Friday, January 30, 2015

Year 2014 Lists: Part I, Books

By request, something other than video games.  (Reprinted from Facebook, where this is a yearly tradition.)

Books Read This Year (In No Particular Order)

1. Early P. G. Wodehouse. One of my goals this year was to read all of the free P. G. Wodehouse books available. I had previously read all of the Jeeves books and loved them. It turns out that early in his career (before the Public Domain cutoff) that Wodehouse was a struggling writer who got by publishing serials in boys' magazine, so all of his early novels are set in British boarding schools around the turn of the century (the kind of thing that Harry Potter is an homage to). All of the books revolve around a collection of young gentlemen who play a sport--a different one in each book, cook sausages in their rooms, and brawl with the townspeople. But mostly it's the sports. I learned far more than I ever wanted to know of 1910 British sports slang and the scoring for wrestling, long distance running (called "sports"), football (which seems to be rugby), soccer, and cricket. (Please bring your questions on cricket to me. I can, begolly, answer them.) I don't recommend anyone actually subject themselves to this reading regimen, but there are a few stand-out titles. One is Love Among The Chickens, which stars actual adults. This one is probably only good because it was rewritten much later. In this book, a hapless upperclassman (these are common in Wodehouse) somehow gets involved with an amoral school friend who wants to start a chicken farm despite, of course, not knowing the first thing about it. I can also recommend Mike which starts as the standard Cricket tale but changes course mid-book and introduces Psmith, the fast-talking Communist lad who always has a plan who went on to star in a whole series of enjoyable books thereafter.

2. Reformed Vampires Support Group by Catherine Jinks. If you only read one terrible YA vampire book this year, make it this one. The protagonist was vamired as a teenager in the seventies and now lives with her aging mom, working online and attending a support group to pass the time. Life as a vampire is not great. They burn in sunlight, feel weak and sick, and go on a crazed murdering spree if they smell blood, so they have a lot to complain about at the support group. But the protagonist wants more out of life than living indoors and grouching with the same people weekly year after year. Will something exciting or at least interesting ever happen?

3. We Could Be Villians by Missy Meyer. I actually read chick lit this year! The protagonist is an artist working in the software industry. She spends her time snarking about the local superheros and casually flirting with the cute guy she met at a firedrill. But...then the plot completely changes. I'll bet you can guess how, but still it's a lot of fun to read.

4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I put this here because it deserves to be more widely-read, although it is not really my kind of book. The plot is almost exactly Twilight, except the characters are interesting and smart, and the entire book is really well-written. Plot: the protagonist really loves her boyfriend. Unfortunately, he keeps turning into a wolf...

5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I read the above due to finding this book, which is amazing. It starts slowly, but it ramps up and up. There are so many twists to the story and extra dimensions to the characters to discover. The protagonist is a small-town girl who is Not a psychic, odd in her family because all of the assorted women who live in her house Are psychic and make their living that way. She meets a group of boys from the wealthy-kids boarding school who are on a quest to discover the burial site of an ancient Welsh king. Read it. My favorite book of the year.

6. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. This book seems to be a Western about two brothers who are contract killers, but it also seems to be some sort of psychological journey. I suspect it of committing Symbolism, but don't hold that against it. (The author's previous novel was a novel consisting of notes on possibly writing a novel...) The brothers are unlucky guys with serious character flaws who bungle their way across the old west discovering strange people...alchemists, murderous children, violent whores, shamans, their mom...

7. Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love Bujold's science fiction series, but I have been really reluctant to try her fantasy after being burned by her romantic fantasy series (which is absolutely terrible). I picked this one up for $1 in the Humble Bundle, though, so I finally read it. It's great! This series is set in medieval fantasy world, which has humans but no elves or whatnot, only the addition of priestly magic. This is the start of a series of five books about five loosely-related characters who become Saints, people through whom the gods directly interact with the world. The religios devotion Feels very realistic to me here, and the plots have their usual Bujold intracacy. I recommend it.

8. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I told you to read this last year. Why haven't you yet? I've already read it twice now.

9. The Beetle by Richard Marsh. A horribly-androgynous horror comes to London to Opress a group of upper-class Victorians. We have a Lord with a Dread Secret, a Rational Scientist who keeps getting put in the Friend Zone, a Modern Sensible Lady, and a Reject From Charles Dickens, who all face the Horror that is The Beetle. This book was written the same year as Dracula. It is practically bursting with the tension between the Rational Victorian Mind and the Victorian Fascination With the Gothic. Read this for historical interest; don't expect to be scared.

10. The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Lamplighter continues her series set in a world in which someone has erased/is erasing the concept of Monotheism from existance, although the plot has nothing to do with that (presumably the plot of the books and the world plot will converge in a latter book; currently, the protagonist and possibly the reader are not meant to have noticed the changes). Regardless of whether the book is any good or not, it has an amazing cover. I recommend you go look at it, but read the first book in the series first. This one dives right in to the epilogue of the last book and stays there without developing a new plot for many pages.

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