2015 was a year of great books in the LGBTQ romance genre. I also had a good opportunity to catch up on some older books that were released previously. This is a list of my favorite books that I read in 2015. Not all these books were released in the year. I’ve grouped series books together as there’s really no point in filling up a top-ten list with books that are simply a continuation of a larger story.
Presented in backwards order, here goes:
10. Nightingale by Aleksandr Voinov.
My feelings on this book are still rather complicated, which is why I haven’t yet written my review. I waited a long time for this book to come out, due to a variety of factors, some of which were considered newsworthy in the world of M/M romance. Due to the delay, my expectations grew and grew around this book. Would it be as good as Skybound, a story I still consider to be the pinnacle of M/M romance?
The short answer is: not quite. While still a great book by all means, this book never quite managed to evoke the strong feelings in me that Skybound did. That may be intentional: in fact, the author has stated many times that Nightingale is not a romance, but an M/M historical novel. At that it excels wonderfully, creating a powerful sense of time and place and evoking the fear of the times marvelously. Nightingale still deserves a spot on my top 10 list for the year, even if it’s not the #1 spot I hoped it would take.
9. Gives Light by Rose Christo.
I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary stories in general, but Gives Light had a very high Goodreads rating and was available on Kindle Unlimited, so I figured I would give it a try with my new subscription. I was not disappointed. Skylar St. Clair is a young Native American man who has been rendered mute by the attacker who murdered his mother. When his father goes missing, he is taken to a reservation to live with his grandmother, where he learns about his culture and falls in love with the son of the man who killed his mother.
This book was a fantastic look into the contemporary lives of Native Americans and also a disability that is very often portrayed, yet rarely in any realistic way. I drank in every detail, enthralled by the author’s strong writing style. I’m currently reading the sequel, Looks Over, and can’t wait to burn through the rest of this series.
8. For Real by Alexis Hall.
I’ll confess, BDSM is a big mystery to me as far as real life goes, and I don’t actively seek it out in fiction, even though some of my favorite M/M books have strayed into BDSM territory to varying degrees. The reason I even tried this book at all was the beautiful cover and the fact that it was on sale.
What really blew me away was that I didn’t expect to relate so strongly to the main character, Toby. The author has done a great job of conveying the aimlessness of youth, the sensation of being filled with so much passion and energy but not having the skills or experience to make use of it. The whole book comes across as honest and real, driving me to tears on occasion towards the end. The writing was fantastic and really drew me in, so much so that I couldn’t put it down until the end.
7. The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr.
Take a free short story I loved first time around, expand it into a full-size novel, add a beautiful cover, and you’re bound to have a winner. Megan Derr is simply the best when it comes to M/M fantasy and she did not disappoint with The High King’s Golden Tongue. The world is dense, rich and deep, the story romantic whilst still having plenty of plot to chew on, and the characters just frustrating enough to be endearing instead of annoying in the way they dance around one another.
The High King’s Golden Tongue is a long novel, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. I loved every moment and it deserves its place on my top 10 of the year.
6. Oren’s Right by Blaine D. Arden.
Beautiful and unique are the two words that come to mind when I think of Oren’s Right. This is the second book on this list with a mute main character, and just like Gives Light, this disability is presented in a realistic and compassionate light without minimizing or dismissing it. Other issues of consent, BDSM and the death of a previous partner rear their heads in this story and are always addressed with the seriousness they deserve, without the book being waded down by them. Oren’s Right is a lovely fantasy story with a rich world, fully-realized characters and some amazing writing. I adored this story and would love to return to this world.
5. When Skies Have Fallen by Debbie McGowan
My love of WWII-era LGBTQ fiction is well-established, so when I saw this book available as part of the Love Is An Open Road event, I swooped in and read it cover-to-cover. It did not disappoint. Arty and Jim were lovely characters and I adored reading about their struggles to exist as a couple when doing so was against the law. I’m still meaning to buy a hard copy for my Books To Keep Forever physical paperback shelf.
4. The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr.
This book actually came out in 2013, but I didn’t get the chance to read it until 2015. I absolutely adored this fantasy tale about military engineers mingled with political intrigue, an arranged marriage that becomes loving, and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. My absolute favorite kind of LGBTQ romance is the sort that is as heavy on the plot as the romance, and Megan Derr is fantastic at delivering the kind of novel I want to read in that respect. Absolutely fantastic, and a book I definitely want to read again in the future.
3. The Rymellan Trilogy: Disobedience Means Death/Shattered Lives/The Triad by Sarah Ettritch.
Lesbian dystopian romance? Oh yes, count me in! That was my response when I first heard about the Rymellan books. It took me a long time to finally get around to reading these books, but once I started, I found I just couldn’t stop until I’d read all three books and the associated novella. This is actually an F/F romance that becomes F/F/F and that may turn some people off, but I loved the fact that the couple established in the first book had to figure out how to balance their lives with a third partner that they didn’t choose, but by the laws of their society have to marry. The careful balancing act the three must endure is fascinating to watch, and the author doesn’t pretend that they always take it with grace – yet it’s often when the characters are acting like spoiled children that they seem most human.
2. The Free Men Trilogy: The Slave/The Soldier/The Master by Kate Aaron.
I have a complicated relationship with slave fiction. I love the concept, but all too often it becomes an opportunity for non-con/rape-fic, which really isn’t something I like or want to read.
Fortunately, The Free Men Trilogy sidesteps this. Tamelik is a slave, but he genuinely loves his master and wants to be in a relationship with him. This leads to a lot of delicious angst as the master, Lysander, cares for Tam but cannot, by the rules of his society, engage Tam as an equal. So he hatches a plot: by sending Tam to the slave market to choose another slave, Tam can have someone of his own to love. Kai is at first reluctant, but comes to love Tam and Lysander in his own way, and the three embark on an M/M/M relationship that is filled with yearning, respect, and desire.
Book Of The Year: Carry The Ocean by Heidi Cullinan.
If you’d told me a contemporary romance was going to be my book of the year, I likely would have made a derisive sound and sent you on your merry way. But then, I wasn’t expecting Carry The Ocean to come into my life. This sensitive, thoughtful story about two men with disabilities (one on the autism spectrum, and the other with crippling depression) is literally a life-changing read. I laughed with Emmet and cried with Jeremey long after I’d turned the final page. I can’t wait for the sequel, which will be an insta-buy for me as soon as it’s released.