My Favorite SFF Books Read in 2018
Christmas was, of course, last week. If any of you readers are like me, you asked for--and hopefully received!--a lot of books for the holiday this year. Never mind that I'm a Buddhist and don't believe in God or their controversial demigods, I will take any excuse to beg for books. And spend time on family, I guess.
For me personally, 2019 seems to the be the year that I should really consider getting an extra bookshelf rather than just piling all the books in my room. But before we move forward, I thought it would be fun to look back on the best sci-fi and fantasy books I personally read and reviewed in 2018.
Note: these are in no particular order. Don't ask me to choose my singular favorite or to even vaguely list them. That'd be like torture.
Another note: these are all books that I read in 2018. While some of them did come out this year, some are a few years older. But they're included in this list because it's my blog and therefore follows my rules of time, space, and physics. Enjoy!
Throne of Glass Series
The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
By Fire Above
Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze
The Nemesis series
What were your favorite books from this year? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to my reading list!
Bestselling Paranormal Romance Author MaryJanice Davidson (a.k.a. "Mom")
It's probably cheesy and/or cheating to ask my mom--who happens to be an international bestselling author--to be subjected to an interview on my blog. But I'm behind on my reading list and frankly just want the week to be over so I can take a break, gorge on holiday food, and rip open Christmas presents like I'm five. Hence, interview.
MaryJanice Davidson (yes, she is actually my mother) hit the bestselling list with her Undead series, starring shoe-loving vampire Betsy Taylor, and has managed to stay on that list for over a decade. The Undead series lasted for thirteen books, and she has published several dozen more in the paranormal romance genre, including mermaids, fairies, and therapists who specialize in reincarnation (see book cover).
And I know, I know. "Chris, you hate romance. WTF are you doing letting a romance author onto your blog?"
I'm sure I'll be asking myself that very question for the rest of my life. Less the "romance author" part and more "your mother" part. And I don't so much hate romance as I'm sick of cliched romantic subplots where none should be. But something Mom and I have in common is a disdain for sexist tropes and cliches. Those things are banned from both of our writings.
So without further ado, here is my interview with MaryJanice Davidson.
Other than finally kicking me and my brother out of the nest so you and Dad get some peace and quiet, what cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve mastered my late mother-in-law’s famous Andes Mint Chocolate Cookies, as well as her apple pudding. It took a few tries, but I nailed it, baby!
On the off-chance this question was career-related, I just signed a 3-book contract for a shapeshifter trilogy; the first will be out late next year. The heroine is a social worker for the foster care system, except this foster care is set up for shifter minors. The next two paragraphs are straight from my pitch to the editor.
“We all know there's a dark web, a deep web, a super-duper secret web, a fifth column, a shadow government, black market cheese and underground wrestling, but there’s also a foster care system set up for vulnerable/dangerous minors. And not just any minors: shapeshifters. And not just shapeshifters: traumatized shifters who would be incredibly dangerous to others even without PTSD.
“Like any underground organization, it runs parallel (but unnoticed) beside the foster care system for "Normies". And while shifters only make up a small percentage of the population, that's still a lot of orphans to keep track of. Enter Annette Garsea, werebear caseworker for the Interspecies Placement Agency, who was once in the foster system herself after her parents were killed in Yosemite. (“Poachers?” “No. Car accident.”)”
My agent has also gotten me a new book deal for my time-travel romance, A CONTEMPORARY ASSHAT AT THE COURT OF HENRY VIII. They’re still wrangling over details, but hopefully that’ll be out late next year as well. This book, FYI, would not have come about without your excellent advice. Also, you’re entitled to nothing. NOTHING.
I’m entitled to bragging rights and the ability to hold that little tidbit of info over your head forever. So there!
(For those scratching their heads, I'm the one who came up with the idea that sparked Contemporary Asshat. Basically, Mom loves Tudor history, but her writing style is so not historical fiction. So I asked why she didn't do the writing equivalent of Drunk History in her writing. It...got out of hand.)
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
Right now, book one of my FosterWere trilogy, and I’m writing some short stories for Amazon. It’s a lot of fun, because before now, if you only had one or two short stories, you had to wait until you had enough for an anthology. Amazon lets me publish stand-alone shorts, which has been pretty satisfying. You can check them out below, and a number of them are free when you click here.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
Overly descriptive descriptions. If your hero is building a fire, I don’t need to know that he bought the wood from the gas station and that he’s annoyed there wasn’t enough birch and that he prefers using grill lighters over fireplace matches and that he’s not even sure why he wants to build a fire because it’s fifty degrees outside and also he should probably call someone to do a proper chimney inspection now where did he put that kindling and where are all the old newspapers he saved for just this occasion?
That? All that? That’s like death to me. If you have to tell me about his fire, at least get him laid or blow something up. Don’t talk about birch.
So you're saying that if I want to guarantee that you don't read a book I write that may or may not be a thinly-veiled autobiography and/or be chuck full of sex scenes I just have to make the first chapter super descriptive? Good to know!
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
Well, as I told you ad nauseum when you were growing up, I started writing when I was 13 and never stopped. It was always my dream to get published, so much so that I skipped college to focus on writing and modeling and eating and while that worked out for me and our family, you should definitely go to college even though I didn’t. (See? I’ll bet the déjà vu is setting in already.) (Spoiler alert: You went to college!)
Yeah, it's weird that I'm the first member of your family to get a four-year degree, and yet I'm the most broke due to being a millennial. I feel cheated. Can I get a refund?
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about? Why?
Too late, I already did! It’s called Escape the Slush Pile, and it’s about how to get published. Basically, I wrote the book I wished I’d been able to use as a resource when I was struggling to get published.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
Um. No. That has never happened. Ever. They’re not real. They control nothing. This is a weird question. Is this a problem you’re having with your characters? Talk to Mommy.
If I ever come up with a character who has the power to destroy worlds and becomes sentient enough to understand they’re in a book and battles with me every night to escape said book to take over the Earth and become goddess of the universe, then I’ll let you know. Probably. And no, I’m not at all exhausted because I fight an imaginary goddess every night. Why do you ask?
Anyway. What kind of impact do you want your book(s) to have on readers?
All I can ask for is the impact I’ve already had. Because I’m rampantly immature, all my books are comedies, and I’ve heard from readers who take them to dialysis and chemo simply because they know they’re guaranteed a giggle. And not just at all the plot holes I forgot to fill. I also heard from a reader whose best friend had been raped the year before, and apparently when her friend picked up one of my books, it was the first time she’d laughed since the trial.
That’s more than I could ever have hoped for. All I ever wanted to do was be a storyteller. I never thought past getting published, never mind contemplating the impact my work would have on readers. It’s humbling beyond belief, and I’ll never take it for granted.
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
Quitting a project you’re sick of in order to start something new. Look, I get it. You are sick to death of the book you’ve been pounding away at for months. Just the thought of getting back in the harness that day makes you shudder. And there are soooo many other book ideas you could be writing down! And the one you’re writing is tired and unoriginal and just ugh.
That’s not the answer, that’s the opposite of the answer, that’s poison. Nine times out of ten, all that will get you is a stack of unfinished manuscripts. And trust me, when you’re trying to get an editor or an agent, the last thing they want to hear is about this wonderful book that you know they’ll love...that you haven’t bothered finishing. Even if you hate the thing, even if you wish you’d never started it, get it done. Even if it sucks, a terrible finished book is a lot better than an incredible unfinished one. That’s what editors are for.
Yeah, I'm guilty of that...
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Yes: do not give up. I collected rejection slips for ten years. I didn’t get published until I was 33. If I’d quit at any time before that, I’d be miserable in a dead-end job somewhere and you might be flipping burgers. (You’re welcome!)
Have you ever written me into your stories? If so, how much of a devil-child are they?
I tried it once, with your brother, and regretted it immediately. It felt weird to write about my heroine wanting to have sex with the guy named after my son. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. Never again, which goes for both of you.
However, Jennifer Scales, the heroine of the Weredragon series your dad and I wrote together, definitely has a lot of you in her. All the parts where she doesn’t listen to her betters, for example. And there’s probably some good stuff in there, I dunno...
And yet, she still manages to kick ass and save her friends and dragon community multiple times. Weird how that works...
As I've said before, I don't read your books because I don't want to run across an explicit scene written by my mother as inspired by my father.--
Yes. You’ve been very explicit about that. Which is always hilarious, BTW.
—Are there any books/stories you've written that would be ideal for people as squeamish as me?
Yes, definitely. The Jennifer Scales series is boner-free! They’re fantasy/YA, and the most characters do is kiss, and it takes them a few books to get around to that much. You can check them out here.
Who do you like better: me or my brother? :P
How could you even ask me that? Your brother, obviously.
Wow. See if I ever invite you onto my blog again.
If you could have a dinner with one fictional person, who would it be? Why?
Jesus. Soooooo many questions. Were you in love with Mary Magdalene? Was Judas a dick to everyone, or just you? What is up with your father????
Oh! I'm inviting Buddha (even though I don't think he's fictional because I am actually a Buddhist) and Tyrion Lannister. Make it a party!
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
A pilot’s license. Or tact. No, the flying thing. Definitely. Which I would use to fly. Because why else would anyone get licensed?
Aaaaand there goes my will to get on an airplane ever again.
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
Telekinesis, definitely. To turn off lights when I’m already in bed. Yes, I know there is technology that can do this, but why do I need tech? I’m freakin’ telekinetic!
So you would want a superpower to increase your laziness? Sounds about right.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
That unlike Betsy, the heroine of my Undead series, I don’t care about shoes. At all. Oh, and I’m an excellent cook. And an indifferent wife and mother. Wait, that last one might not surprise anyone...
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Get off your butt and do stuff. Even if you just drive to a nursing home to donate your old books.
Put your grocery cart back. I don’t care if it’s snowing and windy. Put the stupid thing back! It takes ten seconds!
Try not to entirely screw up your children.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
They all suck.
That’s it. You’re banned from my blog forever.
MaryJanice Davidson is an international best-selling author whose books have been translated into several languages and are available in 15 countries. She writes a bi-weekly column for USA Today, and frequently speaks to book clubs, writer's groups, teaches writing workshops, and attends conferences all over the world. She has been sentenced to a husband, children, and dogs in St. Paul, MN, and loves hearing from readers. You can reach her at email@example.com, find out more about her work at amazon.com/author/maryjanicedavidson, and check out her blog at http://maryjanicedavidson.blogspot.com/. Interested in booking MaryJanice for your conference or workshop? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to connect?
Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass series) by Sarah J. Maas
I've had conflicting views on this series as a whole, which I've made very clear in my overall series review and my LSQ article "How NOT to Write Romantic Subplots," and all of those views and emotions came to a head in this book.
Mind-bending plot twists? Check.
Aelin being awesome along with Maeve being a bitch? Check.
Unnecessary use of romantic subplots that honestly make me wish several of these characters would just die already? Check and mate.
If you follow my YouTube channel, you may have caught my review for Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, where I was endlessly frustrated not just by the books, but the fact that all of my problems with those books were major spoilers. So I kind of had to dance around them in my review while making it clear that there were some major issues. Well, it's the same thing with KoA: all of my complaints are spoilers, and I pledge myself to spoiler-free reviews. Which means this review is going to be short, with no small amount of frustration on my end.
So let me just say this: Sarah J. Maas needs to learn to kill off major characters. She uses the "saved by last-minute reinforcements" trope a few too many times in this book, and it kills the tension. Not to mention it makes this book incredibly crowded. When she does kill a character, it loses its impact because there are a dozen other characters for us to root for. To be completely honest, this is a big problem in the series as a whole. The only major characters she's killed this entire series are Nehemia and Sorscha. Remember them? I sure don't! Because there are too many goddamn characters!
And that...is my only real complaint, other than the usual "too many romantic subplots, not enough murder" bickering that's usually in my reviews, and I've already slammed into Maas for it on my BitchShelf column.
As usual, Maas has excellent characterization and pacing. I think my favorite part of this book is the temporary team-up between Dorian and Maeve. Yes, you read that right. Dorian and Maeve team up for a few chapters against Erawan, and it is incredible. I love the "bad guy and good guy are forced to work together against a worst guy" trope, and seeing Dorian and Maeve trying to manipulate each other while also manipulating Erawan was the highlight of my day.
I'll stop now because I'm dangerously close to spoiler territory. Bottom line: I do recommend this book and the series as a whole. It has it flaws, but it's still a good read. Anyone who's into YA fantasy will want this on their bookshelf.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!