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It’s hard to play favorites.

It’s especially hard to play favorites when you’re an avid reader and you love most of what you read. Ever since I tapped into Goodreads and met readers with similar tastes, nearly every book I read is a 4- or 5-star rating. Not because I’m generous, but because I take recommendations from readers and authors I trust and usually read quality stuff.

Sometimes I veer off the path. And that can be fun, too, because I get some unexpected joys that way.

So instead of doing a “favorites” post for the end of 2014, let me tell you some surprise reads I had. These are books that I either didn’t expect to like at all, or didn’t expect to like as much as I did, or didn’t know about and therefore had no expectations of whatsoever – and I wound up loving the hell out of them.

In no particular order, and I’ve included Amazon/publisher links and author pages where I could:

Use – A caveat about Use. I will go on record as saying C.D. Reiss is one of my favorite authors in the history of ever. The woman could sell me a grocery list, that’s how much I love her writing. She is some kind of mindfucking poet magician genius who conjures the most incredibly beautiful and dark stories. Having said that, although I enjoyed the first book in the Songs of Perdition series, Kick, I had a hard time connecting to the MC, Fiona. Apparently I was the only person who did, because everyone else loved her, but I had a hard time “getting” her at all. It took a re-read of Kick and the release of Use to grasp a greater understanding of her. I was reluctant to read this one because I didn’t want to not connect with the MC in yet another book and then feel sad about that. Luckily, something turned in my head and I loved this book intensely. See? Magician genius. (To read my 5-star Goodreads review of Use, click here.)

He Belongs With Me by Sarah Darlington – I had never read any of Sarah’s work, and then I reviewed this book for Pure Textuality. I fell in love with this fun story, which seems like NA fluff but is actually a story about the masks we hide behind and how those masks can screw up our entire lives. Oh, and there are hot boys and hijinks throughout. (To read my review at PT, click here.)

Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay) by T. Baggins – Ah, the elusive and multi-talented T. Baggins. This book was another total unknown to me, but on a personal recommendation (and burning curiosity about the title, let’s face it) I decided to give it a go. A struggling actor working as an escort tries to take care of his dying sister, meets a closeted politician on the job, and falls in love despite his refusal to admit he’s gay (because family trauma). Don’t be put off or fooled by the title, the writing is top-notch, the story flawless, and the characters wonderfully endearing and sympathetic. (Oh, and HOT. Very hot.) I loved this book so much that I’m ashamed of the fact I haven’t written a proper review for it yet. (*Makes mental note.) But trust me, if you’re into M/M, you’ll love this one.

Random Acts of Crazy by Julia Kent – I don’t think I have ever almost wet myself laughing so hard at a book. I am not an LOL kind of girl – more of a chuckler. But there were times reading this book when I had tears streaming down my face and I had to take a minute to get myself together before I could continue reading. It’s funny, and tender, and steamy, and very real. To quote Stefon from SNL, this book has everything: a sweary-mouthed white trash BBW, two New England WASP rock stars, sex, drugs, ménage, and a chicken named Mavis. I don’t know what else to say except read this book. Oh man. It is just that good. As a side note, there’s an entire Random Acts series. Each book has its own flavor and is worth a read in its own right. (To read my review on Goodreads, click here.)

The Education of Sebastian by Jane Harvey-Berrick – JHB is one of my most trusted book buddy’s favorite authors, and now I know why. I hadn’t read any of her books until I grabbed this one (on a recommendation) when it was on sale. I had to warm up to it, because it’s about a married woman who begins an intense, illicit affair with a teenage boy (yes, he is underage, and yes, I struggled with that for about 2 seconds). I never reviewed it because I was too busy 1-clicking the sequel, The Education of Caroline. It was a surprisingly beautiful read with none of salaciousness you might expect with that subject matter. (Though it is gorgeously erotic.)

Degradation (The Kane Trilogy #1) by Stylo Fantôme – I don’t generally like AlphaHole MCs, mostly because I believe that women don’t need any more excuses to take shit from men and I don’t like reading about fictional women trying to heal “wounded” men with their stalwart love. (For more of my thoughts on that, see my post Give Him the Boot: A Primer.) Anyway, I was 3/4 of the way through the prologue and all prepared to yell at my friends about recommending me yet another rich bastard billionaire book when I hit chapter 1 and fell in love. L-O-V-E.  These characters were not what I expected at all. They are flawed, confused, wonderfully human and complex people. I devoured the entire trilogy in 48 hours and immediately crowed about these books to anyone who would listen. Seriously worth a read, even if (like me) Alphas make you yawn. Trust me, Satan is not that kind of Alpha.

At the Water’s Edge by Harper Bliss – Have you ever read a book so powerfully intimate that you felt like you were intruding into the main character’s private thoughts? That was this book for me. It’s thoughtful and sad confession as well as a tender love story and a journey of self-exploration. You can’t ask for more than that under one cover. Lush F/F romance blooms in this full-length novel by one of the best contemporary lesbian authors. (Review still pending.)

So there’s my seven. What were some of your surprise reads of 2014? I’d love to hear what lit your fire!

xo L.E.