My Favourite Things: 2014

It’s time to collect all my favourite things and play show and tell! Highlighted entries point to reviews and rambles on this blog.

Books

BooksI read 292 books this year. That’s a lot. Consequently, I awarded many five-star ratings. 72, to be exact. Narrowing down a list of favourites that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed was really, really hard. In the end, I decided on the books that were the biggest surprises.

Science fiction was the most difficult field to narrow. I read a lot of great science fiction this year. I read a lot of great and surprising science fiction–books that did something different, or took an idea and twisted it. I also read a number of books that could be counted as instant classics. Maybe not so new and different, but just such a wonderful illustration of why I love the genre. Among these would be Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Martian* by Andy Weir and Trial by Fire* by Charles E. Gannon.

But the book that did it all differently makes my science fiction book of the year.

Science Fiction: The Flight of the Silvers* by Daniel Price 

Super powers, alternate dimensions, cosmic cycles and beautifully flawed characters. The Flight of the Silvers has it all, and more.

Fantasy: Sword of the Bright Lady* by M.C. Planck and Control Point by Myke Cole

A tie, in which two authors took fantasy and finally did something new and different with it. In Sword of the Bright Lady, M.C. Planck fictionalised the table-top gaming experience, right down to how XP is earned and magic is used. It’s a damn good story too. In Control Point, Myke Cole militarised magic. Gathered sorcerers under the banner of the United States military and then f*cked with the formula until they bled. Both books feature top notch characterization.

Graphic Novel: East of West, Vol. 3: There Is No Us* by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Stunning art work and storytelling: The Four Horsemen are having a difference of opinion. Death’s not ready to continue the cycle of apocalypse that has claimed this world over and over. (My reviews of volume 1  and volume 2 have more detail.)

Non Fiction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

An audio gem that captured me for weeks. A large part was due to the skillful narration by Dion Graham. He interpreted as he read, adding tone and inflection that personalised this memoir. By the end, I felt I knew Dave Eggers and his brothers. That I had grown up with them. Also, it’s just a damned good story.

Romance: Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell

The entire four part “Seasons” or “Something Like” series is wonderful. A tale of three men whose lives and loves intersect as they come of age and learn to navigate the world as adults, lovers, and gay men. The third book, Something Like Autumn, wrecked me. Even a month afterwards, just thinking about it put a lump in my throat. And yet, I don’t regret reading it because the author managed that ultimate surprise. Despite the ending, I felt hopeful. Despite my tears, I gained a sense of peace. That’s REALLY hard to do.

Young Adult: Red Rising* by Pierce Brown

I generally don’t have a high opinion of Young Adult books, that’s why this one is the surprise. I discovered it in the audio lending library and, because it was new—they don’t add speculative titles that often, I decided to give it a go. I was pretty much blown away by the end of the first chapter. Part of it was the narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. He voiced every character with depth and emotion and even sang when the book required it. The greater part was that the character of Darrow and his story. It’s epic. It’s also complicated. Darrow makes so many mistakes, and he doesn’t always learn from them first time ‘round. The final part is the plot. It’s harrowing and clever. And it’s NOT bright young things against the crusty old establishment. Actually, it is, but not all the young are bright and not all the old are evil and/or stupid. There’s a good balance. Red Rising is more an illustration of a society that is eating itself from the inside out.

I just finished the sequel this morning. It’s stunning in it’s intensity and scope and I can’t wait to share my review.

(Books marked with a * were published in 2014)

Movies

MoviesIn Theatres: Interstellar

Until I saw Interstellar, Fury could have been my favourite film this year. I’m a fan of David Ayers as a writer and director. Just knowing he had a film coming out put Fury on my “must see” calendar. It’s the story of a five man tank team who complete a heroic mission behind enemy lines toward the end of World War II. It’s blood, gritty and very, very real.

What can I say about Interstellar? How about: at the end, my husband, daughter and I sat silently for about five minutes. We had to digest. Then, when we tried to pick it apart, we figured out a solution for every perceived hole. And they were elegant solutions. At the heart of it all, though, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan told a bloody good story.

The acting in both movies was wonderful.

On DVD: Draft Day, Lone Survivor, The Normal Heart, The Kings of Summer, Prisoners and Rush

Only six five star ratings, so they’re all listed here. Again, it’s a somewhat eclectic mix. 🙂

TV

TVWhile Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. continued to enthrall me, my two favourite shows were watched via Netflix. Strike Back and Marco Polo. Strike Back follows a fictional division of British Intelligence into terrorist hot spots where they kick ass and take names. It’s shocking, violent and twisty, with the script and acting to pull it off. Marco Polo consumed Husband and I for eight days. Twice, we watched two episodes at once because we had to. The show is gorgeous, gripping and probably the best TV I’ve seen in years.

Games

GamesA lot of fun was had as the family continued our co-op play through of Borderlands 2.  We’ve started the Prequel-Sequel. The game I wanted to break into tiny little pieces was Assassin’s Creed III. I’m so scarred, I’ve yet to play Assassin’s Creed IV. I enjoyed Thief up until the end. I still don’t understand what happened at the end, but this game called to the loot hound inside me. DMC Devil May Cry has one of the most tightly encapsulated plots I’ve ever seen. And it’s freaking gorgeous. The most anticipated game was Dragon Age: Inquisition, and so far, it’s living up to the promise of all those years of waiting. Likely, it will top my personal chart in 2015. For this year, however, my favourite game was another surprise:

Favourite Game: Saints Row IV

Downloaded on a whim over a free preview weekend. Ten hours later, I was totally hooked. The surprise was everything I didn’t expect: story, heart and soul. And fun. Tank Mayhem FTW. I had an idea the Saints Row games were all about pretending to be a “gangsta”. They’re not. While some folks might think the inherent violence in the game is an issue, really, it’s a hell of a lot more tame than may others I’ve played. And there are plenty of quests that have nothing to do with being the fastest draw. But, let me just say that after a long day of edits, running a tank over a few pixelated souls is good therapy.

Music

MusicI didn’t listen to a lot of music in 2014. I spent a lot of time writing and I don’t listen to music when I write. Not usually. Listening to audio books while doing chores and driving also cut into music listening time. But I did discover a new artist and an album I was able to rave about.

Favourite Album:  Hozier by Hozier

If you haven’t listened to “Take me to Church”, click through and give it a listen. Then come back and tell me if that voice gave you chills.

Favourite Song: “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay

Like a lot of Coldplay songs, this is one I will be able to listen to for years without getting bored.

Food

A trip to New Orleans served up the best burger, ever.

Favourite Dish: Tableau Cheeseburger

Three 2 oz. grass fed beef patties from Gonsoulin Farms. topped with American cheese, housemade pickles, and sliced onion on an onion bun. Served with Housemade ketchup. Crystal aioli and pommes frites. Served by Tableau Restaurant, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Activity

When not tweaking my blog theme, I read a lot and wrote a lot. Both continue to be my favourite activities, because both take me on a journey. Also, this year, for the first time, my writing interfered with my reading. While writing the male-male science fiction romance series I’m co-authoring with Jenn, I found I couldn’t read any other male-male romance because my head and heart were consumed by our own story and characters.

So, I could say writing was my favourite activity, but instead, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Favourite Activity: Collaborating with my co-writer, Jennifer Burke.

Chaos Station is not the first book we’ve written together, but this is the journey that’s taken us the farthest so far. We live and breathe these boys, their lives and their story, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Chaos Station is available for pre-order and is due to be released on March 2, 2015. We just handed in the final line edits for Lonely Shore (book 2) and that is scheduled for some time in May 2015. Up next is developmental edits on Skip Trace (book 3).

I also wrote two solo novels and two short stories, all of which feature romantic themes. I’ve a few projects in development for next year. Jenn and I need to write books 4 and 5 of the “Chaos Station” series. I also want to delve into a world I’ve been putting together for a while now, start developing and telling stories there. I have a couple plotted out, I just need to see which set of characters starts talking the loudest.

That’s it, my list for 2014. I hope you all had a great year. 2015 has a lot of exciting stuff in store for me (three scheduled book releases and a bunch of conventions!). I hope it’s a good one for all of you.

Review: Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

 

Before dirty bombs turned the island of Manhattan into a ghost town, Spademan was a garbage man. After he lost his wife in the attack on Times Square, he turned to the escape of the limnosphere – a virtual reality that exceeds the functionality of the internet. To access the limnosphere, one requires special equipment. Expensive equipment. The rich have retreated there almost permanently, their bodies entombed in special beds where they are tended by nurses who plug feed bags into IVs and wipe their bums afterward.

As an out of work garbage man, Spademan is limited in his resources until someone asks him to do them a favour. Armed with his wits and a box cutter, Spademan embarks on a new career, that of hitman. He has access to incinerators and a dead body is just another form of garbage, right? The killing part, well, Spademan has a few rules to govern that. He’ll kill men and he’ll kill women, because he doesn’t like to discriminate. He draws the line at killing children, however, because in his words ‘that’s a different kind of psycho’. Good to know.His latest target barely qualifies as an adult. Also, she’s habouring a secret that is something like a pile of garbage. The deeper you delve, the more rotten it is. Continue reading “Review: Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh”

Review: Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

Falling Sky

It’s hard to read about a plague called the Bug when global viral catastrophe is a very real threat. This week saw the first case of Ebola in the United States. I live a couple thousand miles north of Dallas, but I’ve seen the movies and I’ve read the books. Apparently, I like scaring myself. I’m not alone in my fascination, however, which is why post-apocalyptic fiction has always had a place…and currently enjoys such an upsurge in popularity.

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna captures the panicked urgency of a viral plague extremely well. It’s not clear how long the world has been under the sway of the Bug, but the effects are profound. The bulk of humanity or what’s left of us has taken to the sky to live in airships and floating cities, some of which are tethered to tall buildings. Below, Ferals roam the detritus of civilisation. The Bug is extremely contagious, but does require contact, generally that of the fluid kind, which has also wreaked some interesting changes on society. Casual sex just isn’t a thing, for instance, not when just kissing someone can cause you to Fade, losing the power to reason. Continue reading “Review: Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna”

Review: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker (Peacemaker, #1)

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger of a preserve of land known as Birrimun Park. With the park’s peace threatened by drug smugglers, Virgin partners with U.S. Marshall, Nate Sixkiller. It’s not a match made in heaven. While the pair bounce off of one another, bodies start falling. Virgin is the cops’ number one suspect, though their interest in her seems more personal than professional. Add imaginary animals, vodun, a gang war and the seven-year-old mystery surrounding the death of Virgin’s father, and the mystery deepens several-fold before unravelling.

Peacemaker’ sets a fast pace which only increases as the pages turn. I did like the way the reader is flung into the action and did not mind the seeming lack of explanation. I am not a reader who requires all my facts up front. I’m happy to play sink or swim. Marianne de Pierres’ world is near future and has a vaguely dystopian feel. Outside the preserve, the cities of the east coast of Australia seem to have merged into one large metropolis, little of which is safe to walk alone. Many territories are marked by gangs and some by regressive cults. The mix of Australian and south western American culture in the more civilized parts is very weird, as is the blend of characters which populate the story.

Virgin, herself, began to irritate me about a third of the way through the book. She’s headstrong, yes, but often stupidly so. The confounding part was the fact she did not appreciate the same trait in her companions. So while she ran off to do things that had to be done, she took exception at anyone but her reporter friend doing the same. In other words, she took the strong, independent female thing and stretched it a little too thin for my taste. But, all the other characters in the book like her. She’s feisty and charming. All the guys want her, and despite her prickly nature, feel the need to look out for her.

The mystery takes a back seat to Virgin’s antics as well. Often, I forgot the details of the plot while she hunted down another clue. It’s not a complicated plot, but not well served by the novel’s progression. Then there is the wide variety of secondary characters. Sorting them into their proper place is part of the story, certainly, but there are too many names and faces. By the end of the book, it feels like everyone is involved, which made me wonder why the death of Virgin’s father wasn’t investigated more thoroughly seven years ago.

Finally, I found the blend of cultures interesting, but as a native Australian, I felt more keenly the dilution of my own culture. That’s not a mark against the book, it’s more a comment on the author’s vision of the future. It seemed very un-Australian, as if all that made our country unique had been exchanged for something that better identified it to the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s a statement on the cultural shift going on down there right now.

Peacemaker’ is a fun and fast read. I found it lacking in some ways and I was frustrated by the dearth of information regarding the appearance of the imaginary animals. But there is a quick wrap up at the end that seems to set the scene for further adventures, so perhaps the story isn’t done.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

 

Humanity exists only between the stars, onboard a giant ship called The Noah. The journey to a new planet will take over a thousand years and in that time, the soap opera of life continues to play out, with more than a few dystopian tweaks.

Those who test well are Implanted and trained in a particular set of psionic skills. Visible filaments and plates – on the skin, finger tips, skull, face – give clues to the talent of each person. Those with the most sought after talents rise to ‘mission critical’ positions within the ship’s hierarchy, and those with only a thread of power clean up after them. It’s how society works, and how this one will maintain until they reach their destination.

Hana Dempsey is extraordinarily talented with ‘Touch’. This allows her to shape matter – even the ‘plastech’ that the ship is made of – into anything. Clothing, tools, shields. She can reshape a room, or given the right amplification, perhaps an entire building. As such, she has a role in City Planning. She and her team administrate the Habitat, from housing to supply.

Leonard Barrens is a police man, a peace keeping officer whose extraordinary strength and stamina is further enhanced by his Implant. An investigation into a possible serial killer prompts him to ask Hana for assistance.

Though from distinctly different social classes, the two friends find they have more in common than the case, the hunt for a mysterious serial killer. The Forever Watch is not a love story, however. It’s a thriller and the relationship between Hana and Barrens serves to highlight the structure of the society humanity has constructed.

The search for clues turns up more than a treatise on utopia versus dystopia. The ship – humanity’s salvation and mission – is not what they think it is, not quite, and the rules of their society are in place to cover a very specific and brutal truth. Or truths – one of which is not revealed until the very end of the book.

The Forever Watch is a novel of concepts disguised as a Science Fiction thriller. It reads well enough as a mystery, albeit somewhat ploddingly. In between clues and revelations, there is a lot of world building and introspection on the part of our narrator, Hana Dempsey. A lot of thought. Most of it is interesting as it pertains directly to the world of The Noah, which is fascinating. The ultimate mystery – what happened to Earth and her children – is worth the sometimes rambling narrative. It’s gruesome and scary. In fact, this book could easily be classified as horror. It’s also part police procedural, post-apocalyptic and full of dire warnings about a society that relies on too many rules. In some ways, it reminded me of Animal Farm.

It’s not an easy read. The first person present approach is difficult to process at times and, oddly, put distance between Hana and the reader. As I mentioned before, she thinks a lot and it’s mostly relevant stuff, a lot of it personal. But at times her thoughts felt more observational rather than inherent. As first book of author David Ramirez, it’s a worthy entry into the Science Fiction arena, however. The concepts are there and they’re compelling, even through the wordiness of it all.

Despite small difficulties, there was never any question I would not see the book through to the end. The story had me hooked and I enjoyed the characterisation of both Hana and Barrens. I’m definitely interested in what Mr. Ramirez will turn his attention to next.

Written for SFCrowsnest.