This will be brief.
As I’ve said before our strength lies in our diversity. If you want a unified chorus of voices singing hosannas to the pre-approved “best” books of the year then stop reading now — but if you want a ragged company of readers; readers with their own identity that shows in the books they choose, read and fight for then welcome home prodigal sons and daughters, the light is always on.
Here are our favorite reads of 2008. From 1959 to 2009 we got you covered.
These best of lists are always a pain for me. I usually feel I haven’t read nearly enough to make a meaningful list on anything. This year though, I have kept closer track of what I read and to my surprise I ended up with a list of 72 books. Only 16 of these were published in 2008 however, so I am just going to make this a list of the nine best books I have read this year, regardless of when they were published. The year I put behind the title of the book is the year the books was first published. Three 2008 books actually made the list so as far as I can tell it was a good year for speculative fiction.
Fantasy still appears to be the staple of my reading diet. Although Science Fiction has closed in considerably. Two books that stood out his year were:
A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (2006). Abraham’s debut novel is simply one of the best debuts I have read. In a relatively short book he manages to convey his vision on a remarkable culture as well as tell a complex story. The characterization is what really makes this a good novel though. Abraham brings together a number of contrasting personalities in the book, their relationships, conflicts and friendships help build a magnificent story.
Read an interview with Daniel Abraham.
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (2007). Sanderson is going to finish one of my favourite fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Should they make the tentative release date in the fall of 2009, A Memory of Light is going to be the biggest book of next year in the genre. So naturally I was curious about Sanderson’s own work. I read Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy this year. Elantris didn’t impress me but the Mistborn trilogy shows promise. The Well of Ascension, book two in the trilogy, is definitely the best of the three. Not only does Sanderson manage to avoid the middle book syndrome, a plot twis in the final chapters took me completely by surprise. This book has a very strong finale and The trilogy as a whole is a fine piece of writing.
I read a number of decent SF books this year but not all that many that were really memorable. On of them absolutely deserves a place on this list though.
All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear (2008). This book could just as easily be labelled fantasy. To make sure booksellers put it on the right shelf Tor was kind enough to make this a Sci-Fi essential book. Regardless of where you want to shelf it, I was deeply impressed by this book by Elizabeth Bear. Figures from Norse mythology in a post apocalyptic world make for an interesting combination. A story of desperation, loss and guilt but also determination and hope. If you are going to read it, be patient with the book, it is a bit slow to get going.
As a fan of historical fantasy I read historical novels once in a while, usually set in antiquity or the middle ages. This book was the best of the bunch I read this year.
Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham (2005). Before Durham ventured into fantasy with Acacia: War of the Mien, he wrote a number of historical novels. Pride of Carthage is a retelling of Hannibal’s war against the Roman republic. The problem faced by many historical novels is that you already know how it is going to end. Durham brings the drama of Hannibal’s war and eventual defeat to life in a way that captivates the reader though. Maybe not the most historically accurate version of this tale but absolutely a book worth reading.
Short fiction wasn’t really a favourite of mine until recently. In 2008 I read quite a lot of it though. I still tend to prefer novels but some of these stories pack a punch like no novel can. These two collections I particularly enjoyed.
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi (2008). Bacigalupi’s first novel is going to be released in the not to distant future. If he manages to maintain the level of the short fiction in this collection it is going to be a winner. Bacigalupi’s stories often have environmental themes and a rather bleak look on the future. The characters are usually people without a lot of influence on the condition of human society. They still have options though, and these Bacigalupi masterfully explores. This collection is not something to rush though. Saviour it and you’ll find some true gems.
Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories by Nancy Kress (2008). Kress is another author who examines the effects of technological progress on ordinary people. The title story is a good example. What I like about Kress’ writing is that she manages to express her view of the future through situations that are completely recognizable to most of us. She puts in a lot of emotion in a story that would be highly technical from another author.
I decided I have not read nearly enough of these. After this year some of the obvious gaps in my library have been filled but there’s still quite bit remaining. I expect to review a number of other classics in 2009. For 2008 these two recently reissued books are worth mentioning.
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1973). I have not read that much of Clarke’s books yet but I have a feeling that this book is the pinnacle of what Clarke’s imagination was capable of. The exploration of the object called Rama is just fascinating to read about. I understand there finally going to do a movie adaptation of this book. If done right it could be visually stunning.
The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert (1956). Herbert wrote this in the 1950s but even then people foresaw oil running out in the future. With the debate on whether or not we have reached peak oil already still raging, this is a surprisingly relevant theme. Most of the novel is about a submarine crew trying to steal the last oil reserves from under the noses of their enemies. Herbert does a great job describing the extreme pressure these men work under.
Most unappreciated book
The Armageddon Rag by George Martin (1983). I have read a lot of Martin this year and I could have put him in this list on several places. In fact, I have yet to read anything he has written that was not thoroughly enjoyable. I want to mention The Armageddon Rag in particular though. This book, for some reason completely beyond me, is his least successful one. I guess it is a bit hard to categorize. It is set contemporary, contains elements of a crime, fantasy and horror. In fact, I had no idea how to label it when I finished the review. None of that is important though. What is important is that The Armageddon Rag is, in my opinion, one of Martin’s best works. Go read it and show this book the appreciation it deserves.
(Valashain is a reviewer at Bookspot Central. Following in kcf’s footsteps Valashain seems to have more then one name.)
Russel D McLean
HELL OF A YEAR: Top Ten books ‘08:
Brian Lindenmuth asked me for it (and then I paraphrased for the purposes of this article): Ten favourite novels (of any year) that you read in ’08.
A daunting task. I didn’t know if I could narrow it down so easily and even now, as I’m putting the final touches on this article for the tough guys and gals at Bookspot Central, I feel like maybe I’m missing a few titles or that I haven’t said enough to justify my choices or…
So here I present, for your delight and delectation (and in no particular order of preference) 7 crime novels, one anthology, one true crime re-released epic and one horror novel. There are probably at least twenty others I could have added to the list. But these books, without hesitation, will always have a place in that ever changing list of books I love.
1) Trigger City – Sean Chercover
Chercover is putting the PI genre back on the map with his Ray Dudgeon novels. After the excellent Big City, Bad Blood, Chercover was hard pressed to equal the multi-award winning debut. But here he proves himself more than up to the task, creating a gripping novel that deals with personal and political issues while maintaining a natural and organic feel. Chercover is one of the most naturally talented new authors coming up today and I can confidently predict a really bright future for this guy.
2) No More Heroes – Ray Banks
Banks just keeps getting better with each book. No More Heroes puts ex-con, ex-PI Cal Innes through the ringer once more. After having been run over, developing a codeine addiction and having part of his ear shot off, you’d think Cal wouldn’t be up to more punishment. But Banks hasn’t finished torturing his creation just yet, and No More Heroes pushes Cal to the limit while continuing the series’ ongoing themes of personal and societal responsibility. If you haven’t read Banks before… do yourself a favour and start now.
3) A Hell of A Woman – edited by Megan Abbott
Short story collections are often hit and miss. But A Hell of A Woman is one of the strongest and most consistent multi-author collections I’ve read in a long time. Sticking close to its theme of “female noir” and never once compromising, this is a must-read for any lover of short stories and indeed any lover of damn fine fiction.
4) The Cold Spot – Tom Piccirilli
I came late to Piccirilli’s work, started devouring as much of as I could. His first mainstream run at a pure crime novel (following last year’s beautiful The Fever Kill, from Creeping Hemlock Press) its the story of a Getaway Driver getting out of the life before pulled back in when his old world rears its ugly head out of the past. Heartfelt, brilliantly written and thumpingly paced, you’d be a damn fool to miss out on this one. In fact you’d be a damn fool not to read this and then run out to find as much of the author’s backlog as you can possibly get your greedy little hands on.
5) 1974/1977/1980/1983 – by David Peace
(yes, I’m cheating, but these books have to be read together for the full effect – – just make sure you don’t have any sharp objects around when you’re doing it)
Re-released in 2008 by Serpent’s Tail publishers in the UK, these four books are based around Yorkshire during a pivotal time in the UK’s recent history. With the Yorkshire Ripper lurking in the background, these books focus more on political and personal demons with a dangerous prose style that drags you kicking and screaming into a world where everyone and everything is… well… fucked. This is noir. No messing.
But be prepared… as with James Ellroy, you may feel the need to try and scrub your own sins right out of your body by the time you close those final pages. These books are truly not for the faint-hearted, but their sheer energy and power cannot be denied.
6) Dawn Patrol – by Don Winslow
It could never match The Power of the Dog, but Dawn Patrol is still an amazing novel. Winslow can jump styles and characters with ease, so this laid back tale of a surf-obsessed PI and his buddies comes to you in a Leonard-esque style with more than a hint of cool. Winslow is one of the most readable and versatile authors out there, one of my automatic recommends when anyone’s looking for a new author. And Dawn Patrol sees him at the top of his game.
7) Headgames – Craig McDonald
Yeah, I’m late catching up to this guy, but damned if this 1950’s set tale of a crime writer carrying the head of a Mexican rebel in a bag across some kind of crazy road trip didn’t set my pulse racing. The cameos by Orson Welles and other famous characters of the time don’t feel as hokey as I suspected they might, and add a neat new layer to this incredible novel. There’s a strange switch at a late stage in the novel which might divide some readers in the way the ending of No Country For Old Men (the movie; still haven’t read the novel) did its audience, but for my money it’s a bold move that more or less works exactly as intended. This McDonald guy is definitely one to keep your eye on.
8 ) Homicide – David Simon
Re-released in the UK by Canongate publishers, Simon’s sprawling true-crime epic is one of the best books I’ve read in years. With its documentary style and uncanny ability to empathise with its police protagonists, this is a warts-n-all portrayal of Homicide Investigation that refuses to draw easy moral lines for the reader. The polar opposite of the many sensationalist, biased and plain badly written true crime books out there, this has echoes of Wambaugh’s true-crime books at their finest.
9) The Bloomsday Dead – Adrian McKinty
The final part of McKinty’s Michael Forsythe trilogy is absolutely incredible; a tour-de-force of voice and writing that is equal parts literary thriller combine with pure adrenaline-rush action. Forsythe is finally tracked down the widow of the criminal he murdered all those years ago. But rather than kill him, she hires him to track down her missing daughter. Forsythe’s return to Dublin results in bloodshed and mayhem, with the man himself forced to confront the truth about his own actions and come to some terrible revelations. McKinty is an incredible writer who combines smarts with visceral display to create compelling novels. Do yourself a favour: go out and buy this book.
10) Let The Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
To show that I do read more than simply crime novels – this is one of the best vampire novels I’ve read in years. After the recent “defanging” of the genre with any number of twee (and tween) romantic suspense novels and “vampire bonking” fantasies for the older readers, it’s a pure delight to read a novel that puts the dread back into the vampire while dealing with the traumas of adolescence and some rather more disturbing and unsettling themes that emerge as the narrative speeds towards its climax. The English translation is one of the smoothest I’ve read in a while, and the kitchen-sink 1980’s era setting is suitably bleak.
Every time I near give up on horror, a novel like this comes and knocks me on my ass. Highly recommended.
So there you go, my top ten for ’08. If you haven’t read any, I suggest you run – not walk – to your local bookstore and stock up. Before everyone else beats you to it.
(Russel D McLean is a Scottish novelist, reviewer, bookseller and general miscreant. His debut novel, The Good Son is available in the UK from Five Leaves Publications and will be released in the US by Thomas Dunne/St Martin’s Minotaur in 2009.)
One Jump Ahead – Mark Van Name A great little read–space opera mystery meets tough guy. This story includes a space ship with AI and a lot of personality. The characterization is particularly strong–not only for the two main characters, but side characters as well.
The Automatic Detective – A. Lee Martinez Just a wild, wacky tale of a futuristic robot with a heart–a hard-boiled detective on a mission, only he has the power to destroy more than mend. A funny mystery that uses sci/fi as a setting.
New Tricks – John Levitt (his Dog Days, first in the series, quals for the top reads of 2007!) This was my favorite read of the year. A jazz player with a knack for improv–both magically and musically. This series is made quite special by Mason’s sidekick and trusty partner, a dog name Lou. He’s no ordinary dog though. Be prepared for tricks and twists!
Glass Houses – Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampire Series–YA) A good read–emotional teenage angst with vampires and other worries thrown in. The progtag is a young teenager quite out of her element. I think what I liked best was that while there were vampires and other paranormal elements, the protag is dealing mostly with normal insecurities, trying to fit in and worried about doing well in school. Some of the early college scenes sure brought back memories–and not necessarily good ones!
Magic Bites – Illona Andrews – An enjoyable urban fantasy with some very interesting characters–not just your standard werewolf here! Definitely one of the better urban fantasy series out there.
Jim Hines – Goblin War — Jig the Goblin is still an underdog, but he’s learning a few new tricks to survive. He’s going to need every one of them because he has to go…earthside in this adventure. Goblin War is the third and last book in the trilogy–and a very satisfying ending it was. I truly appreciate series that end with a reasonable number of books. I’m not much of a series reader to begin with, so it’s really great to come across a “complete” series that starts and ends so well.
The State of the Onion – Julie Hyzy. I enjoyed this “chef at the White House” story. It was a nice, breezy read with some unusual, very light history thrown in (such as the fact that the tableware is changed out for each president).
This year the pick was very, very easy:
Todd McAlty’s The Soldiers of Serenity in BlackGate, Issue 12. As I said in my review on my website at the time: The Soldiers of Serenity by McAulty read like a novel. In so many short stories, the payoff is quick, sometimes dirty. Just as you “get” the characters, the story is over. Not So Here. McAulty took his time. He introduced characters. He ran down corridors. He twisted a bit…he teased. It’s all ordinary, right? But you knew every character held a key, every detail mattered. I kept wanting to check to see how much story was left because I just KNEW the pay-off was a few pages away! I couldn’t read fast enough! WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, DAMMIT?????
(Maria is a reviewer for Bookspot Central. Her latest short story, Toil, Trouble and Rot, was published by Coyote Wild Magazine.)
I’ve always been one of those late to the party guys, so it’s no surprise that only two of my favorite 2008 reads was actually published in 2008. And while a great story and excellent writing are of course important criteria for each of my selections, I actually have a more personal reason for each pick. I’ll explain as I go.
1. Money Shot by Christa Faust (2008). Faust actually saved me from a long no-read spell with this one. I’d started maybe twenty books where I’d read 30 or 40 or 50 pages and then toss it aside. But I got out of the slump when I hit the last page of Money Shot. A great gritty, tawdry pulp yarn.
2. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1959). I’d read quite a number of end-o-the-world books before finally writing my own, but Canticle was always one of those big gaps in my education. I knew about the book, was sorta familiar with the story, but hadn’t actually cracked the thing open and read it. I finally remedied that in 2008, and I’m happy to report it is indeed worthy of the term “classic.” Right up there with Alas, Babylon and Lucifer’s Hammer.
3. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962). Again, a classic I was too long in finding. I am a huge fan of Philip K. Dick and have re-read classics like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Clans of the Alphane Moons a number of times. Not only is High Castle a great read, but important “research” for my new sci-fi direction as an author. (Yes, I proudly use the term “sci-fi” so get over it.)
4. Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith (2008). I’m cheating a bit with this one. It’s a 2008 book, but I read it in manuscript form before that. Also, I was best man at Smith’s wedding, so the dude is obviously a close friend. Hey, I told you up front my reasons were personal. But, truth be told, Billy Lafitte is one of the best inventions in the crime writing world in a long time.
So there it is. A pretty damn short list. I read other books too – a mix of crime, space opera, fantasy, etc. A number of decent reads, but nothing I feel motivated to put on a “best of” list. And I realize there were many books published this year that I need to check out. I know, I know. I need to read faster.
(Victor Gischler is the author of 4 hard-boiled crime novels; GUN MONKEYS, PISTOL POETS, SUICIDE SQUEEZE and SHOTGUN OPERA. His fifth novel GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE is most assuredly not a hard-boiled crime novel.)
2008 saw a decrease in my reading time, so when I did decide to read I made it count. Besides the novel by Brent Weeks, everything that I picked up was pretty much a 3rd or 4th book in a series that I already knew I would enjoy. What that means is while there are no surprises here, if you have not checked out some of these series you may want to start. Oh and I also threw in a movie as well.
The Way of the Shadow by Brent Weeks – Folks I will have to admit it, I got hyped on Weeks from another review site and felt like it had all I look for in a book. Assassins, forbidden love, political intrigue, it was all in there, and then to top it off Weeks adds some magic and I am sold. As I stated in the review, it made me give up part of my life just to read the next page. If that is not a top book of the year I do not know what is.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – Even though my review is not done yet at the time I am writing this, I feel that they put together a damn good fantasy movie. One that I watched more than once in the first week that I got it. The actors all do a great job, the CGI is close to perfect, but the story adaption works well also. Everything just falls into place for this movie.
Dragon Strike by E.E. Knight – The Age of Fire has been an enjoyable series so far and Dragon Strike brings together the main storylines from each of the previous books. Knight does it in such a way that no one major character from the previous books feels left out. Plus this guy can still talk about dragons and people are all right with it. Dragons that are MAIN CHARACTERS not some tamed beast of a human or elf.
Jhegaala by Steven Brust – Ah good ole Vlad. Jhegaala gives us a new playground for Vlad to conquer, and as per usual he does. I enjoyed the overall mystery of the story of Vlad’s family, but Brust is just a master at putting that dry wit humor into a book and making you love the characters. It used to be a tough series to find, I remember I actually had to order one of the books used just to continue the series. Thank goodness they have wised up and you can find all the books at the local book store at least in omnibus if nothing else.
(Damon is one of the owners of BSC as well as a reviewer)
My top ten reads of the year were not approached with the thought in mind that it had to be limited to books that in fact first saw publication this year and are offered in no meaningful order that you can discern. I want to add that I have read several 2009 books already and they look fantastic, but they won’t be mentioned here.
1. Anathem by Neal Stephenson – The guy is basically in a position where’s he’s going to be on such a list every time he puts out a new book. I love the way he make the completely absurd the realist aspects of his books while making the reality fanciful.
We are at the point where all writers want to be either Neal or Neil, Stephenson or Gaiman as they suit in that odd place where mainstream writers want to go to be honest with themselves about their love of the fantastic and where SF/F writer truly want to be in those lucid moments they have when they realize the SF/F community is too small and much too small.
Anathem is both like nothing you will pick up elsewhere and likely better than anything else you will pick up.
2. Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover – There are very few books that I actually, truthfully, anticipate with any seriousness anymore, but for those few that still make me ignore that there are hundreds of great books coming out every year. Stover is among those few authors I go to for my old school action fix, but brings it with the sensibility of any other top shelf modern literary work in terms of the questions being asked and torn down.
It’s not the tour de force that was his Blade of Tyshalle but it’s a surprising change-up on the Viola level.
Read my interview with Matthew Stover.
3. The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont – This was published in 2006 but damn I’m glad I ran into! First, the cover is beautiful throwback that needs to in-fact be thrown forward forever and it’s about the creators of Doc Savage and The Shadow investigating the murder of their friend, Lovecraft.
Along the way you see Orson Welles, Doc Smith, Ron Hubbard, and Heinlein. Gang wars, zombies – just pure literary fun with pulp vehicles.
4. The Love We Share Without Knowing by Chris Barzak – His second book – in a row – that rates as the year’s best. There seems to be this group of writers that have spent time in Japan and kind of know the idea being an alien in a world that is both a more technologically advanced world but surprisingly old fashioned and as a reader I just love soaking up books like this that I can actually relate to beyond intellectually. You can’t research what Barzak writes – you have to live it. This book is a literal slice of life.
Barzak writes what he knows and those kind of people always search to uncover new treasure to share, thus he is one of the most exciting writers out there at the moment.
5. Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson – I’m going to get shit from this and not from the crowd most people think I would (not that I care about either). Erikson writes what is actually an Urban Fantasy in disguise, spinning a tale of Darujhistan and adds this new narrative of a storyteller weaving, giving voice to a city., the chorus to a tragedy about to occur.
Read an interview with Steven Erikson.
Consider this: Karsa is confronted with the notion that he may have to kill a god – to this he simply asks which one? Yet also in this novel there are two figures that do battle that take his breath away, that he can only witness.
6. The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford – The only collection or anthology on the list and no surprise it’s by Jeffrey Ford. There is not much to say excluding that Ford is on his way to having the most impressive body of short fiction of his generation.
7. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie – There is good Rushdie and bad Rushdie and while both tend to overstated because he’s Rushdie this is the former for me. It’s a love letter to imagination given credence by the reputation of the writer in question.
8. The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll – Each year, Carroll should thumb wrestle Gene Wolfe to decide who wears the golden gun and that acts as the crown of the greatest American writer of the fantastic alive. Some writers use whimsy as a style, Carroll uses it to mark territory he needs to bring credence to, or at least treat with credence and see what conversations spark from the meld. The Ghost in Love continues Carroll’s catalog of books that refuse to be characterized by single words, or single entries by the unworthy in any “Best of” lists.
9. Thunderer by Felix Gilman – I missed out on this last year and luckily went back to it this year and really enjoyed it. Certainly atmospheric, and while it has a little drag to it I’m picking it because I find myself really anticipating Gears to the City in such a way that it has to speak well for Thunderer.
10. Template by Matthew Hughes – the guy is quickly becoming one of my favorite SF writers. Template is actually perhaps my least favorite of his works (I highly recommend his Henghis Hapthron books) but I just think so much of his ability to hide whether there is a joke or a brawl around every corner an the rare ability in SF to know that there is no such thing as too much tech, but there is ample opportunity to talk too much tech. That said, there is something to be said about Science Fiction that engages but isn’t overbearing and that’s precision is not simply being cold. These are just fun books and though it may be true that the voice in each novel doesn’t really change – it helps when it’s a voice we love.
(Jay is an owner of and contributor to BSC. He blogs as The Bodhisattva)
Ok Lemme think what I read. The Best Book I read all year was The Story of Pi, by Yann Martel which is a masterpiece, hilarious, realistic, surrealistic, deals with big questions of faith in God, or nihilism, amazing descriptions of the natural world and has a killer twist at the end, which may or may not explain all that comes before. Nothing else like it. Wonderful novel.
In the thriller genre I liked Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen. Love Bruen’s sharp humor, Celine like hatred/affection for life. Reading him is like hearing a great blues song. It’s all trouble and terror, and yet he has such a great affection for life, no matter what. Just because life is misery and pain doesn’t make it less wonderful. That’s Bruen’s take on things.
Also went on a Mike Connolly read-a thon, and they were all so damned good. Loved The Poet the best, tremendous novel. Lincolm Lawyer, Black Ice. All wonderfully done.
Read several books by Henning Mankill, which were hypnotic, especially The Man Who Smiled, and have now read every book by Jason Starr, and wish he’d come out with some more. Loved Lights Out.
Read Richard Prather’s The Peddler, really good noir novel out in Hard Case Crime. Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game also noir out of Hard Case, and wonderful. I love Hard Case because when I was a kid I saw all these books at the Read’s Drug Store in Baltimore, but was too young to buy them. Now I’m catching up on what I missed.
Many younger writers I’m getting into Sean Doolittle, who’s book The Cleanup was terrific. Also like Duane Swierczynski, who is funny as well as dramatic. Loved The Blonde. There are so many really good younger crime writers now that I can’t keep up with them all,and still get my own writing done. But I am going to make a good dent in them this year.
Oh yes, read John Harvey’s Flesh and Blood, my first Harvey and it was poetic and moving that I have to go back and read all those as well.
Crime writing is flourishing again in America. Gee, who would have thunk it as they say in my hometown Baltimore. Think maybe crime fiction reflects the world we live in?
One sad touch: This year one of my best friends since my 20’s died, my mentor, and rambling buddy Jim Crumley. We went to Texas, Mexico, New York, LA, and Montana together, and had adventures too wild to mention here. I miss him every day and suggest anyone read The Final Country a late and terrific book. (I’m assuming most of you have already read The Last Good Kiss, his masterpiece). Have a New Year’s toast to Jimmy, a great writer and a wonderful friend.
(Robert Ward is a novelist, screenwriter and producer. His novels include Red Baker, The King of Cards, The Cactus Garden, Four Kinds of Rain and the forthcoming Total Immunity. His screen work includes Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice and New York Undercover.)
Favorite Reads of 2008 (in the order in which I read them)
1. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams
Quality stories from well-known as well as up-and-coming authors. Although the stories shared a common theme, a big part of the appeal of this collection was never knowing in which direction the individual stories would go. An anthology of interesting, diverse, and surprising stories of life after the apocalypse.
2. Under My Roof by Nick Mamatas
Funny, outlandish political satire that nails its every target with absurd humor.
3. One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
A unique coming of age tale. A young boy who becomes a ghost who, at times unwillingly, matures into a young man. Barzak’s bare prose creates a tense and emotional novel full of atmosphere.
4. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
A classic originally published in 1972 but still as relevant and compelling a read today. Fast-paced, smartly written, full of irony, it triple underscores the simple fact that war is hell no matter if its fought on earth or in space hundred of lights years from now.
5. Blindness by Jose Saramago
I had heard the author’s name spoken in such reverent tones often enough that I finally had to read at least one of his books. I chose Blindness as my introduction to Saramago, and was utterly enthralled by his staccato sentences, the streaming character dialogs, and his ability to create a sense of urgency and at the same time a feeling of detachment.
6. Wee Tim’rous Beasties by Douglas English
Originally published in 1903, the author is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. This slim collection of short stories contains black and white photographs of its varied woodland characters. Charming and beautifully written, Wee Tim’rous Beasties falls somewhere between a nature documentary and Wind in the Willows.
7. The Orphan’s Tales Vol. II: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente
Valente’s prose and story-telling ability absolutely shimmer and shine. Fairytale-like stories that intertwine, go off on wild tangents, only to wind back in again and pick up a familiar thread or return to a previously met character. A compelling read that is difficult to put down because you don’t want to lose that thread.
And a book that makes me dream that I’m living in its world deserves, at the very least, an Honorable Mention. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler is an insane, action-packed trip through a post-apocalyptic United States.
(Trinalor is a reviewer at Bookspot Central)
In putting together this list, I’ve excluded books I blurbed (such as Magdalena Zurawksi’s The Bruise or Adam Golaski’s Worse Than Myself), books by current or former colleagues, books I reread (ranging from Beckett’s Molloy to Peter Straub’s Koko), books published by presses whose boards I served on (like Stephen Graham Jones’ excellent Ledfeather, published by FC2), and books from French not yet translated (such as Mattias Enard’s Zone and Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo). I’ve also restricted myself to fiction (simply because otherwise we’d be here all day), so won’t discuss books like John Clute’s The Darkening Garden or Thomas Metzinger’s Being No One that had a real impact on me as a writer. There are also probably a great many books I’ve temporarily forgotten reading. What’s below is a mix of both 2008 titles and earlier titles, a mix of both literary and genre fiction, that serves as a pretty good reflection of my tastes and reading habits, in no particular order:
Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters
Including a couple of stories published in her earlier collections (including one of my favorites, “The Specialist’s Hat”) as well as a number of previously uncollected stories, Pretty Monsters walks the line between literature and genre with a remarkably sure stride, fusing the literary with elements of horror, sf, fantasy and YA in a way that takes advantages of both literature and genre’s strengths. It’s a great introduction to what Link is capable of.
Read an interview with Kelly Link.
Wyndham Lewis, The Revenge for Love
I read Wyndham Lewis’s The Revenge for Love (1937) for the first time this year—it’s only the second Lewis book I’ve read, the first one being Tarr. It’s a beautifully written and sophisticated book about art forgery and about English involvement in Spanish politics and conflicts just prior to the Spanish Civil War. It’s often very funny, and is fairly merciless toward all groups and factions. It’s an utterly original and unjustly neglected novel; Lewis’s style is unlike that of anyone else.
Roberto Bolano, 2666
I finished this book literally just before writing this piece (and held off writing this until I finished it). I think 2666 is a truly brilliant book. Despite being 900 pages it still feels spare and crafted, with not a word wasted, and with each of its five parts having a separate arc (as well as multiple sub-arcs) that nevertheless adds up to something quite profound. Its depiction of a Northern Mexico border town as a kind of hell is multi-layered and compelling, and the almost flat depictions of a series of murders of young women is stunning. The system of echoes between various different included stories and the way in which Bolano can get you involved with a character and then tear you out of it to get you involved in something else is nothing short of masterful, as is his refusal of comfortable resolutions. If you decide to read a 900 page book this year, this should definitely be it.
Jeff Vandermeer, The Situation
Published by the impressive small press PS Publishing, Vandermeer’s novella The Situation captures the realities of office politics better than anything I’ve read. It recognizes that such realities are best expressed by acknowledging them for the absurdities that they really are. Raises come in the form of slugs shaped like helmets, office managers are made of plastic and paper, an insect is attached to one’s spine before any visit to a superior to erase one’s memory of the route taken to get there, and employees you thought were just like you begin to physical morph into other creatures entirely. It’s a beautifully balanced book that gets at something real by going through the fantastical back door.
Nicholas Mosley, Accident
I first read Mosley several years back, when someone recommended Impossible Object to me. This one I read after watching the Joseph Losey movie (starring Dirk Bogarde) based on the book. It opens with a car accident and then goes back to give the details that nuance the various lives that come together, directly or obliquely, in the crash. It’s a beautifully written book, simple yet rich, and also very subtle in its understanding of human nature and its foibles.
Rick Moody, Right Livelihoods
This series of three novellas, published in 2007, shows Rick Moody at his best. The sentences are wonderfully constructed and Moody is often funny, though the humor always has something painful lurking behind it. “The Omega Force” is about a man’s paranoia and alienation, as fueled by alcohol and by the reading of an outlandish thriller called Omega Force: Code White. “K&K” is about interoffice politics and the affect it has on a disaffected office manager. “The Albertine Notes” is Moody’s strong and beautifully constructed take on a New York addicted to a memory drug called Albertine after a bomb has been dropped on it. Moody’s a rare combination in that he’s always a pleasure to read sentence by sentence, but he’s equally strong when the stories are considered as whole structures.
Steve Erickson, Zeroville
I’ve long admired Steve Erickson’s work. At the heart of Zeroville, published in late 2007 by Europa Editions, is Vikar, a man obsessed with film who has tatooed images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift on his head. Told in a series of numbered short sections that first count up and then count down, it captures the rise of independent film, with all its ups and downs, and the feel of Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s, better than any other recent book I know. It’s an incredibly satisfying book to read for anyone who really loves movies.
Val McDermid, The Mermaids Singing
This is the first book of Scottish writer McDermid’s Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan mystery series which won the UK’s Gold Dagger Award in 1995. Graphic and quite exquisitely disturbing on a psychological level, it cycles back and forth between a serial killer’s journal describing the torture of victims and investigator’s attempt to profile and solve the crime. Add in the complicated dynamic she creates between a driven and dynamic female detective an impotent and tortured profiler trying to convince the British authorities of his chosen science’s usefulness. There’s also an unwillingness to shy away from moral complexities… The next book in the series, The Wire in the Blood, is also great.
Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts
This collection was also first published by PS Publishing, though the edition I read was the later hardback that William Morrow put out. It’s accomplished and literate; it’s one of the few recent books I know that really treats horror in an effective and original way. I like in particular “Best New Horror” for its self-reflexiveness and its willingness to end at a point of tension, the unusual tone of “20th Century Ghost”, and the way that “Voluntary Committal” uses a very simple gesture to create pathways into a different world. “The Black Telephone” is a story I wish I’d written myself.
Peter Straub, Mystery
This novel moves away the supernatural elements often found in Straub’s fiction, but shows what Straub can do with noir and mystery conventions. It contains little echoes of writers I love, Hammett among them, but it always feels entirely like nobody but Straub could have written it. The ending is great as well, nicely uncertain and blank in that great way that only a good noir can be. There are multiple internal echoes as well, and the book is complex and very satisfying. It’s a great way to get primed for Straub’s new one, A Dark Matter, forthcoming in August of 2009.
(Brian Evenson is the author of five books of short fiction and three novels, including The Open Curtain. A novel, Last Days, and a new collection of stories, Fugue State, are forthcoming in 2009.)
Trinuviel’s top 10 reads of 2008
This list is compiled from books that I have discovered and enjoyed in 2008 – hence no re-reads (though there are certain books that I re-read every other year or so). I have read a lot of series and trilogies this year, but I will only mention one book per series in the list since I’ve read a LOT of very good fantasies this year.
George R.R. Martin – A Clash of Kings (1998)
Martin’s epic series is one of my best discoveries this year – thanks to BSC! Though the first three books all are extremely good, my personal favorite is A Clash of Kings – it broadens the story, begins to develop the characters in some very interesting directions and retains a good pace and a tight plot.
Guy Gavriel Kay – Last Light of the Sun (2004)
Kay has long been one of my favorite writers and this novel reminded me just how good he is! Set in the same world as The Sarantine Mosaic and The Lions of al-Rassan, Kay delves into a northern culture (reminiscient of Anglo-Saxon England) during a period of a rapid change. At the same time he plays with the narrative conventions of the epic fantasy in a subtle and elegant manner by letting chance chance play a big role in the way events unfold. He also explores how each individual is the protagonist in his/her own story in a series of short storylines that are tangentially related to the central narrative – all delivered in his wonderfully lyrical prose. Last Light of the Sun is, in my opinion, a quiet and unassuming masterpiece of literary fantasy.
Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest (2000)
The first book in Marillier’s wonderful Sevenwaters trilogy. All three novels are equally strong, but her reworking of an old Germanic folk tale into a compelling and emotionally complex novel lends Daughter of the Forest a little extra depth. It is a deep-felt story of complex relationships and subtle magic, conveyed in a wonderfully descriptive prose.
Mary Gentle – Ash: A Secret History (2000)
Gentle’s alternate history offers an intense and deeply rewarding reading experience. It is a highly intelligent and extremely accomplished piece of literature that explores the relations between history, fiction and myth in a manner that transcends genre. A modern masterpiece of speculative fiction.
China Mieville – Perdido Street Station (2000)
I was deeply fascinated by Mieville’s vision of the teeming metropolis New Crobuzon, which he portrays in a visceral and almost hypnotic prose. He gives the city an organic and living presence in a novel that on a more fundamental level explores questions of difference, hybridity and social injustice. Mieville is highly imaginative and very talented writer.
Ellen Kushner – Privilege of the Sword (2006)
I really loved this elegant little fantasy of manners from the hand of Ellen Kushner. Set in an unnamed city divided between the slum of Riverside and the social elite on the Hill, Kushner delivers a charming coming of age tale that is characterized by a dazzling humour in the style of a vintage regency romance and the swashbuckling quality of a novel by Dumas. It is witty, charming and very entertaining.
Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
Lynch’s debut is a funny and fast-paced caper story, but I was first and foremost enamoured of his vivid portrait of the city of Camorr, despite its obvious reliance on a Venetian cityscape. An entertaining popcorn-read.
Read an interview with Scott Lynch.
Patricia A. McKillip – The Book of Atrix Wolfe (1995)
This novel ought to be read for the pleasure of McKillip’s sensous prose and her ability to re-assemble well-known mythic elements into new and vivid images. Reading McKillip is like delving into a strange and beautiful dream.
Alan Moore and Bruce Gibbons – Watchmen (1986-87)
The only graphic novel on my list. Watchmen is pure genius – a complex and multilayered narrative that is executed in the most amazing manner. Moore and Gibbons are successfully experimenting with narrative structure (both visual and textual), visual symbolism as well as employing perspectives and sequences that are almost cinematic in style. Brilliant!
Tad Williams – The War of the Flowers (2003)
My first experience with Tad Williams. I just loved the way in which he incorporated faerie lore into a vividly detailed image of a strange civilization that is caught in the early stages of urbanization, industrialization and modernization.
Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind (2007)
Sarah Monette – Melusine (2005)
Jo Graham – Black Ships (2008)
Garth Nix – Sabriel (1996)
Naomi Novik – Temeraire/His Majesty’s Dragon (2006)
(Trinuviel is a reviewer at Bookspot Central)
Here is a list of 5 – I’ll be posting a list of 10 at the blog, but these are the ‘best of the best’. 2 are 2008, 2 are earlier, and 1 is a 2009 release.
Mistborn: The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is turning out to be a real breath of fresh air. It both subverts and embraces the typical epic fantasy genre and it does both well. Fans of epic fantasy should run out and read these now if they haven’t already.
Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson. Toll the Hounds is Book 8 in Erikson’s massive series The Malazan Book of the Fallen and perhaps the best one so far. With the strong thematic presence, this entry isn’t for the faint of heart, and I stand by my minority opinion about just how good this book is.
Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover. It’s been 10 years since Heroes Die was originally published and it stands that time well – in fact this is one of the first of what has now become the common, gritty fantasy. And it can kick the ass all those Johnny-come-latelies.
The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick. Along with the book below, The Dragons of Babel stands as my favorite read of 2008. Swanwick beautifully subverts and satires epic fantasy as it tackles both light and weighty themes. Swanwick is an author I need to read more of.
The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker. Sharing the top spot, Bakker offers a great preview for 2009. The first book in a new trilogy following his much-acclaimed The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, The Judging Eye is more accessible to the average reader without sacrificing the depth that gained Bakker so much acclaim. A powerful start to a new trilogy.
(Neth is a reviewer for Bookspot Central and maintains an active blog.
Books of 2008
For all the talk lately about what trouble the publishing industry is in these days, we’re getting an awful lot of great books. And lots of variety. I didn’t see any big over-riding themes and I have no idea what’s going on in the zietgiest or if it’s showing up in the books.
I’m not much for top ten lists or anything like that, but these are some of the books I read this year that I really liked – I’m old enough now that I no longer read past twenty or thirty pages of something if it doesn’t really work for me.
Darwin’s Nightmare by Michael Knowles
A great debut novel – hard-edged and dark. Parker on meth is how I’d describe it. There are no good guys in this book, no cops or private eyes with moral codes. It’s about survival, as you might expect from the title and it’s not often pretty.
The Big O and Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke
The most entertaining books of the year for me and also the most literate, pure joy in the wordplay and some real insight – also include Burke’s A Gonzo Noir.
Borderlands by Brian McGilloway
Another debut novel, a great new detective in Devlin and also a deft touch with the setting of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Once again, crime fiction brings social issues into focus.
Death was the Other Woman by Linda L. Richards
Not a debut for the writer, but for the character, Kitty Pangborn. Now that the introducing of the character and the Depression-are setting is well and truly established, I’m really looking forward to the new one, Death was in the Picture – I love the movies of the ‘30’s, or maybe it’s just Rosalind Russell and Myrna Loy.
Swag by Elmore Leonard
Every few years I re-read this one. A real turning point, the perfect perp-procedural.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins
I’m still in shock that I’d never read this book. The voice is clear and precise and all the meaningful stuff is left unsaid. Really fantastic stuff.
The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
A series of 800 word short stories written for an immigrants’ newspaper in Dublin by the Booker Prize winning Doyle. Funny, sad, hopeful, worrisome, scary – and one of the first books I’ve ever read about the immigrant experience that also takes into account the feelings of the native population and doesn’t just treat them as cartoon buffoons (or maybe that’s just in Canada?).
What Burns Within by Sandra Ruttan
Intense and satisfying, never shies away from the tough stuff. It must be tough to live with this author.
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust
Superheroes in group therapy. No, really. And this Minister Faust guy from Edmonton (Edmonton?!?!) actually pulls it off.
The Murder Stone by Louise Penny
Louise Penny has pulled the cozie, the murder-in-the-small-village solved by the brilliant detective story into the modern era, not by any CSI science or forensics or fancy high-tech gadgets, but by creating fully modern characters. Inspector Armand Gamache is terrific, but it’s the way Penny gives every single character depth that really make her books special.
(John McFetridge is a Canadian writer, born in Montreal now living in Toronto and the author of the crime novels Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.)
I had a slower reading year then in the past but still managed to get through quite a few. But as I look at my shelves of books I see one entire shelf devoted to books released in 2008 that to date remain unread. I’m sure some of these would have made the picking process that much more difficult had I only the chance to have read them. I will read them though, and who knows, maybe some of them will appear on next years list.
A lot of graphic novels crossed my desk and I was under whelmed by a lot of them. Which made those that made the cut stand out all the more.
The only parameter that I applied when compiling my list was to not include any books that I read in 2008 but won’t be published until 2009. To me that seems fair because I want someone interested in one of my picks to be able to go and read it.
Here, in alphabetical order, are my favorite books of 2008.
The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby – I stand by my assertion that Steve Mosby is crime fiction’s best kept secret. Hopefully US readers will have a chance to read his stuff soon because they are missing one of the best up and coming writers around. The 50/50 Killer is a challenging book that gets into your face and demands to be grappled with. The questions asked and the lack of answers given make it more thought provoking then most. Long after I’ve finished it I can’t get it fully off of my mind. That it’s wonderfully written is a bonus too.
Mosby writes books that hurt your heart, get inside your head, make you think and stick with you long after.
In terms of quality, original and intelligently executed fiction Mosby has quietly taken his place as one of the best crime fiction writers we have.
2 On 5 – Quite simply this sports article is one of the best things that I have read all year. Great writing and a story that reads like a great piece of fiction. There is a style and structure here that you just don’t see that much anymore in journalism.
The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno – Meno is a new discovery for me and this book just blew me away. On a short list of great books this is easily my favorite book of the year. The Boy Detective killed me in a way that no other book has since The People of Paper. An original idea, near flawless execution, beautiful writing in service of a story that, quite simply, breaks your heart. PLUS it comes with a decoder ring and embedded codes that add to the story. This is a bold book and I’ll be searching out Meno’s other books.
The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson – When I wrote “If Jim Thompson were alive today he’d want to write a novel like this.” I meant it to be a provocative statement; a challenge to crime fiction readers to embrace a writer that is an unknown quantity in the mystery community. It’s not a hyperbolic statement of idly chosen words, it’s true. But, the mystery/crime fiction community has a collection of dusty gauntlets lying around on the floor just waiting to be picked up and I’ll be happy to add mine to the pile. The Open Curtain is a powerhouse of a book that shows the fracturing of a mind in a way that most others fail to do.
The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell – Those that have read O’Connell already know this but he is the outlier that the other outliers fear, respect and speak about in reverent and hushed tones. Stepping out of the one-book-a-year rut he pulled a Lester Freamon and waited
thirteen years and four months 10 years between Word Made Flesh and The Resurrectionist. By god was it worth the wait though. He was gone for so long that people forgot about him and when the new one dropped there was a great, naturalistic wave of recognition that can only be described as a “Morpheus is fighting Neo” moment that spread through those in the know. People dropped what the fuck they were doing and the shit was on.
Salt River by James Sallis – Memory, time and identity are but putty in the hands of James Sallis. John Turner is a thematic relative of Lew Griffin and they are both pliable characters in a Proustian narrative with an involuntary memory that haunts. You’ve heard of the phrase ‘A mile wide and an inch deep” — well these books are the opposite of that, they are an inch wide and a mile deep. To my SF/F brethren I’ve said that James Sallis is to mystery/crime fiction what Gene Wolfe is to SF/F and as a comparison it’s not perfect but it is apt.
Scalped – Bar none one of the best crime fiction stories out there right now is Scalped by Jason Aaron. There is a depth of brilliance and story here that is unmatched by most. Go. Read it now.
The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford – There are passages in this book that rate as some of Fords best writing as far as I’m concerned (if such a thing is possible). Fearless in its ability and desire to mix the fantastic with the real and on top of that tell a tale of childhood that captures in words the essence of that time.
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow – Rightly or wrongly I tended to view Sharp Teeth through a crime fiction lens but I can’t help it, that was a facet that jumped out at me for a particular reason.
A decade ago Ken Bruen started using quotes from crime fiction books as epigraphs. He quite often broke the prose lines up to resemble poetry and draw out the emotions and impact in the words. These seeds have started to sprout and in the past year we’ve seen crime fiction poetry, my own failed attempt at writing and Sharp Teeth. Sharp Teeth is an honest to goodness crime fiction story told in verse…about werewolves…did I mention in verse? This is a wild book that shouldn’t work but does, and does so greatly.
The Unblemished by Conrad Williams – Williams is another writer that I’ve just discovered this year and the boy can play. Damn! My knowledge and reading of horror has been hodgepodge over the years but this HAS to be something of a classic in the genre. If there are four writers of the apocalypse they surely Conrad Williams not only rides with them but leads them.
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante – My daughter once looked me dead in the eye and told me that I had bad breath. She didn’t do it to hurt me though it did; she didn’t do it to be mean, to her she was just stating a fact. But I was taken aback by her bout of unrestrained, calm honesty. It’s with an intensified precision of language that Elena Ferrante burns us in The Lost Daughter. This is as resonant a piece of psychological horror as I’ve read in a LONG time. I’ll be picking away at this disturbing book for a long time.
Those that just missed the cut, the long list if you will are: Arkansas by John Brandon, Clown Girl by Monica Drake, The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirrilli, Crimson Orgy by Austin Williams, Money Shot by Christa Faust and Rant by Chuck Palanuik and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler.
I struggled a bit with my best book of 2008, but only because I hadn’t kept track of what I’d read and, from memory, nothing stood out as being great. I didn’t read anything I thought was really bad either (or, at least, I didn’t finish anything), but I was wondering what I could pull out as being exceptional. In the end, I’m going to choose Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. This book is exceptional and memorable, and – as I suspected – I’d simply lost track of it. I’ve had the hardback since 2007, but only read it earlier on this year.
Many people will be familiar with the premise by now, either from reading the book or seeing the (outstanding) film made from it, which was also scripted by the author. The story is set in Stockholm in the early 80s, and is based around two characters. Oskar is a 12 year old boy from a broken home. He is badly bullied at school, but takes solace in a scrapbook of murder he keeps, imagining horrible revenge on the boys who target him. One night, in the playground in his complex, he meets Eli, who appears to be a 12 year old girl. She warns him they can never be friends, but through their loneliness the two are drawn together.
Eli has moved into the block with her ‘father’, a paedophile called Hakan. At the same time, a murder occurs in the area, where a boy is drained of blood. The reader is on Eli’s rather obvious secret from the dust jacket: ‘she’ is a vampire, and Hakan her devoted helper. Oskar takes a bit longer to figure it out. In the meantime, Eli encourages him to stand up to his tormentors, and the two grow closer even as circumstances conspire to drive them apart.
It’s a vampire novel – but it’s a feral, desperate depiction of vampires, rather than the suave, sophisticated type. This is a violent and nasty horror novel. It’s also a long one, with Longqvist taking us on various – and perhaps too many – detours into the lives of the various alcoholics and no-hopers occupying the local area, some of whom will become lunch, or perhaps worse.
Everything is unrelentingly bleak, but, for my money, you’re best off skirting the ‘social commentary’ mentioned in many reviews. It’s there, but the heart of the novel is certainly in the relationship between the two protagonists. Individually unpleasant, but forming an appealing bond through rejection, they are the core of the book, creating a moving and tender thread to pull you through all the violence, ice and gore. And, in the end, Lindqvist has a beautiful crowd-pleaser of a finale in store.
Honourable mention to Sophie Hannah’s The Point of Rescue. While perhaps not quite as good as Hurting Distance, the Zailer/Waterhouse series continues with real aplomb. Sophie is an award-winning poet, and her prose is excellent, her characters thorny and alive – completely uninterested in whether you like them, and all the better for it. And the books, which largely avoid overt displays of violence, are deceptively dark. Pitch-black in fact. The Point of Rescue addresses post-natal depression and ‘family annihilation’, and it does so with a disturbingly unflinching eye. Great stuff.
(Steve Mosby is the author of four novels – The Third Person, The Cutting Crew, The 50/50 Killer and Cry for Help)
I was originally only going to mention those books that I read this year that had been published this year. But, out of the 133 books I read this year, only a small fraction of them were published in 2008. So instead, I decided to give you a rundown of the books I read this year that I truly enjoyed and why. With a semi-whimsical listing of what award they won – here is my list in no particular order:
Best Female Protagonist – Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series has been around for a while but I had only discovered it this year when given Fortune and Fate to review. I really enjoyed the protagonists’ perspective in this one, while sometimes it was a bit whiny and self-serving; aren’t we all a bit selfish sometimes? So it felt pretty real to me. It was a good story and worked very well for someone who wasn’t familiar with the world of Twelve Houses.
Best Forensics – Mistress of the Art of Death. Ariana Franklin I discovered this year by accident – seeing the book cover at the library lead me to reading the back cover and checking it out immediately and the next book too. I love historical stories, especially those that deal with the position of women in a man-centric society. If you like historical novels, mystery novels and forensic science – you will love these books. Imagine a 12th century forensic scientist. Difficult isn’t it? It won’t be after you read these books.
Best Short Stories – Mistletoe and Wolfsbane has to be one of the only anthologies where I pretty much enjoyed every story included. Some were a bit scary, some funny, some rather silly but they were all entertaining.
Best In-Story Storytelling – George Frost’s Shadowbridge was new to me this year too and he really has the art of storytelling down.
Best New Series Book – Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors. She has a unique way of blending humor, romance and fantasy that make her stories compelling. Cry Wolf was the first of a new series that I’m anxiously awaiting new installments on.
Best Religious Conflicts – Lois McMaster Bujold has been around for quite some time but I truly discovered her last year in reading her Legacy series. A terrific exploration of how things can go wrong with the world and what small steps continually taken could help fix it. The Hallowed Hunt is a stand alone novel based on her Paladin series and showcases the good, the bad and the ugly about religion and prejudice.
Best Return to Favorite Characters – Lynn Flewelling’s Shadows Return is a long awaited addition to her Nightrunner series. A welcome visit by well-loved friends.
Best Sea Tale – The Black Ship isn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year but after reading five books by Diana Pharaoh Francis, I must admit that I love her characters but still wish she would spend a little more time on what is outside of their minds. I did love her insight into sailing and ship crews though.
Best Teen Angst – Breaking Dawn – After finding out about it by accident, I discovered the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. I read the whole series back to back which tends to make them blend together a bit but despite being a long way from my teen years, I truly enjoyed the story and found much of it to like despite my original misgivings.
Best Thieves – Red Seas Under Red Skies wasn’t mind-blowing but it was a very entertaining and interesting continuation of his series. I look forward to more.
Best Tongue In Cheek – The Reavers – George MacDonald Fraser holds a special place in my heart. My favorite book of all time is his The Pyrates a parody of swashbuckling tales from the big screen. So when I found out he had a new book out I had to give it a try. And it was a fun, entertaining and amusing little ride through a semi-imaginary past.
Best Transformation of Character – Carol Berg’s Breath and Bone and Flesh and Spirit took me by surprise. I found the story to be entertaining and thought provoking. A two book series that ended satisfactorily and not without some surprises along the way.
Best Western – It seems that everyone liked Emma Bull’s Territory so I won’t say more about it other than I enjoyed it.
Best YA – Rachel Caine’s Glass Houses was the best YA book I read all year. It was full of the stuff that teenagers are made of but had lots of surprises including vampires who are the bad guys.
It has been a good year so far with regards to reading. I look forward to what 2009 will bring.
(Amberdrake is a reviewer at Bookspot Central)
In naming our favorite reads of the year we’ve all stated where we have been, and, as Russel put it, it’s been a hell of a year. The final dispatch comes from our point man Al Guthrie as he gives us a glimpse into the future and shows us the road the lies ahead.
I tend to read a lot of books in manuscript or as advance reading copies. So while 2008 was a particularly good year for good fiction, it was 2007 when I read virtually all of my favourites. So in the spirit of the remit I was given for putting together this list, the novels I’m recommending below (alphabetically by author) are ones that I read for the first time this year and which will be published in 2009.
Beast Of Burden by Ray Banks (Polygon, UK, spring ’09)
Banks is a consistently brilliant writer, and Beast of Burden is even more brilliant than usual. He’s returned to the co-narrator technique that kicked off the Cal Innes series (Saturday’s Child), this time switching between the unfiltered voices of Cal and Detective Sergeant “Donkey” Donkin. This is a stunning and perfect conclusion to the series.
Gutted by Tony Black (Preface, UK, summer ‘09)
Tony Black’s debut Paying For It was published in the summer, and it was damn good. Gutted, however, is in a different league. Quite simply, it’s one of the best crime novels to come out of Scotland. And I don’t say that lightly.
Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman (Busted Flush, US, fall ’09)
A co-written novel about lifelong buddies Nick and Todd, low-level wiseguys who get in way too deep and find themselves involved in all manner of unpleasantness. This is a novel that’s full of wit, brutality, lyricism and emotion.
Very Mercenary by Rayo Casablanca (Kensington, US, spring ’09)
This was the most fun I had reading a book all last year. Very Mercenary reads as if Joe Canrahan (director/screenwriter of Smokin’ Aces), Chuck Palahniuk and Philip Dick got together to write a novel with the remit that they had to really let their hair down this time.
Printer’s Devil by Stona Fitch (Two Ravens, UK, spring ’09)
Stona Fitch’s high-concept, prophetic and disturbing literary masterpiece Senseless came out for the first time in the UK in ’08 from Two Ravens Press. The spring will see the same adventurous small press publish Printer’s Devil, an original Fitch novel. Printer’s Devil is a post-apocalyptic/dystopian fable that’s reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and J M Coetzee’s Waiting For The Barbarians.
The Devil’s Staircase by Helen Fitzgerald (Polygon, UK, Feb ‘09)
This is an unusual combination of very disturbing crime fiction and chick-lit. It shouldn’t work and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but somehow it does and I did. Very much. Fitzgerald’s got a terrific sense of humour and she writes superbly.
Winterland by Alan Glynn (Thomas Dunne, US, spring ‘09)
Set in Dublin, Winterland is a powerhouse of a second novel about corruption in high places. Hard to recommend this one highly enough. The attention to detail is extraordinary and there’s one outstanding scene after another. This is the kind of novel I’d like to write when I grow up.
Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride (Harpercollins, UK, spring/summer ‘09)
I’m making a prediction right now that this is the book that’s going to propel Stuart MacBride into the mesosphere (he’s already stratospheric). This is his most ambitious and best novel to date. It deals with a serial mutilator in Aberdeen’s Polish community. And a hell of a lot else. Outstanding.
Hogdoggin’ by Anthony Neil Smith (Bleak House Books, US, spring/summer ’09)
Yellow Medicine introduced bad cop Billy Lafitte to the world. Hogdoggin’ sees him back, hiding out with a cult biker gang, while Rome – the FBI guy who still thinks Billy’s a terrorist – tries to lure Billy out into the open by using Mrs Lafitte as bait. Smith tells this one like he feels it in his bones. A noir classic.
(Allan Guthrie is a Scottish literary agent, an author and editor of crime fiction. His novels include Two-Way Split, Kiss Her Goodbye, Hard Man, Kill Clock, Savage Night and the forthcoming Slammer (2009)