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What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2016, First Quarter

Back by reader demand…. wait, no, that’s just a lie. Sorry, guys. I hope that people are enjoying my quarterly updates on the books that I’ve loved reading throughout the year, but I haven’t seen anyone expressing more than a tepid appreciation for these posts. Mostly I’m doing this again this year for two important reasons:

  1. It provides bloggable content.
  2. I find it enjoyable.

Writing-wise, I’m working on a lot of things on my end, but unfortunately there’s nothing that I can really talk about yet, since I don’t like discussing projects publicly until there’s a contract involved and some assurance that people will eventually see the end product. I’m pretty optimistic that I’m going to have a good announcement soon about an anthology that I was asked to contribute to, but until that gets a little further, I can’t announce anything.

Bummer, I know. Anyway, fingers crossed!

On to the main topic — what have I been reading so far in 2016? Well, I’ve read 20 books as of March 30th, and here are the ones that blew my mind. You’ll probably notice two trends — I read a lot of non-fiction, and I read a lot of Django Wexler:


 

  1. The Price of Valor (The Shadow Campaigns, #3) by Django Wexler

In the latest Shadow Campaigns novel, Django Wexler continues his “epic fantasy of military might and magical conflict”* following The Shadow Throne and The Thousand Names, as the realm of Vordan faces imminent threats from without and within.

In the wake of the King’s death, war has come to Vordan.

The Deputies-General has precarious control of the city, but it is led by a zealot who sees traitors in every shadow. Executions have become a grim public spectacle. The new queen, The Price of ValorRaesinia Orboan, finds herself nearly powerless as the government tightens its grip and assassins threaten her life. But she did not help free the country from one sort of tyranny to see it fall into another. Placing her trust with the steadfast soldier Marcus D’Ivoire, she sets out to turn the tide of history.

As the hidden hand of the Sworn Church brings all the powers of the continent to war against Vordan, the enigmatic and brilliant general Janus bet Vhalnich offers a path to victory. Winter Ihernglass, newly promoted to command a regiment, has reunited with her lover and her friends, only to face the prospect of leading them into bloody battle.

And the enemy is not just armed with muskets and cannon. Dark priests of an ancient order, wielding forbidden magic, have infiltrated Vordan to stop Janus by whatever means necessary…


You know what I love about this series? I mean, other than the cannons, the battles, the characters, the ever-increasing cast of amazing and diverse female characters, the attention to detail, the brewing stew of magic and religion, and the political undercurrents?

That each book in this series as a distinct tone. Different enough to keep things interesting and exciting, but without losing internal continuity.

Also, did I mention cannons?


 

2. Duel With The Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up To Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

Duel With The DevilDuel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a  stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a close with this book, which delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years.
            In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic.  Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached—with Manhattan likely to be the swing district on which the presidency would hinge—their  animosity reached a crescendo. Central to their dispute was the Manhattan water supply, which Burr saw not just as an opportunity to help a city devastated by epidemics but as a chance to heal his battered finances.
             But everything changed when Elma Sands, a beautiful young Quaker woman, was found dead in Burr’s newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first.
             The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team.  And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up.
            At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.


 

3. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wallstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

Romantic OutlawsRomantic Outlaws is the first book to tell the story of the passionate and pioneering lives of Mary Wollstonecraft – English feminist and author of the landmark book, The Vindication of the Rights of Women – and her novelist daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.

Both women became famous writers; fell in love with brilliant but impossible men; and were single mothers who had children out of wedlock; both lived in exile; fought for their position in society; and thought deeply about how we should live. And both women broke almost every rigid convention there was to break: Wollstonecraft chased pirates in Scandinavia. Shelley faced down bandits in Naples. Wollstonecraft sailed to Paris to witness the Revolution. Shelley eloped in a fishing boat with a married man. Wollstonecraft proclaimed that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.

Not only did Wollstonecraft declare the rights of women, her work ignited Romanticism. She inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and a whole new generation of writers, including her own daughter, who – with her young lover Percy Shelley – read Wollstonecraft’s work aloud by her graveside. At just nineteen years old and a new mother herself, Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein whilst travelling around Italy with Percy and roguish Lord Byron (who promptly fathered a child by Mary’s stepsister). It is a seminal novel, exploring the limitations of human nature and the power of invention at a time of great religious and scientific upheaval. Moreover, Mary Shelley would become the editor of her husband’s poetry after his early death – a feat of scholarship that did nothing less than establish his literary reputation.

Romantic Outlaws brings together a pair of visionary women who should have shared a life, but who instead shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy. This is inventive, illuminating, involving biography at its best.


 

4. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande

Being MortalIn Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.


 

5. The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns, #4) by Django Wexler

Guns Of EmpireAs the “audacious and subversive”* Shadow Campaigns novels continue, the weather is growing warmer, but the frosty threat of Vordan’s enemies is only growing worse…

As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace…

After their shattering defeats at the hands of brilliant General Janus bet Vhalnich, the opposing powers have called all sides to the negotiating table in hopes of securing an end to the war. Queen Raesinia of Vordan is anxious to see the return of peace, but Janus insists that any peace with the implacable Sworn Church of Elysium is doomed to fail. For their Priests of the Black, there can be no truce with heretics and demons they seek to destroy, and the war is to the death.

Soldiers Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass find themselves caught between their general and their queen. Now, each must decide which leader truly commands their loyalty—and what price they might pay for final victory.

And in the depths of Elysium, a malign force is rising—and defeating it might mean making sacrifices beyond anything they have ever imagined.


 

Ha, ha! I got to read this months before the rest of the unwashed masses! Nyeh-nyeh!

Anyway, the release date is August 2016, so put in your pre-orders now, because you’re going to want to read this as soon as it hits bookstores. Motherfucker is gamechanging, ya’ll.


 

6. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of CrowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.


 

In terms of construction, and the intricacies of the heist, this actually reminds me a lot of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora series, but of course very Bardugo-ized. I’m always a fan of the way that Bardugo constructs characters and relationships, and this book was no exception. Loved it.


 

7. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After LifeOn a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual.

For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

 


 

What a delightful historical fiction mindfuck! Imagine Groundhog Day, but if instead of a day, it was the character’s entire LIFE. Really, really good.


 

8. Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

NightingalesFlorence Nightingale was for a time the most famous woman in Britain–if not the world. We know her today primarily as a saintly character, perhaps as a heroic reformer of Britain’s health-care system. The reality is more involved and far more fascinating. In an utterly beguiling narrative that reads like the best Victorian fiction, acclaimed author Gillian Gill tells the story of this richly complex woman and her extraordinary family.

Born to an adoring wealthy, cultivated father and a mother whose conventional facade concealed a surprisingly unfettered intelligence, Florence was connected by kinship or friendship to the cream of Victorian England’s intellectual aristocracy. Though moving in a world of ease and privilege, the Nightingales came from solidly middle-class stock with deep traditions of hard work, natural curiosity, and moral clarity. So it should have come as no surprise to William Edward and Fanny Nightingale when their younger daughter, Florence, showed an early passion for helping others combined with a precocious bent for power.

Far more problematic was Florence’s inexplicable refusal to marry the well-connected Richard Monckton Milnes. As Gill so brilliantly shows, this matrimonial refusal was at once an act of religious dedication and a cry for her freedom–as a woman and as a leader. Florence’s later insistence on traveling to the Crimea at the height of war to tend to wounded soldiers was all but incendiary–especially for her older sister, Parthenope, whose frustration at being in the shade of her more charismatic sibling often led to illness.

Florence succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. But at the height of her celebrity, at the age of thirty-seven, she retired to her bedroom and remained there for most of the rest of her life, allowing visitors only by appointment.

Combining biography, politics, social history, and consummate storytelling, Nightingales is a dazzling portrait of an amazing woman, her difficult but loving family, and the high Victorian era they so perfectly epitomized. Beautifully written, witty, and irresistible, Nightingales is truly a tour de force.


 

And that was what blew my mind in the year’s first quarter.

Now your turn — what has blown YOUR mind between January and March, in terms of books?

 

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What I Read (and loved) In 2014

The clock is ticking down on 2014. I’m halfway through my current book, but I probably won’t finish it in this calendar year, so I’m going to call it — in 2014 I read 94 books. (edited to add: nope, finished it. 95, and I had to add another book to the list)

I liked a lot of what I read. There were a few that I didn’t really enjoy, a few others that I dragged through, and one or two that I just gave up on, but for the most part I had a great year. I read a bunch of things — scifi, fantasy (epic and urban), literary fiction, nonfiction, classics, biography — and had a lot of fun. Thanks to Goodreads, I not only have an accurate list of what I read (something that I’ve never otherwise been able to do), but I have covers and links. And what better way to finish up a year than a Best Of list?

A few caveats:

+ I liked a lot of things. A lot of those were by the same authors. So rather than put down multiple books by Stephen Blackmoore, Max Gladstone, or Catherine Asaro (I read over a dozen books by Asaro this year), I’m just putting down one.

+ It’s title, picture, cover copy, and links. Links are to Amazon, but definitely consider supporting brick & mortar and indie bookstores!

+ Order is mainly in the order that I read them. So this is my Best Of in fairly chronological order — that’s one of the things I like about Goodreads — I can go back and see what I was in the mood for at various times in the year!

+ Throw comments down below! I love year end lists — a year end list in 2013 was actually how I encountered several of these books!

It was the fourth Asaro I read, but one of my favorites. Chronology is tricky with Asaro! Tread lightly.

It was the fourth Asaro I read, but one of my favorites. Chronology is tricky with Asaro! Tread lightly.

1. The Radiant Seas – Catherine Asaro (Skolian Empire #3)

Living in exile on a deserted planet, Sauscony and Jaibriol, each the heir to an interstellar empire, become entangled in the machinations of the Skolian Empire. Interstellar war erupts and Jaibriol is snatched away to be the unwilling ruler of the Highton Aristos. Sauscony must lead an invading space fleet to rescue him from his own Empire-without revealing that they are married. With much of interstellar civilization poised on the brink of destruction, it is the devotion of these two lovers, their sacrifices, and their heroism, that might just forge a new order.

I read this and its sequel, BROKEN SOULS, this year. Loved them both. Very dark, very cool. And Blackmoore is definitely someone to follow on Twitter, because he's hilarious.

I read this and its sequel, BROKEN SOULS, this year. Loved them both. Very dark, very cool. And Blackmoore is definitely someone to follow on Twitter, because he’s hilarious.

2. Dead Things – Stephen Blackmoore (Eric Carter #1)

Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it’s a title Eric Carter is stuck with.

He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He’s turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.

When he left L.A. fifteen years ago he thought he’d never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.

But now his sister’s been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.

Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it’s the patron saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who’s taken an unusually keen interest in him.

Carter’s going to find out who did it and he’s going to make them pay.

As long as they don’t kill him first.

First nonfiction! And it's a really good one. Stuffed full of fascinating information!

First nonfiction! And it’s a really good one. Stuffed full of fascinating information!

3. Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation – Ted C. Fishman

The world’s population is rapidly aging; by the year 2030, one billion people will be sixty-five or older. As the ratio of the old to the young grows ever larger, global aging has gone critical: For the first time in history, the number of people over age fifty will be greater than those under age seventeen. Few of us understand the resulting massive effects on economies, jobs, and families. Everyone is touched by this issue; parents and children, rich and poor, retirees and workers; and now veteran journalist Ted C. Fishman masterfully and movingly explains how our world is being altered in ways no one ever expected.

What happens when too few young people must support older people? How do shrinking families cope with aging loved ones?

What happens when countries need millions of young workers but lack them? How do companies compete for young workers? Why, exactly, do they shed old workers?

How are entire industries being both created and destroyed by demographic change? How do communities and countries remake themselves for ever-growing populations of older citizens? Who will suffer? Who will benefit?

With vivid and witty reporting from American cities and around the world, and through compelling interviews with families, employers, workers, economists, gerontologists, government officials, health-care professionals, corporate executives, and small business owners, Fishman reveals the astonishing and interconnected effects of global aging, and why nations, cultures, and crucial human relationships are changing in this timely, brilliant, and important read.

Anne is probably the least known Bronte (her sister actually suppressed her work and refused to allow it to be republished in her lifetime), but I think she's the best. This is a challenging and unapologetic novel. I read it after I watched the BBC miniseries treatment. That is actually not the first time you'll see me say that.

Anne is probably the least known Bronte (her sister actually suppressed her work and refused to allow it to be republished in her lifetime), but I think she’s the best. This is a challenging and unapologetic novel. I read it after I watched the BBC miniseries treatment. That is actually not the first time you’ll see me say that.

4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

Compelling in its imaginative power and bold naturalism, the novel opens in the autumn of 1812, when a mysterious woman who calls herself Helen Graham seeks refuge at the desolate moorland mansion of Wildfell Hall. Bronte’s enigmatic heroine becomes the object of gossip and jealousy as neighbors learn she is escaping from an abusive marriage and living under an assumed name. A daring story that exposed the dark brutality of Victorian chauvinism, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was nevertheless attacked by some critics as a celebration of the same excesses it criticized.

Kress is an insanely good writer, but I always feel like I need long breaks between her books. Like Sherri S. Tepper, she does not have a lot of faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.

Kress is an insanely good writer, but I always feel like I need long breaks between her books. Like Sherri S. Tepper, she does not have a lot of faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.

5. Beggars and Choosers – Nancy Kress (Sleepless #2)

In Beggars and Choosers, Kress returns to the same future world created in her earlier work, an America strangely altered by genetic modifications. Millions of ordinary people are supported by the efforts of the handsome and intellectually superior gene-modified, who are in turn running scared in the face of the astonishing, nearly superhuman powers of the Sleepless, who have their own agenda for humanity. The Sleepless, radically altered humans, have withdrawn from the rest of the race to an island retreat, from which they periodically release dazzling scientific advances. Most of the world is on the verge of collapse, overburdened by a population of jobless drones and racked by the results of irresponsible genetic research and nano-technology. Will the world be saved? And for whom?

It's Anne Bishop, bitches.

It’s Anne Bishop, bitches.

6. Murder of Crows – Anne Bishop (The Others #2)

After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

This year I got to add a new item to my FAQ -- that, no, I'm not Marie Brennan. For one thing, I could never have written this book. She's so incredibly good at writing a certain kind of historical voice, but keeping it her own. Lovely stuff.

This year I got to add a new item to my FAQ — that, no, I’m not Marie Brennan. For one thing, I could never have written this book. She’s so incredibly good at writing a certain kind of historical voice, but keeping it her own. Lovely stuff.

7. A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan (Memoir by Lady Trent #1)

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons.

Crazy, crazy good. Every superhero origin cliche turned utterly on its head. I read this one twice.

Crazy, crazy good. Every superhero origin cliche turned utterly on its head. I read this one twice.

8. Vicious – V. E. Schwab (Vicious #1)

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.’

At this point in the year, I was clearly on a roll of fantastic books. I'm on record a few places as saying that I kind of want to kill and eat Max to attempt to absorb his writerly power. (no, not really..... okay, maybe just a small bite.....) I read this, then the next two in his series. And I gave it as a birthday present to a few people. So, so good.

At this point in the year, I was clearly on a roll of fantastic books. I’m on record a few places as saying that I kind of want to kill and eat Max to attempt to absorb his writerly power. (no, not really….. okay, maybe just a small bite…..) I read this, then the next two in his series. And I gave it as a birthday present to a few people. So, so good.

9. Three Parts Dead – Max Gladstone (Craft Sequence #1)

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

I read about four graphic novels this year, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, but this was without a doubt the best.

I read about four graphic novels this year, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, but this was without a doubt the best.

10. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic – Alison Bechdel

In this groundbreaking, bestselling graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father. In her hands, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power, written with controlled force and enlivened with humor, rich literary allusion, and heartbreaking detail.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the “Fun Home.” It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

What Django Wexler is doing with this series is very cool, and I was really impressed at the sidestep he managed to do with the second in this series. I really love where things are going here.

What Django Wexler is doing with this series is very cool, and I was really impressed at the sidestep he managed to do with the second in this series. I really love where things are going here.

11. The Shadow Throne – Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns #2)

Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne.

The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries—and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom.

And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy.

Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself—and her country—out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass.

As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence—at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise.

GirlsofAtomicCity Kiernan

12. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II – Denise Kiernan

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way.

A triumphant conclusion to the trilogy. I love that there are costs to every character and very high stakes. No easy outs in this book.

A triumphant conclusion to the trilogy. I love that there are costs to every character and very high stakes. No easy outs in this book.

13. Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha #3)

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Really fascinating, and extremely well laid out.

Really fascinating, and extremely well laid out.

14. The Epidemic: A Global History of AIDS – Jonathan Engel

From the Castro bathhouses to AZT and the denial of AIDS in South Africa, this sweeping look at AIDS covers the epidemic from all angles and across the world. Engel seamlessly weaves together science, politics, and culture, writing with an even hand—noting the excesses of the more radical edges of the ACT UP movement as well as the conservative religious leaders who thought AIDS victims deserved what they got.

The story of AIDS is one of the most compelling human dramas of our time, both in its profound tragedy and in the extraordinary scientific efforts impelled on its behalf. For gay Americans, it has been the story of the past generation, redefining the community and the community’s sexuality. For the Third World, AIDS has created endless devastation, toppling economies, social structures, and whole villages and regions. And the worst may yet be to come: AIDS is expanding quickly into India, Russia, China, and elsewhere, while still raging insub-Saharan Africa.

A distinguished medical historian, Engel lets his characters speak for themselves. Whether gay activists, government officials, public health professionals, scientists, or frightened parents of schoolchildren, they responded as best they could to tragic happenstance that emerged seemingly from nowhere. There is much drama here, and human weakness and heroism too. Writing with vivid immediacy, Engel allows us to relive the short but tumultuous history of a modern scourge.

Another fantastic book taking on superhero tropes! I love that the daughter of superheroes is... an accountant. And that becomes very important to the plot! Loved it.

Another fantastic book taking on superhero tropes! I love that the daughter of superheroes is… an accountant. And that becomes very important to the plot! Loved it.

15. After The Golden Age – Carrie Vaughn (Golden Age #1)

It’s not easy being a superhero’s daughter….

Carrie Vaughn has captured legions of fans with her wildly popular Kitty Norville novels. Now she uses her extraordinary wit and imagination to tell a sensational new story about superhuman heroes—and the people who have to live with them.

Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world’s greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she’s ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she’s the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Comemrce City. She doesn’t have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder.

Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents’ archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the “Trial of the Century,” Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus—and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.

It's a fun book, mostly because of Unger's writing and willingness to poke fun at himself, but it does also contain some pretty interesting information and a willingness to wade into politically murky waters.

It’s a fun book, mostly because of Unger’s writing and willingness to poke fun at himself, but it does also contain some pretty interesting information and a willingness to wade into politically murky waters.

16. Never Look A Polar Bear In The Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows – Zac Unger

“I like to go out for walks, but it’s a little awkward to push the baby stroller and carry a shotgun at the same time.”–housewife from Churchill, Manitoba Yes, welcome to Churchill, Manitoba. Year-round human population: 943. Yet despite the isolation and the searing cold here at the arctic’s edge, visitors from around the globe flock to the town every fall, driven by a single purpose: to see polar bears in the wild.

Churchill is “The Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and for one unforgettable “bear season,” Zac Unger, his wife, and his three children moved from Oakland, California, to make it their temporary home. But they soon discovered that it’s really the polar bears who are at home in Churchill, roaming past the coffee shop on the main drag, peering into garbage cans, languorously scratching their backs against fence posts and front doorways. Where kids in other towns receive admonitions about talking to strangers, Churchill schoolchildren get “Let’s All Be Bear Aware” booklets to bring home. (Lesson number 8: Never explore bad-smelling areas.)

Zac Unger takes readers on a spirited and often wildly funny journey to a place as unique as it is remote, a place where natives, tourists, scientists, conservationists, and the most ferocious predators on the planet converge. In the process he becomes embroiled in the controversy surrounding “polar bear science”–and finds out that some of what we’ve been led to believe about the bears’ imminent extinction may not be quite the case. But mostly what he learns is about human behavior in extreme situations . . . and also why you should never even think of looking a polar bear in the eye.

I read this, plus the next two in the series. I love what Rowland is doing here, particularly with the idea that becoming a zombie has actually given Angel the chance to grow up.

I read this, plus the next two in the series. I love what Rowland is doing here, particularly with the idea that becoming a zombie has actually given Angel the chance to grow up.

17. My Life as a White Trash Zombie – Diana Rowland (White Trash Zombie #1)

Angel Crawford is a loser.

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she’s a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who’s been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn’t have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there’s a job waiting for her at the parish morgue—and that it’s an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Before she knows it she’s dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey—just when she’s hungriest!

Angel’s going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn’t, she’s dead meat.

Literally.

If there's any genre besides urban fantasy that is at the oversaturation point, it's dystopia. But I love the way that Saulter is playing with the ideas of humanity, ownership, and corporate overreach here. Definitely worth checking out, even if you feel done with dystopia.

If there’s any genre besides urban fantasy that is at the oversaturation point, it’s dystopia. But I love the way that Saulter is playing with the ideas of humanity, ownership, and corporate overreach here. Definitely worth checking out, even if you feel done with dystopia.

18. Gemsigns – Stephanie Saulter (Evolution #1)

Humanity stands on the brink. Again.

Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.

After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.

Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.

It's a great book, but here's the real thing -- this thing is massive. Like, it's actually *heavy* in your hands while you're reading it. I'm not sure that I'd be able to take this on a plane -- they'd probably view it as a potential weapon and confiscate it.

It’s a great book, but here’s the real thing — this thing is massive. Like, it’s actually *heavy* in your hands while you’re reading it. I’m not sure that I’d be able to take this on a plane — they’d probably view it as a potential weapon and confiscate it.

19. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson (Stormlight Archive #2)

Having met the challenge of a posthumous collaboration with the great Robert Jordan to complete his classic, bestselling fantasy series The Wheel of Time® with three #1 New York Times bestsellers in a row, Brandon Sanderson is at last free to return to the decade-spanning task of creating his own multi-volume epic, one that he hopes will make a comparable mark on the field. That epic is The Stormlight Archive and it began in 2010 with Tor’s longest, most elaborately embellished novel ever, The Way of Kings.
In that first volume, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a world both alien and magical, where gigantic hurricane-like storms scour the surface every few days and life has adapted accordingly. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic, humanoid Parshendi, with whom they are at war. Among those caught up in the conflict are Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, who leads the human armies; his sister Jasnah, a renowned scholar; her student Shallan, a brilliant but troubled young woman; and Kaladin, a military slave who, by the book’s end, had become the first magically endowed Knight Radiant in centuries.

In Words of Radiance their intertwined stories will continue and, as Sanderson fans have come to expect, develop in unexpected, wonderfully surprising directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan will come along, hoping to find the legendary, perhaps mythical, city of Urithuru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. The Parshendi take a dangerous step to strengthen themselves for the human challenge, risking the return of the fearsome Voidbringers of old. To deal with it all, Kaladin must learn to how to fulfill his new role as leader of the restored Knights Radiant, while mastering the powers of a Windrunner.

With this second book, the Stormlight Archive grows even more richly immersive and compelling. Sanderson’s fans, old and new, are likely to lift it at least as high on the bestseller lists as its predecessor.

What a lovely surprise this book was. I picked it up because I needed to teach the personal essay, but I read the whole thing because I just love the way that Fadiman uses words, personal experience, and research. Perfection.

What a lovely surprise this book was. I picked it up because I needed to teach the personal essay, but I read the whole thing because I just love the way that Fadiman uses words, personal experience, and research. Perfection.

20. At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays – Anne Fadiman

In At Large and At Small, Anne Fadiman returns to one of her favorite genres, the familiar essay—a beloved and hallowed literary tradition recognized for both its intellectual breadth and its miniaturist focus on everyday experiences. With the combination of humor and erudition that has distinguished her as one of our finest essayists, Fadiman draws us into twelve of her personal obsessions: from her slightly sinister childhood enthusiasm for catching butterflies to her monumental crush on Charles Lamb, from her wistfulness for the days of letter-writing to the challenges and rewards of moving from the city to the country.

Many of these essays were composed “under the influence” of the subject at hand. Fadiman ingests a shocking amount of ice cream and divulges her passion for Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip and her brother’s homemade Liquid Nitrogen Kahlúa Coffee (recipe included); she sustains a terrific caffeine buzz while recounting Balzac’s coffee addiction; and she stays up till dawn to write about being a night owl, examining the rhythms of our circadian clocks and sharing such insomnia cures as her father’s nocturnal word games and Lewis Carroll’s mathematical puzzles. At Large and At Small is a brilliant and delightful collection of essays that harkens a revival of a long-cherished genre.

One of those books that I liked, but I doubt I'll ever re-read. The main character made me so upset and frustrated on her behalf -- but in a good, thoughtful way. A fascinating book about a life wasted.

One of those books that I liked, but I doubt I’ll ever re-read. The main character made me so upset and frustrated on her behalf — but in a good, thoughtful way. A fascinating book about a life wasted.

21. Private Life – Jane Smiley

A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post–Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He’s the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer—a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret’s mother calls the match “a piece of luck.”

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew’s obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life is a beautiful evocation of a woman’s inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

Hilarious. Dark, dark humor, with no concern for the weak. I loved every minute that I spent reading this.

Hilarious. Dark, dark humor, with no concern for the weak. I loved every minute that I spent reading this.

22. This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.

This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s most accomplished work to date, a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.

The second book that I encountered this year thanks to BBC! The Forsyte Saga won a Pulitzer -- and it really does hold up when you read this. It's almost entirely out of print in the US, so you'll probably have to get it used, but I got my hands on the first third of it (The Man of Property), and I can't wait to read the rest.

The second book that I encountered this year thanks to BBC! The Forsyte Saga won a Pulitzer — and it really does hold up when you read this. It’s almost entirely out of print in the US, so you’ll probably have to get it used, but I got my hands on the first third of it (The Man of Property), and I can’t wait to read the rest.

23. The Man of Property – John Galsworthy

The most prized item in Soames Forsyte’s collection of beautiful things is his wife, the enigmatic Irene. But when she falls in love with Bosinney, a penniless architect who utterly rejects the Forsyte values, their affair touches off a series of events which can only end in disgrace and disaster.

John Galsworthy tackles his theme of the demise of the upper-middle classes with irony and compassion.

At a certain point in this book, I actually did start wondering if anyone was going to be left alive at the end. McIntosh is insanely good.

At a certain point in this book, I actually did start wondering if anyone was going to be left alive at the end.
McIntosh is insanely good.

24. Defenders – Will McIntosh

Our Darkest Hour.
Our Only Hope.
The invaders came to claim earth as their own, overwhelming us with superior weapons and the ability to read our minds like open books.
Our only chance for survival was to engineer a new race of perfect soldiers to combat them. Seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens.
But these saviors could never be our servants. And what is done cannot be undone.

Butler does not fuck around. It's hard to imagine a darker book than Parable of the Sower, but Butler makes it happen.

Butler does not fuck around. It’s hard to imagine a darker book than Parable of the Sower, but Butler makes it happen.

25. Parable of the Talents – Octavia E. Butler (Earthseed #2)

This Nebula Award-winning sequel to “Parable of the Sower” continues the story of Lauren Olamina in socially and economically depressed California in the 2030s. Convinced that her community should colonize the stars, Lauren and her followers make preparations. But the collapse of society and rise of fanatics result in Lauren’s followers being enslaved, and her daughter stolen from her. Now, Lauren must fight back to save the new world order.

Sweet heavens did I need this after reading Parable of the Talents. It's not that it's light -- Moriarty is really digging around at some of the messier areas of history, but there's definitely a more optimistic outlook. People grow and change in The Chaperone -- and for the better. It's lovely.

Sweet heavens did I need this after reading Parable of the Talents. It’s not that it’s light — Moriarty is really digging around at some of the messier areas of history, but there’s definitely a more optimistic outlook. People grow and change in The Chaperone — and for the better. It’s lovely.

26. The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.

For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.

Excellent, fascinating, of interest to any armchair historian or gender studies enthusiast, but I cannot overstate this enough: The ancient Egyptians were very serious about their incest. Brother-sister, father-daughter, it all happened! Also, divine masturbation was a thing. A thing that was apparently necessary for the universe to exist.  I really loved this book.

Excellent, fascinating, of interest to any armchair historian or gender studies enthusiast, but I cannot overstate this enough:
The ancient Egyptians were very serious about their incest. Brother-sister, father-daughter, it all happened! Also, divine masturbation was a thing. A thing that was apparently necessary for the universe to exist.
I really loved this book.

27. The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt — Kara Cooney

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt’s throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Books I Loved In 2013

It’s the end of the year! I have to say, 2013 was a pretty landmark year for me, what with the publication of Generation V and everything. Next year will be starting off with a bang as well, since Iron Night is coming out only seven days into January, and Tainted Blood is slated for November. Lots to look forward to!

Back when I first got into contract on Generation V back in 2012, my agent told me that I would need to start working on social media. I admit that there was a bit of reluctance on my part (between my day job and my writing, I honestly felt pretty tapped out), but I set up the website, the Facebook, and the Twitter. (Twitter turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise – it’s much more conducive to quick conversations and general silliness, which are both things that I enjoy, as everyone who has seen me in action on Twitter knows)

Goodreads, though, was something that I really lagged on. I set up the entry for Generation V early, but other than that I really didn’t make much use of it for a while. I did the usual setup thing, checking off the books I’d read from the classics list, but other than that I generally wasn’t doing anything. In retrospect this is kind of a head-slapper, since I’m the kind of person who will actually list “reading” as a legitimate hobby, and my husband is constantly finding my book collection encroaching on any reasonably shelf-like surface.

Fun side-story – my agent was the person who brought up the subject of my author bio, somewhere mid-way through my edits on Generation V. Now, at that point I was juggling some pretty extensive edits (all of which made the book MUCH better and taught me a whole lot, by the way), plus a full-time job, plus laying out the initial plot elements for Iron Night, so believe me when I say that I was kind of fried. She was talking about how this was a good opportunity to showcase my personality and activities outside of writing to make myself more appealing, and so forth. I think that this is the part of the process that the agent is kind of hoping that the author happens to be some kind of modern-day gentleman adventurer in their spare time (When I’m not base-jumping off of bridges, I’m hiking up Mount Everest or defeating the forces of evil with my kung-fu prowess! I also knit!) – well, let me tell you, I am none of those things. It’s possible that if I had to choose a power-animal, it would be the sloth, because I am basically THAT sedentary. Give me a book and a warm sunbeam, and I’m basically good for about ten hours. My response to my agent was, “Um…. I like to read?” (not what she was hoping for, alas) (though, really, it happened with Iron Night as well – at a certain point in the publication process, you kind of lose all your hobbies for a little while)

Tangent over. But can you see now how nuts it is that I didn’t completely embrace Goodreads from the start? I actually set up my account for the sole purpose of being able to upload a .jpg of the book cover, and possibly host giveaways. Nuts! So my list of books that I read this year is actually a little sparse, since I didn’t track my first book until March (Erin Morgenstern’s amazingly dreamlike Night Circus), and I didn’t start tracking my reading thoroughly until around May. I’ll be much more thorough next year, since I was having a huge amount of fun today playing with the stats feature, and I liked being able to see a neat little list of what I’d read (mostly) this year.

Right now a lot of people are posting their top lists of books for the year (some are even including Generation V and Iron Night!) , which I’m really enjoying. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to do a Top Ten or something like that, but I wanted in on the fun somehow. So here’s a list of the books that I thought were pretty amazing of the 63 that I listed on Goodreads this year (plus the date I finished it). There were three authors who were so awesome that I had to just sit down and devour their whole series, and I put them at the end.

Books I Loved

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant (September 30)
The Borgias: The Hidden History by G. J. Meyer (October 27)
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (May 25)
The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough (July 7)
The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler (August 15)
Gulp by Mary Roach (April 24)
Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh (June 5)
Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn (June 27)
La Santisima by Teresa Frohock *short story (December 22)
Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (July 9)
Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock (May 24)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (March 6)
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (September 21)
Parasite by Mira Grant (November 17)
Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes (August 6)
Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro (December 17)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (September 23)
Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker (July 29)
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (September 28)
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler (April 9)\
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (November 30)
The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo *short story (November 3)

Series:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (September 26)
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (November 2)

Idlewild by Nick Sagan (June 2)
Edenborn by Nick Sagan (June 5)
Everfree by Nick Sagan (June 11)

Shadow Kin by M.J. Scott (no date)
Blood Kin by M.J. Scott (no date)
Iron Kin by M.J. Scott (May 15)

So, what do you think? Have you read any of these yourself? See anything that you’re curious about yourself? Have suggestions for what I should be reading in 2014? Throw it all down in the comments!

The Conclusion of Author Chat…. or is it?

What did we learn in the course of Author Chat? Well, we definitely learned about how much all of us love Dune.

What did we learn in the course of Author Chat? Well, we definitely learned about how much all of us love Dune.

The final round of author chat is live at Leigh Bardugo’s tumblr! Check it out to discover which author all of us lie about having read! (hint: it rhymes with Lonathan Spanzen)

Have you enjoyed these four rounds of author chat? Of course you have (I think?)! After all, it was Django Wexler, Teresa R. Frohock, and Leigh Bardugo in all their awesome glory, with me bringing up the rear like an adorable little caboose! (aw, look at those amazing fantasy authors — they’re so nice to let M. L. Brennan play along) (I kid, of course — though if you want to have your mind blown by amazing fantasy this holiday season, check out The Thousand Names, Miserere: An Autumn Tale, and Shadow and Bone. They make great gifts, too! And you can toss on a copy of Generation V to make it over the hump into the free shipping)

You know what all the cool kids are buying? These. You don't want to be left out, do you? Succumb to peer pressure!

You know what all the cool kids are buying? These. You don’t want to be left out, do you? Succumb to peer pressure!

We did this author chat to try to capture a little of that experience of going to a panel at a con, and seeing authors answer questions and have a bit of fun. But we wouldn’t be able to fully capture a panel without the final, most crucial part — audience participation!

Do you have a question you’d like the panel to answer? Post it in the comments, and over the next few days, we’ll sift through and find the ones that are the most awesome. Then keep your eyes peeled in January for Author Chat II: Fan Service.

I leave you with this final bit of awesome:

Did you miss any of the earlier rounds of Author Chat? If so, check them out here:

Round One is right here on my blog!
Round Two was at Django’s house!
Round Three was hosted by Teresa!
And Round Four was rocked out on Leigh’s Tumblr!

Author Chat, Round One

Author Chat, Round One

Author Chat, Round One

There are a lot of great things about cons. The booths, the artists’ alley, meeting new people, the cosplay – but one of my favorite things is being able to see panel discussions (it’s pretty fun to be on them, too). I love seeing the moderator ask a question, and seeing that question get handled by several different authors, each one adding something new and interesting to the conversation, and each following author riff on the answer of the previous author just a bit before bringing out their own point. It can bring up some really interesting insights, and also some extremely unexpected surprises, and it’s a format that I enjoy a lot.

So I was eating breakfast one morning and reflected that it would not only be quite a few months before my next con attendance but that there were authors who I was extremely fond of who I might never get a chance to be on a panel with. (yes, sometimes this is what I think about as I eat breakfast. Don’t judge me!)

And at that point I thought – wait a second. Surely the Internet should be able to solve this, just as I have been promised that it will solve every one of my other problems (most recently the problem of needing to do holiday shopping while also not wanting to change out of my pajamas). Which is how I decided to do my very own micro-panel – and I was fortunately able to convince three excellent fantasy writers to play along. We all came up with two questions for the panel, which we then answered one at a time in a very large group email. It was quite a lot of fun, and there are some really interesting topics and answers, so I hope that it will also be fun to read! We’ve broken the conversation into four portions – so today’s portion will be on this blog, and the later parts will be released every few days on the other authors’ blogs, with links posted in just about every crevice of social media that we have access to.

With no further ado, please join me, Django Wexler, Teresa Frohock, and Leigh Bardugo for Author Chat, Part One.

Q: When you were a kid, what was one movie moment or character that you think had a long-term impact on your writing?

ML Brennan: It was the owl from the animated movie The Secret of NIMH. He had those insanely creepy glowing eyes, there was hanging stuff all through his home, there were freaking *bones* littering the place, he kept eating those moths throughout the conversation, and there was that overhanging threat through the entire scene that he would at any point eat poor Mrs. Frisby, who couldn’t be tinier or more vulnerable compared to him. So the entire scene is on this knife-edge of possibility – will he eat this mouse who has come to see him, or will he give her the information she has asked for? Because at the same time that the owl is presented as this really monstrous and frightening creature (really different than how I was ever used to seeing owls before), he also is really wise and has useful information. It really made an impact on me, because the owl was terrifying, yet important, but at the same time the movie made it really clear that he wasn’t bad – or good. He was the owl, and he had no real affiliation – that he gave Mrs. Frisby the information she asked for wasn’t because he was nice, but because she showed up a useful time of day and he didn’t eat her. And Mrs. Frisby herself knew going in that she might get eaten – she didn’t have any trump card or insurance, she just took a huge risk to get what she needed to help her family. I haven’t seen that movie in probably twenty years at least, but I still really viscerally remember the impact that the owl had on me. (I also remember later, after reading the book, how pissed I was that the movie makes the resolution of the problem involve magic rather than mechanics, but I guess that’s a separate topic)

Also, I found a picture of that owl – guys, tell me that this isn’t the most freaking badass owl that ever appeared in film.

That owl haunts my dreams.

That owl haunts my dreams.

Django Wexler: Man, the Secret of NIMH was a really strange movie – terrifying by modern standards! I remember it scaring the crap out of me when I was little. For some reason there was a period in 70s and 80s when it was considered okay for animated children’s movies to be horrifying or traumatizing.

For my biggest writing influences, I’m going have to go a little astray and look to television instead of movies. In particular, I remember Babylon 5 (which I watched most of when it first aired, and then again on video) really changed my ideas of what TV storytelling, or storytelling in general, could be like. There are bits of that show (Vir’s final “meeting” with Morden, for example, or the fulfillment of Londo’s prophecies) that make it clear how well the arcs were structured in advance, and I was just in love with the idea of this big, deep world-building that slowly builds to the conclusion of an epic arc over the course of many shorter episodes. (There wasn’t much else like it on TV at the time! Things are much better now.) Most of the writing I did at the time was for RPG campaigns, and you can really see the influence if you got back and look at that stuff; my adventure notes are full of gradual revelations of ancient secrets and vague foreshadowing of future dooms.

Teresa Frohock: God, I’m old. My daughter loved The Secret of NIMH. I remember a little about Babylon 5, but I was an adult when that came on. (I remember waiting every week in anticipation of the next episode of the original Battlestar Galactica!)

*coughs*

If I had to pick one movie or story that really influenced me, it would be The Last Unicorn, an animated movie that I saw before I ever read Peter S. Beagle’s work. As an adoptee, the unicorn’s search for others like herself really resonated with me. The whole twist with Schmendrick, who really loved the unicorn and was just a little jealous of Lir and Amalthea, showed me how the subtle interplay of emotions can lead a story just as competently as a lot of action. There was adventure, and laughter, and love, and most importantly, regret. Nothing was sugarcoated and the ending wasn’t happy, but it made such elegant sense that I adored the movie. When I found there was a book, I devoured it.

I think the beauty of that story and the original animated version of The Little Mermaid (where the little mermaid actually turns to seafoam in the end) really taught me that effective storytelling doesn’t have to rely on non-stop action. The true action within a story occurs during the interplay of the characters. Everything else is flash and glitz.

The Last Unicorn facing down The Red Bull.

The Last Unicorn facing down The Red Bull.

Leigh Bardugo: Do you know what wigged me out the most about The Last Unicorn? Molly Grue’s response to the unicorn—this idea that there was an expiration date on when magic could make a difference in your life.

My pivotal movie moment has to be… Highlander. Yeah, I said it. We had pirated cable and I must have watched it a hundred times. I loved the flashbacks, the fight scenes, Sean Connery in velvet. Looking back, I’m like, “Why no lady immortals?” But at the time, it didn’t occur to me to feel locked out of the story. Of course there were lady immortals, and I was one of them, and I just had to wait on the Quickening. I suppose this is also the time to confess that I’ve cosplayed as the Kurgan. I own a skull helm.

Most awesome headgear EVER.

Most awesome headgear EVER.

Teresa Frohock: I’d totally forgotten Molly’s idea that magic didn’t last forever. I need to read the book again. There were just so many good things in that novel. 😉

Q: What are your feelings about seriously harming or even killing main characters?

ML Brennan: I think if you take that off the table, you can inhibit yourself. I think it can also become that old Star Trek issue – redshirts might die by the thousands, but you’re never that worried because you know that the A Team is going to get through the episode without a scratch on them. (a situation that I thought was delightfully built on in John Scalzi’s appropriately-titled Redshirts) That’s not to say that books where the main characters get off fairly unscathed throughout are not as good (I’ve enjoyed many books like that, for instance), but some of the books that have surprised and challenged me the most as a reader were the ones that did some serious damage to (or even killed) main characters.

In my series, the books are told from a first-person perspective, so it’s kind of a given that Fort has to live through each book. But when I write, I try my best to keep all options on the table. I might love writing Suzume, Prudence, or Madeline, but I want to keep the possibilities alive that bad things could happen.

What I’ve found most interesting about all of that was that when I was drafting my third book, I was telling the plot to both my agent and my editor. The plot involved the death of a major character – and my agent argued very strenuously against the death. My editor left the decision up to me, but did warn me that readers could react very negatively to the death of a major character. The manuscript is written, but the experience really showed me that it wasn’t just as simple as me making the decision – there was also the publishing aspect, and then the potential fan fallout. So there are really a lot of elements to it. (I actually read somewhere that Charlaine Harris had planned to kill one of her main characters, Bill, in her ninth book, but that the publisher pushed back so hard that she had to back down)

insp_expendability

Django Wexler: I definitely agree with the Redshirts problem. If you’re writing a story in which people get hurt and killed a lot, but none of the important cast ever does, then the emotional impact of the fighting is lost. The actions of the main characters lose their meaning and significance – is it really brave to go and fight if you always come out okay, and can you really have a heroic self-sacrifice if some plot device always intervenes at the last moment to keep you alive? Worse, the readers catch on and begin to assume that the main cast will be fine, and any new characters are only there to be killed off for emotional oomph. (This can become a recurring “I will avenge my dead girlfriend/boyfriend/adopted kid/pet canary!” problem. After a while, it becomes clear that joining up with the main character is a deathtrap …)

(Aside: While it’s not the world’s greatest show, this is one thing The Walking Dead TV series gets right – they’re unafraid to off even long-running characters, which invests the show with a real sense of tension. “Contractual immunity” – i.e. the actor has a contract, so the character can’t die – really hurts drama.)

It’s trickier, as ML said, when you’re locked into a particular point of view. I think the secret is to make sure there are plenty of other characters that the protagonist and the reader care about, and to let them get hurt or killed when it would be appropriate and realistic for that to happen. It’s a tricky line to walk – that kind of thing is a powerful emotional tool, but you can’t overuse it or let the reader get the idea that you’re introducing characters JUST so you can kill them later.

the-walking-dead-characters

Teresa Frohock: I think the trick here is that if that character’s death is part of the story, then yes, I definitely have no problem killing a main character. In the third book of the Katharoi series, I planned the death of some major characters–I mean, it’s a war, for God’s sake. People die in war, even people you like. I’m hoping that the events that lead up the deaths will feel organic and a part of the story.

I can’t tell you how much flack I’ve gotten over killing Father Matthew in Miserere. A few people were righteously angry over the fact that I’d created a likable character, then killed him … hey when you gotta go, you gotta go … seriously, I had no way to keep him from dying. Matthew was doomed from the opening sentence.

Overall though, I don’t believe that readers have a problem with seeing a major character die so long as the death fits the world and the story. Django talked about The Walking Dead and this is an excellent example of killing major characters as part of the story-line. Each time someone dies, the group dynamics take a radical shift. The deaths fit the world and the environment so nothing in the storytelling feels forced or unnatural.

I won’t kill a character for shock value or just to hook the reader into reading a sequel though. I think once I’ve used the death of a major character as a commercial plot device, then I’ve lost the reader’s respect. The same is true if I allow a character to live who should have died (see Father Matthew).

Readers know when they’re being manipulated. It’s not so much that a major character dies, it’s the fact that the readers feel manipulated and cheated.

Leigh Bardugo: I’m glad that you mentioned doing serious harm, because for me, that’s sometimes the more interesting choice. I like to take away the thing that the character believes defines him or her and then see what happens.

As for killing off characters, agreed on all fronts, particularly Teresa’s points re manipulating or cheating the reader. A death is like a declaration of love or any dramatic moment really—it has to feel earned. Even if the death is deliberately arbitrary (Whedon does this a lot—shrapnel! stray bullet! danger is everywhere!), I think the fallout has to be deeply felt. Otherwise, you’re just upping the body count and there’s a good chance the reader will begin to feel brutalized or simply stop caring. I don’t know. It’s easy to talk about these things in the abstract, but I just locked the third book in my trilogy and I worried quite a bit about striking a balance between the reality of war and narrative satisfaction. I still don’t know if I walked the line successfully.

Yep, let's all just take a second and remember the heartbreak...

Yep, let’s all just take a second and remember the heartbreak…

The conversation continues! See Author Chat, Round Two
Author Chat, Round Three
and Author Chat, Round Four

Did you enjoy reading our conversation? Why not read some more – like our books?

Leigh Bardugo: The bestselling Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm can be bought now. The conclusion of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising will be published June 3, 2014. Learn more at http://www.leighbardugo.com.

M. L. Brennan: Generation V is in stores now, and its sequel Iron Night will be published January 7, 2014. Learn more by clicking any above links.

Teresa Frohock: Miserere: An Autumn Tale can be purchased now. Teresa is also featured in the anthology Manifesto: UF. Learn more at http://www.teresafrohock.com.

Django Wexler: The Thousand Names is in stores now. The second in The Shadow Campaign series, The Shadow Throne will be published July 1, 2014, and Wexler’s middle-grade fantasy The Forbidden Library will be published April 15, 2014. Learn more at http://djangowexler.com/.

Iron Night: Locked Off

Iron Night released cover big version

On Monday night, I scanned and emailed my corrected page proofs to Roc, so Iron Night is now officially locked off! I’ve made my last changes, hopefully I’ve caught all of the biggest problems, and now it’s out of my hands. I remember being at this place before with Generation V, but it felt different then – at the point when I was finally hands-off with Generation V, I had to move straight back into work on other projects. Right now, just because of where things fell, I actually am getting a bit of a breather. The manuscript of Book 3 is with my editor, and I won’t get notes back on it for probably another month or two. I already have a bit of a list of notes on it from my readers and my agent, so I have a feeling that I’ll probably be doing some more extensive fixes on this one, but I’m happy to take a break from it (just for a little while!) so that when I come back to it later, I can have look at it with fresher eyes.

This is also a bit of a nervous point in the process, because while I’ve spent about a year in total working on Iron Night, and my direct involvement in the writing has now come to an end, it won’t be hitting bookstores until January, and since the ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) haven’t been produced yet, I haven’t gotten any “real” reader feedback yet. I’m really excited about this book, and I’ll definitely be doing more posts and dropping more hints about its content as we get closer to the release date, but mostly I can’t wait to see what people think about where I’m taking Fort and Suzume.

I’m going to be starting to work on publicity for Iron Night soon, so I’ll be getting a chance to talk with all my favorite bloggers again, and hopefully also try and get some bookstore events scheduled as well. Should be exciting, and I’ll get going on that next week.

Also coming up – New York Comic Con! I’m so excited about this! Thanks to support from a local businessman (my uncle in Forest Hills is letting me sleep on his sofa – thanks, Uncle Alan!) I’ll be in town on Friday and Saturday.

Here’s my schedule right now:

Thursday, October 10

Work ends at 6:50pm, head down to New York.

Friday, October 11

11:00am – 12:00pm: “FRIDAY FIRSTS” PENGUIN SIGNING (BOOTH 2129 )
First in series signing with M.L. Brennan (Generation V) and Benedict Jacka (Fated)
If you’ll be anywhere in the area, come and say hello to me! I’d love to sign your book or even just give you one of my cards!

That's a real inducement, isn't it? Yeah, look at it. This could be yours!

That’s a real inducement, isn’t it? Yeah, look at it. This could be yours!

7:45pm-?: Private dinner

Saturday, October 12

12:00-1:00 PM: GEEK GEEK REVOLUTION (ROOM 1A17)
Speakers: Mia Garcia, A.D. Robertson aka Andrea Cremer, Django Wexler, Alex London, Myke Cole, Anton Strout, M.L. Brennan

Description: GEEK REVOLUTION is a no-holds-barred geek culture game show featuring six science fiction/fantasy authors competing for the chance to be TOP GEEK. In addition the audience members will be asked to ‘write-in’ questions in hopes of stumping the authors and winning a prize pack of books. Hold onto your hats, nerf herders, this might get ugly.

This is looking like so much fun, and I’m really looking forward to it! If you are going to be at NYCC, this had better be one of your required stops!

So that’s what’s planned so far – if you have an event or a party that you think I should be attending, tell me about it!

In other news, after working pretty frantically all summer, I actually had some downtime after I submitted the Book 3 manuscript. This meant that I was able to get some reading done! I love writing, and it’s very exciting when I’m in the middle of a project, but it does mean that my reading time gets pretty significantly cut back! Here is a list of the books I read since finishing the Book 3 manuscript:

The Age of Ice – J.M. Sidorova
Redshirts – John Scalzi
Who Gets What: Fair Compensation After Tragedy an Financial Upheaval – Kenneth Feinberg
Throne of the Crescent Moon – Saladin Ahmed
Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler
Dushau – Jacqueline Lichtenberg
House of Zeor – Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal
Darkborn – Alison Sinclair
Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
(currently reading) The Summer Prince – Alaya Dawn Johnson

Have you read any of these books yourself? If so, what did you think?

The evolution of Fortitude Scott. I mean that in every sense, but more specifically, in the evolution of his cover model. Hiyo!

The evolution of Fortitude Scott. I mean that in every sense, but more specifically, in the evolution of his cover model. Hiyo!