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: Gemini Cell

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From Goodreads:

Gemini Cell takes place in the SHADOW OPS universe, but is a prequel, taking place many years before the events in CONTROL POINT.

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with an all-new epic adventure in his highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe—set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel…

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself—and his family—in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty—as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark—especially about the fates of his wife and son…

Myke Cole presents his online persona as a completely serious, anti-fun person. He also presents himself as a very morally straight man. He’s a member of the Coast Guard (I think), and is always seen haranguing people about the importance of trigger discipline. This may have affected my expectations for his books, giving me the perception that Gemini Cell would be a straightforward military by the numbers novel, even though I had already read the first of his Shadow Ops books, Control Point, and knew it was not like that.

He happily disabused me of this notion within the first handful of pages of Gemini Cell, which starts with a bang. Several bangs, in fact, and characters who make very questionable decisions, characters who are not, in any way, perfect ideals. When I picked up the book, I wasn’t able to stop until probably 60-70 pages in, more than I had anticipated being able to read. It was a pleasant surprise, and the rest of the book was just as gripping, not giving me a single boring moment to complain about.

The magic system here is very interesting. Myke has shown us the same world before, in the Shadow Ops series. Given that the Shadow Ops series is set after Gemini Cell, this could easily have turned out to be nothing more than a money-grab prequel… But it is much more than that. It gives us a glimpse of magic that is utterly different than that in the Shadow Ops series, and takes us on a journey with a completely different set of characters. The magic, a form of necromancy, gives Jim not only incredible powers that are amazing to read, but also a very interesting internal battle, for the spirit that inhabits his body is constantly fighting him for control of it. It provides an interesting dual perspective, internal and external, and asks more questions than it answers. Also, since this story is so different from the Shadow Ops series, they can be read in either order, with minimal, if any, spoilers.

Jim’s wife, Sarah, could easily have become an accessory, a side character placed in the story solely to give Jim a mental anchor and provide conflict. But she isn’t, and Sarah becomes almost as fully fleshed out and engrossing as Jim himself. Myke did a fantastic job with her, and with the couple’s child, Patrick. Her actions, while some of them are ones you would want to say that you would never do yourself, are understandable given the extreme situations she is placed in.

I should stop here and note that there is a strong content warning on this book. Not only is there bloody, brutal, morally disgusting violence, there is also sex. However, this is not in the book as fanservice, nor is it there simply to make the novel more raunchy and sell copies. It’s there, every time, to advance the plot of the novel and show and shape the characters. It’s one of the few times where I am not complaining about the amount of sex in the book, though generally I find even once to be excessive.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the novel is Steven’s storyline. Given the things he did, and how his story ended, I am truly not sure why we had the viewpoints from him that we did. That is not to say that they were boring; rather, I was expecting them to go somewhere and have an impact and they… didn’t.

If you’re looking for a satisfying, complete story, Gemini Cell is not the book for you. While it has plenty of action and a very intense, game-changing ending, it is unabashedly the first part of a much larger story, one that I will be continuing to enjoy as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of Javelin Rain, which Myke is currently in the process of editing. I would suggest reading the Shadow Ops series instead, as it is a completed trilogy, though I have not personally finished them. I read the first book, Control Point and enjoyed it, and I own the entire trilogy. I have bumped them up considerably on my TBR after reading Gemini Cell.

The ending of Gemini Cell will surprise you. It may not be a Sanderson-type twist, but I thought through the second half of the novel that I knew who the characters were and where they were going, and I was very wrong. There are several revelations near the end that will leave you clamoring for Javelin Rain, but Gemini Cell is certainly entertaining and powerful enough to be a satisfying read on its own.

In summary, Gemini Cell is an intense, military sci-fi novel with a sex/violence content warning that follows some amazingly nuanced morally grey characters though the re-emergence of magic into the world, and has a gripping, twisty ending that begs for the sequel, which I am glad is already in progress. Five of Five stars, and highly recommended if you can handle the intensity.

My reading progress:

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Myke’s website

Gemini Cell on Goodreads

Gemini Cell on Amazon

Most Anticipated Books of 2015

It’s that time of year again, and I’m going to name my top 5 most anticipated books of 2015, and tell you why I’m so excited about them. I’m going to restrict myself only to books with a confirmed or highly likely 2015 release date. This means that Winds of Winter, Doors of Stone, and Stones Unhallowed, though they would unseat any book on this list, are not eligible.

Before I start the list, I’ve got two books I’m going to talk about. You’ll see why.

First, The Dinosaur Lords. This book didn’t quite make the cut for the top 5, but I felt I had to list it anyway. Even before I read anything about it, just from the title and that cover, I knew I was going to have to buy it. I mean, look at this cover, by Richard Anderson!

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You can read an official synopsis over here, and even though it’s seven months out, it’s already received quite high praise from no less than George R. R. Martin himself. I’m pretty much immediately sold on anything he recommends. I want to get my hands on this as soon as I can.

I also just received and finished reading an ARC of Gemini Cell by Myke Cole. It was utterly amazing, and I would definitely give it a place on this list (And it may have a place on 2015’s year-end, best-of list.), but it’s not one I was anticipating highly before I read it, and so I’m not going to give it a place on the official list. You should still check it out, because it’s amazing.

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5th most anticipated: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley. (No cover released.)

I read Mirror Empire earlier this year, and I loved it. Oh, I felt that it had rough spots here and there, but the book lived up to a large part of its incredible potential, and I have every confidence that Hurley will continue to improve as a writer. Her world beats out many of Sanderson’s creations for its chilling inventiveness, and that is not praise that I give lightly. I have high hopes that, with the confusing overhead of introducing her characters and world out of the way, the second book in the trilogy will improve on the first and be an incredible read.

4th most anticipated: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

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I read and enjoyed McClellan’s Promise of Blood. I read and loved his Crimson Campaign. As the final volume of the trilogy, this book has a lot of threads to juggle, and some absolutely massive conflicts to resolve. It handles them all very, very well. Yes, I’ve read it already. It lived up to my quite high expectations, finishing out the trilogy in a satisfying way, while still leaving plenty of threads open for the next trilogy in the Powder Mage universe. McClellan, who writes at a rate to rival that of Sanderson, whom he once took writing classes from and is friends with, is an author to watch for years to come. His short fiction is quite excellent as well, but The Autumn Republic is a real Tour de Force.

3rd most anticipated: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

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You were wondering when the Sanderson would appear, wouldn’t you? Well, here it is. I’ve read this one too, and it is absolutely stunning. Steelheart was good. Someone forgot to tell Sanderson that the second book in a trilogy is supposed to be set-up for the third, and kinda boring. Firefight knocks it out of the park. I can’t say too much more without spoiling this one, but it’s Sanderson, and not only that, it’s Sanderson YA, so hopefully it’ll reach an even wider audience. Okay. I’ll say one more thing. This is the only book on the list (and one of very few ever) where I actually have a ship that I really like. That alone should tell you how good it is.

2nd most anticipated: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

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(Richard Anderson really does some amazing art.)

I managed to get an ARC of Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, last year, and it was absolutely AMAZING. The pacing was the best I think I’ve ever seen in an epic fantasy novel. This was, perhaps, the hardest book to put down that I have ever read. The sequel promises to be even better, even longer, and it delivers. Yes, I’ve read this one too. I had to go to some lengths to secure an ARC of this one, but it was completely and utterly worth it. While it slows down a hair from Emperor’s Blades, Providence still has some of the best pacing in epic fantasy. The characters grow even more, and even the inconsequential characters become surprisingly relevant. One of my biggest complaints with the first novel, the lack of female viewpoint characters, is remedied in this novel: Adare becomes even more important, as do several other characters you wouldn’t expect. A note: Don’t read the blurb that is on the back of the book. It spoils half of the book. And yes, this book beat out a Sanderson for the 2nd spot on the list. It’s that good.

Most Anticipated: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson. (No cover yet.)

It’s Sanderson. It’s Cosmere. It’s Wax and Wayne, Mistborn world, etc. How can I not want it more than anything else? Let me put it this way. I have received and read ARCs of #4, #3, and #2 on my list, and I’m scheduled to receive one for #5 as well. I think I would trade all of them for an ARC of Shadows. I want it that badly. (If you know of any way to read this early, let me know. I will do whatever it takes.) I’ve gotten even more excited about this one lately, with the announcement of the sequel, Bands of Mourning, for January 2016. It’s amazing how quickly Sanderson writes these things. Also, if you’ve not read the Mistborn trilogy yet, they are absolutely amazing.

So, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2015. It’s a very epic fantasy heavy list, but then, that’s what I love. I also apparently love trilogies, as every book on the list is either the second or third book in a trilogy. I have no problem with this; longer forms of storytelling allow for more build-up, more character growth, and, ultimately, more payoff in these stories. I love it, and I’m not ashamed of it.

What are you looking forward to (And by extension, should I be looking forward to) reading in 2015?