Welcome to my Favourite 2013 Reads post. Since I read over 128 books this year and about a quarter of those weren’t from 2013, like last year I decided to split my lists in a Favourite 2013 Reads section, which looks at the books published before 2013, a Favourite Debuts 2013, as I’ve again read a fair number of those this year, and a Favourite Books 2013 post, which looks at the top ten non-debut books published in 2013 I read this year.
Like last year, I discovered a ton of new authors to love and there were some awesome sequels in series I’d already been following. This year there are more ‘new to me’- authors on this list than familiar ones, unlike last year where it was about fifty-fifty. Two of the three books from familiar authors were rereads and one of them was book two in a trilogy. Let’s see what made the cut for my favourite 2013 Reads.
10. Emily McKay – The Farm
The Farm was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. I’d received this as an unsolicited copy and from checking out some of the buzz online I thought it would be a fluff read, with vampires, teenage protagonists and the ‘obligatory’ romance. I couldn’t have been more wrong; I loved this book as I ended my review: “The Farm is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to love a sibling with special needs, how it’s not just a burden, but can be a gift as well. It examines why some people choose to fight and others choose flight instead of cooperation. It’s a surprising book and one that cleverly mixes dystopia, horror and vampires into a story that is as compelling as it is touching.” I still need to read the second book; hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on a copy somewhere next year.
9. Ramez Naam – Nexus
Perhaps it’s time I stopped referring to myself as a science fiction newbie, because I seem to be reading more and more of it and loving it as well. Exhibit A to that fact: Nexus by Ramez Naam. I adored this smart and gripping SF thriller, as I said in my review: “The plot was riveting and this near future SF thriller was not just exciting because of its action scenes, but also because of the questions it poses the reader. It’s a compelling, intelligent and, above all, fun story that will keep you reading for far longer than you intended. I really want to know what happens next and what the consequences of Kade’s choices will be. It’ll be interesting to see how Naam answers some of the questions he poses in Nexus in the next book, Crux.” I actually have an eARC for Crux on my iPad and I really need to get to it, because rereading my review has made me look forward to it all over again.
8. Elizabeth Fremantle – Queen’s Gambit
To be a good addition to historical fiction dealing with the Tudor era – a topic that might almost be called a subgenre of historical fiction – a book has to be something special and Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit certainly is that. Dealing with Henry’s last queen, Katharine Parr, Queen’s Gambit takes a closer look at how politics and religion played a determining role even in the lives of women. I really enjoyed the book. From my review: “Queen’s Gambit is a solid debut, which shows off Fremantle’s ability to tell a well-known story from a new perspective and with its own identity. I truly enjoyed this look at a remarkable queen, who did much to influence two future monarchs of England, King Edward VI and Elizabeth I.” I look forward to see which era and topic Fremantle decides to tackle next.
7. C.W. Gortner – The Queen’s Vow
Another historical dealing with royalty, but this time in a much warmer clime. Isabella of Castille was a fascinating queen, but one I knew almost nothing about, other than her part in Columbus’ journeys of discovery. However, with The Queen’s Vow I didn’t just learn more about Spanish history, but also discovered a new writer to follow in C.W. Gortner. As I put it in my review: “The Queen’s Vow is the story of a remarkable woman and a queen who was formative for Spain’s – the world’s even – history and one who up until now has been largely gone ignored in fiction, film, and TV. [...] With his novel Gortner puts her in the footlights and shows the world her fascinating story, without excuses for her mistakes, but not letting the horrible facts of her reign overshadow her accomplishments or her humanity.” And an author who can manage to show the bad without losing the good or apologising for the bad is a rare thing indeed. I’ll be reviewing Gortner’s latest novel The Tudor Conspiracy at the end of January and I’m already looking forward to cracking it open.
6. Jasper Fforde – The Eyre Affair
This was actually a reread for me, as I’d read The Eyre Affair for the first time over a decade ago. I had a lot of fun rereading it for the Hodderscape Review Project and rediscovering what made the book so special. From my review: “…what makes this book different is its humour and the sheer exuberance of its characters and world. There are many different forms of humour in the book: puns, satire, slapstick, in-jokes, contextual jokes, word games etc. Especially for the latter ones the annotations are useful as some of them are truly terribly British and went right over my head. The jokes and humour can feel somewhat over the top at times, but I dare you to read this book without cracking a smile.” It was fun to get reacquainted with Thursday Next and I was glad to see that I got more of the literary references this time around.
5. Ursula K. Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness
Another Hodderscape Review Project title, The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the seminal classics of the genre and I’m ashamed to say that this was my first time reading it. I was especially interested to read it as it’s been discussed so much in the past months as an influence on Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. And the book has sold me on Le Guin’s writing, as I ended my review: “It’s easy to see why Roz Kaveney included The Left Hand of Darkness in an article on radical reading in SF. The book is still relevant today and I can only imagine how ground-breaking the novel was when first published. But beyond all the important themes and subtext, The Left Hand of Darkness is also a really pleasurable read, both for its story and Le Guin’s writing. I’ll definitely be rereading this seminal work and I’ll have to make a point of reading more of Le Guin’s oeuvre; I have some catching up to do.”
4. Kate Forsyth – Bitter Greens
I adore fairy tale retellings and this retelling of Rapunzel was more than just a retelling, it also told the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the author of Persinette, one of the best-known versions of Rapunzel’s tale. I was blown away by this book. I ended my review as follows: “This is a book of threes: three points of view; maiden, mother, crone; virgin, prostitute, saint; three significant relationships for Charlotte-Rose; and a mantra of three truths that ground Margherita in her sanity; three strands that make a stronger whole, a plait that connects Selena from the early 1500′s to Charlotte-Rose in the late 1600′s. Beyond a book with strong stories and themes, Bitter Greens is also a compelling read. I loved losing myself in its pages and Forsyth’s wonderful writing. The book is one of the most powerful fairy-tale retellings I’ve read and I can’t wait to read more books by Forsyth.” As luck would have it, I have Forsyth’s next book The Wild Girl sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for review. Expect a review for it in the next few months.
3. Mark Lawrence – King of Thorns
The first book in The Broken Empire Series made my top ten in 2011 and while I took a long while to read the second, it shouldn’t be surprising that the second one also ended up here. As I said in the conclusion to my review: “This tight plotting combined with some gorgeous writing – Lawrence lets Jorg see beauty in the most unexpected of things – makes for a fantastic middle book to the Broken Empire trilogy. As I said at the start of my review, I only got to read the book quite long after its publication, but there is a definite silver lining to this—the final book in the trilogy Emperor of Thorns, will be out next month, which means I’ll be able to return to Jorg and the Broken Empire very, very soon.” And I actually got the third book the week it came out, but I haven’t been able to read it yet, due to a combination of scheduling and reluctance to say goodbye to Jorg. But I’ll have to read it before June, when Lawrence starts publishing his next series The Red Queen’s War with the first book Prince of Fools.
2. Guy Hasson – The Emoticon Generation
If not for my Midkemia reread, this collection would have taken the top spot this year hands down. I’ll just give you the conclusion of my review, as that really says it all: “The Emoticon Generation is an amazingly fascinating and thought-provoking collection, which took me quite by surprise with its excellence. While not all the stories resonated as strongly with me, the majority of the stories were wonderful. If you like interesting, thought-provoking, clever, near-future SF this is one collection you won’t want to miss as Guy Hasson challenges your concept of the possibilities of computer technology in ways you probably won’t have thought of before.” This book kept running though my head for days after finishing it and when I read Hasson other collection Secret Thoughts, its review accidentally turned into another review of The Emoticon Generation.
1. Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts – The Empire Trilogy
This is actually a bit of a cheat, since it’s actually three books in one. I’ve read this series about five times now and it remains as powerful and brilliant as the first time I read it, even if different elements resonate with me at this point in my life. My final conclusion for this reread of the Empire trilogy was: “The story is a classic that shows exactly what epic fantasy can be at its best, at once sweeping and personal. It also contains some of the most wonderful portrayals of female characters out there in epic fantasy. This reread has firmly cemented this series as one of my all-time favourites and one I’m sure I can have my girls read it in fifteen years’ time without it having lost anything due to age.”