Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Just Twelve Books

So, I was thinking about that post earlier this week, about “average” readers only reading 12 books per year, and I just started wondering . . . if I were going to read only 12 books this year, which ones would they be?

Say that I knew I could get to only twelve books this year, and let’s assume I don’t want to put anything off till next year.

How about re-reads? I won’t count those in the twelve, I decided. That would make it too hard to pick just twelve. So I mean twelve new-to-me titles. What would they be?

It’s interesting which titles leaped to mind first and which I had to think about. You can really see what I’m regretting not getting to, because the first three titles I thought of have been on my TBR pile for some time. I’ll start with those and then my work my up in time to the books that aren’t quite out yet.

1. Railsea by China Miéville.

This book came out in 2012 and I’ve probably had it on my TBR shelves about that long. I’ve picked it up and put it down about a hundred times. Here’s how it starts:

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

There he stands, swaying as utterly as any windblown sapling. He is quite, quite red. If only that were paint! Around each of his feet the red puddles; his clothes, whatever colour they were once, are now a thickening scarlet; his hair is stiff & drenched.

Only his eyes stand out. The white of each almost glows against the gore, lightbulbs in a dark room. He stares with great fervour at nothing.

The situation is not as macabre as it sounds. The boy isn’t the only bloody person there: he’s surrounded by others as red & sodden as he & they are cheerfully singing.

Whoa. You can see, probably, why I pick this one up and then put it down again. That’s quite a fraught opening. It both draws me in and repels me. Still, this is the very first book I thought of when I thought about twelve-books-only and what would they be?

2. The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima.

This one has been out since 2009. I would almost certainly have tried it before now except I know it is the first book of a series and series take time. I haven’t wanted to commit. Still, every time I see it on the TBR shelves, I want to pick it up. If I had only 12 books to read this year, I think I would at least try this one. Here’s the beginning:

Han Alister squatted next to the steaming mud spring, praying that the thermal crust would hold his weight. He’d tied a bandana over his mouth and nose, but his eyes still stung and and teared from the sulfur fumes that boiled upward from the bubbling ooze. He extended his digging stick toward a patch of plants with bilious green flowers at the edge of the spring. Sliding the tip under the clump, he pried it from the mud and lifted it free, dropping it into the deersking bag that hung from his shoulder. Then, placing his feet carefully, he stood and retreated to solid ground.

He was nearly there when one foot broke through the fragile surface, sending him calf-deep into the gray, sticky, superheated mud.

Ouch!

This would seem an unusual setting if not for Railsea above, which is much weirder. Next to that, this seems like an ordinary opening. On the other hand, ouch. Poor guy. Don’t you want to know what happens next?

3. California Bones by Greg van Eekhout.

This has only been out since 2014. (“Only.”) I’ve really wanted to read it ever since it came out, and have I yet? No. Again, I probably would have if it were a standalone, but I know it is the first book of a trilogy.

Daniel Blackland’s clearest memory of his father was from the day before his sixth birthday, when they walked hand-in-hand down Santa Monica Beach. That was the day Daniel found the kraken spine in the sand.

It was a slate-gray morning and Daniel shivered without a jacket, but he wouldn’t complain. The soggy air carried roller-coaster screams from the pier, and Daniel hoped for a ride. Maybe he and his father would even drive the bumper cars, teaming up to bash other kids and their parents. But then he spotted the bone splinter in the foam of the receding surf, a silvery fragment the length of a knitting needle, rising from the sand like an antenna. Years later, he would wonder if his father had planted it there for him to find, but on this day, he hadn’t yet learned that level of suspicion.

Evocative drawing of a boy and his peculiar relationship with his father. The setting is beautifully drawn, and this first hint of weirdness – a kraken spine, really? – is perfect to tell us that this isn’t quite our world.

Moving on to items that haven’t been on my personal TBR pile quite so long…

4. Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein.

I only picked this up last year, but then it’s only been out since 2015, which is practically yesterday by my standards. I’m sure it will be fantastic. I mean, Elizabeth Wein.

Here’s how it opens:

Sinidu told me I should aim for the sun.

I still have a plane. There must be some way I can get Teo out safely. I think Momma’s hoard of Maria Theresa dollars is enough to pay for the travel. I am hoping my new passport is waiting for me in Addis Ababa. But Teo . . . Teo is trapped. I have thought about trying to get him a British passport – Colonel Sinclair has friends who have not left Ethiopia. I could throw myself at them in disguise as a Helpless Young American Girl All Alone. . . .

It is a waste of time trying to pass Teo off as Italian. I think I pretty much burned that bridge when I stole a plane from the Italian air force.

Sinidu is right. I am here at Lake Ashenge, north of Korem, and the emperor is in the hills above the town. There isn’t anyone else who can help me.

I have nothing to lose. I am going to dare it. I will aim for the sun.

Sorry to clip out half a page, but I couldn’t resist adding the last bit and didn’t want to type the whole page. Very eye-catching, that bit about stealing the plane. Tremendous opening overall. If I could only read twelve books this year, this one would go on the list for sure.

Let’s see . . . the next one is a pretty recent release:

5. The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst.

I heard such good things about this here and there . . . from Charlotte, most notably, as I recall. Also, I’ve liked every book I’ve read by Durst more than the one before, so she’s edging up toward an auto-buy author for me by this point.

Oh, I see I must have picked up my copy of Queen of Blood at a convention last year: it’s signed. That’s a nice plus, although I don’t generally go out of my way to get authors to sign books. Great cover. It does say Book 1 on it, which is not a plus, but I’ve got to other first books on my list so far, so whatever.

Here’s the beginning:

Don’t trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don’t trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don’t trust the water for it will drown you.
Don’t trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don’t trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don’t trust the trees, for they will rip you,
rend you, tear you, kill you dead.

It’s a child’s chant. You jump over a rope, faster and faster, as you name the spirits. Trip on the rope and that is the spirit that will kill you. Fire, ice, water, air, earth, or wood.

Clutching her rope, six-year-old Daleina slipped out her window and ran along the branches toward the grove, drawn to the torchlight. Her parents had said no, absolutely not, go to bed and stay there, but even then, even when she was still so young and eager to please, Daleina would not be kept from her fate. She’d run toward it, arms open, and kick fate in the face.

Ooh, a children’s chant. You know, this fall, Winter of Ice and Iron will be the first book of mine that’s got poetry embedded through it. I have loved that since reading The Lord of the Rings when I was yea high, but I have always been nervous about doing it myself. I really like it when it’s done well, though. That last line from the chant above is great. Yep, looking forward to this one.

Okay, here’s the sixth, and then I’ll be half done. Once again, having a hard time imagining only reading twelve books in a year:

6. Thick as Thieves by MWT. The next Queen’s Thief book! Very exciting. I think another book is expected after this, but it may be a while. Meanwhile, I would (and will) be right there for this one.

Yep, much anticipated title. This one would definitely be on the list. Coming out in May, I see.

Okay, now a slight problem about how to count. But here goes:

7, 8, 9. The Price of Valor, The Guns of Empire, and also Book Five of the Shadow Campaigns series by Wexler, whatever that turns out to be called. I don’t know why the publisher . . . um, Del Rey . . . seems so coy about each new book in the series. I’d have no idea there was a fifth book coming out this year except I checked with Wexler last year via Twitter and he confirmed it.

I’m totally reading these. Plus the first two, but I’m not counting re-reads.

I don’t want to look at how these start, though. Let each come as it will, and anyway, I obviously don’t have the fifth. Whatever it will be called.

That leaves me with just three more titles for the whole year.

10. Convergence by CJC.

11. The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman. I have it. I just haven’t read it, largely because I haven’t had time to linger over a book and also because I think I want to go back and linger over the first book again, and so no, really, I haven’t wanted to take the time to do that. However, if I had just twelve books for the year, this would be one of them.

And…

12. Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells. This is the last Raksura book. No way I’d leave this off the list.

And that’s twelve. It certainly didn’t take long to whip together a list. Narrowing it down was a trifle difficult, of course. Here are five more titles that are struggling to bump one of the others off this list. No, six. I bet there are others that would jostle for room here, too, but six for now:

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

York by Laura Ruby

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A Peace Divided by Tanya Huff

The third Illuminae book, apparently not yet named, by Kristoff and Kaufman.

Vallista by Steven Brust

If something up there on the list turned out not to grab me after all, these are some of the ones that might take its slot. I mean, it seems rather unlikely I’d get through the year without reading the latest Mercy Thompson book . . . and though the first two Illuminae books have their, um, less believable plot twists, they are still some of the most fun, exciting books I’ve picked up lately and I am so much looking forward to the third.

Okay, so, that’s twelve for me. Now that I’ve laid them out like that, I wonder if I’ll grab a month sometime this year and read them all? That would be quite a month.

How about you all? If you had to pick just twelve books for 2017, what are some of the titles that would be definitely appear on your list?

I do have one suggestion for a particular book you should certainly make room for:

Winter of Ice and Iron, US Hardback

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9 Comments Just Twelve Books

  1. Liz H.

    Um, wow. Kudos for being able to narrow it down to only 12. I would die as I’ve already read 21 books this year and am juggling another 5, plus all the ones I want to read and the ones that haven’t come out yet…

    Yeah, I’m not part of the “average”. I think I fall into the outliers category. Especially since I had to add some of the books you listed to my TBR.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Rachel

    I don’t know how many books I’ve read this year! If I had to count those, I’m sure I’d be out of room for anything else, because surely more than twelve.

    I’m still kinda amazed at twelve being the number for the “average” reader.

  3. Hanneke

    Rachel, The White Road of the Moon is still not visible/available for me in Kobo.
    Sorry to bother you with this, but could you ask your publisher (or your agent?) if they accidentally forgot to note that it can be sold to the rest of the world, as well as the USA?
    Usually that’s the problem, if books that are available elsewhere are invisible to me here in Holland (Europe).
    The person at the publisher responsible for distributing the book to the e-stores can remedy that, after which it should become available in a week or two.

  4. Rachel

    Thanks for letting me know, Hanneke. Sometimes I wonder, I really do. I will pass that on to my agent, who will no doubt pitch a gentle but persistent fit until this gets fixed.

  5. Kim Aippersbach

    Books I will definitely read this year:

    Thick as Thieves
    Strange the Dreamer (Laini Taylor)
    All The Crooked Saints (Maggie Stiefvater)
    White Road of the Moon
    Winter of Ice and Iron

    ooh, the California Bones book looks great, and I really enjoyed his middle-grade book Boy at the End of the World. And I didn’t know there was another Raksura book. So probably those two! And A Peace Divided is coming out this year? That one too.

    I’m not organized enough to know what other must-read books for me are out there yet! (Isn’t there another Wein book coming out, a prequel to Code Name Verity?)

    I quite enjoyed the Seven Realms books, though it took me a while to get into the first one. Glad my sister insisted I keep reading.

    Queen of Blood wasn’t my favourite Durst book, but I did thoroughly enjoy it.

  6. Elaine T

    I just finished Queen of Blood and am passing it on to the Teen. I liked it quite a bit. Intelligent characters and not overly focused on romance.
    Poked at Amazon for the sequel and it looks like it isn’t one continuous story, but #2 focuses on other characters.

    I have never gotten along with Mieville’s writing, but that’s my only opinion on the rest.

  7. Bret Grandrath

    I have always been a slow reader and lately I haven’t had time to read everything I want to. Twelve sounds about right for this year…

    Reading Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers now and then on to After The Crown and later this year Beyond The Empire. The first book is good so I know I will read the others.

    Convergence by C. J. Cherryh, I have to keep up to date with the series by my all-time favorite author.

    A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, she read the first chapter at Worldcon and now I have to read it.

    Provenance by Ann Leckie, got to keep up with my new favorite author. I heard her read the first chapter at Worldcon and can’t wait to dive in.

    The Venusian Gambit by Michael J. Martinez, I read and enjoyed the first two in the Daedalus trilogy so this is on my list.

    Dark Run and Dark Sky by Mike Brooks this series looks to be a good ole Space Opera right up my alley.

    Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin, hey a fan boy can hope it comes out this year. But when it does I just know I will re-read a few thousand pages to keep the story fresh in my mind.

    The book I’m really waiting for is Alliance Rising By C. J. Cherryh. Might not be this year but I will drop everything to catch up with the A/U universe when this is announced.

    That’s eleven with the promise of a lot of re-reads so it looks like a fun rest of the year.

  8. Rachel

    Kim, excellent choices!

    I’ll have to check out the one by Maggie Stiefvater, too. Is that part of her new story about Ronan? Or something different? The description on Amazon leaves everything up in the air.

    Elaine, The City and the City really clicked for me, his other books not quite so much, and I didn’t finish Un Lun Dun. But his books are so interesting and I do want to try Railsea, partly because it’s supposed to draw on Moby Dick and I want to see how he does that.

    Bret, first I’ve heard of Ann Leckie’s new one! Gotta try that, although I may not get to it this year.

    Also! First I’ve heard that Cherryh’s going back to the Alliance universe. Woo hoo! I’ll be dropping everything for that too.

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