Posted by Mary Jo Schimelpfenig,
December 10, 2014 10:00 AM
|Here are the books that knocked my socks off in 2014. All of them would make great gifts; each of them was truly something that evoked that inexpressible delight of finding an author you are excited about.
÷ ÷ ÷
||Prince of Fools (Red Queen's War #1)|
by Mark Lawrence
Prince of Fools is essentially a tale of two opposites: Jalan, a self-professed coward highly skilled at avoiding responsibility, 10th in line for the throne; and Snorri, a mighty warrior and survivor of countless battles from the frozen north. Bound together by an act of magic, they must travel together through the frozen wilderness of Snorri's homeland. If you've read Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy, this is set in the same world but has a much different tone. It's funnier and less violent, but still action-packed.
||Fool's Assassin (Fitz and the Fool #1)|
by Robin Hobb
All the things I loved about the earlier Fitz books are here again: Hobb's ability to take you deep inside the characters' inner workings, the reappearance of many old friends from the previous books. The opening finds Fitz living in relative peace at Withywoods with his beloved wife, Molly, but naturally that doesn't last long, and the book ends with a good, solid cliffhanger. Hobb is in fine form here.
||Half a King (Shattered Sea #1)|
by Joe Abercrombie
I was completely immersed in Yarvi's story by the second page, and I read this book every chance I could get until it was over. Yarvi is a prince who unexpectedly becomes king, is nearly murdered shortly after being crowned, escapes death only to be enslaved... and that's when the real fun begins. Abercrombie keeps the pace brisk enough for even the most reluctant of readers.
||The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker #1)|
by Kameron Hurley
Tired of cookie-cutter plots and hackneyed characters? Here's your next book. Inventive, stellar world-building. Satellites, blood magic, and war aplenty. You haven't read anything like this. Hurley's writing just keeps getting better and better. I've been a fan of the author since God's War, and she is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
||Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats #1)|
by Sebastien de Castell
Swashbuckling sass and rollicking adventure. The minute Falco jumped out a window, I knew I was in for a good read. Lots of sword fights, plenty of harebrained schemes, and a cracking good story with zesty dialogue. Fans of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora will devour this with gusto.
by Andy Weir
Nail-biting suspense. An astronaut is separated from his group and inadvertently stranded on Mars. Will he be rescued? Forced to battle the elements, temperamental machinery, and an uncertain supply of food and water, his survival is tenuous at best. Told in the form of a logbook, The Martian is certain to keep you up way past your bedtime. This is a good choice for fans of hard sci-fi.
||The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance|
by Jeff Vandermeer
In between these beautifully designed covers are some of Vandermeer's most inventive and creepy adventures. All three volumes of the Southern Reach Trilogy were released in 2014, so you won't have to wait years to find out how the story ends. They're available in a single-volume edition complete with brilliant cover art.
||The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft
Posted by Mary Jo Schimelpfenig,
August 12, 2014 12:10 PM
After 10 long years, Robin Hobb revisits two of her most beloved characters, Fitz and the Fool, with Fool's Assassin
. If the ending of Fool's Fate
made you want to fling the book across the room, you'll be happy to hear that Fitz and the Fool do meet up again.
The opening of Fool's Assassin
finds Fitz living in relative peace at Withywoods with his beloved wife, Molly, but naturally that doesn't last long. Fitz is still making his characteristic bad decisions and is completely unable to understand that he is well loved. Fool's Assassin
is the first volume of a trilogy, so there's a fair amount of setup before things really get going. We meet a few new characters and some old friends reappear. As usual, things go awry, and the book ends with a good, solid cliffhanger.
Hobb is particularly skilled at building multidimensional characters. By the time you finish reading even one of her books, you feel as if you've known the characters half your life. She is a fabulous storyteller and does a bang-up job of world building, but it is her ability to effectively capture the interior world of her characters that sets her apart. (Well, that and her propensity for repeated suffering, both mental and physical.)
is not a good place to begin the Farseer series. You won't understand who all the characters are and what their shared history is. There are two fairly sensible ways to read Hobb's work if you haven't already: start with either The Farseer Trilogy (Assassin's Apprentice
) or Liveship Traders (Ship of Magic
). Either trilogy can be read first, but both trilogies need to be read before starting the Tawny Man
If you're a complete stickler for chronological order, Assassin's Apprentice
is probably where you should begin. But Ship of Magic
is a much more enjoyable read. There's still plenty of heartbreak and hardship for all the characters involved, but there's a romance or two, exciting discoveries, and a lot of sailing — with pirates! It also gives a more nuanced look at the Fool, one of the most important characters in the Farseer books.
I recently reread Assassin's Apprentice
and liked it much better the second time around. I knew Fitz would survive, more or less, which made reading his many trials and tribulations much easier to take. Hobb gives most of her characters a great deal of emotional complexity, but Fitz in particular is all kinds of complex. He is not a sassy man with a sword
. A trained killer, he is melancholy, broody, loyal past the point of stupid at times, and given to bad
Posted by Mary Jo Schimelpfenig,
July 17, 2014 10:46 AM
It all began with a long plane flight. For years my coworker had been enthusiastically recommending Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora
, the first book of the Gentleman Bastard series, and I had nodded my head and moved on. Dashing off to the airport, I finally grabbed my copy off a teetering pile of unread books and headed out the door. I was delighted to discover that most of the major characters were sassy as all get out and they could wield their swords just as adeptly as their words. The book did exactly what I wanted it to do: create a world I could step into and be thoroughly entertained.
There are currently three titles in Lynch's series, and the latest one, The Republic of Thieves
, comes out in mass market later this month. The book finds Locke and Jean tinkering in politics, while alternating chapters tell the story of a summer long ago when the two wound up starring in a play.
Lynch's writing just keeps getting better and better. He writes some of the most bawdy and hilarious dialogue I've ever read. If you haven't read the Gentleman Bastard series, enjoy. If you've already gobbled it up and want more, here are some suggestions.
Joe Abercrombie's Half a King
, first in his Shattered Sea trilogy, tells the tale of Yarvi, who unexpectedly becomes king after his father and brother are killed. He is nearly assassinated, escapes, and ends up enslaved as an oarsman on a ship. Yarvi is an immediately likeable character who becomes even more appealing as the plot unfolds, and he is surrounded by a cast of characters who are lively, eccentric, and enjoyable.
Abercrombie tells his tale at breakneck speed. I finished it in two days; I simply had to know what happened next. Half a King
has a Nordic setting and is a bit lighter in tone than Abercrombie's other books, while still being properly grim. Yarvi isn't given to excessive sass, but he's mouthy when he needs to be. He also has a gift for narrowly escaping bad situations.
Jalan, the central character in Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools
, is also a master of the narrow escape. When we first meet him, he is leaping out a window, on the run. This is not the last time he will be exiting by rather unconventional methods. Jalan has considerable gambling debts, he's quite the ladies' man, and his sense of honor is rather flexible. While trying to exit from another window, he becomes magically bonded with a fierce and honorable Nordic warrior, Snorri. As the two travel north on a rescue mission, we learn more of Snorri's past.
Lawrence effortlessly balances characters, world building, plot, and dialogue, and he serves up a thrilling concoction that left me hungry for more. Jalan is the salsa to Snorri's chips, and they make quite a pair, hacking up their enemies and sailing the half-frozen northern seas. It is the contrast between Snorri and Jalan that truly makes the book shine — the man of honor and the man of flexible moral standards.
Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade
, first in the Greatcoats series, is the story of three swordsmen: Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. It begins with the trio making a quick exit out of a window after being framed for a murder they didn't commit. To escape the local constables, they take a job guarding a caravan. The three men were all Greatcoats, dispensers of the king's justice, but the king is dead and the Greatcoats have fallen out of favor. The retort flies fast and furious between the three main characters, and the plot gallops along at a happy pace. If I were taking another long plane flight, this is definitely the book I'd want with