2015 Year in Review

This sure did take a month to write. And to get the new computer set up for word processing. And to figure out how to use a blog in the first place. And to work up the nerve. And, and, and.

This is not really going to be an introduction post; I figure if I’m going to ask people to read my stuff I should actually give them something to read. It should give you the general flavor, though. I like reading books, I have a lot of thoughts on them, and I miss having people to share those thoughts with. You’ll probably notice quickly that I trend toward fantasy, thought I’m trying to branch out more. I like seeing how genres, and works, and ideas fit together and build off of each other.

I don’t know if I can even call much of what I’m going to put here reviews, so much as musings on anything from the current novel I’m reading to genre trends in general. I’ll definitely be getting into what works for me and what doesn’t, but I’m not so organized right now that I have a standard structure or anything. I’m going to try to keep at it and update every Wednesday, hopefully with a review or an essay. I may put some short stories up if I have nothing more interesting to post.

Today I’m going to go through the thing that started this whole project, though. I’ve been reading regularly again after several years of lull, and I found myself wondering how much I was reading as well as what I was reading the most of. I decided to keep track and set a goal: 20 books of any type, with no page count limit. I ended up with 30 books, 10,015 pages, and a nice list detailing basic thoughts on all of them. Once I had that I thought I should probably do something with it.

So here are quick thoughts on all of the books I read last year, including where I found them, basic summary, and my feelings. This is going to be at least two posts, because otherwise it would be far, far too long. Alright, let’s go!

 

Books 1-3: The Graceling Realm Series (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) by K. Cashore

Where I found them: The internet apparently loves these ones. Almost all of the book blogs I read put them as highly recommended.

Summary: Katsa’s mismatched eyes mark her as a Graceling, a person with a dedicated magical skill. Fire’s red and orange hair shows her to be a monster, inhuman, psychic, and fighting against her own manipulative nature. Bitterblue is a normal human, her royal blood and strange past the only things branding her as special. Their three stories, taken together, will unravel the mystery behind a sadistic king, a mystery that will span more than one lifetime and two realms completely unaware of the others’ existence.

Thoughts: In spite of the high praise, I wasn’t particularly fond of these, though I’m willing to admit that’s mostly down to me expecting something that they clearly weren’t. I wanted fantasy adventure, and while that’s in there most of the plot revolves around love stories. They’re not bad books. Cashore’s a solid writer and if you’re more open to romance tropes than I am you’ll probably like them. As it was, the only one I actually enjoyed was Bitterblue because it gave me what I wanted from the first two: world-building, intrigue, and mystery.

 

Book 4: Firecracker by D. Iserson

Where I found it: Ollie’s. They have a surprisingly good remaindered selection, and I pick up anything that looks interesting there.

Summary: Arrogant, spoiled, and sarcastic, Astrid Krieger rules her private school with an iron fist. After she’s expelled for a prank and sent to public school, though, she becomes nothing more than the weird rich kid. Can she survive outdated textbooks, awful cafeteria food, and small-minded classmates? More importantly can she let go of her past and upbringing to make her life one she wants to live?

Thoughts: This was not my favorite. Scratch that, this was awful. The main character was completely unlikeable, the plot was inane, and the novel clearly thought it was both funnier and deeper than it actually was. It somehow managed to be both jaded and schmoopy, and neither in a good way. Fortunately this is probably the worst on the list; at least it’s over quickly.

 

Books 5-7: To Hell and Back Series (Damned Busters, Costume Not Included, and Hell to Pay) by M. Hughes

Where I found them: The really awesome covers caught my eye in Barnes and Noble.

Summary: After unintentionally summoning a demon and negotiating with Hell’s bureaucracy to keep his soul, mild-mannered data analyst Chesney Arnstruther becomes a costumed crimefighter. It’s his dream come true; all he has to do is make a name for himself and he can be just like his heroes! Unfortunately his attempt to do so will lead not only to the criminal conspiracy at the heart of his city, but to the secrets of Heaven and Hell themselves.

Thoughts: I have to say I’m not entirely sure what to think of these. I liked them well enough. They were cute, the satire was clever, and when the plot really got going they put forth some interesting ideas. On some level though, I feel like if I want to read Good Omens, I’ll reread Good Omens. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but a comparison to Good Omens is nothing to scoff at. Still, they lacked a little of the vibrancy that novel had. Good enough, but not great.

 

Book 8: The Forever Song (Blood of Eden #3) by J. Kagawa

Where I found it: Walmart, at least for the first in the series. There are times when I forget to bring my book to work and have to make due with the choices there.

Summary: Allie’s life has always been a struggle, filled with violence, betrayal, and constant scraping to get by. Starting out as a mere human in a world ruled by vampires, she’s even faced her own death and rebirth into undeath. But now life on Earth is counting down to its final seconds, with the charge headed by an old enemy, a crazy vampire intent on wiping the world clean. Allie must stop him, for the good of the world, if not for her own revenge.

Thoughts: This is book three of my YA, dystopian, vampire romance published by Harlequin, and if that description doesn’t immediately make you run screaming for the hills, I’d recommend giving the series a chance. Allie’s no wilting flower, but she’s also not just jaded and selfish. The secondary characters are fun and interesting. The plot manages to stay pretty equal between vampire slaying and staring soulfully into each others’ eyes, and regardless of which is being done everything stays tense and exciting. Kagawa walks a fine line on each of these and pulls it off. For what it is she makes it surprisingly likeable.

 

Book 9: Akata Witch by N. Okorafor

Where I found it: Ollie’s again, though I’ve heard about this author from several people whose work I like. I’d been meaning to track down some of her stuff.

Summary: Sunny has never quite fit in. She’s black, but albino. She’s Nigerian, but was raised in the United States. She’s athletic, but can’t even be outside for long. Wherever she goes she’s the kid who’s different. When fellow outsiders Orlu and Chichi drag her into their strange, magical world, she begins to realize that being different may be the best thing about her. Her extraordinary talent also means extraordinary danger, though.

Thoughts: I honestly feel like I’m a little unqualified to speak on this one. One some level it feels like a drastically different culture’s take on Harry Potter, so I have most of the basics. One another I’m almost absolutely sure I’m missing most of the subtleties. To the extent that, while the novel does explain most of the myths and symbols it’s referencing, I still feel like there are gaps in my understanding. Maybe it’s just that they’re not familiar enough to have power for me, or maybe there are actually things left unsaid. What I got of it I liked, but I think it’s definitely a reread/research combo at some point.

 

Book 10: East by E. Pattou

Where I found it: Book blogs again. I think the ones I read only seem like they have the same taste as me.

Summary: Though her mother has tried to force her to be calm and sensible, Rose has always been adventurous. Which may be why she’s the only one in her family not afraid of the white bear. Which may be why, when he comes to take her away, she goes with him willingly, seeing some strange goodness in him. This one choice will lead her into a world she never imagined existing, and to the adventure of a lifetime.

Thoughts: I usually like retold fairy tales, but found this one a little lacking. It tried to keep that classic fable feel, but while that worked at points for the most part it seemed like it was just dragging out a much shorter story. The characterization had the same problem. Those flat fairytale archetypes work really well for some things, but when you’re expanding this much you really need to go a little deeper. If you’re very into Beauty and the Beast motifs, this might have something for you, but if you’re looking for a perfect blend of traditional and modern I’d go elsewhere.

 

Books 11-17: The Earthsea Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, The Other Wind, and The Wind’s Twelve Quarters) by U. LeGuin

Where I found them: Can you really be a fantasy fan and not have heard of Earthsea? These have been on the reading list for a while.

Summary: A fantasy classic, comparable in scale to Lord of the Rings, Earthsea tells the story of a world: it’s rise, it’s fall, it’s regeneration. Focusing each novel on some of Earthsea’s greatest legends, the series spans decades, wars, and momentous shifts in the very foundations that make the world.

Thoughts: Classic though it is, Earthsea was actually a little uneven for me. What I loved, I loved, and what I didn’t dragged for me. I think this may have to do with two things. The first is that the series not only spans decades, but was also written over the course of several. The first couple of books have that extremely formal old style fantasy feel, and those were mostly the ones I had a harder time working my way through. The later ones are a little lighter, and I enjoyed those more. The second has to do with the sorts of characters and themes that interest me. I prefer characters rebuilding their personal world after a fall to characters rebuilding the world in general, and I like things that question the assumptions one might make about a standard fantasy world. As such I liked anything involving Tenar and Tehanu, and Tehanu and The Other Wind were probably my favorite novels. And while a short story collection is never going to be at the top of my list, I thought The Wind’s Twelve Quarters was an interesting glimpse into some of her other writing. The one thing I will say for the series as a whole is LeGuin very clearly knows what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, throughout the novels. I felt more pull toward some of the books than others, but they’re all very carefully written.

 

So there’s the first half, more or less. I’ll be back next week with the rest. Until then, happy reading!

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