Monday, December 23, 2019

The Year in Books: First Trimester

Thanks in large part to audiobooks (and the wide range of them that my local library offers) I consumed a lot of books this year -- Goodreads tells me it's 94 as of today, and I expect to add some more before the year concludes. My year broke down pretty neatly into three 4-month blocks: from January until early May I was staying home full-time with our daughter, which allowed for a lot listening time as I did things around the house or drove to pick up kids. From mid-May until the end of August I was training for a new career, which didn't leave nearly as much reading time. And then from September until now I've been working at my new job, which gives me about 45 minutes in the car each way to listen to books and podcasts, not to mention occasional walks during the work day.

Given that the list is so long, I thought I'd reflect back on the first third of 2019 for this post and save the other reading for later. 

Lois McMaster Bujold is an author that I've been aware of for decades, but only read a couple of her books, a standalone that I probably read 25 years ago and the first book in her fantasy series that starts with The Curse of Chalion, maybe 10 years ago. I wasn't consciously avoiding her, but hadn't sought her out. As I was looking for good fantasy from my library's audiobook downloads, I came across her work and decided to finally dive into her famous Vorkosigan saga. At the end of 2018 I went through the three books that tell the story of Miles Vorkosigan's mother, and between January and early March I read the other 11 books in the series. I really enjoyed them all--they're easy space opera reads that nonetheless have more meat to them than you'd expect. The characters are well-drawn and especially as they build over so many pages, growing individually with evolving relationships between them, she built to some really powerful moments, particularly in the later books. 

Enjoying those as much as I did--and also sometimes waiting for the next volume to be available from the library--pulled me into re-reading The Curse of Chalion and finally reading the rest of that series. Again, very good reads. I also enjoyed her Sharing Knife series. She's an excellent writer with really steady output over the years, and her recently-conferred Grandmaster status was well-deserved.

In late December 2018 I enjoyed Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, and in January I also loved a different fairy tale retelling from her, Uprooted. Speaking of continuations, there were a few series that I continued in 2019 that I started earlier, reading the 2nd and 3rd books of Josiah Bancroft's excellent Books of Babel series in January and April, and I'm eagerly awaiting future volumes there. I continued Anna Smith-Spark's Empires of Dust with book 2 in February (and I'm reading the concluding volume now). 

I tried some new, independently-published books, largely because I got free copies, but they were nothing special, sad to say. Not bad just ho-hum. 

A couple series I started that were not ho-hum included Mark Lawrence's One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1) and Peter McLean's Priest of Bones, and I read the second book in each series later in the year. 

There wasn't much that wasn't fantasy or sci-fi during the first trimester, but what I did read was very good. I'd somehow never read The Diary of Anne Frank, but it was part of the curriculum for a teaching job I applied for, which was enough prompting to get me to read it, and I'm glad that I did. Really powerful work. I also read White Fragility, a really thought-provoking look at race in America. 

A couple others bear mentioning before I close. First, N.K. Jemisin's How Long 'til Black Future Month, a fantastic collection of stories from the author of The Broken Earth Trilogy, which I read last year, and The Inheritance Trilogy, which I'm in the midst of right now. Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine came out of nowhere for me, but it was among the best books I read this year. Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas was the first book of his that I read, and although it didn't pull me right into the rest of his work, I expect I'll get there eventually. Finally, I thought that Christopher Buehlman's The Lesser Dead was a fun and interesting take on vampire stories. 

I finished out the first trimester with some re-reads: the first two books in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which I loved as a kid but hadn't read since--I thought it held up quite well all these years later. I also revisited Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, which I realized I had never finished. I still like his Dresden Files novels better, but these were better than I remembered them (though I suspect they might fall into the category of books that--to me--are better to listen to than to read). 

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