Oh, hey – winners and junk!

If you remember, last week when we posted our best (and worst) reads of 2013, we asked you for your favourites so we could give away our two favourite books of the year.

Last night I put all the names in The Hat and drew winners for a paperback of Chris Holm‘s The Big Reap, a paperback of Justin Robinson‘s City of Devils and TWO ecopies of City of Devils.  I know, I’m sneaky, I didn’t mention the ecopies, did I?  HAHA!

Since I’m tired and not feeling up to drawing out the suspense, I’ll just go ahead and announce the winners, yeah?

(could I use any more commas in this post, shit)

The winner of the paperback copy of The Big Reap (generously donated by the folks over at Angry Robot) is…

MICHAEL CARGILL!

Michael, I hope you enjoy The Collector series as much as Heather and I did!

The winner of the paperback copy of City of Devils (brought to us by the lovely Kate from Candlemark and Gleam) is…

Nubia (aka @siamesedream)!

And the winners of the two ecopies of City of Devils are Rae and Charleen!

SO!  Michael and Nubia, get your addresses to me, please.  Charleen and Rae, please let me know what format you’d like and an email address I can have your prizes sent to.  Email is dodisharkicorn (at) gmail.

Congrats to the winners, and thanks to everyone who read and entered!

The Snobbery’s Naughty and Nice List 2013 Edition

Woo. Another year over and time for another list of things that didn’t suck and some that did. This year Heather will be contributing, so I’ll do my best to keep my own comments short.

Mrs Claus with the Naughty List

This will never get old. Ever.

sj’s List

  • NicecomicsImage almost totally swept my favourite comics of the year. Two brand new titles (Sheltered and Sex Criminals), and two that were new-to-me (Revival and Saga). I’m following all of these monthly now, no trade waiting for me. The Unwritten is my lone Vertigo title, I read all of the trades in a matter of days, then started buying them as they came out. I’m still waiting to read the last arc, though, cos it was a Fables crossover and I fucking hate Fables. I know, I know.
  • Naughtybad YA2013 was apparently the year for lackluster finales to YA trilogies. UNBELIEVABLY, I was not the only one who felt this way. Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Lauren DeStefano’s Sever all garnered many, many poor reviews. I was shocked. I may have disliked them for different reasons than everyone else, but for once, I was not in the minority. Hm.
  • Nicegallagher girlsProbably my biggest surprise of the year, Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls was hands down my favourite new-to-me YA series that I read in 2013. I read the first five in a matter of days, then spent months with the agonizing wait for the finale. Take note, other authors: this is how you end a damn series. Highly recommended to just about anyone.
  • Honourable Mentions: Peter Stenson’s Fiend, Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, Justin Jordan/Tradd Moore’s The Strange Talent of/Legend of Luther Strode

Heather says: When sj asked me to contribute to Santa’s naughty and nice list, I could name five books in a nanosecond. But sj has rules, and she would only count one book per author. So instead of naming my favorite books, my list, with the exception of a single entry, consists of my top favorite authors of 2013.

Heather’s List

  • Niceheather niceI discovered the brilliance of Jasper Fforde early in 2013 with the book Shades of Grey. It was a recommendation from sj, and she usually doesn’t steer me wrong. Grumpy Grandpa Librarian raised his one eyebrow in silent judgment when I checked it out. Methinks he should read more. I loved Fforde’s work so much that I bought his books in paper copies.

    I’m a sneaky-peeper on Goodreads, back when Goodreads had something to peep at. I hated the Goodreads recommendations.

    “You liked Lord of the Rings? You might also like Lord of the Flies. They both start with the letter ‘L’ and are not actually about the Lord.”

    I had to find ways to get recommendations on my own, so I perused friends’ lists to see what they were loving, and Rainbow Rowell‘s work kept appearing. I read Fan Girl and Eleanor & Park. Rowell really gets what it’s like to be awkward. She gets it. I have an allergy to romance, but Rainbow’s work doesn’t trigger the gag reflex. None of her characters are perfect. They’re people. They do smart things, and they do stupid things, and they suffer consequences. I love characters I can root for. I also like Rainbow herself. She is funny and adorable on Twitter. Follow her now, thank me later.

    Ender’s Game. One of these things is not like the other. I loved this book. I found it in the free bin at my local used bookstore a few months ago, and I read it in a day. I cried, I cheered, I hurt deeply for this poor, poor child. But the author is not a kind soul, and that bothers me. Ender was my first five-star book of this year, but I still feel conflicted about putting him on my list.

  • Naughtyheather naughtyI’m pretty forgiving and forgetful, and I hesitate to condemn any author’s work to the pits of the Naughty List, but here you go.

    I, Saul was definitely not the book the blurb told me I was getting. It was boring and ridiculous. Like I said, I can forgive lots of things. The inexcusable bit was receiving an invitation from the publisher to join a blog tour promoting the stupid thing weeks after I had read, reviewed and passed the review on via NetGalley. If they aren’t going bother to read the feedback, why did I read the book?

    The only other name on my naughty list isn’t a book. It’s Goodreads. Don’t look at me like that, Goodreads! You know what you’ve done!

SUPER BEST BOOKS OF 2013

Heather and I don’t always agree on what we read, but this year we agreed on two books that were our very best reads.

They were…

best of

Chris Holm’s The Big Reap and Justin Robinson’s City of Devils! We both reviewed each of these titles and they totally blew us away. You can read our reviews for The Big Reap here and here, and for City of Devils here and here.

In fact, we loved them so much and want you to love them too that we are giving away a copy of each! Thanks to Kate at Candlemark and Gleam and Vicky at Angry Robot, we have a paperback of each book to give away to YOU! All you have to do to enter is comment below and tell us what your best books of the year were. On January 3rd, I’ll put all the names into the Hat and draw two lucky winners. Super easy, right?

…nothing fixes something so intensely in your memory as the desire to forget it.

Sometimes I take my time getting around to things.

It was some time ago that sj started telling me I needed to read Chris F. Holm’s Collector series. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her – I did, and I do, especially when it comes to literature – but I just have to defend myself by saying I have a TBR list that’ll last longer than I live. Sometimes I think of it and get super-daunted. I know. There are worse things in the world to stress over. But still. SO MANY BOOKS. SO LITTLE TIME.

I read Chris’s two story collections (and reviewed them here earlier in the year) and was immediately blown away by his talent. The Collector series moved up on my list of things to read, but, as mentioned – there are so many things, you guys. Just so, so many.

(Side note: Chris could not be more delightful on Twitter, and his wife Kat is SIMILARLY delightful, so it made me feel severely terrible that I hadn’t read all of his books yet. How many people are lucky enough to have amazing authors as friends? Not many. I needed to step it up. Also, in news of EXCITEMENT, Chris and Kat are coming to my TOWN! In September! AND I GET TO MEET THEM! Sorry. Sorry. Little geekout, there. It happens. But I had to have them all read by September, right? How could I meet him without having them read? RUDE.)

I did, however, go on vacation a couple of weeks ago. And the power was out the first three days I was there. So it was a little hard to read paper books by candlelight. However, my Kindle worked just fine. And what better to read by candlelight in a dark cabin in the woods than a book about a collector of souls?

Three hours later, at one in the morning, I looked up and REALIZED it was one in the morning.

Yep. Hooked. Like a big ol’ fish.

You guys, these books are severely seven flavors of awesome.

I’m going to try VERY HARD not to spoil any of you. Because I want you all to immediately go out and buy the first one. Which will hook you, like it hooked me. Then you will buy the second one. And the third one. And, like me, sit impatiently waiting for the NEXT one, which will, no doubt, be a while from now because the third one just came out, and DAMMIT am I one impatient little monkey.

In Dead Harvest, we meet Sam Thornton. He accidentally sold – and then lost – his soul to a demon in the 40s; his hell is that he has to live his eternity collecting souls from others in the same situation he was in. All Collectors get a handler; he is handled by Lilith. Yes, that Lilith. She is just as awesome and awe-inspiring as you might imagine.

He is tasked to collect a soul from a teenage girl who slaughtered her family. Easy enough. That’s a soul meant for hell, right? Well, not so much, actually. Because when Sam shows up, the girl’s actually an innocent. And Sam does what a Collector has never done before. He refuses to take her soul.

This does not go down well with the various powers that be that exist in his world.

In The Wrong Goodbye, Sam shows up to collect a soul – only the soul has already been collected. Which sets a series of events in motion that involve Charon, treacherous friends, a low-level mobster on the run, a kickass transgender stripper, and oh, yeah, possibly an event that might wipe a ton of humans off the map. So, just your average day at the office, then.

In The Big Reap (which was released July 30 – it’s sparkly-new, you guys!), Sam finds out he’s been assigned to collect the souls of nine collectors gone rogue. Or possibly die trying, as they’re ancient and powerful and pretty darn evil. Doesn’t matter – once you’re sent on a job, it’s not like you can hide under the bed and wait for it to go away.

That’s all I’m telling you, because I want you to go into these knowing as next-to-nothing as I did.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The characters are so fully-formed and realistic you feel like you’re completely in the world the minute you start reading. There aren’t many books, especially in this genre, this realistic. (It’s not an easy thing to do. You’ve got this world of fantasy, yet you’re putting real people in it. It’s easy to give up and make the people as fantastic as the world.) Chris doesn’t cop out. The people are real. And listen. You love them. You finish the first book, you pick up the second book – and it’s like coming home.
  • For whatever genre this is (fantasy noir? I’m saying that’s what it is. It probably has some fancy-schmancy name I’m not aware of) it’s also two things you wouldn’t expect – funny as hell and truly touching. You’re going to cackle at some of the plot twists and some of the clever turns of phrase, and you’re going to get so close to the characters that their pain is yours (and their triumphs are yours as well.)
  • Chris is a very, very good writer. He’s got some plot twists that crop up along the way that, when you realize what’s happening, make you thrill with the creativity with them. I lost track of the number of times I exclaimed out loud over something he’d done.

Other than that: you’re on your own. I’m not spoiling you any more than I already have.

You need these books. You need to meet Sam and Lilith; you need to learn why it’s totally a dick move to smoke in a borrowed meat-suit; you need to find out whose soul was the very first that Sam collected; you need to know where you end up if you get killed on the job (Guam. It’s almost always effing Guam.)

Me, I’m going to be waiting over here patiently for the next installment. And for September, when I can properly geek out with the author in person over these books, which have made me so happy I want to yell at everyone who hasn’t read them yet, like sj did to me all those months ago, “WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ THE COLLECTOR SERIES YET?”

Only, you know, in a much less all-caps shouty way. Like the lady I am, dammit.

Amy

“Happy Trapped In Amber”

Something like a million books were published last year. A million books. How does a reader find quality reading material buried in all that noise? Some people use best seller lists. Others judge books by their covers. Still others take their recommendations on Goodreads to heart.  Me, I have an sj.

No method is infallible.  New York Times bestsellers are often nothing more than books that have had the greatest pre-release buzz generated rather than the book’s actual merits. ** I’ve read my share of bestsellers that were total disappointments. Judging books by their covers works about as well as reading blurbs, I have learned. Both are 50/50. Sometimes the novel inside lives up to the gorgeous cover. Sometimes the blurb is the best part (I, Saul, I’m looking at you). And Goodreads recommendations appear to be based on books you’ve read, not books you’ve actually liked.

All these books?

All these books?

Because I read this one:

Note the stellar rating i gave it. Make that a three-stellar rating.

Note the stellar rating i gave it. Make that a three-stellar rating.

The drawback with having an sj is having to wait for her to get around to reading something first. As her TBR list is enormous, it may take 6 months for her to convince me to read it get to a particular book, even though she burns through books at an astonishing rate.

When she recommended The Collector series, I was hesitant, and I’m not sure why. The covers are, of course, delectable. When my books are published, I hope I have cover art that’s this good. The blurbs were even intriguing. Maybe that was part of the delay. If I ever skim a blurb, I’ll leave the book on my TBR list until I have completely forgotten what the book was about. I hate spoilers.

But if I were to be honest (and this is so very embarrassing), my main reason for eschewing this series was because it comes from a small, indie publisher. How good could it be if it’s not Harper Collins, right? Let me just say I have learned this lesson well. Small does not equal substandard. Do not confuse small publisher with poorly edited vanity self-pub. **** I won’t again. Ever.

So what author schooled me on the quality of indie publishers? Chris F. Holm and his Collector series. There are three in the series. sj has reviewed them all, too, of course. Here, here,  and here. And each time I thought “Huh, that sounds kind of cool.” And I moved on to the next book in my queue without a second thought. Until recently.

I sat down a couple of weeks ago with Dead Harvest. I devoured it in a day and a half and was so very sad that my library didn’t have the next in the series. Just as I was considering selling my own soul to the devil to get my hands on The Wrong Goodbye, I opened my email and saw this:

Click to enlarge if you need to. Best present. Best surprise ever.

Click to enlarge if you need to. Best present. Best surprise ever.

I did a happy/thank you dance and downloaded it immediately. I zoomed through that one, too, and was ever so happy I had the eARC to dive into thanks to Angry Robot books. What a gift. The surprise present, the eARC, the series itself.

I was immediately engaged by the story. It’s intriguing. A guy makes a decision that he may spend eternity paying for. Note I didn’t say he made the wrong decision. Read it. We’ll debate. Anyway, Sam Thorton has been sentenced to collect the souls of the damned. Sometimes his targets don’t cooperate.

I won’t get too much into plot points because I don’t like spoilers myself. I will say that this series is a hidden treasure, and anyone who loves Urban Fantasy and good writing needs to give it a try. Seriously. Even if you don’t know if you’d like Urban Fantasy, try it anyway. You might be surprised. The books are under $5 each for digital versions. Do yourself a favor and get all three of them (The Big Reap drops on July 30th. You can preorder, and it will arrive on your device that morning.)

Why do I love this series? The writing. It is so, so solid. Holm has a way with a phrase. All three books are rich with detail; enough to create a world and pull us into it without hammering us over the head. I felt like I was there. I could see it. I could smell it.

The story. A delicious adventure, the plot drew me in and kept me there. It takes many twists and turns, but none are overly complicated, so it’s easy to follow without being at all predictable. Underneath it all is an undercurrent of hope, a guy trying to make the best of a bad situation, and the feeling that maybe things can turn out alright for him in the end. I always wanted more. I am already looking forward to the next in the series (oh, please say there will be a 4th!).

The author. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while, and he’s actually a decent human being. He interacts with his readers with respect and humor. Since I’ve read his books, every time he responds to one of my tweets, I get all fan-girl giggly and think “Chris Holm is talking to ME!”

And here’s the greatest mystery. How has this talented writer gone relatively unnoticed? Seriously. The guy has fewer than 2,000 followers on Twitter. That he is going to be huge, I have no doubt. I am planning to sacrifice some shelf-space in my house and buy hard copies of this series because  his first editions are going to be very valuable one day. If I can somehow get him to autograph them, so much the better. I am not kidding. Get in on the ground floor, because this author is going places.

So how do you know I am not just a mindless sycophant who agrees with whatever sj tells me? I’ll let you in on a secret. I only finish about 1/2 of the books I start. I have a deep-seated belief that life is too short to read bad books. If I don’t like it, I leave it. Unless I feel compelled to finish it in order to convince others NOT to read it.  I enjoyed this series immensely. Whether or not I would finish was never a question.

How much did I like it? I stopped reading a Harry Potter book to take on this series. And I didn’t miss HP at all. Friends, there is no higher praise.

And that's coming from THIS chick.

And that’s coming from THIS chick.

*** One book I do hope debuts on every bestseller list is Allie Brosh’s upcoming work.

**** Note: I said vanity self-pub. Not all self-pub is created equally. There are plenty of writers who self publish to retain more control over their material who still invest the time and money to produce high quality work.

“As petty and mercurial as a poorly socialized toddler.”

The Big ReapYou know those books that you want to tell everyone to read, but when asked to describe what they’re about, you kind of draw a blank because even tiny details venture into spoiler territory?  Chris F. Holm’s third book in The Collector series, The Big Reap, is one of those books.

Let me backtrack a bit, stay with me.

Last summer I read Dead Harvest, then a few months later got my hands on an ARC of The Wrong Goodbye.  Both made my end of the year lists for all the right reasons.  I’ve been waiting as patiently as possible for The Big Reap to pop up on NetGalley and on Tuesday morning I woke up to no less than 3 (THREE!) people letting me know it was available (sidenote:  Do I have friends that know me, or what?).

Thanking my lucky stars that Angry Robot has me on autoapprove, I ran downstairs, booted up my laptop and added it to my reader.

I then spent the next 43 hours ignoring things that needed to be done around the house, and only took brief breaks to sleep, eat, write ranty posts and pretend to my kids that I wouldn’t rather be reading.

Was it worth the wait?  Oh, hell yes.

So now it falls to me to try to convince you all that this book is perfect for your summer reading lists without spoiling the crap out of it.

And that’s the problem.

All of the things that impressed me the most, that will stick with me and cause me to re-read the series again from the beginning are things that you don’t want to know going in.

I thought when I started reading that I could tell everyone this would be a decent place to start, that reading the first two books wouldn’t be necessary because this stands so well on its own.

Heh, SO.  WRONG.

I mean, okay – so the recap of the previous two is handled deftly and in such a manner that you won’t be LOST if you don’t read them BUT the final third won’t have as much impact if you’re going in blind.

Here’s what you need to know before starting:

Sam Thornton made some poor decisions in life, for the best possible reasons.  Because of those poor decisions, he’s stuck spending his afterlife as a Collector for Hell.  He tracks down the people who’s souls are owed, working alongside his handler, Lilith (yes, THAT Lilith).  The first book deals with a Collection that shouldn’t be happening, the second is more of a buddy film road-trip.  Both are excellent, but neither are as good as this one.

We get the story of Sam’s first ever Collection, and OH MAN IS IT A DOOZY.  There are other things that all tie back into what we’ve read before, and you really get a sense that the development we see here has been building since book one.

The Big Reap is the most ambitious of Holm’s Collector stories so far, and the payoff at the end is huge.  HUGE.

What I think you should all do is set aside a portion of your summer for these books.  This one drops July 30, so go get the first two AS SOON AS YOU FINISH READING THIS (the paperbacks are less than $8 and the kindle editions are $4.19 right now, you can’t afford not to get them, really), then pre-order The Big Reap.

You can thank me later.

…or, I mean – you can thank Holm for writing the stories, but THEN you can thank me for making you read them.

[pats self on the back for not giving anything away]