Cyndy Aleo

Four Little Bees Writing & Editing

author, freelance writing, editing, and a little bit of web development, helping clients with content development, book editing, and blog set-up and customization

The best things I read this year

You get all these year-end lists from publications and blogs about the top things they reviewed, and you'll see a lot of the same books on those lists. And probably most of them are bestsellers. And that's great, and those books deserve to be celebrated. But imagine if every one of your friends told you about one off-the-beaten-path book they read and got all their friends to read it?

Exactly.

So here's my list of the best books *I* got to read this year. Some of them you may have heard of. Some maybe not. But I'll tell you why I think each one might be of interest.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS
Sara Blaedel

This book isn't even out yet, but I was lucky enough to review it for RT, and I loved it. It definitely has mixed reviews on Goodreads, but here's the thing: We see these stories popping up all the time, about institutions that have failed to help the people they were supposed to be helping. The problem with this story isn't that it's unbelievable. It's that it is. And that monsters are living among all of us.

Appeals: Originally published outside U.S., mental health care issues

THE UNQUIET DEAD
Ausma Zehanat Kahn

This one is stunning, and I'm so glad other review publications agree with me! I started reading a lot more mystery and suspense novels this year in my gig at RT Book Reviews, and this one was definitely my favorite of them all. Like THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, this one isn't out yet, but it will be soon and honestly, I can't say enough good things about it. The mystery is excellent and it ties in a ton of political intrigue on a global scale. There's no clear good guy in this, and the moral ambiguity will leave you thinking about it long after you're done reading it.

Appeals: diverse characters, international politics

THE ACCIDENTAL ALCHEMIST
Gigi Pandian

This new mystery series is awesome, and I can't wait for the next one in the series, although you guys will be waiting until the beginning of the new year for it. (I PROMISE this is the last one that isn't released yet). Pandian manages to make the Portlandia caricature into something vibrant and fun and tie it in to supernatural elements.

Appeals: vegans! witches! alchemy!

LAST TRAIN TO BABYLON
Charlee Fam

I'll be honest; I hated that they included John Green as a comp title on this one, because if I hadn't been reviewing, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. LTTB is smart and snarky and real, and lacks the layer of angsty schmaltz Green is becoming known for. Fam's Aubrey is the New Adult heroine most of us can more easily identify with, and I think anyone who's fresh out of college--or remembers being there--will feel like Aubrey is telling their story. This is the New Adult book I've been waiting for.

BEYOND ADDICTION
Kit Rocha

I've been in love with this dystopian erotica series for ages, but this one absolutely does it for me. It's a rare erotica novel that can also get me right in the feels, but reading Trix and Finn's story left me full-on sobbing, even when I was pretty sure how it was going to go in the end. I'll be honest; with the number of books I read, even the ones I love often have their character names end up in a muddle in my brain, but these two stick with you long after you've read the last page.

READY PLAYER ONE
Ernest Cline

Yes, I was super-late to the party with this book, but the combination here is winning, and if you are of a certain age (::cough:: Gen X ::cough::) and haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It has pretty much everything: dystopian world-building, MMORPG set-up, and enough '80s pop references that you'll be reaching for your Sony Walkman and banana clips before you realize it was 30 years ago.

RUIN & RISING
Leigh Bardugo

This was the stunning end to a riveting trilogy, and I often struggle with these three-parters. IN a lot of cases, Book 2 is a giant soggy middle, and Book 3 goes for an ending that will either cater to fans or trying to get people reading to find out what all the fuss was about, but Bardugo manages to write the ending the story needed rather than the one most fans will want. The arc across this trilogy was excellent, and I still miss these characters.

THE DYSFUNCTIONAL TEST
Kelly Moran

Take a little bit of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, a little bit of friends-to-lovers, and a little bit of fake dating, and you have the perfect combination for this contemporary romance, which takes three tropes and blends them into something new and heart-warming.

THE HEART'S GAME
Crista McHugh

You may sense a theme in books I love, but if it's nerdy and manages to redo a trope for me, I'm probably going to be won over if the writing holds up. This is the case with the fourth book in a series I love, where Comic-Con one-night stands turn into something more.

SWEET FILTHY BOY
Christina Lauren

You're going to see this on a lot of lists this year, and while I don't ever review friends' books, I'd be lying if I didn't put it on this list. This is another New Adult story that's a lot more realistic than underground fight clubs and a lot healthier than Edward Cullenesque abusive relationships disguised as love, and that it's mostly set in the romantic city of Paris only adds more. I want to live inside this book.

HOW TO TELL TOLEDO FROM THE NIGHT SKY
Lydia Netzer

If you didn't read my raving reviews (regular and extended) at RT Book Reviews, let me tell you again: READ THIS BOOK. This was everything I wanted THE ROSIE PROJECT to be but wasn't, and the grounding in a little bit of magical realism made it all the more amazing.

A TIME OF DYING
Hailey Edwards

It's the third book in the series, but it brought a few answers and a kickass heroine who's determined to save her people, even if she has to give everything to do it. The world-building is amazing, and brings new life to the zombie mythology.

THE STORY HOUR
Thrity Umrigar

This was a diverse book with some truths that are universal no matter what your culture: You can't understand what someone else is going through by looking at a situation through your own eyes, which are clouded by your own experiences. Two women from very different backgrounds end up as somewhat friends, only to have the entire relationship torn apart because of differences that may be too much to overcome. It's a tough read, but a good one.

DIVINE SOLACE
Joey W. HIll

I keep hearing that "menage is going to be the new thing in erotica" but for a lot of us, it's been here the whole time, and the best stuff isn't the MMF or MFM I know publishers would push if given half a chance. Best of the year? Joey W. HIll's version, which deals with characters outside the seemingly preferred erotica age of "young and nubile" and includes a great plot arc of someone being introduced to BDSM in all the ways certain popular books got so very wrong.

HERE AND AGAIN
Nicole R. Dickson

This gorgeous book overlayed the very human tragedy so many families are facing and have faced with the ongoing war in the Middle East with the ghosts of our own country's history and the scars created and left by the Civil War. Merging a Field of Dreams-like plot with two generations of women trying very hard to make it, this book was one I read months ago and has stuck with me ever since.

THE KING
Tiffany Reisz

Last, but certainly not least is the latest in Reisz's Original Sinners series. While I've loved the series, I've never been a huge fan of Kingsley for some unknown reason, but Reisz manages to humanize him here to such an extent that this is close to rivaling my favorite in the series to date. The platonic (mostly) relationship between bisexual Kingsley and his dreamy lesbian assistant... King's own demons about trust and Soren (and trusting Soren)... this is another book from an author I'm not longer able to review, but I'm glad I don't have to, because everyone else seems to be loving it as much as I did!

And now, go forth! Buy books! It may not be Treat Yo'self Day, but books are always great gifts for holidays--for others and yourself--and a great way to hide in a corner at family gatherings and ignore people. ;)