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Friday, December 20, 2013

Beauty in Ruins - Best of 2013

Looking over my Goodreads shelves for 2013, it appears that I was quite stingy with my 5 star reviews. How stingy? Well, out of approximately 130 books, I only handed out 5 such reviews for genre titles published this year.

Before we dive into the starred reads, however, I wanted to talk a moment about pure pleasure and sheer enjoyment. There are 3 books that stand out in my mind as providing more literary fun and delight than any others. These are the books with passages that I kept insisting on reading aloud to my wife. They are the books I keep asking if friends have read. These are the books I would gleefully slip under any tree, confident that the recipient will come back with a fist-pump, a hand-slap, and a smile on their face. They are (in chronological order) . . .
  1. The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby
  2. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
  3. The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic
With that said, onto the 5 star reviews . . .

Under the category of Science Fiction, my 5 star review went to Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett. I wrote in my original review that this was an exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told story, filled with equal parts amusement and astonishment. From the concept to the characters, I enjoyed every aspect of it and came away wanting more . . . much more. Not only that, but in a glimpse of sheer prescient genius, I said it was sure to be a fixture of best-of lists come the end of the year . . . and here it is!

In terms of 4 star recommendations, I have to acknowledge Three by Jay Posey and Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey.


As Anthologies go, it's exceedingly rare to find a collection strong enough to warrant a 5 star review, but Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy by Jonathan Strahan (editor) is it. As I wrote at the time, this was just a great collection of tales, well-selected, and very well put together by a man who has an obvious feel for the genre. In another of those fits of prescient genius, I even suggested that anybody voting on an award find their nomination form, jot the title down, put a huge asterisk beside it as the likely winner, and focus their reading efforts on those categories yet be decided.

While it could just as well have been a Science Fiction 4 star recommendation, Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts was another stellar anthology.


While I read a lot of really strong Horror titles this year, none struck my 5 star tendencies quite as strongly as Love & Zombies by Eric Shapiro. This was a bloody, catastrophically gory tale that made perfect use of the 'fast' zombie, an insanely black comedy that leaves you feeling guilty over every laugh and, at it's heart, a love story - not a normal, happy, romantic one, but a love story all the same. You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but so long as you trust Shapiro to carry you beyond the zombie porn premise, you'll have one hell of a time.

As for some 4 star recommendations, I'd be remiss in not mentioning some other small press titles such as The Black Church by Toby Tate, Hell's Door by Sandy DeLuca, Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen, and Worm by Tim Curran.


In hindsight, I am really surprised to find only one 5 star Fantasy review on my list, but I am absolutely not surprised to see that it is River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. This is a book I was almost reluctant to read, afraid that it could never measure up to the lyrical magic of Under Heaven, but Kay did just that. Not only was it better paced than its predecessor, but it was driven by a slightly stronger protagonist. If it lacked some of the subtlety of the first, it certainly eclipsed it in terms of demonstrating how seemingly insignificant, very personal choices can conspired to change the course of history.

This seems to be my strongest genre for 4 star recommendations, but I have to highlight some 'final' chapters with King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells, Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, and Magician's End by Raymond E. Feist.


Finally, we come to the Thriller genre, one for which I don't seem to give many 5 star reviews, so that makes The Diabolist by Layton Green even more notable. As much as I try to avoid making comparisons, this was one case where I felt it was warranted. It's a dark, intelligent, spellbinding novel that is destined to appeal to readers of Preston & Child, David Gibbins, and Dan Brown . . . as well as the likes of Peter Straub, John Saul, and James Herbert. It's a rip-roaring, pulse-pounding adventure, but it's also an intelligent, deeply philosophical look at the concept of evil, and how it's defined (or justified) within the bounds of faith and belief.

My 4 star recommendations here would include White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Tombs by Clive Cussler, and Pharaoh: A Novel by David Gibbins.


As for the worst of the year, I won't embarrass anybody by highlighting them here, but in the interests of balancing out the statistics, I will say I handed out a pair of 1 star reviews this year, and had a half dozen titles I abandoned to the DNF pile.

6 comments:

  1. And very glad my book didn't end up in the DNF pile!

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    1. Not at all! Yours was another of my 4-star reads. It was a very good year for fiction. :)

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  2. I enjoy reading - Bests lists. I find that sometimes there is a thin line between four and five star ratings. Thanks for sharing your list.

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  3. Nice to be on your four-star list, Bob - glad you enjoyed THE BLACK CHURCH!

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    1. Well-deserved, Toby! Looking forward to catching up with more of your stuff. I think Lilith may be next . . .

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  4. I read a Gideon Smith short story earlier in the year and thought it was great and have a copy of the book waiting for me to get to it. Nice to see it on your Best Of 2013 list.

    I'm generally pleased with all of Strahan's anthologies and so I picked this one up right when it was published. It just happened to coincide with a writers convention that Glen Cook was at so I quickly read his Black Company story that night and went and had him sign it for me the next day. The book wasn't due out until the next week but my BN had them on the shelves so he was excited as he hadn't seen the print version to that point.

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