TOP TEN TUESDAY is a meme created at The Broke and The Bookish, with the aim of sharing Top Ten lists of our favorites – mostly book related.
For this last week of the year, the topic is: Top Ten Best Books of 2016
When the time comes to draw up a list like this, I find myself faced with some hard choices, because most of the books I’ve reviewed – and for 2016 they amount to a round 60, which is something of a record for me, given the limited time I can devote to reading – are books I liked quite a bit.
I spoke of reviewed books, rather than simply read, because some of the titles I picked up ended in the DNF pile, and of these I reviewed only a few – those for which I felt a very strong need to share the reasons I didn’t like them, although I managed to soldier on past the 25% mark that for me is the “make or break” point. Which means there are a few more that didn’t even make the list because I could not connect with either story or characters and moved on quite swiftly.
So, of these 60 books, only 3 were abandoned before the end, and I had to pick my favorite 10 out of the remaining 57: as I said, not an easy feat, and that’s the reason I’m not going to list my ten favorite titles in any particular order of preference, but rather in the order I read them. It’s the most Solomonic solution I could come up with…
THE FIFTH HOUSE OF THE HEART, by Ben Tripp
ILLUMINAE, by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
DREAMER’S POOL, by Juliet Marillier
MORNING STAR, by Pierce Brown
THE LESSER DEAD, by Christopher Buehlman
DARK ASCENSIONS, by M.L. Brennan
THE DRAGON’S PATH, by Daniel Abraham
HOUSE OF SUNS, by Alastair Reynolds
BABYLON’S ASHES, by James S.A. Corey (forthcoming review)
Ok, the count really goes to 11 titles, but I can bend the rules a little if I consider that the books in the October Daye series are all parts of the same whole. Can I?
And what about you? What are your favorite reads for this year?
This GoodReads group proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related.
This week’s theme: SERIES THAT GOT WORSE WITH EACH BOOK/SEASON
This week’s topic is an interesting one, since it allows us to mix book and Tv series: we all had one or more experiences of quite promising series that started with the proverbial bang and then tapered out with the equally proverbial whimper. There is no malicious glee in pointing them out, because disappointments burn both ways…
I will start with Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle: the first book, The Warded Man, was an amazing, exciting discovery – imagine a world where the fall of darkness means that demonic creatures emerge from the very ground, bent on destroying the hapless humans they find on their way, unless people shelter behind wards, powerful symbols capable of keeping these hellish creatures at bay. I literally consumed the book, and went looking for more, although the second volume, The Desert Spear, suffered from a little repetition and a few instances of… characterization hiccups, for want of a better word. Still, the story managed to make me forget these small disturbances and move on to book 3 – and that’s where the trouble started in earnest: The Daylight War not only managed to retread old narrative paths (in some cases for the third time) but degraded toward a soap-opera-like style of storytelling that completely alienated me from what had started as a very promising tale. Not the kind of journey I had hoped to make…
I know that my next choice will prove highly unpopular, but I have to mention Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time: I received the first volume of this saga, The Eye of the World, as a birthday gift a couple of years after its initial publication and I remember enjoying this epic tale of the struggle between Good and Evil and its vast cast of characters. Yes, there were a few similarities with Tolkien I had perceived, namely those creatures (I can’t remember their name, it’s been a few years…) whose mere presence caused paralyzing fear in their victims, and that strongly reminded me of the Ringwraiths; or the journey through The Ways, that seemed like a combination between Moria and the Paths of the Dead. Sadly, with the following books, the narrative appeared more and more bloated with long, excruciating descriptions that left little room for plot advancement; there were constant repetitions of annoying characters’ behavior (after a few hundred braid-chewings by a particular character I was ready to scream in frustration), and what’s worse, those annoying similarities kept cropping up and waving at me: just as an example, I will mention the Aes Sedai, a women-only powerful order bent on shaping humanity through age-long intervention; and the Aiel, a desert-dwelling people whose combat skills are known and feared, waiting for the proverbial Chosen One to lead them to victory. Dune fans, do they both remind you of something?
If the novels had been leaner, the pace swifter, I might have overlooked it all, but the combination of what I perceived like derivative elements with the glacial progression of the story made me abandon the saga midway through book 4.
Some time ago I read, and enjoyed, Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax SF series, so when I learned she had started a new one, Razorland, I wasted no time in acquiring book 1, Enclave. It possessed many of the elements I appreciate in a post-apocalyptic tale: humanity has been decimated by a plague whose surviving victims turn into feral creatures called Freaks. What remains of humankind had to take shelter into underground tunnels, where life is short and brutal, and where most knowledge of the outside world has been lost or transformed into a myth. Young Deuce, a huntress for her clan, will have to face a dangerous journey on the surface in search of the hope for a better life. So far, so good, despite the clear YA bent of this story: the first volume being more focused on the changed world outside of the tunnels, it made for a fascinating reading, and equally interesting were the changes in society and mentality brought on by the need to live in darkness. But unfortunately with book 2, Outpost, the unavoidable (?) YA tropes kept cropping up at an alarming rate: love triangles, pouting teenagers who know better than more experienced adults, and so on. Book 2 ended in the DNF pile, with my deep regrets for the many lost opportunities.
Moving from books to TV I’m going to express another unpopular opinion by mentioning the show Battlestar Galactica, the reboot that aired between 2004 and 2009 after a successful return with a short miniseries in 2003.
The miniseries was nothing short of amazing: after being almost wiped out by the Cylons, the cybernetic constructs they created, the survivors of the Twelve Colonies regroup aboard a handful of vessels, led by the capital ship Galactica, running away in search of a new home and relentlessly pursued by the murdering Cylons. There was much to enjoy in this revival of an older, cheesy show of the ’80s: the Cylons were both robot-like creations and human-looking creatures, giving them the possibility of infiltrating the human survivor groups and therefore creating a constant atmosphere of suspicion on the vessels where the remnants of civilization tried to hold on day by day, with constant threat of annihilation and of the mechanical failures of old, overtaxed ships. Older, less advanced technology had to be abandoned in favor of more primitive versions that could not be hacked or infiltrated by the Cylons, leading to a mix of space-age and WWII submarine warfare quality to the story being presented on screen, one of the most fascinating aspects of the reboot.
The first two seasons aired after the miniseries were on the same level of narrative quality and managed to keep the story flowing and the tension high, but with season 3 the first cracks started to appear: unlike the Cylons, who we were constantly told had a plan, the series’ creators seemed to meander as aimlessly as the hapless survivors (or maybe more…), and the moral and existential dilemmas that had made the beginning of this revisitation so appealing, were shifted to the side in favor of entanglements with quasi-religious myths and subplots that ended up twisting on themselves and ultimately ending nowhere. Even though I struggled on to the very end, I had lost interest in the plight of the survivors, and kept watching only to see what it was all about: in this, as well, I was disappointed, because the ending made as little sense as what had preceded it; worse still, the sort of epilogue that rolled on the screen in the last few minutes managed to completely overshadow what I think would have been a fitting finale – that image of Admiral Adama sitting on a hill beside a grave (I’m not going to spoil whose, just in case…) and looking over the horizon of the new world, a poetic, poignant image that would at least have counterbalanced the nonsense before it. Missed opportunities, indeed.
Vampires are one of the staunchest pillars of the horror genre, especially when they are bloody and mean – no sparklers needing to apply, thank you very much – so when I learned that Guillermo del Toro had contributed to the creation of this show, taken from a book trilogy penned by del Toro himself with Chuck Hogan, I was quite excited. The Strain tells the tale of a vampire infestation starting in New York with the arrival of a plane with everyone on board dead; a mysterious casket from the plane’s hold is brought into the city and the horror begins, in an atmosphere and with a premise that both nod at and honor Bram Stoker’s Dracula. At first the victims are believed to be prey to a mysterious illness, but soon it appears that something far more terrible than a mere virus is at work.
So far, so good, indeed: the vampires depicted here are quite scary, and the tension builds up to breathless levels, and if sometimes the scenes veer toward excessive levels of grossness, one could take it all in stride – after all we’re talking about blood-sucking creatures! Where the show completely fails, though, is in characterization, especially with the protagonist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather: I can’t remember a less sympathetic, less endearing main character, one I constantly felt in need of slapping hard to try and put some sense and empathy into, or to move him to act with some sense instead of blundering around like a headless chicken. His lines seem to be taken out of a bad B-movie and his actions make even less sense than his behavior: when I realized that I kept hoping that the “big bad guys” would remove him from the scene in a bloody, painful way, I understood there was something very wrong with the story, the writing, or both and therefore I did not go past the first season.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish with the aim of sharing Top Ten lists of our favorites – mostly book related.
This week’s topic is: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward To For The First Half Of 2017
If reading is a pleasure and a joy, anticipating the arrival of books we set our sights on is just as fun, especially if they are new installments in our favorite series or stand-alone volumes from authors we particularly enjoy. So here are some of the titles I can’t wait to add to my reading queue:
It’s no mystery that John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, and he’s the kind of writer whose books I buy sight unseen, knowing with absolute certainty that I will have a great time reading any kind of story he writes. This new novel will be set in a different universe from the one of Scalzi’s greatly acclaimed Old Man’s War series and deals with the discovery of the Flow, a sort of extra-dimensional field that allows faster-than-light travel and the creation of a vast network of colony worlds. Then something threatens the stability of the Flow, and the communications between human outposts… Intriguing, isn’t it?
Last year, the first volume in this series, Luna: New Moon, was the best book I read, no question about it. This story of the colonization of our satellite and of the powerful families that ruled its economy was both fascinating and compelling, but it ended with a massive cliffhanger. Now this amazing saga is returning with the second book, and I’m beyond anxious to know what happened to the survivors of the bloody upheaval that closed the first chapter of the story, and to see if they will exact their vengeance, and how. I you still have not read this magnificent story, I urge you to try it, it will be more than worth your time.
Another great discovery from last year, a fantasy novel rich in imagination and peopled with great characters, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was both a revelation and an amazing beginning to a compelling saga. The main character Çeda started the first leg of her journey of vengeance in book 1 and now that she’s finally inside the enemy camp the true adventure will be about to begin. I can hardly wait to go back to this well-crafted, vibrant world steeped in mystery, intrigue and peculiar magic, rich with fascinating characters and dreadful creatures.
The Gentlemen Bastards are back! This new chapter of the adventures of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen promises to be a good one: in the course of the last book, The Republic of Thieves, there were some revelations about Locke’s past that will, with all probability, bear some weight on the story’s course, and I can’t forget the last chapter of that book and the dreadful menace that is approaching. To further escalate tension, there seems to be a war brewing on the horizon and it still remains to be seen how that will impact on the… activities of the two friends and comrades. No matter what’s going to happen, it will be an engrossing read, as always…
Again, an author and a series that need no introduction: for this 11th installment in the successful October Daye series there are no hints about story development yet, but to me it hardly matters, since I’ve been a staunch Toby fan for a long time now. You keep rolling them out, Ms. McGuire, and I will keep reading them – and so will the ever-growing number of enthusiasts that have discovered one of the best UF series of the moment.
Same author, different series: the first book in the Wayward Children saga, Every Heart a Doorway marked the beginning of a new narrative track for this extremely prolific writer. The wayward children are those who found special doorways that took them into strange, fantastic and more often than not scary worlds that nonetheless attracted them more than the one – the ‘real’ world – they lived in. And if by choice or accident they managed to stumble back home, they now feel out of place, and long to go back and recapture the magic. Poignant and deep, and quite thought-provoking.
Admiral was a total surprise, both because it turned out to be much different than its beginning led to me expect, and because I’m more than curious to know more about the mysterious character that was at the center of the story. In this new installment he’s kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip in the far-from-stable political landscape where the Evagardian Empire holds sway… but only up to a certain point, it would seem.
There is not much information about this book, apart from the fact that it’s a sort of prequel to the highly successful The Girl with All the Gifts, a poignant post-apocalyptic story that was able to take a well-used trope and turn it into a wonderful, meaningful story. To say I’m curious would be the understatement of the year!
No information about this one either, but it’s more than enough to know that it will be the 7th book in the acclaimed The Expanse space-opera series, the same that was so very successfully translated on the small screen by the SyFy Channel, in a very welcome return to a SF production of quality and depth. The sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes just came out, and the fact that I’m already keeping this one in my sights says a great dal about my appreciation of this story…
And a list about much-expected books would not be complete without the mention of the next installment of the most famous fantasy saga of our days: there is no clear indication about the possibility of reading the much-longed-for next book from A Song of Ice and Fire in 2017, but since hope springs eternal I’m adding it at the end of my list as a form of propitiatory ritual. Please, Mr. Martin, pretty please….
This GoodReads group proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related.
This week’s topic: BOOKS YOU WANT TO FINALLY READ IN 2017
These are those books you meant to read in 2016 or 2015 or 2014 and never got around to. Those books that have been sitting on your TBR for a while, and you really want to get to. These aren’t upcoming 2017 releases; these are older books that need your love too!
If my TBR pile had a life of its own, and physical form, it would be scowling at me all the time… So here we go:
Daniel Abraham has shown time and again to be very versatile, both as a co-author of the highly acclaimed SF series The Expanse, and as a Fantasy writer: his Long Price Quartet was one of the most enjoyable and innovative series I read, and the first book of The Dagger and the Coin, though apparently more “classic” in feel, was an engrossing read that left me wanting for more. The second volume already beckons from my reading queue…
Though I discovered this amazing SF author a little late, I’m steadily working my way through his production, mostly centered around the universe of the Culture, a post-scarcity future society where humans (or rather, post-humans) and alien civilizations co-exist together with artificial intelligences and ship Minds, who are the latter’s next evolutionary step. I’m still trying to decide on either the next Culture book, Matter, or a non-Culture book set however in the same universe, Against a Dark Background, that on the surface looks like an adventure story but, knowing this author, might very well be something else entirely.
The Arthurian legend is a fascinating, and timeless, one: I’ve been meaning to read this first book of Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga for ages but always kept postponing it in favor of other titles. Now I’ve decided I am not waiting any longer: the siren song of this myth is calling to me loud and clear, and this time I don’t intend to ignore it. I believe that the unique blend of history, myth and fantasy that must be at the core of this story will make for a very gripping read.
I have to confess I did start this book some time ago but it must not have been the right time – or maybe I was not in the right mood to appreciate it: the fact that I just put it in the virtual back shelf and not moved it off my reader means that I knew, even then, that there was something in it that had piqued my interest. All I needed was to put myself in the right frame of mind, and I guess now might be that time: much of the enthusiastic reviews I’ve read from fellow bloggers whose tastes I trust have encouraged me to give it a second chance, and in the meantime – as it happens often when I procrastinate – the Paradox series has been completed. Which means I will be able to enjoy it without waiting too long.
I totally loved the first book in this saga, Dreamer’s Pool, and promised myself I would not wait too long to get to the second volume, but as usual good intentions doubled up as paving stones on the proverbial road to Hell… This is another of those fortunate cases, though, when my lagging behind means I now have two wonderful books to look forward to in the Blackthorn and Grim series and I can’t wait to re-acquaint myself with rough-edged but well-meaning Blackthorn and with the silent and meaning presence of her companion Grim, and to learn more about the bonds of affection and respect that tie them together and create the powerful core of their story.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish with the aim of sharing Top Ten lists of our favorites – mostly book related.
This weeks’ theme is Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016
We all have our preferred authors, those whose works we buy sight unseen because we know with total certainty that we will love what they write, and the stories they will offer us. And yet the discovery of new writers is just as thrilling as opening a new book by a well-loved author: this year I have been particularly lucky with my findings, and it took some effort in deciding how to compile this list, because there were more than 10 names I could quote…
So here we go, in no particular order of preference – these were all amazing finds:
My first historical fiction book, and one I loved, dealing with the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s assassination and the political and military fallout on Egypt, with some added “spice” from the magical properties of some powerful, much sought-after objects. I can’t wait to start on the second book of the series…
Vampires at their worst and most terrifying are always a delight to read, especially when the “hero” facing them is anything but, and yet still manages to worm his way into your sympathies and make you root for him every step of the way. Sadly this is a standalone book: I would have loved to read more of these adventures!
A true revelation: my usual aversion to YA themes and protagonists vanished into thin air thanks to the authors’ skill in picturing the teenaged main characters of this space-opera story, dealing with survival and the need to make the truth stand out, no matter what. Another one whose sequel is already in my sights.
The kind of story I fall for hard and fast, the kind of story that’s so immersive and totally gripping I can’t stop to think about it even when I’m not reading. The main characters, the rough-mannered Blackthorn and the taciturn Grim had my soul from the very first pages, and their voices sounded loud and true in my mind. One of the best discoveries in this reading year, indeed.
Two for the price of one, indeed. Another historical fantasy writer who not only afforded me two wonderful reads in the same year, but also compelled me to look further into the historical periods depicted in her novels and helped me learn details I did not know. Entertaining and instructive: who could wish for more?
Vampires, again: this time living (more or less, of course, being undead…) in New York in the late ’70s and showing a new facet of these creatures, one that is as far from glamorous and fascinating as humanly, or inhumanly, possible, and yet they kept me glued to the pages as if under a spell. An amazing discovery.
Space opera, a survival story and a mystery, all rolled into one: it took me a while to warm up to this book, because it, in turn, took a while before getting into proper gear, but once it started rolling it never lost speed for a moment. To say I’m curious to see where the next installment will bring the “Admiral” would be a massive understatement…
After waiting for quite some time before sampling this author, I’ve discovered that there is much more to her stories than it would seem at first sight, and that she can lead you to think you have figured it all out, only to turn the story (and the reader…) upside down without warning. An interesting beginning that will certainly develop into an equally interesting journey.
A sword-wielding heroine who not only does not need to be saved, but instead does save life and hide of her king time and again? That’s what I call a (happy) bending of the rules, indeed. And even though there is something of a love triangle in the story, it’s treated with such a light hand and with the well-crafted exploration of sincere feelings that for the first time in such a circumstance I never had to roll my eyes. Quite a feat…
This is the perfect book for book lovers, starting from the premise that the Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed. “Wonderful!” many would say, thinking that the survival of so much knowledge would herald a more enlightened world. Well, they would be wrong because… better discover that on your own, don’t you think?
This GoodReads group proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related. This week’s theme is:
Those books that have nothing to do with the story, or the cover model doesn’t look anything like the actual main character, or it’s a really cheesy cover for a great read!
To say the truth, none of the covers of the books I’ve read in the past few years were really misleading: when I went to check on my GoodReads library, I could not find any that would fit this week’s theme. So I decided to do a little search for the covers of pulp magazines from a few decades back and there I found exactly what I was looking for.
In those times, garish covers were the accepted norm: monsters from outer space, outlandish aliens and extra-terrestrial landscapes, spaceships of every size and shape – you name it, they had it.
There was one common factor though: the women depicted on those covers were all scantily clad, exotic-looking and either terrorized victims of some evil-doer or being rescued by the muscled hero. And probably had nothing to do with the stories listed in the magazine. Here are the Top Five that came out of my search:
In the first one, we see the lady on the cover being pursued by some bad guy and/or alien (he’s bald, and back then most aliens were bald…): they must be hovering in space, and both of their heads are enclosed by a bubble helmet, but while the man is wearing a space suit, the woman sports something close to a bathing suit, with a very, very deep neckline. In vacuum…
In the second cover, our designated victim is stalked by a spidery-looking alien and looking suitably frightened – but no fear! The hero is just around the corner, ready to save her! And once again, the man is in full EVA suit, while the woman wears a golden bikini. With matching shoes. After all, you can’t give up on fashion, even in the direst of circumstances!
Third cover – more of the same, with a slight variation: the woman is unconscious, probably terrified by the big-toothed, long-nailed (and bald!!) monster in the background. Thankfully the hero is carrying her away to safety. As if we could ever doubt it!
With cover nr. 4 there is a change: in this case the lady is armed and deadly – in the picture she seems to have just stunned or killed the “big bad alien” (he’s green AND bald, to offer some variety, no doubt). The woman’s weapon is still smoking (do energy weapons smoke at all?) and she looks quite resolute – yes, in her space bathing suit, complete with bubble helmet and spiked epaulettes. Oh, and gloves…
And finally, at nr. 5, another ass-kicking lady, swinging an axe against a many-tentacled monster, while the guy in the background seems to have some trouble defending himself. The woman is wearing a full-body suit this time, but it seems painted on her, and the conical cups for the breasts look decidedly uncomfortable!
What’s worse, is that there are still some genres where covers with scantily clad people appear in absurd poses: that’s the reason why writers like John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines decided, some time ago, to poke some fun at those covers, while supporting a charitable foundation. As a “bonus” for this week’s theme, here are both the original cover and the… portrayal by Scalzi (on the right) and Hines (on the left), but you can find more by following the links in this IO9 article. Have fun!