Monday, October 11, 2021

Books of September!

September: 

1. Redemptor, Jordan Ifueko - Thank goodness I picked these books up after they were both published!  It would have been a nightmare to wait, and goodness it would have taken away from the experience to have to reorient myself.  Just read them.  They are that good.  

2. Piranisi, Susanna Clark - I put this off for a long time.  It's pretty well known by my friends that I have tried and tried and tried to read Clark's first book - which is another that sounds like it should be my first match, but just failed to grab my attention.  I was curious, though, about Piranisi because so many of the spoilerless reviews I read said it was a completely different beast.  I nabbed a copy when it went on sale, and to my utter delight, I loved it.  It reminded me a bit of Patrick Rothfuss's beautiful The Slow Regards for Silent Things, feeling quiet and delicate and interior.  The concept proved to be truly engaging, and I connected so deeply with Piranisi that I sighed when it was finished...and had to step away from books for a bit so that I could just live with the one story.  

3. When Sorrows Come, Seanan McGuire - October Daye finally gets married!  And there's a side plot to make sure there's a taste of the type of trouble she usually gets into (while managing to be low stakes for her)!  It was super fun to read because sometimes you just need to read a book that's like a good friend.  I still think McGuire has hit the point of too much exposition...but I just let it wash over this time.  There is a bonus novella, but as it's about the reception and doesn't feel like something separate, I'm just considering it a final chapter.  

4. Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (audio) - A vampire book that's also noir that's also a vampire book.  Eh.  I read the whole thing, and I think the ideas behind it were super fun.  It just didn't sweep me up like I expected it to.  Absolutely felt like the early book in the life of an author that it was.  Perhaps it was a disappointment because I'm comparing it too much to Mexican Gothic, which is brilliant.  Read that instead. 


Unfinished: 

1.  Matrix, Lauren Groff (audio) - I appreciate Groff's talent, but it's an intellectual appreciation instead of an emotional one.  I read almost half of the book, and then I was just done.  It's one thing to know that a writer is brilliant.  If they can't grab your heart, though, what's the point?

Because Books - July and August

 July 

Ahem...let's talk about that time I left my iPad on the farm because stress had me super scattered, and so was without my personal library for a month.  It was a nightmare.  

And please, no arguments about why paper books are the best.  To each, his own, and ebooks are a LOT easier on my eyes.  

1. The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker (audio) - You may remember that I closed out June with a reread of Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni.  I did so because of this brand new, utterly beautiful book!  Happily ever after isn't always simple, actions have consequences, and people change and grow.  Rather than rehashing the characters and plots from the first book, Wecker allows her Golem and Jinni to be beautifully human as they follow a broken road into the future.  Highly satisfying.  

2. The Goblin Emperor and 3. The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison (audio) - I adored the Goblin Emperor when I first read it a while back, but it's been a while, and so I reread it in preparation of The Witness for the Dead's publication.  I adored the Goblin Emperor as much if not more the second time around.  It's a wonderful, beautiful book.  Unfortunately, while I appreciated the Witness for the Dead it just didn't live up to my expectations.  Addison's world-building is top-notch, but these are very different books and the second just doesn't carry the emotional weight the first book did.  It was almost - but not quite - like reading books by separate writers.  In fact, I think if I'd read them separately I would have enjoyed The Witness for the Dead much more.  

4. The Wolf and the Woodsman, Ava Reid - Girl walks into a bookstore, tells heart-sister/store manager she needs a book, heart-sister/store manager without hesitation grabs a new book off of the shelf....and it's perfection.  No, it's nothing new.  I could list where else I've seen many of the elements in this book.  However, it is beautifully written and sometimes what you want is a newish trip through the familiar.  It's exactly what I needed.  

5.  The Regrets, Amy Bonnaffons - I don't know quite what I suspected from this - another 2020 NPR Concierge pick.  If I'm remembering correctly, I thought it would be a lighter book than it ended up being.  Utterly different than anything I've ever read before, this book is powerful in its depiction of intimacy and grief. I want to read it again sometime - maybe in a different stage of life - because I have a feeling it will show me something new each time I approach it.  


August: 

1.  Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger - I.  Loved.  This.  Book.  I sigh, typing that phrase.  Elatsoe is high on a bunch of best of 2021 lists, and it's well-deserving of the accolades.  It's brilliant fantasy - especially if you like dogs, and especially if you like stories from other cultures.  And can we talk about the fact that there's no teen romance?  What a relief!  (Ordinarily I'm game....but this was refreshing.)

2. A Psalm for the Wild Built, Becky Chambers (audio) - A new Becky Chambers book is a must for me, but for some reason, I didn't connect as strongly to this book as to all of her others.  I feel like I need to approach it in a different frame of mind.  (And you should still read every single thing Chambers has written.) 

3. For the Wolf, Hannah Whitten (audio) - I was apparently not done with fairy tales about girls and wolves.  Truly, I liked this one better.  

4. Any Way the Wind Blows, Rainbow Rowell (audio) - Here's the thing.  Books don't always address the trauma that's inevitably left in the wake of whatever grand adventure(s) they are working through.  (In fact, the only other I can think of off the top of my head is the 3rd book of Sarah Kazloff's 9 Realms quartet.). I think Rowell did a really smart thing by revisiting Simon Snow and the gang to go into what happens after.  She maybe didn't dive in as deeply as I'd like - but this is, after all, a Simon Snow book and only so much seriousness can be tolerated.  I appreciated it very much.  

5. The Merciful Crow and 6. The Faithless Hawk, Margaret Owen - The Faithless Hawk made it onto the NPR Concierge last year as a sequel that could stand alone.  I, of course, can't do that and had to start with the first book.  OMG.  They are brilliant, amazing books.  You know how much I like it when I find something original, and these books are truly different from anything I've ever read.  Fantasy built on a caste system that feels sadly true to life - while focusing on found and built family.  I LOVED these books.  

7. She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan (audio) - Should have been my cup of tea.  Was not.  I was left feeling really let down, in part because I couldn't connect with the characters.  It's one thing to build a character who's single-minded, determined, and ambitious.  Books are happily littered with those.  BUT, you have to have some vulnerability somewhere so that readers can connect.  If you don't have that, the character just becomes unlikable.  It was hard getting through the whole book, but I kept hoping it would get better...and then it didn't. 

And here's a mini-rant to throw in.  It's super common these days to advertise a book with a blurb that follows along these lines:  For fans of X, who also love Y.  For me, this has become a major turn-off because inevitably the book being advertised isn't near as good as the two it's being compared to.  It sets up expectations that are unfair for the new book, and I think it's a lazy way to promote content.  I will admit, I hesitated when I saw that used for She Who Became the Sun.  Should have listened to my gut. 

8. Slippery Creatures, 9. The Sugared Game and 10. Subtle Blood, K.J. Charles - Romance novels usually aren't my thing, but I needed something light and breezy to read and these were just the ticket!  Slippery Creatures made the NPR 2021 Book Concierge, and so I'd bought it when it went on sale.  Wasn't even all the way through when I bought the two sequels!  Historical LGBTQ romance which is also a bit cloak and dagger?  Super fun, and perfect for my vacation week!

11. Six Crimson Crows, Elizabeth Lim (audio) - Lim is another author who I now automatically preorder.  She did a really interesting thing in this book by combining European fairy tales with Chinese mythology.  Truly, I'm a sucker for variations of the 7 Swans, and I delighted in how novel this version felt.  My only disappointment?  It turned out to be the first book, and now I have to wait for more.  

12.  Once There Were Wolves, Charlotte McConaghy (audio) - This book caught my attention at our brilliant local bookshop, but I was nervous about trying it out so I found it in our library.  It's a story about sisters, and trauma, and nature and healing.  And oh yes, there's a bit of a murder mystery too.  I was surprised by just how deeply this book touched my heart.  

13. Raybearer, Jordan Ifeuko - It's also been on a million 'best of' books.  An African-based YA fantasy this time, my goodness did it deliver on all of its accolades! I honestly am gobsmacked that this is a debut novel.  The worldbuilding is lush and full, and the characters are brilliantly developed.  I read it in a rush and then immediately grabbed the sequel.  (TBC)


Unfinished: 

1.  We Ride Upon Sticks, Quan Barry (audio) - An example of an NPR Concierge book not being my cup of tea.  Not sure why - on paper, it was a good fit - just never grabbed my attention.  

2.  A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (audio) - I decided to try it just to see if the storyline would catch my heart this time.  Instead, I had trouble getting interested at all.  

3.  The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson (audio) - I checked out the audio three times.  It's an important book, and it has big things to say.  I just couldn't get through it.  

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The books of May and June

 (May was exceptionally slow, so we're going to combine this.  June wasn't much better.)

May: 

1.  Juniper Wiles, Charles De Lint - A new De Lint book!  About Newford!  With JILLY!!!!  Yep, this was pretty darn awesome, and I read it as soon as it was released.  

2. Fugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells - Murderbot.  Always fun.  Not much more to say than I have in the past about these books.  Wells has done an amazing job of creating this series, and it's great popcorn-type reading!

3.  When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (audio, reread) - Several very much beloved friends and family are dealing with serious health issues right now, and my heart tugged me back to this book.  This time around the thing that really struck me was the importance of living your values.  I'm working now to make sure I apply that thoroughly in my own life...and to help my loved ones apply it in theirs.  I just cannot recommend this book enough.  Yes, it's sad - but it's also beautiful, and hopeful, and important. 

June: 

1.  A Crown of Wishes, Roshani Chokshi - I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this as it's been in my queue since I first discovered Chokshi through The Star Touched Queen.  A Crown of Wishes is a standalone about Gauri, who's the sister of the protagonist in that first series I read.  Again, I adore fairy tales built on cultures that aren't my own, and Chokshi doesn't disappoint with her rich world-building, interesting characters, and well-plotted stories.  (Truth be told, though, these older books are better than her most recent.). It was just what I needed.  Also, Gauri is a badass fighter who's no shrinking violet.  Also, also, I love that in this book both Gauri and the Fox Prince she teams up with have to face their own inner demons to find healing before they can do what they want to do.  

2. Riot Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi - This was on many best-of lists in 2020.  I didn't enjoy it so much as I appreciated it.  Reality intersects with fantasy in a way that highlights the ugliness of the world we live in while also offering hope.  It's a short book, but it's not a quick read.  I would recommend it to anyone who's invested in anti-racism, and to anyone like me who feels it's important to populate your literary world with people who are not like you.  

3. The Body is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor - Full disclosure, I was diagnosed a year ago with an eating disorder that I've had since I was a teenager.  This is one of the books I picked up to help me along the way - recommended by my ED Dietician, who's a real gem.  Nothing in this book was new to me - but sometimes we just need a reminder about the reality of the world we live in.  It is a beautiful book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's struggling or wants to walk away from diet culture, which is truly horrendous.  

4. D ( A Tale of Two Worlds), Michel Faber - I picked this up on the sale table, not knowing anything about it other than the fact that I truly loved Faber's The Book of Strange New Things and was charmed by the description.  Oh my, this was a lovely, lovely book.  It's a fairy tale with some very clear inspirational stories that is neither too derivative or overly precious.  Such a joy to read!  When D's going missing, a little girl goes on a strange adventure to right the wrong. Just read it.  

5. Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi - I walked into my favorite local bookshop,  Skylark Bookshop, and asked my friend Carrie for something hopeful because things have been so heavy lately.  This is the book she handed me.  It's a quiet and slow book that manages to pack a very big emotional punch into the end of each of the four sections...which almost catches you by surprise.  I read it slowly, savoring each section.  I hear there's another book coming out. I'll be buying that.  

6. The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (audio, reread) - At long last Wecker has released a new book! I cracked that open as soon as it arrived, and realized very quickly that I wanted to reread the first.  It's not 100% necessary - Wecker does a great job in the set up for The Hidden Palace of easily sending you back to that story - but I wanted to.  First of all, the reader of the audio version is AMAZING!  His narration was a real treat.  Secondly, I had almost forgotten what a beautiful book this is.  I loved revisiting it - and now must have a hardback copy. 

Unfinished:  

1. The Gilded Cage, Vic James - You know, the funny thing is that when I started it, I was immediately caught up in the story.  The longer I was away from it, though, the less I wanted to go back.  There are two more books in the series, and I'd just rather spend money on other books right now.  So into the unfinished file it goes.  

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Reading in February and March and April (whoops!)

February:

1.  Armistice and 2. Amnesty, Lara Elena Donnelly - As promised, I'm reading through some series this year!  A few thoughts:

  • I love the characters, warts and all.  
  • A lot of key plot points felt too easy.  We're supposed to feel the danger, but it's just not there.  
  • I do very much appreciate that this trilogy does explore the idea of good people being forced into situations where they have to do very bad things - and the fallout from those decisions.
  • I also like that it explores relationships over time - relationships that grow, crumble, and change, very much as they do in real life. 
  • I adored the world-building.  
  • I was occasionally confused by the politics - which were a bit all over the place, but then war is messy like that. 
  • At the end of the day, I loved these books - but I also feel a small tinge for what might have been if only they'd been slightly more tilted towards actual danger and intrigue.  Much as I loved the characters, it is a touch difficult to get invested in their story if you just know that everything is going to turn out ok eventually.    

3. The Silvered Serpents, Roshani Chokshi - I hesitated a bit over this book, the sequel to The Gilded Wolves.  I'd just felt a bit m'eh about the first book because of the way it ended.  (I also had a "Leigh Bardugo did it better" sort of feeling about the whole thing.). For some reason, though, I decided to revisit.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it!  Yay for that!  It's a good thing when an author picks up steam as they go through a series - sometimes it's as much fun to watch the author improve as it is to follow along with the story. 

4. Remote Control, Nnedi Okorafor (audio) - I adore Nnedi Okorafor, I really do.  It's a treat when she puts out a new book, and this was no exception.  I don't want to spoil it - as you should ALL read it - so all I will say is that I fell in love with Fatima, and the fable in the story spoke to me deeply.  I'll be reading this again. 

5. The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (audio) - A 2020 NPR Concierge book, I was tickled when this showed up in audio at the library.  What a delightful book!  You know my heart is with folklore and fairy tales, and I've spoken often of my appreciation for those that are non-European.  This ticked all of my boxes - including the desire for new ideas/concepts and excellent characters.  It well deserves the accolades it has received!

6. You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (audio) - I'm going to confess that I didn't get all of the way through.  Ruffin and Lamar are excellent storytellers and writers, and I think this is an important book that people should read.  But it was brutal to listen to - for all that the book is infused with humor and sisterly charm.  In merely telling stories and listing all of the ways Lamar has dealt with everyday racism, the sisters paint a picture that I'm not ever going to forget.  

7. SoulStar, C.L. Polk - In which we finish up Polk's delightful Kingston Saga.  It won't make sense if you read it as a standalone, so please start with Witchmark.  I was pretty emotional over this book.  Polk's inclusive love stories and LGBTQIA+ characters are a delight, and you always root for them.  I appreciate very much that each book focuses on different characters - in part because it allows you to really explore different facets of the world Polk has built.  They aren't perhaps the deepest books in the world, but they will get you in the feels.  

8. A Song Below Water, Bethany C. Morrow (audio) - It took me a while to get through this book.  On the one hand, I did adore the characters and I've always loved using science fiction or fantasy to explore real-life issues.  On the other hand, when it's this blatant, it can feel more like a lecture than like an immersive experience that makes you think and feel.  At the end of the day, I personally think it's less effective in getting the message across when it's hammered over your head.  BUT, sometimes the sledgehammer approach is needed.  Still working through my thoughts about this book.  What I do know for certain, though, is that the characters are absolutely amazing.  Morrow has real talent for bringing her characters to life, and that is enough to make me recommend this book.  


March: 

1. Girl, Serpent, Thorn, Melissa Basherdougt (audio) - I checked this book out from the library multiple times before I actually read it.  Don't know why I had so much trouble getting into it.  (There is a glut on the market of YA fantasy - and a lot of it isn't great.  For some reason, I was concerned this would be one of that crowd.). To my surprise, once I started listening I was swept in.  To my further surprise, there turned out to be considerably more complexity to the story and the characters than I've come to expect from most YA fiction.  Kudos!

2.  Rules for Visiting, Jessica Francis Kane (audio) - I picked up a sale copy of this book because it was a 2020 NPR book - even though it's not my normal read.  Then I found the audio at the library...and I'm very happy that I tried it.  This is the sort of book for which the word 'charming' was created.  Light and breezy, and yet also full of heart - it was an excellent read.  

3. Calculated Risks, Seanan McGuire - Hmm....McGuire's InCryptid series is still her popcorn book series, and fortunately the quality is still high.  (This is book 10).  I still don't think, though, that Sarah is the most engaging member of the Price family to lead a book.  This is partly because of who and what she is, so it feels odd to critique the book based on that.  Fortunately, the larger family - both by blood and found family - is enough to fill in the gaps and make the book more interesting.  I did think this was better than the last...although I do have some icky feelings about one plot point.  Will probably continue.   

4. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Nghi Vo (audio, novella) - See my above comments on The Empress of Salt and Fortune.  This was more of the same!  So, so glad my library has the audio versions! 

5. The House in the Cerulean Sea, T. J. Klune (audio) - I tried to listen to this book a while back, and didn't get very far.  After that, I even took it off my queue.  That makes me sad, now, for what I would have lost had I not kept hearing snippets about it everywhere - recommendations with enough detail to make me go back and try again.  At its heart, it's a story about found family and about finding and embracing yourself.  What's not to love about that?!

6. The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey (audio) - Gailey continues to impress, even as this book is very different from her others that I've read.  I actually think I need to reread it, because I was so caught up in the plot.  It's a very noir sort of science fiction...and it says a whole lot about the 'just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something' aspect of scientific advancement.  It also says a lot about toxic relationships between men and women and what it is to be a human.  I'm so excited to see where Gailey goes with her writing career!

7. Plain Bad Heroines, Emily M. Danforth (audio) - Another NPR recommendation, this story about a movie within a movie based on a book within a book isn't exactly my normal cup of tea, but I was intrigued by the premise.  My comments:  I did have trouble following the audio.  The frequent switch in perspective, unreliable narrators and the use of footnotes along with the use of only a single narrator who didn't do voices made that tricky.  I did actually get a copy of the book, and used that to help straighten myself out a bit - and that's a strike against it.  The book felt like a fever dream - mystical and strange, and ultimately never resolving or saying much. I enjoyed it because I enjoy Southern Gothic type books, and because of the strangeness of the mood - but it's not going to make my top 10 for the year by a long shot. 


April: 

1.  How to Make a Plant Love You, Summer Rayne Oakes - Oakes is one of the plant gurus I follow on youtube and social.  I hadn't really been thinking about reading her book until she started putting little quotes into her instagram posts.  Her writing is delightful.  Nothing here is earthshattering, but she does do a very beautiful job of explaining why it's important to connect with the natural world and just how much it does for us.  I didn't learn anything, but I very much enjoyed the read.  

2. A Court of Thorns & Roses (audio), 3.  A Court of Mist and Fury, 4. A Court of Wings and Ruin, 5. A court of Frost and Starlight, 6. A Court of Silver Flames, Sarah J. Maas - Friends, Maas is never going to win any awards for originality.  I snagged the first four books as an ebook bundle from the sale table - and I'm very glad I only spent $4 on them.  Now, normally I am annoyed by writing that so blatantly rips off its inspiration material, but in this case (and maybe in the frame of mind I was in) I actually enjoyed the ride and had a lot of fun identifying and laughing about all of the references.  Among them: Beauty and the Beast (both the original French story and Disney), the Mummy, a quote from Nietzsche, the Hunger Games, Twilight, Greek Mythology, and on and on and on.  It's derivative and highly unoriginal, but it's well-written enough that it sweeps you along so that you enjoy the ride.  Perfect for those times when you want something familiar and easy that you can just enjoy. (And I'll call myself out - I've been super critical of other writers like this, and have ranted about it many times.  I don't know why I was able to just relax and enjoy it this time - nor do I know why it amused instead of enraged me.)

7. The Other Bennet Sister, Janice Hadlow - My oh my oh my.  This was a lovely, lovely book.  (NPR Concierge again!). As much as I love Jane Austin, I'm not one to read inspired by books - with very few exceptions, all of which came to me through trusted recommendations such as NPR.  Hadlow has chosen to tell the story of Mary the often forgotten middle Bennet sister, and it was a delight of a story.  The first portion of the book retells Pride and Prejudice through Mary's POV, but then we move into what happens to her afterward.  It's really the story of what happens when a young woman finds herself and comes into her own.  I found myself wanting to reach through the pages to hug the young Mary, and then I cheered her on as she escaped the confines of her family to find herself.  

8. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers (audio and print) - There's no secret to the fact that I adore Becky Chambers.  In fact, I very recently reread the first three books in this series via audio.  There is a gentleness to these books which attracts me.  The plot of this installment is really a gentle low-stakes way to explore how strangers from very different species get to know each other.  One character ties into the other books to add a sense of continuity.  In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking about how hard it is for people who don't understand each other to get along.  Chambers would have us believe that a little bit of kindness and consideration and a willingness to learn is the key to doing just that.  

9. Breath, James Nestor - This was an NPR Best Book of 2020, but it was also recommended by a friend of a friend.  Fascinating stuff, especially for someone who's developed adult-onset asthma in the last couple of years.  Nester is a fantastic writer - able to explain the science behind his research in a way that's engaging and easy to comprehend.  I'll admit to feeling a bit of despair from time to time, but I also left with a great deal of curiosity and an interest in exploring some simple breathing techniques that just might help.  


Unfinished: 

1.  How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge, K. Eason - Argh.  This pains me no end.  I ADORED Eason's first book about Rory Thorne.  It was such a delightfully fun mash-up of fairy tale and space opera - so unique and original.  And then the sequel committed the cardinal sin of being boring.  Big sigh. 


Sunday, January 31, 2021

2021 Reading Begins!

My goal in 2020 was to read 100 books - which was my annual goal prior to going back to work.  I made it, by the skin of my teeth, and enjoyed quite the journey along the way.  Since I didn't do an end of year look back for 2020, I thought I'd share my usual book thoughts here instead.  

Best books I read in 2020: 

  1. The Invisible Life of Adie LaRue, V.C. Schwab (the absolute best of the year!)
  2. The Book of Delights, Ross Gay
  3. The Blood of Stars Duology, Elizabeth Lim
  4. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
  5. The Nine Realms Series - 4 books, Sarah Kazloff
  6. How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, K. Eason
  7. The Murderbot books, Martha Wells
  8. The Mere Wife, Maria Dahvana Headley
  9. The Empire of Gold, S.A. Chakrabordy
  10. The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow
  11. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Yeah, I know I cheated a little bit by putting whole series in here and having a weird number in the list.  But who cares!  My blog, my rules!

Lessons learned:

  1. Life is too short for books that you don't enjoy.  To be fair, this is something I'd come to a long, long time ago....but 2020 made it super easy to set aside any books that just weren't my cup of tea and/or weren't right for the moment. It also made it easier to walk away from authors who I generally love, but who had disappointed me one too many times.  
  2. When life is tough, you just need someone to tell you a story. The longer the pandemic went on, the more my needs reduced to a simple craving for a story.
  3. Audiobooks are a gift from Heaven.
  4. 100 books is a bit of a stretch while also working full time, raising teenagers, and trying to enjoy other pursuits.  In my perfect world, I'm still reading 10 books/month...but the reality is that I need to let go of that for the time being.  

Goals for 2021:

  1. Continue to work through my queue, reducing the number of to-read books to at least half of its current level - which stands at 47, not including preorders.  Note:  This does not actually cover all of the books on my wish list, just those that I've already purchased.  Also note, this list has been built up over years, so it's not just a bunch of books I bought last week.
  2. There are a lot of books in my queue that are first books in a series...and I've never quite gotten around to reading them, in part because there were so many books in the queue, and I was trying to work through them before I added more.  I want to make sure I give them all a try this year so they don't continue to just sit. 
  3. Likewise, while I've read a lot of great books in recent months, they've by and large been stand-alone or new books in old, ongoing series.  I've been missing a good, old-fashioned deep dive into a trilogy or series - the type of long story that you get to sit with for a while.  
  4. Finally, get through War & Peace.  

And now, let's talk about what I read in January!

1.  The Midnight Library, Matt Heig (audio) - Anther pick from the NPR 2020 Book Concierge, as well as a recommendation that was given to me by several trusted sources, this turned out to be the perfect book to start the year with.  In fact, I listened via audio from the library, and will be purchasing a hardback copy for my shelves.  That good.  I tend to get a tad nervous when reading a book that very clearly visits a well-worn trope - like that of being shown the paths not taken - but in Heig's hands it felt new and fresh.  In the end, it was a far more powerful story than I had anticipated.  (You know it's good when I get up and start pacing the house in excitement as soon as I finish!). Nora's journey through the library was exactly the right book for the right time for me - a hopeful way to start a new year after a year of intense challenges.  And it ended on just the right note.  I can't wait to revisit this book as I have a feeling it will unfold differently each time.  

2.  Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire - McGuire did something very smart with this newest addition to her Wayward Children books.  Instead of returning to the same school and characters we've come to know and love, she instead tells the tale of an all-new character in the same world - the sort of girl who will likely end up in the school.  I'm not a horse girl at all, but I delighted in Regan and related to her more than I expected I would. Her journey was pure magic.  

3. A Rhythm of Prayer, ed. Sarah Bessey (advanced copy) - I happened to check my email just as an invitation was coming through to apply for an advanced copy for review...and I was lucky enough to receive it. This is another example of the right book for the right time, and I will be keeping a hardback copy on my desk to return to again and again.  (Kind of like my beloved copy of John O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us.). This book is a book of prayers, written by many of my favorite faith leaders and more.  There are poems, and call and response pieces, and essays, and everything else.  Some I read quickly, some I had to sit with for a while.  All spoke to that thing in me that's been lacking for a while.  Thank you, Sarah.  

4. Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly - Getting one of those 2021 reading goals started by tackling this first book in a trilogy that's been sitting in my queue forever.  I'd picked it up and had tried to start it probably a half dozen times in the past, but had never really made it that far in.  It is a tiny bit thorny to get into because there's a fair amount of exposition....and there's so much going on that it can be a tiny bit difficult to keep the politics and spymastery straight sometimes.  But my oh my, once you let yourself fall in it is a gorgeous book.  I went straight to the next book in the trilogy, so I'll do more in-depth notes when I've completed them all. 

And that's it.  I spent a Looooooooot of time in January listening to podcasts, so that's a little bit of why the list is so short.  That, and stress.  And several unfinished books that I haven't given up on yet! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

November and December Books

because I forgot to post Nov....) 

2020 Reading Goals: 102/100

1.  A Dance With Fate, Juliet Marillier - Book 2 in the Warrior Bards series, and I am a touch annoyed that it took me so long to actually get into the story.  I've enjoyed Marillier for ages and ages, and I'm typically excited when she publishes a new book.  Not sure what the problem was, exactly, because once I was in I was really in, and I enjoyed it very much.  Perhaps it's because at this point it's very difficult for Marillier to offer anything new with her books.  She's still building on Daughter of the Forest, so we are 11 books into this particular world.  It's beautiful indeed, but she also sticks with the same themes over and over again.  Sometimes that brings the comfort of the familiar, at other times it's a bit of a boring retread.  I will keep reading, but some of the luster is beginning to wear thin.  But also, when I need a bit of love and magic and hope...these are the books I want.  

2. A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers (audio, reread) - Had to finish the trilogy, didn't I!  I was having trouble settling into something to listen to...and this fit my needs quite nicely.  Curiously enough, as I navigate through some of my own long-standing personal issues, this was the book in the series that most touched my heart this time around. 

3. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown (audio) - I could have saved myself a lot of time and grief if I'd had this book 20-30 years ago.  As it is, Brown's work is so well known - and I've read so many of her other books - that this was more of a familiar, loving reminder than a groundbreaking journey into truth.  My one complaint is that it's written in the first person, but is read by a stranger.  As I now listen to Brown's podcast, it was a tad odd to listen to someone else read her book - especially when so much of it was personal. 

4. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (audio) - When Charles De Lint mentions a book, I pay attention.  Rather fortuitously, I found the available audio version on my library's app just a few hours after I saw Mr. De Lint's recommendation of Facebook.  I devoured it in just over 24 hours.  I don't want to spoil anything - and I do think you should all read this book - so all I'll say is that this is an excellent example of using fantasy/sci-fi to highlight real life issues in a beautiful way.  

5. Seraphina, 6. Shadow Scale (half audio), Rachel Hartman - It was only going to be a matter of time before I finally read these books, after falling hard for Hartman's Tess of the Road - a standalone book about Seraphina's younger sister.  Truth?  I like Tess a whole lot more.  These are very good books indeed, but I'm so in love with Tess that I really didn't care so much about her big sister.  I do believe Hartman has built an amazing world, and I do absolutely enjoy her take on dragons.  I don't think any of the surprises were spoiled by having read Tess first, but I did find myself pulling out my copy of Tess to look up details once in a while.  Also, these are very different books from Tess - being more standard fantasy fair in contrast to Tess's personal growth story.  All good, just different. 

December:

1.  The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow - I so loved Harrow’s debut book last year - The 10,000 Doors of January - that I of course preordered her sophomore book.  I’m quite delighted to say that it was every bit as good, even if it didn’t quite touch me as deeply in the soul as her first book.  Having said that, I think this is also a book that’s going to get better on a second or third read.  It’s about sisters, and magic, and gender roles, and women’s rights, and racism, and folklore and all of the things that are worth talking about.  Beautifully done.  

2. Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson (audio) - Have you ever had a book start to pop up in your life everywhere?  That's what happened here.  Not sure why, but suddenly I began to see this book EVERYWHERE.  So I checked out the audio from the library.  And you know what?  It was an absolute delight!  It was a quick, lighthearted read that made me laugh even while making some important points about family and friendship.  I loved it.  

3. Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (audio) - Gailey was a wonderful discovery for me in 2020 - in part because she made NPR's 2019 Book Concierge, which brought her to my attention.  As the Best of 2020 lists started to make the rounds - I found that she was once again receiving accolades for this new book.  Found family seems to be one of the themes I'm falling into lately - and no wonder, as it's important to recognize just how healing such families can be.  This was another quick read, and it's one I'd like to revisit once it's had time to settle.  Gailey's alternate history worlds are like no others, and I love that she creates amazing LGBTQ characters.  She deserves the accolades she's getting.  

4. Ready Player Two, Ernest Cline (audio) - I listened to the wonderful audio of Ready Player One years and years ago at family camp, and was really hoping when I saw the news of a sequel that the audio for it would also be read by Will Wheaton, who had done an amazing job with the first book.  To my delight, that wish came true!  It's just fun, and sometimes that's what you need.  I really enjoyed the fact that Ready Player Two picks up right after Ready Player One, and that Cline doesn't feel the need to handhold his readers through a revisit of the events of the first book.  All references to it were very skillfully woven in, and the audience is trusted to just know what's going on.  I love that a lot of what happens next seems to be really natural...and I love that this time around the characters get a chance for some personal growth, even if that feels a tad too easy at times.  A very fun read indeed.  

5. The Case of the Missing Marquess, Nancy Springer (audio) - I - along with the rest of the world - fell in love with Enola Holmes thanks to Mille Bobbie Brown and Netflix, so I decided to try the book.  This is one of those rare occasions where...and it pains me to say this...I like the movie much better.  In this specific case, the movie built a much richer world based on some very good bones from the book, and it benefited from certain changes the screenwriters made - including aging up our protagonist.  If you've got a younger reader who wants girl-focused books, these are a perfect choice.  Even as much as I love YA and middle-grade books, though, I think I'll pass on the rest.  

6.  Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk - Upfront - I adore Polk, and have preordered her books since she first came on the scene a couple of years ago.  This standalone book moves away from the family in her first books while taking the magical stakes to a whole new level.  (Also an NPR 2020 Book Concierge and Best of noted book.)  Straight up, this is a book about birth control and agency and women’s rights - in a fantasy setting that’s based on roughly Regency era truth to make it super uncomfortable to read at times.  (It’s also a bit heavy handed...but I’ll forgive that because the ending delighted me so.)  I find I’m having trouble letting go...and I keep pausing to think about it.  That’s a good thing. 

7.  Mexican Gothic, Silvia Morena-Garcia (audio) - I fell in love with Gothic literature my freshman year in college, and have adored it every since.  Mexican Gothic snagged my attention because it’s also an NPR Concierge pick this year - and it’s made a bunch of Best of lists.  I read Morena-Garcia’s last book, though, and while it was enjoyable it didn’t really stand out so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Well.  Let me just say that Mexican Gothic blew me away.  It was a truly delicious Gothic novel with all of the usual tropes that you need to build a grand story.  I loved our heroine, Noemi, who was something I hadn’t quite seen before - a combination of personality traits that were unexpected and delightful.  

8. The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper - I discovered Harper this summer, and have come to admire her greatly.  Truth be told, I prefer listening to her rather than reading her - and I regret that I didn’t have the time or energy for her weekly discussions of this book.  She’s someone who gives me hope because her teachings on the Gospel are what I long for.  

9.  The Dark Archive, Genevieve Cogman - Closing out the year with another book about the Invisible Library!  (Book 7).  Happy to report that Cogman has returned to form with this installment (I didn’t enjoy her foray into the heist novel last time.) Irene and co are back at it in full form, trying to figure out a bizarre series of assassination attempts.  I rather enjoyed her petulant teen fey apprentice, who is desperate to become an archetype.  Just good, old-fashioned fun. 

.  


Unfinished:

1. Over the Woodward Wall, A. Deborah Baker - This is Seanan McGuire's first book for younger folk, written under a new pen name.  It suffers from what the Catherynne M. Valente books do - too much preciousness.  I actually made it through 3/4 of the book, but just couldn't finish.  Feels silly to get so far and stop...but when you find yourself making a face every time you pick up a book, only to set it down moments later...well, life is just too short.  

2. Or What You Will, Jo Walton - Yep, done with Walton.  (or at least with preorders....may continue to use the library to explore her books).  She's too cerebral, with not enough heart to balance that out.  I once again loved the concept - a writer and her key character in conversation - but it lost me with the bouncing around and the long pieces of exposition.  I left it in my reading piles for months...and just couldn't bring myself to go back.  

Saturday, October 31, 2020

October Reading...Spooky no more.

I used to spend October reading spooky books...but honestly, the world is horrible enough right now that I just can't quite bring myself to go there.  I need fun, and happy endings, and things that work out in the end even when the journey is hard. Maybe someday I'll go back to my October habit - just not this year.  

2020 Reading Goal: 83/100

1.  The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, 2. Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers (audio) - I adore these books, and so I started picking up the audio with my Libro.fm subscription.  I remain very grateful to the friend who introduced me to Chambers.  Her books are character-centered and have a sweetness to them that makes my heart sing.  The great Madeline L'Engle once spoke of how it is possible to share human truths in science fiction that people can't hear in more realistic prose - and Chambers is an excellent example of that.  Her books feel hopeful, and they focus on diversity and the complexity of what it means to be human.  

3. A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Audio) - I preordered this a long time ago, and then managed to snag the audio shortly after it was released by the library.  (I'm just super into audiobooks right now!). I love Novik, and I admire her ability to jump from one type of story to the next.  This is not her last two fairy tales - nor is it the series that brought her to the public's attention.  It's a twisted magical child in a magical school story, a delightful new take on a very old trope.  And I loved it...with one caveat.  Novik had to do a LOT of worldbuilding, and she chose to do that by having El, our narrator and main character, explain things constantly.  It wasn't the smoothest method of worldbuilding I've seen, and it did make it a bit difficult to stay connected to the story.  Still, a worthwhile read.  This very dark take on a magical school, along with Mean Girl level of machinations on the part of the teens who inhabit it felt like a breath of fresh air.  Yes, it was over the top in many ways - but the characters also felt more realistic because of it.  I can't wait for the next book!

4. Murder on Cold Street, Sherry Thomas (The Lady Sherlock Series, book 5) - Man, oh man, do I ever love these books!  Charlotte Holmes has quickly become one of my favorite interpretations of the Sherlock Holmes canon.  She's nothing at all like the standard 'plucky' heroine of historic fiction and is completely and utterly herself.  One thing that was made clear in this particular mystery is that she does not work alone.  Her friends and companions have built quite the team over the series, and that was nice to see.  Bonus, I had to run to google twice to look up the historic dress described so that I could more clearly imagine what Charlotte was wearing.  Her crazy fashion sense is a delight among the millions of period books that I've read because it's so unexpected and quite frankly nuts.  Also, she loves cake more than anything.  What's not to love about that?

5.  The Dark Days Club, Alison Goodman (audio) - This was a NPR Book Concierge pick in 2016, and it's been on my wish list every since.  When I discovered the audio version on Libro.fm on sale I decided to take a risk.  I went back and read the comments on the book concierge, and I have to agree with their reviewer.  What makes this book so special is that it's a historical fantasy which actually pays attention to historical detail.  (If you read it, make sure to also read the author's notes in the back on research and go to her websites to look at the pictures she's collected.  It's a lot of fun! Read on for more notes about the whole series...

6.  The Invisible Life of Adie LaRue, V.E. Schwab (audio) - I've been very eagerly awaiting this book, and I was not at all disappointed. Every year there seems to be one book that really satisfies everything I want from a book, and this is it for 2020.  In fact, it took several days after I finished it before I could read again.  I've got an audio and a digital copy, and I will be purchasing a hardback asap.  That good.  I don't ordinarily do this, but this book is so special that I'm sharing the NPR Book Review.  I love Adie, and I love Henry.  The book is grounded in the very familiar mythology of a Faustian bargain, but it never feels derivative or dull...or even that familiar.  I think Schwab is a brilliant writer who just keeps getting better and better.  The end caught me slightly off guard - magic that for me is very, very rare.  I'm already looking forward to a reread as I'm left reflecting on the impressions and connections we make in the world.  

7. The Dark Days Pact and 8. The Dark Days Deceit, Alison Goodman - Of course, thanks to the library I was able to immediately move on to the rest of the Lady Helen trilogy!  (I'll be buying the whole series at some point.). So yes, the brilliant thing about this series is that there is actual historic detail regarding dress, customs, manners, class differences, etc.  It doesn't overwhelm the books, but is a nice anchor for them.  Helen in many ways is the product of her time, and does not start out as some idealized feminist beacon.  The men around her act and behave like men of their time would have, not like woke modern feminist dudes.  It's refreshing, and it grounds the fantastical elements - of which there are many - in a delightful way.  Goodman did a fairly good job of not telegraphing key plot points too soon, and I do appreciate the way she tied up certain plot elements in a way that satisfied the conventions of the time while also freeing Helen from them.  I enjoyed this series very much!


Unfinished (In which I cleaned out my queue and currently reading lists because life is just too short to read stuff that isn't speaking to you):

1.  Battle Ground, Jim Butcher - I was cautious when this arrived.  As I said in July, Peace Talks - which is really part one of this massive storyline - left me with a hefty dose of gloom and doom fatigue.  Soooo...Yeah, I skimmed through the book just to get a sense of what was going to happen.  In the process, I discovered a key plot point.  Said key plot point pissed me off so much that I decided not to read the book.  On the one hand, I get it.  When you are deep into a long-running series you need to shake things up, and no matter what you do you're going to tick off some portion of your fandom.  On the other hand, this is the second time Butcher has utilized this sort of plot point, which is honestly too close to the 'fridging' trope for my comfort.  Not only is that a crap way to advance the story for a male character, but it also makes me really wonder if the problem isn't just that Butcher doesn't know how to write about relationships.  Also, as I think back, I think he wrote himself into a corner with this particular character and just didn't know how to get himself out of it.  I've read several reviews of Battle Ground, and at the end of the day even if it weren't for this plot point it's not at all a normal Dresedon Files book and I'm not sure I'm interested.  As a friend said, "Somebody said it has the best fight scene ever - the entire book," and that makes me tired just thinking about it.  (I'm super cranky about this book, can you tell?)

2.  Deathless, Cathrynne M. Valente - Years ago I fell in love with Cathrynne M. Valente through her first The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland book.  By book 3 I was exhausted by the preciousness of it all, and I haven't read her since.  I'd heard good things about Deathless, though, and decided to give it a chance.  I loved the early portions, but by the time I was about 30% in that same exhaustion was settling in.  I love fairy tales...but there's just something about Valente's writing that rubs me the wrong way.  It's too precious, too twee.  

3.  Lent, Jo Walton - I have to stop preordering Walton's books.  I fell in love with her through my first Walton read, Among Others.  I still maintain that it's a brilliant book.  I also loved Tooth and Claw and My Real Children.  BUT, her recent books have just left me cold.  The Thessaly series was too cerebral, and I only made it halfway through the second book before giving up.  Lent has been similar.  I'll be interested in spurts, but have hit a point (at only 15ish% in) where I just sigh when I go to pick it up.  It remains to be seen as to whether or not I'll finish her most recent book.  As of the writing of this, I'm about 20% in, but haven't touched it in over a month.  Her concepts are magnificent, but I just don't enjoy reading the books.

4.  Happy Hour in Hell and 5. Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, Tad Williams - I used to read Williams a lot, and I loved him!  Actually really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy (Bobby Dollar), but that was years ago.  I've started Happy Hour in Hell probably a dozen times, but never make it past the first couple of chapters before I lose interest.  Just not my cup of tea right now.  

6.  Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir - Having gotten through Gideon, I checked the second book out from the library...and just couldn't get into it.  It's written in a very different style, which I usually appreciate but which made it hard to follow along in audio format.  And I missed Gideon's voice.  And I just didn't care.