2013 is over! I can't tell you how happy that makes me. ;P Looking back at my reading statistics though, it was a very good year.
I read approximately 209 books during 2013, and among them found so many great books that choosing my top ten favorites became problematic. In the end I decided to disregard the publishing year and chose them from the most memorable books read and reviewed during the year (unfortunately, I read some books I loved, but did not review), rated A=5.0 and/or A-/B+=4.5. Once that decision was made, it became easier to sort them out. I still came up with more than ten. So, here they are, in no particular order, my favorite fifteen reads of 2013!*
1) Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6) by Ilona Andrews
Urban Fantasy (2013, Ace)
A cohesive and emotional read, Magic Rises is undoubtedly my favorite Urban Fantasy book of the year. At its core this is a transitional book, a bridge between the beginning of this fantastic UF series and changes to come, and it is most impressive that the quality in the writing and story telling does not wane one bit. Magic Rises is an excellent example of an exciting bridge book with character growth and a storyline that drives the overall story arc forward to the next level in a successfully established series. The fact that I fell in love with Kate, Curran and the rest of the characters all over again, and this writing team created a fantastic villain with depth, is beside the point. Hah!
2) Heart of Obsidian (Psy/Changeling #11) by Nalini Singh
SFF/Romance (2013, Berkeley)
One of the best installments in Nalini Singh's long Psy/Changeling paranormal romance series, Heart of Obsidian reads more like a sci-fi/fantasy romance piece. With this book, Singh drives forward the overall story arc with scientific and fantasy details that make sense and are tightly woven with her world-building, and develops an unlikely, but believable romance despite the fact that the male protagonist is portrayed as a cold sociopath with psycho tendencies. That's talent.
3) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
SF/Fantasy (2013, William Morrow Books)
This fantasy piece is more of a fairy tale for adults. Gaiman tightly weaves in fantasy elements with adult subjects. Gaiman cleverly takes the distortion of childhood memory issue and by having the adult narrate terrifying, magically-driven events that occurred during his childhood, creates an unforgettable, multi-layered, fantasy piece.
4) Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Science Fiction (2012, Broad Rich Publishing)
Published in 2012, the Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey is one of the best science fiction books I read in 2013! This is a captivating post-apocalyptic science fiction volume composed of five novellas from Howey's Wool series. Wool serves as the "hook" with subsequent novellas progressively going from great, to excellent, to outstanding. Memorable in and of itself is the oppressive, repressive, suffocating, and tension-filled atmosphere. This is a fantastic series that shouldn't be missed!
5) Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Historical Romance (2013, Grand Central Publishing)
With a stiff, guilt-ridden, duty bound, grief stricken duke as a hero whose perfect solution to past problems is to become a marauding vigilante, Hoyt meets the challenge by creating his match in Artemis, a passionate woman of character, strong enough to conquer and balance his flaws. Add to that a plot that moves and great secondary characters such as the intriguing Apollo and sweet Sophie, and this historical romance is worth a read or two. The Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt stays at the top of my historical romance list with this fabulous installment.
6) In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen
Speculative Fiction Short Story Collection (2013, Lethe Press)
With some highly imaginative stories and a gorgeous writing style, Will Ludwigsen takes the reader for a fantastic ride while he explores the "what ifs" and "why nots," the unexplained and unexpected in his collection of speculative fiction stories In Search Of and Others. If, like me, you love well-done speculative fiction and short works that will make your mind soar into other planes that challenge the imagination, then you may appreciate and understand why this collection is such an unforgettable read.
7) Now or Never: A Last Chance Romance (Part 1) by Logan Belle
Contemporary Romance (2013, Moxie Books)
Now or Never is a novella, not a full-length novel. Additionally, it is Part 1 of a series so the romance is not complete. Yet, the depth of feeling conveyed by the female protagonist when faced with a devastating medical diagnosis, and the inadequacies and personal self-doubts that arise while she searches for sexual fulfillment after years of neglecting herself as a woman, made this a contemporary read that I fully connected with emotionally. Logan Belle is a writer whose works I've enjoyed in the past, and is fast becoming one whose work I will follow in the future.
8) The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
Historical Romance (2013, Dell)
The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh is a classic of old. Re-released in 2013 by Dell, I'm pretty sure it will also become a new classic. In it, Balogh digs deep into the most unlikable of heroes, a man whose self-loathing is as deep as the sea, and the woman who can't see past his faults. Balogh's talents are in full display in this fabulous historical romance. If you're a fan don't miss it, if you haven't read Balogh yet, give it a try. :)
9) Written in Red: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop
Fantasy (2013, Roc)
Reading Written in Red by Anne Bishop felt like a breath of fresh air with loads of potential. Even with the few concerns that I harbored about the source of the heroine's powers, this book became one of my favorite fantasy (or if you prefer UF) reads of the year. Particularly impressive in this fantasy are the shifters and the world built around them, with characters that maintain their initial impact throughout the story and to the end. The second book of this series, Murder of Crows, is one of my most anticipated books of 2014!
10) Guardian Demon (Guardian Series #8) by Meljean Brook
Paranormal Romance (2013, Berkley)
The end of a series can be a sad time for fans of a series, but with Guardian Demon, Meljean Brook made the end to the Guardian Series a moment to celebrate. The romance section of this paranormal romance is slow in building and worth the wait. But the most impressive and enjoyable aspect of reading this book is the end to the overall story arc in which Brook ties up all the loose ends of this all around successful and complex paranormal romance series.
11) Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
Literary Fiction (2012, Douglas Gibson Books)
In this collection of short stories by Alice Munro some pieces spoke to me more than others, however, overall I found this to be a quiet, masterful, and memorable book where this author often wraps truth in fiction. She focuses her stories on pivotal but mundane moments that change people's lives. Some moments are depicted as harsh with a sense of distance about them, while others are intimate, personal, emotional. They are all valid. In some pieces, Munro also incorporates a subtle history of feminism that I personally appreciated, along with the last four biographical, very personal, short stories of the collection.
12) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Science Fiction (2010, Ace)
First published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness is considered a masterpiece and science fiction classic. The best science fiction novel I read in 2013, this is book #4 (also the first full length novel) in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle series. This is a complex story of a Terran who as an Ekumen mobile becomes the first Envoy to contact the Gethenians in their frozen planet, and his journey to understanding a radically different people and world. The result is a science fiction piece where Le Guin integrates this world's cultural and sociopolitical issues in detail, but at its core brilliantly focuses on the subject of gender and duality. A fantastic book that I won't soon forget!
13) The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
SF/Historical Fiction/Romance (2008, Allison & Busby)
In this book, Kearsley swept me away to 1708 and Scotland's failed Jacobite conflict as she incorporates three dimensional historical figures, historical facts, and a beautiful romance, while simultaneously taking me to a modern day Scotland where another couple finds happiness. In The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley creates a fusion of contemporary time travel with historical fiction and two romance story lines running parallel to each other. It may sound complicated, but her stories are written with attention to detail, authority, and flair!
14) The Favor by Megan Hart
Contemporary Fiction (2013, MIRA)
In The Favor, Megan Hart takes the talents for writing fiction that she so brilliantly incorporates in her successful erotic romances and ramps them up to create a memorable contemporary fiction piece. With a plot that challenges comfort zones, and flawed, deeply explored characters, this contemporary fiction piece showcases another facet of Hart's talents. A memorable read.
15) Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco
Poetry (2012, University of Pittsburgh Press)
In Richard Blanco's multi-layered poetry volume Looking for the Gulf Motel I found an introspective, narrative style, as well as lyrical poems filled with nostalgia, grief, love and hope for the future, all progressively exploring his personal experiences as the gay son of an immigrant family, identity issues, and love. This volume touched and soothed me with its very intimate focus and easy connection with the reader.
* LGBT: 2013 Favorite Books and Authors list is posted separately (See full list here.)
2013: Favorite Quotes
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Thursday, December 26, 2013
"I go on writing in both respectable and despised genres because I respect them all, rejoice in their differences, and reject only the prejudice and ignorance that dismisses any book, unread, as not worth reading." -- "On Despising Genres," essay by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Writing is the place where I can be as bold and compassionate and wise as I choose." -- Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes
[. . .] whether we like it or not the act of writing and the act of remembering is a political gesture; whether or not we call it political activism, we are performing it.” -- Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto Gonzalez
"I think there is no way to write about being alone. To write is to tell something to somebody, to communicate to others." "Solitude is non communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself." "Solitude" -- The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin
"I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were." -- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
"Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light, Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way."-- Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
"He wanted to have her to start his days and as dessert to his luncheon, as a mid-afternoon exercise, as an appetizer before whatever entertainment the evening had to offer, and as a nighttime lullaby and a middle-of-the-night drug."-- Edmund, The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
"Irrespective of the storm, the soul struck by lightning time and again, throughout the abominable Eighties there they were: compact, beautiful men spreading the cheeks of their asses on beds of gently rushing water." "Irrespective of the Storm" by Mark Ameen-- Best Gay Stories 2013 ed Steve Berman
"The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." "The Ghost Factory" -- In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen
"We say of some things that they can't be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do -- we do it all the time." "Dear Life" -- Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
I suppose I'll return someplace like waves
trickling through the sand, back to sea
without any memory of being, but if
I could choose eternity, it would be here:
aging with the moon, enduring in the
between every grain of sand, in the cusp
of every wave and every seashell's hollow."
excerpt from "Somedays, the Sea" -- Looking from the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco
Sunday, October 6, 2013
URBAN FANTASY AND FANTASY with an edge and a dash of the dark stuff. If you don't like too much of the creepy stuff that comes with horror but enjoy a bit of edge, urban fantasy, and fantasy can provide that. The following is a list of books I highly enjoyed, beginning with a few I read recently:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Novel 2013, Fantasy) - An adult fairy tale with the Gaiman magic and a darker, more adult plot at its core. There are some pretty disturbing scenes in this fairy tale, and not all of them come from the magic-side of things.
Written in Red by Anne Bishop (Novel, 2013 - Fantasy) - This fantasy piece has some fantastically gruesome shifters! I mean these are not cookie cutter vampires or shifters. The story has darkness and edge with a dash of warmth and humor providing balance. A great beginning to a new fantasy series by Ms. Bishop.
Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong (Novel, 2013 - Urban Fantasy) - Omens is the beginning of a new urban fantasy series by Armstrong. However, the fantasy aspects of the story are a bit blunted in the first book, but overall the story is definitely unsettling -- more of a suspense read with light paranormal elements and an edgy flavor.
Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear (Novella, 2010 - Fantasy) This novella with necromancy as a central theme is gorgeously dark. It also serves as a sort of prequel to Elizabeth Bear's Eternal Sky fantasy series.
SPECULATIVE FICTION ANYONE?
In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen (Collection 2013, Speculative Fiction) is one of the best collections of speculative fiction short stories I read this past year. It has those disturbing, unsettling pieces, and the ones that just make you think and wonder.
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Doctor Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth (Illustrated Book, 2013 - Speculative Fiction/Horror) is one of the most creative pieces I read this year. This book has some magnificent illustrations and a very short story about Doctor Spencer Black, separate they are a curiosity, together they become a uniquely gruesome experience.
Fungi edited by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Anthology, 2012 - Speculative Fiction/Horror) I began reading Fungi last year, finished it in 2013, and never reviewed it. It's a shame because this is such a great collection. I have favorite pieces that are stuck in my mind as if I read them yesterday, either because they're disturbing or downright unique. Two quick examples: "Last Bloom on the Sage by Andrew Penn Romine" is a memorable short with fantastic characters, world building, action and a plot that combines western steampunk with mushroom weirdness. And, in "Midnight Mushrumps by W. H. Pugmire" the beginning reads like a dream that quickly gains the atmosphere of a dark fairy tale and veers off into a dank, fungi infested, horror-filled nightmare.
READING: Moving on to a list of books I'm reading at the moment, you will find everything from the mild to pure unadulterated horror!
Still Life with Murder (Gilded Age Mystery #1) by P. B. Ryan (2003 Historical Mystery/Suspense) I saw a recommendation for this book at Li's site Me and My Books and decided to check it out. I'm already 25% through the book. It is set in the midst of aristocratic Boston during the Civil War and the main character is an Irish immigrant. It has an upstairs/downstairs sort of flavor with scenes that range from posh settings to the Bostonian Irish ghettos. I'm really liking it. Not a horror or speculative fiction read, but definitely a good mystery so far.
The Dust of Wonderland by Lee Thomas (2013, Novel Rerelease - LGBT Speculative Fiction/Horror) This story, set in New Orleans, is all about atmosphere and suspense. Lee Thomas always keeps me at the edge of my seat, and that's exactly what happened as soon as I began reading the prologue. I'm about 25% through the book and will let you know how it turns out. Mr. Thomas is an author whose works I absolutely, positively recommend if you want to read excellent spec-fic/suspense/horror that has a deeper, more meaningful subplot at its core. He does not disappoint.
Zombies: Shambling through the Ages ed. by Steve Berman (2013, Anthology - Horror) I am reading this collection at the moment. I am enjoying the creative way zombies are portrayed by the different authors, some of them are quite unusual. The book is divided in such a way that it more or less gives a history of the zombie, so the stories follow a fascinating progression. I was really hooked by the first short story "Blood Marker by Victoria Janssen," which almost serves as a sort of introduction to the Before Lazarus section and sets up a precedent for the uniqueness that follows.I have more! My list was rather long this year, but I paired it down to ten which was not easy. I also have a "want to read" list and TBR pile that is a mile long. Do you read spooky stories, mysteries or crime suspense during October? What books do you recommend?
2012 Halloween Recs
2012 Xtra Scary Recs
2011 Halloween Reads
Sunday, March 3, 2013
|In Search Of and Others|
Do you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It's true. I believe it happens because readers, or fans like me, fall a little in love with the what ifs and why nots, the unexplained, the unexpected, the twists and turns that sometimes push edginess into the weird. The wonder.
The title of Will Ludwigsen's collection, In Search Of and Others is a take on the 1970's television program In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. That program specialized in debunking myths and legends, in other words as Ludwigsen says in his foreword, they in fact specialized in killing the imagination. However, this collection is his answer or the antithesis of all that: "What am I "in search of"? I'm looking for any signs of imagination in the universe, and if I don't find any, I'm willing to create some of my own. The truth that paralyzed me twenty years ago has come full circle: you don't find magic but make it." When I began reading this collection of 15 stories, I went in my own "search" for magic, the unexpected, those what ifs and why nots that keep the romance of speculative fiction alive and kicking for me.
In his first story "In Search Of," Ludwigsen creates his own version of the television program where he goes from giving general answers to well known events shifting to personal, more intimate moments and building tension until it ends with an edge. The collection continues with "Endless Encore," a fun story with a somewhat predictable outcome, followed by the brilliantly executed "The Speed of Dreams" which has one of those stop-on-your-track endings, and "Nora's Thing" with its excellent plot and beautifully organic finish. As I kept reading, I found that with stories about moving old houses, rednecks, canny realtors, and clowns, this collection just kept getting better and more consistent as it moved along.
At the back of this collection there is a short section where Ludwigsen explains what inspired him to write each story. In his witty explanation as to what inspired him to write "Universicule," he uses the phrase "coaxing meaning out of meaninglessness" while referring to language. This phrase brought to mind how we, as readers, bring our own baggage and imagination to the table, and sometimes "coax meaning" out of stories that may in fact have an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to someone else. This is true of all stories, but then again that is the beauty of reading. In this case, what I found in Ludwigsen's stories seemed to touch on the personal.
For example, in reading "The Ghost Factory" I made an immediate connection between the eerily fictional circumstances presented by Ludwigsen and real life past job experiences, giving this piece a significance that goes beyond the obvious. This is a story set in a mental health institution narrated by an unethical psychologist. The narrator shifts from events that took place in the 1990's to his present position as the only resident at said institution. The one passage that made this story gel and snap for me is: "The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." At times the atmosphere in this story is oppressive and immediate which Ludwigsen juxtapositions quite effectively against the coldness of his disconnected characters, and at other times the sense of disconnect and distance is all encompassing. This excellent story is precise in its execution.
"Universicule" on the other hand provided me with quite a few chuckles regardless of the ending and great passages interspersed throughout the text. "[...] but here in person, smelling this loamy garden of a book --- God, you could plant seeds inside it and they'd grow trees of glass with absinthe fruit." In this story, a bibliophile writes letters to Charlotte to keep her informed of his progress as he obsessively studies and attempts to decipher the contents of a rare book. It builds to an unexpected ending, but in reality this story is an elaborate farce. "They miss the fluidity of language qua language." Hah! Written in letter form, Universicule is creative in writing style, development and content. I absolutely loved it.
"She Shells" is a great example of the diversity of stories found in this collection because this story borders on the creepy-horror category. It freaked me out! Again, this could be interpreted as a personal reaction since I suffer from deep-water phobia. I always blame my personal fear on the movie "Jaws" and that awfully effective music (not true, but it sounds better than the truth). In this story, Ludwigsen uses a seemingly simple narrative style and a very short story format heavy in atmosphere to great effect.
And the excellent "We Were Wonder Scouts" brought back memories of days when as a girl my imagination was the best entertainment and I believed in such places as Ludwigsen's fictional Thuria, and of one particular moment when cold reality interfered. But, there is always a place for Wonder Scouts like Harald; boys and girls who are willing to explore and look for the unexplained and the unexpected, the what ifs and why nots. I love that even after reality creeps into this story, Ludwigsen imbues it with enough imagination that the magic lingers to the end.
If you haven't figured it out yet, then I will tell you. In reading In Search Of and Other Stories, I found that Mr. Ludwigsen was quite successful in "making his magic." He took me along for a ride of the imagination and I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.
Category: Speculative Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/March 1, 2013
Source: ARC Lethe Press
About the Author: Will Ludwigsen's fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines. His first collection of short fiction, Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! and Other Cosmic Insolence, appeared in 2007. A 2011 MFA graduate from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program in popular fiction, he teaches creative writing at the University of North Florida. He resides in Jacksonvile, Florida, with writer Aimee Payne.