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Books, 2016

January (2)

(January was "read books by friends" month, I guess)

Empress of Storms (Two Thrones Book 1) by Nicola Cameron: Is it a suspenseful fantasy novel set in a richly developed magical realm with three-dimensional characters that also happens to have some hot-as-hell sex scenes? Or is it a steamy work of erotica that happens to actually have a plot so intriguing you won't want to put it down until you know how it ends?

Well… yes!

Not a heavy read by any means (a compliment!) with thrills and surprises, and yes, the steamy sex. The cultures of the two kingdoms, the magical system/hierarchy, the history, and the deities... I really hope there will be more with these characters and in this universe. (Danaë may just be my new hero: strong queen who knows what she wants and knows how to do it, and is complete unto herself without needing to find her perfect mate. That she happens to find said mate is sort of icing on the cake!)

(This is the verbatim review I left on Amazon.)

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: A magic-filled* fairy tale that feels in some ways like it has existed for hundreds of years and only recently rediscovered. But the protagonist, Agnieszka, is no shrinking flower, and seems as modern a young woman as you'll ever meet when it comes to standing up for herself and getting things done. Not exactly what I was expecting… it was even better. Turns every fairy tale and fable trope on its ear.

(* The magic here is depicted differently than just about any other book I've read, and that includes Harry Potter. There is something more organic about the way spells are cast, and you get a real feel for the cost (both in labor and in coinage) of potions, as well as the physical cost of using magic itself.)

February (4)

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin: Fully realised fantasy set in a universe with a much more geologically active world than our own, and the people who have the ability to detect that activity, and control those forces. What I really loved was the prominence of women and people of colour. Fantasy works can be as diverse as reality, and can greatly benefit from it. Can't wait to see what happens next in this universe.

The Blackhouse by Peter May: First book in the Lewis trilogy; centered around a murder that occurs in the Isle of Lewis that may be connected to another in Edinburgh, which brings a man who had once lived there, Fin, back to the island to investigate the possible connection. I loved the detail of the life there, and of the culture, and of Fin's life revealed in flashback (sections which were in first person). The solution to the mystery itself became obvious to me as it approached, but I thought it was well-written, and very good.

Lady Bridget's Diary by Maya Rodale: (This book is as different as the previous one as chalk is to cheese.)

When I read about this book, that it was going to be taking Bridget Jones' Diary (which is itself based on the framework of Pride & Prejudice) and putting it into Regency time, I did a double take… for reasons… and was very wary about its release. (Obviously, as the book's web page explains, there are enough changes to keep Helen Fielding from suing. She's Bridget Cavendish… which is the name that Renée Zellweger used when working undercover at Picador Press. Another connection.)

As Bridget Jones herself might have said: I needn't have bothered… to worry. It's so obvious that the author is a huge fan of Pride & Prejudice, as well as Bridget Jones' Diary, and her affection and reverence for them shows in the story. There's also a lot of original plot and original characters—a brother called James (Jamie, anyone?) and two sisters (who no doubt fill the role of Shaz and Jude). And, of course, the character taking on the Caroline Bingley role, who manages to be even more odious than Caroline herself.

And so many tips-of-hats to things in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (notably: WET WHITE SHIRT), as well as the film adaptation of Bridget Jones (Smug Married Dinner, anyone? Not to mention that part of the plot revolves her diary).

Last but not least: Teh Sex. Holy mother of God, does she know how to do erotica. Less about mechanics, more about sensation and what goes on in the head. And only one actual consummation described! The kisses alone are shiver-inducing. And it's funny. Perhaps a little too modern-sensibilities funny, but I was not bothered by that at all.

The Lewis Man by Peter May: Second in the Lewis trilogy, continuing Fin's threads as he returns to the isle of Lewis, with a whole new mystery, delving into the past and the youth of an old man with regards to a body found in the bogs there. Clever as it is, I was not hugely surprised at the denouement, though still a lovely read in terms of atmosphere. You really feel like you're there in Lewis.

March (4)

The Chessmen by Peter May: Third in the Lewis trilogy, a worthy third in the series, this time revolving a years-old mystery involving a missing musician and the famous Lewis Chessmen. Again, there are the threads of the previous two books that carry over, but there is no overarching plot from the first two. I think that aspect disappointed me a little, but this too was a good read, and a good mystery. I guessed shortly before things happened that they were going to happen, but in a "natural realization" way, not a "I saw that coming from a million miles away" way.

(I was very amused by the reference to a Celtic musical group called Solas, because there really is a band with that name. We saw them perform in Albany (OR) years ago.)

Don't know if there will be more to the series—everyone seems to call it "the Lewis trilogy"—but there certainly are loose ends to tie should he wish to.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: The first of her novels, a disturbing tale of a journalist returning to her hometown to report on what may be the beginning of a series of killings by serial killer. Maybe I read (and watch) too much true crime, but I saw the answer a mile away—or at least I thought I did. Sufficiently creepy and uncomfortably realistic. There were a couple of things I would have liked to see better resolved—namely, Richard, and Camille's father—but I really couldn't stop reading.

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock: Reading this book was like spending an evening with old friends, though (as always) I was so anxious to read the story that I didn't take enough time to really look at the artwork. I'm sure I'll want to read it again.

This one slots right in to the series, chronologically speaking, after The Golden Mean. I don't believe there will be any more in this series, but it sure was nice to go back there this one more time.

I'm not sure how I feel about the introduction into the story of Maud and her friend Francesca, but I suppose there are some things that couldn't have been related except for the relaying of it by a witness. There was something that bothered me, though, and I realized what it was after the fact: that Francesca actually reports seeing Sabine. I almost wished that she hadn't—to further the idea that maybe Sabine wasn't actually quite real. There are still open questions. The bird. Where did they go? Who exactly was Frolatti? Still, very much loved it. Can't wait to go see him in May.

Remanence (Confluence, Book 2) by Jennifer Foehner Wells: Man, oh, man… what a ride. A highly satisfying and worthy follow-up to Fluency! I enjoyed it very much. Everything about the science, the physics, the thought that went into the development of the races on the planet and its moon, screams believability. I held my breath during the climb of the ladder (trying not to spoil). And it's a broad spectrum of experiences that are explored here, not just science and space exploration, but human-human (and human-nonhuman) relationships. Did I mention that I enjoyed it?

April (3)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl: I've had this one for a while, and finally took the plunge—it's really, really long, so I found it daunting to get into. And it was totally worth it. The story takes its time getting off the ground, but its made all the richer for it. Beware, that like Night Film, some of the books / films she refers to are fictional, so don't try looking up the "British chick-lit classic One Night Stand." If you liked The Secret History by Donna Tartt, you'll probably like this, too. (Note: I had to go back and re-read the beginning of this book again, because I read it so long ago, and the book's so long, that I didn't really recall what happened!)

The Widow by Fiona Barton: A decent read, and an interesting mystery unfolds as you learn about the widow and her recently-departed husband, but to be honest, probably the weakest book I've read so far this year. A little disappointing in that I believe I read it on Stephen King's recommendation (via Twitter).

The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner: A murder mystery with an extra twist. I have to admit, I guessed that twist in advance, but the read was no less enjoyable because the execution was really well done and anything but cliché. Looking forward to picking up other books of his.

May (5)

Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms, Book 1) by Saladin Ahmed: The author is someone I follow on Twitter, and I had been wanting to read this. I don't usually like fantasy, but I thought this was extremely well done (and a refreshing change of pace, set in what is clearly meant to be the Middle East, with a system of magic and fantastical creatures that are based in something that is Not White). I really enjoyed it, and looking forward to the follow-up.

Not Working by Lisa Owens: I was intrigued when this book was lauded as the millennial Bridget Jones. And I wasn't disappointed. There was a lot that was real (if understated) about this book. Days out of Claire's life, interspersed with snapshots, vignettes of life in the city of London. It was funny, and so many of Claire's foibles are indeed Bridgetesque. It was slower moving than I expected, and there weren't any Big Moments amongst the big moments. And I liked the resolution.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: This was written by the same author who wrote The Husband's Secret, and this one I could totally see adapted into a movie. It revolves around a group of parents at a primary school in a very small Australian town. You learn within the first few pages that that someone's been murdered at the parents' trivia night, but you don't know who the victim is or what happens to them until nearly the end of the book. There were a couple of twists that I saw coming, but this book deals so well with such difficult and complicated situations and emotions, that hardly mattered to me. I was unexpectedly touched and emotionally invested by the end of the book (though I admit I expected it to go a slightly different way, and when it didn't, that disappointed me a little, but it went more positively in other ways).

I was so pleasantly surprised at the depth of what I thought was going to be a pretty superficial book. Definitely recommend.

"The Grove" by Jennifer Foehner Wells: Short science-fiction story apparently set in the same universe as her Confluence series—at least as regards ships piloted by cephalopod-type critters—featuring a character called Hain, who is rather unlike any other character I can recall reading in any book. Hain will feature in another of this author's novels, Druid, planned to launch "early 2016". I'll have to look for it, because I really enjoyed this short story.

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty: I had been meaning to read this ever since I read her other book, Apple Tree Yard, and by the time I got to it, by the time I launched into it, I had lost all association with that book, so I hadn't the faintest idea where it was going to go. It starts out bleak, so you can't help but wonder where it goes from there. It's a careful examination of the totality of unexpected loss, and as it builds you can't help but wonder what else can possibly happen. It left me feeling pretty introspective for days after. And the characters feel so real that I can't shake the sensation that they are real.

June (4)

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley: Centering on a pilgrimage to a shrine in a small town on the coast of England in the mid-70s, which has repercussions to the present day, clearly there are strange things afoot. The pilgrimage previous to this one (the one on which this story's centered) led—directly? Indirectly?—to a notable change in the previous priest (who later died under mysterious circumstances). The language of it is gorgeous, almost gothic, and was really dark, really creepy… and I'm still really unsure what the hell it was really all about. I can't figure out what exactly happened to Hanny (don't want to spoil excessively). Not to say that I didn't find it a good, compelling read. I just didn't care much for how it ended. I wanted to know what happened next (and in that way, it reminded me of The Quick by Lauren Owen).

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner: I had known that this book was on the way for a while now, through Renner's Maura Murray blog, so it felt like a lot of the information was stuff I already knew. I enjoyed reading about it all together in one place, though, placed in a comprehensive, coherent timeline. The things I didn't know were stunning to me, so I imagine that anyone new to this case would be hanging on the edge of their seats.

It was an excellent chronicle, too, of the madness that can take hold when one becomes fixated on a case as he did. It's also very easy to read—I think I gobbled this up in two days flat, and that's only on the commute to and from work.

I, too, hope we one day have definitive answers on this case. I hope that she really is living her life out there somewhere, free and happy with her soul mate.

(N.B.: I'm really glad that I read The Man from Primrose Lane first, because I see now how many events from his own life actually made it into that novel. Not to diss it retrospectively, but I think I would have been disappointed to read this first and then read so many of the same things fictionalized.)

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari: Not what I was expecting at all, but a good read nonetheless. I thought it was a novel, but it's actually non-fiction that discusses dating and romance in the modern world. Lots of interesting information infused with Ansari's humour. Be sure to read all of the starred footnotes, which are funny asides. The numbered footnotes are academic references.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: Not really a sequel to Life After Life but more of a companion piece; unlike Ursula, we do not see handfuls of possible future lives for Teddy. It's hard to remember that these are just characters and not real people, because they are so rich and complex, and yes, flawed. Good, in a very different way than Life After Life. The author is a master of weaving a complex tapestry of words, so believable for each of the eras she visits. If you liked Life After Life, I think you'll like this.

July (3)

Liberator (Flights of Love Book 1) by Shelley B McPherson: Poor old Dave Adler, living an ordinary (if a bit stagnant) life in 1984… until, unsuspectingly, he attends a party one night and meets someone special and with whom he feels a connection, Jim Wysynski. And then, after a strange, disconcerting event (to put it mildly), he meets that someone again, some forty-three-odd years earlier. (This is not a spoiler, at least, not one that the author herself doesn't give.)

It's wonderful to see the love and affection build between David and Jim, even knowing they are meant to be together. Watching Dave the college lay-about with no real purpose or direction becoming David the brave WWII pilot is quite a transformation to behold. It's also interesting to watch David adjusting to life in the 1940's… when it was dangerous to be anything but a straight, white man.

Very much looking forward to seeing the continuation of the story, to see if Jim can fully figure out how he can save David.

Chasing Lady Amelia by Maya Rodale: Follow-up/companion to Lady Bridget's Diary (it takes place in the same timeframe as that book), this movie channels the spirit of the film Roman Holiday. It covers Lady Amelia's jaunt away from the house, and her time with Alistair. It's fun, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the first in this series.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh: Starts out feeling like a simply police procedural / mystery (this one taking place in Bristol, England), cutting between the detectives and their investigation into the hit and run of a young boy, and Jenna, who can't take the memory of the accident as she flees Bristol for the small Welsh town to start a new life. The first half is a bit slow, but about halfway through, there's a big twist that turns everything on its head. I was a little disappointed in the denouement, to be honest, and the epilogue feels like movie-sequel-hinting trickery.

August (6)

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy: Interesting take on the rom-com-type genre. She's kind of addicted to sex and counting down to a wedding day she's not sure she wants to go through with (though her resolve to do it strengthens every time someone tells her she shouldn't). This, interspersed with her needing to take a legal deposition in a case against a huge energy corporation (which seems like it would be totally incongruous, with the rest of the book). But, jotting this down two books later, I can't even remember the protagonist's name, so I'm not sure how that makes me feel about the impact it had as a work of fiction.

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed: A collection of incredibly good short stories by the author of the novel Throne of the Crescent Moon. In fact, the first story in the collection is a prequel of that novel. But they're all really, really good.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware: An unusual murder mystery set on a luxury ship that hosts a handful of guests. The victim doesn't even seem to exist. Lo (the protagonist) begins to doubt her own sanity—her senses are on high alert because of a burglary she experiences just days before her trip. I will say that there are a few too many dumb moves by Lo, and a few too many amazing coincidences, but all in all I found it a nail-biter.

Lock In by John Scalzi: A novel of the not-too-distant future, or of an alternate timeline, where a viral epidemic sweeps the world—Haden's Syndrome—that kills many and renders many more as either permanently altered, or "locked in" (locked into their own bodies and unable to participate in them in the physical world), and for whom an entire industry is born to help them to be mobile (via the use of what are called "threeps", think: C-3PO). Those who had the disease but were not locked-in can allow themselves to be taken over by others, which is referred to as an Integrator… it all gets very confusing, but makes sense within its own context. Anyway, this is the story of Chris Shane, who is a Haden, and his first week of work at the FBI with a former Integrator, who happens to be his partner. But it's not really about them. In essence, it's a sci-fi murder mystery, an alternate-history police procedural. It's not Literature, but I enjoyed it very much.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: This author is a pro in alluding to an event that has happened in the past for the characters and then revealing bit by bit what it is that happened. This one centers around an ill-fated barbeque, and is just as good, if not better than, the last one of hers that I read, Big Little Lies (back in May). I can't even really think of a genre to which her books belong… and I don't want to give anything away, so I won't even try.

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry: We've all heard the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee on Serial and even more on the first season of Undisclosed, but this book delves even further into Adnan's history, family, and into Rabia's. It goes even further into case coverage and even a bit of theorizing. Excellent and doubly recommended as an audiobook.

September (2)

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin: This is the second book in the Broken Earth trilogy (the first was The Fifth Season, which I read in February of this year). This book did not disappoint. It picks up where it left off for Essun, and we learn the fate of daughter Nassun. And by the end, shit gets even more real, so I'm really looking forward to the third book.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin: The first book in the Dreamblood series (though the series is not a trilogy as I'd originally thought) draws on (but does not copy) the lore of ancient Egypt and the surrounding lands of northeastern Africa. The magic / religion here is sourced in dreaming; the Gatherers are paid to collect the souls of the dying to escort them to the eternal dreamland, harvesting dreamblood, which helps to heal the living. But what would any book that's ancient Egyptian-esque be without a crazed ruler? A really great read filled with suspense and intrigue. So looking forward to starting in on the next in this series, The Shadowed Sun.

October (6)

Bridget Jones's Baby: The Baby Diaries by Helen Fielding: A too-short (in my opinion) mishmash of the recent film and the 2005-06 Independent series (and rather confused with regards to columns, books, and movies in general), I still found it charming and very funny. The moments between Bridget and Mark were so tender. Some of the things that Jack said in the movie are put in Daniel's mouth, instead, and seem more at home there. There's also some great backstory for Mark's boyhood.

As for why Bridget is single here, we are told that a huge misunderstanding occurred that split her from Mark apart five years previous. I have to wonder exactly how/where this slots in with the previous books, given that Billy is born when she is in her late 30s, and she has an 7-year-old Billy in her 50s in Mad About the Boy. And iPads weren't introduced until 2010, so… oh well. I'll think of that as an alternate universe, I guess.

I say it's too short because it feels rather less filled out than the previous two books (periods where three months are said to have passed without an entry, then another glossing over most of her pregnancy). Eyeballing it on my Kindle, it's a third of the length of Mad About the Boy. I wonder if she was pressed to put it together from a draft that predated Mad About the Boy.

There's a wedding scene that exists somewhere and I'm a bit miffed it's not included. Just saying.

Palace of Scoundrels (Two Thrones Book 2) by Nicola M. Cameron: Following in the footsteps of Empress of Storms, Palace of Scoundrels meshes the richness of the elemental magic of this universe, a complex and interesting (and not predictable) plot, and steamy hot, consensual, erotic, sex. Some familiar faces return, and we meet an array of new ones, like the pirate king Jason (who I think will be getting his own book! Hurrah!). If you liked the first one, you'll like this. And if you don't, why do you hate fun? ;-)

The Druid Gene by Jennifer Foehner Wells: This novel takes place in the same universe that the Confluence series does, as well as reintroducing the character of Hain from the short story "The Grove".

But wow: what a galloping, exciting ride of a story! (Even with the leading quote from "The Most Dangerous Game", I didn't see the denouement coming.) I love Darcy (and not just because of who she was named for!)--love her transformation, love that she comes to own her power.

What some see as a slow start, I see as careful foundation building. I'm always so impressed by the attention to scientific detail that the author puts into her work, this work included. Scratch that--not just scientific detail, but all the details, diversity and gender self-identification chief among them.

All in all, I am very much looking forward to the follow-up (I hope there's a follow-up!), and to seeing exactly how this is going to slot in to the Confluence story (if at all).

Possible spoilers, but important distinction (and a bit of a trigger warning):

The "some violence" is mostly sparring/fighting in hand-to-hand combat, but it also includes a (foiled) sexual assault. This is not the 'sexual content'; the actual sexual content is loving and, more importantly, consensual.

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi: Novella narrated by Zachary Quinto—futuristic-ish novel involving the ability to resurrect if death is unexpected (or if you're murdered) and those who are licensed and able to dispatch the living to send them back and undo the damage. The mystery lies in one of the dispatchers having gone missing.

Pay to Play by Jerri Williams: Debut novel by this former FBI agent, regarding crimes of fraud and bribery with city officials and strip clubs in Philadelphia. Protagonist is a Black woman, which has it going for it, but is so clearly modeled after the author herself (Keri Wheeler). (Write what you know, I guess?) The partner she has through much of the book is a bit of a caricature of an upright man easily swayed to the dark side then redeemed (I can't believe anyone so by-the-book would be so stupid as to make a call that jeopardizes the entire thing). I also tend to prefer prose that has a bit more spark to it—most of this, even with the titillation of strip clubs, feels a bit clinical. I bought it on a sale, and it was worth the sale price, anyway.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh: When a woman taking the Overground home spots an ad in the paper featuring her own photo, she becomes worried, and more so when she sees another ad with the photo of a woman who was subsequently robbed. Another one becomes a murder victim. It's a nail-biting thrilling mystery that will have you sure at least three times who the culprit is that's behind it all, and even after it's revealed, there are still more surprises in store.

November (2)

Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel by Paul Tremblay: Actually began just around Halloween, this story is suitably chilling and unsettling… is she possessed, or what? I found the end a bit sudden and anti-climactic, particularly when I rolled into the teaser for the author's next book without really noticing.

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice: A return to one of my oldest, dearest loves (the Vampire Chronicles), and it was easier than I ever expected to be able to pick it up and fall into the universe again. It hardly mattered that I haven't read most of the newest tangential books (I think I read The Body Thief but after that it's a blur), as she does a great job of filling in info without retelling the entire series of stories (Pandora, Armand, etc. etc.).

I thought the story was strong, even if I did guess the ultimate end (I mean, the title kinda gives it away). It was nice to see a positive interaction between Lestat and Louis. I'm not sure the side plot with Viktor and Rose was entirely necessary.

I really enjoyed it, really relished revisiting these characters. I'm reminded why I loved them in the first place. She definitely leaves the door open for more in this world.

December (2)

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (audiobook): I was intrigued by the description ("mesmerizing literary thriller") and the fact that it was a Man Booker Prize winner… and while well-written, the biography portion dragged on a bit too long, and the story overall didn't feel like much of a thriller. A bit disappointed. (Though I'm still not sure if this is 100% fiction, or if it is factual, so bonus there.)

Desire by Mariella Frostrup and the Erotic Review: a collection of erotica from literature. Quite a variety, and most of it is very good. This collection, though is really, really long. Maybe it was meant to be read in bits and pieces, but I don't like reading more than one book at a time (I'm a completist). Started to feel a bit shagged out after a while!

Total number for 2016: 43

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