Friday, January 4, 2013


I read 72 books I'd never read before last year!  Here they are, in all their mixed glory (books I highly recommend are in bold!):

The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Naamah's Blessing, Jacqueline Carey
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
French Milk, Lucy Knisley
A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett
Kraken, China Mieville
Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
White Cat, Holly Black
The Reapers, John Connolly
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes, Chris Crutcher
Uglies, Scott Westerfeld
Pretties, Scott Westerfeld
Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin
Simon Bloom, Gravity Keeper, Michael Riseman
When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
Graceling, Kristen Cashore
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Revolver, Marcus Sedgwick
The Outcast Dead, Graham McNeill
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson
Deliverance Lost, Gav Thorpe
Goliath, Scott Westerfeld
Know No Fear, Dan Abnett
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
The Secret Lives of Dresses, Erin McKean
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett
The Black Angel, John Connolly
Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Railsea, China Mieville
The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
Aliens Omnibus vol. 1, Various Authors
Lockdown, Alexander Gordon-Smith
Fablehaven, Brandon Mull
Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King
Age of Darkness, ed. Christian Dunn
Ranger's Apprentice: Ruins of Gorlan, John Flanagan
Messy, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
State of Wonder, Anne Patchett
Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star, Brandon Mull
Desperation, Stephen King
Bones of the Yopasi, Graham McNeill
11/22/63, Stephen King
Americus, MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams
Iron Warriors Omnibus, Graham McNeill
The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson
Nothing, Janne Teller
Muchacho, LouAnne Johnson
Feed, Mira Grant
Fear to Tread, James Swallow
My Name Is Not Easy, Debby Dahl Edwardson
Batgirl vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection, Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf
Suicide Squad vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth, Adam Glass and Frederico Dallocchio
Batman vol. 1: The Court of Owls, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Life of Pi, Yann Martell
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Master of Disguise, Antonio J. Mendez
Deadline, Mira Grant
Snuff, Terry Pratchett
The Whisperers, John Connolly
Blackout, Mira Grant
Redshirts, John Scalzi
The Luxe, Anna Godbersen
The White Road, John Connolly

Holy shit, you guys, I read A LOT OF THINGS in 2012.  Mostly science fiction and young adult, with some horror and realistic fiction thrown in there every once in a while.  I read the first book of a couple of series which I either didn't go back to or revisited only once, and which I'd like to pick up again (White Cat by Holly Black and the Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull, mostly.  I'm still working through Connolly's Charlie Parker books.), and some things I won't be wasting anymore time on (I have zero desire to read the follow-ups to Cinder and The Looking Glass Wars).

I know I'm a librarian and thus biased, but access to the library was pretty quintessential to reaching my goal this year.  I did a lot of random browsing - looking at the shelves and picking up things that looked interesting (I wouldn't have read State of Wonder, Lockdown, or The Luxe without the library, just because they weren't on my radar otherwise).  Likewise, there are a lot of books here that I read for literature classes and might not have known about otherwise, and which I'm incredibly pleased they were brought to my attention (Code Name Verity, Nothing, and Revolver are particular standouts).

For 2013, I'd like to see if I can hit/exceed 52 books again, and I'm going to try to read new stuff, but I'll also be rereading things as the mood strikes me.  My main resolution is to mix up what I read - for every sci-fi or YA novel I read, I'm going to read one non-fiction or historical fiction book that I've never read before. Hopefully, this will pull me out of my comfort zone a little, and give me a chance to find things I really would never have picked up before.

I'm also joining a book club!  We'll be reading a book a month, and deciding on the next month's book together.  Each book club book I read will get its own extended discussion entry, recapping what we talked about and getting deeper into how I felt about it.  Our first book is going to be The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Philips, which I've never heard of before but sounds pretty fun!  STAY TUNED.

My Five Favorite Reads of 2012:
11/22/63, Stephen King
Goliath, Scott Westerfeld
Kraken, China Mieville
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

My Five Least Favorite Reads of 2012:
Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Deliverance Lost, Gav Thorpe
The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor
Pretties, Scott Westerfeld
The Reapers, John Connolly

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Last Book I Finished in 2012!

72.  The White Road, John Connolly
I read this one hella out of order - I think it comes third or fourth in the Charlie Parker chronology.  I kind of wish I HAD read them in order, though, because then the explicitness of the supernatural in the later books might not have bugged me.  This one was quite good, one of Connolly's strongest; I do love it when Connolly gets down and dirty in the South, and The White Road takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, and is just as hot, sweaty and claustrophobic as the setting suggests.  An interesting look at internalized racism and institutional violence.

I'm going to do a reflection post after this, with a complete list and star rating for everything I read this year.  I also have to decide what my reading resolution is for 2013 - I don't think it'll be quite as strict, but I have enjoyed the amount of reading I got done in 2012, and this blog is easier to update with a goal in mind, so I'll  figure something out.  I hope everyone read some good stuff last year, and continue to do so in 2013!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I missed one!

FIRST THING'S FIRST.  I missed a book, you guys!  Number 63 on this list is currently Life of Pi by Yann Martel - it SHOULD be Deadline, by Mira Grant.  I don't know how I forgot that, since I definitely logged it on Shelfari!  Anyway, Deadline was fun, you should definitely read the Newsflesh books (they are must-reads for zombie/horror fans, and recommended for fans of action/adventure/smart writing).

Which means that we're actually on...

70.  Redshirts, John Scalzi
Scalzi CLEARLY knows what he's talking about vis a vis science fiction television.  Redshirts is clever, witty, and the most genre savvy thing I think I've ever read.  It's the story of the apocryphal redshirts, a reference to those poor bastards on Star Trek that never make it to the commercial breaks - and what happens when one ensign starts to question what, exactly, is going on on his ship.  The twist is unexpected (at least it was for me, based on what I'd heard about the book I thought it was going to go in an entirely different direction) and the ending is satisfying, even while Scalzi is rubbing the goofy and ridiculous tropes we've all gotten used to right in our faces.  I don't believe this story would have come off half as well from someone who didn't a.) know the genre inside and out and b.) have the sentimentality required to treat these plot devices with fondness and respect.

71.  The Luxe, Anna Godbersen
Gossip Girl set in 1899, which works - it's a little less frivolous, because you get the sense that, even though the characters are all young, beautiful, and narcissistic, they are dealing with choices that matter and effect other people.  Frothy and fun while still handling some serious issues (marriage, bankruptcy, suicide, etc.).  A good palette cleanser.

The next four books on my docket are:
The White Road, John Connolly
City of Bones, Cassandra Clare
My Lobotomy, Howard Dully with Charles Flemming
and hopefully, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan (I'm waiting for this one on inter-library loan)

If I can get through those before January 1, I will have read 75 books this year that I've never read before, and I think that's pretty awesome.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Break Reading

66.  Snuff, Terry Pratchett
Sam Vimes is my favorite character in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, so I was excited to find one of his books I hadn't read yet.  There's a bit of a template for the books featuring Vimes: he investigates a crime with vigor, typically because no one else will touch it, causing lots of political upheaval because he's Vimes and he has no fucks to give about class hierarchy.  Vimes is Pratchett's mouthpiece for exploring classism, racism, and cultural collision, and Snuff is no different from Feet of Clay, The Fifth Elephant, or Thud! in this respect.  Instead of golems, dwarves, or trolls, we have goblins, treated like vermin by the rest of the sentient creatures on the Discworld - until Vimes investigates a murder.  It's a template book, but Pratchett's writing is so damn good and his characters are so damn fantastic (this one in particular has the chance to develop Vimes' son, who is a typical six-year-old - obsessed with bodily functions and adorably empathetic) that it really doesn't matter.  It's a lovely cap to the adventures of Vimes.

67.  The Whisperers, John Connolly
Another template author, Connolly's books about Charlie Parker are all pretty similarly mapped out.  Like Pratchett, Connolly escapes a lot of criticism because of the strength of his writing and his characters; I particularly loved the way The Whisperers played with perspective and tense.  Much of it is told from the first-person perspective of Parker, but Connolly hardly lets this restrict the story, feeling free to bounce between narrators, third-person perspective, and back and forth in the story's timeline.  It never loses coherency and provides a neat way of telling the story, wherein the reader has more pieces than Parker but in a way that doesn't spoil the final confrontation.

68.  Blackout, Mira Grant
This was a satisfying way to end her zombie trilogy, but I do think that Blackout ends up being the weakest of the three.  One of the biggest conflicts in the novel is an existential dilemma that never really convinced me; it might be genre-jadedness, since it's a question that pops up in a lot of science fiction books I've read, but (without spoiling anything) Grant doesn't push it hard enough for it to be effective.  Other than that, Blackout is exciting and satisfying, if a little rushed at the conclusion; the final scene seems a bit too easily tied up.  I think the problem is that Feed, the first book, was SO strong and SO compelling that, even though Deadline and Blackout are really good reads, they don't quite measure up to the power of the first book.  You'll want to finish the story, though, because it's a hell of a ride (and I'd rather read Grant's worst book than the best book from SOME authors, just sayin').

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tigers and Spies

63.  Life of Pi, Yann Martell
I read this book because the movie trailer looks so deliciously beautiful, and while I'm still excited about the movie and I largely enjoyed big chunks of the book...meh.  I said on twitter that I give Life of Pi a solid A for effort, but a D for execution - a 66%, to be precise.  The first two thirds are great.  The first third or so is about Pi's life in India and his family's zoo, and is a pretty thoughtful meditation on the nature of faith and religion.  It's really beautifully written.  The next third is about Pi's survival in the lifeboat with the tiger, which is stark and brutal and raw (pretty much exactly how you'd expect it to be).  The final third goes off the rails and gets ridiculous in a way I just can't get on board with.  My (sure to be) unpopular opinion is that at this point, you should probably wait for the movie and, if you dig it, then invest some time in the book.

64.  Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Help, my HEART.  This was a struggle to get into - I skimmed the first fifty or so pages really hard - but the payoff is so worth it.  Code Name Verity is the story of two young women fighting for the British during World War II; Maggie as a transport pilot, and Julie as a...well, she's a spy, really.  Julie gets captured by the Gestapo in France, but not all is as it seems and that's all I can tell you without giving anything away.  It's heartbreaking, and touching, and once again I was reading it on the train when the shit really hit the fan and I got all weepy on public transportation.  I really have awesome timing with that.

65.  Master of Disguise, Antonio J. Mendez
After seeing and loving Argo so much, I pretty much had to check out the memoir that Ben Affleck's real person counterpart wrote about his career in the CIA.  It's fascinating!  Mendez isn't a great writer, and I wish it had felt more exciting, but the details of his operations and duties are hypnotic.  Even when the writing fails to convey the tension that I wanted, the functional danger of what he was doing comes through loud and clear.  A must-read for anyone interested in the workings of our espionage system (or, you know, if you liked the movie).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ghost Stories and Zombies

Y'all know how much I love lists.  In a break from our regular programming, I present to you:

Martha's Top Ten Horror Novels
Because it's Halloween, and All

If you read my other blog, Boycott Bluray (if not, why don't you?) you may have heard about my aversion to watching horror movies.  It comes with a lot of  caveats - I don't like ghost stories but am generally fine with slasher movies, but I'm also utterly fascinated by them and spend hours reading the plots of horror movies I will never ever watch on Wikipedia.  Also, I've been watching (and enjoying!) American Horror Story.  So, you know.  When I say I don't like watching horror films, take it with a grain of salt.

One thing I can say definitively is that I love READING horror, and I have for a long time.  So, in this spookiest of seasons, let me share with you some of my favorites.

Blood Music, Greg Bear
Medical and body horror.  Greg Bear is masterful at medical-based science fiction, and this novella is the perfect blend of clinical medical science and eerie future tech.  It's a little bit Prey, a little bit The Blob, and a whole lot of skin-crawling disease.

Bonechiller, Graham McNamee
For anyone who thinks creature features aren't scary.  This one, taking place in the frozen darkness of Alaska in the wintertime, reaches right into your primal survival center and wrings you out.  It's about a creature that stalks children, biting them...and returning later to collect.  A group of kids decide to fight back.  This novel is creepy and cold, living up to its title, and will make you want to stay indoors once the sun goes down.

Curse of the Wendigo, Rick Yancey
This is the second book in Yancey's Monstrumologist series, and I think it's the best.  Everything the first volume does, Wendigo does better: the gritty Victorian setting, examining human nature, peeling back the layers of civility to expose the savagery within.  It expands the world of Will Henry and his monster-studying (and hunting) master, Dr. Pelinore Warthrop, and does what The Monstrumologist didn't quite manage to do: give the good doctor some humanity.  It's also viscerally disgusting and pretty terrifying, especially when you consider that this is a young adult novel.

Every Dead Thing, John Connolly
I'm not a big fan of cops and robbers mysteries, which is why it is continually a pleasure to read Connolly's books about the intrepid investigator Charlie Parker.  These are detective stories imbued with a heavy amount of supernatural horror, and while he hardly ever comes out and actually says that Parker is involved in a larger war between good and evil, it's heavily implied.  Parker is a man haunted by figurative ghosts, until he starts tracking a grisly serial killer...and the ghosts who speak to him become much more literal, and much more personal.  There are a whole bunch of these, and I recommend them all.

Feed, Mira Grant  
Less outright horror, this superbly written zombie novel slowly reveals details of life in the world post-zombie apocalypse as well as bites of a conspiracy that will make your hair stand on end.  It questions the nature of truth, the relationship we have to fear, and the human survival instinct.  Not your average zombie story - quite a bit better, in fact.

House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
I freely confess to not having finished this book...yet.  The truth is, it got under my skin so bad that I had to walk away from it for a while, and it's so dense that it's been a little intimidating to get back to.  When I started it I had no idea that a book about a house that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside

Rotters, Daniel Kraus
A zombie book that has no zombies in it.  It's just as gross, though!  Joey, the main character, moves in with his dad after his mother dies and discovers that Dad makes his living digging up the dead and plundering their coffins.  So, naturally, he decides to learn the family trade.  Kraus is so descriptive the pages fairly reek of the dead, and even though there's nothing supernatural about this story you'll still want the lights on when Joey decides to take some unconventional measures to solve a bully problem later in the book.

'Salem's Lot, Stephen King
There are two King novels on this list, and I STRUGGLED to keep him from overtaking it completely.  But I finally decided I couldn't live without 'Salem's Lot being here, because it is, simply put, one of the best vampire novels ever written.  King's vampires are not romanticized, which makes them more frightening than most.  They are animals, and they are clever, and no matter how young their bodies are they will eat you.

The Shining, Stephen King
Let's face it, my top ten Stephen King novels could probably comprise a list of its own - he's prolific and extremely good at what he does, and that is to bring me, white knuckled, to the edge of my seat with slow-burn terror.  I think The Shining is pretty much the microcosmic best of what Stephen King does: it takes his fascination with inherent evil, an innocent child hero, and a spiral into bloody madness, and it does so in less than 700 pages.  It's nerve-wracking, claustrophobic, terrifying, and exhilarating, and has made more of an impression on me than almost any other book.

The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
Will there ever be a psychopath as charismatic as Hannibal Lecter?  I honestly kind of hope not - one of the things that makes him so memorable is how unique he is in the horror landscape.  I prefer this one to the followup, Hannibal, both because the ending doesn't go totally off the rails but also because watching two dangerously insane people circle each other like tigers makes for some gripping thrills.  Buffalo Bill is horrible, but even his flaying activities can't compare to the smooth, eerie, compelling cannibal Lecter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Books! And Comics, Lots of Comics

57.  Feed, Mira Grant
A zombie book with new stuff to offer!  Much like World War Z, the world Feed takes place in is one that has already dealt with the zombie uprising - it opens with Georgia and Shaun, our intrepid blogger heroes, filming footage for their news site in a world where people have learned to cope with the reality of the undead.  Grant goes into all sorts of interesting details, like the function of news blogs in the media and the medial science behind the zombie virus.  She also presents an interesting plot bait-and-switch: this book isn't really about zombies.  They've already happened, they're here, get over it, and deal with the presidential campaign Georgia and Shaun (and the rest of their bloggers) get invited to cover.  A really, really interesting story about the nature of fear, our relationship to the truth, news, spin, and the media, and the courage of the desperate   I'm in the middle of the sequel, Deadline, right now, and let me tell you: these books kick you RIGHT in the feels.

58.  Fear to Tread, James Swallow
The Blood Angels chapter in the Horus Heresy novels.  It was ok; it had the weird Chaos shit I love, but the Blood Angels on the whole are kind of douchey.  I'd rather read about Ultramarines (or Sallies, WHERE IS MY SALLIES BOOK, GAMES WORKSHOP?), but it had New Information and some cool scenes showing the relationship between the primarchs.  Although, at the end you're really left wondering why the Emperor didn't just erase the whole damn lot of blood-drinking mutants...

Ok, so I just read what I wrote about Fear to Tread and realized it makes zero sense if you aren't familiar with the Warhammer 40K universe (much like every Horus Heresy blurb I've written in this blog, probably).  If you're a fan of military sci-fi or epic science fiction, do yourself a favor: grab a copy of Horus Rising by Dan Abnett.  It's a deep rabbit hole, but this series has some excellent shit in it.

59.  My Name is Not Easy, Debby Dahl Edwardson
A really heartbreaking book about Eskimo and Native American kids who attend Catholic boarding school in the 1960's.  I read it for my advocacy class, and it's obvious why my professor wanted us to: no one advocates for these kids.  They think they are, but My Name Is Not Easy really shows the damage that white privilege and thinking you know better about someone's life than they do can do.  There's a nifty little afterward in the back about how one of the characters' stories is the author's husband, and essentially true to life, which gives the whole thing a strong tang of authenticity.

60.  Batgirl vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection, Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf
I'm going through a serious Batgirl crush right now, you guys.  This one is the first trade paperback from Batgirl's New 52 reboot, and Barbara Gordon is seriously the best character ever.  She's smart and resourceful and confident, and has realistic fears and fucks up sometimes and kicks SO MUCH ASS that I can't even handle it.  The metaphors in this book are a little heavy, but the art is great and, like I said, Barbara is seriously an awesome character.

61.  Suicide Squad vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth, Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio
I bought a bunch of New 52 trades last weekend, can you tell?  While I don't like Harley Quinn's new character design, I continue to find her completely fascinating, and the other supporting cast is pretty compelling.  I was not familiar with the Suicide Squad before picking up the reboot - for others not familiar with the concept, it's basically a collection of villains that have been apprehended and now get a chance to shave time off their life sentences by serving on a task force for impossible government tasks that have a low chance of survival.  Harley carries a giant hammer and there's a guy with tattoos that sets shit on fire.  It's pretty rad.

62.  Batman vol. 1: The Court of Owls, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
This book is fucked, y'all, but only in the best way.  I know that DC has been putting out some shaky work in the fast few years, but so far I've been really impressed with the reboot, and if you're into Batman AT ALL I think you should check out the new stuff.  It's dark and kind of weird, but hella exciting and super interesting.