Best Reads March 2019

This post gives a (belated) list of my favorite books I read in March 2019. (Sorry for posting so late, I got overwhelmed in early April.)

This list definitely shows my bias towards contemporary romance, but also includes speculative fiction, picture books, romantic suspense, crime/mystery, and a graphic novel. I am putting the audiobooks in a separate category. I link to reviews where I have written them; and also where I have only posted trigger warnings, so you can easily find those. If I have not yet reviewed, I am using affiliate links to Amazon. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.

I’m listing rep at the end of my descriptions. If you spot something incorrect, please do feel free to let me know. Also, I am not intending to out anyone; I get author info from the web and the book bio. If an author would like me to remove any info listed, please do let me know. I want to note that I use the word fat as a neutral descriptor when listing rep, and use the word queer when a character or author identify that way or when I am unclear about their identity but know they fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

For folks looking for stories with no on-the-page sex, I am putting three asterisks*** at the end of the description.

New reads

Geek Romance

  • Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole (contemporary m/f romance novella) This has wonderful disability representation, is delightfully geeky, and I fell really hard for both of the MCs. The cover is wonderful, the book was funny and heartwarming and deeply engaging. I’m glad to have read this, twice, in March. (Rep: Black disabled woman MC. Vietnamese American autistic man MC. Black woman author.)
  • Play It Again by Aidan Wayne (contemporary m/m romance novel)*** This hit the mark for me with the online relationship and online content creator aspect, and was pretty satisfying on the long distance relationship piece as well. It’s not a completely light story, I wouldn’t exactly call it fluff, as Sam’s arc has trauma elements woven into it pretty strongly, but it’s got a fairly light adorableness to the romantic relationship aspect that was exactly what I needed on a rough day. I especially appreciated the way Dovid and Sam negotiated around sex. Sam is not sex repulsed; he’s also not really interested in sex, and Dovid carefully draws him out when he gets a soft yes for sex, in a way that I really liked. (Bisexual Jewish blind man MC. Homoromantic ace man trauma survivor MC with social anxiety. Aroace Jewish woman secondary character. Non-binary author.)***
  • Love on My Mind by Tracey Livesay (contemporary m/f romance novel) This is a very well paced, deeply characterized compelling romance. It has a rained in trope, and it manages the idea of preparing an autistic character to do a public presentation in a way that I found pretty respectful; I’ve read versions of that kind of plot that are intensely ableist and this doesn’t read that way. The autistic MC faces ableism, but is mostly moving from a place of self acceptance, and I like the depiction of his friendships. I struggled with the way this leaned towards autism voice in his POV, but it was subtle enough that I was pretty okay with it. This has an Aspie hero (named on the page) who didn’t resonate much with my own experience of being Aspie. (Rep: Autistic hero. Black woman heroine. Black woman author.)
  • The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau (contemporary m/f romance novel) This was wonderful, in so many ways. Such a satisfying foodie romance, with a really lovely amount of food details. I really enjoy Lau’s style, the way she lays out character, the way she injects all these quiet moments that make me feel verklempt. I really enjoyed the integration of friendships and familial relationships into this romance, it felt full and whole, when sometimes romances can really feel like its two against the world. Overall, I found this book completely compelling; I could not put it down. (Rep:  Chinese Canadian man MC. Desi lesbian secondary character. Chinese Canadian woman author.)

Kidlit

  • Rachel’s Christmas Boat by Sophie Labelle (children’s picture book)*** I adored this picture book about a girl whose dad announces her transition and the MC gets all worried about making sure all the gifts have her trans parent’s new name on them. The pictures were wonderful, the story perfect for Christmas, and I really appreciated how everyone in the book was all about celebrating the trans woman character. I felt the urgency and concern from the MC, and it drove the book forward, her desire to honor her parent’s new name and not have her Christmas ruined. (Rep: Trans woman central character. Black boy secondary character. Trans woman author.)
  • Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged by Zetta Elliott (children’s picture book)*** This is a rhyming book from the POV of a girl who is talking about her autistic friend. It’s a book focused on teaching acceptance of differences. While I wish that it tackled this from another angle (these direct message acceptance books are not a fave of mine in general and I’d prefer it told from the autistic character’s POV), I did appreciate the rhythm and pacing and the clear message of acceptance, and there were some lovely details both in the illustration and the text. I especially appreciated the page where Benny twirls away from the other kids when they visit the zoo. (Rep: Black girl MC. Autistic Black boy central character. Black woman author.)

New Adult Romance

  • Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu (contemporary m/m romance graphic novel)*** I enjoyed this so much! It was utterly delightful. It centers the most adorable gay boy hockey player ever. He figure skates! He bakes pies! He has a crush on the captain of the team! He is new to college, and new to college hockey, and so completely charming that I fell really hard for him. It’s more a story about his experiences playing hockey in his first two years of college, but there is a romance plotline that was really sweet. It has a YA feel to it, though technically I guess it’s New Adult. (Rep: Gay man MC. Nigerian American woman author.)
  • Shadows You Left by Taylor Brooke and Jude Sierra (contemporary m/m romance novel) A story that grips with teeth and fists and will not let you go, an unputdownable character-driven complex novel that is gorgeously told, has deeply compelling characters, and takes you on an emotional roller coaster. This is a romance between two queer men who trigger the hell out of each other and are so deeply into each other that they choose each other again and again. I felt so much for the demiro MC first experiencing that lightning quick classic demi attraction that happens with so few people, and not knowing how to reconcile it with what he knows about who he is. It was really lovely to see that kind of demi experience woven seamlessly into this complex story, to see that aspect of myself on the page. (Rep: Demiromantic man MC with addiction. Bisexual man MC. Latinx Bi-ro, demi/ace author. Non-binary, demi/pansexual and demi/panromantic author.)
  • The Other Side of the Roses by R. Cooper (contemporary m/m romance novella)*** I generally adore the author’s writing style, and this book has a lot to offer in terms of the swooniness possible with a long time crush from childhood. I fell really hard for Sami, the chubby Iranian American gay MC who has been yearning for his childhood neighbor and meets him again in adulthood. I have mixed feelings about the autism rep (the autistic MC experiences quite a lot of ableism, including when he is first introduced, and is rescued by the allistic MC), but there is something lovely about a romance where the MC is unabashedly swooning over an autistic love interest & doesn’t bring ableism into the way he sees his love interest. Sami is a bit of a magical autism whisperer but that didn’t bug me as much as it has in other stories, maybe because I liked him so much. (Rep: Iranian American Muslim gay man MC. Autistic gay man love interest.)
  • Crashing Into Her by Mia Sosa (contemporary m/f romance novel) This has a one night stand to friends to lovers arc, with a bit of a enemies to lovers aspect, as they start off rather antagonistic towards each other, sparring all the time. It also has a best friend’s cousin trope going on, with the cousin relationship being quite close. What I especially enjoyed, in watching them dance around each other, is the way they both had so much emotional armor, so many defenses against relationships, and yet they could not keep themselves from building one with each other. I really like stories like that, where both MCs are prickly and defended. It created this lovely tension, and these higher stakes because while I was rooting for them, I was wondering the whole time if they could manage to figure it out. (Rep: Black woman MC. Puerto Rican man MC. Black and Puerto Rican secondary characters. Brazilian-Puerto Rican woman author.)

Road Trip Romance

  • Every Road to You by Phyllis Bourne (contemporary m/f romance novel) I enjoyed this road trip enemies to lovers opposites attract category romance. It was well paced, funny, engaging, had characters I fell for, and a delightful secondary character I adored (the hero’s grandmother). I was glad the hero finally learned to let go and stop trying to control everything, especially his grandmother. This is my second read by Bourne and I am definitely going to keep trying her work. (Rep: Black MCs. Black woman author.)
  • Adonis Line by Dakota Gray (contemporary m/f erotic romance novel) This book is one of my most favorite romances with a trauma survivor MC, ever. It holds the reality of survivorship beautifully, and actively refuses the kind of trauma porn, rescue dynamics and hurt/comfort dynamics that are rampant in the romance genre when it comes to survivor characters. It’s also just…a really stellar romance. Gorgeously complex characters, great use of forced proximity and road trip tropes, a romance arc that unfolded in these really lovely spirals that were so satisfying. The pacing in this story was so damn good, I could not put it down. This book contains some really fucking brilliant use of sex scenes to explore character and move plot. A master class at doing that, truly. I had a couple concerns about the disability representation regarding the hero, but I still wholeheartedly recommend this brilliant book. (Rep: Black woman MC with PTSD. Disabled Black man MC with depression. Black woman author.)
  • Reverb by Anna Zabo (contemporary m/f romantic suspense novel with a trans man hero) I loved so much about this bodyguard/protectee rock star romance, found it completely riveting, could not put it down. I fell really hard for both MCs, loved their dynamic, their chemistry, their flirtation. The sex scenes were gorgeous and had stellar trans rep and were hot as hell and had this wonderful femdom dynamic. It’s got so much joy and care in the romantic relationship and in the chosen family aspects, which makes the spectre of ongoing risk from the stalker feel more intense by contrast. I struggled some with the way things wrapped up in the story, they felt like they needed more attention and care, but I still would recommend this, despite that, if you are up for the trauma aspects of the content. (Rep: Queer cis woman trauma survivor MC. Trans man combat veteran and trauma survivor MC. Bi/pan non-binary author.)
  • Extreme Honor by Piper J Drake (contemporary m/f romantic suspense novel) I really enjoyed this! I fell hard for the heroine and the dog completely stole my heart, and I really liked the found family aspect of the story. The slow build of connection and trust between the MCs was lovely and very well paced, and the road trip aspect was fun. The conclusion was a bit wacky, but I went with it, and really enjoyed the role the dogs played in it. (Rep: Trauma survivor MCs. Thai American woman author.)

Series Glom

  • Criminal Intentions: Episodes 3-6 by Cole McCade (contemporary police procedural serial m/m romance novel) So I glommed a chunk of this series in March, books 3-6, which feel like they have a central romance arc across them that was especially satisfying. I am not generally one for police procedurals, especially ones following homicide cops, as the level of violence in them often outweighs things, but I really appreciate this series and how carefully it holds the complex realities of how police officers experience tons of trauma on the job, and also the ongoing reality of police corruption and violence, while also making sure to be careful around who dies in these books and treating the victims with dignity and care. I especially appreciated that aspect of the story in episode 6. For me, though, the real draw to these books is the romance arc, and I adored everything about this one, from the way the MCs keep getting nudged to acknowledge their attraction for each other to the demigray representation (which I especially appreciated in book 5), to the surprise encounter in book 6 that completely delighted me. This felt so much like a demigray romance arc to me, with the full complexity of how that might be paced and might feel for queer men, and I am so happy I read these books, and definitely will be continuing the series in April. (Rep: Bi Persian American Mizrahi Jewish man MC with PTSD. Gay demigray ace Korean American man MC with PTSD. Genderqueer/Two Spirit Lumbee secondary character. Aro Black Cubano American woman secondary character. Native AmeriBlAsian POC demibisexual queer trans man author.)

SFF Shorts

IWUNEN

  • Trans Love Is by Bogi Takács (poem)*** I adore this poem. It made me think, it made me feel, I wanted to hug it & give copies to all the trans people I know. (Rep: Hungarian Jewish nueroatypical agender trans person author.)
  •  “A Silly Love Story” by Nino Cipri (speculative romance story) I was delighted by this romance story that had a friendly poltergeist. I especially appreciated the genderfluid love interest, and the autistic MCs discussion of language frustrations. (Rep: Autistic queer man MC. Genderfluid love interest. Trans queer author.)

Rereads

  • Save of the Game by Avon Gale (contemporary m/m romance novel) I enjoyed this the second time around. I liked watching the romance build between the MCs, and enjoyed the contrast of their perspectives. This was a compelling reread, had great pacing and was a great ride.  Just like with my first read, I found the coming out experience (in terms of recognizing their own queerness) described in this story rather baffling and quite different from my own. (Rep: Bisexual men MCs. Bi/demirom/grayace woman author)
  • Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (alternative history/fantasy novel) I used to reread this frequently, but it has been a long while at this point. This is a lush epic centering a god-chosen sex worker masochist spy, trained to it from childhood. There is a central m/f romantic arc, but for me the most compelling aspect of the story is the central f/f arc (which contains glorious moments of D/s), the court intrigue plot, the exploration of being god-chosen (which deepens in the next couple books in the series) and the spy training. This definitely has substantial issues, it’s a problematic fave of mine. I enjoyed rereading it a bit at a time before bed. (Rep: Bisexual woman MC. Many secondary queer characters.)
  • Intercepted by Alexa Martin (contemporary m/f romance novel) I enjoyed this the second time around, but not quite as much. I don’t think this will be a reread again for me. I did still really like the heroine, she was my favorite part of this story, which leans very soapy and is pretty damn funny. (Rep: Black woman MC. Black woman author.)

Audio Books

  • Hold Me by Courtney Milan, read by Sean Crisden and Xe Sands (NA contemporary m/f romance novel) I really liked this on audio, it added new layers to the story for me, and I felt more for the characters (esp the hero) listening to the performances. I especially appreciated listening to this after thinking about this thread, the first review of the book that I’ve read by a transfem reviewer. (Rep: Latinx trans woman MC. Vietnamese-Chinese American bisexual man MC. Bisexual hapa woman author.)
  • Four Point Affective Calibration” by Bogi Takács, read by Stefan Rudnicki (contemporary science fiction short story)*** This piece gets me in the gut, it’s really wonderful and rather difficult to describe. I really like the autistic engagement with the complexities and nuances of emotion in it, as well as the nuanced immigration politics, and I deeply appreciate the way it feels very contemporary.

I embarked on a major Nora Roberts reread on audio last summer, and it’s still going, though I’m repeating some at this point. Here is one I especially liked in March:

  • The Witness, read by Julia Whelan (contemporary m/f romantic suspense novel) This is one of my go to longish comfort rereads, but I fell in love with the audiobook. For me the heart of this is a strong, complex, flawed autistic heroine that I adore, and her amazing relationship with her dog. It’s never named on the page, but the heroine resonates so deeply for me as an autistic reader, and I love that she is unabashedly herself and doesn’t even try to pass as NT. (Rep: Heroine with PTSD who I read as autistic.)

April TBR (I likely won’t get to all of these, but it’s nice to have goals. A in parentheses indicates books I plan to read on audio)

Buddy Read/Group Read

ARCs to Read

A-Spec April Readathon

Autistic Pride Readathon

My YARC19 Challenge TBR

Romance Book Bingo TBR

M’s Book Bingo TBR

Hockey Romance TBR

For fun

3 thoughts on “Best Reads March 2019

  1. Geek Romance sounds fascinating, very much. In particular, Can’t Escape Love sounds so intriguing. Still can’t read much, but have put it on the Audible wishlist to buy later (along with the first book of the series, which also sounds very intriguing).

    Liked by 1 person

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