What I Read in 2013
* The Kingdom of Gods – N. K. Jeminsin : Nahadoth was one of my favorite gods, but Sieh was next in line. This one focuses on the troublemaker godling, the first child of the Three and the most loved of Naha. This book could easily be sub-titled “Sieh Grows Up,” and I enjoyed seeing where he developed and, like the child he is, where he did not. This is mentioned as the final book in the trilogy, it doesn’t really feel like an ending. The door is wide open, but perhaps into another realm. I kind of regret not backing up and re-reading the first two before diving in to this one simply because I have a terrible memory and I struggled to remember some of what happened. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t catch up, I just felt like I was missing little details.
* Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness : I intended to write a review about this book, but I no longer feel the compulsion to do so. I am generally interested in reading new “takes” on vamipirism, witches and I’ll even indulge in a romance from time to time. The thing is, this one fell flat for me, even though I WANTED to love this book. I struggled through the first one, and because I liked the premise so much, I was willing to go through the second one. It wasn’t something I was overly fond of, though I can’t explain exactly why. I’m not sure if it’s Harkness’s writing style, if it’s the character of Diana, or…what. Something about this book makes me impatient. Maybe it’s the pacing, or maybe it’s the relationship she has with Matthew that makes me cringe. The story bothers me enough that I won’t read it again, but is compelling enough that I want to know what happens. I’ll pick up and read the third one, but mostly to satisfy my curiosity about what happens with The Book, rather than with the characters. I think this was a great premise whose execution just fell short for me.
* Shatter – Michael Robotham : This is not the blurb you are looking for. Instead, click here for Something Like a Review about this little thriller.
* Room – Emma Donoghue : Better late than never, right? Here’s a LONG overdue Something Like a Review for this odd little novel.
* ‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King : I read this for the first time a very long time ago, and while I remembered elements of it, it was very hazy, as in my recollections amounted to “a book about a town of vampires and some guy named Barlowe.” The sketchy memories aren’t indicative of a lack of love, but more along the lines of a lack of maturity (it didn’t really scare me because I didn’t correlate it to an experience of living in a town that kept to themselves), and the fact that I’ve probably read a thousand books since then. Revisiting it now gives me a new appreciation of how insidious a dark element could take over because, really, how well do we know each other? Not one to keep me jumping out of my skin, but certainly enough to make you regard your neighbors with a sense of paranoia. Especially the ones that seem to sleep all day and only come out at night.
* This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It – David Wong : This one probably deserves more than just a few lines, especially since I really loved it so much, but the more I talk about it, the more likely I am to spoil it like crazy. It’s just that kind of book. I believe it was Stephen King in Danse Macabre that said there’s a fine line between humor and horror and this book not only dances that line beautifully, but it also slalom jumps over it all the way through. Cringing one moment, laughing at something that would make you pee your pants in fear if confronted with it the next, this book was an absolute delight. I would highly recommend it to horror aficionado with a sense of humor. Don’t be so serious when you pick this one up or you’re entirely miss the point.
* The Stupidest Angel: A Heart-warming Tale of Christmas Terror – Christopher Moore : This is my first experience with Christopher Moore’s writing and I know several book nerds who adore his work. I did enjoy this book and found it humorous, grim, entertaining, but it didn’t quite bowl me over the way I expected. I’m glad I read this before I read David Wong’s, because I don’t think I’d have appreciated it for what it is. Really, a book with a warrior princess, a fruit bat and a socially/culturally inept angel is going to be entertaining no matter what, so I don’t think you can go wrong with a Robbins-type jaunt through a festive reality. It is a great Christmas alternative for fans of scary stories and dark tales. Approach it with a light heart and a desire to giggle and you’ll get along just fine.
* Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer : I am really torn about this book. The concept was heart-wrenching; a young son is on a quest to discover the mystery of a key left behind when his father was killed in the attacks on September 11th. Oskar’s story is fantastic. His precocious voice is charming without being annoying, and his naivete about certain things is cute. His perseverance is admirable and the conclusion choked me up. What I didn’t like was the characters of the grandmother and grandfather. I expect characters to be dysfunctional, and to have flaws; in my opinion, both of them were so beyond that their flaws made them unbelievable and broken. I found myself speeding through the passages where either of them were highlighted because they got on my nerves. Granted, I understand why they were in there and the stories they told gave relevance to Oskar’s life, and how it became what it is, but that doesn’t mean they were passages I found enjoyable.
* UR – Stephen King : One of thethings I love about Stephen King is his ability to tackle the mundane and make it creepy, scary or to make you question the nature of what we consider to be reality. In this one, King takes on the popular e-reader, the Kindle. For those of us who have explored the “Experimental” option on the menu, Stephen King makes finding access to another timeline of the world entirely plausible. I’ll admit that even though I listened to this one as an audiobook, I did go back and check my Kindle just to make sure there wasn’t an ability to check out other UR’s…
* Naked – David Sedaris : I’m not sure what prevented me from really connecting to this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and while parts of it were amusing, I just didn’t feel any kind of affinity for the narrator of the story (not just the voice talent). I read glowing reviews on it, but I’m not feeling the same kind of connection to it. YMMV.
* Fall of Giants – Ken Follett : I read Pillars of the Earth, and while I enjoyed it, I felt it dragged too much to be a truly engaging story. Maybe I am just used to a story with a faster pace, one that barrels along at a modern, break-neck speed, and with the time displacement, the story moved slower here. Maybe. This series, however, is the kind of story that I lost myself in. It follows the history of families throughout time and how they interconnect. I am glad I wasn’t reading this just as it was published, because I was immediately able to delve into the next one. I love this series and can’t wait for the final installment to be published!
* Winter of the World – Ken Follett : Though I cannot say I’m a historical fiction buff, I have to say that this story is practically crack. I cannot get enough of it, and cannot wait to get started on the third one. Following the families through history is engaging, and addictive. They feel like family, and I need to know what happens next.
* Blood Trade – Faith Hunter : I’ve always considered the Jane Yellowrock series (and all urban fantasy, really) to be something like brain candy. Overall, it’s a treat, or something different than what I normally ingest. There are elements that aren’t particularly to my liking (the excruciatingly detailed descriptions of gun/knives), but they are part of the character and her world which I do enjoy. This was my favorite of the series so far. I felt like Jane really developed more here, and her relationships became far more complicated and *real* to me. I’ve been listening to this series for a while now, but this is the first time, I got so sucked in that I couldn’t stop listening, even when I had to. I look forward to the next installment.
* The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman : Neil Gaiman is a gifted writer. I envy and aspire to his skills, though our genres are quite different. When I read him, I have a hard time sitting back and enjoying the work because I’m continually analyzing it for the magic of what he does and trying to figure out how he does it, how he makes it work. This book was no different. He created a world out of a panoply of characters, living and dead, and I wanted to hang out in it. There was plenty of tension, but never…fear, and made me want to hang out in graveyards to see what adventures might find me. The only thing I could have asked for was a little more. More tension, a little more fear, but then again, I’m an adult reading this book, not the intended audience.
* Dead Ever After – Charlaine Harris : I enjoyed the “Sookie books” and welcomed them as a light-hearted diversion from the dense material I read for school. Though I never reached rabid fan status, I was eager to find out how it all ended, how it all wound up. I wasn’t successful in avoiding the spoilers that leaked prior to the book’s launch, and even though I didn’t like what I learned about the end, I wanted to read it and see how she “earned” what was outwardly such an unsatisfying ending for the readership. Like so many, I was disappointed. I enjoyed the series, but the ending was frustrating, unsatisfying and, had I not been listening to an audiobook, I probably would have thrown it. Every writer has the right to end a series in the way they best see fit, and every reader has the right to disagree. While Ms. Harris has mentioned having the ending in mind for a long time, the story telegraphed an entirely different one up to the end…which is probably what caused the uproar.
* The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning – Hallgrimur Helgason : I don’t remember how I came across this quirky book, but I was far more entertained and engaged by it than I thought I would be. I picked it up as an audiobook after being in something of a rut. The setting in Iceland alone was enough to pique my curiosity and plunge me into another culture, much as the protagonist was plunged into more than he anticipated. I highly recommend this book for someone who’s looking for an entertaining read that’s outside of the standard fare. It’s got a little bit of everything, from an engaging voice to hook you, to a setting different enough from the every day to keep you guessing about what poor Toxic may encounter next on his accidental adventure.
* The Drowning Girl – Caitlin R. Kiernan : This is a beautifully written, complex and multi-layered novel that proves there’s more to genre than the traditional slash-and-splash thrillers and torture porn. I will warn you, this book is not to be read lightly. It is something to which you must dedicate time, attention, and to do so with the willingness to be patient in some parts. My caveat comes from personal experience. I listened to this as an audiobook while commuting, so I rarely got more than 30 minutes of it at a time. While I could appreciate the art of the language and the depth of the story, dipping into it for brief periods was frustrating and I often found I lost the thread. I will revisit this book when I have time to sit down and read a hard copy. I believe that this would change my enjoyment of the book and let me fully appreciate what Kiernan did.
* The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne Valente : To paraphrase Carl Sagan, writing and books are evidence that humans can work magic, and Catherynne Valente is a master magician. Reading her Fairyland series makes me feel like a kid again and evokes the same kind of magic I experienced when I first learned to read. When I finished the first book, I immediately pre-ordered the second, craving a second excursion into that magical world with September, the heroine. And when I finally had the chance to make the return trip with her, we found Fairyland changed and set about to right the wrongs. I love, love, love this book and immediately pre-ordered the next.
* The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black – E. B. Hudspeth : This is a beautiful book. Read more about what I thought by checking out my Something Like a Review.
* Boneshaker – Cherie Priest : This is one of those books I’m divided on, and my bias isn’t fair to the work. Though I don’t know much about Steampunk, I appreciate the appeal of the story (because who wouldn’t love Steampunk and zombies?) and thought it was handled well. My issues are largely personal since Priest has some of the same writing tics I’m struggling to conquer. Because I’m so hyper-aware of them in my writing, they jumped off the page as I was reading this book. My urge to edit interfered with my story. The average reader would be unlikely to notice, and I doubt even most writers would encounter the same struggle I had.
* Bitterwood – James Maxey : Cons are great places to learn about stories you might not have encountered otherwise. This is one of them. At ConCarolinas, I heard Maxey talk about Bitterwood at a panel, the world building and the dragons, and I knew I had to read it. I listened to this as an audiobook, and while the voice talent wasn’t my favorite, it didn’t really matter. I was genuinely sad when it was done and there weren’t any more in the series in audiobook. But at a subsequent con, I was able to pick up the Bitterwood omnibus. Now, to find time to dive into it…
Short Story Collections
* V-Wars – edited by Jonathan Maberry : I hope to write Something Like a Review of this one…if the virus that starts activating “junk” DNA doesn’t start to change the world we live in. As Jonathan Maberry responded when I sent him an article that hauntingly echoes the premise behind this anthology “I prefer what I write to remain as science FICTION, dammit.” Let’s hope we aren’t using this as a training manual for the future…
* Dark Descent – edited by David G. Hartwell : I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this book; it is a great collection of a wide variety of horror writers. I think it was a nefarious combination of coming up to stories I’ve read before, a lack of time, my (lack of) attention span and the fact that it was huge. Lugging around school books doesn’t exactly allow for much room (or arm/back strength) for (not so light) reading. It was a book I preferred to leave at home, but that I read in compulsive bursts when I picked it up. I’d earmark this as a definite read for horror buffs, especially those with aspirations of being a writer…but understand it’s a substantial hunk of dead tree – plan accordingly.
* 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron : This is a quick read, but a really good one for a writer looking to work smarter at what they do. There is no magic answer to writing, and Aaron doesn’t pretend to give one. Instead, she gives practical, common sense insight into making the most out of however many minutes or hours you can scrape together to write. There are some really great ideas for editing that I’m looking forward to trying out and even starting to figure out what my process (including best times for writing) really are. I don’t expect miracles, but knowledge is power and learning everything you can about a craft you love is never a bad way to go about things.
* The Disappearing Spoon – Sam Kean : This is one of the most entertaining science books I’ve ever read. Kean does a great job of making the “magic” of science approachable, and entertaining while still being informative. Being a horror writer, I picked up a few things I’m going to use in my work, too. I’d recommend this one for anyone wanting to learn a little about the periodic table, but doesn’t want to work too hard doing it.
* Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy – edited by Michael Knost : I attend sci-fi/genre cons with the intent to learn anything and everything I can from the professionals that are there on panels, presenting workshops, or just sitting around the bar. This book is a mini-con in and of itself. There is information about craft, about the industry, and each essay captures the personality of the well-known author who is presenting it. I believe that writing well means you have to dedicate yourself to studying it as well as doing it, and this book is an asset to any writer’s library.