Tag Archives: books

My Top 5 Books of 2017

First, a quick note to say that my short story The House Robot is now up at Turtleduck Press!

blog-Kindred-coverAnd now, on to the main affair…my favourite reads of 2017. (I know, it’s already February 2018. Shhhh.)

Standard disclaimer: I’m often discovering older books for the first time, so when I do these yearly posts, I don’t limit myself to books published in that year. That means this is an eclectic mix of older titles. But hey, there’s no reason they shouldn’t still be celebrated!

Runners-Up

Octavia Butler, Kindred. A nuanced exploration of the Black experience of slavery — subtle where it needed to be, but pulling no punches — through a time travel story. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly brutal.

Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate. I know many romance readers love Heyer, but she’s new to me, probably because I’m not much of a romance reader (I prefer grand adventures with a side of romance, not the other way around). I am told that this one is atypical Heyer, being a Gothic, but I seriously enjoyed it — it hit all the same reader buttons for me as my top book of the year (more about that below).

blog-Safety Protocols-martinez-coverAngel Martinez, Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Another romance! *gasp* This one is a novella, short and sweet, but it makes the list because it’s absolutely adorable and hilarious, and was just exactly the sort of comfort read I needed. It’s science fiction, set on a multicultural spaceship. The aliens’ attempts to figure out the inner workings of human culture and psychology were so perfect, and they balanced beautifully with the romance arc.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races. Okay, Stiefvater is not exactly an unknown fantasy writer, but again, she’s new to me. Really loved the writing style. She clearly knows horses, and she did a beautiful job of capturing both the normal horse-and-rider relationship and the fantasy angle of the dangerous but alluring water horses. Plus the sea. I was a sucker for Marguerite Henry’s books growing up (like Misty of Chincoteague) so this was a shoo-in.

The Winner

blog-To Say Nothing of the Dog-coverMy favourite book of the year was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Ironic, because it was a gift and I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself. I had previously read Passage by the same author, and enjoyed it but found it overly slow for my taste. But since I had this book already, I decided to give Willis another shot.

And boy, was I glad I did! To Say Nothing of the Dog is a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which I haven’t read). It’s brilliant comedy writing (screwball, maybe? Madcap? Something like that). It’s also a time travel story in which, unusually, the time travel mechanism itself plays a central role and creates the main mystery of the book. Did I mention part of it takes place in WWII, which is definitely not treated like comedy, and yet everything hangs together? And it’s all very British-Edwardian-upper-class – even though Willis herself is American, she nails it. And, of course, the titular dog is adorable.

Honorable Mentions

blog-Ancillary Justice-coverTwo books that I found really intriguing but didn’t like quite as much as I wanted to: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. The first was a bit too dense for me to follow, and the second a bit too thin on plot for my taste (to be fair, it was a novella — not my favourite length — and I knew that going in).

I am planning to continue on with both series, if that tells you anything.

Common Themes

Every year I like to look back and identify the common themes in my reading — what did I love about these books that I identified as my favourites?

  • This year they actually fall into two categories — excellent but heartbreaking (Kindred and The Scorpio Races) and warm, fuzzy, and/or funny (all the rest).
  • Strong character relationships were at the centre of each — sometimes a dangerous dance, other times crackling dialogue.
  • Strong sense of place — I love stories where the location is so vivid it becomes a character.
  • Intimate stakes — some years I love big epic stories, but most of these are about the fate of one person, or one tiny community, or a family or found-family…but no less tense for all that.
  • Diversity — from the Black central characters of Butler and Martinez, to the asexual protagonist in Every Heart a Doorway, to the gender-in-storytelling experiment of Ancillary Justice, my reading is getting more diverse. This is not an accident, as I’m seeking out more diversity in the books I pick up, but I’m pleased to see that many of those are also turning out to be my favourites.
  • All of the authors are women — this is certainly not true every year, but in 2017 my reading was more heavily weighted towards women than usual.

 

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? What were your favourite books last year?

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my previous reading recaps: 2017 reading stats | 2016 reading recap | 2015 reading recap | 2014 reading recap | 2013 reading recap | 2012 reading recap

 

 

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Reading Recap: 2017

blog-Kindred-coverHere I am to return this blog to its non-marketing roots! My most popular posts are the ones where I geek out about books and movies, with occasional appearances by travel posts. Luckily for you, that’s exactly what I have planned. To kick things off, here’s Part 1 of my annual reading recap (read my 2016 reading recap).

I read 21 books last year, one more than the previous year. That’s a little lower than past years, but it seems to be my new normal.

Genre breakdown is as follows:

  • 6 adult fantasy (same as the last 3 years!)
  • 4 adult SF (same as last year)
  • 3 unclassifiable/other adult speculative fiction* (2 last year)
  • 2 YA fantasy (same as last year)
  • 1 YA SF (same as last year)
  • 2 non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year)
  • 2 non-fiction (1 last year)
  • 1 anthology (same as last year)

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17* This includes genre mashups like Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (near-future vampire apocalypse) and Erin Zarro’s Ever Touched (futuristic world with fey), as well as stories where something inexplicable happens but it’s not clearly treated as either SF or fantasy, like Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I usually put magic realism and other literary stories into this category as well.

13 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my genre reading. In last year’s post, I declared my intention to focus on series I was already in the middle of. That had middling success – I started 7 new series. (Some of them I won’t be continuing.) I didn’t actually finish any series, but I read 4 middle books of series with defined ends (trilogies or tetralogies). So 2018 will be the year of finishing. …And starting more new series, because who am I kidding?

Author Breakdown

14 of 20 books were by women (the 21st was an anthology), a slightly higher ratio than my reading in most years. I attribute that to the political climate.

blog-Profession-of-Hope-Butler4 of the authors were people of colour, one more than last year – Tobias Buckell (Crystal Rain), Jenna Butler (A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and Octavia Butler (Kindred).

Only 2 of the books were by fellow Canadians. That wasn’t a metric I was particularly paying attention to this past year.

6 of the books had strong LGBTQIA+ representation – my new metric to track.

11 of the authors were new to me, same as last year. I love discovering new favourites, but it does explain why I’m not getting through the backlists of authors I already know and love! This year will require more Lois McMaster Bujold, Naomi Novik, and Elizabeth Bear.

Publishing Years and Formats

Of the 21 books I read, only 7 were published in the last 5 years (and 17 were published in the last 15 years). That’s slightly better than last year (5 and 11 respectively), but still not good for a writer like me, who needs to keep up with the market. I’m pretty good at hearing about new books, but not so good at reading them in a timely fashion!

blog-Twelve-Cronin15/21 were ebooks, or 71% – the highest ratio of ebooks to paper books ever (I’ve had a Kobo ereader since 2012).

This is for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is that a lot of books in my genre are no longer coming out in mass market paperback size, and I find the larger sizes uncomfortable to hold, especially since I do a lot of my reading on public transit, when I may be standing up. I have started buying the occasional trade paperback (mainly in an effort to support my local indie SFF bookstore, Bakka-Phoenix Books), but only the lighter ones – anything that’s bigger or heavier gets bought as an ebook. I’m looking at you, Cixin Liu’s and Justin Cronin’s publishers!

 

If you can’t get enough of book stats geekery, check out 2017 Books in Review by my City of Hope and Ruin co-author (and fellow Turtleduck Press author), Kit Campbell. And stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I discuss my favourite reads from 2017…

 

Genre-Bending Books (Redux)

The Passage by Justin Cronin coverI’m a fan of science fiction. And fantasy. And everything in between…sometimes especially the books that fall in between. I’ve written before about science fantasy, about works that blend speculative fiction and realism, and of course, steampunk. But that was all several years ago, and now I’ve got a whole new crop of genre-benders to share with you…

Futuristic Fantasy

Start with the present day. Fast forward a few decades, or maybe a little more. You can see a clear connection to our own world, including geography. The technology level might be similar to ours, or higher in certain areas, or maybe lower, depending on what might have happened between now and then. (Gotta love verb tenses when talking about futures that may never arrive…) But there are also fantasy creatures or tropes–magic, gods, vampires. In this category we have:

The Passage series by Justin Cronin

This is what literary agents call a “high-concept” book with a “strong hook”. Two words: vampire apocalypse. Cronin starts in the present day, where a vampire virus has just been discovered. Then he fast-forwards through time, pausing for a while here and there to dip into the lives of a set of characters, some of whom pop up again and again. The books veer between thriller and literary drama–what agent Donald Maass calls “breakout novel” territory. That’s a lot of genres, but somehow it all works.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinsonblog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover

Toronto in the future, or at least Hopkinson’s version of the future, is a lawless place controlled by a drug lord. Infrastructure and social safety nets are all but gone. The placenames and layout of the city are still recognizable, though much decayed. But at the same time, the voodoo gods are drifting around, looking for a chance to get involved…

Above by Leah Bobet

Another story set in Toronto, but this one starts out sounding much like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, if the young protagonist had been from the underworld peeking out instead of our own world peeking in. It goes on to deconstruct stories like Neverwhere and a whole lot of other things. I can’t say too much about it without being spoilery, so instead I’ll just give a bonus shout-out to Bobet’s second novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, which is more…

Fantasy with Hints of Technology

A fantasy-seeming world that hints at not being a straight-up secondary world a la Tolkien. Or a world with some futuristic trappings that’s clearly more interested in fantasy tropes and telling fantasy stories. (Think Pern or Dune.) Or some mad blending of the two.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforCover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Like Brown Girl in the Ring, this is a compelling near-to-mid-future story of a young black woman coming into her own magical powers. I’ve placed it here not because it’s set in Sudan (which looks more like fantasy to Western eyes) but because it’s less interested in the tension between magic and technology than Hopkinson’s novel is. It’s a classic fantasy quest story, with powerful sorcerers and training sequences and visions and even a band of misfits trekking long distances. There just happens to be advanced technology here and there.

The Tearling series by Erika Johansen

Girl living a quiet life in the forest learns she’s the heir to the throne and is whisked away to start her new life in the palace. (That’s not much of a spoiler–it’s all in the first few pages.) Another classic fantasy tale, modernized for today’s reader? Maybe…except that the heir occasionally uses words like genetics. The second book in the series delves more into why this is so, losing the tight focus on character but adding worldbuilding context.

The Fey Touched series by Erin Zarroblog-erin-zarro-fey-touched-cover

Finally, I have to put in a plug for Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro. Her fantasy world looks not unlike ours…except that there are vampire-hunting fey…and occasional evil scientists performing genetic experiments and the like. Intrigued? Book 3 in the series will be out May 1! I’ll be posting more about it as the date draws closer.

 

Are you a fan of genre-bending books? Please share!

 

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?

If You Liked City of Hope and Ruin…

Since the time for gift-giving is fast approaching, I wanted to pop back in and share some ideas. (For books, of course–is there any other kind of gift for a reader?) If you liked City of Hope and Ruin, or know someone who would, here are some others to check out.

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the post-apocalyptic/fantasy blend with strong female protagonists of colour then try…

  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson
  • Parable of the Sower (near-future) by famed American author Octavia Butler
  • Who Fears Death by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the dual-author, dual-protagonist structure then try…

  • Sorcery & Cecelia; or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (YA) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (an epistolary fantasy, with the two characters writing back and forth to each other)
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (okay, this isn’t even fantasy, but you’ll still love it, trust me)

If you liked the mixture of urban fantasy with a tinge of SF and the “chosen family” angle then try…blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobet

  • Above (YA) by Canadian author Leah Bobet
  • Fey Touched by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro (first in a series, and book 3 is due out May 2017!)

If you liked the demons from another dimension breaking into a fantasy world and the village/rural/wilderness setting then try…

  • Burning Bright by Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge
  • …okay, I have to put Leah Bobet on here again, because her An Inheritance of Ashes (YA) is exactly this (and was one of my favourite reads this year)

If you liked the Eastern European feel of the world then try…

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone (YA) by Laini Taylor (set in Prague)
  • The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (set in Moscow)Shards by Kit Campbell

If you liked the combination of romance, SF/fantasy adventure, and save-the-world stakes then try…

  • the Erin Zarro and KD Sarge novels recommended above
  • Shards by my co-author, Kit Campbell
  • any of our other novels at Turtleduck Press!

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CITY OF HOPE AND RUIN One-Day Book Tour

Quick announcement to say that TODAY, Thursday, Kit and I are on tour! Virtually, that is. We’re stopping at 30 different blogs — look for discussions, reviews, and a giveaway.

MediaKit_BB_CityOfHopeAndRuin_Banner copy

Click here to see all the tour stops!

 

Lies I Told Myself About Writing

I’m really good at negative self-talk (thanks, Inner Critic). Here are some things I’ve told myself about my writing, that I now know not to be true because hello, I have a novel out.

Caveats: (1) I had an awesome co-author, so I didn’t do it all on my own; (2) we didn’t go the traditional publishing route, but published it ourselves through Turtleduck Press, with help from professionals and semi-pros. My Inner Critic would like to have a field day with those caveats, but they don’t negate the fact that there is now a novel out there in the world with my name on it, and people are even buying it.

And so, the list of lies:

  1. You don’t have the discipline to be a writer.
  2. Your wrists can’t take that much typing anymore. (They can. I just rack up the words a little slower these days.)
  3. You don’t know how to edit a novel. (I’m talking the big stuff, structural editing — I usually flail around and get tied up in knots. This time, somehow, I knew what needed to be done and I did it.)
  4. You don’t have the temperament to edit a novel.
  5. You’re too afraid of failure to ever put anything out there.
  6. You’re too addicted to the Internet to ever put anything out there.
  7. You’re not a good writer. (I’m still and always learning. That’s different.)
  8. Your writing process is fatally flawed.
  9. You can’t be a writer and have other interests / a life at the same time. (I don’t have kids. But I do work full-time, have a significant other, and have several other hobbies that  can be fairly time-intensive.)
  10. You can’t plan, write, edit, and publish a novel in a reasonable amount of time like real writers do. (It took nine months from the start of planning to when we published it. In retrospect, that wasn’t really enough time, but we did it.)
  11. You’re not a real writer.
  12. You’ll never be a real writer.

WELL ACTUALLY…I did it. And will do it again.

So can you.