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2016 Book Log

I enjoyed doing this last year, and decided to continue. Keeping a log helps me to make sure reading stays near the top of my personal priority list. I've included a brief summary with each book/series with my reaction. I tried to keep it short and also not include any spoilers.

My totals for the year: 45 books, 26 authors, 14 women authors. Thinking about my "top picks" for the year, I think women outnumber men almost 2 to 1. Maybe I should be prioritizing them more.

Now taking applications/recommendations for 2017!

2015 Book Log:

Science fiction
1. The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu

Read because it won the 2015 Hugo for Best Novel.

I went into this one not knowing anything about it, which I think is the best way, because the main story plot does not become clear until fully halfway through, and going through the "wtf is going on" process with the main characters is fully appreciated. The writing was amazingly well done and smooth, with footnotes to help with some parts readers might not be familiar with. The science is lovely and philosophical, almost to the point where I wanted to spend more time on that rather than the actual story line as it ended up being.

I also went into this without realizing this was going to be first of a connected trilogy. It was both not an easy read for me and neither did it have any real conclusion, which made it less satisfying overall. I intended to continue it but somehow the second book never seemed appealing when I was picking what to read next. Maybe next year.

2. The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

Eric, the store owner from Amazing Books in Squirrel Hill, highly recommended this one to me.

The story is about a mission - both scientific and spiritual - to an alien planet that went badly. That general premise is known from the start, and the rest of the book is learning what horrible things happened and how the main characters were affected. There is a lot more spiritual philosophizing than science in here, which was wonderful and interesting if you're into that thing, but the emotional agony of the characters eventually felt overly drawn out. The ending, while good at concluding this part of the tale, wasn't particularly rewarding to me, and didn't leave me with a desire to continue the story. I contented myself with reading the plot summary of the sequel and calling it a day.

3. Grass - Sheri S. Tepper

I picked this on the recommendation of Scalzi after Tepper's death this year.

In a lot of ways, this made me think of The Sparrow while I was reading it. The world-building is fantastic and both the alien world and the societal structures are well written and intriguing. There is a good amount of spiritual philosophizing in ways that don't give pat answers to things. What disappointed me is the lack of character depth. One main character was interesting to me; the others were varying shades of boring to annoying, and I found that I didn't really care what happened to most of them, despite the book's POV jumping around between them. I guess I've really been spoiled by other authors' characters. Good for what it did, though.

4. Carnival - Elizabeth Bear

Recommended by Jonathon

There were a lot of things to satisfy me in this book - good solid characters, interesting social and political intrigue, a look at a non-patriarchal society with interesting, complicated women, non-heterosexual main characters, and a good story. I did find myself going back and re-reading bits to recall exactly who this character was, or to try to make sense of yet another scheme within a scheme, or to find a thread I dropped of how characters ended up in certain situations, but I don't know if that was because it tried to be a little too complex or because of my own wandering attention. Good read.

5. Lock In - John Scalzi

Read because Scalzi was GOH at Arisia last year and I wanted to read more of his work.

This is a pretty typical Scalzi book, perhaps on the better side of what I've read so far. He's got an interesting future world, pretty good solid characters, and the wealth of sarcastic dialog that he's known for. It's a fun read, nothing deep or profound.

6. Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Thomas Sweterlitsch

Recommended by magentametrix

The delight of this book is that it is Pittsburgh based, and by Pittsburgh based I mean not only does much of the important storyline take place in Pittsburgh, the places are described in so much exquisite detail that it was like taking a tour. Someone rides a bus through the tunnels; they visit similar stores in Shadyside that I've seen; there's a mystery involving 9 Mile Run and distinctive real places; etc. It was all so achingly familiar that I kept wanting to go for a walk and find the landmarks mentioned.

The down side of the book is that it is a dystopia, which in this case means it involves not just Pittsburgh getting annihilated, but characters who are abused and killed in really violent, ugly ways. It reminded me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, except minus the kick-ass primary female protagonist, which takes away a lot of the satisfaction of seeing good win. Definitely read it for the Pittsburgh, but brace yourself for the ugly parts.

Fantasy fiction (non-series)
7. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley

I first saw this mentioned by Emily. Also other sources.

Part steampunk beauty, part historical fantasy, this book introduces and meanders around the mystery of a fascinating person. The writing is beautiful and subtle, leaving me to flip back to previous chapters where I could see the hints being dropped far in advance, but also just vague enough to offer multiple possibilities of what is really going on. I really loved this right up until the very last two pages, when the ending made clear that none of that vagueness I was really interested in was going to get resolved, and the fascinating person who I craving knowing more of was going to remain a confusing mystery.

8. Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Read because Gaiman and mentioned by most of my friends, but possibly first by larksdream. Finally got around to listening to the audiobook on a drive to Rochester with Justin.

I don't know what to say about this one except that it's a Gaiman story, and a wonderful one at that. It's told from the POV of a 7yo boy (as a flashback) and it does an amazing job of putting the reader into his shoes and experiencing his trauma from that perspective. It's powerful and wistful and magical and beautiful.

9. The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

Another larksdream mention, as well as a 2015 Hugo nominee.

This book pleased me in totally unexpected ways, considering that basically nothing happens in the book, with the exception of about one half chapter of action. It is a really strong character story with a lot of thoughts and feelings about complicated social tension and power struggles and how one nobody person suddenly thrust into power does his best to do the right thing. There is almost no fantasy in this at all except as minor details - the goblins and elves and steampunk airships work as an excellently-distanced version of our own race and culture - but the main ideas are entirely universal. Highly recommended for people who like people books as much as I do.

10. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Read because it was a 2016 Hugo Nominee.

This started off with the fairy tale premise of a small village "sacrificing" a young girl to a "dragon" in order to keep peace... and then it tosses that out the window (kindly) and goes off on its own incredible, magical journey. There is action and adventure, magic and energy flow, interesting characters and non-obvious directions in the plot. Interestingly, the relationships pictured in here are stilted and unsatisfying, but then I looked at with an eye towards how we as individuals relate to things in general - people, societies, environments, dark forces of the universe - and suddenly the way the characters -don't- relate well to each other actually feels a little more meaningful.

Fantasy fiction (series)
Fairyland - Catherine Valente
11. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I added this to my list because of Vryce, but having read this author before, it was an easy add. Cat Valente's writing style is absurdly beautiful, complex, and probably appeals to a very specific audience. I love it, although the sheer density of her imagination makes it not light reading for me, even the YA story which is a bit more of a straightforward story than the other things I've hers that I've read. magical. Valente's universes are chock full of weird magic that makes perfect sense in their context. This one has several more books that eventually I will probably read more of.

Magic Ex Libris - Jim C. Hines
12. Libriomancer

I read this one because I was at the library with David paying off his fees and he wanted a book. I didn't have my list with me, but Katy had recently mentioned it to me, so I recommended it. Then I read it when he was done. How can you not love the idea of someone who gets magic from books? Hines's writing reminds me a little of a cross between Scalzi and Sanderson, although I'm not sure I could tell you why. This one was fun, interesting and a fairly light read. Also, the main character's sidekick is a fire spider, which is just awesome.

The Adventures of Arabella Ashby - David Levine
13. Arabella of Mars

I picked up this one after hearing about it from Katy and seeing the Hamilton filk that the author did to promote it. Gotta give him props for that.

This book had a lot of good elements. A strong female protagonist who I liked, was level-headed, made good decisions, and had a good head on her shoulders. A lot of major steampunk components, many of which got described in great detail without it being tedious. Quite a few wild adventures. A satisfying conclusion that clearly opens the world up to many more future books in the series. Ones I don't really think I have interest in reading, though. Not sure if the story just didn't do it for me or if I just caught this one in my "not ANOTHER story set in a heavily misogynistic culture and society" phase.

Sandman Slim series - Richard Kadrey
14. Sandman Slim
15. Kill the Dead

Recommended by jet last year. These books are irreverent, crude, violent, cynical, and way more fun than I expected giving that description. It digs deep into the angel/demon/magic mythos, with an antihero protagonist who is sarcastic, immature, likes killing things, and is hella likeable.

I keep wavering back and forth on whether I liked it enough to continue. On one hand, fairly easy reading. On the other, the series is up to 12 books and probably still counting. It's not you, baby, it's me.

Song of the Lioness - Tamora Pierce
16. Alanna: The First Adventure
17. In the Hand of the Goddess
18. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
19. Lioness Rampant

This was apparently a favorite fantasy series for many of my female friends decades ago, when they were teens. I can see how the strong independent female main character was probably a rare thing in its day and super appealing to younger girls, but I'm so tired of fantasy books that want to jump back to medieval time and thus also include medieval gender roles and the female protagonist has to be stronger and better and braver and faster and smarter than all of the men before they accept her as an equal. I finished the series, though.

Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen
20. Queen of the Tearling
21. Invasion of the Tearling

I don't remember where I heard about these books, but they sounded interesting. There was a lot of good to them. The characters, in general, are really good. The magic and the setting are interesting, and there's a good story going. But there are frustrating things too. It's definitely a single story in three parts, so some of the major plot points are still left hanging or unclear. I intend to read the final third soon, and that will probably determine my overall assessment.

Mistborn (Cosmere) - Brandon Sanderson
22. Shadows of Self
23. Bands of Mourning

I started the Mistborn series several years ago based off my son's suggestion, and liked them. Sanderson is a pretty comfortable writer for me. He has some weak areas, but overall I like his stories. His worldbuilding is amazing, and his characters are usually pretty good. There's always a big fight/battle scene or two that goes on too long for me, but the rest of it makes up for it.

Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning continue with the Wax and Wayne Mistborn set, and I have to say that, particularly in BoM, I am liking this one better than the original trilogy, almost exclusively due to one character in particular (helped by a few supporting characters). If there was ever anything else written featuring Wayne I would read it in a heartbeat.

Novellas from Arcanum Unbounded (more Cosmere)
24. Mistborn Secret History
25. The Emperor's Soul
(Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell)

Two of these I'll consider long enough to count as novellas/books, the third is more of a short story. Justin and I listened to these on a trip to Rochester.

Secret History was fun for tying things together and revisiting the old stories from a different perspective, and it hints at a lot more possibilities to learn about. The Emperor's Soul is a great, short standalone that was just slightly too long for our trip, but it was Justin's copy, so after I dropped him off I had to scour the 'net for a copy so I could finish it. The collection is on my hold list so hopefully soon I'll acquire it and read the rest of what's in it.

The Reckoners - Brandon Sanderson
26. Steelheart
27. Firefight
28. Calamity

Recommended by David. Decent Sanderson material. Entertaining for the author's challenge of coming up with new, interesting, feasible superhumans without stomping all over any the other existing superhero tropes, stories, inventions, storylines, etc. The teen male protagonist is a little eye-rolly for me, and there's more ka-blooey fights than I care for, but the world-building is solid, and it was enjoyable and easy enough to finish it.

The Lunar Chronicles - Marissa Meyer
29. Cinder
30. Scarlet
31. Cress
32. Fairest
33. Winter
34. Stars Above

Recommended by mh75. Previously I have been leery of retold fairy tales, because the base stories themselves are so problematic and annoying. But when Cinderella becomes a snarky, brave, cyborg mechanic who doesn't play victim, and all the other tropey characters actually are pretty well fleshed out people (or androids/aliens), I ended up liking this way more than I thought I would. There's still an I guess necessary dose of romantic mooning, but it doesn't go too far overboard.

The Broken Earth - N.K. Jemisin
35. The Fifth Season
36. The Obelisk Gate

The Fifth Season was last year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, and given how much I enjoyed some of its company, as well as liking her Inheritance trilogy last year, I decided this series couldn't be a bad decision. Well, I was wrong. It was an awful decision, because this one, unlike her others, is a single story in three books, and only two of them have been published yet. The first book is heartwrenching, beautiful, dark, artful, and tense. It was difficult to read in parts because of what the characters have suffered through and how much that shows through in her skillful writing.

I immediately wanted to continue the next, which does not let down. However, now I have to wait another 6 months for the third. Not fair! This is going to be my highest recommendation for a while, but do yourself a favor and hold off another year.

Inheritance - N.K. Jemisin
37. The Awakened Kingdom

While searching around for more Jemisin to get my fix, I discovered there was an addition to the Inheritance trilogy and immediately jumped on it. This novella was a delightful read, well-written in so many ways, had an adorable main character, and ended on a lovely note. Good to read the others first, as the background characters are not explained in this book at all, but is still a standalone story.

Dreamblood - N.K. Jemisin
38. The Killing Moon
39. The Shadowed Sun

Yeah, I got on a Jemisin kick this year. At this rate, I may find myself getting into Mass Effect sometime next year. Weird. But it's clear that this author has my number. 90% into the first book, I swore it was going to be a single story in two books, but then the first one wrapped up suddenly and efficiently. Not completely, making it clear that there were many more stories to be told in this universe, but enough that one could stop with one without feeling like you're leaving something major lost. The second book had some overlap, and needed the background of the first for best appreciation, but was still a single story in its own right.

I could go on at length about the small things I liked about this, but I'll save that gushing for other conversations and just say that this is my recommendation of the year for something to read right now.

40. Paper Towns - John Green

I traded book recommendations with Rebecca to get this one. I know of and like the Green brother's vlogs, and was kind of aware that one was a YA author as well, and this is the first one I've read. It was good! Interesting concept that explored teenage years well and ended well without giving a happily-ever-after pat fairytale ending.

41. My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

Sometime early last year I was going through random online Books Highly Recommended Lists by Other People, and this one came up. It sounded like my kind of book, and I think maybe it almost was. It's very much about the characters, about growing up - with and without enough, and about friendship and kinship, placed in Naples in the 50s. It meanders and it is thoughtful. I doesn't have overarching victories or grand sweeping conclusions.

And maybe that's the problem. I read through it getting to know these women and their society, but not really being attached to most of them, and their unfortunate circumstances and choices just keep me feeling depressed. Then when I finished and felt really unfulfilled, I found that it is part of a 4 book series that promises more of the same. Not continuing.

42. The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

This is an addition to the Millennium series (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson. It was not made with Larsson's notes (or his partner's permission). As a result, the characters are a little different, didn't come across nearly as powerful, and overall just didn't really sit quite right in my head. On the other hand, it's also missing some of the trope issues that I had with Larsson's original writing. It was enjoyable as a standard detective story that makes use of a familiar setting.

43. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

This book has a lot of really good things it, but I wouldn't call it a great book. Mostly in part because it was never meant to be. This is basically an early rough draft of the book that To Kill a Mockingbird was an extended excerpt/flashback from, and in that context, it makes a lot more sense. Also given the context of TKAM, I can appreciate the actual character growth a lot more. There is a lot of substance in it, though, and some of the roughness serves well to provoke more thought, if the reader is willing to do a little work.

44. Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith

Recommended by mh75. This was a fun, simple mystery with a lot of thought and not a lot of action. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly care for the main character, and the story didn't really have much impact on me either way.

45. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Recommended by jadia. This was a hard read, I think because I'm not practiced in reading non-fiction, and mentally I try to look for rising action, character development, etc, and this was mostly an epistle. It is thoughtful, angry, hopeful, passionate, and informative.

I read a variety of other things, but of note, I went through as much as possible of Ann Leckie's short fiction: and also as much as possible of N.K. Jemisin's short fiction:

Date: 11 Jan 2017 02:07 (UTC)
jarrettc: meerkat (Default)
From: [personal profile] jarrettc
9, 12, 14, 29, and 35 added to my want-to-read list. Thanks!

Date: 9 Jan 2017 21:51 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had your same reaction to the Three Body Problem, and was just thinking that I probably *ought* to go pick up the next one.

Glad you liked 50% of my recommendations. I have currently stopped at Fairest, though, because I found that book to be so depressing. (And not currently having ANY ROOM for emotionally challenging.) I'd like to finish when i find the emotional fortitude.

My mystery find of the year is Louise Penny and the series that begins with Still Life. Definitely more depth than anything by AMS, and some really nice language.

My non-fiction pick of the year is Weapons of Math Destruction.

Date: 9 Jan 2017 22:24 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh man, push through the difficult beginning of the second book in Three-Body Problem. The book will blow your fucking mind. The third one is even crazier. This is probably the best trilogy I've read in years, possibly ever.

Date: 10 Jan 2017 06:06 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think [ profile] artemis will concur about the mind-blowingness of these novels.

(Did I use that LJ tag correctly? It has been a decade since I did)

Date: 9 Jan 2017 22:40 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] dr4b
Thomas Sweterlisch went to CMU -- did you know that? I think he even graduated same year as you, 2000 -- his wife was in some of my English classes and his sister was president of Kiltie Band, and so on. Hence the good Pittsburgh descriptions.

Scalzi had a pre-book for Lock In that was honestly better IMO, an "oral history" of Haden's disease. I liked Lock In but couldn't help but think, he set up this great world, and this was the story he chose to tell in it? I dunno.

Date: 10 Jan 2017 00:47 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The rest of the Sandman Slim books just get better and better. Oh, and I get killed in one of them.

Also, the rest of Cixin Liu's trilogy is worth reading. The translation of the second book isn't that great but Liu's story travels over decades, then centuries, then goes complete off the rails by the end of the third.


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