Top Reads of 2013

Posted December 25, 2013 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 0 Comments


Thoughts. The text 'rambling thoughts' underneath a burning lantern. For rambles, thoughts, and not-essays.

Meep. I haven’t done one of these in a very, very long time and the year isn’t over yet. Good thing I can save these as drafts and only publish them later, because if I read something utterly amazing before the end of the year, I can still edit this post to reflect that and my reading sometimes shoots up during the holiday season.

But to the books! They’re mostly in the order that I read them and, with one exception, the books I’m mentioning are all new-to-me reads. Otherwise you’d get a couple of classics, notably The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. I have now named those rereads as two of my top reads, so let’s move on!

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees BrennanTeam Human
by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

I first encountered Larbalestier’s writing when the blogosphere protested against the white-washing of Liar, a book which I didn’t finish. Sarah Rees Brennan was an author whose name I’d only heard of because the backblurbs of her books didn’t quite draw my interest. I’m not sure how I learned about Team Human, but I do remember that I was a little hesitant to pick it up because of that combination. It was my friends thoroughly enjoying it that made me want to read it.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Team Human is part parody and all heart. It was delightful and I look forward to rereading it sometime. I read it very early on in the year, so I’m afraid my recollection of the plot is a bit hazy. Mostly what I remember is the giggling I did and the copious amounts of snark that I remember. Oh, and the fact that the parody really does work.(Yep, even with books I loved to pieces I can’t remember plot details well. The only reason I can tell you what The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn are about is because I’ve read and seen both several hundred times. Eventually it starts to stick.) So have a product description/spoiler-free plot description off Wikipedia:

Team Human is set in the town of New Whitby, Maine, the origin of America’s compact with vampires and a place that sees them living side-by-side in relative harmony. When a century-old vampire joins their high school class, Mel is horrified when her best friend Cathy falls for him. Afraid that Cathy might be considering becoming a vampire herself, Mel starts on a quest to show Cathy how dangerous the undead really are, which means braving the vampire district and solving a mystery.

I had a blast with it.

The Benevolence Tales by Elora BishopThe Benevolence Tales
, vol 1 by Elora Bishop.

The Benevolence Tales is an omnibus that collects the novellas One Solstice Night, One Imbolc Gloaming and One Ostara Sunrise. All the novellas are pagan fiction and fairytales. I heartily recommend reading Bishop’s post about writing pagan fiction here. These three stories some of the sweetest, gentlest and happiest stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I loved them. They were snugly and cheered me up when I needed cheering and have quickly made it up the list of my comfort reads. They’re not terribly long as far as books go — they are, after all, novellas — and they’re a lot of fun on top of being as inviting and gentle as they are.

I’ll give you the description for One Solstice Night (as taken from Bishop’s blog) and leave you to discover the rest of your own.

Isabella Fox has just moved to the charming little town of Benevolence. As the new village magicmaker, she’s expected to cast only one spell a year in the sleepy village–something not even she could mess up. When Isabella meets the mysterious outcast shapeshifter, Emily, love begins to grow between the two women, but the chill of winter forewarns that not all is well in Benevolence.

I heartily and happily recommend them if you need a feel-good book to read. And hey we may be past the solstice, but One Solstice Night makes lovely wintertime reading. (Yes, an omnibus of stand-alone stories could be considered cheating. Shush.)

Pearl in the Void by M.C.A. HogarthPearl in the Void
by M.C.A. Hogarth. (Now complete with me actually remembering the proper order of the trilogy!)

Earlier this year, I discovered Hogarth’s works. I’ve been reading my way through it ever since. I may, in fact, have binged a little on Hogarth’s works this year as I think she makes up the vast majority of my final stack of books. Picking which book to list from the lot was hard. (You’ll see later on that I failed and picked two.) A Pearl in the Void is actually the second book in a trilogy. It works as a stand-alone, but it’ll be a lot more powerful if you’ve read the previous books first.

I wound up picking Pearl in the Void for this list rather than The Worth of a Shell mainly because it’s this third book that, if you asked me to pick one book to be my favourite of the entire year and told me my life depended on picking just the one, this is the book I’d pick. As much as I enjoyed the first book in the trilogy and would have picked it purely because it’s the first book of the series, this is the one that has the most of my heart and feels.

Nope. You get no plot description for this one, not this time around. Third book in a series and all. Suffice to say that if you enjoy reading stories that deal with gender identity issues, I recommend reading at least a sample or some of the related short stories to see if you’ll enjoy them.

Seaward by Susan CooperSeaward
by Susan Cooper.

I still loathe this cover. Not in general. It’s a really neat, eye-catching cover. But I loathe it for this book. It suggests something that Seaward isn’t. It’s a book that I wish my library had had when I was a little girl, so I could have grown up with it. As it is, I only encountered it in my early twenties and I fell in love with it. This year was a reread. I’d hoped to gain enough thoughts and insights to run another read-along that had (vaguely) intelligent questions for participants to play with. I came up with nothing because so much of what Cooper does in this book is subtle and steeped in mythology I know and love and yet cannot, quite, put into words.

Seaward hits me in the feels. For me it’s one of those books that… You know how you read a book and you feel like it was written just for you? Only you didn’t write it, so obviously that’s a silly feeling, but you have it anyway? That’s Seaward whenever I read it. I love this book. It’s gorgeous. The adventures are there — multitudes of them and always front and centre — but they’re always a bit quiet and subdued in a good way. It’s not a flashy book, which makes the actions in them, to my mind, stronger. Let me give you the description off Amazon. (Where, oh my goodness, I learned that they actually kept this out of the YA section. I was not expecting that.) Anyway, the description!

His name is West. Her name is Cally. They speak different languages and come from different countries thousands of miles apart, but they do not know that. What they do know are the tragedies that took their parents, then wrenched the two of them out of reality and into a strange and perilous world through which they must travel together, understanding only that they must reach the sea. Together, West and Cally embark upon a strange and sometimes terrifying quest, learning to survive and to love—and, at last, discovering the true secret of their journey.

The Lodestar of Ys by Amy Rae DurresonThe Lodestar of Ys
by Amy Rae Durreson.

Amy’s got a book coming out next year! Just so you know. And this one is available for free from her website, so there’s that as well. Anyway! You are warned that this is m/m erotica. The scenes are still perfectly skippable in terms of the storyline, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Lodestar of Ys was, if I remember what Amy told me correctly, supposed to be a short story. What you’ve got is a short novel or a long novella of sheer and utter awesomeness. I’ve known Amy for quite a number of years now and she’s one of the people and writers I most admire. The way she sets up worlds in just a few words, the worlds she comes up with, the relationships and the emotions… And the imagery. <3 Amy is a fantastic writer and, no, I’m not just saying that because she’s a friend. Let me leave you with the description!

But first! A link. It’s all good and well to say you can download it for free, but that’s no good if you have to hunt it down first. So. You can find The Lodestar of Ys here.

Sjurd is convinced that Celyn of Ys is the most irritating man alive. It’s a good thing that Celyn is engaged to Sjurd’s brother, not him, because Sjurd loathes the brat, and it’s quite mutual. When an elopement and the threat of invasion force the two princes together, however, they have no choice but to marry and fake true love to keep their countries safe. Can warrior Sjurd and diplomat Celyn find any common ground?

Mindtouch by M.C.A. HogarthMindtouch
by M.C.A. Hogarth.

It feels weird to write up this post about Mindtouch so soon after finishing the sequel Mindline. What sold me on this book — other than being a new publication by a newly discovered favourite author — was the way Hogarth described it several times as an asexual romance. Mindline carries that description more clearly than Mindtouch does and together they make up some of my favourite books of the year. I loved seeing how Jahir and Vasiht’h met and watching their partnership and bond develop, as well as just seeing how an alien campus and psychology works. I’d previously read all the case studies and some of the short stories, but as lovely as they are, they don’t, by nature, give a good indication of their lives together. Their work life and special occasions, sure, but not their daily life. Mindtouch delivers it in spades and it was glorious to get an even stronger sense of their characters and relationship.

Also: asexual romance duology. Of course I was going to pick it up.

Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance’s finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he’s unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society… but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht’h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?

Doesn’t that sound like a glorious, wonderful book? It’s pretty much everything I want in a story.

Cover for Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieAncillary Justice
by Ann Leckie.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Ancillary Justice and have struggled to word them coherently beyond “The pronouns really bother me because asking people to erase ‘male’ from ‘he’ is not the same as asking people to erase ‘female’ from ‘she’ because society treats gender differently”. But, if I try to ignore my mess of feelings and chaotic thoughts on the pronouns, what I’m left with is a book that’s ambitious, vast and deep and pulls off what it’s trying to accomplish really well.

Breq’s narrative is a powerful one. The topics it discussses range from gender to colonialism to spiritual and it never feels like something is just shoehorned in there. It never feels like it doesn’t fit together. (Except for the pronouns.) It’s a powerful, compelling read. I found it hard to put down and sped through it fairly rapidly.

The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.

The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.

But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.

That’s… missing out on so, so, so much. This isn’t just about revenge — although it kind of is, and not just about revenge for what happened to the ship itself — but about so much more. It’s about questioning who you are in every sense, what a society is, morals and ethics and economic values and oh just go read it and see for yourself, really.