Best Books of 2013

Best of the Best: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. OMG, you guys, this book! It’s gotten a lot of (deserved) buzz all over the internet, so you’ve probably already heard that everyone in the book is referred to as “she” even when the narrator (gender unknown) knows the person is male. That’s pretty cool, but even better is the fragmented narrative that takes place in pieces–all pieces of the same entity–and that eventually start making sense. Not at first, but I love me a book that makes me work. The author has said that Ursula Le Guin‘s Left Hand of Darkness was a major influence, and you can see it. I love LHD, but I’ll be the first to admit that some aspects have not aged well. Reading Ancillary Justice is like getting to read LHD for the first time all over again.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I’ve gushed before about this book, and I know some people with more familiarity with Brazilian culture had problems with the book, but oh, I loved it. I loved unlikeable June and the bad decisions she makes while she struggles with her ambition relating to her art, her love for the different people in her life and the social activism that is at the heart of the book. I also love that there is sex and masturbation and a bisexual love interest. By the end I was thinking, I don’t know how Johnson is going to salvage this in a way that makes me content, but she did.

Best Ugly Cry: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I wish I could re-read this book to see how the author did the things she did, but since I woke up sobbing in the middle of the night after reading it the first time, I just don’t think that’s going to happen. Among all the other things to admire, I loved that this book was about female friendship without romance.

Best Ongoing Series: Untold, sequel to Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan. I loved Unspoken last year when I read it. Kami is outspoken, tenacious, smart, a writer and biracial. The pacing is runaway train, and amazingly it was even better when I re-read it in preparation for Untold and noticed details I missed when I raced through it the first time. Untold was as good as the first book and Kami’s friends Angela and Holly play a vital part and get a good chunk of the narrative.

Best Surprise Favorite: This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales. I had read Past Perfect in 2012 for my book club and it was charming and funny and light, so I picked up TSWSYL expecting to have a fun read, but not to fall in love with everything about it. I don’t fall in love with contemporaries, but Elise, who just wants some friends and acceptance and loves music really got under my skin. Plus girl friendships, totally understandable bad decisions and good parents.

Best Classic: Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. A friend put this book in my hands, saying it was one of her childhood favorites, a phrase to strike fear into anyone’s heart. But, oh, it holds up. Think I Capture the Castle in the 1960s without the genteel poverty, in the US and a MC who doesn’t know what she wants. But something of the voice is very similar to Castle and the ending, which I was afraid would suck a la 1960s expectations, was PERFECT.

Best New to Me Author: Jaclyn Moriarty. I had never heard of her before Alison Cherry introduced me to her but after I started with The Year of Secret Assignments, I went on to read four more of her books.

Best Re-read: Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells.

Best I’ve run out of topic headingsBest of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord. I hugely enjoyed this book for precisely the reasons it will drive some people crazy: it’s episodic, it’s intimate, it is not what you expect of an after the end of the world plot, there’s consensual sex and none of the non-consensual kind, there’s a love story, and it’s social science fiction. Caveat: I’m still not sure about the ending eight months later.

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear. I wish I had written down what I liked about this book, but all I can tell you is that I enjoyed it immensely. And that is really enough, isn’t it?

Best Non-Fiction: Sadly I didn’t read any good non-fiction that was published in 2013. But I read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed, which was amazing and heart-breaking in the best possible way.

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State of the Writer

Hello! I haven’t been around here much.

I was struggling with my WIP that I’ve been working on, on and off for the last two years. I have a full plot arc for the main characters but the subplot involving a third character just hasn’t been gelling into anything. A few weeks ago, Tam challenged me to write a short story with a writing prompt of strange place names and I wrote the big climax for my WIP in a fit of inspiration. I thought maybe that would get the rest of it going too, but instead I wrote the short story, which turned out to be a chapter of a book I wrote the opening chapter for two years ago.

Since then I haven’t been able to stop writing the shiny new YA biopunk* science fantasy thingy that I started. Words have been coming like they haven’t been coming for months. 1000, 2000 even 3000 at a time, when I’ve been lucky to get 100 lately.

*Apparently this is a thing, but it’s not the thing I mean. I’m thinking more how Kameron Hurley talks about her God’s War books as bugpunk.

I think I’ve been working on the wrong thing. Or the shiny new project has been sitting in the back of my brain for long enough that I’m ready to write it. And the WIP, which I made a lot of progress on before grinding to a halt (like my first car, which leaked oil like a severed artery until it ran out, seized up and blew smoke all over the highway) needs to sit in the back of my brain.

I just hope it’s not for another two years, but I begin to detect a pattern. Two years here, two years there. I fight against it. I don’t want to be a slow writer. I don’t want to wait and flounder around wondering what I should be writing and not writing, which makes my unhappy and cranky. On the other hand, I love the feeling of flow, of the knowing what should be next, without having to strain so much for it. My subconscious has obviously been doing the work while I went about life.

And this one feels different (what a joke, each novel I’ve written or attempted to write has felt different), like it’s less of a rough draft than it usually is, with more of the details there. With maybe, dare I say it? slightly better writing than I usually have at this point in the process.

Everyone says don’t compare yourself to other writers. It’s hard not to when it seems publishing is speeding up exponentially and writers are writing two books (or four) a year (though not necessarily publishing them). But I’d have to say don’t compare yourself to yourself either. Just because the last book was hard doesn’t mean this one will be. Just because the last book was easy doesn’t mean this one will be. And maybe I was reaching too far beyond my capabilities with that WIP and I have to wait to grow into it (which isn’t a bad thing). Sherwood Smith told me once she is still waiting to grow into a story she wants to write and she’s been writing for decades.

Meanwhile, I’ll just chant my litany of other writers who have said they are slow: Franny Billingsley, Libba Bray, or um, that’s the end of my list. Who else has said they’re slow?

And a question: Anyone have a favorite scene from a book or movie where one character threatened another? It’s for the shiny WIP. I’m trying to figure out how I want a scene to go.