Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: Deborah Coates, author of contemporary fantasy set in western South Dakota. WIDE OPEN, DEEP DOWN, and STRANGE COUNTRY have all been read, reviewed and greatly enjoyed by Ana. She has also published short stories in F&SF, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com.
Please give it up for Deborah, everybody!
When Thea and Ana asked me to participate in Smugglivus I immediately thought, Great! I’ve been a Book Smugglers’ fan for a long time and what could be better than writing about books I loved this year? Because I definitely loved me some books. Then I panicked because, like all the best introverts, my mind goes blank as soon as someone actually asks me to list things.
Fortunately, my panic didn’t last. I immediately remembered a book I had loved early this year and then, a series I also love. Whew! Both the book and the series have important things to say about compassion and kindness, so once more I thought, Great! I have a theme and everything.
Then I added three more books to my list and the whole thing got eclectic and messy and the theme went out the window and all that said here are some books (and a series) that I loved and that I hope you’ll love too:
1. THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison
Among my favorite sorts of characters are those who break their hearts (and mine) trying to do the right thing. I’m particularly fond of characters who are trapped by the strictures of their society (as most of us are) but believe themselves to be and work hard to be decent people. They don’t always succeed. Sometimes they’re jealous and frightened and petty and mean. But they try and they keep trying and they do, more often than not, do good things or the right thing.
THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is rife with small acts of kindness by people living their lives in rigid roles in a restrictive society. Maia, the titular goblin emperor, isn’t exactly powerless, but he begins his reign friendless and without allies in a dangerous place that he doesn’t understand. The changes that he brings aren’t accomplished with vast armies or great engines of war, but through an eagerness and compassion and intelligence that refuses to be crushed. I love Maia. He’s a terrific character. I also love that it’s not the story of One Good Man. It’s about finding good where one least expects it, about bringing out the good in others, and about how to be just without losing the ability to be good.
2. LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson
What if you could live your life over and over until you got it right? And what does it mean to get it right? In the first chapter of LIFE AFTER LIFE, Ursula is still-born. Rewind. She dies in infancy. Rewind. She falls from a height, contracts an illness, is abducted. Each life she gets a little older, makes somewhat different–sometimes better, sometimes not–decisions. There is war and tragedy and love.
I admit I don’t know quite how to describe LIFE AFTER LIFE. It’s beautifully written. It has complex characters. It’s intricately and elegantly plotted. It’s not a typical genre story and it never explains itself satisfactorily. I loved it anyway.
3. THE HOME PLACE by Carrie La Seur
As someone who grew up on a farm at the end of a dead end road and who loves big open spaces, I’m always looking for stories that capture that feeling of vastness, solitude, hard work, struggle, and beauty.
In the mystery novel, THE HOME PLACE, Alma Terrebonne is someone who got out. She’s a corporate lawyer in Seattle where she lives with her investment banker boyfriend, rides her expensive commuter bike to work, and is paid more money in a year than anyone back home in Montana ever dreamed of. Until one day when the Billings, Montana police call to inform her that her younger sister, Vicky, has died–maybe from exposure or maybe someone killed her.
La Seur writes evocatively about family, about place, about leaving and returning, about beauty and emptiness, about family tragedy and family ties.
It’s her first novel and it’s not unflawed, but it’s well worth reading if you like mysteries and the cold beauty of the modern American West.
4. THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC by Emily Croy Barker
The Thinking Woman’s Guide starts slowly and I know some people who’ve given up on it for that reason, but it has several things going for it that I really enjoyed. The main character, Nora, makes big mistakes, but she’s smart, she knows how to study and learn and this is a book where those skills pay off. The world building and the characters are interesting and I love that magic in this world is more about practice and hard work than innate talent.
5. Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny
Since 2005, Louise Penny has written a series of mysteries set in Quebec, mostly in the small fictional town of Three Pines. I can’t talk about a single book or the latest book because I don’t believe you can appreciate these books without reading the entire series. First, they’re a really interesting combination of police procedural and cozy. Second, despite the fact that they’re about murder and murderers, there’s a running thread through the entire series about forgiveness and second chances. Series characters learn and grow and fail and redeem themselves in ways that are unexpected and devastating and hopeful.
My favorite of all the books is number six in the series, BURY YOUR DEAD. It’s one of the most beautiful and masterfully plotted books I’ve ever read, but you really need to read the previous books, particularly THE BRUTAL TELLING to fully appreciate it. It’s a powerful book for a lot of reasons, but it’s particularly beautiful on the topic of forgiveness and how one mistake, even a horrible mistake, can’t and shouldn’t define a person’s life or one’s entire relationship with that person.
Books I’m Looking Forward To
I tend to run behind on books. I never like to see things end–I avoid the last episode in television series–and when I love a series of novels I often deliberately stay one book behind so I always have one more to read. That said, here are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2015.
1. A GOD IN RUINS by Kate Atkinson
This is Kate Atkinson’s follow-on book (she calls it a companion novel) to LIFE AFTER LIFE. It’s the story of Teddy, Ursula’s adored younger brother, as he grows up, goes to war, gets married and sees the world changing rapidly around him.
2. Louise Penny’s next book
Penny is an incredibly regular writer, with books coming out every year like clockwork. I haven’t seen a new one announced for 2015 yet, but fortunately I haven’t read her latest, THE LONG WAY HOME yet, so no matter what I’ll have a Louise Penny book to look forward to in 2015.
3. Books by friends
I really am looking forward to each of these, but they’re also written by people I know, which it’s only fair to mention.
ASH & BRAMBLE by Sarah Prineas is a YA novel about the dark side of fairy tales, the cost of happily ever after and what happens when the fairy tale princess sets out to rescue herself.
PACIFIC FIRE by Greg Van Eekhout is the second book in the series that begins with CALIFORNIA BONES. These books are about a really unique sort of bone magic and an alternate California. They’re also about friendships and family and heists.
THE GLITTERING WORLD by Robert Levy is a contemporary fantasy I read in draft a few years ago. It’s getting some good early buzz and I can’t wait to read the final version.
And here, have a photo of Blue: Happy Smugglivus!