My favourite sci-fi/fantasy books of 2013

As always, last year I read so many good sci-fi/fantasy books, I can hardly remember them all. Here are the ones that stuck in my head because they were especially great.

The Drowned Cities

Paulo Bacigalupi’s follow-up to his YA novel, Ship Breaker, tells the tale of Mahlia and Mouse—two orphan refugees trying to survive in a war-torn future America where global warming, resource mismanagement, and corporate greed have brought about profound social and economic collapse.

When Mouse is forcibly conscripted into an army of child soldiers, it’s up to Mahlia and a genetically modified half-man, half-beast weapon named Tool to save him before the depredations of war damage him beyond all recognition. Not a light tale by any stretch of the imagination, but Bacigalupi creates compelling and realistic characters, and the grim future he envisions is frighteningly easy to believe in.

 

Amulet

amuletMy eight-year-old son got The Stone Keeper, the first book in this graphic novel series as a Christmas present in 2012 and immediately borrowed the rest of the books from the library. He inhaled them all.

The books tell the story of Emily and her younger brother, Navin. After the tragic death of their father, the siblings are forced to travel to an underground world populated by menacing elves, man-eating demons, and robots to rescue their kidnapped mother and save a world threatened by unspeakable evil.

Although ostensibly written for the 10-13 crowd, Amulet is one of those rare graphic novel series that appeals equally to all ages. The story is gripping and the artwork is gorgeous. I’m just as impatient and excited as my son is for book 6 to come out hopefully this spring.

 

Embassytown

embassytownOh, China Mieville. No other writer’s imaginary worlds are as dark, twisted, alien and somehow still irredeemably human as yours are.

Embassytown tells the story of a colony of humans living on a planet inhabited by a benign and mysterious alien species on the far edge of the galaxy.

The Arieke, or “Hosts,” speak a complex language that makes it impossible for them to express anything other than literal truth and can only be approximated by Ambassadors, cloned human twins raised from birth to telepathically anticipate each other’s thoughts and speak in unison. When a new type of ambassador comes to Embassytown, the equilibrium between the humans and the Arieke is destroyed and the colony finds itself threatened with annihilation.

This story is as much a meditation on the power of language to shape reality as it is a compelling and original vision of what living on an inhabited alien planet might be like.

 

Leviathan Wakes

leviathan wakesIf you’re hankering for a well-written, exciting space opera, look no further. This thrilling series opener kicks off with a ship’s entire crew getting reduced to a horrifying puddle of goop when they come into contact with an ancient alien bio-weapon that was supposed to reach Earth a billion years ago but instead got hooked into orbit around Saturn.

Now that this ancient bio-weapon has been discovered by one of Earth’s most powerful corporate entities, what does it mean for the future of the human species? (Hint: nothing good.)

Leviathan Wakes is the first book of James S. A. Corey’s Expanse trilogy and is one of those rare page-turners that kept me guessing the entire way. I’m currently a third of the way into the final novel and still have no idea how the story’s going to end – the mark of a fantastic story, in my books.

 

REAMDE

reamdeOkay, so this story isn’t strictly science fiction or fantasy, but given that it was written by Neal Stephenson and a significant chunk of the action takes place in a World of Warcraft-like video game environment, I had to include it. (Mostly because I loved it oh so much and wanted to write about it.)

REAMDE kicks off with a classic “wrong place at the wrong time” scenario in which the niece of a millionaire video game creator gets kidnapped by the Russian mafia, who need her shady computer programmer boyfriend to help them find the Chinese hacker who has compromised their sensitive banking information.

The story takes them from the Pacific Northwest to China and then into the wilds of the BC interior and involves gangsters, Muslim terrorists, British secret agents, evangelical Christians, drug runners, and mountain lions. A fun and gripping read and a great introduction to Neal Stephenson if you’ve never read any of his other books.

 

The Night Circus 

night circusWhat do you get when two ancient magicians make a wager on who can train the most powerful apprentice – and a 19th-century traveling circus is the stage on which their protégés are forced to do battle? One of the darkest, most original and unforgettable love stories you’ll ever read.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so all I’m going to say is that this book will either make you want to run away with the circus – or run screaming from anyone who professes to have magic powers. One of the best stories I’ve read in years.

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making


the girl whoIf you love Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, then you need to read this book by Cathrynne M. Valente. In my view, it’s the first true successor to these time-honoured children’s classics that manages to pay homage to them while still being a completely original work that deserves to become a classic in its own right.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland tells the tale of September, a 12-year-old girl who’s whisked away from her boring life in Nebraska by the mischievous Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland so she can have an adventure of her own. On her quest to retrieve a spoon from the tyrannical Marquess who now rules Fairyland, she teams up with a Wyverrary (half Wyvern, half library) and an Arabian djinn named Saturday.

When her friends are kidnapped by the Marquess and taken to the other side of Fairyland, she is forced to unravel the mystery of the beloved Queen Mallow’s disappearance and the Marquess’s rise to power.

Although it’s ostensibly written for 10-12 year olds, this book is rich with deep allegorical meaning that appeals to adults as well and will make you and your children want to read it over and over again.

And best of all, it’s only the first book in a series. I can’t wait to read book number two!

So what were your favourite sci-fi/fantasy books of 2013? Or do you read books from a different genre? Let us know what your top picks were in the comments!

 

Books Inspiring Design

When school let out for summer, I had a great big to-do list of home improvement. I also had a stack of really good books. For the first week of vacation, when all of the kids were in camp, I read The Night Circus by Amy Morgenstern and redecorated my laundry room.

It’s interesting to me, the way that my mood is so affected by what I’m reading. I had found this great wallpaper with images of Paris and London on it and needed to choose a paint colour to go with it. When I got to the card in the fan deck filled with magical names, I choose Para’s “Shape Shifter”. How could I not?

The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room
The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room

So I spent the week painting, reading The Night Circus (while the paint was drying), and hanging wallpaper (thanks Dad!) Now I have a laundry room that I actually like to be in, and I even leave the door open so that everyone can see it.

The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room
Even the clothes are from the closet of a Reveur.

The Curiosity

The Curiosity, by Stephen P Kiernan, is an amazing book. It’s right up there with The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Night Circus. You haven’t read The Night Circus yet? Go read it. Now. Then we can talk.

 

In The Curiosity, a dedicated geneticist has her morals challenged by a scientific discovery. She knows that reanimation of tiny creatures is possible, if only for a very short time. But when this science is applied to a human, when does science end and humanity begin?

 

 

Winter Reads for 2012

It’s been a rainy and windy west coast winter, and we’ve been reading lots! From a dinner guest who won’t leave (There But for the by Ali Smith) to a preist’s murder in an underground New York S&M den (Heat Rises by Richard Castle), there are many ways to escape the winter weather.

What I just finished reading

My favorite place to find a good book is at the Gibson’s Public Library on the shelf area where one checks out their books.

Given that I am usually there with my badly behaved soon to be 4-year old, I don’t have a lot of time to peruse the shelves. So this is a convenient place to grab and go. I am rarely disappointed. And, once in a while, I get a really good one.


Enter The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel. Set in London at the end of the 19th Century, the story follows the adventures of an Oxford man who has been “sent down” and gets swept up into the coffee trade. I won’t give away anything else as I prefer to be surprised but I can assure you that the story is gripping. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in 2 days. (Footnote: I also gave up my coffee addiction a few weeks ago and reading this book was like seeing an old lover…or sitting near a smoker to deliberately catch a whiff of second-hand smoke.)

What I’m reading now


Just started reading Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie. It’s been a few years since I’ve read a Rushdie novel and he’s long been one of my favourite writers. And two of my other favourite writers — Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon — have written blurbs for the book that appear on the back cover.

So excited to dive into it!

Room by Emma Donoghue is a great read!

When I picked this book up from the library, the librarian, who is a friend of mine, said, “Are you sure you want to read this?” I told him that as long as it was nothing like The Road, I’d be fine. Probably. (I’ve been banned by my husband from reading post-apocalyptic books after reading The Road. More on that later.)

Room is amazing. Like Lovely Bones, it deals with a horrifying situation in a way that still leaves you feeling hopeful.

“WINNER!” 2010 Rogers Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction

SHORTLISTED for the 2010 Man Booker Prize

SHORTLISTED for the 2010 Governor General’s Award

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

book club choice the magiciansGenre: Modern Fantasy

Rating: A-

Who Will Like This Book: Anyone who’s interested in exploring the darker implications of beloved escapist fictional worlds such as Narnia or Hogwarts. Also, lovers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dickens, and Victorian Gothic.

Do you worship at the alter of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? Are you a fan of Susana Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? Then you will enjoy this book.

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Book club member Maria G recommended The Magicians to me. I loooved it. It’s not your typical escapist fantasy—in fact the entire story can be read as a deliberately planned attack against the escapist desire to retreat into a fantasy world.

Quentin is a seventeen-year-old genius who would love to escape his dreary excuse for a life and disappear forever into the magic lands of the fantasy novels he read as a child. Then, on one cold November day he stumbles upon an Brooklyn alley that leads him to warm, sunny  Brakebills College where he discovers that magic is actually real — and he has a particular aptitude for it.

Abandoning his Ivy League future, Quentin enrolls at Brakebills and dives into his magical studies. He works hard and acquires the kind of powers he’d always dreamed of but never imagined could be real, all while experiencing the typical joys and sorrows of university life—alcohol, sex, peer rivalry, angst, you name it. He ultimately discovers that magic powers aren’t the  cure-all he’d always imagined them to be, and that sometimes when you spend your life chasing after a dream, all you find is a nightmare.

The only reason why I didn’t give this one a full “A” is because Quentin is such an unrelenting weenie.

He has to be, in order for the story to have the impact it does. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend half the book wanting to knock him upside the head.

This review was written by Erin W. To learn more about Erin’s book preferences, click here.