked me in with mystery from page one. What exactly are Miranda’s abilities? What disfigurement does Archer hide from the world? Read my review here.
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare. I have discovered of late that I really, really dig historical romances. But the genre definitely suffers from some fatigue. I mean, really, you can only read about so man dukes and rakes before you start to roll your eyes a bit. That’s why I like Tessa Dare’s Spindle
Cove series—it has a sense of humor about itself and the genre that other entries. This book is the best of the series so far. While playing off of the tropes of the genre—the rich rake, the virginal heroine—it also subverts them. Minerva, our heroine, is a budding geologist. She’s not terribly pretty, DEFINITELY not a conventional woman of the time. Colin is rich, privileged, rakish…and scarred. Minerva bribes Colin into taking her to a geology convention, and hilarity ensues. As they lie and cheat and scheme their way to the convention, the book is both hilarious and incredibly sexy. Tessa Dare has figured out what many romance authors don’t know: humor IS sexy.
Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost. I love Frost’s Night Huntress series, but after six books, it’s starting to wind down. Once Burned is the start of a new series in the same world as the Night Huntress novels, this time following Vlad Tepesh, aka Dracula. Vlad, a supporting character in the Night Huntress series, is more than up to the task of playing the sexy, mysterious hero. Leila, a woman with dark powers and a tragic past, is his equal as a character. Frost’s novels are equal parts sexy romance and urban fantasy, and she does both very, very well. Yes, vampires have been a little overdone—okay, a lot overdone—in recent years, but I keep coming back to Frost because her vampires are some of the best. This is not only one of my favorite novels of the year, but one of Frost’s best novels, period. Read my review here.
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves. This was an unexpected favorite of mine this year. I picked it up because I had read so many positive reviews of it, but I was skeptical. A romance between a 30-year-old teacher and a teenage cancer survivor who crash together on an island? Can you say ick? But Graves quickly pushes past the ick factor—and wisely doesn’t allow anything to start between the two survivors until after T.J. turned 18—and creates a touching romance between two very different people. Read my review here.
Sacrificial Magic by Stacia Kane. Chess Putnam is one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines, primarily because she manages to be completely, utterly, jaw-droppingly screwed up, and yet still be sympathetic. Chess has got demons, but she’s got plenty of reasons for them. I think this book got me because of its incredibly emotional ending in which Chess has to pit the demons of her past against the hope of her future. Read my review here.
Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire. Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is one of the most readable and consistently strong entries in the urban fantasy genre. The previous book in the series, One Salt Sea, is about loss. It was fantastic, but it was very, very hard to read. This one is about hope. It’s still a very emotional book, as Toby comes to terms with her ongoing grief. But this one is just a tiny ray of light in Toby’s continually dark world. I loved it for that. Read my review here.
Tempest’s Fury by Nicole Peeler. Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series has been one of my favorite urban fantasies for a while now, but I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed with 2011’s Eye of the Tempest, the fourth book in the series. After making some major progression in the Jane/Anyan relationship in Tempest’s Legacy, it was on hold for much of book four. (“Cock blocked” would be an appropriate phrase.) Plus, Jane’s sex-filled internal monologue went from funny to annoying. But Tempest’s Fury put Jane and Anyan back in the spotlight. Plus, it ended on a killer cliffhanger that has left me anxiously awaiting Tempest Reborn, set to be released in 2013.
The Taken by Vicki Pettersson. I love genre blends. I love how unexpected they are—when it’s not exactly romance, nor historical, nor fantasy, nor mystery, you don’t know what’s going to happen. I also love how they take familiar elements and reform them into something completely different. Pettersson’s novel—the first in her new Celestial Blues series—does all of this. But what I remember best, months after reading it, are the characters. Griffin is a detective who died in the 1950s. He plays the part of the jaded, film noir-type gumshoe to a T. Kit is a journalist who practices a rockabilly lifestyle—basically, she dresses in 1950s clothing and idealizes the era. She’s pretty much Griffin’s opposite: happy, optimistic, full of life. It’s great to see them clash, great to see them switch roles, and great to see the chemistry between them. Pettersson has created a world that is new, different, and interesting, as well as characters that are compelling and memorable. (It’s also one of my favorite covers of 2012, which is why I chose to use it for the front page photo.)
The Ripple Effect by J.A. Saare. Other authors go dark with their books. Saare goes black. One of the things I admire most about Saare is her willingness to take risks with her story and characters. She continues this trend in The Ripple Effect, the third entry in her Rhiannon’s Law urban fantasy series. This is a game-changing book in the series. Big things happen, major characters die, and the world Saare has created will never be the same. When I read the book, I remember thinking that I couldn’t decide whether I loved it or hated it, because a character I had been rooting for since the first book had been killed. But making me CARE so much, either way—that is storytelling at its finest. Read my review here.