My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol or Sara C. Roethle.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), 7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

The 10 Best of Dailyscienefiction.com’s February Stories

1. “Motherland” by Jasmine Ang started Feb strong.  Emotionally charged, the work explores the theme of separation.  The “science fiction” angle comes in, I believe, by providing an example of how technology both lessens the sense of separation and intensifies it.  Feb is the coldest month of the year here in Alabama so feelings of isolation and sorrow seem to dovetail my weather perfectly.

 

2. “Lingua Flanka”  by David M. Armstrong was heavy handed.  The opening and the middle felt intellectually insulting.  I’m including it because it covers themes that I think are important to discuss but even then, the work feels muddied.  Like Armstrong wanted to be controversial but didn’t understand how to do even that basic part well.  I appreciate the attempt for artists by interspersing different narrative elements, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  Great theming and ambition.

 

3. “Dispell” by Preston E Dennett was cute.  The fantasy theme was notable, and given my preferences, made me more likely to enjoy it.   There were elements that I found distasteful.  The female voice, in particular, felt stilted, as if the author had never spoken for very long with a woman or as if the author has only known and women in very shallow ways.  But I thought the punch line at the end was worth the read.  And I want to give the author some props for trying to explore an element of society it seems clear he doesn’t get.  There’s both a thoughtful and boorish execution to it.

 

4. I really love Mary E. Lowd’s work.    “Heart of the Gas Giant”  is a continuations of her other stories.  I’m beginning to see a larger picture where her characters go to the same places in space to achieve different goals, or where we will focus on a different main character but still get an update on the last main character.  Her ability to summarize the last stories in a line or two, are pretty inspiring.  I’d like a  collection of all her little works in a larger work.  She brings a childlike joy and wonder to the vast array and variation of space.  But her stories are written in a way I think all ages could appreciate them.

 

5. “Resolve, in Four Heartbeats”  by Kell Rajasalu is great.  The work is confusing in several angles, but by the end, I understood the basics of what had happened and felt like I’d read a longer arch than she’d offered.  She had deeper characters in her short than make authors achieve in novel length works.

 

6. I really enjoyed “Kicking the Football” by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins.  It’s sweet and very tightly written.  While it has a huge advantage because it’s about characters we are all largely familiar with, it still successfully captivates it’s own unique concept.  This to me, is the spirit of excellent fan fiction and what elevates something from copyright infringement to it’s own concept.

 

7. “The Ones Who Chose the Rain” by George Edwards Murray  was a sad story.  I don’t know exactly what I liked, possibly the genre, but the work struck me.  It’s filled with ennui and pain.  Don’t read if you’re depressed.

 

8. “Introducing Your Parents to the Spoils of Adventure” by Bryan McNab was funny, told in second person, and fantasy genre.  What more do you need?

 

9. “The Sword” by Mari Ness  was a fun update on a “classic” medieval scenario.  I didn’t love it, but it was a cute short story with a reasonable close.  There was a story earlier this month that I waffled on whether in include and ultimately dismissed it because there wasn’t enough going on and this one made it in because there was a “diverse voice” and I am swayed by scenes I see less if even when I think they lacked some indefinable element.

 

10. “Fight for the Stars” by Shannon Fay was a well constructed complete world.  She took a story that I’d have hated to see play out in the three hour movie and boiled it down to an enjoyable 1000 words.  The story kept me engaged in each word.  Instead of liking it “in spite of it’s length” as I do many short stories, I actually think the format os part of what allowed me to be taken in and really become enchanted by it.

 

Overall, February was an interesting month for Daily Science Fiction.  The works I chose were by authors who had a lot less on their resumes than last month’s authors.  I wonder if there is a trend to how Daily Science Fiction groups it’s works.  It has felt random as a reader, but collecting through collecting all the works I found value in, I hope to find patterns.  Impatience is a major fault of mine though, so I’ll have to see what next month brings!

 

Want to check out January’s Science Fiction picks?  Check it out here

Best of DailyScienceFiction.com’s January Stories

Daily Science Fiction’s   name is deceiving.  They are an online site that send subscribers a daily short in all varieties of science fiction and fantasy.  The short stories are held online in an archive and some are also published in their anthologies.  When I first came to the North Alabama Writers’ Group, it was one of the first resources suggested to me.  As writers we are encouraged to read others in the genre, stay current, but we are also encouraged to submit, submit, submit!  Daily Science Fiction can help an ambitious writer with both those goals.

 

In my year long relationship with Daily Science Fiction, it has turned into one of the white whales of the North Alabama Writers’ Group.  In a state of constant call for submission, but no matter how many of us offer dribbles, quite a few hand crafted for the medium, none of us have been accepted.  At the same time, we’re reading what feels like a bunch of garbage.  We find ourselves saying “I could do better” or “I have written better”, but we must be missing some quality or reoccurring theme.

 

In an effort to crack the Drabble code, I’m reading all the stories they send me.  Instead of bemoaning the terrible, I thought I’d just offer a monthly round up of what was good and why it worked for me.  These are ordered how I received them (excluding one I’ll get to).

 

“A Villian Considers His Options” by James Beamon—It’s funny and it has an almost meta quality.  Love his use of an acronym to name his A.I.  This is Beamon’s fifth publication to Daily Science Fiction.  I was able to find two previous submissions. One, “17 Amazing Plot Elements… When You See #11, You’ll Be Astounded” was terrible.  I’ve yet to read a list from Daily Science Fiction I like, so I’m thinking that even though there’s an obvious market for this type of writing, it’s just never going to be to my tastes.    The other “Settling Beef” was excellent.  Still sharp and funny like “A Villian Consider’s His Options” but also heavy with a relevant message in today’s world.  Of the three, it was the most successful store, though I still prefer “A Villian Considers His Options” best because is was the most amusing.  All three show a signature humorous voice and style.  Two do so in a way I found successful.  Beamon has a Goodreads page that shows he contributes to themed story collections and has one stand alone short story published, all showing high Goodreads ratings.

 

Emily Post’s Guide to Alien Encounters” by Audrey A. Hollis — excellent story telling.  It gave me a complete and deep arc in very few words.  I’m delighted one of the authors I like is female and I’m following her on twitter https://twitter.com/audreyrhollis.

 

Winged Fold Only” by Mary E. Load—a fun feel good story with a simple moral.  Her bio is just as entertaining as her story, and it gives me a new goal of what I want to aspire to in my own bio.

 

The BEST part about Mary E. Lowd’s work is that she wrote a sequel to “Winged Folk Only” also published this month in Daily Science Fiction called “Go High” —It was also on my list of good reads.  I really like Evben and hope to get more 1000 words on her.  This sequel was probably middle of the road for me.  Still cute and descriptive but with less of an emotional appeal.  What I loved what it’s connection to her earlier story.

 

Mary. E Lowd was published by Daily Science Fiction a total of 4 times this month, and I enjoyed three of her stories and was on the fence about one of them.  In the case of her other two, also connected, stories I wasn’t fond of the first “Queen Doripauli and the Sproutlings”. To me it lacked emotional depth and the action seemed to bland.  However, I loved the follow up “Waking up in the Genie Shop”.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for those sweet little moments in a story, and “Waking up in the Genie Shop” delivers.

 

Mary Lowd finished my January Daily Science Fiction experiment strong, but delivering one more wonderful story.  “Of Starwhals and Spaceships” is a fun short.  It has a childlike innocence and a general wonder for the universe.  It delivers on at least four complex thoughts, ones that would take me more than 1000 words to explain, which gives the work depth and almost mystic quality.

 

I found another 6 stories by Mary E Lowd on Daily Science Fiction, and I intend to read all of them.  For those curious they are “The Empty Empire,” “One Alien’s Wreckage,”  “Crowds on the Crossroad Station,” “Principles Over Profit,” “Inalienable Rights,” and “Cresent Horns and Tall Ears.”  I hope to find Evben in one of them and maybe a better backstory for Sloane and the sproutlings that makes me appreciate Queen Doripauli more.   Lowd is also a novelist, her books appear quirky, for a younger audience, and animal centric with a scifi twist.  Her books don’t seem quite right for me, but they were still neat to look at. Check her page out at Goodreads .

 

I’ve just finished reading “The book of the Unnamed Midwife” by Meg Elison, so when Daily Science Fiction brought me “The Library is Open” by Beth Cato, I had the opening scenes ready to go.  A peaceful bubble in the apocalypse where the normal becomes abnormal.  I liked how Cato played with tension.  Even in humanity’s darkest hour, her short left the reader feeling hopeful.

 

I found 6 other works on Daily Science Fiction for Cato.  They include: “Bear-Bear Speaks,”  “The Quest You Have Chosen Defies Your Fate,” “From the Ashes,” “Hatchlings,”  “10 Things Newly Manifested Wizards Should never do” (because everyone needs a list apparently), and “Measures and Counter Measures”.  She’s got a way with the titles, that make me very excited to find time to read these. Cato is also a prolific writer with a complete novel series and a new one started.  She’s also contributed to many Chicken Soup for the Soul editions.  Goodreads shows middle of the road reviews, but based off of her Daily Science Fiction contribution, I’m intrigued to read more.  I wish she were on kindle unlimited, but since I’d have to pay extra outside of my current book budget, I’ll just have to wait till I see a sale.

 

Maestro” by Neal A. Cline—is an example of a story that just barely makes my list and it’s for purely personal reasons.  First, I love tigers, so much that it caused me to do a lot of research on humanity’s relationship with wild animals and the process of domestication.  All of which lead me to believe that owning any wild animal in a pet like capacity will lead to tragedy 98% of the time.  Second, this story is about a mind link between human and animal, which I’m fascinated by.  Third, Cline brings up modern concerns over conservation of species and whether we can think it’s a success if we can only find some species of animal in a zoo (or in this case genetically modified to provide service for people).  Since I wanted to write a long opinion piece regarding what true conservation is and the value of a being outside of human use was, I decided to include this story.  “Like” is too strong an word for my feelings, but it did make me react, and that’s valuable.

 

Bone White” by Patrick Sullivan is an example of a work trying to blend a lot of working pieces and doing it with partial success.  I like the half of the story told in the past, it has a very “Emperor’s new Clothes” feel if the fairy tale included murder and depravity.  I love dark fairy tales.  The modern part, while possessing a chilling close, generally doesn’t work for me.  How come this cloak still exists?  Why wasn’t it destroyed or kept closely guarded?  It’s too much of a jump for me.   Still, a quick search shows Sullivan is new to publication and perhaps new to writing stories (publication =/= story experience). It’s a promising start and I’ll keep an eye out for more.

 

The Adjunct Professor’s Alien Girlfriend” by Marge Simon —was borderline for me too.  Description wise, there’s some elements about the male/female relationship I found concerning and annoying.  It’s further compounded in my mind because the woman is an alien and some of the “visa” description harkens back to “mail order brides”.  The sweetness of the ending helped me overlook a host of elements I didn’t appreciate.  Like “Maestro” it’s a great conversation starter, but not my favorite.

 

Simon is an accomplished writer.  Her work includes several award winning poems.  They seem to have an element of fantasy or scifi as well as romance.  Her Goodreads profile.  She also has 6 easily searchable publications in Daily Science Fiction.  They include: “The Sinner,” “Serving the Blind Girl,” “The Shutdown,”  “Found in the Wreckage,” The Human Guest,” and “Susan 3342 A.D.

 

Small Sacks of Children” by Andrew Kozma was a work I immediately disliked.  I almost skipped it only to find myself completely taken by the end.  Have to respect a writer who can instill such immediate emotion and then completely change the feeling in 1000 words.

 

I’m following him on Goodreads , though nothing up right now strikes my interest.  I found another 4 of his works in Daily Science Fiction: “Company Man,”  “When We Last Left,” “The Judges,”  and “The Mountain.”

 

That’s 10 out of 23 stories or a 43% success rate.  Do I think other people should subscribe to Daily Science Fiction and read all the stories—maybe?  What I liked, I really liked and introduced me to new writers I want to follow and keep and eye on.  It also gave me access to another 24 short stories to look at.  Will this help me be more brief in my own writing or open publication paths for me—I don’t know.  What I can say was that the process was fun and didn’t take a lot of time.  If you’re trying to get back into reading and not sure who to follow or what to pick up, Daily Science Fiction might be just the place to give you some leads.