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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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

ARC Review: The Devil’s Only Friend

WARNING: THIS IS THE FOURTH BOOK IN A SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD, THIS REVIEW WILL LIKELY SPOIL YOU FOR EVENTS IN ALL OF THEM.

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From Goodreads:

John Wayne Cleaver hunts demons: they’ve killed his neighbors, his family, and the girl he loves, but in the end he’s always won. Now he works for a secret government kill team, using his gift to hunt and kill as many monsters as he can…

…but the monsters have noticed, and the quiet game of cat and mouse is about to erupt into a full scale supernatural war.

John doesn’t want the life he’s stuck with. He doesn’t want the FBI bossing him around, he doesn’t want his only friend imprisoned in a mental ward, and he doesn’t want to face the terrifying cannibal who calls himself The Hunter. John doesn’t want to kill people. But as the song says, you can’t always get what you want. John has learned that the hard way; his clothes have the stains to prove it.

When John again faces evil, he’ll know what he has to do.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through Tor’s sweepstakes, and decided to review it for release. This has in no way affected my opinion of the book.

Getting just the right mix of familiar and new after several books in a single series can be rather tricky. I’ve seen plenty of authors do it poorly, and either end up with many quite repetitive books—such as Redwall—or a series of highly different books that share almost no connections, though I’m having a hard time coming up with an example right now.

Dan has managed to do it right. One of my biggest complaints with I Don’t Want to Kill You was that it felt too much like the previous two books, at the beginning, though that changed by the end. Here, we’ve got the same story, but told quite differently. Instead of John going at it himself, he’s got a whole team, and he has to, at least to a small degree, fit in with them. This presents a whole new slate of problems for him, and it’s very interesting to watch him struggle with them.

Other parts of the plot feel familiar, though, so Dan never gets too far away from his initial premise: There are demons out there, and we have to kill them—before they kill us. (Note: Yes, there is new terminology in this book, but to avoid any spoilers, I’m sticking with the old terminology for the review.) The scale is larger, not only for John’s team, but also for the demons. More, meaner, harder to kill. I am left wondering how Dan is going to raise the stakes for yet another two books, but I have no doubt he’ll be able to do it.

The new characters on the team do more than give John someone new to struggle against—and occasionally think about killing. They’re an interesting, diverse bunch, with a lot of shady backgrounds and easily aroused tempers. I only wish I’d had more pages to get to know them in.

Like all of Dan’s books I’ve read so far, this one comes in at around 300 pages, and that feels, to someone used to 500+ (or even 1000+) page epics, to be far too short, but he tells a satisfying, full story.

I cannot talk much about Brooke or the romance side of the book without giving major spoilers, so I will simply say that I was pleased with how it was handled.

The beginning of the novel was quite a shocker. Again, saying much more would be another spoilers (There are a lot of twists and turns in these 300 pages!), so I’ll simply say that not everything is as it seemed at the end of the previous book, and even for those things that were, well, we’re months into the future now, so things are bound to have changed.

Despite that, the book flowed well from the previous one, and while the books are supposedly plotted to be a pair of trilogies, with this being the first book of the second trilogy, and two more planned, but it really feels like a single series, with a slight time-jump in the middle. Of course, I may have been biased by reading I Don’t Want to Kill You… Yesterday, so take that with a grain of salt.

In summary, The Devil’s Best Friend is an exciting new development in the John Cleaver story that begins to open us up to a larger world, bringing in new teammates and enemies, and shifting our perceptions of characters we thought we knew. There are lots of twists, and while nothing was supremely exceptional to me, I highly enjoyed this book and give it a solid four of five stars, as a worthy continuation of a great series.

Dan Wells.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You

WARNING: THIS IS THE 3RD BOOK IN A SERIES. IF YOU’VE NOT READ THE FIRST TWO, MAJOR SPOILERS.

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From Goodreads:

John Cleaver has called a demon—literally called it, on the phone, and challenged it to a fight. He’s faced two of the monsters already, barely escaping with his life, and now he’s done running; he’s taking the fight to them. But as he wades through his town’s darkest secrets, searching for any sign of who the demon might be, one thing becomes all too clear: in a game of cat and mouse with a supernatural killer, the human is always the mouse.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer we watched a budding sociopath break every rule he had to save his town from evil. In Mr. Monster we held our breath as he fought madly with himself, struggling to stay in control. Now John Cleaver has mastered his twisted talents and embraced his role as a killer of killers. I Don’t Want to Kill You brings his story to a thundering climax of suspicion, mayhem, and death.

It’s time to punish the guilty.

And in a town full of secrets, everyone is guilty of something.

I will forgive pretty much anything if the ending of your book is good enough. Even a mediocre book with an amazing ending will make me happy, as long as I get through the whole thing. I think that this is because I will remember how you left me feeling. Strong feelings, especially, at the end of the book, will override anything that came before, and that’s the taste that I am left with when everything is said and done, and the book is over. This is why people will tell you to push through the middle books of the Wheel of Time, for example—get to the ending, and it’s all worth it. That’s likely why Rothfuss is so paranoid about actually finishing and releasing the 3rd Kingkiller book.

And that’s why I Don’t Want to Kill You was so amazing. I’ll admit, the beginning of the novel wasn’t as good as I had been hoping it would be, for a few reasons. First off, it started in a similar way to the two previous novels—I was fine when Dan did this for two books in a row, and continuing to do what works for you is fine, but it definitely did start to take on at least a little of a “monster of the week” feel. Or demon of the week, I guess. I wanted something more, and it took a while to get it. There were several of the “What did he do that he didn’t have to do” moments that I had come to expect, for example…

The other thing that really threw me off was the romance, but that one, I know, is just a personal pet peeve. I used to go around, listing the amazing things that people did before getting girlfriends, to make myself feel better. “Just defeat the most powerful dark wizard ever, save the world, and fulfill the prophecy, and you’ll get the beautiful red-head of your choice.” “Just get chosen to fight in an arena to the death with your one true love, declare said love on national television, and devote your entire being to keeping her alive, even at the cost of your own life, and you’ll get a kiss.” “Just be a sociopathic killer who dreams about torturing, murdering, and embalming his girlfriends, and you’ll get asked out a lot.”

Yeah… I got a little depressed by the fact that John Cleaver gets more dates than I do.

But whatever.

The same building tension, the mystery of the demons and who is killing people in Clayton County (Seriously, how many books before the whole place is depopulated?), all of that, is here again. If you enjoyed the first two books, and you don’t mind a little romance—even if it is weird romance through the eyes of a sociopath—then you’ll enjoy the first half of the book. Perhaps the first 2/3, or even 3/4.

Regardless, the ending will blow you away. The stakes are so much higher than they have been before, the situation seems more impossible… And the way the climax and aftermath is handled is just masterful. I can’t say too much more about the ending, because that would totally be giving away spoilers, but I will say that it is totally worth it, and I am glad I read this book. And that I have the next one on hand, right now.

In summary, I Don’t Want to Kill You got off on the wrong foot with me, but by the ending I liked it more than any of the other books in the trilogy. A good ending will forgive pretty much anything else, and this one more than delivers on its promise. I give it a high four out of five stars (4.5 if I did half stars), and a high recommendation. Now off to start the 4th one.

Dan Wells.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: Mr. Monster

WARNING: THIS IS BOOK 2 IN A SERIES, AND THE REVIEW, BY NECESSITY, CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ IT, I RECOMMEND READING MY REVIEW, READING THE BOOK, AND COMING BACK WHEN YOU’RE DONE.

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From Goodreads:

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, John Wayne Cleaver saved his town from a murderer even more appalling than the serial killers he obsessively studies.

But it turns out even demons have friends, and the disappearance of one has brought another to Clayton County. Soon there are new victims for John to work on at the mortuary and a new mystery to solve. But John has tasted death, and the dark nature he used as a weapon—the terrifying persona he calls “Mr. Monster”—might now be using him.

No one in Clayton is safe unless John can vanquish two nightmarish adversaries: the unknown demon he must hunt and the inner demon he can never escape.

Sometimes, when all I read are heavy, 600+ pages books, I think that they are all that there is, and anything shorter is silly. It takes a few good shorter books to remind me of how wrong I am sometimes, and Mr. Monster by Dan Wells was one of these books.

I was lucky enough to have my copy on hand right after finishing I Am Not a Serial Killer, and tore through it in less than 24 hours. I have one simple verdict:

If you liked the first one, read this one.

Mr. Monster is just under 300 pages long, and none of those pages are wasted. The setting is the same small town, Clayton, that we know from the first book, and many of the characters are familiar. The idea of demons is familiar, too, and Dan has to do minimal worldbuilding here. That means that we get almost pure character and story. Usually, I like more substance to my books than that, but sometimes, it really is nice to sit down and not have to remember 1000 named characters with lines, 7 different magic systems, 11 cultures, and a half dozen different groups of bad guys that need to be killed. Sometimes.

And for those times, Mr. Monster hits the spot perfectly. It’s a novel I can sit down and read for an over hour at a time without having to take breaks between every chapter to process the implications of what just happened, and I love it for that. The flow is great at sucking me in, and I nearly missed my train station while reading. I thought I was 3 stops away, looked up, and barely made it off the train in time at my station.

Dan does not go off and decide that he needs to do a bunch of crazy new stuff with the same characters in the same world. Instead, he takes what worked so well in the first book, and does it again, with just enough differences and advances to make it feel new. There’s always a chance that a book will get repetitive and boring if this is done too many times, but Dan managed to make it work marvelously well for himself.

Of course, I say that he didn’t do anything crazy as a relative term. We’re in the same tight first-person viewpoint with John Cleaver that was so intense in the first book, and that means we’re deeply inside the head of a sociopath who is suppressing his serial killer tendencies. And ever since he killed the demon, they’ve become harder to control.

Many of the moments with John are downright chilling. If Dan was looking to get a raw emotional response from me, he succeeded. John’s mindset is done incredibly well, and he manages to sketch out the other characters of the novel—Brooke, John’s family, John’s new antagonist—with great detail, even through John’s apparent detachment.

He kept these characters true to themselves, too, even when most other authors would have made different decisions that might have been more fan-based. I’m glad he didn’t, even though some of them hurt, some quite a lot.

Hurt, and made me shudder. I honestly think this would have been an utterly amazing book if I had been a horror fan, and I really liked this kind of thing. Unfortunately, it was sometimes a little much for my delicate sensitivities—I had to stop and read a filler or two between every ASoIaF book, for example—and that, for me personally, slightly lessened my enjoyment.

In summary, Mr. Monster is a great, quick horror novel that closely traces the first, without being a boring copy. It has some truly great horrifying moments that are occasionally slightly too much for me, and is incredibly easy to read and hard to put down. Four of five stars, and a high recommendation if this is your kind of book. I’m anxious to find out what happens in the rest of the series.

Dan’s Website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

IAmNotaSerialKiller

From Goodreads:

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Do you have any idea how many weird looks and questions you get carrying around a book that says “I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER” on the front? A lot.

Dan Wells was the last of the Writing Excuses team whose books I read. I think this was perhaps because he is a horror writer, not a fantasy author. I, obviously, fell in love with Brandon’s books first, but quickly found Schlock Mercenary as well, because it was free online, and have been reading it for several years. I listened to a few of Mary’s delightful books a few months ago, and was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Devil’s Best Friend last month, and decided that it was time to read Dan’s books.

I don’t usually read horror books. They’re just not my kind of thing. I’m fine with a bit of grimdark in my fantasy—ASoIaF is one of my favorites, as is The Mirror Empire—but horror novels are on a different level. I usually want to be able to sleep at night, you know?

Good stories transcend genres, though. I was hooked a few pages into I Am Not a Serial Killer, and I blasted through it in a day and a half. It’s a gripping, intense read that seems far to short, because it makes efficient use of every page. The whole trilogy, together, is probably still shorter than some of Brandon’s epics. And that’s fine. The story is told as it needs to be told, no intense world-building, no heavy mental lifting, just pure, scary, fun.

The book is set in a small American town that feels totally real—and so familiar that Dan is able to achieve a great amount of setting just by dropping a few hints here and there. This, I feel, is one of the main strengths of books set in the modern world, with minimal fantasy elements, and it’s one that Dan takes full advantage of, allowing him to give minimal descriptions and focus on the characters and the action. It does give the book a bit of a dated feel when the main character wanders into a Radio Shack, though.

John Cleaver, our main character, is utterly creepy. A sociopath suppressing serial killer tendencies, he should feel completely alien to us. I’m not sure how Dan managed it, but this is far from how it actually felt. John is quite sympathetic, despite having no sympathy himself. I think, perhaps, it’s his drive to try to be a good person that makes me want to root for him so much, even as he imagines tearing the people around him to pieces. Perhaps it’s that, or perhaps it’s that we have an antagonist who is even more monstrous than John.

Regardless, John is an amazing character, and I want more.

But he creeps me out. I guess this means that the book is good at what it’s supposed to be—it’s a horror novel, after all. It’s not that there are excessive amounts of gore—most of the time. It’s just that being inside John’s head in an amazing experience, and perfectly creepy. If you’re looking for a book that will give you shivers at night, this is definitely one you want to read.

I can now unreservedly say that I am not a sociopath. Thanks, I think?

It also has a definite supernatural element as well. I’m not going to spoil the book by saying too much about this, but I know I definitely enjoyed the book more because it was not just our world, but had the added fantastical element.

That’s not to say it’s all good, though. There are first-book quirks about it. The mystery isn’t maintained as well as I would have liked, and I was disappointed when things that were supposed to be subtle foreshadowing or hints pretty much gave the game away and lowered the suspense. There’s also a few out-of-character scenes. In particular, there’s two pages where a character who, to this point, has shown no excessive knowledge of serial killers or their methods drops comfortably into John’s lingo, in the middle of an introspective moment that shouldn’t have really made any sense to anyone else.

But these are minor quibbles, and while they detracted from the book, I still largely enjoyed I Am a Serial Killer. In summary, it’s a short, well-written debut novel with at utterly chilling protagonist and antagonist, which engaged me in part due to its supernatural elements, despite having a few first-book feeling moments. Four of five stars, and I’m halfway through the next book already.

Dan’s Website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.