Tag Archives: annual-books-read

2013 Books Read

keep readingHere’s the annual list of everything I read last year. It’s a new low, numerically–between the move and a couple other things, I wasn’t in the right headspace. I did read a fair number of short stories, but I often forgot to record them. A few made it to their own list, though, at the bottom. Of those, my favorite was the John Chu story

The best novel for me, this year, was Hild, by Nicola Griffith. You probably remember that I reviewed it, here.

1. Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by Dan Ariely and Tim Folger
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
3. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondatje
4. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
5. Suspect Identities: A history of fingerprinting and criminal identification by Simon A. Cole
6. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins
7. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman
8. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
9. Black Rubber Dress, by Lauren Henderson
10. The Given Sacrifice, by S.M. Stirling
11. The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill
12. Hild, by Nicola Griffith
13. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry
14. The Voices In-Between, by Charlene Challenger
15. Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
16. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
17. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
2 student novels, plus partials

Short Stories
About Fairies,” Pat Murphy
The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere,” John Chu

Running of the Bulls” by Harry Turtledove
Brimstone and Marmalade,” by Aaron Corwin,
Dormanna,” by Gene Wolfe
House of Dreams“, by Michael Swanwick

In which I #amreading about the history of fingerprinting…

keep readingI am currently more than halfway through Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, by Simon A. Cole. The title’s pretty self-explanatory, I think.

This is research for the trilogy set on Stormwrack, the same world where “Among the Silvering Herd” takes place, and
I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that early uses of fingerprinting tended to center around colonizing nations trying to tell their individual subjects apart (they thought all those non-white folks they were dominating looked alike!) I also learned how much of the early development of this technology was less about gathering fingerprints–either directly from individuals or in the form of latent prints on crime scenes–and more about generating a reliable filing system so that you could match the things.

I’d been craving a good non-fiction read and this has definitely delivered.

Here’s a short quote…

J. Edgar Hoover would reminisce fondly about the days when “too many law-enforcement officers were men of low intelligence, some of low morals, and, indeed, of a low opinion for anyone who sought to make science his aid and his standby in the pursuit of a criminal.”

Other books, so far this year –

1. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012, edited by Dan Ariely and Tim Folger
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
3. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
4. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey (I read this partly because of the discovery of Richard the III’s bones and partly because of the Jo Walton essay “How can this be so gripping?

Short Stories
About Fairies,” Pat Murphy

Reading in 2012 – the whole shebang (#amreading)

Here’s all the books and many of the short stories I read in 2012

1. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
2. Among Others, by Jo Walton
3. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester
4. Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter
5. Kat, Incorrigible (Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), by Stephanie Burgis
6. Remote, by Donn Cortez
7.The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet
8. one awesome draft novel by a dear friend
9. Property of a Lady, by Sarah Rayne
10. Hark a Vagrant by Kate Beaton
11. Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitt
12. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
13. Broken Harbour, by Tana French
14. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
15. Are you My Mother? By Alison Bechdel
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
18. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
19. On Conan Doyle or The Whole Art of Storytelling, by Michael Dirda
20. Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg
21. Between two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman
22. Black Diamonds; The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, by Catherine Bailey
23. The Warlock’s Curse, by M.K. Hobson
24. Little Star, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
25. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
26. The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen
27. The Sin Eater, by Sarah Rayne
28. How to Archer, by Sterling Archer

Short Stories (there were others; I’m just getting into this habit).
“Men Who Would Drown,” by Elizabeth Fama
“Six Months, Three Days,” by Charlie Jane Anders
“Nell,” by Karen Hesse (http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/09/nell)
“How to Make a Triffid” by Kelly Lagor (http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/11/how-to-make-a-triffid)
“Your Final Apocalypse,” Sandra McDonald, Clarksworld
“A Scandal in Bohemia,” Arthur Conan Doyle

Rereads
Faithful Place, by Tana French
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
Broken Harbour, by Tana French

Belated #amreading The Warlock’s Curse by M.K. Hobson

So, finally, The Warlock’s Curse!

Here’s the very pretty cover:

But what’s inside? I reviewed M.K. Hobson’s second novel, The Hidden Goddess, for Tor.com back when it came out. And I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel ever since.

The thing about this book is: what do I say? I am a spoilerphobe and I try to write spoiler-free book write-ups; this is sooper-hooper tricky in the case of M.K. Hobson’s Veneficas Americana series, because The Warlock’s Curse is intimately tied to the events of the preceding two books. This means a discussion of this third novel requires tapdancing around the revelations from three full books.

But here goes: TWC is mostly the story of William Edwards, a sweet and remarkably gifted farmboy with a talent for Otherwhere engineering. Will’s not quite eighteen, he’s a tad dyslexic and he’s been accepted as a fellow at the Telsa Institute in Detroit. Sadly, his parents have categorically forbidden him to go.

Will is a good-hearted kid–a sweet one, really–but he’s in a huge power struggle with his father and this has made him snarky and more than a little desperate. Then a chance arises for him to run off by accepting some help from someone in a similar situation, his childhood pal Scuff, otherwise known as Jenny.

Jenny, like Will, has a streak of genius and parent troubles. Being a girl, she’s expected to sort out her issues, tighten her bustle and quietly enter into fruitful matrimony with some San Francisco society gentleman to be chosen later. Instead, she and Will embark on a partnership–they flee together to Detroit, where the Telsa folks are located, and pursue their separate agendas.

The only hitch? They have to get married to pull it off. Soon our teen heroes are on the run with a barely legitimate marriage certificate and more money than sense. Everyone is after them, and there’s also another problem they can’t appreciate: nearly everyone around Will has told him a lie or two over the years, Jenny included. And hidden behind his parents’ lies is a secret so awful it might destroy the two of them and a decent amount of U.S. real estate if things go awry.

It’s a novel. Things go awry.

TWC plays out against a backdrop of magic, politics, and plague. An evangelist preacher is taking steps to try eliminating all magical ability from the U.S. population. He has already managed to inoculate most of the younger generations, but he’s trying to wipe out the abilities of the privileged elder generation who grew up with magic.

It’s tricky, at times, that this book is so intimately tied to its precedessors. I can’t imagine reading it without having read The Native Star and The Hidden Goddess. A certain amount of the pleasure I derived from reading it came from knowing all the things William doesn’t. And as a second complaint, I will say it ends on a whopper of a suspenseful situation. Being obliged to put it down without having the next book ready and waiting was very sad. See how sad?
I sent this picture to L to hint that she really should make a Scrabble move now.

As for the novel itself: it has the usual grandeur of Hobson’s writing, the delightful characters and hilarious dialog, and the no-punches pulled savagery of a bare-knuckles brawl. In marrying and running off from people determined to protect them from everything including the truth, Will and Jenny dress themselves for the slaughter. And I do not use that word lightly. The little bit of responsibility they bear for getting themselves into trouble hardly rates against what happens to them.

Is Hobson saying we should meekly accept lying by authority figures for our own good? No, obviously not. But TWC is very much about displaced pride, the inability to ask for help and the inability of one person, however talented, to stand against massive corrupt organizations, be they political, corporate, or sorcerous in nature.

Gone Girl, with spoilers

A number of my students are reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn right now. It was on my list; Barb had recommended it to me, and I’d liked Sharp Objects a lot, so the timing seemed perfect.

A lot of the reader reaction I’ve seen online about this book boils down to omg, omg, wow, this is so good, so well constructed but then that last page… whuh?

So, here’s my answer to whuh? Agree or disagree, as you please.

My take on the end is simply this: what we are looking at in Gone Girl is a story where an abused spouse goes back to a partner who will, inevitably, kill them.

This is murked up–in a good way, I think–by a couple things. First, there’s the gender switch. Amy’s the abuser, Nick the victim. This is statistically atypical and in this piece of writing it serves to muffle the usual dynamics of abusive relationships. That is to say, it makes it all a little less obvious, especially because the power imbalance between Nick and Amy isn’t as unequal as it would be if he was female. She has the money and everyone’s on her side, but he’s got male privilege: he is bigger and stronger than Amy. He could throttle her and–but for the inconvenience of prosecution–be free of her.

The other reason we don’t all go “Oh, yes, Nick’s a battered husband, it’s sooooo clear,” of course, is that the man is no prize. He is spectacularly un-self-aware, emotionally shut down (this itself is a result of growing up with abuse in his family of origin) an almost pathological liar, desperate for approval, a conflict avoider and, of course, an adulterer.

He’s kind of awful, right? But you know what? This rings true to me: it accords with what I learned back when I was working in a transition house for battered women. Having a violent spouse doesn’t grow you a halo. You might have had one anyway, and maybe you can hang onto it. But usually, the life horrific will amplify your pre-existing unlovely qualities. Stress and terror don’t always make you a better person.

Anyway. Nick starts working towards breaking up his marriage, in his icky passive-aggressive adulterer way. Amy takes it into her head to kill him. If I can’t have you, nobody can. She puts him through a completely awful experience… and then desperation and his clever, craven begging draw her home to him.

So why does he stay with her?

–First, there’s a journalist-amplified version of the What will the neighbors think? effect. Everything that has happened to Nick has happened in a shiny and unforgiving media spotlight, and he knows that if he makes the wrong move, the whole country will cast him as a villain.

–Then there’s the fact that Amy has smoothly and glibly explained all his accusations to the cops, negating what legitimacy he might otherwise lay claim to. I don’t know where the silly boy gets these ideas. I would never hurt him!

–For awhile, there’s more fake evidence against him in Amy’s arsenal–it’s the I can still hurt you, honey, and nobody can help you, thing.

–She also convinces him that he can’t really exist without her love. That somehow it’s she who defines him. You’re nobody without me, baby. That’s his big epiphany.

–Finally, of course, there’s the actual baby. Given that he doesn’t believe he can get away, let alone get away with custody of a child, is he really gonna leave a kid to his wife’s tender mercies?

So Nick capitulates. He tells his sister and the one sympathetic cop that he’s giving up the fight, and he sinks into trying to dance to Amy’s tune. To fulfill her every whim. The scene with his sister is heartbreaking and, again, very true to life. The cop is philosophical–she’s seen this before.

On page the last, what we see (or confirm) is that Nick’s days are numbered. He can’t humor Amy perfectly, forever–nobody could. So we see that he’s made a remark–“I feel sorry for you”–that is sticking in her craw. And she’s shutting down the story when she says “I have to have the last word,” because now she’s wrapping up what went before, and moving on to her next project. It seems to me that this is the inevitable beginning of and justification for Amy’s next attempt to take on the role of Punch, to find a new way to murder her cheating, flawed and lamentably unlikable Judy.

Now I #AmReading Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

I read Between Two Fires by Christopher Beuhlman recently, and it’s really quite remarkable and wonderful. And I mean wonderful in a horror novel that freezes your blood and turns your stomach, but somehow brings you to the edge of tears at the end way. It’s especially effective if you dig medieval history, stuff about the Black Death (who doesn’t dig a little plague?) or feel any sense of interest in or any connection to the Catholic Church or Christian mythology.

The link to my Tor.com review of the novel is here.

The rest of this year’s reading list, so far…

2012 BOOKS
1. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
2. Among Others, by Jo Walton
3. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester
4. Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter
5. Kat, Incorrigible (Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), by Stephanie Burgis
6. Remote, by Donn Cortez
7.The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet
8. one awesome draft novel by a dear friend
9. Property of a Lady, by Sarah Rayne
10. Hark a Vagrant by Kate Beaton
11. Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitt
12. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
13. Broken Harbour, by Tana French
14. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
15. Are you My Mother? By Alison Bechdel
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
17. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
18. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
19. On Conan Doyle or The Whole Art of Storytelling, by Michael Dirda
20. Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg
21. Between two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman
22. Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty by Catherine Bailey
23. (Reading now!) The Warlock’s Curse, by M.K. Hobson

Short Stories
“Men Who Would Drown,” by Elizabeth Fama
“Six Months, Three Days,” by Charlie Jane Anders
“Nell,” by Karen Hesse (http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/09/nell)

Rereads
Faithful Place, by Tana French
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

Archers are cool now ( #amreading The Hunger Games)

The things I read after Are You My Mother? were all three The Hunger Games books, by Suzanne Collins, in rapid succession.

I can’t remember the last time I read something super-hot and popular. But Kelly and I had seen the first movie and the arena/political concept was compelling. I dug the savaging of reality TV (competition porn, as M.K.Hobson calls it) and the 1984 overtones. And I found the Katniss/Peeta cynically-motivated romance kinda cool. It’s sort of got an “Aliens made them do It“, flavor, but I mean that in a good way.

Anyway, I hoovered up all three books one week not long ago.

The further I went, the less happy I was with the whole story. I’m not saying the writing fell off or that anything big changed, just that my reader satisfaction decreased as things got darker. Sure, what happens in the first book is awful, but somehow there’s enough snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat–enough balance–that I was okay with the dystopian future and I like me some high-fiber hurt/comfort content. But as the revolution unfolds and things get worse and worse (and I’m not saying this is unrealistic in a war story, mind, just depressing) I started to disengage. Ultimately, I felt Katniss took one body-blow too many. Too much hurt, with no comfort possible. Those of you who read to the end can probably guess which loss I mean.

I thought Collins did some decent SF worldbuilding. I didn’t much care for District 13, but their existence made the revolution a more believably fair fight. And I am all about pure true love, so I was Team Peeta all the way.

A question I’ve seen raised about Katniss is whether she is a kick-butt go-getter heroine and an inspiration to the youth or if the only real choice she makes, like many a girl protagonist, is about Which Boy?

To this: prior to the novel’s initial incident, Katniss transforms herself from a starving child to a person who’s feeding her family. She makes the big decision to save Prim. Then, yes, she’s swept up in a game that’s much much larger than her. Her choices become limited… but I don’t think one can argue she doesn’t play the damned game to the best of her ability.

In the following books, there’s a lot of believable freaking out and PTSD and mourning of things lost. It was a bummer to read, but, again, I thought pretty realistic. And even as she flips out, Katniss does things–when choices are available to her, she does make them. I’d say characterizing the trio of books as one big romantic angstfest with a passive main character is a tad unfair.

The Hunger Games trio has flaws, and certainly there are plenty of times when Katniss is swept up in the flood of war, paddling just to stay afloat. But whenever she has her feet on solid ground, I would argue, she tries to work out the move that will rebound to the best advantage to herself and her beloveds.

Are You My Mother? Yes, I #amreading Alison Bechdel

Like a lot of fortyish lesbians, I’ve been reading Alison Bechdel’s stuff since I was in my twenties. Dykes to Watch Out For was, at one time, just about the only decent fictional mirror of my own life to be had in pop culture. Watching Mo, Lois, Toni, Clarice and all her other characters grow up and change, week by week–or, more often, in the annual cartoon anthologies–was an often pleasurable, always funny, and occasionally painful experience.

And, like a fair number of Bechdel’s fans, I was wowed by Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic when it came out a few years ago. Bechdel’s cartooning and her writing style lend themselves beautifully to memoir, and the book is incredibly intimate. If Dykes to Watch Out For is a mirror, this graphic novel creates the experience of actually being the super-powered fly on the wall, of seeing an intimate family drama play out, while remaining unseen. It’s powerful stuff, and the story is wholly compelling.

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama her newer memoir, is tougher going. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is about Bechdel’s father, and his suicide, and as such it’s a messy, difficult tale. But mothers and daughters are even thornier subject matter, especially since Bechdel’s mother was alive and well as she was writing it. The story here reflects that murk and difficulty very faithfully. It’s honest to such an extreme that much of it feels like TMI, and all that wriggle-in-your-seat discomfort was compounded, in my case, by the sense of having known this author for so very long, having that illusion of . . . not of being buddies, obviously, but of having a long acquaintance. (All on my side. I’ve never met her.) The light it shines on mother-daughter relationships in general means this is not a book that leaves the reader feeling easy or relaxed.

It’s an extremely good memoir and it ends remarkably well–which surprised me. But it’s a hard book to love. Or perhaps I should say, it’s hard to love without reservation. Are You My Mother? is one of those books you want to armor yourself against. All this really means is that you probably shouldn’t do that.

Read it, absorb it, take your lumps and do something frivolous afterwards–that’s my advice. Here’s the cover: