Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.
Who: Jenny, the insightful voice behind Jenny’s Library, a review and commentary blog devoted to SFF and children’s books.
Give it up for Jenny, everyone!
I spend a lot of time suggesting books to people. Usually I have a particular person or audience in mind, and I work really hard at separating my personal preferences from my professional judgement.
So being asked to talk about the books that I fell in love with this year felt like a frightening amount of freedom. It took a lot of willpower to stop myself from including picture books like I Want My Hat Back and Squid and Octopus Are Friends For Always just because I could (and because they are awesome and everyone should read them). I’m not sure if you should thank me for my efforts of not, as you all may be missing out on some hilarious chapter books as a result. What I do know is that I read some really great novels this year, and that I strongly suggest you read the following as well, if you haven’t already:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Books about people who used to be ships aren’t supposed to make me cry.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I just wasn’t expecting a story as complicated and conceptual as Ancillary Justice to have those moments where I needed to pause and catch my breath before I could keep reading.
There’s been a lot of talk about the way that Leckie uses gender in her book, and justifiably so. It’s amazingly done and easily one of my favorite aspects of the story. But the part that really makes the book for me is her expert world building. It isn’t just Breq (the former ship) and her companions who come alive for us, it’s entire cultures and empires. And because these worlds are built by focusing on the right kinds of details – not just language and gods, but song and daily rituals and forms of address – it’s not merely individuals and cultures that feel real, but the political intrigue and personal dilemmas as well. It’s these details that sell the plot twists that made me gasp and get all teary-eyed.
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
Smith’s Orleans is another book that’s rich in detail and nuance. It needs to be in order to capture the tragedy of a diverse city abandoned and left to slowly die from the ravages of both global warming and a new, uncurable plague. There’s no false hope here, no promise of a miracle cure or simple solution. Survival is hard won and leaves scars inside and out. But there’s also humanity and grace – and a heroine with determination and strength.
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
If you were to gather up all the types of stories that I read for fun and comfort, put them in a blender, and then serve it up to me with hot fudge and whipped cream, this book would be the result.
Science! Expeditions! Danger! Mystery! Historical romance! And dragons! Did I mention the dragons? This book has practically everything – and it all works. I can’t wait for the rest of the series.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
There just aren’t enough books out there about robots. Especially robots that fight other robots. And there definitely aren’t enough stories about friends who build battle bots together. Luckily for us, Shen and Hicks have done their part to help fill this gap, and they’ve done so spectacularly.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Yes, I know. Bujold is an author, not a book. But I began 2013 never having read any of her works and since then I’ve finished twenty of her stories and novels, so I’m having a really hard time picking just one of those to recommend. Should I suggest Barrayar because it has Cordelia at her best and most awesome? The Mountains of Mourning for being one of the most heartbreaking mysteries I’ve ever read? Paladin of Souls for what it says about what it means to have faith?
Honestly, I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’m just going to say that if you haven’t read anything by Bujold before, I strongly suggest remedying that this coming year. Although I will add that it’s best to read each series either in published or internal chronological order, as Bujold often does an amazing job of building from one book to the next.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Sometime between elementary school and high school I gave up on having a favorite book. “Favorite” is not a terribly useful distinction when the novel it’s bestowed upon changes monthly. But it’s been a full three months since I finished Code Name Verity, and I’ve read several wonderful books in the meantime, yet it’s still my favorite book. And for once I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. So for the first time in decades, I officially have a favorite book again. That’s how awesome this novel is.
Be warned, however – this book will rip your heart out.
For the few of you that haven’t read one of the many other gushing reviews published since it came out: Code Name Verity is the story of two young women who become friends while while doing their part for the British war effort. The novel begins after one of the young women has been captured by the Nazis and been coerced into writing a confession.
In addition to being clever and brilliant, Code Name Verity does several things that make it particularly special to me. It’s a story about friendship between women, and the purpose and strength we give each other. It takes advantage of the assumptions people make about each other – about women in particular, about young women in particular – and uses them against us. Most of all, for me, Code Name Verity makes it abundantly clear that war is not simply fought in far off fields of battle, empty except for poppies or grass or sand and the dead bodies of soldiers. But rather, that war always happens in someone’s backyard, in someone’s home. This is a truth that Americans like myself are more likely to forget, and I think the world would be better off if we were more conscientious about remembering that fact – and what it means.
Thank you so much, Jenny!