Saturday, January 14, 2017

Books 2016: Quarter 4

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

2016 Classics: Quarter 1

2016 Classics: Quarter 2

2016 Classics: Quarter 3

However, I must report that I fell off the wagon a bit during the fall. I had my November Classic all cued up & ready to go, but then The Blood Mirror came out (Book 4 of 5 in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks), and I started reading that, then realized it had been way, way too long since I read the first three books, so I had to stop and go back and re-read those three, which took the better part of two months as they clock in at 700-900 pages each. I actually didn't end up finishing The Blood Mirror until the first week of January, so here we are in 2017 with me still two classic behind. Ah well.

Anyway, I can at least tell you about my October selection.

October: All The King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren (1947, 661 pages). 4 stars. Filing this one under "Worth reading & I can see why it's a classic, but did not enjoy, exactly." It is very rich, very human, brilliantly written, and the characters practically live and breathe, but a lot of the story felt slow and meandering to me. I couldn't always tell where things were going (not in the good way), parts of it seemed extraneous, and WOW, it's really just depressing as hell. So, I don't know. 5 stars for the literary quality, I guess, but only 3 for my actual enjoyment.


I got suuuuuper lazy this fall keeping track of things I read, but if I don't remember it, it probably wasn't all that great anyway. These were my favorites:

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn. (2009, 249) 5 stars. The book opens with an epigraph described as a "Schoolyard Rhyme, Circa 1985" wherein 15-year-old Ben Day gruesomely murders his two sisters and mother one winter night in 1985 in their Kansas farm house while the youngest sister, "Baby Libby," somehow survives. Fast forward 24 years, and we spend most of the book following "Baby Libby," now 31 and completely dysfunctional. On the verge of financial insolvency, Libby is contacted by a group obsessed with her family's murders and with exonerating her brother who is serving life in prison. If she's willing to go talk to various people of interest from that night that the Kill Club can't get access to themselves (her brother, estranged father, various associates of Ben, etc.), they'll pay her for her time. Libby wants nothing more than to forget the murders ever happened, but since she also likes eating and not being homeless, she agrees to revisit her past with the KCKC's sponsorship. I loved this book and could not put it down. Yes, there were maybe a couple coincidences too many and I do think the ending suffered from that thing where the story has done such an amazing job building up tension and expectation that no ending ever could have lived up to it. But the writing itself is top-notch, the story dark and chilling and also disturbingly humanizing, and the characters themselves just brilliantly done (diverse, compelling, multi-layered).

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. (2014, 405 pages) 5 stars. The premise of this book is that some people have the great fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) of being reborn over and over again with all the memories and knowledge of their previous lives intact; Harry August, born in Leeds in the early 20th century, is one such person. But there are complications to such a world, and a set of agreed-upon rules that are not to be broken for the sake of the rest of the world. When Harry learns that one of his ilk has been breaking those rules, he embarks on a bizarre, reality-bending (sort of?) mission to set things right. Really spectacular, well-thought out sci fi. This is a classic of example of the author going, "What if...," following the premise out to all its logical implications, then writing an amazing story around it. Unique, clever, witty, and extremely well-written.

80/20 Running, by Matt Fitzgerald. (2015, 272 pages) 5 stars. I heard about this book a while back but never sought it out because I'd already been on board with the go-(mostly)-slow-to-go-fast principle for a while. But when Cat offered me her copy, I decided to give it a read. While the main idea was not new to me, a lot of the history & science around it was, so I found it to still be a super interesting read. One of my favorite things about all of Matt Fitzgerald's books are how he takes all the data and scientific stuff & presents it in a way that is both interesting and entertaining and also easy enough to follow and understand even if you don't have a math/science background, so if you're interested in learning more but are scared of numbers and data, don't let that put you off.

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3), by Tana French. (2010, 400 pages) 4 stars. This story focuses on Frank Mackey, familiar from the first two books as the veteran head of the eponymous Dublin Murder Squad. In this installment, Frank is abruptly thrust back into his childhood community when his teenage sweetheart's suitcase is found in a condemned house in the neighborhood 22 years after her disappearance. As teenagers the pair had planned to run away together, but when she didn't show up as planned, Frank had assumed she'd changed her mind & run off without him. The suitcase suggests otherwise, and he must now confront all manner of ugliness from his past including (for starters) his highly dysfunctional family and a community plagued by family grudges and deep mistrust of the police. The real brilliance of this book is in how much richness and depth French brings to all the characters and relationships and how three-dimensional the world and history feel, and as with The Likeness, the writing is excellent. My only complaint is that the ending felt a little predictable & anticlimactic. But I still enjoyed the ride & look forward to reading more DMS.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. (2006, 254 pages) 4 stars. I enjoyed this book for the same reason I've enjoyed reading Megan Abbott and other Gillian Flynn books--a dark, gritty mystery that turns at least in part on broken, unlikable female characters and their relationships. In it, crime journalist Camille Preaker is sent by her editor to the tiny Southern town where she grew up to investigate the recent murder of two preteen girls. In addition to the general unpleasantness of the assignment, this also means connecting with her cold, distant mother, bewildering stepfather, and 13-year-old half sister and navigating the bizarre politics of her childhood town. Naturally, Camille also has her own psychological demons to deal with.Things quickly get weird, then creepy, then gruesome, and although the story was engrossing, it pretty much stayed super dark start to finish. It's not a long book and I think that's for the best, since it isn't one of those books where the darkness is balanced out here & there by humor or absurdity or whatever. I enjoyed it, but it was definitely disturbing in ways that go beyond the murders that set things into action, and I'm not sure I could have hung in there for all that much longer.

The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer #4), by Brent Weeks. (2016, 262 pages) 4 stars. I continue to love everything about this series: Many complex, dynamic characters with layers of back-story. Multiple kickass female characters that defy tropes & stereotypes. Really, really excellent writing. The Bechtel Test. New spins/fresh takes on old tropes. Skillful, brilliantly executed dialogue. Characters you just can't pin down. Large-scale narrative planning that is clever, artful, and occasionally makes you think back two books & go, "Oh, SHIIIIIT." You will never stop guessing. Bad guys do honorable things and have understandable motives. Good guys sometimes do crappy things. Ambivalent characters abound. Political machinations are brilliantly executed. What you thought was characterization was actually plot. What you thought was plot was characterization. He's a clever, calculating man, this Brent Weeks. Can't wait for the 5th & final installment!

* * *

Currently Reading:
Use of Weapons
, by Iain M. Banks

Currently Listening To:
The Vanishing Year
, by Kate Moretti

Up Next:

  • Alice, by Christina Henry
  • Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill
  • Annihilation (Southern Reach #1), by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Alena, by Rachel Pastan
  • Mort(e), by Robert Repino
  • The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp
  • Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow
  • Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
  • When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Dear Mr. M, by Herman Koch
  • Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Doors of Stone, by Patrick Rothfuss (Come on, Rothfuss. Get it together, man. I believe in you.)

And who knows, whatever else tickles my fancy. (Taking future suggestions as always!)

1 comment:

  1. Oh you and your reading habits! I finally read Blood Mirror. OMG so good. (Tisis was a little plot-device-y, but I feel like she was redeemed by the end.) Now I have to wait another year and a half for the last book.

    I think you'll enjoy the Southern Reach trilogy. I kind of tore straight through it in a week or two.

    I also have some books that I ought to read but am dragging my feet about - A Little Life, My Brilliant Friend, etc. With what books are you dragging your feet?