Thursday, December 27, 2012

Favourite 2012 Releases

It’s that time of the year again! The time when we stop our frantic reading/reviewing/writing/gummy bear consummation and think about the last twelve months and what they have brought us. The time for retrospective and introspective, cleaning up the shelves and making new resolutions. And 2012 will surely go down as one of the most hectic years in publishing.

Ironically, though, for as much drama as there was in the blogosphere (and please, please, please, for all that’s holy, 2013, ease up on the drama!) it wasn’t necessarily about the books. Oh, sure, some of it started from reviews of said books, but as the conversation went on, it moved away from the actual content and more towards the realm of “What’s the position of book bloggers?” and “What’s the position of authors?” and free speech and the right to express your opinion without being bullied for it.

These are all, undoubtedly, important questions. But at this year’s end, let us remember that Goodreads (and the rest of the book blogosphere) are spaces meant for book lovers to discuss stories and celebrate their love for reading.

So, without further ado…

Favourite Fantasy

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Nowadays, (and largely thanks to Twilight), we’re used to associate YA with lazy storytelling, lame plots and shaky worldbuilding that doesn’t go past the basic premise. Not so much with this book, though - Seraphina is a wonderful, ambitious fantasy, one that takes me back to when I used to read books like Sabriel and dream about creating rich worlds for my characters to have epic adventures in.

Favourite Contemporary

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

It all begins with a stupid question:
Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.
 
I read that as an e-galley last year, but since it came out in February 2012, it counts.

Wanterlove is… special. Not just because of its premise (Backpacking! In South America! Awesome!) but also because of its characters. I’m one of those people who would give five stars to any story, as long as I connect with the characters, and this is no exception: I found Bria to be a charming, engaging, sympathetic and all-around relatable heroine, someone whose struggles I wholeheartedly understand and sympathise with.

More to the point, though, this is a mature book. There is a worldliness and understanding to it that’s (sadly) lacking from many YAs out there.

Favourite SciFi

Katya’s World by Jonathan L. Howard

The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent.

Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.

There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.

I reviewed this recently, so there isn’t much I want to add. I’m cheating a little bit here, since I haven’t read nearly any SciFi this year, and this has been the only recent release, but it’s worth pointing out again - this is the closest a comparison I can make to Philip Reeve’s work without feeling bad about it. Take it as you will.

Favourite Crossover/Fairy Tale Retelling

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

What can I say about Cinder that hasn’t already been said by everyone else? Or that I haven’t said already? READ THIS BOOK! If only because it has a kickass female heroine, read this book. Read it for the fairy tale retelling. Read it for the witty banter. Read it for the story. It’s worth the hype. I promise.

Favourite Sequel (TIE!)

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver / Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

I thought I should include this category, because there were not one, but two sequels this year that blew me out of the water. These are books I would not have picked up without the serious prompting of my GR friends, and I’m ever grateful for Kat and Wendy’s reivews as they gave me the shove I needed to give those books a chance. I’ve reviewed both for this blog, and interviewed the authors, but there is something a little extra that makes me wanna talk about those books in more detail, and why they work so well for me.

First of all, they both expand on the world and characters more. Pandemonium, in particular, added many, many wonderful layers to the Delirium universe, ones which were sorely missed before. Spark, on the other hand, allowed me to get to know a character I used to despise and actually made me sympathetic to his struggles, which really is something.

Second, they upped the stakes, making the danger appear closer and more immediate. Both novels were tighter and more urgent - Pandemonium because Lina was finally facing an actual antagonist, while Spark because the plot was more focused on Gabriel and Layne. The danger felt more imminent, and so I was more invested.

Usually, I’m not one who persist with a series after the first book (or, hell, the first half of the book) disappointed me. So believe me when I say that these two series are my great exceptions - absolutely, read on.

Note: Synopsis and image via Goodreads.

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