A toast to the books of 2011!
Some quick (and very dirty) stats: nearly 30 women writers, whereas about 20 or so were men. 39 fiction titles, 11 non-fiction titles, 9 writing how-to books (of which really only 2 stand out). I have a highlight reel of my favorites books of the past year over here. That doesn’t (sadly) mean they were all 2011 titles, but the books I had and read. Feel like I am constantly catching up. But my Book Diet, see here, should help with that.
I made more than my original goal for books-read this year. I wanted to top 2010’s 38 books, and I hit 40 by September. I then upped it to 60 books, and beat that as well. I think that for 2012, I really want to continue balancing out non-fiction with fiction, and I will be stepping away from the writing how-to books. They’ve all (mostly) been saying the same thing for years now
Anyway, here we go, in reverse chronological order!
Medicine for the Backcountry, 3rd Edition by Frank Hubbell and Buck Tilton — One of the nonfiction reads suggested by Jim MacDonald from Viable Paradise. This will be a regular reference book, ’cause lets face it, I write genre and people get hurt. A lot.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal — Very interesting book. Reads spot on for the era, and the way the magic is handled makes it feel more science fictional. The magic is illusionary, based on bending light. However, it felt like I was reading a historical more than anything else. Still, very good.
Welcome to Bordertown edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner — I have heard so much about the Borderland series and missed it completely the first time around. And what an introductions to this shared world! I loved this book. One of the highlights of the year for me.
Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer — Had this on the shelf for a while, figuring I wasn’t anywhere near needing this sort of advice yet. I was a fool. Taking off the blinders and doing some strategic planning. Besides the no-nonsense stuff, though, Vandermeer is endearingly candid in this book.
Agyar by Steven Brust — I can’t tell you how many VPers told me, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS.” And since I like Brust’s stuff, it was a no-brainer. Sucked this back in a few days, if you’ll pardon the pun. No sparklies here, just vampires with real teeth and real grief. And an incredible P.O.V. dance.
The Mirador by Sarah Monette — The third book in the series. This book hitched on (spoilers) a would-be assassination attempt that pulled in characters and unfinished business from the first two novels. There was a lot of talking heads to catch up the readers on previous books and on history that informed the plot. However, as always, impeccable character voice. Our heroes are back on the road again at the end of this book, which makes me happy.
Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber — Part of my assigned reading post-VP. I was told to check out his other works, and Conjurer’s Wife is in the pile. I’m of two minds on this one: I liked the first two stories, but the third, where they actually meet, left me a little cold. That said, it did spawn Yet Another Novel Idea. *sigh*
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones — Hilarious. I’ve had this forever, but never read through it all, just picked at bits of it. Besides being funny, this thing is an idea-generating machine. Take the trope and TWIST.
Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn — I’ve had this one for a few years on my shelf. Time to get into it. I’ve given up the dream on being well-read in a genre whose roots go back solidly for 50+ years of modern publishing. I can only hope to hit the highlights and that books like this one can help fill in some of the gaps.
Making Book by Teresa Nielsen-Hayden — Finally got my hands on a copy, and well worth the wait. After getting to watch the Nielsen-Haydens talk on a couple of panels during the inaugural SFContario, I knew I could sit and listen to them for hours. At Viable Paradise, same thing. Is it weird that while reading it, I could hear her in my head? Of course, having heard GRRM (on podcasts and on panels at World Con), the same happens. The concept of voice becomes so utterly clear when you hear the person speak and then later read their words. There is no uncoupling them after that.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart — Can I say, I have looked at this book forever? Picked it up at the airport, too. A near-future SF marketed as mainstream, extrapolating a financial apocalypse and society stripped bare thanks to lax privacy and pervasive connectivity. Literary, but SF. I really liked this. Completely swept up.
The Next 100 Years by George Friedman — An airport bookstore impulse purchase. Not sure I entirely buy the future he’s selling, but worst-case scenario, it will be interesting to see how a person might extrapolate a future with history and current events. Gets a bit woo-woo, but interesting.
Changeless and Blameless by Gail Carriger — Something light to play with while I read some heavier non-fiction. Mmm…werewolf husbands. ❤ …Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. These were parts 2 and 3 of the Parasol Protectorate, which I scooped up as a three-pack from Kobo books. I often lose steam when reading a series, but the more I read of Carriger’s series, the more I’m drawn in. I love Alexia, and I love the world-building as it unfolds.
No Logo by Naomi Klein — Yes, late to the party. For those also late, it’s about how advertising surged into a new beast, branding, and how it’s infiltrated nearly every social sphere with its endless appetite. Need to follow up on her later works.
7th Sigma by Steven Gould — Ahhh, what lovely, scrumptious world-buidling! This read a lot leaner than Jumper, and I wonder if that’s just the evolution of his style or if it’s because of the influence of Kipling. (How to answer that? More reading.) Self-contained, yet open-ended. I’ll be along this series ride. (There will be a series, right?!?)
Threshold by Roger Zelazny — My at-home reads, this is the first volume of a six-book series chronicling Zelazny’s short fiction. This one has early works, unfinished fragments, and his first breakout stories. ❤
Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith — Ah, she did it again. This is the beginning of a very long series. Very little resolution, but dammit I am interested in these characters. Really liked how she built the romance between the MC and the love interest. That said, the age/dates of characters and events really threw me off. (Update: apparently it’s part of a duology? Hmm. Must track down. Need closure!)
Robert’s Rules On Writing by Robert Masello — An e-book I picked up. Some good bits, disagree vehemently with #14 (don’t read your genre while writing it to prevent contamination) but overall good advice that I’ve read before.
90 Days To Your Novel by Sarah Domet — Interesting way of breaking down the work for a novel, though I think the timeline for actual word production is overly optimistic.
Lincoln’s Sword by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald — Another alt-history. Not sure if this takes place in the same world as The Land of Snow and Mist (see below) but more Civil War + Magic. Which I liked, but I would have liked more of it. (Also, I think my not knowing a lot about the Civil War hampered my enjoyment. I mean, I know the big basics, but not the details.)
The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust — Same universe as his Taltos books, but set a thousand years earlier. The influence for this title was Dumas’s Three Musketeers. At times funny, and it really felt like it was taking place in the past of this fantasy world. Still, liked the Taltos book better.
The Price of The Stars by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald —Compulsive read. However, space opera just isn’t my thing. Still, really liked the characters, especially the lead, Bekka.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman — Dipping back into non-fiction. This was a library pick-up, but I’ll be buying a copy. It’s a thought experiment: what would happen to the Earth if all human beings vanished? Brain candy, writerly fodder, even if parts were so bleakly depressing about how badly we have already fucked up this planet.
Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear — Eyeing this series for a while, and mightily enjoyed this first book. It did feel at times that I was coming in later in the series, but that’s because this book is well-meshed with hundreds of years of folklore. The characters, as always, stand out so strongly, and the epic final battle is, well, quite epic. I would love to see it on a big screen.
Jumper by Steven Gould — Heard of the movie before the book, and knew it was based on a book. The book is terrific. You could technically categorize it as YA, though I don’t think it was when it was originally released. It features a young protagonist that is smart, that really thinks through what his power means, and I haven’t seen that in the YA I’ve read. But he still makes mistakes. Not dumb, necessary-for-the-plot mistakes, the kind that seems to be the bane of most YA, but personal, understandable mistakes. Very much enjoyed it, and I am pimping it among my writing buddies.
The Land of Mist and Snow by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald — I was an alternate history virgin. Really enjoyed the voice, the action, all the weird magic and the twists on historical events. Good stuff!
Jhereg by Steven Brust — A bad-ass fantasy? Playful buddy dragons that ride on your shoulder? I’m in. A fun romp, and I think I’m finally getting the whole noir thing: lots of snappy dialogue, colorful characters, a mystery, and lots of cross-talk to figure it all out. There is, once again, a huge world behind this story. Very interesting.
Inda by Sherwood Smith — The third person omni POV really through me for a loop at first. There’s a huge world behind this series and the novel is just the cusp of it. None of the major plots lines (Inda’s exile, the Prince’s treachery, etc.) are resolved here. Will have to wait until after Viable Paradise to pick up and follow the storyline (and expect that my world building questions will be revealed in later volumes).
The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear — Starting off my Viable Paradise instructor read-a-thon, this is the third book in her Bearer of Burdens trilogy. Love me some Bear. Ah, what an ending! Sniffles! Crying! Woot!
Beekeeping for Beginners by Laurie R. King — This is a short story telling the tale from mostly Holmes’s POV of when he met (and rescued) his future wife Mary Russell. Great, but too brief! There’s also a teaser for the next book in the series, The Pirate King, due in September.
The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates — Because I am weak, and love tinkering writing how-to books. The binder-as-a-book format is a real turnoff, though. A beginners book, but a few gems of insight that struck home.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — Not nearly as strong as the first book. Again, like the action, when I get it. Lots of summary. I would really have liked if Katniss had been less a victim and more active instead of reactive/repeatedly victimized.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins — Decided to burrow through the series. Action is good, but the first person narration and back-dumping of info and heavy summary is starting to grate.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — Kindle edition. Wanted to see what the fuss is about. Characters are strong, action is strong. Quibbles with presentation.
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain — I had heard many good things about this book and it took some doing to track it down. Insanely practical, specific. Some weird 60s hijinks, but entirely forgivable. On the awesome shelf. I underlined half the book.
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton — Has hooked me immediately. Pride and Prejudice-era human culture transposed on dragonkind. I love when a neat idea is fully extrapolated. And I loved this book. Got sniffly, cheered on the protagonists, and left wanting more. Highly recommended!
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass — Some people call it formulaic, but to me it read more like he was asking the reader to really get raw, to ask hard questions of what it is you’re really trying to say.
An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe — A puzzler for me. It did a lot of things really well. I absolutely got the 50s starlet/hollywood dame image. But I didn’t get enough of the world behind everything and, frankly, a 50s mindset is a bit of a turn off in a primary character. Heavy dialogue, and lots of scenes set in restaurants.
Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth by James Scott Bell —This is an e-book sold direct from the author himself. It’s a collection of his essays from the web and elsewhere. Love me some Bell.
Deathless by Catherynne Valente — Wow. Not that I expected anything less, but WOW. Just … beautiful and dark and sad and joyful … and fucking sharp. Some of the lines about life just cut to the heart of me. Huge fan.
Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston — The third and final chapter in her series that blends YA with the realm of sprites and fae. I so liked the first book, but each successive one left me flat. Maybe YA just isn’t for me.
By The Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear — Very good, as I expected. Of course, since this is a prequel to the first book, now I want to go back and re-read the original. (Still no love for the cover, though, but looking forward to the third book, a direct sequel to the first title.)
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French — A book I am taking week by week, chapter by chapter. A little self-directed education. This will be a regular reference book!
Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity by John and Mary Gribbin — A (brief) biography of Einstein focused particularly on his ‘miraculous year’ when he published the four papers that would rock physics forever.
Sex With Kings by Eleanor Herman — A spin-off non-fic read thanks to all that Anne Boleyn stuff I’ve been reading. Raunchy, lightweight fun.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach — This is really, insanely good stuff. Human and humorous. So good that this library read will likely turn into a purchase.
Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid by Wendy Williams — I love cephalopods, and was eager for the book. Writing was a little passive, but the source material was good.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey — Not what I was expecting and very, very interesting.
Henry VII: The Politics of Tyranny by Jasper Ridley — A library book, inspired by my recent obsession with the television show, The Tudors. Wow. Comprehensive. But now I want to read about what happens after Henry, especially with Mary and Elizabeth.
Starfish by Peter Watts — Love his stuff. And loved this book. How you go on to books two and three after that ending? I dunno … but I’m in!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin — Very good. Non-traditional fantasy from a no-nonsense protagonist that felt very personal. The book paints visual landscapes that strongly echos the elements of Japanese-styled fantasy/future. If you’ve ever played any of the Final Fantasy games, you’ll know what I mean. I’m hooked into the series.
Write Away by Elizabeth George — Been staring at me for a while, and finally succumbed. Not something I would have picked up as I thought it was geared more to literary writers, but I got a lot out of it. Her process is interesting, and there were about three really big, “HUH” moments I had while reading it.
The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King — Onto the direct sequel from the last book. Very good, and very cinematic, which is feels new for this series. Once King broke out from just Russell’s POV and incorporated Holmes, the dimensions of the series really evolved, and in this book there are still other viewpoints. The scenes from Mycroft’s POV were very vivid, and I could see them playing out on a big screen.
The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory — I read and enjoyed the first one, but this book was a bit of an odd duck. Much of the action is relayed in first person but as summary, and then it would segue into a brief action scene. I liked the overall story and the characters, but the delivery was flat, and frankly, repetitive.
The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King — This is the 9th in the Mary Russell series, and apparently a cliffhanger, so I’m glad I waited. *grin* Delightful as always.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi — I must be on a streak, ’cause that was another great book. The world-building is so rich. It’s in every piece of dialogue, every point of view character, every action. The book feels like it’s just the smallest sliver of a whole universe that lives and breaths way beyond the confines of this story.
The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss — What a character voice! Utterly compelling, and just scratching the surface of this story. I’m hooked, and hard.
Across The Universe by Beth Davis — A recent YA book that had everyone talking. It felt like the book was written by someone who doesn’t read a lot of science fiction and glommed on to a shiny concept. The world-building/SF elements were weak, the message heavy-handed and without subtly, and one of the narrators holds something so huge back until the end. If we were never in his POV it would have been satisfying, but because we are, the reveal felt like a total cheat.
The Weekend Novelist Rewrites The Novel by Robert J. Ray — This was strange and confusing and disappointing. But (and a big but here) there are a few concepts that will be useful. The rest, the bizarre plug-and-play formulas and deeply rooted sexism, not for me.
The Living Dead (Anthology) — Collected stories about zombies by writers like Stephen King, Joe Hill, Neil Gaimen, George R.R. Martin, and more! Finally finished this behemoth after a two day crash-read. Really good. Only a few stories didn’t click for me; the vast majority were more than just shambling re-treads of the genre. (Ha.) There is a sequel —
it will be purchased.
The Land of Fear by Harlan Ellison — Collected stories, some fragments, some whole. He’s my latest obsession and I am following him down the rabbit hole. Also the first book I’ve purchased for iBooks. (At last! The iBookstore still has many kilometers to go, however…) Really liked it and will ferret out more compilations.