Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2019
How often have you said to yourself, “OMG! Why did it take me so long to read <insert author’s name>’s books?!” For me that feels like a very frequent occurrence which is why I love today’s topic – and why I’m also happy to be making another one of these lists, this time for 2019.
Also note that I’ve mostly featured authors who have been writing for many years, or already have several novels/short stories out, otherwise this would be a very long post! I also won’t be naming any debut authors today, because I already made that list.
Since Angel Mage was my first time reading Garth Nix, I really had no idea what to expect. With the exception of his Old Kingdom series, his books have always given me the impression of being skewed towards younger, Middle Grade readers, which was why I was surprised at the maturity and richness of this one. I’m not just talking thematically, or the world-building either; even the writing style was very lush and complex, closely resembling the tone of literary classics. And no wonder. For this novel, Nix was clearly inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. However, the incredible world in which the story takes place feels highly original and unique, filled with a vast trove of magical lore to die for. As this fantasy world is also heavily based on angelic magic and iconography, there’s a lot of background information and detail to get across, making this a very tricky and dense book. I’m not surprised to hear Nix is known for being a master at world building, as evidenced by the amount of thought and effort which must have gone into creating the setting. All in all, I really enjoyed my first book by Garth Nix and would definitely be open to reading more by him in the future.
From the moment I picked up Girls with Sharp Sticks, I found myself drawn in by its spell and mysteries. Right away we’re thrust into a setting of what is ostensibly a school, except I was seriously weirded out by the major Stepford Wives vibes and surreal attitudes of its students. The young women in this all-girl elite boarding school are all beautiful, poised and well-behaved—unnaturally, painfully so. Their bizarre curriculum includes subjects and activities such as “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden”, while their report cards employ a scale to measure their level of obedience. The mostly male teaching staff have a creepy tendency to get too handsy and seem all too comfortable in taking advantage of the girls’ eagerness to please, hiding their true intentions behind patronizing smiles and empty warm words. So, exactly just what the hell is going on at this so-called “Innovations Academy”? The need to find answers was what kept me turning the pages. I would take a look if you enjoy intense dystopian stories, but personally, what I loved best about this novel was the strong character relationships and reading about how these amazing young ladies banded together to support and protect each other.
I’ve always felt like I missed out on something big when it comes to Miles Cameron, not having read his Traitor Son Cycle. And while that series is still on the to-read list, when I found out about Cold Iron, the first book his new series called Master and Mages, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to finally experience this author’s work for myself and see what the fuss is all about. As such, I had no idea what to expect when I started this book. I was a little surprised to find strong throwback vibes to the classic fantasy stories in which the humble farmboy leaves the sheltered confines of his remote village to go to school and explore the world, only to stumble upon a greater destiny than he ever imagined for himself. Remarkably, there is a decent amount of freshness despite all the well-worn tropes, in part because Cameron never takes them to the point where they feel superficial or misused. He also includes themes that contemporary readers can relate to, while being careful not to cross the line into overtly discussing current issues. To put it simply, Cold Iron is a good start. The biggest challenge in writing the first book of an epic fantasy series is always the balancing act between the elements of world-building and the overall plot. On the whole, I believe Miles Cameron accomplished this goal.
Technically two authors, but these talented ladies make up an incredible writing team, having penned three successful thrillers together. I loved You Are Not Alone, though it is also quite a bit different from the typical thrillers I enjoy. Nonetheless, I got what I was looking for: an intriguing concept, a delicious mystery and edge-of-your-seat suspense. Our story begins with an introduction to Shay Miller, a young woman in her early-30s living and working in New York City. Like most urban millennials, she relies heavily on the transit system to get around, but one morning she witnesses the grisly suicide at the subway station. The event traumatizes her, making her fear travel on the subway, and not least because she tried to save the jumper but failed. From the police, Shay finds out that the woman who killed herself was named Amanda, and thus an obsession was born. Looking up everything she can about the other woman’s life, Shay cannot get over the similarities between them. She finds out the address of Amanda’s old apartment to leave flowers, then shows up at the memorial service. By all outward appearances, Amanda was happy, had a good job, and was surrounded by friends. What could have possibly driven her to suicide?It was my first book by the writing duo Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, but I’ll probably be going back and checking out The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl after this.
Normally, I would have trouble reading an “afterwar” book. After all, it’s hard not to wish you were reading about the actual war instead of the aftermath, when all the fighting is done and all you’re left with is the tedious cleanup. But not so when it comes to Aftershocks. Marko Kloos looks at the question of “what now?” through the eyes of four very different but equally engaging characters, each of them providing a unique and interesting perspective. Military SF is a tough genre for me to begin with, but I was eased into the narrative with Kloos’ smooth writing style and his ability to make you care about the people you are reading about. And that, in essence, is why Aftershocks worked so well for me. I loved Kloos’ world-building and how deeply everything felt connected. Our characters don’t live in a vacuum; they exist in a complex network of social and political interactions, with the environment affecting their actions and decisions. This to me is what good military SF is all about, not just long-winded descriptions of high-tech weaponry and war strategies. Yes, this book had its share of action and violence, but it was also balanced with incredible story development and character building. The setting gave me a sense of a living, breathing universe, one full of feeling and meaning, and all of it made me want to know more.
For readers who love movies like Alien or The Thing, The Last Astronaut will likely scratch a particular itch. David Wellington is also a well-known horror writer, so it’s not surprising that after a while the story takes a sudden and drastic turn down this path. If you’re seeking a more traditional tale of alien first contact, this book might not be for you, but on the other hand, readers looking for a skin-crawling, claustrophobic and eerie journey through some psychologically dark and disturbing places will probably want to check this one out. Stepping into unknown territory, the characters will encounter sights both strange and nightmarish, some of which have clear signs of influence from sci-fi horror cinema. I also enjoyed the way this story was structured, with Wellington going for a rather cheeky approach to its presentation. Namely, he has injected himself into the book, playing the role of dutiful chronicler writing about the mission as if it has actually happened, hence why we sometimes get the occasional “interruption” from a few of the characters themselves, wishing to expand upon something in the writing or to clarify a point. The overall atmosphere was delicious, and I found parts of quite immersive and at times downright terrifying.
If you’re ever in need of something to brighten your day or give you a nice shot of energy after you find that a string of heavier, ponderous books has sapped your all your motivation, Finder by Suzanne Palmer is exactly the kind of pick-me-up the situation calls for. It’s nothing too deep or fancy, but it sure as hell gets the job done. This was a boatload of fun, no other description really required. It’s the kind of book where you can let your thinking mind take a backseat while you break out the popcorn and indulge in a breakneck, high-octane space adventure. But most impressively, despite all the nonstop action, Palmer still manages to set aside some time for world-building and character development. Then, there’s the humor. Featuring a mixed bag of genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy combined with a healthy dose of groan-worthy jokes and cheesy slapstick, this novel is guaranteed to have something for everyone. The lightness also keeps this one from becoming too gritty and dark amidst all the explosive violence and action. All told, Suzanne Palmer has brought to life a surprisingly developed and well-layered space adventure, considering how strong the emphasis was on delivering fast-paced action and thrills. Finder also clearly shows that making the jump from short stories to long form fiction is not a problem for the author.
I’ve wanted to read Snorri Kristjansson for a while, and I’ve had his Valhalla Saga on my reading list ever since I first heard it described as a Viking historical fantasy replete with longships plowing the glorious waves and lots of bloody axe battles. So when I found out about Kin, the first book of his Helga Finnsdottir series, I was a little surprised at the departure. No epic clashes on the battlefield here, nor bloodstained tales of Vikings burning, raiding, and pillaging their enemies. Instead, what we get is this rather moody and domestic little murder mystery taking place on a quiet 10th century Icelandic homestead, and well, I can’t say I’ve ever read anything of its kind before. It’s undoubtedly an unusual direction to take when it comes to the topic of Vikings, but I can’t say it wasn’t interesting or refreshing. In fact, I had a very good time with the novel and found it to be a fun and engaging read. It’s true there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but if you enjoy family drama, then this will be your type of book. I suppose that’s what drew me in. This isn’t a fast-paced story by any means and there’s not much action to speak of, and in many ways, a book like Kin shouldn’t have worked for me, but it did.
This was my first experience with Ursula Vernon, who is writing here as T. Kingfisher, but it certainly wouldn’t be my last! The Twisted Ones was a fun novel featuring the perfect blend of humor and horror, with the first element provided mainly in the form of the main character’s incredibly infectious voice, while the second came via the setting’s creeptastic atmosphere. You’ve got an old house in the middle of the woods, filled with decaying trash and other ghastly things like scary baby dolls. Meanwhile, the locals also know better than to go wandering among the trees, for it is said the laws of reality work differently here, and unwary travelers might suddenly find themselves stumbling through a veil into another world. Not to mention, the woods is home to monsters—strange, grisly creatures made from dead bodies and grinning skulls. Be sure not to let the cheery, affable nature and tone of the narrator fool you into thinking this is a light and airy novel, because this one was downright CREEPY. To be sure, finding this balance between fright and fun was the best surprise, and what I loved most about this book. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a spine-chilling read this season that’s also tremendously entertaining.
Novice Dragoneer feels like a book I’ve read before, in one incarnation or another. And if you’ve read a lot of coming-of-age fantasy, books feature magic or warrior schools, or stories about dragon riders, then there’s a good chance this is going to feel very familiar to you too. But that’s certainly not a criticism. I for one love a good adventure that has a bit of everything, and even with its more derivative elements, I found this novel delightfully entertaining. E.E. Knight has been writing for a long time and he knows what appeals to readers. We have the scrappy underdog protagonist who is fighting for a coveted position against students who are more privileged, and I also love that the training scenes that involve the requisite unpleasant tasks that all lowly initiates must do as a rite of passage. All the typical roles you would expect were present, including the hard-ass instructors and nasty bullies. Like I said, this is the type of novel where you pretty much know what you’re getting into from the get-go, but boy was it a lot of fun, and I’m glad I got to try this author’s books.