Category: YA

I know, it’s a bit late for a Best Of 2009 list!  I had to think about the December books for a while and get some perspective on them, and I had to figure out how I defined “Best Of”.

When I find an author I enjoy, I will track down and read as many books by them as I can, so I’ve broken my “Best Of” into two sections:

  1. Awesome authors I discovered in 2009 
  2. Amazing Books I read in 2009

But first, lets look at my reading statistics – I am a scientist after all. 🙂

In total, I read 194 books in 2009 (including audio books).  I read the most in December (22) and the least in April (11).

Looking at genre, in 2009 I read:

107 fantasy books (55%)
13 science fiction books (7%)
31 romance books (16%)
16 graphic novels (8%)
21 fiction books of other genres (mystery/thriller/chick lit/whatever) (11%)
and 6 non-fiction books (3%)

In conclusion, I really like fantasy!  (Please note that some of the romance and most of the graphic novels could be also be defined as fantasy.)

Awesome Authors I Discovered In 2009

Can there be anything more fun than reading an amazing book that blows you away and then finding out the author has a backlist of books for you to glom?  I don’t think so!

  • Ann Aguirre
  • Kristin Cashore
  • Colin Cotterill
  • Jeaniene Frost
  • Linnea Sinclair
  • Nalini Singh

Amazing Books I Read In 2009

These books all have something extra that makes them stand out in my memory. (To get on this list I had to have read these books for the first time in 2009.)

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Thief With No Shadow by Emily Gee
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville
  • A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
  • Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
  • Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman
  • Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

Wow – these authors and books are pretty wonderful!  I only hope that I can find some equally amazing  new authors and equally special books in 2010.


gracelingIn a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises:the Grace of killing.

As a Graced killer who has been able to kill a man with her bare hands from the age of eight, she’s forced to work as the king’s thug.  Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life.

Yet Katsa remains defiant, and when the King of Liend’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery.  Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why?  And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?

The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill.  The intrigue surronding the kidnapping offers her a way out – and little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery, something spreading form the shadowy figure of a one eyed king…

Graceling is the debut novel by Kristin Cashore, and  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Katsa is an intriguing character; because people have been afraid of her for her entire life, she has few friends, and a lack of understanding of  people.  As she investigates the kidnapping and begins to defy her uncle, Katsa becomes more open to people and she is better able to relate to them.

Katsa’s relationship with her uncle was problematic for me.  Cashore did not show me how he was able to control Katsa, to force her to kill and torture on his word, I am told this instead.  As Katsa defies her uncle, she thinks this is the hardest thing she has done, and how close she was to turning back, but I don’t feel this with her.  I know it only because I was told, and this lessens the power of the scene.

Katsa’s new-found independence and sense of self is thrown when she realises her attraction to Po and his to her.  This romance is one of the most touching and sincere I have read.  I loved that he was not bothered about her superior fighting and hunting abilities, that it was Katsa instead who was unused to being protected and relying on someone for help.

At first I thought Po was a perhaps a little too understanding and supportive, but his upbringing has forced him to be more perceptive and understanding than normal.  Near the end of the book, Katsa gets a chance to support Po through his trials, which showed me the depth and solidity of their relationship.

I highly recommend Graceling to anybody who enjoys YA fantasy.

Fire, a companion/prequel novel to Graceling, will be published in October 2009.

Crown Duel by Sherwood SmithBattle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners…

It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king.  That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect.

But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand.  Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace.  There, she soon discovers, friends and ememies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms.  If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting – with wit and words and secret alliances.  In war, at least she knew whom she could trust.  Now she can trust no one…

This edition of Crown Duel was originally published as two separate books, Crown Duel and Court Duel, although author Sherwood Smith had always though of them as one story.  A additional short story is included at the end.

I found Meliara to be a great character.  She is prickly, stubborn, brave and loyal and makes mistakes that could have terrible consequences.  But she is intelligent and smart, and when she realises just how ignorant she is, she takes steps to educate herself.  Part of her personality is that she cares about how people see her, which makes her very self-defensive.  I could really relate to that!

In the second half of Crown Duel, I really liked that Mel recognised her ignorance of how to behave at Court,  faced her fear of ridicule and went to the Court because she felt it was the right thing to do.  This second part of the book was the best in my opinion, I enjoyed seeing Mel’s personal growth and her interactions with people whose motives she could not discern.  I loved how she grew more confident in how to behave at Court, but did not copy others, instead approaching her problems and solving them in a forthright and unusual manner,  That manner was entirely consistent with her personality and not just an action imposed by the author to make Mel be an unusual character.

Crown Duel is a thoroughly enjoyable character driven YA* fantasy.  I found it on Pollyanna’s Booklist, and it is well worth reading.

* YA is Young Adult – a genre where some of the best fantasy is being published these days.

Shannon Hale is one of the authors I’ve found though Pollyanna’s Booklist.  Princess Academy is a Newbery Honor book, and is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the rest of her books, but it is still just as satisfying a read for an adult.

Miri lives in a small mountain village with her father and two sisters.  One late autumn day, it is announced that the prince will choose a bride from the village and all eligible females are to attend a academy to prepare for the princes’ choice in spring.

The girls are isolated and the competition among them becomes fierce as they first learn to read and write ; then history, economics, diplomacy and deportment.  The tutor is harsh, forbidding visits home and treating the girls badly.  Miri’s intelligence and character lead her to fight against the tutor’s injustices, and as Miri begins to discover a silent way to communicate called quarry-speech, danger threatens.

Princess Academy is an unpredictable and multi-layered story, with well-drawn characters; even the tutor is realistic, with understandable motivations.  Miri’s journey, as she begins to understand the complexity of the world and other people, is fascinating to follow.

Princess Academy was the first Shannon Hale book I read, six books later, she is now one of my favorite authors.  (Just don’t ask how many favorite authors I have!)

Other books I have reviewed by Shannon Hale: Rapunzel’s Revenge

I’ve previously read most of Shannon Hale’s books, they are mostly YA fantasy,and really enjoyed them. When I saw she had written a graphic novel with her husband, I had to buy it.

Rapunzel’s Revenge is an entertaining and lighthearted retelling of the fairy tale, set in a fantasy version of the Wild West.  I felt there were a few clumsy moments, and the depth that I had expected from reading Shannon’s previous work was not there, but overall, I enjoyed this book.

The illustrations, by Nathan (no relation) Hale, were lovely.  My only quibble is with the colouring of some of the characters, I guess they were supposed to be olive coloured , but I thought their skin made them look a bit like zombies.  It was a little disconcernting!

I already own this book and I feel it is a good addition to my sub-genres of humorous fantasy and retold fairy tales.  If Shannon and Dean publish another graphic novel, I’ll be sure to buy it.

Other books by Shannon Hale that I have reviewed: Princess Academy