Countdown to a New Year, December 31: Amy Jo Cousins
From December 20 through December 31, Binge on Books will be hosting a series of posts each day counting down to the new year. Joined by authors, publishers, and fellow bloggers, this series will focus on takeaways from 2017 and what we can look forward to in 2018. Think the biggest, longest, most book-filled reflection of the past year and the hopes and dreams for the new one all wrapped into one: that’s Binge on Books’ Countdown to a New Year. Come see what your favorite members of the book world have to say about the past year and what’s up next for them in the year to come!
**Plus every day in the countdown will feature prize packs of ARCs and book giveaways plus a final BIG giveaway of a Kindle Fire! Enter every day for a chance to win!**
2017 has been one damn rough year.
From the personal to the political, this year has been pretty much nonstop stress and anger and sadness for me, and I didn’t actually read a ton of new books this year. In these kinds of situations, I tend to do a lot of comfort rereading instead, especially of mystery and SFF novels, and let me tell you…my bookcase got a workout. But when I picked up a new book this year, I made some stellar choices, so I’m here to tell you about my favorite reads of 2017.
Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole makes 1917 Harlem come alive, with the politicians and nightclub owners, the prostitutes and church ladies, the immigrants and the police, the number runners and the hairdressers, all moving in and out of each other’s orbits in a tight-knit world of labor and corruption and gossip and kindness. Bertha is magnificent. She is fierce and demanding and controlling and care-taking. And Amir is angry and judgmental and kind and sexy as hell. I just loved the both of them, and the secondary characters too. This is the kind of book where, after I finished it, I wanted to turn right back to page one and start all over again. It’s fantastic. (Alyssa’s Civil War series that starts with An Extraordinary Union is also recommended, but brace yourself. I was so tense reading it, I almost gnawed my own hand off.)
My number one goal for 2018 is to get Hillary Clinton to read Hamilton’s Battalion by Sarah Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole (yes, Alyssa again!). This collection of novellas set during and after the American Revolutionary war is magnificent, bringing us one of the angriest heroines it has ever been my absolute pleasure to read, along with so many missing pieces of American history: Jewish soldiers fighting in the hope of creating a nation where they will be welcome, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and bit about cheese that really ought to be in the history books. I did the literal LOL thing, and then pages later I would find myself crying, because there’s a lot of truth, painful honesty, and compassion in this book.
Yoon Ha Lee has blogged about how he didn’t intend to write about being trans in a book, because that would touch too close to home, but realizing he’d done it anyway with Ninefox Gambit. He’s also written a brilliant military sf book about math, sacrifice, loyalty, manipulation, madness, and revolution. I found it intensely apropos to current events and brilliantly written. Oddly enough, I particularly recommend this book to Tolstoy fans, especially those who read SFF too.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson is a gorgeous story of love and magic, gods and math, wending through time and a world where men dance and war while women study. Beautiful writing, really intriguing worldbuilding, with a gorgeous and risky m/m romance, I was full of stress reading this one because I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a romance novel or a SFF novel with strong romantic elements. The HEA did not seem guaranteed, which leads to Much Anxiety. But it is indeed a romance novel, and a beautiful one.
The Infamous Miss Rodriguez by Lydia San Andres is a historical romance set in the Spanish Caribbean. The opening scene of this book hooked me in an instant, as the heroine plots to get herself into a big enough scandal to convince her fiancé to end their engagement, while the heroine’s aunt calmly ignores her every provocation. Add a conflicted but admiring hero, excellent secondary characters, a saturated sense of place, a sharp awareness of class issues, and a terrifically witty narrative voice, and this delightful book became one of my favorite historical romances of the year.
I am a huge fan of the holiday novella and this past year of reading gave me two of my favorites: The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish and Suleikha Snyder’s story in the Silver Belles anthology, “A Taste of Blessings.” Suleikha’s story is set during the Indian holiday of Durga Puja and is full of large community gatherings, much food, and gossiping aunties. I was so happy to find it in an anthology of stories featuring characters over forty. Roan’s Corbin Wale is a fey loner who is very gently invited to share meals and friends and more by a magical baker (yes, magical) whose return to the small town where his mother lives is complicated by many feelings about his own failures and possible futures. A fairytale with a clear eye for the real world, The Remaking of Corbin Wale was a pure pleasure.
When I’m stressed (and 2017 was pretty much nonstop stress, as previously discussed), I reread more than pick up new books. This year, I did a lot of rereading, including a week-long binge of everything KJ Charles has ever written. (Happy sighs. That was awesome.) Spectred Isle by KJ Charles kicks off her latest series, the Green Men, and ties in to her Simon Feximal stories. Post WWI, a small handful of remaining occultists and arcanists are left from the wreckage of the battlefield to protect England from ever-growing magical threats. The two men who feature in Spectred Isle are wounded and jaded and pretty damn miserable, until they meet each other, figure out they’re better off working together than yelling at each other, and save the world. Not a bad day’s work.
This one’s for the epistolary fans! Zen Cho is a delightful writer, witty and kind and full of sparkling insight. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is recorded in the journal entries and letters of Jade Yeo, who writes articles about dress hemlines for women’s magazines and one scandalously scathing book review for a literary mag, Zen Cho’s book sings with the wittiness of Austen or KJ Charles. I love Jade’s blunt honesty and also her utter obliviousness to the lovely man who’s absolutely fallen for her.
Devin Harnois’s Rainbow Islands exists because of a tumblr post where the replies to a homophobic comment about gays and lesbians dying out if they were all sent to separate islands became the outline of a killer dystopian LGBTQ adventure novel. If I hadn’t seen that original tumblr post, I might have found the worldbuilding a little too precious, but because I had read it, the entire story was just nonstop fun.
The best nonfiction book I read this year (and one of the best I’ve ever read) is The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. We do a terrible job in this country of teaching ourselves our own history, and Rothstein’s book rewrote the past one hundred years for me, showing me how our nation’s racial segregation was codified by hundreds of laws and explicit government regulations. This book will radically change your understanding of how segregation happened and how our attempts to stop it in the future did nothing to address the calculated damage done by 20th century laws creating and enforcing systemic racial oppression.
Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman is a sweet, funny, Jewish f/f romance about two artists, a painter and the yarn dyer who is inspired by the painter’s color palette. This novella is a super charming, closed-door romance about two delightful women who navigate the early days of a relationship with caution and care for each other’s sore spots. It’s just lovely.
One of the proudest bits of 2017, for me, has been my involvement in the Rogue anthologies. Kicked off on Twitter by Emma Barry’s brainstorming about a couple admitting they were in love amidst a constitutional crisis involving the president, the Rogue anthologies became the place for us to fight all our fears by writing about our hopes for those battling on the side of equality and compassion and science and the power of government service to do good and not evil, while guaranteeing nonstop HEAs. (WHICH WE ALL NEED. IT’S NOT JUST ME. THROW US A FRIGGING BONE, 2017.) I have loved reading all of my anthology-mates’ stories, but Kris Ripper’s story in Rogue Affair has a special place in my heart. A widowed female president and her bodyguard, a younger trans man, fall in love so gradually and with such care for each other, my heart was made happy.
I don’t generally do well with serials, as my impatience knows no bounds and I am easily frustrated by cliffhangers and waiting. But I started reading Mia West’s post-Roman Empire Into the Fire series when all the books were already out and collected into multi-book volumes, plus I’ve loved her Tell Me When time travel erotica series (don’t get me started about the volume that made me cry my eyes out, which was not what I expected from time travel erotica!) and her Grizzly Rim shifter books. Her writing just clicks with me. I’m still working my way through this one, rewarding myself with a new volume when I’ve accomplished something particularly onerous, and I love reading about the developing relationship between the ex-Roman soldier and the powerful blacksmith who are traveling together across the wasteland of a fallen empire.
Maybe my favorite book of 2017, period, Peter Darling by Austin Chant is magic. It’s about the loyalty of fairies and adventure, the dangers of rage and forgetting, swirling frock coats and fabulous boots, and the seductive lure of imagining yourself as the hero, even as you figure out that you might be the bad guy. It’s funny, and heartbreaking, and always, always full of hope, with a HEA that made my heart happy. “”That’s the trick of growing up. Nothing stays the same.” Hook sounded oddly sympathetic. “You see the faults in everything. Including yourself.””
Okay, so it turns out, I read even more great books in 2017 than I’d remembered. Here’s hoping 2018 reading will be done for reasons of pleasure and not mental health protection! Help me kick off the year right by telling me your favorite reads of 2017? Thank you!
Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series again. Amy Jo is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.
Connect with Amy Jo: Website
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