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Reading Summary, 2017

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I read 59 books this year, which is a bit more than double last year’s total of 27. (Admittedly, quite a few of these were novellas.) Genre breakdown:

Fantasy: 25

Science Fiction: 5

Horror: 22

Historical Fiction: 3

General Fiction: 1

Nonfiction: 1

Mixed Genres: 2

Last year, my reading was heavily skewed towards fantasy. This year’s distribution was bimodal, with a pretty even split between fantasy and horror. I read more science fiction than last year, but no mystery. I finished N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, which I started last year, and continue to be an avid follower of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona novellas. I also started Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands series, which has rapidly become one of my favorites.

Favorite Book: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, by Bradley P. Beaulieu. Last year, my favorite book was a fantasy based on Eastern European folklore (Naomi Novik’s Uprooted), and I really enjoyed a similar book this year, Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. But Twelve Kings is full of compelling characters, acting in an interesting setting, and it began what has become one of my favorite fantasy series. I’ve read all of the companion novellas and have already pre-ordered the next book, A Veil of Spears.

Least Favorite Book: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich. As with last year, this isn’t a case of the book in question being bad. But it did leave me feeling a bit “bait-and-switched,” since a character who was billed as being the focus of the book faded into the background for most of it.

Reading Summary, 2016

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This year, I read 27 books, up from 2015’s total of 22. Genre breakdown:

Fantasy: 11

Science Fiction: 2

Horror: 3

Historical Fiction: 1

Mystery: 1

General Fiction: 2

Nonfiction: 3

Mixed Genres: 4

This year’s selection is more heavily skewed towards fantasy than my reading list from last year. On the other hand, I read three nonfiction books this year, whereas I didn’t read any in 2015. I also read into five(!) new-to-me series this year: N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth, Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona/World of the Five Gods, Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files, and Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children.

Favorite book: Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It was hard to choose a single favorite between this and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, as both were engrossing stories set in interesting worlds with compelling characters.

Least favorite book: The Narrator by Michael Cisco. Most of the books I read this year were excellent, so calling this my least favorite book isn’t saying that it was bad, just that it wasn’t quite as good as the others. Despite being set in a fantasy world, the novel brings a sense of realism to the war that the main character is drafted into, partly by showing the characters spending most of their time waiting or planning rather than actually fighting. While there’s a lot to be said for this approach, it did lead to some problems with the book’s pacing, and there were sections where I found it hard to stay interested.

 

Reading Summary, 2015

This year, I read 22 books. Genre breakdown:

Fantasy: 5

Horror: 4

Historical Fiction: 3

Science Fiction: 2

General Fiction: 2

Mystery: 1

Mixed Genres: 5

This is a pretty typical mix for me, although usually I read one or two nonfiction books as well. Also, the distinction between “historical fiction” and “general fiction” is somewhat fuzzier than it’s been in previous years, since two of the novels I listed here as Historical Fiction were set in the early 20th century (1900s-1920s).

Favorite book: Northwest Passages, by Barbara Roden. This was a collection of short stories. Most of them fall into the horror category, but it’s a subtle horror that builds up an atmosphere of growing dread, rather than the jump-scare sort of horror.

Least favorite book: The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. I didn’t understand a lot of the actions of one of the major characters, and one particular stylistic choice by the author made the novel harder to read.

 

Happy New Year to all!

Stories to read on Halloween with the lights off

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As the residents of Halloween Town sing in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, “Life’s no fun without a good scare.” I’ve always loved horror stories and weird fiction, and I’ve always been enamored of short stories (regardless of genre). So in honor of All Hallows’ Eve, here are my thirteen favorite scary short stories, in no particular order.

“The Rabbet” by China Mieville (in Three Moments of an Explosion)—The title isn’t a misspelling; a “rabbet” is the groove of a picture frame into which the picture itself fits. There are a number of well-known stories about haunted or otherwise supernatural pictures (Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, Stephen King’s “The Road Virus Heads North”, etc) but in this one, it’s the frame that takes on a sinister aspect.

“The Music of Erich Zann” by H.P. Lovecraft—This story isn’t nearly as famous as “The Call of Cthulhu” or “The Dunwich Horror,” but it’s always been my favorite of Lovecraft’s works.

“The Erlking” by John Connolly (in Nocturnes)—John Connolly is best known for his detective fiction, but he has also written two collections of weird fiction. This story draws on old legends about fairies for its inspiration—not cutesy Tinkerbell-style fairies, but the Fair Folk known for stealing children.

“N.” by Stephen King (in Just After Sunset)—It was tough picking a favorite Stephen King story, and while I generally prefer his older work, this is one of those stories that sticks with you long after you finish reading it.

“The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir (in Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 2015 issue)—You wouldn’t think that Lovecraftian horror and a coming-of-age story about a teenaged girl in suburbia would mix well, but Muir makes it work.

“October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman (in Fragile Things)—This story, which inspired Gaiman’s novel The Graveyard Book, is a classic ghost tale.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe—This one probably doesn’t need any explanation.

“Mother of Stone” by John Langan (in The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies)—This deeply creepy story did a great job of presenting a mythology behind the entity that the story centers around.

“Technicolor” by John Langan (in The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies)—There’s quite a bit of gorgeous imagery in this story, as well as a unique concept.

“The Emissary” by Ray Bradbury (in The October Country)—This story should be heartwarming, focusing as it does on a dog that’s devoted to a bedridden child. But it takes a sharp turn into horror when the child’s tutor dies and Man’s Best Friend tries a little too hard to cheer him up.

“Out and Back” by Barbara Roden (in Northwest Passages)—Several of Roden’s stories fall into the horror category, and they all tend to use an atmosphere of isolation to create unease in the reader. “Out and Back” is particularly successful at this—it’s the kind of story that will make you jump at an unexpected noise.

“Pyret” by Karin Tidbeck (in Jagannath)—Written in the style of a scholarly account, this story about a folkloric being that can shapeshift to mimic other creatures is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings. It takes a turn for the ominous towards the end, and there’s quite a bit of downright eerie imagery.

“Voluntary Committal” by Joe Hill (in 20th Century Ghosts)—Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and while most of his writing is in the same general vein as his father’s, he definitely has a voice and style of his own. This story is the last one in his collection 20th Century Ghosts, and it ends the book on a high note.

Introductory Post

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Hi there!

I decided to make this blog to talk about the books I’m reading.  Most of these will likely be speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, horror) with the occasional historical fiction or nonfiction book thrown in.

The blog title is from a Mark Twain quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”