Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Year in Reading, 2012 Edition

For the past couple of years, I've posted my end of year reading summary. It's not necessarily books published only in 2012, it's simply what I've read in 2012. It's not even the best of what I've read in 2012. It's simply a reading retrospective with a few words about each. Since I've read about 75 books or more this year, this list will be a bit more summary than in previous years. (Which will probably be a good thing because in 2011 I don't believe I finished my retrospective — oh my!)

The most awesome book series I read in 2012: Grave Witch by Kaylana Price (Series title: Alex Craft, Grave Witch, Grave Dance, Grave Memory). These are great, fascinating, urban fantasy novels featuring a witch PI in a world that's not really comfortable with the overt magic it's soaked in. The fae are omnipresent, but humans would rather believe the glamour they see than reconcile the creature beneath — ditto for the witch-made charms. Top that off with the personal struggles of Alex Craft — she's estranged from her family, barely making rent, and the only thing she's good at monetizing is her Grave Sight, an ability that leaves her night blind and sometimes worse. Oh, and there's a love triangle that gets more and more and more tangled as the series continues. The closer Alex Craft gets to accepting a relationship, the more alone she finds herself.

I actually read these books before I read Kim Harrison's The Hollows/Rachel Morgan series (more on that later) but once I had, I found Grave Witch extremely similar yet much more mature in world and premise. The Grave Witch world and character development leaps into the arena that the world of the Hollows only achieves in books six and on.

Favorite YA series of the year: I was surprised to fall in love with the YA sci-fi Cold Awakening Trilogy by Robin Wasserman this year. In this not-too-far-future dystopia, a rich, spoiled, self-centered teen ends up in a near-fatal accident that leaves her “skinned” — her brain is sliced, scanned, and uploaded into a synthetic body. I have a problem with whiny teenage characters (even if the whining is realistic) but the fascinating science and technology milieu pulled me through Frozen, and once we got into the larger social and political issues of Shattered and Torn, I found myself staying up way past my bedtime to gobble up this series.

Series that made me gain over 5 lbs. in a month: I read Janet Evanovich's One for the Money because the movie looked cute. Truth. I loved this book and snapped up Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score ... all the way through Fearless Fourteen before I stopped because I realized they were all awesome, but they were all the same. I have no doubt I'll go back and visit the Berg and the Plum family, Morelli, Ranger, and Stephanie Plum's inexplicable ability to destroy cars and read through the latest Notorious Nineteen. But I had to stop reading and take a break. Take a breath. Stop my constant reading about doughnuts, fried chicken, and pot roast — a devastating trio to have on the brain in the middle of winter.

Although the endless pot roast discussion did lead me to find a great, easy, pot roast recipe for crock pot: trim roast, place in a crock pot that's been lightly coated in PAM (for clean up), and then for every 2.5 lbs. of roast add one can cream of mushroom soup and a half-packet of powdered onion soup. Cook on low for eight hours. Don't add water! The roast will create its own gravy from this concoction. And it comes out super tender. The pot roast wasn't as debilitating a factor in my Evanovich inspired weight gain, it was more the doughnuts and fried chicken cravings that did me in.

So later, when I came across The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama by Susan Abel Sullivan, I immediately recognized the protagonist Cleo Tidwell as a Southern, thrice-married Stephanie Plum. The humor's spot on, the crazy-but-lovable family is there, the zany problems that emerge in the course of solving the mystery and staying alive in the process — all the things that made Janet Evanovich's novels something which I felt like I read without breathing, were there in deep fried package from Susan Abel Sullivan. I highly recommend The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama to anyone who's read and enjoyed One for the Money and the other Stephanie Plum mysteries.

The series with the devastating emotional roller coaster: JC Andrijeski's Allie's War, Book Four Shadow. I've posted before about this series. Everything I know about fiction tells me this series shouldn't work, yet oh-baby does it work. I read the first three in a madcap dash then waited for book four — a whopping 200,000+ words in length — and kept biding my time to start it because these books are an emotional roller coaster. I have a copy of book five, Knight, but every time I go to start it, I take a deep breath and ask myself are you ready for this? So far, I've not been prepared. Part near-future dystopia with some aspects of a tech thriller, part paranormal romance. These books are — and this doesn't often get said about PNR — epic.

Holy hell, how did I manage to ignore this series this long? Actually, I know how. Book one of Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan/The Hollows Novels, features cover art of a half-naked red head with handcuffs dangling off the belt loop of her hip hugging leather pants. Excuse me? You want me to believe your urban fantasy is a strong ass kicking chick when she's depicted wearing a bandeau bikini top on the streets of Cincinnati? Yep. That's the idea. Except the funny part about this depiction (and my subsequent reaction to it) is that Kim Harrison actually writes the character Rachel Morgan as dressing in precisely this fashion ... and then having people try to proposition her because they think she's a hooker. Oops! In later books in the series, Rachel's vampire friends and roommate try repeatedly to class her up. Her taste level is constantly in question and Rachel's not thrilled to hear it. So I zipped on through this great nine book series (book ten out this spring) starting with Dead Witch Walking of the bikini top infamy, then up through The Outlaw Demon Wails before I took a break from the series for a bit. Even then I caught myself saying "crap on toast" anytime something went wrong in my life.

After (not a spoiler) one of the main characters dies, Rachel loses a sense of focus, and I lost a bit of my interest. But after reading a half-dozen other novels by other writers, I started to wonder what happened next. So I happily turned back to the series and cruised on through to Pale Demon. These more recent titles bring Trent back more interestingly into the picture and I actually loved the cross-country road trip which allowed us to see just how different this post-genetic-crisis world is from our own — not something we were really able to see in the previous urban Cincinnati and touristy Mackinac locations. I'm looking forward to Ever After coming out January 22, 2013.

Because fairy tales are pretty. Opal is a YA fantasy by Kristina Wojtaszek that features multiple, nested fairy tales (some of which you'll recognize) within a fantasy world. The prose is lyrical and rich. Fans of Patricia McKillip take note of this new voice in the world of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.

Books I re-read. Elizabeth Vaughn's Warprize is just an absolutely stellar example of romantic fantasy (second-world setting). The rest of the books in the trilogy don't live up to the awesomeness of this first installment. I've not read the further books set in the same world, but might yet one day.

I also re-read the Others Series by Jess Haines as Stalking the Others was coming out during summer 2012 and I could remember that I liked the series but I couldn't remember what all the rules of that particular urban fantasy world were. Hunted by the Others (book one) was just okay. It took me two years before I bothered looking around to see if there was more in the series. Books two and three get more interesting. No longer does the main character think all vampires are Evil and most werewolves are okay but really the only species you can trust are humans — sorry, but that sort of thinking in a book is boring. Anyhoodle, book three ended with a doozy of a cliffhanger: the heroine might have been changed into an otherworldly creature against her will! So I was going to relish the fourth book, damnit, and that meant re-reading, re-skimming the previous three.

Promising beginnings. Silver by Rhiannon Held is an interesting, slightly grittier, werewolf urban fantasy. The two main characters aren't your typical heroine and heroine a la paranormal romance, rather they remind me of The Fifth Element's Corbin Dallas and Leelo. (My full review of the novel can be found on Book two, Tarnished, comes out this spring. I'm hoping this series delivers on its promising beginning.

I used to love the Katie MacAlister series with the dragons. Actual, this is her third series of books featuring the same world/characters just switching narrators. But Sparks Fly completely lost me. Maybe I skipped over the previous book, because I constantly felt like I didn't know what was going on. Maybe it'll all make sense to me if I go back and re-read all ten books...?

Another promising beginning that's petered out, is Thea Harrison's Elder Races novels. Romances set in a modern world with were-creatures that can shift into giant animals like dragons, griffons, and thunderbirds. Dragon Bound, the first in the series, was awesome. Loved it. Read Storm's Heart, the second in the series, and it was okay. Read a novella out of order that I really had no idea why I finished. Sadly, I'm done with this series that had previously shown so much promise.

Matriarchal fantasy world — a bit like Scott O'Dell meets Anne McCaffery. Shards of History by Rebecca Roland is a fresh new fantasy world where the main civilization puts one in mind of southwest Native American cultures. The heroine, Malia, finds out a truth about the hated and feared creatures that live on the fringes of their civilization, one that can save them from the dragon-riding army that's poised on the edge of the valley, waiting to kill, capture, and enslave Malia's people. Of course, if she can't get her people to believe this newly discovered truth, it'll be their destruction. Time is running out before the sky — literally — falls down on them.

A return to Jeaniene Frost. I adored the first two Cat and Bones books. Halfway to the Grave was so good it made me want to hate Jeaniene Frost for her storytelling ability coupled with her writing skills. But as the series wore on, the spin-offs and one-off novels appeared, and the vampires become and and more powerful (an annoying problem that means they have to go to extreme lengths not to have other vampires in a half-mile radius overhear their conversations), I sort of slipped away. Since Cat became a vampire, I let the series go on without me. But then along came Vlad. And more importantly, Leila. I like Leila. And I like that she's not becoming an all-powerful vampire. She doesn't know much about the vampire subculture she's been sucked into, so we get to go on the journey all over again. I'm down with that. Once Burned brought me back to the Night Huntress franchise. I look forward to Twice Tempted coming out in late-March.

Non-fiction. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a fabulous braided narrative of Skloot's research and her research process into the life of Henrietta Lacks — the African American woman from whom HeLa research cells were derived — and her surviving family. Henrietta never knew that she was "donnating" cells, and it would be decades before her family knew that their mother's cells had been instrumental to 20th century health science, having been key to producing a functional polio vaccine among many other advances. Skloot keeps a human interest angle to her book even when she's discussing science and legal precedents. Eminently readable and jargon-lite in spite of its science rich content.

Books I picked up for free and was happy to have found! Delilah S. Dawson's Wicked as They Come is vampire, steampunk romance FTW. The dialog is quick and witty (sometimes too quick as I love a good angsty brood), the heroine is spunky and capable, and the world of Sang is fascinating. An alternate dimension where the reasons for steampunk are simple: there's magic and vampireish Bludmen so you better lace up that stiff collar and cover your neck! Not to mention the hero is equally fascinating as our tour guide through the world. I'm willing to forgive this book its trespasses because reading it was just plain fun. The teaser scene from Blud Book #2 shows us a different first person protagonist in a different city, which saddens me only because Criminy and Tish's storyline did not feel finished. I'm holding out hope for Criminy & Tish the Sequel! I've also picked up the novella in this series, The Mysterious Madam Morpho, which is a cute, brief tale of the traveling caravan show that Criminy runs. Liked it. Will likely pick up Wicked as She Wants this April. Bludbunnies — now there's something I can't get out of my head!

The Scottish historical romance, Claire Delacroix's The Beauty Bride, was a free ebook download (I think it's still free at most major retailers and is the first in Delacroix's series). I admit that I judge books by their covers, especially in the age of free and cheap ebooks, a shoddy cover is often a sign of shoddy writing within — but don't let this cover fool you! Delacroix's writing and historical research are fabulous. I believe this ebook version is a reissue of an earlier title which was published by a major publisher, and since it went out of print the author has brought it back on her own (that's my speculation at least). I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I didn't expect to stay up reading all night only to look at the clock and say, "How the hell did it get to be 5:00 AM?" I'll likely be seeking out the rest of the series in 2013 when the historical mood strikes me.

Books I picked up for free ... and sort of wish I hadn't. Waking Up MarriedHarlequin is promoting this book as the banner carrier of their new KISS line. From all the hype I expected something youthful and fresh, like if the KISS line was a dessert, it would be a crisp and sassy, low-cal dessert. With citrus. Instead I got a Diet Coke. With lime. At the very least I expected it to feel more "youthful" because that's how it's being promoted. But except for the fact that the heroine isn't in a work/family position where she's subservient to the hero (he's her boss, etc.), this felt exactly like the PRESENTS novels I used to read. The heroine has a career. Bravo. But she didn't feel any more like a modern twenty-something than any other Harlequin heroine does (Harlequin's selling point for KISS). And I happen to be something of an expert on modern twenty-somethings: I am one.

Nora Roberts. Yes, Nora Roberts is her own category of reading. Her shelves are my go-to section of the library whenever I'm feeling glum or overwhelmed by life. I know that I can escape into her worlds and that the books are always satisfactory — they'll never rock my world, but I know they'll never disappoint me either. In 2012 she wrapped up her Inn BoonsBoro trilogy with The Last Boyfriend and The Perfect Hope. The cool part about these books? A hefty component of each is running a small business (bookstore, pizzeria  bed-and-breakfast) and decorating/building the inn. So it's a bit like reading a romance and simultaneously leafing through a home fashion magazine. Still not as cool as the Bridal Quartet which was like reading a romance and leafing through a bridal magazine.

Also in the Nora Roberts category this year, I read the Key Trilogy and most of the Dreams Trilogy. The Key books involve three women helping otherworldly creatures free three women who are sort of trapped in a sleeping beauty spell and was among the more memorable of Nora Roberts stuff (although when it comes to her novels with paranormal elements, my favorite is still The Jewels of the Sun trilogy).

The unmemorable odds and ends. I picked up The Wrangler as part of a free promotion. I'd never read a western romance before. It's not likely to become my genre of choice. Marked by Elisabeth Naughton is another title that I only know I read because I wrote it down on my list of finished books. I vaguely recall something about the Greek gods. Another paranormal romance that's selling well that didn't catch my fancy. Ditto for Goblin King  and Kiss of the Goblin Prince by Shona Husk. I will give these goblin books props for choosing a more original  paranormal creature (the goblin) than the majority of casting for paranormal heroes and heroines out there.

There were other books I read in 2012. I've recently started but not finished Clean by Alex Hughes which seems promising. I can't forget to mention all the ghost stories I read in 2012, published and submitted for publication, as I worked on editing the anthology Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales. There are books of poetry such as Jay Nicorvo's Deadbeat and the poem a day I get to open courtesy of NPR's Writer's Almanac, along with numerous short stories from Daily SF and other magazines and anthologies.

What of note have you read in 2012? 

Highly Recommended