The Best of 2015: Ulysses’s List

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

Northanger Abbey meets Skyfall?  If you don’t get the references, go look them up. Kier Mallory returns in deep disgrace to his isolated Scottish highland village, having caused the death of two people on the North Sea. He is pulled out of his despair by the odd, reclusive young scientific genius Vivian Calder, disinherited heir of the local lord. No one writes more beautifully in the entire romance world than Harper Fox.

Carry The Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

The greatest strength in Cullinan’s book is its two voices, the alternating narrators: Emmet Washington, a nineteen-year-old college sophomore with autism, and Jeremey Samson, a recent high-school graduate with severe depression and anxiety disorder. Emmet has a family who gets him and has helped him achieve a lot of his potential. Jeremey, not so much. That these two young men should find friendship and love together seems an impossibly wishful fairy tale, and yet Cullinan lays out their story in such a way as to make it fully believable and even inevitable.

The Butterfly King by Edmond Manning

Book Three of the Lost and Found Kings series drags us—some reluctantly, some avidly—once more into the strange inner world of Vin Vanbly, the pseudonymous anti-hero who unleashes the inner power of lost kings. If that paragraph didn’t mean anything to you, you might not like this book. For those of us who have fallen in love with Vin Vanbly, The Butterfly King was a revelation. Edmond Manning has created an emotionally exhausting tumble down a rabbit hole into the unseen worlds of ordinary lives. These worlds exist in both the physical and psychological interstices about which we all remain largely ignorant as we go about our ordinary business.

A Flight of Magpies by KJ Charles

In Flight of Magpies KJ Charles offers us the third, and most exciting, of the Charm of Magpies series set in a parallel Victorian England. Lord Crane is a tattooed adventurer, and Stephen Day is a magic practitioner who struggles to keep the world safe. The setting, the characters, both primary and supporting, the action, and even the sex; all work together to provide a page-turning adventure that will have you begging for more at the end. Something about the language, the dialogue, in this volume is especially riveting. Both Lord Crane and Stephen Day speak with such acuity and power. Each of them has great moments of soliloquy that give us insight into their true strength and character.

Guardians of the Haunted Moor by Harper Fox

Harper Fox’s Tyack and Frayne series is different from her stand-alone books. Yes, there’s the same gorgeous, polished writing, but you’re less aware of it in this series. What really drives these books is the people who populate them.  Front and center are Lee Tyack and Gideon Frayne—the clairvoyant and the cop. Fox manages to make Lee’s unearthly psychic gifts seem like any other highly-developed talent, and his intensely nurturing, loving personality is more important than his other aspects. Gideon, big strong gentle Cornish policeman, is possibly one of my favorite characters ever.

Third Solstice by Harper Fox

I understand totally that I am biased. I am surely one of Harper Fox’s number one fans. But, with that grain of salt in mind, here are my thoughts on her latest installment of the continuing saga of Locryn Tayack and Gideon Frayne, clairvoyant and copper in the Cornish village of Dark. Here we find the Solstice approaching, and with it Tamsyn Tyack-Frayne’s first birthday. If the trauma around Tamsie’s adoption has settled down, the lingering pain and fear have not entirely dissipated. But normality, insofar as it is possible in a two-dad household where both fathers seem to have some sort of paranormal connection to each other and the spirit world in general, has returned. Then Tamsyn surprises her dads with a little unanticipated skill set and knocks their world off its axis once again.

Prosperity by Alexis Hall

Alexis Hall’s gorgeously written picaresque steampunk novel has as its warm heart the Dodger-like guttersnipe Piccadilly, known as Dil to his friends. Friends are few and far between until this maybe-eighteen-year-old arrives in the airborne mining town of Prosperity to see what he can find. There Dil encounters a group of characters as unforgettable as any penned by Charles Dickens, thanks to the brilliant verbal paintbrush of the author.

Champion of the Scarlet Wolf (two volumes) by Ginn Hale

In the world of contemporary epic fantasy, Ginn Hale is, in my opinion, a master. Not only does she write with an elegance and a passion that sucks the reader into the intense, complicated plots, but she creates worlds of startling beauty and characters of great power and compassion—and humor. Frankly, Hale’s a better writer than Tolkien. (There, I said it.) In these two books, to be read together, we see unfold a Byzantine plot of witchcraft, actors, prostitutes, soldiers, battles, mythical creatures, and ancient history. Alongside it unfolds a powerful love story, as the self-loathing Elezar, who has hidden his desire for men in violence and revenge, becomes the champion of the rag-tag street witch Skellan. Elezar believes himself to be bestial and able to express himself only through violence. Skellan feels unworthy and inadequate, hiding behind his magic for self-preservation. But both men are far more than they seem, and through these two volumes they gradually learn each other’s dark histories, and emerge as, well, the Sam and Frodo in Tolkien’s epic. Only bigger and a lot gayer.

The Gilded Scarab by Anna Butler

I can imagine that people who have no liking for Dickens or Trollope might find this novel tough sledding, because Butler meticulously creates a parallel world to ours in late Victorian London, and embellishes it with details that are historically accurate, even as she envelops her narrative in a savory steampunk fantasy that throws everything just a little bit off. The central character, through whose damaged eyes we see Butler’s fantasy world, is Rafe Lancaster, black sheep of a cadet branch of a minor house. Bereft of the aerofighter career that had made his name in the Queen’s army, Lancaster quietly returns to Londinium (indeed the original Roman name for that city) and tries to build a new life for himself.

How to be a Normal Person by TJ Klune

The first asexual gay romance I’ve ever read. Gustavo Tiberius is one of the cutest, most endearing socially dysfunctional people I’ve ever read; and Casey Richards is the most adorable, charming asexual hipster I’ve ever heard of.



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Beverley Jansen
Beverley Jansen
01/12/2016 10:57 am

Fabulous list Ulysses and I have read them all with the exception of part 2 of the Ginn Hale fantasy series – saving that for a free weekend!