Top 10 Books of 2018

 

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10. Rosewater

Author: Tade Thompson

Really inventive…I enjoyed this novel on a conceptual level, but didn’t find the story to be compelling until it all comes together at the end. I’m interested to see where author Tade Thompson takes future installments in this trilogy because he’s set up a good foundation with this excellent first book. See full review here.


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9. A Conspiracy of Truths

Author: Alexandra Rowland

An unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator…When writing a book about a gifted storyteller, it helps to be a gifted storyteller. Luckily, author Alexandra Rowland shows a knack for spinning a charming and heartwarming yarn.  A Conspiracy of Truths is an impressive and enchanting novel that was a joy to read. See full review here.


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8. Foundryside

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

This book has pieces of everything I want in a fantasy novel — an intriguing magic system, rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, humor, and heart. Those pieces coalesce into something really interesting and make for an enjoyable reading experience. Foundryside is swiftly paced, has great action, and features loads of sharp, snappy dialogue.  See full review here.


BeforeMars

7. Before Mars

Author: Emma Newman

A wonderfully captivating read that I really enjoyed…Before Mars is a compelling mystery box novel and a worthy addition to the Planetfall universe. With three books released and another on the way, Newman is crafting a superb series of interconnected works. See full review here.


Iron Gold

6. Iron Gold

Author: Pierce Brown

A wholly worthwhile addition to Darrow’s story that breathes fresh life into the overall saga. Iron Gold is sprawling, electrifying, bloody, and represents a welcome return to form for the series. See full review here.


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5. Aching God

Author: Mike Shel

A thoroughly engrossing debut novel that I enjoyed immensely. It’s certainly one of my favorite books of 2018 and I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series, as Aching God builds a very solid foundation from which to jump off from. It feels like sword and sorcery Indiana Jones — and I’m very here for that.  See full review here.


Unholy Land // Lavie Tidhar

4. Unholy Land

Author: Lavie Tidhar

Unholy Land is a stunning achievement. It is packed to the brim with engaging ideas and features a captivating story that I could not stop puzzling over. There is such an ethereal and intoxicating quality to the story and Tidhar’s writing that I found myself floating through the chapters, not always sure what was happening, or whose perspective we were seeing, but knowing that I wanted to keep reading. The intersecting story threads twisted my brain into a pretzel and I loved it. See full review here.


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3. The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

Wow, this was a gem of a debut novel. I have never read a book that evolves so thoroughly from beginning to end. This is bloody, brutal, and unrelentingly dark fantasy. Overall, Kuang has crafted a complex and absorbing debut novel that is unsettling and enthralling in equal measure.  See full review here.


Philosopher's Flight

2. The Philosopher’s Flight

Author: Tom Miller

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!) See full review here.


 

 

1. Senlin Ascends & Arm of the Sphinx*

Author: Josiah Bancroft

I was completely taken with Senlin Ascends right from the outset. Author Josiah Bancroft’s words paint a vivid picture of a peculiar world where nothing is as it seems. Bancroft’s prose is lyrical and conveys a sense of grand adventure that I rarely find in my reading life. See full review here.

Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answeredIt’s inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. See full review here.

*Okay, #1 is a bit a cop-out since Senlin Ascends was originally published in 2013 and Arm of the Sphinx in 2014…HOWEVER, Orbit made the smart decision to snatch up the rights to Bancroft’s series and re-released these first two books in 2018…so, they qualify for this list on a technicality! They’re wonderful books, so I’m happy to bring attention to them in any way I can.

Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Philosopher’s Flight

Philosopher's FlightTitle: The Philosopher’s Flight (2018)
Author: Tom Miller
Pages: 432

My thanks to Edelweiss/NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In the midst of World War I, society grapples with the proliferation of Empirical Philosophy or “sigilry”, an art form that allows users to summon wind, carve smoke, or fly through the sky. Opponents of the field denounce and demonize these practitioners, as they seek to eradicate their kind from the face of the earth. Robert Weekes, a teenager with a burgeoning gift for sigilry, attempts to succeed in the female-dominated field and find himself along the way. He must exert considerable effort to prove himself against the notion that men are not good enough to be skilled in Empirical Philosophy.

In today’s current cultural climate, it seems ill-considered to center a book around a male character who must overcome gender discrimination…but at the same time, it’s refreshing to read an alternate history where women are so revered and respected for their talents in the first place. It also helps that Robert is a virtuous and endearing lead character who is easy to root for and works hard for everything he earns.

Author Tom Miller displays an impressive aptitude for storytelling as he deftly spins this wholly engrossing yarn. His writing style and dialogue choices really do a great job situating the reader in the early 20th century setting. Additionally, the plot, characters, motivations, and worldbuilding are all nicely fleshed out and well developed.

The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully inventive historical fantasy that sinks its hooks into you and doesn’t let go. I truly enjoyed Tom Miller’s debut and hope a sequel is on the horizon. (The cover is great, too!)

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky

BeneaththeSugarSky.jpgTitle: Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 160
Series: Wayward Children #3 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In this third novella of the series, a group of travelers from Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children sets off to resurrect a former student in hopes of saving her future daughter (who somehow already exists).

Having enjoyed, but not loved the previous two books, I found this one to be my favorite of the bunch. The characters are well-drawn, rich, and nuanced; the story feels cohesive, complete, and fun; and the portal world of Confection is a joy to read about. Author Seanan McGuire does a great job to further the development of the portal worlds, giving more background into their existence and what they mean to the children who venture there.

Generally, I struggle to rate novellas higher than 3 stars, as they rarely dive as deep as a full-length novel can, but this one came close! I’d happily go on another adventure in this world, though.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Oathbringer

oathbringer_cover-finalTitle: Oathbringer (2017)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 1,242
Series: The Stormlight Archive #3 (Series Tracker)

The hype surrounding Oathbringer was deafening in the fantasy community in anticipation of its 2017 release. I’ve read most of Sanderson’s work and am fascinated by his massive Cosmere universe. That said, Oathbringer was mostly a letdown. I enjoyed The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, but just felt a total disconnect when it came to this book.

The most frustrating part is that I can’t quite put my finger on why I disliked it so much compared to the previous books. Was it too long? Was it unfocused? Was it too uneven? Did it spend the most time with the characters that I like the least? Did the scope expand too much? Do I have Sanderson fatigue? Or was I just in the wrong headspace to connect with this massive tome? Perhaps it was a combination of all of these issues. Either way, I could not become invested in this story until after the 1,000th page, and by that point, the strong ending could not salvage everything that had come before it [Although it did keep this book out of the 2-star range].

I won’t abandon this series yet, as I’m still intrigued by Sanderson’s world and concept, but if there isn’t some sort of story/character shakeup in the near future, my reading experience of future installments will continue to be a trudge rather than a sprint.

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiTitle: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (2014)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 375
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1 (Series Tracker)

In this steampunk series-starter, protagonist Elizabeth Barnabus uses the powers of illusion and deception to evade capture while simultaneously solving the mysterious disappearance of a missing aristocrat. While never crossing the threshold from “good” to “great,” The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter tells a compelling story in a fresh world with a likable heroine. I think I’d like to see how this series plays out…moving on to book 2!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Artemis

Artemis-Book-Cover-Andy-Weir.jpgTitle: Artemis (2017)
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 384

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In Artemis, snarky smuggler Jazz Bashara gets caught up in a dangerous get-rich-quick scheme that could rock the foundations of life as they know it on Artemis, the first ever Moon city.

Well, two major books into his literary career, I think Andy Weir’s genre/style is apparent — sarcastic, genius narrators who Macgyver their way out of outer space jams. This leads to a generally palatable adventure that moves along swiftly and is enjoyable enough, but doesn’t linger very long with me after I’ve turned the final page (or hit 100% on my Kindle, in this case). Artemis is told in a very visual, fast-paced way, which I think will translate well to the big screen (the film rights have been acquired). As a point of comparison, I thought The Martian was better served in book form, whereas the opposite might be true about Artemis.

The concept of a moon colony has been done before, but I liked Weir’s take on what the economy would look like and how the creation of the outpost was firmly tied to corporations and the commercialization so prevalent in today’s society.

My major issue with the book was that it felt like Jazz had this tacked-on personality trait of being a promiscuous woman, even though it added nothing to the depth of her character or the story itself. Every repeated mention or dirty joke about it felt forced, unnecessary, problematic coming from a male author, and generally kinda icky.

Overall, this was a mostly enjoyable adventure story, with a likable cast of characters, in an interesting setting. I can’t give it a rousing recommendation, but if you loved The Martian, you’ll probably have fun with this.

 

★★★ out of 5

Review: The Stone in the Skull

STONE-IN-SKULL-final-740x1124Title: The Stone in the Skull (2017)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Pages: 368
Series: 
Lotus Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Set in the same world as Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, The Stone in the Skull tells the story of the Lotus Kingdoms, where two separate rulers attempt to overcome dangerous omens and the threat of war to protect their people.

This was my first Elizabeth Bear novel and it certainly won’t be my last. I can’t say I’ve read anything so gorgeously written with a setting so brilliantly realized.

I wasn’t sure that this book was for me in the very beginning, but by the second chapter I was completely hooked. This chapter introduces Mrithuri, the ruling rajni of Sarathai-tia, in beautiful fashion. In this section and beyond, Bear infuses the narrative with colors, aromas, tastes, and the like. It’s a masterclass in how to appeal to the senses of the reader. This amount of detail further enriches a fascinating setting, where unique customs and the physical makeup of the world combine to form a finely woven tapestry of worldbuilding.

Although the Gage and the Dead Man are billed as the main characters, it’s really Mrithuri and Sayeh who steal the show. They are strong, regal leaders who care deeply about their reigns and their people. I moved slowly through their sections to better savor each moment of their beautiful storylines.

All in all, The Stone in the Skull is one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while. It is fresh, engaging, and was a joy to read. I look forward to the sequel and a return to this wonderful world.

★★★★½ out of 5