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Monday, December 31, 2012

My Top Books for 2012



A lot of stuff happened in 2012.  The presidential election (and re-election of Obama because of such), the Twilight saga ended its theatrical run (FINALLY), The Hunger Games came out (reminding us that girls can save themselves), The Avengers came out (omg Hawkeye!), The Hobbit came out (wooo dwarves!), The Life of Pi came out (contemporary fantasy!), the Olympics (someone...won it), Cloud Atlas came out (to the confusion of everyone, even those who read the book)...

A lot of book stuff seemed to have happened huh?

But more then this books came out that I loved.  So let's go over them!

Fantasy

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
Tachyon Press, $14.99 (tpb) $4.99 (kindle)
When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create--to Forge--a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai's only possible ally is the emperor's most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape...
Sanderson of course can do no wrong by my standards, but this was an unexpected surprise hit for me.  So much shorter then anything I've read by him before, but well grounded with clear world building principles.  I read somewhere this is vaguely related to Elantris (possibly set on the same planet), but this is a different animal from that book. Based more in Eastern mythology and mysticism, the idea everything had a spirit is not a unique idea to me (Rachel Aaron uses much the same concept in her Eli Monpress books), but Shai was an intriguing focal character.

This is short enough to give folk a good sense of Sanderson's writing abilities without overwhelming them with hundreds (and hundreds) of pages. (my review)

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
Margaret K. Elderberry Books, $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (kindle)
Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate—or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.
Though I had some issues with the ending, Durst engrossed me in Liyana's story.  This wasn't a story about a girl who was in love, or at least not completely.  This story was about a girl who had to learn how to be after everything seems to be lost and prove that nothing is impossible.  While I wouldn't mind a companion or sequel book, this is a strong stand alone fantasy novel that has a lot of crossover appeal in my opinion.


Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Tor Books, $24.99 (hardcover) $11.99 (kindle)
A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Two things I adore in one, very awesome, package: research and fantasy.  This kind of reminded me of when I first read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin in that it presents itself as one thing and then is like 'oh but that's not the whole story'.  This isn't a typical fantasy, but that's okay because sometimes you need that.

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Storm by Brigid Kemmerer
Kensington Teen, $9.95 (paperback) $4.50 (kindle)
Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys; all the ones she doesn't want, ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her. Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They're powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life's at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who's hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming.
I said this in my review, but how freaking nice to read a young adult novel where guys are the main focus.  More then that, where guys and the bond of brothers is the main focus.   While the world building is kind of shaky, this had me engrossed from page one.

Transcendence by CJ Omololu
Walker Books for Kids, $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (kindle)
When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?
Sadly this is not a stand alone.  It reads like one (except for one thread I ignore anyhow), and ended quite satisfyingly.  I am really interested to see where Omolou takes this so I'll be reading the next book, but this was a unique (if a bit...odd) look at reincarnation and how the effects of a past you don't know about can royally screw your current life. 


Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson
Pocket Books, $7.99 (paperback) $7.99 (kindle)
When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. 

Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Coppers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?
Hey guys guess what?  BUNNIES ARE EVIL Anya was right all these years! More seriously, wow what a book.  Dawson pulls no punches here in making her characters just this side of morally acceptable and the end result for Tish isn't...perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but its perfect for the dynamic Dawson created.


Science Fiction


Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris
Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (hardcover), $7.99 (kindle)
Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed--as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn't possible, she knows--with every fiber of her being--that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.

But her revival, and Ben's possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something--but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what's right in front of her: Everything that's happened--the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben's sudden appearance in her life--points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she's going to need to uncover Ben's secrets--and keep from falling in love with him in the process.
I'm a sucker for alternate dimension storylines (Sliders what's up!?) and this one was enough thrills, action and mystery to keep me guessing.  Its also getting a sequel, which this was a pretty tied up book all in all (and the sequel is like 'Is Ben really who he says he is? Bwahahah') so I'm a little at odds.  However this was not heavy on the teen angst romance, had a strong cast of characters and enough science fiction babble to keep most geeks happy.


Redshirts by John Scalzi
Tor Books $24.99 (hardcover), $11.99 (kindle) $17.95 (audible)
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
All right folks I could wax poetic about this book, and though its not to some people's standards I found it to be everything it promised.  Its not terrifically long and doesn't require you to have three other books next to you in order to understand the language.  Its clever, cutesy and at the end makes you think.  Also the audio edition is read by Wil Wheaton and that's just almost too perfect in so many ways.

And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst 
Self-pubbed, $9.95 (paperback) $3.99 (kindle)
Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.
This harkens back to the scifi books I read as a kid by Louise Lawrence in a lot of ways.  Höst does a good job balancing the tension of what's going on, keeping sane and the uncertainty that comes with being outside everything you ever knew.  Like her other books this is also immediately accessible and relatable for not only teenagers, but also to adults.

All Else

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver
Dial Books, $16.99 (hardcover) $10.99 (kindle
Young Hylas--goatherd, Outsider, thief--is hunted by powerful warriors who want him dead and have kidnapped his sister. Hylas is forced to flee his home, but not before a mysterious stranger gives him a bronze dagger. While on the run, Hylas must use his skill and wits to survive a shipwreck and a great white shark attack, befriend a dolphin, and help Pirra, the runaway daughter of a High Priestess. Together with Pirra, the dolphin, and the valuable bronze sword, Hylas fights to discover why he's being hunted and find his sister before the warriors find them.
This is a middle grade historical quasi-fantasy (given the time period) novel, set during the Bronze Age and that's kind of unique.  I grew up a history nut's daughter, but the Bronze Age is largely unknown (due to the lack of records).  I found it interesting as it followed not only Hylas (who could be hot headed and impulsive), but Pirra (who was very much the same) and their dolphin friend.  I think this is a good book for kids looking for something just outside the norm.



Womanthology by various
IDW Publishing, $50.00 (hardcover
Womanthology is a large scale anthology comic showcasing the works of women in comics. It is created entirely by over 150 women of all experience levels. The purpose of the book is to show support for female creators in comics and media. There are multiple short stories, "how to"s & interviews with professionals, and features showcasing iconic female comic creators that have passed, such as Nell Brinkley and Tarpe Mills. A Kids & Teens section is also included, showcasing their work, and offering tips & tricks to help them prepare themselves for their future careers in comics.
Womanthology, is at its core, a comic and art anthology that celebrates the diverse imaginations of the young, old, professional and amateur.  The fact that it also encompasses such a wide range of female talent from around the world only goes to prove that sometimes you have to make a BIG statement to prove that you can play with the big boys.  Its a little pricey, but I think well worth it.

The Girl Who Would Be King by Kelly Thompson
Self-pubbed, $4.99 (Kindle)
A novel about two teenage girls with superpowers and radically different agendas, destined for a collision that will rock the world.

Separated by thousands of miles, two young women are about to realize their extraordinary powers which will bind their lives together in ways they can't begin to understand.

Protecting others. Maintaining order. Being good. These are all important things for Bonnie Braverman, even if she doesn't understand why. Confined to a group home since she survived the car accident that killed both her parents, Bonnie has lived her life until now in self-imposed isolation and silence; but when an opportunity presents itself to help another girl in need, Bonnie has to decide whether to actually use the power she has long suspected she has. Power that frightens her.

Across the country, Lola LeFever is inheriting her own power by sending her mother over a cliff...literally. For Lola the only thing that matters is power; getting it, taking it, and eliminating anyone who would get in the way of her pursuit of it. With her mother dead and nothing to hold her back from the world any longer, Lola sets off to test her own powers on anyone unfortunate enough to cross her. And Lola's not afraid of anything.

One girl driven to rescue, save, and heal; the other driven to punish, destroy, and kill.

And now they're about to meet.
The Girl Who Would be King is much more then I can describe it.  Thompson, like Höst, poured her heart into this book and proved that if you care about something and want others to care, you lay it out there.  She makes you feel bad for the 'villain' even as she's murdering by the baker's dozen.  She makes you want to smack the 'heroine' around for making decisions that really any of us would make under the same circumstances.  There is no easy path, no right answers that figure out why's what.  At the end this is a novel about two girls, both lost and confused and the different paths that end them up at the same conclusion.

There you have it, 12 books that you may not have been thinking of before now, but should definitely get a look at now.  Honorable mentions belong to Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks, When Will You Rise by Mira Grant, Erstwhile graphic novel, Polterguys graphic novel and A Princess Bride: a Celebration.  These were all favorites of mine as well, and highly recommended.

So let's ring out 2012 tonight and ring in 2013 with a whole passle of new books just waiting to be in my hands!