Monday, January 04, 2016

My favorite reads of 2015

So another year has come and gone, along with a number of books -- not as many as I wanted, of course, but that's always the case. I'll start 2016 by looking back at some of my favorite reads of 2015.

As always, I'll remind you that this is, by no means, a "best of" list, just a collection of my favorite things that I read. Some of these books were released in 2015, some are older, and I certainly didn't read enough books this year to remotely qualify as an expert on everything released.

The first three entries are my favorite picks of the year, the ones that I would most recommend if asked. Beyond that, the order is random -- pretty much reverse chronological of when I read them.

"Golden Son," by Pierce Brown. When I reviewed this second volume in Brown's Red Rising Trilogy back on January 8, I asked if it was too early to call book of the year. Apparently it wasn't. Though I found some fantastic reads later in the year (the next two on this list, in particular), nothing rose above Brown's continuing gripping account of a low-born miner who has, through deceit and the aid of a group called the Sons of Ares, risen to a position of power where he may be able to take down an oppressive galactic caste system. The finale of the series is, far and away, my most anticipated book of 2016.

"The Liar's Key," by Mark Lawrence. I didn't think "Prince of Fools," the first book in Lawrence's second trilogy quite lived up to the standard set by his first three books, but "The Liar's Key" brings it up to speed. Through character development, and a little bit of role reversal, his cowardly Prince Jalan becomes a more likeable character, and we start to see a darker side of the noble Norseman Snorri that promises some tension to come.

"The Autumn Republic," by Brian McClellan. Despite my initial doubts about the series, McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy  became one of my favorite series of recent years. The finale did not disappoint, as the story went out with, pardon the bad pun, a bang. I look forward to reading what McClellan does next.

If forced to make recommendations from 2015, those would be my top three. The order might change slightly depending on my mood. Now on to the rest of the year:

"What Remains of Heroes," by David Benem. I made a concerted effort this year to read more independent and self-published books, and this finalist in Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off was easily the best of those I read. I think the book still could have used some polish in places, but it was well-written and engrossing. Definitely an author who is ready for prime time.

"Monster Hunter International," by Larry Correia. Despite a strong recommendation from a friend, I put off reading this book for a while because I thought it really wouldn't be my thing. I was wrong. This book was a complete blast from start to finish -- full of heavy metal, guns and monsters. Correia throws a lot of nasties at us, but it all manages to work in a chaotic, crazy sort of way. There's also some nice play with some of the clich├ęs of the fantasy and horror genres.

"Fool's Quest," by Robin Hobb. Though the latest tale of Fitzchivalry Farseer seems to be moving very slowly, the story has still managed to keep me intrigued. I had some quibbles with the latest volume -- I would have liked to follow Bee's story more, for example -- but I still enjoyed it and look forward to the finale.

"The Gospel of Loki," by Joanne M. Harris. While Harris doesn't exactly give us a likeable portrait of the famed trickster of Norse mythology, she does deliver one that's charming in his own weird way. It's hard not to like him, even as he goes about the business of being Loki. It's a sometimes fun, sometimes dark look at the story through the trickster's eyes.

"The Slow Regard of Silent Things," by Patrick Rothfuss. Whatever you do, don't take the author's advice in the foreword that says you might want to skip this tale. True, it doesn't move the Kingkiller Chronicles forward in any way, but it is a gorgeous celebration of words and language, more poetic and magical, as befits its subject.

"The Warded Man" / "The Desert Spear," by Peter V. Brett. Here's another series that I've put off reading too long, perhaps with the fear of getting caught in yet another unfinished series. The first two volumes present an interesting approach, as a study in how perspective can change your opinion. In the first, we're introduced to Arlen, the hero of the piece, destined to become the title character and battle the "evil" Jardir. In the second, we switch to the viewpoint of the villain Jardir and discover that just maybe he's not quite so villainous after all. I look forward to reading the next two volumes in 2016.

"Shadow, Shadow," by V.B. Marlowe. A part of my exploration of self-published titles, this was one of the more interesting discoveries of the year for me. It's a book that's fraught with flaws, but none of them seemed to matter as I breezed through the short volume. Marlowe, which I suspect is a nom de plume, kept me reading despite things that might have frustrated me in other books. My only complaint in the end was that the book was more a serial than stand-alone novel.

"As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride," by Cary Elwes. Things that I didn't know about The Princess Bride? Inconceivable! Elwes gives us a fun glimpse behind the scenes of the making of what I consider one of the greatest films of all time. Casual fans should find it interesting. For hardcore fans like me, it's required reading.

"Flex," by Ferrett Steinmetz. I found the concept of this book quite intriguing. Magic can be distilled in drug form so that anyone can experience it. Unfortunately, it comes with consequences, and that makes its users, known as 'Mancers, feared and hunted. "Flex" connects the urban fantasy genre more completely with the world that we live in than probably any other book that I've read in the genre.

Well, those are my favorites of 2015. Here's hoping that you guys have a happy and fruitful 2016, with plenty of time for reading. I'll leave you with a list of books that I'm most looking forward to and that, hopefully, you'll read reviews of here over the next 12 months:
  • "Morning Star," by Pierce Brown
  • "The Wheel of Osheim," by Mark Lawrence
  • "The Thorn of Emberlain," by Scott Lynch
  • "Age of Myth" by Michael J. Sullivan
  • "Peace Talks," by Jim Butcher
  • "Assassin's Fate," by Robin Hobb
  • "Staked," by Kevin Hearne
  • Hopefully some other amazing books that I know nothing about yet.
What are you looking forward to?

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