Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Big Fat End of 2009 Post

This year I have surpassed my goal of reading 50 books by reading 58 total. Earlier this month, I was hoping maybe I'd make it to 60 but didn't quite make it. Fifty-nine is a possibility but 60 probably is not (especially since I haven't wanted to read books that are too terribly short since I'm 6 reviews behind right now and need to get caught up).

A little over a week ago, I posted my favorite books from 2009 over at The Book Smugglers for their wonderful Smugglivus event. However, that list has changed slightly since then due to one wonderful book I received for Christmas so I will be posting a revised version, along with my best of 2009 releases read, favorite new discoveries and goals for 2010. I'm mostly going to link to reviews instead of writing about every book since this is long enough as is.

Favorite 2009 Releases

Twenty-one of the books I read this year were 2009 releases, largely due to the increased number of review copies I received during the latter half of this year. Out of those 21, my top 10 are as follows:

1. Fire by Kristin Cashore
2. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
3. Corambis by Sarah Monette
4. By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear
5. Silksinger by Laini Taylor
6. Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins
7. Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre
8. Soulless by Gail Carriger
9. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
10. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Honorable mentions to some other books I agonized over removing from the list:
Biggest disappointment:
  • The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (not a bad book but not a particularly good one either)

Favorites of 2009

This list includes every single book read in 2009 regardless of publication date and was much harder to make. If you've seen my best of list already it's the same with one exception - number 1, which I just finished a couple of days ago as my final read of 2009 and LOVED.

1. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge (review forthcoming)
2. The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro
3. Fire by Kristin Cashore
4. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
5. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
6. Corambis by Sarah Monette
7. By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear
8. My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
9. Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale
10. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

Honorable mentions (some of which I really agonized over not including):

Biggest Disappointment:
  • Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (I think I am the only person who not only didn't love this book but also didn't even like it)

Favorite New Authors

Discovering new authors is always fun - and is one of the reasons I often neglect books by old authors I love to read ones by new-to-me authors. There are a lot of new authors I'm glad to have found in 2009.

Laini Taylor - Two of her books made it to my top books published in 2009 list and one of those made it within the top 5 of my very favorites of the year. Her writing is amazing and I look forward to reading much more from her, especially as each book I've read by her is even better than the one before.

Patricia Briggs - It's rare these days that I devour an entire series close together but I ended up doing just that after I read the first Mercy Thompson book (other than the book I was waiting for in paperback). It helps that they are short and just plain fun. Mercy Thompson is one of my favorite new characters I've read about this year with her distinct, humorous voice.

Kristin Cashore - Fire was so wonderful that I immediately purchased Graceling and read it by the end of this year.

Jacqueline Carey - I am late to the party for the Kushiel's Legacy books, but if the first one is any indication of the rest, I've got some great reading ahead. Santa Olivia was also very riveting although very different from Kushiel's Dart.

Other new-to-me authors I only read one book by this year but must read more of (in no particular order):
  • Tananarive Due
  • Joan D. Vinge
  • Jo Graham
  • Ginn Hale
  • Catherynne Valente
  • Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett

Most Anticipated 2010 Books

There are so many books I'm looking foward to in 2010. There are 3 books coming out by 3 of my very favorite authors - Elizabeth Bear, Carol Berg and Robin Hobb. Plus I still have two books in one of my new favorite series to look forward to.
  • Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4) by Patricia Briggs (I know it's out but I've been waiting for the mass market paperback although I'm not sure if I can hold out another year for book 5 so we'll see how that works out)
  • Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson #5) by Patricia Briggs
  • The Sea Thy Mistress (Edda of Burdens #3) by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Spirit Lens (Collegia Magica #1) by Carol Berg
  • Dragon Keeper (Rain Wilds Chronicles #1) by Robin Hobb
  • Wings of Wrath (Magister #2) by C.S. Friedman (again, this is out but I'm waiting for the paperback release so my books match)
  • Stealing Fire by Jo Graham
  • Rebels and Lovers (Dock 5 #4) by Linnea Sinclair
  • Hell Fire (Corine Solomon #2) by Ann Aguirre
  • Killbox (Grimspace #4) by Ann Aguirre
  • A Local Habitation (October Daye #2) by Seanan McGuire (fortunately, I have an ARC!)
2010 Goals

My main goal for 2010 is to make fewer goals for myself. In 2009 I made a whole bunch and I managed to read at least one book that fit into each, even if not as much as I'd planned. But I'm largely a mood reader and like to read based on what I feel like reading at the moment instead of by what I'd planned for the month. So I'm sticking to very basic goals for this coming year that should be fun and easy to accomplish.

1. Read 50 books

I've done this one two years in row so it shouldn't be that difficult, although it is also not an easy goal for me with the amount of spare time I have. So I've decided not to raise it even though I've done it already.

2. Read more science fiction

2008 was a good year for me as far as reading a lot of science fiction goes, but I didn't read nearly as much as 2009. Because of this my husband got me mostly scifi books for Christmas books so that should make this goal even more attainable.

3. Make progress in some of these series I've started

It's kind of sad how many series I've begun and not finished over the last couple of years - the Mistborn trilogy, the Probability trilogy, the Skolian Saga, and the Miles Vorkosigan series, to name a few. I've decided to concentrate on reading more of the latter two since I already have most of the books in both series and it goes with goal #2 since they're all space opera.

4. Read the following books that are on my bookshelf

Some of these I keep putting off because they're long or maybe I just keep putting them off for new-to-me authors. Then there are two that I have decided I must read because I have heard such wonderful things about these writers.
  • Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
  • Calenture by Storm Constantine
  • Night's Master by Tanith Lee
  • Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (new to me author that I keep hearing about)
  • Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (new to me author that I keep hearing about

So that's 2009 and what I hope for in 2010. What were your favorite books of the year? Is there anything you've decided is a must-read for 2010?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review of Sea of Wind

Even though it takes place before events in Sea of Shadow (the first novel), Sea of Wind is the second book in The Twelve Kingdoms series by Japanese author Fuyumi Ono. Of the seven books in this young adult series based on Chinese folklore, three have been translated into English with the fourth translation due to be released in March 2010. Since I loved the anime series, I was excited to hear that they were available in the United States.

This book is the story of Taiki, the kirin of the kingdom of Tai. The twelve kingdoms are each ruled by a king or queen chosen by the kirin. The sole purpose of kirins, beasts that can shapeshift into a human form, is to select and advise the ruler the Emperor of Heaven has chosen for their respective land. Since Tai has no king, a lamia hatches to care for the imminent kirin of Tai. Yet before Taiki himself emerges from the tree fruit that contains him, he is carried away to another world by a storm, leaving everyone to mourn his loss.

However, the lamia and the oracles of Hohzan are not prepared to give up on Taiki and continue to search for him even when he has been unaccounted for longer than any kirin in history. Ten years later, they find a boy in Japan who is the missing kirin and return him to Hohzan where he learns his true identity. It immediately makes sense to him since he has never really felt like he belonged with his family, but it is still not easy for him to understand how he will know the rightful king of Tai or even how to shapeshift into a beast like all the other kirin.

Like the previous book in the series, this novel starts off a bit slowly with an overabundance of background information. Since Taiki does not know how anything works in the new world he has been brought to, there are a lot of conversations in which the other characters explain how the Twelve Kingdoms differs from Japan. I find the Twelve Kingdoms a fascinating place but at times all the explanation does get a little tiresome, especially since it can be very repetitive at times. It doesn't always move quickly since someone answers a question posed by Taiki, then Taiki often repeats back what the person just said to him as a question, and honestly, Taiki seems rather slow on the uptake quite often during these discussions. For instance, when he is told there are eleven other kirin in addition to him, he then wonders if that means there are twelve in all.

In spite of this, Sea of Wind is a charming story once it gets going just like its predecessor. It reached a certain point and I just wanted to find out what happened to Taiki and the ending was very satisfying. Taiki begins as a fairly weak protagonist since he is very apologetic and cries a lot, not at all like the typical kirin. By the end, he has undergone some growth as a character and learned a lot about himself and what it means to be a kirin. I really enjoyed reading about his journey and actually liked this book a little bit better than the first one because of it. It was very similar in a lot of ways since the girl Yoko was also from Japan and had to come to understand the Twelve Kingdoms - and she also ended up much stronger by the time the final page was reached.

Although this is a prequel of sorts to the actual first book, I would recommend beginning with book one. Keiki, a significant character from the previous novel, does make an appearance in this one and I think having previous knowledge about him makes these scenes with him and Taiki far more fun.

Sea of Wind has too much exposition at times and was not at all complex, but it's a fun novel set in a fantastic universe influenced by Chinese mythology. After the first half, it was hard to put down since I was rooting for Taiki's success and I really wanted to find out how his story concluded.


Where I got my reading copy: It was a gift from my husband.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books: Christmas Edition

Normally I get more gift cards than actual books for the holidays, but this year I got a lot of books. Since this post would be a mile long if I used my usual format of a picture of a book with a little bit about it/why I wanted to read it, I'm going to just write a list with pictures of some of them. (Now that the holidays are over, hopefully I'll get back to writing some of those reviews I was working on too - I've read six books that I've not yet written about.)

Here's the complete list (other than the book I got early that I already mentioned - the signed copy of The Snow Queen):
  • Fables: Legends in Exile (Volume 1) by Bill Willingham
  • Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks (Signed!!)
  • The Steam Magnate by Dana Copithorne
  • Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  • Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear (Signed!)
  • Crashcourse by Wilhelmina Baird
  • Requiem by Graham Joyce
  • Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott
  • The Annunciate by Severna Park
  • Requiem for the Devil by Jeri Smith-Ready
  • The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  • Riddle-master by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Moonstruck by Susan Grant
  • Miles, Mutants and Microbes by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Looks like I've got a lot of reading to do! What did everyone get to read for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guest Blogging and Favorites of 2009

Thea and Ana of The Book Smugglers were kind enough to invite me to write a Smugglivus post again this year. So today I am over there talking about my top 10 books read this year and what books I'm looking forward to in 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review of Wicked Gentlemen

Wicked Gentlemen
by Ginn Hale
222pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.24/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.11/5

Wicked Gentlemen, Ginn Hale's first novel, contains two connected novellas following the same characters, although they are each told from the viewpoint of a different protagonist. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror category in 2007 and it won the Spectrum Award for Best Novel of 2008. According to the publisher's website, Hale is working on a sequel, which I am now eagerly awaiting because I loved this book.

The first story is told from the first person perspective of Belimai Sykes, a Prodigal (a descendant of demons). The setting is an alternative Victorian city in which the devils left hell and repented of their sins in exchange for salvation. Three hundred years later, their ancestors are still easily marked by their long black fingernails and yellow eyes, and in spite of their submission to the Inquisition, they are still feared and repressed by humans. After being tortured by the Inquisition, Belimai lives a rather solitary life ruled by his addiction to the drug ophorium.

One night, Belimai answers a knock at his door to find Captain Harper of the Inquistion and his brother-in-law, Dr. Edward Talbott. Somehow Captain Harper came across Belimai's old business cards and would like for him to investigate the disappearance of his sister Joan. Joan was involved with a group called Good Commons, which sought after more rights for women and Prodigals, and Harper suspects that her sudden vanishing is related to letters she had received from a Prodigal member of Good Commons. Since she is a lady of good breeding, Harper would like to keep her affiliation with Prodigals secret, which is why he enlists the help of Belimai instead of aid from the Inquisition. Intrigued, Belimai agrees to try to find out what happened to the woman. Harper has Joan's friend from Good Commons held for questioning and believes that would be a good place to start the investigation, particularly since he may be more comfortable revealing information to another Prodigal. However, when Harper and Belimai arrive at the cell, they find the man killed in a most violent manner.

The second story takes place after this one and is told from the third person perspective of Harper, who encounters a murdered woman at the beginning of the novella. It answers some of the questions raised in the first half of the book, so I'm not going to talk about it too much. There is an epilogue at the end that returns to the perspective of Belimai (who is also present in Harper's story - even with separate sections, the book is overall connected).

Wicked Gentlemen is one of those books that falls into the category of my type of book. It's dark, character-driven and set in a fascinating fantasy world that sets a great backdrop for the story without overwhelming the focus on the protagonists and plot. As the story unfolds, more about the universe is revealed as well as more about the character's histories and what motivates them. This was one of those books that I did not rush through, eager to find out what happened and then move on to the next book. Rather, I took my time reading it and often went back to reread parts of it.

In many ways, this novel reminded me somewhat of one of my favorite series, The Doctrine of Labyrinth by Sarah Monette. Due to the much shorter page count, Wicked Gentlemen is not nearly as in-depth nor is it quite as mature or well-written as Monette's series, although it does get to the heart of the plot much faster and the minor characters have more personality. However, it does have that same atmosphere of a dangerous city and the dynamic relationship between two men who are very similar yet different. Both Belimai and Harper are rather private people, but while Belimai tends to hide his true feelings under snarky comments and sarcasm, Harper is more serious and a little more likely to open up to the right person. Even so, Harper does have some of his own personal demons that he has always lied about, including his true attitude toward Prodigals. There is some romance, but that's not the main center of attention in this story although there is more time spent on the relationship in the second half of the book than the first.

In the first story, I enjoyed Belimai's perspective so much that I wasn't sure how much I'd like the second part when it switched perspectives. Harper seemed so normal and level-headed in comparison to the tormented Belimai, who had to live with being an outcast part-demon and his past encounter with the Inquisition that led to his drug addiction. With all his problems, Belimai was a fascinating personality to read about, plus he was unusual since he was not human and had some powers. I did not need to fear - although it took longer to get to it, it did become apparent that Harper had his own issues and he turned out to be far more interesting than I ever would have guessed from the first novella.

The writing was also fairly strong and provided some wonderful insights into both main protagonists. Sometimes I felt there were too many short sentences together in a row, making the prose seem choppy at times. For instance, I really liked how the second chapter described Belimai's view of the Inquisition, but at the same time it sounded rather clipped and not quite as polished as it could have:
That was the true horror of the Inquisition's inner chambers. It was there in every pair of those unwavering eyes. The Inquisition would expose every inch of you. They discovered every function and flaw of your naked, shaking body. They dug every fear and shame out of its safe darkness. Sweet, private secrets and half-forgotten crimes, even those petty lies of vanity - none of them could be hidden. The Confessors extracted desire and illusion like rotten teeth.

And then perhaps you would die. (pp. 25)
There were many sections such as this one where I loved the general writing style but felt it would have flowed a lot better if some of those sentences had been longer. Quite a few typos also came up, which I know really has nothing to do with the strength of the novel, but I do tend to notice those things so it jars me out of the story.

The only other complaint (if you can call it that) I have about this novel is that it was too short - I would have liked to have read more in depth about Harper and Belimai, their adventures and the world Hale has created. It was over far too quickly, but while more time spent with this book would have been nice it's certainly better than droning on for so long that reading it becomes tiresome. Not once did I want this book to be over, and it's definitely made me want the sequel as soon as possible.

Wicked Gentlemen is an excellent debut with an intriguing alternate history, some complex characters, and some well-written descriptions and dialogue (even if sometimes not as smoothly constructed as it could be). Ginn Hale is an author whose work I will definitely be reading again.


Where I got my reading copy: I received a copy from the publisher.

Read an excerpt

Other Reviews:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

This week I received one early Christmas present and one ARC. I was excited about both of them, but especially the early Christmas present.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

I have wanted to read this book for a long time but have never gotten it since it was out of print. So I was very thrilled when my husband found me a signed hardcover copy and gave it to me as an early Christmas present. It's a science fiction story based on Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen." I love fairy tale retellings, and I'm especially curious about combining one with science fiction (until I read the inside cover, I always assumed it was fantasy because of the fairy tale association). This one may have to be read soon after the holiday craziness is over.

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

The second book in the October Daye series will be released on March 2, 2010. Once it got going, I had fun with Rosemary and Rue (review), the first book, and found I'd become attached to the characters enough to really want to know more about them in the next book. I was very happy to see Tybalt was mentioned early in this one since he was my favorite from the previous book.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

This week I received two review copies from Blind Eye Books, which publishes science fiction and fantasy featuring gay and lesbian characters. Lately I've accepted none of the review copies I've been offered in an attempt to get caught up on the reading pile, but I remembered hearing about one of these books, read some excerpts and couldn't resist.

The Archer's Heart by Astrid Amara

This was the book I remembered hearing about thanks to Orannia. Back when we were both reading Havemercy, she asked me if I had read it and mentioned hearing good things about it. I read the blurb and a portion of the excerpt on the website and decided it did indeed sound good. The Archer's Heart was a finalist in the science fiction/fantasy/horror category for the Lambda Literary Award in 2008. I'm really looking forward to reading it, but it is rather long so it will be waiting until after the holidays are over.

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

I read part of the excerpt for this one as well and was curious about it. This is actually the book I'm reading now since I picked 5 short-ish books I was considering reading and got my husband to pick one. He thought this one had the most interesting cover of the group and picked that one. I'm about 50 pages in now and like it quite a bit so far. Wicked Gentlemen was a finalist in the science fiction/fantasy/horror category for the Lambda Literary Award in 2007 and it won the Spectrum Award for Best Novel in 2008.