Monday, January 4, 2016

Favorite Books of 2015

It is the new year, and I guess that means it is time for lists and reviews of the year just past. For me, the first and most important list is the one of all the books I have read. Officially, on Goodreads, I managed 70 books. That is about half of my pre-parenthood high year, and feels low, but unofficially, I read hundreds of books to Malcolm. That is not an exaggeration - I am keeping a list of all the books we read together, and it is over 600 books! One of these days I will get them all on my list of books too. Benjamin laughs at my attempts to quantify my life, but I can't help it.

But I digress. What I really wanted to do was share some of my favorite books of the past year with you, because they are all so good you should read them too! I am specifically using "favorite" and not "best," because this is a completely subjective list, and apart from the first one, I am not ranking any of them.

Favorite overall: Ancillary Justice (and the sequels Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy) by Ann Leckie. I cannot adequately express how much I love this series. The world is at once familiar and completely foreign - there is an empire that spans thousands of years and wide swathes of space, the people are human, but gender is not really a thing, the default pronoun is "she" or "her," and the antagonist is thousands of clones of the same person. I know it is challenging - I suggested it for my book group, and the one other woman who reads everything gave up on it - but it is also amazingly good and fun and engrossing.

Other favorite fiction:
Lock In by John Scalzi - set in the near future after a flu/polio type virus has swept the world and millions of people are trapped in their own bodies. There is a mystery, possibly a conspiracy, and robots! It isn't at all dystopian or dreary or bleak - Scalzi is great at writing realistic characters who have a sense of humor and make their way through without getting too mopey or obnoxious. I listened to the Audible version of this, both the Wil Wheaton version and the Amber Benson version, and I highly recommend either narrator. Oh yeah, the gender of the main character is never mentioned, so they can be read as male or female without any difficulty.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - another book set in the near future where a virus has ravaged the earth. This time, things are somewhat dystopian, since 99% of the population died, but it really isn't as bleak as that sounds. The book switches back and forth between pre-collapse views of a famous actor and his associates, and the post-collapse life lived by a troupe of traveling actors and musicians. It is about survival, and hope and the ways humans learn to cope and thrive even in darkness.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor - Uh, set in a post-nuclear-holocaust Africa... I promise I read good books that were not set after apocalypses, but these really are the most interesting ones. This one has a chosen one, who is a girl who wants to learn magic and become all the things she is not supposed to, according to her society. There is friendship, love, magic, heartbreak, redemption. Good stuff.

Embassytown by China Mieville - Hey, not set in a post-apocalyptic world! Just set on a strange planet where the humans are definitely not the dominant species and language holds all sorts of power. I am at a loss to explain this one, as I am with most Mieville, because it is so strange and so wonderful. It made an interesting pairing with another book I was reading at the same time, The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. In fact, the best description I can give is that it is Mieville doing his version of a Le Guin novel.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton - yes, this is a picture book, but it is so good! I bought it for myself, and honestly never considered that it was a kids book until I got it in the car and Malcolm demanded to look at it on the way home. Now, everyone in the house loves it and enjoys reading it at bedtime. Princess Pinecone is a warrior who wants a real warrior's horse for her birthday. Her parents try, but they don't get it quite right.

Favorite Non-Fiction: I didn't read as much non-fiction this year as I have in some other years, but I did read some that was worth passing on.
It's What I Do: A photographer's life of love and war by Lynsey Addario - a memoir of her career as a photojournalist.

On the Move by Oliver Sacks - I finished reading this the day before he died. His memoir of his career, from the outside, as it were, instead of through his case studies.

Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan - One of the best baking cookbooks I have ever seen and used. Greenspan is endlessly supportive and practical and her recipes are all fantastic. I don't mean that they all taste good, although they do; no, I mean they are all detailed, well-tested, and easy to follow, even when you are making something tricky or difficult. It is a model for how all cookbooks should be written. I am working my way through all the recipes, such an onerous chore (ha!).

There are, of course, more books I could recommend, but I don't want to try your patience. Let me know what your favorites were, so I can add them to my never-ending to-read pile on Goodreads! I promise to move them to the top of the virtual pile!