To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…
1925 New York
Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.
Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.
Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.
This book is fun as hell. Therin has done a fine job of creating the look and feel of 1925 New York City, as well as touching on the differences among the social strata. The paranormal world building is lightly overlaid on real events and places to create a compelling history, as well as a good deal of suspense and mystery.
I keep telling myself that I don’t like historical romances (paranormal or not) because of the dismal attitudes toward homosexuality. K.J. Charles proved how wrong I was (about the romances, not the homophobia, alas), though, and now Allie Therin has soundly put the idea to rest.
Rory and Ace are such a great couple, and the cast of characters are a hoot as well. I especially loved Rory’s arc throughout the book as he learns that he doesn’t have to hide and try to escape everyone’s notice, and is in fact someone worthy of another’s affection. Ace is cynical and snarky, and a perfect foil for Rory’s naiveté. I am really looking forward to seeing their relationship develop over the rest of the series.
I listened to the audio version of this, performed by Erik Bloomquist. As frequently happens with prolific performers, I have heard his work in other books (Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series). It took a bit to recalibrate to the voices of this particular book, but once that was settled I really enjoyed Bloomquist’s performance. Not only does he provide clear difference between that characters’ voices, he captures their vocal tics and accents well. His dry, sardonic delivery of Ace’s dialogue is just perfect, too.
If you’re looking for an entertaining and at times suspenseful historical paranormal romance, this is an outstanding choice!
At the end of each year, I like to look back and highlight some one my favorite books of the year. These were selected from books I read in 2020, not necessarily what was first published in 2020. First, the numbers:
Books read this year: 103
Did Not Finish: 2% (man, were they dreadful)
3-Star Ratings: 16%
4-Star Ratings: 35%
5-Star Ratings: 49%
Number of Audiobooks: 39
Pages Read/Listened To: 24,242
(I’ve explained elsewhere why there’s usually no 1-star or 2-star ratings, and why my ratings skew higher.)
That’s enough of that. On to the good stuff! As it turned out my favorite books of the year easily broke down into categories: m/m romance and urban fantasy. Four of my top five m/m romance books/series were set in Australia, and three of those have an asexual/demisexual main character. The latter is a lot easier to explain than the former: I identify as a gray-asexual/demisexual (homoromantic) man, and representation matters. That aside, with the quality of their writing and descriptions of the locales, all of these authors have made a powerful case for visiting Down Under!
My absolute favorite book of the year is one that I recently reviewed here, The Gentle Wolf (Perth Shifters #2), by Pia Foxhall. I urge you to ignore the fact that it’s #2 in the series – it can be read as a standalone. Great worldbuilding and relatable characters (not just the main characters – the entire cast!) elevate a strong story into something really special. Read my full review here.
Continuing on the theme of Australian shifters, Furborn by Isabelle Rowan was a delight. The setting, in the sheep country of Victoria outside of Melbourne, was new to me and the descriptions of the area were fascinating. This is a story of fox shifters slowly being forced into hiding by the encroachment of modern living, and of one fox who befriends a farmer’s son who would rather be anywhere else. It takes its time and allows the relationship between the two to slowly develop, and I found the conclusion wonderfully satisfying.
Moving on to contemporary stories, I enjoyed N. R. Walker’s Upside Down very much. No one writes adorkable like Walker, and it is always quite endearing. Sidney resident Jordan is a lovable goof, but also a complete mess as he tries to reconcile his asexuality with his attraction to Hennessey. I can identify closely with coming to terms of where you fall on the asexual spectrum, and as such this book really spoke to a lot of my experiences. This is a lovely, low-angst story that is well-worth your time. Here is my full review of the book.
Keira Andrews’ Honeymoon for One is an adorable collection of romance tropes – hurt/comfort, friends-to-lovers, and probably a few others – in a single story. Ethan finds his fiancé in bed with another man the night before their wedding, then says to hell with it and goes on their (pre-planned, pre-paid) honeymoon by himself. There are complications, of course, including the fact that Ethan is losing his hearing. I thought this aspect was handled thoughtfully, and really felt for Ethan’s struggles trying to navigate a world where full hearing is taken for granted. The book turns into a bit of a travelogue as the tour bus he had booked travels from Cairns to Sidney, all while Ethan and Clay, the tour bus driver, fall for one another. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was a case where the performance by the narrator (the ever-talented Joel Leslie) really enhanced the experience. He does accents and dialects so well, and I appreciated how the effect of Ethan’s hearing loss came across.
Finally in my Top Five are the first two books in Lily Morton’s Finding Home series: Oz and Milo. These take place in the Cornish countryside in the UK, and are a fine example of how compelling great characters can be. Oz is from a working-class Irish/English family and somehow winds up with the job of Estate Manager for the Earl of Ashworth (but please, really, just call him Silas). Oz is delightfully snarky and all of the dialogue is so much fun! The chemistry between Oz and Silas is so good. Milo, on the other hand, grew up in an aristocratic family. He is sweet and shy, and usually has good control over his stutter unless flustered. He is definitely flustered by his older brother’s best friend Niall, a brash and coarse man who was always protective of Milo. The blossoming relationship between the two made me smile. There’s one more book in the series; I’ll be starting off 2021 with that!
Moving on to my other favorites, these fell neatly into the urban fantasy genre. The market is a crowded field, and it seems that some get tucked away into the m/m romance niche because the main characters happen to be men who love other men. This spins into a big rant for me about book marketing and genres and institutionalized homophobia that I’m not going to get into right now. Anyway, here are five urban fantasy books/series that I think are worthy of note.
I’ll start out with Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series, and oh my gosh! This is one of those series where I want to buy a bunch of copies of Book 1 to shove into people’s hands, saying “Just read this. You’ll thank me.” The worldbuilding here is fantastically intricate, interweaving magic users as part of the military, direct intervention by gods from all possible pantheons (and what a pain in the ass they can be), and all variety of supernatural beings. Multiple plotlines are woven through the series, and Turner keeps everything going at a breakneck pace in all five books (and Book 6 is coming in March 2021!). Patrick Collins, former Mage Corps soldier and now federal agent is reluctantly in the vanguard against the demonic forces of hell (in all its incarnations), accompanied by Jonothan de Vere, his smoking hot (and badass) werewolf boyfriend. Each book takes us to a different locale, with some, um, impressive collateral damage (the events in Chicago are pretty epic). There are a lot of characters involved and a lot of action, but I never had any problem following what was going on. Turner has done an amazing job with the plotting and character arcs here. I listened to all of these as audiobooks, and Gary Furlong is masterful in keeping the different character voices separate and easy to follow. If you like audiobooks, these are a great choice!
Turning to a very different setting and tone, we have T.J. Klune’s House in the Cerulean Sea. This is one case where the blurb says it the best:
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
The descriptions of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth immediately put me in mind of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. This contrasts starkly with the idyllic Marysas Island Orphanage. There’s a lot going on in this book beneath the obvious, and the hints of how Linus’ demeanor changes throughout the story are a lot of fun to follow. This was different from any other book I’ve read in recent memory (although there are some interesting parallels that could be drawn with Klune’s The Bones Beneath My Skin).
Finally, a series that is plain ol’ mainstream [heterosexual] urban fantasy. Given its success, it is not a great surprise that Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson universe has given rise to a whole genre of action-oriented urban fantasies with strong female protagonists (which is pretty awesome, I think). Some series have been less than successful, but K. N. Banet’s Jacky Leon books are a whole lot of fun. The setup is intriguing: modern-day society, but the existence of werewolves (whose wolf looks more like a dire wolf) is known to the public. What is not known is the existence of the rest of the supernatural world – vampires, fey, and other werecreatures. Jackie Leon is a werecat (whose cat looks more like a saber-toothed tiger). She’s trying to lay low and live a quiet life, running a dive bar in Jacksonville, Texas. Fate has other plans for her, of course. I’ve read (well, listened to) the first three books of the series, and I’ve been really impressed. The plotting is tight and the action moves along at a good clip. The cast of characters is great fun, and the political intrigue adds an additional tension to the events that I like. I look forward to reading the other books in this series!
Finally, although I like to use these wrap-ups to highlight great books of the year, I have a dishonorable mention: Anne Bishop’s The Others alternate-history series. The first two books were interesting, if written a bit archly, and quite slow-moving until the final act. The third book is when it all comes crashing down, though. Some egregious retconning and flat-out stupidity on the part of the main characters left me sorely disappointed, feeling like the first two books were a waste of time. I’m out.
Anyway, to end on a happier note, here are some of the honorable mentions from this year:
Convicted, Conned, and Caroled, The Bureau Books 5, 6, and 7, by Kim Fielding (more entries into Fielding’s paranormal historical series, with some interesting developments and a big reveal for a recurring character)
I wanted to take a moment to look back on 2019 and mentioned a few of the fantastic books I read last year (note these are not books that came out in 2019, but books I read in 2019). Although I usually read m/m romances almost exclusively, two of my favorites were from outside the genre, proving that sometimes a little variety can always be a good thing!
First, the best of the year: A big chunk of my reading last year was consumed by Patricia Briggs, who writes some of the best urban fantasy I’ve come across. All of the books in her Mercy Thompson series were almost uniformly great, and even when they weren’t quite 100% they were still really enjoyable. I am impressed that after 12 books (starting with Moon Called), while there’s still a hint of a formula to each book there’s enough new and interesting things going on that everything remains fresh and exciting. The Alpha and Omega spinoff series (five books, starting with Cry Wolf) ties into the main series in some ingenious ways, sharing the occasional side-character and events, even though the main characters of the two series never meet face to face. This series was fun because, having established a fascinating world, Briggs is free to use different narrative conventions and plot twists that wouldn’t be possible in the main series. Both of these series are really enjoyable!
Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic was a delightful find. It’s a paranormal mystery set in a Victorian England where magic is real and such a commonplace thing. I loved this one because the spark between the two main characters was so well-written, the mystery was a challenging puzzle, and the ending was supremely satisfying.
In a similar vein, K.J. Charles’ Spectred Isle was a delightful foray into a magical Victorian England, though here magic is much more secretive. This is another mystery, and as shown in previous works that I raved about last year, Charles is skilled at weaving a complicated web of a mystery, then revealing it little by little. This particular book was great fun because of the banter between the new-to-magic Saul and experienced magician Randolph. The ending is a tour de force that ties things together brilliantly. In addition to this, The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of short stories that serves as a prequel of sorts to Spectred Isle featuring some historical figures spoken of with reverence there. For all that short stories often leave me wanting more depth and development, this is a great read and a worthy addition to the world that Charles has built.
Two books by T.J. Klune make this list. Ravensong is the sequel to Wolfsong, which I absolutely adored in print and in audiobook. Ravensong continues the story, and in true Klune fashion, ripped my heart out and stomped all over it. Seriously, how Klune manages to keep such a high quality of writing going I’ll never know, but I’ll sure appreciate it! The other book is The Bones Beneath My Skin, an odd one-off novel that’s a departure from most of his usual themes, but the writing style is still familiar. In tone, I would place it toward Into This River I Drown (another tour de force, and a story which is slyly referenced here) but the atmosphere is a lot less somber. Great characters drive a great story – I really liked this one.
After enjoying their Hexworld series and Whyborne and Griffin series, I was delighted to pick up Jordan L. Hawk’s Spectre Series 1. These are written in the sense of a “season” of a TV series, which each book having its own plot but also an overarching plot that spans all six books that gets resolved in the finale. I really enjoyed the moody side of Charleston, South Carolina that serves as the backdrop to these paranormal stories, and the characters allow Hawk to have a lot of fun with disparate personalities, and the problems that arise when you have three people, but only two bodies. Oh, and one of those three is a few thousand years old.
Finally, there’s Gary Paulsen’s Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. This nonfiction autobiographical book tells the story of how Paulsen was bitten by the mushing bug and drawn into the world of sled dog racing. This was an incredible read, filled with laugh-out-loud moments, some terrific personal insights and thoughts about the relationship between humans and dogs, and moments that moved me to tears. Even if you’re not a fan of sled dog racing, this is worth picking up.
There are also a couple of books that deserve honorable mention:
Stealing His Heart by Bru Baker is a spinoff from her Camp H.O.W.L. trilogy. Nothing terribly complex, but still an enjoyable story, with werewolves. Werewolves always make things better, but I might be biased.
In Any Light by Sam Burns is a lovely short story, a brief detour in The Rowan Harbor Cycle to explore the relationship between side characters Isla and Cassidy. I love these characters, and the fact that Isla is ace made me smile a lot when she found her “happy for now”. The ending definitely had me tearing up.
The Long Way Home by Z. A. Maxfield is a tense paranormal thriller that had a great mystery and even better chemistry between the main characters. There were a few stumbles at the that took this out of the ‘best of’ running, but I still enjoyed the book. I’m kind of sad there wasn’t a sequel because I’d love to read more of these guys!
N. R. Walker’s Finders Keepers was hugely enjoyable. I jokingly accused her of secretly working for the Australian tourist board because the descriptions of Coolum Beach and Australia’s Sunshine Coast made it sound like an absolute paradise. This is a fun, low-angst story with a fun twist on the meet-cute trope where the main characters ‘meet’ over text messaging and get to know each other before they ever meet face to face.
Finally, I want to return to Mercy Thompson’s world to mention Faerie Gifts, an ongoing fan fiction series by Liv Campbell and William Alexander on Archive of Our Own. I really enjoy how the authors retain the feel of Patricia Briggs’ Mercyverse while bringing in new characters in an entirely different location in the world. Also, Sam the werewolf is absolutely freakin’ adorable!
2020 is already off to a great start, and I look forward to adding many great books my best of 2020 list! As always, you can find me on Goodreads as Duncan Husky, plus there you can find my reading lists of m/m shifters, m/m werewolves, and m/m paranormal books.
Willem’s lost his job and his boyfriend, and now possibly his mind when his cat calls him a nitwit.
Willem’s father never approved of his artistic talents, his choices in life, or the fact that he’s gay. When the only thing Horst leaves to Willem is the family cat, he thinks it’s his father’s last insult from the grave. That is, until the cat starts talking to him.
Though Willem’s lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, Kasha, who claims to be a magic cat, reassures him that all will be well. All he needs is Willem’s trust and a good pair of boots. But giving boots to a talking cat has unexpected consequences when odd events ambush Willem at every turn, such as the appearance of a handsome stranger in his arms at night. While he begins to suspect Kasha’s plans might be dangerous for all involved, how can he distrust such a charming kitty in cowboy boots?
Rating: 4 out of 5
This novella is a fun, breezy retelling of the venerable Puss in Boots story, with a gay twist. I went into the story knowing of the story, but not really familiar with the details. This probably helped me enjoy the story more, but I could tell when the more traditional story elements were updated for the story, usually in a humorously meta way (the evil ogre is a lawyer AND an investment banker!).
Aside from the two main characters, Willem and Kasha, the other characters in the story are loosely sketched. The romance between Willem and Kasha is cute, though the dreaded insta-love comes out of nowhere. To be fair Kasha has had decades of admiring Willem while a cat so he knew what to expect. Willem, not so much, but I’m willing to roll with it. The cat’s machinations to better the life of his master make for an engaging read, and the author wraps up the story neatly with an adorable ending.
Martinez’ writing is enjoyable, and she does a good job telling the story economically in the short 113 pages. The bedroom door is wide open here, and the intimate scenes are quite steamy (and amusing. One word: spines. Ow). I’ll definitely be seeking out Martinez’ other work!
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