So, as the booklists of 2015 abound, I’ve been thinking about my reading habits in 2015. They changed dramatically. I used to go to the library about once per week, and 90% of the books I read were hard copy. I found books in a combination of ways, but primarily I reread books I already knew, read new books by authors I knew, or found books by browsing in the library, or on occasion, in a bookstore.
At the end of 2014, I got hit by a car, and that event rippled out in so many ways. One of the things that dramatically changed was my reading habits. My glasses got broken in the hit and run, and I didn’t have a spare pair that actually worked well. Not enough for long periods of reading, anyway. My old glasses also irritated the skin on my face so much that it hurt to wear them. In addition, my leg got broken, and needed surgery, with a long recovery period during which I could not walk, or could only go very short distances. I couldn’t use the limited help I had to get me physical books, I needed it to help me take care of my basic needs. And besides, I couldn’t really read physical books, because I didn’t have glasses that helped me see well enough.
Suddenly, the only way I could read books was on my phone. It was that way for months, until I got new glasses. After that, I still could not access the library, or browse for books on shelves, for many more months.
My reading habits changed. I started reading ebooks, pretty much exclusively. Mostly ones I could borrow from the library, but a few I was able to purchase or get for free. For a couple months, I read mostly lying down, with my glasses off, my phone an inch or two from my face.
I also needed something different from what I had been reading. The hit and run was really hard on me, and so isolating. I wanted books that made me feel connected. I needed to reread old books that were familiar and comforting, and new books that were hopeful, ones about relationships and connection. For new books, I turned to the genre that I always go to when I want a book that makes me feel hopeful and less isolated: romance.
I couldn’t find books through browsing, not as easily. Instead, I took recommendations from people online, mostly from Twitter. I followed chains of twitter accounts, as one author recommended another, following them all to see about new books and book deals. I found a community of romance writers and readers that were so generous with each other, so supportive and smart and funny. Writers and readers that cared about representation in romance, that were committed to supporting stories about love and relationships that center characters of color, trans characters, queer characters, disabled characters.
And those folks helped me find a whole bunch of new romance to read, lying in bed, recovering from surgery, holding my rather small telephone a couple inches from my face. Romance that helped me get through those months of recovery, and the difficulties of returning to work and navigating the world in new ways. Romance that helped me get through a very hard year.
So, here are 21 romances I fell for in 2015, approximately in the order I read them.
- Trade Me, by Courtney Milan, for the slow build romance, the clueless privileged character who tries to get a clue, but especially for the characters dealing with poverty and college at the same time, and the complexities of family dynamics. Also, the first romance I ever read that had a trans woman character that felt like she was a whole person. (She’s getting her own book soon.)
- A Gentleman in the Street, by Alisha Rai, for Akira who is badass and emotionally armored and vulnerable all at once, and for the ways both characters insist on owning and claiming their sexuality. This is the book that sparked me reading basically the entirety of Rai’s backlist. The first five on the same day, I might add.
- The Bedroom Games series, also by Alisha Rai, for hot kinky sex between characters that are actually real and flawed and make mistakes and don’t solve their relationship problems through sex or BDSM.
- Opening Act, by Suleikha Snyder, for the spot-on depiction of the frustration of being only seen as the good girl, and the ache to break out of that.
- The Companion Contract, by Solace Ames for being so damn hot of a slow burn, the gorgeous complexity of the BDSM scenes, and especially for all the webs of complex relationships and support systems to deal with oppressive shit that happens in life. And for the queerness and centering a sex worker who doesn’t quit for love, and all the ways it tells immigrant stories, and a trans woman character that is three dimensional and complex who I fell so damn hard for.
- Sleeping with Her Enemy, by Jenny Holliday, because it’s so funny and sweet and builds so slowly and for the way it makes room for grief and most especially for his family because I adored them all.
- In Her Closet by Tasha L. Harrison, for Yves with all her complexity and challenges because she won my heart, for the web of her relationships and all the nuances of those and also especially for the realistic depiction of the struggle to extricate yourself from abusive exes, which I’ve never read before in a novel and am so grateful exists in this book.
- The Boss series by Abigail Barnette, for some of the hottest orgasm control scenes I’ve ever read.
- Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell, for being the first Jewish romance I ever read, and such a sweet one on top of that. As a Jew, I needed that. And for the complex depiction of grief, which I really appreciated.
- The Brother Sinister series, by Courtney Milan, which I devoured one right after the other. Especially The Duchess War because of the ways it grappled with class and trauma and the way the style evoked screwball Howard Hawks comedy. And for the wedding night. And the complexity of the characters. And the feminism.
- At Her Feet, by Rebekah Weatherspoon, for the gorgeous fat queer femme character that doesn’t think about dieting once and is not ashamed of her size, and for the only Mommy/girl dynamic I’ve ever read in a full length novel. I really enjoyed the little girl Suzy so much in this, loved her voice.
- Defying Convention, by Cecil Wilde, for the achingly realistic internal voice of both trans characters, in their fumbling and uncertainty and sweetness and nerdiness. I fell for these two hard.
- Sated, by Rebekah Weatherspoon, for the adorable geekiness and the only romance I’ve read so far centering two switches, and the earnest concentration of the novice top who also cracks tons of jokes when she bottoms.
- Breath on Embers, by Anne Calhoun, for a beautiful story about coping with and recovering from grief.
- Serving Pleasure, by Alisha Rai, for the gorgeous prose, the careful and accurate representation of trauma, the hot sex, and Rana, who I adored. Also for Rana’s family and how much they were part of the story.
- Challenge Accepted, by Annabeth Leong, for a vulnerable scared top, a confident novice bottom, a gorgeous D/s dynamic between them, and the joy of Leong’s prose style. Also, one of the few BDSM romances I have found where the top is a woman.
- Full Exposure, by Amy Jo Cousins, for the lovely sexual tension, the very hot sex, and being inside Evan’s head, which was a joy.
- Craving Flight, by Tamsen Parker, for the ways these characters were careful with each other, the gorgeously drawn BDSM scenes, the slow build of trust and love between them. And again, for a story centering Jews, something that’s pretty rare for me to find in romance.
- For Real, by Alexis Hall, for a queer men’s romance whose plot and character arcs are not driven by internalized misogyny and homophobia, finally. (I’ve found this to be sadly rare.) Also for a novice top that sexually bottoms, an experienced older bottom, actual mistakes during play, a top safewording, and a lovely D/s dynamic. I fell for both these characters, hard.
- Have Mercy, by Shelley Ann Clark, for the beautiful D/s dynamic, the very hot slow burn, a novice top at the center of the story, a more experienced strong worshipful bottom, and the way music is woven into the story. I read this when I was looking for stories that center tops who are women, and it delivered beautifully, one of the best of those I’ve read. I loved the complexity and nuance in this story.
Note: If you want to find the folks on Twitter that wrote and/or read these books and recommended them to me, they are on my romance and erotica Twitter list. There are also a bunch of awesome erotica writers on that list.