My Top 5 Reads of 2010 and their Engines

I failed miserably this year to keep up with all the good fiction reads coming out. I was distracted by research reading, my son’s wedding and the urge to be outside in the (short) summer. As a result I missed many good books, alas. The pile of books by my bed is undiminished.

Here are some novels that vastly entertained, intrigued, or in the case of a couple of them, gave me a kick like a mule. The last two are older books. In no particular order:

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi. Science Fiction.

This wonderful story gives a one-two punch: brilliant milieu combined with taut narration, sharp dialogue and intriguing indirection. Here is Bangkok in a post-oil future, a deliciously intelligent extrapolation. The engine of this story for me is the premise of how genetic disaster and manipulation drive the characters to desperate acts.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson. Thriller.

I tell you, for a long plane ride (trip to Italy) this book was addictive. I skipped the first book after hearing the second one was better, and didn’t miss a beat. If you write thrillers, this is the book to study for it’s premise, superb tension and plotting. To me, the engine of this story is character: the genius and ruthless violence of its troubled young woman protagonist. What a concoction!

Mozart’s Blood, Louise Marley. Historical fiction.

This deliciously dramatic tale is the best mash-up I read this year. The novel combines alternate historical fiction over a number of centuries with fantastic elements of vampires and immortality. Study this book for how to make the fantastic feel absolutely real. (Clue: the physical and emotional detail.) The engine of the story for me? The milieu: the back-stage view of the fascinating, petty, glamorous world of opera.

The Jewel in the Crown, Paul Scott. Historical fiction.

Historical tour de force set in 1940’s exotic India. If you’ve only seen the TV series, there’s so much more! The dilemmas and stew of racial prejudice and insufferable social roles are woven into an enthralling narrative. The engine: the premise of forbidden love amid the straight-jacket rules of the British and Hindu cultures.

Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin. Literary fantasy.

Set in the New York city Belle Epoch, this novel, although densely poetic and a slow read, is filled with I-kid-you-not astonishing insights on life, God, love, courage and the magical zen suchness of life. It kept kicking me awake. I wanted to be a better person immediately and I never felt preached at, only inspired to wake up before life rushes by. Beats A Christmas Story all to hell. The engine of this one is the spectacularly realized theme of the power of love.

I’m starting my reading list for 2011, so if you have recommendations, please let me know. (I’m especially interest in non-epic fantasy!)

8 Responses

  1. Chris Rose says:

    Hi Ms. Kenyon,

    I really appreciate your blog, thank you! I just wanted to recommend The Half-Made World by Felix Gilmore for your reading list this year. It is a lyrical, psychologically-astute, romping good story. Just thought I’d share.

    all the best,
    Chris

  2. Kay says:

    Hadn’t heard of this one, Chris. A quick look makes me think it has a lot of promise. Thanks very much, I’ll look into it.

  3. Hi Kay,

    There is something you need to know, and I’ll apologize now for putting this comment here… feel free to delete it once you have it’s key content! I just couldn’t find a more appropriate place for it.

    The key information is that your “Entire and the Rose” series is, for some unfathomable reason, unavailable from Amazon for Kindle in Sweden. Now, FYI, for the back-story… πŸ™‚

    I “purchased” “Bright of the Sky” (for FREE! πŸ™‚ from Amazon – Why not? Never heard of you before, but the price was right, I love to read, especially sci-fi and fantasy, and I have a Kindle app on my android phone…

    Well, you surely earned my readership and I’ve paid real $$$ for books 2-4 from Amazon – I’m still reading “Prince of Storms” – and I have been lobbying my cousin, who lives in Sweden, to read your series… and so, that is How I Know that your books cannot be purchased there.

    Well, you may know why this is? But in case you do not, I thought you should at least know about the problem. πŸ™‚ Thanks for a great read, and I wish you well and hope you can somehow “fix” the problem with distribution in Europe? πŸ™‚

    With kind regards,

    -Dann

  4. Kay says:

    Hi Dann,
    Thank you for this kind note! Delighted to hear that you somehow found my series. I am very eager to have my books available in Sweden, especially on Kindle. But my publisher does not have access to world rights to this series, only North American rights. Therefore it would be up to me to put the books up on Kindle for European access. And I’m not likely to do this lest this interfere with rights that a future foreign sale might entail. I’m sure that most writers and their agents are a bit behind in getting their e-publishing act together, so I’m not totally excusing this situation. It’s just that it’s a bit complicated.

  5. Hi again Kay,

    Thank you so much for your reply… πŸ™‚

    I am somewhat of an “early adopter,” — that is, insofar as possible while being tempered by my ability to afford things. I saw digital music coming long before it arrived and stopped buying vinyl, saving my money for the CDs that eventually appeared…

    And so I am an avid e-book reader. I latched onto Kindle simply because it came installed on my android phone, but I’ve been reading books on pocket PCs and laptops for many, many years already…

    That’s a long preamble to say that I am saddened by my inability (at least with Kindle) to be able to (at the very least) “loan” a copy of my books to friends and family. I feel that I should be able to loan copies of your books that I’ve purchased to my cousin in Sweden… and so get him hooked on your writing… and do the usual loan/swap thing that we’ve always done with hard and paper back books, with him buying some and me buying some. IMHO, in the “normal course of events,” that sort of interaction would increase your market substantially more than it would cut into your sales… I suspect you probably have already thought about things like this?

    Baen Books is a fine example of a publisher that has benefited by introducing a substantial “free library” that I have employed and enjoyed. As a result of their “free” offerings, I have become a customer of theirs for series that I have enjoyed and become addicted to.

    I hope you will be able to conclude some kind of mutually profitable deal with some publisher for the European rights to your books ASAP! πŸ™‚ Meanwhile, please do give some thought if possible to some way that my cousin might read them? πŸ™‚

    Thanks so much for listening; thanks again for your series; thanks for your blog (yes, I am a “closet author” with several semi-formed novels and series lurking in my head and various other strange places… πŸ™‚

  6. Kay says:

    If only there were some way to have limited sharing; because you’re right, free material gets an author visibility. However, authors are rather paranoid about digital piracy, and in fact many feel that it is inevitable and will put us out of business. So the topic has merit; I would be in favor of sharing a file 2-3 times, maybe. Very complicated issue. Digital files are so much more easily lost control of than a paper book passed around. I don’t know what the answer is.

  7. Larry Adams says:

    Kay, just finished “The Seeds of Time” and it was great. I read the Bright series and really enjoyed them. Looking forward to “Rift” coming out digitally. Ive read “The Braided world”, “Maximum Ice” is there any I’m missing? Love your books.

  8. Kay says:

    Larry, thanks very much! Well, I have two more books actually. Tropic of Creation is one of my favorites. Leap Point is the other. and then, I have one living under my bed that I’ll probably never publish! Plus upcoming ones that as soon as I can talk about them, I will be beating the drum for in fairly obnoxious manner, right here.

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