Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011: Best Of...

2011 was a year full of extreme highs, and bitterly disappointing lows. I've been doing a 'Best Of' post for a couple of years now, but I'm going to change the format a bit.

A good friend of mine, Kat at Wit and Sin organized hers beautifully - and we all know I can't resist something that's perfectly organized.

Number of books I read (not including re-reads): 202
Number of new-to-me authors I read: 39

Favorite New-to-Me Authors of 2011: Jim Butcher, C.C. Galloway, Kevin Hearne, Josh Lanyon, Sarah MacLean, Nicole Sheldon

Favorite Authors of 2011: Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Kresley Cole, Lynn Kurland, Karen Marie Moning, Riley Shane, Nalini Singh

Solid Read Authors Discovered: Jennifer Estep, Elle Kennedy, Jill Shalvis, C.L. Wilson

Now for the really fun part. I've included not only my favorite new books for 2011 - some of which weren't published in 2011 because I've just found them - books that nearly made the list, and because this year was filled with some horrible let-downs, the Disappointments category. I've never listed one before, and even as I hit 'publish' I'm wondering if I should now...

My Top 25 Books of 2011 (new to me)
Note: Because I hate ranking my favorites, at any time, these are listed in alphabetical order by author (and if needed in series order).

Magic Slays (Kate Daniels, Book 5) by Ilona Andrews

I loved this newest addition to the Kate Daniels world. Like each previous edition, it kept me turning pages. In my opinion you can't get better than the combination of fantastic characters and a solid, fascinating world than this series.

River Marked (Mercy Thompson, Book 6) by Patricia Briggs

One of my favorite series - Patricia Briggs consistently delivers strong books with two of my favorite characters. I loved that we got so much time with Adam and Mercy together in this one.

Hunting Grounds (Alpha & Omega, Book 3) by Patricia Briggs

Even though Ms. Briggs is one of my favorite authors I'd avoided this series since the beginning. I think because I didn't feel that there was any possible way she could deliver two awesome series simultaneously. I'm so happy to know that I was wrong. Charles and Anna have joined the ranks of my favorite characters.

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas, Book 2) by Meljean Brook

Ever since I first met Yasmeen in The Iron Duke I've been wanting to read more about her, spend more time with her, and see her find the man who would compliment her. I loved everything about this book.

Storm Front (Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher

This series has been on my radar for a long time. I've heard nothing but good things about it and was slightly trepidatious about starting it. I worried it wouldn't live up to what I'd heard. But Harry Dresden is a fantastic character and I can't wait to read more about him.

Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark, Book 11) by Kresley Cole

I stopped reading this series for a while - around book 5 - and just recently started my catch up again this year. Luckily I had 6 books to devour. They were all fantastic, but there was something extra special about this book. I wasn't sure how Ms. Cole was going to handle the redemption of the hero. I went into it thinking it was going to be a very hard sell. I was amazed that she not only pulled it off, she did it beautifully.

Hail Mary (Portland Tide, Book 1) by C.C. Galloway

It's so hard to find good contemporary romances. I grabbed this one because it's a sports romance too. The characters are great and it's obvious that C.C. Galloway knows her football, which is a refreshing change from a lot of sports romances I've read. I can't wait to read more from her.

Hounded (Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 1) by Kevin Hearne

One of my favorite finds of 2011, this series is something fresh and new and interesting. It runs the line between fantasy and urban fantasy. Atticus is a 2,100 year-old druid - the last of his kind. With a deep connection to the earth, both drawing power for his magic from it and feeling the need to protect it, Atticus has been on the run from an angry Celtic god. And now he's been found.

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 2) by Kevin Hearne

Witches. Fallen Angels. And Hunters of darkness. Atticus can't catch a break and gets tangled in a mess that he didn't ask for. But he won't back down from it.

Hammered (Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 3) by Kevin Hearne

This series just keeps getting better and better. I can't wait to see what happens with Atticus next!

One Enchanted Evening (DePiaget/MacLeod, Book 21) by Lynn Kurland

This is one of my favorite authors. I found her a few years ago, in a book swap library at work. I'm so grateful I did. I fell a bit behind in her series of books, so I was playing catch up in 2011. Finally, finally I got to Montgomery's book - who I'd been looking forward to since I first met him. I was so happy to see he got a heroine that was perfect for him.

The Adrien English Series by Josh Lanyon - I'm cheating here and putting a whole series, because honestly, I can't choose a favorite out of it. I think this was the find of 2011 for me. (Includes 5 books: Fatal Shadows, A Dangerous Thing, The Hell You Say, The Death of a Pirate King, and The Dark Tide)

This is a fantastic series. Romance, mysteries, heartache and, best of all, a happy ending. I've been glomming up Josh Lanyon's extensive back list ever since I finished it. Adrien and Jake are still my favorite though.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love by Numbers, Book 1) by Sarah MacLean

What a great set of characters! This was a fun, diverting historical romance. Callie and Gabriel were perfect for each other. I'd thought that I had burnt myself out on historical romances long ago. The title of this was what made me decide to give it a chance - and I'm so glad I did. Honestly, this one book made Ms. MacLean an auto-buy author for me. I've been trying to space out her other books, but I've already bought books 2 and 3 to read.

Shadowfever (Fever Series, Book 5) by Karen Marie Moning

A journey started in 2006. I eagerly awaited each installment in Mac's story, and the final year for the concluding story was by far the most interesting. We'd learned so much, but had many more questions. There was a lot I looked forward to, but mostly I wanted to see Mac hold that happiness that she'd been fighting for.

This book blew me away. I was sure my expectations were going to ruin it, but this finish made it my all-time favorite series.

Two-Man Advantage (Seattle Marauders, Book 1) by Riley Shane

After reading The Taste of Magick last year, I was so ecstatic to see another book coming from Riley Shane. AND it was a romance with hockey, which I love. It was an absolute joy to read this story, and I'm happy to say that there are more coming. Thankfully the next Seattle Marauders book is already scheduled (In the Penalty Box coming in March 2012).

Read my review here

Chasing Alex by Riley Shane

A quick reunion story that was sexy and satisfying.

Read my review here

Blood Rose (Realm of Nine, Book 1) by Riley Shane

The first m/f paranormal romance from Ms. Shane. Just wow. I love the world, the characters and the story. I can't wait to see more in this series. I'm especially looking forward to Cáel right now. Though there are quite a few others that have me intrigued.

International Relations (International Relations, Book 1) by Riley Shane

Beautiful start to the story of Connor and Delaney. I loved that the second book in the series came out so closely after this one, because I was excited to see what had happened to this couple I fell in love with.

Winter Wonderland (International Relations, Book 2) by Riley Shane

Years later. Such a sweet story. Even better than the first. I hope we get to visit Delaney and Connor again! Right now there's a story planned for this summer.

Unlikely Protector by Nicole Sheldon

An exciting novella by a debut author. I expect great things if this is how it starts. Nicole Sheldon created a believable, detailed world and kept me  eagerly turning pages caught up in the story and the characters lives.  I've got a couple of full length novels to look forward to this year, according to her website and I can't wait to see where she takes me next!

Read my review here

Make Me, Sir (Masters of the Shadowlands, Book 5) by Cherise Sinclair

When a friend first recommend Cherise Sinclair to me, I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a fantastically layered set of stories set in the BDSM lifestyle that soon became the bar I measured every other BDSM themed erotica by. I look for erotica that doesn't just have sex for sex's sake, but for the very vital reason of furthering the plot, character development or arc. Ms. Sinclair delivers. And this story delivered a compelling suspense story-line too.

Archangel's Consort (Guild Hunter, Book 3) by Nalini Singh

It's probably no surprise how huge a fan I am of Nalini Singh. She consistently writes books that keep me up well into the night. I've long considered her a master of the perfect balance of world and characters. Not only does this book have one of the most beautiful, fitting covers I've ever seen, the story inside is not to be missed.

Read my review here

Kiss of Snow (Psy-Changelings, Book 10) by Nalini Singh

Another highly anticipated book this year. I've been waiting for Hawke's story since I first met him back in book 1, Slave to Sensation. Ms. Singh didn't let me down. This is one of my favorites of the series.

Read my review here

Archangel's Blade (Guild Hunter, Book 4) by Nalini Singh

Not one, not two, but THREE full length novels that absolutely blew me away. Dmitri was another favorite from the first meeting. I loved everything about this book, most especially his heroine - Honor. I loved it so much that immediately upon finishing it I started at the beginning again.

Read my review here

Lord of the Fading Lands (Tarien Soul, Book 1) by C.L. Wilson

I'm always on the look out for fantasy romance novels. For some reason they seem to be few and far between. I'd had this entire series on my shelf for more than a year before some random urge made me pick it up. And once I started I couldn't stop. This book made me stay up all night reading, until I had to get in the shower to go to work the next day.

Honorable Mentions
Note: These are the books that were just shy of being on my 'Best of' list. I couldn't not mention them, because they're fantastic books.

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, Book 1) by Ann Aguirre

I'm not usually into science fiction. I think they have a tendency to get a bit too technical for my tastes. However, I gave this one a shot after much prodding. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was. This book has some fantastic characters, and interesting plot, and a really detailed (without being overly so) world. I'm looking forward to reading further in this series, and more by this author.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, Book 2) by Ilona Andrews

I read On the Edge, the first book in the series before ever starting the Kate Daniels series and absolutely loved it. So when this second book came out I was so excited. William is a great hero and Cerise is an interesting, awesome heroine. I've quickly come to the conclusion that I love almost everything by the writing team that is Ilona Andrews.

Geist (Book of the Order, Book 1) by Philippa Ballantine

I admit I was first drawn to this book because of the cover. But Philippa Ballantine quickly drew me into an intricate world with geists (ghosts) and those that protect people from them - called Deacons. Following along after Deacon Sorcha's husband was gravely injured in a geist attack and seeing her battle ghosts, possessed sea creatures and deal with devious humans, all with a new partner in Deacon Merrick was truly gripping.

Demon From the Dark (Immortals After Dark, Book 10) by Kresley Cole

Malkom, the hero of this story, is one of my favorite characters ever. He made me love him from the first. Ms. Cole handles her intricate over-arcing plot beautifully. When I think about the details and timeline she's keeping straight it amazes me. I'm so glad I'm able to read something so, seemingly, well thought out and planned.

 Read my review here

Spider's Revenge (Elemental Assassin, Book 5) by Jennifer Estep

This entire series is enjoyable, if with some flaws, but by the fifth book Ms. Estep brought the main arc to an amazing conclusion. There are more books scheduled and I'm excited to see where Gin goes next.

The Out of Uniform Series by Elle Kennedy - Again with the cheating on my listing, but I eminently enjoyed this series and read them one after the other this year. (Includes 6 books: Heat of the Moment, Heat of Passion, Heat of the Storm, Heat It Up, Heat of the Night, and The Heat is On)

This series was a lot of fun to read. There was very real chemistry and palpable feelings between the characters in this series. I look forward to reading more of her work...after re-reading these, of course.

Spellweaver (Nine Kingdoms, Book 5) by Lynn Kurland

This is actually the second book in the second trilogy set in the Nine Kingdoms world. I won't say too much because I don't want to spoil the first series at all, but the Nine Kingdoms is probably my favorite fantasy romance series. Great characters that make me fall in love with them.

The Perils of Pleasure (Pennroyal Green, Book 1) by Julie Anne Long

While there is suspense in this historical romance, I loved that the characters still actually fell in love - not just lust. I was rooting for them the whole way through and look forward to more from Julie Anne Long.

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice, Book 1) by George R.R. Martin

I started this book because of the (then) upcoming HBO series. Full of politics and intrigue, I was mostly drawn in by the characters. I've decided to read a book just before each new season starts, and I'm excited to see where we go next.
Be warned: If you need to know that your favorite characters are going to be okay, this is probably not the series for you. Mr. Martin has no qualms about killing off beloved characters.

Initiate (The Unfinished Song, Book 1) by Tara Maya

I started this book excited by the fresh book description. While it starts out a little slow (probably to be expected with it being the first book in a planned 12 book series), I was soon drawn in and couldn't put down my Kindle. I'm looking forward to reading much more from this author about these engaging characters.

Read my review here

Instant Attraction (Wilder Brothers, Book 1) by Jill Shalvis

A fun contemporary romance set against the backdrop of the Sierra Mountains. Katie and Cameron are both recovering from tragic events that have affected them deeply. Seeing them find peace and happiness with them was a true joy.


Living on the Edge (Edge, Book 1) by Shannon K. Butcher

I actually wanted to read the Sentinel series by Ms. Butcher, but this was available at the time I looked. It sounded like a good romantic suspense so I decided to give it a shot. After getting more than halfway through I decided I just couldn't finish it. I was just extremely bored throughout and decided this wasn't for me.

This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 5) by Jeaniene Frost

I've enjoyed the first 4 books in this series quite a bit. But this one was a huge disappointment to me. There was something missing here, and I'm still not quite sure what. There's something that kept me from being engaged in the story and characters here. I just didn't really care. I still look forward to each new release by Ms. Frost.

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, Book 1) by Molly Harper

Perhaps expectations were high for me on this one. I'd heard a lot about the humor of Molly Harper and was looking forward to a good book filled with laugh-out-loud moments. What I got was a bland story, filled with exposition, and what humor there was felt forced.

Dragon Bound (Elder Races, Book 1) by Thea Harrison

There was a ton of love of this book around the blog-o-sphere, but I had far too many problems with it.

Read my review here

Ascension (World of Ascension, Book 1) by Caris Roane

There was a lot of potential here, but the confusing, inconsistent world building and characters that seemed to act in strange ways kept me from really enjoying this book. I'll be happy to give something else of Ms. Roane's a chance in the future.

Shadow Kin (Half-Light City, Book 1) by M.J. Scott

Technical problems kept me from getting into this story, and made it far too easy for me to pick at the flaws that I saw. No seeming direction to the plot, erratic world building, and characters that were both weak and assholes left me with nothing to enjoy.

Read my review here

The disappointments were extremely disappointing, but looking at this list it's easy for me to see that there were far more great moments than bad. I'm looking forward to an even better year in 2012!!

What were some of your favorite, or disappointing, reads of 2011. What are you looking forward to in 2012?

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