Best of 2011

It was our New Year's Resolution for 2011 to make sure that our Best of 2011 post actually made it into 2011. And yeah, we totally nailed it! (Barely)

This year was just unreal. How do you pick the best books when there were so many freaking amazing ones? The answer?

Dart-board...........OK not really. Maybe. And like usual, we cheat if an author had more than one book out.


BEST OF 2011
--These were our collective favorite reads of the year.

THE SCARAB PATH - Adrian Tchaikovsky
THE CRIPPLED GOD - Steven Erikson
VARIANT - Robison Wells
THE HEROES - Joe Abercrombie
THE DRAGON'S PATH and LEVIATHAN WAKES - Daniel Abraham, James S. A. Corey
EMBASSYTOWN - China MiƩville
IRON JACKAL - Chris Wooding

HONORABLE MENTIONS--any other year these would have made our "Best Of" list (and that list is already crazy awesome and long!!!!!):

THE ALLOY OF LAW - Brandon Sanderson
STONEWIELDER - Ian C. Esslemont
DEADLINE by Mira Grant you can see this year was just AMAZING. The books above are a mix of all the reviewers' various picks. We feel absolutely horrible for leaving off any other awesome books, but we had to cut it off somewhere.


COMING IN 2012...

After the year we just had, you'd think we'd be jaded. No freaking way. 2012 is set to blow our (and therefore, your) minds!

REPUBLIC OF THIEVES by Scott Lynch (for real this time)
THE KING'S BLOOD by Daniel Abraham
CALIBAN'S WAR by James S. A. Corey
BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH by Alastair Reynolds
THE GAMES by Ted Kosmatka
FORGE OF DARKNESS by Steven Erikson
A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
A RED COUNTRY by Joe Abercrombie
THE SEA WATCH by Adrian Tchaikovsky
ORB SCEPTRE THRONE by Ian C. Esslemont
THE BONEYARDS by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
THE CHOSEN SEED by Sarah Pinborough
BLACKOUT by Mira Grant

There are a bajillion other books coming out next year that we didn't list. Let's face it, we are book readers. There are probably dozens more books coming out y our favorite authors that we don't even know are coming out yet. That's the nature of the game.

So, sound off in the comments below about your own choices for best of the year and which ones you are the most excited for.


You know him for his Science Fiction like THE DERVISH HOUSE and others, but now Ian McDonald invades YA territory with PLANESRUNNER and a world where the Earth exists in almost limitless parallel universes.

Our PoV character is teenage Everett Singh, soccer goalie, science smarty-pants, and son of the brilliant Tejendra Singh, who created the infundibulum--a sort of map to the parallel universes, or "planes". Before now only the ten Earths that have been able to create gateways can visit each other, but with Tejendra's invention any earth can be jumped to. But agents from the E2 plane will do anything to get the infundibulum, even kidnap Tejendra from under Everett's very nose. Little do they know that it's Everett who his dad left it to for safekeeping, and he'll do anything to rescue his dad.

The majority of the book is spent in E2, where electricity was discovered in the 1789, and as a result oil-related technology was never developed...including plastic. In this Steampunk-like world Everett befriends the eclectic Sen, the teenage pilot of the cargo airship Everness, and via her a new family among the airship's small crew.

PLANESRUNNER was fun to read, with a creative mix of Steampunk and SF, and after visiting E2, I expect Everett will jump to other planes, so I'm looking forward to reading about those--he leaves hints for what the other earths would be like. The science is interesting and explained without feeling like it's over my head. And following Everett's adventures felt realistic, although he seemed a little too smart for a teenage boy.

Everett is a well-drawn character, but my favorite is Sen, the snarky bohemian orphan, who finds Everett fascinating, and is quickly drawn into his predicament. The other characters add eclectic flair: Captain Sixsmyth, the young captain of the Everness and her sense of honor; Mr. Sharkey, the American "gentleman" who spews bible verse; Mchynlyth, the Scottish engineer; and Charlotte Villiers, the E2 agent with the killer shoes and fascinators who is determined to get the infundibulum.

The storytelling itself is almost stream-of-consciousness as Everett goes off on tangents in the middle of the action--which is stylistically reminiscent of McKinley's DRAGONHAVEN. I like it, but it may frustrate some readers as it slows the story's pace. McDonald also has the habit of stringing scenes one after another, making the pacing lumpy and disconnected feeling, although by the end it makes sense. One other problem is Sen's frequent use of slang. While it adds "authenticity" it can get confusing; fortunately the book contains a dictionary of slang terms.

Despite the jumble of events, they lead up to an exciting ending, where Everett is backed into a corner with no obvious solution. And while there's no clear "win", and McDonald leaves the ending open for the following books in the series, it is a fun ride.

Recommended Age: 13+, more for comprehension than content
Language: None
Violence: Some fisticuffs and peril, but no blood and gore
Sex: Teenage hormones, but no direct references or innuendo

Buy the book here:


Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE, by Ernest Cline, is a book I'd come across in various online blogs and forums. Going into it, I knew it was some sort of love letter to 80s pop culture. Since I'm sort of an 80s pop culture nut myself, I figured I'd give it a go.

What I got was so much more.

There are few books these days that can make me stay up late, read during breakfast, and keep reading during my lunch breaks (or skip my lunch breaks altogether). This is one such book. I finished it in under a day. Once I started reading, I just had to know what happened next.

Part of this is due to the great, simple setup: it's the future. A Steve Jobs-like man (James Halliday) has just died. He created the basis for the world wide virtual world everyone calls their home away from home now. He'd become a recluse, and he had an enormous fortune--and no heirs. So on his death, he announced that he'd hidden the fortune somewhere in his virtual reality. He'd left clues to find it. Whoever gets it first wins.

So a very clearly defined objective. Super.

It also helps that Ernest Cline (the author) gives us a main character in Wade Watts that is so easy to relate to. He's a senior in high school who has an awful life. Abusive foster parents, terrible living conditions, very little hope of ever breaking free. So of course he dreams of winning this contest. The book is in first person, and the immediacy that brings keeps everything moving quickly.

And what a contest it is. Halliday was obsessed with the 80s. He loved it. And so all his clues are hidden in layers of 80s nostalgia. Since such a great fortune is on the line, the earth as a whole suddenly takes a huge interest in 80s nostalgia, too. You've got more pop culture references than you can believe, on so many different layers. But it's all well-incorporated, and explained for those who don't get the references. Again, the explanations aren't burdensome--they work.

Naturally, every good story must have a great villain, and in this case, it's a rival company--the rights to Halliday's virtual software are on the line, too--and they want them. If they get them, they're going to start raising prices on what everyone has come to view as a basic right: a free virtual world, with access to all. The company starts buying up competitors, recruiting the best of the best to come work for them and help solve the puzzle. These are mean, nasty people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty if it'll get them ahead in the game. There are no rules. They do whatever they can to win.

Now remember: I'm a pop culture nut myself, and I love me some 80s, so this was a bowl full of Crunchberries for me. But I imagine that it would be bliss for just about anybody. The pacing is great and the mystery is well-developed. Like I said, I don't remember a book that's gotten me this involved in a long time. It also helps that on top of all this the story is great science fiction as well. Cline has created a very believable world not too far in our future, and I wondered throughout just how close to reality his predictions will become. Some of it is bleak, but some of it also had me wishing there was a fast forward button to life.

Are there weaknesses? Hardly any. The ending is perhaps a bit more schmaltzy than I'd like. But we're talking the last page or two, and even that was probably me just being sorry to see the book come to a close. READY PLAYER ONE is a blast of a read, and if any of this review has sounded even remotely interesting to you, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.

Recommended Age:
14 and up.
Language: Some naughty words of all the varieties you can think of, but nothing too prevalent.
Violence: Video game-esque, although there are some real world violent scenes, too. Still, nothing too gory or gruesome.
Sex: Very minor. A few references here and there, but nothing in scene.

Want to grab this book? Here's the link:


The Crimson Pact, Volume 2

I had massive reservations about trying to review this one. Yes, I reviewed the first volume, and so it only makes sense that I should review the second...and yet... How does one go about reviewing a short-story anthology that includes the first authorial offering of one’s near-perfect boss? Or even how does one have the audacity to review such an anthology that is so closely connected to the review site itself? I mean it. How do you even start to tackle something like that? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. So, I’m just going to tell you what I thought about it--straight up--and hope that it comes across well.

THE CRIMSON PACT, VOL 2 is a continuation of the demon-themed anthology offered in VOL 1, both edited by Paul Genesse. For those that haven’t read VOL 1, the premise of the over-arching story is that a certain number of knights have pledged themselves to fighting against a horde of demons that has decimated their world and then fled into the multi-verse. These knights are The Crimson Pact.

The stories in both volumes give you a range of offerings--from fantasy to science fiction, from epic to flash--and usually stay with that theme of demons. One of the new facets of this volume is that several of the stories were continuations from the first volume. I was interested in seeing where a number of these stories would go, but mostly seeing where the anthology would go as a whole. Would it develop that theme of the Crimson Pact more, or would it just be another bundle of demon stories?

For me, a majority of this anthology was a pretty big let down, with an even showing in the Didn’t Like, Mediocre, and Liked categories. This kind of variation is partially to be expected, as this is a collection of stories from not only lots of different authors but also from a lot of new authors. The main focus of my disappointment came from the fact that I had liked a much larger portion of the stories in VOL 1.

There were four stories in VOL 2 that I really liked, and one that completely blew all of the others away in a wispy cloud of chaff. I’ll mention those here.

“Still Life” by Steve Diamond is about an FBI detective that is dealing with the trauma of having his seven-year old son taken from him, the connection of that abduction to a criminal named The Photographer, and the ultimate resolution to the long-standing case. This story was killer. I loved it unabashedly. And yes, Steve is my boss here at EBR. Have I been obvious enough about that?

“Dark Archive” by Sarah Kanning is a continuation of a story that I enjoyed in VOL 1 and deals with the fallout of what happened to the main character, Danielle, and her connection to the magical book being held in the library where she works. Not to mention the demon that is now caged within her. This one started great, and even though it ended a bit abruptly, I really liked where this story went.

“Trail of Blood” by Alex Haig is one of the few flash stories that I enjoyed. It’s a western-themed, trailing-the-bad-guy epic that really caught me up in its grip. It had a feel similar to King’s The Gunslinger, which I really enjoyed. It also introduced the wider story behind this one in very few words, making a quick believer out of me. More of this in future Crimson Pact anthologies would be welcome.

“Seven Dogs” by Suzanne Myers is a continuation of a story from VOL 1 that I didn’t remember at all. In my defense, it was one of the shorter pieces. Anyhow, this one had some great atmosphere that painted the picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which seven demon-dogs are trying to destroy the remaining vestige of humanity on a far-flung planet. It had this science-fiction flair and sense of foreboding that was just great. Not to mention the plight of the hunted, which I loved.

And then there’s the last. Yeah. My opinion of this story was the kicker when I first sat down to write this review, because not only was my boss’s story really good, but his co-authored story absolutely knocked it out of the park. Yup, that’s right. The best one of the bunch is:

“Son of Fire, Son of Thunder” by Steve Diamond and Larry Correia. I mean, just wow. This story comes from a combination of the character that Steve gave us in “Still Life” and Larry Correia’s Diego Santos, a United States Marine that has been shown exactly how and when he will die. In typical Correia fashion, this offering to the reading masses was a glorious feast of hot lead and biting humor that brought these two characters into the same demon-killing shooting range. So much fun to be had with this one. I seriously need some more of this. Like now.

So can you see now where I was coming from at the beginning of the review? Just frustrating! The really tough part is that without the one-two punch of "Still Life" and "Son of Fire, Son of Thunder", this anthology would have landed solidly in the Mediocre range for me. On the whole, VOL 2 is just another demon anthology. I’d love to see something more pointed in the direction of the Crimson Pact. I can totally understand wanting to keep the anthology general enough that a wide array of author-hopefuls could contribute, but in order for it to stand out, for me, I think it needs a bit more direction.

Still, for five bucks? The two best stories in the anthology make it worth every one of those pennies. I just hope you can take all this for what it is: my honest opinion.

Okay, Steve, you can put that lightning bolt away now.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Some of the stories are fairly profane, but in general there's not much
Violence: Some of the stories are pretty violent and gory/graphic
Sex: One story has a 13-year old in a sexual situation, a couple scenes

The Crimson Pact Website

Grab the collections here:


Ghost Story

I realize this review is fairly (really) late. I simply wasn't sure what I should say about Jim Butcher's latest. Overall I love this series, but there have been some moments that have driven me absolutely crazy (like the whole novel, TURN COAT). The newest Dresden Files novel, GHOST STORY, is not the absolute best in the series, but is isn't the worst either. In the end, it's fairly solid.

What GHOST STORY amounts to is "It's a Wonderful Life, Dresden Edition"...kinda.

Coming right out the gate I'm just going to say there are some spoilers in here. If you haven't read the past few novels, then I'm going to ruin a few things for you. There's no way around it, and frankly if you are reading this review of the thirteenth novel in the series without having read the rest of them...well, you deserve to have some stuff spoiled. So there.

Harry Dresden is dead. He's a freaking ghost. At the end of CHANGES he gets totally shot and we are left wondering what the heck happened to our snarky hero. So GHOST STORY is essentially about Harry being a ghost and attempting to solve his own murder while also trying to help the friend who he left behind when he ate a bullet. Through it all, Harry sees just how crappy Chicago and his friends are without him around.

The interaction between the physical world and the spirit world that Harry is part of is pretty well done. In addition, the way characters have changed since Harry has been gone is believable and really well done. Seeing the anger and anguish in many of these characters was fantastic. The point of it all was to allow the readers of the novel and the characters within the novel to see that Harry really was the glue holding everything together. No one acts out of character, and that consistency is really the strong point here.

Action, of course, is handled well. It has a different feel to it which was a tad refreshing for a series that has been going on as long as the Dresden Files has. There is a lot less of the overt "and then he put all of his remaining anger and emotion to cast one last spell" crap.

So, I've pointed out a lot of good stuff here. The story is solid, the characters are great, etc. But there are some things that, in my opinion, hold it back a tad. Nothing game-breaking, but there were things that bothered me.

On a minor side, the middle 100 pages of the novel are slow and repetitive. We get to see some of Harry's younger life, and while that may seem cool on the surface, old Harry just isn't near as interesting as the current Harry is (if the reverse was true, we'd have serious problems). These moments are cool on the surface, but when I sat and really thought about them I realized that they weren't really needed at all and were repetitive. Some readers will no doubt absolutely love them, but they didn't work 100% to me.

My main gripe is that I'm starting to get a little jaded to Harry's ability to be so much more clever than everyone. This drawback (in my opinion) shows it's ugly head late in the novel and darn near killed it for me. I mean, I get that he is a rock-star wizard at this point, but would it hurt to actually have him fail in a meaningful way that isn't totally swept under the rug or easily rectified later? I need that sense of danger. I need to see that Harry fail in a big way to make his accomplishments seem even better. Right now I feel I bit like I am seeing the Green Bay Packers take on a high school powder puff football team. There's just no competition for Harry.

What saves this book for me is the raw character emotion of the other characters other than Harry. The ending of GHOST STORY specifically has some real moments of pure emotion that are near perfect. It helps me overlook most of the above nit-picks that I have.

So does GHOST STORY keep the Dresden Files relevant? I think so. It's still one of the best Urban Fantasy series out there today. My opinion is that I need to start seeing a direction for the latter books in this series. I don't want things to return to the status quo in the next book, but right now that is my greatest fear for this series. Until then, GHOST STORY is well worth your time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: There can be some strong language, but it never gets out of control
Violence: Not near as bloody this time around since most things are ghosties
Sex: Far lighter of the innuendo and what not this time

If for whatever reason you are reading this review and have not started the series, well, you're crazy. Don't worry, we still love you. Here is the reading order and their Amazon links:

Short Story Collection - SIDE JOBS

Dark Descendant

Nikki Glass is a descendant of Artemis. Yes, that Artemis. But it isn't until she unwittingly becomes one of the Liberi that she becomes immortal and her powers of the hunt manifest.

The result of this sudden change in status is that the two warring groups of Liberi—who happen to be based in the Washington D.C. area—want her on their side. You see, Liberi are descendants of gods from many different pantheons (Greek, Hindu, Norse, etc.), and have inherited the abilities of their god ancestors. Unfortunately for most of them that doesn't include a sense of morality or responsibility for the human race and Nikki would be the perfect person to hunt down their enemies. She wants nothing to do with it, but they won't let her off that easily.

Jenna Black isn't new to the Urban Fantasy scene, considering her Morgan Kingsley Exorcist novels (there's a short story from CHICKS KICK BUTT). But here Nikki is less 'kick butt' than Black's previous series, and that seems to be on purpose. Sure she's a P.I., but not the take-risk type, and as a result this more about how this once normal woman must now cope with a supernatural world.

For the most part Black does pretty well. Nikki is likable (despite feeling a bit Mary Sue-ish), and her attempts to deal with the situation are believable and entertaining enough to read. The Liberi who work for Anderson Kane are the more interesting assortment of beauty, brains, and brawn, each with their unique set of abilities and personality. Black writes in black and white: the bad guys are truly evil and while the good guys aren't spotless angels, it's hard to see much grey area. Still, they are entertaining in their own way.

Black's first person narrative is straightforward and quick paced, despite hiccups in narration, the occasional suspension of belief, and the cliche prose. Black does her best to explain things (for example, why a virgin goddess has descendants in the first place), but it isn't exactly subtle. There are other oddities like how Nikki's relationship with her adoptive sister feels awkwardly written, as well as clunky references to Nikki's emotional baggage.

But by the end, Black hits her stride and delivers on all her promises in a tidy resolution, even if we're left with some questions in the end. Even better: no cliffhanger, and the book still suggests a continuing series.

This is your typical Urban Fantasy fare, but promises a new twist a la Rick Riordian. Dark Descendantis a fluffy palate cleanser with some fun ideas. But don't let yourself get caught up on the details.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A smattering of stronger profanity
Violence: Mostly peril, a few deaths, but the scenes are only moderately graphic
Sex: One of the main characters is a descendant of Eros, so there's plenty of strong innuendo and references, but no graphic scenes

Want to give this book a shot? Here's your link:

The Unincorporated Woman

In case you can’t tell from the titles, THE UNINCORPORATED WOMAN is the third in the Unincorporated series by the Kollin brothers Dani and Eytan. It follows THE UNINCORPORATED WAR which was a sequel to THE UNINCORPORATED MAN. I believe subsequent volumes will be titled The Unincorporated Gas Station and The Unincorporated (fill in here).

I kid about the titles. In all honesty I like these books overall. I was thrilled to read the first one and really rather enjoyed it. It felt like something Heinlein would have written in his prime (and that’s saying a lot). The second volume was a large departure from the tone of the series in my mind. It did some things I didn’t expect. It had one flaw that kind of irked me, but on the whole I was able to enjoy it (though not as well as the first.)

This latest book follows in much the same vein as the second book. It’s better, in my opinion, and I was happy about the changes made. I’m looking forward to the next book (which I think is the concluding volume, but don’t quote me on that), but I still wish they would get back to what made the first book so good.

The best addition in my mind to this book is the Unincorporated Woman herself. By the way I’m about to get all spoilery here on the Unincorporated War so if you haven’t read it--and plan to--then just skip to the end of the review where I’ll say, this was a fun read, and be done. If not then by all means keep reading. Where was I? Oh yeah, the Unincorporated Woman… So at the end of THE UNINCORPORATED WAR, Justin dies...well, is assassinated more accurately. So to fill a void there, another stasis pod found with another human alive from the 20th Century. It also happens to be the person that helped Justin set up his own stasis pod. Welcome back to life, Sandra.

Sandra is a much more interesting person than Justin was in the last book. We get back to the "wow" factor of someone coming back to life and experiencing this world with fresh eyes. She’s also headstrong, manipulative and brilliant. That makes for a fun character. On top of that she’s thrust into the role of president--a position that is supposed to just be a figure-head type of role with no real power, and a lot of the fun in the book comes with watching her gain some power through manipulation. I was glad to have her in the book and the series definitely took an upswing with her addition.

The rest of the book was much the same as the last. It is still fun to read about Janet Delgado winning battles and plotting the strategy of the Outer Alliance. I’ve really enjoyed the story line of the AI’s trying to keep themselves hidden from mankind while still twisting and turning events to their favor. All in all the book was fun.

I do however have the same complaints with this book that I did with the last one. The world is built upon (and indeed the war itself is being fought over the idea of) incorporation. The idea that a person can sell stock in themselves and lose the ability to make major decisions for themselves (those decisions would be left to the stock holders). The idea of buying a majority in oneself. The whole idea of running a life like a major business. What a great idea! Yet once again that idea is shoved to the background and remains completely unused. Bummer.

Other than that I have no real complaints for the book. It was a little hard to believe that a newly awoken person would be thrust into a presidency (you’d think such a job would require a basic understanding of the world they live in). But hey, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. It was fun. This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly good enough that I’ll keep buying them and enjoying the ride.

Age Recommendation: 15+ This is pretty tame stuff. A word here and there but nothing too major.
Language: A small smattering. Nothing bad.
Violence: Again nothing too harsh.
Sex: Mentioned a few times. Alluded too more than talked about.

Want to give this novel a shot? Here are the links to the various books in this series, in order:




This Shared Dream

Siblings Jill, Megan, and Brian were orphaned while in their youth—but now as adults they still don't know what really happened, since their parents simply disappeared. It turns out that their parents had something to do with the development of Q, a sort of world network of education and communication, and its later incarnation: the Device, the machine that will change the world.

But someone wants the Device for their own use, and Jill and her family are in danger.

THIS SHARED DREAM by Kathleen Ann Goonan is the sequel to IN WAR TIMES, but having not read the first book, I think I went into THIS SHARED DREAM lacking some key information and connection with the characters. In a desire to be up-front, you need to know that even though this book is well written and thought out, it took me weeks to trudge through--it just didn't appeal to me personally, so read this review with that in mind.

The story begins several years after the first. Goonan packs the first handful of chapters with enough characterization and backstory to keep new readers from getting lost. However, it does mean there's not a whole lot of action.

Fortunately it's the characters who make up for this lack of a quicker pace. Jill, Megan, and Brian are all complex people, with a believable relationship with each other as siblings, as well as with their spouses and children. At times the connections they feel with each other and with their parents Bette and Sam are poignant. I admit I'm rarely touched by character inter-relationships as much as I was in THIS SHARED DREAM.

The story revolves around time travel. Bette, Sam, and their friend Eliani Hadntz want to stop war for all time, but it means changing events that would have happened—such as the assassination of JFK—and as a result the timeline we know is much, much different. They use the Device in order to move around in time and know what events to change. Bette and Sam travel timestreams as though they're everyday vehicles, and not some abstract concept. Goonan does the best she can explaining how they move in time, but there's only only so much she can do without making my brain warp from the details.

As a result THIS SHARED DREAM is really a concept story. Goonan's prose is subtle, but it's clear even from the beginning that this is about the steps Hadntz is willing to take in order to create a new world, a world without war—a utopia. Her altruism leads her to attempt to change human nature itself via social engineering. Unfortunately, in this novel she's a rather mysterious creature, and rarely makes an appearance (perhaps we see more of her in IN WAR TIMES?). It's via Bette, Megan, and especially Jill that Hadntz achieves the results she wants. They make a pretty convincing case that their motives are pure. I still wonder, however.

In the end, I'm simply the kind of girl who reads books for the plot and action--and while this book has a definite story, it's so deliberate and pedantic that I had little motivation to pick it up again between chapters. If you enjoy the concepts of time travel and developing utopias, then this book is full of what you're looking for. If you want quick-paced, lighter time-travel fare without overt agendas, try Connie Willis instead.

Recommended Age: 16+ more for reading comprehension than content
Language: Fewer than five instances
Violence: Referenced, but nothing detailed, and even then infrequent
Sex: Rape is referenced

Want to grab this novel? Below are the links to it and the prior novel as well: