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My Top 5 Books from 2013

Recently I recorded another episode of the geek culture and comics podcast I co-host, Comic Book Outsiders. We looked back at 2013 and talked about our favourite films, TV shows and other geek moments. I didn’t get around to talking about comics or books. So this is a list of my favourite 5 books I’ve read this year. Some weren’t published this year and they are not in order of preference.

The Public of Thieves by Scott  LynchThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – This was probably my most anticipated book of 2013. It’s been a long time coming and when it was published I dedicated a good chunk of time to reading it before I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. This is because Scott Lynch was attending the convention and even with the best intentions, someone usually manages to spoil a couple of things, so I made sure I was up to date. I also re-read the first two books as it had been a while since I’d read them and my previous impression was, the first book was excellent, the second not as good. This time around I thought the second book was actually really good. It had to be different from the first book for lots of reasons and there again The Republic of Thieves was different again, but very enjoyable for many reasons which I won’t spoil. Meeting Scott at a coffee get together thing he did at a local coffee shop, along with thirty other people, as well as hearing him speak on a panel, was also a highlight of the event. The book showed he had not lost his touch and even better is the news recently announced, that the 4th book in the series will be out next year. Two new books in two years. Fantastic. This novel gives us more detail about the main characters, the adventure is full of delicious duplicity, dodgy deals and as ever nothing goes according to plan. Apart from that I won’t say anymore but it’s a cracking good read and I highly recommend it.

The Big Reap Chris F. HolmThe Big Reap by Chris F. Holm – I’m very picky and fussy about my urban fantasy and supernatural noir, and unfortunately I just don’t enjoy most of it. It’s totally a personal thing. So I always approach a new author with a lot of trepidation. The Collector series by Holm, is probably best described as supernatural noir, as it’s set in our world, and there are demons and angels creeping around, but most people have no idea what’s going on. This is the third and final book in the Collector series (for now at least) and it was probably my favourite, although that’s splitting hairs as the series is excellent overall. The prose is incredibly tight, and sharp enough to cut you like a razor, it’s trimmed down to the bone with no fat or unnecessary exposition, and yet I never felt as if it was just three hundred plus pages of conversation which is what can sometimes happen. Dark, moody and rich, the series is tense, exciting, creepy and it always leaves me guessing. Plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming. There was an ending to this series, and if Holm and Angry Robot never do any more Collector books then I would be satisfied, but the door is open for more and I hope he’s able to revisit the series in the future. Other points of reference that I would pair it with, to give you an idea of what to expect, would be the Felix Castor novels by Mike Carey, as this is definitely a close kissing cousin, and the novels of Justin Gustainis, which both veer on the darker side.

Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell – This is the second book Exit Kingdom Alden Bellby Bell in his post apocalyptic world where zombies destroyed the earth many years ago. I should preface this by saying I’m not really a fan of horror, or zombie books in general. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like zombie films at all and am not a fan of horror films either. So, when I first read The Reapers Are The Angels, I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it, except that it was the story of a girl named Temple. The book is amazing. It was my favourite book of the year when it came out and when I heard Bell was doing another I was very nervous. Then I found out it was a prequel, so I unclenched and bought a copy to savour during my summer holiday. The story follows the earlier life of Moses Todd, a character from Reapers and once again Bell has captured something wonderful in the pages. Moses is such a big character, a big man, and the story has a real southern gothic feel to it. The language used has a real poetry to it and the characters have a particular way of speaking that fits within that world, but would sound unusual in the modern world. This is an excellent prequel but you should definitely read Reapers first and then this second. I sort of hope Bell does more stories set within this world but I guess we’ll wait and see.

The Wise Man's FearThe Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – I re-read The Name of the Wind before starting this, as it had been a couple of years and I’d forgotten some of the smaller details. A friend has recently started reading The Name of the Wind for the first time and she described it as a delicious meal, something you want to savour. The prose is almost poetic, it flows incredibly well, has fantastic rhythm and pace, and the story is very intriguing, full of mystery, suspense, magic and unexpected twists and turns. It’s not a spoiler to say the story follows the main character telling a scribe about his life and adventures, and he’s narrating the tale and during the first book I had suspicions that he wasn’t a reliable narrator. People exaggerate, they lie, they conceal details they don’t want to share, and I think we’re getting a version of the truth. The main character is a figure of myth, he’s a folk tale most people don’t even believe was ever real, but we see him in the present, and then in the past as he retells his adventures. It’s an interesting storytelling device, one I’ve not read before in a long running fantasy series. The second book builds very well on the first, Kvothe the main character goes into some very unexpected areas and we experience some of the stories that created the legend others talk about. Rothfuss is spinning a lot of plates in the story, but he’s also playing with the idea of story, expectation, myths and legends and how they are built, and I think how a story is told, hence lies mixed in with the truth. It’s an adventure story about a boy with red hair who grows up to be remarkable renaissance man and how he impacts the world around him. A wonderful read and I’m looking forward to the third and final book when it arrives.

Cold Days Jim ButcherCold Days by Jim Butcher – This book came out in late 2012 but I read it this year after holding on to the book for 3 months. That was all I could manage. I tried really hard not to blot out all other activities, work, food, sleep, and blast through a book in one sitting from the moment I received it as a present. Even though I would have enjoyed doing it. Because I knew the next book would not be publishing for at least a couple of years. So, Harry Dresden, we meet again. I won’t spoil the series and what’s happened up to now, but I will say that this is a series that never stands still. The Dresden Files is a long running series of standalone chronological stories that build on one another, all focused around the same central character. For me, it’s urban fantasy done the right way. The characters feel so incredibly real, despite the weird and magic, and after 13 books and several short stories, I feel as if I have a fairly good grip on who they are. However, I’ve no clue about the wizard behind the curtain, because he continually surprises me and the story is full of twists and turns. Time has moved on, Harry has changed, the world has changed and he can either start running and try to keep up or fall behind and curl up into a ball. If you know anything about Harry, you know he’s a fighter who never quits. Even when the odds are hideously stacked against him as they have been many times in the past. I’m dancing around the subject very carefully, but suffice to say, something goes wrong and Harry must once more fight to protect his city and the people that he loves. Overall I loved this story and it was another excellent addition to the series. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite series, maybe ever, so I can’t wait to see what Butcher does next and where the story goes.

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Recharged

I’m back from my holiday, feeling refreshed and recharged and ready to face the second half of the year. I saved up some favourite books I’d been holding onto for months, and a couple of new ones, and then spent most of the week lying by a pool, drinking cold beer and reading in the Portuguese sunshine. I’m not the fastest reader but still managed to get through four and a half in a week, which is pretty good for me. There is an earlier post about which books I took with me and below are my initial thoughts.

This was my second time reading The Name of the Wind, and actually, it was more satisfying this time. It must be two years since I first read it, and although I had an idea of the overall arc of the story, I had forgotten so much. So many details, so many little clues and nuances, and now, with the whole story fresh in my mind I am ready to dive into The Wise Man’s Fear. It’s a monster of a book, plus I have the weighty hardback, but apart from it being a tax on my wrists, I can’t wait to start it.

Small side note. It was recently announced that The Kingkiller Chronicle has been optioned for a TV series. In the wake of the enormous, galactic success, of Game of Thrones, it was inevitable that TV execs and others would be looking for another fantasy series they could adapt. I’m really not sure about this. It’s far too early to be worried, it may never actually happen and could get stuck in development hell, but my initial gut reaction was not one of celebration. Now, I love Game of Thrones, and I read the books before the TV series, and am also a fan of the TV series. The Kingkiller Chronicle is not even remotely like Game of Thrones, it’s so very different, maybe more so than some people might realise. It’s definitely a wait and see. I could be proven totally wrong and the TV show might be amazing, so for now I’ll say no more and just stay quiet.

The Eighth Court was the final book in The Courts of the Feyre series by Mike Shevdon and although I really enjoyed it, so much so that I read the whole thing in one day, I was left feeling a little sad because there will no more tales of Blackbird and Dogstar. I feel that Shevdon has barely scratched the surface with some of the characters and the world he has created but it’s not my book or my world, or my story for that matter. I’d love to see more stories set in this world and I guess only time well tell if Shevdon comes back to it. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve very picky about my urban fantasy, and this is a brilliant series that I highly recommend. So if you’ve never read them, savour the books and don’t race through them, as four is all you are getting.

I gobbled up Exit Kingdom in a day as well. This is the second book by Alden Bell, set in the same world he created with The Reapers are the Angels. It’s a prequel, of sorts, but it also references a few events in Reapers, but without spoiling anything. So in theory you could read this first and then Reapers and it would not spoil the story. The dialogue is glorious and overly dramatic at times, but it is also very in keeping with the world Bell has created and I found myself loving the rhythms and sound of it. The story is dark, twisted, unpredictable and bleak at times and once again it is a story not about zombies, but about humanity. In my opinion, this and Reapers are far superior to some of the other zombie material out there at the moment that is flooding the comic book world, our TV screens and even the cinemas. A fantastic read and I am keen to read more by Bell, whether set in this world, or something completely new.

Ack-Ack Macaque is just a giant bag of fun, wrapped up in a monkey shaped blanket. Ok, I admit that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but suffice to say there are a lot of ideas thrown onto the page and they all gel and come together nicely in the end. Powell has a lot of fun with the story and dialogue in particular and it really translates into making it an enjoyable experience for the reader. I know that this is only the beginning as there is still a lot to explore in this strange new world Powell has created with its own alternate history. Hive Monkey, the second book featuring AAM is due out next year and after reading this I am really looking forward to seeing where he goes next.

Can’t really comment on the fifth book, Ice Forged, as I’m still reading it, but so far it’s a down and dirty fantasy series with several likeable characters and some rather hideous villains.

Next up will be The Wise Man’s Fear, and then Rebellion, the second Blood and Feathers book by Lou Morgan.

So what have you been reading over the summer? Can you recommend any new urban fantasy series I might not have heard about before?

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Holiday Reads

It’s almost time for my summer holiday so I thought I’d do a quick post on what I’m going to be reading while relaxing by the pool. I’m not a fast reader at all, but when on holiday with few distractions, I can get through about four or five books in a week. So I often save up special books and also add books from authors who are new to me into the mix. I’m also taking a few trade paperbacks I’ve been saving up from my to read pile.

The Eigth Court Mike ShevdonThe Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon from Angry Robot Books.
I have very particular tastes when it comes to urban fantasy, and just can’t get on with some series, so finding something that I really like is tricky. Shevdon’s books are one of my favourites and this is the fourth and final book in the series which is set in modern day in the UK. There are some scenes in London, but it is not London-centric, and throughout the course of the series we get to explore all sorts of places and buildings with historic resonance. I’m being very vague on purpose to avoid spoilers because he mixes real world history with the fantastical. We follow an everyman into this bizarre world hidden in plain sight and delve into the world of the feyre and a secret history of the world.

Exit Kingdom Alden BellExit Kingdom by Alden Bell from Panmacmillan. This is the second book by Alden Bell set in a post apocalyptic world where zombies have overrun the world. The first book, The Reapers are the Angels, is one of my favourite books, probably ever. I’ve also read it twice already and it only came out maybe two years ago. Yeah, it’s that good. I came to his first book completely cold, I knew nothing about it, and absolutely loved it. In a review I compared it to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, but with zombies instead of vampires, so it’s really about the people, the situation and coping, it’s about isolation and humanity and not so much about running away from shambling ghouls. It’s also set many years after the fall, so it is not a world where everything has just fallen apart. The first book focused on a young girl called Temple and along the way she came into contact with an interesting character called Moses Todd. This book is set before the events of Reapers and this time Moses is the main character, along with his brother. I’ve been holding on to my copy of this since March when it came out and saving it. I’m really looking forward to it.

Ice Forged Gail Z MartinIce Forged by Gail Z. Martin from Orbit books. Martin is an author I’ve been aware of for a while, but I’ve not managed to find time to read something by her until now. The blurb for this book sounded exactly like my kind of thing, and it is a nice dash of fantasy, which is different enough from the other two books on my list so far. So I’ve avoided reading any reviews or interviews about this and am going to come to it, and her writing, completely cold and see what happens.

This is also the first book in a new series by Martin, so if I enjoy her work I can back and pick up some of her other novels in the interim until the next book in this series comes out! Discovering a debut author is always brilliant, but coming to a more well established one that I’ve just missed out on until now for whatever reason is a real treat as there is a lot more to read with no waiting.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell from Solaris BooksAck-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell from Solaris Books.
The first time I heard anything about this book was at Eastercon this year where Gareth was doing a reading. The reading was funny, crazy, full of action and very exciting. After investigating a little further and reading the blurb on the back I immediately picked up a copy at the convention. What’s not to love? A one-eyed cigar smoking monkey who was a Spitfire pilot in WW II. I’m sold on that sentence alone. From what I’ve read in reviews and from overhearing other people talking it, I think the book is going to be jam packed full of action and humour, making it another very different book to the others I am taking with me.

The Name of the Wind Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss from Gollancz.
It’s easy to assume everyone knows what this book is about and who Rothfuss is, but I’m also aware other people will be horrified that I’d never read a book by Gail Z. Martin until now as she is not a new author. The fact is there are a lot of authors out there, the fantasy market is more crowded than twenty years ago, and all of us only have so much time and varying levels of awareness via our various media channels. I’m very aware of who Brandon Sanderson is, and I have one of his books on my pile to read, but so far haven’t got around to it. Once again it comes down to too many books and not enough time.

So, The Name of the Wind is the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, an epic fantasy tale by Rothfuss who I would describe as a storyteller. By that I mean he creates a wonderfully dynamic and rich world without bogging the reader down in pages and pages of detail. His story in some ways feels like an urban folk tale, about someone who actually lived, or it’s a parable that has been told down through the generations. It’s also very hard to describe the book as it doesn’t fit into any pigeon hole and is hard to put it alongside other books for comparison. It tells the story of Kvothe, a figure of legend almost, a man feared and loathed by some and respected and loved by others. The story begins with him as a grown man telling a scribe his version of events, starting with his childhood and gradually bringing him up to the present. But there are also chapters set in the present so it’s not just a look back at another time. Kvothe is also a renaissance man, and again you can’t say he’s a wizard, or warrior, or mage etc, he’s just a man who has adventures, gets caught up in weird and wonderful events, gets in to lots of trouble, goes through some terrible and awful moments, but also makes some amazing discoveries full of wonder and maybe even a touch of magic. There is a lot to tell, there’s no doubt, as Kvothe has lived a very interesting life and this first book is pretty weighty, and is one of at least three. The second book is even bigger I think but again, this is not because Rothfuss spends ten pages describing the smoke coming out of the chimney.

This book has sold a lot of copies, I mean hundreds of thousands, maybe even a few million. It’s incredibly popular and rightly so in my opinion. It’s one of those lightning rod books in the genre like Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora or The Painted Man by PV Brett, or The Blade Itself by Abercrombie. It’s an incredibly unique book, something that is not perfect, and there are some bits I didn’t like, but overall it marks Rothfuss as an incredibly talented writer and someone who is forging ahead and doing his own thing, which others will then seek to imitate.

This is the second time I’ve read Name of the Wind, because it was quite a while since I read it, and now I have a copy of the second volume staring at me. I’ve also forgotten quite a bit from the first time around so I want to sink back into this rich world, rediscover the nuances of the character and get myself up to speed in readiness for reading book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear.

Comics
Reading comics is a very different experience for me compared to novels. It takes me a bit of time to sink back into a book, but with a comic I can read for five or ten minutes, read an issue and I’m in the story almost straight away and can be completely satisfied. So I always take a few trades to read for those smaller gaps of time when I want to read something.

Danger Club Image ComicsDanger Club by Landry Walker and Eric Jones from Image comics.
I read the first issue of this when it came out a while ago, thought the premise was very interesting, thought the artwork was amazing and the colours very vibrant. Briefly put, all of the worlds superheroes go off into space to fight a very serious threat and then they never come back. So, suddenly all that’s left are lots of sidekicks and kids with powers. So it’s a bit Lord of the Flies, and it focuses very much on the next generation of heroes and villains. What do you do when your mentor is taken away from you? Are the junior heroes ready to cope? And if not, what will they do? What effect will the responsibility have on them? Likewise for the junior villains. Are they really capable of carrying out some terrible acts?

Manhattan Projects Vol 2. Image ComicsManhattan Projects Vol. 2 by Jonathan Hickman from Image comics.
Simply put, what if the Manhattan Project that we know about was simply one of many strange, weird and wonderful scientific projects that were being worked on by the best minds at that time in history. This twisted science fact meets science fiction book focuses on a group of very weird almost mirror universe versions of well known historic scientists getting up to all sorts of stuff. It involves portals to other worlds, alien invasions and lots of other weird science. Hickman writes for Marvel comics and is known for writing very big stories, and by that I mean long term, big sky, complex but not convoluted stories which are structured into chapters almost like a novel, with rewarding endings. He did a great run on Fantastic Four that was planned out years in advance and now he is doing the same on Avengers. This comic is a breeding ground for all sorts of ideas he probably can’t fit in other places and for some stuff that is too weird to go into a mainstream comic.

Peter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 Image comicsPeter Panzerfaust Vol. 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe from Image comics.
Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys, in World War II. That’s pretty much it. I read the first issue a long time ago, then lost touch with the series for some reason, but now I’m trying to catch up in trade. It begins with an almost Band of Brothers storytelling device, where an old man is talking about his experiences during the war, and it then flashes back to him as a young boy meeting a heroic and dashing and strange young man named Peter. The scope is vast, the twist on characters is only limited by imagination and this series has been picked up by the BBC to be adapted first into a digital motion comic (for some reason) and then later a live action TV series. I can see the latter working very well, not sure what the point of the former is, given that motion comics are the new dodo, and the real evolution in digital comics is coming from Thrillbent.com. Check out the website for free digital only comics where they are pushing the boundary of digital. Anyway, this series looks like a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the first issue.

Fatale Volume 2. Image comicsA possibly sneaky fourth trade, if I get time, is Fatale Vol. 2 by Brubaker and Phillips.
It’s crime meets Lovecraftian horror. Meta fiction within fiction, weird people who don’t appear to be quite human, strange cults, immortals, demons, random chaos that actually points towards something else. Lots of ideas thrown onto the page and you have to hold on to your seat and just enjoy the ride.

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Rereading

When I was very young there didn’t seem to be many novels being published in the genres I was most interested in; science fiction and fantasy. I read all of the classics and new books that I could find and then sat on my hands and waited months for another book to arrive by one of my favourites author (at that time) because obviously there was nothing else to read out there! At some point, instead of staring at the wall and trying to make time go faster with the power of my mind, I eventually went elsewhere, read the entire myths and legends section of the school library and then read books from outside the SFF genre.A Wizard of Earthsea 

Nowadays, I could set myself a challenge to read one new science fiction or fantasy book every week of the year and I would never run out. In fact I could probably do that for several years, possibly forever. There are only a couple of problems with that challenge. Firstly I couldn’t read a book in a week (I’m not that fast at reading) and secondly it would bankrupt me. But apart from that, you get my point.

There are just so many new and amazing SFF books being published these days it makes it difficult for me to keep up. It can also create a bit of a blind spot as sometimes a friend will mention a particular novel or author, and I just haven’t heard of them, despite reading news about the genre. I’m peripherally aware of some authors, and I vaguely know what sort of fantasy and SF books they write, but beyond the taglines or bullet points, I know nothing else about them. There are some I have completely no clue about even though I hear their name being thrown about. Patrick Rothfuss had been published for a year before I paid any attention and I think it was another 2 or 3 years after that before I read The Name of the Wind.

All of this in turn led me to think about rereading and how often I have actually reread a book or had the inclination to do so. With so many amazing new stories coming out, why go back and read something again for a second or even a third time? When you know what is going to happen, why read it?

Having thought on this a bit more, I’ve come up with a shortlist of two books that I have read in the last 5 years that I really want to read again. Before I mention them, I should say there are some long running series that I really enjoy and I do intend to re-read them again, but that’s a much bigger hill to climb than the odd book here and there.

Anyway, the first I am going to re-read was my favourite book which was published in 2010 – The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. It’s a post apocalytic story about a teenage girl called Temple who was born into the world after the disaster and it follows her on a journey across America. Straight away there are a couple of things that really interest me. First, the main character is not someone lookingThe Reapers are the Angels back on the good old days, trying to get back to her old life, and second, this is by an author I’d never heard of before reading Reapers. So I came to this project fairly blind and was utterly blown away. It’s an amazing and remarkable story about loss, love, bravery, family, friendship and a thousand other things. I should also point out that this is a post apocalyptic novel with zombies, but it’s really about Temple and not the undead. They feature in the story, but this is Temple’s story and even though it is set in a horror framework, I wouldn’t classify it as horror in the traditional sense. I’m also not really a horror fan, books or films, so this was a remarkably anomoly. The prose is deceptively simple, bleak and so easy to read and I found myself quickly being drawn into the world. Fans of the Walking Dead show should definitely check it out. Also it’s a fairly slender novel in comparison to some of a similar ilk (The Passage) and in my opinion, far far superior.

The other book I am going to reread could not be more different to Reapers. It is a fairly meaty read that has beautiful prose and yet it is also something that is easy to read. Some fantasy novels are huge doorsteps and that can be intimidating to a new reader, it raises concerns about padding, that it is going to take them months to read, or that it features dozens of point of view which means nothing will be resolved in the first book. Thankfully The Name of the Wind doesn’t suffer from any of those issues. I came to it late but thenThe Name of the Wind found it was a book that I didn’t want to put down.

I’m also not someone who is particularly drawn to well crafted prose. For me, it’s about the ideas, the story and the characters. Simple and straight forward prose is fine and is actually what I prefer. Too much florid prose can choke a story, can feel like padding and make it difficult to connect and relate to the characters because by the time you get to the end of the sentence you’ve forgotten what was happening at the beginning. The Name of the Wind is jam-packed with lots of amazing ideas, it’s very well written and now that I have a copy of the sequel I want to read the first one again. The stylish prose by Rothfuss enriched my reading experience and didn’t create a barrier.

So, being completely honest, what books are you actually going to reread in the next year or two? What is so special about those books that warrants them getting a reread instead of something new?

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