March 2016 reading Challenge

The books are piling up again already and this means I need a challenge in order to get through them!

For the Twelfth Planet Press Challenge

  • Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex ✔

Contact2016

  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch ✔

To Review

  • Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan ✔
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton ✔
  • The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon ✔
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ✔

Gifts

  • The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (from the lovely Alex!)
  • At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus (from the lovely Sam!)
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (from the lovely Sam!)
  • Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers (from the lovely Sam!)
  • The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (from the amazing… yup, you guessed it, Sam! I’m so spoilt!)

I’m so excited for just about all of them, so time to get started~

ETA: How could I forget about when Hugo nominations are due? As always I’ve left it too long to properly read as widely as I would like. One day I’ll accept it’s not possible to read absolutely everything eligible :p If at all possible I will try read the below also, and perhaps some of my gift books will have to wait a little longer :(

Hugo Nominations

  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
  • Updraft by Fran Wilde ✔
  • Court of Fives by Kate Elliott ✔
  • Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • Cold Iron by Stina Leicht
  • The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson
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2015 – December

December was when I decided I was going to do my best to hit my goodreads goal of 150 books, which meant more or less reading a book a day for a month. Thank goodness a lot of those days at the end were time off work due to enforced closedown. Most of those should hopefully be for Aurealis judging (I say, writing this at the start of December…) which I won’t list here.

Onto the novels read in December!

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia - How the Land Created Our Nation

Let the Land Speak by Jackie French is a non-fiction book on Australian history and flora and fauna that I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

As I Was Saying . . .

As I Was Saying by Jeremy Clarkson was a quick read. A lot of people think he’s a wanker, but he certainly has a way with words and is quite damn good at writing, seeing as that was his original and still primary job. A lot of people are happy to believe what the media spins about their favourite kickbag and look on the surface of the stupid things he’s reported as doing (and yes, he does say stupid things at times, who doesn’t), and yet reading this and getting a feel for the things he actually does think, and his own thoughts without being slanted by the media, are quite different to what many see most of the time. It’s worth a read. He’s certainly not a saint, but he’s a real person and sometimes it’s refreshing to see someone who voices their own thoughts, rather than someone who’s crafted by a team of politically correct quibblers.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. This really was a very engaging and lovely series, and I can’t wait to read the next one!

Newt's Emerald

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix is a re-read as it was originally released in 2013 via his agent’s publishing house, and has now been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. It’s an enjoyable quick read, and I love it all so much! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling was read late for Bethwyn’s re-read – I should have read this last month but it completely slipped my mind. I might not agree once my re-read is over, but I think this is my second-least favourite book in the series – I found the competition overall to be all a bit eh – spread out over so many months and you don’t really get a feel for what the other visiting schools do for those months in between – do they hold their own classes on the ship or in the carriage? Who knows? It’s also when we first notice the other characters really changing and being setup for what we see in later books, so it’s all a bit of a ‘middle’ book.

Soldier on the Hill

Solider on the Hill by Jackie French was an interesting book, showing a boy and his mother who move into a farming town a bit more inland during the war as fears the Japanese will attack the Australian coast line increase. Getting used to farming life and also dealing with the fear of war from this point of view is interesting, especially when the main character is sure he’s seen a Japanese soldier hiding in the bushland, but he’s not trusted as he’s: 1. New to Town, and 2. A city kid. The resolution to this is an interesting one, and shows that Jackie’s writing goes from strength to strength.

Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French was a book that carries on from Nanberry, showing the initial setup of Australia in NSW with the first and second fleet, once there’s a few ‘houses’ and gardens are starting to flourish. In this book we see a young boy, Barney, who’s lost his mum, but adopted another young child to care for before they’re both taken in by the kind clergyman, Richard Johnson, and his pregnant wife. We see Barney setting aside his prejudices to understand who Birrung really is, her intelligence and knowledge of the land in tough conditions, and what her cultures mean to her even as white man starts to dominate even further. This is an intelligent book for younger readers, and highly recommended.

Pennies for Hitler

Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French is a book that carries on from her highly popular book, Hitler’s Daughter. A young boy Georg in Germany has a lovely life of cream cakes, excellent parents, servants and all else he could hope for. This is until it’s discovered that his father’s grandfather was part Jewish, and Georg’s father is killed in front of him. His mother just barely manages to have him sent from Germany hidden in a suitcase through France and onto London where he then faces the terrors of war and the anxiety of being discovered for either the enemy as a German, or as something he’s been brought up to detest – a Jew. When London becomes too dangerous he’s sent on to Australia, and then it all ends rather abruptly, which was a shame. Otherwise, it was really very excellent.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is longer than I remember – though when it came out I devoured it in one long day, this time it took me several days to savour it – though that’s also possibly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the ending, which still remains just as upsetting to me as the start of the final book. At least now I’m up to date with Bethwyn’s re-read! This re-read really shows a difference in how I remember it, or different parts are meaning more now that it’s been a few years since my last read. And with these books there’s always something else to notice each and every time you re-read.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was a surprising read – I read a lot about it as it won each award, but somehow I never noted that it’s written in verse. It does this incredibly well, I’ve read a handful of other books written in the same way (especially when judging the Children’s Book Award, there was a book about parkour that did it really well to convey movement), but this one does it even better, framing the thoughts that run around a little disjointed yet manages to give so much more feeling and depth to the subjects. I can easily see how this has won so many awards.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus (Newsflesh Trilogy, #3.4)

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant was a good quick read, blazing in the usual Grant wit and fun with plot and characters and dialogue. The only thing that annoyed me in this was the American use of Legos, when it goes to a point of describing the two characters who use that term are Canadian and European. Everywhere but America say ‘Lego’ in all forms, as in ‘she’s playing with her lego (collection)’ and it doesn’t sound weird or wrong to us at all. THAT ASIDE (yes I harp on about it too much, being Australian), this was a nifty little piece and makes me so glad we have another Newsflesh novel coming out in 2016.

The Prince

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli was picked up because it was short, and then I was cursing myself because of course it’s a struggle to get through, as each and every paragraph requires thinking about. This is a classic, all about philosophy and politics and the human character. It was really quite a good read, and I only wish I’d had been able to study it in school with a good teacher – I don’t think I got as much out of it by myself – this is one of those books where you’d benefit from multiple points of view on it while you’re reading.

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson was excellent, somehow I enjoyed it even more than Brown Girl Dreaming. This is written as a general novel – still quite short, and about a boy called Melanin who has to get over his own homophobia (drenched on him by his peers and society in general) when his own mother comes out as a lesbian – with the added bonus that her girlfriend is a white woman – Kristen. Kristen is a lovely character and what this does really well, other than show Melanin who his real friends are, and how it’s okay to realise how very wrong you’ve been and move on from that, is how it shows Kristin as a real character and not just a plot point. She’s so very real, and combined with Melanin’s very real and caring mother, you get a very well told book in so few pages.

~

So I read so much in December I really wouldn’t have been surprised if my eyes started to bleed. I managed to catch up a heck of a lot with my Aurealis Judging, leaving only three series to read before mid February (though that’s when we have to have our decision, so it may then also require a re-read of one or a few series before then to come to our final decision and reporting).

After five years of judging (two years for anthologies/collections for Aurealis, then two years of fantasy novel, then this one year of the Sara Award… with a year of Children’s Book Council thrown in at the same time for 2014), I’ve decided that 2016 will be full of ZERO judging. Well, no tied-in judging anyway, like Aurealis. I was very much tempted to put in an application for the WA Premier’s Award but I’ve since decided not to. I’ll still put in my votes for the Ditmar and Hugo awards, etc, but no Aurealis. I really need a year of zero deadlines and to just be able to read whatever book I feel like, and catch up on all the books I should have read but never got around to these past few years. I’m really looking forward to it.

Best Books of 2015

Books due out in 2016 (but read in 2015)

False Hearts (False Hearts, #1) by Laura Lam

I’ve been lucky enough to beta read for Laura, and have even read through the second book in this series (not out until 2017 hence it’s not in this blog post), currently called Shattered Minds. The is the type of book that is hard to write anything about because it just has so MUCH (or the internet says, ‘all the feels’). This is very, very fantastic, I love it, I need more and I don’t want it to be over. The characters are addictive, the world is enticing (I love realism with touches of futuristic science fiction) and thrillers are always impossible to put down. Highly recommended, bring on June, and Laura, I still want more Oloyu at some stage!

Books read and published in 2015

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

This was a novel I rated highly because I liked what it did and it felt different, however somehow at the same time I was a little disappointed (so great start to this Best Books post, eh? Stick with me…) It felt like it was shorter than it needed to be (in a plot/character way, rather than ‘oh that was so good I wish I had more’ – though a bit of that too), though it remained fascinating and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s probably more the fact that I liked what it did, so I would have liked to see it expand on everything a lot more, rather than show a seemingly small snapshot.

Zeroes (Zeroes #1) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

I’m a fan of all three authors, having read their work extensively. I was so dang excited for this book to come out and then surprisingly, despite the hype I got myself into, I still wasn’t disappointed. I’m so glad this is a series!

This is a character driven book, which are my favourite. The tidbits we get of the world were interesting and made me want to know more, but ultimately I can’t wait to see these characters again, see where they get to, see what battle they need to fight next. This is exciting and written with such an elegant hand (well, hands) that it takes the overdone superhero novel and makes it zingy and fresh. They’re all portrayed in an incredibly powerful way – and the best thing is that we get to see several instances of their powers manifesting. I’m hooked! I need more!

The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

In this book Lady Isabella Trent joins the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk with a range of duties, whether it’s to pursue her own dragon-hunting, capture examples of other bits and pieces of wildlife for another rich lady back home, or survey islands not yet charted completely. The ship she is on does other bits of cargo work when there’s time, and all in all they’re kept rather busy – even when there’s not a storm throwing them into life-threatening difficulties. Different from previous installments, in this piece her son Jake becomes a major character which certainly adds more depth to it all, and really centers this novel around a family affair.

This series just keeps going from strength to strength. This book leaves me desperate as always for the fourth book where we’ll get to go to the deserts of Akhia.

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark by Jackie French

I love Jackie French’s writing – this is a lovely book for younger readers that tells the story of Ophelia in a way that’s neither dull or simply full of information dumps. Hamlet’s family stab, poison or haunt one another and yet Ophelia somehow still strives to plan a sensible rule, one filled with justice and the making of delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing, not even howling ghosts, stand in her way.

Jackie makes history accessible to readers of all ages, even managing to mix in the spiritual and making it realistic, and I can’t recommend her historical fiction enough.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith

One thing Galbraith does very well is layers – he manages co-running plots that interweave yet also stay abundantly clear, even when there’s an element of mystery and the reader, along with the detectives, isn’t quite sure who the villain is. Another thing that’s done well is the balance of personal and private – the professional lives of Robin and Strike and how they conflict at times. How they have opinions on the other’s personal lives they aren’t entirely welcome to have, and how this can turn out sometimes – in fact, especially when they go wrong. Everything about this series is really well done – I mean, no surprise as Rowling keeps getting better and better, but still, it’s worthwhile to comment on.

This is another series that’s going from strength to strength, and I can’t wait for the fourth book!

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Sufficiently creepy and well-written – I could really go for more in this world. The characters were lovely and you didn’t want to leave them, even after only seeing them for such a short time. At only 100ish pages this is a fairly short piece, but Grant is one of the strongest writers of our current time so you could pick up anything she’s done and be amazed.

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) by Ryan Graudin

I love alternate history. This is set as though WWII had quite a different outcome in the most terrible way – the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world in harsh and cruel ways, and have since hosted a motorcycle race across half the world to show off their best followers – ten chosen from each sector.

This makes for a fantastic book. It’s awful and electric and the ending is so perfect that I somehow didn’t see coming – I can’t wait for the second book! The writing is deliberate and lovely, and I’m really quite interested to see what else Graudin comes out with.

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is a book that reminds me in part of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Main character Aza lives in the same world we all do, however it’s like she’s drowning in our air. Sick all her life but surrounded by a fantastic family and a quirky lovely best friend (who is amazing, by the way), her life is suddenly turned around completely. The world building is exquisite and now I want to re-read this one all over again. It seems we may just get a second book in 2016, which would be amazing.

Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #2) by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is right up there in my top handful of favourite all-time authors and her books are always full of so much that it’s dang hard to review them – you almost need to break each book down into a trilogy of discussion to do it justice. What can one possibly say to summarise without spoiling and yet still manage to somehow capture the all encompassing feeling of best book of the year without it just being a whole lot of keysmash?

We already know that Hobb isn’t exactly kind to her characters. Starting this book is a bit exciting because you’ve finally got more work of a favourite author to read , but you’re also slightly apprehensive because you just know the poor characters we love are going to be broken just a little bit more. And we weren’t wrong. This is such an epic, fantastic book that manages to break all expectations no matter how high they are, I just can’t explain how much I love this amazing author.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

This one was just like her first book – beyond amazing. Lawson explains and discusses mental illness like few others manage to. She’s a wonderful person, startlingly real in a realm of ‘no one else can be as fucked up as I am’. She gives this a voice and a connection, showing many/most people with mental illness feel the same way and can relate. When you read her work you realise you’re not as alone as you sometimes feel, and you get painful gasping laughs at the absurdity (who knew laughing that much could hurt!) and the magic Lawson has with words as a bonus. I can’t recommend her books enough, I really can’t.

Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim #2) by Juliet Marillier

As we know, Juliet Marillier hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. Her work is a joy to read, weaving fantasy and fable together to result in strong plot and characters, with such a strong sense of self. This is the kind of book you can’t stop reading, and it makes you desperate for the next. Blackthorn is such a strong, amazing character who is intelligent, wise and passionate (in her own way), determined to do what is right even when it seems impossible.

This was one of my favourite books for 2015.

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

This was a book that was a little awkward to read as for a few years I attended a church that is… really quite close to the church seen in this book, so reading this certainly made it all come back, and I can comprehend what the leaders are thinking when they put in place all these ‘guidelines’.

For that, this book is really excellent at capturing everything fairly. These people are honestly trying to do what they deeply feel is best – they’re not malicious, cruel people. However… well, this book neatly shows all angles of people trying to do what they think is right and how that can cause others to react… so yes, amazing book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was such a thing of beauty though with lovely descriptions and dialogue, excellent female characters, a romance that manages to seem new and different even though it’s a bit of a trope, and a plot which takes unexpected tropes so I was still surprised by the ending somehow.

This book had everything. I adore the ideas used within and I’m honestly surprised this book hasn’t won all the awards this year. This is a must-read for fantasy lovers and even those who don’t often read fantasy – it’s just that good. And it’s a stand-alone novel! Not many of those around in the fantasy genre!

Letters to Tiptree by Alexandra Pierce (editor), Alisa Krasnostein

This one was a special book. I help Alisa out with her publishing house where I can, and visited in the last month of getting this book finalised and out there, so I certainly saw this book through every stage of its creation and only read it when we were at the point of a final proof – when we had initial copies in our hands ready for the launch.

This should be read in conjunction with the biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips for a full view of who Tiptree was, and what she achieved. Letters to Tiptree collects thoughtful letters from thirty-nine science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, critics, and fans in celebration of Alice Sheldon’s centenary, and explores the issues of knowing someone only through their fiction or letters, sexuality and gender.

Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

This was the end of a five-book series, and blows the previous books out of the water – what an ending! I can’t believe that this is over – even though it had a very satisfying ending and was one of my favourite books in the whole series – even though the previous four were pretty darn amazing themselves. Parts of this had my heart in my throat (such a charming expression) because they’ve become some of my favourite fictional couples and I just couldn’t believe the lengths Kowal bravely took them to.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

This was a book highly recommended from a few friends, and on reading I could instantly see why. The characters in this are raw and real – Sebby is all a bit wow. You feel so much for these characters and what they’re going through, and at the same time you just think wow, they’re so young. The diversity in this book is excellent as is the issues they deal with. The ending however… hrmm.

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Now this one was a book I’d been eagerly anticipating for ages. I love Schwab’s work, and when this started to get pushed and pushed by media and the publisher I began to get a little worried. Sometimes I’ve noted that books pushed to a certain level by publishers aren’t always my cuppa tea.

Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by this – I can breathe a sigh of relief in the confirmation now that Schwab never disappoints and I can’t wait for the second book, and I already want to re-read this again to see what I could have missed in my blitzy can’t-put-this-down read because I certainly read it far too quickly.

The Just City (Thessaly #1) by Jo Walton

This was a hard book to review. I could talk plot and characters and writing, sure, but what makes this novel incredible is something I know so little about, and I suspect there was a lot of clever stuff going on that went over my head as I know so little of the original material. In this book, Apollo and Athene attempt to build Plato’s Republic but also join the city themselves, reborn as children. They take over ten thousand children who are all roughly ten years old who were to be sold as slaves. They also take a few hundred adults from all over time who are all incredible and were either under-valued in the time, or were too excellent to be left to die in their proper time and put them together in the city, to see if Plato’s vision could be possible.

What we get is an amazing book that I still struggle to describe. It’s just – y’know, read it.

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) by Jo Walton

Carrying on from the previous entry, the second in the series is also utterly brilliant. Though Walton is another author who isn’t afraid to do impossible cruel things you’re not expecting for the sake of narrative. In this, the goddess Athena has gone off in a huff and their wonderful philosophical experiment are starting to break off into factions and war which results in a rollicking good read, and leaves the reader desperate for the third.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Now this book was a very beautiful, wonderful novel. A bit uncomfortable if you’ve been in (or are in) a similar situation but ultimately so perfect because it somehow manages to capture all of it – the awkward suffocating interactions with everyone else, and so forth. What I really loved was the communication between the two main characters, especially how they bickered – this was how you knew they were connecting as good friends and ‘getting’ each other. I can’t recommend this book enough – I just wish it had a better cover.

Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories by Martha Wells

This was a collection of short stories set in her Ile-Rien and Cineth worlds. This made me desperate to read the rest of her books, and the lack of ‘read them in this order’ help on her site meant I soon went on to other books instead. Do I read in publishing order? Series order? Grumble.

But back to this – you can easily enjoy it if you haven’t read any of her other work and it provides a nice introduction and sample of her writing – then you’re lucky enough to have many series ready and waiting for you if this is your style. Every single short in this collection is very readable, and none were skipped.

The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below (Stories of the Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

As with the one listed above, this was also excellent – if you’re not really one for short stories and you want to do novels instead and want a new fantasy author to love, start with ‘The Cloud Roads’ then come back here and flail with me.

This collection of short stories was enjoyable and made me hunger for her other work – this collection was even more than I was hoping it would be (which is saying a lot) – especially the part right at the end. You know what I mean.

Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessely

This was an anthology of cranky ladies of history – right what it says on the cover! This is an anthology of short stories, mostly historical fiction with a handful that have a few speculative elements also, featuring excellent authors from Australia and elsewhere. This is going to be great for schools as well as adults, and certainly taught me a thing or two about history.

Insert Title Here by Tehani Wessely

Tehani Wessely reports that this is the darkest anthology she’s put together. Having read most if not all of her anthologies, this certainly caught my attention. On reflection having read this, I would have to agree – here we have an anthology where every single story is heart-breaking or grim or absurdly strange and wonderful, and all are incredibly read-able. Several of these short stories demand full novels set in the world using that idea or world-building, and all make me want to look for the author’s other work (if I haven’t already!)

Sometimes in anthologies you find a short story or three doesn’t manage to capture your interest or you just can’t bring yourself to continue reading it… in this anthology however, each and every single story is as strong as the next, and all were supremely readable. Tehani Wessely has done a stand-out job with this anthology!

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Now this was another book I’ve been waiting a long time for – having read her second while judging the Children’s Book of Australia Awards and then devouring her first because of the excellence that is the second… so as soon as I saw this was out for review I jumped on it… and I wasn’t disappointed. This book deals with high school and culture and not wanting to disappoint your parents, but what do you do if they don’t quite ‘get it’ in this new country?

Required reading also includes ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Six Impossible Things’, her previous books which aren’t a series but involve the same characters.

Books read in 2015 (yet published 2014 and earlier)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Read for Hugo voting purposes, this was a very slow but very enjoyable read. I think it took me over a month for some reason, even though I loved it throughout – I could read for an hour and somehow only get through 4% at a time. Strange! But it’s an excellent book, and while I have no doubt that The Three-Body Problem was excellent, I really wish this book had won.

This is about a young goblin, motherless (and fatherless) and hated by the rest of his family, and yet through certain events he still becomes Emperor. We see him struggle his way through and get to be someone incredible.

Unfortunately this is a standalone – there will be no sequel, but possibly a companion novel with some overlapping characters, as per the author’s website.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo

This was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. I loved all three; this really was a very engaging and lovely series, and this had such a satisfying ending in a very sweet way – with all the doom and gloom throughout the series you hardly think it’s possible.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

This was a quick read because you just couldn’t put it down – it was heart-breaking and endlessly fascinating. Suggested by friend Kat when I re-read Craig Ferguson’s bio, I devoured this in less than a day. Highly recommended – though I guess most memoirs are only interesting if you know of the person first.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

What an amazing life Craig has had – it’s so good that he managed to get on top of it all and survived to tell the tale. He’s fantastic at writing, keeping it interesting and funny yet also showing how hard it must have been, how sad and so wretched. I enjoy watching his show more now, knowing what he’s come through and from.

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia – How the Land Created Our Nation by Jackie French

This book took me almost a year to read, but it’s probably the best account of Australian history I’ve come across, and has such a wealth of knowledge within. Mostly on how the flora and fauna that are special to Australia has had a part in shaping Australian history, I admit I was slow to get around to reading this, and then finally slogging through it. I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

This is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in years. Col. Hadfield has an excellent way with words, clearly having spent ages trying to explain things most people have never and will never experience in a way where we can not only understand but comprehend what he’s trying to get across. I was lucky enough to see him live in August 2015 when I visited my friend, Alisa, and from here I can’t get enough of his work – look him up on youtube, the seemingly simple things he shows us about space are excellent.

Basically, he’s been up in space as part of the international space station which is a job he aimed for ever since he was a young child and became a jet pilot and a lot of other things along the way to get there in the end. It’s endlessly fascinating what it all involves.

New Avengers: Breakout by Alisa Kwitney

This novelisation is listed as a ‘dramatically different take on Brian Michael Bendis’ blockbuster Avengers comics debut’ – I found this through Tansy’s review on Galactic Suburbia (she’s always excellent if you need recommendations for all things geeky.)

This isn’t going to win any awards for great literature, but it could easily win on the ‘fun’ scale – Kwitney really captures the characters well, and inserts loads of little geeky references that shows Kwitney knows her stuff. I just wish the cover was better! I certainly wouldn’t have picked it up, and I would have actively avoided it if it weren’t for Tansy’s plug. Seriously, it does a disservice to what is a really quite excellent bit of fun. Especially recommended for fans of Hawkeye and/or Black Widow.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

When working on Letters to Tiptree for Twelfth Planet Press, this came up as basically the required reading. Any information about the excellence that is Alice Sheldon left you hungry for more, and this biography is the perfect place to start. For those who know her for her work in science fiction, look into her life more – that was the tiniest bit of her amazing life – among other things she was a World War II intelligence officer and a CIA agent. From her childhood to her death, she was an amazing woman.

Every Word (Every #2) by Ellie Marney

Out of the trilogy, this is my favourite book – usually the second book is the weakest! The events in this book leave our characters even more broken than the first book, and closer to each other for it. The adventure, action and dramatic situation that takes place manages to be realistic in how they get out of it, which is a bonus – it would have been easy for the plot to have rolled out of hand yet this remains in character and effective throughout. Being set in England gives it that extra slice towards the Sherlock Holmesian nature that really works.

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

This was a book I really should have read a long time ago, but I was late getting into speculative fiction and have sadly skipped a lot of the initial required reading that’s out there. This, I was a little hesitant to get into, thinking it would be a bit obvious having already read all the books that would have been built and inspired on from books like these… but I was pleasantly surprised to really, really enjoy it still.

What works best in this novel is how we see Aerin achieve everything. It’s a hard slog, it’s believable and she’s incredible for what she manages to do. It shows her inner strength, the luck she has, those who assist her throughout and how she learns from it all.

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

This is a book that originally came out in 2013 through Garth Nix’s agent who has her own publishing house (I think that’s how it is anyway), but has since been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. Inspired by Georgette Heyer it’s a regency style novel set a little in London and mostly in Brighton, England, a town I know quite well. It’s an enjoyable quick read with a firey main character and a bit of cross dressing and high-jinx as things go terrible wrong – mix that together with Nix’s elegant hand at writing and you have a winner! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

 

Skin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson is the second in the Legion series, about a man who has a ‘unique mental condition (that) allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialised skills.’ Basically, any information he takes in – even if it’s in audiobook form played at x5 speed, shall be allocated to one of his entities who will then be able to process and use that information, and rely it back to him. This is SUCH an excellent and fun series that it’s close to being my favourite work by Sanderson – which says a lot, seeing what he comes out with. I hope there’s more!

Honourable Mentions for 2015

To come tomorrow, a post containing my favourite books that I read in 2015, (minus any that I had for judging as I can’t discuss them just yet.) These shall be listed by arthur,

Books due out in 2016 (but read in 2015)

No books here! Either all the books I’ve read early after excellent and will be discussed tomorrow, or I haven’t been doing much review reading lately – all will be revealed tomorrow!

Books read and published in 2015

AbductiCon by Alma Alexander

This is all about a few hundred people attending a geeky convention, only for the hotel they’re staying in to be kidnapped by time traveling androids. Highly appealing premise to someone who attends 3-4 of those types of conventions myself each year, and also for it to happen directly to a group of people who read science fiction novels almost religiously.

This isn’t entirely well written, like, it’s not exactly going to win a Hugo – but it is very fun, and very geeky, and that’s what you need to come to the table in order to read this one. Why aren’t there more books like this?

As I Was Saying . . . by Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson. Bit of a wanker, but overall I do enjoy his work, and Top Gear in general. Originally Clarkson is a journalist – he wrote for his high school and/or college paper, and he certainly has a way with words and a certain eloquence if you give him a chance. Sometimes what he says is problematic, and sometimes he certainly suffers from the media twisting his words for click bait, but if you give his books a go you might be surprised to see how well thought out his opinions are given his own space. This book was particularly good, and discusses the recent dramas that went on in his life recently, such as the issues in the other country and his parting from the BBC. On those topics, Jeremy certainly has my vote.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

In my humble opinion, this wasn’t as good as the podcast. It’s so much easier to accept weird when it surrounds you, with Cecil’s voice making it work. There are many things about Night Vale that faithful listeners can repeat in the same tone and infliction. Cecil is a favourite, and without him while this is enjoyable, it isn’t as good. And that’s why it’s on this list rather than tomorrow’s. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is still fun. It’s just not as amazing as I hoped it would be.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

I found this all incredibly interesting. While I’ve mostly liked what I’ve seen of Felicia’s work, I wouldn’t call myself a fan – I don’t keep an eye out for what she does and make sure I inhale it all – she’s decent, I enjoy what I see and that’s about it. This memoir was both accessible and perked my interest in everything else she’s done and I found she wrote everything in an easy manner, utterly truthful throughout with a good eye for what it was literally like, such as being in World of Warcraft early on. This was a really enjoyable memoir, accessible to both fans of Felicia and geeks in general.

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

This is an odd book. Most reactions after I and everyone else I knew read it was confusion at what to say about it in review or even how to rate it. It’s an odd, frazzled book that’s a bit horrific and has a result no one really expects. You can’t put the book down, and you kinda want to shake yourself off once you’ve read it, but there’s no doubt that it’s pretty amazing.

Every Move (Every #3) by Ellie Marney

Though this series is a pale parallel to Sherlock Holmes, and the second book was stronger than the first and third (or I just enjoyed them in England more than anywhere else), what’s really strong in this book is how Rachel and James both deal with what they’ve gone through – it’s interesting to see their thought processes. James tends to throw himself even deeper in his work until he collapses or explodes, and Rachel tunes out coldly into PTSD, unable to cope or react. I found them both realistic and heartfelt, and love that they helped each other through it in the end.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University – an amazing place of study that has a human population of 5%. To say that leaving her family and her people behind is hard is an understatement, it simply isn’t done and there’s little chance of going back thanks to the shame she’s now brought her family for leaving, and utterly ruining her marriage prospects. This is soon the least of her worries though, as the journey to the uni takes a turn for the worst no one could have expected…

At 100 pages, this piece packed a heck of a punch for so few pages. Superbly written, this was highly enjoyable and really very well done.

Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson

In this book we see David becoming more and more of an individual, a guy he is as himself when he’s not devoting every waking minute to revenge for his father. All the characters in this are varied and interesting, most you can’t guess at with what they’ll do next, and this book packs a few surprising wallops too for good measure. All of the characters are coming together really nicely, in a style that Sanderson is known for. Certainly better than the first in this series, this is shaping up to be really very decent.

Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5) by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson was excellent. Wax and Wayne are amazing characters, and I loved seeing a lot more of Marasi and especially Steris who is easily my favourite character, just for her deadpan nature and off-balanced sense of humour and outlook on life – I adore her. Plot-wise I could take it or leave it, but the end result was quite a surprise and packed a decent punch… but really, I read this for the characters and banter. The plot of this particular series is shrug-worthy.

Books read in 2015 (yet published 2014 and earlier)

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

I originally read this in 2012, but re-read it recently so I could remember who everyone was and what had happened in order to read the third book. Originally of this I said it was a grand, rich world that’s set in a Russia-inspired fantasy, with excellent and fun characters that you can’t help but care for. The main character Alina is excellent, and both Mal and the Darkling have their strong points that make you want more of both of them in different ways. My favourite character however, is Genya.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo

Like above! Originally I said that this one was interesting to see how the characters have matured and grown believably from one book to the next. Alina in particular has had to come out of her shell as she struggles to accept who and what she is, which of course leads to her taking a more active role in things. No longer satisfied to run away, she has to turn against her pursuers and grow up to stand any chance of getting what she wants. This is one of the few strong second novels of a trilogy, so a round of applause for this one.

Just One Day (Just One Day #1) by Gayle Forman

You have to be in the right kinda mood for a Gayle Forman novel. They’re all kinda the same, and you can devour them in a few hours, and they’ll always pack an emotional punch – so if that’s what you’re here for, you’re in luck!

This one was a hit hard hitting for me – not that I’ve been as stupid as Allyson has, but being part of long-distance relationships myself and seeing others in online relationships – I could so easily see this happen, and there’s something so deeply personal and embarrassing about being stuffed around like that. Eugh. Poor thing.

The Stepsister Scheme (Princess #1) by Jim C. Hines

This is another one of those wacky fairytale spec fic books that are just a bit cracky but ultimately feel comforting because it’s taking something we know and have been raised on, and taking it to a different place. This one works really well, but it’s so satisfying that I don’t really feel the need to read the others in the series, which is a bit sad. Ultimately, this is a fun introduction to Jim’s work if you haven’t yet read anything else.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I read this in a day amongst other things – I just couldn’t put it down. It’s so good to have such an interesting protagonist, and this story is going to last with me for a while. I’d love to see what she accomplishes when she’s older! (Even by a few months, she’s not going to be held back by much.)

The MC – Frankie is really quite fun in this – she’s witty, she thinks things through, she’s a geek for all kinds of facts, and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. I felt the interactions between her and other characters were excellently realistic, capturing frustrating conversations and reactions without making them over-angsty or simplified. It also unfolded a balanced discussion on gender perception with a range of attitudes for and against and somewhere in-between. This isn’t a black and white book – it shows all the shades in between.

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik

I found this one a bit slower than the previous two somehow – I found it a bit more confusing as to what was going on war-wise, probably because my own knowledge of history is truly woeful. At the same time, I’m looking forward to what happens next! I do really love how different each book is from the last, all due to setting. It keeps the entire series fresh but means we get to stick with our favourite characters.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

So this was the very first book I read in 2015, and was a book recommended to me by a stranger on Goodreads when I asked for books set in Japan that give a good view of Japanese everyday life. This book is pretty good at that, and also has a kinda magical realism element that I must confess I mostly skim-read. It was good, but I was much more interested in the characters and other elements, rather than those that took this out of a realistic setting. Highly recommended if you want something a bit different, or have an interest in Japan.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

This was an interesting book that seemed like it had been written a long time ago and was making all these amazing leaps to what the future could be like – but then in checking, it was only written in 1992. While technology has made leaps and bounds since then, it had a feeling to it of being written in like, the 50s. Props to making Y. T. an excellent and engaging character, and if only Hiro had remained as interesting as he was initially.

Emilie and the Hollow World (Emilie #1) by Martha Wells

I love books for younger readers that feature younger main characters who are intelligent and witty and manage to Get Stuff Done without adults – it’s empowering, and as a kid I remember getting annoyed at books being too easy and ‘speaking down’ to me as the reader, or the children in the book itself. This book would have been amazing to read when I was younger, though I of course still really enjoyed it now – it’s a rollicking ride and huge fun, and basically anything Martha Wells writes is excellent.

2015 – November

November was all about a 2 week holiday in England. I went to Wales, saw the Matilda musical, went to the Harry Potter Studios tour twice, sat in on a recording of the QI (No Such Thing as a Fish) podcast, the science museum to see the Russian space program exhibit, and lots of shopping and general catching up with friends – it was excellent!

Which meant not much reading has happened, and the reading that has was mostly for Aurealis, which I don’t discuss here.

Onto the novels read in November!

Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson was excellent. Issues with the author aside, Wax and Wayne are amazing characters, and I loved seeing a lot more of Marasi and especially Steris who is easily my favourite character, just for her deadpan nature and off-balanced sense of humour and outlook on life – I adore her. Plot-wise I could take it or leave it, but the end result was quite a surprise and packed a decent punch… but really, I read this for the characters and banter.

Rolling in the Deep

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant was read for the Goodreads choice awards so I could make an informed decision for that category – and I’m so glad I read this one! Sufficiently creepy and well-written I could really go for more in this world. The characters were lovely and you didn’t want to leave them, even after only seeing them for such a short time.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo was a re-read so I could finish this series, and start her new one. Just as good as I remember reading it initially, but it’s hard to remember any of the details once you put the book down, which is a bit of a pain.

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was a bit disappointing overall. I read it on holiday whilst in Watford itself – just like the setting of the book itself. I just couldn’t gel with the characters and the plot seemed a bit haphazard, and it just wasn’t enjoyable to read. My loss!

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson was a re-read – when i first read it a few years ago I didn’t know much of Peter Capaldi, so when I watched them in an interview together I decided I had to re-read and see it all in a different light – instead of just reading the Capaldi bits though, I found myself just re-reading the whole thing again. It’s so brilliant!

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined

Life and Dead by Stephenie Meyer was hilarious and otherwise greatly lacking.

Spring 2016 Penguin Teen Sampler

Spring 2016 Penguin Teen Sampler contained previews of THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman, SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, REBEL OF THE SANDS by Alwyn Hamilton, WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke and THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry.

The one I’m most excited for was The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman – by FAR the most engaging and lovely to read.

A Gathering of Shadows - SAMPLE

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab was a sample of the first third of the book, and works awesomely well at making sure I have multiple copies preordered and even more desperate for the book than I was before.

My blog post on it can be found here.

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming was heart-breaking and endlessly fascinating. Suggested by friend Kat when I re-read Craig Ferguson’s bio, I devoured this in less than a day. Highly recommended.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo was another re-read, though honestly I couldn’t remember barely any of it. Hopefully it sticks in my mind a little better this time.