Tag Archives: The Best Of

Aidee’s Top 10 Reads of 2020

*E.N. Aidee added this post on 1/13/21 – so all delays are the fault of one Limecello. 😬

My usual disclaimors about this list apply: the order in which these books appear is not related to how much I recommend them, and there were a lot of good books in 2020 which I recommend that aren’t on this list. The asterisk next to Emerald Blaze means I re-read it.

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (audiobook and e-book) |A- *
Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews Book CoverAs Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.

What can a Body Do by Sara Hendren | A+
What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren book coverFurniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets—nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider—or reconsider—the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built.

In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it—from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture—Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What might assistance based on the body’s stunning capacity for adaptation—rather than a rigid insistence on “normalcy”—look like? Can we foster interdependent, not just independent, living? How do we creatively engineer public spaces that allow us all to navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.

The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas | A
CHINA, 484 A.D.
A Warrior in Disguise
All her life, Mulan has trained for one purpose: to win the duel that every generation in her family must fight. If she prevails, she can reunite a pair of priceless heirloom swords separated decades earlier, and avenge her father, who was paralyzed in his own duel.

Then a messenger from the Emperor arrives, demanding that all families send one soldier to fight the Rouran invaders in the north. Mulan’s father cannot go. Her brother is just a child. So she ties up her hair, takes up her sword, and joins the army as a man.

A War for a Dynasty
Thanks to her martial arts skills, Mulan is chosen for an elite team under the command of the princeling—the royal duke’s son, who is also the handsomest man she’s ever seen. But the princeling has secrets of his own, which explode into Mulan’s life and shake up everything she knows. As they cross the Great Wall to face the enemy beyond, Mulan and the princeling must find a way to unwind their past, unmask a traitor, and uncover the plans for the Rouran invasion . . . before it’s too late.

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan | A+
Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.

Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.

All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.

Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo (novella) by P. Djeli Clark | A
A Tor.com original historcal fantasy set in an alternate early twentieth century infused with the otherworldly.

Egypt, 1912. In Cairo, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.

At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Can’t Even by Ann Helen Petersen | A
Do you feel like your life is an endless to-do list? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because you’re too exhausted to pick up a book? Are you mired in debt, or feel like you work all the time, or feel pressure to take whatever gives you joy and turn it into a monetizable hustle? Welcome to burnout culture.

While burnout may seem like the default setting for the modern era, in Can’t Even, BuzzFeed culture writer and former academic Anne Helen Petersen argues that burnout is a definitional condition for the millennial generation, born out of distrust in the institutions that have failed us, the unrealistic expectations of the modern workplace, and a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to “perform” our lives online. The genesis for the book is Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed article on the topic, which has amassed over seven million reads since its publication in January 2019.

Can’t Even goes beyond the original article, as Petersen examines how millennials have arrived at this point of burnout (think: unchecked capitalism and changing labor laws) and examines the phenomenon through a variety of lenses—including how burnout affects the way we work, parent, and socialize—describing its resonance in alarming familiarity. Utilizing a combination of sociohistorical framework, original interviews, and detailed analysis, Can’t Even offers a galvanizing, intimate, and ultimately redemptive look at the lives of this much-maligned generation, and will be required reading for both millennials and the parents and employers trying to understand them.

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole (audiobook) | A-
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She’s finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (audiobook) | A-
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

Enjoy a drunken night out.
Ride a motorcycle.
Go camping.
Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
And… do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane (audiobook) | A
A generation past, the western realms were embroiled in endless war. Then the Destroyer came. From the blood and ashes he left behind, a tenuous alliance rose between the barbarian riders of Parsathe and the walled kingdoms of the south. That alliance is all that stands against the return of an ancient evil—until the barbarian king and queen are slain in an act of bloody betrayal.

Though forbidden by the alliance council to kill the corrupt king responsible for his parents’ murders, Maddek vows to avenge them, even if it costs him the Parsathean crown. But when he learns it was the king’s daughter who lured his parents to their deaths, the barbarian warrior is determined to make her pay.

Yet the woman Maddek captures is not what he expected. Though the last in a line of legendary warrior-queens, Yvenne is small and weak, and the sharpest weapons she wields are her mind and her tongue. Even more surprising is the marriage she proposes to unite them in their goals and to claim their thrones—because her desire for vengeance against her father burns even hotter than his own…

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (audiobook) | A-
It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

· Never trust an outsider

· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations

· And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.

A man who has never felt at home anywhere.

And a choice to be made between the two.

Aidee’s Top Ten Reads of 2019

If I could somehow tell you of these books all at once, I would, because I love these books equally for different reasons. So they are not ranked.

Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski book coverThis groundbreaking book explains why women experience burnout differently than men—and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimize stress, manage emotions, and live a more joyful life.

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?

Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach.

I read this book after my first year of law school. I found it to have a lot of insights about how people interact with stress and stressors, and a lot of helpful advice about how to deal with it in healthier ways. Continue reading

Aidee’s Most Recommended in 2017

I realize its February, and you probably have at least five more books on your TBR pile because of all the lists of books out there—I know I do. But here I am anyway, fully intending to add more books to your piles because there are never too many books—unless you just get them because you can, with no intention of reading them sometime in the near future. Below, my list of most recommended books from 2017. I have two or three that weren’t actually published in 2017, but which I have found myself recommending to everyone who will listen to me long enough. The list isn’t in any particular order. Continue reading

My Top 10 Reads of 2017

Hi friends! So … I wrote this list out once already, and agonized over it … then somehow O_o lost it? So … apologies if things aren’t clear or I seem vague – I can’t remember who said what or when or keep things straight in my brain these days anyway, so … I tried to get the original points and gist but we’ll see. Anyway! These are my ten favorite reads from 2017 … basically. Yes! I kept it to 10. Kind of. 😛 Shut up, the series are really interconnected, okay?!

SO MANY BOOKS YAY! <3 Continue reading

Karen’s Top 10 Reads of 2017

The first Team ALBTALBS List! (I always wait until January of the next year to post in case someone read an OMFG AMAZING LOVELOVELOVE book that should go on the list on say, December 31.) 

There were so many good books I read on 2017 that to pick 10 is actually hard, however:

Captured Shadows by Richard Rider was a lyrical Victorian love story, as much about photography as it was about Archie and Jim. Avoiding many of the cliches used in historical m/m Rider made that my favourite romance read of 2017. (In fact, Karen also reviewed this book, if you want to check that out here!) 

Jim Sinnett spends his days on respectable portrait photography and his nights creating scandalous erotic pictures for men who hide their desires in locked cabinets and between the pages of books. When a new friendship leads to a secret opportunity, one more dangerous than ever before, Jim agrees to step in front of the camera but finds himself baring much more than his skin.

A twisting historical romance set in the fog of Victorian London, Captured Shadows follows the path of love, blackmail and obsession to a devastating climax.

Continue reading

Mary’s Favorites of 2016

Gosh, I cannot believe it’s the end of 2016 already! Where did the year go? (Please, dear Lord, tell me the rest of you feel this way and it’s not just me!)

Anyway, I don’t always get a chance to write reviews for books I’ve read and loved, so this is a great time to do an end-of-the-year recap and share with all of you some of my favorites from 2016! There are a few so – far warning – you should hide your wallet if you don’t want to be tempted! Continue reading

Let’s Talk Books!

RiseSo my friends, “Best of” lists are popping up everywhere … and this year I’m jumping on that train again. I was the first to do “most anticipated” lists … but I can’t handle that these days. I’m still working on documenting all the books I’ve read this year in GoodReads. We’ll see how that goes.

What I want to know is – what books have you read this year that you would recommend? Or what authors?

I’m planning on doing a “top ten” list at some point … but like Wendy said – what if I read a favorite book on December 31?? So, I’m holding off until the new year. 😀

[And if anyone would like to or be willing to help me celebrate ALBTALB’s fifth blogiversary in January please let me know!] <3

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Happy weekend, my friends! I thought about doing a serious post – and one that probably would get me in trouble … but I’m just not up to it today. I hadn’t written it yet, and my brain is floating around and my thoughts are even more scattered than usual. I have, however, been wanting to write one of these posts for a while. I did them at TGTBTU, and it’s just something that’s fun.

So – here’s a list of ten of my current favorite things.

1. The Clarisonic Mia2. I got this as a present. (Maybe I shouldn’t analyze why because it might upset me.) But, I love it. It’s fabulous. As you see, I was gifted the acne one, which … is fine. For a while, I was having major problems. “My face exploded” might be one way to say it, and I hated it. I haven’t run out of the wash that comes with it, so I can’t tell you how much that matters or not… but I’ve been told you can use it with whatever face wash you prefer. I love it. I use it once a day, and have noticed a huge difference in the past few months.

2. Dr. Scholl’s For Her Hidden Arch Supports Oh. My. God. These things are amaaaaaaziiinnnnggg. I have no arches. It’s terrible. Equally terrible, I have to wear heels to work. (Well, not have to, but I honestly am too short for flats. And, actually, yes, I did have LS professors that told me I had to wear heels in court. So…) These save my feet. When teaching I have to walk around and stand for over an hour, and it’s fine. Shoes that used to have me hobbling by the end of work, are now fine. I love them. I wish I could buy them in bulk. I would.

3. Philips Bliss Epilator. So, this is the one I have. Obviously (and sadly!) It’s been discontinued, or something, But I love it! OH! I just found it at Sephora – and for so much cheaper! $70 bucks! Seriously – say goodbye to shaving! I even :X use it on my face. Too lazy to tweeze or thread those brows? Epilate! Warning: not for the pansies. It might take some getting used to. And a measured pain threshhold. I don’t think it hurts that much, but I know others who have been traumatized. Not so here. Underarms etc too. Great for summer. I’ve had mine for years. (Like five?) It’s rechargeable, and wonderful. I’m always happy to recommend it.

4. Pour La Victoire + MyHabit. Well, MyHabit is amazon’s flash sale site. It’s got free shipping, and free returns, and often up to 80% (if not more) on designer brands. J’adore. I’ve checked, and they also have super reasonable rates for international shipping. (At least, last I looked.) Almost all my PLVs have come from Amazon. I’m addicted. And? Most of my shoes have been free courtesy of Swagbucks. (Which, if you have any questions about that feel free to ask!) This sandal (the Shanna) is from PLV’s spring collection. I’m not in love with it, but we all have to admit it is a very sexy shoe. And, we should all know, I have a major weakness for snakeskin shoes. Which, for PLV, they actually are. (Many other brands are a lie.)

5. 39DollarGlasses.com No joke – you can get prescription glasses – lenses and frames for $39. You can’t really beat that. Their frames aren’t bad either. And they’re durable. I’ve :X stepped on my pair like 6 times – they’re still good. Note, my eyes are horrible, so I had to pay a little bit more (I think 40something) for my first pair. They also often have deals – like 15% off, or $15 off. And in fact, if you use this link, it should get you 20% off your first purchase. The entire purchase. They of course also have the fancier lenses and frames, and that’ll cost you a bit more. Still, cheaper than normal retail, I imagine.

6. Lime La Croix. I love seltzer now. (Funny, because once when I tried it in elementary school, I spat it out. Of course, I was told it was like soda pop. So.) Now, I love it as a mixer. Almost all the La Croix flavors, but of course the lime, right? 😀 It really is the best one as a mixer. Also, however, I like drinking it straight. It often helps settle an upset stomach, and more generally, cut grease. You know, if you ate something like, pizza, or anything else bad for you. Chips, etc, a good follow up as a palate cleanser is seltzer. And it’s nice to have on hand.

7. Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. No pictures here – I have none, and I’m not about to steal it from Panera. But yes – the soup from Panera. I adore it. But one day, I got the bread bowl for take out, and felt totally cheater. I only got a cup of it! And a big sour dough bowl. So, boo. After that I decided to make it myself. There are a number of copycat recipes online, and I recommend you look for and find your favorite. I got the one from all recipes – and personally, would add some fresh mushrooms diced the next time. The recipe calls for mirepoix, which then you add a roux to. I then added chicken breast that I diced up (and here I’d add the cream – just a bit; I messed up the first time and added it after the stock had heated. Eek! I’m lucky it didn’t curdle.) Then, stock, and the wild + long grain rice. I bought zataran’s mix because it was cheapest at the store. 😀 And done! So freaking delicious. Oh, also, I doubled, if not tripled the mirepoix amount from all recipes. I like a healthier soup. I also didn’t use butter, instead using olive oil.

8. First, DUDE! Did you guys know that amazon now sells wine?! No idea how long it’s been up, but I just saw it. But anyway, what I want to do is talk about one in particular.  Yellowtail bubbles. It’s a very drinkable sparkling wine. Beyond that, the price is great. You can usually get it for ~$8. Which, is a great thing. Next, it’s got a really fun “reusable” cap. So, you know how usually you have to finish a bottle of champagne? Not so here! You can seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You can also actually keep the top and use it for other bottles. (You know, other cork savers etc usually suck out the air; which, for bubbly isn’t very helpful. And flat bubbly is baaad.) Then also, sparkling wine is gorgeous with these hibiscus flowers in syrup. Add a teaspoon or two of the syrup, and drop a flower into the bottom of the champagne flute. Awesome cocktail, gorgeous, and simple. Of course, after you finish the cocktail, you get the treat of eating the flower too. Very nice. And fancy.One of these days I hope to buy a 50 flower jar. 😀

9. Tito’s Vodka. I actually first heard of it on the radio. (On the Elvis Duran on the Morning Show – my morning companions for many many years.) The host, Elvis was talking about this vodka – made in Austin! Austin being one of my favorite cities, and vodka also being a favorite, my ears perked. Awesome vodka? Made in the states? Yes please! No import cost! I finally went to the liquor store, and found a 1.75 liter bottle for a reasonable price … and I bought that bitch. Of course, this is after I asked twitter, and was told by some people after trying it, it’s the only vodka they’d drink. Good enough for me! I now have a new go-to vodka. Always a good thing.

10. Lime sugar. No pictures for this one either, because, well, it doesn’t photograph well. It’s prettier in real life, but more, it’s the amazing smell that really does it. What is it? Exactly what it sounds like. That, and it’s versatile. You can turn it into lime simple syrup. Use it in drinks. (Hello mojito?) And, I ran out of sugar while making a tres leches cake, and used a tiny bit of lime sugar. I have to say that I think it added and extra dimension and depth to the cake. (Of course I only used a little under a quarter cup, but still. Excellent.) Use it in pizzelles, as a garnish, really anything you like.

So! What would be on your current favorites list? Inquiring minds want to know! And if you have any questions about mine, please ask! I love dishing about stuff.

Guest: Megan Caldwell Shares Some Fun

Hello lovelies! We’ve got wonderful author Megan Caldwell (aka Megan Frampton) visiting with us today! She’s absolutely lovely and has a very lovely dry sense of humor. But today, she’s here playing with us and offering some lighthearted fun. Enjoy!

In a few days, my romantic women’s fiction title, Vanity Fare, will be released.

But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t like reading about how people got inspired to write whatever story it is they wrote, I don’t care about the writing process (it’s PAINFUL and UNIQUE for every author), I don’t need to discuss the heroine’s journey and all that crap. It’s boring (to me, at least).

[Sidebar: I’m reading Lime’s blog, and the guest author posts, and they’re intimidating. They’re pretty, and well-written, and talk about all sorts of things I’ve never even thought about. So, yikes]

Instead, let’s talk about some favorite things: Food, books, and foxy men. And we’ll ask you to make some difficult choices, too.

Food: If you had to eat just one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be? It can’t be as widespread as ‘protein,’ nor does it have to be as specific as ‘butternut squash soup.’ I think I would choose cheese, because there are so many varieties, and you can get the gamut of flavors. Nuts would come in a close second, but lose because of the dreaded Brazil nut.

[Second sidebar: One of my closest friends and I have had a years-long argument about the best kind of nut. She has the audacity to cite the Brazil nut as the best, whereas I counter with cashews. What say you?]

Books: If you could only read in one genre for the rest of your life, what genre would it be? And, if you’re feeling reckless, which author from that genre would you read over and over again? I’d pick historical, even though I don’t read as much historical as I used to. And for the one author, I’d go with Mary Balogh, whose traditional Regencies are on my all-time keeper list.

[Third sidebar: When you talk to someone who’s not as avid a reader as you, do you find they totally don’t get the idea of an all-time keeper list? And isn’t it fun to explain romance novel terms to non-romance readers? I just told my husband what ‘smexy’ was, for example.]

Foxy men: This is the toughest one, but also potentially the most fun. If you could stare at one guy for the rest of your life, who would it be? Living or dead or fictional or not, it doesn’t matter. I’d go with David Gandy as Jericho Barrons, which is kind of cheating, but I’m writing this, so I get to do what I want.

[Fourth sidebar: Does your significant other get bugged when you go on and on about how gorgeous some other guy is? Thankfully, mine does not, but I try not to do it too much, out of respect. But he does the same to me, so that’s fine]

What choices would you make?

Thanks so much to Megan for stepping in with a post today! I enjoyed the lighthearted tone, and to convince you all to come and play, she’s offering a copy of her upcoming release Vanity Fare!

Molly Hagan is overwhelmed.

Her husband left her for a younger, blonder woman; her six-year-old son is questioning her authority, and now so is she. In order to pay her Brooklyn rent and keep her son supplied with Pokémon and Legos, not to mention food and clothing, she has to get a job—fast.

So when an old friend offers Molly a freelance position copywriting for a new bakery, finding romance is just about the last thing on her mind. But the sexy British pastry chef who’s heading up the bakery has other thoughts. And then so does Molly, when she meets the chef’s intimidating business partner—who also happens to have a secret that might prevent Molly from getting her own happily ever after.