This blog has run its course

Dear Readers:

It's time to say goodbye. You can now find my reviews at Fantasy Literature ( and Like Fire ( I've really enjoyed running Reading the Leaves all these years, and I've learned a lot about reviewing. I hope you'll follow me to my new sites.

Best wishes to my faithful readers,


Sunday Links for January 6, 2013

Still in the mood for a few good lists of 2012 books you really need to read? Yeah, me too; I graze off these lists for months. Geek Exchange offers its list of 15 2012 books you should read in 2013. They’ve chosen Jagannath and The Killing Moon, which appear on my own list, so that encourages me to read the others. I also really enjoyed John Scalzi’s Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, giggling through most of it — and since I don’t like funny SF/F/H for the most part, that amounts to quite the recommendation.

Barnes & Noble offers its thoughts on the best SF and fantasy of 2012.

I’m as eager to look forward as I am to look back. Ranting Dragon’s list of new books to look forward to seems pretty heavy on the epic fantasy — not that there’s anything wrong with that. With new books from Daniel Abraham, Richard Morgan, Seanan McGuire, Elizabeth Bear and many others from the current pantheon of the best the field has to offer, I’ll have a busy reading year.

But that’s not all! Night Shade Books, one of my favorite small (but growing) presses has an amazing catalog of 2013 releases. Zachary Jernigan’s first novel, No Return, looks promising. And frequent readers of this blog have to know that I’m already salivating for Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

And it looks like 2013 will be a great year for comics, too. "Constantine" looks especially good, though I’m sad to read that "Hellblazer" is ending its very long run. And a new "Sandman"? Be still, my heart!

If you’d like to look ahead only one month at a time, you can always refer to io9’s list of everything SF and fantasy in January. These calendars are invaluable to help you keep up with comics, movies, television and all other forms of SF/F/H — including, of course, books.

Care to make some of your own books in 2013? Well, at least in a sense. Become a backer of Ellen Datlow’s Fearful Symmetries and make a great horror anthology possible — and get premiums for your help as well. The Kickstarter for this project is here. I’m in, even with dollars being pretty scarce just lately. Care to join me? Some of the best premiums include the ability to bypass Chizine’s slushpile and have your novel read first, a short story critique by someone who really knows the business, or a set of handmade entrails by Mary Robinette Kowal. The extras here are amazing, but really, the best part is going to be the book.

Now here’s a treat that one might think the Internet was specially made for: the complete run of the venerable OMNI magazine online, for free. Many of the pieces of short fiction published in this magazine became classics in the field, from Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata” to George R.R. Martin’s “Sandkings” (for my money, still one of the scariest bits of science fiction I’ve ever read). And the science articles are pretty amazing, too.

Damien Walter, writing for The Guardian, offers his science fiction predictions for 2013. American Gods by Neil Gaiman coming to HBO? Sign me up.

It looks like 2013 is going to be quite the year for science fiction and fantasy at the movies. io9 offers a list of 77 such movies. Can there really be that many? And can most of them really be worth watching? It’ll be fun to find out. Right now I’m reading Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, so the February movie based on the book might well find me lined up to get a ticket.

And now, you must excuse me. I’m reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and finding it utterly entrancing; I can’t stay away from it for long. For another week, happy reading!

Best Books of 2012

In 2012 I read 58 books and 31 magazines, wrote 54 reviews (including magazine reviews), 38 Sunday Links columns and one short story. It was probably the most productive year I’ve ever had for reading and writing that was not legal reading and writing. I hope to build on that foundation in 2013, and read and write even more, including my own fiction.

But I remain, first and foremost, a reader. I read more science fiction, fantasy and horror than anything else, but I read widely and outside the boundaries of any single genre. This year there are 14 books I consider the best of my reading of 2012, though only six of them were published in 2012. That’s because I read widely from lists of books nominated for various prizes; because I read older books that I’ve missed over the years; and because I have such a large and varied library that sometimes a book will call out to me, having patiently awaited its turn for years and I can no longer ignore it. I see no reason to be bound by the calendar in choosing books.

One of the best books I read in 2012 was Stories: All-New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. It’s a non-themed anthology that pushes the edges of genre in almost every tale. There are stories by science fiction, fantasy and horror stalwarts like Peter Straub, Michael Swanwick and Tim Powers; stories by those known for excellent mysteries, like Lawrence Block and Jeffrey Deaver; and stories by mainstream writers who, so far as I know, have never before set foot in genre territory, like Jodi Picoult. The idea of the book was simply to present stories that made you ask, “And then what happened?” according to Gaiman’s introduction. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover, and recommend it highly.

I happened upon The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett almost entirely by chance — a recommendation on Facebook or Amazon. It’s a fine debut novel about people with powers they don’t really understand and aren’t completely sure how to use. The author never loses sight of the philosophical and moral issues inherent in the idea that the characters have powers greater than those of the average human, even as the adventure roars forward. I’m looking forward to more from this writer. (I reviewed the book here.)

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard is a historical novel set at West Point beginning on October 26, 1930 and extending through April 19, 1831. The author of the narrative, as the book is styled, is Gus Landor, who states at the beginning of the book (on April 19, 1831) that he will be dead within four hours. After these few pages of introduction, the action moves to October 26, 1830, when he is summoned to West Point to assist in an investigation. A cadet has hanged himself, which is bad enough, but someone has removed his heart. One of Landor’s assistants in the investigation is another cadet, Edgar Allan Poe, who is also, at times, a suspect. The character of Poe is convincingly drawn, and the book is most enjoyable throughout its many twists and turns.

Occasionally, I will read a memoir. Mary Gordon’s Circling My Mother was more a set of essays about her relationship with her mother than a coherent memoir, but it was thoughtful and elegantly written. Each chapter looks at the people who surrounded Gordon’s mother, who lived to be 94, but spent her last years deep in dementia. As Gordon tries to understand this person she both loves and hates to distraction, she writes fascinating prose.

Mira Grant’s Blackout, the third book in The Newsflesh Trilogy, doesn’t just wrap up the loose ends left in the first two books, but takes us into ever stranger territory in the world she has created. I thought I was done with zombies, but Grant finds ways to make the meme newer and stronger. (I reviewed the book here.)

Stephen Jones edited A Book of Horrors, which contains some of the best short fiction in the horror field I’ve read all year — and it was a strong year for this genre. Jones wrote that he was attempting to “reclaim the horror genre for those who understand and appreciate the worth and impact of a scary story.” The vampires in this book don’t sparkle, they bite. These tales turned my hair a little whiter; the likes of Reggie Oliver, Michael Marshall Smith, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Dennis Etchison and Stephen King will do that to me.

More horror made my list in the form of Supernatural Noir, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. I wasn’t sure this book was for me, as “supernatural” is a word that tends to set my teeth on edge because of such things as the aforementioned sparkly vampire. I should have trusted Datlow, who is an amazing editor. This anthology has some of the most exciting fiction I read in 2012, fiction that made me uncomfortable, that haunts me, that has inhabited my dreams since I first read it. With stories by the likes of Jeffrey Ford, Gregory Frost, Elizabeth Bear, John Langan and Laird Barron, I shouldn’t have been surprised. (I reviewed the book here.)

I’d been keeping an eye out for Keith Roberts’s Pavane in my bookstore rambles for some time, but hadn’t tracked it down; it was undeservedly out of print. But I happened upon a copy in my local library, and was very glad to finally have a chance to read this masterpiece. Pavane is a series of interrelated stories of an alternate England in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588. Roberts works out all the changes that might have resulted, beginning with England’s defeat by the Spanish Armada and the supremacy of the Catholic Church over secular government. I loved the way the last story circled around back to the first, spelling out the consequences of everything that happened in that first tale. And the writing itself is superb.

Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale is an excellent novel about what happens when a girl disappears into Faery — and then returns. Imagine showing up on your parents’ doorstep after a couple of decades, no older than you were and with a wild tale of having passed just a few months with the fairies. Don’t you suppose your now-elderly parents and your adult siblings would be looking to have you declared mentally incompetent? Just how does that work, and how do you find your place in the “real” world after such an adventure? Joyce inverts and subverts the typical fairy tale in this novel about the lack of magic in contemporary life.

I loved Jo Walton’s Among Others. It won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award this year, so I’m in good company in enjoying it. Morwenna is a teenager who has recently been seriously and apparently permanently injured in an accident caused by her mother’s magic; and she has suffered a deeper loss as well. She has managed to separate herself from her crazy mother, only to be clapped into a private girls’ school that feels like a type of prison. But there is joy to be found no matter where one finds oneself, and Morwenna discovers the depth and breadth of science fiction and fantasy — and, more importantly, other people who love the genres as well. It is a joy to watch a young woman find her footing in the world by exploring imaginary worlds. I’m intent on reading more of Walton’s work in 2013, because this book was such a tremendous pleasure to read.

I’ve long tried to keep my eyes open for science fiction and fantasy in translation. I’m curious about how other cultures imagine the future or the supernatural. So when I had a chance to read Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath: Stories, a collection translated by the author from her mother tongue of Swedish, I jumped at it. These stories would properly be termed “weird,” in the tradition of the likes of Kafka, Aickman, and Mieville, stories that are so far from traditional science fiction (which, at its best, is logically derived from actual scientific principals) or tradition fantasy (which has its foundation in the tales told by the Grimm Brothers) that they make your head feel as if perhaps it’s been screwed on wrong. These stories are exciting and disturbing. (I reviewed the book here.)

Young adult literature continues to be a fertile field for excellent fantasy of late. Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone caught me up so completely that I was hard-pressed to do anything else while I was reading it; work languished, housework went undone, and we dined on frozen dinners until I’d raced through its pages. Taylor is a very visual writer who creates such pictures that reading is almost like viewing. The reader is completely engaged by the beauty and the horror of this novel.

Understories by Tim Horvath is another of my real finds this year. This first collection of short fiction by this talented writer is marketed as mainstream fiction, and, indeed, many of the stories fit into that category. On the other hand, the breadth of the collection, the oddity of many of the stories, the touch of the weird points up the trend in recent fiction to bring a touch of the fantastic to a good bit of mainstream literature, blurring the lines between the genres. The “Urban Planning” series cannot help but bring Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities to mind, and “The Discipline of Shadows,” a story of a struggling and unusual department in a small college, is just enough off kilter to make one feel a touch dizzy. I loved this collection, and savored it over many months.

Finally, the last of the books on my “best” list is Planesrunner by Ian McDonald. McDonald has become one of those authors whose work I want to own and read in its entirety. He has a sure touch with both plot and language, and can draw word pictures of great beauty. This young adult steampunk novel makes airships just about the most exciting places I can imagine. The physics of alternate universes, which underlies the novel, and the plot of a boy searching for his lost father, brought to mind Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this projected trilogy.

Honorable mentions for 2012 include Ben Aaronovitch’s series about a London constable learning to use magic, Midnight Riot, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground. The whimsy in these novels is delightful, and the plots are fast-paced. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series in 2013. I also got a kick out of Chris Holm’s first two novels in his urban fantasy series, Dead Harvest (reviewed here) and The Wrong Goodbye. Holm writes about a man who is required by the rules of his particular afterlife to collect the souls of those who are doomed to hell; but things are never as clear as they seem on the surface. N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon is an unusual and smart fantasy set in a culture much different from the usual medieval England (reviewed here). I really want to get around to reading the second novel in her duology, The Shadowed Sun, very soon.

The more I look at the list of books I read in 2012, the more good memories of good books flood into me. Truly, there was so much good stuff to read that it’s a wonder I managed to get anything else done. Here’s to a 2013 that is just as full of wonderful stories and novels.