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bookish posts

2014: Summing Up

This was something of an odd year for me, reading-wise. I noticed at a certain point that almost all of my absolute favorite books were published as adult: The Goblin Emperor, Ancillary Sword, Girls at the Kingfisher Club. There were a couple of exceptions to this, and Andrea Host’s books are always a bit liminal (some more YA, some more adult), but overall I simply didn’t find as many YA books to rave over as usual. Of the ones I did love, several were part of a series. I’m not sure if this was a weak year for YA publishing, and especially the kinds of books that I like, or if I’m becoming more of an adult reader, or if adult publishing is having a strong year, or some combination of the above. Regardless, given that a lot of my reading identity revolves around YA and middle grade, this was a bit disconcerting.

I read 250 books this year, respectable enough although nowhere near my highest (383, I don’t know how that happened either) and even down from last year. I decided at the end of the year to take a look at some statistics as far as representation and my reading goes. I hadn’t set any specific goals this year, so this is my “natural” pattern as of right now. Race and gender were the easiest to look back and count, so that’s what I’ve gone with for now; caveat that I may have missed a few.

Male/female ratio: I read books by 40 men, which is 16.9%. I also read four books co-written by a man and a woman, and four that were written by two women.

Authors of color: I was curious to see what this stat would look like. It’s really bad. 20 total for the year, or 8%. I will definitely be doing some work to build this one up.

Main characters of color: This one is a little better, 48 total, or 19.3%. Still, if I’m happy that I’ve read so many female authors this year, I can’t be too proud of the fact that I’ve read about the same number of white characters, let alone authors.

My goals for 2015 are to increase the number of authors of color that I’m reading, and to start tracking the books I read more consciously. I’m setting myself a few numeric goals, but I haven’t decided whether to share them or not.

Some years, there have been definite themes to my reading; this year it’s a bit vaguer. But I definitely see recurring themes of bravery, friendship, and quiet subversion of the status quo in the stories I’ve been drawn to recently. Overall, while this hasn’t been the most awesome reading year, I have found a few books that I really, really loved and that will stay with me for a long time.

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bookish posts reviews

2014: Favorite YA books

black dogBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier: I’m a big fan of Rachel Neumeier’s books but before reading Black Dog, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d like it or not (official summaries being slightly vague and not always great at conveying the actual feel of the book). I DID. I loved the characters, especially Natividad, and I loved the romance, which I easily could not have. In fact, Ezekiel is one of the more swoony characters from the past year. Plus, the magic system here is unique and fascinating. I really loved it, and am looking hopefully forward to the sequel (which I believe will eventually be released one way or another).

engines of the broken worldEngines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee: This book opens with one of the most deliciously scary scenes I have ever read. Merciful and her world are completely engrossing, although I did feel that the middle sagged a bit. But the end pulls everything together in a way that is, as I said in my original review, “Pitch perfect, gorgeously written, able to take a piece of text that has been used so often that it is almost bare of meaning and somehow make it so emotionally affective that I cried my way through it.”

And-All-the-StarsAnd All the Stars by Andrea K Host: This was the first book I read by Andrea Host, and in some ways it’s still my favorite. A post-apocalyptic (sort of) survival tale (sort of) with some romance and mystery. I loved Madeleine most, but I also loved the way Host draws in the other characters, and how diversely populated her world is.

unmadeUnmade by Sarah Rees Brennan: I had been eagerly awaiting the third and final volume in the Lynburn Legacy trilogy and it did not disappoint. Hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, this book was everything I wanted it to be and more. It also gets the just-invented Best Use of Epigraphs Award.

Monstrous Affections ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant: This one mostly for Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Wings in the Morning” story, to be honest (although I do think it’s a very strong anthology that is worth checking out!). I had been reading along with the serial prequel, “Turn of the Story” and loved it so, SO much–it’s what I wanted The Magicians to be. “Wings in the Morning” was the perfect resolution for the story and I have read it at least twice since I bought the ebook.

blue lilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: Ugh, Maggie Stiefvater, the things you do to me! This is definitely the third book in a series, in that it relies a lot on relationships and emotions established in the first two books. But it is also really funny, and a little sad. Adam might be just a tad my favorite (don’t tell Ronan) but I love all the characters and I’m impatiently waiting until the fourth book comes out.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: I read this one just recently (which why October Best of the Year lists will always get a side-eye from me, but I digress). I’d been hearing good things about it, and it lived up to them. Gabi’s voice makes this one, her anxieties, strengths, and all. I’m from a different culture and generation, and yet it also rang very true to what being a teenage girl feels like.

story of owenThe Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston: This one has been shortlisted for the Morris Award, and rightfully so. Siobhan’s voice is incredibly strong, wryly funny and heartfelt. As Liz Burns points out in her review, there’s a depth of worldbuilding here that’s really great–Johnston has clearly taken the time to think through the implications of her choices. This one felt fresh and fun, and at the same time grounded in both myth and real life.

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bookish posts reviews

2014: Favorite middle grade books

Cuckoo-Song-Frances-Hardingejinx's magic
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: I bought this one from the UK, believing that it wasn’t going to be published over here. But I was wrong! And you should all buy it when it comes out next year, because it is one of Hardinge’s best books: eerie, beautiful, and haunted by history’s ghosts. Hardinge writes some of the most complex middle grade books out there but what I love most are her strong characters and this one is no exception.

Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood: A welcome sequel to Jinx, this one continues the story and characters but adds new complications. It’s a book that’s thoughtful without being preachy, and exciting without being thoughtless. I liked it quite a bit and can’t wait for the third book to come out next year (what is happening to Simon? inquiring minds wish to know!). [Full disclosure–Sage Blackwood is a Twitter friend and a lovely person, but I liked her books before I knew her.]

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor: I loved Cassie Logan’s story and its complexities. I wish it didn’t seem quite so prescient (I read it in March, long before August and Michael Brown’s murder), but I am glad to have read it and grateful for its hardness and its beauty both.

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How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle: How I Became a Ghost is a heart-wrenching book, but a wonderful one. It brings a tragic period of history to life and at the same time, it refuses to be defined by that sadness. It’s also an unexpectedly funny book and I loved Isaac and his voice.

Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami: This book and its sequel are some of the most delightful I’ve read all year. I loved Dini and her transition from America to India, and how it feels to leave your best friend behind. I loved Dolly and the slightly-larger-than life plot that seemed really perfect for the Bollywood echoes. Most of all, this is a book that I really enjoyed reading and I’m hoping for more of Dini’s adventures.

The Lulu series by Hilary McKay: Hilary McKay’s Lulu books are a bit like Krishnaswami’s in that they are completely delightful books about a young girl with a strong interest. In Lulu’s case, it is animals, a love which leads her into (and out of) many sticky situations. I love the gentleness of these books, and of course they are hilarious because they’re written by Hilary McKay!

greenglass housethe crossover

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: This is partly one of my favorite books of the year because I had almost a perfect reading experience with it. But it’s also a lovely book–I called it elegant in my original review and I think that’s still true. I loved the descriptions of Greenglass House itself, and the puzzle of the plot and characters. It’s a bit Westing Game, a bit RPG, a bit locked room mystery, but it’s also greater than the sum of its parts.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: I’m often wary of novels-in-verse, but Alexander’s is wonderful. Short poems–some of which are lyrical and somber, some of which are bubbling over with enjoyment. I found myself genuinely moved at Josh’s voice and story and I thought the ending was beautiful.

* Disclaimer: my discussion of the Cybils-nominated books on this list should be taken as my personal opinion only

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bookish posts reviews

2014: Favorite adult books

goblin emperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette): Definitely one of my favorite books of the year and maybe of all time. Complex, fascinating world and a main character I loved, this one also delves into big questions about change and revolution, about how to find your path when it looks like all the options are bad. It’s one I would recommend to so many people, but I think it has an especially good chance with Megan Whalen Turner fans.

girls at the kingfisherThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: There was a certain point in this story when I didn’t see how it could end as anything but a tragedy. And yet Valentine writes past that, into a slightly ambiguous but wholly beautiful place. I loved the writing, the focus on sisters, and especially Jo, who stole my heart.

ancillary swordAncillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: Technically I read Ancillary Justice last year, but I didn’t have time to add it to the favorite books. These books are complex, complicated, wholly immersive. They’re at the same time incredibly enjoyable as reading experiences and thought-provoking. I can’t wait for the third.

Imperial Purple and The Bearkeeper’s Daughter by Gillian Bradshaw: I continued to wend my way through Bradshaw’s backlist. Of the ones I read this year, these two were my favorites, although they’re more on the level of purely enjoyable books than the wonderful Beacon at Alexandria. I appreciate so much the way that Bradshaw conveys a sense of a time; I never feel like her characters are modern people slightly disguised.

chocolate temptationThe Chocolate Temptation, Sun-Kissed, and Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand: Basically, if Laura Florand writes it, I will read it and love it. Chocolate Temptation was, I thought, especially strong; the storyline could so easily have been super iffy, and instead I completely bought it. Sun-Kissed and Shadowed Heart are definite best read in sequence, because they’re shorter and also rely on prior knowledge of the characters, but for people who are already Florand fans, they’re wonderful.

medairMedair by Andrea K. Host: Host’s books are going to make several appearances on this year’s lists, but of the books I’ve read to date, Medair might be just a tad my favorites. I loved Medair herself, and her dilemma as she struggles to make sense of the world she’s thrown into. The choices she makes and their consequences are dealt with thoughtfully, and I liked the sense that she’s a little older and a little more complicated than some of the characters I’ve enjoyed reading about.

pretenderDestroyer, Pretender, and Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh: I read A LOT of Cherryh this year as I worked my way through the Foreigner series. Despite some minor annoyances related to the depiction of Barb (which does seem to be improving), this has remained one of my great joys for this reading year. Smart character-driven science fiction with a healthy dose of not-real-world politics. (While I disagree with the ultimate conclusion, this post nails the peculiar joys of Cherryh, Leckie, and Addison.)

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson: Hopkinson’s book is weird and wonderful and challenging; I could feel myself stretching as I read it. Makeda is a riveting character, and I loved the texture of the writing. One of my goals for 2015 is definitely to read more Hopkinson.

Hild by Nicola Griffith: Hild is brilliant and wide-reaching; the imagined life of St. Hilda of Whitby. Griffith has a wonderful descriptive gift, and like Bradshaw gives a sense of time and place that I loved. It writes against a certain mainstream fantasy tradition (I’m thinking specifically of Game of Thrones here) but does so in a way that has integrity. It’s also one I want to re-read because I think the depth and detail of the book will reward a second look.

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bookish posts

2014: Non-fiction, blog series, and more

I’m finally starting to dig into books now, I promise.

Non-fiction
everlasting mealTo be honest, this has not been a good year for me in terms of non-fiction. I didn’t read much, and I didn’t finish one of the most lauded books out there (Family Romanov by Candace Fleming). I’m going to try to balance this out a bit more in the coming year.

So, the only non-fiction book that even comes close to being a favorite is Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which I read with great enjoyment. It’s not often that a book about food makes me laugh out loud or want to quote pages, but this is more a book of essays than a cookbook. Adler is not very interested in recipes, although there are some, but instead aims to lay out her principles of cooking. While she occasionally veers into “all-natural is the best”* territory, her voice is also clear and empowering in a way that left me feeling inspired rather than annoyed. I have felt much more free to cook the way I want to, with or without a recipe, with the ingredients that I have.

Blog series
Back in January, I put together a series of in-depth posts about Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. It was a lot of fun to go back and look at these books, some of which I had read and re-read several times, and others I had only read once. I’d like to do this again with a few more authors at some point this year–I’m thinking maybe Ellis Peters and Patricia McKillip, but if you all have suggestions, I will take them! The posts from the Bujold Week series are:
Shards of Honor
Barrayar
Brothers in Arms
Mirror Dance

Other posts
There were also some other posts I wrote that I’m proud of, looking back at them:

– In February, I highlighted some fairy tales and retellings for Fairy Tale Day.
– By far the most popular post I wrote this year was “Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear” and the disappearance of Else Homelund Minarik
– While The Winner’s Curse was not my favorite book this year, I was happy with my review
– Chachic has put together some awesome blogging events over the past few years. She invited me to write a guest post for her Laura Florand event this year, and this was the result. (There’s no title because I couldn’t think of one)
– I also put together a list of resources about Noor Inayat Khan and the SOE
– And finally, I wrote a personal post about my middle school library and its importance in my life

And to those of you who are celebrating Christmas today, Merry Christmas!

* It’s not that I disagree exactly, but these sorts of statements often come with a whole boatload of unexamined privilege

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links

2014: Favorite new to me blogs

Some of these blogs I’ve actually been following for more than a year, others I haven’t.

Ana @ Things Mean A Lot: I had read several reviews & blog posts from Ana and then I just broke down and started following her blog. Since it is delightful and she likes many of the authors I do, this was definitely a good idea.

Lady Business: Relatedly, after being aware of Lady Business peripherally I actually started reading it. I really enjoy the range of commentary and opinions there.

Abigail Nussbaum: I frequently disagree with Abigail Nussbaum. Possibly more often than I agree with her. But her criticism is so smart and sharp that even if I end up disagreeing, I’m grateful for having been made to examine my own opinion in a new light.

Kelly & Kimberly @ Stacked: I definitely value Kelly & Kimberly’s thoughtful reviews and criticism, and especially their advocacy for YA and teenage girls.

Liz Bourke: I appreciate Liz Bourke’s commentary, both on her blog and her Tor.com column Sleeps With Monsters. I often agree, but more importantly, I also feel challenged to think about books more deeply and more critically.

Anne Ursu: Anne Ursu’s smart, trenchant essays on Tumblr are one of the things that have made 2014 even semi-bearable. I appreciate her willingness to take on big topics and speak truth.

I will also note that there are two people I follow primarily on Twitter, Jenny and Kaye. They both, like the rest of the women on this list, give me new insights and challenge my complacency, as well as providing the occasional shared fannish moment.

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movies reviews

2014: TV and movies

It’s only towards the end of 2014 that I started to actually track the movies & TV shows that I watched, and to consciously talk about them a bit more (which I do in the revised version of my monthly round up posts). So this is necessarily a bit shoddy as a record goes. However, this was a pretty good year for me and there’s definitely a lot to mention.

phryne
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: A glamorous detective in 1920s Melbourne, which should be enough to sell you on this show. But if you want more: not only is Phryne Fisher a fantastic character, the rest of the cast is great as well. And Phryne’s clothes deserve a post of their own–I didn’t know I liked 1920s fashion until I started watching this series. Happily, Miss Fisher is returning for a third season!

Call the Midwife: The story of Jenny Lee and the midwives of Nonnatus House continues to be gripping. While the storylines occasionally border on the melodramatic, there’s a depth to a lot of what’s shown which counterbalances that. And there are some moments that are truly just beautiful. I will admit that I cried almost every episode of this season, which is a good sign. I’ll be interested to see where the show goes in the next season, since there are a few significant changes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: I liked the first Captain America mvoie quite a bit, but the second one knocks it out of the park. Not only is it much more of an ensemble movie (Natasha and Sam Wilson are basically as important as Steve), it also delves a lot into some of the larger questions as far as the moral authority of SHIELD and ideas of freedom and what is necessary. There was a pivotal scene that actually reminded me a bit of Rose Under Fire and had me cheering in the theater. All in all, this is not only a fun movie, but a smart slick one with great representation (Sam Wilson forever!) and cast.

Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Part 1: I watched these back to back and I remain really impressed by the movies. Especially in Mockingjay, the way visuals are used worked very well for me. I wanted to say a lot more about Katniss and her relationships with Coin, Cressida, and Prim, and about the way Collins subverts and, quite frankly, destroys our storytelling expectations. But I’ll just say that I think these do really well at adapting and translating the books into a different medium and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss is absolutely compelling.

ctm

Parks and Recreation: This was the year of Parks & Rec for me. I watched six seasons in six months and fell in love with the characters and the town of Pawnee. Comedy is a hard sell for me because so often I have to look past storylines or “jokes” that are offensive or hurtful. Parks & Rec manages to steer clear of this, making it a show that I am genuinely happy to watch. I’m already sad that it’s ending and the last season hasn’t started to air yet.

Person of Interest: This show should not work as well as it does, but I love it. I’ve seen the first two seasons and find that its gradual transition from slightly SFnal puzzle of the week into a complex, thought-provoking story is really well done. I also appreciate that while the two main characters are white men, there are significant characters who are women and not white. It’s brain candy, but a smart thoughtful kind that doesn’t leave me with a bad aftertaste. (I may have stretched that metaphor a bit far.)

Orphan Black: I’ve only seen season 1, but I’ve been very impressed by this show and the way it’s both slightly over the top fun while having a more serious undertone to it. And Tatiana Maslasny is fantastic; it sounds silly to say this, but there are times I forget that all the clones are played by one actress because she gives each their own gravitas.

Pitch Perfect: I saw the trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 when I went to see Mockingjay and the friend I was watching it with got super excited. So I finally broke down and watched it, and it’s such a FUN movie. Like Parks & Rec, I felt like I could watch it without feeling like I had to excuse anything. Purely enjoyable, with some great music and hilarious moments.

tws

I’ve found that, with the exception of a few older shows I’ve rewatched (ie, Poirot) I’ve largely lost my interest in shows that foreground white guys as inherently fascinating. This is really personal preference: for the last few years I’ve really found myself by far most interested in and moved by stories about women especially and other minorities. All of the media I’ve enjoyed this year, except perhaps Person of Interest, has foregrounded women and their stories (The Winter Soldier is almost as much about Natasha and Steve as it is about Steve and Bucky). Sadly, this does leave me a bit limited in terms of shows I’ll actual enjoy and if you have suggestions I will happily take them! One of my goals for the coming year is to catch up on some period dramas I’ve missed.

I’ll also note, period drama wise, that I am officially eating my hat. A few years ago the big British networks said they were taking a step away from Austen and Dickens adaptations. At the time, I felt quite annoyed by this, since I had been hoping for some more solid adaptations like Andrew Davies’ Little Dorrit. However, when I look at the period dramas that have come out of the last few years, I was clearly Wrong: Miss Fisher, Call the Midwife, Bletchley Circle, The Hour–even, for all its faults, Downton Abbey. If anything, we are in the middle of a burst of creative, smart period dramas most of them featuring women not only as characters but as writers and producers and I am all for it.

Finally, I continue to like the Marvel movies and even Agents of SHIELD, which is not nearly as bad as I was led to believe. And I am SO EXCITED for Agent Carter, and Age of Ultron, and Captain Marvel. I’ll continue to hope, probably in vain, for a Black Widow movie (srsly guys, whyyy) but overall I’m happy with what we have.

parks and rec