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.
Give a warm welcome to SL, folks!
So delighted to be here for Smugglivus!
Speculative fiction is the bulk of my reading, but my TBR list is so far behind that I’m still catching up on all the books other people have been recommending. So for Smugglivus, I thought I’d recommend some books I LOVED but that you might not have seen on everyone’s SFF rec lists already. I give you, from 2014:
MY FAVORITE THINGS I DON’T USUALLY READ!
aka, books from genres or categories that aren’t my usual but I ended up slavering over like an under-fed Labrador.
Books I don’t usually read: Romance
Romance isn’t as much my thing, but probably my favorite book I read this entire year, and the one I keep shoving in everyone’s faces saying, “READ THIS NAAOWWW,” is a romance novella.
The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is by Zen Cho, who wrote one of my favorite short stories (Malaysian vampire tale FTW), so when I saw an intriguing review of Jade Yeo I knew I had to read it. It’s offered free on the author’s website, so I started there . . . and swallowed it in one go and went directly over to Amazon to buy a copy.
I’ve since reread it three times and recommended it to EVERYONE.
The novella is epistolary, told through Jade’s diary entries. Jade is a single woman, and an immigrant, making her living as a writer in 1920’s London. She’s a very self-aware heroine and her observations and deadpan snark are often laugh-out-loud funny.
(SPOILERS) This novella has Wilde-ian relationships and delightful friendships between women and un-condemned discussion of abortion and, this is my favorite bit, a heroine who has sex because she’s curious. She’s CURIOUS!
I think curiosity is an excellent reason for a book character to embark on a torrid literary affair.
And the ending is so sweet and wonderful — I’ve reread that part way more than three times.
Books I don’t usually read: Young Adult
I certainly don’t avoid YA, but the books that interest me and end up on my to-read list tend to be adult ones. So I haven’t read much recent YA.
A friend recommended Bleeding Violet on Twitter, and as I often do when people recommend things, I popped over to Amazon and read the first page.
I was HOOKED.
This book was so gripping I fell down the rabbit hole and could not put it down, which is, in my opinion, what reading should be like. And I have a real weakness for female protagonists who don’t cater to our idea of the sweet, respectable, and endearingly quirky we so often assign teen heroines. Hanna is none of those things, and I was head-over-heels invested in her because of it.
Books I don’t usually read: Cancer Books
I had pediatric cancer, so I usually stay away from Cancer Books with a fifty-foot barge pole. But I’ve been asked to review some young adult Cancer Books for the Disability In Kidlit blog, and I had a sneaking suspicion I might actually like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, so I said, “Let me read that one in the hopes my reviews won’t ALL be entirely composed of inarticulate rage.”
My review over at DiK will cover why I think the ways this book portrays cancer are pretty dang great, but the part I hadn’t been expecting was Earl.
Earl is awesome.
Earl is an angry, short, smack-talking black kid who smokes and used to do drugs and kicks people in the head a lot.
You might be saying, “What?!” until I add that the narrative consistently portrays Earl as being a far better person than the narrator. In fact, he’s someone who exists to dropkick the reader’s cliches and expectations. His verbal takedown of the protagonist three-quarters of the way through is hands-down my favorite part of the book.
Books I don’t usually read: Translations
I want to read more translated fiction, particularly in SFF. Right now I’m about halfway through Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Argentinian author Angélica Gorodischer, translated from the Spanish by Ursula K. LeGuin.
The lyrical poeticism of the interrelated stories that tell the rise and fall (and rise and fall, and rise and fall and rise) of Gorodischer’s fictional Empire had me from the first complex sentence. Every story is self-contained but leans into the rest, weaving a labyrinthine tapestry of fantastic history, of Emperors and Empresses and Generals and Beggars and Merchants and Storytellers. The history feels allegorical, with the narrator’s incisive wit offering commentary that applies equally well to our own world (something I love about the best speculative fiction).
And it’s so human. Gorodischer’s players all feel deeply real, from their aspirations to their flaws. The idea of history being made up of people is intensely vivid in this mythos, and the twists and turns flip our expectations on their heads when the cruelest players rule well, or characters enter and exit the brush of history without us ever knowing their full stories, or the most insane emperor’s madness is merely a side note of a just reign.
Gorodischer’s history is also as rich with diversity as history would be (and is) — though the Empire That Never Was leans patriarchal, women are everywhere exhibiting agency, some in business or the arts and others rising to rule. People spanning the QUILTBAG also exist across the stories, sometimes incidentally, sometimes as heroes, and sometimes as evildoers, just as QUILTBAG people run the spectrum of humanity in life. Rarely has a book that creates its own epic history struck me as so accurately portraying the true demographics of our own human one.
Things I Don’t Usually Read That I’m Looking Forward to Reading in 2015
Romances — Held for Ransom: a queer romance by Layla M. Wier. Disclaimer: Layla’s a friend, but I met her through SFF fandom because I thought her writing was so good that I started following her. When she branched out to write romance I enthusiastically went along, and I’m very excited about her latest release! (It actually came out at the end of the year so is available NOW — my copy’s been waiting for me to kick Half Life out the door.)
Young Adult — Sea Change: Liz Bourke reviewed this a few months ago for Tor.com, and rarely does a review so thoroughly grab me by the collar and go, “THIS IS A BOOK YOU PERSONALLY WILL LOVE.” The idea of needing to give up everything to save someone, including (spoilers) knowledge of the reason you’re saving them, is so — AAAA. *makes grabby hands* I’ve been looking forward to reading it since but haven’t had the time yet.
Cancer Books — Side Effects May Vary: another Cancer Book I’m planning to read for Disability in Kidlit, and another one I think I might actually like. One of my pet peeves in Cancer Books is that kids with cancer often only exist to die tragically, and it tickles me that this book might reverse that.
Translations — The Three-Body Problem: I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages and ages (just like everyone else) and as of this writing I’m currently tenth on my library’s waiting list. On another note, I’m ecstatic to see that many other people excited to read it! (And hopefully next year translated fiction will no longer be on my “things I don’t usually read” list.)
And now for the giveaway!
SL Huang is giving away a proof copy of Zero Sum Game. The contest is open to all and will run until January 10 12:01AM EST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!