Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 A Year's Review in Books

This year my goal was to read 48 books and I surpassed the goal by reading 50 books.  Reaching this number of books with the active year I had was hard.  Most days I wanted to stare off into space like a half conscious zombie, too lazy to even shamble off for brains.  When I read, it was often rereads of old fanfiction favorites (yes I read and love Harry Potter fanfiction still and no I did not count a single line of fanfiction as reading a book though many of my favorites are longer than the books that made the list).

It was an ugly year for books.  Over half of my book list is nonfiction and often I read “nonfiction” on Kindle Unlimited to fact check and argue more than to inform.  Public service announcement: don’t use  book selection on Kindle Unlimited for research.  While they have some great books, the ones with dangerous misinformation FAR out weight the hidden gems.  

This year’s review will differ from last year’s summary.  I will offer three books I loved, three I liked, and three that disappointed.  

What I Loved:

1.Secrets Bound by Sand: This is the 4th installment of T. A. White’s “Dragon Bound” series.  She maintains a steady quality and pacing.  While I didn’t love this book as much as either book 1 or 3 in the series, it was a great addition.  Tate remains a strong willed female character with a small core of trusted friends and a larger group of maybe allies.  I like how she and her dragon interact, though I missed some of the series standar characters as Tate spends a lot of her time on her own.  Tate is at her most compelling when there’s a large cast for her to play against.  This smaller set piece leaves less for her to work against or with, which lead to a smaller feeling story.

White writes action and adventure series that rely on puzzle solving from smart and reflective characters.  Her world building remains strong, detailed, and compelling.  Can’t wait for more.

2. The Numia Trilogy:  A break out new favorite.  I’d no idea Charlie N. Holmberg was working on something new.  Sandis is a smart if too trusting protagonist.  Her plight drives these books, and she’s a lovely character to follow around.  I found Rone’s perspective annoying and often skipped his chapters.  He was like an unwelcome intruder to what was otherwise a beautiful narrative.  

Upon reflection, the first book is the weakest of the series.  Readers: if you don’t care for the split perspective (like me) it gets better as the series continues. I can’t remember if Rone started being interesting (he is in book 3 and maybe Holmberg put in unneeded split perspectives in books 1 & 2 because she knew she needed them in book 3) or if I learned to like him more.  All I know is that what was jarring and infuriating in book becomes less onerous in further installments.

And can we talk world-building?  Everything in this made up place works so well together.  All the pieces fit but not in a cookie cutter “the author aligned the stars” artificial feel some fantasy worlds have.  Also, the length of the series is perfect.  Homberg gave us just enough for three books.  The world unravels a touch in the last third of the last book.  My suspension of disbelief stuttered, but pacing and stakes kept me invested till the last page.

3. Folk Witchcraft: I liked this book so much I bought it.  It’s a British centric perspective on witchcraft but not Wicca centered.  No calling quarters, casting circles, or God/Goddess assertions.  No threefold law.  Instead of offering generalization and all kinds of seasonal advice that only applies to people living in the right climate, Horne gives practical advice for meditation, reflecting on what one’s local seasonal shifts are, where one’s local land deities may be, and how to contact them.  His book reads less like someone’s ideal of what magic should do or be and more like what a person could expect/achieve.

While the book was spiritually nourishing for me, it was also very inspirational as a writer.  The short stories or little vignettes that could come out of some of these practices are enticing.  A few short fables could be a lot of fun.  If you’re an urban fantasy writer looking to create a magical system, I recommend Folk Magic as a good jumping off point.  

What I Liked:

1. Firefly Magic: Another book I ended up buying.  While I started reading this book way back in 2017 and the book was under Kindle Unlimited, it is no longer available via Kindle Unlimited.  While I’ve only read the book in little patches, it’s been a huge player in my writing life.  This book got me thinking about self publishing Follow Me: Tattered Veils back when my first draft was cut open and bleeding all over my keyboard.  It made me take publishing my book seriously and encouraged me to research an editor and cover artist.  It lead me to think of marketing and promotion in new and more positive ways.  Anyone who feels sensitive about pitching their creative whatever, should check out this book.

2. The Foretelling:  Did you know that Alice Hoffman has some of her books on Kindle Unlimited?  The Foretelling is a stunning example of everything I love in Hoffman’s work.  Her narratives are thoughtful and dreamlike.  I feel like I’m swimming though her work and it spins a story I don’t want to put down until the last page.  Then I just want to sit in silence and hold onto the feelings her style inspired in me. 

I argued with myself whether this book belongs in the liked or loved category.  I love Hoffman’s narrative style and as a result I love everything I’ve ever read by her.  However, some of her works are more compelling than others.  I recommend The Foretelling to Hoffman fans, to people who like Amazon myths, and to people who like alternative history stories.  I loved the work, but I can admit the subject material isn’t super compelling outside of Hoffman fan-girling and girl power circles.

3. The Last Black Unicorn:  I’ve wanted to read this book for years, but not enough to shell out $11.99.  When I saw it hit Kindle Unlimited, I scooped it up.  Overall the book was mid-range.  There were parts where the narrative dragged, but then there were a ton of funny and compelling elements too.  I waffled on placing this book because I almost put the book down three times and if I had stopped reading at those points; I don’t think I’d have lost much.

Still it’s a solid book.  Both funny and poignant.  If you enjoy rooting for an underdog, you’ll like this book.

What Disappointed:

1. The Forest of Embers: This book took a series I loved and made me feel “meh” about the whole thing.  I don’t know if I will pick up the next in the series when it comes out, and that’s a shame.

The book was clumsy.  It jumps forward in time but what it skips over seems more interesting than the story it tells.  Elements of it seem shoehorned in.  This whole gods and dragons part introduced doesn’t feel like it meshes with the faery magic, magic people, or in between that was originally introduced.  Part of what made the story so good was a cohesive world and this book has a lot in it that doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe.

Characters don’t feel familiar or beloved.  Personalities and views I’d seen develop and change over seven books were turned back so we could reread the same character arc or create artifical tension.  There’s a continuation of a love triangle that for my money was decided back in book four.  

The book is a mess. I wish we’d gotten a same world with new characters or even something entirely unrelated.  Roethle is a talented writer, but this wasn’t good.

2. Sara Fine: I’m not Fine’s audience and I have to accept that.  I like her writing style a lot.  There are flashes in her work I want more of and that’s rare enough that I read through many over her books (2 this year and 3 last year).  However the juvenille tone (which is perfect for her target audience), the mushy romanticism (again what people are there for), and the problematic tropes are too much for me.  I won’t pick her up again.  5 books is enough to teach me these lessons.

I would recommend Beneath the Shine and Sanctuary for teens, but her Reliquary series is too problematic for me to recommend it to anyone. 

3. Rebelborn: Another disappointing conclusion to an otherwise great series.  Bartol kind of wrote herself into a corner here (I say that but I have three different stories I would have preferred to read from this setup).  This story has pretty much everything I didn’t like about the last 2 movies in the matrix series crammed into it. 

There isn’t the same moral gray area in this book that the other two offered.  This book isn’t thoughtful.  It doesn’t encourage the readers to think on the use of technology, or what it means to staunchly support a side even when it’s no longer doing good.

It has a weird “solution” to the love rectangle it introduced that felt a lot like having one’s cake and eating it too.  And the book overlooks abusive behavior or stalking behavior from two of the love interests.  We never address that all three of the love interests at some point physically hurt and intimidate Roselle.  We don’t address the verbal abuse or possessivenenss of these characters.  Like kudos for being sex positive but major boo in understanding what’s romantic and what’s creepy/unhealthy.  Being in the middle of a war only excuses so much. 

It has a weird solution to character deaths I didn’t like.  And it uses a version of a comic book multi-verse that feels more cheap somehow. 

After the first third of the book, there’s no sense of tension or stakes.  Everything wraps up neat, clean, and happy. If you write a book where a massive war and implied genocide happens, it can not be all sunshine and rainbows in the ending.

Another young adult book series I looked forward to recommending but unfortunately can’t recommend.

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