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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top Ten Books 2014, January – June
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?
New Business Cards
Hey everyone, my new business cards arrived today from Moo.com! Check these out!
Okay, so I know that my business cards are not exactly breaking news (though, seriously, the covers look pretty fabulous in tiny pocket form), but I’m pretty stoked about this. Now when I go to cons in the future I can be all, “Oh, which card would you like? BECAUSE I HAVE THREE PUBLISHED BOOKS MOTHERFUCKER HAHAHAHAHA.”
Or, slightly more restrained. That maniacal laugh will still happen, of course. (‘cuz, standards) And, while I do of course have great affection for the cover of Generation V, I have to concede to the vox populi at this point and accept that it is not quite my strongest selling point with, you know, just about anyone. I do think that the Iron Night cover is pretty neat, and the Tainted Blood cover is just made of awesome. I think the publishers are trying to move the cover art in a more Iron Druid direction, which is never a bad idea. Plus, I have assurances from some of my favorite bloggers that not only do they think the new cover is cool, but that they would actually be willing to be seen in public with it. Heady stuff, guys!
If you’re going to be at Connecticon this year, stop me and ask for whichever of the cards you’d like!
This leaves really just one question – what the hell do I do with the fifty or so old cards?
When April Fool’s Day Pranks Partially Deploy
When I was at Vericon two weeks ago, I had the delight of meeting a number of great writers – Greer Gilman made me laugh so hard on a panel that I was covering my face with a program; Max Gladstone taught a group of us Small World, and Saladin Ahmed promptly kicked everyone’s ass; and I got to have lunch with Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Max Gladstone. Plus very fun panels to be on, and even better ones to attend, and I’m not even starting in on the delight of a first-night dinner that included Luke Scull and his delightful wife Yesica (both terrorized by what we New Englanders call “spring,” which they were inadequately coated for), plus Pat Rothfuss. Good times!
A few days after the con was over, Max Gladstone posted a fun piece of futuristic dystopian John Deere flash fiction (really, why isn’t this a Hugo category?) on his website. I read it, enjoyed it, and posted it around, as you do. Then I went along with my day, which included teaching my short story class. The class is in one of my favorite sections of the course (the “Professor Brennan has been working hard teaching Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Conrad, and the Bloomsbury group for two months, and deserves a one-week treat goddamnit” section, if you will) – on the previous class we’d discussed Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” along with Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” And in the class I was prepping for we were going to get to discuss Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” – really, top-notch, great stuff.
Then I remembered that April Fool’s Day was not only coming up, but this class was scheduled to meet on that day.
Then I thought about Max Gladstone’s flash story again.
Then I got a very, very bad idea.
When I went into class that afternoon, here is what I handed out to my thirty-three students:
April Fool’s Day Extra Assignment
Due: April 1, 2014, before midnight
Max Gladstone’s first novel, THREE PARTS DEAD, was named a Massachusetts Must Read Book of 2012. He was shortlisted for the 2013 John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award, and longlisted for the 2008 Writers of the Future award. TWO SERPENTS RISE, the second book in the series, was published in October 2013, and a third, FULL FATHOM FIVE, is forthcoming in July 2014.
Max graduated from Yale, where he majored in East Asian Studies with a special focus on Chan poetry and late Ming dynasty fantasy; he lived and taught for two years in rural Anhui province, and has traveled throughout Asia and Europe. He’s been a researcher for the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy Law, a tour guide for the Swiss Embassy, a go-between for a suspicious Chinese auto magazine, a translator for visiting Chinese schoolteachers, a Chinese philosophy TA, a tech industry analyst, and an editor. He has wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.
Max is also the personal friend of the professor. HIS MISTAKE.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
In addition to his excellent, genre-bending novels, Gladstone recently wrote an excellent piece of dystopian flash-fiction, “Sam Ogilvy’s Lament,” and posted it to his website at http://www.maxgladstone.com. This story fits in very nicely with the work we’ve been reading in class by Le Guin, Vonnegut, Jackson, and (particularly) Bradbury.
If you choose to participate (which is absolutely voluntary) the guidelines are as follows:
• At any time from 12:01am to 11:59pm on April 1st, you will go to the entry on Max Gladstone’s website that features “Sam Ogilvy’s Lament” (“The Tractor Story from ICFA. Also, Vericon fun!”) and post a literary analysis of the story.
• The analysis is a minimum of one paragraph in length, and should follow formal rules.
• The direction you take is up to you. You may draw parallels between Gladstone’s work and the stories that we have been reading in class. You may analyze the symbolism in the story (the emphasis on the tractor being “apple candy green”). You may analyze the moral implications of Sam Ogilvy’s decision at the conclusion of the story. You may follow whatever path your heart desires.
If you choose to participate, please make certain that there is some identifying mark on your reply text. First name and last initial are fine. If you can make it clear that Max Gladstone’s story is the subject of a class assignment – all the better.
• Those who participate will have their lowest quiz grade dropped.
We also read through Max’s flash fiction in class and discussed it a little.
April 1 rolled around yesterday, and I eagerly awaited the beginning of the swarm on Max’s website.
By 6pm, one student had posted an analysis. Clearly I had not properly calibrated the heart-breaking lethargy of students. There was a brief flurry of activity late at night, as their natural active hours appeared, and their ingrained last-minute assignment completion instincts kicked in. All told, seven participated, and I’d say that they do a good job with it – there are thoughtful comments, but it’s also clear that they’re having fun with it.
Max did eventually realize that something was going on, and he posted this tweet at 4:50pm –
A few folks are academically engaging with my tractor romance flash fiction in the comments section of my blog. How delightful.
That was a bit before the minor swarm began – really, I am pleased with the students who participated (they’ll be getting a bit of extra extra credit), but let’s all just take a moment and imagine the awesomeness of the prank that could’ve been – thirty-three students suddenly inundating Max’s website.
I guess there’s always next year.