Leslie's Favorite Reads of 2013: Time Travel, Aliens and, Of Course, Zombies

I actually hit my goal of reading 100 books in 2013, barely squeaking out that last book just a day or two before the end of the year. Despite the long list of reads, I found myself having a difficult time remembering enough awesome books I’d read to justify a Best Books of 2013 list. Nothing immediately jumped to mind like with last year’s list when Feed, Robopocalypse, Dearly, Departed and Cinder refused to let my brain go months after reading them.

Of the 100 books I read, I rated only 1 with a single star and five others with 2 stars. That seems pretty good, right? Another 26 got three stars, though looking at the list, some of those might need to be demoted. The bulk of my reads got 4 stars with 44 books landing in that category. And yet there aren’t that many in the list that I would be happy to revisit.

What was even more bizarre that, of the 24 books I rated 5 stars, not many of them truly got me excited to write another word about them. Most of the year was spent reading the second books in series that didn’t live up to their predecessors or the final books in series that just made me depressed with boredom. Despite that, I was able to pull together a list of 8 books that I could honestly recommend with a happy heart and a clear conscious.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer – This was one of only three books that came to mind when I started to compile this list. I was happy to find that Meyer recreated the magic of Cinder despite adding an entirely different story line and a new set of characters. It was difficult to put the book down from beginning to end and it even distracted me from an on-going illness, so you know it must have been good.

Something Strange & Deadly / A Darkness Strange & Lovely by Susan Dennard – I thought I’d read SS&D ages before, not as my first read of 2013, but Darkness was going to be on this list anyway. Dennard created a new sort of zombie thriller with steampunk elements, highly amusing side characters and a truly amazing heroine with a mind of her own and an attitude that was a match to any of her male counterparts. Though Dennard made me wait 200 pages until the dashingly ungentlemanly Daniel made an appearance in the sequel, it didn’t dampen the fun and excitement of the story. I have high hopes for the final book in the series and hope it will break me out of the series ending blues I’ve found myself in.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – The world needs more alien books where the aliens are both creepy and yet certain “bad guys” are steeped in shades of gray. Yancey got my heart pounding and in return I beat the book against my couch repeatedly in my strange way to encourage the characters to RUN FASTER. Despite being the first of a series, there were answers without the explanation police stepping in and yet still so much mystery that I need more NOW!

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman – I discovered Angry Robot publishing in 2013, which is probably the most fortuitous moments of my blogging career. Though vN and iD didn’t make this list, they were some of the most unique and intriguing reads I’ve set my eyes on in ages. Newman’s start to her faerie series, The Split Worlds, left me a little speechless with its vivid world building and her ability to somehow make faeries living concurrently with the real world make sense. It was one of the books I truly couldn’t put down. I can’t believe I haven’t made it on in the series, but that’s definitely a goal for 2014.

Three by Jay Posey – Speaking of Angry Robot, I couldn’t leave this book out of my top of 2013 with a clear conscience. I was blown away with this book and Posey’s narrative style. It is nothing like I’ve read before and takes played out tropes from horror and western genres to mold them into something new and creepy and exciting. And then the ending knocked me off my feet, leaving me stunned and with no idea of where this series is headed. That, of course, just left me wanting more.

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill – Another book where I had no expectations or idea where things were going to go. That worked out for the best with this twisty time travel story that actually made sense. I wasn’t really able to write much of a review of the book back in August and I write one now because this is one book best read blind. Having no idea what to expect or any preconceived ideas on plot made this an incredibly pleasant surprise.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas – I wasn’t overly enthusiastic for Throne of Glass, probably because by the time I read it, the entire blogosphere was going nuts over it and too many people were comparing it to Game of Thrones. Despite that – because I am a completest that can’t stop a series in the middle – I picked up the sequel and was delighted by its mix of romance and wizardry. Putting Celaena in the awkward position of working for the man she hates most while she falls for the head of the guard made for an exciting set up. COM built extensively on the mythology started in TOG, which combined with the action to become a fun ride full of adventure and drama.

Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chang – What is a favorites list without one comic series? I read a lot of DC comics this fall, catching up on all my favorite characters’ adventures in the New 52. Unfortunately the Bat Family stories got incredibly convoluted and twisted together, and while Batwoman and Nightwing remain my favorites and Batman & Robin started winning me over towards the end, it was Wonder Woman that really surprised me. Azzarello and Chang surround Diana with mythological gods and fantastical wars between super-powered deities to great and surprising effect. It thrilled me while at the same time making me depressed that no one seems to be able to create a viable film showcasing the awesome that is Wonder Woman. This is unlike any of the other DC comics I picked up this year and it benefits from going a little out there.

In retrospect, my reading list for 2013 was severely lacking in science fiction, which could explain my general blah-ness towards the year’s books. It’s all heavy on YA romance fantasy, so perhaps some adjustments will have to be made for 2014.

What are some of your favorites from 2013? I need some great books to add to my 2014 TBR mountain.

Waiting on Wednesday: Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Breaking the Spine and serves to showcase those books we’re not so patiently waiting to arrive!

I've been finishing up some series this week, first with Champion by Marie Lu and now Allegiant by Veronica Roth, so I thought it was fitting to choose the final book in one of my current favorite series.

Strange and Ever After
Susan Dennard

HarperTeen
Releases July 22, 2014
400 pages

Find it on Goodreads

Preorder it from Amazon

In the conclusion to the trilogy that Publishers Weekly called “a roaring—and addictive—gothic world,” Eleanor Fitt must control her growing power, face her feelings for Daniel, and confront the evil necromancer Marcus...all before it’s too late.

Susan Dennard will leave readers breathless and forever changed in the concluding pages of this riveting ride.

Oh Daniel, how I will miss you when you're done fighting zombies and attempting to fit into upper class society and failing miserably. I will also miss the very fun and durable heroine Eleanor, who regularly gets to save the boys who try so hard to keep her out of trouble. Something Strange & Deadly was a huge surprise to me and I have been addicted and in love with it ever since. I don't want the fun to end, but at the same time I must know how it ends!

Random Tuesday: The 2014 Cover Edition (& Some Random Links)

I wrote this yesterday and it didn't post, so now get belated Random Tuesday on Wednesday for a slightly more random dose of random.

A lot of publishers and authors have been releasing the covers for their upcoming winter and spring 2014 catalogs. A number of them caught my eye, but my absolute favorite comes from Working for the Mandroid friend and awesome zombie-fighting author Susan Dennard. 

Isn't that an amazing cover? I can't wait to see how Eleanor's adventures in Egypt turn out. Susan spoke with fellow author Amie Kaufman at their blog Publishing Crawl at by the next book in her Victorian zombie adventure series.

Speaking about kickass women, there are yet more unsubstantiated rumors about Wonder Woman movie and television ideas being pitched to DC/Warner Brothers. I'm not going to hold my breath on this one. (from DC Women Kicking Ass)

Amy Plum has an action fantasy series starter coming out next May and it also has a pretty awesome cover.

I've spent a little bit of time on DC Women Kicks Ass the last few days. That's where I learned that Greg Rucka, who is a brilliant comic book writer, has a new series starting up this fall called Veil. He is one of the only male comic creators who regularly writes amazing female characters. I don't think this one will be any different. Here's the summary from NYCC this past weekend:

The story opens when a beautiful girl wakes up in an abandoned subway station with no memory of how she got there. When men try to hurt her . . . they wind up dead. Where did she come from? And what is she capable of?

I was pleasantly surprised by not-really-a-zombie-but-staring-a-zombie book Reboot and the sequel, coming out on May 6 has a very intriguing cover.

This year might have been the 75th anniversary of Superman, but next year is the 75th anniversary of my personal favorite, Batman! A new weekly series will be launched in 2014 in addition to probably several other special series. Unfortunately Batman: Eternal doesn't have any great female creators involved, which makes me a little sad. (From USAToday.com)

Alternate faerie tales are all over the place and The Wizard of Oz already has a take on it with Gregory Maguire's Wicked series. Now Danielle Page is bringing the popularity of dystopias to the Emerald City in Dorothy Must Die, coming out April 1.

Epic Reads released a whole slew of covers over the last few weeks and you can see all of them along with their release dates here.

And that's the pretty cover edition of Random Tuesday. What covers and random things have caught your eye lately?

Some Thinky Thoughts: Something Strange & Deadly Book Club Week #3

I apologize for any incoherency in this post. I wrote it while watching Epic Read's Tea Time as a headache grew between my eyes, blurring my vision. Normally I'm a little more comprehensible then this.

It’s the third week in Susan Dennard’s online book club for Something Strange & Deadly. You can see all the great things she’s been sharing, including her star casting of her books and historical information about what was happening when Eleanor and her crew were fighting zombies. It’s a lot of fun and if you haven’t read this series, you need to get on it. This is great zombie fun!

My review of Something Strange & Deadly

My review of A Darkness Strange & Lovely

Now on to Week 3 questions:

Something Strange & Deadly Discussion Question #3

Eleanor finds herself more and more intrigued by (perhaps even attracted to) Daniel Sheridan, the inventor of the Spirit-Hunters. What is it about him that appeals to her? And vice versa, what do you think attracts Daniel to Eleanor?

Then there’s Clarence Wilcox, the seemingly perfect eligible bachelor. Why do you think Eleanor doesn’t like Clarence?

I love the initial love/hate relationship between Eleanor and Daniel. I think she is initially attracted to him because he doesn’t treat her as though she’s a fragile thing despite referring to her as “Empress”. He is highly intelligent and challenges her in no way anyone ever has before. Meanwhile I think Daniel is attracted to Eleanor because she’s so strong-willed and different from most of the flighty high-class Victorian girls who probably wouldn’t give him the time of day. They are both very different from the stereotypes they fit in at first look and I think that attracts them to each other from the beginning.

As for Clarence, it feels much like an obligatory relationship than one built on chemistry. I liked that Clarence was a pretty nice guy despite his own history of not-so-niceness, but he still fell into the habits and social norms of the age. Eleanor wasn’t challenged by Clarence and he didn’t respect her strength of character and intelligence. He was almost the polar opposite to Daniel, who is attracted to Eleanor because of how different she is from her peers.

 

A Darkness Strange & Lovely Discussion Question #3

In 1876, Paris was really the most glamorous city on earth. The City of Light with its electric street lamps, it's uniform (and gorgeous) beige buildings and slate rooftops, the museums and gardens--to say nothing of all the beautiful people and clothes. It's no wonder the Spirit-Hunters find themselves distracted from the Dead by luncheons and salons, new clothes and new equipment. Do you think, if you were in their shoes, you might also be easily distracted by all the wonders Paris holds? Or would you be better able to force it all aside and focus on the rising problem of les Morts?

I would get distracted by the pastries. I would just sit in a café and gorge on pastries, completely forgetting about the wandering dead. I would hope that I would eventually fall out of my pastry coma and deal with the zombies, but I don’t think the luncheons, salons and society events that distract the Spirit Hunters would keep me away from fighting zombies. Then again I’m not very social. I don’t think Paris would change that. Instead I would get distracted by food and art and the wonders of Paris.

 

If you're participating in the Something Strange & Deadly book club, link up your responses to this week's questions in the comments below.

Some Thinky Thoughts: Something Strange & Deadly Book Club Week #2

Last week the online read-along and book club for Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly began and she posed an interesting “reader discussion” question for that book as well as one for the sequel, A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Because both of these books are crazy awesome, I babbled about my thoughts last Wednesday. Today we meet again, Something Strange & Deadly book club. This is the place where I babble bookishly while quietly mourning the death of my IRL book club because of all the baby-having.

Anyway, you can see Susan’s week 2 post at her blog, where she has additional interesting information about why Victorians put bells on people’s graves and a sample of what the steamer ship in second book may have looked like in real life.

My review of Something Strange & Deadly

My review of A Darkness Strange & Lovely

Something Strange & Deadly Discussion Question #2

Magic and ghostly elements frequent the Something Strange and Deadly series. Even though corpses do awaken from time to time and hauntings are hardly that uncommon, the people of Philadelphia seem determined to pretend the Dead are not a growing threat. Do you think that’s part of human nature? To push on and ignore the danger at our door? Or do you think Philadelphia’s ignorance—or for that matter, any ignorance/false sense of safety in modern days as well—can be pinned on politicians? Can you think of any examples where something similar happened, but rather than the Dead, it was a natural disaster/growing crime rate/etc.?

I’ve come to find that many people enjoy pretending unpleasant things don’t exist, hoping that if they look the other way someone with less to do with deal with the issue so they don’t have to. Or maybe if they ignore the issue, it will quietly shuffle away before withering up from lack of attention. I’ve never understood this mentality and adds to the growing dread I have regarding the impending zombie apocalypse. Before anyone takes it seriously, we’re pretty much going to be dead.

I think the politicians in SS&D (and in real life) don’t help matters. When you have impressionable people listening to ignorant blowhards spouting off lies like their truth and spreading ignorance, it’s a disaster waiting to explode all over everybody. It’s a large contributing factor to the strict partisanship that clogs up government and leaves people watching Fox news and believing it fact. To this day there is still a faction of people who think childhood inoculations can be tied to autism despite that the “doctor” who did the study that is always quoted as proof has been proven to be a lying phony who has no idea what he’s talking about. Rather than listen to all the other scientists who dispute the connection, a subset of parents want to believe in fake science, depending on other people to inoculate their children to prevent near extinct diseases from spreading. Instead you get a bunch of kindergarteners with ruebella.

But I’m ranting (and I didn’t even touch climate change) and it’s not even about an awesome book.  So the simple answer is yes, human nature generally prefers “ignorance is bliss” and politicians don’t help.

 

A Darkness Strange & Lovely Discussion Question #2

Eleanor finds herself increasingly dependent on Oliver. She claims she does not trust him, yet she continues to turn to him for help and guidance. Do YOU trust him? Or do you think, were you in her shoes with Hell Hounds at your heels and Marcus not further behind, you would reject Oliver’s offers of “help?”

Oliver is a curious character. I understand Eleanor turning to him because he’s the only one with a feasible solution and the power to save her in several situations. She has no idea what’s going on and Oliver knows how to protect her at least temporarily even though he is a demon. He has his own motives for helping her and it’s heavily implied that he was in love with her brother, so there may be a sense of loyalty on his part. But I understand both Eleanor’s hesitation in trusting him after having heard all the things about demons from her friends, but having to due to the situation.

 

Are you participating in Susan’s book club? Link up your responses in the comments. I’d love to read them!

Some Thinky Thoughts: Something Strange & Deadly Book Club Week #1

Susan Dennard is holding a book club over the course of August for her awesome Victorian zombie series that begins with Something Strange & Deadly and continued in the recently released A Darkness Strange & Lovely. These two books are some of my top reads of 2013, so I was super excited to see that Susan was holding an online book club for all the fans of her series to discuss her work of awesome.

My review of Something Strange & Deadly

My review of A Darkness Strange & Lovely

Along with the questions, Susan shared some fun extras on her blog, such as an authentic etiquette manual from the 1860s and pictures of the mental hospital featured in the beginning of A Darkness Strange & Deadly.

This is the first week’s set of questions are below. Potential spoilers for Something Strange & Deadly are in my answer to the A Darkness Strange & Deadly question at the end.

For Something Strange & Deadly:

Eleanor’s mother expects a lot from poor El. She wants Eleanor to marry and save the family from financial ruin (despite the fact that Eleanor is only 16), she wants Eleanor to become friends with the rich “cool” kids (like Allison or the Virtue Sisters), and she wastes money the Fitt family doesn’t have on new gowns and fancy house decor. She demands Eleanor behave according to “proper etiquette” and squeeze into a corset that deforms her ribs.

Do you think, given the time period, Mrs. Fitt is justified in her demands on Eleanor? Why or why not?

While this is a common sort of behavior shown in Victorian-era literature, I’ve never found it to be very rational. After the death of her father, the responsibility of maintaining the family’s well-being fell on the shoulders of Eleanor’s older brother, who took off on some studious mission that eventually leads to the events in the first book. With him out of the picture it really should have been Mrs. Fitt’s duty to maintain their stature or at least face the facts that things needed to change. By grasping onto the final threads holding up the Fitts’ stature by essentially trying to sell her daughter off to the highest bidder, she’s showing that she cares more about money and reputation that her own daughter’s health and happiness.

In the context of the era though, I suppose it makes sense for a woman raised on the misguided morals and expectations of the upper class to place all her expectations on her 16-year-old daughter when the men in her family disappear rather than face truth and start living a more modest lifestyle. Still it makes me sad that Eleanor is faced with such epic expectations at a young age. And corsets didn’t make much sense at any point in time.

 

For A Darkness Strange & Lovely:

Eleanor finds herself with next to nothing at the start of A Darkness Strange and Lovely. Do you think she is justified in leaving Philadelphia and leaving behind her mother? On the flip side, can you put yourself in Mrs. Fitt’s shoes and understand why she might be so cruel toward Eleanor?

Mrs. Fitt infuriated me in the first book, but it was nothing compared to the abysmal treatment of Eleanor in the one scene they shared in the second book. The circumstances behind Mrs. Fitt’s breakdown into a blind rage that leads her to disowning her daughter all fit together. The events involving Eleanor’s older brother in the first book don’t fit into the small society world that is her mother’s life, so it’s inevitable that rather than face reality and cope, she has a mental breakdown. Eleanor did the best she could with what she had, putting her mother’s care and well-being before her own and doing everything she could.

But when her mother chooses the magically resurrected son Eleanor claimed was dead over her daughter, there is absolutely nothing left for Eleanor. Her mother is beyond reason and the only thing that can be done to keep her safe is to leave Philadelphia. Despite the devastation that she felt after her mother’s outburst, she still did what was best for her mother’s well-being.

From the perspective of her mother, I can understand why she chose her son instead of her daughter. That her son was still alive fit better into the world view she was grasping on to so tightly. Even so the outburst of outright disowning Eleanor is over the top and beyond irrational. I can’t empathize with her going that far, but she’s also not even close to being in her right mind.

 

And those are my thoughts for this week’s book club. If you’ve read Susan’s amazing series, what do you think about Eleanor’s mother? Is she your average over-bearing Victorian age house wife or is she over the top?