December 31, 2008

Best of 2008

Once again, on the eve of 2009, I've put together my best shot at a Best Books of '08 list. I whittled last year's list down to 12 books--one for each month of the year. This year it was a bit harder. I managed to get it down to the Round of 16 and gave up there. So here they are in all their cozy wonderfulness.

Best of 2008
(in order of publication)


* indicates a debut author

December 30, 2008

The Trouble with Kings by Sherwood Smith

First published in ebook format by Samhain PublishingThe Trouble with Kings was just recently released in print format. I read and loved Crown Duel several years ago and this one caught my eye because it sounded similar in a delightfully swashbuckling sort of way. This book is also being billed as a fantasy romance--a genre I'm beginning to feel is a bit finicky (for me at least). It seems very difficult to strike just the right chord. 

Flian is a princess. Though when we first meet her she does not recall that rather important fact about herself. She does not, in fact, recall anything about herself as she apparently took a fall off a horse, a bump on the head, and lost her memory. She awakes in an old woman's cabin and is soon whisked off to a castle by her "cousin" Garian. Garian seems very keen to let Flian know she was on her way to see him when she took the fall. Oh, and she was also on her way to her marriage to a dour king named Jason who is also in residence at the castle. Despite the fact that she feels nothing for Jason (and is pretty sure Garian is drugging her drinks) Flian goes along with the plan. That is until another overbearing prince crashes through the window on horseback and whisks her off to a cave in the back of beyond. This prince turns out to be Dour King Jason's brother who is very intent on selling his version of events. Naturally. Eventually Flian manages to remember herself and get home. She even has a loving father and pretty awesome brother waiting for her there. Not that she gets to enjoy them long. Dour King Jason swoops in in the middle of a poetry reading and carries her off once more.

Okay. Enough with the plotliness. I had a problem with this book. For one thing, it was very light on the fantasy and even lighter on the romance. I kept waiting for something magical to happen or for there to be some semblance of chemistry between characters (in any sense), but it never came. I really wanted to like it. And parts of it I liked very much. It has a great premise: the amnesiac princess who gets carried off not once but thrice (it's actually even more than that) and has to determine which prince/dour king is lying to her and who to trust, etc. The thing is the abductions got to be too much. And Flian wasn't compelling enough to carry the whole thing off. If she was just so freaking awesome that it was clear why these nutjobs wanted her and you wanted to stick with her and watch her be awesome and figure out which nutjob was actually a cool cat, then that would be one thing. But Flian is just. so. boring. And the princes three? Turns out they're just nutjobs. Pretty creepy ones, in fact. Nothing more. None of the characters get any decent development and when you do find out which one has been telling the truth the whole time (even though he SO has not) he doesn't get any cooler. He's just no longer the one who wants to marry her for her money then kill her. Hardly my idea of The One. Now it did keep me reading all the way through because I kept hoping at some point the story would delve beneath the surface and I'd get to know these perplexing characters in some more profound way. But satisfacton was not in the cards this time. 

December 29, 2008

Smugglivus!


Just FYI, today I'm guest blogging over at The Book Smugglers. The always awesome Thea and Ana are celebrating their first blog anniversary by holding Smugglivus and you don't want to miss the veritable gold mine of authors, publishers, and book bloggers they have dropping in daily. I put together an Ocscars-style breakdown of the best "performances" of '08. Head on over and check it out!

December 27, 2008

Armed & Magical by Lisa Shearin

Two Raine Benares books down and I can say three things: first--I am officially a Lisa Shearin fan, second--I liked Armed & Magical just as much as (if not more than) Magic Lost, Trouble Found, and third--it's going to be a long wait for book #3, The Trouble with Demons, to come out the end of April. Lisa has, however, assured me that my wait will not be in vain, as book #3 will have more than enough sizzle to satisfy any Team Tam girl's needs. To be fair, she said the same will be true for Team Mychael girls, but that's neither here nor there...

Armed & Magical begins immediately after the first book ends. Raine and Co. are on the Island of Mid, restlessly holed up in the finest suite the Conclave and its Guardians have to offer. The paladin has assured Raine that someone within the magical university hierarchy will be able to help rid her of her increasingly uncomfortable link to the Saghred--the ancient, malevolent stone intent on sucking her soul dry. Unfortunately, a notorious elven assassin seems to be targeting the paladin and the archmagus--Raine's two lone friends in this new, hostile environment. After singlehandedly foiling this attempt, Raine joins the hunt to unearth who is paying the assassin and why he seems to be amassing a group of hostage spellsingers. Never more than a step away from death, Raine finds herself embroiled in goblin/elf warfare as well as some nasty political power wrangling at the university. When Tam appears unexpectedly in the middle of a particularly harrowing encounter in a dark alley, their already hazy relationship quickly shifts to an even murkier shade of gray, and Raine struggles to figure out just which shady character is behind which threat and whether or not any of them can be trusted. 

One of the best things about these books is the ripping good pace they keep. The first covers only the space of a week, and the second not much more. Yet they are filled to the brim with near constant action, infectious humor, and a wide range of intriguing characters. They are all fun and worth getting attached to, but the best interaction, IMO, is reserved for Raine's encounters with Tam (more than he appears shaman turned nightclub owner love interest) and Piaras (pseudo younger brother more powerful than you spellsinger). I like how saavy Raine is at handling the various male figures in her life. I like how she is exactly who she claims to be (and she never claims to be perfect). And I particularly like how fierce she is when it comes to protecting her family. Here is one of my favorite examples of Raine's lively sense of humor when dealing with said men:
I couldn't keep a little smile off my face. "Most girls get flowers or candy. I get a declaration of martial law."

Well, I can't keep a smile off my face when I read a Lisa Shearin book. So it's a match made in heaven.

December 25, 2008

Merry Merry Christmas

On this Christmas night I hope that your hearts were full of love and your stockings full of books. Thank you all for making my days merry and bright.

December 23, 2008

Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin

I believe I first heard about Magic Lost, Trouble Found throughTia's review over at Fantasy Debut. In it Tia referred to Lisa Shearin as "the Janet Evanovich of fantasy," and, well, who doesn't want to get a piece of that action? Seriously, I can't believe it's taken me this long to get around to doing just that. This series seems to be most often described as regular fantasy with a decidedly urban fantasy heroine, complete with charming (at times self deprecating) sense of humor. I would agree with this assessment. Raine's internal dialogue is very much in keeping with urban fantasy trends. She'll be the first one to tell you, she's one part disreputable imp, two parts defender of all that is good. And she can handle anything that comes her way.

And the excellent part is--all kinds of heinousness comes her way and she handles it with aplomb (and the aforementioned sense of humor). Raine Benares is a seeker, finder of lost things and/or people. Raine's family name is a bit on the infamous side and, for the most part, Raine is just fine with that. In the opening scene of the book, she and her rake of a cousin Phaelan find themselves fighting off goblin shamans in an attempt to protect Raine's sometime partner and thief extraordinaire Quentin. Just what Quentin has stolen remains a mystery, but it soon becomes crystal clear every agent of evil in the vicinity would like to get their paws on it. Turns out the object is an ancient amulet which finds its way around Raine's neck and refuses (rather gruesomely) to be removed. Enter the Conclave Guardians, an elite force of healer-magicians whose job it is to retrieve the amulet and stash it back under lock and key. Stat. Dangerous and colorful characters abound, including the powerful Mychael Eilieson--Paladin of the Guardians--and Raine's friend Tamnais Nathrach--shady nightclub proprietor and former member of the goblin royal family. Oh and, by the way, these aren't your run-of-the-mill goblins. You want these goblins to sit down and stay awhile.  

What a pleasant surprise this book was and how well-timed a read. A funny, delectable treat smack dab in the middle of winter. Raine is extremely likeable and I appreciated that she always seemed fully cognizant of her own motivations and never persisted in sugar-coating them or in being stubborn beyond all reason. In that way she reminded me of Kate Daniels from Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites. Like Kate, Raine appears to have a few secrets she's not interested in revealing, even to her closest confidantes. I have a few suspicions and look forward to finding out more as the series progresses. All of the side characters felt fully formed and like people/elves/goblins/what have you that I'd like to have around, and certainly want to read more about. And, while I would really rather the love triangle not drag out anywhere near as long as the whole Morelli-Stephanie-Ranger fiasco has, I have to say I am a hopeless Babe and am therefore (unsurprisingly) firmly in the Team Tam camp. Mychael is nice. Of this there is no doubt. But, aqua eyes aside, there's just no contest. This really is a delightful, addictive debut novel and I am very happy to have the sequel sitting on my nightstand.

December 22, 2008

Monday Giggles

Maggie Stiefvater, author of the most awesome Lament, has a whole series of these hilarious Harry Potter images (along with a nice discussion of character and personalty development) up on her blog. Go check them out for a few Monday Giggles.

December 16, 2008

In the Coils of the Snake by Clare B. Dunkle

I do like these covers. The rich, sometimes earthy tones aptly reflect the individual themes of the books, in my opinion. Plus the style of artwork keeps the characters sort of dreamy and vague and I am therefore free to go on picturing them however I please and that is always a good thing. In the Coils of the Snake continues the story of the goblin court and its longtime enemies the "we're one step ahead of extinction" elves. This third and final volume in the Hollow Kingdom trilogy takes place thirty years after Close Kin and begins with the unthinkable. 

Marak is dead. *sob*

And as if that isn't enough, we find out that all these years he has been secretly grooming a young human girl to be his son Catspaw's bride when he passes the crown to him. The girl, Miranda, is now living in the hollow hill with them and is utterly bereft now that her one friend (and father-figure) is gone and she is expected to take up the mantle of queen to a young and inexperienced king. Her fragmented life becomes further complicated when, on the eve of their wedding, Catspaw puts her aside in favor of a young elf of impeccable pedigree. The move is without malice, as Catspaw faces a stalemate with the elf lord Nir. Nir offers the young Arianna as part of a peace treaty between his people and the goblins. When Miranda finds out her entire purpose in life no longer exists, she refuses Catspaw's offer of sanctuary and runs away. Right into the clutches of the elf lord, who finds her a very useful sort of hostage indeed. 

This book held everything I hoped for the conclusion of the trilogy. The story splits its time between Miranda and the elves and Catspaw's difficulties wrangling his elf bride and his attempts to subvert Nir's plans. I wasn't as attached to Catspaw as I was his father (Marak was The Top), so I was not as invested in his story. But Miranda was a lovely, sympathetic character and it was a pleasure to watch her find a place where she felt at home at last. I was also glad to finally find a truly noble elf in Nir, after the painfully vicious and unhappy band in Close Kin. And I had to smile at how frivolous the goblins thought the elves and with what disgust and horror the elves, in turn, viewed the goblins. In the Coils of the Snake also, rather notably, has a proper ending, perfect for the book itself and for the trilogy as a whole.

December 12, 2008

A Couple of Firsts and an Interview

Patricia Briggs has the first chapter of Bone Crossed up on her site. You know you can't resist. 

Charlaine Harris has the first chapter of Dead and Gone up on her site. Word is the weres come out to play in this one. 

And Word Wenches has an interview with Sharon Shinn up on their site. In it she mentions toying with the idea of writing a novella about Kirra and Donnal as well as possibly following the next generation in the Twelve Houses world.  One word: yay!

December 8, 2008

Close Kin by Clare B. Dunkle

Close Kin is the second book in Clare B. Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom trilogy. It takes place around five years after The Hollow Kingdom and follows Kate's younger sister Emily. Or at least it seems to. Where The Hollow Kingdom stuck pretty closely to Kate's story, Close Kin jumps around a fair bit, splitting its time three different ways as it traces the paths of Emily, her friend and would-be suitor Seylin, and an extremely unhappy elf named Sable. 

When Emily fails to take Seylin's romantic advances seriously, half goblin/half elf Seylin informs the Goblin King he is leaving to search out his other heritage and see if he can find any elves who managed to survive the last goblin harrowing. He does, in fact, come across a rather feral group of elves but, having suffered much in the name of mere survival, they are barely recognizable as the beautiful, carefree creatures Seylin dreamt of. Among this group is a young woman named Sable who, to avoid being forced into an unwanted marriage, sliced her perfect face to ribbons and who now occupies a position lower than slave. Meanwhile, once Emily finds out Seylin has gone for good she immediately sets out on a quest of her own to bring the poor boy back home and attempt to sort out her feelings for him. Most likely in that order. All of this is, naturally, being overseen by the affectionate, if somewhat insufferably know-it-all, Marak. 

This book suffered from a fairly uneven approach to the telling of the story. The narrative jumped from Seylin, to Emily, to Sable sometimes within the space of a few sentences and it was a bit jarring to try to figure out whose perspective I was getting from moment to moment. I was also not as enamored of Emily as I was of her sister Kate in the first book, which made it a bit difficult to really care whether or not she set herself straight and found her way to happiness. Sable, on the other hand, I liked quite a bit and it was both painful and comforting to watch her learn to trust others for probably the first time in her dismal life, and to accept that some helping hands are extended in precisely the spirit of kindness they claim to be. My favorite scenes were any scenes Marak was in and he continues to be my favorite thing about these books. It was good to see that he and Kate were well and happy and as suited to each other as I thought they were. I look forward to the final volume in the Hollow Kingdom trilogy.