Review – The Awakened Kingdom

Cover of The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. JemisinThe Awakened Kingdom, N.K. Jemisin

This novella has been released both separately as an ebook, and bundled in with the omnibus of the trilogy. I don’t know quite how I managed to miss that it existed, but I did. I quickly rectified my ignorance by grabbing a copy, and couldn’t resist getting stuck in right away. It helps that the narrator’s voice is infectiously fun; the godling who narrates is a child, full of enthusiasm to live and do and learn and grow. And she does all of this, of course, giving us glimpses in the meanwhile into the world without Sieh, a world where Itempas is learning to change and there is a fragile agreement between mortals and godlings that allows them to live in the same plane of existence. It shows us the world changing in other ways, too — the society in Darre, the actual physical conditions of the world changing and forcing society to change…

And there’s glimpses, just at the end, into the world that comes after that.

Mostly just glimpses, though; this is a novella. I would love to have more of it, although Shill’s voice might get a bit more annoying at length (though I think Jemisin is, as usual, a genius with her narrators). It could sort of stand alone from the three novels, too, but to really understand what’s going on, I wouldn’t recommend it. At this length, it feels that little bit unsatisfying because I think there’s always more I’d want to know about the world, but on the other hand, it ends just where it needs to end to leave you space to imagine.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

I seem to have acquired some books this week! Though I’ve still been relatively conservative — my purchases were a novel and a novella, and the other book was bought for me by the wonderful Lynn. I’m still pretty much hanging in there with my resolutions: I’ve read some ARCs, I’m not buying anything on the spur of the moment, and I’m well within my budget. Woooo.

Bought/acquired

Cover of California Bones by Greg van Eekhout Cover of Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José Older Cover of The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve already read two of the three, too! And I’m a good chunk of the way into California Bones. Good choices, so far. But then maybe I did also purchase a lot of comics…

Thor #1 Thor #2 Thor #3

Operation S.I.N #1 Captain Marvel #11

Lady Thor, Peggy Carter as a heroine, and the new Captain Marvel — how could I resist?

Library

Cover of The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo Cover of Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough Cover of When Life Nearly Died by Michael J. Benton

I didn’t actually find any fiction I wanted this week at the library. Shocking, I know! I’m especially interested in The Lucifer Effect, as I recently reviewed another book by that psychologist (The Time Paradox), and this promises to discuss his most famous and controversial work, that of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

For review

Cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan Cover of Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder Cover of The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

Eeeee. That’s all I have to say about Shadow Study. Nalo Hopkinson will be good, of course; Will Grayson, Will Grayson should be fun.

Freebie

Cover of Earthrise by M.C.A. Hogarth

I haven’t actually read anything I already have by M.C.A. Hogarth yet, but this was free on the Kobo store, so I thought I’d grab it while I could.

What’s everyone else been getting? Broken your resolutions yet?

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “top ten books you’re looking forward to in 2015”. Now, I actually don’t keep a very good track of this, so I might not manage the full ten, but we’ll see how I do…

  1. Jo Walton, The Just CityYeah, I know I have an eARC and I’ve borrowed someone else’s ARC, but I’m still looking forward to it being out and getting to discuss it more widely.
  2. Maria V. Snyder, Shadow StudyMore Yelena! I still need to do my reread, but these are totally my popcorn books and it’ll be nice to have more to look forward to. I might actually manage to read the Avry trilogy when I know there’s more awaiting me…
  3. V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of MagicI don’t know that much about it, but it sounds awesome, and I keep being recommended Schwab’s work.
  4. Joe Abercrombie, Half a World. I still need to get round to reading Half a King, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it, and this is another in the same world.
  5. Catherynne M. Valente, RadianceFrom reading the summary, I’m not quite sure about it, but I adore Valente’s way with words, so it’s going to be worth a try.
  6. Naomi Novik, UprootedI remember enjoying the Temeraire books, and I love reading retellings of myths/legends/folktales/fables, so this sounds right up my street.
  7. N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season. Gimme! Gimme!
  8. Marie Brennan, The Voyage of the Basilisk. I need to read the second book, but still. Still. Badass Victorian lady!
  9. Nicole Burstein, Othergirl. Just spotted this on someone else’s list of upcoming 2015 books. Sounds like fun, and there’s superpowers, sooo. I’m a sucker, I know.
  10. Brandon Sanderson, Firefight. Another one where I still need to read the previous book, but shush. Superpowers!

Oof, I managed it. What’s anyone else looking forward to?

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels”. I thought this one would be easy, initially, since characters are really important to me when I read, but it’s actually tougher than I thought.

  1. Pretty much anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. Even where his writing was less polished, more derivative, I fell completely in love with the characters. He’s one of the few authors who can reliably make me cry.
  2. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Sure, there’s a lot of plot too, but Fitz’s voice is the most important aspect of the story, and you just want to reach in and bang his head against something to force the sense in, sometimes.
  3. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Not only is it vampires-done-right, but it’s first person narration, and everything Sunshine is as a character shapes the way the plot turns out.
  4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. If you count the circus as a character almost on its own (I do), then yeah, this one definitely counts.
  5. Seaward, Susan Cooper. I need to reread this soon. I loved it so much, and despite the shortness of the book, Cooper built up a relationship between the two main characters that I genuinely loved and wanted to follow.
  6. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers. Actually, as far as being character-driven goes, you’re best reading the whole series chronologically, to get a feel for the way everything fits together, for the way the characters develop. I don’t even think I’d necessarily say I’d start with this one. But it’s the one that really made me understand Lord Peter.
  7. Chime, Franny BillingsleyTo say much about this would be to spoil it. A brief excerpt from my review: “Briony isn’t an easy narrator, and she isn’t reliable either, as she constantly tells us. The narrative isn’t a straightforward quest, it’s a maze, it’s full of funhouse mirrors.”
  8. Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier. This is the book where me and Marillier really clicked — I tried some before this one, and wasn’t impressed. But I got really involved with this, with the characters and their problems.
  9. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. The narration is brilliant, the way it all slowly comes together, and I love what Jemisin does with her main character, and with the characters of the gods around her. Particularly when it comes to the child-god, Sieh, who has to act in accord with his nature, or he suffers.
  10. Among Others, Jo Walton. I strongly connected with this because I connected with Mori. Watching her grow up and begin to understand her world better over the course of the novel is a delight.

Wow, that actually took a lot of thought. Veeeery keen to see other people’s picks for this one!

TBR Tag

Spotted this meme on Reading is my Treasure and picked it up since it looks like fun!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Never-ending lists, mostly. I have lists going back to 2011 of the books that I’ve acquired (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), though that doesn’t include ARCs or library books. At the moment I’m also using my Stacking the Shelves posts as a visual reminder: look at old StS posts, figure out what I’ve read and what I haven’t, feel guilty.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
Probably ebook, but I’m not sure, because I do have a looooot of both. It’s easier to go on sprees with ebooks, though.

A Book That’s Been On Your TBR List The Longest

Ulysses by James Joyce, technically! It’s been on my list since a couple of months before my first year in university, anyway. Other than that, I think it’s my Diane Duane books.

A Book You Recently Added To Your TBR

Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas. I keep hearing so much about this!

A Book In Your TBR Strictly Because of Its Beautiful Cover

I don’t really pick based on covers, but there are some that partially appeal because of the pretty.

Cover of The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas Cover of Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans Cover of The Falconer by Elizabeth May

A Book On Your TBR That You Never Plan on Reading

Probably Ulysses… I just can’t find any appeal in it other than “you have two English Lit degrees, you are meant to read it”. Well, boo to that.

An Unpublished Book on Your TBR That You’re Excited For

Mmmmmm. Up to last week it’d have been Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, or maybe The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. Right now, I guess it’s down to N.K. Jemisin’s next one…

Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

A Book On Your TBR That Basically Everyone’s Read But You

Gotta go with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but there’s others too…

Cover of the special UK Collectors Edition of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Cover of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart Cover of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

A Book On Your TBR That Everyone Recommends To You

One of the above, probably! But also these, particularly Ancillary Justice.

Cover of Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon Cover of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

A Book On Your TBR That You’re Dying To Read

Oh, so many. I’d like to catch up on some of my comics, actually.

Cover of Dark Reign: Young Avengers Cover of Avengers Assemble: Science Bros Cover of Avengers Assemble: The Forgeries of Jealousy

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

None. I don’t like the way they use that shelf. I have a bunch of specific shelves, but really I’m not keeping up with it very well since I started this blog.

I tag:

Whoever would like to do it!

Thursday Thoughts: Social Media

Today’s Thursday Thoughts from Ok, Let’s Read is about social media:

Have you ever connected with an author through social media? Do you think it’s important to have things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a blogger, reviewer or author? Why or why not? How do you think social media has progressed and changed the bookish world in recent years? And, now for a fun question: Are there any authors who’s Twitter feed you just can’t get enough of?

I have connected with authors through social media, quite a lot. I tend to follow authors I like or who say interesting things on Twitter, so I do actually discover new books through Twitter sometimes. I met Jo Walton through LiveJournal, and after a couple of years chatting on there, I met her in person a couple of weeks ago and spent the day with her and a lot of other people. So that was pretty cool. I’ve also got some authors on Facebook and stuff like that — Chris F. Holm is on my FB list after he linked to a post here and kindly added me so I can read the discussion, and I follow him on Twitter, etc. It can be a really good tool for just getting brief but meaningful and non-stressful interactions with authors: I’ve had back and forths with Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, Joanne Harris, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin… It’s great. Some interactions have been more positive than others (Nnedi Okorafor and I didn’t completely get on), but it’s always interesting.

I think it helps to have at least one social media account, to boost your profile a bit and give you another medium to talk, maybe less formally than in a blog post. Instagram seems less important to me, and I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but Twitter and the ability for people to RT my reviews is great, plus there’s plenty of competitions for ARCs and so on that go on via social media. Goodreads and LibraryThing are also good ways to connect with other book reviewers, and a lot of the reviewers I follow are still on those platforms — I transitioned to my own blog because I disagree with some GR policies, and didn’t want them to have my content exclusively, plus it wasn’t a good place for posts like this. It’s also better to have your own blog for getting ARCs, and you can’t really do blog tours on GR or LT, so there’s that as well.

It does change the way the book world works in some ways, for those who do interact with authors on social media, and for authors who interact on social media. Sometimes I think authors do themselves a disservice by airing their opinions hastily (or sometimes at all) on Twitter. Sometimes authors really promote their work that way, though.

As for authors whose Twitter feeds I can’t get enough of, there’s obviously John Scalzi, who is usually smart and pretty much always hilarious, and Kameron Hurley, because I enjoy her blog posts and her thoughts on pretty much everything. N.K. Jemisin often has smart things to say and interesting links, too.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a la The Broke and the Bookish, is “top ten books you really want to read but haven’t got yet”. Which is difficult, for me: I tend to pick up what I want right away, because I am terribly prone to needing instant gratification. Still, I’m doing better lately, and there’s some books I haven’t got as ARCs despite all my hankering after them.

  1. Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest. I’ve enjoyed most of Priest’s work, and even when I haven’t loved it, I’ve thought it was interesting. So I’m very much looking forward to this one.
  2. The Just City, by Jo Walton. I love the sound of it; the whole concept of setting up Plato’s Republic for real and seeing how it works? Yeaaah. Plus, it’s Jo Walton: I’ll read anything she puts out.
  3. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I don’t even know what it’s about, I just know I want it when it comes out. Jemisin’s never let me down yet.
  4. The Galaxy Game, by Karen Lord. I wasn’t totally bowled over by The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I did enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Lord develops the minor characters of the first book, and where she goes with developing the universe she’s set up.
  5. Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier. I generally enjoy Marillier’s work, and this sounds like an interesting one. In a way, I think I can kind of predict what’s coming, but I still think it sounds interesting, and Marillier’s writing and characters are an important part of the package, too.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. This is the first one on this list where I haven’t read anything by the author before! I’m intrigued by the summary, the various parallel Londons it mentions. I may be kind of a sucker for alternate Londons like Neverwhere and Un Lun Dun.
  7. Batgirl, vol. 1: Silent Running, by Scott Peterson & Kelley Puckett. I like Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl with Barbara Gordon; I’m interested to dig into other characters, though, particularly as Cassandra Cain has specific limitations. Although, what’s with Batgirl having disabilities and being magically healed?
  8. Heraclix & Pomp, by Forrest Aguire. I’ve been interested in this since reading Dan’s review.
  9. Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas. Everyone makes this one sound amazing. I’m hoping to win a giveaway for this book sometime soon, but otherwise, I’m definitely looking to pick it up somewhere.
  10. Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear. I like the idea of the middle-aged heroine, the world sounds interesting, etc. I may not end up picking this one up if I don’t like the work by Elizabeth Bear I’ve already got somewhere, but for now I still have my eye on it.

What about everyone else?

Auto-read list

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

Reading and rereading

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.