It’s that time of year again, when the snow get shy and slush falls instead; when the sun seems like a distant memory from when you were a kid; when customers show up at the last minute wanting rare imported titles, like, yesterday. In short, it’s Christmas, the
worst best time of the year for shopkeepers. In retail terms, this time of year can be summed up in three words: busy; harried; frantic. But at least there’s always lots of chocolate around.
I always like to take this chance to look back at the titles that really stood out for me over the year. Its a very personal list, obviously, and some of it may sound a little familiar. Please feel free to chime in with any suggestions of your own: I’m always on the lookout for new books.
Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
This one’s not a Romance at all, but a straight-up Fantasy novel. Maia has always known that he is the fourth son of the Emperor, just as he has always known that his father hates him. Not that they’ve ever really met: the only time Maia even saw the Emperor was at his mother’s funeral, after which he was sent away to a distant manor and forgotten. One morning he is awakened with the news that his father and all of his older brothers were killed in an airship accident. Half-goblin, half-elf, and all terrified, Maia is now the Emperor.
Maia begins his rule unprepared, undereducated, and definitely inexperienced. But although he fears many things, hard work is not one of them, and he is determined to do as good a job as he can. And that determination wins him allies, workers, and even friends.
It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. In any court fantasy there are factions and intrigues and dangers both obvious and subtle. Goblin Emperor does not lack these things. But it also offers the grace notes of friendship and family, of understanding and acceptance. It’s beautifully-written, complicated without requiring a scorecard and a pen to keep track, and quite possibly my pick for book of the year.
Burn For Me, Ilona Andrews
Though the spine says ‘Paranormal Romance’, this title is probably more of an Urban Fantasy, in the sense of where the emphasis lies (e.g.: there isn’t an HEA ending; the book is at least as much about the magic as it is about the relationship of the two main characters). But really, labels are just a way of generally pointing people in one direction or another: what actually matters is how a book makes you feel. And Ilona Andrews always makes me feel great.
Nevada Baylor is a private detective hired to bring in a criminal who happens to be a Prime (the highest level of magic user there is) who can turn anything into flames. Her investigation attracts the attention of Connor Rogan, a Prime whom Nevada finds attractive and terrifying in almost equal measure. Working together is necessary but dangerous, and not only on a physical level. Nevada’s not used to relying on anyone but her family; Rogan’s not used to trusting anyone at all. Neither of them has the slightest idea what they’re in for.
I love Andrews’ work, and Burn For Me is no exception. Like most of Andrews’ work, it’s got a smart, hard-working heroine; a complicated but real family; and increasingly high stakes. I can’t wait to see where she goes with this new series.
Saving The CEO, Jenny Holiday
Jack Winter is a real estate mogul who structures his life with rules. One of the big rules? Don’t sleep with the staff: personal and professional lives are to be kept separate. That was never a problem until Jack met Cassie.
By night, Cassie James is a bartender at Jack’s favourite restaurant. By day, she’s a math-loving numbers expert. With a crooked CFO on one hand and a multi-million dollar deal on the other, Jack really needs one of those. And since she’s technically not an employee — more of an independent contractor — the inflammatory attraction they feel for one another isn’t an issue. But what starts as something temporary turns into something more, and neither Cassie nor Jack can stop breaking rules.
I got a huge kick out of this fast, sexy read. Bonus: it’s set in Toronto! Let’s hear it for familiar landmarks.
Three Weeks With Lady X, Eloisa James
This hit a few of my weaknesses right in the “aw, yeah!” spot: epistolary novels, successful renovations, and finding out what happened to a minor character when he grew up. We met Thorn Dautry as a child, in James’ earlier book A Duke Of Her Own. He was the eldest of the Duke of Villier’s illegitimate children. At that time he was tough, smart, good with his younger siblings, and not overmuch inclined to trust any member of the upper class, let alone his aristocratic father.
Almost twenty years later, Thorn is still tough, smart and good with kids, though he’s much closer to his father than before. Having made his fortune, Thorn next acquires a country home. Enter Lady Xenobia India, who helps make his new property habitable.
Part of the story is told in the notes Thorn and India send one another as she turns a disaster of a house into a showpiece. The rest happens when they’re together, and it’s all a great deal of fun. They strike sparks off one another from the moment they meet, and neither of them knows what to do about it. Thorn and Xenobia both had non-traditional childhoods, and their past influences their present in ways both obvious and invisible.
Silence For The Dead, Simone St. James
I wrote an entire column about this book, so all I’ll say here is that right now, at the end of the year, it still stands out as one of my top picks. I loved the interlocking relationships in the books. Kitty and Jack; Kitty and the other patients; Jack and all the residents of Portis House –the book explores all the ways in which the characters move and are moved by one another, with a truly disturbing ghost as a catalyst. I’m looking forward to see what St. James will do next.
Girls At The Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
I wrote about Girls previously too: it’s another book for which my admiration just keeps growing. I like to read about families, about the connections which shape us; about the way those things can be a foundation or a prison, or even both at the same time, and Valentine delivers. Her prose was so delicious, and the characters so real in their strengths and their frailties that I still can’t recommend this book enough.
A Bollywood Affair, Sonali Dev
I bought this book on the recommendation of a friend, and loved the thirty-odd pages I managed read before I managed to lose it on the subway. Dammit! I’ve ordered it again, but it won’t arrive until after this column airs. But I wanted to mention it because it was interesting and funny and different.
It’s the store of Mili, who was married when she was four and hasn’t seen her husband since. That marriage has granted her amazing freedoms; she has even left India to study in America. There she meets Samir, a Bollywood director known for his success both on and off screen. Despite themselves, they fall for one another. Even though Mili doesn’t know that Samir is her ‘husband’s brother, there to get her to sign the divorce papers…
Gah! Nothing more frustrating that losing a good book before you’re finished with it. But, well, that gives me something to look forward to in the new year. May you find the same. Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season, and remember: only morons drink and drive.
Chris Szego is signing off.