Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Nine Best Reads of 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 0
As I've mentioned elsewhere: Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2014. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

Unlike my list of the top books published in 2014, this list is for the top books I read in 2014, no matter when the book was published. I'm also going to cheat a little and where a book overlaps with the previous list, I'm going to use most of the same text.  Because I'm lazy.


1. Ancillary Justice / Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice won pretty much all the awards it could possibly win, and after all that, still managed to live up to the massive hype it inspired.  Ancillary Sword was a sequel that couldn't possibly live up to the first novel, yet, it did.  This is top notch science fiction and was, collectively, my favorite reads of 2014.  Bring on Ancillary Mercy!!

2. The Eternal Sky, by Elizabeth Bear: The Eternal Sky is comprised of Range of Ghosts, The Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky.  It is epic fantasy that we don't see every day, with a very middle eastern and eastern flavor, but don't read this because it's good for you.  Read this because it's just friggin good.  Elizabeth Bear doesn't write bad books, and this is Bear at the top of her game. 

3. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker: A beautiful and moving debut in turn of the century New York City, where the city feels almost as much of a character as the immigrant experience and the varied titular creatures also attempting to find both themselves and their way in a world very foreign from what they knew.  I'm not sure I can adequately capture just how good this book is.  It demands to be read.

4. Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer: The Southern Reach trilogy as a whole is strong, but Annihilation's introduction to Area X was what unnerved me the most and set the table for a meal I simply had to come back for. 

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot: The powerful and moving true story of a woman whose genetic information and her cells taken without her understanding did the world a lot of good, but Skloot explores the intersection of scientific advancement and personal consent by tracking the story of Henrietta Lacks.

6. The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley: Alternate "mirror" worlds, blood magic, and just insane worldbuilding.  The Mirror Empire is a kick in the balls of epic fantasy and it's friggin outstanding.  Easily one of my favorite reads of the year and one which has me damn near salivating at the thought of reading the second book next year. 

7. Hild, by Nicola Griffith: Griffith takes what little is known of the early life of St Hilda of Whitby and extrapolates one possible story of how a young "heathen" girl could become an abbess and adviser to bishops and kings.  Spectacular.

8. Sheepfarmer's Daughter, by Elizabeth Moon: I briefly considered having this spot be for the full Deed of Pasksenarrion trilogy, but I'm only 40 some pages into Oath of Gold and I don't see myself making sufficient enough progress in that third book to feel confident enough that it will live up to my expectations.  I think it will, but here Sheepfarmer's Daughter will do.  It is the opening novel in the trilogy and is very much the story of a young soldier just beginning her career - and how her being a young woman plays into it.  This is top notch fantasy, and easily worth discovering if you have not already done so.

9. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison: My only complaint about this book is that it is a standalone novel, which is something that I both appreciate and am frustrated by, because I very much want more of it.  On the other hand, a quality standalone fantasy novel is worth the price of admission.


Previous Best Reads
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2013

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Top Nine Books Published in 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 0
Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2014. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

This Top Nine List is more or less in order.  Ask me tomorrow and some titles may shift around a little bit.  Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2014 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned. 


1. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie: At any given moment, I could shuffle the top four books on this list and feel very comfortable with how everything landed.  But at this moment, Ancillary Sword feels the most like the book which should be at the top of this list.  After all of the hype and Ancillary Justice winning pretty much everything, Ancillary Sword had a lot of expectation to live up to.  It did, but it wasn't just Ancillary Justice Redux.  It advanced the story of the first novel but is very much its own thing.  It is a worthy successor to one of the best novels of 2013.

2. Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer: The Southern Reach trilogy as a whole is strong, but Annihilation's introduction to Area X was what unnerved me the most and set the table for a meal I simply had to come back for. 

3. The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley: Alternate "mirror" worlds, blood magic, and just insane worldbuilding.  The Mirror Empire is a kick in the balls of epic fantasy and it's friggin outstanding.  Easily one of my favorite reads of the year and one which has me damn near salivating at the thought of reading the second book next year. 

4. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison: My only complaint about this book is that it is a standalone novel, which is something that I both appreciate and am frustrated by, because I very much want more of it.  On the other hand, a quality standalone fantasy novel is worth the price of admission.

5. The Book of Unknown Americans, by Christina Henriquez: If there is ever a book that will help people re-think their views on illegal immigration and why the immigrants have come to America and the reasons why they might feel they have no choice to avoid the documented immigration system, it is this novel.  But, The Book of Unknown Americans is NOT a didactic polemic on the immigration system, but rather a fictional telling of very real stories of a small set of immigrants and what their lives were like before and now.  This is a beautiful book.

6. Hawk, by Steven Brust: I have finally caught up with the Vlad Taltos novels and Hawk is one of my favorites of a series I adore. It brought back so much of what was wonderful of those earliest Jhereg books - Vlad plotting and working a scheme and not telling nearly as much as he should, but doing so right under the nose of the Jhereg.  Wonderful. 

7. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, by Genevieve Valentine: This is the novel I didn't realize I always wanted Valentine to write. It is an outstanding novel of 1920's New York, with dance halls and speakeasies.

8. Defenders, by Will McIntosh: Go read a Will McIntosh novel. It doesn't matter which one, but you should be reading Will McIntosh.  Earth is invaded by mind-reading aliens. Humans create the "defenders" to defeat the aliens, but that causes a new round of problems.  Defenders is excellent, and so is everything else Will McIntosh has written.

9. Steles of the Sky, by Elizabeth Bear: The Eternal Sky trilogy is an impressive piece of epic fantasy, and one which uses a more Eastern setting than Western.  I've seen this described as Silk Road Fantasy, but whatever it is - it's damn good fantasy.  This is what we expect from Elizabeth Bear, and she continues to hit the mark.  Start with Range of Ghosts. 



Previous Best Ofs
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Top Nine Author Discoveries of 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014 0
It seems I have not put together one of these lists in several years, the most recent being 2011.  My mistake. But, since we are coming to the end of another year, it's time to start reflecting on all of the awesome stuff that I've read throughout the year.  This has been a year for discovering authors I should have read twenty years ago, but for no reason I can articulate, did not.  It is also a year for discovering some of the hotter new authors. 

Here then, are my top nine author discoveries of 2014. In the spirit of acknowledging that there is always something or someone I’ve missed, either by a slip of memory or just lack of opportunity, the traditional tenth spot on my list remains blank.

1. Ann Leckie: I've been familiar with Ann Leckie for years, having read her short fiction and eagerly following her excellent short fiction zine GigaNotoSaurus while she was the editor.  To that point, Leckie isn't really an author "discovery", but then came Ancillary Justice (my review) and the follow up Ancillary Sword and holy crap, you can still be absolutely blown away and amazed by this wonderful writer who you knew was good but still didn't see this coming.  That's Ann Leckie, and that's why she is still a discovery.

2. Rosemary Kirstein: I love discovering authors I should have been reading long ago, and sometimes I hate it.  I hate it because The Steerswoman (my review) is a friggin excellent novel and I feel like I've missed out on something by not having discovered this years ago.  I love it, because there are all these old "new" novels I haven't read before.  Either way, I am so happy that I discovered Rosemary Kirstein this year.  I've read The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret and I am looking forward to the next two. 

3. Elizabeth Moon: Another writer I discovered much later than I would have liked, but unlike some of the others, I think I hit Moon at just the perfect time.  I don't know what my level of appreciation for Sheepfarmer's Daughter (my review) would have been years ago since it is mostly a grunt's level military fantasy novel.  Which is to say that I loved it, but like Glen Cook's The Black Company, I needed distance from my teenage years to appreciate it.  I am about to start the third Paksenarrion novel, Oath of Gold.  I'll be reading Elizabeth Moon for years now.

4. Kate Elliott: You know when you see a series of novels on a shelf for years (maybe fifteen years) and you think, "I should read that soon", but you wait another month and then another and then another year and then more time passes and you keep seeing the book and keep thinking "I should really read that, it looks awesome", but then you don't?  Then, some more years pass and you finally do read the book and you seriously get mad that you passed it over for more than a decade because the novel was stupid good and you can't wait to read the next one that you could have also read a decade ago?  Yeah, that's Kate Elliott and her Crown of Stars series which begins with King's Dragon.  I'm now two books in and I'm still pissed off I waited this long.  I feel like I should apologize to someone, but I'm not sure who. 

5. Katherine Addison: Despite being on my radar for years and years as Sarah Monette, I had never read any of her solo novels (I had read A Companion to Wolves (my review), which she wrote with Elizabeth Bear and it was excellent), but then The Goblin Emperor (my review) was published under the pseudonym of Katherine Addison and I finally picked up one of Sarah's novels.  It just felt like it was time and the book to read.  Folks, it is excellent and one of the best novels of 2014 (spoiler alert for my forthcoming Best Of list).

6. Wesley Chu: What can I say, I'm apparently a sucker for stories where aliens crash land on earth and inhabit humans as "hosts" and shape the direction of human history for their own purposes.  I'm sure I've read other books with that overall subject, but if not, Chu's Tao novels are still excellent on their own merit.  Start with the first book, The Lives of Tao (my review), continue on with The Deaths of Tao, and then wait eagerly for The Rebirths of Tao in April.  Do it now. 

7. Helene Wecker: Go read The Golem and the Jinni (my review).  If that is a debut novel, I can only imagine what Wecker's second novel will be like.  I can't wait. 

8. Tamora Pierce: I read Alanna just a couple of weeks ago.  It was published in 1983, and I swear to you that if I read that book when I was ten or twelve or fifteen years old instead of when I was thirty five, Tamora Pierce would be one of my favorite writers of all time.  I plan to read more of Pierce's work, but I feel like I really missed out on an opportunity to have a favorite writer hit me at just the right time.  I would have devoured Alanna as a teenager. 

9. Lois McMaster Bujold: It is weird to think that I met an author years before I ever read any of her work, and it is not because she wasn't published yet. I met Bujold the first year I attended Fourth Street Fantasy, had a very brief chat with her (not knowing yet who she was), and then never quite got around to reading any of the numerous novels she had published and won awards for.  And then I read Barrayar (my review) and wondered why in the world I hadn't been reading Bujold for years because it was a simply fantastic novel that I couldn't possibly read fast enough. 

Previous discoveries can be found for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Forthcoming Books: January - February - March 2015

Tuesday, December 02, 2014 4
Coming to the end of the year, it is time to look ahead towards some interesting stuff being published in the beginning of 2015.  I'm using the Locus Forthcoming list because even though it may not be exhaustive, it is a fairly representative list of what is coming out over the course of a year.  My list below is based simply on that which strikes my own fancy, and I'm sure I'm overlooking all sorts of excellent stuff that if only I knew more about it or was familiar with the author's work, I would be excited for it.  But, alas, I am not.

Later this month there will be the annual look at the books I am most excited for coming out any time next year, and you will see books slide from year to year to year depending on delays and such.  But for this post, it is just the first three months.


January: I am a book behind on the Tao series from Chu, but The Lives of Tao (my review) was a breath of fresh air in my reading.  Rebirths of Tao is volume three in the series, so I better get a move on.  I adored Jo Walton's Among Others, so at this point any new Walton is cause for celebration.

Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu
The Just City, by Jo Walton


February: New Elizabeth Bear, which needs no explanation.  I thought the first Wastelands anthology was fantastic (my review) and I'm a sucker for post apocalyptic fiction.  I actually have the Kate Elliott collection on my Nook, so that's something I'll chip away at pretty soon.  And a new Kelly Link collection, which even though I'm not necessarily as big of a fan as many others, I think it is worth noting and worth reading.

Wastelands II: More Stories of the Apocalypse, by John Joseph Adams (editor)
Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear
The Very Best of Kate Elliott, by Kate Elliott
Get In Trouble, by Kelly Link


March: I'm a bit less excited by this month and I expect that what I read from March will be read months if not years down the line.  But, I'm two books into Peter Brett's series and I enjoyed them like a good 80's fantasy (my review of The Warded Man), Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium was excellent (my review) and I keep talking about his new books without reading them, and while I loved Bitter Seeds from Ian Tregillis (my review), I still haven't read anything else of his.

The Skull Throne, by Peter V. Brett
Harrison Squared, by Daryl Gregory
The Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis

Monday, December 01, 2014

Books Read: November 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014 2
The positive to take away from this is that I was able to get the post up on the first day of the month.  The negative is that I don't have any reviews to link up. I had anticipated only finishing nine or ten books, but I had a couple days at the very end where I powered through several.  I do count books that, for whatever reason, I was unable to finish.  I want to be able to record those as well. 


1. The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, by Jean Stafford (unfinished)
2. The Way West, by A. B. Guthrie
3. As You Wish, by Cary Elwes
4. The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1992, by Charles M. Schulz
5. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
6. Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb
7. Shouldn't You Be in School?, by Lemony Snicket
8. The Sapphire Rose, by David Eddings
9. Shattered Pillars, by Elizabeth Bear
10. Unlocked, by John Scalzi
11. Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham (unfinished)
12. Some Luck, by Jane Smiley
13. The Outskirter's Secret, by Rosemary Kirstein
14. Facing the Music, by Jennifer Knapp

Best Book of the Month: I am simply enamored with Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books and I really want to see how she continues to develop this world - how the "magic" continues to be revealed as science.  I reviewed the first book, The Steerswoman, back in April.  The Outskirter's Secret is a worthy follow up. 

Disappointment of the Month: I've been chipping away at Lemony Snicket's prequel series to A Series of Unfortunate Events, but this latest entry was fairly dull and tedious.  Alternately, my tolerance for his particular style of writing was much lower than usual and I'm sure my child will love this book if he discovers it in five to ten years.  Or something. 

Discovery of the Month: No discoveries for November.

Unfinished of the Month:  There is nothing particularly wrong with Jean Stafford's Pulitzer Prize winning collection, but there was also nothing that made me want to read another story.  I read the first several, and then skipped ahead a few times.  Disinterest. 

Worth Noting: Fans of Jennifer Knapp's music or those who followed the Christian music scene in the late 90's and early 2000's may wish to check out her memoir, Facing the Music - which talks about her journey in and out (and in again) of the music industry, her faith, and her relationship with a woman (which is only notable because of how the Christian music industry and many churches treat homosexuality and as such, it becomes a significant part of her story).  I have been a big fan of Knapp's, once frequented the Alabaster Arts message boards, and I am more than thrilled to see her recording new music.  That her earlier "Christian" music spoke about her own doubts and struggles is what resonated with me and the continuing journey of her music speaks to me, still.  Plus, it's just damn good music.  Facing the Music is worth checking out.

Gender Breakdown: Of the fourteen books I read last month, eight were written by women, which may  mark the first month since I've been keeping track of this sort of thing that I have read more female authored books in a given month than those written by men.  This brings my total to 55/123 for the year (44.71%).  Looking at what I currently have out from the library, I expect December to be similar to November with a solid chance of a second month reading more books written by women.


Previous Months
January
February
March 
April 
May
June
July 
August 
September
October
 
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