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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.

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Annandale Captures Gold

Sometimes all the stars align on your Twitter feed and something awesome appears. And, even rarer than that, you take a screenshot of it as it happens.

Let’s all thank David Annandale for having the presence of mind to take that screenshot when @shaunduke, Stephen Blackmoore, and I inadvertently converged to create something magical:

It does not get better than this. It simply does not.

It does not get better than this. It simply does not.

That Escalated Fast. Like, Really FAST.

This isn't your mother's dinotopia.

This isn’t your mother’s dinotopia.

It’s possible that Stephen Blackmoore and I are bad influences on each other. Poor Justin.

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.

Shadow Throne 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Parts Dead 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.

 

 

 

 

 

dust

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vicious 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fun home

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

murder of crows

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

tenant of wildfell hall7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

No, seriously.

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!

 

radiant seas8. 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.

 

dead things

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beggars in spain10. 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?

Authors on Author Photos

Iron Night released cover big version The author photo appears on the back page or cover of a book and has a strange position in our medium. We have hundreds of pages at our disposal to influence the reader, but one photo to say, “And this is me.” But who do we present as “me”? It’s a picture, after all. You can be almost anyone you want to be in a picture. It’s not as if you’d have to keep that persona going even as long as an average dinner party. You could deck yourself out in tweed and a pipe and do your best Tolkien impression and no one would know any better. Judith Butler wrote about identity as a purely social construct with a large performative element – certainly we all know that there are expectations readers might have about who writes what genre. If we want to, we can defy or meet those expectations. Or we can just run a hand over our hair, slap the camera on a tripod, and call it a day.

These were the ideas I was playing with recently, but then The Daily Dot’s Aja Romano posted about sexism in speculative fiction, and one of her quotes was from Sean P. Fodera (who then threw an incredible tantrum over the insolence of someone publicizing his more disgusting forum posts), who wrote, regarding the excellent writer Mary Robinette Kowal:

“For a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach. No metal bikinis or such, but they were not innocuous writer headshots either. One of them, with her recumbent on the sand with legs exposed, made her somewhat attractive.”

Even if we disregard the specter of the disapproving Puritan in Goodman Fodera’s tone, that phrase “not innocuous writer headshots” springs out. It suggests that there’s a right way for the writer to present themselves, within acceptable boundaries, and that Kowal has transgressed beyond those lines.

Setting aside the blatant sexism in what Fodera is typing would be like trying to ignore rain during a downpour, but this isn’t a solely male-female issue, where female authors are the only ones under pressure. Consider the way that Fodera has also brought up the issue of attractiveness – women aren’t the only ones who are subject to the reader’s gaze. Every social science study conducted since the first professor had a useful grad student to serve as a confederate has shown that we like attractive people. We are more likely to respond positively to their ideas, to hire them for jobs, and possibly to also buy their books. When an author sorts through possible photos for the back jacket, is there also the subtle concern that if one is selected where the author looks particularly trollish, then there might be an ever-so-small impact on sales?

And wrapping itself together with all of those other issues – no writer is published overnight, and there’s no author who didn’t spend at least a few daydreaming moments considering what their picture would look like when that day of triumph finally arrived.

If you look on the inside cover of my books (which you certainly should – preferably after reading their contents), you won’t see an author photo. Or anywhere on this blog, actually. It was a decision made for the book, and I do think that it was the right one to try to give the series the best possible chance. Is it one I feel good about, though – that I’m not ever sure. Some days I feel one way, other days I feel another. But I will say this: when I was in high school, I read R. A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale series. There was no author photo, and there was a gender-neutralized name – and for a number of years I thought that R. A. Salvatore was a female author. That lack of the photo allowed me to project anything I wanted, and at that age I guess what I wanted was another female author on my shelf.

So what goes into an author photo? How do different writers view it? Joining me to tackle this question are eight wonderful other authors who couldn’t figure out a graceful way to say no when I asked them to participate!


 

    Jason Hough

 
Darwin Elevator coverAuthor photos are an interesting beast. They remind me of advertisements for Real Estate agents, which almost always prominently feature a glamour shot of said agent, for what reason I’ve never understood. I want to know how successful they are at selling houses. What does it matter what they look like? I asked this question of myself when my literary agent asked me for a portrait to include on her website. That was the first time in my career the author photo came up.

Despite my diatribe above, it’s understandable that people want to form a personal connection with their favorite authors, and knowing what they look like does help accomplish that.

When I signed my first book deal with Del Rey, one of the first things my agent said was “Go out and get a professional headshot taken.” I did so. Here it is:

Jason Hough Pic 1

It looks very “authorly” I suppose, and my friends all commented immediately that the only reason I’d have such a picture on my Flickr page was because I’d landed a deal (it wasn’t announced yet). I used the picture on my blog and in a few other places, but just before publication I changed my mind and went with this picture to go on the inside jacket of my books:

Jason Hough Pic 2

It’s not as serious, not so professional in composition and all that. My friends were pretty much evenly split on which to use when I posed the question. The main reason I picked this one is my 3 year old son took it, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to give the little dude a photo credit.

He took another picture of me later, and I’ve been using it since:

Jason Hough Pic 3

Which one is the “best”? Damned if I know. Is someone going to base their buying decision on what I look like? Sad to say, probably. But I don’t really think many people do this. If they did George RR Martin would never have sold a book. Sorry George, all due respect — you’re a stud and we love you! If anything his bearded, geeky glory is exactly what you’d want in a fantasy author!

I can say with some certainty that I never deliberately looked at an author’s portrait until I became an author myself. I never bothered to look at who published their book, either. These things didn’t matter to me as a reader. They are only things I think about now that I’m part of the club. Who published someones book matters when you’re an author. As far as their looks, well, it helps me recognize them when I go to conventions and want to introduce myself. That’s about it.

Do looks matter for authors? I’m walking a tightrope here but what the hell. I’m a balding middle-aged ginger white guy of decidedly average appearance. I’ve noticed in my short stint as an author that there are a few colleagues of mine (talking about the male authors here) who are smashingly handsome fellows. And, they all seem to be stunningly well connected and popular within the author community. There was a time when I felt very jealous of this, and attributed it all to their looks. But over time I’ve come to some new conclusions. First off, in my experience good looking people are often very, very confident. They almost can’t help it, I think. It comes with a lifetime of having people want to meet you, I suppose. Whatever the case, it is their confidence that makes them a magnet in social settings, not their looks. When you look at the broader landscape, the one common trait of any gravitational body in a social solar system is confidence. Good looks probably helps people become that way, but there’s plenty of other roads leading there. Success, for example. A keen sense of humor. Self-awareness. Shameless self-promotion. For some folks a little alcohol does the trick.

Do some people let physical appearance sway their opinion of an author? I suppose so. However if we’re going to call for the author portrait to be abolished because it places too much importance on looks, which don’t matter one whit when it comes to the quality of the novel in question, perhaps we should also ditch the author bio. Aren’t we also using that to sway opinion by telling readers where we live, where we studied, what career highlights we’ve had and all the rest? Do those things affect the quality of the story? If the book should stand on its own merits, surely this is also superfluous information.

But we won’t do that. We won’t do either. For some readers a personal connection to the author matters. Knowing what someone looks like makes them more real. Knowing where they come from and a little about their lives even more so.

I’ve never heard anyone admit to not buying a book because of the author’s picture. I did once see someone comment about me on twitter, saying “his bio is not doing him any favors” — apparently they’d decided my book must be bad because my past accomplishments were not impressive enough. Much like my looks, there’s not a lot I can do about that except chuckle and move on.

The proof is in the prose.

Visit Jason Hough


 

    Delilah Dawson

Delilah Dawson Pic Here is a confession: sometimes, I can’t go to sleep at night because I’m anxious about author photos and what to wear to cons and conferences. If you think that’s silly, then it’s probably because you’ve never read the hateful words strangers have written on the internet about your face, body, and clothes. As fantastic as it would be if authors were judged solely by their books, the image we present to the public and online eye can impact our careers, our friendships, our reviews, our sales– and, yeah, our sleep. I even blogged about it–with photos.

Here’s a little bit of my mental process:
I want to be seen as a competent professional. But I’m a weird geek who writes vampire smut, comics, and demon stories. I’m pretty, but I’m getting older, and I was bullied as a kid, so I’m shy and introverted, but I don’t want to seem stuck up. Too much makeup and I look like a clown. Too little and I’m a slob. I want to wear a costume, but will that make people doubt my abilities? I love my Catwoman, Leia, Hannibal, and NERD shirts, but I hate it when guys accuse me of being a fake geek girl; I don’t have the energy to fight it when I have a presentation to give. I don’t want to dress boring, but I don’t want to overdress, either. I would wear that cute corset, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m a prostitute and proposition me– again. If I wear a dress, the back of my legs will stick to the chair. If I wear cute shoes, the women will like me, but if the heels are too high, they’ll resent me. I’ll be sitting down, so if I wear something too low cut, guys will be staring down my shirt. *headsplode*

Red stage curtain with arch entrance You asked about author photos, and I described public appearances, but it’s relevant. Why? Because author photos are FOREVER. The exact same problem described above, but on the internet FOREVER. Printed in the back of a book FOREVER. I just put up a new website, and I’ve already had people say that the photo doesn’t fit my brand, doesn’t look like me, doesn’t match the website, should be in costume, is too “fun” because it’s at the beach. But you know what? It makes me feel pretty and confident. When I see that photo, I remember that day. How strong and happy I felt, the scent of the ocean and the feel of warm sand between my toes. I am all these things. Happy and grinning in the sun. Dark and whimsical and goth. Geeky and weird and vulgar. Pretty and Southern and polite. How am I supposed to capture all that in a single photograph?

You can’t. You just pick the one that makes you smile when you see it instead of counting your flaws. And then you get back to writing.

And then you show people the outtakes from your first author photo shoot, because let’s face it: author photos can be pretty ridiculous.

Visit Delilah Dawson’s website
Follow Delilah Dawson on Twitter


 

    Django Wexler

 
Django WexlerWhen ML asked me to write something about my author photo, I realized I didn’t have a great deal to say. Mine comes from a photo shoot I did in New York with my mom, who is (conveniently) an ex-pro photographer and generally excellent camera person. She posed me outside the old ivy-covered stone church next to the house, and we took a bunch of pictures of me until we got one that looked reasonably dignified. (I use the undignified one as my Twitter avatar.) My decisions were limited to which black coat I should wear for the occasion.

The Thousand Names Thinking about it, of course, not having to care too much about an author photo is another symptom of what John Scalzi called “life on easy mode”. As a white male upper-class American, my “just looking normal” is the default image of respectability. (Sort of. The DEFAULT probably looks a little less goofy.) So while I may not have much to say on the subject, I very much look forward to reading the other answers here, from people who had to put a lot more thought into it then I did.

Visit Django Wexler


 

    Elspeth Cooper

 
elspethcooperOne of the things I was least looking forward to about being published was the author photograph. You see, I hate having my picture taken; I always have. I’m not that fond of mirrors, either.

So when it came to selecting an author photo, I didn’t have many pictures to choose from. A B&W family snap of laughing, chubby toddler-me wasn’t going to cut it, obviously, but the only other photos I had were in my wedding album (the momentousness of the occasion had persuaded me that it needed pictures). I cropped down one of the portraits and sent it off to my publisher. It wasn’t a studio shot, or me posed awkwardly at a desk trying to look authorly, but it was happy and natural, so I thought it would do.

It’s served me very well so far. Despite 21 years working in IT, widely regarded as a boys’ club, I’ve experienced very little in the way of misogyny in the workplace. As far as I know my appearance was never used to make judgements on either my competence or my worth as a human being. Because of that, it never even occurred to me that it might be a hazard I’d have to face in my new career.

the_ravens_shadow_TorSo far, it hasn’t been. The male authors I’ve met have all treated me as a fellow professional, and I’d feel quite safe sharing the elevator with any one of them. But every few months there seems to be yet another story about women in this business being groped or creeped-on, or demeaned on the basis of their appearance. I read what had happened to Mary Robinette Kowal and then I looked at that photo of me in the off-the-shoulder silk gown, and I started to wonder.

Is it professional enough? Does it send the right message? Do I look too girly to be taken seriously or does it mischaracterise what I write as romantic fantasy? And the kicker: will it be used against me?

And then I thought about it a little more, and decided: to hell with all that. It’s me, take me or leave me. What I look like has nothing to do with how or what I write, and if my picture influences how people perceive me or my work, surely that says more about them than it does about me. Which is their problem.

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Stephen Blackmoore

stephen_blackmoore_bw_1200 (1)Ceci n’est pas une author photo.

Oh, sure. It’s a photo and it’s of me, an author. So technically, yes, it’s an author photo. But it’s a picture my wife took of me while I was slightly drunk sitting in an airport bar in Wisconsin in the middle of winter a few years back. That one just happens to make me want to run and hide the least of any of the pictures of me out there.

Author photos are weird. They’re more than just a picture. They are image and brand, trademark and logo. At their core they’re marketing tools. But I’m never sure what exactly my author photo is supposed to be selling.

The easy answer is books, but I don’t think that’s entirely true, at least not directly. My picture has nothing to do with whether my book is any good or whether or not you will like it. I didn’t write it with my face no matter how drunk I might have been at the time.

When it comes down to it what it’s really selling is me. I’m not exactly comfortable with that. I’d rather you never know what I look like at all. Like everyone there’s too much about me I don’t like. Too much about me I’m afraid you might not like. I’m too fat, I’m too short, my nose is too crooked, my face is lopsided, I’m too hairy, my eyes are off-center, my forehead’s too big, my eyebrows are too bushy. The list goes on. And it raises troubling questions. Does the Me in my author photo convey the Me that you think it should? That I think it should? Do I look like a fantasy author? Or a crime writer? Or a serial killer in an ice cream truck prowling the streets for children like some modern-day Baba Yaga? What do any of those things look like, anyway?

And why do I care?

Dead-Things-coverI care because I’m human and humans care about that sort of thing. I wish we didn’t, but we do. Like it or not we make decisions based on how people look every day. It’s so unconscious we rarely even know we’re doing it. It’s just how we’re wired. And I fear that whatever judgement you place on my looks is going to not just translate to my books, but be used to judge me as a person.

Stupid, I know, but there you have it. I don’t know who you are and don’t know me, but it’s there, anyway. I’m willing to bet some of you have something like that, too.

Whenever I look at that picture on a website or on a book it feels a little like I’ve turned to on-line dating out of a desperate need for validation. HERE IS MY PICTURE I HOPE YOU FIND ME PRETTY ENOUGH TO BUY MY BOOKS PLEASE GOD GIVE MY LIFE PURPOSE.

But of course that’s ridiculous. I don’t need a picture to show a desperate need for validation. That’s why I write books.

TOTALLY different.

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    T. Frohock

MisererePhotographs, like stories, are illusions. What you see in a photograph is a very stylized rendition of a person for all of a tenth of a second. Then that photograph is airbrushed and photo-shopped to make the person look a lot better than he or she normally does. My professional photograph in Miserere is merely one aspect of my character (my then-agent liked that particular photograph, because she said it captured the warmth of my personality). What you don’t see in that photograph is that my husband sat behind the photographer and joked with me to make me relax and laugh. So any warmth in that photograph is aimed at him, not you, sorry.

Illusions are funny things, what someone sees in a photograph is more telling than the actual picture. In other words, Mr. Fodera told us much more about himself than he did about Ms. Kowal. For example, Mr. Fodera obviously envisions something sexual when he sees women in “diaphanous white outfit[s]” on the beach.

To each his own. Personally, I think guys with dark hair sitting on motorcycles in torn jeans are sexy. Does that mean that we should portray Joe Hill as a slut because he didn’t opt for the “innocuous author headshot”?

Of course not.

Joe Hill and his bedroom eyes.

Joe Hill and his bedroom eyes.

However, let’s look at that picture for a moment. It is really a very sexualized pose for a man. There is Joe sitting on a vehicle that is associated with male virility, which is the male equivalent of being “recumbent on the sand with legs exposed.” The motorcycle is a TRIUMPH, another word associated with manly endeavors. His torn jeans expose his leg. His expression says, “I am one serious dude,” which is the male version of bedroom eyes, come hither, my love.

Or, is that what I’m reading into it?

It’s an illusion, you see. What I see in that picture tells you much more about me than it does about Joe.

The truth is probably much less lurid. The publisher indicated Joe needed a professional photo, the photographer asked him some questions, and VOILIA! Joe is on a motorcycle, looking appropriately badass as a horror writer should. Personally, I think the Wikipedia photograph of Joe reading from a book in a bookstore is, in all probability, a better representation of his personality.

The truth, quite frankly, is rarely what you see. In my case, I’d rather give you the illusion of my words and let you make your decisions about me based on my stories. Nothing more.

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    Mazarkis Williams

The Emperor's KnifeWell, this is an interesting question for me to answer since I have no author photo, and I think that too has its problems. Authors are personalities, and very often people like to attach a face to that personality. Without a face, there is added distance, but also some safety from being misjudged.

But even without photos, we see ourselves differently from how others see us: what we type in, or don’t, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Photos are just one more thing to decode. I don’t make a business of examining author pictures, but once in a while I’ll see one and wonder from my safe, faceless distance, what kind of choices were made in choosing that particular photo. Was it candid or calculated? Did the photographer or the author decide what to include? But never do I put any judgment to it, especially since my own photo is most definitely not out there. If I had one, I would want it to be arty, and convey intelligence, thoughtfulness, and perhaps gravity. But I have no idea whether it would be perceived in any of those ways.

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    Zachary Jernigan

ZacharyJerniganI’m endlessly fascinated by appearance, and I always take a bit of offense when someone thinks admiring a person’s physical form is, by its nature, superficial. I like people (despite what you may have heard), and part of liking people is admiring their features. I don’t find everyone attractive on the level we typically think of when we say, “that’s an attractive person,” but I do find almost everyone to have physical appeal. Especially in person, during conversation, individuals — well, interesting individuals, anyway — have such a range of expression that it’s hard not to find something likable in the mix.

It’s normal for you to be curious about another person’s appearance, especially if that person is someone you admire (or who simply provides an entertaining experience). As time goes on and the world becomes ever more connected, the expectation will only grow that an author provides an image. Yes, even though it has no bearing on the content you’re reading.

Well, except it does. If you see an image of an author, you carry that into your reading, or it informs your reading afterward. You attach a measure of significance, automatically, to a person’s face. This person wrote this. Like it or not, unless you’re somehow the kind of person who attaches no value to physical appearance, you will let this change the way you look at what the author has written. Slightly or fundamentally, it will happen.

If you’re a hugely bigoted person with a small range of “acceptable” or “innocuous” ways a person can be represented photographically, then obviously you should stay off all social media lest it shatter your rosy, neutered view of all these slutty wordsmiths parading around in sheer outfits. Don’t let our society, which increasingly tells folks (I hope) that it’s okay to dress and celebrate their own particular beauty, destroy what might be perfectly enjoyable books!

Oh, how much risk there is in looking at people! Heaven forbid you should be momentarily struck by someone’s beauty or ugliness!

I got a few words for you, if you’re that small-minded: grow the fuck up.

Now, I’m not all that grown up, but you know what? I encourage authors (like all people) to learn to love themselves, and celebrate with others the joy in their faces, the excitement of a good photo taken. I encourage them to reveal themselves to be people, and not just some abstract, often idealized form known as an author. I don’t expect writers to hide their faces or to demure unless they want to — and if they want to, who gives a shit? I don’t need an author photo to love a book, and I surely don’t need one to dig the hell out of the person who wrote it. I have no idea what Mazarkis Williams looks like, but dammit do I like the hell out of Maz.

(Waitaminute! Same goes for you, ML!)

No ReturnGoodness, I could go on forever on this topic, but I won’t. Suffice it to say — and finally get to the main question — I did put some thought into my author photo. I wanted to convey the fact that I don’t take myself seriously, all the while knowing what a huge display of privilege that was. I’m a man. I don’t have to worry that coming across as goofy will in any way invalidate me. I could choose to portray myself in nearly any way without repercussion.

Because, again, I’m a dude. I can post ridiculous crap like this and have people laugh and take my underlying seriousness and anger as just that — seriousness and anger. They validate me. I don’t get called a slut. There are no accusations of me shamefully using my body to garner attention. I got a lot of hits on that post, in fact. My intentions were read charitably. Anyone who didn’t think charitably of what I did remained silent. I didn’t receive hateful emails or passive-aggressive comments.

Tell me how many women, having done what I did, would receive so welcoming a response.

I’ll answer you. None. None of them would.

Any photo of an author — still, this late in the game, after all these proofs of our own prejudice; when we should be mature individuals, dammit! — reveals the underlying mechanics of privilege. It is a demonstration of how kneejerk our reactions are to appearance. More than anything, it is proof that we have a long way to go before we can say that sexism is not a problem in the science fiction and fantasy (and larger literary) community.

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Thanks so much to Jason Hough, Delilah Dawson, Django Wexler, Elspeth Cooper, Stephen Blackmoore, T. Frohock, Mazarkis Williams, and Zachary Jernigan! Have thoughts about author photos? Post below!