Happy New Year, everyone! Well, the New Years been well underway for a couple weeks now, and this being the first post of 2014, I wanted to remember the books I truly enjoyed in 2013–even if they weren’t published last year. (Truthfully, some I just finished, one I’m still reading.) These books–both fiction and nonfiction, series or single volumes– consumed my concentration, sparked my imagination, left me breathless with anticipation, invigorated my mind, kept me glued to the page (or the Kindle). Not all were perfect, but they were just what was called for. There were many others I read that I wanted to include, but I had to trim the list down to 10.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the ultimate winners of my 15 favorite fantasy/sci-fi/historical fiction/horror novels I’ve ever read. So without further ado…the winners of 2013…
::Warning: MINOR SPOILERS may follow::
10. Adamar by Scot C. Morgan
Adamar is a unique book by my Facebook friend and fellow Texan, Scot C. Morgan. It began as a curious and delightful urban fantasy with fun, enjoyable, and a few obviously mysterious characters and took some amazing turns for the first act, then suddenly blasted into outer space without warning. Literally. We went from urban fantasy with a hint of epic traditional fantasy to sudden science fiction B-movie style. Hints of the traditional fantasy world are brushed off until the very last chapter, feeling unfortunately a little anti-climatic. Meanwhile, the sudden B-movie style, which all the characters find a bit weird, is explained later on. The book seemed to lose its way in act two for a little while, until a neural uplink with a computer and the return of a nemesis dragon with a twist re-energized the story. The death of several major characters helped spice things up a bit, but I never completely believed in the villain’s transformation. Act three saw a futuristic city with imaginative details. I’m excited that Scot’s developing the series more, because I want answers to questions…well, questions you’re just going to have to ask for yourselves. Check out Adamar by Scot C. Morgan!
9. The Essential 55 by Ron Clark
What makes a good educator? How do you inspire your students and have fun doing it? How do you challenge yourself as an educator to grow professionally? I read The Essential 55 late in 2012 and finished most of the book in 2013 while teaching fourth grade. This nonfiction aid fashioned the way I approached everything in the classroom, and was an invaluable tool as an educator. Should I return to teaching once I’ve healed enough, I plan on utilizing this book again. Besides, the author is just plain cool.
8. Genesis of Shannara: The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks
I love a good post-apocalypse story. Add some fantasy, mystery, conspiracies and you have a perfect mixture for entertainment. Terry Brooks’ Elves of Cintra is the second the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, and further developed key characters, situations, and challenges. Though some characters suffered from a lack of page time, others thrived, and the multitude of minor characters really help round out the cast. I’m not a fan for prolonged flashbacks being utilized for every main and secondary character, but thankfully the use of flashbacks was more limited than the first book. Still, they did help with character development, which I can appreciate. Also, I’m not a fan of calling evil physical creatures “demons”, I think it’s a term that’s overused in fantasy and inaccurate from, well, what I believe real demons are. Despite that, the battles with “demons” were still exciting, especially the finale. The series scored with in the inclusion of a few new minor characters and one secondary character, Cat, whose a dynamic hard-core action leading lizard lady. Given these pros and cons, the Elves scored number 8 on my 2013 best reads list.
7. World War Z by Max Brooks
Okay, can anyone tell me why the movie didn’t resemble the book more? I mean, wow! The novel World War Z is the report of a U.N. investigator (ala Brad Pitt) who travels the world more than a decade after it nearly ended in a zombie apocalypse. The book is almost entirely in interview format but retains a sense of urgency, excitement, and unpredictability. It is truly a smart zombie book–tackling everything from social issues, media, effects on land, sea, and the air, how the virus spread, where it started, how people combat the spread and quarantined areas. Harrowing survivor stories and unique voices to each of the interviewed characters help enliven the narrative. It’s rare I walk (albeit slowly and with a cane) away from a book (at least I don’t shuffle like a Zeke) with my mind energized. World War Z accomplished that. There were major differences–scratch that–drastic differences between the book and movie versions, but that’s not to say the movie was bad. I enjoyed the movie also. I just felt smarter after the book. And given the nature of zombies, that’s an accomplishment. Go number 7!
6. The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan
Okay, so I have to admit I read this book earlier on in the year, and I spasmed since then, so some of the details are a little foggy in my un-oxygenized brain. However, I had a long, despairing hiatus from Robert Jordan’s sweeping epic, when, in the middle of reading book 3, I heard the sad news that he had passed away. Fearing that the series would never end, I decided to not continue after book 3…until I read the light… okay bad pun. With Brandon Sanderson being chosen to complete the series, and the last book having come out this year, I decided it was time to step back into the adventures of Rand al Thor, Mat, Perrin, Elayne, and other. I love the sheer detail of the series. Sometimes the plot slows in the second act, but by the third act, I as a reader always find myself on an unstoppable rollercoaster that sends me straight into the next book. And I have so many more to read! Yay!
5. 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas
Okay, full honesty, this isn’t the book I finished, but I read a good portion of it before 2013 ended. It’s an incredible biography of people such as George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Little, Jackie Robinson and more. The biographies I read opened my eyes to heroic individuals as I had previously not see before. I was stunned to hear George Washington owned slaves and relieved to hear he released them all when he died and made provisions to take care of them. Or that William Wilberforce provided such residence to Christians before becoming one and changing the world after a long struggle against slavery in England. For a world who is need of heroes, sometimes we need to look to the past to find them to fashion heroes in the future.
4. The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2 by Jane Poynter
Many of us who are old enough remember the grand experiment in the 1990s: the construction of Biosphere 2. The media and scientific community seemed to think it a joke, but as a child I was so fasicinated by it, I drew my own biosphere model for a class, then wrote an early sci-fi/horror story taking place in a biosphere on another planet, but i really knew so little about what really happened. Then I did some research…for a book I’m now working on called Thorns of Salvation, and heard of Jane Poynter. She delicately describes in fresh detail the events leading up to and during her stay in what was called Biosphere 2. With tact and occassional blunt truth, she describes what the public didn’t see, but may have sensed. She tackles issues like: was there a cult involved? How the biosphere ‘balanced itself’, what the animals were like, the social conditions, the pressures, the managerial issues, why the media and scientific community often had problems with how things were run. Most of all, she inspired me to really consider the pyschology and science of a group of people trapped inside an enclosed community…willingly. Now, add some science-fiction and fantasy elements, and it’s a great basis for a story. Now for a few more details… Thanks for clearing everything up, Jane. I admire all of you so much, and remain delighted and thrilled about what you accomplished….a technological miracle and wonder. Minus the ants and cockroaches.
3. The Remaining series by D.J. Molles
Hold onto your hats, if you got ’em. Though I like the genre, I can’t stand most zombie apocalypse thrillers. In fact, frankly, I stop reading (or watching) most. Not so with The Remaining. I could NOT PUT THESE BOOKS DOWN. I felt glued to the page, horrified, thrilled, feeling sentimental, inspired, encouraged, and careful to check behind the chair after reading. All in all, I read four novels in a week and a half, a record for me. I remember one family dinner around the holidays where I just couldn’t focus on the conversation because the main character had people up on a roof to go rescue!! I mean, come on, I had to go read!! The basic premises is that the U.S. military has a program that, in case of a disaster, special operatives hide out for an undisclosed amount of time in a bunker. Should society fail, their mission is to rebuild the United States. Well, our hero leaves his bunker early, and for the sake of many characters, it’s a good thing he does so. Especially the folks on the roof. This is an epic saga that keeps rolling from book to book, so it’s easy to read one and open the next. (Thank you, Kindle.) Some characters aren’t seen as much as others, but almost all the major and secondary characters have some development. Some of the villains, however, I just couldn’t feel any sympathy for. I mean, you’re going to be a bad guy in that situation, really? Warlords and politicians, traitors and thugs. Some villains felt pulled right out of The Walking Dead, but otherwise, the whole series is compelling. I especially love the way that the hero goes about his task, slowly rebuilding civilization that others are working so hard to tear down while gaining himself a surrogate family. Yet, nothing is as easy as we’d hope. To complicate matters, the zombies evolve, and the addition of a microbiologist adds a welcome scientific element. I also have to add, this is one of the few novels that a priest does awesome practically things (at one point I cheered) and is a fantastic character (until alas underused and underdeveloped in book 4).
A warning to those wanting to read it. It’s a zombie series. Expect violence, gore, and mayhem. It’s not pretty in parts, but that’s not why I read it. Also, the language is a bit much, oftentimes interrupting the narrative unnecessarily. Despite these issues, I loved The Remaining series so much it made it to my top 3 of 2013 and I anxiously await the conclusion in book 5. Thanks, D.J. Moelles!
2. Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
I consider Brandon Sanderson the king of fantasy. Some may disagree with me. That’s okay. Way of Kings is set in an utterly foreign world, where its flora and fauna feel strangely aquatic (flying eels and giant crab, for example). The characters are riveting, the story intense and driven. The cultural decriptions are so detailed that it ranks with Tolkien, Jordan, and Butcher. The battle scenes are well contrived, detailed, and adventurous. I loved the detail, the focus on research, the intricate and new magic system, the lore, the immense history, the feel of religions, the depth of the characters. At times, it felt overladden with characters with the use of Interludes, but one need not read them. Though they add some characters with little overall impact on the plot, they deepen the development of the world. I cannot wait for Words of Radiance, the sequel, to come out in just two months! Way of Kings surely made it to my number 2 slot, unseated only by another Brandon Sanderson saga.
1. Mistborn Trilogy and Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
Hero of the Ages, book 3 of the Mistborn trilogy
Take what you know about fantasy, and forget it. By the end of the Mistborn Trilogy, I was stunned, delighted, and wanting so much more. Mistborn is a world covered in ash, lead by a dictator god-like figure. At least, so we think. The characters are so deeply fascinating, the world rich and wonderful. Again, a highlight of Brandon’s novels is the research and logical actions and consequences, the realness he seems to impart with every word. Then to follow the trilogy up with a fantasy western…ingenious. There’s not much I can say, because this series still leaves me speechless. Sanderson’s work raises the bar for all of us writers, and I intend to reach as high as I can go. After Mistborn, the genre fantasy is and can never be, the same.
So my friends, that is my list. If there are any books you decide to pick up in 2014, may I humbly suggest these. Meanwhile, i’m looking forward to some good, solid reads in 2014, including Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, the conclusion to The Remaining series, finishing fellow bloggers Alon Shalev’s The Walls of Galbrieth and friend Kendall Lyon’s 22 Life Lessons.
I’m constantly on the look for smart, detailed, well-crafted, polished novels and challenging non-fiction works. If you have a recommendation, please inform me!
What were your 2013 favorites? Leave a comment and share! Did you read any of these books? If so, do share your thoughts in the comments section. In the meantime, I’ll see you on Twitter and my Facebook fan page, Joshua P. Smith – Aelathia Novels. Like and follow me on Facebook, where you’ll receive new updates and info you’ll find nowhere else. Happy New Year, and happy reading!