My Book Loves of 2013

GaimanStardustHere is a post in which I gush about my favorite books of 2013. Out of the roughly 133 books I read this year, these are the ones that really stand out on reflection for one reason or another. Feel free to scroll until you see something interesting.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

A reread, and a read along. I love this book and the movie. Fantasy, a quest, coming of age. Loads of fun and happy ending.

MathesonIAmLegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

New-to-me author. Vampire/zombie book, but starts off 1970s California, a simple virus. Loved the science, the survivalism, the societal twist at the end.

Squatch with Turning Point

Squatch with Turning Point

Turning Point by Robert P. Snow

Murder mystery set in northern NM. Lots of fun, recognize lots of the places in the book.

CooperGhostHawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper

New-to-me author. A historical fiction about the early settling of America told through a Native American’s eyes. Done really well, fully engaging.

HaldemanForeverPeaceThe Forever War & Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

New-to-me author. Great military SF. Awesome characters.

BearUndertowUndertow by Elizabeth Bear

Amphibious alien natives used as a workforce. Plus assassins. You can’t go wrong with that combination.

FremantleQueensGambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

New-to-me author. Tudor historical fiction told from Katherine Parr’s point of view.

WatersPayingPiperPaying Piper by Ilana Waters

A children’s book, beautiful illustrations, excellent story.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish

This was a reread for me, and a read along. Still a damn good book even the 2nd time through, and dissecting it. High fantasy, swords & sorcery.

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

Book 2 int he series. Thieves, elves (black pointy teeth!), dwarves, gnomes, a quest.

FahyFragmentFragment by Warren Fahy

New-to-me author. A fun, modern-day beastie flick. The biologist in me loved this book.

Pico resting before dinner.

Pico resting before dinner.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

New-to-me author. Epic fantasy that is different, heavy on the economics, various humanoid races.

SakurazakaAllYouNeedIsKillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

New-to-me author. A short, excellent military SF with a twist.

HassonEmoticonGenerationCoverThe Emoticon Generation by Guy Hasson

New-to-me author. A fun collection of Hasson’s short stories. Some humorous, some creepy. All interesting.

ReichsBonesOfLostBones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

New-to-me author. A later book in the series following the forensic anthropologist. Addictive.

CollingsBillyMessengerOfPowersBilly: Messenger of Powers by Michaelbrent Collings

New-to-me author. A kid’s book, but a good one. Adventure, magic, a quest. Lots of fun.

HearneHuntedHunted by Kevin Hearne

I love the whole Iron Druid series. I think I am all caught upon this series. Luke Daniels does an incredible job of narrating the books.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely

New-to-me author. A graphic novel, modern-day, a nod to Don Quixote.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

The Hero and the Crown & Sunshine by Robin McKinley

While Sunshine was a reread, The Hero and the Crown was my first read through. Both are excellent. Female leads, magic, companion war horse, and Death by Bitter Chocolate.

LynchRepublicOfThievesThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The 3rd book in the Gentlemen Bastard series does not disappoint. Read this as part of a read along. Great series.

GabaldonOutlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

A reread, but it had been nearly 2 decades. Excellent historical fiction with sex. Yep. Not just silly, light kissing.

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

New-to-me author. This was an excellent audiobook. Kid’s book. Adventure, masks, goblins, theater.

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonSky Pirates Over London by Micheal Coorlim

New-to-me author. These are fun, short stories set in a steampunk England. I’ve read 4 of the books so far and enjoyed this one the most.

ShowalterAwakenMeDarklyAwaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

New-to-me author. This is one of my naughty book secrets. Simple plots, fun characters, erotica element. Aliens, assassins.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky)

All four were read this year as part of a read along, rereads for me. I love these books. They are my favorite Terry Pratchett novels, having a more serious bent than other Discworld books I have read.

BowmanTornFromTroyTorn from Troy by Patrick Bowman

New-to-me author. Another kid’s book and a great one for exploring Ancient Greece.

CoreyLeviathanWakesLeviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

New-to-me author. Well, I had read Daniel Abraham before this book, but Abraham writes this series with Ty Franck under the James SA Corey pen-name. Epic science fiction has never been better.

SchoonZennScarlettZenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

New-to-me author. My inner biologist geeked out the entire time reading this YA SF.

HillTheHatchingThe Hatching by Liesel K. Hill

I know it’s a short story, but it was one of the best I read all year. Dragons. I won’t spoil it for you. Go read it.

Pico & Chupa

Pico & Chupa

Makers by Corey Doctorow

New-to-me author. Quirky, insightful, and fun. It follows these two tinkers for a few decades. Cutting-edge SF.

BensonBlackStilettoThe Black Stiletto books by Raymond Benson (The Black Stiletto, Black & White, Stars & Stripes)

New-to-me author. Addictive. 1950s superheroine, New York. Need I say more?

LornHopeForWickedHope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

New-to-me author. I also read his Life After Dane, but I like the Larry Laughlin character quite a bit. Horror. Illegal substance level addictive.

BracewellShadowOnCrownShadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

New-to-me author. 1001 AD Normandy, royal families. Excellent, excellent historical fiction.

Heldig will steal anyone's body heat...if they'll hold still for it.

Heldig will steal anyone’s body heat…if they’ll hold still for it.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

New-to-me author. This nonfiction was incredibly fun. The odd, slightly embarrassing things I learned from it to sprinkle party conversations with…..

MimsHidingGladysHiding Gladys by Lee Mims

New-to-me author. A cozy murder mystery that I didn’t want to put down.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster

More SF modifications for my inner biologist to geek out about. Excellent mystery, excellent SF, excellent characters.

Heldig & Tofu

Heldig & Tofu

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Book 6 in the Wheel of Time series, and part of the massive read along of the series. Incredible ending to this particular book. Robert Jordan gets better with each book.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson & crew

A very fun historical fiction set in the time of Genghis Khan. Luke Daniels was amazing as the narrator.

ScalziRedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

Haha! A fun Star Trek parody. Wil Wheaton as the narrator was perfect!

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

Another awesome historical fiction. Sorcerers, hunters, midgets, a pox, and a crazed ruler who needs to be taken down.

This is Heldig's 'nice kitty' face.

This is Heldig’s ‘nice kitty’ face.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

New-to-me author. This is Book 1 in the trilogy, and my favorite of the series. Steampunk, Austria, airships, a woman in disguise and in service to the crown.

I didn't catch Pico in a good mood.

I didn’t catch Pico in a good mood.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Only Jeannette Walls can pull on my emotions as she does. Modern-day tale of two sisters trying to find some stability.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

New-to-me author. WWII female pilots and spies. One of the best WWII books I have ever read.

IgguldenBloodOfGodsThe Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden

The 4th book in Emperor series tells what happens after Julius Caesar fell. Excellent series.

BernheimerPrimeSuspectsJim Bernheimer books (Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Prime Suspects, Horror, Humor, and Heroes)

New-to-me author. Uh, yeah. You might of noticed that I listened to 3 of Bernheimer’s books in ~2 weeks. Yeah, addictive. Mostly SF. Go, read, enjoy.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I really should read beyond Book 2. Both Books 1 & 2 were excellent. Historical fantasy, or just straight up epic fantasy.

SilvermanGardensOfAmpheiaGardens of Ampheia by Joshua Silverman

A novella set in his Legends of Amun Ra series. Think Ancient Greece set on an alien world. Magic, armor, SF.

MunteanuOuterDiverseOuter Diverse by Nina Munteanu

New-to-me author. SF detective story. Lots of fun.

Stout wouldn't hold still for a pic!

Stout wouldn’t hold still for a pic!

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

New-to-me author. Magic, steampunky, England, detective. Intrigued?

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction, Elizabeth of York, the War of the Roses. Very good, easy to get into.

WillisBlackoutBlackout by Connie Willis

New-to-me author. Excellent time travel, WWII SF-Historical Fiction. Great characters, great plot.

AcevedoNymphosRockyFlatsThe Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

Vampire detective, nuclear weapons mill, and nymphos. Intrigued?

PoznanskyTwistedTwisted by Uvi Poznansky

A collection of her short fictions. Offers a darker twist to such things as the story of Job, working with clay, and elderly cats.

The Blood of the Gods by Conn Iggulden

IgguldenBloodOfGodsWhy I Read It: I love this series, so I had to. It was a NEED.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans.

Narrator: Michael Healy

Publisher: Delacorte Press (2013); AudioGO (2013)

Length: 433 pages; 13 hours 54 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 5

Author’s Page

Note: I originally requested this novel via Netgalley, but had technical issues that took a while to get a response from Netgalley in order to download the book. While waiting for the response, I also requested the audiobook via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!). So, this review covers both as I listened to the audio and used the ebook to review favorite sections.

Following on the heals of the assassination of Julius Caesar, The Blood of the Gods follows Octavian (Julius’s nephew and adopted son and heir), Marc Antony (Julius’s loyal friend), and Marcus Brutus (Julius’s childhood friend and assassin). Conn Iggulden gives us a very good historical fiction that closely follows known historical facts. But he goes beyond that, bringing faces, emotions, and test of wills alive on the pages of this book. For a time, the Liberators, including Brutus, hold all the political power. Marc Antony must join with Octavian to try to punish those who killed his dearest friend. Octavian sets his two closest friends, Agrippa and Maecenas, in charge of building a navy and helping gather and command his army.

This was a very exciting book, and part of that is because it is based on very exciting times. The rest of it, is because Iggulden brings these historical persons alive on the page. Octavian’s unwavering belief that Marc Antony is his friend because of past allegiances and their current striving to bring the Liberatoris to justice becomes one of his flaws. He can’t see how dangerous Antony may be or that he may be merely a temporary ally. Luckily, Octavian has two stout friends, lots of money, and Roman military at his back. Meanwhile, Antony scorns the outstretched friendly hand of Octavian, which wasn’t his smartest move in all of history.

I loved the rebuilding of the fleet after the current fleet was given to one of Octavian’s enemies by the Liberatori-heavy Senate. Agrippa gets his chance to shine, having the ‘honor’ to build the ships, gather enough men to man them, train them on a large lake, and then have the men dig a channel to the sea, upon which they shall fight their first sea battle and hopefully win. Yeah, it can be a little tough being Octavian’s friend. But it really was fantastic, even if you are familiar with the time period and know how it plays out.

But the goodness doesn’t end there. We get a few insights into the real-life recurring illness from which Octavian suffered. We also follow a few of the Libertoris around, seeing from the inside how they cope with the turn of events. Many of these men lead otherwise honorable lives, have wives and children, and joined in the Ides of March because they believed they were freeing a nation. Overall, this is a very well-rounded, fully engaging novel.

Alas, Iggulden says in his afterward that while Octavian’s life and deeds could fill another lengthy series, he plans to leave it here. I was saddened to hear this as Iggulden himself points out that Octavian has been misrepresented many times as a weakling and/or coward when the historical record is clear that this was not the case. So who better to educate the masses than Iggulden himself? So, for now, I will keep my fingers crossed that perhaps in time he changes his mind and gives us another 3-5 volumes on the life of Octavian.

The Narration: Michael Healy had a very clear diction and even pacing. However, there was often little to no distinction between characters and he often did not imbue exciting scenes (think climatic naval battle) with any sense of excitement or urgency.

What I Liked: Damn near everything; the various covers for this book all came out really well; the characters were real – flaws, hopes, ambitions, poor choices, fears, etc. ; the afterword, in which Iggulden lets the reader know when and why he deviated from historical facts.

What I Disliked: The narration wasn’t all that it could have been; it looks like this will be the last book in this awesome series :(.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

For Winter Nights

The Social Potato Reviews

Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: It’s the conclusion to a much enjoyed series.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into ancient Roman history, Julius Caesar era, then this is a great series for you.

Narrator: Paul Blake

Publisher: AudioGO (2009)

Length: 15 hours 22 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 4

The Gods of War picks up right where The Field of Swords leaves off: Pompey has set himself against Caesar. Pompey has seniority, the Senate backing him, Caesar’s daughter for a wife, and, he believes, the will of the Gods. Caesar has his Gaul battle-hardened troops and a good grasp of the effective use of propaganda. Conn Iggulden spent the bulk of this book on the conflict between these two powerful men and how it nearly tore Rome apart. Julius must live through the betrayal of one of his generals; Iggulden portrayed the motivations and character of both sides in that conflict. I truly enjoyed listening to the author’s rendition of how this bit of history unfolded. Pompey and the Senate flee Rome for Greece, where Caesar must follow, leaving Mark Antony in charge in Rome.

The conflict brings the two Roman armies to blood. Octavian, a young relative of Caesar, is given his chance to show his ability at commanding men in battle and his skill shines through. It was good to see Octavian become a man in this last installment in the series. The conflict eventually spreads to the shores of Egypt, to which about the last quarter of the book was dedicated. Due to the fascination with Cleopatra, this may be the most well-known episode of Caesar’s life (remember that Elizabeth Taylor film?). Julius actually took a holiday in Egypt, for roughly 6 months, traveling the Nile, sightseeing, and most likely bedding the young ruler of Egypt. They eventually had an offspring, which raised all sorts of conflict back home in Rome, to which Julius had to eventually return.

If you ever watched or read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or the more recent HBO series Rome, then you know how this story ends. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who missed out on this classic story, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the book. I felt that the motivations, fears, hopes, and desires of all the main characters were well laid out, giving the reader a very plausible rendition of how and why history fell out the way it did.

Paul Blake provided a decisive and strong voice for Julius Caesar. I also appreciated that he used the Latin pronunciation for the Roman names (such as using the ‘w’ sound for names spelled with a ‘v’). However, I sometimes could not tell when he was using his feminine voice and would have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to track when Cleopatra or another female was speaking.

What I Liked: I have long been fascinated with this period in history and I was well satisfied with this author’s rendition of it; the internal conflict of those who love yet envy Caesar was well portrayed; the battles, while detailed, were not overly gory.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to hear more about Mark Antony and why he was so favored by Caesar; the ladies were few and had limited roles and unfortunately limited depth in this series.

Emperor: The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Books 1 & 2 were excellent, and I love this time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire enthusiasts, and Gaulish warriors aficionados.

Publisher: Dell Books (2005)

Length: 594 pages

Series: Emperor Book 3

Once again, Conn Iggulden has kept me up late, distracted at work, and spouting Roman marching commands in my sleep. Naughty author. Book 3 picks up right where Book 2 left off, with Julius Caesar in Gaul, conquering as far as he can see through battle and road building. Marcus Brutus is still his right-hand man, Octavian grows into a very capable horseman and soldier, and Marc Antony becomes a growing presence in Julius’s life. Back in Rome, Crassus and Pompey must match wits and resources with some less-than-savory rising powers of the city, Milo and Clodius.

So far in the series, I think this is the best novel. Iggulden switches smoothly between the two main locations, but also smoothly between the main characters, showing the rift building between Caesar and Brutus over years, the friendship growing between Marc Antony and Julius, the wrangling back and forth (with mutual respect) between Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey. I also like how the cultural arrogance of the Romans was captured: The mighty civilized Romans bringing trade, roads, light, and civilization to the heathen Gauls. Iggulden does this without passing a judgement on the rights or wrongs of the supposed moral superiority of the Romans, but simply telling it in context. The interactions with Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, were true to form.

There’s plenty of action and intrigue to move this story forward, but it is well balanced with insights into the motivations of the characters and nuggets about life at that time. While there are few ladies and all of them secondary characters, Servilia (Brutus’s mother), Alexandria (the goldsmith), and Julia (Caesar’s daughter), they have full lives and depth of character.

What I Liked: Straight-forward writing; character-building; the way Caesar absorbed Gauls into his armies; Pompey and Crassus have to learn to rule Rome without Caesar; left in a bit of cliff-hanger (looking forward to next book).

What I Disliked: No main character women.

Emperor: The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Enjoyed the first book in series, love the time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans, Julius Caesar aficionados

Publisher: Harper Collins (2004)

Length: 677 pages

Series: Emperor Book 2

Book 1 in this series was good, like a scoop of chocolate icecream. Book 2 is even better, like nutella on my icecream. At the end of Book 1, young Julius had to leave Rome as Sulla assumed complete control. Book 2 finds him on a ship patrolling for pirates and eventually Julius gets his ass stomped by a crew of swarthy sea bandits. Julius, his commanding officer, and a handful of other Roman soldiers are held for ransom, for months, in a cramped, dirty space. Yeah, that’s the sucky side to being in the Roman Navy.

Once free of the pirates, Julius and crew end up on the northern coast of Africa, with just the stinking, deteriorating clothes on their backs. through force of personality, Julius gathers up a ragtag army and goes pirate hunting. He eventually ends up in Greece, in time for Mithridates great final Grecian rebellion. After that, he returns to Rome for some political wrangling and assassinations. Spartacus’s slave rebellion follows that ups.

Julius Caesar lived in interesting times and he is still a young man at the end of this novel. In Book 1, I found Conn Iggulden‘s writing style compelling, yet simple. In Book 2, he has honed his story-telling ability to a riveting point, keeping me up far too late on a work night traipsing around with Caesar. I found myself reading 100-page chunks of this book at a time. Images from this book have stuck with me, such as Julius threatening the pirate captain, the formation of the Tenth legion after they suffered their punishment for cowardice in battle, his reunion with his wife Cornelia, Brutus’s blossoming relationship with his mother. I loved the juxtapositioning of Rome, a civilized, beautiful city, run by the shadowy side of politics versus the deadly open-field warfare in Greece.

What I Liked: tagging along as Brutus and Julius become men; reformation of Primegenia; the author’s version for the source of Caesar’s seizures; the factual descriptions of the Roman army in the field and on the march; the historical notes at the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The last 50 pages wrapped up several points in a hurry, and I wish the author had been given another 50 pages to flesh the ending out a bit.