Books 76-100 to ring us into the New Year. I am actually really excited for 2016’s year of books as I already downloaded some exciting titles with my Christmas and birthday gift cards. There’s so many good titles waiting for me! And also bad ones to keep me warm by fueling my hate.
76. The Pact (Karina Halle): On the scale of ‘help me, my eyes are melting out of my head because I keep reading this book’ to ‘I paid 0 dollar for this book and it’s actually surpassing all my expectations for that value,’ this book rates as ‘trope where two people promise to marry if they aren’t both married by such age but of course they’re in love with each other the whole time.’
77. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clark): If you listen carefully, you can hear my screams of uninhibited joy from the space station. When someone asks me what I’m thinking about when I’m staring off into the distance, 9/10 my answer would be how it is the greatest tragedy of my life that I don’t live in time where travel to Saturn is considered typical. A Space Odyssey touches that part of me and leaves me yearning. HAL is an incredible character, an achievement, I would say. He’s disturbing because in the end, I’m not sure how self-aware HAL actually is. There’s a line about HAL fearing disconnection that has earned a place in the quote hall of fame for me: “He had been threatened with disconnection; he would be deprived of all his inputs, and thrown into an unimaginable state of unconsciousness. To HAL, this was the equivalent of Death. For he had never slept, and therefore he did not know that one could wake again..”
78. The Humans (Matt Haig): I have mixed feelings about this book. The beginning was really enjoyable—it highlights really well the abject awkwardness of human day-to-day interactions that we all feel. I like the humor of examining the way people interact as an alien and it works well here. But about halfway through the book shifted into sort of a ham-fisted exploration of “LIFE IS SUFFERING BUT THAT GIVES IT MEANING.” Like it went hard in ways that were too obvious and kind of cringe-worthy. But I would recommend it as an easy and sweet read.
79. Game Changer (Rene Folsom): Something that bothers me in all of these terrible romances is that the people in them never seem to do any work. Like they spend all their time running around, going on really fancy dates or stalking each other, and never going to the office. How are all of you not fired? Though in this one the guy is the CEO (maybe, I don’t remember) so I guess he can skip work all he wants, but that’s not going to help his company survive in the long run. Also this book was fucking terrible.
80. Coraline (Neil Gaiman): One of my great failings in book reading is never having read a Gaiman book before. I chose Coraline as my first because I’ve seen the movie and it was short (I’m not going to lie, I was thinking of my totals. American Gods is long.) This book is one of those nightmares masquerading as a children’s story. It is especially clever because I don’t think children would be as disturbed by it as I am. It’s like Where the Wild Things Are—it reads completely different to different age groups. And in that vein—this book was horrifying. I’m deeply disturbed by it. So that’s high-praise.
81. North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell): I’ve seen the t.v. adaption a LOT of times so I finally committed to reading the book. It was actually far better than I expected and, in my opinion, actually far better than the adaption. The book occasionally dips into Thornton’s point of view and (I’m weak and I love this sort of thing) portrays him as a more complex character than in the t.v. version. Thornton is a champion brooder, he takes it to new heights and establishes the ‘staring out of windows in serious thought’ game. This book has some serious investigations on politics and religion as well, in case you’re a raging socialist who also loves romance. Also love that Margaret is canonically not skinny. Get it girl.
82. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen): This was one of the Austen books I hadn’t been looking forward to reading because it is one of her earliest (if not the earliest, if you’re judging by written and not published). But this is now my dark horse candidate for being in the top three of my favorite Austen novels. There’s something very charming about Catherine’s overactive imagination and Tilney is a charming goofball, rather than dark and brooding (sorry Mr. Darcy). It is the most light-hearted of the books, no doubt. Also it reinforces my opinion that Austen thought little of 17 year-olds, as they’re either throwing themselves around in crying fits (I see you Marianne) or losing all touch with reality.
83. Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Laini Taylor): See Daughter of Smoke and Bone for why you should read this series. An excellent conclusion, tying together every thread you could hope it would (at over 600 pages, it had better) and with a satisfying conclusion. Also, for once in my LIFE, my favorite character lived so thank god for that.
84. Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride (Christi Caldwell): My favorite part of this whole book is when the main character admits her illicit love of gardening. 10/10. The rest of the book couldn’t live up to that moment, which is tragic because it was around page 1. Oops. Also weirdly reverent of the military.
85. Dirty Blood (Heather Hildenbrand): There have been a couple of werewolf YA books this year that were pleasant surprises to me. This one fell into the category of “when will the paranormal romance trend die because I’m starting to think I’m not going to outlive it.” There wasn’t anything redeeming about this book, but also nothing horribly offensive (I don’t think?). It was just mediocre written and kind of boring, ultimately.
86. Love is a Dog From Hell (Charles Bukowski): I don’t really live Bukowski’s ‘love’ poems, and this was a whole collection of them. It isn’t that they’re kind of misogynistic (though I give Bukowski more credit than most, because there are several poems where he reveals a self-awareness that women aren’t the core of all his problems, the way he treats them is), it’s that they’re so gross. On one hand I applaud Bukowski for not romanticizing the physicality of sex. On the other hand I don’t want to fucking hear about it because it’s so disgusting. There were a couple of gems in here but mostly it was me cringing.
87. Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (Lindsay Buroker): I was ambivalent about this book because it was free and that had been going so well for me all year, but this little fantasy story defied my angst of another horrible werewolf novel (not that I expected werewolves when there was a plane on the cover, but whatever). I ended up reading four more books by Buroker because they’re reasonably priced on Amazon and great, non-serious fun. Anyway—I feel like the world of a fantasy novel makes it or breaks it for me more than the writing or the actual plot, and Buroker writes an interesting lore. She does a good job of sketching out the existence of a vast world without being caught in overly lengthy descriptions. It’s a book were you get the impression that a lot more is going on in the world than the characters see. Full disclosure: I love me a talking sword.
88. The Emperor’s Edge (Lindsay Buroker): Steam punk is a genre that I’m not particularly familiar with or interested in, but I got this book for free so I committed anyway. This is probably the best free e-book I read this year, and I don’t mean that in comparison to other free e-books, I mean just as a book. There isn’t really anything deep in the book, if you’re into complicated, long-term plots and overshadowing senses of doom. But it is a genuinely funny and fun romp of a fantasy. The steam punk isn’t ever really forced down your throat if you’re also not into the genre, so I feel good recommending it to anyone who enjoys fantasy. The steam punk parts are mentioned but not dwelled on and I never found them distracting. Really this book reminded me of a very good indie film—the side characters can be a little flat, dialogue can be a little awkward, the plot is really straightforward, but it’s got that sort of small time charm where you end up rooting for the rag-tag group of heroes. Enough charm that I read the next two books (and already bought the fourth).
89. Dark Currents (Lindsay Buroker): All the books in this series do a good job of being episodic, in that they have self-contained plots that are resolved by the end. I usually don’t like that kind of story progression (which is why I struggle to find t.v. shows that I stay invested in), but it worked for me here. Actually this series is like a t.v. show, now that I wrote that. It follows a little group on their adventures—hijinks and witty banter ensue!
90. The Princess and the Hound (Mette Ivie Harrison): A strange (?) little fairy tale. I leave the (?) there because all fairy tales are kind of strange when examined. My biggest complaint is that I figured out the curse way early on, and I don’t think I should have, or I would have liked it better if I didn’t, in any case. I don’t know what else to say without spoiling it (that ending with the bear tho, amirite?). There has to be an academic paper somewhere about why parents in fairy tales are always so awful, except for the dead one. I’m guessing.
91. Deadly Games (Lindsay Buroker): Episode three—can our little group of a rascal magician, a professor, a cold-blooded assassin, an inflated ego, and upstanding moral guardswoman keep it together? The answer is no, no they cannot because working together on a team with a random assortment of weirdos is a great way to cause a lot of disasters and I’m glad this book addresses that problem.
92. Death Maker (Lindsay Buroker): In which I go back to Buroker’s other series to check on how those characters are doing only to find out this book doesn’t focus on my favorite smack-talking sword. I was so disappointed I almost didn’t read it, but I’m glad I did because I would have missed out on how much trouble one little pilot can make (she blows up a whole fucking city, that’s how much). Also the talking sword shows up at the end to be snarky, so I got what I wanted out of this book.
93. Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame (Charles Bukowski): Again with the titles that make me feel insignificant. Ironically, was reading this at the same time I started reading Leaves of Grass. Whooie, do Bukowski and Whitman have a little disagreement on how to view life. Though how different they are actually highlights how they’re also the same, in what they think about. Maybe there’s an academic paper on this? If not, you can go forth and write it. I believe in you. I would start with how both Bukowski and Whitman spend time describing people across the world living their daily lives.
94. Even White Trash Zombies get the Blues (Diana Rowland): Me during the holidays.
95. Life, the Universe, and Everything (Douglas Adams): He writes with such anarchic glee. No one writes metaphors/similes like Adams. Also this leaves me with two more to go in this series? I’ll try to finish it next year.
96. Choke (Chuck Palahniuk): I feel weird when I say this is my favorite Palahniuk because the sex bits are really vile (Bukowski would be proud). However, I think about Choke a lot. The character of the mother is a rich subject for rumination. Palahniuk has a unique talent in combining the ridiculous with the philosophical. On one level, I take glee in the chaos the mother causes (the switching the hair dye is a personal favorite). On another level, Palahniuk continues to address his favorite topic of disgust: capitalism and consumerism. Like actually, no you’re right Palahniuk, people establish identities based on their habits of consumerism and that’s kind of fucked up. To complete the recipe for Choke, add a pinch of self-destruction, savior complex, and surrealism (that part with the rocks though). Please someone talk to me about this book.
97. Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk): Re-read this as well as Choke. What a soap opera, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. It is the most light-hearted of Palahniuk’s books that I’ve read and I have a special fondness for it. The twist at the end, as is Palahniuk’s style, is aimed more for the effect of humor than anything else, in my opinion, and it delivers so, so well. It’s a great moment of “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.” There’s a lot of moments like that in this book, I mentioned it’s a soap opera, right? The best moment is the estrogen one though. Favorite plot twist in a book, bar none.
98. Regency Buck (Georgette Heyer): I don’t know where to fucking start. WHY if you know someone is attempting to murder someone else, do you not warn them and instead try to handle it on your own? Oh yeah, I just realized: because he’s the problem solving man! The silly woman wouldn’t be able to help, no she needs to be kept in the dark up to the point where she gets kidnapped because god forbid he be deprived of the scene where he rides up, kick flips off of his horse and punches the bad guy through the window. (Don’t read this book if you’re expecting this to happen. It won’t happen. The kick flipping, I mean. He does show up last minute to dramatically punch the bad guy in the nose). I kept waiting for the love interest to show up in this book because it’s really just a game of ‘spot the asshole’ and all of the people the woman meets early on were too kind to her to be of notice. I need to go scream for a minute.
99. Mansfield Park (Jane Austen): I was really cutting it close with finishing the last two Jane Austen books..haha… This one is so LONG! Good grief. It starts getting good in the last two-thirds but man, does nothing happen for like 100 pages! It’s funny to compare this to Persuasion, because that book is so tightly written. Once it does get going though, I really enjoyed that. A lot of people hate on Fanny Price, but I found her extremely sympathetic. She’s like an average person who gets dropped into a romance movie and she keeps fucking up her lines. Realistically, we’d all be there. I do find it distracting when all these women are in love with their cousins though. It’s hard to detach yourself from the thought.
100. Persuasion (Jane Austen): I had my doubts about this one—it was actually the only Austen I had never seen a film adaption of. All I knew was that it was about a couple who had been betrothed and then broke it off before meeting each other 8 years later. Anne is the most mature of Austen’s heroines, and I like that about her. She’s grounded in reality. I also appreciate how much time she spends listening to people’s stupid conversations, just sitting in there and taking it all in, finding them silly but without the need to comment on it. Those bits are so well written that the humor arises from your imagined disdain of Anne’s, because she doesn’t really ever make a comment herself. The humor is all in the frivolity of the conversation, especially when it is two people talking about the same subjects from two different points of view (both equally wrong and silly). It is, without a doubt, the most refined book of the six. Very good, in the end.
I made my goal of 100 books (originally my goal was 60, I had no conception of how many books I could read in a year if I tried) AND my Jane Austen goal, so I consider this year a victory.
So in reflection, I have been stuck on one question. What happens to the horses in the Regency times when people get a change of horses when they’re traveling. Do the horses not belong to the people? Are they just like a rented car that waits and rests for the next person to use them? If they DO belong to the people, how do they get their horses back??? Does someone have to stay with them? Do they tie a string around their neck, like, “Mr. Elliot’s”? I’m so confused and none of the books ever actually explain this! Jane Austen just assumes we know! Well I don’t, Miss Austen, I really don’t know and I’m worried about it. I’m worried about those horses.
Upcoming for next year:
I decided on my literary resolution for next year—one non-fiction book a month. I’ve really neglected reading non-fiction, which is ironic because I listen to a lot of non-fiction podcasts and you’d think I’d also enjoy reading it.
I’m going to try to keep to posting on Tuesday (shorter) and Friday (longer post). I have one more round-up post delving more in detail with my favorites and my least favorites of the year, then two posts on Mansfield Park, though I might put something in between them.
Originally I had intended to only write a couple of sentences for each book. Haha. Silly me. Better going next year, I suppose.