Top Ten Tuesday: Best of the Best

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books I Read In 2014.

A couple months ago, I lost the file where I write all my reads for the year. It was pretty awful. It was the sort of silly thing I never felt the need to back up, but after it was gone I realized how much I used it. I don’t put every book I read on Goodreads, and while I have star reviews, I had an easier-to-see system going in that file to mark off my favorite reads. So, basically I’m whining about all this to say: there are gaps on this list. Lots of them. Because I don’t even have a list of all the books I read this year, much less my full reactions to them. There’s no real order, and I’m missing so many good books, and I just…sigh…

Lesson I never learn: back your shit up! Ah well, onto the books.

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Best Sequel I Avoided For Too Long

N.K. Jemisin- The Shadowed Sun I think I kept putting this off because I wasn’t sure I could love any characters as much as I did Ehiru and Nijiri, but now I think I love Hanani even more.

Best I-Wish-I’d-Read-This-Sooner book

Daphne du Maurier- Rebecca This book. Just. This book, guys. I wish I’d read this in college. I wish I could read it again right now. It’s amazing. If I ever teach writing, I would teach Rebecca.

Best Nonfiction book

Bill Bryson- One Summer: America, 1927 I am forever thankful to my brother for introducing me to the works of Bill Bryson. This is a wild, silly, and surprisingly informative micro-history. I was actually interested in baseball for two seconds, which is something I never would have foreseen. And I learned a lot about aviation and politics and crime and all the sorts of weird facts that Bryson always digs up.

Best YA book

Marissa Meyer- Cress I waited so long to pick up Cress. Alas, not long enough, because we have to wait a damn year for Winter. Whhhhhhhhhhhhy? Oh my goodness, I loved Cress so much. It was adorable, and funny, and exciting, and poignant. I think it worked better as a sequel then Scarlet did, in terms of balancing the different storylines. Just such a great book.

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Best Use of Puppy Cannons 

Courtney Milan- The Suffragette Scandal All the squees. This is such an adorable book. It hit all my feminist buttons, and I was rather surprised how much I felt for the hero, Edward. One of my favorite Milans (actually, most Milans are my favorite…)

Best Use of Lord Byron (with bonus Eleventh Doctor)

Mary Robinette Kowal- Valour and Vanity I could read the adventures of Jane and Vincent for weeks and not get tired of them. This one had Venice and conspiracies and cool new applications of their glamours. It was billed as Jane Austen meets Ocean’s 11, which is just about right.

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Best What the Fuck Did I Just Read?

Jeff VanderMeer- The Southern Reach Trilogy I never read books like this, and I’m still chewing them over in my mind.

Best Book That Broke My Hard Little Heart

Erin Lindsay McCabe- I Shall Be Near To You a fantastically written Civil War book that rather unexpectedly moved me quite a bit.

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Best Introduction to a New Favorite Author

Tana French- The Likeness Cassie Maddox goes undercover when a dead body that looks exactly like her turns up, and she gets in way over her head. I absolutely adored this creepy mystery.

Best Use of David Hasselhoff

Jo Nesbo- Nemesis Might be my favorite Harry Hole book so far, although I’m only about halfway through the series at the moment. I loved untangling the mystery, and I loved the fact that the villain was constantly referred to as David Hasselhoff, though it was corny as shit.

Best Unexplained Time Travel/Alternate Universes 

Andrew Sean Greer- The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells This book broke me in a lot of ways. And it was a lot better than the other unexplained time travel/alternate universe novel I read this year (no, I’m not telling)

Oooh, I think I hit more than 10! Guess I’d better stop.

What are your top reads of 2014?

 

 

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Short Story Sunday: “Stone Mattress”

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“At the outset Verna had not intended to kill anyone.”

Stone Mattress” by Margaret Atwood, published in The New Yorker.

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Top Ten Tuesday: New Authors

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The topic of today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014.

I read a lot of new authors this year, but most of them didn’t really do it for me. I think a big part of me wanted comfort and familiarity this year. Here are a few new-to-mes that stuck out, though.
208210431. Tana French- I read ALL the Tana French this year. All of it. And I need more.

2. Andrew Sean Greer- The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells really hit me hard on a lot of levels. But I’m not sure his other work appeals to me.

3. Abraham Verghese- Likewise, Cutting For Stone was a beautiful book (though there was one big thing about it that bothered me, I won’t address that here), but I don’t think any of Verghese’s other work would appeal to me.

4. Erin Lindsey McCabe- debut author time. I really, really, really loved her novel I Shall Be Near to You.

5. Jessican Soffer- another lovely debut novel with Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.

6. Jeff  VanderMeer- the Southern Reach Trilogy was one of the most unusual projects I’ve seen in the publishing world for awhile. I loved the way FSG brought out these books, and though they definitely weren’t the kind of stuff I would usually read, I really enjoyed them.

7. Ann Leckie- There’s a reason this woman is winning ALL THE AWARDS. Ancillary Justice is super innovative, and I expect really good things from her in the future.

8. Emma Donoghue- Donoghue has been on my radar since Room, but Frog Music was the first one I picked up by her. Definitely not a book for everyone, but I found it incredibly compelling and liked the structure of it.

9. James McBride- I really enjoyed the style of The Good Lord Bird and I look forward to reading more from McBride.

10. Daphne du Maurier- How oh how did I make it 29 1/2 years before reading Rebecca? I mean REALLY.

 

 

 

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Short Story Sunday: “Headache”

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“We look after the mancuspias until pretty late in the afternoon.”

Headache” by Julio Cortazar, translated by Michael Cisco, published by Tor.com.

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Short Story Sunday: “Americca”

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“When we came home from the movie that night, my sister went into the bathroom and then called out to our mother, asking if she’d bought another toothpaste as a hint.”
Americca” by Aimee Bender, published on Salon.com

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Review: The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones

21423574Title: The Barefoot Queen

Author: Ildefonso Falcones

Rating: DNF

I received this book through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I have ever DNF’d a book I took on for review. I don’t DNF much in general, and I take reviewing seriously and think I should give every book a full shot, but I reached a point in this novel where I just couldn’t deal any more.

Set in mid-18th century Seville and Madrid, The Barefoot Queen follows Caridad, a former Cuban slave who falls in with a community of gypsies, and Milagros, Ana, and Melchor, the gypsy family who are connected with her.

Terrible things happen in this book. I regularly read crime fiction, and fantasy epics where violence is de rigueur, and I’m usually not affected. But early on during this book, I wrote endless parade of misery in my notes. And endless it was. The characters were thrown into one horrible situation after another. Rape and murder and prison and starvation and humiliation. I made it to page 478 (of 601). I put in a two week reading investment, and I fully intended to finish. And then something happened that just made me say, “Nope. Done.” In over four hundred pages, the characters were constantly beaten down, and whenever anyone got a little win, it was viciously taken away with something even more violent. When I reached my last straw, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The thing about it is though, the book really isn’t bad. The writing is quite lovely, despite a lot of historical infodumps. The scope is epic (it somewhat reminded me of Les Miserables) The characters were interesting. I was fascinated by the gypsy culture. Caridad is slow to develop, but I really started to like her towards the middle of the book. But, historically accurate or not, I could not stand the endless parade of misery. I didn’t foresee it ever changing, and so I just had to stop.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Winter TBR

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR.

Well…since I didn’t end up getting to a single item on my Fall TBR list (…oops), let’s just add to it why not.

215352691. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya- There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In. I just love her. And I love the way Penguin markets the translations of her books. The titles, the design. It’s all so great.

2. Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years Of Pilgrimage. It has been awhile since I picked up a Murakami, I think this will be a good one to restart.

3. Maggie Stiefvater- The Raven Boys. I’ve been wanting to check out Maggie Stiefvater for a while now. I’m going to do it. Really.

4. Hilary Mantel- The Assasination of Margaret Thatcher. For some reason I’ve been a bit reluctant to tackle Hilary Mantel, I’m hoping short stories will help me get over that.

5. John Scalzi- Lock In. Poor Lock In has been sitting on my TBR shelf just pleading to be read for months now. I’m sorry for ignoring you, book!

6. Robert Jackson Bennett- City of Stairs. I found out about this one through one of those list memes (Tough Travels? I think.) Anyway, it looks quite good.

7. Chase Novak- Brood. I’ve been in the mood for disturbing books for months now. This looks like it fits the bill.

8. Keigo Higashino- Malice. Oh good more international crime fiction just what I need. (I kid, I kid.) This looks like a good mystery…and it seems like more and more, crime fiction is a great place to find works in translation. Maybe I’m just noticing it more. But I’m reading more authors in translation than I probably ever have, and they seem to be mostly crime writers.

9. Max Gladstone- Three Parts Dead. This has been another one actually sitting on my physical TBR shelf, silently rebuking me, for months.

10. A.S. King- Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Every single thing I hear about this novel makes it sound badass and feministy and I need it in my brain.

What books are you hoping to tackle in the next few months? Winter is my favorite reading time of the year. Getting lost with a book while under piles of blankets keeps out the cold.

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Short Story Sunday: “Armless Maidens of the American West”

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“There’s an armless maiden in the woods beyond the house.”

Armless Maidens of the American West” by Genevieve Valentine, published by Apex.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Sequels

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten sequels I can’t wait to get my hands on. I didn’t make it to ten this time, as I’m not reading a whole lot of series at the moment, or at least not ten series that I’m super excited about.

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188738231. Mary Robinette Kowal- Of Noble Family The last Jane and Vincent novel nooooooooo. But on the plus side: pretty

2. Marissa Meyer- Winter OK, this one, I’m excited about. Fairest, not so much for various reasons (though Meyer always does seem to surpass my expectations)

3. Ann Leckie- Ancillary Sword Ancillary Justice got a LOT of critical praise and attention, and it will be hard to live up to. I’m excited to see where Leckie goes with it.

4. N.K. Jemisin- The Awakened Kingdom (novella) I was already excited about the Inheritance Trilogy omnibus, because two of my books are mass market and one is trade paperback and my OCD brain just can’t deal with that, but then I found out it also includes a new novella. Yes, please.

5. Justin Cronin- City of Mirrors It’s been awhile since The Twelve. I’m ready.

6. George R. R. Martin- The Winds of Winter I have a feeling that I’m going to hate it, but I still need it so much.

That’s all I’ve got. How about you, lovely readers?

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Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

18209339Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Rating: 3.5 stars

I read this book through my local library.

The best science fiction, particularly dystopian, speaks to our anxieties as a society. There’s a lot of handwringing going on out there about the devaluation of language, of texting and social media ruining critical thought processes and communication. Personally, I think a lot of that anxiety comes from elitism and clickbait, (see, for example, Time’s disturbingly racist and sexist list of words to ban) but Alena Graedon takes that anxiety and stretches it to its (perhaps inevitable) hyperbolic limits in The Word Exchange. She does a pretty damn good job of it, too.

In the near future, people use their Memes (think: super smart phones) for pretty much everything. The device anticipates your needs, your moods, even, sometimes, your speech. If you are, by chance, occasionally forgetful and can’t quite remember the meaning of a word, well, you can go on to the Word Exchange and download the definition. It’s cheap, only 2 cents a word. And it’s only for the most obscure words you rarely use, anyway. Until it’s not. Until Synchronic, the company behind the Meme and the Word Exchange, starts to buy up every extant dictionary in the English language, and words like “fork” are suddenly unintelligible without an Exchange Definition, and the price per definition gets jacked up. At the same time, a new game is creating made up words with a hodgepodge of alphabets and characters, and using those made up words to replace the English language. And a new disease known as the word flu is spreading, causing people to become aphasic, incoherent, uncommunicative, and, sometimes, to die.

This is a difficult book in many ways. It’s very theoretical and academic. There are a lot of things I loved about it (structure! footnotes! Easter Egg references to obscure lexicographers!), that may equally turn off a lot of readers, and even though I have a pretty strong vocabulary (I pretty much studied words for 8 years, I work with books, I write daily) I often found the writing daunting and dense. I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I really wanted to take on the reading of this book. But I knew that I was going to stick it out when I got to page 15, when the narrator, whose name I assumed was Alice (this was a reasonable assumption to make; it’s a first-person female narrator, the first chapter is titled A Alice, with the definition “a girl transformed by reflection”) says “And I knew something was wrong. Because my name isn’t Alice. Alice is a fiction. One I  never thought I’d see or hear again.”

That passage outright gave me chills. Who, then, was Alice? Who was the narrator? What was the conspiracy she had just found herself thrown in the middle of?

The Word Exchange didn’t always do a great job of sustaining that tension, or living up to its promise, but it was still interesting, highly original, and timely.

Names feature prevalently in The Word Exchange. Of course, like any other word, names are signifiers, with discrete meanings.  And it is no accident that pretty much every character has at least two of them. (Anana is Ana and Alice and all of her father’s little pet names, Bart is Horace and Horse, Max is Hermes King, etc. etc.) I’m slightly obsessed with the significance behind names and naming in literature, and probably my favorite part of the book was uncovering all those names and untangling what they said about the characters. It definitely stoked up my nerd love. But it was a problem too. Because I was more concerned with exploring the literary puzzles and the representation of things than I ever was with the actual plot of the book or the characters.

I like books that are challenging. I love books that are ambitious. But ultimately, I have to have a character to connect with, and I didn’t really find that here. Anana is someone that I just know, if she existed in real life, I would hate. (I genuinely love unlikeable characters…some of the time. But Anana is supposed to be a character that you root for and empathize with, she’s not supposed to be unlikeable, and so she fell flat for me.) Bart…there were points where I could have almost loved Bart, and points where he was a became cardboard cutout of a Sensitive Intelligent Male just waiting for his One True Love. And then his narrative devolved into illegibility and I was more bothered with trying to translate his actual meaning instead of caring about him. Doug, I think, was the worst transgressor of all. He’s my personal nemesis: the character composed entirely of pretentious quirks. At no time did I really want Anana to find him.

I don’t think the Death of the Book is imminent. (I don’t even think the Death of Print is imminent, though I do understand why people might.) I don’t think language–any language–is sacred; words, meaning, and how we communicate are always changing, and to bemoan those changes is to remain stuck in a nonexistent, glamorized past.  And so for the most part I thought the situations in The Word Exchange rarely rose above theory and fantasy (I’m still not even sure how phones managed to transmit an actual, physical disease). But it definitely raised interesting questions, and is a daring, thoughtful book. My only wish is that I had cared more about the characters and felt more connected to their plight.

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