Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2012

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What a spectacular year for great books in every genre from historical to fantasy! I have read so many wonderful books and series this year that it is hard to even begin to narrow down the list, although I have tried. What makes a book great for me? So many things, that it needs its own list.

The books I listed here are ones that moved me to tears and made me laugh out loud, they took me to places I have never been to see sights fantastic, miraculous, and awe inspiring. I have watched dragons soar and seen twin suns set over alien worlds. Through these wonderful authors I have met people who continue to stay with me through the power of their stories and the connectedness that I feel with each of the characters I have read about. Sometimes the books have taught me something about myself and how I looked at others or just gave me a deeper appreciation for my fellow beings.

I have grieved with men who have lost their soul mates, been with them as they worked through the trauma and loss, and celebrated as they moved forward with their lives. I watched men fall in love, whether it be with shifters, wizards, or just a man they met on the side of the road. Love lost, love found or lovers rediscovering the best about each other…that seems to know no boundaries as far as who you are and what world you inhabit. It doesn’t even matter whether the story is set in the past or goes far into the future. The authors and books listed here are ones that I cherish and return to often to visit with them once more. If you haven’t already read them, I hope you will add them to your list of must reads, as they are surely mine.

Oh, and by the way, this list is not complete. There are some wonderful books still to be released in the last two weeks of December, and there are some that I just missed from my own reviews. So look to see a revised list after the first of the year. Really there is something for everyone here. Happy reading!

Best Historical Book:
All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane (Best Series) review coming in 2013
The Celestial by Barry Brennessel
The Mystery of Ruby Lode by Scotty Cade

Best Short Story

Eight Days by Cardeno C
Fair Puckled by Bella Leone
Lily by Xavier Axelson
Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock story, by BA Tortuga
Too Careful by Half, a Roughstock story, BA Tortuga

Best Contemporary Romance – Standalone

Fall Into the Sun by Val Kovalin
Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black

Fallout by Ariel Tachna

Good Bones by Kim Fielding

Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

Mine by Mary Calmes
Play It Again, Charlie by RC CooperScrap Metal by Harper Fox
Sidecar by Amy Lane

The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

 Best Novels – Part of a Series

A Foreign Range by Andrew Grey
Acceleration by Amelia C. Gormley
But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell
Chase the Stars by Ariel Tachna
Cherish, Faith, Love & Devotion 4 by Tere Michaels
Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
Full Circle by RJ Scott
Hope by William Neale
Inherit the Sky by Ariel Tachna (Best Series)
Second Hand, a Tucker Springs story by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Stars & Stripes by Abigail Roux (Best Series)
The Journal of Sanctuary One by RJ Scott
The Melody Thief by Shira Anthony (also Best Series)
Who We Are by TJ Klune

Best First Novels
The Cool Park of His Pillow by Rodney Ross
Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
Inertia by Amelia C. Gormley (Best Series)

Best Supernatural Book:
A Token of Time by Ethan Day
Crucible of Fate by Mary Calmes (Best Series)
Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Ghosts in the Wind by Marguerite Labbe
Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Infected: Life After Death by Andrea Speed (Best Series)
Riot Boy by Katey Hawthorne
The Gravedigger’s Brawl by Abigail Roux

Science Fiction Books:
Emerald Fire by A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder
The Trust by Shira Anthony

Best Fantasy Books:
 Black Magic by Megan Derr
Burning Bright by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Chaos (Lost Gods series) by Megan Derr
Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell
Poison by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Treasure by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Best Series – new books this year:
A Change of Heart series by Mary Calmes (supernatural)
Blue Notes series by Shira Anthony (contemporary)
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane (historical)
Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux (and Madeleine Urban) (Contemporary)
Faith, Love & Devotion series by Tere Michaels (contemporary)
Infected Series by Andrea Speed (supernatural)
Knitting series by Amy Lane (contemporary)
Lost Gods by Megan Derr (Fantasy)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott (contemporary)
Sci Regency series by JL Langley (science fiction)

So Many Great Series, here are more of my favorites:

A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes (contemporary)

Jewel Bonds series by Megan Derr (fantasy)

Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

Wick series by Megan Derr
Best Anthologies:

Three Fates
Animal Magnetism
Lashings of Sauce
Making Contact

I know that many books are missing but I just did not get to them this year, including JP Barnaby’s Little Boy Lost series, Andrew Grey’s Range series, and so many more.  Look for them in 2013.  Do you have a favorite I should know about?  Write me and let me know.

Review of Hope by William Neale

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Rating 5 stars

Spencer Hawkins feels like a failure.  His best friend and closeted lover has unexpectedly left him and he’s finished his degree with no job prospects, no money in the bank, and unwilling to ask his family for any support as they are stretched as thin as they come.  A surprise phone call presents Spencer with the prospect of a new job and  future in a new city, Cleveland, Ohio.

Hunter Harrison is struggling in the face of increasing stress and constant heartache.  His partner has abandoned him and their adopted son, Ethan.  Ethan has a heart defect and needs a heart transplant if he is to live.  Faced with losing his son and his mounting medical bills, Hunter desperately needs the one thing missing from his life lately – hope.

Both men come together at a time in their lives when they need each other the most.  Spencer needs a man he can trust with his heart, someone he can build a future with.  Hunter needs someone who will love not only him but a very special boy as well.  For each man, the other represents love and hope for a future together if only they will reach out for it.

Hope is the final book in the Home series by William Neale, published after his unexpected death in March.  I am not sure that any review or reviewer will be able to separate the sadness felt by the passing of this wonderful author from the emotions engendered by his last work. I read in one of his interviews that William Neale said he wrote what he loved and didn’t feel that his characters were autobiographical.  While I can imagine he meant that, I can also see William Neales’ generous nature and loving heart reflected back from the characters here and in previous books.  If the eyes are the windows into the soul, surely one can discern the kindness and inherent goodness of the author through the characters he created and that the readers so cared so much about.

Spencer Hawkins and Hunter Harrison are just part of a family of main characters at the center of Hope. Spencer and Hunter are both men of character and proponents of old fashioned values.  They value the interior life above exterior perfections and raise love and family above all other concerns. Both are beautifully written and realistically constructed characters that are easy to fall in love with. So is 11 year old Ethan living with severe aortic stenosis, a disease I was not familiar with until now. Ethan leaps into your heart with each hard won breath as you root for him to pull through.  It is clear that William Neale did a great job researching this condition and the medical technology needed to deal with it.  Information about the Berlin Heart and heart transplants are seamlessly threaded through the story, gently educating the reader on the difficulties children with this disorder face on a daily basis.There is also Lucas Reed and Rogan James from Home #1, a book that remained one of the author’s favorites, as well as their son Rogie, his friend Ryan, and new characters of ambivalent morality, Thom Kilbane and Ashton Hale. Thom Kilbane is a complicated man, driven by his need for success and hiding his traumatic child abuse behind a hedonistic lifestyle. Ashton Hale is an unlikable bully until his background of parental neglect and isolation is revealed. One fully fleshed out character after another  comes forward in this story. This inner circle is surrounded by secondary characters just as authentic and beautifully realized as the main ones.  Chief Boleyn of Winton Academy security, Coach Perleman, Winton’s football coach, and even Stephen, Lucas and Rogan’s neighbor, all add depth and dimension to a story concerned with the nature of families, personal redemption, and hope.

William Neale lived with his partner of over a decade and their dogs in Cleveland, Ohio where the Home stories are located.  Cleveland is easily the 12th man (in football terminology) or main character in this story.  His love for his home town flows throughout the story, whether he is talking about the lakeside effect on the snowfall or the view from the high rises along the lake front.  I was laughing as Spencer, a southern transplant, tried to adjust to the cold, drive in the snow, and deal with the vagaries of snow blowers in winter.  I am sure Mr. Neale was laughing as he wrote it as well. In the space of a series, Cleveland goes from cold, unknown location to a beloved destination called home.  I am sure the city is missing one of its biggest champions as well.

From laughter to tears and back again, the reader remains deeply engaged in the relationships and families at the center of Hope. Once started, I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it. Hours later I still continued to think about the author and his last story. What did I take away from Hope?  What did I feel was the essence of the book? The idea that goodness and kindness of spirit will win out, that personal redemption is a road to be taken instead of unattainable goal, and that love and hope is all around us if only we can recognize it.  I had come to love Spencer, Hunter, Ethan, Lucas, Rogen, and all the rest so very much that the knowledge of Hope being the last book was hard to face as is the loss of William Neale’s voice to the readers and m/m community that he cared so much about.  I was often in tears as I read this book and you will be too.

Make sure you read the editor’s note from Kris Jacen and above all the message from Marty, William Neale’s partner at the beginning of the novel.  Have tissues handy.  You will need them.  To read these letters to Mr. Neale’s fans and readers is to further understand the man behind the stories and how large the void his passing has left. The characters of Hope have so many dimensions to them, so much life in them that they will remain as unforgettable as the author behind them.   William Neale will continue to live on in the books and characters he has left behind and in the memories and hearts of all who knew and loved him. That is a wonderful legacy.  Mr. Neale, you are deeply missed.

Cover: Design and artwork by Winterheart Designs. A beautiful cover that does justice to the author and the story  within.

The Week Ahead and a Tourtiere with a Twist!

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The last week was wonderful and with today’s most excellent weather, this week is starting out the same.  Yesterday some of my GR m/m fiction group came over for drinks, book recs and conversation.  We had a great time and the weather was perfect.  Of course, one topic of conversation was the “best book” for each of us lately.  My book of choice was Scrap Metal by Harper Fox and my review will be posted here this week.  Also  right there with it was Burning Bright by Megan Derr.  I am so in love with this series and can’t wait for the next one. You all are going to love this book!

First, the reviews for this week:

Monday:                           Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) by Megan Derr,  the 2nd book in a  stunning  fantasy series!

Tuesday:                           Sebastian’s Wolves by Valentina Heart

Wednesday:                     Hope by William Neale (his last book, published after his death)

Thursday:                         Time Gone By by Jan Suzukawa

Friday:                               I’m Not Sexy And I Know It by Vic Winter

Saturday:                          Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

My favorite dish of the last week was a first time recipe for me.  And it wowed me.  I will use this one often.  A tourtiere is basically a meat pastry or pie that originated in Quebec and is traditionally eaten around Christmas time.  But the one I am using is light enough and baked in a loaf form that can be eaten any time of the year.  The meat filling is usually pork with other meat added to it.  Here I am using ground round but in Canada, wild game such as rabbit or venison would have been used as well.  Absolutely not greasy in any way, the savory flavors and buttery taste of the pastry come together to melt in your mouth and make you smile with delight!

Ingredients for Tourtiere with a Twist:

PASTRY DOUGH:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cold butter, grated or chopped into small bits
2 eggs, lightly beaten
MEAT FILLING:
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons summer savory, more to taste (Summer Savory spice is easily found in any grocery store)
Pinch ground cloves, optional (really add it, if you just have whole cloves, take 2 and smash them, works great)
4 to 6 tablespoons breadcrumbs (start with 4 and add until it is to your liking – I added all 6)
3 tablespoons milk, for brushing

Directions:

For the pastry dough: Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the grated butter. Pinch quickly to combine with the fingers to create a coarse, crumbly mixture. Make a well in the center. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon ice-cold water. Quickly mix into the flour, just until the mixture holds together. Do not over mix. Divide into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

For the meat filling: Put 1/2 cup water in a saute pan and quickly bring to a boil. Combine the ground pork, ground veal, onion, garlic, some salt and pepper and summer savory together in a bowl. Stir into the water. Cover, and cook until the meat is done, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the breadcrumbs and continue cooking uncovered until the liquid has evaporated. Check the seasonings, and cool.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Roll a disk of pastry dough into a rectangle. Spoon a generous stripe of meat filling down the middle of it. Fold the short ends, up over the meat making sure to trim any excess pastry dough, otherwise it will be too thick. Then fold over the long ends so that they overlap to seal. Again, trim any excess pastry dough so it will bake evenly. Turn the log onto a baking sheet, seam-side down. Make a few slits in the top to let steam escape. Brush the top with milk for a golden crust. Bake until crisp and nicely colored, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you have some left over, it tastes just as great the next day, perhaps even better!  You can’t go wrong here.  You will make this again and  again.