I read a lot of fantastic books in 2015, and as my Reading List shows there were also a whole lot of books I didn’t have time to read (yet). Here is a selection of the best titles I devoured this past year.
Disclaimer: these books were not necessarily published in 2015, but are books and stories I read in 2015.
‘The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps’ & ‘The Devil In America’, by Kai Ashante Wilson
This year, I became addicted to Kai Ashante Wilson’s writing. It started with the devastating and gut-wrenching novelette ‘The Devil In America’, and continued with the stunning novella ‘The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps’. There is also his brand new short story ‘Kaiju maximus®: “So Various, So Beautiful, So New”’ – it’s also brilliant, and you can read it online.
From my review of ‘The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps: “I’m not quite sure what to say about Kai Ashante Wilson’s glorious, enigmatic, and utterly spell-binding ‘The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps’ that will do it justice. Maybe I should just say this: read it. Read it for a story-line that never goes where you think it might. Read it for characters that you desperately want to stay with, even when the story is over. Read it for Wilson’s intoxicating and dizzying prose that brilliantly flexes between crude and exquisite, between earthy everyday and divinely terrifying. Read it for the sheer pleasure of finding a writer who masterfully bends and twists and sculpts the language to conjure up and create another world – familiar enough in some ways to feel like it has to be our own world, yet so strange beneath that almost-familiar veneer that you’re gripped by a sense of WTF-vertigo.”
‘Dark Orbit’, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
This book by Gilman was one of the books that reignited my passion for writing and for speculative fiction (both fantasy and scifi) this year. Gilman creates a fantastic future-verse and her characters are strong, complex, and original. It’s science fiction at its best.
From my review: “Gilman’s prose is sleek, unsentimental, and well-crafted, and she pulls you into her future-verse easily and swiftly, and then pulls you ever deeper into a mind- and space-warping storyline. Dark Orbit is a real page-turner: I had a hard time putting this book down.”
- Dark Orbit at Amazon
‘Binti’, by Nnedi Okorafor
This was another read that just lit a fire in me: masterful prose, a brilliantly original universe, and a protagonist who uses math, otjize (read the novella to find out), and her guts and intelligence while trying to survive a harrowing situation.
From my review: “…Binti has to use all her resources and skills to survive. Her struggle – and the transformation it eventually leads to – makes for a thought-provoking and engrossing read. Okorafor skillfully immerses the reader in her future-verse, never explaining more than necessary, but giving you just enough to create a captivating and tantalizing world. She also expertly twists and skews the usual “alien vs. human” scenario, making for an unpredictable, complex and satisfying storyline.”
- Binti at Amazon
‘Midnight and Moonshine’, by Angela Slatter & Lisa L. Hannett
I first discovered Lisa L. Hannett’s writing when I read her amazing short story ‘A Shot of Salt Water‘ in The Dark. That brought me to this tapestry of interwoven short stories by Hannett and Slatter, and both writers are now on my must-read list.
From my review: “Hannett and Slatter’s writing is entrancing and evocative, their tales shifting between brutal and enigmatic, frightening and enchanting, dark and light. There is passion, vengeance, mystery, and terror in these tales – and the mood and feel is that of old fairy-tales and myths, the old-school kind, with blood, and guts, and life and death rather than pretty romance.”
- Midnight and Moonshine at Amazon
‘Of Sorrow And Such’, by Angela Slatter
After ‘Midnight And Moonshine’ I was looking for more from both Angela Slatter and Lisa L. Hannett, and this beautiful novella by Slatter completely enchanted me. This is excellent fantasy with prose and characters that come alive on each page.
From my review: “Slatter’s world is an amazing place to explore, familiar yet strange, permeated by magic, yet anchored by characters who feel utterly real. Patience herself is complex and captivating, the kind of character you’d like to meet again in another story. All the characters, but especially the women, are memorable in this tale, whether they are foolish or cruel, brave or self-serving cowards. They feel like real people, people you might meet anywhere, except that some of them are endowed with powers. Even the evil ones are real enough: creatures we’d recognize in our own world.”
- Of Sorrow and Such at Amazon
‘Soldier of the Mist’, by Gene Wolfe
I’d read about Gene Wolfe’s ‘Soldier of the Mist’ (published in 1986), but never got around to reading it until this year. The best description of the book is really from The Washington Post Book World’s review: “If you love this, you are wonderfully crazy.”
From my review: “Since I finished reading this book the other night (I stayed awake way, way too late in order to finish), I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s just that kind of book: the kind of book that sticks in your mind, pokes its way into your dreams and thoughts, and worms its way in under your skin, until you find yourself (as you’re going about your everyday, regular business) asking yourself things like: “how did Eurykles turn into a woman, and how come no one remembered that she had been a man – was it the snake in the wine?”, “was that really THAT Odysseus?”, and “was Latro a werewolf, too?”.”
- Soldier of the Mist at Amazon.
‘Wild Seed’, by Octavia E. Butler
Why had I not read this book before? Butler’s Patternist series is classic science fiction, and once I started reading I could barely put the book down. And this sentence from the book’s beginning is just brilliant: “He was killed several times – by disease, by animals, by hostile people. This was a harsh land. Yet he continued to move southwest…”
From my review: “‘Wild Seed’ is a profound and deeply moving book that is also a grade-A page-turner. Butler’s prose is clear, strong and compelling, and the world she creates is both original and vivid – the food, the smells, the places, the plants, the people, the conflicts between individuals and within society – everything comes alive on the page.”
- Wild Seed (The Patternist Series Book 1) at Amazon
‘The Dark Forest’, by Cixin Liu
I won a copy of this book in a giveaway this year, which is why I ended up reading this followup to Liu’s ‘The Three Body Problem’, even though I still haven’t read book one. While the story starts out kind of slow, it totally wowed me by the end.
From my review: “…the first half of the book is like a good, well-written, if slightly slow-moving science fiction story. But then, just about halfway through, Cixin Liu pulls off what really good science fiction can do: he suddenly makes you wonder W T F is going on. I won’t reveal exactly what happens, but from this point on, The Dark Forest turns into a fantastic, mind-spinning science-fiction-roller-coaster-ride. This second half of the story is weird, wonderful, dark, harrowing, and ultimately very satisfying.”
- The Dark Forest at Amazon
Jake Jackson’s micro-fiction, especially ‘Butterfly’
Jake Jackson’s podcasts and micro-fiction contains some fantastic science fiction. I loved many of the stories I read at his site this past year, but my favourite was ‘Butterfly‘. To quote the blurb at the site: “The last butterfly, the final robot, an eternal experiment that might turn the dreams of colossal machines into solid time and space.” It’s a beautifully told, evocative, and uniquely imagined story – a very short short-story, but also a very good one.
- Read ‘Butterfly‘ at the website These Fantastic Worlds
‘A Time To Tell’, by Maria Savva
I’ve read several of Maria Savva’s short stories before I picked up this novel, and I was not disappointed. It’s a beautifully told story that spans a woman’s life: love, loss, regret, secrets, and all.
From my review: “Maria Savva’s writing is fluid and flowing, as she gently and perceptively peels back the layers of deception and deceit within each character, and within the family as a whole. I love how she never judges or condemns any of the characters – no matter how dark or troubled they are. Her way of seeingpeople, of describing them as they are – with flaws and strengths, light and darkness – really appeals to me. And Cara herself is painted as a complex, conflicted, and multi-layered character, rather than a one-dimensional heroine, adding to strength of this story.”
- A Time to Tell at Amazon
J. Michael Radcliffe’s ‘Beyond The Veil’ stories
J. Michael Radcliffe’s ‘Beyond The Veil’-universe is the setting for many great fantasy stories, including ‘Scale of a Dragon‘, ‘Forsaken’, and ‘Touch of Darkness‘. I just recently finished his fantasy novel ‘The Guardian’s Apprentice’, and will be checking out more stories ‘Beyond The Veil’ in the new year.
From my review of ‘The Guardian’s Apprentice’: “…this is a terrific fantasy tale, full of great characters that are both evil, good, and somewhere in between, and it also has a sense of humour mixed in with the darkness and the shadows.”
- The Guardian’s Apprentice (Beyond the Veil Book 1) at Amazon, or pick up the Beyond the Veil – Omnibus Edition.
‘I Am Malala’, by Malala Yousafzai
This book rocked my world-view. Malala herself is such an inspiring person, and this book gives an amazing peek inside her life, and the country and region she grew up in.
From my review: “I started reading I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb) because I was intrigued by, and interested in Malala: this fiercely well-spoken and outspoken girl who has become a world-famous and almost impossibly inspirational crusader for education. What I didn’t necessarily expect was a book that gives you such a deep and vivid insight into how extremism and terrorism work on the ground level, and how the corrosive force of violent fundamentalism is changing traditional Islamic societies.”
‘Inside of a Dog’, by Alexandra Horowitz
‘Inside of a Dog’ is a book that made me change the way I look at my dog. Horowitz takes a scientific, but also very dog-loving, look at how dogs experience the world, including humans. It’s a fantastic read for any dog-lover and dog-owner.
From my review: “It’s not the usual “how to get your dog to behave and to x, y, z”. Instead, this book is about how dogs see and experience the world, how they interact with other dogs and humans, and what sets them apart from many other animals, both wild and domesticated. One big take-away for me from this book is that dogs are special: the way they are able to bond with humans, how good they are at working with humans, and how well they understand us makes them a rather unique species.”
‘Show Your Work’, by Austin Kleon
A very inspirational book with hands-on ideas for any artist, writer, or otherwise creative person who is using the Internet.
From my review: “‘Show Your Work’ has a practical and positive vibe, and Kleon’s writing is witty and engaging, making the book a quick, easy, and inspiring read. I’d recommend it to anyone who uses social media, and who is engaged in writing, music, or any other creative and artistic endeavour.”
Favourite YA reads
Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older
‘Shadowshaper’ is pegged as Young Adult, and it would be a terrific read for any and all teenagers, but it is also a great read for adults. Daniel José Older is definitely a writer worth paying attention to.
From my review: “The magic universe that lurks just beneath the surface of everyday life in ‘Shadowshaper’ is both fascinating and original, with old and new powers mixing in unpredictable ways. Older’s writing is strong and expressive throughout, and he also manages to convey a real sense of place: every facet of the story – the characters, the smells of the food in Sierra’s home, the sound of the music she listens and dances to, and the look and vibe of her neighbourhood – come alive in vivid detail.”
- Shadowshaper at Amazon
Wings of Fire, by Tui T. Sutherland
My 8 year old spent a huge part of this past year obsessed with dragons, and this kid-lit series of books by Tui T. Sutherland about ‘the dragonets of destiny’ absolutely hit the spot. Fast-paced, well-written, and populated by great dragon-y characters – these books are fabulous for kids and parents.
From my review: “The books are engaging, easy to read, and very well written: the dragons talk and behave much like human tweens and teens, but their struggles and their adventures all take place in the fantasy world of Pyrrhia, where dragons are the main characters and humans are only mentioned in passing as “scavengers”. I would highly recommend these books to any and all young readers with an interest in fantasy, and especially for dragon-lovers!”
- Wings of Fire at Amazon
Favourite music reads
Iron Man, by Tony Iommi
A terrific book, that will take you on-board the Black Sabbath crazy-train. It’s both funny and informative, especially when Iommi writes about his early life, and the early days with Black Sabbath are absolutely engrossing, and made me wonder on more than one occasion a) how they didn’t kill each other with their “pranks”, and b) how Ozzy Osbourne is still around. Most moving and interesting is the early story of how a work accident left him thinking he’d never play again, an incident that became the genesis for his signature sound.
Joni Mitchell, by Joni Mitchell & Malka Marom
This book consists of several in-depth interviews/conversations between Joni Mitchell and reporter (and Mitchell’s friend) Malka Marom.
From my review: “Mitchell comes across as funny, opinionated, self-confident and almost arrogant at times – though reading this book you come to realize that she’s needed every shred of that confidence and arrogance to carry through her artistic visions through the decades.”
- Joni Mitchell – In Her Own Words at Amazon
The Earthsea Cycle, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Finally, my best re-read of 2015 was Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Earthsea Cycle’: the original trilogy still holds up as one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever read, and the more recent additions to the series are compelling masterpieces of fantasy as well.
- Start off with The Earthsea Quartet and then add on The Other Wind, Tales from Earthsea, and The Daughter of Odren (Kindle Single).