OK, it’s time for the Year in Books 2018. And this time I think I have most of the books I read for the first time in 2018 actually listed. Let’s start with stats: I seem to have read 54 books this year, not counting re-reads. Of those, 34 I’m calling speculative fiction, and I’ve further divided that into 13 that I took from Young Adult shelves and 21 that are for Old Adults. This is a spurious distinction, of course, as at least three of the Grupps books are shelved with YA in some libraries and bookstores, and at least two of the YA are sometimes shelved the other way, and then there’s another question of what is or is not a work of speculative fiction. Still, the bulk of my reading was in SpecFic of some kind, and something along the lines of a quarter of it was YA. The rest break down into works of fiction that are not specfic (eight, mostly thrillers), plays (only five? I must have left some out) and other books about theater (3), two memoirs and a biography that weren’t about theater, and one graphic novel. I probably read other graphic novels during the year, honestly (I wouldn’t have read any Squirrel Girl collections in 2017, right?) but I didn’t write them down and can’t be certain. In fact, I’m not sure I should count Check, Please! as a new read in 2018, as I read almost the entire thing on-line before the start of the year, but still. Of the 54 total new reads, 16 were published in 2018, if I’m counting correctly, and another nine were published in 2017, which seems like a lot of newish books, pretty nearly half. I suspect the oldest book in my new-reads was Spotlight, which was published as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1936 and then between hard covers the next year. Which brings up another point—some of the “books” on this list are novellas, not novels. I’ve counted them anyway, if they are sold as separate items. I don’t have a particularly good rule for what constitutes a “book” these days, so I’m kinda making it up as I go along.
Also, before I begin with the whole list—as Gentle Readers may recall, I used to write a separate note for every book I read, and I don’t do that any more. If any of y’all would like an actual book report on any of the books on this list, let me know and I will probably write it up. As usual, it will be my own report (not necessarily a review) and thus probably not terribly helpful to anyone choosing what to read.
OK, so let’s get started with the list, shall we? First, let’s start with the YASF:
- Firebrand, by A.J. Hartley. This is the second in the Steeplejack series, which I am enjoying a lot.
- Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton.
- Traitor to the Throne, by Alwyn Hamilton.
- Hero at the Fall, by Alwyn Hamilton. Yeah, I read the whole trilogy this year. Possibly an error, but there it is. I really enjoyed the first one a lot, liked the second OK, didn’t much like the third.
- A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge. A terrific book by my favorite currently-working writer.
- Fly Trap, by Frances Hardinge. Perhaps my favorite book of the whole year. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. A sequel to Fly-by-Night. I wrote about these back in August.
- For a Muse of Fire, by Heidi Heilig. I didn’t enjoy this much, but enough to finish it. A powerful setting in colonial Southeast Asia, but not really well explored, to my mind.
- The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. This is much less entertaining than A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.
- The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin. This is an odd book, a combination of prose and picture, that doesn’t quite work for me in either dimension.
- Black Light Express, by Philip Reeve. I found this irritating. It’s a sequel to a book I liked, though.
- Spinning Starlight, by R.C. Lewis. This is a… companion book, I guess, to Stitching Snow. I liked both of them a lot. This one came out in 2015, though, and it looked like there were no more in the works, and I just checked the writer’s twitter and it turns out that she’s completed a new manuscript! So that’s awesome.
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. It was OK. Meant to read the second one, perhaps I will someday.
- Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett. This isn’t in my top ten or probably twenty of his, but neither is it in my bottom ten or probably twenty. That’s… an odd thing to say about any writer.
So, my favorite YASF that I read for the first time in 2018 was Fly Trap, and probably Rebel of the Sands and Spinning Starlight are the runners-up.
Now for the SF that (probably) isn’t YA:
- The Flowers of Vashnoi, by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is a novella in the Vorkosigan series and it’s… not bad?
- Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers. I liked it but didn’t love it. I’m wondering if this series is showing diminishing returns. On the other hand, this particular one may just be less space-opera and thus less to my taste.
- Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente. She writes like a motherfucker, but I didn’t really care for the book.
- That Inevitable Victorian Thing, by E.K. Johnston. Hm. This really ought to be with the YA. That said, this book was just OK until about halfway through (or even further) and then got really, really good. Highly recommended. Plays with gender tropes in a way I wasn’t expecting at all.
- The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman. Didn’t charm me, and I really wanted it to.
- The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. Did charm me.
- Head On, by John Scalzi. Very Scalzi.
- The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi. Perhaps even more Scalzi than the other one.
- Mightier than the Sword, by K.J. Parker.
- Downfall of the Gods, by K.J. Parker.
- The Hammer, by K.J. Parker. I wrote something about these at the time.
- The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I really enjoyed this. Probably one of my favorite books of the year.
- Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik. This is a magnificent book, a wonderful achievement. No question.
- Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman. I read this first, unaware that it was the latest in a series. I enjoyed it a lot, and would pretty much recommend it as a standalone. There was an irritating part at the beginning, though—the main character is a teenage alcoholic of the angsty YA kind, but slapped in to a pmedieval setting, and for a while it seemed like the book would not recover. It did.
- Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. I went back for the first in the series, and liked it OK, but wasn’t knocked out.
- City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett. I stuck fairly close to my pattern of not picking up books by white men I hadn’t read before, but this was highly recommended and indeed I enjoyed it a lot.
- The City of Brass, By S.A. Chakraborty. Good fun. I may not read the second one, though, or at least not for a while.
- The Wonder Engine, by T. Kingfisher. This is the second half of the Clocktaur Wars pair. An excellent payoff book, but don’t start with this one.
- Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher. If Ursula Vernon (under whatever name) is not my favorite writer currently working, it just goes to show how very wonderful Frances Hardinge really is.
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang. I think this is another novella published by itself. I thought it was too long even at that length.
- Doctor Who: Twelve Doctors 12 Stories, an anthology of licensed fanfic. I’m really cranky now because when I looked this up to see if I could find the name of the editor (which I couldn’t, which is terrible and I feel speaks to the quality of the volume) I discovered that the new edition has a Thirteenth Doctor story by Naomi Alderman. And while my experience with BBC-licensed fanfic has been that it is in general of lower quality than what could be found in That Archive, I am so very there for a Naomi Alderman Thirteenth Doctor story.
So. Spinning Silver takes the top rank here, followed by The Calculating Stars and probably the two T. Kingfisher books.
The novels that aren’t specfic:
- Spotlight, by Clarence Budington Kelland. This was a lot of fun, in a thirties-thriller sort of way.
- Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., by Edith Somerville. I had never read it somehow. Fun, not really great, quite racist and sexist, and a little odd to be a beloved remnant of that time.
- A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett. Bleah. Needs more cathedrals.
- Island of the Mad, by Laurie R. King. Bleah. I really ought to stop picking up the new Mary Russell, as it has been a long time since I liked one. This is the fifteenth, and I’m pretty sure the last one I really liked was the seventh.
- A Toast To Tomorrow, by Manning Coles. I had never heard of Manning Coles, and got kinda sucked into this one, a WWII thriller published before the end of the war.
- Now or Never, by Manning Coles. My library’s other book by this person, who is actually two people: A.F.O. Manning and Cyril Coles. I think A.F.O. Manning must have been a very interesting woman, but I haven’t been able to find out much about her life.
- The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton. I picked this up at a library sale, used and cheap, for reading on vacation, and that’s precisely the sort of book it is.
- Shell Game, by Sara Paretsky. This is the nineteenth book in the V.I. Warshawski series, and unlike the Mary Russell, I’m still enjoying some of them. This is a middling one, though.
The one of these I enjoyed the most was Spotlight, which strumpeth under the majis, totally.
- Too Clever by Half or the Diary of a Scoundrel, by Aleksandr Ostrovsky. An entertaining play, not quite a farce, not quite a satire, sort of a second-rate Ferenc Molnar.
- Queers: Eight Monologues, by Mark Gatiss. I wrote about reading this one back in May.
- The Secret in the Wings, by Mary Zimmerman. This is from the writer of Metamorphoses, and it’s a remarkable, disturbing, tricksy play that I would like to see or be in.
- Final Arrangements, by Scott Stephen Kegler. I was in this one—in the World Premiere production, actually. A local playwright, very funny, right in my wheelhouse.
- Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), by Suzan-Lori Parks. I wrote about this one back in August.
And the other Theater books:
- Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries, by Antony Sher. This is a terrific book, and as the third in his performance-diary trilogy, it’s fittingly not as good as the first and better than the second.
- Covering McKellen: An Understudy's Tale, by David Weston. Another performance diary. I love these. I wish there were more of them. I wish American actors wrote and published them. I wish I did.
- The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America, by Isaac Butler. Oh, I cried. A lot.
I don’t know that I can pick a best out of these; perhaps I don’t need to.
The biographies and memoirs:
- A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey. Interesting stuff, to be taken with a grain of proverbial. But yeah, interesting stuff.
- Ghostbuster's Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis, by Violet Ramis Stiel. Not my usual fare, but I learned a lot about the Ghostbusters dude.
- Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946, by Gary Giddins. The writing was inferior, at least to my taste, but the subject was not. A fascinating man in fascinating times.
And the last one is the graphic novel Check, Please!, by Ngozi Ukazu, which is terrific and sweet.
So. A good Year in Books for Your Humble Blogger, 2018 was. I’d love to chat about any of these, or any other books you’ve read that you want to chat about.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,