I wasn’t going to do this post. I spent most of January changing my mind back and forth between doing it and not doing it. Hence, it is one month and three days late.
One of the things I both love and loathe at the same time about Goodreads is the My Year in Books thingummy. I love seeing all the books I’ve read over the year in tiled covers, but I loathe Goodreads presuming to tell me what my “most popular” and “least popular” reads were (because I absolutely do not care what the Goodreads *air quotes* community thought about what I’ve read). I love to know what my longest and shortest reads were, and how many pages I’ve read over the year, but I loathe being informed of my average rating over the year, which seems a pointless piece of information considering I only use the 5-star system in the loosest possible way.
Also, since I’ve been doing this bloggy thing, I’ve found that I want some sort of summary that focuses on the books I’ve read and written about here, which is only a slice of my total reading life. And I want to be able to include information on a whim from one year to the next, depending on what’s been important to me over that period. Goodreads fails to cater for these new desires of mine.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that I finally decided to do this boring-to-everybody-but-me post. Don’t feel obliged to read it, I’m having a blast out here on my own. *grins from ear to ear*
2019 was a pretty cool year for me in my bloggy life. I started to feel a bit more comfortable talking to people online, and I played nicely with others: taking part in Vintage SciFi Month in January, Wyrd and Wonder in May, the Wyrd and Wonder mini event Spooktastic Reads at the end of October and SciFi Month in November. I also did my first buddy read with the Little Red Reviewer Andrea (we read Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes) and took part in the three Wyrd and Wonder read-alongs of Jen Williams’ frigging awesome Winnowing Flame trilogy. This was an unprecedented level of participation on my part and I loved every single minute of it!
So, here, in no particular order, are the things I think worth recording about the past year, in list form (naturally) for your (but mostly my) delectation:
Favourite books read in 2019
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson took me by surprise in the best possible way. I have Rosewater to read next and I am really looking forward to reading more of Thompson’s prose, because sometimes it really is all about how a person puts a sentence together and I really liked his style in Murders.
I’m pretty sure I was clear at the time about how much I enjoyed reading this, but just in case it wasn’t crystal … Space Opera by Catherynne Valente.
The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker was a delight from the very first sentence. Even more delightful is knowing that there are two more books set in this world for me to enjoy, not to mention Baker’s more well-known scifi series about the Company, which is about fourteen books long if I remember rightly.
And finally, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I am as interested in Jackson herself as I am in her odd, creepy stories, and I’m really looking forward to tucking into Ruth Franklin’s biography about her, called A Rather Haunted Life, at some point in the coming year.
Best cover art of the year
I don’t want to repeat titles too much across these various categories, so even though Folk by Zoe Gilbert was one of my favourite reads of 2019 I felt a stronger need to waft it’s lovely cover in your general direction than to yack on again about its luscious language and knitted narratives. The cover was produced by David Mann Design (who also did the delicious covers for Circe by Madeleine Miller and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley).
Todd Lockwood’s art for the multi-volume Memoirs of Lady Trent is in an order all on its own, however. I love everything about his wrap-around anatomical dragon cover for A Natural History of Dragons, so much so that I found it as a wallpaper for my laptop (which you can get here at tor.com if that floats your boat as much as it floats mine). There are also some lovely sketches inside the book, also by Lockwood, making the Lady Trent books positively drool-worthy.
Weirdest book read
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. This book left an impression, for sure. It’s about biology and stories and human connections. It’s also angry, confusing and occasionally annoying. I still don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s lodged itself in here nonetheless.
Books I DNF’d this year
Only three altogether and the first two are temporary DNFs: I started reading The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan and was loving it, but somehow it got put down and I’ve yet to pick it back up.
Then there’s The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi which, again, I was loving, before The Slump occurred. It’s still on the pile with the page marked.
Finally, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black didn’t make it. This one was also a victim of The Slump, but whereas I know I’ll go back to Scalzi and I can’t not pick Brennan back up, I’m not so sure I’ll return to Black. There was just too much spit and venom and humiliation for me … but never say never.
Characters I was most delighted to meet in 2019
I was overjoyed to make the acquaintance of Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon during The Winnowing Flame read-along (if you’re interested it all began here). A lady of similar age to myself and nowhere near ready to settle down, she’s every inch the adventurer, alight with curiosity and enthusiasm, and utterly charming to boot. Did I mention she has a crossbow? She has a crossbow!
Another weapon-wielding woman I met this year was Miss Sophronia Temminnick of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series. Bloggy thoughts are on the way later this year, but I can reveal that she is delightfully dangerous and tons of fun.
I was also pleased to meet Lord Ermenwyr in Kage Baker’s The Anvil of the World (I know I said I was trying to avoid repetition, but what can I say? He needs to be on the list), whose childhood reminiscences alone had me in stitches. The precocious teenage son of a demon lord and a saint, I thought he was just an incidental character when I started the book, but it turns out he and his family are really quite important to the story, and that is absolutely fine by me.
New-to-me authors first encountered this year
I also read my first Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The Thread That Binds the Bones was one of my Spooktastic Reads and it was nothing like I was expecting and all the more fabulous because of it. I’ve been struggling to get hold of a copy of the next Chapel Hollow book The Silent Strength of Stones so that I can continue the journey.
My favourite non-fiction reads
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction in a year because it takes me so long, and I’m a desperately slow reader as it is. 2019 appears to have been the year I was mostly interested in death, as my two favourite factual reads were Carla Valentine’s Past Mortems in which she reveals what it is like to work in a mortuary, and Unnatural Causes by forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd. Both books were fascinating, and Valentine’s in particular was both funny and emotional.
Best graphic novels
Both Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and Six-Gun Gorilla by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely floated this particular boat of mine very successfully.
Series started …
The Anvil of the World trilogy by Kage Baker, The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa, Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, and the Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams.
… And series finished
The Winnowing Flame trilogy – no-one is more impressed than me that I both started and finished a trilogy in one year – and Girls’ Last Tour by Tsukumizu, which is an unusually short manga series of just six volumes.
Some things I read, but failed to write posts about
I read Soulless by Gail Carriger and while I loved the tone, humour, characters and plot, I struggled with the rude bits and just couldn’t bring myself to write anything down. I switched to reading her YA Finishing School series and was much happier.
I also read Bird Box by Josh Malerman early on in the year. I really enjoyed this, although it also scared me silly, but I just wasn’t in the mood to write anything up. Good book though, if you’ve not read it. I was particularly impressed that Malerman doesn’t try to give an explanation, I always prefer a bit of mystery to remain in scary stories, that way they stay scary. (Note to self: saw a new book by Malerman at the library last week called Unbury Carol, don’t forget to request it; might be interesting).
The books I least enjoyed this year
It’s no secret that I’ve scrubbed Philip Jose Farmer’s name from every list ever because of To Your Scattered Bodies Go. I was similarly, but not so vehemently, unimpressed by Vox by Christina Dalcher.
My favourite picture book
Working in a library allows me to indulge my love of picture books. I don’t have children of my own and there are no children within my circle of family and friends still young enough to ply with picture books, so getting to process book deliveries is now the only way for me to dribble over the genius that is children’s book design. This year the book that blew me away was The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. I love Macfarlane’s writing, and I have adored Morris’ artwork in children’s books for years, to have the two of them combine forces is a dream come true. Some of the poems read like riddles, all of them play with language in the most beautiful ways and are stunningly complemented by Morris’ jewel-like illustrations. (If you don’t recognise Morris by name you will surely recognise her gorgeous covers for Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books which you can see here on her site).
Book which needs its own category
It’s not a graphic novel. It’s not a novel that happens to have pictures. It’s not an art book with a story tacked on. The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag is awesome, but it doesn’t fit any of my boxes, so here it is in a category all of its own.
And that’s it. 2019 all summed up, ticked off and boxed away. Thanks for humouring me everyone!
As you were. 🙂