sparkfrost: (Glinda Cocktail)
[personal profile] sparkfrost
Once again, I'm trying to read one book per week this year. So I don't forget anything (or have a massive post on my hands come December) I'll be keeping track here throughout the year. Follow along, or wait til the end, whichever you like!

1. Roses Under the Miombo Trees: An English Girl in Rhodesia by Amanda Parkyn

I was a little uncertain about this book when I started reading it, but was pleasantly surprised. Amanda Parkyn discovered four years worth of letters she'd written her mother while Parkyn and her husband lived in various areas of Southern Africa. She uses those letters to reconstruct their time there, not flinching from the attitudes that she held during that period of time, and delving more deeply into what was going on in (what are now) Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

I had a similar experience after reading Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, in that I'd now like to learn more about Rhodesia and the area's history before, during, and after colonization. Luckily, Parkyn provides a list of further reading that helped her during the writing, so I'll be sure to check out some of those books as well.

2. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

I love learning more about history, so this was definitely a fun read. What school textbooks sometimes gloss over is how interconnected the European countries were in that time period. In school you don't get European history, you get England's history. Or Spain's history during Isabella and Ferdinand (because after Columbus Spain had NOTHING to do with America, right?), or France's history... well, not really anything about France's history until the Revolution.

So yeah, definitely a fascinating read because it showed the influence that one family had over much of the European continent. Also showed how depraved Henry VIII really was - Mary gets the blame for bringing the Inquisition to England, but Henry certainly did it first.

The one thing I didn't like about this book is Fox's forgiving attitude toward Henry VII and Henry VIII regarding the extermination of the Plantagenet line. Although she does mention the executions, she glosses over them in favor of other matters. Eh.

Anyhow, a very thorough look at the lives of these two women, and definitely an interesting read.

3. Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson

A thorough look at we know about the life of William Shakespeare. Which, frankly, isn't very much. Though he produced myriad works that are considered the pinnacle of English literature, we really don't know all that much about Shakespeare the man. Unfortunately, this has allowed anti-Strafordians the opportunity to put forth other candidates as "the real William Shakespeare," some with more success than others. Bryson's take-down of them in the final chapter is a thing of beauty.

4. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes clearly read Pullman's His Dark Materials and thought, "Let's go darker!" That's not a complaint! Beukes' novel starts with the conceit that the animalled received their familiars/companions/what-have-you after an act of murder. Which means that everyone who is animalled has something in their past they may not want to talk about. Beukes builds her world from there, filling it with an interesting array of well-developed characters and a twisty plot. I didn't want to put this book down, and definitely stayed up later than usual to read just one more chapter. Looking forward to reading Beukes' other work!

5. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I absolutely loved this book. The combination of murder mystery, mysticism, and female friendship just hooked me in. I started the book this morning, and all I could think about today was getting home to read the rest of it.

6. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

I really enjoyed this book. The descriptions of the food were lovely, and the family characteristics reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird. I'm taking a break from the author, but will definitely read more shortly. There's just something so dreamy and alluring about her writing, I know I won't be able to resist for long.

7. The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth

Fascinating, in a terrible way. I think Americans like to forget the broad support that anti-Semites received in the years prior to World War II. We like to look back on The Greatest Generation as just that - never mind the popularity of people such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, and the isolationist ideology that was popular prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roth does an excellent job showing what could have been, and it is terrifying to think that it might have gone that way.

My main complaint is his back-and-forth between the viewpoint of a scared child and an impartial observer. The book works, don't get me wrong - but it is disconcerting to go between the viewpoint of young Phil whose family is falling apart and (I suppose) present Phil who knows how everything turned out. And, being honest, the ending is anti-climactic.

8. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

An excellent combination of the history of environmentalism in Russia and the terrifying story of a man-eating tiger, Vaillant's book teaches you to love the Amur tiger even as you fear them. His descriptions of Primorye and the search for the animal are vivid, and he does an excellent job threading in history throughout the story. If you're interested in conservation, this is definitely worth a read.

9. The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I continue to love Allen's work. The Girl Who Chased the Moon was just as lovely as Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper, retaining that mysticism in the middle of ordinary life. Maybe I like her books so much because they're all set in North Carolina... regardless, I really enjoyed this one, and can't wait to read more!

10. City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments, Book 1 by Cassandra Clare

I'd stayed away from Clare's work because frankly, it hadn't seemed that interesting. But I saw previews for the 2013 movie, and I really like Lena Headey ok? I ended up quite enjoying the book. Clare does a good job world building, and I was quite intrigued by the mystery throughout. I do think it stalled out a bit in the middle - we'll go HERE, and then we'll go HERE, and then we'll RUN AROUND IN CIRCLES SOME MORE! Regardless of its issues, it was an interesting and fun read, and I finished it in a day. I've put a hold on City of Ashes, so we'll see how it goes.

11. The Shining Girls: A Novel by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes had already impressed me with Zoo City, and The Shining Girls made it clear that she is one to watch. Part thriller, part time-travel novel, The Shining Girls follows Curtis Harper as he moves through time with the aid of the mysterious House, hunting down the shining girls he's already murdered.

What makes this book so different is that Beukes focuses on the girls and women who were the targets of Harper's brutality, making you realize what a tragedy their losses were - beyond just the sad story of a woman killed (that seems to be the take-away from so many novels and headlines). Kirby, especially, is wonderful as a damaged and hardened survivor of Harper's attempted murder. I had a hard time putting this book down, and finished it within 24 hours.

I'm now off to read her first major novel, Moxyland, after which I will eagerly wait for her next release.

12. City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare

I'm already wondering how this series is 5 books long. I'm enjoying it, don't get me wrong, but how often are they going to corner/be cornered by Valentine only to have him twirl his metaphorical mustache and get away? At least Jocelyn will (hopefully) be awake in book 3, and we'll get some answers.

Also, can we please commit to killing a character instead of pretending to kill them multiple times while always letting them survive?

13. City of Glass: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

Clearly this series is crack. What other explanation could there be for something that frustrates me so, yet which I keep coming back to? This book, at least, was somewhat less frustrating. Although I called the Sebastian thing from the beginning, and was annoyed that it took so long for the story to actually reveal it. Now I'm just wondering why there are two more books in the series. I mean, I'll read them. But this is getting to be a bit like the Xanth novels. It's a trilogy! No wait, it's a 5 book series! No wait, there's more! I just kinda wonder if Clare is going to continue writing these books until the series is no longer profitable.

14. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

An interesting and frightening look at what could happen as governments allow corporations more control over the lives of citizens. Beukes deftly intertwines the stories of four characters as they deal with these all-powerful corporations. From the activist who gets lured into terrorist activities to the corporate programmer who is too cocky for her own good, Beukes develops fully realized characters who are each fascinating in their own ways.

I didn't love this as much as Zoo City or The Shining Girls, but it was still a great read. Looking forward to Beukes' future work!

15. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I decided to read this after seeing it on (maybe?) Vulture's list of books to read before the movie comes out. I'm glad I did - it was interesting, a fast read, and a good intro to a series. Unlike The Mortal Instruments, I didn't feel like the author was creating twists just for the hell of it. The Grievers were delightfully creepy, and the world was well built.

I do wish he'd developed some of the other characters more. Gally was just a menacing figure in the background until he wasn't. Alby was cool, but then he wasn't. Zart was set up to be important, and then he wasn't. Catch my drift?

That being said, the battle and the death scene are both very well done, as was the epilogue. I've put The Scorch Trials on hold, and I'm excited to continue the series.

16. Morvern Callar by Alan Warner

I kept reading because I kept waiting to be swept away by the premise of the book. It was... fascinating, in a way, to follow Morvern on her journey. But it was never the existential thrill ride that the book's description made it out to be. Maybe if I were 10 years older, and read the book when it was first published, I'd have appreciated the literary soundtrack and cultural context more. As is, the slang, the lack of secondary character development, and the constant inclusion of the second person narrative made this a less-than-enthralling read.

17. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

I think I liked this one best of all Allen's books. All are lovely, filled with beautiful prose and enchanting small towns, but The Sugar Queen sucked me in and didn't let me go until the end. I feel like this book is where Allen really hit her stride with characterization. In some books (including The Peach Keeper, which came after) the characterization of the women can feel a little lopsided. But in The Sugar Queen, both Josey and Chloe felt so alive, and so much their own women. Even Margaret was more developed, and Allen doesn't usually do that for her antagonists. Even if they're not the "bad guy". Now, granted, I did call the big twist about halfway through. But that didn't make the rest any less enjoyable! Allen has firmly cemented herself as one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading all of her future works.

18. A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

I owe Goodreads some thanks! I was on my library's website browsing for books. Everything that I knew I wanted to read was put on hold; it would be a week or more before I could get to the first of those books. I tried looking through "Recently Returned" but nothing called out to me. So I turned to Goodreads, whose book awards have consistently led me to excellent authors. And they did not fail me this time! While I did manage to find one or two more books to add to my list of holds, by some miracle Bradley's book was available to borrow! I checked it out, downloaded it to my Kindle, and was immediately enthralled by the strange world of Flavia de Luce.

Now, maybe I missed some background and character building because I started with the third of the series. But Bradley does an excellent job building his world without relying too much on previous work - or making a new reader feel like an idiot! Flavia is delightful in a maddening sort of way. Precocious, clever, curious, and the youngest of three, she longs desperately to fit in with her sisters even as they fight with and torment each other.

The mystery was excellent - it kept building and twisting and turning, but without it feeling like Bradley was just throwing crap at the page to see what sticks. The end was quite satisfying, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about Flavia de Luce. (Book 1 is already on hold!)

19. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Note to self - when you've had a book on hold for over a month and it finally comes up available, you should probably give yourself a reminder of the subject matter of the book before diving right in. If you do not, you will find yourself sobbing on the couch on a Wednesday night as your husband worriedly asks you if you're alright. For future reference.

Anyhow! I was going to give this 3 stars, but I thought about it a bit, and it really does deserve four. Mia is a great character, and Forman writes so beautifully that (as I said) I couldn't help but cry throughout. Imagine if The Lovely Bones was condensed down to just a few hours instead of years, and the protagonist isn't trying to keep a hold of her family, but is trying to decide whether to keep fighting for her life. If I Stay is like that, and is a moving exploration of what it means to go on alone.

20. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Dashner's second in the Maze Runner series did not disappoint. I find that sometimes I'm ok with an author deliberately keeping secrets, so long as they're not horribly obvious to everyone but the main character. Dashner does this well, as he throws the Gladers out into the "real" world as it is after the flares. As they struggle to make it to Safe Haven, the Gladers learn more about the world as it is now, meet Cranks both sane and Gone, and learn the true meaning of betrayal. The book closes with a statement just as mysterious and inexplicable as it was in the first book: WICKED is good.

21. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I avoided writing a review for over a week because I didn't want to be finished with this book. So, so lovely, and so, so sad. To everyone around her, Victoria is as unlikable as can be. But to the flowers she nurtures and the people she starts to care for, Victoria is a damaged young woman with an unusual gift for flower arrangements. Putting her knowledge of the Victorian language of flowers into her bouquets, Victoria crafts arrangements that help people find love, reconnect with distant spouses, and enter into marriage full of love and hope.

All the while, you learn more about her young life as an abandoned baby shuffled from foster home to foster home, until finally aging out of the system. The only woman who came close to mothering Victoria betrayed her, and was herself betrayed in turn. But the past is never far, and Victoria must eventually confront her feelings for the woman who would have been her mother.

Gorgeous book, wonderful imagery, and an inspired look at the world through the language of flowers.

22. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories by Nathan Englander

I wasn't quite prepared for this book. I thought it was a collection of humorous short stories (like Dave Sedaris, but more fictional) and that's not it at all. Even the "hilarious" title story is just sad. All these stories are about people grieving, people watching the world change without them, people feeling the constraints of strict religion on their lives. Also, that should be mentioned - every character is Jewish. Which is interesting, and a good theme to wrap a series of stories around. But if you're expecting humor reading about Jewish authors being murdered under Stalin's regime can be a rough surprise.

23. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I'd already read the third in the series, but was quite eager to come back and read the first. I wasn't disappointed! I feel like I got a bit more understanding of Flavia herself, as well as the relationships between her and her family.

I'll admit, I thought I'd "solved" the crime about halfway through the book - it seemed so obvious! But Bradley does a good job of incorporating clues that don't seem like anything until suddenly they're everything. I was happy to be proven wrong - the actual solution was more clever than the one I'd thought of, and the journey to get there was satisfying.

Looking forward to reading more in the series!

24. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I really enjoyed this! I know that the trend in YA these days is to set your heroine in a dystopian future, but Roth does so in a way that feels different. Tris feels real, and I especially like the conflict she goes through between what she wants and what she thinks she should be.

I wish... I wish that the world conflict had been more developed before the climax. It seemed rushed, at the end, and like we didn't really know the motives of the Dauntless leaders. Erudite I get, but why did the Dauntless leaders go along with the plot? I think a little more time devoted to that would have made the climax flow better.

That being said, I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series. And who knows, maybe even seeing the movie!

25. The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

This was a fascinating book that wove together the story of the Chicago World's Fair and America's first widely known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. You wouldn't think that discussions of architectural and engineering advances would mesh well with an unrepentant killer, but Larson managed to tie them together well. I feel like I learned a lot about a few years of United States history, and if there's ever a Jeopardy question about the Fair, I think I'll be ready to answer it.

Unfortunately, some portions of the book were marred by Larson's choice of language when talking about Buffalo Bill Cody's show. There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on savages and Indians and scalping. In the rest of the book Larson seemed able to separate himself from the norms of the time he writes about, but in the case of the Native Americans in the Wild West Show, Larson employed all the worst slurs and stereotypes of America's past. It really pulled me away from the book, which was a shame, because reading about the Midway was one of the most enjoyable parts.

26. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Very much enjoying this series! Flavia remains delightful, in a too-precocious and kinda-obnoxious way, and a delight to read. I liked that the mystery in this book was less cloak and dagger than the mystery in the first, and loved the introduction of Aunt Felicity. Taking a break from the series for a bit, but I'm looking forward to reading more in the future!

27. Serena by Ron Rash

The attitude of some people toward the environment we live in will always baffle me. The idea that we can destroy something for our own profit and not suffer the consequences seems deliberately obtuse. Throughout the book, the Pembertons and their partners exhibit this mindset over and over - and even at the end they don't realize what they've done.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book - Rash did an amazing job of mixing historical fiction, a tense thriller, and a moving argument for the preservation of our natural resources. I especially enjoyed the book because of the time I've spent in the mountains of Western North Carolina; reading the familiar names of towns, picturing the mountain laurel and the rhododendron, and understanding exactly what was done to the mountains I love before the National Park was preserved.

I'll definitely be reading more of Rash's work.

28. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

It took me a while to get into this book, but about a third of the way through it really clicked for me, and I couldn't wait to get home each night and read more. It also highlighted my shameful lack of knowledge of Dominican history, so that's something I'll have to rectify. Interested to read more of Diaz's work, especially since Yunior is apparently the thread that ties them all together. Curious!

29. Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

I really enjoyed this anthology, because I really like both zombie/dystopian stories and high fantasy (or not so high). The premise is fun - YA authors take sides in the debate of which makes for better storytelling, zombies or unicorns, and write stories for either Team. I enjoyed every story, some better than others (baby killer unicorns for the win!), and especially enjoyed the variety. The stories never felt repetitive, and I think each author managed to bring something different to the table.

The only part I didn't like was the "playful bickering" between the editors - it just came across as mean-spirited, and by the end I was glossing over the intros to avoid tainting the stories. But some people like that kind of thing!

Overall definitely worth a read, and a great way to discover new-to-you authors.

30. The Happiest Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton

I got this book as part of the Humble Bundle e-books edition. I enjoyed it - I may not have purchased it on its own, but I did enjoy it. If anything, it has encouraged me to read more of Wheaton's work, specifically his blog. I like his style but want to read more before I commit to buying.

That being said, a lot of what he wrote about struck home. The unfairness of childhood authority figures, the joy of fandom... Wil knows how to reach to his audience through his own experiences.

Plus all the backstage gossip is fun. Especially the running joke about his car.

31. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black

It's always fascinating, reading how different authors interpret how Faerie would interact with the modern world. Holly Black's perspective, while maybe not unique, was certainly entrancing. The juxtaposition of the "real" world versus the Seelie and Unseelie courts was wonderful to read, and Kaye (while kinda annoying in the way that self-absorbed teenagers are) was a fun protagonist to follow. I'd be interested to read more of Black's series, especially because the story didn't feel *quite* finished.

32. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Probably should have made more of an effort to re-read Divergent before reading the second in the series, since I was pretty damn confused for the first 20 pages or so. Maybe it says something about the series that I had trouble remembering anyone but Tris and Four...

Anyhow, Insurgent felt like constant whiplash. Which wasn't always bad, but was confusing, and some of it probably could have been edited out. I enjoyed the twist, but I'm still not sure why that knowledge was so dreadful that thousands of people "had" to die to keep it a secret. And I'm also not sure why Roth felt the need to introduce so many tertiary characters - it made it harder to keep track of the people that mattered to the plot.

I don't know, maybe I'm just bitching needlessly. I enjoyed the book, I'll read the next, Veronica Roth builds a damn good world. But maybe, when you're trying to tell the story of a girl changing that world, we should better understand the people that help and hinder her along the way, rather than learn everything about every single other person there.

33. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Wouldn't life in a dystopian YA novel be so much simpler if you didn't keep deadly secrets or eff with technology you didn't understand? Alas, very few YA protagonists have yet to learn that trick.

I sound snarky, and I am, but I really did enjoy Uglies. Tally was a fun protagonist to follow, not just because you wanted her to succeed, but because you understood how she thought and just how scary that was.

Honestly, the best part of this first book is the indoctrination that the uglies go through - you get to the point in the first part of the book where you completely understand where Tally is coming from. After all, if everyone is the same then no one can be left out, right?

I'll definitely read the rest of the series - Westerfeld did a good job of luring me in, and I want to find out what happens next.

34. Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike by Grant Petersen

This book caught my eye yesterday, as I was waiting for breakfast at my favorite local coffee shop. I love books about everyday cycling (yes, that apparently is a genre) so I picked this one up and started reading through it. I enjoyed it so much I asked the shop owner if I could borrow it for a few days, and saying he trusted me, agreed.

Petersen offers some really good advice throughout the book, mostly centered on the idea of becoming an "Unracer" - someone who isn't obsessed with speed or high-tech gear, but rather rides for enjoyment and transportation without falling into the snob-trap that so many cyclists do. I think everyone who rides should read this book or a book like it, because it really does point out the absurdity of a lot of what makes up "bike culture". For example, a few years ago I bought padded bike shorts and a jersey because I was convinced I needed them to be real cyclist. I've worn them once. If I bike for exercise, I'd rather wear yoga pants and a tank top, and if I bike to work, I wear work clothes. If only more people understood that!

That being said, I only gave it three stars because I think it fell apart a bit near the end. The technical information was a bit too technical if Petersen was aiming this book at beginning cyclists, and had very few illustrations for the sections on maintenance. That being said, it was an easy read, Petersen has good advice, and it's a nice little wake-up call to the fact that you don't have to be in "bike culture" to ride a bike.

35. I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I continue to enjoy the Flavia De Luce novels. Bradley has a way of making Flavia precocious without being overly obnoxious. And this novel he toned down Ophelia and Daphne to the point where I could believe they were real people and not just monstrous symbols. Obviously siblings can be cruel to each other, especially with big age differences, but up until now there'd been very little indication that the cruelty ever stopped. I'd give the book four stars just for showing that yes, they do actually care for each other.

36. Jumper by Stephen Gould

This came as part of the Humble Bundle e-book package, otherwise I might not have read it. Mostly because I seem to remember the movie adaptation getting terrible reviews. But I was actually pretty pleased with the book! Davy was self-centered, yeah, but he wasn't morally reprehensible and had pretty compelling reasons for most of his actions. The book did pick up a lot of steam for me after the plane incident, and once we hit that section I read the rest pretty much straight through. I don't know if I'll read more the (apparently?) series, but I did enjoy this one.

37. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

It's kind of a cliche now to say that The Fault in Our Stars made you ugly-cry while reading it. But seriously, I had tears and snot streaming down my face while I sat reading this in a coffee shop. It was embarrassing. But I'm so glad I read it. It's a book that hits hard, but in a way that is incredibly cathartic.

I'm also glad I read it when I did - that Slate article telling adults to be ashamed for reading YA came out the day my mother loaned me the book. So reading this felt like a big ol' middle finger to the author and to those who judge others for the books they read.

But seriously, ugly crying.

38. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

I really enjoy the Flavia de Luce series, and this book was no exception, but sometimes I do have to shake my head at the silliness. The "Dark De Luces" really? Also, how does Flavia inheriting the home change anything? Do all those solicitors have to pay back the de Luces now for the years of legal battles over Buckshaw? Seems to me that they are still in the same predicament as before, but now they also have to pay to send Flavia to a boarding school in America. Hrm.

Ah well. Still enjoyed the book, still love Flavia's determination, and am loving that Ophelia and Daphne continue to become more human and less the monsters of the early books. Also I'm a little jealous of Flavia, because Dieter would clearly be the best brother-in-law ever.

39. Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read Neuromancer because I kept hearing that it was one of the bastions of science fiction, that if I did not read it, I clearly wasn't a true sci-fi fan. After reading it (and taking nearly a month to do so) my reaction is basically, meh. I won't deny it, Gibson's got talent, and the story was interesting. But it dragged so much that it literally took me two weeks to get through the first third of the book. And even once I was halfway through, I was still struggling to care about the characters.

I don't know - yeah, yeah, beginning of cyberpunk, a glimpse of the world to come, etc etc. I just wasn't that moved. I powered through the last quarter of the book mostly because I just wanted to move on and read something else. Guess the bastions of sci-fi just aren't for me.

40. The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi

Fascinating novella that examines a world where every use of magic has a terrible consequence - the ever-encroaching bramble that is taking over the world. One man tries desperately to find a way to stop it, but may doom his family in the process.

I really enjoyed this, and actually wish that it could have been a full novel. I can hope that Bacigalupi will someday decide to continue the story - I'd certainly read it.

41. The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell

Unlike it's paired novella The Alchemist, Buckell stopped The Executioness at just the right moment. While I'd like to read more set in this world, Tana's story is done.

For everyone who likes a story of vengeance, or who cheers for the underdog, give this a read. Tana's fortitude is remarkable, and it is a pleasure following along as she gets closer and closer to her goal.

42. Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

I've read Spindle's End a half-dozen times, and each time I feel like I come away with something new. Robin McKinley continues her tradition of re-telling fairy tales in astonishing ways with Spindle's End, a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty. In her earlier books, Beauty and Rose Daughter (both of which I loved), McKinley seemed to stick fairly close to the traditional tale. But Spindle's End, while keeping the bones of the story, expands vastly upon it, imagining a country where magic is so prevalent that sweeping magic dust out of your house is a daily task, and almost everyone has a fairy relative to help them de-magic their tea kettles.

Both Katriona and Rosie are wonderful narrators, and McKinley does an excellent job with the transition between them. As is often the case with McKinley's work, you have to read Spindle's End closely - she likes to drop clues and tidbits and facts in the midst of other happenings, so paying attention is crucial.

Basically, anyone who enjoyed Rose Daughter, Deerskin, or Beauty should pick up a copy of Spindle's End today.

43. Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce

Probably the... fourth or fifth time I've read the Daughter of the Lioness duology, and I still love it just as much as I did the first time. Tamora Pierce was probably my first fandom - I read the Lioness Quartet when I started middle school, and have devoured every Tortall book since.

Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen are the first books to spend the large majority of their story outside of Tortall, and I think the series is stronger for it. I love the universe, but an important part of world-building is expanding beyond the initial setting. (Probably why I also enjoyed The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and The Lioness Rampant so much). Aly is a believable and lovable protagonist, and all the other characters feel fully fleshed out as well. You can really see why their people love Winnamine and Mequen so much, as well as Sarai and Dove. And by hiding the prophecy from the readers for so long, you get to see the raka's devotion to the ladies before knowing why that is. Very well done.

44. Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce

I loved Trickster's Choice but flat-out adored Trickster's Queen. Aly is thrown into a full-on rebellion, goes up against the Crown's infamous spymaster Topabaw, and works with the raka and luarin conspiracies to overthrow the corrupt rulers of the Copper Isles. Throughout it all, the characters that we met in the first book are fleshed out even more, Nawat and Aly's relationship grows and changes, and we learn more about power dynamics in the Copper Isles. Plus, even more appearances from Kyprioth, who (for the first time) really shows that he is not a minor god to be trifled with.

Here we also see loss - while Mequen's death was tragic, it was nothing compared to the downing of the Rittevon. If you don't cry for the Balitangs after that, you don't have a heart. The final battle is exciting and terrifying all in one, as there are wins and losses throughout. And the ending is satisfactory, but in a way that makes me wish Pierce would write more set on the Isles. Love, love, love this book.

45. BBC's Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Even though I quite enjoy Neil Gaiman, for whatever reason I'd never managed to pick up Neverwhere. Like the rest of the Internet, I read about the BBC's dramatization was fascinated, but audiobooks weren't really my thing so... Even the lure of Natalie Dormer, James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Anthony Head couldn't convince me to search out a way to stream it. But then it came on Audible, and they had a sale... so I bought it. Over two weeks I listened to Neverwhere on my drive home from work, and couldn't wait until the next day to listen to more.

Everyone in the cast does a fantastic job, the sound design is wonderful, and the two combine to give you a real feeling for the universe that Gaiman created, even without reading his words. Of course, now I really want to go read Neverwhere, just because I want to know even more about this remarkable universe.

But seriously, the cast? Phenomenal.

46. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A friend in bookclub had been agitating to read this book for months, but we never got around to it. After the bookclub dissolved, I decided "why the hell not?" and checked it out from the library. I wish our club had read it - certainly would have had more to discuss than we did for Morvern Callar!

Anyhow, loved the book, loved the conceit, loved the hint at the end that it wasn't just Ursula who was reliving her life over and over. The reading guide at the end of the book said that the Blitz really became a character in the story, and that's the truth. All the ways that Ursula did and didn't get through the war were fascinating and horrifying. Americans obviously did not suffer the same bombardment that Britain did throughout the war, so reading about it was a wake-up call, and made me want to learn more about World War II from a global perspective.

Apparently Atkinson's next book is out shortly and features Teddy - so I guess I'll be reading that next!

47. Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia De Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

Apparently I didn't write a review of this. Oops!

48. Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened by Allie Brosh

Ok, let me state right away that I LOVE Hyperbole and a Half. I've read every column, I've laughed so hard I cried, and (just like every other fan) I waited eagerly for each new update. Reading this book was like a gift. Sure, I'd read some of the columns before (Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving, The God of Cake) but there were others that Brosh wrote just for the book that were as good, if not better, than her normal comics. Anyone who even kind of likes Hyperbole and a Half should read this book, it is filled with awesome. And when you do read this book, read Dinosaur (The Goose Story) first. You'll thank me.

49. Running in Heels by Anna Maxted

Brutal but funny look at how friendships change and evolve, and how resentment can build without you even noticing. Maxted does a great job hiding Natalie's problems in plain sight, and gets you so enmeshed in her head that you don't even quite understand what's wrong even as it's being explained in excruciating detail. Which is a good thing! The reader empathizes so much with Natalie that you then work through her issues with her. It's a much more personal experience than a lot of other books I've read, and each time I do read it I feel like I pick up something more. Highly recommend.


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Roulette Girl

May 2016

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