Science Fiction and Fantasy I read this year and why I did or did not like them

9780316246620_p0_v6_s192x300Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Genre: Science Fiction; Space Opera
A starship, thousands of years old, has been dismantled and its memories downloaded into one of its mechanic beings that seeks revenge. First of all, the narrator of this story is the starship who cannot distinguish gender, so every character is male, although some of them are actually female. This makes the story both clever and confusing. Clues exist to should which are female, but then the question arises: does it really matter?

9780374104092_p0_v2_s192x300Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Southern Reach #1
Area X has been cut off from civilization for years and everyone who goes in either disappears or goes insane when they return. While I enjoyed this well-written episode in this series, I felt unable to really care about the characters. I can see why this series is popular, but I probably won’t read the rest of the books in it.

9780804137256_p0_v2_s192x300Armada by Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
One day, teen nerd Zach Lightman sits in class bored to death and the next he finds himself fighting off invading aliens and asking, “How did I get here?” It seems every science fiction book, movie and tv show of the past several decades have actually been training modules for earthlings to fight off the nasty lizard beings heading toward earth. It’s very similar to Ender’s Game and strangely enough, that’s the whole point. I loved, loved, loved Cline’s novel Ready Player One, and even though I get what he was doing in Armada, I thought it lacked something. Not a bad read, but don’t go into it expecting Ready Player One.

9780812976823_p0_v2_s192x300The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Genre: Urban Fantasy; Horror
A young woman finds herself in the middle of a war between two groups of mystical humans. This ended up being one of my favorite reads in 2015. It’s quite long, but I enjoyed the well-developed characters and storyline that is pieced together with each chapter. And the ending nearly killed me emotionally. Mitchell is the author of A Cloud Atlas, which I have not read, but I’ve heard The Bone Clocks is better.

9780316217583_p0_v2_s192x3009780316334686_p0_v2_s192x300Cibola Burns and Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey
Genre: Sc
ience Fiction; Space Opera
Series: The Expanse (#
4 xand #5 respectively)
I will just go ahead and admit this series is currently my favorite in the SF genre. A new tv series based on these books just started on the SyFy channel, which is no surprise; these novels were meant to be adapted for the screen. The last installment, Nemesis Games, is probably my favorite along with the first book in the series. What makes NG special is the revelation of the backgrounds of the main characters. Finally. In the first four books, their histories were only hinted at, but this volume shows more about why they are the way they are. And it’s a pretty epic Apocalyptic story that turns the series in a whole new direction.

9781481455923_p0_v9_s192x300City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Genre: Urban Fantasy; Young Adult Fiction
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
Clary Flay is a teen girl who finds out she has a supernatural background. This is the first in a series that falls into the Young Adult Urban Fantasy genre, to which the Twilight series belongs. I’ve never read Twilight. But I did like this book. A movie was made of the book a few years ago and now there is a television show based on the books.

9781482567434_p0_v2_s192x300Days Gone Bad by Eric A. Asher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Vesik #1
Damian Valdis Vesik is a Harry Dresden type modern day wizard who fights the local supernatural bad guys. Okay, I wanted to like this book more than I did. It had great dialogue, characters, and action scenes but I could not figure out who the antagonist was in this novel. The characters are reacting to situations, but I wasn’t sure why. I feel the author should have made the bad guy more tangible. The reviews for the next book in this series are positive, so I’m going to give it another shot because, overall, Asher is a good writer.

2940045438209_p0_v2_s192x300Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
Genre: Fantasy; Urban Fantasy
Every time Chris Redston falls asleep, he wakes up in a different reality where he is a messiah figure everyone wants to kill. That would put a cramp in anyone’s day. This ended up being one of my favorites for 2015. Weiland has written several books on the craft of fiction writing, and all her skills are obvious in the execution of this story. If you like swash-buckling adventure, romance and fantasy, you’ll enjoy Dreamlander.

9780545284141_p0_v2_s192x300False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult Fiction
The setting is a Middle Earth type world where an orphan boy named Sage is kidnapped and used to replace a prince who’s gone missing. Although I’ve classified this as Fantasy, there is really no magic in this novel, just a great story.

9780544336261_p0_v4_s192x300The Giver by Lois Lowry
Genre: Science Fiction; Young Adult Fiction
I read this about 20 years ago when it first came out and after seeing the 2014 movie, I became inspired to read it again. Having gained twenty years of sorrow and joy, I appreciate this book more. The question of “Why is there pain?” causes more people to lose their faith in a supreme being, causes many people every year to take their own lives, causes the lonely and hurting to fall into the depths of hopelessness. But pain in life is necessary. This book shows why.

9780765381323_p0_v3_s192x300Lock In by John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction; Murder Mystery
A mysterious disease causes a portion of the world’s population to be locked in their bodies, unable to move. Technology is created in which their consciousness is transferred to robotic bodies so they can interact with society. Chris Shane is one of the disease’s victims who finds himself solving a murder in his robotic body. This novel was obviously written to be adapted for television or movies, but that’s okay. It’s a fun read.

9780452296299_p0_v1_s192x300The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Magicians #1
Quinten Coldwater finds himself enrolled in a secretive school for magic. This book has been described as “Harry Potter for adults” and I would say that is a fair assessment. It’s a little dark at some points, and too be honest, the protagonist is kind of hard to like, but overall a good read.

9780553418026_p0_v3_s192x300The Martian by Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
In the not too distant future, astronaut and botanist, Mark Watney, finds himself accidentally stranded on Mars after his crewmates took off during a sandstorm. The book and the movie follow each other as closely as possible, but the endings are executed slightly differently. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the book as it goes into more detail. Also, the author is fantastic at making the scientific infodumps seem comprehensible.

The_Maze_Runner_coverThe Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genre: Science Fiction; Young Adult Fiction
Thomas wakes up with no memories and finds himself in a strange prison-like environment. Too make things worse, everyone blames him when out of the ordinary things begin to happen. I finally got a chance to read this. I enjoyed it. If you like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series, you’ll like this one. Movies based on this book series have been released–seems like that is the case for many of the books I read in 2015.

9780316198363_p0_v1_s192x3009780316198387_p0_v1_s192x300The Spirit War and Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Legend of Eli Monpress (#4 and #5 respectively)
You know how you get sad at the end of a book because you’ll miss the characters so much? That’s me and this series. I finished the last two books of this series and now I’m sad that there are no more stories about Eli Monpress and his associates.

9781468132335_p0_v1_s192x300The Unraveling by Hugh Howey
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Wool #4
Post-apocalyptic tale of humans living inside an enormous silo and the rewriting of history by the winners. The author originally wrote this in five parts and then put them together in one volume. Eager to read the last book soon.

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Quense tells how he writes his books and doesn’t apologize for it

Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:

I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs.  Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like  “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.

So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”

I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.

What I read this past year

For some reason, I did not read as many books as I usually do during a year. Looking at my list, I was heavily influenced by books that came out as movies. Also, lots of books marketed to young adults. Overall, still a great year of reading for me. In case you are interested, here is what I read in 2014:

9780375842207_p0_v6_s260x420The Book Thief

World War II literature from the viewpoint of the German citizens. A mystery narrator tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl who has a difficult life in Germany as Hitler rises to power. Don’t worry, the mystery narrator is revealed. A sad story to read, but brilliantly told.

 

9780062387240_p0_v1_s260x420Divergent

A mix of The Hunger Games and The Matrix. Fun to read if you don’t take it too seriously. Beatrice Prior’s lives in a dystopian Chicago world, where everyone in is divided into five factions. But what happened to everyone outside of this apocalyptic city?

 

9780062234933_p0_v2_s260x420Insurgent

The story from Divergent continues as Tris attempts to discover the truth about her whole life and her society. The answers to what exactly is going on are unpeeled like an onion. At this point, fans of this series have already figured out which camp they belong to: “I would be Euridite” or “I would be Dauntless.” The author, a mere 26 years old, incorporates Christian themes into this series.

9780062024060_p0_v6_s260x420Allegiant

The conclusion of the story began in Divergent. Some fans of this series became upset because this third installment of the series is told in a different manner than the previous two: the point-of-view switches between two of the characters, rather than just the main heroine of the series. At the end, it’s understood why the author did this, but it sent some readers out of their comfort zone. Besides that, a good conclusion to the series.

9780307887443_p0_v1_s260x420Ready Player One

Calling all nerds, dorks and geeks for this science fiction thriller that romps through 1980’s pop culture. Even if you weren’t a teen in the 80’s or were born yet, you’ll enjoy this SF romp through virtual reality. Probably my favorite book I read this year.

 

9781630871161_p0_v1_s260x420

Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism

Describes the spiritual journey of a young man as he enters and leaves Calvinism in his Christian beliefs. I have worked for a church from a reformed tradition and a church from a non-denominational background. This book presented the differences in a concise and clear way. The author is fair and doesn’t slam anyone in the process. I just found out this book is a best seller in the Christian book market for 2014.

9780553588941_p0_v3_s260x420The Lies of Locke Lamora

If you think you’d like Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy setting, then you’d probably like this book. Lynch is a master of dialogue and description. Great character interaction. Probably could have been a little shorter, but overall a great treat for anyone who likes speculative fiction that slants toward fantasy. Definitely going to read the others in this series.

9780525478812_p0_v1_s260x420The Fault in Our Stars

Two teens with cancer fall in love and contemplate the time they may or may not have left. The author attempts to get into the mind of a teen girl who will probably die young. This is one of those books made into a movie and marketed to young adults, but anyone will enjoy it. Lots of good quotes.

9780553418361_p0_v2_s260x420Gone Girl

Lots of twists along this journey. It is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Enjoyable read, but the ending left me a little unsatisfied.

 

9780062200587_p0_v4_s260x420N0S4A2

If you like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, you’ll probably like this. Surprised at how much I liked this book. Great protagonist. I kept thinking, “This reads like a Stephen King book” and later I found out the author is his son. By the way, the title is a license plate that is pronounced nosferatu, which is a word meaning vampire.

 

9781594632341_p0_v2_s260x420The Interestings

Examine the relationships of six people over several decades. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in this novel. While the author has a pleasant writing style, the story felt slow to me and I had a hard time caring about the characters. While some people may enjoy this story, I was not one of them.

9780310337973_p0_v4_s260x420Moment Maker

You can live your life or it will live you. Whitaker is a church worship leader and musician. He’s led worship at my church a few times so I thought I’d read his book. While not deep theologically, Moment Maker makes some good points and is entertaining.

 

2940014544085_p0_v2_s260x420Wool (Omnibus)

Dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting in which Earth’s survivors like in a giant silo and history is a big mystery. The author took five novellas and put them all into one volume. I didn’t realize this at first, so the book overall seems disjointed because the protagonist keeps changing every hundred pages. Once I realized it was five short novels in one volume, it didn’t matter. Good read for SF readers and it’s gaining popularity.

9780803741713_p0_v2_s260x420The Book With No Pictures

Children’s book that turns the reader into a comedian for kids. I read this book to a first grade class and they loved it. It is hilarious. The author, B.J. Novak, is an actor known for his role as the intern in the sit-com The Office. Fun book and helps children to start seeing the value in word choice.

9781613181577_p0_v1_s260x420Princess Pain

Marina is a cold-hearted courier of contraband who likes to play rough. Her life as a loner is just fine until the delivery of a flash drive with stolen weapons technology ends her alias and makes her the target of a power-hungry militia leader who wants her alive, and his sultry assassin lover who wants her dead. I admit that I read this book because I designed the cover, but it ended up being a story with all my favorite guilty pleasures: science-fiction, action, violence and space opera.

What I Read in 2013

1219898_75483334In 2003, I started keeping lists of the books I read. I compiled these lists on Amazon.com, but that wasn’t enough. I discovered Goodreads and listed every book I have ever read, including before 2003. Whenever I remember a book I read that hasn’t been listed, say a book I read back in high school or middle school, I add it to the list. As if that wasn’t obsessive compulsive enough, I exported all my books from Goodreads as an Excel spreadsheet and uploaded it to LibraryThing.com. The great thing about LibraryThing.com is all the free book give-aways you can get–as if I needed more books.

Why do I do this? Because I’m weird.

Actually, I’ve discovered that when I look at one of my booklists, I can remember what was happening in my life when I was reading a certain. It’s sort of a diary by way of literature.

So, on this tenth anniversary of keeping obsessive lists of the books I read, I present what I read in 2013. Who knows? You may find something that piques your reading taste buds.

Contemporary Fiction
Publishing companies marketed these books as main stream fiction, event though some of them could fall into other genres.

  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Laarson
    This is the third and concluding volume of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. I would not recommend reading this unless you have read the others first. Laarson was a master at weaving a thousand details into a story that led to a final conclusion, but to be honest this third volume has so many characters, sometimes I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Overall, a suspenseful series. Unfortunately, the author died at a young age right after completing this series, so, unfortunately, we won’t be seeing any more novels by him.
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    I wanted to read something by this author because a co-worker said her grandson was named after him. Hmm. Although marketed as mainline fiction, it has an post-apocalypse setting, so it kind of also falls under science fiction. A father and son travel on foot through the west coast of the charred remains of  the United States. Along the way, they face dangerous obstacles that threaten their relationship of the past, present and future.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
    Charlie, the wallflower, goes way beyond typical teen angst as he deals with some serious issues in his early years of high school. Set in 1991, this novel is roughly based on some personal experiences of the author who also directed the movie by the same name. A side note: Charlie reads through his high school book list and fans of the book and movie have compiled it: Charlie’s Reading List. I started reading the books on the list–some of which are mentioned elsewhere in this blog entry.
  • The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta
    High expectations were set by the author of this book who received high accolades for his previous novel, Little Children. Well, I haven’t read Little Children but judging from the Amazon reviews of The Abstinence Teacher, the latter was a let down. I can see why. I was hoping for an intelligent story about the controversy of teaching sex education in high school, but instead I got cliches of how this author thinks conservative Christians act. He also had a few cliches about Liberals as well and that’s why I just couldn’t take this book seriously.
  • Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk
    If you’ve heard of or seen the movie Fight Club, then you should know that it was based on a novel by Palahniuk. This is the third book I’ve read by him, and he has definitely got some demons he his dealing with. I would have to say that this is a story of dark satire. It’s wicked and violent, but I found it entertaining. Palahniuk is not for everyone.

Non-fiction
I know, I know. I need to read more non-fiction.

  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
    This author discusses ten things nobody told us about being creative. It’s one of those books I wish more people would read, because even though the title implies Steal Like an Artist is for creative types–like painters, musicians and such–the principles in this book are for everyone. A quick read.
  • I Used to Know That, Caroline Taggart
    In my continual attempt to be a renaissance man, I read this book to brush up on the basics of high school education . . . you know, literature, science, math and all that. I’d like to reread this every few years.
  • When Love Has Gone, Coping With Obsession, Paul Thorn
    I had been dealing with some obsessive thoughts so I found this book. It kind of helped. Strange thing: when I tried to find more about the author to see if he had written anything else, I found nothing. This book and its author are hidden away in the web pages of Amazon.com.

Poetry
Even though I enjoy it, I read little poetry. It requires a deliberate sit-down-and-relax attitude which has become a victim of our fast-paced world.

Spirituality

  • Help! I’m the Leader of a Small Group, Laurie Polich
    I started helping with a small group of high school boys at my church, so I checked out this book. I read it through and found it helpful. It’s also handy as a reference tool for ideas.
  • Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton
    I read this for work. If you enjoyed reading When Helping Hurts by Stephen Corbett, then you’d probably be interested in this book. Lupton examines new models for churches to follow for charity and mission trips. I found the book eye-opening and insightful, but some may argue that the author focuses too much on economic suggestions and doesn’t address other ways on which mission needs to focus such as in education and advocacy. Nevertheless, I recommend this book to the head of any mission committee of a church, but be warned: it may say some things today’s churches don’t want to acknowledge.
  • Accidental Pharisee: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and Other Dangers of an Overzealous Faith, Larry Osborne
    My church did a sermon series based on this book. This book brings to light how some Christians may be acting like the Pharisees from the time of Jesus, and not even realize it.
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennon Manning
    Manning died this year and several of my friends on Facebook mentioned how this book spoke to them. While Manning had a difficult life and struggled with addiction, he reminds us in this book of how God does not expect us to be perfect and can use us to minister to others even with our messy existence.

Classics
Must read more classics as well, but hey I got some in for this year’s reading.

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Yes, I read this book once again because of the much hyped film that came out this year . . . you know, the millionth time The Great Gatsby has been turned into a movie, this time starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. I like this story. It’s a quick read and my hometown, Louisville, plays a part in it. Part of Charlie’s reading list.
  • This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    I had read The Great Gatsby several times over the years and I really wanted to read something else by Fitzgerald. This novel is about Amory Blaine, a somewhat narcisstic, spoiled young man who lived in the years following the first world war and learns some lessons the hard way. Part of Charlie’s reading list.

Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction & Fantasy)
Okay, as you can see, I spend most of my time reading science fiction and fantasy. I always say it’s my guilty pleasure.

  • Proven Guilty, Jim Butcher
    This is book eight of The Dresden Files, a series I’ve been reading for the past few years. This time, succubus-type creatures attack a horror film convention and Harry Dresden, modern day wizard, must stop the madness. Butcher continues to define and set the standard of the sub-genre called urban fantasy.
  • White Knight, Jim Butcher
    Book number nine in Butcher’s Harry Dresdon series. Dresden’s half-brother, a vampire, is accused of some horrendous deeds.
  • Falstaff’s Big Gamble, Hank Quense
    Quense took characters from classic mythology and Shakespearian drama to create a brand new story with much hilarity thrown in. Lots of fun to read.
  • Bearer of the Black Staff, Terry Brooks
    In 1977, Brook’s The Sword of Shanarra was published which placed the fantasy genre on the map. Since that year, Brooks has written about a dozen prequals to TSOS and I started reading them in the story’s chronological order. I started about four or five years ago. I have to admit, I always end up liking this authors books as I get into them. For a list to read the books in the correct order, go here.
  • The Measure of Magic, Terry Brooks
    This one finishes the story that Bearer of the Black Staff started.
  • First King of Shannara, Terry Brooks
    The last prequal before Brook’s The Sword of Shannara. With this book, I’ve finished all the prequals after five year
  • Chasm City, Alastair Reynolds
    This is the second book in Reynold’s Revelation Space series, but this book stands alone. It’s part detective novel, part space opera. While it’s heavily plot driven, it’s still fun to read because the author is great at world-building.
  • Dilemma, Hank Quense
    In this retelling of the Rhinegold myth, Quense mixes Norse mythology with science fiction elements. Another fun read.
  • Regarding Mikhail, Tom Robson
    Can’t remember how I came across this story, but it’s available only as an ebook. The story has similar elements to the movie Total Recall in which a member of the navy of the near future fights rebels on Mars and ends up realizing his memories have been altered by the government.
  • The Spirit Thief, Rachel Aaron
    The first book in the series called The Legend of Eli Monpress in which a young thief with wizard-like powers tries to up the bounty on himself for his own mysterious purposes.
  • The Spirit Rebellion, Rachel Aaron
    The second book in Aaron’s series. I really like these characters. Definitely going to continue reading through her Eli Monpress stories.
  • The Spirit Eater, Rachel Aaron
    Aaron continues her series about Eli Monpress, wizard theif,  and reveals a big secret in this story. The author has at least two more books published in this series and I plan to read them in 2014.
  • Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey
    Earth has colonized the solar system and, as with typical of the human race, divided into factions of people-groups who don’t like each other. The delicate relationship is aggrivated when a mysterious virus from a distant galaxy is harvested by a for-profit company that doesn’t care who is affected by its horrendous mutations. The character of Jim Holden and his ragtag crew of the spacecraft Rocinante are introduced in this trilogy of unabashed space opera.
  • Calaban’s War, James S.A. Corey
    The middle of Corey’s Expanse trilogy.
  • Abaddon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey
    The final part of the Expanse trilogy. I recommend this series if you are a space opera fan.
  • Forbidden, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    First in Dekker’s Mortal trilogy, Forbidden sets everything up for the following two book. This is Christian speculative fiction.
  • Mortal, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    Second in the trilogy, Mortal is a step up from the first book. The story really takes off in this book.
  • Sovereign, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    The story wraps up with a few surprises. Highly recommended if you are a fan of books like This Present Darkness.

Additional Comments:

  • Least Favorite Book of 2013: I would have to say I least enjoyed The Abstinence Teacher. I actually finished the book, and just because I have labeled it my least favorite of the year doesn’t mean it’s not worth a reader’s consideration. I guess I was disappointed because I was expecting something else. I also could not take the characters seriously.
  • Favorite Series of 2013: I read a lot of novels that are part of a series this past year. I would have to say I most enjoyed The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. Ted Dekker’s Mortal series and Rachel Aaron’s Legend of Eli Monpress series receive honorable mentions.
  • Favorite Book of 2013: This surprised myself, but I would have to say my favorite stand alone book I read in 2013 was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I feel Chbosky captured teen angst in a realistic way, and I didn’t feel like I was reading a book marketed to young adults. Great read for anyone of any age.