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Archive for the ‘Science fiction and fantasy’ Category

The end of the year is approaching quickly, and that means it’s time to talk about books!

This year I took a reading vacation and also got to read more during my time in Europe, so I’ve read 70 books so far. (And I’m in the middle of two more great ones!) About a quarter of my reading was YA and about a third was SF/F. I continued to explore the romance genre after trying it out last year, and I made more effort to read some horror. 83% of my reading was written by women and non-binary individuals, and 36% of my reading was written by writers of color.

I’m not discussing some truly excellent titles because I had to winnow down the list somehow, which is how I can tell what a strong reading year it’s been. I tried to choose books that have left a lasting impression on me.

Best Nonfiction:

So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

I honestly feel that the world would be a better place if this were required reading. Ijeoma Oluo does a masterful job explaining common issues of race in an accessible and insightful way.

The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Mcintyre

This biography of Cold War double agent Oleg Gordievsky read like a novel and kept me turning pages. I even had to check Wikipedia at one point because I was so worried about what was happening, I couldn’t bear not to know any longer. If you’re a fan of spy stories like I am, you’ll love this book.

The Art of Description, by Mark Doty

This book, a kind of love letter to language, helped refine my understanding of description, poetry, and the different possibilities of wordcraft more than I thought possible. It has changed the way I read, and hopefully also the way I write. Highly recommended for writers.

Best Romance:

A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole

This is my favorite contemporary romance I read this year. As silly as it was, I enjoyed the premise of the long-ago-forgotten arranged marriage, the series of scam-like emails that followed, and the journey of the two protagonists as they figured out how to be their best selves together.

The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan (and the rest of the Brothers Sinister series)

This is my favorite historical series of the year. I enjoyed all four novels, featuring heroines of character, wit, and determination who weren’t afraid to do incredible things in a society stacked against women.

Best Literary Fiction:

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer

I read this without realizing a movie was coming out this year based on the book, which was also good, and it definitely struck a personal chord. It’s hard to talk about without giving away the twist, but broadly it’s about the struggle for women writers in the literary world.

Best YA:

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Yee

Great contemporary fantasy with a sassy, not-here-for-any-of-your-shit heroine, a cool take on mythology, and lots of punching.

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge

I finally got around to reading a book by Frances Hardinge, and the good buzz was all true! A wrenching, riveting historical fantasy with lie-fueled magic that is way cool.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan

My friends and I regularly talk excitedly about this book, and one of my friends even read a related short story out loud to me while I was recovering from surgery. Because it was guaranteed to take my mind off how sick I felt, that’s how good it is.  This portal fantasy starts out slowly, but Sarah Rees Brennan is so skillful at subverting and playing with tropes and her characters are so fascinating and three-dimensional, this was one of the books I didn’t want to end.

Sadie, by Courtney Summers

This gut punch of a contemporary novel alternates chapters between a podcast searching for a missing teenage girl and a first-person account from the girl in question, and it will break your heart.

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan

This contemporary novel with fantastical elements is a touching illustration of the grief of a teenager after her mother commits suicide, and the most realistic depiction of life with a depressed and suicidal mother I’ve ever read. It was tough for me to get through, but I’m glad I read it.

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Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror:

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Sometimes you read a book and you realize you’ll carry it with you for the rest of your life. This is one such novel.

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by River Solomon

This ambitious science fiction novel uses its generation ship setting to explore structural racism in heart-rending depth. Definitely a writer to watch.

An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King

What happens when the gender proportions in society become completely out of whack? This science fiction novel, set in a not-so-distant China, features well-realized characters and an interesting plot at the intersections of the political and personal.

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Another speculative novel exploring gender roles and their political ramifications, the conceit here is that all women develop the power to generate electricity. Chaos ensues in this dystopia that explores what would happen if the world suddenly was being run by women. The answer isn’t as pat as you would think.

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay

This is such a solid horror novel, it makes me happy thinking about it. It features an unreliable narrator, a family saga, and a great twist.

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

This horror novel does an excellent job combining the personal with the bigger lurking darkness as the flawed narrator struggles with family life while investigating a cache of lost films. Knowledge and love of film is steeped in the pages of this novel, adding richness to its story.

The Beauty, by Aliya Whiteley

I was looking for horror that would hit me in a visceral way, and apparently body horror dystopia in which all women have died from a plague scratches that itch for me. In terms of tone and atmosphere, this novella does a truly excellent job.

The Book of M, by Peng Shepherd

In the contemporary dystopia fantasy novel, a plague spreads around the world in which people’s shadows suddenly and mysteriously disappear, followed by the fading (at variable rates) of their memories. If you liked Station Eleven, you might want to give this novel a try. It was one of the most interesting and emotionally affecting of the novels I read last year, steeped in an almost recognizable strangeness, with compelling characters, plot twists, and themes.

*****

There are so many more books to read! My list is forever growing, and I have (ahem) a bit of a backlog with my library holds. I’m already looking forward to what’s next!

 

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Well, hello again! I’ve been taking a break from blogging after struggling with health issues post-car accident, but it is time to talk about books. I cannot miss an opportunity to talk about books with you all!

Here are this year’s stats. I’ve read 52 books this year, a little bit down from last year. (My usual goal is 60, and I’m hoping I’ll get closer to that number by the end of the year.)  About a third of those books were adult speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), which is in line with my usual reading habits. I read a lot less YA than normal, which makes sense given I was writing a novel that wasn’t YA. I read a lot more romance than usual, mostly fueled by my fondness for Georgette Heyer, who I definitely recommend reading while recovering from a brain injury. 79% of my reading was written by women, the same as last year, and 25% of my reading was written by writers of color, also similar to last year.

My Favorite Volume of Poetry:

Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong

I haven’t read much modern poetry, but this volume made me want to read more. I like his sense of language and the emotionality of his poems.

My Favorite Romances:

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

Honestly it’s between this one and Frederica for my favorite Georgette Heyer Regency romance thus far. Why Georgette Heyer? Because she does some serious world building and in general doesn’t go in for weird modernizations for a historical. She does jump the shark occasionally plot-wise, but these two novels, if I remember correctly, are particularly solid in that regard. And swoon-worthy, which is what I want from a good romance.

The Undateable, by Sarah Title

After falling in love with Heyer’s work, I tried to find a modern romance writer I also liked. And finally after mostly despairing I stumbled upon this title. The female protagonist is a feminist librarian who likes little dogs so basically this book was written for me.

My Favorite Literary Titles:

These three works are as different as different can be, but all blew me away.

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

This novel is quite weird and effective in its weirdness. If you want something uncomfortable and surreal that makes you think, give it a try.

Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster

I found this classic about social conventions and mores and gender dynamics in turn-of-the-century (that’s 19th to 20th century, mind you) England to be surprisingly fascinating. I got so uncomfortable in the middle, and so sure my lovely protagonist was going to make a terrible and unsupportable error that I wanted to stop reading. I’m glad I didn’t.

Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay

What can I say about this short story collection? Well, Roxane Gay has become one of my favorite writers, largely based on these stories. I kept sending my friend excerpts and links to various stories because I had to share them with someone as I read them. Roxane Gay has a clear eye for revealing poignant, painful, and uncomfortable truths through her fiction. Highly recommended.

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Do not be distracted by the little dog sleeping in the background.

My Favorite YA Novels:

Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

I love M.T. Anderson’s Feed so I was excited to try his newest science fiction YA novel, and while I didn’t love it as passionately as Feed, it was thought-provoking and well drawn, showing the personal effects of an alien invasion on one teenager, including the detrimental economic consequences. This novel has a small, mostly quiet scope that creeps up and knocks your socks off.

Jane Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore

This is one of my top three reads of the year (along with Roxane Gay’s collection and a science fiction novel we haven’t gotten to yet). Its structure is fascinating and  allows Kristin Cashore to play with several different genres (some speculative) in a way that really worked for me. I was worried she wouldn’t have an overall progression/arc across the entire novel, but she managed to do it. This book was crafted with such attention to detail, it stuns me to contemplate. If you enjoy parallel universes, art and being an artist, capers, spy shenanigans, really creepy shit, devoted dogs, and/or magical houses, you might enjoy this book. Or, you know, if you just want to read something brilliant.

My Favorite SF/F Novels/Novellas:

Mostly science fiction this year (except for The Stone Sky), which is very exciting!

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

I was a little nervous beginning this because the stakes felt high to me–would N.K. Jemisin land the ending to this fascinating trilogy? The answer is yes. She manages to tie all the threads together. Probably the must-read fantasy trilogy of this decade.

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

This clone generation ship murder mystery was a fun frolic; very entertaining and exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it.

Star’s End, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

There is some great character work in this science fiction novel about a woman poised to take over a powerful corporation from her ailing father. It asks important questions like: how much does your family inform who you are, and can you avoid their mistakes? How much does the past and your past choices inform who you are? What does it mean to make compromises for the greater good? What responsibility do we bear for other people’s past mistakes? How can we make amends to people we have betrayed or is that even possible? Ah, such a good book. It also involves terraforming and corporate espionage and first contact and clones (and oh how I love clone stories!)

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

The first two of a…trilogy, I assume?…of military science fiction fantasy, these books blasted into my life, full of originality and freshness. There was a certain curve figuring out what was happening in the first novel as I grew to understand the world, but the effort was well worth making.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

This page-turning novella featuring a “Murderbot” trying to protect her clients is almost painfully charming. The plotting and world building is top-notch here in a fun mystery-action adventure, but it is the inwardly misanthropic yet deeply caring android protagonist that steals the show and makes me love this story. And I got a sneak peek at the next two installments in the series, both due out in 2018, and they’re excellent as well!

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks

And now we come to the third of my three favorite books of the year, and the last of the Culture series. I heard this book being recommended as an uplifting novel, which seemed like something I could do with this year, and then I heard it was Iain Banks’s last novel and he wrote it when he knew he was dying (I am not certain this is true, by the way, but it informed my decision to read it). And oh, this book. It deals with questions of death and the meaning of lives and entire cultures and species, and the anxiety of considering what comes after life as we know it.

I will say that overall this book didn’t get great reviews. It was long and a bit meandering and not a page-turner, and there were some holes and oversights. It is a flawed novel, yes. But for me it also managed to hit some relevant and powerful truths that made it very worthwhile for me. And I have to admit I have a weakness for Culture Ships, musicians who aren’t quite sure of their way, and questions of immortality. So it is a definite Amy book.

* * * * *

And that completes my list. I’m glad I got to read so many interesting books this year, and as always I’m looking forward to MORE BOOKS. Feel free to tell me what you read that you most enjoyed this year; I’d love to hear your favorites!

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And I’m back to talk some more about books! This time I’ll be discussing SF/F novels I read and liked this year. Most of the titles I’m going to be talking about are fantasy. A few of them are alternative history, and one of them is post-apocalyptic. I’ve been feeling a little sad I haven’t been reading more good science fiction lately, but hopefully next year! And I did read some really great fantasy novels this year, so there are compensations.

My Real Children, by Jo Walton. SF alternate history

This book is fascinating to me because I feel like it shouldn’t have worked but for me it totally did. The premise of the novel is that it follows the life of a single female protagonist who makes a key choice rather early on in the novel, and then the books splits into two potential life (and world) paths and follows them both to their conclusions. The book focuses very intimately on the life of this one woman, and in a lot of chapters, nothing much happens. You’re just watching this woman live her life in two different trajectories, with all the normal life minutiae you would expect. So why is it compelling? I think it must because of Walton’s deft characterization and selection of minutiae, and the interest of watching the world unfold in two distinct ways.

SPOILER: My one main quibble is that the branching-off decision is about a man, namely, whether the protagonist will marry him or not. While I think this is a super realistic branching off point for a life, I wish the entire narrative hadn’t hung on this choice in particular. Still very worthwhile to read if this premise sounds interesting to you.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson. Fantasy

I love this book so much. I know not everyone did, so you might want to take a look at the synopsis or maybe try out the first chapter before committing (which I am assuming you’re doing anyway), but I was spellbound by it. The protagonist isn’t the most likeable ever, which I see as a feature since I enjoy flawed characters. Plus given her history of being deeply affected and afflicted by imperialism from an early age,  I feel like her development and the decisions she makes are completely understandable, if sometimes tragic. The worldbuilding here is ambitious and fascinating. Probably the least successful component is plot, and even that is not bad but does drag a bit from time to time.

This novel is the first of a series (or a trilogy? I’m not sure) but in my opinion stands on its own.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Fantasy

City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Fantasy

Last year everyone was talking about how great City of Stairs was. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And yes, it turns out I agree with them. The sequel/companion novel City of Blades is also strong, although by necessity lacking the freshness of worldbuilding that was part of what made the first installment so stunning. The worldbuilding and characters both shine in these books, and the mystery/spy plots are fun to follow.

Wylding Hall, By Elizabeth Hand. Fantasy

I keep thinking about this novella even though I read it many months ago. I think it’s one of the most effective haunted house narratives I’ve ever read. I like the framing device of having many first-person accounts of what happened after a period of years have passed. The handling of music is also deft and realistic, which I appreciate.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Horror.

Speaking of haunted house stories, I finally got around to reading this classic. And big shocker, it’s a classic for good reason! I didn’t love it as much as I loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is possibly one of my favorite novels of all time, but it was pleasingly creepy and well crafted.

Farthing, by Jo Walton. SF alternate history/cosy mystery

This mystery, which takes place in an alternate UK that made peace with Hitler, is so charming. Okay, and horrifying in that the reader has a front-row seat on watching fascism descend on Great Britain. Not a novel that is AT ALL RELEVANT right now, oh no. This was like reading a top-notch Agatha Christie mystery with added social commentary, aka Amy awesomesauce.

For reference, the second book in this trilogy is fine although not as good as this one, and the third one, well….not my cup of tea and doesn’t have what I consider to be a plausible resolution. But the first one is excellent!

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison. SF

This book is so dark. It is so dark you might not want to read it. But if you are willing to slog through depressing most-of-humanity-is-shockingly-terrible level stuff, this post-apocalyptic novel is probably worth it. The premise is that most of humanity was wiped out by some plague, a disease that killed a lot more women than men. Atrocities ensue. Our protagonist is a female nurse trying to survive the end of the world. If this sounds bleak to you, that’s because it really really is.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Fantasy

The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin. Fantasy

Everyone was talking about how great The Fifth Season was last year too. It turns out I agree again! In this case I’ve really enjoyed Jemisin’s work in the past so I wasn’t surprised.

What can I say to encapsulate these novels? Well, they’re dark. Not as dark as The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, though, not that that’s saying much. The worldbuilding is excellent. The characters are flawed and compelling. (Are we sensing any trends here?) The plotting is a teensy bit uneven, but not enough to seriously impair my enjoyment. There is a really fun reveal in the first book. I can’t wait for the last book in the trilogy to come out!

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Rumbullion, by Molly Tanzer. Fantasy

This is a weird little book. And it is transgressive in the most enjoyable ways. A young aristocrat attempts to discover what actually went on at a party of his that went askew. This book is part reaction and speculation from said aristocrat and partly an archive of the letters he collects while trying to get to the bottom of what happened, and reveals are skillfully woven throughout. If you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary, maybe give this book a shot.

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. Speculative

Well, after hearing about Borges for–ten years, maybe?–I finally got around to reading some of his stories. They were both what I expected and not what I expected. The prose was on the dry and academic side; its style reminded me a bit of Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. Also pretty much no women to speak of. And rarely are the stories very character-focused. No, these stories are almost purely idea stories, and they really are jewels of that genre. There’s also a fair amount of metafictional aspects at play here, which I tend to enjoy. Borges leaps through all kinds of intellectual hoops and experiments with a particular flavor of magical realism, and it is very enjoyable to watch him play. Overall these stories aren’t emotionally moving on a deep level, but occasionally one of them sneaks up behind you and packs a wallop. The rest of the time it’s pure enjoyment to watch a great mind wrestle with interesting questions and fresh metaphors.

And that completes my review of my reading in 2016. Overall I feel like it was a decent year reading-wise, in spite of various challenges. Looking forward to seeing what new gems reveal themselves in 2017!

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Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.

Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.

The perfect time to go to a con!

(Cue maniacal laughter.)

I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.

The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.

Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.

I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.

Yay!

Yay!

But I did notice a difference.

I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.

The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.

Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.

Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan, 2016

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Today is a travel day for me, so without further ado, here is my schedule for this year’s ConFusion science fiction convention in Michigan.
Saturday 4:00:00 PM SFF At Your Fingertips
The online world has fundamentally changed how we find, discuss, and pass on the books that mean something to us. How has unfettered access to many authors changed the discussion around their work? What about the ease of finding like minded communities that only reinforce an individual point of view?
Jon Skovron, Andrew Zimmerman, Amy Sundberg, Jonah Sutton-Morse, V.E. Schwab
 
Saturday 5:00:00 PM LOLCats, Wols, and Watch Me: Pop Culture in SFF?
Pop-culture is ever evolving and fiction often hides behind a desire to be “timeless”. However, pop-culture is an increasing influence on our lives, particularly among young people. How can these modern phenomena be used to make science fiction and fantasy more relevant to today’s readers? Why don’t we see more created popular culture within invented worlds?
Ferrett Steinmetz, Amy Sundberg, Michael Damian Thomas, Sunil Patel, Adam Rakunas

Saturday 7:00:00 PM Emotive and Ebullient: The Young Adult Narrator
Huge films like Hunger Games and Divergent have created renewed interest in beloved Young Adult fiction. However, the intense emotive first person narratives driving many Young Adult novels don’t shine through on the big screen. What is lost in translation and how might this impact readers coming into Young Adult for the first time?
Kelley Armstrong, Courtney Allison Moulton, Amy Sundberg (M), V.E. Schwab, Jon Skovron
Sunday 12:00:00 PM The Business of Rejection
Writing is a business built around rejection. Almost every writer in the industry has experienced it at some point, and many experience it constantly. Come learn how working writers deal with rejection, move past it, and embrace it for what it is.
Amy Sundberg, Kameron Hurley, Greg van Eekhout, Dave Robison (M), Gwenda Bond
I have to say, I am super excited by the LOLCats panel, not only by the topic but because I’m been waiting some years now to be on a panel with my bestie Ferrett, and it is finally happening! With my good friend Sunil to boot! On the same panel! Never has their been a more exciting to me panel lineup.
I predict The Business of Rejection is going to be particularly kickass too.
Have a great weekend!

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Last week I talked about some great YA novels. Today I’m going to talk about my favorite nonfiction and SF/F titles I read this past year.

I read a lot more nonfiction than usual this year. I spent a month studying the memoir form, which contributed strongly to this change. In the novel category, outside of the YA genre, I read almost exclusively SF/F, which is also a bit unusual, but makes sense given that I spent so much more time reading nonfiction.

Favorite Nonfiction:

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I’d never read Joan Didion before, and for me it was like being wrapped up in warm velvet. Interesting prose, emotional depth, and poignant subject matter (grief and uncertainty) all combined to make this my favorite memoir read of the year.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown

I love Brene Brown’s work and have referenced it more than once in this blog. This book expands on some of the ideas she presents in her popular TED talks. I didn’t find the entire book equally relevant, but it was still an influential read.

Story, by Robert McKee

I finally got around to reading this tome on screenwriting in specific, and storytelling principles in general, and it definitely taught me some interesting concepts and gave me useful food for thought.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

I think this book is so important, I wrote an entire blog post about it. This is a classic, and it deserves that distinction.

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Favorite SF/F novels:

Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brissett (SF)

I read this novel towards the beginning of the year, so my memory of it isn’t as sharp as with the other books on this list. The impression I have left is that I really liked this book because it was weird and different. It was a challenging read, with not much spoon-feeding and a complicated structure and premise, and it was fun to try to keep up with it.

Apex, by Ramez Naam (SF)

A satisfying and page-turning conclusion to the Nexus trilogy, all three books of which I’ve really enjoyed.

Persona, by Genevieve Valentine (SF)

This one is a science fiction thriller. Populated by some fascinating characters, it has a bunch of action and spy-like sequences, while also focusing on political intrigue and maneuvering.  I hope there’s a sequel.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (SF)

This was my first Dick novel, and I was so happy it lived up to the hype. I was particularly impressed by the world building, and how Dick seemed to pick just the perfect telling details to flesh out his future world. He is so efficient! And he implies so much that the reader has to think about to truly appreciate.

Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (SF)

Following Ancillary Justice, these novels were a bit different in that they didn’t have the same structure of one narrative in the present and one in the past. I actually felt the plots were stronger in these two, though, although perhaps that’s because I enjoy reading about political maneuvering so very much. And I think my favorite of the three might be the middle one, Ancillary Sword, which is quite rare.

 

And my two favorite SF/F novels I read this year:

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Fantasy)

It was like this book was written specifically for me. It is exactly what I like in my fantasy: a fairy tale feeling but while feeling fresh and not too derivative, magic with rules but not rules that force you to wade through dense walls of text to understand them, well-drawn and psychologically interesting characters, and lots of terrible obstacles. I liked how this started feeling like it was going to be telling a somewhat familiar story, but then it branched out into doing its own thing, which was even better since I didn’t really expect it. I also really liked the way it dealt with one of its central friendships. This reminded me a lot of Robin McKinley’s Kingdom of Damar books but aimed at a slightly older (aka adult) audience.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (SF)

It is a testament to the strength of this novel that even though I read it in—March?—this is still the book I think about when someone asks me what I’ve been reading lately and still the book I want to talk about. I loved this novel’s deft exploration and excavation of its characters. I loved the idea of a Shakespeare/music troupe wandering across a dangerous post-apocalyptic landscape. I loved the way the various strands of narrative interlaced through time and location and character. I loved this book so much.

Let me know if you found any new favorite books of your own this year!

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2015 was a mixed reading year for me. I didn’t fall head over heels with that many books in the first half of the year. In fact, I stopped reading altogether for a month this spring, which is unusual for me, and then spent the following month reading only nonfiction. Luckily things picked up in the summer, though, so I still have some great books to talk about.

So far this year I’ve read 56 books, which is one less than last year. However, I’m already partway through another book right now, with every expectation of finishing it, so I should finish the year on par or above last year’s mark, which makes me happy.

This year about a third of my reading was YA, a third was adult SF/F, and a third was nonfiction and memoir. Around 84% of the books I read were by women, which happens to be a bit higher than usual. Around 30% of the books I read were written by PoC, which is also higher than usual and something I have very consciously worked on.

Today I’m going to talk about the YA titles I particularly enjoyed reading this year. (Please note these aren’t all titles that came out this year, just ones that I happened to get around to reading.) Then on Tuesday I’ll talk about the (mostly science fiction) novels written for adults that I enjoyed, as well as the most impactful nonfiction I read.

Once again this year, the majority of my YA reading was contemporary YA (meaning YA set in the near-present day with no speculative element), as I’m finding these novels to be the strongest overall right now. I tried reading a few new high/historical fantasy YAs but was left mostly unimpressed (I’m in the middle of another one right now, so we’ll see how it goes). I did find a couple of speculative YA titles to recommend this year, along with several contemporary titles.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han (YA contemporary)

I discovered Jenny Han this year, and I read FIVE of her novels, mostly in great big gulps. This is my favorite of those five. I appreciated the voice, the characterizations (particularly of our protagonist), and the high concept romance angle.

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers (YA contemporary)

You might remember Courtney Summers from last year’s list. This is her newest novel, and I think it’s a very important one. To be clear, this novel was painful to read, and at times I had to force myself to keep going. It confronts rape culture head-on, which can be uncomfortable and upsetting. But it’s well written and shows a reality that too few novels dare to show.

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill (YA dystopia)

This is another incredibly dark novel that doesn’t pull its punches. It’s a YA futuristic dystopia about society’s obsession with how women look and act. It deals with the beauty myth and body image issues, as well as double standards of behavior based on gender. This book hurts. I felt wrung out when I finished it. But like All the Rage, it’s an important read and well done.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

I was completely charmed by this novel, which is told from the POV of one of the “normal” kids in a world full of Chosen Ones and dangerous supernatural happenings. In this way, it reminded me a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo,” in which Buffy is off stopping another apocalypse, but the episode follows the mostly unrelated adventures of Xander instead. The concept is great, and the illustrations of different kinds of relationships between the teen characters are very well done. The protagonist also deals with having OCD, which is addressed with realism and sensitivity.

It's always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

It’s always exciting when I love a book I already bought in hardback!

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby (YA contemporary)

I love the frame story of this book so much! It’s presented as our protagonist’s narrative nonfiction project for her arts school, and there is so much scope for creativity and character expression in this concept. I found the psychology behind the conflicts and characters of this story to be fascinating, and the theme of truth (when it’s good to reveal/discuss the truth and when the truth can be harmful) is handled deftly here.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromly (YA contemporary)

A screwball mystery a la Veronica Mars and Sherlock? Yay! This book made Publisher’s Weekly’s best of the year list, which is how I found out about it, and I then proceeded to read it in about twenty-four hours of bliss. The banter is great here, and the plot is fun and just convoluted enough to stay interesting.

Have any YA titles you read this year that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments! And I’ll see you back here on Tuesday for more book talk.

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