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Man, tracking what I read on Goodreads sure has made this post easier to compile. (In fact, if you follow me there, you've read all these reviews already.) I made a concerted effort this year to read more books by women and/or non-white folks, and I'm glad I did, because I got points of view and writing styles I might not otherwise encounter. I plan to continue this approach next year.


Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
I helped crowdfund this book, and I'm very glad I did. I don't read much historical fiction, but I really enjoyed this; it's full of stories of fascinating, powerful, determined, and yes, occasionally cranky women. My only disappointment with the book is as much due to my own ignorance of history as anything else: I occasionally had trouble following some stories simply because I didn't always know the biographies of the women involved. (Even a one- or two-paragraph bio or link to a good online source about each woman would have helped.) Still, this is a minor issue given the overall high quality of this collection.


Companion Piece, edited by L.M. Myles and Liz Barr
A wonderful read from start to finish, and yes, I'd say that even if I didn't have an essay in the book – after all, I hadn't read any of the others before now! As with Chicks Unravel Time, Companion Piece made me want to go back and re-watch episodes I haven't seen in a long time – even, shockingly, Mel's episodes, which I was never in love with at the time but am now willing to give a second chance based on Liz Barr's enthusiastic essay. It also seems like it's long past time for me to give Benny a chance beyond The Dying Days and Human Nature; I should rewatch some Peri episodes now that I have a new appreciation for her intelligence and compassion; and how nice it was to read someone praising Victoria's intellect and tenaciousness, since even after watching most of her serials last year, I was tired of the screaming after a while.

In short: Companion Piece shows off the good in every companion, and as a near-lifelong fan of Doctor Who, this makes me happy indeed.


Jam on the Vine, LaShonda Katrice Barnett
I heard about this book from the tail end of an NPR interview with Barnett, and am glad I did, as I read little historical fiction and might otherwise not have found it on my own. Barnett paints a vivid portrait of Ivoe's youth in east Texas and her struggle to become a journalist in Kansas City while Jim Crow laws and an overtly racist society conspire against her. Although Ivoe ultimately triumphs, Jam on the Vine is still a depressingly timely reminder of how little things have changed for African-Americans in the last 150 years.

Barnett's prose is lush and evocative, but I do have one complaint: I really wish she hadn't switched POVs practically from paragraph to paragraph, which occasionally made the story hard to follow. Not that the numerous other POVs didn't lend value to the story – particularly Lemon, whom I would happily read a book about should Barnett ever choose to dive deeper into Ivoe's mother's early years – but I think isolating each POV to its own section would have improved readability.


The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's solidly written, and a swords-and-(sort of ...) sorcery book with two intelligent female protagonists teaming up to investigate a mystery? Sign me up, please. Rowan's logical mind and Bel's skills as a warrior complement each other perfectly, and what could have been an ordinary relationship in which the educated woman continually (and tediously) imparts wisdom to the barbarian is in fact a relationship of equals, with the two women learning from each other, and needing one another to survive. The book also sets up an intriguing mystery about the nature of wizardry, and I'll be interested to see if Kirstein takes this where I think she will.

I liked this book so much that literally the instant after giving it five stars on iTunes, I downloaded the next one in the series. Here's hoping it's as good as The Steerswoman was!


The Outskirter's Secret, Rosemary Kirstein
As always, I'm wishing Goodreads let us do half-stars, because this one is better than three, but not quite good enough for four. There's some interesting societal worldbuilding, and a killer (literally) final 50 pages, but I thought the book meandered far too much. At the same time, I'm really in love with Rowan and Bel, and am intrigued enough by the ongoing mystery that I'll be moving on to the next book in the series soon.


Inherit Midnight, Kate Kae Myers
When I saw that Entertainment Weekly described this book as a cross between "The Amazing Race" – my favorite reality show – and The Westing Game – one of my favorite books growing up, and a favorite of every puzzle geek I know – I knew I had to pick up Inherit Midnight. Unfortunately, while I found the storyline compelling (enough to finish the book in a little over 24 hours), I also found Myers' prose fairly ordinary, and all the characters except for Avery, her young protagonist, felt largely like sketches. Admittedly, some of this could be because most of Avery's family is meant to be self-centered and horrible, to help show how different and better Avery is from the rest of them, but virtually none of the characters get a deep enough dive to transcend their roles as bullies and stuck-up princesses.

It's a shame, too, because as I said, I enjoyed the storyline, which covered a globetrotting competition between family members to determine who would inherit the family business and wealth. But Inherit Midnight isn't as witty as The Westing Game (or as well-characterized as a few episodes of "The Amazing Race"), and while it was a pleasant enough read, I think I'm going to go re-read The Westing Game now for approximately the billionth time.

(Which I did. It was still terrific.)


The Lost Steersman, Rosemary Kirstein
A definite improvement over the last book – it felt less meandering to me, probably because there was a core mystery to solve about the nature of the demons. I was a little disappointed that a [spoilery] character's name turned out to be prophetic, but the nature of the betrayal feeds directly into the answer to the mystery, so at least the betrayal had some logic to it.


The Language of Power, Rosemary Kirstein
The best book since the first one, but now I'm stuck waiting for volumes 5 & 6 to be written! The Language of Power finally begins to reveal parts of the central mystery in direct terms, and while it's not exactly a surprise to see real confirmation of magic's true nature, it's still immensely satisfying.


The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells
Honestly, I'm not sure how to rate this book, because it's one of the most compelling stories I've ever hated. I've compromised at two stars since that's Goodreads' "it was okay" rating, but really, it needs four stars for Wells' evocative language, and one star for the repellent animal cruelty. (Most of which is condemned by the story itself, thankfully.) It's probably my own fault for picking up the book in the first place, but in my defense, I knew about the Beast Folk; just not about the vivisection. (There was one chapter so awful I nearly put the book down for good.)

I've read The Time Machine many times, and The War of the Worlds at least once. But this is one Wells book I won't be picking up again.


In Custody, Anita Desai
I found this in The Last Bookstore's dollar room last year and picked it up because I recognized the author's name from MIT's writing program. The language was beautiful and poetic, but I think I hated every single character: timid, naive professor Deven, who lets everyone take advantage of him; self-centered, dissolute poet Nur, undeserving of Deven's hero worship; Deven's so-called "friend" Murad, who consistently bullies and cheats Deven while dangling worthless promises of future writing glory in front of him. I finished it only because it was so short and the language so lovely.


The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin
Several friends had already said how much they enjoyed this book, so I wasn't worried about whether I'd like it. In fact, not only did I like the book, it hit one of my personal favorite narrative tropes: handwaving quantum mechanics to explain away a plot point. (And a good thing, too, as I'd been wondering how said plot point would work without bringing quantum entanglement into play.) The language is occasionally a little stiff, but exploring the real-world consequences of the three-body problem turns out to be fascinating – even more so when the history and long-term impact of the Cultural Revolution is layered on top of this, and ends up influencing a critical decision that will drive the rest of the trilogy. I'm very much looking forward to the second volume.


The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
I truly wish I'd enjoyed this book more than I did, because it had potential: I liked the protagonist, and there was a promising political murder to solve. But the slow pacing and flat characterization of virtually everyone other than Maia made this a really hard slog, and honestly, I finished it only because I'm behind on my book-reading goal for the year.


The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, Simon Guerrier and Marek Kukula
An entertaining and informative mix of science essays pitched at the layman and short stories to illustrate the scientific principles discussed in their accompanying chapter. Story quality in general is excellent, and while IMO the chapters sometimes veer a little too far into the realm of Doctor Who minutiae, it's in the service of connecting the show's events to the real-life scientific theories. The science itself is lucidly discussed and feels like it would be easily accessible to science novices.


Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The most beautifully written book I've read all year, and likely the most important as well. Framed as a three-part letter to Coates' son, Between the World and Me pulls no punches about how anti-black racism is an (unfortunately) integral and fully embedded part of American society – that our society literally would not exist were it not for continued denial of black autonomy and humanity. He doesn't even bother paying lip service to the laughable concept that we're a "post-racial" society now, nor should he in the days that have brought us the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and so many others. The final part of the letter addresses this most personally, as Coates tries to come to grips with the police murder of a college acquaintance, Prince Jones. (Coates and I are only five years apart, and while I had left Maryland by the time the Jones murder happened and therefore don't recall hearing about it, I remember the PG County police department's history of abuse – literally to the point of FBI investigations, as Coates states – and I'm not in the least bit surprised a PG County cop of that time would have followed an innocent black man across three counties, murdered him, and lied about it.)

This book should be required reading, even though it's depressingly clear that some white people (David Brooks, I'm looking at you) still cannot grasp that black people's experience in this country is not white people's experience, and that this shapes every part of who someone becomes as an adult.


The Rook, Daniel O'Malley
This book was loads of fun – it's clever and snappily written (for the most part), and I loved both the past and new Myfanwy Thomases and their resourcefulness. The Rook also has a wonderfully absurd sense of (occasionally dark) humor, which felt appropriate given the new Thomas having to come to grips with discovering she's part of a supernatural spy organization, as well as that her own powers have complexities she'd never dreamed of.

I did wish the pacing were a little better; the book started to drag in spots, and I think it could have lost about 10% of its length without suffering overmuch. Also, a stronger hand with the editing to curb O'Malley's distracting tendency to use "'[sentence]' came the reply" wouldn't have gone amiss; the construction appears over and over throughout the book when no speech tag is necessary. Picky, I know, but it was so noticeable that I really started to find it annoying.

Dialogue nitpicks aside, this was a highly enjoyable read, and I'm pleased to see the next one is coming out early next year.


Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
I'm a longtime Stephenson fan, but his tendency to go into excruciating detail about technology really went unchecked in this one. You could argue that these digressions are essential to the extraordinarily careful (and literal) worldbuilding in this book, but for me, they slowed down the book's pace – and at 800+ pages, the story had better be pulling me along all the way.

Fortunately, I enjoyed almost every other part of the book, and particularly that the action in such a hard SF novel is quite literally driven by a team of women, which hopefully is giving a certain segment of the SF community conniption fits. Also, the advantage of Stephenson's highly detailed prose is that it's easy to visualize the near- and far-future space stations and Earth, and understand how challenging life aboard the Cloud Ark and Izzy would be.

(The level of detail in this novel may also be responsible for a new and hopefully mostly irrational fear of its doomsday scenario happening, so thanks for that, Mr. Stephenson.)


The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin
I had a much harder time getting into this than The Three-Body Problem, and I chalk most of that up to the fact that The Dark Forest introduces many characters without spending adequate time fleshing them out, instead using them to build up plot threads small and large. I found the book much more compelling once the Wallfacer Project began, when there was a heavier focus on Luo Ji and Da Shi, IMO the most clearly drawn characters in the book.

I think The Dark Forest also suffers from a sort of "second-book syndrome," where the first one laid out a fascinating premise, and the second one in some ways simply marks time until we can move on to the third one. Without spoiling anything, however, I'll say that The Dark Forest recovers from this problem -- so much so that I had a hard time understanding where the third book could go until I read its pre-release synopsis.


Allegiant, Veronica Roth
The Faction concept was eyerolly to begin with, but I went with it in the first couple of books because I found them entertaining enough. But I found the actual explanation behind them even dumber than the system itself, because it required far too much suspension of disbelief – not that people haven't flirted with similar concepts (and continue to do so), but rather that everyone in the U.S. would lose their collective minds enough to let something like this happen. (Not to mention that apparently every source of information, including the internet, must have disappeared for this many people to suffer from this level of delusional thinking.)

Worse, I simply stopped caring about Tris and Four, so I stopped caring about whatever ridiculous plans each of them had cooked up, stopped caring about the ridiculous plans others cooked up that involved them, and no longer cared about the big spoiler (for which I was accidentally spoiled anyway by a careless Boston Public Library reviewer).

I did care about some of the side characters, most notably Christina, but have no plans to pick up the Four-centric book coming out next.


Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier
I loved the female characters in this – Dymphna, a high-class young prostitute in 1930s Sydney with the inner strength to keep pushing forward despite her terror when she discovers her boyfriend's been murdered, and she's accused of the crime; and Kelpie, fearful urban waif who nevertheless has a will to survive at least as strong as Dymphna's. Both spend nearly the entire book on the run from various gangster factions and the police, and Larbalestier's prose keeps things moving at a quick pace, pausing every so often for characterization interludes that flesh out individual pasts and motivations.

There's also a supernatural element – unlike everyone else in the book, Dymphna and Kelpie can see the many ghosts that haunt Sydney, some of whom are helpful, with others who only want to make mischief. I wished the ghosts had been a little better explained: why do some people become ghosts, and others not? Why do only some of them talk? Why are some tied to people or places? And why can only Dymphna and Kelpie see them? I would hate for the reason to be "because plot," especially because I liked this aspect of both characters; I just wanted to push on this part of the novel a little more to understand its logic.


Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs
Better than the last one, and also genuinely scary and gross at times; I was particularly upset by a scene involving a hollow that is essentially animal cruelty, even if the hollow is an evil creature. I also found an element of the ending a little deus ex machina, but oh well. On balance, it's an enjoyable series.


Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
A huge improvement over Ancillary Sword, and a very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Without being spoilery, I'll say that it delivered on one major plot resolution I was hoping for, while leaving room open (and introducing new plot threads!) for potential future work set in the same universe. I did occasionally have a hard time following some of the action, but that's really my only complaint – and honestly, I enjoyed this one enough that I'm thinking of rereading the whole trilogy from the start. (But first: finishing other new books for my 2015 challenge!)


Future Perfect, Jen Larsen
This was a difficult read at times, entirely because Ashley's grandmother made me so angry – which is of course the point, because what kind of person dangles four years of Harvard tuition over a teenager's head if only the girl will have weight loss surgery? And frankly, part of my rage was because the grandmother occasionally reminded me of my own paternal grandmother – perpetually stick-thin, a former model, and never afraid to tell her grandkids or their father that we were all overweight. Given that I stopped speaking to her long ago, it's fair to say I brought some personal baggage to this book.

But Ashley is a lovely character – well-rounded (in many senses of the word) and completely comfortable with herself until the college admissions process and her grandmother's offer put her into a tailspin. There's also an interesting parallel drawn between Ashley and her trans friend Jolene, whom Ashley's grandmother seems to accept unconditionally, and not until a final (and terrific) confrontation between Ashley and her grandmother did I fully understand why she could accept Jolene with or without reassignment surgery, while Ashley's body was apparently unacceptable. Larsen also did a good job explaining why Ashley would still support and even love a woman who was constantly fat-shaming her, which was the hardest part for me to deal with, given my own personal experience.

(Full disclosure: I know the author. She is awesome. But I'd recommend the book even if I didn't know her.)


Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie
Gorgeously written but curiously cold, possibly because so much of the book concentrates on the jinn, who by definition are neither human nor (in general) care about human concerns. Sure, it's meant to be an extended fairy tale, which often focus on plot and lessons instead of characterization, but I needed more than that to really draw me in. Of the main characters, only one – Geronimo – felt fully realized enough for me to genuinely care what happened to him, and even then there was a point in the book where Rushdie pulled such a classic Old Dude Rejuvenated By Sex With Hot Chick moment that I nearly stopped reading. (I've seen my lifetime quota of that trope, thanks.)

Really, it was the beautiful and clever language that drew me through this book, but honestly, if you want a story about jinn in the (semi) modern world, The Golem and the Jinni is a much better choice.


Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
This is really a four and a half-star book – seriously, JKR, lay off the phonetic accents, and a couple of the final clues were totally unguessable – but those, honestly, are nitpicks given that I tore through a nearly 500-page book in two and a half days. I love serial killer mysteries anyway, but between never being wholly certain until the end which of the many plausible suspects was the killer, and my shameful absorption in whether Cormoran and Robin would finally get together, I couldn't put this one down.


Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I don't know who to praise more – the authors, or the designers/illustrators/book production team. Illuminae is told entirely in official reports and correspondence, sometimes with a damaged and surprisingly meditative AI, and while I think it would have still been as compelling in a more traditional structure, this one really allowed for a strong focus on characterizing the three leads: Kady, a teenage hacker; Ezra, her more straitlaced ex; and AIDAN, the AI who believes it's working in everyone's best interests, though how that manifests itself is less than ideal, to put it mildly. When Kady and Ezra's mining colony is attacked by a rival corporation, and only few thousand survivors make it out, things go badly very, very quickly – not just because they're still being pursued by the rival corporation's battleship, but also because the original attack included unleashing a bioweapon, and the infected people are now roaming the ships. It's the most action-packed and thrilling YA I've read since The Hunger Games, and I'm really pleased there are going to be more books in the series.


Also read this year:
Over 50,000 words of fic I beta'd, plus a friend's unpublished novel, plus an editing pass on my husband's near 100k-word novel, plus volumes 2-4 of Ms. Marvel, the first Unbeatable Squirrel Girl collection, and most of my favorite new cookbook, Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I am frankly amazed I had any time at all to write, too, but see an upcoming post about that.
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