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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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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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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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I keep a log of all the books I read every year, and when I looked down my list at the end of last year, I noticed something. I was doing a great job reading many women writers. I was happy that I was branching out and reading a variety of books, not just YA and SF&F. But the number of POC writers on my list was low. Eight percent of my total.

I looked at past reading years (I’ve been logging since 2009), and I found that no matter how many books I read each year, the number of POC writers I was reading consistently fell between seven and ten percent. Not completely horrendous, but also not great. So I told myself, I’ll try to pay more attention in 2014 and up that number. (It would require another post to discuss why I think this is important. I’m adding it to my list.)

I did a little bit of research to find more POC writers I thought I might like, and then I did a little bit more. It was more work than I’d thought it would be, because a lot of the lists repeated the same few names over and over again, or they turned out to be about books with POC characters written by white writers, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

And then yesterday I was looking over my reading list so far from the year, almost three-quarters of the way in, and I realized I’m not doing enough. POC writers only account for eleven percent of my reading this year, which is only a few percent higher than years I wasn’t paying any attention at all. I decided I’d have to be more systematic if I was actually going to improve.

So I spent more hours combing through the internet, looking for writers and specific books that I think I might enjoy (sometimes I can be a bit picky). I poured through lists of POC writers, I read some posts from the #weneeddiversebooks campaign from earlier this year, I peered at author photos and read their bios and interviews, and I combed my bookshelves. And I compiled a list.

It is a somewhat strange list. It doesn’t include any books I’ve already read (hence the glaring omission of Octavia Butler, among others). It includes certain books because I already happen to own them. It doesn’t include certain books that I’m not interested in reading right now (this is a list that is supposed to help me read more, not discourage me from doing so). It has lots of different types of books so I can find something I want to read no matter my mood. And I’m going to keep adding to it because I know there are so many more books out there by POC writers that I’d love to read and just don’t know about yet.

Here is the commitment I’m making to myself. I’ve recently joined two book clubs (yeah, I know, I don’t know what I was thinking either), so I can’t control the reading for those. And sometimes I need to read something specific for a writing project I’m working on. But aside from that, the next six books I choose to read will come from this list of works by POC writers. That should bring me to more like twenty percent for the year, given how much I expect to read. And between those six books and my book club reading, that might be about all I have time for.

I’m publishing my list because I don’t think there are enough of these lists out there, and I was surprised at the amount of time it took me to compile it. I’d also love to hear about any books by POC writers that you would like to mention or recommend in the comments.

Adult SF/F:

  1. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu
  2. Falling Sky, by Rajan Khanna (out Oct. 7)
  3. The Killing Moon, by N.K. Jemisin
  4. Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany
  5. The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu
  6. The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
  7. Mindscape, by Andrea Hairston
  8. Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi
  9. The Best of all Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord
  10. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi
  11. White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi
  12. Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
  13. All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  14. Harmony, by Project Itoh

Other Adult:

  1. Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. The Unconsoled, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  5. Lullabies, by Lang Leav (poetry)
  6. Follow Her Home, by Steph Cha
  7. Beauty and Sadness, by Yasunari Kawabata
  8. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
  10. Bitch is the New Black: a Memoir, by Helena Andrews
  11. The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, by Ernessa T. Carter

YA:

  1. The Silence of Six, by E.C. Myers (out Nov. 5)
  2. Since You Asked, by Maurene Goo
  3. Pointe, by Brandy Colbert
  4. Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn
  5. The Young Elites, by Marie Lu (out Oct 7)
  6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han
  7. Prophecy, by Ellen Oh
  8. Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
  9. Rivals in the City, by YS Lee (out of print)
  10. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  11. Champion, by Marie Lu (this is the 3rd book of the trilogy)
  12. Once We Were, by Kat Zhang (this is the 2nd book of a trilogy)
  13. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
  14. Control, by Lydia Kang
  15. Unravel Me, by Tahereh Mafi (this is the 2nd book of a trilogy)

And here is a (very partial) list of resources I used to compile this list:

We Need Diverse Books and 27 POC Authors

We Need Diverse Books Summer Reading Series

You Want More Diversity in Your Pop Culture? Here’s How to Find It

100 Books by Black Women Everyone Must Read

Diversity and List of Books by 23 Asian American and Other POC Writers Part I and Part 2

For more information on this campaign, visit weneeddiversebooks.org.

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This weekend at Legendary ConFusion I’m going to be on a panel in which we discuss recent science fiction and fantasy novels that we thought were good, along with some that are coming out soon that we’re looking forward to. So it’s basically a recommendation panel. The perfect time for me to write about what I think about recommending books.

The problem with book recommendations is that taste differs. The biggest mistake I see people making with their recommendations (or at least the one I notice most often) is that they assume because they liked a book, that means I’ll like the book, even when they know nothing (or very little) about what I like and dislike. Which is another way of assuming everyone will like the book.

Everyone will NEVER like every book. I know this all too well because I have what I’ll call a distinctive sense of taste. This doesn’t mean I think my taste is better than other people’s, or even particularly developed. It means that there are plenty of books–particularly adult science fiction and fantasy–that are extremely popular and that I either really didn’t like or can’t force myself to get through.

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As it turns out, readers enjoy different things and are bothered by different things. I read primarily for character, although I also appreciate a good plot. (See my love for Agatha Christie. A lot of her characters are pretty cardboard, but the mysteries are so compelling to me that I don’t care.) If the characters are interesting to me, I don’t mind a slower pace and I’ll even overlook some sloppy plotting (aka a coincidence or two). I am bothered by characters who don’t seem real, by extremely dense prose, by large and gaping plot holes, and by most large infodumps. I can sometimes let fairly far-fetched world building go, especially in the high-concept stage of the world, as long as the world remains consistent and the characters are involved in a struggle that captures my imagination. But even I have my limits. (Love is a disease that everyone is cured from when they’re 18? Nope. Couldn’t believe it.)

I don’t mind dark fiction, and I don’t mind sad endings, but I’m less excited if the entire novel is just flat-out depressing to me. (I couldn’t finish Revolutionary Road for this reason.) There are certain fantastical tropes that I’m pretty tired of, including: werewolves, Fae anything, dragons, and portal quests. That being said, I still read novels with these elements, I’m just more picky about how they’re handled. For some reason I have more patience for vampires, witches and other magic users, and the politics associated with monarchies. There is a whole complicated system of subgenres that I’m more likely to enjoy or bounce off.

This is all to say, recommending novels blindly is like doing anything else blindly: your success rate is not going to be all that great. So when I recommend novels, I prefer to do it by describing what a novel is like and leaving it to my audience to decide if it fits into their taste. For example:

  • This novel is like this other novel you might have read or heard about, and this is how.

  • This novel is great if you don’t mind the silly central world building idea. If that kind of thing bothers you, though, give it a pass.

  • This novel is this particular sub-genre, or maybe these two sub-genres combined.

  • This novel is fast- or slow-paced.

  • This novel concerns itself with this fantasy or science fictional trope. (If I think it’s a fresh take on the trope, I’ll say that as well.)

  • This novel is on the literary side. (If questioned, I can then try to define how I think this expressed itself in the particular novel under discussion.)

  • This novel is all about the action. This novel is light and fun.

  • This novel really made me think. (And if I can say about what, all the better!)

It’s okay that we’re not all going to love exactly the same things, whether they be books, movies, or activities. And not all recommendations are going to be equally successful for all people. To me, a book recommendation is more like a blip on my radar. Now I know the book exists, and I can make my own decision as to whether to read it or not.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to try new things, educate our taste, and expand our horizons. No one else can do it for us. They can only offer ideas and possibilities of which directions to go exploring.

Can you describe your taste in novels?

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First of all, I stayed up late to finish Insurgent by Veronica Roth last night (the final novel in her Divergent trilogy). If I’d finished it before Tuesday, it would have made my best YA list, so I’m giving it a shout-out right now. The ending was…something. Veronica Roth didn’t play it safe writing this one; she took a big risk, and while I’m sure some readers didn’t like what she did, for me I felt like she avoided the easy way out and instead opted to say something important. So I’m entirely on board with the book.

And now I’m going to switch my focus to adult fiction. Well, adult fiction and one memoir.

Honorable Mention:

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls’s memoir of her childhood was fascinating and well-balanced in showing both tender and excruciatingly difficult moments. I did find myself wishing for more time spent on her adulthood so I’d be able to see her character arc more clearly, but I do understand that wasn’t the purpose of this memoir.

My Favorite Adult Novels of the Year:

Just don’t expect to get much sleep while you’re reading this one.

Nexus and Crux, both by Ramez Naam

These two science fiction novels have probably gotten the majority of my in-person talking up time this year. Near-future, cool ideas, compelling characters, page-turning thrillers. What’s not to love? I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Old School, by Tobias Wolff

I picked this up after my friend Rahul recommended it and I was not disappointed. It’s literary fiction set at a boys’ boarding school, and the protagonist is just so interesting to hang out with for a while. The stakes in the story are, for the most part, relatively small, but I actually really get invested in small stakes in many stories, and this was certainly one of those cases.

Love Minus Eighty, by Will McIntosh

When I heard Will McIntosh was writing a novel based on his Hugo award-winning short story “Bridesicle,” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And this time, my anticipation paid off. The world building is strong and I love how the idea of “Bridesicles” introduced in the short story was further developed. I also loved that this was an interesting science fictional story that also incorporated romantic elements to good effect.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I’ve heard this novel compared to vN by Madeline Ashby, which made my list last year, but while both novels are about robots, they are very different in tone. Where vN is more an adventure story, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has a slower pace and a more literary voice. It is not so much a story about robots as it is the story of the coming of age of a girl, and how her relationship with one robot changes and affects her over the course of her life. And it was so beautifully done. io9 has a fantastic review if you want to learn more.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

I had never read anything by Shirley Jackson apart from her famed Lottery story, and I decided it was time to change that. This novel features one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator I’ve had the joy to experience. It’s creepy and sneaky and liminal, and it could be read as completely realistic or as fantastical or as simultaneously both.

 

Thinking back on these novels has made me so happy. So much amazing writing! Here are some other adult novels I’m looking forward to reading soon. They’re all already out, and the last four are even in my possession.

Fortune’s Pawn, by Rachel Bach

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

iD, by Madeline Ashby

Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Map of the Sky, by Felix J. Palma

River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay

What novels have you read this year that stand out for you? What novels are you excited to read? Any 2014 releases you want to clue me in about?

 

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