The book doesn’t have a real title or a cover and only has like 1400 words right now but hell let’s spend an hour fiddling around with title logos just because. Why not, right?
Writing question for y’all
WordPress should have some sort of built-in poll functionality.
Feel free to reply here or on Twitter and expand on any thoughts you might have.
The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2017
It’s that time of year again! I am not a huge fan of the book I’m reading right now, and with three days left in the year it’s not likely that I’ll finish anything that merits addition to the list, so here are the 10 best new books I read this year, where “new” means “I never read it before,” and not “it came out this year.” I read 89 books this year, a bit off my usual pace, which I blame on my job and the general “wouldn’t dying be easier?” tone that 2017 left all over absolutely every single thing in existence. As always, once we get past the top 3 or so, don’t pay huge amounts of attention to the specific ranking.
(Also, are you my friend on Goodreads? You should be my friend on Goodreads.)
Before we get started, though, the list from previous years:
- The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2016
- The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2015
- The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2014
- The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2013
#10: THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones. I have a weakness for Conan books, and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and Howard Andrew Jones’ DESERT OF SOULS seriously scratched an itch for me. I found it through Twitter, recommended by Saladin Ahmed, who tends to know his Arabian Nights-inspired prose pretty damn well. There’s at least one more book in the series, which didn’t hit me quite as hard as the original, and some other pieces after that that I’m having some trouble tracking down for some reason. The story is set in the real world– 8th century Baghdad, to be specific– but there’s magic and evil monsters and all sorts of fantasy fun to be had, and the voice of the main character is a pleasure to read.
#9: WHAT HAPPENED, by Hillary Clinton. One thing that is sorely missing from this year’s list is nonfiction; I tend to swing back and forth on how much I’m reading (my book collection is probably at least 40% nonfiction) and this year definitely represented a marked swing away from nonfiction and toward escapist fiction. WHAT HAPPENED was one of a very few examples to the contrary. I almost didn’t read it, as politics makes me ill enough on a daily basis without reading an entire book about the worst, stupidest election America ever had, but it turns out that Clinton is good at a lot of things, and one of those is writing books. I would not have been strong enough to write this after going through what she did, and if I was strong enough, my book would have featured many times more uses of the word “motherfucker” than hers did. It also would have been called “You Morons,” not “What Happened.” There’s a good case to be made that everyone who voted for Clinton ought to read the book in the pure interest of history, but it’s still a good read on its own merits, especially if you’re able to temporarily disconnect yourself from the terrible consequences of the events it describes.
#8: THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley. I keep seeing pictures of this book with LESBIANS IN SPACE as the title instead of the actual title, and I honest to God don’t know if they’re real or not. I definitely want one if they are. The hook of the book is pretty simple; there are no men, none at all, anywhere, and everything and everyone in the book identifies as female, but while that’s initially intriguing it’s not quite enough to hold an entire book together. Luckily, it doesn’t need to be, as the story is typical Hurley Weird: dueling worldships hurtling through the void, decaying societies, rebirths and reincarnations, time loops, and genocide. Y’know, YA stuff. This book’s meaty as hell and is probably going to get a reread sometime this year.
#7: KILLING GRAVITY, by Corey J. White. This year’s winner of the Warren Ellis I Want To Eat Your Brain And Steal Your Writing Powers award, KILLING GRAVITY is the book whose pure wordsmithery blew me away the most this year. I am admittedly mostly a story guy; I can overlook workmanlike writing if the story is awesome, but it isn’t terribly often that beauty of language can overcome a bad story. Luckily, this book has both; the tone and voice of the book are phenomenal, and the story itself, involving psychic assassins, cloned squirrel-thingies, and a shitton of just general badassery is absolutely enough to keep me enthralled. This is somehow the only exemplar of Tor’s novella line on the list, which surprises me, as I liked their output a whole lot, and at 160 pages it’s probably the best pound-for-pound read on the list, if that phrase means anything.
#6: AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz. I’ve read one of Annalee Newitz’ books previously, SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER: HOW HUMANS WILL SURVIVE A MASS EXTINCTION. I bought this having forgotten I’d read that book, as once an author gets slotted in my head as a Nonfiction Person I don’t always remember they exist when and if they switch to fiction. With respect to Ms. Newitz, I don’t want any more nonfiction from her, because AUTONOMOUS is so Goddamn good and I want lots more stuff like it instead. I wouldn’t think that patent law and pharmaceuticals would really make for one of the best books of the year, but I guess that’s why I didn’t write it. The main character is a pirate who lives in a submarine in the bottom of the ocean and produces illegal generic versions of patented drugs. One of her drugs goes wrong and produces instant addiction, followed by unpleasant consequences, and we’re off to the races. Throw in a romance between a human and a war robot and one of the more subtle takes on global warming I’ve seen in a book lately and I’m a happy reader.
#5: WAKE OF VULTURES, by Lila Bowen. Lila Bowen, also known as Delilah Dawson, is an author who I’ve read several books by and had always bounced off of me. She runs around with a crew of other writers whose work I like a lot but after four or five of her books falling flat I was ready to declare her work Not for Me and move on. Well, okay, maybe Delilah Dawson is Not for Me, but Lila Bowen? I’mma read the hell out of Lila Bowen’s next book. WAKE OF VULTURES is basically urban fantasy, but transplanted into the Old West and with a former slave as the main character. (So, uh, okay, maybe not so urban, but I hope you know what I mean.) I’m a hard sell for urban fantasy, but the setting change makes it work, and Nettie Lonesome’s voice as a character makes for a compulsively readable book. I took way too long to get to this book– it sat on the shelf for forever, and there are now two more books out in the series. I’ll be getting to them soon.
#4: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne. Speaking of the cool people that Lila Bowen hangs out with, Kevin Hearne’s been on my list of faves for a while, and when I heard that he’d started work on a proper Epic Fantasy Series as a follow-up to his excellent IRON DRUID series, I was insanely excited. A PLAGUE OF GIANTS is different enough from his previous work that I’d have been hard-pressed to identify him as the author after reading the IRON DRUID books, but that versatility is a strength, and the framing device of the story– a bard basically giving a multi-day oral history lesson to a large crowd, by taking on the appearance and speech patterns of the people talking while performing, is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment on this one; it’s getting pre-ordered the second I find it available on Amazon.
#3: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine. I read STILLHOUSE LAKE in two or three huge gulps, staying up much later than I wanted to to finish it because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to bed without knowing how it ended. I’m a big fan of Caine’s, and this is her only series without even a whiff of the supernatural about it– it’s a very 2017 type of horror novel, where the main character is both the ex-wife of a serial killer and the target of an army of relentless internet assholes who have decided she was an accomplice in her husband’s crimes and deserves to be punished for her actions. It’s a chillingly realistic type of horror and one of a very few books that genuinely scared me while I was reading it. I just finished its sequel KILLMAN CREEK, and while it doesn’t quite stand out as strongly as STILLHOUSE did (and also lacks that amazingly evocative cover, which would have sold me the book all by itself) it’s a great follow-up. There’s a third book coming soon but I think the series works well as a duology. We’ll see where they go next.
#2: THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas. While not my favorite book of the year, I think THE HATE U GIVE is probably the most important book I read in 2017, and in particular I think this book needs to make its way into a whole lot of school libraries. All of them, in fact. The title is a Tupac reference; he once claimed that THUG LIFE stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and… well, we’ll just say the book is well-named. The story is about a young woman whose best friend is killed by a police officer, so it’s a bit triggery and, well, on point given the current fucked-up society we live in. It’s a hell of a book and everyone should read it, or at least see the movie when it comes out sometime next year.
(SIDENOTE: I also read DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone, which is a very similar book in a lot of ways– in fact, the biggest difference is that DEAR MARTIN is about a male character and not a young woman. I think DM suffered from having read THUG first, and while it’s absolutely worth your time it didn’t blow me away the way THUG did. Read them both, but read THE HATE U GIVE first.)
#1: DREADNOUGHT and SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels. Here is the most impressive thing about DREADNOUGHT: I read it in February, and it is still so much on my mind in December that there was no real competition for it being the best book of the year. As much as I loved the other books on this list– and you don’t get on this list unless I loved your book– there was never anything this year that came close to how much I loved DREADNOUGHT… unless it was SOVEREIGN, the sequel, which also came out this year and was just as good. That’s practically impossible. Superhero prose is pretty rare in general; comic books have such a stranglehold on the genre that most people don’t even really consider superheroics as proper fodder for a prose novel. Teen Danny Tozer accidentally inherits the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s premier superhero, and one of the first things Dreadnought’s powers do is reshape Danny’s body into his own personal ideal, which means Danny becomes Danielle. It’s a great superhero book, a great teenage coming-of-age book, a great exploration of how society treats trans people (the main villain of the second book is a TERF) and all around a fantastic pair of novels and the best two books I read in 2017. I finally got my wife to start reading DREADNOUGHT a couple of days ago, and she hasn’t been able to put it down much either. Go buy this, guys. You’ve got Christmas money lying around, I know it.
Honorable Mention, in no particular order: DEFY THE STARS, by Claudia Gray; YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN INNOCENT, by James Duane, HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, by Linda Tirado; FLYGIRL, by Sherri L. Smith; THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, by John Scalzi, THE TRESPASSER, by Tana French; A SONG FOR QUIET, by Cassandra Khaw, and DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, by Seanan McGuire.
Worst book of the year: ORIGINS, by Dan Brown. I literally don’t think he can write a worse book than this one. Let’s all hope he never tries.
#REVIEW: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne
I’m pretty certain I’ve read, or at least tried to read, all of Kevin Hearne’s books. His Iron Druid series is about to conclude with… I dunno, book nine or ten or something like that, and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them. He also wrote a Star Wars book that attempted to be a first-person Luke Skywalker story, and… well, I’ll just say it didn’t work for me.
A Plague of Giants is the first book in a brand-new series. Iron Druid was Celtic-flavored urban fantasy. APoG is much more traditional epic fantasy, with magic and monsters– or at least some really scary wildlife– and, well, giants. It’s also much… weightier, maybe? than his previous work, both in the literal sense (over 600 pages, twice the length of most of the Druid books) and in the sense that he’s telling a story about a world and not just a dude. Some quick research hasn’t discovered how many books he has planned in the series (I just asked him on Twitter, too; we’ll see if he responds) but I’d be surprised if it weren’t at least four or five. (EDIT: Found an interview, it’s a trilogy.)
At any rate, it’s a big story, with a dozen or so POV characters scattered around six countries and one large continent. The most interesting thing about the book is the structure, actually; it does the rotating-POV thing that’s been so popular lately, but all of the first-person accounts are actually being narrated by a bard, who is speaking in front of a large crowd over the course of fourteen or fifteen days, and is using his bard magic to appear to be each of these people as they’re narrating their parts of the story. I don’t think this is where Hearne is going, but there’s an interesting opening in here for the bard to be an unreliable narrator for some or many of these people. Rotating POV is all over the place, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with rotating first-person POV, and rotating first-person POV narrated by a third-person POV character?
Yeah, that’s new.
You may be able to glean an idea of the plot from the title, with one big twist: there are two different giant-plagues, or at least giant invasions, going on. Giants (the Hathrim) and humans normally get along, but one particular group gets driven from their home by a volcanic eruption and decides to basically invade one of the other countries, set up a new city, and basically squat until their presence is accepted. Meanwhile, across the world, an entire different group of giants from a different continent are invading and killing the hell out of everyone, and finding out who they are, where they came from, and why they’re there is one of the big threads of the book that I won’t spoil. Toss in the fact that every country in the book has their own form of magic (the titular “kennings”) except for one, and that that country finds its kenning through the course of the book, and you’ve got plenty of intrigue and political and military machination to go around. I like the story quite a lot but I realized partway through that the structure robs the story of a bit of its drama– one of the disadvantages of the idea that the whole story is being narrated by a bard as oral history is that at some point the story had to be told to the bard, which means that if someone is the POV character it’s safe to assume they’re going to survive their chapter.
Just look out if they happen to meet one of the other POV characters in their chapter. That’s a bad sign. 🙂
At any rate: if you’ve read any of Hearne’s books in the past and enjoyed them, you should definitely pick this up; if you aren’t familiar with him but are in the mood for some meaty epic fantasy you should definitely pick this up, and I even think it’s worth checking out purely for the craft involved because the structure is so intriguing. This will end up in my top 10 for the year, I think. Go check it out.
The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2016
I do this at the end of every year: the top 10 new books I read during that calendar year for the first time, where “new” means “new to me.” That said, this list has turned out to be pretty heavy on 2016 releases for some reason; the oldest book on here is from 1989 and the second-oldest from 2005. The order other than the top three or so doesn’t matter all that much, and had I written this on another day it might be a bit different; anything mentioned on here is gonna be a hell of a read. I read 103 books this year, and it might be 104 depending on my free time today, so there’s a fair amount of competition.
And, just in case you’re curious, here are the 2015 list, the 2014 list and the 2013 list.
Read all that? Okay, here we go:
10) THE FAMILY PLOT, by Cherie Priest. I once got into a (civil) conversation on Twitter with a noted female horror writer about how there didn’t seem to be very many female horror writers. By the end of the conversation I was convinced that the largest part of the problem was a weird definition of “horror writer” that I had in my head, one that only had room for Stephen King (notably, a dude) and no one else. Well, fully a third of this year’s entries are horror novels by women writers, and we’ll kick it off with Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot. This is that most simple of all horror stories: a haunted house. It is not, I will admit, the most original thing you will ever read, although the hook of the house’s victims being pickers hired to tear the place apart to resell its guts at a profit is a nice touch. But this book creeped me the hell out, and I stayed up much later than I ought to have two or three nights in a row in order to finish it. It’s a nice stylistic change for Priest, too, who is turning out to be an impressively versatile author; I’d not have been able to guess she wrote this had I not seen her name on the cover.
9) DEAD SOULS: A NOVEL, by J. Lincoln Fenn. Fenn is a new author for me this year, and I think I encountered this book through John Scalzi’s Big Idea series. I have a second book of Fenn’s waiting on the shelf for me to get to it already. In many ways I could write the same exact paragraph for this book that I just wrote above for The Family Plot, except that instead of a haunted house this book is about a deal with the devil, and with the added detail that this book has easily the creepiest ending to anything I’ve read in years. I probably should have seen it coming, at least in part, but the ending catapulted the book from something I was really enjoying reading to holy shit find more books by this person and tell everyone they should read this one. Very nicely done, and I look forward to reading more of Fenn’s books.
8) ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow. I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction this year, and I went back and forth on whether I should rank this book or the next one on the list higher and eventually decided I didn’t care– but Chernow’s bio of Hamilton is a masterwork, and if you’re even vaguely interested in American history you should definitely make time for it. Make a lot of time, actually, as the book’s big enough to kill small animals with. For added fun, do what I did and memorize the soundtrack to the Hamilton musical before reading the book, as it will provide a nice accompaniment to the book in your head and will also shed some interesting light on some of the side details that Miranda included in his musical. Most disappointing: that Alexander Hamilton did not actually punch a bursar while attempting to be enrolled at Princeton.
7) AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN, by Ralph David Abernathy. From biography to autobiography; I actually reviewed this after I read it, so feel free to click over to that for a more detailed look at the book, but the gist of it is this: Abernathy is doing several things here, writing his own autobiography, a history of the Civil Rights movement, and a biography of Martin Luther King, all at the same time and in the same book. Also true about Ralph David Abernathy: he’s a bit of a dick, and uses the book for some score-settling from time to time, including with King himself, who Abernathy knew better than anyone. It’s a reminder throughout that some of America’s greatest heroes– and Abernathy should be rightfully counted among that group, even though he’s less well-known than many of the people he discusses– were people, and not the bloodless icons that they’ve been turned into over the decades. Very much worth reading.
6) BINTI, by Nnedi Okorafor. One of the very, very few positive things about 2016 was the reemergence of the novella as a Thing that is Available to Read. There are three novellas on this list, and a fourth that really probably ought to be. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti was the first I read of the bunch, and it’s a doozy: a sci-fi tale of a woman leaving her home and her culture behind to study at a prestigious university on another planet. One problem: it’s in the midst of a war zone. Okorafor can be a bit hit or miss for me; I also read Akata Witch and Lagoon by her this year, and I loved Akata but wasn’t too enthralled by Lagoon. This one’s outstanding, though. And that cover. Damn.
5) GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, by Kameron Hurley. This is book one and two of a series, and book three is on the shelf waiting for me to get to it. I went back and forth a bit trying to decide if I was going to include one or both and whether I liked one more than the other and my answer ended up being “Screw it, my list, my rules.”
This series is some of the most original sci-fi I’ve ever read, a story of an assassin living on a planet-wide war zone where all of the men are off fighting in a holy war, the wider culture is loosely based on Islam, and advanced technology and magic are both based on bugs. Yes, bugs. There’s gene piracy and organ selling and I think the main character has died three times in the space of the two books already and it’s all fucking brilliant and you should read it immediately.
4) THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, by Victor LaValle. I said already that this was the Year of the Novella, and this and the next book are both products of Tor’s new novella line– a line I have (I think) bought every single release from and which have all been uniformly excellent. Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe really ought to be in the top 10 as well, but three Lovecraft-inflected novellas on the same list seemed a bit much. Black Tom is Tommy Tester, a hustler in 1920s New York, a guy who does what he can to get by, which includes dabbling in moving the occasional magical artifact. If that setting’s not enough for you to want to pick up this book all by itself, I don’t want to be friends with you. If you haven’t read Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, you might want to do that before reading. Or not, I suppose it’s up to you, and it’s not one of his better stories.
3) HAMMERS ON BONE, by Cassandra Khaw. This book features my favorite writing of any of the books on this list, writing that makes me want to absorb Cassandra Khaw’s powers so that I can write as well as she does. It’s another Lovecraft-flavored novella, about a private detective who is hired by a ten-year-old to kill his stepfather. The stepfather is not what he seems. Neither, as it turns out, is the detective. But to hell with the plot, as I said, the writing is the star here, a bizarre Mickey Spillane/ Lovecraft/ James Ellroy-esque pastiche that stays with you for days afterwards. I would love to be able to write a book like this. I want to be able to write a book like this. Cass Khaw already did, and she is awesome. She’s also got a full-length novel coming soon and a sequel to Bone; I can’t goddamn wait.
2) THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, by Mike Carey. I know Mike Carey primarily from his comics work, and wasn’t aware that he wrote prose books as well. I only found out about The Girl with All the Gifts from the trailer for the movie adaptation, which still isn’t available Stateside anywhere I can see it, which makes me very upset.
Mike Carey should write more books. The Girl with All the Gifts starts off feeling a bit run-of-the-mill; my wife is reading it right now after being harassed about it for most of the year and just asked me today if the book was basically a novelization of The Last of Us. But the farther in you get the more enthralling the book becomes, and by the end it’s its own thing and while, yes, it’s still a zombie story, it’s a bloody goddamned great zombie story, one that despite having a damn movie made out of it still hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked this up, guys. It’s phenomenal.
1) THE WALL OF STORMS, by Ken Liu. This is the rarest of things, folks: a second installment in a planned long-run megaseries that is better in every way than the first book. I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot when I first read it, but by the end of the year the shine had worn off a bit and it only ended up (“only,” he says) in the Honorable Mention section of that year’s list. The Wall of Storms fixes every single thing that is wrong with the first book and improves on the large quantity of stuff that was amazing. Liu calls his China-flavored fantasy fiction “silkpunk,” and the discovery of electricity plays a big role in this novel. So do dragons. Sort of. The title of the series, The Dandelion Dynasty, should also be taken seriously. Note that last word. It’s kind of important. Storms doesn’t quite have the poetry of language that Hammers on Bone does, and isn’t quite as pulse-poundingly exciting as The Girl with All the Gifts, but that doesn’t keep it from being a tremendously inventive and rewarding piece of fiction from an author who keeps getting better. It’s the best book I read this year. You should read it. Now.
Honorable Mention, in no particular order: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, Invasive and The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, The Rising by Ian Tregillis, The Secret Place by Tana French, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Bloodline by Claudia Gray.