One of my New Year resolutions for 2013 was to read more female authors. It’s one of the resolutions I actually stuck to, helped in the first instance by borrowing a load of feminist fantasy/SF books from my mum on Christmas Day 2012.
I was brought up in a feminist household. The definition of feminism has changed a lot over the years. Back when my mum was studying it and filling those particular bookshelves, it was angry and man hating. Some of her the books I started to read and then couldn’t stomach.
Feminism now is much more about how I was actually brought up. It’s all about equality.
Women are not necessarily better than men, but they are equal. It’s a much happier outlook and makes for much more interesting books, full of strong, independent but flawed heroines who save themselves, have sex when and how they want, and suffer for their own decisions.
As 2013 is drawing to a close, I’ve started looking back at the books I’ve read, especially those written by women. Before 2013 I didn’t read books written by women mainly because the few that I had read had made me biased. There was far too much romance, far too much gushing emotion and, just when I thought I was safe, often the heroine would lose all rational thought (and dignity) at the mere sight of the (apparently handsome and sexy) villain, or would end up living happily ever after with an angel (as you do). I had all but given up. Thankfully, my mum was having none of that and as a female writer, I felt disgusted with myself for feeling such a way. Hence the resolution and its stickiness.
I have learned valuable lessons in 2013:
- Women can write fantasy, SF and horror. (Thank god, don’t know what I’d do with myself otherwise.)
- They don’t necessarily write it better than men, and men don’t write it better than women. It’s all about equality again. Women may have a harder time getting published (some say) in the fantasy and SF genres, which is very wrong, but women and men are equal in their writing abilities. Some are good and some are bad. As with everything, it’s finding the gems among the so-so writing. I now realise that the problem I was having before is that the male gems are easier to find simply because there are more of them.
I have read some amazing books in 2013 and I have read (or attempted to read and then given up on) some stinkers. But the end of the year is all about the positives. It’s all about hope and happiness, not regret and guilt. And so here are three of my favourite books, in no particular order, that I read during 2013:
1. Robin Hobb – The Dragon Keeper
This was my first Robin Hobb book and I wrote about this book in a previous post. It is the beginning of a new series and doesn’t act as a standalone book, which I don’t like. However, the characters are vivid with a healthy mix of men and women. I was interested in how she would describe and write the dragons, and these were done brilliantly. Lessons very much learned! It was a page turner and an easy read, however I felt it dragged a little. Of course, this is probably because I was waiting for the end climax which never came. I had a good think at the end about whether I would buy book 2. I want to but funds will be short in the New Year and there are other things that are more pressing (Elysium is out on DVD on Boxing Day!). In hindsight the only characters I remember clearly and truly cared about were Alise and Captain Leftrin, and I really do want to know what happens with them. Not to mention the fate of the dragons. Only one other thing I wasn’t sure about in this book was a lot of characters folded their lips. What? How on earth does one fold ones lips?
That all being said, the characters are well developed, the setting and various cultures are vivid and clear, and is it an exciting and uncomplicated story which makes for great reading.
2. Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London
I completely fell in love with this book and have read all four in the series this year. Sadly, with each book I become a little more disenchanted (but still waiting eagerly for book 5). But that is why only the first is on this list. The writing is fast paced and witty. It draws you in, explaining processes in extreme detail, and bringing London and the characters within, to life. The books are quick and real page turners, leaving you craving more.
Again, I’ve learned valuable lessons from reading this series. This book made me consider basing my own fantasy series in Bristol, but through this series and another book I have learned that a writer needs to be careful when using real places. Their descriptions can be misinterpreted and some parts can become outdated (for example, Paul Magrs’ Brenda and Effie novels. Will the next generation pick up those books and wonder what the hell this shop called Woolworths is that Brenda is so keen on visiting every week?).
The only downsides to this novel for me personally (my husband has others) is the amount of research being used. It feels like Aaronovitch has done one hell of a lot of research, which is great, but he’s put all of it in. After a while, I just get bored learning the procedures and processes of the London police. That, and that there isn’t enough Nightingale. No where near enough. More Nightingale in book 5. Please.
3. Susan Hill – The Woman In Black
I saw the film first and decided that I really wanted to have a go at writing horror. So I decided that this book would be perfect to learn how to write something scary, not to mention she’s a she! This book is definitely scary. Utterly. Terrifying. Hill weaves her words beautifully to create tension and somehow manages to make your stomach twist with bile as you read. It had me staring at shadows for weeks.
It’s quite different to the film, although I can see why the film makers made changes, so I forgive them for that. Actually, I think they took the easy way out. The film is set in Victorian times, when all Daniel Radcliffe had was a candle to see by. The book is set later, taking away a little from the gothic vibe and giving the gift of electricity, but somehow the book is still scarier than the film. (And we all know that electricity can be just as scary as candle light, thank you Supernatural.)
No downsides to this one, just brilliant. As an added nod to Susan Hill’s writing abilities, I took my experience from this novel to help my husband buy his crime/mystery loving mum a book from Susan Hill’s detective series. She fell in love and has read the entire series in a matter of months.
What were your favourite books of 2013?