My criteria for the books on this annual list is they have to be not only 5 star reviews but I have to remember the stories, sometimes a year later, and have re-read and loved them just as much as the first time. Like everything else, personal taste dictates much of what we like to read and my Top Books are no exception. There’s one rule for the list. Like all the reviewers on the site I can only include on my list books I have personally reviewed, so there are many other stories that you saw on the guest reviewers’ Top 10 list yesterday that I love just as much. Bummer!
The guest reviewers have very diverse tastes which is why I invited many of them to review for the site and is the main reason for our popularity. I am forever thankful that they accepted my invitation and made this site what it is today. Readers can expect to find books here to suit almost every taste and if you don’t find the types of books you like on my list please check out the Top 10 Books on the guest reviewers’ list published yesterday. They rock!
After much thought and that very long introduction, here are my Top Books for 2011. I’ve given up calling this my Top 10 list since there are 13 on the list this year and I really had to rein myself in because if I kept adding more of my favourite books Tj would have suggested that I move away from the buffet table – he’s such a drag. These books may not be yours, but they’re definitely my DIKs. My tastes range from books with religious themes, sports, paranormals, contemporary romances, action/adventure, mysteries, horror, BDSM, science fiction and fantasy (I’m sure I have forgotten a couple). I’ve almost given up reviewing historicals since I suck at dates and other reviewers are WAY better at this genre than I could ever be. As usual there were a few surprises to me. One author scored three places on the list and another made it twice. My biggest problem? Who’s on first. I couldn’t make up my mind about the placement of a few books, starting at the top, but I threw the dice and No. 1 and No. 2 were in a photo finish but the ghosts beat the boyz. The placement of the books from #5 on are almost interchangeable because very little separated them in terms of how I ranked them in my mind, and as usual I squeezed in a couple of additional books on my list. What else is new?
My Top Books of 2011
No. 1 – GhosTV (A PsyCop Novel) by Jordan Castillo Price – . This book remains one of my top favourites not only in the PsyCop series but in the entire M/M genre. GhosTV had me enthralled and entranced from the very beginning and here’s part of what I said in the review: “A tour de force! Engrossing, brilliant and damn scary. Jordan Castillo Price has an amazing imagination which, added to her storytelling abilities, excellent prose and dialogue make for a brilliant combination. She doesn’t compromise, she lets it all hang out for her readers and provides a dizzying ride.”
This story is all about the characters even though as usual the plot provided lots of exciting moments and the scares came fast and furious in what was the longest, most complex and ambitious book in the series to date. Usually by book 6 a series is winding down, but Jordan seems to be winding up to throw a 100 MPH fastball in the PsyCop series. This author has proved that she is one of the most imaginative, creative and brilliant writers around in any genre as evidenced by the number of books she has on the list this year, and her fan base is legion.
No. 2 – Divide & Conquer by Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux. The series keeps getting better and better and I fall more in love with the characters with every new book. Here’s how I summarized D & C in my review: “Divide & Conquer is a triumph. It will make you cry, it’s fun, it will lift you up, and ultimately give you the best reason to continue reading books.” There’s not much more to say after that.
With all the intricate plots and action/adventures that are a hallmark of this series, what keeps me coming back are the characters. The authors kept their unique personalities intact and resisted the temptation to tamper with them and make them perfect. They are just perfect the way they are, flaws and all. Urban and Roux gave the fans a book for the ages in thrills, chills and emotional content and context as Ty gave new meaning to the word “dysfunctional” and Zane at last put his dead wife where she belongs – in the past. I’m hoping that book #5, Armed & Dangerous, due out in May, which will be written by Abigail Roux now that the writing partnership with Madeleine Urban is over, will see an explosion in their romance. Of course I expect that there will be lots of hiccups along the way, which is the way it should be. If you want to read the full review I have linked it but I recommend you get the book instead.
No. 3 – Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. Technically this book should not be on a list of M/M books because it’s definitely not a romance. However, on this site we review memoirs, poetry, non fiction, Young Adult books and movies so why not a book about a 9 year old kid? I loved this story so much that when I read it I knew I had to include it on my list this year. Like Almost Like Being in Love by the same author which was No. 1 on my list 2 years ago, the writing is exceptional. Joey Margolis, a smart mouthed Jewish kid from Brooklyn, is the star and if you love books you should definitely read Last Days of Summer which is a heartwarming, moving, poignant, unforgettable and beyond wonderful story of the love between a conniving boy and his reluctant hero, baseball star Charlie Banks. The characters will stay with you long after you finish reading the book.
Kluger’s narrative style is unique and his writing is as crisp and fresh today, 13 years after this book was written, and I was incredibly engaged by the story as the 40s came alive on the pages. The world building was authentic and I could feel the war all around me. The famous characters of the time were front and center as bombs rained down on the soldiers on the front lines; the ending was appropriate for the time and inspiring. I will always remember Joey Margolis.
No. 4 – Petit Morts – The series. Jordan Castillo Price, Josh Lanyon and Sean Kennedy snuck up on me almost 2 years ago when I wasn’t looking with their wonderful Petit Morts stories, and the final 7 books added Clare London to the original team. I wrote a piece about this series last year and I have included a link if you’re interested in immersing yourself in an excellent adventure with two unlikely heroes – immortals Chance and Hunter.
This time around three stories stood out for me among the other wonderful tales – Petit Morts #15 – Loose Change by Sean Kennedy, Petit Morts #16 – Media Naranja by Jordan Castillo Price and Clare London and Petit Morts #17 – Immortal Coil by Jordan which are jointly no. 4 on my list. What made me love these stories was, as I said in the review of Immortal Coil – “All of the human characters of the series had special qualities despite being ordinary and at times extremely flawed, and they found something that most people look for but never seem to find, a sense of self and love.” Although the stars are Hunter and Chance, especially in the later books, the other characters had just as much impact on me because of their human frailties. Saying goodbye to this series was tough but I can re-read all of the stories on dark and stormy nights.
No. 5 – Dead Run – Dangerous Ground 4 by Josh Lanyon. Next to Adrien English, Dangerous Ground is my favourite Josh Lanyon series, and Book 4 saw a number of changes in our heroes’ fortunes. When I reviewed Dangerous Ground, the first book of this series in May, 2008 I fell for Taylor and Will, Special Agents with the Department of Diplomatic Security, hook, line and sinker. At that time they had been partners for 3 years and much has happened since then. A year into the relationship Will accepted a promotion to Paris and they haven’t seen each other since. Dead Run is the story of their reunion.
Will and Taylor have a synergy and charisma that’s hard to top and their love for each other is what makes them vulnerable, the opposite of the confident Special Agent persona that they portray on the job. As I said in my review of Blood Heat – Dangerous Ground 3 “a book by Josh Lanyon is like a box of dark chocolates because behind the delicious rush as it hits my tongue will be the bittersweet, melting, rich orgasmic flavour, and this series is definitely the darkest chocolate.” I can’t wait for book 5 to find out what’s next for our heroes.
No. 6 – Hot Head (tie) by Damon Suede. Hot Head took me completely by surprise. I knew that Damon must be a good writer or he couldn’t have survived in the writing business as long as he did, but this book gave me a ride that I still haven’t got off.
This was part of my review - “From the ashes of 911 Damon Suede has written a novel that’s raw, dialogue that’s fresh, a plot that grips you and makes your stomach ache, prose that entices, and characters that are so incredibly complex, flawed and over the top you will have no doubt who wrote Hot Head because the author’s fingerprints are all over every page. This book has all the elements I look for in an unforgettable story – drama, human tragedy, family, heart, guts, excitement, the unexpected, and above all, unconditional love.” Nuff said. I can’t wait for Hard Head, the second book in this new series.
No. 6 – Taking You Home (tie) by Cooper Davis. This is a love story about two characters that I met in the short story Boys of Summer and couldn’t forget, so I was pretty anxious to see what Cooper Davis would do with Maxwell and Hunter since the end of the first book. Well I was worrying needlessly as this book was my first 5+ stars DIK this year and I have re-read it many times. As indicated in my review “Taking You Home breathes life into Romance with a capital ‘R’. If you think romance is dead or dying you only have to read Cooper Davis’s Taking You Home to drastically revise your opinion.”
I thought this was a most delicious and delightful romance and a fitting conclusion to Hunter’s and Maxwell’s story, (but maybe there’s a wedding in their future). I loved, loved, loved the characters and they refused to leave me long after I read this book. What better recommendation can I give you?
No. 8 – Zero Hour: A Dystopian Adventure by Jordan Castillo Price. I can’t say enough about this talented writer who has given us many wonderful stories this year and came in at #2, behind Josh Lanyon, in our first ever Favorite M/M Author contest.
I summarized Zero Hour as “an incredibly complex dystopian adventure that’s reminiscent of one of my favourite science fiction movies, Logan’s Run.” The story is set in the 24th century and Ernest, the main character, was not human but was so nuanced that he could have been homo sapiens. The universe was wonderfully crafted, the characters were all three dimensional and flawed, and the plot was ingenious. Ernest proved that one individual could indeed change the world in which he lived.
If you need to know more about this book you will have to actually read it.
No. 9 – One More Soldier by Marie Sexton. Marie is another very talented author in this genre whose books I inhale; I have read and loved all of her stories and I reviewed two of them this year, both of which are on the list. One More Soldier touched me on so many levels when I reviewed it that I said this: “A powerful love story that broke my heart but made me incredibly grateful to the author.”
This is a tale of love and loss. Because the period in which this book was set was a time of war, happy endings were almost non existent so there’s no HEA or HFN, but if you pass on One More Soldier you will miss a powerful love story that’s all of 69 pages. Some writers don’t need a lot of word count to make an impact and Marie Sexton falls into that category.
No. 10 – Sins of the Messiah (tie) by Jaye Valentine and Reno MacLeod – This story is an incredible journey with a lot of symbolism, combined with a mind blowing adventure, in a world where anything goes. Sins of the Messiah is the re-edited version of two previously released books: Messiah I & II – 3 of Cups and Page of Wands. The book is set in the near future and the main character is Malcolm Wilder, a brilliant MIT student who became the Messiah by harnessing hydrogen power and distributing it cheaply in order to eliminate the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. But was he solely responsible for this shift in world fortunes or were there more sinister forces at work?
This novel has some of the most impressive and awesome world building I have ever read. The characters were complex, unusual and conniving, and just when I thought someone was not redeemable he showed qualities that made him seem capable of love. Valentine and MacLeod have become my “go to” writing partnerships when I’m looking for a book that will challenge and excite my brain, and they never fail me because their characterizations are original and creative and I think that their world building is some of the best in any genre. If you like extraordinary stories and have no problem with religious themes or violence, I highly recommend this book.
No. 10 – Between Sinners and Saints (tie) by Marie Sexton. Marie Sexton is so multifaceted, from her Coda books to One More Soldier and now Between Sinners and Saints. B S and S is another book on my list with a religious theme and this one tackled religion and homosexuality in the Mormon Church. I read it in one sitting even though it was 98K words, something that’s most unusual for me. B S & S was so engrossing and the MCs and secondary characters were so complicated that I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to understand the Mormon religion and its belief structure that would make a family reject a loved one because of his sexual orientation due to the fear that his “lifestyle” would deny him a place in heaven.
Leviticus Binder left his family and his religion behind when they ostracized him because he was gay. He worked for the next 10 years as a bartender in the hottest bar in Miami called “The Zone” which supplied him with as many sex partners as he wanted to take into the back room, until he met Jamie Marshall and fell for him. Massage therapist Jamie had been damaged emotionally and physically, having been raped at a very young age by a family member. Because of the trauma Jamie was afraid of personal contact with people, had no friends except for his dog Dolly, and he was cautious about men like Levi. He was extremely vulnerable and scarred yet so funny he made the book come alive and at the same time my heart ached for the boy and man he could have been. He was the catalyst throughout the book. This plot could have become a quagmire because of the themes of faith, homosexuality, rape, and a family in crisis, but the author wove them into a tapestry for a wonderful and moving story
If you’re not put off by the theme I hope you will get this book which had a lot of humour, mainly Jamie’s version of fun as he pitted himself against Levi’s family and won them over.
No. 12 - Wishing on a Blue Star edited by Kris Jacen. This list would not be complete without a book that was inspired by Patric Michael’s fight against cancer. Patric wrote a series of online journals chronicling his battle with a rare form of cancer, and they touched everyone who read them, most of whom he had never met face to face. The blogs formed part of this anthology, together with stories contributed by Patric’s friends and fellow authors.
The depth of this man’s courage in the face of his daily struggles to live with cancer while coping with the treatments (which were almost as bad as and in some cases worse than the disease), made me realize how cancer destroys someone’s spirit and turns the brain to mush.
I don’t mean to make Patric out to be a saint or a hero because he sure isn’t. In fact he will tell you that he’s all too human. However, his journey over the past 3 years has been so horrendous I wondered how he could have remained sane, and why his spirit has not been broken. His journals made me salute anyone who is living with cancer or a similar disease.
The impact that this one man has had on all of us who *know* him, is profound. He is a writer just like so many others, but the amazing thing about Patric is his ability to crawl inside your heart and stay there. That he influenced so many others to think about someone other than themselves is what’s so amazing, and the fact that his author friends did something to remember him in a way he would appreciate – words – is fitting for someone as creative as Patric. Patric is still here, still fighting for his life. Wishing On A Blue Star is available free as an ebook from Dreamspinner Press.
No. 13 Muscling Through by J.L. Merrow absolutely enchanted me. On many occasions I read a book that I don’t have high expectations for, but it blows me away because the characters are so wonderfully portrayed and the story is both simple and complex on another level. This is what happened to me with Muscling Through.
J.L Merrow has a keen sense of comedy and writes such incredible dialogue that the characters were a joy to know. Al and Larry are opposites - physically, socially, educationally and in every way possible, but they were made for each other and their romance was believable. The humour in Muscling Through is not slapstick – far from it - this is understated Brit play upon words, masterfully delivered by Al, and the story made me appreciate all over again what good writing is all about.
The romance was well paced, imaginative, incredibly funny, hot, and so heartfelt and sensitive in the way that Larry and Al dealt with their own insecurities I marveled at the author’s skill in writing such well crafted characters. The book has an incredible sense of place which was facilitated by the British slang used throughout that maintained its authenticity. Definitely a “keeper”.
Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell
Bad Boyfriend by K.A. Mitchell
Paper Planes by M. Jules Aedin
Visible Friend by K.Z. Snow
The Closer You Get by L.A. Witt
Blue Ruin 1 – Some Kind of Stranger by Katrina Strauss
Purple Hearts by Jaye Valentine and Reno MacLeod
Out of Focus by L.A. Witt
Star Crossed – Opposite Ends of the Spectrum by Jaye Valentine & Reno MacLeod
Twelve Days (sequel to A Note in the Margin) by Isabelle Rowan
Petit Morts #12 – London Eye by Clare London
Second Helpings by Scarlet Blackwell
Breathe Me In by Lex Valentine
Anything for You by Ethan Day
Precious Boy by K.Z. Snow
Petit Morts #14 – Just Desserts by Josh Lanyon
Talker’s Redemption by Amy Lane
Foundation of Love by Scotty Cade and Z.B. Marshall
I wish I could have included more of the many books I reviewed this year – I was actually surprised at how many I did review and I’m thankful I can re-read the ones on this list again and again.
Now you’ve seen my list. What are your top books of 2011?