Archive for December, 2012

Devourer of Words: My 2012 in Books

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by Esther Sherman

My bold assertion last year that I would top 2011’s total of 92 books in 2012 was stymied somewhat by several major events. Near the beginning of the year I agreed to sit on the first jury for the British Fantasy Awards, along with such superior company as Maura McHugh, Hal Duncan, James Barclay and Damien Walter, which was a serious honour for me.  Although I had already read many of the titles on the shortlist, I re-read for comparison as much as possible, and deliberations were agreeable and enjoyable, but time-consuming. I also agreed to arrange and compere the Saturday night burlesque and cabaret slot at FantasyCon in September, and as I have said before, organising performers is much akin to herding cats. Last but certainly not least, I got married in July and the preparations took up a lot more time than I’d wagered, though our honeymoon in Mexico certainly allowed for plenty of beach reading.

Because of my BFA jury duties, I decided to stop tweeting my reviews, and fell out of the habit, so I don’t have an accurate record of exactly when I read everything. My New Year’s resolution is to resume this, as I found it very useful and interesting for last year’s review.

Jan 2nd finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Sweet and spooky, slight but fun

This was a comfort read for me.  Did everything I expected it to, but I couldn’t bring myself to dislike it for that, it was quite charming. Would be a great one for younger readers.

Jan 2nd finished How to Leave Twitter: My Time as Queen of the Universe and Why This Must Stop by Grace Dent

Grace often makes me laugh, but I found this book light on content and blinkered in perspective. Fun for an hour or so!     

Jan 3rd finished Florence and Giles by John Harding. Interesting experiment, but annoying tics & not scary.

I loved the idea of playing around with The Turn of the Screw, one of my favourite scary stories, but this had few ideas beyond that and ultimately failed in execution.

Jan 4th finished New Model Army by @arrroberts. Took a while to get going but once it did, boom!

A crowdsourced, anarchist army? Lovely ideas.

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Jan 5th finished Engineering Infinity ed Jonathan Strahan. Mixed hard SF anthology, interesting but uneven.

Jan 7th finished Empire State by @ghostfinder. Fun sci-adventure w echoes of Dark City, The Big O & Fringe.

Took many of my favourite subjects and crafted an enjoyable ride.  I’m expecting good things in the future from Adam Christopher.  

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Jan 11th Finished A Book of Horrors ed Stephen Jones. Interesting mix, more hits than misses, from Reggie Oliver, Lisa Tuttle, John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Original horror stories by a diverse group of authors, some absolute gems included.  

Jan 12th finished The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein. Inventive tale of a lucky family & a fairy bargain.

Made an interesting comparison with Among Others and Some Kind of Fairytale later in the year.

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Jan 17th finished A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd. Devastating.

Can’t add much more to that, it’s an essential read.

Jan 27th finished Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James. Exciting idea falls a little flat in execution.

I’m not much of a fan of mash-up fiction anyway, unless it’s in the capable hands of a Moore or a Newman, but Darcy and Elizabeth as crimesolvers was pretty bloody dreadful.

Feb 1st Finished Anne Billson on Film: collected columns from the Guardian 2009 by @AnneBillson. Buy on Smashwords for pennies, worth far more!

Yes, get this, and get all her other writing (and photos) too. Perceptive film columns and fun, rewarding fiction.  https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/AnneBillson

Feb 20th finished Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Hard-boiled SF, clever but very familiar.

Feb 21st finished The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse. Ugh. Waste of time, try-hard tale of dullards.

I wanted something like The Secret History. Amazon lied to me. Rich kids playing in a fancy house plus a poorer outsider doth not a Donna Tartt make.

Feb 26th finished Osama by Lavie Tidhar. Interesting alt-universe noir. Melancholic, mysterious, confusing.

Impressive and imaginative, this was one I admired greatly, even if I didn’t totally enjoy it.

March 10th finished Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. A wonderful, sprawling, exuberant treat of a book.

I couldn’t wait for this after his debut, The Gone-Away World. An enormous amount of fun to read, despite thinking it could have been tightened up in places. Packed full of shiny ideas.

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March 14th finished After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh. Well-written but ultimately too slight for me.

March 19th finished The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees. Imaginative, exuberant but somewhat underbaked.

A simulated war-zone filled with the most evil personalities from history? Interesting, and fast-paced, but the dialogue clunked in places and plot-holes gaped if you stopped to think for too long.

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March 22nd finished Harmony by Project Itoh. Thought-provoking SF from late writer of Metal Gear novel.

March 24th finished Among Others by Jo Walton. Brilliant. A love story to SF, libraries & magic. Unmissable.

I was pleased to find this on the shortlist for the BFAs, and even more pleased to have a part in its winning the award for best fantasy novel.

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March 28th finished Tales for a Dark Evening by @Grafire. An accomplished & broad selection. Over too quickly!

April 6th finished The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan. Oh yes! A great addition to fantasy. Exhilarating.

I’m a sucker for a gay hero and the plot kept me hooked. The Cold Commands is on my to-read list for 2013.

April 15th Finished Stonemouth by Iain Banks. Pretty unexciting and with a few slips (gameboy?). At least we have an ‘M’ to look forward to next.

Awards reading came next, with the shortlist announced at the beginning of May.  I refreshed my memory of the books I read last year – 11.22.63, A Dance with Dragons, The Ritual, The Heroes and moved on to the novellas and shorts, which I won’t include in this post. Then I started on the collections, graphic novels and remaining anthologies. 

May 18th Finished Rumours of the Marvellous by Peter Atkins.

May 29th Finished Mrs Midnight and Other Stories by Reggie Oliver.

June 1st Finished A Glass of Shadow by Liz Williams

June 6th Finished Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith

Unwritten vols 1-6

Batwoman vol 1

Animal Man vol 1

The Walking Dead vols 6-16

Gutshot edited by Conrad Williams

Everyone’s Just So So Special by Robert Shearman

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On July 14th I got married and headed off to Mexico on the 17th, with one remaining awards nominee left to read – comprehensive anthology The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

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I steadily worked through this vast tome on my sun-lounger, interspersing its stories with the following books. I didn’t have great access to wifi so couldn’t tweet about most of these.    

Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn

Better than the posh misery memoirs these sound like, they are a fascinating and darkly humorous account of the damage caused by a psychopath in a family and the resulting fallout and recovery.   

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Zodiac by Neal Stephenson

An early Stephenson, this eco-thriller with a cooler-than-thou activist as its hero was a smart, diverting beach read.  

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 22 edited by Stephen Jones

An essential annual read for me.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Clever idea, great setting. Ending fell a bit flat for me.

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

I prefer Gaiman’s short fiction to his novels, this was a great collection, though I’d read many of the stories before, elsewhere.

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

An enjoyable geek wish-fulfillment riff on James Bond. With demons and the beyond, of course. 

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

A re-read, as I’m determined to finish the Baroque Cycle this time – last time I tried, the heft of the paperbacks inconvenienced me.

The Way of the Wizard edited by John Joseph Adams

Very enjoyable anthology, well worth a look.

Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn. Ouch, another uncomfortable series of vignettes. Searing.

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold. One from Mexico. Shallower than it thinks it is.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Another I read on the beach. Like a Columbo.

Sept 14th finished Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. Same template as WWZ but robots are smarter adversaries.

It was almost shocking how closely this stuck to the World War Z pattern, but perhaps the inevitable film will prove to be better?

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Sept 18th finished At Last by Edward St. Aubyn. A fitting end to the series. Or will we get any more?

Sept 19th finished The Minotaur by Barbara Vine. Interesting cast but predictable mystery, unnecessary coda.

Sept 23rd finished The Privileges by Jonathan Dee. The rich & bored cope with life. Hardly Fitzgerald.

Oct 3rd finished The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner. Original, but not as intriguing or affecting as hoped.

The ideas and images in this tale of a damaged 1920s girl trapped in a memory machine were right up my street, but the anachronistic dialogue and lack of depth to the characters made me struggle to care.

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The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

I read this in hardback, thanks to an auction lot I won at a BFS Open Night of all Jo Fletcher Books titles for a year. Tom’s imagination and enthusiasm for writing shone through in this first volume of his YA fantasy trilogy. The characters are well-drawn, likable and believable.  I’d like to see what he can do away from the familiar London setting and conventions of the format, though.  

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Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin

An inspired anthology idea (stories of the apocalypse, influenced by the art of John Martin) with a lot of talented writers involved, but quite a lot of similarity to the stories.

Some Kind of Fairytale by Graham Joyce

Another hardback read. I love Graham Joyce’s prose and loved the idea and subject matter, there are some bravura set-pieces, but couldn’t quite get on with it as a whole. It seemed curiously adrift in time, particularly the flashbacks, it lacked a dramatic climax and the revelations disappointed me.  

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The Big U by Neal Stephenson

Another early Stephenson, this deserves to be better known. Events in a corporate mega-university, very funny.

Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

A good palate-cleanser as an experiment, from a recommendation. Will read more.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

More romantic fantasy from the author of one from last year’s list, The One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Emo gods fight and sulk and the poor soppy people who love them get caught in the middle, again.

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The Bellwether Revivals by Jonathan Wood

Did The House at Midnight teach me nothing? Another failed attempt to find another Secret History.

Nov 24th finished Temeraire by Naomi Novik? Napoleonic war with dragons! Bloody hell, it is gloriously entertaining, finished in 1 sitting.

Talking about one particular scene in this still brings me to tears. Probably my favourite discovery of the year.

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A Sincere Warning About the Entity in Your Home by Jason Arnopp

Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

Carnivale is one of my favourite tv programmes and this conjures up that depression-era, battle between good and evil vibe. Hard for me to say too much about this without spoiling it, I grew to hate it for its inevitability, but eventually respected it for its ultimate feeling of rightness.

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30th Dec finished Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell. The world reminded me (in a good way) of Final Fantasy VII. Mysterious ancient tech and sea zombies.

Several things I loved about this – grizzled cigar-chomping badass of a hero, psychic witches, a properly nasty baddie, a world with a wealth of intriguing history, oh, and did I mention the mysterious ancient tech? Another interesting discovery, which has persuaded me that I have to go back and read his earlier trilogy.

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31st Dec finished The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. Sad tale of magical sex trafficking.

A great one to finish the year on. The selkie legend is one which has always interested and disturbed me, the seals who become women and are trapped in marriage with the theft of their seal-skin. A deep sadness settled over me while reading this, for the dysfunctional Rollrock community, the unhappy and exploited seal women, the men bewitched by them but conspiring to possess their beauty and compliance, the smart, clever women spurned for their human looks and for knowing their own minds, the bitter but deeply hurt wise woman, and the seals’ sons, trapped between sea and land. I would have liked to have read a section from the point of view of one of the selkies, but there was so much here to impress me already. I hope to see this high on awards lists next year.      

Other comics I caught up with this year: Vol 5 of Locke & Key, Blacksad – which I cannot recommend highly enough -, Hellblazer Vols 1 & 2, Stray Toasters, The Hive, American Vampire Vols 1-4 , and Grandville Mon Amour. 

So, that’s my 2012 in books, 59 ignoring the comics.  On my list for next year I’ve already got Iain M Banks’s The Hydrogen Sonata, Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country, a couple by Sarah Pinborough, more Temeraire, Yellowcake, another Margo Lanagan short story collection, more Richard Morgan. Anything I’m leaving off? I’d love your recommendations.

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