Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Bookseller's 2015

I have a dream job. I get to talk to people about books all day on the days when I'm not writing them. The Curious Iguana is a small indie in Frederick, MD with a global focus. We work closely with the WNDB campaign, Kiva and with global and local social justice charities through our monthly B-corp donations. It's a huge joy and a privilege to work for a business that takes its corporate responsibility seriously as well as being a place where people can come and discuss great books.

My Goodreads list has gotten a little out of control since joining the Iguana team. Working for the big box book stores, I never spent any time in the stock room opening deliveries--my knowledge was kind of limited to what I shelved and other things I took a particular interest in. But I'm finding that being the one to open all the boxes doesn't half put a dent in your wallet. ("I'll have that one, and that one and OH MY GOD, I DIDN'T KNOW THAT WAS COMING OUT.")

I've not had quite as much time as some of my fellow booksellers this year to read--partly due to writing and partly due to small people who seem to want juice all the time, but I've managed to knock out a little of 70 titles, some new and some old. So, without further ado, (or any organization in order of favorites) here's what's kicked my ass this year.

The Mapmaker's Trilogy by SE Grove

I'm a sucker for amazing world building and this series has some of the best that I've seen since I read His Dark Materials many years ago. The world Sophia Timms inhabits is one that is shaped by the Great Disruption--an event where different parts of the world were flung into different time periods. She and her uncle Shadrack, a cartographer, live in Boston, but when he's kidnapped, Sophia's forced to make some unlikely alliances to get him back. The "disrupted world" that Grove builds is fascinating, as is the art of mapmaking in a constantly changing landscape. I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the series, The Crimson Skew, in July of 2016. Definitely a cross-over title with YA as the language and concepts (that include time travel and biology) are delightfully complex.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

This is the first title of two on my list written by North, which is a pen-name for British author, Catherine Webb. I LOVED her Midnight Mayor urban fantasy series (which she wrote under the name of Kate Griffin) so I was pleased to finally get around to this title, which was published in April of 2014. Stories about people getting to live their lives over and over again have always struck a chord with me, so I seriously enjoyed this tale of Harry August, who literally lived his life over and over. The same life, every time. Harry is an Orobouran, and he's not alone. Slowly he learns about the existence of others like him and this draws him into a relationship with the dangerous Vincent Rankis, who's determined to use his strange relationship with time to change the world forever. North's storytelling is marvelous as well as her well thought-out ways for these time travelers to send messages back and forth through the ages. A cracking read.

Stratford Zoo: Midnight Review by Ian Lendler

Those little people I spoke of earlier? BIG readers. And being their mother, I'd like to introduce them the the wonder that is The Bard as early as possible, so when these fabulous graphic novels appeared on the shelves, it was fate. One wouldn't think that anything could make the tale of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet funny, but Lendler has it all figured out. He weaves a child friendly story with the cast of animals of the Stratford Zoo, who perform Shakespeare's works after the staff have gone home for the day. The stories are smart and entertaining while the main themes remain intact--revenge, guilt and corruption of power for Macbeth and tolerance, love  and the futility of grudges for Romeo and Juliet. Highly recommended for any mid-grade reader!

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

This one was very close to my heart. Pratchett was a particular favorite of mine--his gentle (and not so gentle) mocking of human foibles through humor has always really resonated with me. When he died earlier this year, I knew that this last book was not going to be an easy read. He concludes the tale of Tiffany Aching, witch of the chalk and successor to Granny Weatherwax, his leader-but-not of all of Discworld's witches. Shepherd's Crown is both melancholy and hopeful--a beautiful goodbye to a world that he created. In it, he even takes the time to write his own eulogy, which just about had me curled up on the floor in a ball after reading it. Through Tiffany, Pratchett reminds us to take care of one another and ourselves and that sometimes we must do the hard things that need to be done.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

When you read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, things tend to lose the ability to surprise you. Not to say I don't enjoy books that don't surprise me, but when you come across one that does a total left turn at the traffic lights, you sit up and take notice. Magonia is not the book you think it's going to be in the first 100 pages and it's such a treat to have your expectations confounded. The writing is beautiful, the world building is superb, the characters complex and I JUST WISH I'D WRITTEN IT. I'm so glad that Headley's getting the recognition she deserves for this in year end lists and that it translates into sales of the second book of the series, which is, as of yet untitled, in early 2016.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Another YA fantasy making year end lists from one end of the internet to another is Ember in the Ashes. It's got all the ingredients of an exciting and gripping series--a broken and brutal society, two world colliding, magic, privilege, rebellion, poverty and forbidden love. Tahir just binds it all together so well, drawing parallels with decisions that we're all forced to make at one time or another. The second volume, A Torch Against the Night, will be hitting shelves in August of 2016.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Although this isn't exactly the sequel to Fangirl,  anyone who loved Rowell's tale of college, family and fan fiction is going to want to pick this up. When I first heard of this book, I was under the impression that it was going to be a full length version of the fan fic that was the foundation of the previous story. Instead, it's the final book in the imaginary, Harry Potter like series that the fic was based on. It made me happy for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because I'm somethign of a lifelong professional fangirl myself. Knowing the protagonists of the previous book (Cath and Wren) got to read this book and see all their hopes for the series come true made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Anyone familiar with the work of the great Nelly Bly will know that late 19th-early 20th century insane asylum was not a nice place to be, particularly if you were a woman. Not to mention the fact that it was distressingly easy to get sent to one by a husband or loved one. Want all your wife's money? Get her declared insane. Daughter pregnant out of wedlock? Off she goes. This is the unfortunate circumstance of Madness's unlucky protagonist, Grace. Lucky for her, her talents of observation are discovered by a visiting doctor--a Sherlock Holmes-esque figure in desperate need of a Watson. Madness is a beautiful and raw historical thriller that combines McGinnis's skillful research and brilliant imagination.

Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud

My world-building fetish was mightily satisfied by this fabulously creepy series of middle grade books by Stroud, who's known for his Bartimaeus novels. Set in a world where the dead pose a real threat to the living and the only people capable of keeping the population safe are children, Anthony Lockwood, along with his colleagues Lucy and George, run a small agency dedicated to eradicating troublesome spirits. These are quick and satisfying reads for the post Goosebumps generation.

Stray Souls by Kate Griffin

The second Catherine Webb title on the list. Set in the same London as The Midnight Mayor series, Griffin uses her trademark knowledge of the minutae of the city to tell the story of Sharon Li, a reluctant shaman and head of a support network for supernatural beings called Magicals Anonymous. Sharon, along with her misfit band of compatriots that include a troll, a banshee and germaphobe vampire are called into to investigate the disappearance of the Soul of the City as well as attacks by a giant slavering hellhound. Witty and fun and full of the otherworldly life Griffin breathes into a city that's close to my heart.

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