Books I Read in 2015

Open Head

The most books I’ve read in a year since electroshock!  It gets easier and easier.  Thank you, Suanne Wilmen, MHS Reading Teacher, for helping me get my brain back!

Ω Ω Ω

•Ahlborn, Ania. Within These Walls.  The one good thing about this book is the ending—a twist worthy of a horror novel.  But getting to that ending is torture and not worth the effort.  I can’t count the times I threw this across the room because the characters were so incredibly dumb.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, especially in a horror novel, is the stereotypical, obtuse dolt.  Gee, did someone break into my house and rearrange my furniture?  Why is a bloody specter grinning from my bathroom mirror?  Pfft!  Pull on a red shirt already and join the Enterprise, because, buddy, you’re toast.  Oops.  Did I spoil that ending?

•Binchy, Maeve.  Tara Road.  I found this on the “Free Books” table at the library, knew Binchy was Irish, and thought “what the heck.”  Once I got into it, I kept thinking of Ellen over at Notes from the U.K. and our discussions on how we, as American writers, anguish over making our U.K. characters sound authentic.  Binchy’s characters will never sound anything other than Irish—no matter what nationality she says they are—which I found delightful.  This soap opera with an Irish brogue was lots of fun.

Written In Red.indd•Bishop, Anne.  Written in Red.  In this alternate universe, The Others are the predominant intelligent species on Earth.  Basically, shape-shifters, they tolerate humanity—barely.  When a young woman seeks refuge with an Other community, the repercussions ripple across the globe.  The story is well written with a cool premise and interesting characters.  I got bit hard and needed more.

•Bishop, Anne.  Murder of Crows.  The sequel to Written in Red.  Meg and her friends, both Other and human, discover that blood prophets—young girls who see the future when their skin is cut—are the source of two terrifying drugs.  This time out, we get to see how the different regions interact, meet new Others, and watch the “friendship” between Meg and Simon Wolfgard grow.  Arroooo!

•Bishop, Anne.  Vision in Silver.  The third book in Bishop’s “The Others” series.  I’m completely hooked. Love the characters, love the world, love the intrigue.  You’d think if you lived by the leave of a race that could wipe you off the face of the earth, you’d play nice.  But we’re talking about humans, who are the worst at learning from history. Bishop makes me believe we could be that dumb.

•Bishop, Anne.  The Pillars of the World.  Since I loved Bishop’s The Others series, I thought I’d see what else she’d written.  This high-fantasy story involves witches, The Fae, and witch-hunts.  The Fae are a mash-up of pagan and Greco-Roman gods with the requisite arrogance, vanity and very short memories.  Their land is disappearing, and they stand around wringing their hands and pouting.  They are too similar to human beings in this respect to be very interesting.

cashore

•Cashore, Kristin. Fire.  On this side of Cashore’s world (introduced in Graceling—see last year’s list), there be monsters—animals that look like regular critters except for their rainbow colors and appetite for human flesh.  Monsters cast a kind of glamour over non-monsters.  People have learned to guard their minds, but some are better at it than others (who mostly get eaten).  Fire is a human monster, beloved or hated wherever she goes, so she tries to live inconspicuously.  But the country is about to be torn apart by war, and her special talents are needed.  I love Cashore’s storytelling and characters that live burdened lives.  A thousand stars.

•Cashore, Bitterblue.  In this sequel to Graceling, the teen-aged queen of Monsea is overwhelmed by how to help her people, who were ravaged by her psychotic and sadistic father-king.  Again, Cashore weaves a thoroughly believable world of real people with spectacular ability and complexity.  Her characters are smart.  The intrigue air-tight.  Alas, this is the last of Cashore’s books so far.  She’s better be busy scribbling another.

light•Doerr, Anthony. About Grace.  David Winkler’s precognizant dreams start when he is a child living in Anchorage.  He’s an odd man anyway, fascinated by water and the crystalline beauty of snow, but this terrifying ability pushes him to desperate acts.  Doerr’s writing is lush and breath-taking, his characters almost too painful to watch.  I never knew where this story would go, which was a delight, but sometimes cryptic does not equal artistic.  I felt cheated in the end.

•Doerr, Anthony.  All the Light We Cannot See.  I have no words for this book, just that there’s a reason I had to wait a couple of months for it at the library.  Read it.  You won’t be sorry.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter•Duncan, Rod. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.  In this fascinating, steam-punk, alternate England Luddites and the supreme power of The International Patent Office keep global peace by banning technology.  Elizabeth Barnabas ekes out a living as a private detective disguised as her “twin brother.”  In exile, drawing on her skills as a circus brat and illusionist, she races to find a missing aristocrat and his arcane machine.  Each leg of her journey is more dangerous and convoluted than the last.  A very tasty read.

•Duncan, Rod.  Unseemly Science.  This is the second volume of Duncan’s Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire where technology is strictly regulated.  England is divided (north and south), and a new law is about extradite Elizabeth Barnabas over the border and back to a life of indentured servitude under (literally) a lascivious lord.  As she flees from capture, she finds marginal safety in taking a case as an intelligence finder for an odd and influential charity worker.  Once again, Duncan leads the reader on a wild ride.  This alternate history is delightful and weird.  I’m looking forward to volume three.

•French, Tana. The Likeness.  I love this author.  She writes tight, detective/murder mysteries set in Ireland.  This time out, her detective, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover to find the killer of a woman who could have been her twin.  French gets us into the head of someone slipping into another’s life and liking it, plus the double tension of all the ways she could get her doppelgänger wrong.  Brilliant.

Faithful Place•French, Tana.  Faithful Place.  Leafing through this book, I worried a little that my favorite detective, Cassie Maddox, had been replaced by the hot-shot Undercover detective introduced in The Likeness.  Frank Mackey is a smart-ass, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tag along with him through a whole book.  Boy-howdy, was I wrong!  Mackey spent twenty-two years building a life away from his dysfunctional family of origin (we get to see why he’s such a  smart-ass), but a discovery on his old street sucks him back in to relive a pivotal and painful event in his past.  French’s characters are so real, they fly off the page.  Another winner.

•Guterson, David.  Snow Falling on Cedars.  The story begins with a murder trial of a Japanese-American in a small island community off the coast of Washington state in the early 1950s.  Other stories join and interlace this one—the internment of all the Japanese on the island in Manzanar after Pearl Harbor, the young love of the town’s white newspaper man’s son and a Japanese strawberry farmer’s daughter, the destruction of war on a soul and a community.  The book bogs down in detail sometimes, but the beauty and humanity are worth it.

while_they_slept-215x327•Harris, Charlaine.  Dead Until Dark.  After gorging on all seven seasons of HBO’s True Blood, I thought the books might offer more tasty tidbits.  Nope.  Plodding, vapid, with plot holes bigger than a stake through the chest, this first book in the series begged for the True Death.  I won’t be digging up any more of them.

•Harrison, Kathryn. While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family.  This book is mesmerizing.  It tells the true story of eighteen-year-old Billy Gilley, who murdered his parents and little sister in 1984, but not his sixteen-year-old sister Jody.  Harrison, herself an incest survivor, traces the patterns of family violence and abuse in the Gilley family through interviews with both Billy and Jody as well as an enormous amount of research.  Harrison is fearless in opening to the resonance between her own story and the Gilleys’.  For all three of them, violent trauma divided their lives into Before and After.  How does a person reassemble oneself after that?

hounded•Herne, Kevin.  Hounded (Book One in The Iron Druid Chronicles).  I have good friends who read good fantasy and share that tasty knowledge with me.  Thank the gods.  Now I have a whole series to enjoy about a 2100-year old Druid living in southeastern Arizona who runs a New-Age bookstore, mind-links with his Irish wolfhound, and gets legal advice from his werewolf and vampire attorneys.  Here, all the religions, all the myths, all the legends are real.  Most of them either shop his store or try to kill him.  So very tasty.

•Herne, Kevin.  Hexed.  More misadventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, the hunky Druid with the magical sword.  This time out, he deals with Bacchants (minions of the party god, Bacchus), witches—both good and evil, and a variety of demons and fallen angels.  Because he’s now a god-slayer, he’s attracting unwelcome attention from all the pantheons.  Favorite line: Demons smell like ass.

Invention•Herne, Kevin.  Hammered.  Atticus the Druid promised his attorneys (an Icelandic vampire and the alpha of a werewolf pack) that he would get them to Asgard so they could kill Thor (who is an absolute “fuckpuddle” and takes bullying to divine heights).  Along the way, the Fellowship acquires a Slavic Thunder God, a Finnish shaman, and one of China’s Eight Immortals who all want the Asgardian blowhard dead.  Mayhem ensues.  Favorite line: In many ways, I’m disappointed that “Star Trek” never became a religion.

•Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings.  I always get a little nervous when someone from one ethnic group creates a protagonist from another ethnic group, then places the story during a dynamic point in history.  But, Sue Monk Kidd is not an author I worry about.  She tells this story of pre-Civil War Charleston from two girls’ point of view—one is a slave, the other her master’s awkward daughter.  The story is full of pain and horror, and beauty and grace.  It’s a treasure and a wonder.

220px-Mrmercedes•King, Stephen.  Mr. Mercedes.  Reading anything by Steve is like coming home for me, but this one offered nothing new.  I was engaged throughout—loved the protagonist, a retired homicide detective who wasn’t handling retirement well, and the set-up of him being contacted by “the one that got away.”  But the bad guy felt phoned in.  If you want good Steve, go read 11/22/63 instead.

•King, Stephen.  Revival.  Ditto.  Okay, buddy, you’re overdue to hit one out of the park.

•King, Stephen.  Finders Keepers.  I think I’ve caught up with my favorite author now.  I love that he brings back the team from Mr. Mercedes—the retired cop, his young neighbor kid, and the young woman with severe anxiety issues they helped rescue.  This time the trio tries to help a teen who finds a buried trunk from a home robbery thirty years in the past.  Steve knows how to build character along with the suspense.  And the bad guy in Mr. Mercedes who felt phoned in is getting ready to make me eat those words.

wally•Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed.  Lots of books are labeled “tapestries,” but that’s exactly what this non-fictional fiction presents.  The fictional main characters are staff at Columbine high school at the time of the student killing spree; the protagonist’s grandmother campaigns for reform in women’s correctional facilities; PTSD, incest, abandonment, mental illness, drug addiction, mythology—the colors and texture of this tapestry weave in a disturbing, enthralling matrix.  Wally Lamb is a wonder.

•Lamb, Wally.  Wishin’ and Hopin’—A Christmas Story.  Not Lamb’s usual psychological taste treat.  More a nostalgic bon-bon.  And Wally thinks he’s funnier that he really is, but the writing is still fine.  He should stick to trauma and dysfunction, though.  That’s hilarious!

9418326•McNeal, Tom. To Be Sung Underwater.  Judith, a middle-aged film editor in California, finds her perfect life unraveling as memories of her first love in Nebraska push her to hire a private detective. Fully-formed characters, a deep sense of place, and well crafted.  If you’ve ever had to leave a love behind, this story will touch a deep chord.

•Pilcher, Rosamunde. The Shell Seekers.  A sprawling novel written in the ’80s about an elderly English woman and her grown children.  The story jumps from present day, to life during WW2, to other events in the family’s history.  I loved the Englishness of it, but found most of the characters tiresome.  The adult children are petty, even the daughter that Penelope (the protagonist) loves is caught up in the career madness of the ’80s.  But, Penelope is lovely, and her father, a famous artist, is fun, and all the English garden/cottage/sea-shore ambience is delicious.  I almost gave it back to the library, but didn’t.  That’s a pretty high recommendation coming from me.

200px-Olive-kitteridge_l•Strout, Elizabeth.  Olive Kitteridge.  Thirteen vignettes that weave together and around the title character in a small New England coastal town.  The characters are complicated, their lives messy and real.  I saw the HBO mini-series first with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (both Oscar winners and stunning in this show).  I thought there might be more deliciousness in the book, and I was right.  Strout won a Pulitzer for it.

•Tyler, Anne. The Amateur Marriage.  I’ve always enjoyed Tyler’s weird characters, but this couple made my ass ache.  Michael and Pauline are the epitome of Socrates’  Unexamined Life—married during the rush of post-WW2, they never learn compassion or tolerance of each other, never question their own egotistical take on the world, never grow up.  They suffer, their kids suffer—it’s way too much like real life.  I have plenty of that already.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

•Karr, Mary.  The Art of Memoir.  After reading excerpts on a friend’s blog, I got all excited.  I’m writing a memoir, and Karr teaches memoir writing—I was bound to find useful treasure.  Not so much.  And what is there, Karr buries in weird asides, like a whole gushing chapter about Nabokov who broke every “rule” in memoir writing, or endless details about her own process.  Ugh.

•Hoffman, Alice. The Dovekeepers.  This is one of those books heralded as “a major contribution to twenty-first-century literature.” The flap says it took Hoffman five years to research and write. According to ancient history, in 70 C.E., 900 Jews held out for months against Roman armies on a mountain in the Judea desert.  Two women and five children survived. Sixty pages in, I didn’t care. So, shoot me.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leslie
    Dec 30, 2015 @ 16:44:45

    Do you keep a list as you go? I never remember the names of books I have read. I always have to try a page here or there and see if it feels familiar.

    I’m going to take a look at those Anne Bishop novels.

    Reply

  2. David Kanigan
    Dec 31, 2015 @ 06:48:36

    Oh, so sad that you didn’t like Mary Karr’s book. Sorry I led you astray.

    You have a dish full of candy here with your recommendations. I must pick up Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. Must. Thanks for the post. I have saved it for future reference.

    Reply

    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 01, 2016 @ 08:49:35

      Golly! That’s a huge compliment, David, as I feel like one of your Booklist Disciples. And the Karr book was totally worth a look. You never know what will or won’t trip your trigger.

      Reply

  3. pegoleg
    Dec 31, 2015 @ 10:31:06

    Wow – you were a busy kid last year.

    Love your collage.

    I don’t like Stephen King horror books – not a fan of the genre – but Under the Dome was just my speed. Do you think I’d like ’63 and Mercedes?

    Reply

  4. radiatingblossom
    Jan 05, 2016 @ 08:23:10

    I’ve added All the Light We Cannot See to my book list. Thanks, Sandy Sue!

    Reply

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