Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliossotti: This may be the book that surprised me the most for the year. I was expecting it to be okay, maybe, and instead I ended up really liking it and immediately going back to re-read the best bits. I loved the world Pagliossotti created, and I’m really happy to hear that there’s a sequel in the works.
The Exiles by Hilary McKay: HOW did I never read these books before this year? They’re hilariously funny, especially the first two, and I love the characters, especially Big Grandma.
White Cat by Holly Black: Such a fantastic book! I loved the very subtle weaving in of the eponymous fairy tale (and yes, I did just want to use that word). I loved the mystery of Cassel’s past. I loved the world. I loved Grandpa and Sam. While I did call most of the twists, I still found myself engaged. Fortunately, it’s just the first in a series.
The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip: The one re-read on this list, for the simple reason that I hardly remembered it and got so much more out of it this time. Although the story echoes “The Lady of Shalott” at times, it’s simply that: the barest echo of Tennyson. And there’s all sorts of symbolism that I can see but can’t quite grasp the meaning of, which is awesome, don’t get me wrong. Anyone who enjoys a thoughtful, dreamy fantasy should give this one a try.
Mistwood by Leah Cypress: This debut book really struck me as a smart fantasy. Isabel’s story manages to draw the reader in without being all angsty and melodramatic. As I think I’ve said before, I love fantasy books where politics are a major part of the world. Cypress managed to create characters caught between difficult choices. It reminded me of the Attolia books in certain ways and, as I keep saying, that can pretty much never be bad.
The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan: After waffling over reading the series for awhile, I read the first book and liked it, despite calling some of the twists. Then I read the second book and fell into a pile of mushy goo. Mae is wonderful. Jamie and Annabel are heartbreaking (I cannot think of the end of the book without choking up). Nick is infuriating. Alan is swoonable, if somewhat evil. And I actually kind of have a soft spot for Seb and Gerald too. I am fearful for my favorite characters, but I also am hyperventilating at the thought that there are still 5-6 months before the third book comes out. I think a re-read is in order SOON.
Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold: The Vorkosigan books are, as I’ve documented quite well on this blog, my major literary find of the moment. The folks over on Sounis kept talking about them so I finally read the first one and fell in love instantly. While I definitely have favorites among the books, the whole series is marvellous and I’m creeping up on the Cryoburn waitlist. ANYWAY! Young Miles is the first book where we really see Miles as a character in his own right, which means it has an important place in the series and in my heart. Because Aral is great in the first two books, but MILES! Miles is awesome.
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold: Thrilling, heartwarming, and awkwardly hilarious all at the same time, this is the culmination of the series. Bujold manages to take all of the familiar characters and undermine our expectations of what they’ll do (Ivan acting all heroic?). Gregor remains one of my favorite characters, and Ekaterin is increasingly awesome. All in all, a happy sigh inducing read.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: Dystopian, and yet so close to our own world (as in, there’s actual ship breaking right now). I was wowed by the story, although my emotional connection to the characters was always a little tenuous. Still, the sheer imagination of it made up for that, in my opinion.
Plain Kate by Erin Bow: Oh, this book. It made me cry, which for me counts as a recommendation. And there are so many little bits I could mention that were lovely–the setting, Kat, Taggle–but they don’t manage to quite capture what it’s like to start a book and discover pretty quickly that it’s going to be good.
Pegasus by Robin McKinley: Mmm, Pegasus. I love Robin McKinley–I’ll read anything she writes, really–and Pegasus doesn’t disappoint. Sylvi is, as usual for McKinley, a likeable heroine who, despite her royal status, is quite down to earth. And short! We need more short heroines. Ebon is breathtaking and lovely and the ending had me in tears. I can’t wait for the second part, coming out in 2012.
StarCrossed by Elizabeth Bunce: Remember what I said in the Mistwood bit about fantasy books with politics? It applies here as well, with the added bonus of a main character who reminded me of Eugenides and a spot of possible but quite understated romance. Yaaaaay. AND it’s the first book in a series.
Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip: A book which certainly falls into my favorite category of McKillip’s writing, I wasn’t immediately impressed by it. But after I finished it, I found bits and pieces tucked into the back of my mind, waiting until I remembered them and went “OH.” And surely that’s one of the markers of an excellent book?
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson: I tend to enjoy alternate history type books and this one did a very nice job of identifying exactly when it was that our history and this world’s history diverged (Battle of Waterloo: the French won). Sophie is an excellent character and overall it was just one of those delightful, solid reads that makes you happy.
Blackout by Connie Willis: I feel like this is the point towards which all of Willis’s time travel books have been converging. I won’t say too much about it, except that all those, “Hmm, it seems like there’s something wrong here. But not to worry!” bits are important. This is the first one, I think, to have characters from earlier books directly involved. At any rate, it’s a masterful mix of history and future, with part of the excitement coming from the fact that we don’t know how it’s going to end. I’m looking forward to the second half, which is waiting for me at the library.