Looking for something to read this holiday season? Here are some of the better books (3 stars and up) I’ve read since September, the last time I wrote one of these posts. 2012 has been a great year for reading, that’s for sure. As always, feel free to give me a holler over on Goodreads if you have a profile; I love talking books with fellow avid readers. These days I’m mostly reading fantasy and sci-fi, but in general I’m always up for trying anything.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
This was an interesting gem, reminiscent of Michael Crichton with a unique action/thriller take on the world of MMORPGs and video gaming. A caveat, though — this duology (its sequel is Freedom(TM)) is pretty dark, violent and depressing, and hardly paints the most positive or flattering picture of gamers. But can you really expect otherwise from a story about a legendary game developer gone psychotic from a fatal illness, triggering a virus with his online obituary that sets off a chain of murderous events threatening the world’s economy and society? A fun read, nonetheless, if you don’t take it too seriously. That goes especially for folks with extensive knowledge of programming and computer network systems, I suspect.
King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
If you enjoyed the first book Prince of Thorns (which I highly recommend too, by the way) then you pretty much have to read this follow-up. The thing with this series is, if you’re familiar with fantasy, then many of the story elements and tropes will feel familiar…except just add a generous dollop of twisted and messed up.
Also, the main character is bit of an asshole. He’s older now, but that hasn’t really changed from the first book! But if you’re okay with that and are in general into the “dark and gritty” fantasy sub genre, then this is a great offering.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Yeah, J.K. Rowling, as in the author of the Harry Potter books. Though I have to say there’s nothing fantasy or child-friendly about this, so it’s probably not a surprise that most of the disappointed reviews I’ve seen so far seem to be from readers comparing it to HP. In fact, I would probably stay far, far away if you’re expecting the same kind of magic, either literally or figuratively, because you won’t find it here.
Casual Vacancy is a contemporary drama, and Rowling’s first novel for adults — and it’s as “adult” as you can get. But one thing that hasn’t changed is her propensity and talent for writing incredible characters. If you think you can tolerate the thought of the author of one of your favorite childhood series writing about sex, drugs, violence, racism, abuse, poverty and all other manner of depressing stuff, then I’d say go ahead and check this out. I’m glad I did, after all. I was so hooked by this book.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
An oldie but a goodie, as they say, and I know damn well I’m about twenty years late to this party. Still, despite enjoying the hell out of this book, at times it was difficult for me to become fully immersed and it wasn’t until I finished it that it occurred to me — perhaps cyberpunk just isn’t my thing. It’s unfortunate to say the least, though I’m glad I finally got to read what is considered by most to be Stephenson’s greatest classic. I wish I had a little more interest in some of the philosophies and concepts in this book, but on the whole I can recognize and appreciate their merits. Worth reading for the experience alone.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Mmm, good old delicious “Sword and Sorcery”, with a touch of Arabian Nights. Admittedly, this causes the plot line and all the characters to start to feel formulaic after a while, but the unique setting of the book went a long way in making up for this.
I also enjoyed the writing, though the formal and almost lyrical style of it had the unwanted effect of making the storytelling feel “flat” and seemingly uninspired at times. Regardless, I’m still impressed. Great fantasy debut from a new author.
Hard Magic by Larry Correia
This book was fun. There’s really no other good way to put it. Granted, it may take a while for readers to get drawn in, but that’s because so much of the beginning was devoted to world building and character development. Still, patience pays off. This first book of the Grimnoir Chronicles takes place in probably one of the most awesome and unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across in speculative fiction.
This story, about a secret magical society tasked to protect people, has a bit of everything — hard-boiled noir, alternate history, steampunk, science fiction, and urban fantasy. There’s magic and superpowers and sky pirates and gangsters and zeppelins and, oh hell, like I said, this book was fun.
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Let’s face is, there are no bad Dresden Files books, just some that are better than others. Personally, I wouldn’t say Cold Days is one of the best, but it was still very good. If you like wizards and magic and action, then this series is definitely for you. At least in this latest installment, there’s so much of all that it’ll make your head spin. That said, I think there was a missed opportunity here for more meaningful and emotional moments.
Unfortunately, at this point, none of the Dresden books are standalone anymore, if they ever were. Part of me really misses Harry’s humble detective roots, when things in his life were less crazy and complicated (well, relatively) and didn’t involve as many end-of-the-world scenarios. Still, I loved the ending to this, and I’m looking forward to the next book more than ever.
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Probably the best book I’ve read all year. Too bad it came out so late in 2012, because in my view Red Country deserves way more attention and accolades than it has gotten so far. If you’re already a fan of Joe Abercrombie and haven’t read this yet, all I have to say is, do not wait. Especially if you enjoyed his First Law trilogy and especially if you love his characters and especially if you’re a fan of westerns.
Those familiar with the John Wayne Western film “The Searchers” will probably recognize the story immediately — our main character Shy South sets off on a journey with her adoptive father to find her little brother and sister who have been abducted by bandits. But Joe A adds his own brand of writing to the main conflict, his own dark style of gritty fantasy. Seems like I’ve been recommending a lot of dark fantasy lately, and maybe one day I’ll get back to reading more of the cheerier stuff, but still! I just loved this one — with all its shocks, twists, battles, humor, dialogue and characters — so, SO much.