Welcome to Smugglivus 2011! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2011, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2012.
Who: Janice, of the excellent SF blog Janicu’s Book Blog, fellow booknerd and Smugglivus first-timer.
Please give it up for Janice!
I’m so excited to participate as a guest blogger at Smugglivus for the first time. And picking my favorite reads of the year is probably the easiest thing in the world. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to place a book when you don’t hate it but you don’t love it either? But when a book blows you away, you know. Of course, every book that has hit my favorites for the year has bowled me over in a unique and special way.
Unsticky by Sarra Manning
A recommendation Angie of Angieville, Unsticky just killed it. It’s about Grace, a struggling young woman who works for a pittance at a fashion magazine who enters an arrangement with an older, wealthy man. I know, scandalously wrong. Vaughn (the aforementioned wealthy man), and Grace are both flawed in huge ways and this relationship is based on mutual exploitation. And yet. These two are so perfect for each other. This may have a chick lit label, but it proves to be wonderfully deep, dark, and gritty. Oh man, I fell so hard for this one. Sarra Manning has a way of bringing you right into the relationship so you feel a visceral response to everything the characters go through. Have I mentioned that these two are messed up? Freaking delicious. This book has kicked off my interest in chick lit of the complex variety and Sarra Manning. Thankfully Manning has a great backlist of amazing YA, has written another adult book, and there’s more to come.
Recommended for: Those that like to read about realistic relationships in all their messy glory.
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
This is one I read as part of a book tour that Holly of The Book Harbinger hosted to highlight a couple of Australian authors. Unfortunately Six Impossible Things isn’t available outside Australia yet. This is too bad because it falls under that “Seriously, can you guys do no wrong?” umbrella of Aussie YA, which seems to be universally good. Six Impossible Things is about Dan Ceriell, who is dealing with the fallout of his father’s coming out, his parents’ subsequent divorce and the failure of the family business. These are all serious issues, but the story is never lets itself get bogged down by them. Instead, Dan’s narration of his new life in a stinky, inherited-but-not-really house, his adventures in reinvention, and his hopeless crush on the girl next door, infuse the story with a lot of humor. Things do not start off great for Dan, and I found myself protective of this nerdy, list making, hilarious boy, but slowly and surely, Dan makes connections with members of his new community. This is a short book with a bit of depth and a feel-good ending. When I devoured this one in no time flat, a happy smile on my face, and later couldn’t really think of anything I disliked about it, it was a winner for me.
Recommended for: Readers looking for YA with heart and humor.
Chime by Franny Billingsley
I picked this one up based on my favorable opinion of Billingsley’s The Folk Keeper, and ended up loving it. But Chime is a book where a reader’s reaction to it is hugely dependent on how much they like the unreliable narrator. Briony, with her sing-songy, stream-of-consciousness voice is not for everyone. She believes herself to be evil, deserving of the hanging she’s about to get. As she explains how she got there, I was half-convinced that Briony was just plain crazy. Then I began to understand that the magic and rules of Swampsea were actually real and Briony is a product of an environment where Industrial England sits on the edge of a strange and terrible wonderland. I fell slowly in love with this wild and fierce girl, her child-like sister, and the boyish but astute newcomer Eldric who brings Briony out of her shell. I did not find it a fast read — I had to take it in sips rather than in one big gulp, but I needed the slow pace to savor and digest. In the end I adored the mix of whimsy and intensity.
Recommended for: Romantics with a patience for the bizarre.
OK, so this list is getting sort of long, year so I’m keeping it at three even though I also feel like The DUFF by Kody Keplinger and Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park should be on this list (both contemporary YA. both so good). As it is, for a supposed speculative fiction fan, two out of my three choices are not spec fic without adding those other two. So… let me tell you about the two series (that are fantasy and urban fantasy) that I’ve loved this year:
Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series:
So many bloggers were hounding me to read this one (Sheesh! Rabid I tell you). I finally I started reading The Thief in Spring this year, and found myself reading the second, third, fourth book in the series within a month. So, people were right. I loved this series. This is YA Fantasy that resolves around the three kingdoms that are uneasy neighbors: Sounis, Eddis and Attolia. Within these kingdoms, there is Gen, a man who says he can steal anything. This trickster is one of those characters that worms his way into your heart and stays there. When I reviewed The Thief, I said “It’s got a light, straightforward style with sly undercurrent that I liked” and “if you attention to the story, you are rewarded”. True of all the books, even though each book has its own POV. And now that I am all caught up, I can turn around and hound other people who haven’t started: Why? WHY HAVEN’T YOU STARTED?
Recommended for: I think this has pretty universal appeal for fantasy fans. Even my husband likes this series.
Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series:
Now this series I have actually not been the last to read. This centers on a changeling detective as she navigates the world of faerie hidden within San Francisco. I love the world building in this one. There are so many kinds of fae, so much history and potential fallout, and so many separated, hidden places (aka “knowes”). And there is a Cat Sidhe fae named Tybalt who shows up every so often that that’s a potential love interest but the relationship is a complicated one. Rosemary and Rue came out in 2009 and since then there have been four more books. McGuire is a prolific writer and has put out two Toby Daye books a year (I don’t know how she does it), but to make room for her other projects (She has a few at this point), the schedule has gone down to one per year. Now is the time to jump in and catch up! I highly recommend that you give it at least two books to really get into this series though. This is one where I say over and over: there are story arcs that are hinted at early on that are built upon in each successive book. Since I love a puzzle I really enjoy trying to guess what is going to happen. Also: Toby’s character improves (in life and work) as the series continues.
Recommended for: Urban Fantasy readers that appreciate story arcs and characters that develop over several books. Bonus if you’re a reader who notices and likes to follow story breadcrumbs.
Books I’m highly anticipating in 2012:
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale:
I enjoyed the heck out of Austenland, so I’m eager to read this new offering (and to see the Austenland movie that’s supposed to come out too)
Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning:
Discount Armageddon (InCryptid #1) by Seanan McGuire:
I’m very excited to try out McGuire’s new series that features a family that is in the business of protecting monsters from humanity (and vice versa).
About that Night by Julie James:
A romantic suspense by an author who never seems to fail me. I am not a romantic suspense kinda girl, but I will read Julie James’ romantic suspense.
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore:
Bitterblue is coming out! Oh how I have waited for this day.
Silence by Michelle Sagara:
I’m not exactly sure what this is about. From what I can tell, it involves a graveyard and a grieving girl and a spookiness. And it’s Michelle Sagara. Sounds excellent to me.
The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin:
I hugely enjoyed Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy (it almost got on the list), and I’m looking forward to her new one which features a strange new world where priests walk in dreams and kill people in their sleep.
Elfhome (Tinker #3) by Wen Spencer:
This doesn’t have a cover yet, but I am a huge, huge fan of Wen Spencer and cannot wait for a third book in the series that started with Tinker. Rumor is that this will be out July 2012 from Baen books.
OK, I think I’ll stop there. Thank you for having me over Smugglers, and Happy Smugglivus all!