Tag Archives: romance

Top Twelve Books I Read in 2012

“I know what I’ll do,” I said to myself a few days ago. “I’ll write a post sharing the best books I read in 2012. That should be fun and easy, and it lets me do my favourite thing and recommend good books to people who may not have come across them.

Yeah. Great idea, Jo.

Over the last few days, I’ve been desperately trying to whittle my list of 69 books down to the top 10 must-reads. But I just couldn’t do it.

“I know,” I said to myself, never afraid to keep up a conversation in my own head. “Just treat a series as a single entity. I read lots of books that were part of a series last year.”

Yeah, didn’t help much. I managed to get my list down to 6 stand-alone novels and 10 series.

When I vented my frustration on Facebook and Twitter, Richard Lake suggested I make it a Top 12 list. You know, since it was 2012. That’s not cheating, right? Right?

So here you have it. I’ve divided my list into 6 stand-alone books and 6 series, and written a super-short description of why you should read them. (Note: I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by author. Because that’s just how I roll. And that way I didn’t have to find a way to rate them in comparison to each other.)

Stand-Alone Novels

Tiger Lily — Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyA retelling of the Peter Pan story from the perspective of Tiger Lily. It’s a beautiful, tragic love story that had me laughing out loud, feeling awe and wonder at the beauty and casual cruelty of Neverland, and crying pitifully for the last few chapters. It’s rare that I’m so moved by a story. When I finished I clutched the book to my heart and carried it around with me, because I wasn’t ready to let it go.

City of the Lost — Stephen Blackmore

City of the LostJoe Sunday is not a nice guy. He’s a thug, a leg-breaker, and a sometime killer. And that’s before he’s murdered and turned into a zombie by a maniacal old man intent on achieving immortality.This bloody, visceral, gore-filled horror novel is amazing. Joe Sunday’s voice is what really makes it work. Despite his thuggish ways, he’s honourable, courageous, and the consummate hero — even when his deeds are less than heroic. I couldn’t get enough of him.

Ready Player One — Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneIf you know there’s a difference between an African and a European swallow, you’ve ever written “Don’t Panic” on the front of a notebook, or you know how many lions it takes to form Voltron, this book is for you. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, a VR computer game known as OASIS, and a search for hidden clues and treasures. But more than that, this book is an homage to the ’80s and geek culture. I loved every moment of it. Oh, and Hello, Firefly-class spaceship!

Addition — Toni Jordan

AdditionThis is a romantic drama about a woman living with extreme OCD, while searching for love and meaning in her life. It’s an authentic look at the mindset of someone whose own mental faculties seem to be working against them. Grace is unable to hold down a job, and struggles with the day-to-day necessities of choosing what to wear and doing the shopping (ten bananas, ten toothbrushes, ten eggs…). While I didn’t like the ending, I appreciated the story and think it would appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult and similar authors.

Goodnight Nobody — Jennifer Weiner

Goodnight NobodyWhen a free-spirited fashion journalist and ex-singer goes from being a single girl-about-town in New York to the suburban mother of three kids under 4, she’s pretty sure her life is over. And then one of the ‘Perfect Mommy Brigade’ is murdered, and she can’t help but investigate. Especially when she finds out her ex-boyfriend is somehow involved. This romantic crime novel is easy to read, relatable and engaging.

Giants of the Frost — Kim Wilkins

Giants of the FrostA romantic thriller involving supernatural elements by way of Norse Gods. An english scientist takes a posting to a remote Scandinavian island when her engagement goes horribly wrong, and finds herself embroiled in a love story a thousand years in the making. She’s the reborn soul of the God Vidar’s true love, and now that she’s back in the world Vidar is prepared to sacrifice anything, including his divinity, to be with her. It’s scary and exciting and romantic and tinged with enough tragedy to make it a truly authentic love story.

Series

The Morganville Vampires — Rachel Caine

Glass HousesI read all 13 Morganville Books in 2012. This is a Young Adult series set in a small town in Texas where vampires run the city and attempt to live amicably and openly with humans. Claire is 16, super-smart, and completely unprepared for what she finds when she starts college in Morganville. Packed with interesting secondary characters, an engaging plot, and more twists and turns than I can count, this series is a great example of YA writing at its best. I look forward to more Morganville in the future.

Revivalist — Rachel Caine

9780451464132_WorkingStiff_CV.inddI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to the next book in the series coming out in 2013. First, let me say that this is the same Rachel Caine who wrote the above Morganville Vampires series. But if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know it. The tone, theme, and writing style are completely different. Bryn is a hard-working, no-nonsense, ex-soldier who decides to start a new career as funeral director. All is going well until she’s turned into a zombie. Not a slobbering, brain-eating, apocalypse-causing zombie. Oh no, something much better. A zombie created by… (wait for it!) Science! The series has it all — action, horror, romance, secret conspiracies, evil corporations, and enough double- and triple-crosses to keep me guessing from start to finish.

The Athenian Mysteries — Gary Corby

The Pericles CommissionI only read the first book in 2012, but will be reading more. The Pericles Commission is an historical crime novel set in Ancient Greece. When the older brother of Socrates has a corpse almost dropped on his head, he sets out to solve the crime. There’s plenty of real historical information and people, and an amazing crime story. I loved the cleverness and wit in the writing, and it’s a really easy read, even with the names (which were all Greek to me…).

The Disillusionists Trilogy — Carolyn Crane

Mind GamesUnlike many Urban Fantasy series out there, this one is a set trilogy of books. I read the whole series in 2012. The series centers on Justine Jones, a neurotic hypochondriac, and her role amongst the Disillusionists — a group of vigilantes set on finding the wicked and disillusioning them of their selfish behaviours. For a fee, of course. It’s a dark, gritty series set in a world of psychic powers, super-villains, and treachery, where no one can be trusted — least of all your allies — and reads like a dark superhero story.

H&W Investigations — Jess Haines

Hunted by the OthersI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to reading more. This series is everything an Urban Fantasy series should be. It’s full of vampires, werewolves, and mages — but the protagonist is PI Shiarra Waynest. Human. With a major grudge against Others — the name given to supernatural creatures as a whole. The vampires are seductive and dangerous and the werewolves are honourable and prone to bursts of aggression. The series reminds me of a World of Darkness RPG. Only better. Much, much better.

Downside Ghosts — Stacia Kane

Unholy GhostsI read the first three books in 2012, and the next two are first off the rank in 2013. This is a dark Urban Fantasy series set in a near-future world where ghosts killed most of the population and magic is part of every day life — as long as it’s Church-sanctified magic. Let me say again, this series is dark. There’s ritual sacrifice, murder, drugs, disease, and betrayal. Chess, the main character, is as screwed up as it’s possible to get, and the mysteries she solves are intertwined with her own traumas and drug addiction. It’s an amazing series, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who prefers their fantasy to be full of rainbows and unicorns.

Honourable mentions also need to go to:

  •  The Black Sun’s Daughter series by M.L.N. Hanover
  • Croak by Gina Damico
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.

Have you read any of these books/series? Do you want to? What were your top reads of 2012?

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Five Reasons to Read Outside Your Genre

Life is a busy thing these days and sometimes it’s hard enough to carve out writing time every week. But as Stephen King says:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

If you don’t know that quote, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. If you don’t know Stephen King…. Well, I’d suggest you come on out of that cave you’re living in. You can’t be getting very good wi-fi in there.

Reading is an important part of being a writer. To quote Stephen King again:

I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.

Reading is important. And reading outside your genre is just as important as reading within it. Why? Allow me to explain.

1) Wax On, Wax Off

In much the same way you can learn ancient Chinese martial arts through doing household chores, you can learn a lot about writing through reading. That’s true regardless of what genre you read or write. Chances are, you probably decided to write in a particular genre after reading that genre extensively. Don’t stop doing that. Keep reading your favourite genre. But every few books, branch out and read another genre as well. Like the Karate Kid, you’ll eventually find that painting the fence, polishing the car, and cleaning the deck will invest you with practical skills you didn’t even know you were learning.

2) Learn From a Master

If you wanted to learn portrait painting, you wouldn’t ask a sculptor to teach you. So if you want to write a strong romance sub-plot, why are you reading science fiction? I’m not saying you won’t learn anything about romance writing from a sci-fi author, but wouldn’t you rather learn from a master of the craft? Broaden your reading horizons and you’ll find yourself adding all manner of writing techniques to your repertoire.

Reading romance novels will teach you how to build realistic romances. Thrillers will teach you how to build suspense. Police procedurals will teach you how to structure investigations. Fantasy novels will teach you how to build an authentic setting and reveal it without info-dumping. Science Fiction and Historicals will teach you how to seamlessly weave facts into your fiction. With all these masters at your disposal, don’t settle for learning from anyone else.

3) Understand Your Audience

Readers don’t generally delineate themselves by genre. If you ask someone what they like to read, they’ll say things like, “Oh, I like anything with a good story.” They may still gravitate to particular areas of a book store (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, YA, Crime, Literature, Whatever) but that doesn’t mean they don’t read other genres. Do you really think everyone who enjoyed Twilight describes themselves as Young Adult reader? Or everyone who read Harry Potter was a Fantasy reader? 

Reading outside your genre helps you identify what it is about your own book that will attract readers. It’s easy to say, “My book will appeal to Crime readers,” but that doesn’t say much. “My book will appeal to Crime readers who enjoy Lee Child,” is a little more helpful. But it shows how well you understand your audience when you say, “My book is a space opera set in the year 3420 and will appeal to readers who enjoy the feel of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and the suspense of Lee Child.”

4) Avoid  Snobbery

 Literary snobbery is ubiquitous in the writing world.You’ve got everything from the old Literature vs Genre Fiction divide through to people who look down on YA fiction (“It’s not as sophisticated as “real” fiction.”), romance novels (“They’re all formulaic.”), and fantasy  (“It’s all just made up.”). That type of snobbery doesn’t do anyone any favours. But once you’ve learned how to write your sub-plots from the masters and you’ve identified that your audience probably reads other genres as well, it’s hard to maintain that level of snobbery. I’m not saying every single book every published is worthy of your respect, but at least you can start dismissing individual titles instead of entire genres.

5) There’s No Place Like Home

One of the best things about going on vacation is coming home. Not just because it’s familiar (although it is), and not just because you can relax (although you can). No, the great thing about coming home is that you see your surroundings with fresh eyes. You notice details that you haven’t before. You realise the roses in next door’s garden are blooming (just like the ones out front of the B&B you stayed at!) and the guy who says hello every morning when you’re walking your dog always wears a red jacket (just like the one your tour guide was wearing!). You also notice what’s missing. (How did you not realise your town doesn’t have a Korean restaurant? And how have you survived all this time without a good china teapot?) In short, the world looks different, not because it has changed, but because you have changed through your travels.

Reading outside your genre works like this. When you return to the genre where you feel comfortable and relaxed, you’ll notice the changes. You’ll notice the techniques your favourite author has borrowed from other genres and you’ll notice when s/he should have done so and didn’t. And that in turn will help you use and avoid those things in your own writing.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and start reading!

Do you usually read outside your genre? Do you think it’s worthwhile?

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