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: Rachel Neumeier, author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Rachel is an author we discovered this year and pretty instantly fell in love with her books.
Please give a warm welcome to Rachel Neumeier!
I’ve been following The Book Smugglers for more than a year now, and it’s almost embarrassing how many books I buy based on Book Smuggler reviews. So, many thanks, Thea and Ana, for inviting me to participate in Smugglivus 2011! It’s a holiday tradition I hope will continue for years to come.
Last year for Smugglivus, I tried hard to pick a “Top Five” list limited to books published in 2010. Even that was a challenge, but this year I’d like to make it even harder by picking a “Top Five” list of books that just blew me away this year, no matter when they were published. I’m going to cheat, though, by counting trilogies and series as one choice.
Plus, for all those who missed ’em when they came out, I’m going to tack on a list of my suggestions of “Top Five Most Overlooked”, for great books that I never seem to see on anybody’s Top Anything lists — books that have been out for a while that IMO deserved more notice than they got.
And finally, I’ll give a quick list of the top five releases I’m anticipating in 2012.
It’s been a great year for me for reading and books! In 2011 so far, I’ve read 115 books, not counting any I didn’t finish, so it was a challenge to pick five off the top. A few I wound up loathing, most I liked, some I loved, a handful knocked my socks off, and a couple expanded my horizons as a reader. Here’s the five I’d put right at the top, in alphabetical order by author:
THE BLUE PLACE, STAY, and ALWAYS by Nicola Griffith.
Okay, not sure whether I’d call these mysteries or romances. The main character, Aud Torvingen, is an ex-cop, inclined toward violence, a touch on the ubercompetent side, and a sensualist of the first order. She is also Norwegian, and a lot of the development of the romance takes place in Norway, and this left me with an uncharacteristic desire to visit Norway. I know! Brrrr!
The writing is just exquisite. This is a book to read slowly so you can savor every line. Each of the books in this trilogy is strong; my favorite is the second, so obviously there’s no trace of “second book syndrome” as far as I’m concerned. But if you look at them, please don’t judge them by their covers.
THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, THE BROKEN KINGDOMS, and KINGDOM OF GODS by NK Jemisin.
Everybody’s probably read this one already, right? If not, well, hey, grab a copy and read the first couple pages and see if you can put it down – I bet you can’t. This is a wonderful secondary-world fantasy that instantly catapulted the author to my “must buy immediately” list. I love the world, the style, the characters, and the stories. I love the way Yeine in the first book and then Oree in the second add asides and sort of speak to the reader – you learn at the end of the book who they’re actually speaking to – and I love the way the author switches protagonists from book to book. Oddly enough, this is another trilogy where I think I like the second book best – Oree is a wonderful character – but I totally love all three books.
The TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN series by John Marsden.
I discovered this series via The Book Smugglers’ post on hype. Then it was like, where has this been all my life? Seriously, I have a new model for Great Teenage Characters now.
TOMORROW is the first of a seven-book series, with the premise that a group of Australian kids goes camping and while they’re out of touch Australia gets invaded by . . . well, by somebody. There’s no plausible real-world candidate for the role of invader, and Marsden very cleverly avoids ever suggesting one. The whole thing is told in one character’s, Ellie’s, tight-focused, not-quite-objective, point of view. Ellie grows and changes so much through the course of the story, not always in positive ways, but always in believable ways. Believability is really the key to the series. What a job Marsden takes on, getting us to believe that Australia really has been invaded and these kids really are acting on their own, pushing back against the conquest of their home and country – yet he totally pulls it off.
THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson.
Whoa. I see why this book got so much attention. *These* are characters you can believe in. Lennie, the main character, has such a strong voice! Lennie used to live – happily – in the shadow of her adored older sister. But when the story opens, her sister has recently died and Lennie (and her family and everyone else) is having to cope. This story offers a really amazing treatment of grief, but it’s actually not a downer at all because of the great ending. The poems Lennie writes, scattered throughout, add a wonderful depth of emotion and also a great plot twist to the story. All that AND a fantastic title, too. I’d be so jealous, except I’d never have written a book like this anyway: it’s a contemporary YA, a subgenre that was not even on my radar until I started reading Ana’s reviews.
It’s killing me to have to pick just one more. But . . . aarrgh . . .
THE BREACH and GHOST COUNTRY by Patrick Lee.
These are thrillers with an SF twist. Lee just knocked it out of the park with this duology. You want nonstop action? This book DEFINES nonstop action! If fast pacing, action, and thrills are what you love, you owe it to yourself to read these books! I loved the main character, Travis — yes, he’s too good to be true, but who cares? Sometimes I love an over-the-top protagonist. Paige is good, too, though I have to admit there’s a certain tinge of the-woman-is-there-to-be-rescued that hovers over her.
There was a particular important aspect of the plot of THE BREACH that I really did not believe, and at the beginning of GHOST COUNTRY I had to ask myself, What, Paige has to be rescued by Travis AGAIN? Nevertheless, the books are so exciting that for me they made the top five anyway.
So there you go: a mystery/romance trilogy, an adult fantasy trilogy, a sort-of-postapocalyptic / war story YA series, a contemporary YA novel, and a SF thriller duology. This is a LOT less slanted toward fantasy than you’d expect, given that nearly 60% of all the books I read this year were fantasy!
Now! Briefly! A “Top Five” list of great SF, fantasy, and YA novels that seem to have missed getting the attention they deserved. I’m not suggesting that any of these books is perfect, although some of them come awfully close. But they are all excellent and deserve not to be forgotten. But, um, I must confess I did let the list grow into a “Top Eight” list. Cutting it down even that far was hard enough!
1) TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON by RA MacAvoy — first came out in 1983. It’ll leave you wondering just how true (in story terms) the fantasy elements are . . . but you won’t be in any doubt about the story’s quality.
2) GATE OF IVORY by Doris Egan – first published in 1989, this one is SF, but reads like a fantasy. A wonderful first-person voice.
3) THURSDAY’S CHILDREN by Rumer Godden – first out in 1987, a contemporary (more or less) YA. It is amazing and beautiful and, well, words fail me. If you love a story that shows the world of professional ballet, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this novel. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you should make an exception and look for a copy anyway! Good luck with that! This is not the easiest book to find.
4) HERO and BORDER DISPUTE by Daniel Kerns (actually Jacqueline Lichtenberg) – a 1993 SF duology where the aliens truly aren’t just humans in funny outfits, with a wonderful alien point-of-view protagonist.
5) THE CHANGEOVER by Margaret Mahy – first out in 1984, a wonderful YA fantasy.
6) HELLFLOWER by Eluki bes Shahar (Rosemary Edghill) – published in 1991, SF, with VERY creative use of language.
7) THE SUNBIRD by Elizabeth Wein – came out in 2004, which was practically yesterday compared to the rest of the books on this list. I can’t imagine why it didn’t get more attention. It’s a historical YA, and practically perfect.
8 ) THE MAGIC AND THE HEALING by Nick O’Donohoe — first came out in 1994, the book of a great fantasy trilogy. An alternate world fantasy, plus veterinary medicine. What else could you ask?
Now! Most Anticipated Upcoming Releases! I can hardly wait for:
RUN AWAY by Barbara Hambly. Actually due out this December, this one is certainly on my Most Anticipated list! If you haven’t tried Hambly’s wonderful historical mystery series, starting with A FREE MAN OF COLOR, set in 1830’s New Orleans, well . . . what can I say? It’s probably my all-time favorite mystery series.
FAIR GAME (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs. It’ll be flying off the shelves everywhere, I’m sure, and one copy will definitely be preordered to land on my doorstep as early as possible.
THE KILLING MOON and THE SHADOWED SUN by NK Jemisin. I mean, a new duology by Jemisin? I don’t need to know anything else.
DEATH AND RESERRECTION by RA MacAvoy. Who knew MacAvoy would ever have another book on the way? Delighted to hear this great author’s got a new novel coming out next year!
THE BLINDING KNIFE by Brent Weeks. I LOVED the first book in this series (THE BLACK PRISM) and can’t wait for the sequel.
And of course:
HOUSE OF SHADOWS!!!
Obviously THIS is the release I’m MOST looking forward to next year. I only just finished going over the page proofs. Now it’s all done! Due to hit the shelves in April, I believe. How about that cover? Love it!
Thank you, Rachel! (And seriously – we are dying for House of Shadows)