Tag Archives: Connie Willis

Favorite science fiction from the last five years

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of my favorite SF from the last few years. These are not necessarily books published in the last five years, but ones that I’ve read in that time span. (I feel like I’ve read less SF this year than normal, but I know there are also several I haven’t gotten around to yet.)

ancillary mercyscorpion rulesconservation of shadows

Ambassador by William Alexander: I read Ambassador for the Cybils back in 2014 and loved it. It’s nice to have an SF book about a Latino boy, and Alexander does a great job of incorporating Gabe’s identity and culture into the story. The concept that drives the book works well as a way to combine kids and politics.

Quicksilver and Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson: This is a really fascinating SF duology from one of my favorite authors. I’m never sure what to say about these books, because they have some great twists I don’t want to spoil. But I loved the main characters a lot, and I enjoy the way they have an SF plot with kind of a fantasy sensibility–if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao: I read this YA for the Cybils last year, and it’s really stuck with me. Less the plot (I just had to Google because I couldn’t remember) and more the characters and worldbuilding Bao was doing. I really liked Phaet, and I felt like her outlook on life is one we don’t get very often in YA.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: This book. THIS BOOK. It’s terrifying and tense and smart and every time I drink apple cider, I wince. Terrible things happen in it, and yet I also cried because it’s so hopeful and affirming. I can’t say how much I love Greta, and Xie, and all the Children of Peace.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold:  I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in its entirety, as I’ve documented here many times, but I was really fascinated by some of the turns and choices she made in the latest installment. It was also really lovely to have another story from Cordelia’s point of view.

The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh: If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I’ve been glomping my way through Cherryh’s massive series. I love the way she writes the atevi and the political and social customs and issues that arise. While I occasionally quibble with the depiction of the human women, overall the characters are really engaging and wonderful as well.

Promised Land by Cynthia DeFelice and Connie Willis: This is a lighter SF romance, which has turned out to be one of my comfort reads. It’s kind of a space western, but in a very different vein than Firefly.

Jupiter Pirates by Jason Fry: A fun middle-grade space adventure about a family of space privateers. Tycho and his siblings have to compete to win the captain’s seat, but there are also bigger contests going on. Fry has written a number of Star Wars chapter books, and he clearly knows what he’s doing.

And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst: I love Höst’s books, and this was the first one I read. It’s an intimate story, almost quiet, even though it’s about a terrifying world-wide event. Rather than a sweeping epic, Höst keeps the scale on a human level, and makes me care so much about Madeleine and her friends and the outcome of their story.

Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: I basically always want to be reading this trilogy; Leckie writes ambitiously about identity, loyalty, families, and imperialism. She also pulls it off, mostly because of her rich characters and worldbuilding which also give an emotional core to the big concepts she’s engaging with.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: I was really impressed by this short story collection, which features so many fascinating and strange worlds, as well as some really striking characters. The prose itself is also beautiful, even when the subject matter is not. I can’t wait till I get a chance to read Nine Fox Gambit.

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it turns out that near-future socio-political thrillers are very much my thing when Valentine is writing them. Persona is smart and sleek and tense. If UN + red carpet + spies sounds intriguing, this book is probably for you.

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Favorite Authors: Connie Willis

Connie Willis is one of the great ones of science fiction, in my opinion. She’s probably best known for her time-traveling Oxford series, which was certainly my entry into her work and which remain my favorites. But she’s also co-written several books with Cynthia DeFelice and has a wide range of other works. With the exception of The Doomsday Book, which I loved but am not sure I can ever re-read because it’s so sad, her books tend to be a mixture of funny and emotional, with quite a few muddles and misunderstandings along the way. In the Oxford books, she has created a future that I care deeply about, even though I know it will never actually come to be, but which I want to return to again and again.

Favorite books by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog
All Clear
Blackout
“Fire Watch”
Promised Land

All of my Connie Willis reviews
To Say Nothing of the Dog (2010)
Blackout, briefly (2010), twice and All Clear (2011)
Fire-Watch, briefly (2010)
Inside Job, briefly (2011)
Water Witch, briefly (2010)
Bellwether, briefly (2011)
Promised Land, briefly (2012)

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January 2012 book list

Books I’ve already talked about:
Elin’s Amerika by Marguerite De Angeli
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (and here and here). And it’s just as lovely on a re-read.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Lost by Jacqueline Davies
The Map of My Dead Pilots by Colleen Mondor
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer (you guys, the image at the end of the Duke waiting for his aides to come in never fails to bring me to tears)
Among Others by Jo Walton (and here and here). And most definitely holds up to re-reading.
Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones
Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones

The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones
The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones

False Scent struck me this time as much less about the murder and much more about the characters.

Alchemy by Margaret Mahy: I’ve been trying to find copies of the Mahy books I haven’t read. So far, none of them have struck me quite as much as The Tricksters or The Changeover, though Alchemy was nice.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: So, it’s official. I prefer the Infernal Devices series to the Mortal Instruments books. BY FAR. (Did I ever tell the story about stopping in the middle of the fourth TMI book?) I actually LIKE the way the love triangle is set-up–neither of the boys is clearly actually the right one for Tessa at this point, and they all feel like real characters in their own right. I especially like that Will and Jem are, you know, friends. For the record Tessa/Jem, though I don’t think it will last.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: This was billed as zombie romance for people who don’t like zombies–at least, that’s the impression I got from several reviews. It fell into the category of books that I appreciate but don’t love. For me, there was some kind of emotional disconnect that kept me from getting engrossed in it. I think I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Legend by Marie Lu: This book felt like the distillation of all the dystopia stereotypes. I was hopeful about it, because the Asian-American aspect sounded interesting, and there’s a sneaky street thief! But I didn’t believe in the characters or the plot and the political background didn’t work for me at all. In short, one I wanted to like and didn’t.

Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett: A re-telling of the Theseus myth. It’s nice in that the two narratives of Ariadne and Theseus worked well–distinct from each other without being overly gimmicky. And it created a compelling alternate narrative of the myth, in the way that good re-tellings do. I wasn’t completely wild about Ariadne’s epilogue, but it was a minor problem in a nice story.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu: I’d read conflicting reviews about this one, so I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. I found myself pleasantly surprised–there were some moments that didn’t work for me, but overall I really enjoyed it! I especially liked the fact that Ursu takes the inevitable Narnia comparison and explicitly addresses it in a way that makes her Snow Queen creepier. The only thing that really bothered me was the fact that Hazel, who knows her fairy tales, had apparently never heard of Hans Christian Andersen?

A Web of Air by Philip Reeve: I loooved Fever Crumb, so I was both excited and anxious about this book. I like the new world that Reeve builds, and the development of Fever’s character. I wasn’t quite as enamored of this one as I was of the first book, though, partly because the emotional heart of the first book was the London setting. Still, looking forward to the next one very much!

Light Raid by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice: I wasn’t super wild about Water Witch, the other book I’ve read by these two authors. Light Raid, on the other hand, I really enjoyed! I liked the feeling of a futuristic World War II and kept thinking I was reading one of the Oxford books (minus the time travel). I also thought I had the plot called and then it totally surprised me! And the romance was nice as well.

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart: A mystery on the Isle of Skye (anyone else grow up with the Skye Boat song?). It was quite creepy in an enjoyable way, and the descriptions are beautiful. I’m not sure what I think about the relationship aspect on this one.

The Red Keep by Allen French: A tale of chivalry and knighthood in medieval Burgundy. It’s a nice example of its type, but includes some self-aware moments that aren’t necessarily typical. Also, the heroine is not a damsel in distress, but she still feels of her time, so yay!

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe: A medical thriller, of sorts. I never quite connected to the characters, I think because I had heard some of what was going to happen on Twitter (and granted, it’s pretty obvious from the beginning of the book), and so I didn’t let myself get too invested. It’s still worth reading, and I think could be sold to some dystopia fans looking for another option.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi: You guys, I really liked this book! In case it’s not clear, I’ve been very burnt-out with the dystopian genre, and I almost didn’t read this one. But I’d seen a few good reviews, so I decided to try anyway. And yay! It has the typical focus on the romance, but it wasn’t an Insta-Attraction thing, and I bought the characters and their journey and cheered for them. It also has some nice worldbuilding–Perry is actually from Outside, which is something we aren’t seeing a lot of at the moment. In short, I’m so glad I read it and I’m hoping for a sequel.

The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart: Set on Crete, this was not my favorite Stewart. The mystery/romance aspect is fine, but I just like the English books the best (Ivy Tree and Thornyhold are still my favorites). Also, there was one moment where I just had to laugh about an Orthodox detail, though in general she got the feel of things right.

Parsley Sage, Rosemary & Time by Jane Louise Curry: A nice old-fashioned time travel book, with an emphasis on the characters. I called one of the major twists about 20 pages before the characters did, but it was still fun, and I liked Rosemary’s journey from prim to wild.

Schoolhouse in the Woods by Rebecca Caudill: This book gives us Bonnie Fairchild’s first year at school, in the Kentucky hills in the early 1900s. It’s a sweet story with nice illustrations, and Caudill has an ear for the language. I do like her more adult books better as this one felt a bit thin at times.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny: My first Zelazny–I ended up liking it quite a lot. I could see echoes in Stardust–the princes fighting for the crown, I think. Also loved Corwin’s voice, which manages to be both distant and engaging. I wasn’t always wild about the way the tone went back and forth between very archaic and contemporary. I get what Zelazny was trying to do, but I’m not sure it always worked.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whalley: This read like a typical Printz winner–a self-aware male narrator, a hint of bad things that might happen smoothed over by a happy resolution. It’s a fine book, but I wouldn’t personally have given it the award.

The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix
A Mind to Murder by P.D. James
They Do it With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Unnatural Death by P.D. James
A Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James
Betrayal by Lee Nichols
The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell
The Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy
The Will and the Deed by Ellis Peters
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
The Black Tower by P.D. James
The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Lion in the Box by Marguerite De Angeli

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August book list

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card: First Bean book. I love the way Card reweaves the story he told in Ender’s Game, making it both the same and different. And I found it quite emotionally touching as well, particularly the final battle scene and the end.

Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison: I was mildly entertained by this, but more and more I’m searching for books that have emotional depth and resonance and this, well, didn’t. But, it’s a YA mystery, and I want more in that category.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron: I just picked this one up at the library because it’s a Newbery book and I’m trying to expand my reading list. On the first page I stopped and thought to myself, “OH. It’s that book.” If you know what I’m talking about, you too may be a Newbery nerd. ANYWAY. It’s a decent book, though I feel like the basic storyline is one that’s used a lot in contemporary books and tends to get rewarded with praise and honors. I’m not as wild about it, but when done well, it does work.

Relic Master: The Dark City by Catherine Fisher: reviewed {here}.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: Second in a series. I found parts of it interesting and parts much less so, though I did like it considerably more than the first book.

Conflict of Honors by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: reviewed {here}

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Yes, I re-read it. I actually have more thoughts committed to paper which may eventually make it online. But for now they can be summed up as: Gaaah, Megan Whalen Turner!

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey: I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of so-called historical books lately, but I’ve also found some unexpected gems–The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell and Haunting Violet. I loved this book. Its heroine, Violet, is not a forward-thinking lady escaping the shackles of society. She’s a fake trying to make her way through society without getting caught. I loved her, I loved the romance. In short, YAY!

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson: A re-read. Eva Ibbotson is becoming one of my comfort authors. A Song for Summer isn’t my absolute favorite of her books, but it’s still lovely.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: I liked this a lot more than I expected to, though I never totally fell in love with it. Still, I wasn’t bothered by the voice, as I sometimes am, and the writing was seemingly effortless.

The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffiths: I did not like this book. The writing bothered me, the plot was not original, though some of the mythology was. And I was extremely bothered by the equation of religion and magic.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer: A re-read. I really enjoy Arabella, who is a spunky character with a strong philanthropic bent. Except for the times when she’s pretending to be an heiress, of course.

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: I had gotten stuck on this one before but wanted to actually read it. So I did. And I cried a lot. Excellent, but can only be described as bleak. I have a few more things to say which are spoilerish, so I may say them on Goodreads.

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip: Most of McKillip’s books improve with re-reading. This is no exception. I still find Luna Pellinore a fascinating and tantalizing character. I want more of her story!

The Counterfeit Madam by Pat McIntosh: The latest Gil Cunningham mystery. I enjoyed it a lot, as usual, and like the way characters from past stories return and change or don’t. There is one ongoing plotline that I would like resolved. Hopefully soon.

Deception by Lee Nichols: Another book I wasn’t sure about but ended up enjoying. Emma’s a fun character and I wasn’t annoyed by her or the writing, which is always nice. (And I mean that with real sincerity: my most common complaint about books I’ve read in the past couple of years is that they are annoying–the writing is either grandiose or clunks horribly.)

Shadow of the Hegemonby Orson Scott Card: reviewed {here}

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury: reviewed {here}

Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs: It was nice to have the rest of Ward’s story, but I think I preferred Dragon Bones. Somehow the stakes for this never quite seemed real to me and so I was never that worried.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: reviewed {here}

The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin: An excellent children’s biography of Benedict Arnold! I loved the way Sheinkin allowed people to speak in their own words, using quite a few period quotations, while at the same time explaining things in clear, modern terms. In addition, he was trying to capture one of the more complex figures in Revolutionary history.

Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge: Review coming soon.

My Dear Jenny by Madeleine Robbins: [e-book won through Library Thing] I suspected that this would be a Georgette Heyer knock-off. It wasn’t that exactly–I imagine that it does owe something to her, but it didn’t read like a thinner version of any of her books. On the other hand, the language and writing is nowhere near as strong.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman: Review coming soon.

The Broken Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin: Sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I liked this one better, partly because there was less violence, or at least less violence of a sort that bothers me. Also, I really liked Oree and her voice.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis: I wanted to read the whole Oxford series close together, to see how they hung together. To me, they’re actually quite disparate. Or at least, they strike very different notes, although they’re tied together by more than just an overlap of characters. Everyday heroism (MIKE) and courage in the face of disaster and defeat, for instance. I do find the optimism of Blackout and All Clear hard to reconcile with the non-optimism of Doomsday Book. Still, I love all three/four.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: I thinking I’m heading for a crazy Tam Lin retelling read-through. Fire and Hemlock is one of my favorites (how can I choose, though?). Polly is a lovely character, as is Granny. And I caught a bit more about names this time through–read Laurel’s full list of names carefully. It’s quite enlightening. Is the end confusing? You bet! But it rewards careful reading and re-reading and is, I think, quite in keeping with the rest of the book.

Night Fall by Joan Aiken: Picked this up at a library booksale, as an Aiken I hadn’t read. (I find it hard to resist the siren song of $1 hardbacks.) It’s a mystery that’s both odd and enchanting and, in a deeply weird way, it bears a strong resemblance to Fire and Hemlock.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede: I really wanted to like this book, and I did enjoy the different systems of magic and so on. But I felt like everything it was trying to do was done better by The Lost Conspiracy–the conflict between groups and especially Eff’s journey. To me, the real solution of the problem was so blindingly obvious that I spent most of the time wanting to say, “Come ON, Eff! Can’t you see?” Still, I think that would be less of a problem for a different reader and a different age range.

The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher: Book 2 of the Relic Master series. I was expecting one solution to the titular problem and found quite a different one. I love the little bits of description that Fisher weaves in–never over the top, but always setting the ground so perfectly. These are very fast reads and lots of fun.

Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card: So, as I started reading this, I thought, Huh. It seems like something’s happened between the end of the last book and now. Then I kept reading and wasn’t bothered by it any more. Just looked at my TBR list and…there’s a book that comes in between! That aside, I did enjoy this more than Shadow of the Hegemon.

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