Edwin's Best Books of 2016

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Ellie has kindly asked me to write about my favourite books this year, so I had a think and this is what I came up with: a top 10, and some honourable mentions in no particular order. Obviously this is only what I read: there's some well-reviewed stuff I didn't get around to reading this year. I've also limited myself to one entry per author. Finally, it is a list of books I *read* this year. Some of these (notably my favourite book of the year!) came out earlier but I did not read them until now.

With that said, here are my favourite novels of 2016!

Top 10:

1) Ariah - B R Sanders
One of the first books I read this year and, at the end of it, still the best thing I've read. At one level, this is a bildungsroman set in a fantasy world - watching a talented young man - Ariah - grow into his magical powers. So far, so standard fantasy. But that's not really what's special about this book. At heart, the novel invites us to empathise with people who are different from us, think differently from us, and love differently from us. Nearly a year later, this book still affects me.

2) Where We Left Off - Roan Parrish
A perfectly written book that made me buy something I never buy: a one-sided crush turning into a relationship. The book gets me to accept than a wide-eyed romantic and a cynical hedonist can be each other's soul mates. It never insists on a traditional romantic arc and tries something very brave: a legit Happy For Now. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the main characters broke up 6 months after the end of the book, and I still think it's romantic as hell.

3) Seven Summer Nights - Harper Fox
This is Fox's (excellent) Tyack & Frayne series on steroids. A big, twisty book that takes on big, twisty ideas, braiding together seemingly disparate strands of pagan anti-authoritarianism, a historical mystery, dreamlike magic realism, post-war PTSD and a reciprocal hurt/comfort romance into a single narrative that, miraculously, entirely holds together. It's as if Pat Barker and Angela Carter wrote a queer romance together (which, if you had any doubts, is a glorious thing).

4) A Gentleman's Position - KJ Charles
This is not, I think, the best book in Charles' Society of Gentlemen series (that would be the second book, A Seditious Affair), but it is still one of the best books to come out this year. Making a stuck up prig like Richard Vane an (eventually) appealing romantic hero is some achievement. A reflection on class, love, wealth, and responsibility, with the fantastic David Cyprian as the other romantic lead, it's a book (along with the rest of the series) I'll happily re-read for years to come.

5) Fast Connection - Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
This is basically a cheat. I'd limited myself to one book per author, and this allows me to fit two writers who both deserve individual entries (for Out of Frame and Interborough) in one spot! Simultaneously light and fun and a realistic portrayal of two bisexual men who are unsure about the whole relationship thing, it's one of the most effortless-seeming books I've read this year which, I'm sure, means that it was anything but to write.

6) Triad Blood - 'Nathan Burgoine
Excellent queer urban fantasy with a unique setup. In this world, magic works in threes, and magical beings need to be in groups of 3 to have power. It's always 3 demons, 3 wizards, or 3 vampires, but here we see a vampire, a demon, and a wizard form a triad with each other. The story is essentially about them trying to keep themselves safe from the rest of Ottawa's (!?) paranormal crowd. Bonus for the understated, and interestingly asymetric, not-quite-romance we get between the members of the Triad.

7) Gays of Our Lives - Kris Ripper
The whole series is excellent but this is my favourite. Grumpy ass grump falls in love with ridiculous hipster mostly against his will. Obie is just such an appealing love interest, and the risk Ripper takes at having a main character as misanthropic as Emerson really pays off. Well observed and takes seriously the idea that romance is for everybody (something that much LGBT romance only pays lip service to).

8) Jamie Brodie Mysteries - Meg Perry
My love for this series is a little odd. It's competently written but no better than that, and the mysteries that provide the plot drive for each book are workmanlike but not amazing, once you get past the cute premise of an academic librarian as a detective. But what makes this almost unique in the m/m world is we see a couple go from first hookup then follow them through 13 books (and counting!) of negotiating a relationship and a life together. And it's hard. Jamie and Pete deal with sexual incompatiblity, secret keeping, financial insecurity, jealousy, health scares, family trouble, work stress, frequent silly bickering and overcome it all. Some might not be interested in seeing a relationship with so many negatives depicted, but to me seeing them go through all that and choose to stay together makes this the most satisfying relationship I've read this year.
9) Looking for Group - Alexis Hall
As niche a book as you're likely to find - a contemporary new adult romance set at least half the time in an MMO, and told to a significant extent through chat logs. It can be (and by all account was) offputting to a lot of people, but as a queer MMO nerd I really appreciated it for what it was: a sweet, low-key romance about the value and validity of online relationships. Really well written, too.
10) Shadow Valley series - Devin Harnois
Paranormal YA done right. Teenage boy finds out he's a fae changeling, moves to magic town to be instructed in how to hide his powers from the outside world. He quickly makes friends with a half-dragon bad boy, and their bi guy/straight guy friendship is the core of the series. They both date other people, but this deep connection between Aiden and Dylan is really the most important relationship, and that's great to see. Cool world, well drawn characters, and teenages who act like teenagers. A five book series and the final book just came out. What's not to like? 


Honourable mentions:

Here's to You, Zeb Pike / Thanks a Lot, John LeClair - Johanna Parkhurst
A well-written YA m/m romance duology that does a really good job of showing the real difficulties of being a queer teenage boy but also puts it in perspective - these boys have a heap of other problems, and being gay is only one of them.

Unravelling Josh - Edie Danford
College romance (loosely linked to Danford's other Ellery College books) that's smoking hot but also deeply reflective, warm hearted, and non-judgmental. I enjoyed this a lot.

Must Like Spinach - Con Riley
Just such a nice, warm book to read. Very slow burn romance between two leads you grow to love by the end of the book, with a great supporting cast.

Save of the Game - Avon Gale
I like all of Gale's hockey books; this is my favourite. Two men figuring out they're bi, figuring out they like each other, pretty much zero freaking out ensues. Great stuff, enormous fun, and grew on me upon rereading: I like it more now than I did when I first read it.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Amy Jo Cousins
A two novella collection in Cousins' Bend or Break series. Both continue the trend of enormously likeable leads and believable, respectful young queer men. Cousins remains the best writer of college m/m going.

Hold Me - Courtney Milan
Outrageously enjoyable enemies to lovers/friends to lovers double bill, with both descriptions applying to the same couple. Not a lot of books I had more fun with this year.

*** *** ***

As a bonus, how about some genuinely excellent free stuff?!

Here are some pieces of fiction I enjoyed a lot this year that you can find for free online.

When Your Child Strays From God - Sam J Miller http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/miller_07_15/
A SF short story, and word for word the most emotionally affecting thing I read this year.

Hotblood! - Toril Orlesky http://hotbloodcomic.com/page/276
A webcomic about gay centaurs in the old west. Enough said.



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