2016 Year in Review

firework unsplash pexels.jpg

Well, this sure has been a year, hasn’t it? Some good, quite a lot of bad, more interesting than I know what to do with, and regardless of everything, I have to agree with the consensus of “thank god it’s over.” Blogging has certainly not been as eventful as everything else in my life, let alone the world, but the opening of a new year is a good time to look back and take stock for anything, really. Reinforcing that I have managed to accomplish at least something always helps me to be able to pick at what needs work. And picking at what needs work always helps me to figure out how to plan for the future.

So without much more in the way of ado, here’s a look at the first year of this blog: what I did, what I need to do better, and where I want to go.

Books Read

I managed to read more this year than I did last year (progress!), and did well enough with my goal of less popcorn reading that I’m not disappointed. Because I actually have reviews for most of these, and am planning on writing them for most of the ones I don’t, this is going to be far more list-like than last year. The ones I don’t have reviews for yet will get a couple of sentences of overview, but again, expect forthcoming reviews on most of those.

1) Incarceron—Catherine Fisher

2) Saphique—Catherine Fisher

3) Geek Love—Katherine Dunn

4) Eating Mammals—John Barlow

5) Cruel Crown—Victoria Aveyard

I barely even mentioned these two novellas, I think, but I did like them. In spite of the major disappointment of the second novel, they flesh out the world well and provide voices to two characters we barely get to see in the main series.

6) The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice—Tom Holt

7) Glass Sword—Victoria Aveyard

8) Titus Groan—Mervyn Peake

I’ve mentioned this series several times as being one of the most difficult, unique things I’ve ever read, and that about sums it up. The second after this one, Gormenghast, is still in the process of being read; I wandered away from it and never quite made it back.

9) The Darkest Part of the Forest—Holly Black

10) Summer and Bird—Katherine Catmull

11) Lost Time—Susan Schmid

12) Born Wicked—Jessica Spotswood

13) Legacy of Tril: Soulbound—Heather Brewer

14) The Vorrh—Brian Catling

15) Forest of Memory—Mary Robinette Kowal

16) Ten Mile River—Paul Griffin

17) The Corgi Chronicles—Laura Madsen

18) Labyrinth—Kate Mosse

19) Obsidian Mirror—Catherine Fisher

This is one of Catherine Fisher’s more interesting books, with very good ideas and somewhat uneven execution. I’d love to read the sequels, if I can ever figure out how the British release translated over into the American.

20) Proxy—Alex London

21) Passenger—Alexandra Bracken

22-28) The seven main Harry Potter books—J. K. Rowling

I figure you know what they are, I don’t have to list them all. Much like the following several books, I am planning on finishing the discussions of these. Given, with the way I’m going, it may have to wait for next summer.

29) Libriomancer—Jim Hines

Possibly Hines’ most lyrical novel, but I’m not sure how well it fits on him. Given, my reaction may have been clouded by circumstance, there; more on that later.

30) Fangirl—Rainbow Rowell

Remember when I said this sounded like the song of my people? I may have completely underestimated how much it was exactly that.

31) The Duchess of Bloomsbury St.—Helene Hanff

I’ve never really read travelogues before, but this makes me want more. Witty, relatable, and surprisingly melancholy at times.

32) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

My inner fan is both jumping for joy and screaming in anger here, and I’m still unsure which one is going to win out. I have badly mixed feelings on this.

33) No Passengers Beyond This Point—Gennifer Choldenko

A little too kiddish and a little too stereotypical for me. Generally could have done without this one.

34) Indexing—Seanan McGuire

Fun, interesting, and clever as hell with its meta. I’ve been meaning to read Seanan McGuire’s work, and I’m glad this was my first.

35) Chum—Jeff Somers

Suffice to say, I really need to stop trying to be that person who likes literary fiction.

Lessons Learned and Goals for Next Year

First and foremost…three posts a week is way too much for me. The resulting burnout from attempting that may not have been the main reason for the gigantic, three month gap in posting, but it was a major part of my losing momentum in the first place. I can see myself working my way up to two posts a week if things do manage to stabilize, but for now I think getting back to weekly is a large enough endeavor.

And finding the time to write is going to have to be another work in progress for me; I can’t just set aside huge specific chunks of time like I did when my work schedule was more stable, so I think I’m going to have to learn how to work throughout the week in small bits and pieces. That’s never been something I’m good at, at least as far as writing goes, but if I want to update regularly twenty minutes of writing somewhere each day is going to have to happen. With the way my schedule is I can’t do the thing where I write Sunday/Monday, edit Tuesday, and do the final polish on Wednesday anymore.

I’m also learning that I need to do something more in the way of promoting if I want more of an audience. Whether that’s doing community events or memes more often, or just being more active in seeking out and responding to other people, it needs to be something. As far as readers go I’m fairly content to let things move slowly, but I started doing this partially because I miss talking about books with people. So far as I’m small enough that discussion isn’t happening, this is somewhat counter-productive.

In other blog goals, I definitely want to try to do more with the couple of post series I stared, especially Forgotten Fantasy. One post in the category isn’t much at all, and while they do take a lot of work I want to be better at actually getting those together.

As for bookish goals, I’d definitely like to continue to try to read more and read difficult. The entire point of blogging, and discussing, and list-keeping is, for me, to get back to something I’d loved and lost between college stress and work stress. I want to work my way back into feeling like I’m actually a reader, and continuing to push myself is possibly the only way that’s going to happen.

That said, I did come back to this after a large pause, which is also something I’ve always had a problem with. I think I’ve proven to myself that this is something I actually want to do, which is half the battle for me.

So on to next year! May things continue to move forward, and may any setbacks be far more minor than this years’.

Cover Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash: sourced from Pexels

2015 Year in Review, Pt. 2

And on to the second part of this ridiculously long list. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll have some actual reviews up, so I can just link things. Without further ado, though.

 

Book 18: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by T. Altebrando

How I found it: Ollie’s again. Always kind of a crap shoot, always interesting.

Summary: The banned senior scavenger hunt is Mary’s last chance to prove she’s not a nobody, and she’s wiling to do anything to make sure her team wins. Unfortunately her parents are dead set against it, and her little sister is partying at home base, increasing her chances of getting caught. To top it off, half of her team is busy worrying about relationship drama, distracting them from the game, and Mary’s own crush is on a rival team. With tensions running high before everyone leaves for college, the scavenger hunt isn’t the only thing at stake.

Thoughts: This one is actually super cute. On one level, it’s a fairly standard Revenge of the Nerds high school story, but everything about it felt real enough that I didn’t have to roll my eyes at it. There are the standard oppressed losers and jerky jocks, but Mary herself isn’t always a nice person and the novel winds up to an ending that doesn’t force anybody into the typical villain role. All in all, it’s fun, light, high school shenanigans: everything you’d want in a feel-good teen movie in novel form.

 

Book 19: Red Queen by V. Aveyard

How I found it: I forgot to bring my book to work again. Really need to stop doing that.

Summary: Mare lives in a rigidly divided world. Silvers, with their superpowers, rule over everything, while Reds languor as their servants and playthings. Even Mare and her brothers, for all their cleverness, can’t escape it. They can either wait for conscription to the army to fight the Silvers’ wars or get jobs to work the Silvers’ households. But when, in an accident at her job in the palace, she displays powers herself, Mare is forced to play the role of lost Silver heiress. To survive she must navigate the ruthless court and hide her own red blood, all while keeping her knowledge of a long-brewing revolution from the mind-reading queen.

Thoughts: This book is astoundingly YA, astoundingly tropey, and astoundingly predictable. Characters would show up on page and I would be able to call most of their arcs within sentences. Still, for all of that, it’s surprisingly engaging. It’s hard to defend against the people who hate it for being so generic, because it is, but I like this world and these characters. And besides, if Aveyard is doing what I think she’s doing with it, it’s going to get a lot more interesting soon. The sequel just came out, and I know I’ll probably be picking it up.

 

Book 20: Brother/Sister by S. Olin

How I found it: Ollie’s again.

Summary: Yes, they know he’s dead. Yes, they were there. Yes, they know something about it. If you’d only let them explain though! It will all make sense, they promise, just let them tell their side of the story. Really, they were only two kids trying to have a normal life. Is that so wrong?

Thoughts: The main thing I remember about this one is that it was surprisingly disturbing for a goofy teen book. There’s no way to get into why without getting into spoiler territory, so if you’re actually planning on reading it, stop now. I got that the novel was about this pair killing people, but from the genre and the summary on the back, I know I thought that most of the deaths would be in some way accidental or due to extenuating circumstances. But no, it’s just these two committing murder because they’re messed up kids, and the end suggests it’s all absolutely deliberate. More than liking it, even, I admire it’s willingness to go there. Definitely not a bad read, but I’m not sure how much of its appeal was in its unexpectedness.

 

Book 21: Extraordinary by N. Werlin

How I found it: Ollie’s

Summary: Mallory, the strange new girl in Phoebe’s class barely even knows how to dress herself like a human being, but still, Phoebe is intrigued. She makes a first overture at friendship, leading to a years-long connection, a bond that seems completely unshakeable. Unshakeable, that is, until Mallory’s hot and cold, older brother shows up and Phoebe begins to doubt everything show knows about herself, her friend, and her world. There’s a fairy realm that needs saving, but between Mallory and her brother who has the right way to do it?

Thoughts: The most I can say about this is that it in no way lives up to its title. Werlin is trying to do some interesting things the whole “mysterious stranger leads our protagonist into a magical world” idea, but the characters don’t connect and the story rambles a lot. I admire what she was trying to do, but the actual product needed a lot more polishing.

 

Book 22: The Colossus Rises by P. Lerangis

How I found it: The last of my attempts to figure out what looks least bad on the Walmart shelves for this year. Hopefully my last attempt in general.

Summary: When Jack passes out at school it leads to the strangest week of his life, as he is whisked away to an island hospital with no contact to the outside world. Is this kidnapping? Illegal experimentation? What in the world does the strange white patch on the back of his head have to do with ancient Atlantis? And why is he the only one on the island who seems disturbed to have been stolen away?

Thoughts: Some books for children can be read by adults without problem; this is not one of these books. I spent most of my reading time annoyed for some thing or another, and the only overarching reason I can pin down is that it all seems very, well, kiddish. Which is a thing it’s ridiculous to be angry at a children’s book for. File this one firmly under not meant for me.

 

Book 23: The Orange Houses by P. Griffin

How I found it: Ollie’s

Summary: Surrounded by poverty and decay, deaf Mik is only happy when she’s drawing, hearing aids turned off and world tuned out. Though she could find a place with them, war refugee Fatima and shell-shocked veteran Jimmy can only drag her into the real world so much. It’s a last step she has to take to truly create something beautiful, but it’s one she has to decide on alone. Unfortunately their little world may not be ready for the three of them working together.

Thoughts: This is really not my sort of book at all: too grounded, too slice of life, too real world issue. I actually really loved it, though. It’s timely, the characters hit home, and in spite of being shorter than two hundred pages it builds its tension beautifully. It’s a nice little novella that feel as much like slam poetry as it does like prose, and it manages to be hopeful and heart-wrenching at the same time.

 

Books 24-27: The Chronicles of Faerie (Hunter’s Moon, The Summer King, The Lightbearer’s Daughter, and The Book of Dreams) by O. Melling

How I found them: Oh book blogs, will you ever not lead me astray?

Summary: An ancient evil awakens to threaten Faerie, the land of dreams, and as always mortals must quest to save it. Three heroines will embark on their own journeys, one for her cousin, one for her sister, and one for her mother. Their personal successes will begin to rebuild Faerie little by little; each, in working toward her own goal, will help to contribute to the ultimate one.

Thoughts: I really wanted to like this series far more than I did. Classic quests with traditional morally ambiguous fairies, recommended by Holly Black? Sounds right up my alley! But the writing’s a little bland, I couldn’t get into most of the characters, and there are some major pacing issues in all the books. The last one, The Book of Dreams, is a good example. It’s definitely the most interesting mythology-wise: a fluctuating hybrid of legends from each of the groups settled in Canada, meaning you have First Nations animal spirits working with Irish fairies and Chinese dragons and all of the above mixing ideas and traditions. But it’s also nearly seven hundred pages long and drags pretty drastically for it. In terms of enjoyment, the second, The Summer King, was probably my favorite. I was really hoping for more overall, though.

 

Book 28: Dust City by R. Weston

How I found it: Ollie’s

Summary: Henry Whelp has spent his life trying to work his way out from under the shadow of his father, George, perpetrator of the Big Bad Wolf killings. In fact, he’s spent years in juvie trying to even forget the man exists. So, when his father writes to him claiming to be innocent of the two murders Henry sets out to discover the truth. If that means tracing the crime back to its source and becoming a runner for the same illegal fairy-dust ring his father worked for, well, what can you expect from George Whelp’s son?

Thoughts: In terms of fractured fairy tales, this is more my style than East ever was; it’s a nice retelling and reworking, instead of just an expansion on the original tale. It’s also clever; it takes the typical noir tropes of the fallen state of the world and the jaded investigator and transfers them into a fairy tale setting, giving us a world that’s lost its magic as our stage and a kid that no one had any hope for as our narrator. It clearly knows both genres well, and there are plenty of little references here and there to pick out. It’s entertaining, will keep you reading, and is just as dark as it needs to be, without going overboard.

 

Book 29: The Liberation of Gabriel King by K. Going

How I found it: Ollie’s

Summary: Gabriel King is a coward, and he’ll be the first to admit it. If he can’t even face cows, how is he supposed to face his worst nightmare, the awful bullies waiting for him in fifth grade? Fortunately his best friend Frita has a plan; they’ll face their fears together and become brave over the summer. Unfortunately, facing their fears may also mean looking into the darkest parts of small-town, 1970’s Georgia.

Thoughts: I picked this up because the cover made it look very much like a slice of life YA novel, and the blurb on the back gave no indication of the characters ages. That is not what this books is. Instead, it’s very clearly another one that is written for eight-year-olds, with all the simple lessons and low stakes that entails, at least for most of the novel. It’s hard to make judgment calls on things like this, because they’re so clearly not for me.

 

Book 30: The Treachery of Beautiful Things by R. Long

How I found it: Ollie’s. Look, their hardbacks are like three bucks, okay?

Summary: One day, the trees steal Jenny’s brother Tom. Her parents spend months looking for him, thinking she’s crazy, but Jenny saw what happened. Jenny was there. So when, years later, she hears Tom’s favorite song, the one he always loved to play, from inside that same copse, she immediately follows it. Instead of leading her into a small stretch of trees along the road, it lands her in a strange world, a world on the brink of change.

Thoughts: This novel’s version of fairyland is wonderful, a combination of English, Irish, and Shakespearian versions of the myths that even pulls from modern retellings and Norse mythology to do its own thing. It’s kind of a mishmash of every European alternate world, but it all works beautifully together and really feels alien and unique. If only the characters and the plot were as interesting. Those aspects are very typical, though, and very much fall along Twilight lines. If Long had done a little more with them this could have been really great.

 

So, that was the year in reading. Looking back, it feels like a lot more than it was, even if it wasn’t a bad run. I’ll probably set a similar goal for next year; right now I’m thinking still twenty books, but less YA and popcorn reading. And I’ll be back next week with (maybe) an actual essay! On a singular topic! Until then, happy reading.

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!