So far this year I’ve read 26 books. Some of them were okay, a few were kind of shitty, and then there were the other ones — the ones I absolutely loved and think everyone should run out and read right the fuck now.
These are those books, in no particular order except the one I read them in.
1. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the strongest members of the Forsyte family.
A groundbreaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn’s life and legacy puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.
Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Susan Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships.
Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and reimagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-“mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.
The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.
4. The Martian by Andy Weir
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, tho, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
5. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.
6. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.
Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.
With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?
7. White Fang by Jack London
In the desolate, frozen wilds of northwest Canada, White Fang, a part-dog, part-wolf cub soon finds himself the sole survivor of a litter of five. In his lonely world, he soon learned to follow the harsh law of the North—kill or be killed.
But nothing in his young life prepared him for the cruelty of the bully Beauty Smith, who buys White Fang from his Indian master and turns him into a vicious killer—a pit dog forced to fight for money.
Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce deadly killer?
A classic adventure novel detailing the savagery of life in the northern wilds. Its central character is a ferocious and magnificent creature, through whose experiences we feel the harsh rhythms and patterns of wilderness life among animals and men.
8. Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.
Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.
For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…
9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
First published in 1899, The Awakening is widely regarded as one of the forerunners of feminist literature alongside Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Over one long, languid summer Edna Pontellier, fettered by marriage and motherhood, gradually awakens to her individuality and sexuality and experiences love outside of her passionless marriage. But as she discovers emotional freedom, so she comes to realize the true extent of her psychological and social confinement, and its terrible consequences for her future. This tender, brilliant, seductive, and devastating novel is as beautifully written as it is politically engaging. The Awakening is as relevant today as when it was first published two centuries ago.
10. The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents . . .
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.
The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
11. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages. Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read in fantasy.”
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
12. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the #1 bestseller The Magician’s Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren’t black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.
13. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood”, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…
An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.
A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.
Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.
Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…
14. Undercity by Catherine Asaro
BOOK ONE IN A BRAND NEW SERIES by Nebula and Hugo Award Winner Catherine Asaro set in the world of her Skolian Empire universe. In the galaxy-spanning future, Major Bhaajan is a tough female P.I. who works the dangerous streets of Undercity.
Major Bhaajan, a former military officer with Imperial Space Command, is now a hard-bitten P.I. with a load of baggage to deal with, and clients with woes sometimes personal, sometimes galaxy-shattering, and sometimes both. Bhaajan must sift through the shadows of dark and dangerous Undercity—the enormous capital of a vast star empire—to find answers.
Good news on the writing front! Tainted Blood copy edits came back, and I went through them line by line. If you happen to follow my Twitter feed, believe me, that involved a whole lot of profanity. Plus some appeals to the Twitter hive mind, and the ever-popular “too gross?” checks. (those have left me with the following conclusion: there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who find poop jokes hilarious, and those who lack all sense of humor. Just a warning – there are poop jokes in Tainted Blood. AWESOME poop jokes.) Now the manuscript passes to the typesetter, and the next time I see it will be when I get the page proofs. So it’s making steady progress toward that November release date!
I’m in the process of re-organizing my office space. I’ve finally decided that I have outgrown the Walmart special desk (that is actually not a joke – I bought it when I was in grad school, and the budget was TIGHT back then) that I wrote the first three Fort Scott books on, and I’m upgrading to an L-desk that will offer about 2/3rds more room. Best of all, there will be room to not only type at the keyboard, but also slide my chair over and work longhand. While I’m at it, I’m also painting the office and finally putting up some pictures. Once this is done, I’ll start breaking ground on Fort Scott #4, which I am now officially contracted for. (the contract arrived yesterday with all the signatures! There is now no escape possible for Roc! Mwa ha ha ha!)
On to actual content.
According to my Goodreads account (which, can I just say how much I love that thing? Statistics make me happy – it’s why when I’m working on a book, I keep track of my daily wordcount), I’ve read 47 books so far this year. Let me tell you – it’s been a lot of fun. But as I stand here (or, rather, sit here) at the midpoint of the year, I have to admit – some of those books stunk, a lot were fantastic, but a few were ABSOLUTELY FUCKING AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD READ THEM NOW.
1. The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
This comes out July 1, but I got an ARC from Django. You might be asking yourself – wait, she got an ARC from the author, who she is also referring to by first name? Is this a case of that rampant authorial nepotism that I hear about?
I will neither confirm nor deny this.
BUT, seriously, I love this series to death. The first book was one of my favorites last year, and I was really looking forward to the sequel. It’s pretty fabulous – imagine a Victor Hugo novel (yes, THAT one – with the musical), but flintlock-fantasy style. Oh, and for those of you who are looking for a fantasy book with a great range of female characters – look no further. It’s here.
2. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
I was at VeriCon this year with Max Gladstone, and here’s the thing about being on multiple panels with other authors – you hear the elevator pitch for their novel about 50,000 times. (Max could probably mention all the bullet-point selling items for Generation V from memory) Now, if you’re highly susceptible to advertising, like I am, this usually means that you have to buy the damn thing. However, I’m really glad that I did this, because this book is INCREDIBLE. It’s actually as good as the cover – how often does that happen?
I also read the sequel, which equally rocked my world (book moral: bros before hos, fathers, bosses, and gods), but I made the executive decision that there would be no double entries.
3. Dust by Elizabeth Bear
Angels, a generation ship, a basilisk named Gavin who is also a laser-cutter, medievalism meeting high tech, and copious incest. Very, very cool.
4. Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Every superhero/supervillain trope ever is beautifully and mind-blowingly subverted in this book. Great characterization and a great out-of-order construction that gives this a great puzzle feeling. Fabulous payoff, too. I picked this up because everyone on my Twitter feed was going crazy over it, and THEY WERE RIGHT.
5. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
The textbook I was using for one of my classes in the spring semester had a really neat section on the graphic novel, and while I didn’t quite figure out a way to shoe-horn it into the official syllabus I did read an excerpt from FUN HOME, and I had to immediately order the whole book. It’s a fascinating and beautifully presented memoir of the author’s childhood and family, really considering the ideas of identity and sexuality. So worth checking out if you haven’t read it yet.
6. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
Sequels are tough when you really loved the original. Hopes get really high, and it’s unlikely for the sequel to live up to it. I’m really enjoying Anne Bishop’s foray into alternate-world urban fantasy, and the sequel really worked for me. I’ve had a pretty good six months with sequels, actually. Obviously, there’s my own sequel (REQUISITE PLUG AND SELF-BRAG), but I read a bunch that I really liked. I think the only one that just didn’t really do much for me was Sharon Shinn’s Royal Airs – though I still think that the first in that series, Troubled Waters, was utterly perfect.
7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
I’ve done my time in the English Department gulag, so I thought that I’d really had my fill of Brontes. I mean, not that I don’t like them. Wuthering Heights is pretty delightfully fucked up, and Jane Eyre is basically requisite reading given how often writers feel compelled to either rip it off or give it an homage (fact: best Jane Eyre homage EVER is Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn – it’s not just a copy & paste of basic story elements, but actually pays attention to the goddamn themes). But I didn’t really feel the need to complete my Bronte trifecta, feeling that I’d pretty much gotten the idea.
I was wrong. Anne is the badass Bronte sister. She’s all gritty realism! Feminism! Belief in redemption! I mean, her sister Charlotte outright refused to let Tenant of Wildfell Hall be republished during her lifetime because of how controversial her sister’s book is. Yes, the book is told in epistolary form, which normally makes me shudder, but it’s worth it.
Okay, and I also watched the BBC film version before I read it, which got my interest going. But – worth it!
8. The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro
Plus the other 12 books in this series that I read since January. I really love this series, and now I’m suffering withdrawal – the bummer of tearing through a series in three months that have taken the author just under twenty years to write. Plus side, according to Asaro’s website, she’s got Plans.
Most of the books in the series can be read individually – there is only one cliffhangered book, and that one is pretty overtly labeled Part One. If you read them in publication order there’s also this neat thing where Asaro skips all around in her own timeline. In some books they’ll refer to this big war that occurred years ago, and in later books the setting IS that war.
Now, I read the series in publication order, which begins with Primary Inversion. But if you’re interested in reading it in chronological order, start with Skyfall. What I’d love to be able to do is dump my memories of this series and try it in chronological order, then get my other memories back and compare.
9. Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore
LA noir with necromancy. It’s pretty awesome. The sequel comes out in August, too, so you won’t have to wait too long to find out what’s next for Eric Carter.
10. Beggars In Spain by Nancy Kress
This is one of those sci-fi books that utterly blows you away with the setup, the payout, and the insight into humanity. It’s also one of those books that will leave you completely depressed because of its insights – but it’s so good that you have to read more. Kress reminds me of Sherri S. Tepper in that way. Well worth checking out.
So that’s my Top Ten since January. What’s yours?