Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RED Book Awards 2013

This year, in addition to the Top Ten (Or So) lists of covers and books, I've decided to do some other awards, to remember all the great stuff I was unable to properly cover in those lists. I've decided to do this even though it's way past the end of last year, and I'm so late now. But I want this summary, so here goes. (Prepare for many ties and winners greatly dependent on my not-very-good memory, since I have no time now to be thorough--also note, the runners up are not in any particular order.)

Favourite Central Female Character: Cordelia from Shard of Honor and Barrayar. I find it difficult to explain why I like her so much. Her compassion, her bravery, her "fountains of honor", her relationship with Bothari, her theism. That's a start, although not adequate.
Runners up: >>Kat from Stolen Magic (and its prequels): indeed incorrigible, I can only imagine what she'll be like when she grows up. >>Saturday from Hero: the more gruff and non-magical of the seven sisters, but it turns out just as prone to adventure. >>Seraphina from Seraphina: grumpy and music loving. >>Alexandria from Goose Chase: also delightfully grumpy.

Favourite Central Male Character: Miles Vorkosigan from The Warrior's Apprentice and most of the rest of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga. Miles completely stole my heart. Brilliant little man with enough "forward momentum" to conquer the universe.
Runners up: >>Peregrine from Hero: a very atypical male love interest (which I like). Also just a little bit strange, which is understandable given is rather unusual style of imprisonment.  >>Lockwood from The Screaming Staircase: at the end of this first book in the series, he is still a fairly mysterious character, so my views may change as I get to know him better. But he is already terribly charismatic, so my hopes are very high indeed. >>The Prince of Dorloo from Goose Chase: because he was sweet and and amusing and also rather unusual for a love interest.

Favourite Secondary Female Character: Wyatt from Vortex. She's socially awkward and brilliant and definitely my favourite thing about the series. Also, as a computer programmer myself, I appreciate the fact that she's a brilliant coder.
Runners up: >>Riza Hawkeye and Olivier Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist: Riza is the intensely loyal, battle-scarred lieutenant and Olivier is the cold, tough queen of the north. >>Diana from Light: complex, brave, and tragic in many ways. My favourite character from this series.

Favourite Secondary Male Character: a tie between Peter Wiggin from the Shadow series and Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. Peter is my favourite thing about the Shadow series after Ender's Shadow--he's so terribly clever, and the epitome of a Slytherin. He also has all these issues he tries to overcome, and struggles with the cruel, sadistic, and whiny side of himself. And Roy! Roy is so cool. His fire powers, his past as a soldier on the wrong side of the war, his ambition and leadership qualities. Also fairly Slytherin.
Runners up: >>Greed and Pride and Kimblee from Fullmetal Alchemistsuch amazing villains. Greed has the best character arc, and was one of the most fun characters in the manga. Pride I don't want to say too much about because of spoilers, but he was surprising and had very interesting and frightening powers. Kimblee was amoral and so creepy, but a great character with a good ending. >>George from The Screaming Staircase: sarcastic and really funny. Can't wait to read more of him. >>Cain from Light: fascinating relationship with his brother Sam, and with Diana (one of my favourite secondary female characters), and like her, also a rather complex and tragic character. >>Gregor from The Vor Game: although he appeared briefly in some of the other books in the Vorkosigan Saga, this was the only one where he had a main part. And he had so much character development in this one--he seemed so very much a real person, though an emperor. >>Bothari from Shards of Honor and other books in the Vorkosigan Saga: such a very sad and tragic life. A very fascinating man. >>Death from Breath: he's an anthropomorphic personification of death, so of course I love him. Plus, his suicide issue story line actually sort of worked, which surprised me.

Favourite Ensemble: a three way tie between the Hale family from Ordinary Magic, the Battle School kids from the Shadow series, and Team Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. The Hale family is very much like a real family, and every one of them is interesting and likeable. The Battle School kids are a bunch of brilliant, volatile, not-quite adults attempting to seize power, save the world, or both. Team Mustang (not their canon name), consisting of Col. Roy Mustang, Lt. Riza Hawkeye, 2Lt. Jean Havoc, 2Lt. Heymans Breda, W.O.Vato Falman, and MSgt. Kain Fury, is a group of military persons, each with their own specific talent, struggling together to defeat the evil besetting their country, and to help Col. Mustang gain command.

Favourite Romance: Saturday and Peregrine from Hero. I am very picky about which romances I like, but something that often allows me to enjoy one quite a lot is an element of surprise or uniqueness. Some of the gender stereotypes are reversed in this book, in a way I quite like. And both of them are not exactly socially ideal. Saturday is large and gruff and Peregrine is just a little bit odd after his long entrapment.
Runners up: >>A spoiler-y romance from the end of The Shadow of the Giant: it comes as somewhat of a surprise, but I happened to love it. In fact, it may have tied for first if it weren't for the fact that I can't talk about it without spoiling it. Sorry. >>Goose Chase: very sweet. >>Also, I don't really know if I can include the barely hinted at romances in Ordinary Magic, or the not-exactly-canon romance between Roy and Riza in Fullmetal Alchemist, but I love them immensely, and it's my awards post, so I'm including them.

Favourite World: The Touchstone Trilogy. Discovering the alien world Cassandra's diary was definitely my favourite thing about these books. Especially the first one and a half books. I found it slightly less interesting when Cassandra stopped learning quite as much and began to settle down more.
Runners up: >>A Corner of White: definitely fantasy here, what with the animate colours and all that, but really fun. >>The Giver: really good building of a dystopian-masquerading-as-utopian world. >>Seraphina: Dragons! Music! Some of the world building struck me as pretty strange (sort of pseudo-Catholicism?), but there was enough cool stuff to make this a runner up. >>All books in the Vorkosigan Saga: I think these books are less about the world building and more about the characters and ideas, but there were some really interesting contrasting cultures, plus spaceships.

Favourite Surprisingly Good Book: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I really didn't expect to like this one, since I was given it by a co-worker who had no idea of my taste in books. And then I didn't like it for the first little while, but because of the situation, I was forced to continue. And boy, was I glad I did. It was a fascinating story of a man's survival through war, being stranded in the middle of the ocean, being imprisoned in Japan, through starvation, despair, and loneliness. But it was one of the more uplifting and hopeful books I've read as well, and fully deserves this award.

Favourite Non-Fiction (Not Including Unbroken Because I Just Gave it an Award): I enjoyed all the non-fiction I read this year a lot, so this was a very difficult category to choose. Eventually I decided upon Of Other Worlds by C. S. Lewis. I didn't enjoy most of the stories included (which is why it got 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 stars), but everything else was fabulous, in the typical Lewis way. I sort of suspect this one won mostly because it was the most recently read so I remembered it more than the rest. But I needed some way of choosing a favourite, so I'm ok with that.
Runners up: Reflections on the Magic of Writing, Reflections on the Psalms, Ender's World, Music, Language, and the Brain.

Favourite Book Not Getting Enough Awards: There are a number of books that I really quite enjoyed, but they just never managed to trump the really good ones. So in order to showcase a book that I feel has been rather neglected, I'm giving this award to Darkwater. Darkwater was atmospheric with interesting characters and a good twist. Not quite as in depth as it could have been, perhaps, which is why it hasn't shown up on any lists so far. But I really enjoyed it and want it to get some sort of mention.
Runners up: >>How to Lead a Life of Crime: lots of fun. About a school for clever people, which is one of my favourite tropes. >>The two Skyship Academy books: great brotherly relationship, fun adventury-sci-fi plot, someone with the power of Fire. >>The Spark: complex characters, detailed and realistic world, very well written. >>The Discernment of Spirits: helpful discussion of Igantian rules. >>The Princess Curse: unusual romance, good main female character. >>Game: creepy and tense. I really like this series, and not only for their beautiful, blood-splattered covers. >>And more. But this is already too long. Seriously, I liked a lot of books this year.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Top Ten (Or So): Books Read in 2013

Man, 2013 had a lot of really enjoyable books. Also a couple of the lowest rated books, but it's the number of fabulous books that makes this list so hard to create. Therefore, of necessity (because I don't want to spend years making this--I'm already later than planned), this is rough, incomplete, and too long.

So here, in sort-of approximate order from least to most favourite, are some of my favourite books read in 2013:

--Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card. And I'm going to cheat and stick Shadow of the Giant with it, because I liked them for very similar reasons. The Shadows series is a set of mostly geopolitical thrillers--pretty much a bunch of genius young adults vying for world domination, in the aftermath of the Bugger war in Ender's Game. Genius kids and world domination? I can't ask for much more to make me perfectly happy.

--Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. Great characters, very good world-building, and lots of promise for the future books.

--Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis. And because they're both books of essays by Lewis, I'm going to cheat again and combine it with Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis is beloved by many, and for very good reason. In Reflections on the Psalms, he was in his usual brilliant mode of explaining Christian concepts better and more clearly than pretty much anyone else. In Of Other Worlds he discussed with such clarity ideas I'd held about books, and speculative fiction in particular. And that one unfinished story at the end will haunt me for a long time: it was so much exactly what I look for in a story. I would give much to read the completed version.

--Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones. Another book of essays; like Of Other Worlds, it is also about books and ideas about them I've held for a long time, but been unable to articulate properly. This time it focuses on writing for children, however. (Picture of now sadly departed Diana Wynne Jones taken from The Guardian.)

--Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis. Amazing heroine, fun plot, the perfect fulfillment to a lovely trilogy.

--Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. These two books are one story, usually combined into an omnibus called Cordelia's Honour. Adult scifi, of the best sort. It had depth of themes and characters I was not expecting, plus all the tech and space battles I enjoy in the genre.

These last three are so awesome, and yet so different, that I found it impossible to choose between them: a adult scifi novel, a manga series, and a children's fantasy book.

--The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Also, I'm sort of going to cheat again here and combine The Vor Game in this entry (because I read way too many good books this year). I loved the first books in the Vorkosigan saga, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, but these ones continued the great world and writing, and added Miles Vorkosigan. Who immediately jumped to my list of favourite characters.

--Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I decided that although I didn't count manga towards my book count, I could count manga series in these lists, so long as I finished them in the same year. And I couldn't pass off such a brilliant series as this. I found it a little slow to get into properly, but once it got going, man. Not only was it full of characters I will remember for a very long time (guilt-ridden soldiers, villains being slowly redeemed, strange amoral antiheroes: Roy, Riza, Olivier, Greed, Scar, Kimblee, etc. etc.), but the plot drew together all its various threads and converged into the most climactic of climaxes. (Images of some Fullmetal Alchemist characters to the left by wallabri.)

--Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway. The characters, the familial relationships, the friendships... Like Fullmetal Alchemist, it was the characters that made this book. I loved every. Single. One of them. (Even the villains were rather sympathetic.) It was delightful and unique and made me feel very warm and happy, and was the standout of the year, even though it was only the second book I read this year.

Runners Up (In No Order Whatsoever and Possibly Missing Some Good Ones Because I'm Really, Really Bad at Making Up My Mind)
--Darkwater. Mysterious strangers, mysterious houses, mysterious time stuff.
--Goose Chase. Cute and fun, great heroine, unusual romance.
--Unbroken. Unexpectedly gripping; fascinating true-life story.
--Seraphina. Intriguing world--plus: dragons!
--Game. Serial killers!
--The Giver. Great middle-grade dystopian.
--Hero. Awesome and unusual romance.
--Ender's World. Interesting essays all about one of my favourite books ever, Ender's Game.
--Stray. Some really good world-building.

P.S. See also the Top Ten (Or So) list from last year.