Book Reviews

2015 Books in Review, Part Two

Here is part two of my 2015 Books In Review. Part one is here.
 

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

“Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.”

This is the kind of book where I finished it and immediately looked up the author and everything else she has written. Unfortunately, this is Duyvis’ debut, but fortunately she has another book coming out this year.

All that’s to say that this was a YA that made me so, so happy. Interesting fantasy world: yes. Awesome female main character: yes. Awesome bi main character: yes yes. Very high stakes that keep getting higher: yessity yes yes. No love triangle: OMG YES. Fun(?) moral choices: yeeessss.

I don’t often unequivocally recommend books, but here you go. Read it.

 

Clariel by Garth Nix

“Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.”

My last WIP had an ace main character, so before I started the draft zero I wanted to see what kind of ace representation was already out there in the YA world. Answer: nothing. Real answer: well, almost nothing. Clariel is the only one I’ve found so far with an ace MC, and boy is she awesome.

I’m a fan of the Abhorsen series, so I’m surprised I didn’t pick this one up sooner. If you haven’t yet, and you like necromancers and fairyesque worlds, you should read the first in the series: Sabriel. This one is a fun, if sometimes exceedingly dark, worthy successor in the series. The only downside is that the audiobook isn’t read by Tim Curry. 🙂

 

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“After a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, Dellarobia Turnbow has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks a momentary escape with a younger man. As she hikes up the mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. For her, it’s a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media.

The bewildering emergency acquaints rural farmers with urban journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a biologist personally invested in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.”

You know me and literary fiction: there’s a reason most of my favorite list is fantasy. But goodness, this was a fulfilling, yet restless, book. Most descriptions bill it as a story about global warming, but it is so much more than that: a story of chaos and transformation.

Of course, I loved the parts about the butterflies the most, and all the detailed information about their lives. Absolutely insane what they go through. On top of that, I loved the depiction of science and scientists. As someone married to a scientist, I understand the frustration of watching your research be willfully misinterpreted. That careful underscoring of what, exactly, is science as well as why, sometimes, people ignore science was what really made the book.

 

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons.

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window. A sticker of Princess X.”

A breathless chase through Seattle, where I never quite knew what was going to happen, ending with crazy madness and excitement. The comic portion integrated very well with the story and it was cool to see what May had been talking about just the page before play out in the comic.

It’s one of those this-is-a-cool-idea! books that could have gone horribly wrong, but Priest has enough chops that it not only works, it works well. It’s also a super quick, super fun read – I actually finished it in a day. That doesn’t happen often. 🙂

 

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

“Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.”

This was absolutely ridiculous. But in a good way! I wish I’d had it for Halloween, because it would have been a perfect all-night read. Just spooky enough without actually being scary. Just odd enough to be hilarious. And a perfect commentary on working in the modern retail environment.

The illustrations of the various Orsk products were also brilliant, devolving along with the story. I liked finding all the easter eggs in both the drawings and the story. Another book I read all in one sitting, because it was just too much fun to put down.

 

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

“This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.”

Jemisin has solidified her place in my Absolute Fave Authors A++ category with this novel. It is haunting. It is gorgeous. It is surprising. It may or may not be paying a direct homage to Portal 2 with that ending.

It is, in a nutshell, everything I want from modern fantasy. Diverse and interesting and fully fleshed characters. Diverse and interesting and fully fleshed worlds. Several did that just happen?! moments. New magic systems that make me go why didn’t I think of that?? Moral questioning. Moral darkness. And a very on-point critique of our own society.

The Fifth Season is by far and away my favorite novel of 2015. If you take nothing away from this list, at least do yourself a favor and read this.

Book Reviews

2015 Books in Review, Part One

It’s that time of year again! Time to look back at the books I read and share with you the ones I enjoyed the most – the ones I would recommend or the ones that just struck me deeply. It’s always interesting to look at all I’ve read, because it gives a broad picture of what I was up to, what interested me, and where I ended up. It’s a more subjective measure of my year than anything I could come up with on my own.

That said… it’s telling that I read a lot less this year than last. 76 in 2014, but only 50 (give or take, probably give considering there are two weeks left in the year) in 2015. Part of this was due to my changing work life: I no longer have the luxury of listening to audiobooks for a large chunk of my day. Part of this was just my own failure to prioritize reading.

Which needs to change! If nothing else, reading will be a big goal for me in 2016. Reading is just as important as actually putting words on a page for a writer. Also I need to make a dent in this TBR pile. Honestly, it looks like it might fall over and crush me at any moment.

Here are my 2015 Books of Awesome, Part One:

The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

“In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe – and kill those judged corrupt.”

THIS BOOK. This. Book. It is everything I love in fantasy: beautiful, well-crafted characters, interesting and new settings, diverse cultures, grappling with complex issues, fun! and fast! and just hooks its claws into you and doesn’t let go until you’re on the last page and then you need to take a few days to recover. Jemisin is one of those amazing writers who can write beautifully and plot tightly and characterize brilliantly and I just – go. Go read her. Now. I’ll wait.

 

Lock-In by John Scalzi

“Not too long from today, a highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge…”

If you like Scalzi, you’ll like this. If you like fun, fast, and hilarious mysteries, you’ll also like this.

 

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

“There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions.”

Losing Pratchett this year was hard. He was a big, formative influence for me and many others. To celebrate his life, I immediately read some faves of his. Hogfather is one of his best and a good introduction to his writing.

 

Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

“AndrĂ© DeschĂŞnes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher who will forgive his murderous past – and train him to manipulate odds and control probability. It’s called the art of conjuring, and it’s André’s only route to freedom. For the world he lives on is run by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, and his floating city, Novo Haven, is little more than a company town where humans and aliens alike either work for one tyrannical family – or are destroyed by it. But beneath Novo Haven’s murky waters, within its tangled bayous, reedy banks, and back alleys, revolution is stirring. And one more death may be all it takes to shift the balance.”

Bear has been on my TBR list for way too long and Undertow made me wish I’d read her sooner. I’m much more of fantasy girl than a sci-fi fan, but this book hit all the right spots. It was nerdy enough without being complete technobabble, it has giant talking frogs, and at one point it just goes completely nuts – but in the best way possible.

 

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire

“Velveteen lives in a world of super-heroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.

It’s all the same world. It’s all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.”

Pretty much anything written by Seanan is going to be an A++ gimme, but there’s just something more and beautiful about the Velveteen universe that made me shell out real cash for something I had already read (for free!) on her website. It’s hilarious and poignant and yes, I cried a few times, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it when it was all over.

 

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

“An antique violin, an Erich Zann original, made of human white bone, was designed to produce music capable of slaughtering demons. Mo is the custodian of this unholy instrument. It invades her dreams and yearns for the blood of her colleagues—and her husband. And despite Mo’s proficiency as a world class violinist, it cannot be controlled.”

I’m just going to read everything in the Laundry Files series and recommend it every year, because it’s good and you should read it. The Laundry Files is Elder Gods meets government bureaucracy, except it’s become so much more than that.

 

 

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

“The news headlines are all abuzz about a local string of killings that share the same morbid trademark: the victims were discovered with their eyes missing. Then a beautiful yet eerie woman enters Ellie’s circle of friends and develops an unhealthy fascination with Kevin, and a crazed old man grabs Ellie in a public square and shoves a tattered Bible into her hands, exclaiming, ‘You need it. It will save your soul.’ Soon, Ellie finds herself plunged into a haunting world of vengeful fairies in an epic battle for immortality.”

I read this specifically because it included an ace character, and then I ended up having way too much fun along the way. I loved that it was set in New Zealand, I loved that it focused on Maori myth and culture, and I loved that the characters were fully fleshed out and real.

To be continued!