2015 Favorite Books.

Now that the year 2015 is over, I’m going to talk about the books I enjoyed the most during the year. Not like certain places that have voting for the best books in October or November…

I’ve broken the books down into two categories for 2015’s reading. The first are the books I enjoyed reading more than any other, which were released in 2015. The second category is books that were not released in 2015—or books in series where only the latest book was released, but include the entire series. I realize the division is a little arbitrary, but it’s how the books break down in my mind, so it’s how I’m going to list them here. Also, note that I’m not including rereads here—all of these are books that I read for the first time in 2015, else the list would be pretty much the same (and almost completely Sanderson) every year.

Releases:

5. Gemini Cell.

gemini-cell-by-myke-cole-465x750

I don’t read a ton of SF books, but my 5th place for 2015 is actually a tie between two SF novels. The first, Gemini Cell, is a brilliantly paced, brutal, and exciting military SF/fantasy tale that I absolutely devoured. It’s an excellent starting place for Myke’s universe if you’ve never read any of his books before, so check it out!

5. Time Salvager.

TimeSalvager

This was my first Wesley Chu book, which I read because 1) I had it, 2) Chu was nominated for the Campbell Award, and 3) I was going to get to see him twice in 2015 (ArmadilloCon and WorldCon). It earned him my Campbell vote, and is probably my favorite time travel novel. It’s a very dark book, but has beautiful glimmers of hope, and I’m really looking forward to Time Siege next year.

4. The Autumn Republic.

1401814365527

The concluding volume of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, which is a series I’ve been following from the beginning. McClellan has a real talent for battle scenes and rough, gritty fantasy without being grimdark (in my opinion), and it really shines here, when everything is going wrong, and the gods themselves are waging war across the planet. If you’ve not read any of his work, go check out some of his short fiction—it’s an excellent and quick starting point at a good price-point, and will hopefully convince you to pick up Promise of Blood.

3. The Providence of Fire.

staveley_anderson_providence-of-fire

Staveley’s another author I’ve been following since his first book came out—and even before. The Providence of Fire is slightly longer, and perhaps a little slower paced than The Emperor’s Blades, but is also a more satisfying and epic read, and I thoroughly enjoyed how it is unabashedly straight up epic fantasy, done right. I am eagerly anticipating the last volume, out in March.

2. A Darker Shade of Magic.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

After Vicious (see below) was my first read of the year in 2015, I immediately preordered this one, and it is not a decision that I regret. I enjoyed the parallel Londons and the amazing characters that Schwab presents in the book, and how easy, fast, and thrilling the book was to read.

1. Sanderson.

Surprise, surprise, right? Well, Sanderson continued to not disappoint in 2015, with not 1, but 2, absolutely stunning novels full of everything awesome.

1-1. Firefight.

Firefight

As the second volume in a strict trilogy, this one should have been a bit longer, slower, and more boring than the first one. Even in my favorite series, this happens, and I don’t complain.

Someone forgot to give Sanderson the note about that, though, and Firefight was, in my opinion, better than Steelheart, and it has the distinction of being one of two books I read (probably since The Princess Bride, certainly of 2015) where I thoroughly enjoyed and cheered for the romance.

1-2. Shadows of Self.

Shadows-of-Self_Mistborn_Sanderson

Cosmere! Mistborn! Wax and Wayne! Steris! Marasi! [SPOILER]! What isn’t to love? Shadows of Self was easily my favorite book released in 2015, and I can only imagine how entertaining it must have been for the people riding in the car with me while I finished the book on my way to the Sanderson signing. So many amazing, unexpected, surprising, and downright mindblowing moments. If you’ve never picked up a Sanderson book before, I might have to start recommending the Era 2 (1.5?) books as another starting point now.

Other new reads/Authors:

This list is 7 books long because the last 3 spots were more or less a tie—I thoroughly enjoyed all of these books, though they were all quite different, and they all earned their spot on my list.

5. The Goblin Emperor.

TheGoblinEmperor

The Goblin Emperor was a book I read last year because it was on the Hugo nominees list—and it is the book that ended up getting my vote. It’s just so much fun and happiness. This book has been described as anti-grimdark, and it fits the label. If you need an uplifting fantasy novel, check this one out!

5. Robin Hobb.

Assassin's Apprentice

I only managed to read Robin Hobb’s first trilogy, The Farseer Trilogy, last year. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and while it’s not flashy, it is still powerful, and her writing has a way of making things compelling, and she puts her characters through intense torture without resorting to tactics such as chopping off hands or other bits. I’m definitely aiming to read more of her books in the coming year, though I don’t know if I’ll have time to catch up to the latest books she’s written or not—but I’ll certainly try!

4. Jaime Lee Moyer.

DeliasShadow

Now, this one is a little bit of cheating, since I’m talking about the Delia trilogy, the last book of which, Against a Brightening Sky, came out in October. However, I decided to consider the series as a group, and so I placed it on this list, because the first two books came out before last year. I only managed to review the first book, Delia’s Shadow, before school overwhelmed me and I had to take a break for a few months from blogging, but I read and loved the entire trilogy. Set in an alternate San Francisco, the books fall largely into an alternate history setting. The characters are such good people, the mysteries are intriguing, the magic is exciting, and the endings were exciting, even if they left questions unanswered.

4. Dan Wells.

IAmNotaSerialKiller

This one is also cheating a little bit, since I’m talking about Dan’s John Cleaver books, the latest of which, The Devil’s Only Friend, was released in 2015. Also, the series in ongoing. But… This is my list, so I get to do what I want with it. While I felt the first book got off to a slightly rocky start—it foreshadowed the supernatural elements a little too heavily for my tastes—they ended up being really good, quick, exciting reads, even though horror is not usually my genre of choice.

3. City of Stairs.

CityOfStairs

I’ve talked about this one a lot—it was a surprisingly good read, and I am so glad that I made the time to read it. I really enjoyed Shara, and Saypur and the continent, the worldbuilding, the way political issues were handled, and Sigurd. I can’t talk about Sigurd enough… I think the most convincing recommendation I can give for this book is that when I was about 100 pages from the end, and forgot my copy at home, I bought the eBook so I could finish reading it on my phone on the train to work.

2. Vicious.

tumblr_mj7zn8IhmV1qkb10mo3_500

I keep talking about how Schwab is one of my new favorite authors from last year, and this is the book that did it for me. My first read of 2015, it set the tone for the rest of the year, and I am so glad to hear that we are going to get a sequel! Seriously fun tale of superheroes and supervillains—and of people. Also, it has a really cool time-line structure that I’ve never seen any other book pull off successfully.

1. Ready Player One.

ReadyPlayerOne

I read this book for the first time last spring. Upon finishing the book, I turned it back over and started from the beginning, not even pausing to have something to drink. I don’t think I’ve done that since Harry Potter.

Since then, I’ve listened to the audiobook. And reread the book. So yes, I’ve been through it 4 times last year, something else I’m not sure I’ve done since I was reading Harry Potter, back in the days when I wasn’t in college and had a lot more free time.

This book scratched every itch I didn’t even know I had. Gaming, nerd-dom, geekery, virtual reality goodness, some absolutely awesome characters and twists, as big of an epic battle of good against evil as you can imagine, and the other romance that I cheered for. It was perfect, and in the grand scheme of books I’ve read, the only ones I’ve loved more are the Stormlight Archive.

It’s that good.

I realize that I haven’t posted a review of it yet—that’s because I haven’t figured out how to hack Goodreads to give it 6 stars. (I’m working on it, though.)

————————————

So that was my year in books… What did y’all enjoy reading last year, new or old?

The Big Bang Theory Tag

tbbt

My friend Jessie, from Jessie Reads Everything, tagged me to do The Big Bang Theory Book Tag, which was created by Terri from Reading by Starlight. It looks like a lot of fun, and I’ve never done one of these before, so I decided to try this one and see how it turned out. It was a lot of fun, and I had to think about some of my choices for quite some time, but in the end, I think I’m happy with all of them.

I’ve only seen the first season of TBBT, and while I found it quite amusing, I didn’t feel the need to watch any more (I’m not much of a TV person. The only other show I’ve seen in the last decade is Game of Thrones.). Regardless, I’m familiar with most of the ideas, either from the first season or seeing the inevitable memes online. Without further ado, here goes!

1. The Fish Night Light

A book that may have been rocking its crazy but was still kind of brilliant.

The-Mirror-Empire-cover

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is one of those books that has everything and the kitchen sink. Carnivorous trees, brutal blood magic, parallel worlds, satellite magic, societies with 5+ genders, utterly crazy religions, and so on. The book is just overflowing with the crazy ideas, and Kameron mostly manages to pull it off, though it does occasionally have the feeling of a train crashing downhill while you pray that the driver will be able to regain control before you hit the bottom.

2. The Hawking

The author that would be like your equivalent of Physics Genius meets Stephen Hawking.

BrianMcClellan

Brian McClellan. Like Jessie, I was originally going with Sanderson, but I decided that since I’ve already met him, I should use this one for another author. Brian writes some great books, and is a student of the Sanderson. He’s a beekeeper and overall awesome person. I’ve actually gotten to beta read some of his short stories and novellas, and I’m in the acknowledgements of one or two of them, and I’m really, really looking forward to meeting the person behind the books at WorldCon this year.

3. The Euclid Avenue

The book so full of bumps and (plot) holes that it proved annoying to read.

sorcerer

Before you crucify me, hear me out! I had a really hard time coming up with this one. By the time they get through editing and everything else, most books have pretty solid plots, and very few plot holes. I’ve recently been relistening to the Harry Potter series, and they have some plot holes you could fly a broomstick through… How did the Dursleys ever get off that rock? Why would you send students to their dormitories after a troll gets in, when they’re already safe in the great hall, and one of the dormitories is in the dungeon? Perhaps most importantly, did Dumbledore really believe that any of the enchantments on the Stone, except possibly his own, would prevent Voldemort from getting it? They were weak enough for 3 first years to get past, and that’s without any summoning charms or blasting spells or anything that would have made some parts of it much easier.

That’s not to say that I don’t love the books, though. They, and their characters, are utterly amazing. The plot holes just bothered me a little more this time around.

4. The Spock Napkin

The book for which you had low or moderate expectations, and then it was so beyond awesome that you wanted to hug it and love it and shout about it forever.

emperorsbladespsd

The Emperor’s Blades. This was the second ARC I ever received, and I won it in a sweepstakes competition. It was a debut, and I really hadn’t heard anything about the author or the book beforehand, and I’ve had rather iffy results with books I randomly select in the past. But it blew me away, and I am so much in love with this one now that I am pushing it on everyone I know while eagerly anticipating the third volume in the trilogy, THE LAST MORTAL BOND, which I need more than water. (Cover art below because it’s just so frigging amazing.)

LastMortal

5. The Awkward Fanboy

The book that seems to follow you around the blogosphere, and you know you don’t want to read it but it won’t leave you alone.

Heir of Fire

I read the prequel novellas and the first two books in this series, and I’m the black sheep on these. I didn’t enjoy them very much, but everyone says they get better and they’re always pushing me to read the next one. I will get around to it eventually, as I have a copy, but I’m not expecting it to be a book that I love.

6. The Classified Materials

The book with a spoiler so huge, when anyone asks, you just can’t even say because the spoiler is such a big part of it.

A-Storm-of-Swords

Some weddings and stuff happen in this book. People die, occasionally. So many twists and turns in the second half of this novel, and they’re what make it so interesting, so discussing it without these twists is practically impossible. (And yes, I dismissed several Sanderson novels, especially Hero of Ages and Way of Kings, for this spot because I wanted to keep it at just one book per author on this list.)

7. The Jiminy

The book that gets mistaken most often for the wrong genre, and you’re constantly arguing for why it’s this other genre/subgenre.

Sword_of_shannara_hardcover

This one is always classified as straight up fantasy, but, as we find out in the history lessons in the opening chapters, it’s really a far-future earth, in what is really a recovering post-apocalyptic setting. Brooks has gone back and explored this in deep detail in some of his other series, showing us the transition from the earth we know to the world of Shannara, and it’s fascinating. People still insist on calling it straight up fantasy, however.

8. The Adhesive Duck

The book that was all cute and cuddly and then WHAM YOUR FEELS AND OW AND YOUR HEART AND WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

Firefight

Of course there’s Sanderson on this list somewhere… I don’t ship hardly anyone, but I do ship Megan and David, and they are just so cute. Also, I love Mizzy and the new team we’re introduced to, and the setting is just so dang cool… And then there’s the Sanderson avalanche at the end of this that makes me want to cry. So many feels for so many characters. It would be spoilers to say who, but, well, if you’ve read it you know what I mean.

9. The Zazzy

The book that’s got so much personality that it’s just ZAZZY and there’s no other word for it.

This one is just awesome all the way through, and all of the characters are so vibrant. Kell, Lila, Rhy, the Danes… They all have such unique attitudes and they’re so well written, they really imbue the book with their personalities. And that’s not to mention the various Londons, all of which have their own personalities too…

10. The Hot Troll

The book you thought would be beautiful and fabulous and then it turned out to be horrible and gross.

The Warded Man

I’ve not been repulsed by this book in quite a while. I finished reading it this afternoon, and there were several points I wanted to throw it across the room, not because of the agony it caused me through its characters (A la Red Wedding. Everyone chunks their book across the room at that point.), but because it was just so… Yuck. Rape all over the place, combined with a distinct lack of agency by any of the female characters (except maybe the one who is hardly onscreen and then dies), and a series of cultures, each of which disrespect their women more than the last, just really set my teeth on edge. The book itself, without this, probably would have been moderately entertaining, and I’ve heard lots of people who love this series, but the way sex, rape, and female characters in this book were treated really ruined any enjoyment I had. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

11. The Zarnecki

The book with an antagonist so evil/mean/disgusting that you’d drive many hours just to knee him/her in the … well you get it.

the-hunger-games-trilogy

President Snow. I didn’t go for any of the obvious, out-and-out “you kill me or die” villains. They don’t strike the same loathing into me as the quiet, manipulative, political villains, the ones who know exactly what they’re doing, exactly how many people they’re messing up, and have such complete control over the main character’s lives that I just have to shudder to think of them. And President Snow is one of the best examples of this kind of character I’ve ever read. He forces Katniss and Peeta to play along with his games, forces them to smile and pretend there’s nothing wrong, while he destroys their lives and ruins their futures. *shudder*

12. The Train Tour

The book with the development/ending/sunken ship/whatever that proved so upsetting, you contemplated running away forever so you didn’t have to deal with your feels.

Hero of Ages

Okay, so I lied. I did include 2 Sanderson books on this list. Anyone who has reached the end of The Hero of Ages knows what I mean. “I am, unfortunately, the Hero of Ages.”… And if you’re feeling particularly brave, let me know, and I’ll send you some fan-art that’ll leave you sobbing, whether you’ve read the book once or a dozen times.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade final for Irene

From Goodreads:

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

I picked up my first V.E. Schwab novel almost reluctantly (and I still can’t figure out why I was reluctant.). I read that novel, called Vicious, at the beginning of this year, and reviewed it a few weeks ago. Spoiler for the review: I loved it. I’m really annoyed at myself for not reading it earlier, and I was determined not to make that mistake again. Thus, I preordered Schwab’s next adult novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, immediately upon finishing Vicious, and anxiously awaited its arrival.

Due to various printing shortages—the book was much more popular than I think the publisher anticipated that it would be—I did not get a copy on release day. I ordered both editions—US and UK—and I actually received my UK copy first, even though it shipped from the UK. I finally managed to get my hands on my US copy this week—which came with a beautiful two-sided poster, with each of the covers shown above on one side. All of this meant that I did not get to start A Darker Shade of Magic until my spring break, and even then, I had to finish my Lord of the Rings reread first. When I finally did, I had only a few days left in my spring break, so I did what any sensible person would do.

I read A Darker Shade of Magic in a single day, starting in the morning, and finishing around 2 AM before I went to sleep that night.

And I don’t regret it one bit. The book was amazing. The pacing was almost non-stop. A Darker Shade of Magic has a linear storytelling structure, not the fragmented jumps of Vicious. Each chapter is only a few pages long, and the book itself is divided into perhaps a dozen sections, each of which has its own label. To me, the sections felt more like chapters, while the numbered chapters within each section felt more like scene breaks than full chapters. Nevertheless, this style produced a keen sense of “Just one more chapter, just one more…” that made the book nearly impossible to put down. I hadn’t originally planned to finish reading it in a single day, but it was so good that I just couldn’t not finish it. I do not envy those who read the 130-page preview ahead of time and then had to wait for months to get their hands on the finished novel. It must have been torture.

The magic system itself is rather vague, though the parts of it that are necessary for the plot are explained thoroughly enough that it does not cause problems. The magic, which grants a basic control over the elements in Red London, more mysterious and general powers in White London, and gives the Atmani, a select few, the power to travel between the three, once four, parallel Londons, is a well balanced system that can easily be used for malicious purposes as well as good ones, and we see the full range of this in the book.

The plot itself, centering around a mysterious magical artifact that seems determined to wreak all the havoc that it can, is very dark—even the good characters do horrible things, often by accident, and make plenty of bad decisions. They are, after all, human, regardless of which London they come from. And while the plot and the pacing are what drove the book along, making me turn page after page until I ran out of pages (and immediately went searching for a sequel, which I was happy to learn is currently in the edits stage), it’s thees characters that made each and every page satisfying and awesome.

Kell, the main character, is a man who does not know his own past, but can travel between the parallel Londons, as long as he has the proper tools (What is it with Ke/al(l)s? Keladry of Mindelan, Kaladin, Kelsier… They make awesome characters.), and he is fascinating. As one of the only two known remaining Atmani, he is subject to strict rules, but there is hardly anyone with the power to enforce them upon him, and so he deals in a lively illegal trade of items from one world to another. The fact that he doesn’t need to do this—he is royalty in Red London, where he lives, simply by virtue of his magical powers—simply makes it that much more exciting for him, and intriguing for the reader. I love the fact that even our “hero” has his illegal side habits. And a cool coat. Never forget the coat of many sides.

Perhaps my favorite character is Rhy, the prince of Red London. He’s just so irrepressible it’s impossible to not like him. His attitude, his sense of humor, his self-aware pompousness, all add a welcome levity to any scene he wanders in to. He serves as an excellent counterbalance to Kell, who has seen and been so many places, and knows the dark things that can happen. And, as Kell put it, “he would flirt with a nicely upholstered chair.”

Lila—Delilah Bard—is probably the favorite character of most readers. A wanna-be pirate orphan from our London, she is always in search of an adventure—and never afraid to use whatever leverage she has to get her way. While she definitely scares me a little bit—she has too few qualms about killing, for one—she is also awesome, and I enjoyed her viewpoints as well.

The evil characters were so well done that I still cringe a little bit thinking about them. The Dane twins, Astrid and Athos, rulers of White London, clawed their way into power, and, unlike so many rulers I’ve read before, I can totally believe that they did it—and see why they have maintained their position. They utterly creep me out, as does their unwilling servant Holland, who is the only other known Atmani. *Shudder*

In summary, all of Schwab’s characters are just absolutely amazing. I only spent 400 pages with them, yet I feel like I know them all—and the 400 pages was far too little time to enjoy their company. I thought the pace was utterly perfect, and I really enjoyed reading about the various Londons that she has imagined, all in a single day. I give this book five of five stars, and it’s the kind of book that makes me wonder if all of the other five star books really deserved that rating. I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the trilogy.

V.E. Schwab.

Goodreads.

Amazon.