Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
As CC2K’s Book Editor, 2010 has been a big year for me. I have been, as of last Christmas, the proud owner of a Kindle, which has enabled me to read a much, much greater number of books. I’ve started receiving a few advance review copies of books, which has given me the opportunity to publish early reviews for the first time, and I did my first author interview. (Thank you again, Carolyn Crane!) With these new, uncharted avenues ahead of me, I find myself feeling reenergized about my work here. (As I should be. Books are awesome!) I see it in a new light now. I’m not just here to pontificate about anti-feminist characters or literary snobbery. (Though, I must admit, discussing the fallacies of Edward Docx’s recent Guardian article was quite fun!) I want to encourage people to read. I don’t really care what they’re reading, so long as they’re reading something. I want to help people find books they’ll love, and when they’re finished, I want to help them find some more.
But my weakness, as a book editor, has always been my own self-indulgence. I read what sounds interesting to me, and I often tend to overlook books that fall outside of my own normal browsing habits. That’s where I need your help. Tell me what I should be reading. Tell me what books you’d like to see reviewed in 2011. Tell me about any authors you’d like to see me reach out to for interviews. (Somehow, I doubt Stephen King and James Patterson are available, but hell, I can try.) If you’ve read something new and wonderful recently, comment! My goal is to make this section appeal to as many different types of readers as possible, but to do that I’ll need your help.
That’s not to say I’m going to stop talking about the authors and books I love. It’s my job to have an opinion! And when I gush about a particular book, it’s because I love it and I want to spread the word. It’s because I want the author to sell more books so he/she can keep writing. And it’s because I hope other people will have the same experience I did while reading that book or author.
With that in mind
Book I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2011 (in January, at least): This is difficult, because there are about a gazillion books that I’m looking forward to–mostly books by authors I’ve already read–and the one I’m most looking forward to changes from day to day. Plus, I have difficulty looking very far ahead, because I’m not very patient. But if I had to pick one book, right now I’d pick Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning, the final book in her Fever series. I rushed through the first four books while I was at home for Christmas. They were exciting, unique, impossible to figure out, and totally addictive. Shadowfever comes out January 18. Honestly, I feel sorry for the people who have been following the series since the first book was released in 2006; I’m going to have trouble waiting three weeks for the ending! I have no idea what five years would have done to me!
Best Literary Discovery: Blogs! And Twitter! Okay, so I’m only about five years behind the times here, but this was, for me, the year of venturing beyond my CC2K comfort zone and discovering other book blogs, both those written by authors and those written by readers/reviewers. In a year where I read so much that I could have easily been burned out, these resources have helped me find new books and authors I would have never discovered. (The Fever series that I just mentioned? I never would have found that had it not been for its extensive mentions recently on other blogs.) And in an age of instant gratification, Twitter enables me to follow my favorite authors and bloggers quickly, easily and instantly. I suspect by this time next year, I will be entering a 12-step program. (Hello, my name is Beth, and I’m a Twitteraholic.)
Biggest Literary Disappointment: Usually, this would be the point where I would name a book that I had been looking forward to that really disappointed me but honestly, I can’t remember reading a book this year that disappointed me so much that I want to call it out. Instead, when I think of what literary developments disappointed me this year, I think of Edward Docx’s pompous article–which I wrote about here recently–praising the merit of literary fiction at the expense of genre. Somehow in my head, this has become linked with all the controversy about James Frey’s parasitic publishing company, Full Fathom Five, and the highly predatory contracts he peddles to debt-ridden MFA students. I think this highlights a divide in the fiction world, between the idea of writing for artistic success and the idea of writing for commercial success. Why are even having this discussion? Shouldn’t people be allowed to read what they enjoy? And shouldn’t authors be compensated fairly for their work?
This year, I’ve realized that I’ve been following the authors themselves more than the books. Between my newfound habit of reading all the books in a series in a short clip (a very expensive habit that my Kindle has enabled in me) and my tendency to cyber-stalk author websites/blogs (but, you know, not in a creepy way), I’ve found myself following several authors very closely in 2010–and the books I like best may not even be their 2010 releases. So in lieu of a top 10 books of 2010, I present:
Note: I’m listing the authors in alphabetical order, because it just makes my life easier. Narrowing the list to 10 was difficult enough. Ranking them would be impossible.
Ilona Andrews. Confession time: the first time I read Magic Bites–the first book in the Kate Daniels series–back in January, I liked it, but not enough to run out and buy the second book right away. Kate was moody, isolationist, and tended to push people away. (The fact that I had a raging case of bronchitis at the time and was pretty much inclined to hate the world probably didn’t help.) But a few months later when I re-read the first book, along with the second and the third, I fell in love. Watching Kate grow and evolve as a character, watching her tumble–sometimes against her better judgment–as she comes to care about and rely on other people more is extremely rewarding. Andrews’ other series, The Edge, is more paranormal romance than urban fantasy, and has a very different vibe than Kate Daniels–and that’s one of the reasons I like it. Andrews is one of the most fun, consistently entertaining writers in urban fantasy today, and I anxiously await next year’s releases of Magic Slays and the third Edge book.
Suzanne Collins. Yeah, I know, I know. You can’t open up an Entertainment Weekly or turn on E! News without seeing something about Suzanne Collins, who will be playing Katniss in The Hunger Games movie adaptation, blah blah blah. And yes, I know I’ve already mentioned her and the series on CC2K about eleventy bajaillion times. But in my defense, I was a huge fan of The Hunger Games series long before EW declared it The Next Big Thing. Also, it really is that good. Katniss’s journey was harrowing and heartfelt. This is a book series that really explores the cost of war–not in money or even human lives, but in souls. And when you realize that we have soldiers serving all over the world right now who aren’t much older than Katniss, it makes the story all that much more tragic. It resonates because it’s so true.
Carolyn Crane. It’d be easy to assume that Carolyn Crane made the list because she was my first-ever author interview. But it’s the opposite: I asked her to be my first-ever author interview because I knew, as soon as I read Double Cross, that she would make this list. Crane, a debut novelist, had an awesome year. The Disillusionist books (Mind Games and Double Cross, with the final act in the trilogy set to release in the second half of next year) are smart, funny, and sexy as hell. The books have a kind of gritty, noir feeling to them, and yet at the center of them is a heroine who has an almost Pollyannaish optimism about the human spirit, a woman who fights for the things she believes in despite hypochondria that is debilitating at times. The books hooked me with their contrasts, and their questions. And then and then Crane knocked me on my ass with an ending reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back. I can tell you right now that if I don’t so much as look at Mind Games or Double Cross before the release of the third book, I will still remember exactly what happened when I pick it up. That, I believe, is a pretty monumental accomplishment.
Jeaniene Frost. When I found out that there would not be a new Night Huntress (Cat and Bones) book in 2010, I was a little saddened. Instead, Frost released two stand-alone romances focusing on secondary characters from her Night Huntress books. But what I realized is that what distinguishes Frost’s writing is her ability to blend action and romance, smuttiness and sweetness, the paranormal and the mundane. Even without Cat and Bones front-and-center, First Drop of Crimson and Eternal Kiss of Darkness were some of my favorite reads of the year. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not anxiously awaiting the next Cat and Bones book. (This Side of the Grave will be out on February 22. I’ve already got it on preorder.)
Diana Gabaldon. I know I’m about 19 years late to this party, but I love Outlander. I love its intricate blend of science fiction, history, and romance. I love the rich characters and the lush setting. I love its emotional depth and complexity. And I really, really love kilts. This series–which now spans seven (lengthy) books–is awesome. You can’t help but be swept up in Claire and Jamie’s relationship. And, for the record, Jamie Fraser is undoubtedly one of the sexiest characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Recently, I discussed Outlander with our TV Editor, Phoebe Raven. She had never read it before and expressed skepticism at the time travel concept. I tried to convince her otherwise–time travel, to me, is pretty incidental in this series–but I should have just told her this: Jamie Fraser is definitely a ginger I’d drop trou for!
Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant. I put these two together because they are, indeed, the same person–though you would never know it by reading their books! McGuire’s October Daye series–about a half-fae changeling–was one of my discoveries this year. It’s a little grittier than most urban fantasy. After being turned into a fish for 14 years, October (Toby) returns to find that her human fiancé and daughter–ignorant of the truth of her origins–have moved on with their lives, unwilling to speak to her again. She tries to avoid the fae world, but it comes back to bite her when she is put under a curse to investigate a friend’s murder. It was only later that I discovered McGuire’s alter-ego, Grant, and her Newsflash trilogy–the first book of which, Feed, was published in May. When I read the description, I thought it would be a story focusing on the dangers of campaigning in a zombie-infested world. Instead, what I discovered was an amazing hybrid of a book: part horror, part political thriller, part social commentary. It’s the kind of book that a lot of different kinds of readers will like, and I gave it to two people as a Christmas gift this year.
Nicole Peeler. Okay, I’m cheating a little bit: I loved Tempest’s Legacy, but it doesn’t technically come out until January 1 (read my review here). But screw it! This is my list, and I’ll do what I want to do. Peeler brings a different kind of voice to the urban fantasy genre. Jane doesn’t wield a sword, she doesn’t shoot a gun, she doesn’t know kung-fu. She’s just an ordinary young woman who gets sucked into a supernatural world she knows nothing about. Yet she’s not really ordinary either. She’s intelligent, and witty, and self-deprecating. She’s fiercely protective of her family and friends. She’s open and honest. And she has to pee when she gets nervous–a trait that made me exclaim, “Thank God, I thought I was the only one!” Many heroines in the urban fantasy world have a seen-it-all, done-it-all feel to them. But Jane is experiencing everything supernatural for the first time. Through her eyes, and Peeler’s, the supernatural world feels new again–even to a jaded urban fantasy reader like me.
Nalini Singh. Singh’s Psy/Changeling series is frothy and fun, but it was her Guild Hunter series that really cemented her place on this list for me. The series tells the story of Elena, a Guild Hunter who hunts and captures vampires, and Raphael, a powerful–and sometimes terrible–archangel. I love how Singh plays with the conventions of the genre here. Vampires are made by angels, a necessary step to eliminate toxins in their bodies. Angels are not divine creatures; instead, they’re often dangerous and power-hungry. But mostly I love the darkness in these stories–especially the hero, Raphael. He’s dangerous and brutal, but Elena is drawn to him anyway. The relationship between him and Elena develops with passion–and yet, with fear. He is powerful and cruel. He could crush her like a bug. A relationship between them takes a huge leap of faith for Elena. And it’s great to finally see a paranormal romance that doesn’t neuter its powerfully supernatural hero.
Thomas E. Sniegoski. And speaking of angels, Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler series focuses on a Boston private detective who, once upon a time, was a seraphim named Remiel. This is another series that plays with genre conventions, and does it well. In most paranormal books, if there is a romance between an immortal supernatural creature and a human, the human is ultimately “turned” into said supernatural creature, or something else that is also immortal. The lovers live happily ever after. The end. Except
what if you don’t have that option? What if you’re immortal, and you find your soulmate, knowing they will die someday. Do you move on eventually, or do you just have an eternity to mourn? Sniegoski’s A Kiss Before the Apocalypse (the first book of the series) has the distinction of being the only urban fantasy book that has really, truly made me cry.
J.R. Ward. It would be so easy to dismiss Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books (paranormal romances about a group of warrior vampires) as the literary equivalent of cotton candy. Except Ward’s got some of the best characterizations, plotting, and worldbuilding I’ve seen in any series I’ve read. She spends as much of her time focusing on external plot developments and side characters as she does on the main couple. Her characters–especially the Brothers–are extraordinarily well-developed. And Ward doesn’t forget about characters once they get their happily ever after. The Brothers’ world is complex, nuanced–and evolving. Since the first book, the traditional world of the vampires has changed significantly. And her villains are often just as interesting as her heroes. (Lash, with all his paternal issues; Mr. X, the egotistical Fore-lesser and of course, the Omega.) Ward knows her work, and she does it very well. And if I re-read Lover Eternal about 14 times this year, mostly to get to the sex scenes (yeah, I heart Rhage and Mary), well I think Ward would say that she’s glad I got so much out of them.