Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Top Fifteen Books of 2016 (So Far)

Well, here we are, halfway through the year, more or less. So far I’ve read 46 books, it appears, not counting anything I forgot to note down (I’m sure there were a couple; there always are), and also not counting anything I DNFed. So I’m on track to read fewer than 100 books this year. That’s pretty terrible, but it does indicate (accurately) that I’ve been spending a lot of time writing, so there’s that. Besides, I also read four novellas and the other shorter work connected with the Hugos, which took a good bit of time, too.

Still, the end of June seems like a good time to pause and look back over the first half of the year. We’re past the longest day of the year, you realize, of course. Jos turned six months old on the 21st of June (and got an extra cookie to celebrate.) Kind of fun to have his birthday on the solstice, now that I think of it.

I love the long days of summer! But I’m looking forward to someday seeing a break in this dratted heat. Here in south-central Missouri, we’ve kicked off our annual summer drought early, which is grim for the younger plants and the nursery cuttings, but might (eventually) cut down the Extreme Insect Situation, I hope. And I suspect the sudden dire lack of rain may have contributed to our being able (at last) to conquer the appalling brown rot situation in the orchard. I mean, you have no idea. It’s been dreadful. We’ve lost the entire stone fruit crop for several years running. This is with aggressive spray schedules. But this year so far I’ve only removed and disposed of a very few infected peaches and one plum. The plucots have already been turned into a lot of very fine cobbler filling. Mmm.

Meanwhile, the unpleasant muggy heat keeps me indoors at the keyboard, so that’s good, I guess.

But I was about to look back over the year-in-books. Fine. Let’s see:

Okay, in January I read nine books. I must have been working on something or the number would be higher. Yeah, don’t remember, that was a long time ago. Some revision or other, no doubt, or maybe Black Dog short stories, or both. Anyway, out of the books I did read, the month produced one clear winner: POWERS by Hetley (Burton). Wonderful book.

In February I read only four books. I really do wonder what I was working on, but not enough to bother checking the dates on various files. Anyway, it was a really good month! Because I read two books that were so wonderful I can’t choose between them: BONE GAP by Ruby and SILVER ON THE ROAD by Gilman.

In March, let’s see, looks like I read eight books. Four were particularly good – no surprise; I was mainly reading 2015 releases that had gathered some buzz. My favorites were ARCHIVIST WASP by Kornher-Stace, CARRY ON by Rowell, BRYONY AND ROSES by T. Kingfisher, and THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET by Chambers. I don’t think I could narrow that set down to just one title, so I’ll just throw all four out here.

The most disturbing book I read in March, by the way, was HALLUCINATIONS by Oliver Sacks. It was way more disturbing than THE MIND’S EYE, which I also read pretty recently. Eventually I decided it’s like this: you know you might go blind. Everyone knows that. It would be upsetting, but the mere idea of visual deficits doesn’t shake your idea of yourself or of the order of things. But the idea that you can’t trust your mind, that there are types of hallucinations where you see crazy things but are convinced they’re real and it’s impossible to rationally reject their reality . . . yeah, please, no. That’s just . . . really disturbing.

Anyway, April. I know what I was working on during the first half of April. (And all of March, and oh, I just bet that was also part of February.) I was doing a final fairly big revision to that manuscript that was due to Saga on March 15th. THE DARK TURN OF WINTER if the title isn’t changed (again). I sent it off April 15th. What a lot of unexpected work that was. Let me see. Yeah, I was reordering events and adding chapters and stuff, I remember that. Well, I really, really hope my editor loves this manuscript and doesn’t suggest anything too huge. Long sucker, too. I hope the length is okay.

Once I sent that manuscript off (finally), I was totally ready for a break. Looks like I only read five books, though. My favorites were CHASE ME by Florand and VISITOR by CJ Cherryh, yeah, how’s *that* for contrasting titles.

I took a serious break during the first half of May, reading twelve books in those fifteen days. The second half of May I really dove into this new project NO FOREIGN SKY and also worked on the third Black Dog book, SHADOW TWIN, but during the first half I don’t think I ever turned on my laptop. Let’s see. Right, I finally read the sequel to Hetley’s POWERS, which is called DOMINIONS. Loved it. Likewise ASH AND BRAMBLE by Sarah Prineas, and also THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA AND ZAK by Kircher. And I started THE STEERSWOMAN by Kirstein. Hard to pick a favorite out of those four. If I was really pressed to the wall, I might go for the Steerswoman series. It’d be hard to write something more completely aimed at me than this series. I’m sure I saw Rosemary Kirstein say somewhere that she’ll be at Worldcon. I hope so, and I hope I bump into her.

And of course during June, I read SEVENEVES. What a monster. But hey, it made the entire Hugo season worthwhile for me personally, as there is zero chance I would have read it without its nomination to give me a push.

And one more, to bring the number of favorite-books-this-far up to fifteen, since it would be too hard to cut the list back to ten.

I just finished THE NARGUN AND THE STARS by Patricia Wrightson. A wonderful story that beautifully evokes the Australian setting. I don’t know whether this is technically MG or YA; I could see readers of all ages enjoying it – including adults, of course. I mean, I did.

It was night when the Nargun began to leave. Deep down below the plunging walls of a gorge it stirred uneasily. It dragged its slow weight to the mouth of its den; its long, wandering journey had begun.

The first chapter, about the Nargun, is really a prologue. The main character is actually Simon, who is, I suppose, about twelve or so. I guess that means this book would probably be considered MG. Anyway, Wrightson does a wonderful job with Simon and with the older people he’s gone to stay with, his mother’s second cousins, Edie and Charlie. This book isn’t flawless, and in fact here is the main flaw: it may occur to the reader that it’s strange Simon never once thinks about his parents, quite recently killed in a car accident, once he’s gone to join Edie and Charlie. I mean, not past the first day. Never. Once this occurs to you, it seems like a pretty serious omission, however wrapped up in his new life Simon may be, what with the Australian trickster-figures and the Nargun and everything.

However, I particularly loved how Wrightson handled both Edie and Charlie. They are so perfectly drawn and, I think, are the characters who provide the story with enough depth for an older reader to enjoy reading it. If the focus had been more limited to Simon and the Potkoorok and so on, I think the story would be far more strictly a children’s book. As it was, it’s a delightful book for anyone.

So, fifteen out of forty-six is about a third. It seems pretty good to have a third of the novels you read turn out to be real winners. Though it’s true I’m leaving out a couple I picked up, read a bit of, and put on the giveaway pile. Still, a very solid year of books so far – I wonder if the top fifteen from the back half of the year can possibly match it?

What are a couple of your favorites from the year so far?

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