2012 books read

January books:

1. Astonishing X-Men Vol. 3 Issues 7 to 12 – Joss Whedon and John Cassady
The second arc in this volume is as exciting as the first, with a genuine sense that things may not work out as we want them to. There is less set-up work to do in this arc so the meat of the story can get moving much faster. It’s exciting and there are hints at games within games and double-crossing that are going to make later arcs even more thrilling and complex. The artwork on some panels is stunning but it is the writing that really stands out.

2. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (December 2011)
The stand-out story here was Connie Willis’ novella, All About Emily. It’s a Christmas-set story that isn’t schmaltzy and has some interesting thoughts on robots and AI. It takes in musical theatre and pop culture, with some fun predictions thrown in, and I really enjoyed it. For me, this was the story that made the month’s subscription completely worth-while. The novelettes and short stories were all thought provoking, with the other memorable pieces being Strawberry Birdies by Pamela Sargent and “Run,” Bakri Says by Ferrett Steinmetz. Both of these, although completely different, left me thinking long after I had finished them.

3. The Secret Mistress – Mary Balogh
This one was listed on Publisher’s Weekly’s top 100 of 2011 in the romance category. I’m only an occasional romance reader because so many of them can be formulaic, but this one sounded like it would be that little bit more interesting. And it was! The jacket tries to make it sound much more salacious than it really is, so don’t take that too seriously. The heroine is bright, vivid and fun, the hero is kind and conflicted, and there are other threads running through the book in addition to the main romance. What I appreciated most is that the misunderstandings that keep our couple apart are not ones that could have been resolved if they’d just communicated better. They both needed to grow and mature before they were able to be together and that added a nice dimension to it. This is still definitely a light, fun romance but there is enough character growth and fun dialogue to make it stand out from the rest. Lots of fun.

4. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
This book is already on my list of top 2012 reads. It has been getting rave reviews all over LibraryThing so I was curious to see whether it could live up to the hype. I’m pleased to report that it does! The book has a dream-like quality that pulls the reader in. The writing creates images in the reader’s mind and I found myself feeling like a part of the story and the circus as I read. It’s beautifully written and I discovered that I was deliberately slowing my pace a bit so that I could absorb it all properly. The unusual competition between the main protagonists is the central plot but it is the circus that is really the central character and that is what I became invested in beyond anything else. As the book drew to a close there is a sense of sadness at having to leave the beautiful world that Morgenstern has created even though the story has a good, satisfying end. This is a book that I would recommend in paper form: the design of the book is a factor in the dream world that it creates and it would not feel the same in an ebook. Gorgeous and my first five star read of the year.

5. The Alloy of Law – Brandon Sanderson
This is a follow-up to Sanderson’s Misborn trilogy and, from the way it was left, it looks like he is writing another series in that world. The action takes place a few centuries after the end of the last Mistborn book and the world has grown and evolved into something reminiscent of 19th century America. There are the Roughs (the Wild West) and Elendel (big city), with most of the action taking place in the city although the central characters have spent a lot of time in the Roughs. Sanderson has allowed the magic system he created to evolve and grow, reflecting both the changes at the end of the previous book and the new world that has grown up. The main character, Wax, is likable and flawed as are all the secondary characters. It’s hard not to root for them. The main villain is rather more interesting than I expected and the main mystery – of train robberies and kidnappings – works very well. More importantly, there are hints at a much larger story in the background and the events in the epilogue had my jaw dropping a bit. Great read and I will definitely be picking up the rest in the series.

6. Heat Wave – Richard Castle
I borrowed this one from the library out of a curiosity to see whether a this kind of tie-in book could work. It’s not exactly high art, but it is a lot of fun. The idea is that this is the book that Richard Castle in the Castle TV show is writing from his research with an NYPD homicide team. The book is lightweight, but the mystery is intriguing and I enjoyed the links back to the show and the crafty references. It’s rather better than a lot of tie-in books and worth borrowing if you can. For fans of the show only, but fun.

7. Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity – Mike Carey
People have been telling me to read this for ages and I spotted the first three volumes at the library this week. The first volume lays a lot of groundwork and gives the reader a lot of hints at what might be happening in the overall story. The central question is whether Tommy Taylor is real or whether he is the character his ‘father’ wrote made flesh. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s fun picking out the literary references and inspirations. I will definitely be reading the other volumes that I picked up.

8. The Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man – Mike Carey
This picks up where volume 1 left off, introducing a new character and fleshing out the other characters more completely. It delves more into the nature of fiction and reality and I’m finding that side fascinating. In some ways, I liked it better than volume 1 because there was more ‘story’ to it. This is definitely a series that builds as it goes and I’m looking forward to volume 3.

9. Medieval Law in Context – Anthony Mussen
It has taken me nine months to read this, but it’s an excellent books. Considering the subject matter, it’s readable and flows well. Not what you would expect on a book about law in medieval England. The aim of the book is to demonstrate how legal consciousness grew and evolved in the time between Magna Carta and the Peasant’s Revolt. There is some discussion of how the law itself worked and how it grew, both in complexity and formality. There is also discussion of the way that the profession of law evolved so that by the end of that period, those working with the law were required to have a certain level of education and the distinctions between the different types of legal professionals were becoming more apparent. The main thrust of the book, though, is a discussion and explanation of how different areas of society interacted with the law, what their understanding was and how this changed over the period. This is where the surprises were for me. I had always vaguely assumed that the peasantry far more ignorant than they appear to have been: the legalities that affected them – such as marriage, tenancy and aspects of criminal law – appear to have been understood far more than I expected. In many ways, I suppose that I had not appreciated the fact that some knowledge would be needed. This is a well-written book on an area of medieval history that I knew very little about before I began. Reading it straight through has definitely improved by knowledge, but I can also see that it will be a useful reference work to go back to when I need clarification on things in my other reading.

10. The Unwritten Vol. 3: Dead Man’s Knock – Mike Carey
This is definitely a series that gets better as it goes on. More information is given about the nature of fiction and reality in this world and there’s some lovely delving into Lizzie Hexham’s background. It has become increasingly obvious that Harry Potter is the inspiration for Tom and the Tommy Taylor books, but one of the things that I absolutely and completely loved was the subtle almost-acknowledgement of that followed a few panels later by name dropping of Rowling and Pullman. The series rewards the reader each time you start to pick up on these things and I get a sort of thrill each time I realise that I’m working something out. I hope my library has the rest of these!

 

Feburary

11. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
I’m told that this is a series that gets better as it goes on, which is exciting because I really enjoyed this! The characters are engaging, the idea behind it all is interesting, and use of Greek mythology is nicely done. If I had any complaint it is that the pacing verges on frenetic at times, but it kept me engaged and the fast pace and exciting adventure staved off the effect of the info-dumps that first books in a series often have. I will definitely be hunting down the rest of the books in this series.

12. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Over the years I have seen a lot of reviews for this series of books, with most of them highlighting the misogynistic society that Martin creates and the presence of rape in the books. Various people recommended the books to me – many of them people that I know don’t read books with bad depictions of women – but it has taken me years to finally decide to see for myself. I expected to be appalled and possibly disgusted. I didn’t expect to find some amazing female characters who are, in many ways, stronger and more vibrant than the male characters. I definitely didn’t expect that the text would condemn the society’s behaviour to women in Martin’s world. In fact, I found the depiction of the female characters much more interesting than what I usually find in epic fantasy and there is a strong message of “this is not right” from them and from some of the male characters. The male characters who are the worst with the misogynist behaviour and casual rape are generally portrayed as not nice characters who are on the wrong side in most of the action. It was a surprisingly refreshing book and I have to admit, I’ve fallen slightly in love with this series. There’s lots of action and the pacing is very good: fast enough to keep everything exciting, but with enough breaks in the action to give the reader time to know the characters. There are some outright nasty characters, but there are far more shades of grey so that I have a lot of sympathy and liking for characters who aren’t particularly good. The world that Martin has created is interesting and the idea of seasons that last years with winter coming adds an undertone of threat to much of it. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I now understand why so many people were urging me to read them. I already have the second book queued up to read and I suspect that I’ll be joining the impatient queues when I’ve read the last one and am waiting for the next installment.

13. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (January 2012)
The two stand-out stories in this issue, the ones which have stayed with me, were “The War is Over and Everyone Wins” by Zachary Jernigan and “In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns” by Elizabeth Bear. The first is a deeply uncomfortable and compelling story about race relations taken to the extreme, genocide and the aftermath. The central character is sympathetic and the shock as I realized what had happened in this future imagining kept me thinking long after I had finished. It is the kind of story where good prose keeps you reading and invested even though the ideas are difficult and unsettling. The second story is an SF mystery set in India and it is a complete contrast: fun, inventive and engaging without any huge revelations, but not a piece of fluff either. As with most of Bear’s work, the central characters are likable and layered and I could easily read an entire novel with this one. In fact, I could happily read an entire novel set in this world because it has that feel of a world with more to explore than Bear could possibly fit into a novella. There were no duds in this issue and all the stories were enjoyable, although the two that I have highlighted are the ones that left me thinking long after I closed the book.

14. Fantastic Four: Season One – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Marvel has decided to issue some long, one-off books re-visiting the origin stories for some of their more popular lines and this is the first one. The Fantastic Four isn’t a series that I have had much interest in previously but I wanted to give them a go, just to see what I was missing. The first half is the origin story that I am familiar with from seeing the movie a few years ago with the rest being a few of their early adventures as they worked out their powers and what it would mean for them. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected and the writing was fun, with some nice pop culture references and in-jokes that livened things up nicely. FF is probably still not going to be a line I visit often, but this was a fun book.

15. Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold
This one is a bittersweet book: it’s a Miles book and I always love those but I knew going in that it would be the last Miles book. In a lot of ways, that is not something I mind much. His story is now finishing in a good place and finding further adventures for him feels like a stretch now, particularly in light of his growing family. So moving on seems right and I’m glad that Bujold told one final story to give us a satisfactory settlement for Miles. At the same time, I’m going to miss him terribly and the final few pages, although necessary, were hard to read. As always with a Miles story, though, there were lots of hijinks along the way, this time with an investigation on a planet that has gone rather crazy for cryo-preservation. The ideas on how a planet can function when few people technically “die” are well-developed and Bujold takes the repercussions to a level that feels both extreme and entirely appropriate. There are adventures, kidnappings, daring escapes, political shenanigans and fun new characters galore. Although I went into this book knowing that I would be sad by the end, the adventure was worth it and I’m quite content with how Bujold has left things. Now, when is the Ivan book that she has promised going to be out?

16. Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine (February 2012)
Another good issue for Asimov’s, with two stories that really stood out for me. “Murder Born” by Robert Reed is the novella and my reaction through the first three quarters was a wee bit ‘meh’, but then the some things happened that grabbed me and made the entire story pay off. It follows the trial and aftermath of the murder of a teenage girl through her father’s eyes. As the trial begins, a machine has been invented that is initially seen as a fast, humane way to administer death sentences. An unexpected side-effect is discovered: when a murderer is killed by the machine, his or her victims are returned. It is not really resurrection, more that time almost corrects itself once all traces of the murderer having lived are erased. It is the repercussions of this on one case that are explored and I found the ideas fascinating. The writing is great, the characters felt real and it raises a lot of questions. The other stand-out story is “The People of Pele” by Ken Liu. This is a first colonist type of story, but it has some nicely thought out details about the relationship between those colonists and Earth and the natives of the planet are some of the more unusual ones I’ve seen in sci-fi. Some nice prose pulls it all together so that I could see it in my mind and it is those images that will stay with me.

17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemisin
I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which is no surprise having seen it recommended in so many places! The ideas are, on the surface, typical fantasy tropes but Jemisin’s execution and world-building are what really make the difference. She twists ideas of gods and men ruling the world and creates something quite unique. The central character, Yeine, is called to her estranged grandfather’s home and offered the chance to compete to be his heir. Her motivation for doing so begins with revenge for her mother’s death, but the entire story is so much more complex than that. There are betrayals from unexpected directions, romances that aren’t what they seem and the final resolution is breathtaking. Highly recommended and I’ll be looking out for the next book in the trilogy very soon.

18. Into the Fourth at Trebizon – Anne Digby
I felt the need for something completely different before venturing into another big epic – a palate cleanser, if you like – and that’s what this book provided. Rebecca and her friends begin the Fourth Year at Trebizon filled with excitement for what the new term will bring but a new girl upsets it all. Although there was a little less pure fun than in some of the books, the extra depth made the entire story compelling and easy to read. A good installment in a fun series.

19. Timeless – Gail Carriger
This is the last installment in Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and I’m going to miss these character a great deal. The books have been such fun, with vivid characters that are impossible not to love and a world that I love returning to. Heartless felt a little disjointed in places, but Timeless returns to form and kept me reading eagerly so that I consumed most of it in one sitting! We are finally given some answers to what Alexia’s father was really doing before his death and we are treated to a ripping adventure through Egypt along the way. At the same time, Carriger does not abandon the characters who remain to man the fort in London and some of the London sections may be some of my favourite. It’s the last book so Carriger brings a lot of stories to an end and she ties it all up quite neatly without feeling either contrived or rushed. I had some genuine surprises about the fates of some characters and couldn’t love what she did more. I’m going to miss this series, but she sent it out on a high.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The very overdue updated reading post « Of Code and Cats

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