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Posts Tagged ‘book love’

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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It’s time for my year-end reading wrap-up posts. It’s been a weird year for many reasons, but over the course of the year I’ve still been able to read about the same amount as last year, so that makes me happy. As does talking about my most interesting reads!

First, some stats. I’ve read 56 books this year, and I expect I’ll probably read a few more before the year ends. About a third of the books I read were speculative fiction for adults, about the same as last year. Only 20% of the books I read this year were YA, which is less than usual, and I also read much less nonfiction than last year. The difference was made up in literary fiction and mysteries. 79% of my reading was by women, so I guess my theory that my ease in reading lots of women writers is because of my YA reading is only partly true. And 23% of my reading was by writers of color, which isn’t as good as last year but still not horrible. Given everything else that went on this year, I’ll take it!

In this post I’m going to talk about YA, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Then I plan to write another post all about the speculative fiction I read this year. Some of these titles are new and some are not, but they are all new to me.

YA titles:

Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn. YA contemporary

I read this at the beginning of the year and so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. But what I do recall is that it has some interesting unreliable narrator stuff going on, which I tend to enjoy when done well. Also some sibling stuff, which I also tend to like.

The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp. YA contemporary.

Apparently a movie has been made that is based on this book, and it’s supposed to be pretty good, but I haven’t seen it. What stands out to me about the book is its voice. Also it’s really dark, and it’s dark done well.

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma. YA magical realism

This book is so messed up, and I mean that in a good way. It’s beautifully written, and kind of strange, and you should just go read it right now.

Enter Title Here, by Rahul Kanakia. YA contemporary

Disclosure: Rahul is a friend of mine. This is his debut novel, and it features an unlikeable female protagonist who kicks butt (and who, incidentally, I like in spite of (or is it BECAUSE OF) her unlikeability). It also has some metafictional aspects that were fun.

Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King. YA magical realism

I really like A.S. King’s work, plus by looking it up just now I’ve realized I’ve missed a title, so I’m feeling much joy. In this book, the protagonist begins meeting versions of herself at different ages as she struggles to come to terms with an abusive home life and what it means to be an artist. It’s kind of off-beat, and I love it. My favorite YA read of 2016.

Mystery titles:

The Peter Wimsey Mysteries, by Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been reading these during my convalescence, starting with Whose Body? Since I’ve already read almost every mystery Agatha Christie wrote, these are the next best thing. They are not overly taxing while still being interesting, which is not an easy feat. Lord Peter Wimsey is not my first choice of sleuth (he’s more in the Columbo school as opposed to the Poirot school that I like best), but he’s definitely been growing on me.

Nonfiction titles:

The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley (essays)

Would this book have made this list if the election had gone differently? Unclear. Hurley does write one mean essay. But I have found it to be of especial comfort given current events.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (memoir)

This book is beautiful and raw and it hurts to read and you should read it. It isn’t an easy read but not all reads are meant to be. 

Literary fiction titles:

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

This is one of those novels that could be classified as literary or speculative, and was shelved in literary because of Atkinson’s previous work. It follows the life (or rather lives) of a female protagonist born in England shortly before World War I. Every time she dies, the book loops back and starts her life again, so we get to see all sorts of possibilities. You probably have to love this conceit to enjoy this book, and I do love it when it’s done well and isn’t too painfully repetitive. Atkinson did a good job on that front, and the book captured my imagination.

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Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

I’m slowly chipping away at Atwood’s significant oeuvre, and this one did not disappoint. What she does here with voice and tense and POV is interesting and masterful. Set in Canada soon before the Civil War, a young doctor tries to determine if an imprisoned female servant is innocent or guilty of a double murder that happened many years before. It unfolds somewhat slowly but I found it to be entirely gripping.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

This is a cycle of stories, all of which in some way or another feature the character Olive Kitteridge. In some stories she is the POV character, in some a supporting character, and in others she merely shows up in passing. In this way we get a multi-dimensional view of who this woman is and what her life has been. Strout is insightful about human behavior and has a keen eye for convincing details. One of my favorite reads of the year.

The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

One of my other favorite reads of the year, so much so that I wrote a love letter blog post to this book. I want to read it again, along with Olive Kitteridge. I feel like one time was not enough for either of these books.
All right then. Next time I’ll write about some speculative fiction I read this year. And in the meantime, let me know what books you most enjoyed this year. I could particularly use some YA recommendations, but all are welcome.

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I want a beautiful friendship based on a shared love of The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

The Hours is maybe one of the best books I’ve read. I love this book. I never want to be finished reading it, and as the percentage creeps up…40%….52%….67%….I must have more of it and I already regret its end. I can’t think of anything better than reading this book. I resent the fact that I have little time for it, even while I relish the longer duration of my life this means I get to spend wrapped up in it.

I want everyone I know to read The Hours, but I know it is not a book for everyone. It is not a book for most of you. First of all, I don’t think you should read it unless you’ve read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I read it two years ago, and that is perfect. It would also be perfect if I had read it two months ago. Possibly even more perfect, but is that a thing? More perfect than perfect?

And then it is a very literary novel. The language makes me want to cry, but a lot of readers don’t care about language. And the themes….many of you wouldn’t like them, or you wouldn’t understand them. You wouldn’t want to understand them, or you’d lack the experience or tools to understand them. I don’t think this is the easiest book to understand. I am sure I don’t understand it either, not to the depth I would like. But that’s okay because I will read it again someday, and maybe I will understand it a bit more, and in the meantime, I will savor the anticipation of that re-read.

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But let us imagine that you love The Hours the way I love The Hours, shall we? Then this is how our beautiful friendship would go.

We would read this book out loud to each other. We would take turns. I would want to be the one to read the Virginia Woolf passages, but I would be willing to compromise. We would let the language trip from our tongues, and sometimes we would pause to savor it in just the way we’d pause to savor a particularly exquisite bite from a fine meal.

We would read this book in the park. We would forget to bring a blanket so we would lie straight on the grass, and it would tickle our necks and our elbows, and we would hope it wasn’t freshly mowed or our reading would become punctuated by outbursts of sneezing. The sun would make us sleepy, and sometimes we’d be listening more to the cadence and inflections of the other person’s voice than to the actual words. 

We would repeat ourselves.

We would read this book on the floor in front of the fireplace. The lights would be dim, the crackle of the fire sometimes overtaken by wind blowing through the trees outside, and into this scene of contrasts–warm and safe versus brisk and wild–we would speak these words and we would feel them more deeply.

We would read this book over the phone when we were far apart from one another. It would remind us of who we are. It would shrink the distance.

I would bring you roses. You would bake me a cake. There would be crumbs in the icing, on purpose. We would go to a hotel, and we would read Mrs. Dalloway there in silence. We would put candied ginger into our tea, and we would wish we were in London. And then one day we’d go to London, and our wish would explode like a dandelion blown by the lips of a child, as all wishes do when they come true.

Just as the three viewpoint characters of The Hours are linked by Mrs. Dalloway, so would we become linked by The Hours. Maybe we would transcend that link.

Maybe we wouldn’t.

Either way, our beautiful friendship would send ripples through time. I would think of you again when I was eighty-three years old. I would think of you with fondness.

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I got my first Kindle in the summer of 2009. It was a birthday present after seeing my first Kindle at Wiscon (my first convention) at the end of May. I loved the idea of being able to have so many books in one device, but I didn’t embrace it enthusiastically until a few years later when I had to move. Suddenly the idea of not adding to the volume of books to be moved seemed like the best idea anyone had ever had. And since then, I’ve read much more on my Kindle.

Fast forward six and a half years. In this day and age, that’s a good run for an electronic device, but this fall I began to notice my Kindle’s battery life was not what it once was. And then for Christmas, I received a Kindle Paperwhite.

I love my Paperwhite! I love it so much! I hated setting it up, and I hated learning the basic UI, and I understood that I always kind of hate those things, and then I was done with them, and it was LOVE.

What I Love about my Paperwhite:

  1. It is small and light! But the screen is the same size as my old Kindle. So I’ve lost nothing and gained something great. Maybe my purse won’t break so quickly this time around. (This is actually a serious problem for me. I break my purses. Mostly because of Kindles and books, which are heavy.)
  2. It has an automatic light! I can read it comfortably in any lighting situation, from bright to pitch dark. When I was on the plane this weekend, I didn’t have to bring along an extra light. I didn’t have to turn on the overhead light. I could be lazy and read my novels in peace.
  3. The battery life seems to be okay even when its wi-fi is on. This was not true for my old Kindle, so I always had the wi-fi off. But with the wi-fi on, it is even faster and easier to buy new books, and also there’s a little blurb when you open a new book telling me what it’s about, which is great because I can’t always remember why I bought the book in the first place.
  4. I can see book covers again! My old Kindle was all text, showing only titles, but now I see a beautiful display of book covers, which also helps remind me what these books are.
  5. There are options for measuring your reading! You can pick between page number, time left in the book, and time left in the chapter. I keep switching back and forth because I love them all. The time left feature is great because it allows me to plan my reading better, and no surprise, I adore anything that lets me plan smarter.
  6. Touch screens are cool. I understand we’re already kind of accustomed to them, with smartphones and smartpads and everything else, but seriously, they are cool.

My joy and rapture over my new Kindle has already convinced two people to buy one for themselves. Just as my joy and rapture over The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson has already convinced a few people to buy the book. (Because it’s so good! The buzz was actually true!) I don’t know if I’m being unusually convincing lately, or if these things are just so amazing, it’s hard to resist their allure. (I suspect the second.)

Anyway, here’s my new Kindle, and there’s Nala in the background pretending to be blasé. But don’t let her fool you; we are very excited about this! (You can tell by the liberal use of exclamation points in this post.)

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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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Yay, more talk about books! Sometimes I wish I read faster so I could talk about books on the blog all the time.

So today I’m going to talk about adult fiction (and by adult fiction, I mean fiction marketed to adults as opposed to children or teenagers). I read a few memoirs and a few really strong nonfiction titles this year as well, but I have so much fiction to talk about, I’m going to stick to that for now.

Books that got a ton of buzz this year and I liked but I don’t need to talk about:

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Definitely memorable. Fun to compare the movie and the book.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Won the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Clarke this year.

Mainstream and classic novels I read and enjoyed:

The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating, by Ernessa T. Carter. I haven’t read much chick lit in years because I got kind of bored with it, but this one felt fresh and different, focusing on careers as well as relationships and concerned with actual emotional issues and how they can be changed. Also had many different POV characters, which I liked.

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. It begins with a group of teenaged friends at an arts summer camp, and then it traces their history together through middle age, told from the perspective of one of the friends who thinks she’s the least interesting. Sometimes it’s bleak and other times it’s uplifting, and I guess it’s kind of like real life. Even the arcs feel kind of like real life.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. So this is a classic, and from a narrative perspective, it’s also kind of weird, and features stream of consciousness, and jumps in interesting ways from point of view to point of view. The language choices are stunning.

The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. I feel like most of the people I know wouldn’t like this book because it is bleak and the characters are all pretty awful and unsympathetic, but I thought it was great, which I guess tells you something about me.

Dangerous Liaisons, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Okay, these characters are also awful and unsympathetic, but in this case, they are SO MUCH FUN. The movie version with Glenn Close and John Malkovich has been one of my favorite movies for a very long time, and the book, an epistolary narrative from many different perspectives, is just as wicked and fun and thought-provoking, if not more so.

Older SF/F that I completely adored:

The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse. I bought this book a few years ago and finally got around to reading it this year. And I thought it was incredible. It’s very dense and kind of dry on purpose because its framing story is being a kind of academic text. As such, it also sometimes requires reading between the lines. It is not an easy book, or a fast book, or a plot-driven book. And it is very much a product of its time in that there are no named women characters, I don’t think. It explores several key themes with great depth and insight, and the game itself, along with the culture that has built up around it, fascinates me.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I don’t usually include re-reads on this list, but this is one of my favorite novels of all time, and it had probably been ten years since I’d read it. And now I can appreciate the mastery of the writing even more than before. This book is dark and powerful and freaking brilliant. And reading it again was a kick because I could see ways in which it has influenced me as a writer.

Books books books!

Books books books!

More recent SF/F that I really liked:

S., by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. People asked me if this was good, and I couldn’t really tell them. But if you like experimental and strange metafictional stuff, I recommend this. It’s several stories woven together into one book, using the actual text of the novel, the footnotes, and notes in the margins of the pages, along with various post cards, letters, etc. tucked away between the pages. Definitely unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had.

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. I’ve only read three of his novels, and each one of them is like a multi-faceted, highly polished jewel.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters. Told from the POV of a new police detective during the last few months pre-apocalypse, the first of this trilogy is basically a procedural (and a solid one at that). But Ben Winters shifts this structure as the trilogy continues to good effect. This one caught my imagination and ends up being a surprisingly deep exploration of the meaning of life. Highly recommended.

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord. I didn’t like this book all that much at first because it was in an unfamiliar style. I forced myself to continue reading, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I got to the end, I was enchanted.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. Is this SF/F? In my opinion, no. But it is charming, very well-written, and deals with some deep questions. It also involves dysfunctional family dynamics (among other things), and you know how much I love those!

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. This reminded me a bit of Kage Baker’s Company books with its conspiracies and shadowy organizations. The premise is different, however; in this one, there are people who live their lifetimes over and over again on a repeated loop. They can retain their memories from one lifetime to the next, though, thus being able to make changes and thus making the highly interesting premise of this book.

Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. This retelling of the Snow White fairy tale is unexpected and creeps into your mind to stay. I feel like I’m still processing it. It deals with themes of race and gender and passing and appearances, and also with trauma. It’s kind of maybe magical realism, or some kind of liminal fantasy thing. I had trouble fitting the ending with everything that came before, but still well worth the read.

On a Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard. This is an amazing science fiction novella that was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards last year. Novella, for those of you who don’t know, means it’s a bit shorter than a standard novel. This story has it all: an intriguing plot, strong world building, compelling characters, and themes explored in a meaningful way. I really loved it.

My Two Favorite Adult Fiction Books of the Year (both are SF/F):

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi. This book is hard to talk about. It is also brilliant. Its structure is unusual, in that it is a series of stories that are being told (kind of) in collaboration between two characters, and there are some characters that recur and there are resonances between the stories, but sometimes more than others. You see, I told you it is hard to talk about. Pretty much as soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again. There is a lot of darkness in this book, and violence, particularly against women, that is carefully examined. Fairy tales dwell on its pages, sometimes overtly and sometimes only in echoes. Here is a more detailed review.

The Drowning Girl: a Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I think about this book and I want to swoon, that’s how good it is. Powerful, evocative writing; an unreliable narrator who has schizophrenia and really isn’t sure what is real and what isn’t; liminal fantastical elements shimmering on the page; psychological horror with so sharp a blade you won’t notice you’re bleeding. Oh, this book. I can’t stop thinking about it. Also, if I had a Christmas list, this special edition of this novel would be at the very top; I could never justify purchasing it for myself, but it is so very beautiful.

What I’m looking forward to reading next year:

Falling Sky, by Rajan Khanna

The Ultra Thin Man, by Patrick Swenson

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (just started this one on Monday!)

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

The Red Tree, by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

The Southern Reach trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz (out in March 2015)

And yeah, again, I could just go on and on and on. My to-read list is immensely long at this point. This strategy seems to be working out for me, since I can’t remember the last time a year of reading has been this inspiring and interesting and wonderful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for 2015!

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