So you know what sucks? I haven’t read a book since September. It’s the longest I’ve gone in my life without reading for pleasure.
Depression is an ugly disease. Stay away from it.
But hey, I dutifully recorded all of the books I read. All twenty of them.
Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor. Fantasy, 2014.
An adventure story! It was super fun to read, and episodic in nature, so you know you’re going to get some new shenanigans with every turn of the page. The royal family dies in an accident (or was it sabotage?), so the forgotten son living out in the backwaters is hauled in a placed on the throne. Political intrigue ensues.
Ahmed, Saladin. Throne of the Crescent Moon. Fantasy, 2012.
Another rollicking adventure story! A cast of unlikely characters must band together to defeat the ancient evil attempting to infiltrate the court. Though not an Islamic story per se, Islam thoroughly influences the culture, characters, and setting, making this a welcome change from Western fantasy novels. I love my traditional European fantasies (see Hobb, Martin, and Novik below), but if that’s all you read, you’re missing out.
Beukes, Lauren. The Shining Girls. SF, 2013.
A serial killer travels through time to commit his murders. He should be unstoppable, but he meets his match when one of his victims manages not to die. (Disembowelment? Stop your whining. Shrug it off.) Great concept, solid writing: I didn’t fall in love with the book, but I can recommend it without reservations.
Dickinson, Seth. The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Fantasy, 2015.
I wanted to love it but merely liked it. After the evil empire colonizes her home, the brilliant Baru Cormorant decides to play an extremely long game: she decides to take down the bad guys by joining them. Some great stuff going on here with gender roles and sexual orientation, and it got a lot of good press, so it’s worth the read.
French, Tana. The Secret Place. Mystery, 2014.
Can we all agree that Tana French is the best thing going in the mystery genre? Actually I shouldn’t say that, since I don’t read enough mysteries to know the field, but it’s hard to conceive of anyone outwriting her. Every books she writes delivers strong characters, engrossing plots, and tight prose, all drenched in a moody atmosphere. This is the fifth book in her series, but they’re only very loosely linked so you could start here with no problems.
Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones and Butter. Nonfiction: Memoir, 2011.
If you enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, this is… maybe a good choice? It doesn’t give you as much insight as to what it’s like to work in the food industry; that element is definitely there, but it’s not the only thing going on. But if you mainly liked Bourdain because he’s such a damn good writer, then Hamilton is absolutely for you. This was a joy to listen to as an audiobook.
Hobb, Robin. Assassin’s Apprentice. Fantasy, 1995.
This is one of those… not classics, it doesn’t inevitably show up on the lists of best fantasy novels, but it’s a mainstay in the genre. And now I can hardly remember the story. It was good, I guess? Enough so that I read to the end? Bastard son of the king makes himself relevant by learning to kill political enemies. I seem to recall the prose being a bit clunky. I dunno, it was a good enough debut that I’m open to reading Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy.
King, Stephen. End of Watch. Crime, 2016.
A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy featuring a crusty old retired cop and his nemesis, the mass-murderer from the first book, Mr. Mercedes. Due to a severe brain injury, the bad guy is a vegetable for life…or is he? Though some elements verge on the supernatural, this is a straightforward thriller, palatable for people who dislike science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
Lu, Marie. Legend. Young Adult SF, 2011.
One of the standouts in the YA dystopian scene, I found it to be forgettable. Lots of people love it, and I can see why (dazzling characters, love story, fighting the good fight against the oppressive regime), but it was all very meh for me.
Martin, George R. R. A Dance with Dragons. Fantasy, 2011.
If I ever learn to tell a story half as well as Martin, I will be invincible.
North, Claire. Touch. Fantasy, 2015.
This didn’t quite match the brilliance of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but I’m hooked on Claire North for good. She’s an extremely competent writer with a gift for prose, and her concepts are riveting; in this case, our hero can possess new bodies just by touching them.
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Fantasy, 2015.
Total crack for a Russophile like me, this fairy tale-esque story pits our awkward heroine against a dragon–or rather, The Dragon, the title adopted by the jackass who whisks her away to his tower. Shades of Beauty and the Beast here. Man, I’ve got to read Temeraire.
Parker, K. J. The Last Witness. Fantasy, 2015.
Is K.J. Parker my favorite living fantasy writer? Depends on what day you ask me… but yeah, sometimes. His writing is dark and his characters are morally corrupt. In this story, the hero–and I use that word loosely–has the ability to completely remove unwanted memories from other people. What’s astonishing is that someone else out there seems to have the same gift, too… and she doesn’t like our hero very much.
Scalzi, John. Lock In. SF, 2014.
Variation on a theme of zombies: a virus locks people into their own bodies, trapping them in a waking coma hell. I enjoyed the novella prequel (freely available from tor.com) but found the novel to be underwhelming. It was fine; I don’t regret the time spent reading it; but when Scalzi does it right, he is on fire, as was the case with…
Scalzi, John. Redshirts. SF, 2012.
So in the original Star Trek television show, you know how Spock and Kirk and company always survived, but the miscellaneous crew in their spiffy red shirts always died horribly? This is their story.
Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. Young Adult Fantasy Graphic Novel, 2015.
Young girl with shapeshifting abilities and wide hips offers her services as sidekick to the evil Lord Blackheart, who practices his villainy against Sir Goldenloin. It should be obvious that the story is silly and fun, but there are moments of genuine pathos and melancholy. Also: very strong hints of a gay romance.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Classic/Adventure, 1883.
Oh hell this was fun. The nineteenth-century prose is a bit overblown, but nowhere near as bad as some of those guys got, and anyway who cares because BURIED TREASURE AND PIRATES.
Tweedy, Damon. Black Man in a White Coat. Nonfiction: Memoir, 2015.
Damon Tweedy is a black physician, which is still something of an anomaly. He doesn’t have the writing skill of fellow memoirist Gabrielle Hamilton, above, but I listened to the whole audiobook because I wanted to know more about the health and healthcare of black Americans.
Wallace, Matt. Sin du Jour. Fantasy/Comedic Horror, 2015.
So back when I had a literary agent–a story for another time–Matt Wallace was one of my agent siblings. I really enjoyed following him on Twitter, so I tried his novella and… and it wasn’t for me. I’m sorry, Matt. The prose was not my cuppa. That said, the book has received a lot of flattering press, and you can’t help but love the premise: a couple of down-on-their-luck cooks sign on to help a restaurant with a special project, the preparation of a heavenly angel to be served to a horde of demons.
Wells, Dan. I Am Not a Serial Killer. Young Adult Horror, 2010.
So back when I had a literary agent–excuse me, gonna go weep in the corner now–he suggested I read I Am Not a Serial Killer to get insight into lead characters doing unpleasant things. Which, yeah: the main character loves his job as assistant undertaker to his mother, and also he’s a sociopath and he’s really worried he’s going to turn into a killer, even though he knows it’s wrong. This kid is definitely not your typical protagonist. I liked the book well enough, so… I dunno, I get impatient with the prose stylings in most YA novels, so I’m not a great judge, but if you like horror or YA or trivia about serial killers then this book is for you.