My Favorite Books of 2012

I should probably add some notes here, various caveats, etc.—these are definitely based on my tastes, which I don’t expect others to necessarily like. Some are truly meant to be read as adult books, some as YA, but there is such a crossover between the two genres (sometimes it’s interesting to go into a bookstore with some specific titles in mind that you think are YA and see if they show up in the adult section as well). I’ve been an a bit of a Steampunk kick this year, but there aren’t as many on here as I would have thought. I think it’s partially because I’m not looking in the right places, and some of the ones I’ve been finding that are fairly decent are just Kindle books. I did read some series that I hadn’t heard about before until the latest one was released, so that was fun—more fun than reading the first one in a series and knowing you have to wait a year or more for the second one. I’ve starred the ones I really liked a lot. These are in alphabetical order, not in order of preference—it was easier than flipping through the sheets I printed out.

After further consideration and the realization that, as usual, things were getting longer than they should be, possibly without imparting any useful information, I’m going to post this in installments. That means, I suppose, if you are interested, you can read them, or if not, just look at the titles of the posts and skip the ones regarding my books of 2012 (I’ve never done anything like this, so I don’t really know what I’m doing and just going about it my own way). I started it as a table in a Word file, which is why it looks like a side bar from a science textbook.  The ones I’m including are the ones I really, truly liked (there are quite a few that I liked, but not enough to put down as something that would reveal to the world the inner workings of my soul and what books effect it. It’s a little confusing, but I decided to list all of the books in the series, either because I read all of them this year, or I read the last book in the series this year and wanted to list the previous books. They are all books I either gave four or five stars to on Goodreads. I don’t tend to give many books five stars, so I was surprised at the number of books I did–there are some very good books, I thought, that came out this year.

When I’m finished with the more in-depth ones, I’ll just list the rest I liked enough to mention, just so they don’t feel left out. 🙂

So, some of you may shudder, some may be slightly interested–here is the first installment of my best books for 2012, in all its World-tabled glory.

Title Author My (hopefully) Brief Comments
Series: Magnificent Devices

#1: Lady of Devices

#2: Her Own Devices

#3: Magnificent Devices

Adina, Shelley Steampunk, adventure, urchins (street, that is, not the purple spikey ones).
The third in the series is out, I just haven’t finished it yet. I liked this series because the protagonist is a strong female, there is a nice cast of characters, the plot moved fairly quickly, and there are little twists and turns that keep it interesting. The world is very believable. The inclusion of a group of former street urchins/pickpocketers/thieves that she is trying to reform so they can get real work—they’re all pretty bright kids—is interesting because she takes it upon herself and is willing to work at it until they trust her. There is even a flying chicken in a box. Truly.
Series: Ephemera

#1: Sebastian

#2: Belladonna

#3: Bridge of Dreams**

Bishop, Anne Fantasy, magic, evil forces trying to take over the world.
BoD was the one I read this year. I have to admit that the Black Jewels series is my favorite of Anne Bishop’s, and it took awhile for these to grow on me. A series where world-building is literally taking place in the author’s world-building—the realm has been split apart and can only be connected through magically constructed bridges that don’t always take you where you think they will, but sometimes to where you deserve to go. Only certain people have these powers. Sebastian, Belladonna, and, in the third book, Belladonna’s brother Lee. Wizards are trying to upset her power and her bridges are disappearing, so he sacrifices himself and ends up in an asylum. It sounds odd, I thought so at first as well. I liked this one enough that it made me reconsider the first two and want to read them again all in order.
The Dark Unwinding Cameron, Sharon Steampunk, historical, first in series.
I was really pleased with this one—it’s the first in a trilogy (of course). Catherine Tulman lives with her aunt and cousin in London, where she is basically her aunt’s accounting slave. Her cousin is set to inherit everything, and she is constantly reminded of that fact and she is only allowed there at his generosity (little brat). Her aunt becomes concerned that her uncle, on whom their financial legacy rests, is becoming unhinged and is spending all of his (their) money, so she sends Catherine to see just how crazy he is and wants him placed in an asylum. She discovers that he isn’t crazy, just eccentric, and a brilliant inventor of these interesting little steampunkish creations. And clocks, he loves clocks. Unlike the other estates in the area, he has moved all of his workers into the walled area of his estate and takes care of them. He and Catherine take to each other immediately, and she knows there is no possible way she can commit him to an asylum—it wouldn’t be fair to him or to the people he takes care of. In the meantime, as with all geniuses, there are those who would pray on his innocent eccentricities and steal his work. Catherine falls in love with one of the young men who live on the property—her uncle simply takes lost people in and provides for them. I liked Catherine as a character—she is young and not always sure what is best or what to do, but she’s not sure how else to do things. She has been so stifled living with her aunt, her aunt has managed to suck most of the curiosity and interest in life out of her, but it’s still there, and it reawakens at her uncle’s. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next one in this series
Dragonswood**

Dragon’s Keep

Carey, Janet Lee Fantasy, YA, witch trials, rival princes who are brothers, dragons, good plot twists.
Dragonswood fooled me completely with it’s cover. It’s a beautiful cover, but it looked so much like many of the other covers for YA romancy-type novels I thought that was what it was going to be. I was instead surprised by the plot, which was sometimes horrific (witch hunts), to the Dragonswood itself, where there lives, well, a real dragon. Dragonswood is guarded by a warden, who turns out to be the younger prince—his older brother is away fighting in some war. Their father has died, and everyone is waiting for the older prince to return home. Meanwhile, the truce between dragons, humans, and the fey is becoming strained as humans start to forget about the importance of the interrelationship between the three races. The treasure from the castle has been stolen and no one knows by whom or where it is. Tess is a good foil for the younger prince as they challenge each others’ beliefs (she was accused of witchcraft and threw herself in the nearby lake after finding out her two friends had been tortured and had said she was a witch). She was rescued from the lake by tortoises and a dragon. The royalty share kinship with the dragons, so far as to actually have, in some cases (as in the younger prince) actual spots where there are scales instead of skin. This is considered an abomination. The plot becomes more complicated when the older prince returns—it turns out the woman heading the inquisitions, burning of villages and witches—is the woman he was in love with. The characters were fairly well developed, especially Tess and Garth, and Garth proves to be a worthy adversary to his older brother in terms of getting what he wants to protect the woods where the dragons live. If I’d been reviewing these as I’d read them, I’d remember more details, but I liked this one and it’s prequel, Dragon’s Keep, quite a bit (in the latter, the princess is born with one whole finger as a dragon’s claw instead of a finger, and she’s forced to wear gloves to cover it, as well as go through all sorts of awful treatments her mother’s advisors think might get rid of it). I think she’s Garth’s grandmother—I don’t remember the exact connection. The strongest themes are tolerance for other being (including other humans) and to accept differences—there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with difference, it’s just…different.
Series: Fire and Thorns**

#1: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

#2: The Crown of Embers

Carson, Rae YA, coming-of-age, subterfuge and plots against the main character, family relationships
These are pretty amazing books. Elisa, the heroine of the books, makes an incredible transformation from the beginning of the first book, where she is a chunky, still growing, still learning and not very self-confident girl, to one who can deal with whatever gets tossed at her, mostly because she’s stubborn, doesn’t want to get teased, and wants to prove she can do what everyone else can. So, while she bewails her fate at having to leave her father’s home where there are no challenges and life is easy, leaving is the best thing that could have happened to her. She is very close to her nurse, Ximena, who is truly her best advisor. Elisa faces bloody violence, the subterfuges of court, a husband who doesn’t love her and who keeps a mistress openly, kidnapping, and a whole host of problems she doesn’t know how to deal with, surrounded by people she doesn’t know and unsure of who to trust. An interesting issue that I only remember being brought up in one other book that I am trying to remember is the fact that part of Elisa’s transformation is brought about by tramping through the desert after being kidnapped. As she comes more to terms with who she is and what she can do, she loses the weight, it serves almost as literal emotional baggage. Even though she’s “acceptably thin” at the end (a little annoying) it’s because she’s gone through a transformation. Princess Ben—that’s the other one, a sort of fairy tale, that deals with the princesses’ weight issue, especially when her parents die and she has to learn how to run the kingdom—for her, food serves much the same purpose as it does Elisa—comfort. Small deviation there, just remembered that. CoE concentrates more on what it’s like for Elisa to rule, and how she continues to grow and learn through her experience. I think I forgot to mention she has a godstone in her belly button, which makes some villainous type people want her for the sole reason she does. They want the godstone, not her necessarily attached to it. They are both very good reads, the middle book doesn’t suffer the “middle child” syndrome, and the third, I think, is coming out the end of this year (The Bitter Kingdom?).
Series: Graceling Realm**

#1: Graceling

#2: Fire

#3: Bitterblue

Cashore, Kristin YA, coming-of-age/coming to terms with one’s own Graces and how to use them, friendship, coming of age, attempting to rule when everyone around you seems to be insane.
I’ll start with the fact that I think these are some of my favorite books ever. I didn’t think I would like them as much as I did, with them switching characters and such, but I did. And Katsa and Po and their friends all show up in Bitterblue. Fire turns up at the end, much older than she was in Fire. Bitterblue is about waking up from a nightmare, both while awake and asleep, that has spread over the realm for the previous 35 years while Bitterblue’s father, Leck, was King. He is one of the most twisted, cruel, and inhumane characters, as is revealed through the course of the book, I think I’ve ever seen. He reminds me of a mad neo-nazi scientist. He had the power to control what everyone thinks, so for the entirety of his reign, used this power to convince everyone that things were fine, while in reality he was forcing his main advisors to do terrible things and then making them forget they did it. These are the same advisors Bitterblue has when she becomes queen, and she knows there is something wrong with the way they act, the way they hide her away in her tower and inundate her with paperwork. They don’t want her to find out any of the truth, and if she leaves the castle, she might. So, what would any frustrated, thwarted young queen do who believes everyone is lying to her do? She sneaks out of the castle at night and starts to learn the truth, which is dangerous. She starts to question her advisors, who either go blank, have an attack of the nerves, go get drunk, or simply leave. Bitterblue discovers just how deep the lies go, and how they are still being perpetuated by her own advisors. She’s a strong character by the end, and has her friends to help support her. Cashore’s writing is smooth and brilliant as it was for the first two, and the relationships between the characters are believable and at times heart-wrenching. While they are trying to topple other kingdoms with bad rulers, she is counting on them to help her save hers. The old starts to fall away and Bitterblue is able to replace and fill positions with younger people who will be better able to rule the realm she wants it to be—with an educated populated that isn’t mistreated by their lords. There are some really interesting characters—Death, the librarian (it’s pronounced Deeth, he insists) and his cat are unforgettable, and it’s endearing the way he helps Bitterblue when he realizes she isn’t like her father, ready to fling books into the fire, but values them as much as he does. I was sad to see this series end, but I’m curious as to what Cashore will come up with next.
Series: The Seven Realms**

#1: The Demon King

#2: The Exiled Queen

#3: The Grey Wolf Throne

#4: The Crimson Crown

Chima, Cinda Williams YA, different kinds of magic (earth magic and the kind learned at school), resolving differences between groups of people who have a common tie in Raisa, the realization that when you’re the one in charge with the power, sometimes you’re the loneliest one because of that.
Another ending series, the whole of which was altogether enjoyable. The Crimson Crown is the culmination of a lot of groundwork in the first three novels of the series. Raisa is now about to be crowned queen, both of the nobles and the clans. Neither side is sure of the other, as the nobles don’t trust the clans and the clans don’t trust magic, even the few of their own who have studied it and are accomplished wizards. All three sides compete to present a possible husband for Raisa, who only loves one man, who only loves her—Han Alister, a man taken in by her father, head of an important clan, who sends Han to learn to be a wizard. He doesn’t want Raisa to marry Han, he wants her to marry someone else he has chosen to take over the clan after him, Windwalker. And the wizards want her to marry Micah Bayer, another Wizard—the Bayers have been ruling over the Wizards for a very long time, and there are some that would be more than happy to see them overturned. The Wizards and the clan refuse to trust each other until they have no choice and are betrayed from within by their own commander, and then enemies to the East. Their leader also wants to, you guessed it, marry Raisa. She’s gotten to be awfully popular. She knows with fair certainty that the men, other than Han, want to marry her to use her as a pawn, and at times she’s not too certain of Han, either. When you end up under siege in your own castle, I’d be pretty suspicious of everyone as well. This is an excellent conclusion, where good pretty much triumphs and evil pretty much loses, but not without losses and a good deal of grey remaining. The air is so thick with lies at times it’s almost palpable, and while we’re reminded that Raisa is still queen with responsibilities to think of what’s best for everyone, she’s heartbroken at the same time, and it takes a lot of prodding from her friends to get her out of her sorrow and into a place where she can make decisions again. Raisa learns how truly difficult it is to keep peace, which is all she wants, when there are so many opposed to her who are ready to battle each other at a moment’s notice, even her own family. The writing is strong, characters are well developed (I actually did feel sorry for Micah Bayer in parts—I do think he wanted to break away from his father, he just didn’t have the strength), but changeable as they need to be in order to try to accomplish what they need to do, whether it be supporting Raisa or the enemy. Or an enemy that isn’t known to be an enemy who’s supporting Raisa—The Crimson Crown felt much more complicated than the ones before it in the series. It had to fill in a lot of gaps from the past, break long held beliefs on the clan’s part, and still end up with Raisa prevailing. Well, hopefully. One relationship that is definitely intriguing is the one between Han and Crow, which progresses significantly. Altogether, I feel satisfied with the conclusion, not left hanging anywhere, and will have to read them all back to back at some point so I get everything instead of having read them over the course of four years.
Series: Avian Shifters**

#1: Duck!

#2: Magpie

Dare, Kim Adult, m/m relationships, character growth and maturing, finding one’s place in the world, interesting system of hierarchy depending on avian shifted form.
In a serious shift (no pun intended) from the earlier books on this list, both of these are m/m romances with some BDSM in them. I thought they sounded a little odd, but I generally trust the opinions of the person who recommended them on Goodreads, and she was right about these. Granted, you have to be interested in m/m romances, which I am—I say because I have gay characters in my novels, but I’m actually starting to like the well-written ones because they’re just as good as anything else out there, they’re just a very marginalized niche genre. What initially fascinated me about these two books is the way the avian society is organized. They live mostly in human form, but they know, usually, what species of bird they are going to be from when they are young to when they shift officially to avian form for the first time in front of the council. In the case of Ori, the submissive character in Duck!, he doesn’t know what he is; he was raised among humans, only learned he was a shifter about six months earlier, and has been dubbed an ugly duckling, occupying the lowest rung in the nest. Each species has a specific task, and since no one knows what he is, he’s given menial tasks where he is tormented by his co-workers (crows, I think it was in this case). They are caught red-handed when they have thrown dishes at Ori, who is trying to clean them up, when a high ranking Hawk happens to be passing by, Raynaud. In an interesting part of their culture, all species have their species sign tattooed on their wrists that they use as a form of introduction, and everyone immediately knows where the others stand. Ori doesn’t have a tattoo, because no one knows what he is. Raynaud takes him to work at his home, and their master/slave relationship commences. Where Reynaud is very sure of himself and his place, Ori is in constant motion, always cleaning things and fixing things, expecting to be passed along to another “owner” at any time. They end up falling in love, and when the time comes for Ori to shift in front of the council, he shifts into a very rare Swan, the highest ranking of all the avian species. Immediately, he is whisked to the palace and given a huge living space which makes him extremely uncomfortable—in fact, the whole thing makes him uncomfortable. He just wants things to go back to the way they were with Raynaud. Raynaud, in the meantime, is going through a period of guilt that he was treating Ori as a possession when he was a Swan, a King. Ori doesn’t care. Finally the council agrees to let Reynaud work with Ori, basically to make sure he keeps himself out of danger, and their relationship continues under that guise. Magpie starts a little later than Duck!—I’m not entirely sure how long, because Ori is much more sure of himself in this one, but he isn’t a main character, more of a very influential side character. The two main characters are Everet (who is briefly seen as a character helping Ori once he becomes King in Duck!), a Raven who is part of the security team for the nest, and Kane, a drug-addicted young Magpie who will do literally anything for his next fix, and has been for the bulk of his teenage years. They meet when Everet is called to bring Kane in for thievery, at the request of the owner’s club he was “working” in. Kane has been beaten horribly, and looks on the brink of death. Everet tells the Elders he will take responsibility for rehabilitating Kane, which they think is impossible and a waste of time. Magpies will always steal. Kane takes more steps backward than he does forward, and is a huge challenge for Everet, who is unwilling to give up on him—early on because he thinks Kane has potential, and as the novel progresses, because he starts to fall in love with him. Kane continues to frustrate until Everet finds a solution, at least temporarily, of him spending time working on the cleaning crews, because Kane loves to clean things to make them sparkle. He does so well that eventually Everet has a huge surprise for him—he takes him down to a vault, where Ori is waiting, and in the vault is all the silver from the nest, silverware, teapots, everything. If Kane does well at his job, then he can come and polish silver with Ori, who has a hard time not being able to clean anything in his position as King of the Nest. Kane and Ori start to become friends, and Kane realizes he doesn’t have to steal, all of his treasure is right here. His family turns up and tries to ruin things for him, things don’t look so good for awhile, then he is saved by Renaud, Ori, and Everet. I like that the characters work hard (even when they don’t want to, which is probably why they end up having problems again) but even when they screw up, they have managed to make enough friends to help them. One of the other aspects of these books I really liked is that while there is some BDSM, there’s not much, and they feel like love stories—real love stories, not fake contrivances like some other books out there I could name that don’t involve avian shifters, which makes this one cool as well. In Duck! there is also the question of what happens when the dominant partner is suddenly inferior status-wise, and how that is resolved. There is a lot of very badly written material out there covering these themes, and it’s nice to know that Dare spent the time to make these both very loving stories. Yes, they do get explicit, but that’s part of their purpose. They aren’t raunchy. And I liked the covers as well, very tastefully done, and much sexier than the usual in your face, here I am covers. Highly recommended for those into m/m relationship stories.
Series: Nightrunner Series**

#1: Luck in the Shadows

#2: Stalking Darkness

#3: Traitor’s Moon

#4: Shadows Return

#5: The White Road

#6: Casket of Souls

Glimpses (short stories)

 

Flewelling, Lynn Adult/YA, mystery, intrigue, espionage, magic, definite character growth, even for Seregil, who has been around a long time and still manages to change in small ways as he learns he can trust other people, m/m relationships, interesting characters, political maneuvering, royal family infighting and bickering for power leading to betrayal.
Casket of Souls is the latest in Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series. This series centers on two characters, Seregil and Alec, and their friends. They are very well developed characters, as are all the supporting characters. I’ll stick to Casket of Souls as it was the one published in 2012. Alec and Seregil have been working together as thieves and ‘information gatherers’ since the first book in the series, when Alec tried to steal Seregil’s coin pouch. Since then, he has taken Alec under his wing and trained him to be an expert thief and housebreaker, and where to look for important documents. When they are at home in Rhiminee, Seregil, who is very widely known for his eccentricities and outrageous behavior, also acts unbeknownst to the people who ask for help from the Rhiminee Cat. They inevitably fall into some sort of danger or plot and return to one of two places, Seregil’s former mentor’s tower where he apprenticed unsuccessfully to be a magician under Nysander’s tutelage. The other place is Seregil’s friend Micum Cavish’s house where he lives with his wife and growing number of children. This series does involve a relationship developing between Seregil and Alec, which they don’t even discuss until the end of the second book, so I was very disappointed to see in some of the reviews on Amazon that people still reading the first book were making comments such as, “Was reading this and enjoying it then realized it was one of those kind of books and threw it away in disgust.” Their relationship is mostly subtle, sometimes made fun of by relatives because they are so in love—they are essentially bound together. There is nothing explicit—Glimpses—a collection of fan art and short stories written by Flewelling elaborate on some of those experiences, Alec and Seregil’s first time together, for example, but those types of scenes don’t come up in the series itself (but if you’re into the series, Glimpses is a really nice companion volume). Anyway, I found it annoying that someone could be genuinely enjoying a story and then realize there’s a m/m relationship in it so out the window it goes. Casket of Souls finds Seregil and Alec running into a group of players (theatre) who are taking audiences by storm, and at the same time find out information that the Queen is plotting against the Princess, who is already engaged in a war. Then a plague starts to spread. I read this so long ago—I wish I remembered the details better. The main player has something to do with it, capturing souls in bottles and using them to keep eternally young. Nysander’s apprentice at the time of his death, Thero, who started out as an arrogant somewhat one sided character novels ago, is now a magician of some repute who Seregil and Alec know they can count on as much as they did Nysander. Thero is still arrogant at times, but he’s also developing a sense of humor and has fallen in love with the princess the Queen is plotting against, supplying her with ways to contact him if she needs help (this mostly happened in the previous installment in the series, when a diplomatic trip was taken to Seregil’s old homeland that he was exiled from thirty years earlier for being caught in a relationship with another man. He’s uncomfortable with the trip, but Alec meets his family, and they all like him. Thero is working with Princess Klia on her mission, spending most of his time with her, and they fall in love. I went backward instead of forward, didn’t I? I think it’s important to mention in here somewhere that Seregil is Aurënen, an almost Elven type race, and Alec is half-hâzadriëlfaie, another clan of elvish type people who are more secretive than Seregil’s clan. Everything is sorted at the end of Casket of Souls (sorry, that has to be one of the worst reviews ever—if I wrote the reviews right after I read the book it would be better—I originally read this in May). Sadly, there is going to be only one more book in this series. I have become quite attached to the characters, so even while I might not always get the plots straight, the writing and development of the characters are so good I do really feel unhappy there is only one more book. Oh well, I can always start them over.
Series: Havemercy**

#1: Havemercy

#2: Shadow Magic

#3: Dragon Soul

#4: Steelhands

Jones, Jaida, & Bennett, Danielle Mechanical, sentient, fighting dragons who can talk and interact with their riders, a widely varied corps of personalities. Do I need to say anything more than mechanical, sentient, fighting dragons?
I’m just going to come right out and confess I read these almost a year ago, but I really, really liked them at the time. The idea was very clever, I thought. Dragons that were built with a specific member of the flight corps in mind, in one case, the dragon had been built for one man’s brother, but his brother had died and he was genetically close enough that he could ride the same dragon. The dragons and the riders learn each others’ personalities—despite the fact they have been engineered, the dragons are sentient and learn. The series starts with the whole corps having been disciplined for their appalling behavior at an important event which involved women and large amounts of alcohol. It is decided, then, that they need “etiquette training,” and a young professor is sent in to teach them, supposedly, everything they are supposed to know. Naturally he meets with resistance and insolence, a naïve professor and a hardened flight corps—no problems here. There are characters that are lost through the course of the series, some of which I was surprised to feel sad about even though their characters were at times annoying—they all fit a purpose within the corps to make it a cohesive group, and their loss changed that. Steelhands centers on one young corpsman who has lost his hands in the battle in the previous book, and has new ones made from the same metal the dragons are constructed from, and how he learns to adapt as everything is different now. Two of the original Dragon Corps have decided to stay in the desert where the final battle occurred, but they begin to uncover mysterious and disturbing things about the dragons, which they report back to their old commander. Despite the fact that the Dragon Corps could generally be referred to at the beginning of the series as a very motley crew of men, they were a motley crew of men who depended and trusted each other to cover their backs, and they genuinely cared for each other. The idea of the importance of human interaction and relationships continues in Steelhands. Jones and Bennett have created a wonderful world populated by interesting people and creatures. I was lucky enough to have found out about the series when Steelhands was released, so was able to read all of them at once (one after the other, that is). I think sometimes that’s the most marvelous way to read books—to suddenly discover a new series that already has a few books out and just become inundated in their world, which was easy in this case. The characters are so different, yet fully realized, there is just enough description where is doesn’t become tedious, and the world-building is such that it makes perfect sense that these dragons exist. I’m hoping Steelhands isn’t the last one in the series, as I’m curious to learn more, but if it is, I’m very happy to have read the ones that are here.
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