Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year That Was: 2010

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and it's almost 2011. Time to describe my year in reading!

2010 was an interesting year - I finally got myself an awesome job, I finished and polished The Duke of Snow and Apples and started the first draft of The Lord of Dreams (the sequel, based on Sleeping Beauty) and pitched it to a bunch of agents.

This was the year I also got rejected by a bunch of agents (and one editor), so at present I'm a little unsure what to do with my novel now - rewrite or try someone else.

But 2010 was not a year of weakness. I took on the inappropriately named Miss Manners who faulted me for my bad taste in writing a negative review, I reread an absolutely brilliant fantasy trilogy from my youth, I vented my poisonous hatred of all things involving Air Canada, Continental Airlines, and Newark Airport, and I read and reviewed Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, not entirely favorably.

My reading tastes also started to change - I started reviewing fantasy and YA as well as romance, and I think I'll be doing a lot more of that next year (for my 2010 family bookrun, I picked up Kate Elliott's Cold Magic and The DUFF by Kody Keplinger).

As well, I discovered Supernatural, and my obsession with that, combined with my super-busy new job, may have contributed to the couple of months in which I experienced a bit of a reading slump. Despite my so-called reading slump, however, I managed to best my 2009 record of 63 reviews - this year, I reviewed 76 novels! Wow!

But now on to the big show - my best and worst reads of the year! Again, like last year, I don't go by a Top Certain Number. Because I had a lot of A and A+ reviews this year, my list is comprised of the A+es, although I am not including the A+-reviews of The Liveship Trader Trilogy, since they were re-reads. Similarly, for the worst list, it's everything that gets a C- or lower.

ANIMEJUNE'S TOP 8 BOOKS OF 2010!

8. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. A+

This is when I started seriously reviewing fantasy for Gossamer Obsessions, because it was just Too Damn Good for a capsule review at the end of my monthly round-ups.

Honestly, everything that I've always loved in epic fantasies is done near-perfectly here: creative theology, great world building, well-realized characters, fantastic magic, a Sexy God of Darkness and Chaos, excellent plotting that mixes fantasy, tragedy, murder mystery, political intrigue, and romance. Can't wait to read the sequel!



7. Tempted All Night, by Liz Carlyle. A+

This was one of my most pleasant surprises of the year. Liz Carlyle's kind of hit or miss with me (as you'll see if you scroll down to my Worst List below), but when she hits - wow, does she pack a wallop.

Tempted All Night impresses not only because it's a profound, layered and very emotional romance, and not only because it has a satisfying, well-paced mystery - but also because Carlyle takes two of the most overdone stereotypes (the Shamed Sensualist Heroine and the Weary Rake), takes them apart, and reconstructs them into wholly realized, believable characters.


6. How To Knit a Wild Bikini, by Christie Ridgway. A+

Another surprise - despite the cute, fluffy title-and-cover mashup, How To Knit a Wild Bikini is another intensely emotional romantic read about a very damaged chef heroine and the playboy bachelor hero who melts like homemade fudge in her hand.

The hero made this romance for me - the player who swears he doesn't want commitment or emotion in a relationship until he meets the one woman who's just fine, thank you, with keeping her secret pain to herself. Turns out our hero's a secret cuddler - too bad he doesn't realize this until it's too late to back out.

5. The Proposition, by Judith Ivory. A+

What's better than My Fair Lady (well, okay - other than any romance where the hero has greater sensitivity than a coat rack)? How about a gender-reversed retelling where our linguist heroine has to train a debonair, mustiachio'd rat-catcher to pose as the son of a duke for an upcoming ball in order to spite her miserly, abusive uncle?

The Proposition is all that and more - thanks in large part to a fantastic hero who's not willing to sit around and Do Little to win our heroine's affections and convince the repressed, neurotic redhead that she's Sex and Perfection on two longer-than-life legs.

4. In For a Penny, by Rose Lerner. A+

Probably my favourite debut of the year - Rose Lerner presents us with an historical Regency romance that isn't afraid to use actual historical realism to influence the story.

Our hero? An impoverished and charming aristocrat who's hopeless with financial matters. Our heroine? A wealthy, but middle-class heiress who's convinced she's too vulgar and common to be truly loved by the hero and accepted by polite society. The result? Two compassionate and well-matched characters who must overcome their convictions of their own faults and fight for a chance at true love.

3. Going Too Far, by Jennifer Echols. A+

While I heard the gushing reviews and positive buzz, it took reading Going Too Far to finally convince me that the upward surge in YA popularity and media visibility in the last several years is more than just a trend brought on by Harry Potter and Twilight, but an actual revolution in the way teenagers and adults read.

Gorgeous, haunting, emotional, all these words could be applied to the unusual but lovely romance between a rebellious stir-crazy Bad Girl and the repressed, grieving young police officer she's paired with to work off a trespassing charge. This book is the novel that convinced me just because a novel is about teenagers, doesn't mean it's restricted to teenagers or somehow less sophisticated and "literary" than "adult" fiction.

2. The Wild Road, by Majorie Liu. A+

I read this pretty early on in 2010 (way back in mid-January), but it still sticks with me as one of the best books I've ever read and the perfect introduction to the estimable Marjorie Liu. Despite being the eighth book in her Dirk & Steele series, it works excellently as a standalone - with a intriguing, original paranormal plot that never overwhelms the romance or the character development.

And what characters! If you need only one reason to read this book, do it for Lannes - the virgin, book-restoring, tea-drinking, lady-saving, low-esteem-having gargoyle hero who comes to the rescue of our nameless, blood-soaked, amnesiac heroine.

And my favourite, number-one must-read book of 2010 is:

1. Revealed, by Kate Noble! A+

At last, a sprightly comedy Regency that still retains depth, originality, and smarts! Our heroine, Phillipa, is the sort of Regency woman who would end up dunked in a fountain in a Julia Quinn novel for the crime of being Popular and Prettier Than You. But here, she's not the villain - just the sly, witty and charming heroine who likes popular society and isn't afraid to enjoy it.

Too bad she has to fall for a bespectacled, bookish third-son spy who hasn't a snowball's chance in Almack's of being invited to the society's most lavish fetes in order to catch a dastardly French foe. A lively, confident heroine plus a wry, beta hero equals the funniest, freshest romance team-up I've read in a long, long time.

And now, for something completely different...

ANIMEJUNE'S TOP 7 WORST READS OF 2010!

7. One Touch of Scandal, by Liz Carlyle. C-

For me, this year Carlyle was both the best of writers, and the worst of writers - and this bizarre attempt at a paranormal Regency fell completely flat. In an attempt to divide her story between the paranormal element and the romance element, Carlyle failed at both.

Our hero is an Angsty McAngstypants who Just Can't Relate to the Ladies because of his magical power - a magical power that is poorly explained, but apparently allows him entree into a Magical Dudeclub that is just as shoddily developed. The worldbuilding is both lacklustre and confusing, and yet requires so much nonsensical infodumping that there is barely any room for Angsty's romance to a French governess who's suspected of murdering her former boss and fiance.


6. Hot Spell (Anthology), by Emma Holly, Meljean Brook, Lora Leigh, and Shiloh Walker. C-

I ordered this thanks to Meljean Brook's story (the best of the lot), only to discover it was an erotic romance anthology. But that's not what made this anthology 3/4 terrible for me. No - between Emma Holly's lack of conflict, Shiloh Walker's derivative Romeo & Juliet retelling, and Lora Leigh's frankly disturbing fascination with barbed lion penises, I was alternately bored, insulted, and squicked out.

Seriously - barbed lion penises. On a dude. So the lady can't get away. What is read cannot be unread!

5. The Concubine, by Jade Lee. C-

When I think of the Ultimate Romance Hero, I automatically think Sleazy, Exploitative Date-Rapist in Ancient China. Don't you?

Because that's who our charming hero is in The Concubine - a man forced to babysit 60 hot backstabbing virgins who are competing to be the new Empress. But hey - it's not like his job's without perks. He gets to sit in on the heroine's invasive and humiliating physical exam, and afterward, when he finds her out of her mind on opium (administered by evil eunuchs, natch), who's going to miss the odd hymen or two? Certainly not the heroine!

4. It's In His Kiss, by Julia Quinn. C-

It stands to reason that if you have eight kids, you're bound to drop at least one of them on their head - the result of which is Julia Quinn's penultimate Bridgerton novel, where the reader is inflicted with the youngest Bridgerton, Hyacinth. In a world without Ritalin, Hyacinth's compulsive egomaniacal behaviour is inexplicably regarded as a sign of intelligence, instead of a sign that she should be carted off to the asylum for a round of ice-baths and shock therapy.

Yet our hero desperately needs her to help translating his grandmother's diary from Italian in order to find his secret inheritance - despite the fact that Hyacinth can barely read the Italian Winnie the Pooh. Nothing in this story makes any remote sort of sense, so don't bother.

3. Dreaming of You, by Lisa Kleypas. C-

Ah yes, Lisa Kleypas' so-called masterpiece. Our heroine is a profound writer of deep, dark social novels, who has somehow never managed to learn that a) walking alone in bad neighbourhoods at night in 19th century London is a stupid idea, b) getting drunk alone at a party with sexual deviants and prostitutes is a stupider idea, and c) running off with a stranger during a riot in order to spite the man who refused your blundering attentions is also a really, really ridiculously stupid fucking idea.

But our rags-to-riches former-urchin-hooker hero just can't resist the purity of our murderbait heroine. So after angsting and whining and having sex with lookalike hookers (so romantic, they should totally make a Hallmark card for that), they get together and have a million fat rich babies. So ladies, apparently the best way to land a rich, hot husband is to act so idiotically, suicidally stupid that they have to marry you or you'll end up drowned face-down in the kiddie pool at Six Flags.

2. Too Wicked to Kiss, by Erica Ridley. D+

Ah, the review the lovely Miss Manners took umbrage with. An attempt at a Gothic Romance, Too Wicked to Kiss is little more than a midnight game of Clue played by drunk people in a creaky old mansion. Obvious suspects, melodramatic dialogue, an entirely unsympathetic cast of characters, nonsensical protagonists, an inconsistent Plot Device Magical Power that the heroine barely uses, and a story with more holes than a wiffle bat.

It doesn't help that the heroine's attraction to the hero makes no sense at all - considering she believes he's a murderous monster just like her rapetastic stepdad for the first half of the book. Oh wait - of course there's a difference - the hero's a hawt murderous monster.

And my absolute worst read of 2010 was...

1. A Certain Wolfish Charm, by Lydia Dare! D+

Although this book and Too Wicked to Kiss share the same letter grade, this one just edges past thanks to Certain Wolfish's ability to cram a slightly higher concentration of stupid into one novel.

In this perfect storm of Fail, we have a paranormal element that is entirely undeveloped and whose sole purpose is to give the hero an excuse to act like a psychopathic, misogynist, backwoods caveman who is perpetually one snifter of brandy away from peeing on the heroine to mark his territory. If you're expecting to see werewolves, ladies - prepare to be disappointed because it all happens off screen!

There is no worldbuilding to speak of. No explanation about werewolves or how they came to be. Our heroine is forced into marrying the hero by the screamingly obnoxious secondary character who OF COURSE gets a sequel. The hero is possessive to the point of murderous violence by page 20. The inciting incident is entirely contrived and makes no sense within the context of the story, and the heroine is a dishrag with unexplained self-esteem issues. Honestly, the further I read, the stupider I felt. Worst read of 2010!

And now, the best of the rest:

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