2021 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

The last two years when I posted my Reading Years in Review, I was asked to provide more detail on the books I read that were category romance, and that was so well received, it looks like this is going to be another annual tradition here on the blog. (Click on these links to read the 2019 and 2020 rankings.) So once again, I’m providing a list of the romance titles I read over the past year ranked by heat level. For those who might be unfamiliar with that term, it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. There are several technical guides and explanations for how to rate such things if you go looking for them online, but I’ll summarize the widely accepted definitions below.

Continue reading “2021 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level”

2021 Reading Year in Review

Here we are on the last day of 2021, and I’m confident I won’t finish by tonight the book I’m currently in the middle of reading, so I’ll just go ahead and do my 2021 Reading Year in Review post now. In case you haven’t seen these posts in the past when I’ve done them and would like more context for why I write them, please click here for 2019 and here for 2020.

The short version is that I’m happiest when I’m reading a lot for fun. Not just reading student papers (which I can enjoy but which is work), not just reading emails or social media posts (rarely fun, and usually decidedly worse), not just reading my critique partners’ manuscripts (can be enjoyable but definitely uses a different part of my reading brain). Reading for pleasure is actually one of the few activities that I can reliably depend on for a dopamine hit. I love reading when I’m reading something good.

So in an effort to read fun books more, and in an effort to broaden my reading diet, I started several years ago keeping a list of the books I read each year. The listmaking accomplished both of these goals really well. I will admit, though, my pleasure reading quota this year was not quite as many books as I would have liked, nor were the titles on it as broadly varied as I typically strive for. Part of this was because of the overwhelm of my job, which was really something else entirely this year — so I read fewer books overall — and part of it was my apparent need for predictably happy endings in the stories I was reading — so I read more category romance. I also started writing (actually drafting, not just making notes and transcribing random scenes from my imagination) a romance this year, too, so that influenced my choices somewhat. Finally, I took some poetry classes over the summer and am working on another poetry collection; the beneficial effect this had on my reading list was to add more poetry titles.

It’s useful to note that on my list, I will include books I reread, but if I read them more than once in a single year (which happens occasionally, particularly when I’m studying a text), I will list them only once. Books I read but which are not yet published will not be listed here, nor will I list books which I started but did not finish (or do not intend to finish). You might notice that some of these titles are part of one series or another and when I enjoy a series, I tend to keep reading it, even if I don’t typically binge all of the books one right after another. 

So without further explanation, here is my 2021 Reading Year in Review. (I’ll do a little more category analysis after the list.)

Here are some of the books I read. Obviously not pictured are ones on my Kindle or laptop (which ended up being a lot this year), ones that are at school (campus is closed), ones which have gone through my Little Free Library, and ones which I’ve lent out to friends or family members.

All At Once by Brill Harper
Any Rogue Will Do by Bethany Bennett
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Meaty by Samantha Irby
Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen
The Millionaire Booklet by Grant Cardone
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton! by Chuck Wending
The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons by The New Yorker
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Sugared Game by KJ Charles
The Warrior King by Abigail Owens
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Ten More Poems by James Hoff
Lullaby by Christine Hume
Almost Perfect Forms by Michael Stewart
City: Bolshevik Super-Poem in Five Cantos by Manual Maples Arce
Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
You Can Never Tell by Sarah Warburton
The Cure for Writer’s Block by Andrew Mayne
Funny Business by Kayley Loring
Witch Please by Ann Aguirre
Their Nerd by Allyson Lindt
If She Says Yes by Tasha L. Harrison
Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
Dearly by Margaret Atwood
All Together by Brill Harper
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Old Cities by Marcel Brouwers
Blame It on the Mistletoe by Beth Garrod

So now for a little light category analysis — and please note that a few of these titles actually fit comfortably in more than one category.

There are 34 books on this list. I mostly read narrative fiction this year, which is typical for me as it is my favorite thing to read, by far. But I also read other genres:
* non-fiction — 7 titles
* poetry — 6 titles
* plays — 1 title
* humor — 4 titles
* graphic forms — 3 titles

Most of what I read is typically considered adult fiction, but I do also like YA. In the YA category, I read 3 titles this year: Cinderella Is Dead, Before We Disappear, and Blame It on the Mistletoe. And while the three YA titles I read this year might also be marketed as YA romance, I’m not including them as category romance because I think the other important plot elements (and in fact, their entire overarching narratives) really do bear more of the weight in those stories.

And that’s it, my reading list for 2021! I had a generally good year for reading, not gonna lie. Watch in the coming days for a post on this year’s romance titles ranked by heat level, which is something a few of you excellent blog readers requested a couple of years ago and which has been a hit every time I’ve done it.

So…what on this list is interesting to you? Have you read any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? Would you like a review of any of these books? Let me know in the comments.

Do You Know What Doesn’t Suffer From Supply-Chain Problems?

Happy Small Business Saturday!

I hope you’ve had a lovely Thanksgiving (for those of you celebrating it) or else just a very nice week. Here in the US we have launched ourselves full-force into the holiday season, and the day after Black Friday is Small Business Saturday, a day designated to encourage and buy from small businesses in an effort to shop local and indie. And something useful to remember is that authoring is a business, and therefore every author is a small business owner. (That includes me!)

I have several items that might be of interest to you and yours:

  • My books include Finis. and Homecoming in the Animal Affinities series (urban fantasy), and The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry). I also currently have the international anthology The Milk of Female Kindness–An Anthology of Honest Motherhood available; I was one of the lead contributors on that project, which includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and art.
FINIS. (Book 1) – $5.99
HOMECOMING (Book 2) – $5.99
THE SHARP EDGES OF WATER – $13.00
(not pictured: THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS – $15.00)

 

  • I have my zine, Sonic Chihuahua, issues 1-7 in stock. (Click on this link to see what’s in each issue.) These are $3 each and include poetry, essays, fiction, art, recipes, interviews, and fun-and-games. Rejoice in the 90stalgia that is this fabulous and popular zine!
Click on the link above to see the Table of Contents for each issue!

 

  • Poetry art cards, which include my handmade designs and often my poetry on them, are blank on the inside and — with your thoughtful note written in — make lovely gifts in themselves, suitable for framing. Click here to see all 19 designs in more detail. Cards are $8 each.
Click on the link in the description to see the individual cards.

 

You can order all of these items from me directly. You can also see all of these, plus my handmade jewelry and decorated blank journals, at the Sawyer Yards Market on December 11th.

Although you can buy my books Finis., Homecoming, and The Sharp Edges of Water in bookstores — and I hope you will! — you can also buy them directly from me. Just leave a note in the comments about it, and I’ll be in touch with you, or else email me (forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com), and I’ll put your items in the mail to you right away. (I recommend you order from me before December 12th for the best chance of receiving your package in time for Christmas, if that’s what you’re aiming for.) Shipping costs will be as low as I can make them.

Of course you can also get my books from Amazon and Bookshop and other big online retailers. If you’d like to get them from local and indie bookstores — and I encourage you to do so! — I know they’re currently on the shelves at Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston) and The Twig Bookshop (San Antonio). And any bookstore can order it from Ingram if they don’t currently have any copies left in stock. (Interesting note about Amazon: they currently have Finis. and Homecoming on sale, though I don’t know how long that promotion will go for.)

So that’s it! I hope you’ll support your local and indie shops and authors and makers, not just now at the holiday season but all year round. Happy holidays to you! And thank you for your support.

Author Events Coming Up for This Fall and Winter

You know, after the last year and a half of pandemic, I really didn’t know when I’d ever be able to promote any author events on this blog again. I mean, I just didn’t know when it would be safe to have in-person fun again.

Well, things are hopeful. So a veritable bevy of fun events has landed on my desk, and I’m gobbling them up! Rest assured, I will have a bottle of hand sanitizer on my table at each one, and even though I’m vaccinated, I’ll still be masked up, because this pandemic isn’t over yet. But also, my professional life must go on as much as possible, so here we go.

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November 7-9, 2021 — Kinkaid School Book Fair — Come find me at my author table on Sunday 5:00-7:00 p.m. and Monday 12:00-2:00 p.m. And a side note? This is always a super fun event because Book Fair is my favorite holiday and ours is one of the biggest of any school anywhere, but wow it’s the most awkward appearance I ever do, because my students are there and kind of look at me from across the room like I’m some kind of a cryptid, scared to come talk to me outside of the context of my classroom. But I promise, folks, you can bring your friendly and familiar faces over. It will all be okay, and I’ll be thrilled to see you!

November 13, 2021 — Zine Fest Houston — This is my first time at Zine Fest, and I’m super excited to introduce SONIC CHIHUAHUA to a larger audience! I will have all back issues available and hopefully even November’s issue as well! If you’re a regular subscriber/reader of SC you’ll be able to get your copy here without having to wait for the usual delivery methods. Find me (and Han) there from 12:00-4:30 p.m.; the location is The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art at 2334 Gulf Terminal Dr.; Houston, TX 77023. Learn more about the event here.

December 11, 2021 — Market at Sawyer Yards — Fellow author Adam Holt and I are headed back at the Sawyer Yards Arts Market! I’ll have books, zines, jewelry, journals, and handmade stationery. Come do some holiday shopping without the fear of supply chain or shipping delays! Come see us 11:00-5:00 that day. The location is 1502 Sawyer Street; Houston, TX 77007. Find more details here.

January 29, 2022 — BrazCon — Everyone’s favorite teen comics convention has returned! Join us in Freeport (very close to Houston) from 9:30-3:30 that Saturday for a family-friendly event loaded with panels, vendors, and special guest appearances. Even better — it’s free! This wonderful festival is put on by the Brazoria County Library System. I’ve been there numerous times and always have a wonderful experience. Click here for more details.

February 5, 2022 — The Twig Bookshop — I’m ecstatic to be doing my first author event in San Antonio, Texas! Come see me at The Twig Bookshop downtown in the Pearl Brewery complex during their weekend open-air market — which, by the way, has the best beignets I’ve ever eaten in my life, even better than Café du Monde (don’t @ me, just try them). I’ll be there Saturday 11:00-1:00 and so excited to see you! The Twig is located at 306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 106; San Antonio, Texas 78215. Click here to see their website.

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Wow, those are a lot of events! I really hope to see you at some or all of them. Have a great November!

Witchy Weekends: Review of WITCH PLEASE by Ann Aguirre

Witch Please by Ann Aguirre is an entertaining paranormal rom-com that nibbles at some important social issues without treading into heavy-handed territory.

Danica Waterhouse lives with her first cousin Clementine in a small midwestern town. They own a fix-it shop and perform technomancy, a form of magic that repairs broken gadgets, appliances, and electronics, for their fellow townspeople. The catch, though, is that they can’t let anyone know they’re using actual magic, because for one thing, they can’t let people know that witches (the actual magical kind who have metaphysical powers) are real, and for another, they don’t want to bring witch hunters onto themselves and their coven. (Or, as they like to call themselves, their “book club.”)

The challenge comes in when Danica meets Titus, a mundane (i.e. not a witch), and they have instant romantic chemistry. And since this book is firmly in the romance genre, working out whether they’ll end up together is most of the plot. But the journey through that plot is pretty fun.

I won’t lie, this book feels like a confection sometimes, and not just because Titus is a supremely talented baker. But Witch Please does begin to explore deeper issues, too, including real-life dangers and prejudices against pagans, bigotry rooted in fear, emotional manipulation within families, and the importance of ride-or-die friendships against the pull of one’s heart.

Other reviews online have made some valid points about some of this book’s features and quirks that are not satisfying for every reader, particularly Titus’ arguably underdeveloped bisexuality and the question of whether the varying gray shades of honesty within their relationship would work well in the real world.

The second book in this series focuses on Clem, and the foundation of her storyline is significantly developed, dovetailing quite nicely with Danica’s in this first book. I haven’t read the second one yet, but since I generally enjoyed Witch Please, at some point I’m sure I probably will.

What fun witchy books have you read? Or entertaining romances? Tell us in the comments!

Witchy Weekends: Review of Deborah Blake’s New Book

I encountered this book when Alethea Kontis recommended it on her #FriendlyFridays series, and since I’m fascinated by spellbooks as cultural artifacts, I checked it out. While it was published earlier this year, it took several weeks to arrive after the presumed release date due to the supply chain woes currently hampering the book industry (as well as most other industries right now). But it was definitely worth the wait; this is a fun one!

The Eclectic Witch’s Book of Shadows by Deborah Blake is part grimoire, part journal, part recipe collection, and part friendly encyclopedia. It is both practical and entertaining, with a wealth of competent knowledge that any practitioner from New Age to hobbyist to pagan can find real value in. It also contains ample space for the reader to add plenty of their own knowledge and experience to make this a truly personal book of shadows.

This cover art gives you a good idea of what the interior illustrations look like.

The sections included in this book include herbs, stones, candles, magical recipes, divination, gods and goddesses, invocations and quarter calls, spells, rituals, recipes, and correspondences. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet radiates respectful kindness of the faith practices (and to some extent psychology) of a healthy swath of the population.

This book contains charming and colorful illustrations by Mickie Mueller, the kind that give off a peaceful and cheerful vibe. This is not the sort of book conspicuous Goths like Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade (from SNL’s Goth Talk, ca. 1997-2000) would gravitate toward, but a useful and fun book that could be appreciated by a young or new practitioner and an experienced one and everyone in between — as well as those who, like me, find this genre of literature interesting for its peek into another worldview.

24 Hours Left…

Hey there! If you were on the fence about taking my Gothic Story Elements class this Saturday afternoon, please note that you have about 24 hours left to sign up for it. (That *might* be flexible, but seriously do it before tomorrow evening.) The course will be conducted over Zoom — and you don’t need your own Zoom account, since you’ll get a link to join at registration — so you can take it from anywhere online.

Writespace sometimes offers discounts on classes at the last minute, and it looks like they’re doing that with mine, woot! If you want that discount code, let me know ASAP.

You can register for the course here.

Here’s the course description, too, in case you missed it before…

GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS

photo by Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

What do a darkly beautiful aesthetic, #WitchyGirlAutumn, and a tantalizing sense of foreboding all have in common? They can be part of the rich pageant of Gothic story elements that make so many “classic” — or “forbidden” — literary pleasures so deep. In this three-hour generative workshop, we will dip our feet into the chilling waters of Gothic literature to find out what that genre entails. Expect a multi-faceted exploration as we discuss a range of examples in visual art, film, music, and mentor texts. Our writing time will include the opportunity to use these Gothic  elements to begin a story or enhance one you’ve already started. Students will have the option of sharing what they’ve written during the workshop. Come with your favorite writing utensils (a laptop, a legal pad and sharpened pencils, a leather-bound journal and a fancy feather quill—whatever works for you). Let’s kick off the Gothic season in writing style!

All levels of writing experience welcome.

Why, Yes, Virginia, Adulthood IS A Myth!

Believe it or not — and if you know me, this won’t be a stretch for you to believe — I am still working through the requested reviews from my Books I Read in 2020 list! Seriously, thank you to everyone who requested those reviews. I appreciate your engagement so much, and I’ve had fun revisiting so many of the titles I read last year.

At this point, I’ve finished almost all of the requests, either as blog posts or as book chat videos I was doing for a while with my friend Kara. And I now have three books left to tell you about. Allow me to knock one of those off the list today while the next chapter of the new novel I’m writing incubates in my subconscious…

 

 

If you type “adulthood is overrated” into a Google search bar, you will get umpteen kajillion sites with articles or products or other content declaiming this travesty against our youthful expectations. Normale.

Adulthood Is A Myth, a compendium of comics by Sarah Anderson about the travails of becoming an adult, takes this pseudo-despair about growing up into “real life” one step sideways. Her comics are amusing and well drawn; they dive deep into the maelstrom of emotions that is the proverbial Human Condition with just the right levels of snark, angst, and immense relatability.

It would be easy to dismiss Anderson’s collection as a lot of comics about millennials not being able to get their shit together, but it would be wrong and ageist to do that. The fact is, adulthood is not a state of being that comes with a manual, despite the proliferation of self-help books related to the subject. Most of the time we observe the world around us and the generations that came before us to find answers, and our life trajectories are shaped by world events. And thanks largely to technology (which has changed not only the metaphorical size of our world but also our ability to view and interact with it), 21st-century young adults have a really different row to hoe from all of us who came before them. Frankly, Gen Z is basically a generation of cyborgs — and as a parent of kids in Gen Z, I mean that in the most loving and practical way.

The comics in Anderson’s collection aren’t really about that, though, which is one reason this book has such wide appeal. It’s about human interaction and daily, practical functioning and the challenging emotions so many of us experience regardless of age or time of life. Moreover, she does it all with a wryness that will make you feel maybe just slightly superior (in a non-snotty way) if you’re generally competent at adulting, and make you feel absolutely seen and heard and understood and even maybe cared for if for you, like for most of us, managing this American life is challenging sometimes.

I really enjoyed this book and will admit I gobbled it up in about an hour, cover to cover.

I’m also not squeamish about telling you that I did it late on a Saturday afternoon, with a basket of laundry next to me, sitting on the floor at the top of the stairs where I had gotten distracted by seeing the book on top of a pile next to Han’s desk and decided it was the right time for me to stop and read a book even though I was literally in the middle of doing a household chore.

(And if that doesn’t give you some context of where my head was or why this book hits all the right notes, I’m not sure anything will.)

Be well!

My Little Free Library: A Note

Yesterday when I went out to put some more books into my Little Free Library I found this delightful thank-you note.

I love being the steward of a Little Free Library. Sometimes the people who use it will leave me thank-you notes or holiday cards telling me how much the LFL means to them, how much they love having one in our neighborhood. I cannot even tell you how much I love and appreciate that our LFL has been embraced by our community! Honestly, it sees a brisk business and has been largely self-sustaining since about two or three weeks after my husband built and installed it, several years ago. (He’s working on an extension for it now, a large shelf to attach to the bottom, for taller children’s books. I’ll be sure to post about it once it’s done.)

Every now and then, my stock runs a little low. I’ll start running out of certain genres of books from the substantial pile of them that runs along the wall of our dining room. In particular, new releases and more recent hardcovers, especially in the YA category, tend not to make their way back home to the LFL. But I don’t mind much, because as far as I’m concerned, if someone falls in love with one of our books and cannot part with it, okay. I’m happy to have helped make that bookish love connection! And usually people will leave something else in its place, so the stock is always rotating. Periodically, I’ll put out a call among my friends and colleagues to see if anyone has any books they want to donate, and folks always come through. So there will always be more books.

Here is what I would tell the thoughtful stranger who placed this note for me yesterday:

I’m so sorry you lost your books in your move. That happened to me once, when I was in college. My parents moved from the house I’d grown up in to a new place in the middle of the semester, so I wasn’t there to participate in a meaningful way. I lost a whole crate of paperbacks, some of which I’ve never been able to replace. It still makes me a little sad, because books are such a part of who I am and have always been. I’ll keep putting more books into this Little Free Library, and you’re welcome to keep taking them. Let me know what you like to read, and I’ll keep an eye out for that for you. Welcome to the neighborhood.  🙂

Happy reading, everyone!