Ana: I’m [Bill S. Preston, esquire] Ana, Romance reader at heart…
Thea: And I’m [“Ted” Theodore Logan] Thea, Speculative Fiction junkie…
Ana & Thea: And we’re…[Wyld Stallyns] BOOK SMUGGLERS!!!!!!!
*play facemelting riffs on air guitars*
We’ve brought you some of our favorite authors with their reflections on 2008 and plans for 2009… We’ve brought your some of our favorite bloggers with their own wonderful ‘best of’ lists… But now it’s finally time to get our own hands dirty! We have scoured our personal libraries, gone through all our reviews for the year, and we are happy to report that we finally have our final picks ready to go.
Thus, we Smugglers are proud to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2008!
This is, quite possibly, one of the hardest tasks I have had to face all year. Narrowing down the many, many books published in 2008 into a single favorites list? Gaah! After hours of contemplation and crawling around my overflowing bookshelves–I have resolved to start keeping a spreadsheet of Books Read, with reference categories “Publication Date” and “Rating” for next year–here’s my list (in no particular order).
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
It’s no secret that we love Neil Gaiman. This late year release following the a young boy named Nobody and his loving ghostly guardians is Gaiman at his best. Touches of horror and the strange, combined with an emotional story about Growing Up, The Graveyard Book is one that should be read by old and young alike.
The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison
The sixth entry in The Hollows series, The Outlaw Demon Wails follows witch Rachel Morgan as she makes some of the toughest revelations and roughest decisions of her life. Kim Harrison is one of my favorite authors, and her writing is in top form here with all the characters I have come to know and love in this series. Easily my favorite Urban Fantasy series. Period.
Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of those authors whose writing holds me completely awestruck. I don’t think I can stress enough the beauty of her words, the lushness of the world she has created with Sevenwaters. Again, here’s a favorite quote:
I ordered myself to be calm. I would be ready, no matter what. I would do this even if years and years had passed. I had the green glass ring, I had the necklace, I had the egg stone and I had Fiacha. And I had a plan, a plan that frightened me half out of my wits, but then the very notion of confronting Mac Dara would be enough to make most young women turn tail and flee, I thought. Perhaps, to survive in a place like this, a person had to be half mad; as mad as a man who would sacrifice his future to save a friend; as mad as a woman who could love a child made of sticks and stones.
the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
When Meljean Brook wrote about the first book in this series on her blog, I was intrigued. Life As We Knew It, published in 2007, is easily one of my favorite reads of the year–and the dead and the gone, companion novel to that first book, also makes my 2008 list. This is a young adult series, but don’t let that label fool you–these books deal with staggeringly complex emotions and relationships. Plus, the apocalyptic scenario–an asteroid has hit the moon and pushed its orbit closer to the Earth, causing a string of catastrophic environmental changes–is terrifyingly real. the dead and the gone is dark, haunting tale about the end of the world and one I highly recommend.
**On a related note, ever since reading Life As We Knew It, I have been on something of an apocalypse fiction kick. After reading these two companion books, I went for a re-read of one of my older favorites, Lucifer’s Hammer (in which a comet hits the Earth, resulting in a string of catastrophic events). Then today whilst perusing blogs, I found this video. Cue Twilight Zone music (or should i say Pink Floyd).**
Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti
This is Dru Pagliassotti’s debut novel, and it is quite the stunner! Set in an imaginative world of wires and metal, this steampunk tale follows Taya Icarus as she is pulled into a web of political and emotional intrigue. Clockwork Heart features superb world building, a sweet romance, and some solid writing to boot. I expect big things from this author in the future!
Fables volume 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham
Fables vol. 1 Review HERE
Though two trade paperback collections of Fables were released this year (this and Vol. 11: War and Pieces), this one is my slight favorite. Collecting Fables issues 60-69, The Good Prince moves in an entirely new direction–Ambrose (also known as Flycatcher) comes into his own here in a spin on the traditional Arthurian Legend. We journey into the Witching Well, see some familiar faces, and watch as the Prince valiantly challenges the Adversary without spilling a drop of blood. I loved this new, important role for Fly (of ALL people!). I’m a total newbie to Fables having started the series late this year–but once I started, I could not keep my hands off these wonderful books. I’m an official fanatic and have finally caught up with the monthlies. One of the best comics out there, in my (admittedly less experienced) opinion!
**Note: Vol. 11: War and Pieces is also spectacular–it is the WAR, after all. The only reason why Prince beats it out for the spot is because things seemed a little too easy for Bigby and the Gang in Pieces. I digress. On with the list!**
Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
Mercedes Thompson is easily one of my favorite Urban Fantasy heroines–she’s smart and tough, but she also knows exactly who she is and what her limited capabilities are (i.e. she does not run off at the mouth pretending to be some invincible idiot hardass in leather pants and swinging a big gun or whatever). In this third installment, Mercy tries to help clear her former boss’ name, she makes a decision in that tantalizing romantic triangle, and she also goes through a heck of a lot of pain. This is the most emotional of the Mercy books, and my favorite to date (emphasis on to date—Bone Crossed is more intense in terms of character development, and probably edges this one out a smidgen).
Joker by Brian Azzarello
This is a groundbreaking, dark beauty of a graphic novel–and has overthrown The Killing Joke as my favorite Joker book. Following as a sort of unofficial sequel to The Dark Knight, Azzarello’s Clown Prince of Crime undergoes a much darker and violent rebirth in Joker: gone is his playful, comic edge. In its place, we have the grimy haired, smudged and scarred version Heath Ledger played to perfection in the film. Bermejo’s art is breathtaking, perfectly complimenting Azzarello’s flowing writing and sadistic tone. This is a new classic–I loved every glossy page.
A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Another young adult novel makes it on the list with this debut novel from Elizabeth C. Bunce. A Curse Dark as Gold is one of the most skilled retellings I have read in a very long time. What’s even cooler is that it is not another romance-fairy-princess retelling: instead of going down that tried, tired route, A Curse Dark as Gold retells the fable of Rumpelstiltskin (sans the princess and prince storyline, naturally). This is a book about relationships, love and magic; it is about the lengths a sister will go to in order to save her village and her family. A Curse Dark as Gold is a gorgeous tale, and I cannot wait to see what future novels Ms. Bunce has in store for us.
The Living Dead Anthology
Zombie Essentials List HERE
This anthology is a bonafide door stopper–but it’s so damn awesome, I rejoice in how long it is! The Living Dead collects previously published Zombie lit from the past 30 years, from an all star list of authors (Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Laurell K. Hamilton, and freaking Dan Simmons to name a few). This is an essential collection for any zombie aficionado.
(For other damn good books from this year, and for those not published in 2008)
It’s so hard to narrow down to a favorite 10 of all the books I had the pleasure of reading this year, so I’m cheating and mentioning a few more 2008 favorites here that didn’t quite make the cut. This year I was introduced to Richelle Mead’s unputdownable writing, and her Georgina Kincaid and Vampire Academy series’ are some of my favorites. Succubus Dreams and Shadow Kiss both deserve special mention, as they are fantastic, game changing installments to each respective series.
While we’re on female protagonist driven Urban Fantasy, I also have to mention Rachel Caine’s latest in her Weather Warden series, Gale Force. This is one of the most criminally under appreciated series’ out there, and it’s a shame that more folks haven’t discovered the living force of nature (literally!) heroine that is Joanne Baldwin. Easily in my top 3 favorite Urban Fantasy collections for the fantastic world (sans fey, fur or fangs), the sympathetic characters, and most importantly the hell-or-high-water, break-neck pace of each book. They’re like Pringles: you can’t eat just one.
Then there’s Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews, the second book in her Kate Daniels series–and a nice improvement from the first novel. Tighter plot, tighter characters, and minus the choppiness of Magic Bites.
There were also a few new fantasy novels (surprisingly they all involve pirate ships) I read and loved this year–beginning with the impishly delightful Raine Benares in Magic Lost, Trouble Found and the 2008 release of Armed & Magical. Moira J. Moore’s latest installment to her Heroes series, Heroes Adrift was also a nice treat. But perhaps the best ship-involved fantasy novel I read in 2008 was Jo Graham’s debut novel, Black Ships–a retelling of Virgil’s The Aeneid from the perspective of an oracle who joins the lost Wisullans (Trojans) in their quest for a new home.
I should probably also mention a few comics and graphic novels I loved this year. Thanks to Meljean Brook (more on her in a bit), my already woozy wallet took another hit with a rekindled comic habit! I have to mention three Wonder Woman comics that totally rocked my socks–The Hiketeia by Greg Rucka (it has THE FIGHT!); JLA: A League of One by Christopher Moeller (drop dead gorgeous painted art, plus the throwing of rocks); and last but certainly not least, The Circle by Gail Simone. Holy crow, Ms. Simone’s take is freaking awesome, and The Circle is the heartbreaking start to her run on the WW book.
2008 also marked a big Young Adult year for me–some favorites I should mention are Melissa Marr’s Ink Exchange, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Kelley Armstrong’s The Summoning, and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind (ok technically a 2007 release, but who’s counting).
For books published prior to 2008 (but I only read this year), I have to name Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind (beautifully translated by Lucia Graves), a book Ana dared me to read and one that is indisputably one of the best novels I have read this year. Then there’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which needs no introduction or pimpage–it is an instant classic, and one very dear to my heart.
But my hands-down favorite read of 2008 comes from the Young Adult genre–with the aforementioned Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It.
Favorite New Characters:
This year also introduced me to three new characters–a “mutant” (he’s not really a mutant), a parasol wielding Egyptologist, and the sweetest Southern waitress you’ll ever meet. Lois McMaster Bujold’s unlikely hero, Miles Vorkosigan, is fiercely intelligent, melodramatic, and hilarious in all his endeavors–and he’s now become one of my favorite heroes, period. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody is beyond description–I can hardly blame the Master Criminal for wanting to worship at her feet, as I feel exactly the same way! Her sparkling, wonderful narrative is among the best in fiction. And speaking of wonderful first person narratives, there’s Charlaine Harris’ slice of homestyle pecan pie, Sookie Stackhouse. Each Sookie book is a fun read, but it’s Sookie herself that sells the series, and I’m very pleased to have made her acquaintance this year.
How About Them Authors?
One of the best things about running a blog is getting to talk face to face (well, virtual face to face) with authors, and 2008 introduced me to some wonderful new ones! First, there’s the fabulous Linnea Sinclair, whose science fiction romance novels rule the galaxy. I love her Dock 5 series (Gabriel’s Ghost, Shades of Dark), and The Down-Home Zombie Blues is another fantastic read of 2008. Linnea is one of the most friendly, accessible authors I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and she genuinely cares for her fans. Lisa Shearin is another author I have to mention in this same light–her blog is fantastic, and she really makes an effort to connect with all of her fans. Last but not least, there’s the incredible Meljean Brook. As Ana and I have said countless times before, we are unabashedly Meljean fangirls (as is half the blogosphere!) and for good reason. Besides penning one of the best paranormal romance series’ on the market, Meljean also happens to be the most awesome, nerdy (in a good way!) chick we know. She updates her blog regularly, has a staggering knowledge of popgeekery, a great devotion to Wonder Woman and Batman (and superheroes in general), great taste in books (which eerily falls right smack dab in the middle of Ana’s and my own tastes)…plus, she’s just a damn cool person.
Books on the 2009 Horizon:
What am I looking forward to in 2009? For the ongoing series’ I am reading, I cannot wait to get my hands on White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison, Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, The Trouble With Demons by Lisa Shearin, and Succubus Heat by Richelle Mead.*
There are also a ton of YA titles I am dying to read, starting with Carrie Ryan’s debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth–which has generated enough buzz to power a small village for a few months. There’s Catching Fire out in September, sequel to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Maria Snyder’s Storm Glass, a spinoff YA series in the Study universe. Finally, two other YA titles I cannot wait to get my hands on: Kelley Armstrong’s The Awakening (sequel to her debut YA novel, The Summoning) and Tamora Pierce’s Bloodhound (the long awaited second book in her Beka Cooper series).
Lastly, there’s a new Dan Simmons novel on the horizon!!!!! The Drood is a sort of Victorian mystery, following Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Dan Simmons writes everything from mystery to supernatural horror to hard science fiction to historical fiction–and all of it is amazing.
So there you have it! My notable reads of 2008. Now please, give it up for Ana!
*Given my list, you might be asking what about Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr or Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs? This ninja can report that BOTH live up to all expectations.
Looking back at the books I read in 2008, it is pretty easy to discern that I am indeed a romance reader at heart – out of the 134 books read and reviewed (yes, I made my Challenge by the way! Hooray me!) by me this year, the majority are romance novels. Although I love other genres (and is part of New Year resolutions to read more Fantasy, Sci-Fi and YA) , I am happier and more satisfied when I read romance – GOOD romance though. (What makes a romance “good”? Many things: from exquisite writing to good plot, from interesting, well developed main characters to interesting and well developed secondary characters. I can even accept clichés, as long as they are well done. But I digress) .
All of this to say: it was easy for me to pick my top 10 this year – I KNEW these books would be the best of the year as I was reading them. You will see that 8 out of the top 10 list are romance novels – the last two entries are YA. And out of the 8 romance novels, 4 are historical romance – still my favorite sub-genre.
So here it goes, with the exception of the first book below, all others are in no particular order.
King of Sword and Sky by C.L. Wilson
My top 1 book of the year. This is book 3 in the Tairen Soul series and is a perfect combination of my two favorite genres: Romance and Fantasy. In one sentence: “save the Tairen, save the fey world” : the story is epic in its scope, with the fantastic and carefully thought-out world-building coupled with an amazing pair of protagonists, secondary characters that make me CARE for them as much as I care for the central ones and a villain that is everything a villain should be: EVIL without being a caricature. I hate and I fear him and I want him to die a thousand (slow) deaths when the series end. The final book , Queen of Song and Souls is easily my MOST anticipated read of 2009.
Demon Bound by Meljean Brook
Meljean Brook is one of the writers I discovered this year and what a discovery. She has become one of my favorite writers with her world of Guardians and Demons fighting for Earth and Hell; a beautiful, unique writing style and some of the best heroes and heroines out there. Demon Bound is a book that expands the storylines that came before and sets things in motion for the remainder of the series. Jake Hawkins, the protagonist? My top 1 hero of the year – for this character arc was one that was truly amazing: from seemingly carefree young Guardian to a man in every sense of the word.
The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
This is the debut work that knocked my socks off. The first half of this book , set in India during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 where the protagonists first meet and fall in love is PERFECTION: the historical setting carefully researched by the author and the writing was so beautiful it made me want to weep. The second half is set in London 4 years later, when the lovers reunite. Honestly, this is the book I would flaunt at the face of those that say “romance novels are trash”. (If only the cover did not have the dreaded man titty.). Meredith Duran has two novels coming out in 2009 – and I simply cannot wait.
The Two Dukes of Wyndham by Julia Quinn
Technically they are two books, so I am cheating here. BUT The Lost Duke of Wyndham and Mr Cavendish, I Presume tell basically the same story from two different points of view and this is the beauty of these books – same events but with utterly different flavors. Jack Audley (the highway man) and Thomas Cavendish (the Duke of Wyndham) are long lost cousins that reunite and the search for proof that Jack is the real Duke changes these men’s lives forever , whilst they also fall in love with their respective heroines. Jack’s book made me laugh as much as Thomas’ book made me cry. This is Julia Quinn at her best.
Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase
The fact that the author is Loretta Chase should be enough to explain why this book is here – I have yet to read one disappointing book by this author. Her writing is glorious, her historical research flawless and the romance, always and forever aw-worthy. Your Scandalous Ways starts a new series called Fallen Women, where the female protagonists are far from being virginal, innocent young ladies. In this particular book, the heroine is a courtesan who bedevils the hero – a Spy for King and Country. And it is set in Venice. What more could one possibly want? Humor, wonderfully tasteful sex scenes, witty dialogue, all Loretta Chase’s trademarks, and all present here.
Ink exchange by Melissa Marr
Melissa Marr is another new-to-me author which I discovered this year. As I read her debut work Wicked Lovely, I knew it was a match made in heaven: warped fairytales, with a darker tone and a beautiful prose. Ink Exchange is set in that same world of fairies of the Dark Court mingling with the human world and causing havoc to the life of one girl: Leslie. This book is DARK, and it deals with deeper, grimmer issues such as rape, self-discovery and choices. For a YA novel in a world populated with Bellas and the such , this is a prime example of good storytelling. I was shocked, disgusted at points but ultimately completely satisfied with the novel. I am a Melissa Marr fangirl. The next book in the same world – Fragile Eternity- is out in 2009.
Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh
Yet another new-to-me author discovered in 2008 (apparently I had been living under a rock without even realizing it). I devoured Nalini’s Psy/Changeling books and was more than ready to read Hostage to Pleasure, a book about a man called Dorian who I had my eyes set on since book 1. This one did not disappoint and we were all granted with a fantastic present in the end – to us and to the character. This is another prime example of an author that takes pride in being extremely careful with her world- building, one that is interesting and gripping and with storylines that continue from book to book without ever overshadowing the romance aspect and vice-versa.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This is the one book I saved a place in my top 10 list for even before reading it. This is the power of the name Neil Gaiman. I just knew it would be here , from the moment I read the blurb online. It is the Jungle Book in a Graveyard with Gaiman’s trademarked creativity and imagination. There is a chapter about the medieval Danse Macabre that is absurdly brilliant. Enough said.
When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James
Love and chess set in Georgian times. This is hands-down the smartest historical romance series that I know of. When the Duke Returns is the 4th book in a series that has an ensemble cast evolving around a love triangle with three of the most fascinating characters you will ever read in a romance novel. The whole series resemble a play with other characters (each central pairing of each book) that come and go, always leaving the central core of Jemma, Elijah and Villiers. When the Duke Returns tells the story of Isidore and Simeon, married by proxy when really young and now trying to get on with their marriage but these two are so completely different – will it ever work? Eloisa James thrives when writing already-married couples trying to save their marriage. I absolutely adored this book and I feel I will positively die of happiness when I get the final 2 books in my greedy hands in 2009.
Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
This was one of my first forays into Contemporary romance. I am no newbie to Lisa Kleypas, but I read only her historicals and was wary of trying a contemporary. I should have trusted The Kleypas. Blue-Eyed Devil was both gut-wrenching and uplifting. The first part was highly emotional in portraying the mental, emotional and physical abuse the heroine suffered in her first marriage to a man with a personality disorder. Lisa Kleypas went to great lengths to write this relationship as realistically as she possibly could and it panned out. The second part where the heroine meets the man that helps her heal with love is that sort of romance that one looks for when picking up a romance novel: perfect. Hardy Cates is my second favorite hero of 2008 and this book is stunning. This is the reason why I read romance novels, for that warm, fuzzy feeling when I close the book and say: that was a good one.
Where to start? I think I will start by mentioning Linnea Sinclar whose 2008 book, Shades of Dark almost made the top 10. Another new-to-me 2008 discovery (maybe I was living in another dimension not under a rock?), Linnea’s books are consistently good with that perfect balance of romance and Sci-fi: from Gabriel’s Ghost to Shades of Dark, from The Down Home Zombie Blues to Games of Command. Not a single one disappoints.
I mentioned Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh above and I need to go back to the two of them. There were books I read by them that were published in 2007 and could not make the list above but would make a Best Read of the Year (regardless of publishing date) list : and those would be Demon Angel , Meljean’s first book and Caressed by Ice, Nalini’s third. In fact Caressed by Ice may well be one of my favorites books of all time, this is how much I loved the Psy-Changeling tension in that one.
Well, there were three other romance writers that blew me away with the quality of their writing regardless of what worked in the plots or not and they were: Joanna Bourne with her debut novel The Spymaster’s Lady; Sherry Thomas and her book Delicious; and Jo Goodman with the Price of Desire. These three very talented women together with Meredith Duran made me want to cry when I read their books. Their prose is a thing of beauty and I hold my breath for their next books – the potential for perfection is right there and I simply cannot wait.
Worthy of mention are two other 2008 romance novels that I loved: What a Scoundrel Wants by Carrie Lofty (Will Scarlet’s story ) and A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure by Victoria Dahl, both books equally good, equally…different from the usual tropes.
Of older romance novels: I read The Lion’s Daughter by Loretta Chase – it was her first book and one that deserved a perfect 10 from me. If you want to know how good Loretta Chase is, read that book. It was her first book people and it was awesome. Also, of the Ye Old Romance world, one of my favorites was The Rake by Mary Jo Putney, I am sucker for reforming the rake stories and really, Reggie is one of THE most reprobate rakes – his plight against alcoholism was dealt with very seriously and I was very impressed.
I read other genres too?
Graphic novels: Fables is ubber cool, incredibly smart and and and I NEED TO CATCH UP. I read the first 3 volumes so far and must read more. I cannot speak of Graphic novels and not mention The Killing Joke, the ultimate Joker story (sorry Thea it is still better than Joker) , full of crazy and important dialogue between Batman and Joker.
I loved, no scrap that, I ADORED beyond measure UF Sunshine by Robin McKinley. It was such a strange book, but one I remember so vividly. Also in UF , I need to mention Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs; Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake and all the Sookie Stackhouse’s books I read – I need to catch up with about 3 books before the next one comes out. But my hatred for Bill remains strong as does my love for Eric Northman.
Speaking of amazing heroines: this is the year I was introduced to the awesomeness that is Amelia Peabody: the feminist Victorian heroine who goes traipsing around the archeological world of Egypt being a busybody and arguing (and loving) her equally awesome husband Emerson and trying to keep an eye out for Villains (MC anyone?) and her troublesome (and extra double awesome) son Ramses. It is love folks, what I feel for Amelia. Of the undying kind.
There is also one small, quite old book that Thea dared me to read and which I loved: Mara, Daughter of the Nile. This little YA book is full of non-stop action, an amazing young girl as the protagonist and Sheftu, her love interest.
Love the authors
Last but not least – I echo Thea’s sentiments: gotta love them authors!
What about 2009?
Ha! Do you have time? So many books I am dying for: CL Wilson’s last Tairen Soul book. All the Nalini Singh’s that are coming out in 2009; Demon Forged by Meljean Brook; Don’t Tempt Me by Loretta Chase; the next Julia Quinn, the next Lisa Kleypas, the next Kresley Cole; This Duchess of Mine and A Duke of her Own both by Eloisa James; the next books by Meredith Duran, Sherry Thomas, Linnea Sinclair, Melissa Marr, and ect, etc, etc. and of course I hold my breath for all the debuts out there, just waiting for me to discover them! Bring it on!2009 is going to be all kinds of AWESOME.
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, bid you so long, farewell, au revoir, see you in 2009!
And be Excellent to Each Other, dudes!