Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Favourites

2015 has been a roller coaster of a ride for one reason or another for me.  There have been some very tough times and some good times as well.  One thing is for certain, I don't think I would have made it through the year without some awesome reads and authors.  There have been some amazing books I have had the privilege to read from some awesome authors.  I have discovered some new authors and my favourite authors continued to write books that continue to make me a fan of their writing.

I have been reflecting on the books I have read: those that have published this year; those I have gotten around to reading after sitting on my kindle for a while; and those favourites that I have re-read.  These have all taken me to amazing places and captivated me with the amazing lives of the characters or emotionally tore me to shreds. They have all been beautifully written and made me feel a roller coaster of emotions.  

As I usually do, I have struggled to get my read list down to my top 20 - there was no chance that I could get it down any lower than this!!  I chosen my absolute favourites that were published in 2015 but there were many, many more that could have made the list.  These are listed in the order of reading, as I could not decide on an order: they would all be number 1 otherwise!

A Choice for ClaireA Choice for Claire by A.J. Harmon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came away from reading this emotionally ripped apart and put back together as Claire's story is told. Domestic violence is completely wrong and unacceptable but it can be difficult for those who have never been in that situation to understand how it can happen. Claire's story brings a better understanding of domestic violence and the constant belittling and demoraliisng that leads to controlling her completely to physical violence that is portrayed as being the woman's fault and she is then trapped in the vicious circle.

The courage and tenacity Claire shows in getting out of the abusive relationship, with the support of a friend, is inspiring and she starts to rebuild her life.

Zeke is the complete opposite to Brent and has the potential to show her what a real relationship should be like if she will let him into her heart. But with her always looking over her shoulder will she ever be able to trust again? Will she find the love and respect she has always so desperately craved?

Another beautifully written story from the awesome AJ Harmon. I loved that Claire still had an amazing amount of strength despite everything that had happened to her and that I felt completely invested in Claire's story. The contrast between Brent and Zeke was like dark and light and showed the bad and the good of relationships.

The Hurricane (The Hurricane, #1)The Hurricane by R.J. Prescott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the sound of this book from the synopsis and it did not disappoint. I loved it even more than I thought possible. It was everything I expected and more.

Emily only wants to keep her head down, earn enough money waitressing to keep a roof over her head while she finishes University. Very skittish and for very good reason, pretty much everyone scares her so when she catches the eye of O'Connell, a hugely built boxer, it takes all of her courage not to hightail it out of town. O'Connell is not known for his gentle side being a boxer nor for his long term relationships but there is something about Emily that makes him want to be a better man and be the man she deserves. As he changes combined with the gentle attention he lavishes on Emily, we start to Emily emerge from her shell and become the confident woman that she really is.

There is such an amazing cast of supporting characters that become family to Emily and each and every one of them jump off the page at you. R.J. Prescott has created a world that is clearly defined in your own mind that when you finish reading it you will be left feeling the loss. It is a story that you can immerse yourself in fully and laugh, cry and fall in love with the characters. This has to be the best debut I have read in a long time and I am left wanting more from this talented author.

The Light HouseThe Light House by Jason Luke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exquisite, emotional and beautiful. A masterpiece of writing that captures the emotions of the story perfectly.

When Connie discovers work by artist Blake McGrath, who disappeared from sight mysteriously, it sets them both on a journey of healing their troubled souls. Both wear the scars of their pasts and they run deep. Two troubled souls can help heal each other and help confront their pasts.

Through the art and the scenery, we have a beautiful backdrop to the story where both very often reflect the emotions of the characters.

I am in awe of what I believe to be a beautiful and perfect story. A story that has you running through a gauntlet of emotions and you invested in the characters. I am completely and utterly in love with this story.

Love in a Snow Storm (Pine Harbour, #2)Love in a Snow Storm by Zoe York
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adored Jake and Dani's story. They have been in love with each for so long but never acted on it or told each other how they felt. Held back by a number of factors, not least her brothers' reaction, they have been denying themselves for too long. Their feelings for each other are sweet to watch. The events of book one played a massive part in them finally accepting their feelings and making their decision to move forward together.

I loved that we got to see their relationship develop and find their way as a couple with relatively little outside influence. It was love in its purest form and so beautiful to read.

With Dani and Jake we have characters with a maturity beyond their years. They both have seen so much for ones so young due to their public service dedication. Neither are perfect and neither get it right all the time. Down to earth and so likeable, Dani and Jake find a place in your heart.

Saved By An Angel (Angel, #2)Saved By An Angel by Roberta Capizzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roberta Capizzi always manages to create characters that you can completely relate to and fall in love with. 'Saved By An Angel'is no exception, with the sexy David and the down-to-earth Claire.

Claire was a character I could totally relate to: shy and quiet, a book lover, would be librarian and grieving for the loss of her mother. David himself is struggling after the death of his brother and puts on a public face to hide his hurt. Two troubled, similar souls find each but life is not straightforward. Claire is not looking for a relationship after suffering from a terrifying experience; whilst David is already in a relationship when they meet. Will these souls find a way to be together?

When something you believe in so strongly and is so important to you is featured in such a beautifully emotive way, you clutch it closely to your heart and never want to let it go. Guardian angels are important to me after losing my own brave mother nearly seven years ago and my own belief that she is watching over us. I will always cherish this story in a special way for its portrayal of angels. This was a very personal story to me and there are not enough words to describe its beauty and pure emotion it draws from you. I laughed and cried and felt my way through this truly inspiring story.

Inside Game (New York Kings, #5)Inside Game by Collette West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful read about the struggles of addiction and second chances.

Drake has always been one of the top baseball players of the New York Kings but his performance has been helped by performance enhancing drugs. When he is finally caught out, Eva becomes his sobriety companion and works alongside him to get clean and work through his addiction. This was an intense journey as you find out where Drake came from and what pushed him down this destructive path. As the layers get stripped back, you get to see Drake for who he really is, without the public persona he portrays on a daily basis.

Eva is the woman who strips him down and build him back up. More importantly she believes in him and sees who he really is and just gets him. A perfect partner for him, coming from a tragic background herself and is strong and confident despite it.

In tackling the hidden problem of drug use in sports, Collette West has given us a story of substance and one that is difficult, yet full of hope. This was an amazing read and one that I couldn't put down. Plenty of emotion, hope and hurdles but an incredible journey.

Wrapped (Manhattan Bound, #2)Wrapped by Juliet Braddock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the continuation of Drew and Maxine's relationship and Maxine's induction into the BDSM lifestyle. While Weakened focused mainly on Maxine's issues and working on them together to make their relationship stronger, Wrapped is more focussed on Drew. Drew come from a tragic and dark past that continues to haunt him. Many of the things that happened to him, he has never spoken about or really come to terms with. When his past catches up with him, he risks slipping back into the dark. But just as Drew did for her, Maxine is there every step of the way.

An incredibly emotive read that will move with sadness, have you cheering with happiness with the successes, laughing out loud and much more. I loved how this relationship worked, with the give and take from both sides but most importantly knowing what the other needs and being that support. This was the complete package: great story, amazing characters, and a complete world around them that felt natural with an amazing set of friends and family around them that you want to find out more about.

 Deceived (Whiskey Nights, #3)Deceived by Suzannah Daniels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unrequited love...

Seren goes to amazing lengths to get Cade to notice her by inviting him on a trip of a lifetime to Ireland. Life rarely goes to plan and Seren gets a massive surprise and secrets are spilled. Seren has to do a lot of soul searching before deciding to take the path with Cade.

Cade has always had feelings for Seren but got himself into a situation which could ruin his chances with Seren forever. His actions are laudable and show him for the caring, generous man he is but it could backfire on him as he tries to fulfil his promises while trying to follow his heart.

Seren's star shines brightly as she shows compassion and support despite her own insecurities. It is her chance of a lifetime to be with her one love.

I loved the trip to Ireland and the Irish sayings which brought a smile to me as they are so familiar to me. The Irish culture and scenery were beautifully described and made you feel as though you were right there with them.

Suzannah Daniels always manages to surprise with the twists and turns that the story takes and this was no exception. Just when you think you know where the story is going, you get hit by a twist that leaves you thinking. A fantastic author and another beautiful story.

 Splinters (Running On Empty #2)Splinters by M.R. Field
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved 'Fragments' and didn't think it was possible to even match it but M.R. has succeeded in creating another beautiful story but different to 'Fragments'.

Hazel and Robbie's romance has been years in the making. It is amazing that Hazel has become such a beautiful, confident person on the inside and out when you consider her treatment at the hands of her family - treatment that only gets worse. Robbie felt the need to become successful in the hopes of winning her family over but they can't be won over. It is only when they realise that it is only their love for each other that matters can they find their peace together, with lots of surprises along the way.

A beautifully written story and M.R. has taken the time to let their story unfold at its own pace, which makes it a first class read. I am in awe of this series, the characters, location and most of all M.R.'s writing.

 Deliver MeDeliver Me by Faith Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lee, lead singer for 7's Mistress, is thrust into a bitter-sweet time when tragedy strikes. Struggling to cope and having to re-evaluate his priorities, he meets Erik on a park bench. Erik, although he feels the attraction between them, needs to protect his heart after being hurt by his ex. Lee has two weeks to convince Erik to give it ago between them and three months on the road to prove he can be faithful. Can he do it?

With plenty of other people out for a piece of them, it is not going to be easy for them. Lee and Erik are two amazing guys who come together to make an even more amazing couple, completing each other.

This was a fast paced read with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes. Whilst at times an emotional read, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments. There was certainly plenty of tense moments which complemented the sweet and hot moments between Lee and Erik perfectly.

 FirebirdFirebird by Jennifer Loring
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very different read to what I was expecting but it made it an amazing read. It is difficult to put into words how this made me feel as I feel as though I am still processing feelings and events.

Stephanie needs to get the story of her career by interviewing ice hockey bad boy, Aleksandr. She has a past with him, one that they have both not fully got over. Life is complicated though as Stephanie is engaged to someone else and the attraction between Aleksandr and Stephanie is still there.

What makes this stand out though is the events of the second half of the book. When a life changing event strikes one of them their world comes tumbling down as they come to terms with the changes.

This was very well written. I felt complete empathy for the characters as they dealt with a difficult subject.

UglyUgly by Margaret McHeyzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what an emotional read that was so brilliantly written.

Through Lily's story we get to experience the horrors that domestic abuse survivors go through and the very manipulative nature of the abuser in full multi-colour. Lily has spent most of her life being abused physically and emotionally by her own father and this makes her an easy target for the charming Trent and his manipulative ways. Lily jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire with her desperation to be loved and be part of a family.

The suffering that Lily goes through is hard to read and digest and it must be. However, there is a strength of character there that helps her survive. The arrogance Trent shows in his treatment of her and the complete control he exerts over her is astounding. He is vile and doesn't deserve to be called a man.

Although this was an uncomfortable read, I loved it. It is easy to judge survivors of domestic abuse for not getting out when it first starts. Lily's story shows that it is not that easy and they ensure you can't because you have nothing to leave with and nowhere to go. This was a story about finding yourself and your inner strength and reclaiming your life. An amazing, emotional must read.

The Fall Up (The Fall Up, #1)The Fall Up by Aly Martinez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How many of us use the phrase 'I'm fine' when we're not? I'm one of those people who used it disguise my anxiety and depression from the world.

This was a book I could completely empathise with and relate to on so many levels. It gives those of us with a hidden mental illness a voice.

It captured my attention right from the get go and completely immersed me in the lives and struggles of the characters.

Superstar Levee has what appears to be the perfect life: fame, success and money but looks can be deceiving. She has never felt so alone and has contemplated ending her life, finding herself on the same bridge time and time again. Sam visits the bridge too for different reasons and finds himself drawn to help and protect the secretive woman on the bridge. With his own tragic past weighing him down, can they be enough for each other to find their way back to happiness?

I so wish I could give this book more than 5*. It was a very special and personal read for me. Amazing.

Walking Among the Cherry Trees (The Cook Brothers #1)Walking Among the Cherry Trees by Heather D'Agostino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rating: 4.5*

Second chances with your first love. When Morgan returns to the place she considered home, she hopes to avoid the man who ripped out her heart and pushed her away. She is not longer the uncertain, young woman of the past but is now a successful businesswoman after being pushed to her limits by her father. She uses this time away to re-evaluate her life and what she wants out of life. Running into Taylor again was inevitable but the secrets he has kept from her are in danger of unravelling.

I really loved this story and the characters. I fell in with Morgan and Taylor easily and felt complete shock as the secret was finally revealed. This was a world that I easily got lost in and came out of it wanting more. I'm really looking forward to what comes next.

 Incumbent (Prescott Series: Book 1)Incumbent by Joanne Schwehm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*Sigh!* If only politicians looked and acted this way in real life, then we probably wouldn't be so disillusioned by them all.

Drake is a Republican Senator seeking re-election but with eyes on the ultimate goal of becoming President. Lucy is a high school teacher who invites Drake to talk to her class. She gets more than she bargained for from the caring, hot Senator and has to fight to maintain her composure. The attraction between them is strong but Lucy has secrets; secrets that could bring down the incumbent Senator if their relationship becomes public, with the opposition seeking to win at any cost.

These are two really special characters. Lucy for the strength of character it took to rebuild her life. Drake for being kind and considerate to those around him and for realising that dreams are fluid and not much of a dream if you are lonely. The Prescott family as a whole is pretty amazing in their attitude towards people and life.

An awesome read that had me completely hooked and eagerly devouring it from the first to the very last word. I can't wait to read more from Joanne Schwehm and the Prescott family.

 True Love (Songbird, #5)True Love by Melissa Pearl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I completely love this series based around all things music. Each can be read as a standalone and each are unique in its style as well.

Chaos have just hit the big time but things between band members Nessa and Jimmy took a nosedive after a night of unbelievable passion. Nessa runs, bitterly hurt by Jimmy's actions and ends up in a life changing accident and no longer able to play the drums.

Jimmy recognises his feelings for Nessa but is scared by the prospect of commitment. Seeing Nessa hurt, Jimmy sets out to win her over and be the man she needs. Nessa, though, has to deal with the emotional and physical scars from her accident. The feelings of unworthiness from her childhood come flooding back.

This was a powerful story of overcoming personal insecurities, being yourself and taking a chance. It was an emotional read but an awesome read at the same time.

 Talon (Ashes & Embers, #4)Talon by Carian Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carian Cole has done it again! An unconventional love story - completely nailed it. This had the wow factor and more. I was hooked from the first page and it would not let me go until their story was complete.

Talon and Asia both sign up to a social experiment to marry a stranger for six months based on who the experts decide is your best match. Talon and Asia find themselves facing each other at the alter, neither what the other expected or wanted. How they will survive six months seems impossible, with Asia's fears of abandonment holding her back and Talon's past and mouth getting in the way of them moving forward.

This was fiery as they both struggle with communication leading to misunderstandings and unhappiness. Both have to adapt to being in a relationship and fight their feelings for each other, leading to lots of insecurities and uncertainties. Asia has come from a background of having nothing and no-one, having to battle for everything she has. Talon seems to have everything handed to him on a plate: rock star, women falling at him, rich but he has worked hard for what he has. With Asia he feels as though he has found the one person who he can share it all with and wants him for him and not the trappings that come with him.

I loved this story and the characters. Love doesn't come easily and needs to be worked at and fought for. Asia is a character that I could relate to and Talon a guy you can drool over and fall in love with. An amazing book.

 On the Rocks (Vagabonds, #3)On the Rocks by Jade C. Jamison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning conclusion to this awesome series.

With the break up of The Vagabonds, Kyle Summers is determined to make it on her own and make it big with her own music. It is a difficult journey back to the top as she is pretty much starting from the beginning again. While she is determined not to fall into the same fame traps from when she was in The Vagabonds, there are a whole new set to fall into.

Matters of the heart still trouble her as she still only wants CJ. New relationships and jealousies present new challenges as she attempts to move forward with her life but her heart is still with CJ.

The frustration and passion she feels for her music and her career comes out strongly throughout, with the story being told from her point of view. You find yourself wanting Kyle to find success with her music and matters of the heart because she has and the fact that she works so hard for what she wants. Jade C. Jamison has done it again and written an awesome series that will stay with you long after you have finished it.

 Heart of the Music (Saints and Sinners #1)Heart of the Music by Kaithlin Shepherd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I quickly got sucked into this book and wouldn't let it go until I had devoured every last word.

When Patricia and Jarrod locked eyes on each other, they both lost their hearts to the other. Patricia, though, won't act on her feelings, recognising his womanising ways and when she gets a job as his band's publicist she refuses to mix business with pleasure. Jarrod is nothing if not patient as five years later he is still waiting for his chance with her. Patricia is finding it increasing difficult to resist him and may be ready to make some changes in her life.

Dating a rock star though is not without its challenges with press, fans and jealous exes all determined to get in the way.

These were great characters with a great story to tell. The verbal sparring between Patricia and Jarrod draws you into their story, along with the great strength of character both Patricia and Jarrod have, has you finding a special place in your heart for them. Another awesome read by Kaithlin Shepherd, who has quickly become a firm favourite of mine.

 Brave (Oni Fighters, #1)Brave by Natalie Gayle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow doesn't quite express the awesomeness of this book. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is more than skin deep.

Eden has been hiding from the world since a fire left her badly scarred both physically and emotionally. She struggles to come to terms with the changes in life and the way people treat her. It is easier to hide from the world. An encounter with Xander has her stepping outside her comfort zone and starting to live again. But Xander has his own demons to fight after killing someone accidentally in an MMA cage fight. He has not stepped in the cage since.

Can they both overcome their demons to be together?

Both these characters show remarkable bravery in facing their demons and not hiding in the shadows any longer. They nurture each other and give the other the strength and support they need to live again. While Eden is reluctant for fear of being ridiculed and have her heart broken but Xander has the patience and the faith in her to heal and move forward.

This was a powerful story that left me wanting more from these characters and this series. It was an emotional and beautiful read that leaves you feeling hopeful and happy.

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