Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Trending Ten: A Year In Review Thus Far

Every year I attempt to read a minimum of a book a week, hence the title of the blog. So far I'm well on track to meet that goal with seventeen books under my belt. At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, I saw quite a number of "Best of" posts on the review blogs I follow, and thought to myself, I should do that. But I never managed to get around to it, life intrudes and all that rubbish. So in celebration of being ahead in my reading I'm going to provide a list of the ten best novels I've read this year, so far. A trending ten, if you will. These books may or may not be books published in 2013 and I may or may not have reviewed them, but there are my best guesses thus far for that hypothetical "Best of" post, I intend to write this year.

10. 14 by Peter Clines

Despite some of the more Lovecraftian elements of this horror store, Clines turns in a fine character study with plenty of authenticity and depth. I'd love to see more with this setting and characters, but I think in the end, such treatment would likely blunt the impact of the story as told. Clines continues to be a go to read, since my discovery of his excellent Ex-Heroes series.

9. Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Libriomancer is the only book on this list that I haven't reviewed. Its placement in this list should make it clear that the lack of review in no way reflects upon the quality of Hines' story.  Rarely have I encountered a more engaging magic system and Isaac's journey is something that mirrors the daydreams of book lovers everywhere. I eagerly await the next installment in this excellent new series. My review will be coming soon.


 8. Fragments by Dan Wells
As noted in my review, I don't really do YA novels. Wells' Partial Sequence is a rare exception to that rule. While the first installment, was a bit too reminiscent of the Hunger Games for my tastes, Wells really ups the ante here, turning in a sequel that is more compelling and successful on almost every level. There is a level of complexity and suspense to the mysteries Wells spins that rivals many similar adult novels. Fans of dystopian post apocalyptic novels, should not miss this series, regardless of their age.

7. God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

Another of the sub-genres that typically occupies my no-fly list, is steampunk. And by all appearances, Locke's debut sits solidly in the realm of the growing number of Victorian steampunk novels crowding the shelves in my local bookseller. Add in the vampires and werewolves and the elements of paranormal romance and God Save the Queen should have been a novel I avoided like the plague. But I'm glad I gave it a chance. There is an authenticity to Locke's alternative take on London and her protagonist, Xandra gets under your skin in the best possible ways. 

6. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein

Daughter of the Sword is an intertesting mix of police proceedural and historical fiction with a splash of urban fantasy. Steve Bein brings his first hand knowledge of both swordsmanship and Japanese history to the forefront of this engaging novel. With its interesting format of telling not only the present day tale of Tokyo detective Mariko Oshiro but delving into the history of the mystic swords that give the series their name, Bein manages to give the weapons a personality of their own without resorting to the talking sword trope so over used in 80's fantasy. Bein turns in a story that fires on all cylinders and stands on its own, despite being the opening volume of a series.

5. Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

Myke Cole is another author on the list who has upped his game with the sequel to his massively popular Control Point. With the addition of a new protagonist in Col. Alan Bookbinder, Cole avoids many of the complaints that centered around the star of the previous volume, Oscar Britton. Bookbinder is much more relatable than Britton and Cole uses his point of view to further explore almost every aspect of the setting to rousing results. Cole's real world experience in the military is once again in full display here, but this time the focus is more on the nature of leadership and Bookbinder's ascent from paper pusher to a true leader of men. Cole's star is definitely on the rise, and Fortress Frontier is a big part of that.

4. Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Its a testament to just how good some of the books in this list are, that the titan of urban fantasy comes in fourth with his latest Harry Dresden novel. Butcher is the master of keeping what could easily become a bloated series tight and action packed. Cold Days is a great example of everything that Butcher does well, high stakes, impossible odds, razor sharp banter, and beloved characters that are contantly grow and change. This novel is a bit of a paradigm shift for Harry but Butcher does an excellent job of keeping his protagonist the same smart mouthed, hard charging, knight errant we know and love.

3. The  Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

The newest book in the list, scheduled for release next month, The Blue Blazes is a departure for me falling solidly into the noir wheelhouse. But Wendig sells his dysfuntional family drama by always keeping the real emotional heft of the story just below the surface of the bombastic violence and ingenious world building. Mookie Pearl and his teenage nemesis Nora are as perfect a pairing of protagonist and antagonists as they come. Couple that with Wendig's sparse and brutal prose and you're left with a story that will resonate beyond the close of the final page.

2. The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

Peter V. Brett's star has been on a rising arc for years. While I love his books, I never quite thought he was one of the heirs apparent in the genre. With The Daylight War, he's put all of my doubts to rest. This third volume in his Demon Cycle has all of the trademarks of his earlier work, great action sequences, powerful magics, compelling and realistic characterization, and a penchant for turning tropes on their ear. But in addition, Brett levels up not only the power level of his characters but the intricacies of their story arcs. All of Brett's cast have an unprecidented level of agency, and the result is a story that thunders along to a conclusion that readers will be talking about until the next installment, The Skull Throne.

1. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

As I've said earlier, The Troupe is a novel that should be pushed on every lover of books. Bennett's intricate plot contains elements of suspense, fantasy, historical fiction, and family drama all woven together to create a rich tapestry of a novel that almost defies description. Bennett's command of character and dialogue is pitch perfect. The cast of The Troupe are all memorable with their own role to play in Bennett's rumination on art and how it effects and is effected by both the performer and the audience. There is less bombast in The Troupe than in most genre fiction, but there is a level of quiet undestated magic to the story that will resonate with readers for far longer than epic battles or inventive magic systems. Robert Jackson Bennett has graduated to the list of authors that I must buy immediately.  

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