Best Books of 2015

As the last grains of sand pour through the hourglass that was 2015, every one of us, I think, is taking a few moments to reminisce about the year that was. It’s the time of year to shift around the beads on the abacus of life and, if you’re a geek like me, to remind yourself of all the indelible pop culture experiences you had this year. A tough year for me personally, but an epic one in terms of the entertainment I consumed, and the thoughts about it I shared with my social media friends. So, over the next couple of days, I’m rolling out my best of 2015 in books, TV, and film. Because who doesn’t love a good list?

Thanks to the lovely folks at GoodReads, putting together my best books of 2015 list was a breeze! I pressed a button and presto, changeo, they tallied all the stats and collected all the book covers for me. A huge help! But also surprising. The year has been a busy one, and that’s reflected in the smaller number of books I got through. Not a surprise, since as I type this there are at least a dozen on my waiting list, with at least five by major authors. I also tend to rate books quite highly, but I attribute this to the fact that I’m very good at selecting books for myself that I will enjoy. I have my stable of trusted authors, and though I do sample works by new writers (four of which made it to this list), just keeping up with my favorites eats up the largest chunk of my reading time.

So, without further ado, here are the seven best books I read in 2015 (in no particular order).

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A Death at the Dionysus Club by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold–A Victorian mystery series with occult leanings, beautifully drawn characters, a fascinating and terrifying underworld, and a complex, touching romance. What’s not to love?

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Captive Prince 1&2 by C.S. Pacat–I’ve written about them before. If you’ve read this series, you know how expertly plotted, devastatingly smart, and utterly riveting they are. Laurent is one of the best characters of all time.

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Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme–If you, like me, love old movies and are just as fascinated by the stories behind the making of those movies, you will love this book. A film buff’s romance with strong mystery element, with a lovely, complicated, silent film-loving heroine and her dashing mathematician foil. I ached when this one was over.

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Hoarfrost by Jordan L. Hawk–A new Whyborne & Griffin book is always a cause for celebration. This one’s winter setting hit close to home, and made for a particularly emotional outing. I marvel at the depth of Mrs. Hawk’s imagination, which conjures up civilizations and creatures that, like the best episodes of Doctor Who, touch the head and the heart.

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Jackdaw by K.J. Charles–What else is there to say about Mrs. Charles other than she is the best historical M/M writer working today? I could have put all of her releases on this list, but my love for the Charm of Magpies world knows no bounds, so Jonah and Ben it is.

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Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates–A pitch-black book about six Oxford University students who start a game of dares that transforms all their lives. Twisty and addictive, Mr. Yates pushes all of his characters to the brink and beyond.

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Unnatural by Joanna Chambers–An engrossing historical that had me by the heart for its entire length. I just loved James and Iain to bits. But it’s the brushstrokes of her writing that stay with me, the quiet moments and the compelling images that linger in the mind long after the last page.

What books made you stay up into the wee hours to finish them this year? Hit me up in the comments!

 

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Top 5 Most Cinematic M/M Romances

One of the great tragedies of the modern cinematic era, IMHO, is the fact that Brokeback Mountain was followed up by… absolutely nothing. There hasn’t been one mainstream film about a gay couple since, nor is there likely to be one in the near future. A few on the indie scene have managed to make something of a splash among critics and diehards—Love Is Strange, Mysterious Skin, and The Kids Are All Right come to mind—but nothing on par with the visibility and the success of Brokeback.

It’s not like Hollywood is lacking in source material, either. They could adapt Mary Renault, Christopher Isherwood, or Gore Vidal if they want some highbrow Oscar-bait. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if, hot on the heels of *that movie* and the supposed renaissance of sexy adult films (I’ll believe it when I see it), they looked to the M/M romance genre and the hundreds of authors whose works are both high-quality and highly filmable? Seriously, indie producers, what are you waiting for?

But, as a community, we don’t really have to wait for those producers anymore, do we? Surely there are enough M/M readers worldwide to fund a serious Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Enough readers with a background in film or television (like me) to shepherd the project to completion. Maybe one day my dream of having a production company that exclusively adapts M/M books will be a reality. In the meantime, a girl can dream… about which books she would tackle first, and who should star in those theoretical films.

Whether this is a pie-in-the-sky ambition, a dream that could be a reality with enough elbow grease, or a fun party game, I offer up for debate my (very subjective) list of the Five Most Cinematic M/M Books! After you’ve perused the list, hit up the comments with your suggestions, alternatives, or casting revisions!

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

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If that IndieKickGogoStarter campaign ever does see the light of day, one of the big issues is going to be which book to tackle first. Any producer worth their salt would do enough research to know that Josh Lanyon is probably the most read author in the genre, with an extensive backlist and several movie-ready series (because the name of the game is always sequels). The two obvious choices would be to start with the first Adrien English novel, Fatal Shadows, or, if they have more of a budget to work with, the Dangerous Ground series. Both would be excellent choices and would make great films.

But I would look to one of his more recent works, Stranger on the Shore. I mean, just look at what he did with the trailer! The book has everything great movies are made of: a compelling mystery, a Kennedy-esque family with dark secrets that suffered a major tragedy, a leading man with a personal connection to the family and the crime, a nosy reporter with secrets of his own, a gorgeous Hamptons backdrop. With its many allusions to The Great Gatsby, Stranger on the Shore positions itself as a modern-day twist on that classic: romantic, mysterious, luxurious, and entrancing. Throw in a picturesque moonlit lake view with a green light across the water, and I’m sold.

Casting: As Griff, the pesky reporter writing a book about the Arlington family tragedy, I can’t think of anyone more dogged yet charming than Grant Gustin. He also suffers quite prettily, too, and that baby face doesn’t hurt. As Pierce, the stone-cold lawyer and Arlington family bulldog, Alexander Skarsgaard’s Scandinavian chill and grace would seduce pretty much everyone watching. Still, even though the character in the book is Caucasian, I like to practice color-blind casting, and think Jesse Williams or Mike Coulter would also be great—and super hot!

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

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Victorian London. A cursed lord with a booby-trapped mansion and a merciless sorcerer out to exploit the very blood coursing through his veins. A secret organization of magic police who hunt down anyone who abuses their powers. A book crammed with more imagination, thrilling events, sexual smoulder, and cataclysmic climaxes than a reader deserves… Not to mention stripping. Both the kind you think and… not. The stuff of fantasies, both sexual and adventurous. The stuff of nightmares, but, you know, the fun kind that go bump in the night. This is the real Harry Potter for grownups.

Casting: The obvious choice for Lord Crane based on physical description alone is Lawrence Fox, but I find he has a sleepy quality that doesn’t suit Lucian. Someone who has the strength, the stillness, the wryness, and the imperiousness required is Richard Armitage. He doesn’t look exactly right, but that’s an easy fix. For Stephen Day, the tiny ginger with the adamantium sense of morality and the fearsome powers, I would look no further than the lovely Luke Treadaway. Although…. something about James McAvoy speaks to me as well. I think he would nail Stephen’s weariness and intractability.

Driftwood by Harper Fox

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When comes to the fantastic Ms. Fox, there isn’t a book in her cannon that isn’t outrageously cinematic. This author paints on a epic canvas, and her settings are often secondary characters in her books. Any one of them would make a riveting film, but Driftwood has touchstones and elements that I still remember vividly some three years after reading it. The statue shaped like a wave. The many rescues/dangerous encounters at sea. The protagonists’ military backgrounds and personal tragedies. Meet cutes at standing stones. And, of course, the decaying lighthouse where the MC lives, which at one point topples over the side of a cliff. The dangerous beauty of Cornwall, where it is set. There is so much meat here; it would be a cinematic feast.

Casting: Ever since I read the book, I have a theory that a crude version of its genesis went a little something like this: Benedict Cumberbatch shags Michael Fassbender. Now, this doesn’t do anything like justice to Ms. Fox’s subtle character shadings and riveting storyline, and it could be me imposing my own obsessions on the books, but, well. That’s the movie I see in my head. Cumby would be the doctor, Tom, of course, and Fassy the helicopter pilot, Flynn.

Captive Prince Volumes I and II by C.S. Pacat

 

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Two rival countries, both alike in… well, deceptions, double-crosses, overthrows, assassinations, warmongering, and manipulations. Romeo & Romeo, this ain’t. The captive prince of the title is forced into slavery after his father’s murder by his bastard brother. He’s sent to their most vicious enemy, a kingdom with a maniacal regent and a ruthless king-to-be, who is first in line for the throne because the slave-prince killed the older brother he worshipped in order to win a war. The political machinations alone make the Game of Thrones look like a round of Scrabble, and the enemies to lovers saga is one of the most gripping and infuriating I’ve ever read. Did I mention the kidnappings, wild hunts, sneaking into enemy territory at night, stormings of castles, and breath-stopping escape attempts? Possibly the best love scene I’ve ever read? One of the most complicated and inscrutable characters in all of creation? Forget a movie—this book needs its own 10-part HBO series.

Casting: Jason Momoa would be interesting for Damen. For Laurent, I can’t think of anyone better than Freddie Fox. If you’ve seen Cucumber, the Russell T. Davies series, you’ll understand.

Provoked by Joanna Chambers

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Righteous young lawyer David Lauriston is eager to make his mark on the legal profession in 1822 Scotland, but also to help people and serve the common good. He is tormented by his sexuality and longs for the one that got away, a boyhood love he was forced apart from years before. Enter Lord Murdo Balfour, tall, dark, and unapologetic about his need for other men. Of course, it helps to have the bank account and the social connections that can pay for discretion. Part legal thriller and part opposites-attract romance, all set against a rarely seen historical backdrop—not to mention an inordinate amount of men in kilts—this book is begging to be made into a film. Though book three, set at Murdo’s highland estate, would be the most picturesque.

Casting: As ambitious but morally conflicted David, the Australian actor Sam Reid, so good in a similar part in last year’s Belle. As Murdo… I’m conflicted. So many of the actors I think would be amazing in the role are too old now to play it—Matthew Macfadyen, Viggo Mortensen, Manu Bennett. But then I remembered that Henry Cavill—before he chose to go the leading man route—has the height, the range, the manliness, and the sense of mischievous superiority, as evidenced by his work on The Tudors. BBC Films, make this happen!

Over to you, gentle readers. What M/M romance would make your list must-see films? Who would you cast and why? Feel free to use and abuse the comments as your very own casting couch.