Like Elena, I’m not a big one for reading books in the year in which they were published. Too busy? Yeah. Too cheap? Definitely. Too whatever? Hell, yeah. This year I found myself reading in many other genres besides Regency and Regency-set (which is still my primary reading material). I discovered some amazing writers in fantasy, science fiction, historical mystery, American historical, and paranormal.
First off is Barbara Hambly‘s Benjamin January detective series. The first book, A Free Man Of Color, takes place in 1833 New Orleans. January has just returned to his native city after many years in Paris. He’s a free man (hence the title), but is also dark black, a stigma in the color-conscious city of quadroons, octoroons, and the like. He gets involved in a murder, the solving of which takes many intricate and unexpected turns. The best part is Hambly’s ability to create an ambiance–her descriptions are spectacular, and her writing is stupendous. She’s also written in SF/F, and I’ve been collecting those, even though I haven’t read a word of them. She’s that good. Or I’m that obsessive.
Next up is Anne Bishop, whose Black Jewels trilogy is a dark, sensual, claustrophobic world of magic and power. This is not a read for the faint of heart, but if you like Anne Stuart and other bleakly compelling writers (and you don’t mind graphic blood and such), this is great, heady stuff. Again, I’ve been glomming her books even though I’ve only read one and a half thus far. I think I am obsessive. Darn me.
I came late to the party with George R. R. Martin, so you all might roll your eyes at my just having read the first of his A Song of Ice And Fire seriesA Game Of Thrones, but I’m sure glad I made it. Fantasy, but fantasy that isn’t fantastical; I read somewhere that A Game Of Thrones is based on the War of the Roses, and he’s got that same attention to detail and perspective that makes the best history books so compelling.
This year, I also discovered S.L. Viehl‘s Stardoc series. Those books are the definition of page-turners–every time you think you’ve figured something out, you’re just plain wrong. And you have to keep reading. It’s science fiction, but with a heavy dose of romance. Because of her SF stuff, I also picked up Lynn Viehl’s (same author, altered name) Darkyn series. The Darkyn are a family of vampires who are being hunted by rogue priests, and whose way of life (so to speak) is being threatened. Again, page-turners, and not for the faint of heart, although not nearly as disturbing as Bishop’s books.
Taking a sharp turn, I also read Cheryl St. John‘s His Secondhand Wife, which is set in 1890s Colorado (and hey! It came out in 2005!). It’s poignant, fiercely sweet writing, and the love story is extremely satisfying.
Unlike Elena (and Amanda, I think?), I haven’t been completely sold in Laura Kinsale’s brilliance until this year’s Shadowheart, which I could not put down. It’s set in the 14th century and features an assassin as a hero. Can you tell I love dark, alpha males? (Hi, honey!)
Before I talk a little about the Regency-era books I loved this year, I also have to mention Anne Stuart‘s Black Ice. Ooh, talk about dark! Anne Stuart could write a shopping list and I would buy it. This one is a contemporary suspense, and its hero does things few heroes would, and those kinds of risks is what makes Stuart so amazing.
In Regencies, I absolutely loved Loretta Chase‘s Mr. Impossible. Its hero, Rupert Carsington, is such a dish. It’s funny, poignant, dramatic, romantic, and deep all at the same time. Chase is just amazing. Don’t read her if you’re an aspiring Regency author–you might just curl up into a ball and cry. I mean, some might. Pass that hanky, please.
This year, I read my first Jo Goodman. A Season To Be Sinful was surprisingly complex, with a hero and heroine who were both flawed and whose love story was real and touching (and yeah, before you ask, I have a stack of Jo Goodmans, too).
Julia Ross is another rich, complex, and compelling author whose books–and heroes–step away from the mold. Night of Sin was just lush, a gorgeously descriptive book with some really dark deep secrets, passionate romance, and incredibly sensuality. Yummy.
Equally sensual and passionate, but with a much different bent, is Eloisa James‘s Much Ado About You. What makes her books so great is the way she writes about women’s relationships to each other as well as the men who intrigue them. Her dialogue is sparkling, it practically zips off the page, and her characters make mistakes that only deepens the ultimate HEA. Absolutely delicious.
If you’ve done any border crossing, what genre did you read? Why? Would you read more in genres you don’t usually read in?
Thanks for staying this long–
I first started reading Barbara Hambly in college when she was writing fantasy. She does some of the bests characters and description that I’ve ever read. The Darwatch Trilogy, The Ladies of Madrigyn and the Windrose Chronicles are my favorites. Also, she wrote the best vampire character ever–Simon Ysidro in Those Who Hunt the Night.
This is a great list, Megan, and gives me a few titles to look for (like I needed that!). I love the Benjamin January books, and have read them all. Her gift for atmosphere is amazing. And Game of Thrones is on my TBR pile.
Oh, and duh to me for posting the wrong Julia Ross title. Oh, well. I don’t dare go back into Blogger, it was tough enough getting those pix in.
Sandy, thanks for the rec for Hambly’s SF–that’s probably next on the list, after I finish the Bishop I’m reading.
I must now go out and immediately buy Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy!!
I fixed that picture–luckily Blogger plays nice with me (usually).
I know what you mean about reading stellar romance and curling into a ball and crying–I get those “I am so not worthy, why am I even trying” moments sometimes, too. It can be encouraging to read those authors’ debut books; often they are uneven, marked with brilliance but also some clumsiness you don’t see in the later books. Proof we all can improve. OTOH if an author’s debut book is absolutely stellar, then pass the hanky, please!
On the subject of border crossings, I used to read more widely. Then when I started motherhood and romance writing (at about the same time) I got too busy. For about the past 9 years I’ve read almost exclusively romance books and research books. I will always love romance, but this year I’m joining a book discussion group, some incentive to read more broadly again!
Thanks, Elena, for fixing the pic.
And I definitely try to read outside genre a lot–it keeps my own writing fresh, I think. That way, you can pick and choose from many different authors as to what tricks you might want to ste– I mean, borrow. And I’m in a book group (have been for 13 years), so we read a lot of different stuff, which is good, too.
And yeah, kids eat into reading time, darn them!
Megan, I definitely recommend the library! Then if you don’t like them you can take them back and forget about them!
I also love Barbara Hambly’s series though I haven’t kept up with them. And I’m a strong believer in reading outside the genre for my escapist reading; I’m particularly fond of mysteries. I don’t have any in my greatest hits list, tho, which is sort of odd, considering how many I (presumably) read this year. I have trouble remembering authors’ names, and for a long time now have meant to keep a little black book of things I’ve read (and it will save me taking books out of the library and getting that deja vu all over again feeling).
I use the library a lot, actually–they’ve got this amazing online reservation system so I can get whatever I want (books, movies, etc.) delivered to my local branch. It helps when one lives in an urban apartment without a lot of extra storage space.
I write romance mostly from outside romance. I figure growing up in 50s America watching technicolor costume epic movies has stamped the lust for he-and-she-HEA on me forever.
The good thing about this an intermittant ability to write romance convention in a genuinely heartfelt way, as though I discovered it for myself, which in truth I did. The bad thing about this is writing romance cliche and not knowing how much of a cliche it is. I’ve decided I’ll risk it and read what I want.
Speaking of Great Books, and not recent, has anyone read Anya Seton’s GREEN DARKNESS? It is truly wonderful as I remember it. It has a strong romance, history, time travel, drama, atmosphere, tragedy–yet love triumphs in the end.
I had a hard cover copy long ago and unfortunately lent it out, and it didn’t come home.
Those who wrote time travel historicals later on never really did it so well, imo.