Favorite Books — November 2022

November’s standout was book 5 in a series:

NEMESIS GAMES by James S. A. Corey

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

The best book so far in the Expanse series — I hope the next four, when I get around to reading them, turn out to be as good as this one. Compared to the earlier books, the characterization is deeper, the prose is better, and the dialogue is sharper. I had a couple of minor quibbles with this and that, but all told, this was a step up for the series and a great book overall.

Some other great reads this month were THE BLUE BOOK OF NEBO by Manon Steffan Ros, SHRINES OF GAIETY by Kate Atkinson, SECOND SPEAR by Kerstin Hall, NOT SAFE FOR WORK by Isabel Kaplan, QUEEN OF THE UNWANTED by Jenna Glass, THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and THE MOONDAY LETTERS by Emmi Itäranta.

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Favorite Books — October 2022

The book I definitely want to highlight for October is:

NONA THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…

I’ll admit it — I spent far too much of this novel thinking, “Wow, this seems remarkably straightforward for a Locked Tomb book.” Hahahahaha no. Everything I know is wrong, black is white, up is down, and short is long. In addition, in this book, we finally see what life is like under the thumb of the Empire (not good), we finally learn what happened to Earth 10,000 years ago (also not good), and one character in this series finally gets to experience a relatively happy childhood, sort of. What more could you want? Also, Noodle is a Very Good Boy.

Other books worth noting were THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin, TITUS GROAN by Mervyn Peake, MR. FOX by Barbara Comyns, OUT OF SALEM by Hal Schrieve, SADIE by Courtney Summers, THE WOMEN’S WAR by Jenna Glass, THE BOOK EATERS by Sunyi Dean, GINGER AND ME by Elissa Soave, THE OLEANDER SWORD by Tasha Suri, UNRAVELLER by Frances Hardinge, NEEDLE by Linda Nagata, and HOW TO GET A GIRLFRIEND (WHEN YOU’RE A TERRIFYING MONSTER) by Marie Cardno.

Favorite Books — September 2022

September added no less than three great books to my favorites pile, in three wildly different genres:

THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES by Naomi Novik

The one thing you never talk about while you’re in the Scholomance is what you’ll do when you get out. And now the impossible dream has come true. El is out. And the first thing she’s got to do is turn straight around and find a way back in.

Honestly, I think this one is the best of the Scholomance books. The main character has matured, the thematic content is pointed, the humor is sharp, and the plot twists are the best kind — the ones that make you go either “I should have figured that out!” or “Ha! I knew it!” rather than “… What?” Five stars, couldn’t put it down.

THE MEMORY POLICE by Yōko Ogawa

On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses — until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten.

Reading this book brought to mind many of the great dystopian works — the historical erasure of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, the pitiless bureaucracy of The Trial, and perhaps most of all, Rhinoceros’ depiction of a world becoming warped beyond recognition. But this is not an imitative novel; it has its own unique voice and point of view. It simply speaks to the same basic truth that the others did. Everything is being destroyed, disappearing so thoroughly it’s as if they had never been, and we are watching all of vanish like snow melting in a stream.

MY COUSIN RACHEL by Daphne du Maurier

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose’s letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin’s widow with hatred in his heart.

I love a book with a well-written unreliable narrator, and Phillip is about the most unreliable narrator possible — blithely unaware of his own classism, misogyny, entitlement, bigotry, and possessiveness, ensconced in a society that tells him it’s only right and just that he is that way. The supposed central mystery of the book remains unresolved and unresolvable, because it is impossible for Phillip to see Rachel as a person separate from his own wishes. Is Rachel a murderer? Maybe, maybe not. But Phillip certainly is.

Other great September reads included CHASING HARMONY by Melanie Bell, GINGERBREAD by Helen Oyeyemi, OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene, THE EMPEROR’S SOUL by Brandon Sanderson, THE LOST DAUGHTER by Elena Ferrante, LIFELODE by Jo Walton, THE VERIFIERS by Jane Pek, OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA by Julia Armfield, BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts, THE WOMEN OF TROY by Pat Barker, and SOMEONE LIKE ME by M. R. Carey.

Favorite Books — August 2022

August brought two books I’d like to highlight as especial favorites, both of them depressing post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction. I guess I’m in a mood?

SEVERANCE, by Ling Ma

When Shen Fever sweeps through New York, families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, Candace Chen photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost. She won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry former IT tech Bob.

Reading this book in 2022, parts of it seem almost prophetic. But it’s about more than an epidemic; it’s about the machinery of the world that consumes us, whether we wish it to or not. How can you tell the victims of the plague, trapped in repetitive parodies of the lives they once lived, from those who believe they’ve escaped it?

THE PHARMACIST, by Rachelle Atalla

In the end, very few people made it to the bunker. Now they wait there for the outside world to heal. Wolfe is one of the lucky ones. She’s safe and employed as the bunker’s pharmacist, doling out medicine under the watchful eye of their increasingly erratic and paranoid leader. But when the leader starts to ask things of Wolfe, favours she can hardly say no to, it seems her luck is running out.

It’s easy to root for a heroic protagonist. It’s harder to sympathize with one who becomes horrific in order to survive in a horrific situation. Rachelle Atalla pulls off the difficult trick of keeping us on the main character’s side as she trades away pieces of her conscience and soul bit by bit. It’s not difficult to believe that in the same situation, most of us would make similar choices.

Other great books I read this month included THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy, THE ROAD TO THE CITY by Natalia Ginzburg, OUR SISTER, AGAIN by Sophie Cameron, WHEN WOMEN WERE DRAGONS by Kelly Barnhill, REAL EASY by Marie Rutkoski, THE GIRL FROM THE SEA by Molly Knox Ostertag, REAL BAD THINGS by Kelly J. Ford, PRISONER OF MIDNIGHT by Barbara Hambly, A WORKING CLASS STATE OF MIND by Colin Burnett, and THE RUTHLESS LADY’S GUIDE TO WIZARDRY by C. M. Waggoner.

Favorite Books — July 2022

The standout for this month was, without a doubt:

SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended. A novel about time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later.

This is a moody, introspective book about living life in the shadow of pandemics — or, more broadly, living in the shadow of death — that features an extremely inept time traveller. I liked it a lot. The book shares some characters with The Glass Hotel, but either can be read without having read the other.

Other books I very much enjoyed included HEAVEN by Mieko Kawakami, LOCKLANDS by Robert Jackson Bennett, THE LANGUAGE OF ROSES by Heather Rose Jones, GODSGRAVE and DARKDAWN by Jay Kristoff, ONE MAN’S TRASH by Ryan Vance, A FOX IN SHADOW by Jane Fletcher, THE BEAST THAT NEVER WAS by Caren J. Werlinger, CLOCKWORK SISTER by M. E. Rodman, and SPEAR by Nicola Griffith.

The Mystery Answered At Last

THEORY: Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love” is actually a direct retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. There are of course numerous parallels, but perhaps the most obvious can be found in Act IV, Scene 1:

BENEDICK: Come, bid me do any thing for thee.

BEATRICE: Kill Claudio.

BENEDICK: Ha! not for the wide world.

That is to say, he will do anything for love, but he won’t do that.

(It is already well known that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Albert Camus’ The Stranger, whereas “We Built This City On Rock And Roll” retells The Aeneid.)

Favorite Books — June 2022

June was a good month for books. There’s one I’d like to particularly highlight:

THE MIGHTY HEART OF SUNNY ST. JAMES, by Ashley Herring Blake

When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before, 2) find a new best friend, and 3) kiss a boy for the first time. Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all.

This book is awesome. As is just about everything Ashley Herring Blake has ever written. That is all.

Other books I enjoyed this month included: THE ROBBER GIRL by Franny Billingsley, SHE GETS THE GIRL by Rachael Lippincott, THE DAUGHTERS OF YS by M. T. Anderson and Jo Rioux, DEATHLESS GODS by P. C. Hodgell, THE MEMORY THEATER by Karen Tidbeck, NEVERNIGHT by Jay Kristoff, COMPANION PIECE by Ali Smith, A TOUCH OF JEN by Beth Morgan, TWELVE DAYS IN MAY by Niamh Hargan, CLOCKWORK SISTER by M. E. Rodman, THE STORYTELLERS by Caron McKinlay, CIBOLA BURN by James S. A. Corey, HIDE by Kiersten White, NEITHER PRESENT TIME by Caren J. Werlinger, and EYES OF THE VOID by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Favorite Books — May 2022

There’s no book I want to highlight in particular this month, but a lot that I liked quite a bit. Some of the best reads were SPIDERLIGHT by Adrian Tchaikovsky, THE BROKEN PANE by Charlie Roy, IN THE SERPENT’S WAKE by Rachel Hartman, THE KNITTING STATION by Kirsti Wishart, SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson, LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, NETTLE & BONE by T. Kingfisher, LATE TO THE PARTY by Kelly Quindlen, THE BEAUTIFUL ONES by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, DELILAH GREEN DOESN’T CARE by Ashley Herring Blake, THE EXCALIBUR CURSE by Kiersten White, THE PANOPTICON by Jenny Fagan, UNWITCH HUNT by Justin Robinson, and Burton Raffel’s translation of BEOWULF.