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?

Most Anticipated Books of 2016.

Yes, I’m back to blogging. More on this–hopefully tomorrow, depending on how travel goes. For now, the post.

2016 looks like it’s going to be another amazing year for books. I’ve managed to narrow my list of super most incredibly anticipated books down to 5 (with some wiggling). Before presenting the list, I’m going to note that I’m rather spoiler-phobic, so I haven’t read the blurbs yet for any of the books on this list that I haven’t read—therefore, my anticipation is largely based on series/authors whose work I’ve loved in the past. Authors I trust. Every single one of these books has been pre-ordered for months now, most ordered on the day I discovered they existed. So, without further ado…

5. A Gathering of Shadows.

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V.E. Schwab is one of my new additions to my favorite authors list. I read Vicious as my first book of 2015, and it was awesome. I read A Darker Shade of Magic as soon as I could get my hands on a copy, and I loved it even more. A Gathering of Shadows continues the series that A Darker Shade of Magic started, and I am super excited to get back to the world of the multiple Londons and all the amazing characters—Rhy, Kell, and Lila–who inhabit it!

4. City of Blades.

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City of Stairs was my most unanticipated love of 2015, and Robert Jackson Bennett is the other new addition to my favorite authors list I made last year. I actually got a chance to read this one this week, thanks to Patrick McQuoid, and it is a worthy successor to the first book. If you haven’t read City of Stairs, you really need to remedy that—it’s fast paced, has a really varied and unique cast, some really cool worldbuilding of a flavor I’ve never seen before, and Sigrud. You need Sigrud in your life.

3. Solutions and Other Problems.

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This one’s a little strange—everything else on my list is a fantasy novel of some sort. Allie Brosh’s books are part stick-figures-of-awesome comic book, part memoir, part fantastical stories, and complete and utter side-splitting hilarity, while sometimes delving into deep and important topics, such as depression. If you have not read her blog… Why are you reading mine? Hers is infinitely more awesome, GO READ IT.

2. The Last Mortal Bond.

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If you don’t want to order it just for that Richard Anderson cover… You need to go check out the first book in the trilogy, The Emperor’s Blades. The Last Mortal Bond finishes out the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, and it promises to be an awesome adventure. Brian has said that the book will be considerably longer than The Providence of Fire, which I believe puts him firmly in the epic category. There were so many plot threads left up in the air, so many world-shaking events in progress, so much tension left at the end of the second book… GIVE IT TO ME ALREADY!

1. Sanderson.

Yes, okay. This is cheating. This is 3 books in 1, but without it, it would take up 3/5 of my list.

You probably know by now that Sanderson is my favorite author ever. (If you don’t go look at this.) I more or less worship him, and getting to go out to dinner with him was the highlight of my year.

1-1. The Bands of Mourning.

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I’ve read this one. It is everything it is promised to be, and more. All the best characters from this era of books, all of them being awesome. Plus, boatloads of Cosmere, one heck of an awesome plot, and some brilliantly funny moments. I cannot wait to see this one out in the world.

1-2. Calamity.

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Yes, I’ve read this one too. I was truly blessed with e-ARCs last year (I’m still looking for physical ARCs, so if you know how to get ahold of those, let me know.). It’s the end of a trilogy, the last book Sanderson is planning to set in this world (for a while, at least), and it’s named Calamity. What more could you ask for? It delivers on every promise, and there’s one sentence that I would pay to sit down and watch people’s reactions as they read it. SO GOOD.

1-3. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: Book 5: The Dark Talent.

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I haven’t read this one. It’s going to be shorter, but it’s another series ender for Sanderson, and one that I’ve been anticipating for a long, long time. Alcatraz was the only series that could make me laugh when I was depressed a few years ago, and they’ve always held a special place in my heart. I am super excited to see what happens in the last book, and it looks like it’s going to be beautifully illustrated as well! (I’m anticipating the re-releases of the entire series quite avidly.)

Well, that’s my list for 2016. What are you looking forward to reading?

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.

Book Review: Vicious

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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.’

Vicious is a book I honestly hadn’t heard a lot about before I met the book blogger community. I know that at one point, I saw the cover and summary on tor.com, and I probably spotted it a few times while at the bookstore. But I never really had a strong urge to pick it up. I’m not entirely sure why—maybe it was the fact that the setting was neither high fantasy nor sci-fi. Maybe it was because the cover isn’t to my tastes (I know lots of people love it. It’s just not for me.). I’m not sure. Regardless, it took me a while to get around to really wanting to read this book.

But as soon as I met some of my book blogger friends, they started pushing this book on me. Relentlessly. It’s something we do, something we enjoy, and, I’ve found, something we (I think of myself as part of the community now, whether I really am or not.) are quite good at. Vicious was one of the books most heavily pushed on me. The main culprits were Nikki, Angie, and Jessie, but there were plenty more of them. Finally, I broke down and asked for the book for my birthday, received it, and I made it my first read of 2015.

And I’m glad I did. I tore through the book in only a few days and utterly loved it. I’m rather annoyed at myself for not picking it up earlier, and if you’re just hearing about it now, don’t make the mistake I did. Get it immediately, and go read it. NOW.

Oh, alright. I’ll write the rest of the review. But my opinion isn’t going to change.

Vicious is the story of two college boys, Victor and Eli, their relationship as roommates, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. It’s a chilling, disturbing tale that is utterly gripping, and simultaneously horrifying and amazing. I really enjoyed reading it.

Setting is incredibly important to any novel, and while I may have initially been reluctant to pick up this novel because it’s not a setting I’m familiar with, the college atmosphere was perfectly done. I’m a college student, and I read this book while on break. It gave me shivers purely from the accuracy of the descriptions and their clarity. And while the college is not the entirety of the setting, it plays a large part, and the rest is equally well done. It’s not a new world, built from the ground up, but that doesn’t make it any less perfect. It’s the setting this story demanded, and it was handed with amazing skill.

The structure is handled in a way I’ve never seen before. Every chapter happens at a different place in time, and it’s not even remotely linear. The chapters jump from the present, to ten years ago at the university, to the weeks leading up to the main events of the novel. This main thread of events, which happens over a period of a day and a half, from the first chapter to the last (excluding the epilogue), focuses on Victor and Eli’s impending first meeting in a 10 years. While this structure had the opportunity to be incredibly confusing, Schwab has instead crafted a narrative that is unbelievably tense and gripping. It demands that you keep reading, and it’s always ratcheting up the tension until the final scenes, at which point everything comes together with an incredible bang. It’s so well crafted, and it makes me wish other authors would use unconventional structures more often, though I doubt many have the skill to reproduce the magic that Schwab wrought here.

But even the best setting and plot fall flat without good characters. I’m happy to report that Schwab’s cast, kept elegantly small, is filled with utterly fascinating characters with fascinating quirks—and abilities. Victor’s past, his problems with his family, and the way he treats those around him paint him as an incredibly engaging, complex character. And while he’s not someone I would ever want to hug—or even be close to—I feel like I understand him. As I do with the other main characters, Eli, Sydney, and Serena. Eli, in particular, I loved to hate as a villain. I’m going to put that down to Schawb’s writing skills and not the fact that I know someone IRL with the name Eliot whom I particularly dislike.

In summary, this book has it all. Utterly realistic setting, amazing plot with a cool structure, and utterly enthralling, complex, creepy characters. I’m telling you without reserve to go pick this book up and read it, right now. Five of five stars, and a place on my lifetime favorites shelf without a doubt.

*returns to stalking his mailbox for his copy of A Darker Shade of Magic*

V.E. Schwab’s website.

Vicious on Goodreads.

Vicious on Amazon.