Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the best book you read last month?

FanLit Readers' Favorites!It’s the first Thursday of the month. You know what that means. Time to report!

What is the best book you read in September 2014 and why did you love it? It doesn’t have to be a newly published book, or even SFF. We just want to share some great reading material. Feel free to post a full review of the book here, or a link to the review on your blog, or just write a few sentences about why you thought it was awesome.

(And don’t forget that we always have plenty more reading recommendations on our Fanlit Faves page and our 5-Star SFF page. And we’ve also got a constantly updating list of new and forthcoming releases.)

As always, one commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

We’ve got a couple of giveaways still current. Find those here!

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  1. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.

    This was his first published book, but it was the only one I hadn’t read yet. My wife surprised me with it (I’m a lucky man).

    It wasn’t my favorite of his, but I still really enjoyed it.

    • I read and loved Annie Bellet’s Justice Calling. It’s more novella than novel, but it’s a full plot arc and full of geekery, which I love. There are a lot of references to gaming andSci-Fi that, as a geek girl, I found unique and really fun. The author wove all this into a good story that touches off her series. I liked her interesting take on magic, the easy worldbuild that isn’t a chore to figure out, and her main character. I love a butt-kicking heroine. Overall, I found the book refreshing, fun, and hard to put down.

  2. I’ve read the final book of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy: Acceptance. Here’s a quick review of the trilogy as a whole.

    It’s sort of an experimental sci-fi series; all three books were released this year a few months apart, in custom sized trade paperbacks with striking, solid color covers. They’re each 200-400 pages: fairly quick reads. And they’re each deceptive and disquieting in their own way.

    Plot-wise, there’s an area, called Area X, consisting of a hundred or so square miles composed of natural landscape: forest, marsh, fields, ocean shore. (Vandermeer has said one inspiration for the story was a hike he took through a natural area.) There are a lighthouse, an abandoned village, an island, and a tower (tunnel?). Area X is enclosed by a border and can be entered through a door. The area is managed and studied by a government organization called the Southern Reach. The first novel concerns the twelfth expedition into the area, consisting of a biologist (who narrates the story), a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a psychologist, all women.

    It would be hard to nail down genre, but psychological horror comes close. The novels aren’t really under-the-sheets scary as much as they generate a profound uneasiness, a sense of paranoia, a hallucinogenic, spiraling, looming aspect. The things that happen are both surprising and almost exactly what you expected (or feared), although it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what is actually happening. Vandermeer manages the neat trick of keeping you off-balance by layering details on a scene or occurrence that don’t quite agree with each other (or do they?) He’s able (somewhat like David Lynch) to infuse the mundane (e.g. a mosquito smashed on a windshield) with foreboding. He signals the mental state of his characters with the pace and focus of the narration. The narration itself is unreliable: are the characters telling the truth? are they leaving out important details? is what they’re perceiving really happening? It’s unclear. It’s almost like, more important than just telling a story, the author is interested in invoking emotion or perception or a particular mental state in the reader.

    Each book expands on the milieu defined by the previous one, like circular ripples in a still, bottomless pool of water from which something has just emerged (or descended into), or somewhat like the layered narratives in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. And each has a substantially different tone; a sharp turn in the madness: different ways of narrating, different points-of-view. Time, space, and personality are slippery concepts in the narrative, used like threads to loop back into previous events and draw the whole tightly together. The story is punctuated throughout with oblique philosophical ruminations on life (in the biological sense), personality, inevitability, communication, and perception, most often presented through metaphor, or alluded to indirectly in a character’s thoughts. Vandermeer never insults the reader’s intelligence with overt exposition or direct asides. And the conclusion to the trilogy manages to avoid feeling like a let-down. It is strangely satisfying, matching well the tone of the whole without devolving into cliche or petering off into nothing.

    This series is probably the coolest thing I’ve read in the last couple of years. It’s pretty literary, with spare, evocative prose, like poetry without actually being poetry. Excellent and highly recommended.

  3. Without a doubt, Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb. These were re-reads for me and they were just as wonderful as I remembered.

  4. Tie between THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison, CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett, and ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie.

    It was a good reading month.

  5. Three good ones: Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire, both entries in her October Daye series; and Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, who seems to be topping herself with every new book she writes.

  6. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss–each of which deals with, coincidentally, magical mysteries long-hidden underground.

  7. Vojislav Stojković /

    September was an exceptionally good month. I read “Lock In” by John Scalzi, “Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell and “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. If I had to rank them, “Station Eleven” and “Lock In” would come in tied for first place.

    I loved all three of them, but “Bone Clocks” had pacing that made me feel frustrated at times, so I can’t put it in first place.

    As for choosing between “Lock In” and “Station Eleven”, this one is entirely up to your literary palate. Both are exceptionally good and leave you deep in thought about our society and all the things we take for granted, but their tones are very different. If you’ll forgive me a musical metaphor, “Lock In” is like listening to Dream Theater, whereas “Station Eleven” is like listening to Mike Oldfield. Both are complex, both make great music, but one is a bit more “action-oriented” than the other ;)

  8. April /

    I looked over my Goodreads list of books read for September and was pretty surprised to find that all but one were four and five star reads. And the one was a three star so this was a pretty decent month. I won’t bore you with a full list but just with the three five stars:

    The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler – book two of a very interesting, fun and different fantasy. The characters make this along with excellent dialogue and cleverness.

    The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman – this was an audiobook for younger readers but loads of fun. A library that loans out objects rather than books and that has special collections of objects based on fairy tales that seem to also be magical. I just finished the second book, The Wells Bequest and it was just as good, if not better, than the first.

    Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire – third in her InCriptid series but with a new and male protag. I actually found it to be more enjoyable than the first two.

  9. This month I read a lot of books that were good, or even really good, but not GREAT. I think my favorite from this month was Love Minus Eighty. When it comes to science fiction, I prefer the more society-centered books, or the ones that tell us about the people and how the futuristic technology affects them. I really loved all the characters, the plot moved at a fast pace for me, and I liked the morbid touch for the romantic comedy (or tragedy).
    I also read and loved Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, but I have a lot of reservations (especially with the first half of the book).

  10. I finished two books in September: In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker and The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. In the Garden of Iden was up and down. The first quarter and the last quarter were pretty good. Everything in between was slow and sluggish for me. The Last Kingdom, the first book in Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, was excellent. It’s the 3rd book I’ve read by Cornwell and each one has been better than the last. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work.

  11. Trey Palmer /

    Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
    I’ve been binge reading on the Craft Sequence and by far, that was the best thing I’ve read this month.

  12. August and September were amazing months for books. Certainly World of Trouble and Lock In were up there, but I also read Queen of the Tearling and was delighted and surprised by how much I liked it.

  13. RedEyedGhost /

    The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham – fantastic book to a series that is rapidly climbing to the top of my all time favorites. I can’t wait until book 5 is released next year!

  14. Melanie Goldmund /

    I read a lot of books in September, trying out lots of different authors, but I gave most of them three stars on Goodreads, because they were, well, good but not spectacular.

    The best one was On the Steel Breeze, by Alastair Reynolds. This is an author that I didn’t have to “try out” because I’d already done that years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

    I also really liked A Plunder of Souls, by D.B. Jackson, Wisp of a Thing, by Alex Bledsoe, and Survival, by Julie Czerneda.

  15. Nicholas Talty /

    All readers are a bit different when it comes to what they truly value in a ‘good read’. I know that for me, good storytelling is certainly the first most important aspect, but abutted against this would be quality, well-thought and well-edited prose. My all-time favorite novel by Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind, is a very good example of the kind of book that I crave. On top of telling a relatable, engrossing tale, his prose often flirts with the fringes of poetry, providing a thorough example of how artistic storytelling can be. Even the most mundane of his sentences can be intoxicating, causing my mind to not just want to consume the story, but literally feast on each and every word. I struggle when either of these aspects are lacking.

    For example, Brandon Sanderson is an author that I sometimes struggle with. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a genius, and I want to adopt his imagination and implant it in my own mind because he comes up with the most creative and, for the lack of a better word, cool magic-systems and worlds. Oftentimes, his characters come through as a bit flat though, and his writing style is consumeristic and sub-par. It takes me a while to get through his books because of this. On the other hand, an author like Stephen Hunt who wrote The Court of the Air, and has often been compared to Charles Dickens, writes fantastically beautiful prose, but his storytelling struggles and fails to hook most readers. There needs to be a healthy balance of both for me.

    So, to the point, what was the best book I read this September and why did I love it? I’ve read many great books lately, such as Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, and I am currently reading The Way of Kings by Sanderson and City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (all three I’d recommend to most readers,) but I think Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades would be the best for last month.

    I recently had the privilege to go to a small book reading hosted by Staveley in rural Vermont. It was a really different experience for me, as I was one of 13 people. It felt very intimate, and instead of being a face in the crowd, he learned our names and actively incorporated us in his reading. He talked about inspirations that he used for his writing, drawing a lot from ancient Tao and Buddhist philosophies, Norse sagas, and Greek epics. Overall it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

    The Emperor’s Blades satisfies my craving for fantastic prose intermingled into engrossing storytelling. It is the story of three children of the Emperor; Adare, the fervent politician, Kalen, a Shin monk-in-training, and Valyn, a Kettral wing-leader. The Emperor is dead (don’t worry, for those who haven’t read, this happens at the very beginning), and there is a plot to finish off the hui’Malkeenian dynasty. The story absorbs the reader from the very beginning, constantly feeding the desire to unearth the secret plot. Staveley does a wonderful job developing an intricate world, distinct cultures, and pseudo-religions which directs the reader toward some incredibly deep questions. As well, he is extremely crafty with his characters, developing them in a way that they begin to question their own moral standings, and as we discover who they are, they also discover who they are. Staveley was kind to give me a copy of his next book, The Providence of Fire, at the reading last week, and I cannot wait to dive back into the mystery. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest in fantasy, science fiction, or even mystery. But be warned, at the close of the first book, you will desperately be craving the next installment in the series.

    • Conal O'Neill /

      I just started the Emperor’s Blades and hope I enjoy it as much as you.

  16. kameo /

    Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. All of his books are masterpieces.

  17. Ha ha! Guess who re-read Kushiel’s Dart? I added audio for this (3rd/4th?) read and it was just as good as the 1st time around.

    I also re-read The Magister Trilogy by CS Friedman.

    My new entry was The Winter Long (October Daye #8) and positively belongs on the ‘best’ shelf.

    Let me also say that I don’t find Sanderson’s books ‘consumerist or sub-par’ in any way and am happy to put most of his books on my ‘best’ shelf as well.

    • Nicholas Talty /

      His stories are wonderful. They’re imaginative, creative, and he truly comes up with novel worlds and magic systems. I simply meant that the writing itself isn’t as artistic as some of my favorites. He is certainly one of the ‘greats’ of this generation of fantasy though.

      • Nicholas – have you read his Rithmatist YA? I found it to be one of his best and nobody ever mentions it when they discuss him.

  18. Loved! Loved! Loved the Rithmatist. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  19. Conal O'Neill /

    Most of my reading in September encompassed re-reads but I did enjoy both A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller which is the first novel released in the new canon of the Star Wars Universe as well as Hellhole Inferno by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson which is the finale in this trilogy.

  20. Zen if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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