Berlin Bibliophile's Books of 2018
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I'm excited for a great year of reading. My goal is, again, to decrease my TBR pile by reading more books I already own instead of buying new ones all the time.
My first two books were pretty frivolous, but I knocked it out of the park with the third one, amazing.
1. Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger
2. Manners & Mutiny, Gail Carriger
It was good to see the finishing school continue, and then end. It was a great romp, with all the highlights of the previous instalments, and then some. I also loved the ending - Soap was always my favourite.
3. The Power, Naomi Alderman
What an incredible book. I loved the device of the publishing letters at the front and back of the text, they were a genius meta commentary on the story in between.
I always love a story with many character viewpoints, and this one really delivered. Such a variety, and seen so differently from their own and others' viewpoints.
The progression of the story was so convincing as well, from the first beginnings, to small escalations, justifications, and further escalations concerning those justifications, until the world was total chaos, and I believed every word of it. This book shook me greatly, and I will need to take some more time to really think about it.
TBR list infinity minus one.
"My goal is, again, to decrease my TBR pile by reading more books I already own instead of buying new ones all the time."
Good luck with that! That is what I am trying myself to do for years. :-)
Happy reading in 2018, Miriam!
Last year I fanally managed to decrease mount TBR, I hope to continue the good work this year ;-)
Happy New Year
Happy New Group here
This place is full of friends
I hope it never ends
It brew of erudition and good cheer.
Thanks for the good wishes, everyone, and good reading to you too!
4. The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, Agatha Christie
A very satisfying book. I would have liked Miss Marple to be in it a bit more, but even from the margins she was superb. The mystery is cleverly set up, and allows the readers to think they've figured out the twist, only to re-twist it all again in the end. There's a reason Agatha Christie is the Queen of Crime!
5. Raven Black, Ann Cleves
I liked this crime novel set in the Shetland Islands. There was a great sense of place in it, as though I could really see the best but vital landscape the murder took place in. I liked the detective, and also the fact that he did not take some centre stage. There were other viewpoint characters as well, and that allowed me to get a really rounded view of the community and the way it was shaken up by the deaths in the book and its backstory. The solution was satisfying as well, completely surprising, but it made sense in hindsight.
6. Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor
I enjoyed this book, and thought the world Nnedi Okorafor came up with was very creative and interesting, but I was somehow always expecting more than I got. Everything seemed a bit shallow in its execution, though excellent in its conception. I wanted to know more about the Leopard People, and was frustrated that I didn't get it. I liked the four protagonists, but wish that Okorafor had gone deeper in their character development. Over all, I enjoyed this book, but it left me wanting more.
Dropping off a star as you're reading some stuff I'm really interested in (although I'm sorry that Akata Witch didn't work out for you). Good to see your reading year has got off to such a good start!
>9 Arifel: I think I may just have gone in with the wrong expectations - my friend kept telling me how brilliant it was, and I was interested in many of the ideas, I just wish they had been given a more in-depth treatment. I still had fun reading the book, I guess I just expected more than that.
But yeah, my reading has gone well so far, maybe because I have a longer commute now, plenty of guilt-free time to read. :)
7. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
I had a lot of fun with this book. It combines two of my favourite literary things, a regency setting and magic, into a great mix of mystery, shenanigans, and suspense. The two protagonists play well off of each other, and the ending is particularly satisfying - everyone gets what they wanted, though in a very different way than they thought they did. I am looking forward to how Zacharias and Prunella continue from here.
8. Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik
A good continuation of the plot. I missed the secondary cast of English Aviators, but their want was supplied by new characters and locations. The murder plot was perhaps a bit too obvious, but the frustration of the lack of proof kept my interest. But what I loved most of all was the descriptions of dragon life in China. Novik came up with a really imaginative system, and the contrast to the English coverts is enormous. Poor Temeraire, to know how good life can be, yet choose to go back anyway!
9. Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë
I really like Anne Brontë's style, both in this novel and in the Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She treats serious subjects, but she does it without polemics, in a natural, sympathetic style. In this case, she chooses the sad lot of the governess, and brings across the labours and dangers of that profession. Though Agnes Grey ends happily for the protagonist, it is easy to see how it could end otherwise for less lucky members of her trade.
Both of your last reviews make me curious for them... and my TBR-pile never stops growing.
>12 PersephonesLibrary: haha as does mine. The book lover's typical problem! But I guess it's better than having nothing to read.
10. The bloody chamber, Angela Carter
Some of the stories in this book are incredible, and use violence and sex to convey strong messages to the reader. In other cases, I felt they were used to shock for shock's sake, rather than having any meaning beyond senseless sexual violence. I am glad I read the collection, but I would skip some of the stories on a reread.
TBR list infinity minus one!
11. The lives of Tudor women, Elizabeth Norton
I liked this approach to history. Norton draws examples from across classes and regions in England, and compares the challenges women had to face in their lives in the social positions they occupied. She does not shy away from pointing out the horrifying realities, but she also draws attention to the surprising ways women could influence the societies around them, through business, or religious prophecy, or other means.
Taken together, Norton presents a rounded picture of life for all sorts of Tudor women, and goes considerably further than just the opulent palaces of royalty.
12. Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire
Another fun entry into this series. This one felt a bit more formulaic than the others - not in its settings, which are as weird and over-the-top imaginative as ever - in its plot. A quest to unite these items and perform the magic ceremony. I was expecting more deviation from that norm, and was a bit surprised when it didn't happen. But there are also parts of the book I love very much. I love how committed McGuire remains to representation. I love Cora, the new view-point character, and her mermaid backstory. I love the whole idea of the Doors and the worlds behind them. And I love how this book explores the consequences of the ones that came before it. Over all a great experience of a book, and I am already eagerly awaiting the next one.
13. Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch
I was very excited for Sabetha to finally appear in these books. She had been in the background so long, but her big entrance did not disappoint. I loved the Spy vs. Spy nature of the Five Year Game, and was pleasantly surprised by the way Jean, Sabetha, and Locke handled their rivalry. It's always great to see characters at least willing to communicate, even if that's hard. The end result of this game was also something I really enjoyed, it made sense to me, and I'm excited to see what comes next for these characters.
But the best part, for me, were the flashbacks to the Gentlemen Bastards infiltrating a troupe of players. They didn't have a master plan, and it was great to see them start to work together on this off-the-cuff stuff.
TBR list infinity minus one :)
14. Rise, Mira Grant
I love, love, love this collection: it has something of everything. There are hopeful stories, bleak stories stories from the beginning of the Rising to beyond the end of Blackout. I think my favourite story has to be How Green this Land, How Blue this Sea, because it's just such a completely different environment. It was great to see how places beyond America had reacted and adapted to the zombie apocalypse.
Finally, after a book full of allusions to them, it was great to see Georgia and Shaun again in Coming to you live. Their life in Canada is completely different, yet they're still intrinsically themselves. It was like unexpectedly meeting old friends again.
TBR List infinity minus one! :)
15. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
This book is important, but upsetting. It's awful to read about how terribly Henrietta Lacks and her family were treated by the medical and scientific communities. It's great that times have changed and medical practice has (somewhat) changed with it, but it's not enough yet.
On the other hand, many incredibly important discoveries were made using HeLa cells, and the world would be a worse place without the advances these discoveries allowed humanity to make.
So this book is deeply divided: between the good that work with HeLa cells did, and the injustice of how they were obtained in the first place. This book does not shy away from the difficulties of this division, and it is important that Rebecca Skloot openly shares both the good and the bad. To match the content, the style is also divided, between historical chapters discussing Henrietta Lacks, her life, and the afterlife of her cells, and personal accounts of the author's search for the truth about Henrietta and HeLa together with Deborah Lacks. These divisions connect past and present, and the afterword provides the future that the reader must make up their own mind about.
Great reading so far this year, Miriam.
Trust that you have had a lovely weekend.
16. Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession, Alison Weir
I really enjoyed this novel about Anne Boleyn's life. Alison Weir managed the split between historical accuracy and authorial invention skilfully, and injects a whole lot of humanity into Anne, from her upbringing at the liberal courts of the continent to her bitter end. Weir does not gloss over the unpleasant sides of Anne's behaviour, like her treatment of the teenaged princess Mary, but she does rightfully emphasise Anne's importance in shaping the reformation in England. A complicated, divisive woman, humanized in this wonderful novelistic portrait of her.
17. Blue Lightning, Anne Cleeves
Mostly I liked this crime novel and its solution. The setting was interesting, with the isolation of the field station and the birders living in it, and the investigative process was interesting. At the same time, I enjoyed a break from the typical alcoholic miserable divorced detective, because Perez and Fran were genuinely happy and convincing as a couple. At least until the end. It was wholly unnecessary to me to kill off Fran. I was unhappy to see the only significant female character die, and after the crime had been solved and there was no profit in it for the murderer, too. I sincerely hope this doesn't mean the series devolves into focusing on Perez' angst about his fridged fiancée.
18. Bird, Blood, Snow, Cynan Jones
Stabbing someone in the eye may be okay in medieval times, but it's not okay now. And so this modern retelling of Peredur's story from the Mabinogion shows the reader what happens when modern reality is applied to the events of the story - Peredur is not herioc, he is violent and mentally ill, and does no good either to himself or for others. Cynan Jones' book does incredibly well in portraying the disconnect between chivalric codes and modern life, and his words are carefully chosen for maximum impact. I definitely recommend this one to any Arthurian enthusiast.
19. The Falls, Ian Rankin
It doesn't seem that long ago that this book was published, yet the advance in mobile technology has been enormous, and that makes the tech in this book, looking back, kind of hilarious. Nonetheless, Rankin tells a suspenseful story of a missing persons investigation turned murder inquiry. I liked the contrast between the history Rebus was working on and the high-tech (for the time) puzzles Siobhan was solving. It works well with their different approaches to policing.
While I was suspicious of a certain character from very early on, I didn't completely figure out the solution until it was there on the page, which I always appreciate. Over all an enjoyable mystery to read and figure out alongside Siobhan and Rebus.
20. The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin
I really loved the narrative technique N. K. Jemisin employed to tell her story and to build tension within it. The protagonists are so clearly defined that the reader feels they know them, until another piece of the puzzle is revealed... The Stillness is a fascinating setting, with clear rules and yet with the potential for catastrophic surprise built into its very fabric. The cliffhanger has definitely left me hungry for more, yet the tale as it stands is fulfilling in its own right. This book is a great achievement of precision storytelling for maximum impact.
21. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Still my favourite, forever and always. I reread the book this time after visiting Lyme Park, at which scenes for the 1995 miniseries were shot. It's a great house, with a beautiful garden, but it can never really compare with the Pemberley I imagine when I read the novel.
I was also struck again by what makes the love story in this novel so enduring to me: Darcy respects Elizabeth's choice. Even right after the Hunsford proposal, when he is still an arrogant douche, he immediately accepts the fact that she will not marry him, and asks only for an explanation. Thus, even at his worst, he respects Elizabeth's personhood and autonomy of choice. Later, after the tumultuous events of Elizabeth's Northern Tour and Lydia's disappearance, he asks only whether her feelings have changed, and assures her that if they have not, he will never say a single word on the topic again. He has some reason to hope, now, but still makes sure that Elizabeth is certain that she has the power of free choice, and if she does not choose him, he will not distress her by trying, by repeated proposals, to persuade her into marriage. Even though Darcy has all the societal power and Elizabeth has very little, she is able to freely choose him (or not) because he respects her personal autonomy and right to choose her own life. The fact that this sort of romantic hero is still very rare, over 200 years later, speaks to the sad state of the world today, and to how exceptional an author Jane Austen was.
22. Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman
This is what historical novels should strive to be like: A large cast of characters, many of whom the reader can relate to, in strife, in which nobody is entirely innocent and nobody is entirely evil. The tragedy of understanding both sides of the conflict makes this book so compelling, and gives it a feeling of impending doom, because the reader knows the clash is coming but still hopes that the characters will be reasonable and work together, while knowing very well that that is not what happened.
This book is great in another respect as well: These are medieval people, and their values differ, sometimes hugely, from ours. And Sharon Kay Penman does not shy away from dealing with the sometimes despicable actions and beliefs of her protagonists. A great example in this book is the issue of anti-Semitism. Almost all of the principal characters are virulently anti-Semitic, and Penman does not try to make excuses for them, she simply records their actions and lets the reader condemn them for those actions. Yes, anti-Semitism was the norm in medieval England, but from today's perspective, there is no possible reason to justify a mob indiscriminately murdering an entire people. Penman does not fall into the trap of humanizing her characters so far as to idolize or romanticize them, and much of the appeal of this book is due to the characters feeling and acting like real people, flaws and all.
23. Strip Jack, Ian Rankin
This was a quick read, and one I really enjoyed, though the ending muted that enjoyment for me. I like there to be a resolution at the end of a murder mystery, and at the end of this book neither the sequence of events of the murder nor the motive is clear, and the murderer isn't even caught to be brought to justice. A bit of ambiguity, okay, but at least one of these should be clear, in my opinion.
Rebus is in a novel state in this book: his life is going pretty well for a change. I'm sure that's about to change, but it was nice while it lasted.
24. Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
The musical absolutely blew my mind when I saw it, and it was wonderful to dive back into its world and get to peek behind the curtain. This book has much more than the libretto: it has notes on the meaning behind the words, it has brilliant pictures from on stage and behind the scenes, and the book charts both the rise of the American revolution and and the rise of the American musical. It gives a deeper understanding of the choices that led to the musical being what it is today and what it will continue to be, as well as the legacy it will leave behind.
25. How to be a Heroine, Samantha Ellis
It's great fun to go along with Samantha Ellis and reexamine some of the most famous literary heroines. This book is a mix between memoir and literary critique (very light) and it combines both charmingly. While I don't agree with all or even most of Ellis's conclusions about the books she examines by any means, it is interesting to follow her trains of thought and to contrast her reading experiences and conclusions against my own. And I've definitely expanded my to read list by a few books thanks to the introuctions included in this book.
26. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
This book always leaves me with conflicted feelings. It is technically excellent, it is interesting, engaging, and suspenseful. But I do not enjoy myself while reading this book, because I hate all the characters, who are either despicable or boring. So while I am glad I reread this book while visiting Haworth, this reread confirmed my earlier impression: Emily Brontë is an excellent writer, but her book is not for me.
28. A Red-Rose Chain, Seanan McGuire
Another entry into this series that I loved. It's amazing to see how much Toby has grown since the first books, especially in her approach to dangerous situations. From "I have to go it alone and can trust no one" to "I'm so glad I have all these friends and allies as backup". The mystery plot of the book was great, but my favourite part were the relationships between the characters, and how their mutual trust has improved.
29. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories, Robert Louis Stevenson
I know the title story of this collection very well, since I once wrote a paper for university about it. But the other stories were a pleasant surprise, especially the Suicide Club story. It is at the same time such a very strange and such a very logical concept. I can just see the Victorians going in for that kind of thing. Still, it was nice to see a character with more modern sensibilities put a stop to it.
TBR list infinity minus one...
30. Tante Julia und der Schreibkünstler, Mario Vargas Llosa
This book is masterfully written. Both the sections about Mario and Julia and Pedro Camacho and the ones written "by" the latter are delightful to read, and Mario Vargas Llosa does amazingly subtle work in slowly adjusting the style of the audio plays over time to reflect what is happening in the main plot. To say more would be to spoil it. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed reading this book.
TBR list infinity minus 1!!!
31. Red Rising, Pierce Brown
I was disappointed by this book. It starts out well, with an interesting set-up and a reveal that shakes up all preconceived notions the protagonist had about his society. But then, once he is embedded in the Institute, the book descends into a boring slog of bad decisions and pointless violence which never gets the characters anywhere new until just before the end of the book. Then the book drags itself to an interesting, at least somewhat exciting finale, but that's just not enough to make up for the boredom that comes before it. I will not be continuing this series.
32. Tempests and Slaughter, Tamora Pierce
This sort of book needs a delicate touch. It's about characters that the reader very well knows will betray each other later, and yet Pierce absolutely pulls off a believable friendship between them. The seeds of Ozorne's future character are there, but they are mere glimpses in a book full of his positive traits and supportive friendships.
It was very interesting and endearing to see Arram as a child, and it was wonderful to see his interesting lessons and cool teachers. I also loved poor Arram's involuntary connection to the gods. He just wants to learn magic, not get caught up in fate. He has no idea what's in store for him, poor child.
33. Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce
It's always lovely to read about characters who were like my childhood friends again. Wild magic is amazing and I spent quite a few days as a child imagining what I'd do if I had it. Found families are a favourite trope of mine, and this one is great and supportive.
34. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
As a white girl it's not my place to comment on the depiction of Black American life. But as literature, the book affected me deeply. After I finished it, in one mesmerized sitting, I just sat there, staring into space, not knowing what to do with myself. That's surely a sign of an important book, one that changes its reader.
The characters feel like living, breathing people who have a life beyond the pages of this book. I don't have their problems, but an excellent book like this helps me to relate to them and to understand their struggles in their deeply, systematically racist society better. This is why representation in the media is so important. I can only emphatically recommend this book to people of all races as one that not only has great literary merit but which deals with an incredibly important political topic with great skill.
TBR pile infinity minus one! :)
35. Emil und die Detektive / Emil und die drei Zwillinge, Erich Kästner
This was one of my favourite books as a child, and I must say that it really holds up well now that I've read it as an adult. Its a smart story, full of interesting characters, and Erich Kästner keeps a great balance between explaining things for younger readers and still keeping them funny and not being condescending to older ones. It's great to see Berlin in a book like this, and to think about what has changed and what has stayed the same in my hometown.
Emil und die drei Zwillinge was new to me, but I enjoyed it greatly. There are less zany shenanigans in this one, but more serious themes are addressed. I can only recommend both to readers of all ages.
36. Über und der Himmel, unter uns das Meer, Jojo Moyes
I really enjoyed this book, which was recommended to be by my mother. It follows the journey of four women in an extraordinary situation: they are war brides, who are leaving Australia and travelling to Britain on the aircraft carrier Victoria. In this environment, cramped and without any outlets, they have to try to get along, and it is not always easy. They come from very different previous lives, and their future expectations are also worlds apart.
Despite the fact that the women meet only because of the men that they have married, the book itself mostly concerms itself with the relationships between the women, both the good and the bad that they do to each other: supporting one another despite adversity, or condemning one another because of the standards set by men. The book is an interesting exploration of human relationships and of the bravery of leaving home for an uncertain but hopeful future.
>36 BerlinBibliophile: Yes, I enjoyed reading it first as an adult, Miriam.
Have a great weekend.
>38 PaulCranswick: this book was such a big part of my childhood, I loved it and the movie and it was great seeing where the book is set in my own hometown. But because I knew it early I sort of always assume that everyone knows it. It's a treat to reread and exciting to think that people are still discovering it anew. Have a good weekend!
37. Kältezone, Arnaldur Indridason
This was an interesting mystery, and one in a style that is quite different from what I usually read. It is split between the present day in Iceland and the 1950s in East Germany. Personally, the segments in Leipzig were my favourite, it was more urgent and suspenseful, since there wasn't really any pressure in the police investigation in iceland. The inspectors there seem to investigate ploddigly, meanderingly along. There was some really good misdirection about who exactly the unknown skeleton was, and I was a bit surprised when the truth came out.
Anything on the terrible history of the Stasi is interesting, and it was especially fascinating to see how it intersects with the foreign students in Leipzig.
38. Frauen, Fische, Fjorde: Deutsche Einwanderinnen in Island, Anne Siegel
What a fascinating book. It tells the stories of German women who followed the call of the Icelandic farmer's association and emigrated to Iceland just after the end of the second World War. The stories vary greatly, but what they have in common is that, whether after a long struggle or not, the women found a home in Iceland that they could not have found in the bombed-out husk that was post-war Germany. The women's lives in Iceland were fascinating, but their journeys before getting there were also adventurous and often harrowing. And so this book informs the reader about both the lives of ordinary, diverse women during the War, and their successes and challenges in their new lives in Iceland. A great read.
>41 PaulCranswick: Thank you, Paul. I hope you have a great week!
39. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
"Survival is insufficient". This quote from Star Trek, used here as the motto of the Travelling Symphony, encapsulates the philosophy of the book pretty well. The story follows a web of people who share only a connection to Arthur Leander, an actor who dies while performing King Lear, on the night of the end of civilization as it is known today. Emily St. John Mandel does an amazing job bringing these characters to life, and lets the reader slowly get to know their lives before and after the apocalypse. Plus, there's Shakespeare! And I'm a sucker for stories dealing with the relevance of stories, so that was basically all I needed to be happy, but the author doesn't stop there. She has a compelling vision for what life on earth would be like after a widespread collapse of civilization as it is known today, and she conveys it through the small every-day details of the lives of their characters. The Museum of Civilization is a stroke of genius and really drives home how different life would be if anything really globally catastrophic happened.
I read her Binti trilogy (from Nnedi Okorfor) nd enjoyed the books. I didn't know about Akata Witch, so I'll have to find that one.
>43 ocgreg34: I read Binti too, and loved it, which is why I was a bit disappointed when I didn't like Akata Witch as much.
40. The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein
This book does a great job of writing empathetically about its subject without romanticising or justifying her bad decisions. Sandra's life was full of trauma, and the author does not shy away from depicting this realistically, so it definitely requires a trigger warning for transmisogyny and rape at the very least. But while the author does not soften any blows, she treats Sandra and her life with compassion and humanity.
It is a great decision to have one chapter of Sandra's life history alternate with a chapter about her trauma cleaning business. While those chapters aren't light fare either, they give the reader a chance to catch their breath after the emotionally heavy chapters about Sandra's personal history.
Over all this is a well-written look into a woman's life, all aspects of her life.
41. The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
What a powerful book! Julie Otsuka does a marvellous job conveying the multiplicity of experiences these Japanese immigrants had in coming to America. She portrays small happy moments and big devastating ones, and everything in between. Speaking always as "We", never "I", is a non-traditional style of narration, but one that worked very well for me.
TBR list: Infinity minus One!
42. At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, Mary Hooper
I loved this book as a young teenager, and I still enjoyed it as an adult. Of course many of the themes are simplified for a younger audience, but Mary Hooper still does a good job of portraying the slowly growing dread and the willful blindness of the Londoners as the plague approaches. I still liked the protagonist, as well as the characters surrounding her.
43. Changeless, Gail Carriger
What a fun book. It is full of zany supernatural (and preternatural) shenanigans and just the right thing to take your mind off a bad day. But what a mean cliffhanger! Making me feel feelings, how could you, Ms. Carriger?
44. Die Nachtwächter, Terry Pratchett
This was my yearly reread of this amazing book, undertaken on the 25th of May, the day of the Glorious Revolution, the day we as fans use to honour Terry Pratchett's memory.
Another year over. I still feel sad whenever I think of Terry Pratchett. He gave me some of my best literary friends, and he deserved so much more than the embuggerance. But the fact that I can still listen to his voice through his books makes me feel better. He is, in some small way, still changing the world through his influence on his readers, and that is amazing.
A man is not dead while his name is still spoken. GNU Terry Pratchett.
45. Anger is a Gift, Mark Oshiro
Genuinely one of the most impressive and emotionally hard-hitting books I've read this year.
I heard Mark read an excerpt years ago, and the book has changed a lot since then, but the wait was worth it. Moss is a great protagonist, relatable and emotionally engaging. At a certain point I almost started crying on the overcrowded public transport. The book deals with an incredibly important issue in American society, and as a white German it is so not my place to comment on it, but I appreciate this deeper understanding of how it affects those most hard hit, both emotionally and physically.
I'm also very grateful for this amazing queer representation. It's rare indeed that there is this much positive, well-written queer rep in one book, and I personally especially appreciated there being an asexual character, which I've only seen in one other place. It's nice to be represented, and this is so intersectional as well!
So I recommend this book to queer readers and those interested in a sensitive and nuanced look at racism and police brutality in the US.
And if the book makes you angry, good. That's sort of the point.
TBR list: infinity minus one!
46. The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, Rick Riordan
What a fun book. I actually laughed out loud and read the funniest bits out loud to my friend. And there were quite a lot of funniest bits! Apollo is pretty hilarious in his predicament, and I really liked his supporting cast. The cameos from former protagonists were also great, but didn't overwhelm the primary story. I look forward to what other scrapes Apollo gets into, and I hope and hope that Meg will be all right.
47. The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy, Rick Riordan
Another fun instalment in this series. I liked the way Riordan deals with Apollo slowly adjusting to mortality, and what that does to his thought processes. I love his friendship with Meg as well, especially the way they both make each other better people. I also loved that we saw some ex-Hunters of Artemis, it shows that immortality is not all it's cracked up to be, and that love is indeed worth the pain it brings.
And I'm excited to see Grover again in the next book!
48. Brief Cases, Jim Butcher
I really enjoyed this collection of stories. Seeing the 'verse through the perspectives of other characters really shows how personally focused on Harry the narrative normally is, and drives home the difference between how Harry sees himself and how he is seen by others. It's also nice to get small manageable chunks of story to enjoy which nonetheless contain complete, satisfying bits of plot and characterisation. I think Zoo Day may have been my favourite: I love the interactions between Harry and Maggie, and to see the same events from three different perspectives was interesting and spoke a lot to the perspectives on the world of the three characters involved. And who doesn't love Mouse, anyway?
49. 16 Uhr 50 ab Paddington, Agatha Christie
I love this Miss Marple book, even though she isn't in it all that much. Lucy Eylesbarrow is a good assistant, though, and does the physical sleuthing while Miss Marple stays in the background to theorise. There are many twists and turns in this book, and even though I had read it before, I was still surprised by the reveal of the murderer in the end. I guess I remembered the Red Herrings more clearly than the actual solution.
50. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
I am in awe of the things that Arundhati Roy can do with language. She creatively recombines words to produce new meanings, and they are always perfectly apt and descriptive. But that is not the only brilliance of this book. Roy also deftly weaves together different stories taking place at different times in the characters' lives, and the intersections of these storylines inform each other and build something more than the separate parts.
I also appreciate the way she deals with character: The characters are messy and human, they have their worse and better natures, they react extremely sometimes, and taken together, they come across as a very realistic portrayal of family and humanity.
51. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg
This is a weird book, but in an interesting way. The different narrative styles contrast strongly, yet it is possible to extract something resembling a common truth from both the supposedly impartial statement of the editor and the intensely subjective, twisted account found in the "memoir".
Ambiguity is a strong feature of the text, and it is never resolved to the satisfaction of the reader, but this seems to be the point.
52. Löcher: Die Geheimnisse von Green Lake, Louis Sachar
What a brilliant book! It is quite a short story, yet how much is in there: critique of the way the American judicial system exploits the free, forced labour of the incarcerated, a love-story, a family history, the breaking of a curse, and so much more. The simple prose works great to convey Stanley Yelnats' point of view and his limited but growing understanding of the situation he finds himself in.
>55 FAMeulstee: yes, it is the German translation of Holes. For some reason lots of books get a subtitle in German. I love it too, and I just found my copy again after moving.
53. Once Broken Faith, Seanan McGuire
This book is a game-changer for the series not only in terms of world-building, but in terms of Toby's past and future. Not only that, I also enjoyed it immensely. Poor Toby tries so hard to spend just one book not getting covered in blood, but it's just not going to happen.
54. Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer
What do I even say about this book? It is incredibly suspenseful, it is deeply weird, it is very well written and characterised despite none of the characters having so much as a name, and it is full of unanswered questions and leaves me wanting more, tantalized by the glimpses I do get.
The book deals with a lot of things that are beyond human understanding, and yet I feel like I always saw what the biologist was experiencing. The cast is very small, but this just gives Vandermeer the opportunity to really focus on his protagonist and to bring her to life very convincingly.
It's midnight here, and I feel restless knowing I can't go out to buy the sequels until tomorrow. I think I'll be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
>57 BerlinBibliophile: Looks like we both enjoyed that one! I've got the second on reserve at my library.
>58 drneutron: yeah, I really enjoyed it, and I can't wait to read the others. Hope your library gets the second one in soon!
55. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
This is an example of a really well and engagingly written non-fiction book that manages to walk the line between human interest and suspense on the one hand and the facts on the other hand. It charts the heights of human ambition reached at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the depths of human depravity of the murders that H.H. Holmes carried out not far from the fair during the same period. Larson chronicles these in alternating chapters and shows how such opposites could exist so closely side-by-side. He marks clearly any passages in which he speculates, and so crafts a suspenseful account of this extraordinary time in Chicago history. I don't normally read True Crime, but I recommend this book.
56. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Vaseem Khan
This was a nice read, with a good protagonist and the cutest sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha. Who kills a bunch of people. That kind of surprised me, and I would have preferred it if any of the criminals had stayed alive to stand trial, but I guess once an elephant stomps on you there's really no chance of that. At least the corrupt politician is exposed without being killed.
Other than that I liked the setting, and how Inspector Chopra (Rtrd) investigates in so many different socio-economic areas of Mumbai. He and that baby elephant really get around.
Overall a good, quick read. I will be checking out the sequels.
57. The Reckoning, Sharon Kay Penman
Historical novels are always both challenging and thrilling for me because I know how they end. I KNOW it will end tragically, I know the protagonists will die violently, but I still can't help but hope that in THIS story they will somehow triumph over their enemies, their strategies will work, and the book will end happily. Every single time I have this disconnect, and it gives the books an air or tragic inevitability. Until the last 50 pages I hold out hope that it might not end badly after all, and that is due to the excellent writing of Sharon Kay Penman making me root for the characters and believe in them despite my knowledge of their history. This was another great read in her Welsh Princes series, and the most tragic ones yet, for independent Wales dies with the protagonists.
58. Mayhem, Sarah Pinborough
I can't say I liked this book and its approach to the supernatural much. One legend of evil is apparently true, and no character ever asks themselves whether that means that other legends might be true as well. This is simply accepted as an isolated case, which is totally separate from the normal world of ordinary murders and ordinary policemen. Instead, we have a protagonist who spends most of the book drugged out of his mind, and his opium-induced hallucinations are taken as the literal truth of a demon driving its host to murder. In the end, the protagonist and his accomplices simply murder the demon and its host and destroy all evidence that he did indeed commit the murders, preventing any sort of public justice or closure from taking place.
In the end, I think this book does not work as a crime novel, since it relies entirely on drugged-out visions, and it does not work as a novel about the supernatural either, since the narrative is entirely uninterested in the implications of the existence of an evil river demon.
59. The Brightest Fell, Seanan McGuire
This was a bit of a weird one. I really enjoyed it, but to me the story didn't seem to hang together as well as the others in this series do. There was also quite a lot of set-up which never paid off, which meant that I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop in that regard. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun reading this book and I look forward to the next one.
60. Exit Music, Ian Rankin
This was one of the best Rebus novels in my opinion, Ian Rankin really pulled out all the stops for Rebus's "retirement novel". The murder and its ties to business and politics were really interesting, and the solution genuinely surprised me, though looking back I can see the foreshadowing was all there. I also really liked the interactions between the characters in this novel: Rebus and Clarke, the CID team, newbie Todd, and of course the eternal thorn in Rebus's side, Big Ger Cafferty. Rebus's retirement party was poignant, and the ending of the novel wonderfully fitting and the perfect outlook towards the future.
61. The Pedant in the Kitchen, Julian Barnes
I really like this book. I think everyone who's ever cooked from a cookbook can emphatise with the anecdotes Julian Barnes relates here, but not everyone can retell that frustration with so much wit. It's definitely made me want to cook more, too, as an added bonus.
62. The Hundred-Foot Journey, Richard C. Morais
I read this book for uni, the food descriptions it was chosen for are really good and left me feelng hungry every time I read this book. The story was good too, at least before Hassan goes to Paris. Once he's in Paris, the characters he meets are no longer fleshed out, they're mere anecdotes in the laundry list of Parisian events. The story becomes disjointed and there's no longer any sense of time passing or Hassan growing as a cook or as a human being. Before that, it was a cute story, but once he's in Paris it took a sharp nosedive. Too bad, I was enjoying it before.
63. Blameless, Gail Carriger
Another fun romp, although Carriger does delve into more serious issues than usually in the London storyline, which I liked. This series can be a bit heavy on the whimsy, so it was nice to get a little break every so often. I am glad that everyone is reconciled though.
64. Absolution by Murder, Peter Tremayne
I'm conflicted on this book. On the one hand, I liked the mystery, the setting, and the main characters, on the other hand, I could not stand the author's constant preaching. We get it, the Irish were enlightened marvels and the British were backwards savages. The setting is meant to be a debate between the merits of the Roman and the Columban styles of Christianity, but it could not be made clearer that one is right and the other wrong if the author bashed the reader over the head with a sign saysing "Rome sucks". This honestly distracted me from the simple mystery and the fun and engaging detectives. I really liked Fidelma and Eadulf, but I don't think I can take another book of the author constantly pulling the reader out of the story to explain the moral to them. Especially when the mystery's solution is "those evil predatory lesbians".
Die Schatten von Edinburgh, Oscar de Muriel
DNF - I did not finish this book after reaching 250 pages.
This book had a good idea for a mystery, but such terrible execution. An upperclass London Inspector is transferred to Scotland to work on an important case, where he has to work together with a "barbaric" Scot. I was expecting misunderstandings and then grudging mutual respect followed by burgeoning friendship, but that is not what I got.
Inspector Frey, the Londoner, is ridiculously prejudiced against Scotland and its inhabitants, thinking of them as dirty, uncivilized brutes. Inspector McGray, the Scottish Inspector, thinks of the English as weak dandies too self-important to get their hands dirty. The problem with the book is, they're both proved right. Oscar de Muriel really does portray Scottish people as dirty, violent, and stupid, and English people as fussy to the point of ridiculousness. Apparently all Scottish food really is disgusting, and the English really are incapable of living for two weeks without shipping crates full of luxuries from home. Both of these hateful, xenophobic assholes are proved right by the author, and that does not sit right with me.
What I also hated is that everyone is constantly shouting, screaming, bellowing and raging at each other in this book, as though the author does not know that there's a middle ground between whispers and screams where "normal talking" is located.
Then there are the constant insults the characters fling at each other: this is not only completely unnecessary, it also seems that these characters only know gender-based insults. It's the worst thing in the world to be called a girl, and actual women are constantly insulted based on their appearances, with "fat cow" being a particular favourite, for that nice extra helping of fatshaming.
I was interested in the locked-room mystery, but the style of narration and the callous, insulting assholes the book has for protagonists so ruined it for me that I did not finish the book, which I almost never do.
Steer well clear of this mess.
65. The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron
I was diverted by this detective story starring Jane Austen. It never got dull, though the characters were at times little more than caricatures. Still, the mystery worked well and some of the characters did show promise for the future, especially Jane herself.
However, in an "editor's note" in front of the book, the author lays out the conceit that the book is an edited version of a manuscript in Austen's own hand that she had found in America. This quite ruined it for me. Why not write a book on your own merits instead of presuming to imitate Jane Austen and be found wanting by your audience?
66. QualityLand, Mark-Uwe Kling
This story is simultaneously hilarious and super depressing, since it's just a little too easy to believe that society and technology could really lead us in this direction. The segments between chapters were especially cool / chilling, and I'm looking forward to reading the light edition segments.
Another quality story by a quality author, with a quality Kangaroo-cameo.
67. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Wow, this was a fun romp! I was expecting epic adventure, but I was not prepared for so many shenanigans. D'Artagnan and co aren't really competent men of honour, they are losers who keep stopping short of disaster by the skin of their teeth. And I for one found that very relatable, even if they all are seriously morally questionable.
It was great fun to read about how all the grand plans of state are foiled by these four ridiculous penniless dandies blundering in and somehow stopping the criminal masterminds, and it was thrilling to watch Milady work her magic, only to be stopped by coincidence.
I get why this is such a classic now.
68. Hue and Cry, Shirley McKay
Over all I liked this book, but there were a couple issues I had with it. It feels insulting to the intelligence of the reader to set out the entire solution to several murder mysteries in a chapter where the protagonist is literally explaining the plot twists to a child, in preparation of a play put on to "catch the conscience of the king". The reader has, by that point, presumably actually read the book, and it's not like it was extremely complicated, so it was very pointless to rehash the plot again TWICE.
On the other hand, I liked the 16th century setting in St. Andrews, and the focus on the cruelties of college life at the time, as well as the examination of law and justice, both within the kirk and without. The characters were a bit blah, but the mystery was an interesting one, and who knows, the characters might improve in the sequels. I'll see, I guess.
69. Midnight, Derek Landy
This book took a while to get going, but once it did, it was a fun ride with high stakes. I'll be very interested to see how Landy deals with the last-minute revelation, and there were several other sections as well which were just build-up for the future. Nonetheless I liked the plot and the character interactions, and the way that Val is trying to be less intentionally violent. It's almost like she's learnt something from the previous 10 books, except it doesn't seem to have sunk in entirely yet, considering she starts a new cycle of lying to her parents about their daughters. She and Skulduggery also go off and do their own thing more often, and this lessened codependence must be a good thing. They're still ride or die, just not always attached at the hip any more. That's some solid character development right there.
70. Cibola Burn, James S. A. Corey
This book took almost 300 pages to get going, but once it did, it was thrilling and just kept getting better. Holden's attempts at futile diplomacy just didn't hold my interest, but once disaster struck and all the separate factions had to react, and quickly, it was very interesting to see what choices both groups and individuals made, and how they played off each other. It was much more interesting to see the humans work together against and inhospitable planet than to see them fight and kill each other over who got to own it. It was also cool to read about the crew of the Rocinante in their own separate little units, and we got to see how well they've come to work together and how much they rely on one another, but also how they've been rubbing off on one another, that was great to see. I only hope that the next book will get going more quickly.
71. Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire
I loved this book. It was a great take on a particularly American brand of urban legend, and it was cool to see how much the individual versions of the story differed depending on who was telling them. The format of connected short stories works very well for the purpose, and Seanan McGuire does a great job of seeding little connections throughout the stories without making it too obvious, allowing the reader to discover the tapestry she's woven thread by thread. I'd love to read more about Rose Marshall.
72. Die Känguru-Chroniken, Mark-Uwe Kling
I love this series and it was the perfect audiobook to listen to while lying in bed sick. The constant laughter wasn't good for my cough, but then you can't have everything.
I love the Kangaroo and its politics, and they seem more and more relevant the more the world is going to shit. Nazis Boxen is more and more necessary, and it's nice to be able to laugh about politics for a change.
73. Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban, J.K. Rowling
This has always been my favourite Harry Potter book, and it was great to be reminded why. This is where the Wizarding World expands, where the reader learns more about its government, its prison system, the discrimination faced by some of its members. And while it is no longer the purely magical fun of the first two books, these details cement it as a real world, with real advantages and inequalities. I think the concept of the Wozarding World has had such influence precisely because it is not perfect, because it also had inequality and systematic oppression, but in this world there are clearer, easier way to fight that.
Apart from that, I love the way that J.K. Rowling develops the mystery and threat of Sirius Black - even knowing the truth, it's still scary when Harry encounters a huge black dog in Magnolia Crescent at night. I also appreciate the way that the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is tested to the breaking point in this book, but ultimately confirmed and made stronger. I love their friendship, and seeing them stick together in the face of teachers and supposedly murderous convicts even while dealing with their own interpersonal problems was great.
74. Set in Darkness, Ian Rankin
This book was frustrating to me because none of its narrative strands lead to a satisfying conclusion. Rebus figures out who is responsible for the various murders, but there isn't even a single arrest, and it's made clear that they will all get away with it while Rebus is in more trouble than ever with his bosses in the police force. The interpersonal issues aren't brought to a conclusion either, with Rebus raging impotently against a Cafferty he is absolutely unable to prove anything against, and with the creep who's been spying on Siobhan high in the favour of their superior officers. The only arrest they get is a total coincidence, and doesn't even relate to the murders investigated in this book. It's great that they've got a rapist in jail, don't get me wrong, it's just frustrating to have no conclusion whatsoever to the murders and personal conflicts which took up the vast majority of this book.
75. Touch Down, John Grisham
I know absolutely nothing about American Football, but I enjoyed this book nonetheless. There isn't too much in there a Football novice will be confused by and the descriptions of Italian food are simply mouthwatering. The story is a simple one about an outsider learning to enjoy his new home and his underdog team winning the big tournament, but it is well executed and the characters are enjoyable, even if the protagonist is dumb as a box of bricks. Whatever, that's in character and it's fun to see him slowly acclimatize and start to enjoy learning new things.
76. The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
I really enjoyed this story, one I had never read before. The descriptions of unicorns are creative and breath-taking, and the quest is one I followed with great interest. The way these individually quite incompetent people come together and are inspired by the need of the unicorns to become better versions of themselves was amazing to read about.
>75 FAMeulstee: >76 drneutron: Thanks! It's weird to reach 75 so early in the year. I guess I've just had more time than usual for reading. :)
77. Der Palast der Meere, Rebecca Gablé
I really enjoyed this historical novel set in Elizabethan England. It follows two siblings who could not be more different. Eleanor, who serves as Elizabeth's spy and Isaac, who runs away to sea.
Both have adventurous, exciting lives, and Gablé finds ways to always keep it interesting and suspenseful. But she also doesn't shy away from the dark sides of the period, dealing with slavery, intolerance, and religious persecution.
The characters are human and have the triumphs and make the mistakes that come with that, and the reader grows to love them quickly, at least I did. They never seem entirely safe in their lives, and so Gablé manages to keep up suspense about the fate of England as the Spanish Armada attacks, even though I know very well what happened historically. I was very happy about the ending of the book, because it's nice to find a historical novel that does not end with all the characters dying.
78. Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates
Somehow, this book full of depressing facts and figures and anecdotes managed to end on an optimistic note, and that's as necessary now as it was when the book was written. Sadly, almost all of this still applies in daily life, and it was interesting and vindicating to see my impressions of life as a woman backed up by both data and tons of anecdotes from other women.
TBR list: Infinity minus one.
79. Circe, Madeline Miller
I really enjoyed this retelling of Greek myth from the perspective of Circe herself. By centering a female perspective, Miller draws attention to the downsides of dealing with gods and heroes, not shying away from dealing with the frequent rapes and unfair punishments inflicted on nymphs in the background of the myths centered on men.
Apart from that, it's also just a good story. Sometimes I wish Miller would have delved more deeply into the characterisation of characters other than Circe and Odysseus, but then there's not that much to work with in the myths about Penelope or Telemachus. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Circe discovering and working her witchcraft, but I would have liked to see more of that. The story also takes place at the intersection of several myths, and that yielded a complex web of relationships between the immortal characters.
I would definitely recommend this book as an interesting take on Greek myth and as an engaging story in its own right.
80. Arrows of the Queen, Mercedes Lackey
It was nice to read this book again. Returning to Valdemar is always fun, and I like it when the problems the heroes face are bullies and bandits rather than world-ending cataclysms. It's always nice to read about Talia and friends, and I especially likes reading about her friendship and not-relationship with Skif.
81. Arrow's Flight, Mercedes Lackey
I liked this book better during my re-read than I did originally. It deals almost exclusively with two characters alone, and the problems they face are largely internal and psychological. I had forgotten just how tense the situation is when they are snowed in together, and I enjoyed reading about them working together to pull Talia out of the incredibly well-written downward spiral of self-doubt and despair that tears her inner peace and her psychic control to pieces.
82. Arrow's Fall, Mercedes Lackey
I had forgotten how brutal this book is, and how matter-of-fact about the brutality that is inflicted on its characters. But that does not mean that I didn't enjoy reading it, despite frequently wanting to shake the characters because of their emotional stupidity. Apart from that, it was nice to see Talia fully take up her role as Selenay's Queen's Own, and to see her importance to the Collegium and her wide web of relationships.
>>80 PaulCranswick: thank you, Paul. Have a good week!
83. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
This book is amazing. Every chapter tells the story of a new person, one of the children of the people from the last chapters, but Yaa Gyasi somehow manages to get the reader deeply invested in every single chapter and the people who appear in it. These are only small snapshots of the important moments in a person's life, yet somehow each chapter anew is filled up to bursting with personality and also with a very strong empathy for the people whose sufferings the chapters often follow. This book is a great achievement in storytelling and empathy, and everyone should read it.
84. The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze, Rick Riordan
In this book, the stakes are getting higher, and Apollo has to deal with human reactions to terrible loss for the first time. He's really not used to that, and it's great to see him discover real empathy and sympathy for the woes of humans. Other than that, Riordan still has a great deal of fun with this story, and there are hijinks and shenanigans aplenty. And lots of enchiladas, for some reason.
85. The Black Box, Michael Connelly
This was so paint-by-numbers that it was almost boring. It was like every edgy cop cliché condensed into one book, with the blandest lead imaginable.
At one point, he's investigated by Internal Affairs on a genuinely bullshit charge, and acts all martyrer-like about being investigated for political reasons from above - but in this book alone he does enough shady illegal stuff to justify him being thrown out of the police a dozen times over. At one point he literally kidnaps somebody, but that's okay I guess. He tells his daughter a hilarious story about his mentor framing people he personally didn't like for crimes they didn't commit - haha, how funny, a cop abusing his authority!
There's also a weird bit where Bosch cries reverse racism because apparently in this world of political correctness gone mad the murders of pretty blonde white women just aren't getting the attention they deserve. What bullshit.
The only thing that made me even want to finish the book was that the murder mystery was genuinely interesting and the solution surprising.
86. The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch
On my third read, I still love this book, unsurprisingly. Honestly, on this read, my favourite bit may have been Guleed, who is unwillingly drawn into the world of magic until she bows to the inevitable and actively starts learning about it, to the point where she is not the third-most Falcon-capable officer in the MET. They seriously need to look into getting some apprentices.
87. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, Seanan McGuire
I really liked this novel and its characters. While the first book was more of a collection of short stories, this book has one continuous story, and because of that Seanan McGuire is able to do much more character development for people other than Rose Marshall herself. The story itself was super interesting and not something I would have ever anticipated, but with each twist I was more intrigued and invested in the plot. And wow, the ending!
88. Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, Alison Weir
Reading historical novels is always strange to me, especially when they are based on real, prominent people, because I know what happened to these people historically, but I still identify so deeply with their struggles and somehow hope for a happier resolution than they got in real life, which of course isn't going to happen. Reading about Katherine of Aragon's cycle of hope, joy, and crushing despair and she has pregnancy after pregancy, miscarriage after stillbirth is heartbreaking, and Alison Weir is great at giving just that tantalizing bit of hope that maybe this time Katherine will get what she longs for, but historically it was not to be. It always amazes me gow good historical writers manage to make people come alive in this way.
Another great thing peculiar to this series is that the changing perspectives of the individual books allow the same events to be interpreted through the perspective of their several principal characters, and that allows Weir to present a number of valid versions of history, especially where the record is scanty. A great way to get a rounded picture of life at the court of Henry VII.
TBR List: Infinity minus One!
89. In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
This is an excellent, engagingly written history of a pivotal moment, the year 1933 to 1934 as Hitler was building up to complete domination of germany. Larson follows two people, the America ambassador and his daughter, on their journey through Nazi Berlin. The ambassador moves in political, diplomatic circles, and Larson uses his story to illuminate the political landscape in Berlin and the American attitudes he was expected to represent there. The daughter, meanwhile, moves through the different social circles of Berlin, and meets high-ranking Nazis as well as communists and authors, and through her the author can examine the impact of the increasing Nazi power and Gleichschaltung on civilian society. By focusing on both these people, Larson provides a thrilling, suspenseful account of a pivotal year in history.
90. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Wow, what a great book! I love the narrative style, and the way it weaves back and forth through time to follow narrative strands back to their beginnings and forwards to their ends. The author also works really well with perception and perspective, and how the various personalities and preconceived notions of the many characters colour their understanding of their role in the world and their understanding of the conflicts unfolding throughout the book. Somehow, Celeste Ng manages to let the reader get a peek into all the characters, to briefly illuminate their personhood and their complexities. This novel is a great achievement of storytelling and narrative precision.
91. Black Powder War, Naomi Novik
This book meanders around a bit too much for my taste, but overall I still liked it. There seemed to be many mini plots following one another rather than one overarching plot that lasts the whole book. There's the overland trip through Asia, then there's the political stuff in Istanbul ending in a daring rescue, and then there's the war between Napoleon and Prussia. All of them seem strangely separate.
But I did really like the feral dragons, and Tharkay the adventurer. I hope all of them appear again in future. I was also glad to read about Temeraire's development, especially as regards his understanding of dragons' rights and duty. I think Laurence did relatively well in threading the needle on that topic.
TBR List: Infinity Minus One!!!
92. Dark Fire, CJ Sansom
I did like this Tudor mystery, and I liked the way the investigators played off of each other, with their different backgrounds and approaches to solving the crime. I also liked the returning characters, especially Guy, now an apothecary. But I wish the ending had been different. They find the persons responsible, but only the two of them know about it, and nobody is brought to justice or punished. I always feel a bit disappointed with books like this one, where the responsible partiy gets off scot free.
Still, I am intrigued to know what sort of mysteries Shardlake will be investigating in future, knowing what I do about Tudor history going forward.
93. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green
I had a blast reading this book, and I loved that I never once knew what would happen next, this book really kept me on my toes.
I loved all the principal characters, and it was great to see them explored through that heavily April-centric perspective (as April herself readily admits on the very first page). In general, the narrative style felt very refreshing and different, and I liked the meta-text of April writing about her writing of the book. Especially interesting in light of the ending.
The Carls were great too, but I liked that they stayed more a focus point for exploring homanity's relationship with the new and unexplained than really being a presence in the story themselves.
Gotta say, I also really liked all the little puzzles the characters solve along the way, and the collaborative way they do so.
This book is, I think, a great exploration of the best and worst aspects of humanity when faced with the big questions that will decide the fate of our and many other species.
I highly recommend it.
94. Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, Lucy Worsley
I really liked this biography of Queen Victoria. I read so very much about Victorian culture and literature for my degree and for fun that it seemed strange that I had never read that much about the woman herself, so when I saw this book by Lucy Worsley (whose writing I love) I had to get it.
And there was a lot here which I hadn't known, so that was very interesting. Lucy Worsley does a great job of showing the reader Victoria's personal relationships with others, be that her family or her servants, and how different these relationships were from what was expected of her.
For all that Victoria personified middle-class values, she was still the Queen, and Worsley also goes into how Victoria interacted with the politicians who ran Britain in the nineteenth century, and how she used the power she still had as monarch, and the powers she was not actually supposed to have anymore.
By choosing 24 significant dates in Victoria's life, Worsley manages to give the reader a good overview of the stages of her life and the enormous changes in her circumstances that defined these stages without getting bogged down in the mintiae of years of Victoria's everyday life in which everything stayed pretty much the same.
95. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
I liked the story and the characters, but this book was a real slog for me, especially around the middle. I wanted to know what would happen next, but I had to slog though all of the endless sentences, senseless metaphors, and poetic garnishes to get there, and to me those weren't beautiful language, they were meaningless word salad sprinkled heavyhandedly into the story to make it seem "deep" and "poetic". I'm sure a lot of people liked it, but it just didn't work for me at all. I did like the ending and its message, though.
96. Der Zoo der Anderen, Jan Mohnhaupt
I really liked this book. It is full of funny anecdotes and does a good job of chronicling the parallel and entwined histories of the Berlin Zoo from the Second World War and the Tierpark Friedrichsfelde from its conception to the present day, and it especially takes a closer look at the two zoos during the Cold War and the partition of Berlin. It was fascinating to see how politics played into the running of the zood, and that is still relevant now, though a bit reduced. I was also surprised by how much the very concept of a zoo changed during those years.
And then, for Berliners, it will be nice to read about our famous zoo animals, some of which I did still see in the zoo myself.
Recommended for those interested in the history of Berlin's zoos, the history of the Berlin Wall, and everyone who wants to read funny stories about animals. :)
97. How to Stop Time, Matt Haig, illustrated by Chris Riddell
I really loved this book. The way it deals with time are great, and somehow Matt Hair manages to make this book with a very fantastic premise feel nothing like fantasy, but like a novel about identity and history and most of all, human connections, with fantasy as a distant background.
I loved the choices of historic periods Haig writes about, he covers some of my very favourites (lutist in the Globe!) as well as some I didn't know much about, like Cook's voyage.
Over all I just had a really great time reading this book, and the illustrations by Chris Riddell were fantastic.
98. First Test, Tamora Pierce
I think I appreciated this book much more now than when I first read it. I think back then I was sort of unfair to it because I had so been hoping for more Alanna, who did not appear except in the prologue. But now I do realise that it's actually better that Kel showed she could do it all on her own, even though in-book that was a bit unfair of Jonathan, and I hope at some point Kel gets to tell him that. I liked this new group of pages, and now, with a bit more distance, I did really like to see how very different from Alanna Kel is, how she is her own person with her own strengths and weaknesses and priorities.
99. Page, Tamora Pierce
Because this book covers a longer timespan than the previous one, the gradual character development Tamora Pierce puts her characters through has a greater chance to shine. Especially Lord Wyldon has a chance to show his different sides, and seeing him and Kel come to an understanding of each other was great to read.
I also really liked Lalasa's development from a cripplingly shy and afraid girl to a more confident, joyful woman.
100. Squire, Tamora Pierce
I feel like this book is where Kel really gets to shine. She has found a place where she is not expected to fail or to do more badly than her male peers, and she doesn't. It was nice to read about a Kel who does not constantly have to look over her shoulder, because she has a commanding officer in Raoul who is confident in her abilities, and she has new and old friends to complain about stupid sexists with. I was also happy to see more of Daine in this book.
101. Lady Knight, Tamora Pierce
I really liked this book. It's got a huge cast of characters, yet somehow Tamora Pierce manages to let the reader get to know them all. Kel is great in this book, which illustrates that she's grown into a much different knight than Alanna's "lone hero" type, but into a type which is no less valuable.
I just love her so much. And Peachblossom, can't forget him.
102. Possession, A.S. Byatt
It took me a really long time to get through this book, but I am glad I did. I like the plot and some of the characters, but the first half of the book moves veeery slowly. It is also frequently interrupted by pages-long faux-Victorian poetry, so that's a barrier to get past. I liked this much less than I like most actual Victorian poetry.
But the literary sleuthing and the conflicts between the characters were worth the mental work of getting through this. Like I said, in the end, I am glad that I read and finished this book. It gives a glimpse into the often unglamorous world of academia, and I really enjoyed reading about the interdepartmental squabbling.
This book is hard work, but worth the input, I think.
103. The Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch
I'm still just as happy with this on my re-read.
104. Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
I cannot express how much I loved this book. I love reworkings of fairy tales, and this book has everything that's great about that approach, and more.
I loved the way Naomi Novik introduced the Staryk and the rules which govern life under their constant threat. This world is so richly described that it's a real pleasure to read about it.
It was great to see such a centering of female perspectives, and Mirjem, Wanda, and Irina were all so different but amazing to read about. I also really appreciated that they all had different views on what was and was not acceptabe to ensure the return of spring, and how, when their differing approaches inevitably brought them into conflict, they still remained friendly and acknowledged that they each were right in their own personal code of conduct.
Basically, I love everything about this book.
TBR pile: Infinity minus one!
105. Schwäbische Pfarrhäuser, Ottilie Wildermuth
I do really like this book. It's full of friendly, domestic sorts of stories, but then sometimes it's quite cutting and funny as well. I like that sort of thing.
>97 figsfromthistle: thank you! This year I seem to have been reading more than usual, and I don't really know how that happened :)
106. Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt
I liked Stephen Greenblatt's approach in this book, which considers the life and work of Shakespeare together. I'm always wary of too-literal biographical interpretations, but Greenblatt always clearly marks his speculation and makes sure to also offer alternate interpretations of the scanty historical record concerning Shakespeare. I don't find all his hypotheticals quite convincing (like Shakespeare as a secret faithful Catholic) but they are at least always interesting to read about, and the possible connections between Macbeth and King James's past and interest in witchcraft are really fascinating.
107. A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
This book was completely different from the first book in the series, but still good. I liked the characters Chambers focused on this time, and their development over the course of this book is great. The way the timeline is cut together also really worked for me.
108. The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker
I really loved this book. The way the fantastical elements interact is great, and the characters are just lovely. I love the Golem and the Djinni and their wonderful friendship, forged despite their many differences. I also appreciate the way that Wecker deals with discussions of free will and religion without privileging one viewpoint over another.
The setting is realized so very well that I feel like I could step into the streets of New York and find my way to Arbeely's shop or Radzin's bakery.
Overall, a wonderful book I'd recommend unreservedly.
TBR pile: Infinity minus one!
109. Die Känguru Apokryphen, Marc-Uwe Kling
I really liked the return to the format of loosely connected stories. There's enough connection there to maintain a through-line, but the stories are fun to listen to on their own as well. Kling and the Känguru have adventures of every kind again, from arguing with Nazis to messing with missionaries to beatboxing about meat. Marc-Uwe somehow manages to take these events and transform them into hilarious stories, and I for one am very glad he decided to publish these apocryphal stories.
110. Neuromancer, William Gibson
This was a really interesting book for me to read because it is so far outside my usual wheelhouse. It was quite suspenseful at times, which was nice, and the worlbuilding was cool. There are other things I liked less, like Molly's sexualisation and the portrayal of the inhabitants of Zion. But overall, I really have no idea what to write or even think about this book, because it's that far outside my usual frame of reference. When it came to the ending, I don't think I was really able to visualize what was even happening, but Gibson still managed to convey a good sense of what was going on, rather than specifics. A very strange read for me.
111. Turtles all the way down, John Green
I still really enjoyed this book, and what I think I liked most on this re-read was the fact that these characters are teenagers - they go to school, do homework, get into relationships, get back out of them, and it's not the end of the world. There is no expectation here that they will find true love at sixteen, and that was refreshing in a YA novel.
I also paid more attention to the parent-child-relationships this time around, and that was very rewarding as well, to see the different approaches of the teenagers to dealing with their parents, sometimes in normal circumstances, sometimes in quite extraordinary ones.
That's so many books this year! I don't really know how that happened, but I'm certainly very happy about it! :)
112. The Library Book, Susan Orlean
What a fascinating book! It is an interesting mix of true crime, library history, meditation on the place of libraries in the present and future of our society, and a portrait of the Los Angeles Public Library today.
The fire Orlean devotes a big chunk of her book to must have been truly devastating, and she describes the power and ferocity of the fire, and the absolute destruction it left in its wake, vividly and realistically. The investigation that followed was a little strange and abbreviated, but that's how it is when you're writing about real life, it can't always be tied up neatly with a bow on top.
From my standpoint as a librarian it was fascinating to read about the many departments of the Los Angeles Public Library and their work, and to compare it to how things were run in libraries where I've worked. But Orlean goes beyond a simple description of the organisation today, she also writes movingly about the purpose and importance of libraries, and makes it clear why libraries are such an integral public good.
113. In a House of Lies, Ian Rankin
I really feel like the Rebus novels just keep getting better and better.
It's so nice to read about a Rebus who has put the work in to make his life slightly less dysfunctional, without becoming a different person entirely. And I really like Brillo and how Rebus and Clarke care for him.
The case was very interesting as well, even though there were some slow bits in the middle, and then a deluge of new information at the very end. I feel like the resolution could have been explained a little better, but overall I was still very satisfied with the mystery at the centre of the novel.
Rebus's little side-case was interesting as well, with a very good solution.
What I especially like about this series as it progresses is that the setting changes, the characters change, and their life and work circumstances change. In this novel, for example, there is an emphasis on the new way of policing vs. the old way, and for once the conclusion is not that the old way is obviously better. By showing the change even from 2006 to today, Rankin engages with narratives of policing, discrimination, and positive social change. There's even a short section about how Brexit is going to change the criminal and policing landscape yet again. I think this engagement with current events and with the changing social structure of the community Rankin writes about is what really places this series head-and-shoulders above the rest of the crime series about hard-boiled detectives.
114. Lies Sleeping, Ben Aaronovitch
The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.
First off, I have to say that I really, really, REALLY loved this book. It was more tightly plotted than, for example, The Hanging Tree, and because there's now a proper team working at the Folly, including civilian analysts, there is less lag because Peter no longer has to do all the leg work himself. The leaves more room for the amazing action scenes, especially involving Nightingale. That car chase / fight with Chorley sequence was amazing.
But there's not just action, character development also progresses nicely, with a strong presence from Guleed (yay!), Beverley, Abigail and Postmartin. This is also the book in which Peter's commitment to community policing and integrating the Folly properly into the Met really comes to fruition, so there's more real team work and more direct involvement from Stephanopolous and Seawoll, which plays out wonderfully (and funnily).
As the resolution of the books-long Chorley plot, the climax of the novel works really well and there's a satisfying reveal of Chorley's plan which makes so much sense for the power-hungry Brexit-bastard. Lesley's involvement is also finally satisfactorily explained and I'm really interested in seeing how her story is going to develop going forward.
My only small quibble with this book is that it is edited very sloppily: typos, missing spaces between words, uses of the wrong homonym (bate instead of bait), using a double negative when a single negative was needed... That ocasionally threw me out of the story, and it's a shame in an otherwise beautiful edition.
Back to the good parts, there are so many Pratchett and Tolkien and Doctor Who jokes, it's beautiful, and I'm sure there were more nerdy jokes that I missed. Even Seawoll got in on the action!
In conclusion, the long wait for this book was really worth it, and I'm sure after a couple re-reads I will quickly be hungering for the next book again. What can I say, that last scene especially leaves me wanting much, much more.
115. Shakespeares ruhelose Welt, Neil MacGregor
This book worked really well for me, because MacGregor didn't set out to write about every aspect of Early Modern England, he focused on what certain objects from the time could tell us about the mindset of the citizens of Early Modern London. The objects themselves are very well chosen, and lead to interesting aspects of Early Modern life that aren't necessarily the sort of things books about Shakespeare usually write about. Even though I'm studying Shakespeare in university I still learned new things, and in such an interesting way as well. I especially liked the chapter on the model ship which was blessed after King James VI. escaped being drowned by witches.
The book is also lovely to look at, with many, many photographs of prominent and less well-known objects from Shakespeare's time.
TBR Pile: Infinity minus One!
116. The Distant Echo, Val McDermid
Well, this was disappointing. This book started out with a great premise, and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it. Every part of this book dragged, even during the final showdown I was impatient, hoping they'd just get on with it. Another problem for me was that I knew who the real murderer was less than halfway through the book, so everything after that was pretty anticlimactic. The characters weren't particularly engaging either, and I kept shaking my head at their sheer stupidity. The ending, once it finally arrived, was supremely satisfying, with a cut away from the action and a brief summary that several murders would not be prosecuted despite a full confession from the murderer.
My one-word summary: disapponment.
>109 PaulCranswick: Thank you Paul, have a good week!
117. When Christ and his Saints slept, Sharon Kay Penman
I really enjoyed this book, and, after a slow beginning, that mostly came down to the action and excitement of this period of English and Norman history. There were sometimes a few too many characters with too-similar names, but the characters that matter were strongly drawn and compelling. Stephen and Maude plunged England into a horrifying civil war, and yet neither of them seemed a good option for the crown, which underlines the pointlessness of strife over a hereditary monarchy.
It was a little strange to see that Ranulf, one of the principal characters, after being in the midst of all the fighting and intrigue, decides to stay quietly in Wales for the last third of the book, but good for him, he certainly had a better time of it than the many characters involved in this bloody civil war. One of the advantages of being the only fictional character, I suppose.
Like in many other books by this author, there are events that seem too fanciful to be true, and yet are well supported by contemporary sources. It's always interesting to read about these things in the afterword. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
118. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
I am so nostalgic about this book! It was great fun rereading it after all those years and revisiting this world and its characters. I especially liked Holly and Root's relationship more than I remembered, and it was fun to see how Artemis's careful plan ends up in total chaos, and yet he still manages to twist it to his advantage.
119. Artemis Fowl: Die Verschwörung, Eoin Colfer
I think this book is actually better than the first, because the characters have more chances to interact and play off each other, and because more happens in the plot. It was great to see how the characters are actually changed by the events of the first book. The villains are pretty much non-entities, but their plan is deliciously hammy and watching the protagonists foil them is great.
120. Watership Down, Richard Addams
This book was a very weird read for me. The first half is quite slow and sedate, and then the second half has non-stop action, with an Orwellian surveillance-state rabbits warren, a prisoner escape, and a siege. A bit bonkers really. Despite this tonal issue I did like the characters and the way that the rabbits were portrayed as very different from humans while still being relatable. That bit worked very well. What didn't work was the portrayal of female rabbits, who don't get individual personalities and who are purely incubators to be stolen from one warren by another.
121. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
What a wild ride of a book. From start to finish, it was suspenseful and tense, and it kept ramping up the action more and more and more until I could not stop reading.
Donna Tartt also masterfully weaves in little details about what will happen in the future of the story, just little hints, small nuggets of information, just enough to give a tantalising glimpse without revealing too much, enough to keep the reader hooked and no more. The craft on display in this book is stunning.
122. Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
This book starts out with a VERY similar set-up to Trudi Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy, just with a Russian aesthetic on top, but after about 75% of the book, it does differentiate itself and starts to tell its own story. The story it tells is interesting, and shows promise for future books, especially concerning the religious role of the protagonist. The characters are not especially deep or developed, but they do have potential for the future, and I hope they do in fact grow and change in the sequels, because there are some very interesting ideas here, they're just not explored in any detail. I was especially interested in Genya's story and hope to learn more about her as the story progresses.
Overall, reading this book gave me a sense of great potential in the story rather than a complete experience.
123. Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo
This book delivered what I had wanted from the first one. The characters really grew and changed, and the newly introduced characters were interesting. We finally got to explore more of the setting, and to see some other countries in this world as well, at least for a little while. I did think that the ending was maybe a little too abrupt and rushed, but I got what the author was going for with that.
Overall a great improvement over the first book in the series, and I do hope that Leigh Bardugo will continue to deliver in the conclusion of the trilogy.
>116 PaulCranswick: thank you, Paul! I hope you had lovely holidays as well!
124. Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
I really enjoyed the conclusion to this trilogy. The awful choice to be made in the end is woven throughout the entire book, and I loved the consequences of that choice. I don't want to spoil anything, but I was very happy with this story and the places that it took its characters. I would recommend this trilogy, after a slow start in the first book the pace accelerated furiously and I very much enjoyed the complete picture the trilogy paints.
125. The Seventh Bride, T. Kingfisher
This was a really fun take on fairytales in general and Bluebeard stories in particular. I liked the protagonist and the way she explored the world she found herself in. I thought the way in which Kingfisher wove little magics into the everyday fabric of life and then escalated the scope and consequences of larger magical things worked really well. When a girl has to deal with recalcitrant magical potatoes, she won't be fazed as much when she encounters bear familiars or golems. The ending also really worked for me, and I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
126. Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
Thoughts on my re-read: I appreciate the way this book works in an already set-up world more now that I have read the author's previous trilogy set in Ravka. There are lots of little connections and shout-outs, but since I didn't notice them last time, they are very well embedded in the fabric of the story and aren't distracting to those people who haven't read the Grisha trilogy.
I also really liked the finely-controlled way the author doles out the exact right amount of information, both to the characters and to the reader, to keep them thinking that they can figure it out, that they're one step ahead, but still little enough to keep them on their toes. This was a balancing act the author managed very well indeed.
127. Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo
I still really enjoyed this book, and was less opposed to the romance this time. But I also appreciated that the characters make mistakes and fail several times during this book, and then get up and make a new plan to continue their mission. The theme of working through failure worked much more for me on this re-read. I still really like the ending, it's sweet without being saccharine.
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