Now that we are into December, I wanted to blog about some of my favorite books of 2015. What we read really does affect our ability to write and write well – though sometimes reading can be a distraction from writing. It often is for me. That said, I feel most inspired to write after reading a really wonderful story or a story that had a really good idea but was poorly executed. Those two experiences are a bit opposite, I know. A really good story inspires for the obvious reasons. Faith is restored, and you want to go out and wrangle your newest work into something to compete with that title, with the way it made you feel. I think a lot of writers and readers feel this way, the desire to press forward into newer, more brilliant worlds. It can be done, and you want to be the one to do it next.
The bad stories – I say bad stories, but that’s not quite what I mean – inspire me to do better. There are two kinds of bad stories, to clarify. The first kind is your traditional story that just doesn’t do anything for you. These are few and far between for me, mostly because I’m pretty choosy about what I will crack open these days. I don’t give myself the chance to be exposed. But a few slip through, occasionally, and I find myself yawning or irritated. The book may be good for someone else, but it’s not good for me. That’s a really bad story, one that doesn’t really leave me with anything. I usually close the book and it goes to gather dust somewhere. Like I said, we should assume that most stories I open up are probably not this kind.
Bad story type number two is actually my favorite writing inspiration, because I am the most productive after. This is a story that has some really cool ideas – cool enough that I hang on despite poor execution or other aspects which irritate me. It has something that hooks me, I can see the potential, but it just doesn’t quite stick the landing. Sometimes, it actually crashes and burns utterly. If I really liked that hook, though, I read through it avidly, deconstruct it, and take out the things I like. I spend days afterwards day-dreaming alternate plots and endings, firming up characters or settings. Sometimes, those plots make it into my current Work In Progress. Sometimes they go into a notebook for future novels. To paraphrase Picasso, a good artist steals.
In any case, you wont find any bad stories in this list, either Type I or Type II. The good stories below range from the fun to the deep and dark, but I enjoyed them all immensely. Disclaimer: not all of them came out in 2015 and they are not in any particular order. To that end, here are my top ten!
Ancillary Justice/Ancillary Sword/Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
I list these two books together because I’m pretty sure I read Ancillary Justice this year as well. It was one of my library books so I’m not 100% sure, because I read so much that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. In either case, this is probably one of my favorite series I’ve read in a while in terms of making me think. Ancillary Mercy came out in October and I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but I can’t wait to get around to it. Read this book if you like fascinating futuristic societies that explore issues of equality and redefine gender expectations.
The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin is a rising author right now, adding some much needed diversity to the epic fantasy genre. I am in love with the world of The Fifth Season, for all that it’s a pretty cruel and terrible one. Essun is a fascinatingly complex character, which doesn’t hurt. Read this book if you like totally original fantasy settings, contemplations on slavery and racism, and awesome telekinetic powers.
Dune – Frank Herbert
Yes, this is an oldie, but I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading it before this summer. My partner actually downloaded this book on Audible – notable because he actually doesn’t like SFF that much – and was totally entranced. If you’re looking for an audiobook, this is a great one. The story itself is good, the setting is brilliant, the writing style of course masterful. I was a little sad that our human nature was defined so narrowly in terms of gender constructs, but for the times I feel like Dune was pretty groundbreaking, and it didn’t totally lack for rounded, interesting female characters. Read this if you are trying to brush up on your classics, love strong setting and characterization in your stories, and are looking for a really good audiobook.
Of Sorrow and Such – Angela Slatter
This is actually a novela. And it is amazing. It’s a bit of your typical witch story, in the sense that there are some women born into power who are then hunted or cast out from their society. That’s totally okay, in this case. Slatter’s writing is tight, her characters are fascinating, and her setting is solid. Read this if you like tales of witches, lyrical prose, and morally gray heroines.
Maplecroft – Cherie Priest
This novel is written almost entirely in the form of letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings. A retelling of the Lizzie Borden story set in the U.S. in the 1800s, the book combines Lovecraftian horror with subtle steampunk science and action. I always enjoy Priest’s work because of the amount of research she obviously puts into building her setting. Read this if you like steampunk, scary sea monsters that may be demonic in nature, or have an interest in U.S. based alternate history.
Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is one of my heroes. Her Edda of Burdens, specifically All the Windwracked Stars, is one of my favorite books. Karen Memory is a total change in pace from that book, though, and from her well-known Eternal Sky Trilogy. If you are looking for those things, look to her other works. This book is a rollicking steampunk adventure that has all of the best elements of the genre. It also offers a refreshing representation of women who do sex work/did sex work in the time period. Read this if you like steampunk, diverse characters of all stripes, and unlikely heroes. Also, there is a giant robotic kraken.
Tales of the Raksura, Volumes I & II
I had to include these books, but since they are part of a series they go together as one item. This is cheating a little bit, but eh, you’ll survive. The Raksura books contain one of my all-time favorite characters, Moon, an orphaned shape-shifter who turns into an awesome flying lizard-dude. Moon is the best. That is all I can say. These two short story collections include some extra scenes in his life both pre- and post-series. Read this is you like Raksura, Martha Wells, original worlds full of strange creatures, and gender-bending.
Silence – Michelle Sagara
I’ve read a lot of Michelle Sagara’s work, as Michelle West and Michelle Sagara West. I’m really looking forward to Cast in Honor when I get around to reading it. She has an interesting, very intuitive take on her magic systems, and her characters are always powerful and compassionate. In fact, their power comes from their compassion. Reading them is a healing experience, which may seem strange to say but is the best I can describe it, and I cry during almost every book. Silence was no exception. Read this if you love people, intriguing theories on the afterlife, and spoiled rottweilers.
Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series and InCryptid Series
If I was cheating before I’m definitely cheating now. Including the October Daye series in here, since I started it years ago, is maybe not fair. However, I have read the last seven of them within the past few months after a long hiatus. This series started off slow for me, but once I hit the third book I was off running. And when I finished up to the current release of Red Rose Chain I couldn’t deal with the lack of new books, so I went looking around at Seanan’s other work and found Discount Armageddon, which is an absolutely delightful, fast-paced urban fantasy with strong romance themes. Read Seanan’s books if you like things that go bump in the night, Shakespeare, and women who kick ass.
Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series
Last but not least, I discovered this series and consumed it this year. I call my Kindle the Devourer of Books. The name is not wrong. I knocked the entire Kate Daniels series out this summer in a matter of weeks. One of my favorite things about these books besides the unique post-apocalyptic overtones is the fact that the antagonist of the series is such an interesting lady. Kate took me a little to get used to, but her tension with her biological father and the hostility of her environment kept me engaged. I wouldn’t say the writing of this series is as strong as some of the other books on here, but the imagination and fast-paced action totally pull me in. Plus who doesn’t like a girl with a sword? Read this if you like fascinating apocalypses, mythological gods and beasts, and lots of slicing and dicing.