Recommended Reads is a monthly feature in which the Skiffy and Fanty crew tell you about one thing they recently read that they think you might like too. This month, we’re sharing our favorite reads for the year in order to convince you to buy a million books during the winter holidays.
Here are their picks:
I gave myself a three book limit for this ultra edition of RecReads, and that means I’m going to have to apologize to all the folks whose books I really loved, but can’t include here because there isn’t enough space. I’m sorry! But if anyone wants to know who those folks are, you can find most of them on the Interviews tab above.
So, without further adieu, here’s my list:
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland Books: 2013)
It was easily one of my most anticipated books for 2013. And it sure didn’t disappoint. Featuring a “time traveling” serial killer, multiple narrative strains, and a whole lot of Beukesian weirdness, The Shining Girls is easily one of the best SF/F books of the year. One of the amusing parts of reading this book is attempting to put all the clues together — Beukes does such a fantastic job littering the text with symbols and objects which connect previous and future narratives to one another. Jen and I fell in love with Beukes work some time ago with Zoo City, which I have since taught in a literature course. So if that’s not a screaming endorsement, I don’t know what is.
We interviewed Lauren earlier this year, too.
Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Ace: 2013)
If you haven’t read Control Point yet, then you need to do so right now. Then listen to our interview with Myke for that book here. Then read Fortress Frontier and listen to our other interview. And then listen to all these episodes in which Myke has been a part. And then pre-order Breach Zone. And then write Myke Cole an email telling him we sent you and you loved the book so much that you just had to buy 50,000 copies.
I’ve been a fan of Myke’s work since Jen and I read Control Point a long while ago. And the second we interviewed him about the book, we both knew we’d love reading everything he decided to put out for years to come. Fortress Frontier was also a much stronger novel than its predecessor, introducing audiences to one Colonel Alan Bookbinder, who suffers a similar fate as Oscar Britton (from the first book) and must learn how to control his new-found powers and lead a secret military unit to victory. It gave us someone new to cheer for, and, for many of us, someone new to connect with. There’s also something to be said about the military setting of Myke’s work: they’re certainly military, but there’s a careful handling of the jargon and military feel so those of us who aren’t embedded in that world can still find our way in. If you like superpowers set in a realistic world like our own, then Myke’s work is definitely for you.
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee (Prime Books: 2013)
This is easily one of the best SF/F collections of the year. Lee’s stories are deliciously strange and beautiful at the same time. And there’s a unique flavor to each one, with kite ships, grand myths, and much more. There’s nothing quite like reading a Yoon Ha Lee story. And because I don’t want to ruin any individual story for you, I’m not going to describe them. Basically, you need to buy this book…now.
You can check out our interview with her here.
All is Fair by Emma Newman (Angry Robot Books, 2013)
The end of the first Split Worlds Trilogy brings together the disparate plotlines seeded in the prior two novels. Catherine struggles to use her new role to change Nether society for the better. Her husband William endeavors to understand just what kind of young woman he has married, and also grow into the position he has managed to capture for the Iris family. Max and his gargoyle are caught between a possibly insane employer and a dangerous wizard killing everyone in his path. And Sam, having accepted a deal from Lord Iron, finally starts to realize just what his bargain entails. The various forces of Exilium and Nether society, from mad Fey Lords, powerful Patroons and ambitious scions of noble families, and a mysterious Agency scheme to keep their privileges and perquisites in opposition. This is urban fantasy with a faerie touch, with no sign of heroines with ‘tramp stamps’.
Don’t start here. Start with Between Two Thorns, and discover the wonders of her tripartite world and the characters that inhabit it.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2013)
I’ve already written a review of Ancillary Justice for Skiffy and Fanty. As the year winds to a close, it still holds first place as my favorite novel published in 2013. From interesting worldbuilding on the Logic of Empire, to explorations of gender through language, multiple person artificial intelligences, wonderful description, and an organic, lived in setting, Ancillary Justice is not just amazingly good for a debut novelist — its good period. Anyone with the vaguest interest in SF and space opera should give Ancillary Justice a try.
The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez has had a troubled and long path to publication. The wait, however, was more than worth it. With a mystery of physical laws being violated at a Mars base in one timeline, and a Spelljammer like solar system in another, The Daedalus Incident is the very definition of genre bending and genre crossing. 18th Century style naval combat in space is the real selling point of this novel, and the Spelljammer like solar system setting is the real fascinating and the real draw of this novel. This is the novel someone might write after watching Treasure Planet and wanting to do it *right*.
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill (William Morrow: 2007)
This one has been on my ToBeRead list for a very long time — since 2007, to be exact. Retired rock star, Judas Coyne, buys a vengeful ghost online. When it arrives in the form of a suit packed in a heart-shaped box, he discovers that not only is the ghost of the old man real, but it is also really, really not a fan. Things go from spooky to dangerous as one by on people begin to die around Judas. Soon he must learn how to fight off the vengeful ghost while solving the mystery of his former groupie’s past. He does all this with the help of his current groupie (who eventually becomes an actual love interest during the course of the book) and his two dogs.
It’s well worth studying in that Hill redeems a complicated, unlikeable main character. This says a lot since I was uncomfortable with the groupies not really having names for a large part of the story. (Coyne refers to them by the state where they originated for most of the novel.) If you like horror, and are a Stephen King fan, you’ve probably already read it.
In the early 90s, Kathe Koja’s first three novels appeared. The Cipher, Bad Brains and Skin announced her as one of the freshest, most stylish, most ferocious voices in horror for many a year. Those first three books are finally back in print, and I heartily recommend them all. Though they stand alone, they are linked by some shared themes, most notably the doomed, obsessive artist, dangerous to self and others. A culmination of this idea was reached in Skin, which features two such figures: Bibi is a dancer,while Tess welds metal into her disturbing creations. They meet, click, and become the Surgeons of the Demolition, a performance art team that has elements of the body-manipulation extremes of the modern primitives movement and the “machines and carcasses destroying each other” shows of Survival Research Labs. Tess and Bibi’s artistic and personal relationship pushes them further and further, and as in Koja’s other books, great art comes at a terrible cost. The book is devastating, vital, and its prose will slice you to ribbons.
Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes (DC, 2012)
In September 2011, DC decided to reboot their entire universe’s continuity. Again. Mostly.
They brought on Gail Simone, superhero comics’ most prominent women writer (there are more prominent women writers now, which makes me very happy, but Gail has been and remains the highest-profile) to helm the relaunched Batgirl. For years, Barbara Gordon had been in the awesome role of Oracle, a prominent disabled superheroine who ran the supergroup The Birds of Prey. In New 52, Gordon keeps much of her earlier continuity, but we join her as she’s back in the Bat-suit after rehabilitation. I was conflicted about Babs becoming Batgirl again, since her stint as Oracle provided an inspiring example of a superhero with a disability, as well as a role model of a crime-fighter who focused on Family of Choice, sorority (in the classic sense, not the Greek System sense), and triumph via intelligence.
Simone brings an infectious joy to Gordon’s interior monologue as she dives back into field-based superheroing, and I was glad to see that Babs’ history and trauma is not wiped away and forgotten. Instead, the trauma stays with her, providing challenges but also inspiration. Overall, Batgirl has been one of my favorite titles in the New 52 (fyi, my other favorite is Batwoman).
So if you’re looking to dip your feet in the superhero oceans, Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection is one good option, especially if you’re interested in women’s voices and women’s stories in a genre where stories are disproportionately told from men’s voices and about men.
Cracked by Eliza Crewe (Strange Chemistry, 2013)
Cracked is not your average YA paranormal. For one, the main character, Meda, eats people. She only eats bad people, she swears. even though sometimes she gets *really* hungry. Meda has a blade-sharp voice, and is a fascinating character to spend time with, especially if you’ve enjoyed following the tales of Katniss Everdeen or Tris Prior.
Meda falls in with a group of Crusaders, who are like her, and who take her as one of their own (p.s.: she’s not. But they don’t know that). There’s demon-fighting, deception, friendship, and the primary romance in the story is not between the main character and the dreamy boy, but between the main character’s sarcastic and cynical best friend and the Crusader warrior boy.
A cool pick for anyone interested in an edgy YA read that combines action with compelling characterization.