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My Top 5 Books of 2017

First, a quick note to say that my short story The House Robot is now up at Turtleduck Press!

blog-Kindred-coverAnd now, on to the main affair…my favourite reads of 2017. (I know, it’s already February 2018. Shhhh.)

Standard disclaimer: I’m often discovering older books for the first time, so when I do these yearly posts, I don’t limit myself to books published in that year. That means this is an eclectic mix of older titles. But hey, there’s no reason they shouldn’t still be celebrated!

Runners-Up

Octavia Butler, Kindred. A nuanced exploration of the Black experience of slavery — subtle where it needed to be, but pulling no punches — through a time travel story. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly brutal.

Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate. I know many romance readers love Heyer, but she’s new to me, probably because I’m not much of a romance reader (I prefer grand adventures with a side of romance, not the other way around). I am told that this one is atypical Heyer, being a Gothic, but I seriously enjoyed it — it hit all the same reader buttons for me as my top book of the year (more about that below).

blog-Safety Protocols-martinez-coverAngel Martinez, Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Another romance! *gasp* This one is a novella, short and sweet, but it makes the list because it’s absolutely adorable and hilarious, and was just exactly the sort of comfort read I needed. It’s science fiction, set on a multicultural spaceship. The aliens’ attempts to figure out the inner workings of human culture and psychology were so perfect, and they balanced beautifully with the romance arc.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races. Okay, Stiefvater is not exactly an unknown fantasy writer, but again, she’s new to me. Really loved the writing style. She clearly knows horses, and she did a beautiful job of capturing both the normal horse-and-rider relationship and the fantasy angle of the dangerous but alluring water horses. Plus the sea. I was a sucker for Marguerite Henry’s books growing up (like Misty of Chincoteague) so this was a shoo-in.

The Winner

blog-To Say Nothing of the Dog-coverMy favourite book of the year was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Ironic, because it was a gift and I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself. I had previously read Passage by the same author, and enjoyed it but found it overly slow for my taste. But since I had this book already, I decided to give Willis another shot.

And boy, was I glad I did! To Say Nothing of the Dog is a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which I haven’t read). It’s brilliant comedy writing (screwball, maybe? Madcap? Something like that). It’s also a time travel story in which, unusually, the time travel mechanism itself plays a central role and creates the main mystery of the book. Did I mention part of it takes place in WWII, which is definitely not treated like comedy, and yet everything hangs together? And it’s all very British-Edwardian-upper-class – even though Willis herself is American, she nails it. And, of course, the titular dog is adorable.

Honorable Mentions

blog-Ancillary Justice-coverTwo books that I found really intriguing but didn’t like quite as much as I wanted to: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. The first was a bit too dense for me to follow, and the second a bit too thin on plot for my taste (to be fair, it was a novella — not my favourite length — and I knew that going in).

I am planning to continue on with both series, if that tells you anything.

Common Themes

Every year I like to look back and identify the common themes in my reading — what did I love about these books that I identified as my favourites?

  • This year they actually fall into two categories — excellent but heartbreaking (Kindred and The Scorpio Races) and warm, fuzzy, and/or funny (all the rest).
  • Strong character relationships were at the centre of each — sometimes a dangerous dance, other times crackling dialogue.
  • Strong sense of place — I love stories where the location is so vivid it becomes a character.
  • Intimate stakes — some years I love big epic stories, but most of these are about the fate of one person, or one tiny community, or a family or found-family…but no less tense for all that.
  • Diversity — from the Black central characters of Butler and Martinez, to the asexual protagonist in Every Heart a Doorway, to the gender-in-storytelling experiment of Ancillary Justice, my reading is getting more diverse. This is not an accident, as I’m seeking out more diversity in the books I pick up, but I’m pleased to see that many of those are also turning out to be my favourites.
  • All of the authors are women — this is certainly not true every year, but in 2017 my reading was more heavily weighted towards women than usual.

 

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? What were your favourite books last year?

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my previous reading recaps: 2017 reading stats | 2016 reading recap | 2015 reading recap | 2014 reading recap | 2013 reading recap | 2012 reading recap

 

 

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Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?