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Books Read in 2015

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I’ll be honest with you: 2015 was not a stellar reading year for me. I got distracted by the internet and by other activities. I went on a road trip and realized that reading in the car made me a bit sick. I got overwhelmed by keeping up with my weekly New Yorkers that just keep coming to the mailbox. Despite all of this, I managed to make my goal of reading 30 books this year. Thanks to a pretty uneventful December, I had something of a reading spree throughout the past month, which really helped me to achieve that goal.

The one book that most annoyed me this year was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I like the book. I really, really do. But it’s slow-going and it’s a really long book. I started reading it in January or February, and I read it as much as I could in the subsequent months. But in October, when I got the Welcome to Night Vale novel and the new Robert Galbraith book, I abandoned Strange/Norrell for those. I really want to return to Strange/Norrell and finish it once and for all in 2016.

In my 2014 wrap-up post, I wrote about a reading challenge that I found on tumblr. Yeah, that was a nice dream for a while. I even went through the challenge list and marked which books on my shelves could fulfill certain categories. But I quickly learned that I can’t stick to rigid reading lists like that. I hated it during school and apparently I still hate it. It’s a good idea, but I won’t be trying it again.

So, in 2016, I aim to simply read the books that I already own. If new books come out and I really need to read them, then I’ll pick them up. But in general, I want to stick to my own shelves and get some of these books read already. I’ll also be bumping down my goal to read only 25 books in 2016. If I surpass that, so be it. But if I make it to 25, that’s just fine with me.

Now let’s take a look at the books I read in 2015!

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Posted by on December 30, 2015 in the year in books

 

Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

77773I believe I found To Say Nothing of the Dog on a rec list in some corner of the internet a while back. I then stumbled upon it in a bookstore one sunny afternoon and decided to pick it up. It was in mass market paperback form, so it was mega-affordable and easy to travel with. About a month ago, I was searching for a new read and decided to grab this off my shelf. Although I wasn’t immediately captivated, I ended up becoming pretty obsessed with this book as I got further into the story. By the end, I was fully invested and just wanted answers to the questions that had been stretched throughout the book.

Ned Henry time travels for a living. He works for a time travel agency of sorts that’s based out of Oxford. When the book begins, Ned is on a mission for his boss, Lady Schrapnell, which entails finding a curious object known as “the bishop’s bird stump.” It’s not entirely clear what this object is, who Lady Schrapnell is, or when this story is taking place. This is all by design. Although it makes for a slightly confusing experience when you first begin to read, I quite like this “being thrown in” method of writing. I like that we don’t really know what the folks in Oxford do, and we don’t really know how time travel was discovered, and we don’t even really know how it works. It’s come to my attention that this book is part of a series, so perhaps we learn more about these topics in the other books, but we don’t know about them here.

What we do know, however, is that Lady Schrapnell wants to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, which was damaged during the 1940s blitz. Ned’s quest for “the bishop’s bird stump” is essential to this rebuilding process. However, before he can find it, Ned participates in too many time travel “drops” and begins to suffer from severe “time lag.”

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Review: The Paying Guests

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The first book I read by Sarah Waters was The Night Watch. You might remember that I positively raved about that book. I loved everything about it, and so I was eager to read more of Sarah Waters’ bibliography. The next book I picked up by her was The Little Stranger. It was billed as a Victorian horror story, which was very different from The Night Watch, but I was willing to give it a try. That book plodded on and failed to capture my interest within the first 100 pages, so I sadly had to cast it aside. The Paying Guests was released a little while ago and I was cautiously optimistic. When I found it at my local secondhand book shop for a very reasonable price (and in hardcover as well!), I jumped in and hoped that the lesbian subplot would cushion my fall.

A young woman called Frances Wray lives alone with her mother after losing both of her brothers to the Great War, and her father in the process. To earn some money, Frances and her mother decide to take in lodgers, which would also be known as paying guests, hence the title. The lodgers they find are a married couple — Leonard and Lilian Barber. At first, having the lodgers in their house is strange. But after an adjustment period, Frances begins an uneasy friendship with Lilian. The friendship becomes even more uneasy when Frances divulges a secret of hers — she’s a lesbian. In the 1920s. Soon the friendship becomes fraught with romantic feelings that threaten to overtake Frances and Lilian. As their connection deepens, they’ll do just about anything to stay together.

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Review: The Republic of Thieves

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I first read The Lies of Locke Lamora in my freshman year of college. I fell head over heels in love with the characters, the world, and the writing style of that book. I read it in the back row of my gen-ed history course, which I now see was incredibly rude to the teacher, but I had such a fun time reading it. Three years ago, I picked up the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and loved that just as much. When I heard that Scott Lynch was coming out with the third installment at last, I was super excited. The hardcover version of the book, however, was enormous and wouldn’t match my paperback copies of the first two books. So I waited…and waited…and finally the paperback version was released. It took me a while to read this book because I had a lot of “life” things going on, but it was just as enjoyable as the first two.

The story begins with Locke and Jean in some hot water, to put it very mildly. Locke has been poisoned and his prospects are not looking good. The prognosis for this poison is very dire, so Jean spends most of his time searching for someone who can possibly cure Locke. So far, Jean hasn’t had any luck. Eventually, Locke and Jean are approached by a bondsmage named Patience. Entering into an agreement with a bondsmage is never simple and it’s never a “no strings attached” type of deal, so Jean and Locke are uncertain. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything, though, by saying that they take up Patience’s offer and Locke is cured of his poison. If he wasn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a book, now would there?

The Republic of Thieves contains dual stories running at the same time in alternating chapters or sections. The first is Locke and Jean in present day, handling the task they owe to Patience after she cures Locke. The second is from their past, when they were young Gentleman Bastards, and when Locke first met Sabetha. Until now, readers have only heard about Sabetha in passing. It has been made clear, however, that Locke was in love with her and then something happened and they were separated in one way or another. Sabetha has been a huge mystery until this book. And I was not disappointed by the reveal.

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Series Review: His Dark Materials

My first big reading project of 2015 was to read the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. I remember reading the first book, The Golden Compass, and at least half of The Subtle Knife was I was younger. I remember being entranced by the books and by the character of Lyra. But apart from that, and the polar bear that was on the cover of the edition my library had in stock, I didn’t remember much about the actual plot of the story. I had a sort of vague recollection of what they might be about coupled with sparse information about their message regarding religion. So, I didn’t go into these books completely blind, but very nearly. Having now finished all three books in the trilogy, I thought I would combine them into one big post. So here are my thoughts on Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

The Golden Compass: (3/5 stars) This first book is the story of Lyra and her strange world, which is filled with daemons, magic, witches, armored bears, Dust, and an all-powerful Church. The origins and the purpose of Dust is unknown, but lots of people seem to be very interested in it. After Lyra is taken away from her beloved Oxford by a woman named Mrs. Coulter, she escapes and travels to the North. There she learns the lengths to which people will go to control Dust. And she brings with her the alethiometer, which is the titular golden compass. Through this device, Lyra can discover the answer to any question. No one is sure why or how, but Lyra seems to instinctively know how to read the device. By the end of the first book, Lyra has seen horrible things and is determined to learn how to stop them from happening. When I first read this book, I think I was way too young for it. Funnily enough, I’m kind of too old for it now. Despite that, I did enjoy reading this book.

The Subtle Knife: (5/5 stars) In this second volume, a new character is introduced to the story — Will. He’s a young boy living in a world that’s exactly like the readers’ world. Lyra meets up with Will and they spend this book traveling between worlds, discovering dark new elements of the story that began in The Golden Compass, and fighting for their lives. Oh, and Will discovers the Subtle Knife, of course. I liked seeing the multiple worlds come together. Maybe I’m just completely slow on the uptake, but I didn’t expect this book to begin in another world and then introduce a completely different one from the one we were in with Lyra. It was interesting to see Lyra through someone else’s eyes and to realize how strange she would seem to someone from our world. This book made me realize just how wide and impressive the world that Pullman created is. Especially the fact that Dust is present in all of these worlds and has its own explanation in each one. In general, I found this way more interesting than The Golden Compass. Also, the ending of this book was amazing. Totally gripping.

The Amber Spyglass: (4/5 stars) So. Much. Happened. This book was longer than the first two in the series, and as a result so much happened. It felt like a very dense and full book, but that wasn’t a bad thing. By this point, it seemed like everything that needed to be introduced had been introduced, so the story just took off immediately and didn’t stop until the end. In this book, Pullman doesn’t hold anything back in his symbolism and connections to the “real world.” By the end of it, I was sort of surprised at how frank and candid he had been about certain topics. Characters die, Lyra and Will visit the world of the dead, and really big things happen that I don’t want to give away if you haven’t read it. The ending was heartbreaking and optimistic at the same time, and I flew through the final 100 pages of this book. Really excellent.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book series. It’s funny to look back and see that my review for The Golden Compass says I felt too young to be reading the series. That was the case with the first book, but I think it changed as the series went on, which is appropriate. The books are mainly about the process of growing up, so it make sense that they would become more and more advanced or mature. By the time I was reading The Amber Spyglass, I found myself thinking that it was too heavy for a kids’ book.

As I said, I remembered very little from my first reading of this series, and I don’t think I even got to the final book during that read. I may have heard about the anti-religion themes and been scared away. I’m glad that I came back to the books now, when I would be more open-minded to those sorts of messages. I feel like this was the right time for me to read the series. I picked up on a lot of the subtext this time around that I know I wouldn’t have gotten when I was younger. This was a great way to start my reading year!

 

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Books Read in 2014

So another year has passed! It’s time to count up the books that I read this year, and to evaluate which ones were stellar and which ones were a disappointing. I also want to mention what I’m going to be including in my 2015 reading goals. But first, what about last year’s goals? On Goodreads, I set myself the goal of reading 25 books this year. As usual, it looked as though I wasn’t going to reach that goal, and then the holidays happened. I always get a lot of reading done over the holidays, and this year was no exception. So, I did reach my goal of reading 25 books and I even surpassed it!

Now, a brief note about 2015: my goal for this coming year is to read 30 books. Every year I have pushed closer and closer to 30 books, so this year it’s going to be my actual goal. I’m throwing else into the mix, though. A few days ago I saw this reading challenge checklist posted on Tumblr. I like the idea of reading in these different categories, so I’m going to give it a go! I know there are more than 30 books on this checklist, but I guess I’m being ambitious in 2015.

For me, and for many others, 2014 was the Year of the Graphic Novel. Many of the books on my list for 2014 are graphic novels, and that’s because they’re quick to read and were always really on point this year. Some amazing graphic novels were released this year and my brother helped introduce me to some great comic series as well. Those don’t appear on my list, unfortunately, because they were mainly read in single-issue, and if I was counting all of those then this list would be ridiculously long. I read some new releases this year, but mostly I stayed in my personal backlist of books that I want to read. I read off my shelves a lot this year, too, which is definitely a good thing. I hope to keep the book-buying to a minimum in 2015 as well, because I certainly have enough to read in my personal library.

Let’s take a look at the books that I read this past year!

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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in the year in books

 

Review: Swamplandia!

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When I first heard about Swamplandia!, I was very intrigued because I had a read a short story by Karen Russell — Vampires in the Lemon Grove — years earlier in a Creative Writing class. I had really enjoyed the short story and was interested in this new book because it was supposed to have that same quality of magical realism that Vampires had. As with many books, however, it took me forever to buy this one. Best-sellers/new releases are so expensive, you know? Eventually I found this on the bargain shelf at Half Price Books and seized the chance to check it out.

Swamplandia! is a novel that follows the Bigtree family — Kiwi, Osceola, Ava, and their father ‘the Chief.’ The Bigtrees live on an island off the coast of Florida that they have deemed Swamplandia! The name also comes from the theme park/tourist attraction that the family runs and resides in. Swamplandia! is an alligator-wrestling show that the family puts on, and the star of which is their mother. The Chief and his grandfather before him have modeled themselves as Native Americans — the Bigtree Tribe — which is more than a little offensive, and the book seems to know that. Swamplandia! is dealt a heavy blow when a new attraction opens on the mainland — The World of Darkness. This attraction also features sea creatures and other oceanic gimmicks.

Swamplandia! is a book about the loss of innocence that we all experience as our family falls away and we learn more and more about the world at large. In this instance, the Bigtree children’s loss of innocence begins with one of the worst things that could happen to any child — their mother dies of cancer. I promise, that’s not a spoiler! It happens within the first few pages and it’s even mentioned on the back cover copy. In addition to being the catalyst for this loss of innocence, Hilola Bigtree — the lost mother — was the lynchpin of this family in many ways. As soon as she is gone, they all fall to pieces. Each member of the family has his or her own way of avoiding reality and escaping. The irony is that these escapes all lead to their losses of innocence.

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