Tag Archives: ursula k. le guin

Top Ten Reads of 2015

I’m late on this! But I figured better late than never. 2015 has been a fantastic reading year for me.  There are some years where any one of these top ten would have my favourite book of the year, and there are plenty of books that didn’t make it on this list that were truly excellent.

A couple of notes. I’ve kept descriptions short, so check out the full reviews if you’d like to read about details of plot and premise; they are always spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.

And an admission: I cheated by way of including a trilogy as a single entry on this list, so there are 12 books, not 10. The trilogy in question is so ardently adored by me that it would have dominated the top five otherwise, which just seemed unfair when there were so many other great books.


 

goblin emperor10.  The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is the story of a naïve, well-meaning young man suddenly thrust into a deadly world of court etiquette, political machinations, and social and racial tensions. This could describe a lot of books, but TGE is set aside by a genuinely lovable, well written protagonist and a warm, optimistic tone. If you want courtly intrigue and creative world building with a sympathetic hero, this is your book. Full review here.

iron night cover9.  Iron Night by M. L. Brennan.

M. L. Brennan’s Generation V was ever so much fun. It had all the campy appeal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for a nerdy, under-employed, post-liberal arts degree crowd instead of misfit high schoolers. Then Iron Night took everything about Generation V and made it even better. The characters become more complex, the plot more intense, the relationships more interesting, protagonist Fort the vegetarian vampire more hilarious. Fort’s struggles to balance his vampirism and family ties with his own pacifist inclinations make for a darkly comedic and highly entertaining read. Full review here.

honor's knight8.  Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

It’s hard to compare a book like Honor’s Knight, second in the Paradox trilogy and my favourite of the three, with others on this list. It’s a romantic action-packed space opera, and it isn’t exactly life-changing – but it does what it sets out to do perfectly. And by that I mean have a truly ridiculous amount of fun following the antics of a spacefaring crew trying to save the galaxy with powered armour suits and many, many guns. Full review here.

bone dolls twin7.  The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

The first book in a dark, character-driven trilogy about a young girl disguised as a boy from birth to protect her from a femicidal uncle – and by disguised, I mean that she literally walks around in the skin of her dead brother after a blood magic ritual. Aside from the typical epic fantasy story arc it follows (a hidden queen fights to restore her throne and set things right), the series deals with her gender dysphoria, her confusion at the family secrets and betrayals, and the question of whether the ends justify the means. It’s creepy, dark, has a charming romance, a diverse and interesting cast, and was completely riveting from start to finish. Full review here.

three body problem6.  The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

This is Ken Liu’s English translation of the Chinese science fiction phenomenon that won the Hugo this year – very deservedly so, in my opinion. Despite some exposition dumps and awkward dialogue, this book is so wildly fascinating and imaginative that it easily makes the top ten. It is a fantastic read – and noteworthy because I actually had to stop reading it before bed for a while because it gave me weird nightmares about physics. True story. Full review here.

stange and norrell5.  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Dark, twisted magic. Victorian era setting and spelling. Gentlemen and ladies exchanging polite witticisms. Endless (but also endlessly entertaining) footnotes. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is enormous, utterly unique, laugh out loud hilarious, terribly creepy and atmospheric, and wonderfully memorable.  Full review here.

dreamers pool4.  Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

A dark folklore and fairytale-inspired fantasy novel set in ancient Ireland and nearly impossible to put down. Dreamer’s Pool focuses on two grieving, flawed protagonists, both dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to move on with their lives. The first novel I’ve read by Juliet Marillier, this blew me away with amazing characterization, a moving portrayal of platonic love, a masterfully crafted plot, beautiful writing, and a nuanced and compelling portrayal of trauma and it’s impact.  Full review here.

station eleven3.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set twenty years from now after the collapse of civilization, Station Eleven skyrockets near to the top of the books I’ve read this year based on the incredible artistry of the writing—this is the book on this list I would most recommend to someone who generally prefers literary fiction to spec fiction. The vision of post-apocalyptic life created by Emily St. John Mandel is so vividly tragic and eerily beautiful, and the storytelling haunted me long after finishing the book. Full review here.

left hand of darkness2.  The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This beautiful, wonderful book is so near and dear to my heart, and Ursula K. Le Guin is my queen. That is all.  Full review here.

 

ancillary justice cover1.  Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Is anyone surprised? (No. No one is surprised.)

Three very different and equally extraordinary books – rollicking revenge space opera Justice, political and social commentary Sword, and the hilarious and moving Mercy – create one phenomenal trilogy. I love everything about these books, from the ambiguous treatment of gender to the singing to the unrelenting fixation with tea. An evil expansionist space empire run by a clone! Themes of classism, colonialism, determinism, free will, the nature of sentience. Alien races about whom everything is actually completely alien, down to their very conception of identity. A protagonist who is an actual spaceship. The Imperial Radch trilogy is all the most awesome tropes of science fiction, brilliantly and originally executed.

Ann Leckie took an ambitious central concept – what would it be like to be a multi-bodied artificial intelligence? She made that character work as a first-person narrator, in spite of the enormous difficulties that presents. More than making her work, she made her relatable and compelling without ever sacrificing her distance, her alienness. And she followed up on every question and theme that came out of this (how is identity constructed? what defines personhood? who are we really?) to create three of the most exciting, thought-provoking, mind-bending books I’ve ever read, period.

Which makes them easily my most-loved reads of 2015.

Full review of Ancillary Justice here.
Full review of Ancillary Sword here.
Full review of Ancillary Mercy here.

Tough Traveling – Forbidden Love

This week on Tough Traveling with Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn: FORBIDDEN LOVE

Even in Fantasyland parents are not always happy with their children’s choice of partners.

Ahhh forbidden love.  Not always my favourite trope – but at least in a couple of examples on this list, done really well!  Though I’ve gone in a more sci-fi land direction than fantasyland.

fortune's pawnRupert and Devi, Paradox Trilogy (Rachel Bach)

Devi just can’t stay away from the attractive, mysterious “cook” (who can best anyone in single combat) on the Glorious Fool, in spite of the best attempts of everyone (including him) to warn her away.  But when Devi wants something she’s not inclined to give up, and she definitely wants this tall, handsome man with a sexy accent and dark past… and also, who may not be altogether 100% human.

palace of illusionsPanchaali and Karna, The Palace of Illusions (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni)

Panchaali has five husbands, but only one man she loves – Karna, the sworn enemy of her husbands who they will eventually go to war with.  She could have ended up married to him, as well, if she had held her tongue at a key moment in time. Her life would be considerably less tragic if she had .

Saga1coverByFionaStaplesMarko and Alana, Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)

On opposite sides of an intergalactic war, Marko is a prisoner of war and Alana his guard… until they fall in loooooove and decide to hell with the war.  Hunted by both sides, they struggle to protect themselves and their newborn daughter. It’s amazing! (Thanks again for the recommendation The BiblioSanctum!).

left hand of darknessGenly Ai and Estraven, The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin)

This might not exactly be forbidden love… but certainly strongly discouraged love at best, since first contact with Gethenians is hardly the ideal time for romance.  They start out the book as entirely alien to each other, and grow from suspicious and untrusting allies to respectful companions to genuine friends. Genly and Estraven have my favourite love story ever, and without a single scene of physical intimacy.

 

Tough Traveling: Extreme Climates

Today on Tough Traveling with Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn: EXTREME CLIMATES

Perhaps the hansom prince lives in a castle surrounded by green countryside and sunny days.  The rest of the land is forced to deal with freezing cold, searing heat, and every other extreme climate mother nature can throw at you.

Here (belatedly, again, this week) are four of my favourite extreme climates from SFF.  And the Star Wars universe only accounts for 2 of them, which I think is pretty respectable give how many there are to choose from there.

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Top Ten Books I’ve read in the first half of 2015

I have been, at best, a sporadic participate in Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish… But I am particularly excited for this week’s, topic, which is an opportunity to think about the reading since starting this blog and pick my favourite ten reads.

Some comments: the top three were very easy for this – they are not only three of the best books I’ve read so far this year, but three of the best books I’ve read, period. If I gave star ratings, they would be 5/5 perfect scores.

After the top three, things get a little dicey, and I’m not as confident about the specific order, which might be a little different if I were to make the list tomorrow. Or even an hour from now! I am confident, though, that the books below are a fantastic testament to all the amazingness I’ve been reading since I started blogging this year.

I’ve also refrained from selecting multiple books from the same series, in the interest of variety. So without further ado, the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2015 – titles link to my reviews for further elaboration on why I enjoyed them!


 

creature of moonlight cover10.  A Creature of Moonlight, Rebecca Hahn 

An example of a wonderful Young Adult fantasy novel with feminist themes… If you are emotionally invested in young women’s agency and empowerment or grandparent/grandchild love, then this will be an especially moving read for you, as it was for me.

golem and jinni9.  The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

The story of two unusual (and fantastical) immigrants and their journeys of self-discovery, set in New York City at the turn of the century.

palace of illusions8.  The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 

A retelling of the Sanskrit epic the Mabharata from the point of view of Princess Panchaali, the woman who married five husbands and whose desire for revenge started a war.

orleans cover7.  Orleans, Sherri L. Smith

This is my go-to recommendation for Young Adult fiction since I read it: an original, well written, romance-free novel with a fascinating urban post-apocalyptic setting and a great protagonist.

shining girls cover6.  The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes

The story of a time-traveling serial killer who selects his victims (the “shining girls”) from across time, and of the survivor who is trying to hunt him down.  A violent, unique, genre-bending crime thriller that kept me glued to the page.

his majesty's dragon5.  His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik

This book was just so much fun. If you are looking for fantastical entertainment and the idea of an alternate history where the Napoleonic Wars were fought with (super lovable) dragons sounds appealing, then may I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

bone dolls twin4.  The Bone Doll’s Twin, Lynn Flewelling

A prophecy says that the country of Skala can only be ruled by daughters, and so a jealous king murders the women and girls in his line to ensure his son’s place on the throne – except for one niece, who grows up in disguise and believing she is a boy in this first book of the creepy and addictive Tamir Triad.

station eleven3.  Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

This haunting, post-apocalyptic book is about what humanity has lost and how they continue to derive meaning from their lives after the end of civilization as we know it. Not your typical piece of sci-fi, this  elegant and tragic piece of art has stayed with me long after finishing it.

left hand of darkness2.  The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterpiece is full of astonishingly beautiful writing from its first sentence (“I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination,”) to its last. Everything about The Left Hand of Darkness lived up to what I have heard about it, and I found the experience of reading it profoundly moving.

ancillary justice cover1.  Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Sometimes you read a book and all you can think is, where has this book been all my life.  Unique ideas, challenging concepts, and themes that I care deeply about, all handled in an intelligent and meaningful way. A multibodied protagonist, a genderless society, artificial intelligence, social and class commentary… spaceships, explosions, personal vendettas, firefights. Ancillary Justice is everything that I ever wanted out of science fiction in one badass package.

 

What I’m Doing Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Reading

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, which has been on my TBR since the day we did “Beloved Mounts” in Tough Traveling and it pretty much universally topped everyone’s lists. And I can see why, because Temeraire and Laurence are goddamn adorable.  For something a little different than my usual fare, I’ve also picked up Finding My Elegy, Ursula K. Le Guin’s most recent poetry book.

Watching

Finally saw The Avengers! There were explosions, it was fun. Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely next on the hit list.

Playing

This week in Dragon Age: Inquisition, with the dragons are dropping like flies (except Vinsomer – that guy is brutal), and the Josephine romance is so over-the-top adorable I could die.

I also played a little bit of Papers, Please this week.  It’s a hilariously tedious game, which I realize is a bizarre description… but that really is how this game about navigating bureaucracy under a totalitarian regime feels.  So far my attempts have ended with going into debt, having my whole family die of starvation, and being arrested for associating with suspicious people.  Glory to Arstotzka.

Female-Centered Retellings of Epic Tales

I have a longstanding love of great epics and mythology.  Lately I’ve had the good fortune to read several books which reimagine traditionally male-dominated epic tales with a female narrative voice. Here are three of my favourites:

penelopiadThe Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
Based on The Odyssey, Homer

Probably the most famous story in Greek mythology is that of Odysseus, the mastermind of Trojan Horse that led to Troy’s defeat, who then spent years trying to get back to his son and his wife Penelope. But while Odysseus was fighting a Cyclops, resisting the temptations of the deadly sirens, and escaping imprisonment by nymphs, what was Penelope doing… aside from waiting patiently and faithfully for her husband to return? Margaret Atwood has some ideas, and gives them voice in a morbidly comedic and cynical retelling of Homer’s epic. The story divides itself between the events of Penelope’s lifetime, her musings from the afterlife, and the Greek Chorus-style interjections of her twelve nameless maids, killed by Odysseus on his return home. And unlike most epics, it clocks in at 176 pages on my ebook version, making it is a very manageable read.

laviniaLavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin
Based on the Aeneid, Virgil

Aeneas flees from the destruction of Troy, and in a 12-book epic poem he explores, adventures, and fights his way across the Mediterranean in order to eventually found the city of Rome. While Virgil did create powerful female characters in the Aeneid—such as the Carthaginian queen Dido—Lavinia seems to have been overlooked. She does not speak a single word in the poem, but is a bargaining chip given to Aeneas in marriage, and over which war breaks out when another of her suitors objects. So Ursula K. Le Guin, being the badass that she is, learned Latin so that she could read the Aeneid in its original language and wrote us this beautiful, Lavinia-centered novel. Here Aeneas’ wife is brought to life as a powerful force behind Rome’s founding, in a novel that honours and complements the spirit of the Aeneid.

palace of illusionsThe Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Based on the Mahabharata, Vyasa

Divakaruni writes in the introduction to The Palace of Illusions that though Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata has powerful, interesting female characters, their stories never seemed to get quite the same fully fleshed out treatment as the male characters. She reimagines the Mahabharata, focusing on the legendary Panchaali: princess of Panchaal, born from fire and fated to bring about the destruction of her father’s rivals. Divakaruni follows Panchaali’s remarkable life, from her unusual birth, to her marriage to five husbands and her building of their magnificent home, the titular Palace of Illusions. Of these three retellings, her character is most powerful and important within the original text, making her story the most dramatic and action-packed one here.

Do you have any favourite retellings of epic tales?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Inspiring Ursula K. Le Guin quotes

It’s Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish, and today’s theme is favourite quotes from literature.  I have to admit that the prospect of choosing my favourite ten quotes – ever – in all of literature overwhelmed me, and so I decided to take my top ten in a different direction.

UKLbyMarianWoodKolisch
Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch

It’s safe to say that Ursula K. Le Guin has been the best thing to happen to me since I started reading more women SFF authors. She uses words thoughtfully, gracefully, and provocatively, and is a badass old lady who says what she thinks. So I decided to narrow down my top ten list to just her (and honestly, even doing that was exceptionally difficult).  So here it is my version of today’s Top Ten: ten things written or said by Ursula K. Le Guin, storyteller extraordinaire and my favourite person ever.

Continue reading Top Ten Tuesday: Inspiring Ursula K. Le Guin quotes

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Science Fiction – Hainish Cycle #4 (but a perfect standalone read)

“I certainly wasn’t happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often don’t even recognize at the time; I mean joy.”

I thought that instead of writing a review here, I might just say “Ursula K. Le Guin is the best,” followed by a hundred exclamation marks. It’s still pretty tempting but I am going to try to put some of my excitement into actual logical sentences.

Your two-sentence plot synopsis: Genly Ai travels to icy Gethen, a planet whose inhabitants are neither male nor female, to try and obtain their membership in an intergalactic political collective. With his mission in danger of failing, Ai is forced to rely on his only Gethenian ally, Estraven, to guide him through the dangers of both Gethen’s politics and its brutal, unending winter.

Continue reading Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin)