Top 100 BooksOnce again my showing on the Top 100 books was frankly pathetic. I'd like to blame the fact that starting off with From Here to Eternity was tough, but that's not a very good excuse. I'm really excited about so many of the next few books and I can't believe how much I've been slacking. This year, I'm striving to make at least every other book I read a List book.
- From Here to Eternity by James Jones, 802 pages
- Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, 299 pages
- The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, 241 pages
- Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm, 252 pages
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, 362 pages
Random/Romance BooksI decided to take an unofficial break from writing Random and Romance reviews while I get a bit caught up on the Top 100 books, because I have a much longer backlog of these types of reviews. In fact I still haven't posted reviews for most of what I read in 2014, so...
- The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel, 757 pages
- The Boss by Abigail Barnette, 353 pages
- Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, 381 pages
NovelsMostly I spent the year reading whatever I felt like, while attempting to get to some of the neglected books I own. Not entirely for that reason, I ended up reading a ton of CanLit, an exciting and unexpected development.
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
- Foundation, 296 pages
- Foundation and Empire, 282 pages
- Second Foundation, 279 pages
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray, 819 pages
This was apparently the longest book I read, but only by four pages, and I'm certain the runner up was actually a longer book (you'll see). Anyway, this is the conclusion to the Gemma Doyle trilogy, which I started reading a very long time ago, to the point that I was only half following what happened in this book and I have to say that I didn't love it. Gemma Doyle is the name of the trilogy and its main character, a teenage girl at a finishing school who ends up involved in some witchcraft. There's a lot of good stuff in the series involving teen sexuality and depression and so on, but there's also Bray's obsession with corsets as a metaphor for repressive Victorian society. Read it if you're a big YA fan, give it a miss if not.
The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge, 331 pagesOf course I heard about this book via CBC radio. It's a shame that I didn't like it more. It's the story of Audrey, who finally gets a chance to go to the prestigious all-girls school where her mother, Ruth, is a teacher, and also the story of Ruth's affair with one of the other teachers. My single-sex education was the best thing that ever happened to me, although recognition of certain trans and queer issues mean I can't be quite as much of an advocate for it now as I'd like to be. The school in this book is a lot different than the one I attended, but I still found the treatment of Audrey's experiences with the other girls cursory, and the focus on Ruth too heavy.
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, 240 pagesMore classic sf, this time from Arthur C. Clarke, and read along with my book club. This was nothing like what I expected, especially toward the end. Aliens visit Earth, and they basically make everything better for humans, until they don't. This deals with "psy" in the same way that the Foundation trilogy does, and that can be a bit disconcerting for more than a few reasons. It's also a bit chilly in the sense that it's basically the opposite of character driven. I liked it though.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, 702 pagesI was under the impression that this was a ghost story, and although it wasn't, it didn't disappoint at all. I was turned on to this book by Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, for reasons that are now painfully obvious. The story is pretty complicated, but basically it has to do with a woman's fortune and about a hundred double-crosses. Whoever wrote the introduction in the edition I read (possibly Matthew Sweet) spent most of it talking about how Collins isn't as great of a writer as his friend Charles Dickens, which seems spectacularly irrelevant to me. This is an enormous mystery story that spends a bit too much time on a lot of things, but also zips along at a good clip for a 19th century novel.
The Troop by Nick Cutter, 507 pagesThis book is gross. The back cover promised a troop of boy scouts, whose wilderness trip is disrupted by an unexpected intruder—shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry, at which point I guess I stopped reading the description because I was expecting something supernatural, which wasn't the case at all. I prefer spookiness over gore any day of the week, and this book is full of gore, plus the type of amoral psychopath character that's become something of a cliche, but I read it voraciously over a period of three days. I appreciated its structural callbacks to Stephen King's novel Carrie, and I appreciated Cutter's acknowledgment of said callbacks. You won't have nightmares if you read this, but you will make faces.
The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner
- The Maze Runner, 374 pages
- The Scorch Trials, 360 pages
- The Death Cure, 324 pages
I saw the movie first, and made it through the first novel on the strength of Dylan O'Brien's profile (I'm saying he's handsome). But the fact is that I don't think Dashner had any idea what he was doing after the first book, because things just stopped making any sort of sense and just seemed to be happening so that something would be happening. Obviously it would be a completely different book/series but I really think that the premise would've been better served in a fantasy setting.
Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, 287 pages
The only time I've ever listened to Canada Reads much was the year that this book won (I know), and I'd been wanting to read it ever since. Having finally gotten around to it, I'll say that it was sweet but ultimately not that memorable. I had a lot of questions while reading it, mainly about whether one of the characters could speak French or not.
Silence by Shūsaku Endō, 306 pages
A gut punch of a book that will soon become a Scorsese movie, the story of Portuguese Jesuits in Japan during the 17th century persecution of Christians in that country (now referred to as "Kakure Kirishitan"). Endō was an actual Japanese Catholic and treats the missionary priests with both sensitivity and brutality that I don't think I've ever encountered in fiction about Catholic evangelism before. Highly highly recommended for anyone who spends any time at all thinking about religion.
The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman
- The Magicians, 402 pages
- The Magician King, 400 pages
- The Magician's Land, 401 pages
As linked above, I actually reviewed the second book of this trilogy for the blog. I reread the first two books and then read the third one for the first time this year when I was finally able to buy it in paperback. So-called "Harry Potter for adults" but more like Harry Potter/Narnia, in every sense of that slash. The first book is still amazing despite the whininess of its main character (I picked up on that a lot more during my reread), and the second dips in to another character's perspective in very rewarding ways but the third meandered, and I still maintain that you could abandon the series very easily after the first book and not lose much.
Alice by Christina Henry, 291 pages
The ever-present gritty reboot of Alice in Wonderland that I thought would be different for some reason. It wasn't that different besides doubling down on the sexual violence in a way that I found upsetting and unnecessary. I'll be finishing Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars trilogy before I read the sequel to this, I can say that much for sure.
Wool by Hugh Howey, 509 pages
Dystopia is old hat nowadays, but I picked up this book about a post-apocalyptic underground silo because I'd heard approximately one thing about it and the title was intriguing and I have no regrets. It's less one novel than a collection of related stories, but I liked the stories and I was engrossed throughout. I have a lot of doubts about the actual science involved and just how self-sufficient a silo of the size described could possibly be, but those doubts are not important at all.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, 87 pages
The shortest non ebook I read this year, but it also took me something like a month and a half to read because wow. I like Henry James a lot (the other three of his works that I've read, that is, and there are more of them coming up on The List eventually) but I really don't like The Turn of the Screw. It's ostensibly a ghost story about a governess taking care of two young children, alone with some other servants in a big manor house type of setting in the English countryside. People who care about literature like it because of its ambiguity. I've read it once before so I've now disliked it twice because it's tremendously boring and failed to get under my skin.
The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche, 253 pages
Technically a werewolf family saga, more of a flowery lit fic where the characters just happen to be werewolves. Not great, not terrible. Most of my book club agreed.
Mantis Dreams by Adam Pottle, 219 pages
I discovered the author of this book via a retweet about a sign language poetry thing he was doing (Pottle is Hard of Hearing, and I'm not sure if that's supposed to be capitalized). I found his tweets intriguing and his profile picture attractive, so I decided to read some of his work. This novel is about professor Dexter Ripley, who is suffering from a degenerative condition that causes his body to curl up painfully on itself and leads to his use of a wheelchair. I didn't like Ripley much (his scorn for CanLit wasn't enough to balance out his violence and cruelty) but God knows that the disabled perspective is almost completely absent from all of the media I consume, and shouldn't be.
Jingo by Terry Pratchett, 285 pages
The last Pterry book that I read during his lifetime, and yes my heart still aches at the thought that he's no longer around. It was great and relevant to the current global political climate, as evidenced by the title. Apparently inspired by true events, the story is about an island that appears out of nowhere and the sovereignty dispute that follows. A City Watch book and roughly the midpoint of the Discworld series.
Mort by Terry Pratchett, 316 pages
The first of the Death books in the Discworld series, generally agreed to be the first taste of what the series would eventually become. Death hires an apprentice, a young man named Mort who doesn't seem to have the aptitude for anything else. All the sensitivity and bite that I've come to expect from Pratchett, and what a loss we've suffered, and how lucky we are to have everything that he had time to write.
The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, 300 pages
Sequel to The Quantum Thief, which maybe was less bewildering. Jean le Flambeur continues on his adventures with Mieli the warrior, and she's such a good character. Unfortunately I was completely upside down throughout most of the book, and the lack of handholding that I appreciated in the first book was too much for me here. I also missed the detective story aspect to this that was present in the first of the trilogy. Seriously though I can't even begin to describe what might've happened in this book. I own these books, and I'll give The Causal Angel a try because I think it must have more Mieli in it, but I'll be getting it from the library.
As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross, 234 pages
Very much not the first instance on this list of the plethora of CanLit this year, but the ne plus ultra of the stuff. Sinclair Ross' "The Painted Door," is read or at least assigned to read by every single Canadian high school student as far as I know. That story is one of the main reasons that I think of CanLit as being mostly about cold weather, infidelity, depression, and of course PLACE, and this book does absolutely nothing to correct that. It's the journal of a pastor's wife in small town Saskatchewan. I loved it.
Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy, 160 pages
Whereas The Tin Flute heaped tragedy on top of calamity for la famille Lacasse throughout its length, Where Nests the Water Hen paints a rosier picture of a French Canadian family. This time we are with the Tousignant family, with a shocking surfeit of children, living on an island somewhere in the swamp that is all of Manitoba north of Winnipeg (NB I have never actually been to Manitoba). The word "half-breed" shows up in my edition of this book at several points, and disturbed me enough that I had to look up Roy's usage. Turns out that "Métis" is used in the original French text, and what a relief. This book is about an era and a location that are virtually ignored by fiction, and I loved reading it.
Enchanted Summer by Gabrielle Roy, 125 pages
This is basically the French Canadian version of Dandelion Wine without the serial killer stuff.
Othello by William Shakespeare, 217 pages
I'm grouping this with the rest of the fiction since I certainly don't have a separate heading for drama at this point. The first time I've ever read Shakespeare on my own, except that I had someone's school copy, so it was a little easier to follow with all of the marginalia. Not my favourite Shakespeare, due mainly to the weird compression that happens in the time as the plot moves forward. Now that I'm reading The Sunne in Splendour, I'm thinking it might be fun to try reading Richard III next.
Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw, 666 pages
Ugh. I watched the first season of That 70s Show last year, and it referenced the tv miniseries of this book that was airing at the time. I've had this on my shelf for a while as a discard from someone and so the jokes convinced me to finally pick it up. I figured since it was a bestseller at the time, I'd be able to burn through it quickly despite the length. I was so wrong. The rags to riches story of the three miserable Jordache siblings for a period of something like 20 years is one of the more boring I've ever stuck with. I have the sequel, Beggarman, Thief, too, so I wanted to read to the end to see if it had some sort of bombshell that would make me want to read the next book. Nope. If you want rags to riches, I recommend Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel instead. It's a lot like this book but it's actually good.
The Terror by Dan Simmons, 769 pages
A fictionalization of the Franklin Expedition, but with a monster added in to the mix. The tinned food scared me more than the monster throughout most of the book. I loved the first 600 pages or so, and despite knowing that everyone in the expedition died in real life, I couldn't help hoping that some of them would get rescued.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, 438 pages
A serial killer in Soviet Russia. I found the trailer for the film of the book randomly one evening, and still haven't seen it, and it wasn't well received. The book was exciting, though. The depiction of paranoia and oppression in Soviet Russia was harrowing, even though the serial killer ended up being a bit too neatly explained.
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, 815 pages
The second of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle of doorstops, this ended up being the second longest book I read last year. I'm not going to lie: I've found both this and the previous entry in the series to be overly long and often boring, but when he gets it right, he gets it really right. Being that it's a sequel I won't say too much about the plot or anything, but the trio of characters from Quicksilver (Jack, Eliza, and Daniel) are back in this one, and getting older. I'm looking forward to the conclusion, and really hoping that I can make time for it this year.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, 284 pages
A book about mental illness, possession, and exploitation. Two young sisters deal with a reality show film crew and family breakdown, and the younger one reflects on the experience afterward. I wrote about this during #12hppofxmas, but this book owes a tremendous debt to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as far as I'm concerned, and being that I think Shirley Jackson is perfect and wonderful, the comparison doesn't come out in A Head Full of Ghosts' favour.
Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, 417 pages
My first high fantasy novel in such a long time that I don't even remember what I last read that could be considered high fantasy. The first novel of the Death Gate Cycle, in which the world has been "sundered." In this novel, the action takes place on a series of floating islands. It was cool but a lot of the characterization was suspect, and a bit too broad. I'll be picking up the next book eventually anyway, though!
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, 152 pages
A short book about how food can bring people together, how lonely life is, and how we can drag ourselves beyond loss. Beautiful and Japanese.
The Heat Seekers by Zane, 292 pages
The most absurd book of the year, a romance novel about two sets of friends, Tempest and Janessa, and Geren and Dvontè, who, spoiler alert, sort of end up paired up. This was another book club selection, and I think we almost universally agreed that Tempest was the worst and Geren could've done better. The book is from the early 2000s or so, and the casual homophobia in it feels really dated, while the dark turns it takes into teen pregnancy were Not Your Average Romance Novel fare. It was unexpectedly fun and bizarre, though. I'd planned to write a full Romance review of it, but I just didn't get around to it.
Trumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny, 120 pages
The first of the Merlin cycle in the Amber Chronicles. I have to say that my feelings about this series are amounting to little more than a shrug at this point.
A fair bit of short stuff this year, even though I still don't like it as much as full length novels.
Horror Story and Other Horror Stories by Robert Boyczuk, 310 pages
Don't judge a book by its title. This title is awesome, but I think I only really liked about half of the stories, and there wasn't a lot of horror that really got under my skin. Many of the stories had an sf tinge to them, and I liked that enough that I'll probably give the author's novel, Nexus: Ascension a shot, hopefully soon.
Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, 383 pages
Baby's first Faulkner! I may or may not be completely wrong about this, but my impression is that Faulkner only writes about The South, and this short story collection was most certainly about The South. The stories are linked, and the back cover of my copy claims that they should be read as a novel, but I disagree. Most of them have very different styles and they don't flow together like one united work as far as I'm concerned. The South of this collection is a lot more complex than the one in Gone with the Wind (duh), and I loved a lot of the content. However, I can only hope that the stream of consciousness style on display in the first story, "Was," doesn't recur too often in his books on The List. Also, William Faulkner doesn't appear to give a single shit about women.
In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill, 60 pages
A creepy little novella or maybe novelette collaboration between Stephen King and his son. A brother and sister are on a road trip and a pit stop by a field of tall grass almost immediately turns disastrous. It's got elements of "Children of the Corn" but also gets majorly gross. Like majorly. (But not as face-contortingly gross as The Troop.) Unfortunately the ebook I read had a bunch of garbage at the end, so it arrived abruptly and really interfered with my appreciation of the climax.
Garden in the Wind by Gabrielle Roy, 175 pages
This collection of four short works had me completely reassessing my existence as a Western Canadian. Mostly these are immigrant stories, and they are by turns sad and heartwarming, and I think I kind of love Gabrielle Roy.
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, 50 pages
A wonderful story about a ghost who is tormented by the obliviousness of the American family he's haunting. It was funny and my kingdom for whoever tracks down the 1996 film version with Sir Patrick Stewart starring as the ghost. I don't think I've ever read any Wilde before, although I've seen The Importance of Being Earnest.
Sheltered Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas, 128 pages each
I bought the first volume from Christmas at SaskExpo this year. The story of doomsday preppers who usher in their own apocalypse a little early. I didn't like the second volume as much as the first, but I'll be reading the conclusion.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg, 176 pages
A fine but overall somewhat boring faux legend about Early Earth. I liked the art and the colours but the story didn't really grip me.
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, 576 pages
The source material of the much-maligned and largely forgotten film of the same name. A hypothesis about Jack the Ripper. I wasn't a huge fan of the art, and I'm not a fan of Jack the Ripper, so I'm not sure what I thought I'd really get from this. On the other hand, Moore provides copious end notes on his sources and I loved those.
Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, 160 pages
Star-crossed lovers in space. Two members of different societies that are at war fall in love and have a baby, and they're hunted down for doing so. I loved the art and the story, and I can't wait to read more of this.
Rat Queens Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, 128 pages
I bought this from Wiebe at SaskExpo and it was so much fun. A company of lady adventurers who are into drinking and fighting and fucking, not necessarily in that order. The subtitle of this volume is Sass and Sorcery, and that's exactly what it is. Really excited to read more of this one as well.
Non-FictionNot a great year for non-fiction, apparently, and that's something that I want to correct soon. There are a lot of things that I've been feeling curious about lately, and a lot of non-fiction on my reading list that's really crying out to be read. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything is up at the top right now.
Gabriel Dumont Speaks by Gabriel Dumont, 96 pages
Saying that Gabriel Dumont wrote this is a bit disingenuous because the man could neither read nor write, but the text is based on one or two oral recitations he gave of his life and experiences. It's been a long time since I thought much about the North-West Rebellion (are we still calling it that?) and Louis Riel tends to be the rock star of that story, but Gabriel Dumont shines in this narrative. There was a distinct voice that came through it, too, even with all the different translations it went through to end up in this volume.
Walt Disney Imagineering by The Imagineers, 183 pages
Yes, I read a coffee table book ad for Disney. I have no regrets.
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs by Wallace Stegner, 227 pages
Having read this, I officially can't wait to read more of Stegner's fiction. This collection of essays gets far deeper into his feelings about The West and environmental stewardship, things I sensed in Angle of Repose but had no idea how deep they really went. It also includes some writing on other writers he admired, that convinced me to try them out as well.
A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman, 634 pages
A terrific account of the second half of the 14th century in western Europe, which manages to put the 20th (and also the 21st) century into a somewhat clearer perspective. Say what you will about the world today, but at least the Black Death hasn't wiped out 40% of our population. Debatable whether we aren't also in the middle of our own version of the Hundred Years' War, but I still think that it's safe to say that this book proves the world has been going to hell in a handbasket basically forever. The latter half dragged a bit, but overall I loved it and learned a lot.
Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, 329 pages
"The illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction." I found this book less inspiring than I'd hoped, except for the fact that inspired me to want to read a whole lot more of Jeff VanderMeer's work. Next time I'll reread Stephen King's On Writing instead.
Total pages in 2016: 20449
What were the best and worst books that you read in 2015? What are you most looking forward to in 2016?