I’ve been reading  A LOT of books this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought and read fifty print books myself and that’s on top of all the ones I’ve borrowed from my mom.

(I have this trick where if I read a first book in a series and if I think she’ll like it I loan her the book and then if she really likes it she buys the rest of the series as soon as it comes out and I get to read it within a month or so of release rather than waiting for the book to be cheap enough I’ll buy it for myself. Or if the series is already out she just buys the rest of the series. Free books for me. Woohoo!)

That is my primary escape/stress release/what-have-you. Books. (And TV to a lesser extent. I’ve recently binged on some Australian and New Zealand cozy mystery TV series which were just soothing balms to my soul.)

This year being this year, though, not all books have done it for me as a reader. I think I’m much more critical right now in terms of what I’m willing to tolerate. I recently read a book where someone unrepentantly killed a million people and I just didn’t want to be there for that. And there were a handful of books I read this year or tried to read that seemed to revel in including formerly taboo topics.

One book I just tried to read spent three pages talking about shit. Literal shit. And, hey, every author gets to write what they want to write. I know some readers don’t like what I choose to write about. But I have no interest in that sort of thing right now.

And I’m saying all this so it’ll put the recommendations I’m about to make into context.

I wanted engrossing books that had “good people” with strong relationships as their main characters. I wasn’t necessarily looking for fluffy books–I do enjoy those at times, so no judgement there–but I just didn’t want to be depressed by what I read. Or manipulated for that matter. Or hate-reading the book to see if the character finally got their comeuppance. I wanted people trying to do good or be better than they were.

So these are the two that have stood out to me in the last few months that I can recommend without reservation.

Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha: I really enjoy the Twitter account of one of the two authors behind this pen name and was starting to get a little desperate for good new reads so figured I’d check it out even though, for me personally, the guy having bionic fingers was not a selling point, and I’ve also been avoiding paying for hard covers since I stopped consulting. It was worth it, though.

I’d say the “mercenary librarians” angle is more of a catchphrase than the main focus. (I recently read Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine and that to me was much more of a library book than this one. Also a good book.) Deal with the Devil has a good ensemble cast of super soldier types on a dangerous adventure with everyone turning out to be pretty decent. I mean, sure, one of the main characters is basically a vigilante serial killer, but so far only for people who deserve it. It’s also definitely a romance.

I suspect this series will be structured like the Nora Roberts fantasy romance series books are where you have a new couple as the main viewpoint characters in each book but the whole ensemble is present throughout the entire series. And I do think that maybe one of the ultimate couples may actually be a threesome, but that doesn’t happen in this book. Just something to consider going in if any of that is an issue for you. There’s definitely sex in this book but it doesn’t dominate the plot and IMO it was well-written sex although (again, if this is an issue for you) with explicit words used.

The other book I really enjoyed is The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m actually reading the third book in the series right now because I liked it so much that I kept going.  (In hard cover, so that tells you how much I liked it.) I haven’t finished the series so can’t vouch for all three, but so far we’re going strong. One character in the third book became disappointing for me because he put taking orders above doing the right thing, but I suspect by the end of it he’ll have turned that around. I certainly hope so.

This is one I couldn’t share with my mom because the world-building was too complex for her, but I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of it. There’s some “lost princess in a political power struggle with existing rulers” storyline but it’s still a really well-done series so far with nuanced characters and interesting magic.

It does have a lot of killing, so be prepared for that. But that’s more in the background than the forefront of the story, if that makes sense. Even when people are dying by the hundreds the focus is still on the characters.

Which is probably not a good way to describe it, but it’s good. And if you like fantasy with magic in it that focuses on the characters, I think it’s worth checking out.

So there you have it. Two books (actually three) worth reading while you wait for me to one day publish my next book, which despite my great desire for it to be so cannot be a book about a girl hanging out in the forest with her cool animal companion avoiding the rest of the world…