Saturday, September 30, 2017

Top Ten (Or So): Books Read in 2016

As I said in my top ten covers list:
Yes, it's September. Yes, I have basically abandoned this blog. I'm writing short reviews on Goodreads, but I can't keep up with this anymore due to life circumstances. I'll probably write an official post about it in a while. But meanwhile, the Top-Ten Lists are just so fun to do, that I can still manage to find the time and energy.
So yeah. I don't remember a lot because my memory's bad and it was a long time ago. But I tried.

But besides LIFE stuff happening, this was a decent year for reading. I read 4 more books than I did the year before (60 vs 56). 14 out of the 60 books were nonfiction--one more than the previous year. (Next year's going to be even better: I already read 14 and the year's not even done yet.) I count this as progress because it shows a diversifying of my tastes. I discovered a few new fabulous authors (especially Jean-Paul Sartre, Sage Blackwood, Gillian Bradshaw, Henri Nouwen).
So yeah, decent. Although the feeling in general is kind of meh, I think because of how many books I found just slightly less enjoyable than I'd hoped. (As a preview: this is not the case for this year, 2017. Difficult year, but good books.)

So without further ado, in sort-of approximate order from least to most favourite, are some of the best books I read in 2015:

Section Three--these were great, I loved these ones: the "all the good ones" section:

From Nikita Golubev
(https://www.behance.net/gallery/54499947/Jinx-3-illustrations)
--Jinx by Sage Blackwood. Children's literature as it should be. Complex characters, complex relationships (Jinx and Simon! Simon and Sophie! etc etc!). Also I found this artist who did gorgeous illustrations for the all three books in the series, which just made me love them all the more.

--Cuckoo's Egg by C. J. Cherryh. This will bring me to a whole new set of adult scifi books, both from the author and from the sub-genre (hard sociological scifi). There were relationships and world-building and people's inner thoughts that were all complex and interesting and made me think. Cool stuff.

--No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialist works are actually really interesting. I had no idea before this. At least Sartre's are. I so, so much wanted to properly discuss this one with someone after reading it, but alas my life was lonely last year.


--Shirt of Flame by Heather King. I'm just going to repeat my short original review for this, because it says it all: "Profound and difficult and consoling simultaneously. It came at an absolutely perfect time in my life, and gave me a relationship to St. Therese for which I'll be forever grateful. Also good coming so soon after The Power and the Glory, since King also get the grittiness and paradox and beauty of Catholicism."

--Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North. Ryan North is one of my favourite authors, which seems weird to say about someone who mostly writes comic books and choose-your-own-adventures. But he's just... SO. FUNNY. And comedy is as an acceptable genre as tragedy or realism. So take that.

Section Two--these are just so good: the section with my actual favourites of the year:

--Spritual Formation by Henri Nouwen. Made me think and pray in a way I hadn't before. Always, always worth it, that.

--Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey. This was just such a lovely reading experience. The way Tey gets into the heads of her characters is so great--I'm interested in all of them, which is so rare. (They're almost completely women in this book too, which is cool and interesting.) She also makes physical descriptions and atmosphere that actually interest me. As I said in my original review, it's "[l]ovely and light and cozy and creepy all at once". Plus just add in the feel of the book, the look of the cover. This is a book to read all alone when it's poring rain and you have hot chocolate and cookies to eat.
(Also a shoutout here to The Franchise Affair. I liked Miss Pym better, and I liked both of them for similar reasons, so I thought I wouldn't include TFA, even though it was pretty awesome.)

--Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw. I forget more of this book than I wish I did, but I remember it good. And didn't portray Gawain as a dumb brute. It was just a good, good historical-fiction-with-hints-of-fantasy book that actually portrayed Christianity as not a terribly thing. In fact, it was quite inspiring, and I remember being so thrilled to find a book about Gawain (called Gwalchmai here) and his family that was interesting and gritty. I really, really liked it.

--The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace by Sydney Padua. Famous historical computer science people! In an alternate universe! In graphic novel form! I looooooove books like this. Enough said.

Section One--life-changing, ground-breaking, or astonishing: the new additions to my all-time favourites

--A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ooima. Messy, real, tragic, romantic, sweet. There were aspects of my inner life and anxiety that I saw in this series that I never saw anywhere else. And the realness and complexity of these characters!



--Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. This book changed my life. It's weird to say this, because in some ways it doesn't seem like the most profound book in the world. And truthfully, the change it immediately made wasn't that profound. But it started me down a path of growth that I am so, so grateful for. Self-knowledge and nurturing the inner life are WORTH it, guys! Who knew. But seriously, it is a great book, containing such phrases as "fierce with reality" which make me want to be the best person I can possibly be.

--The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. This book surprised and astonished me. Who knew it was going to be so thought-provoking? While still easy to read? And actually gripping? And so Catholic in the best, gritty, complex sense of the word? Amazing book, and it is to my great sorrow that I didn't get to discuss it with anyone while it was still fresh in my mind.


Runners Up (In No Order Whatsoever and Possibly Missing Some Good Ones Because I'm Really, Really Bad at Making Up My Mind)
--Voice of the Lost. Great romance! Unusual plot twists! Improvement from the previous book!
--Curse of Chalion. The way Bujold builds up the awesomeness of some of her characters... Also the religion. Good stuff.
--In the Night Garden. The structure! The imagination!
--Wild Seed. Memorable, unique adult scifi.
--Acedia & me. Interesting take on one of the most serious problems of our time (I think).

P.S. See also the Top Ten (Or So) lists from previous years: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Top Ten (Or So): Covers of Books Read in 2016

Yes, it's September. Yes, I have basically abandoned this blog. I'm writing short reviews on Goodreads, but I can't keep up with this anymore due to life circumstances. I'll probably write an official post about it in a while. But meanwhile, the Top-Ten Lists are just so fun to do, that I can still manage to find the time and energy.

So here they are--in only approximate order--favourite to least favourite, the best covers of the books I read in 2016. It was a bit of a disappointing lot this year. Not that there were lots of bad ones, just none that really struck me (unlike last year). (Note that I am not in any way an artist or designer or anything, so these are based purely on what I like in book covers.)



Deep Secret. It's almost purely because of how much I love space. I LOVE space. Look at how that beautiful, beautiful space is outlined by an ordinary door, giving the impression that you never know when you'll open a door and come across GLORY. Plus there's a simplicity to this cover, and I generally like simplicity and a certain amount of minimalism.



Although, speaking of simplicity, I like the cover for In the Night Garden for completely the opposite reason. There's so much going on here. I kept referring back to the cover whenever I read a new story to see if I could find elements. And the art is beautiful too.



Vicious also has an illustrated cover, and I love it. The colouring, the blood, the striking human figure. I pretty much always hate people on covers when they're real live people (see Truthwitch below for a surprising exception), but illustrated! Especially this well!



I love the cover for Romeo and/or Juliet because it's hilarious and it suits the book so well. (I like it better than the cover for To Be Or Not to Be actually, even though the illustrations inside that one are better.)



Wild Seed looks like an old-fashion scifi cover, which I normally don't like because of the colouring and busyness and weirdness. But this one fascinated me. Not sure why.



Not God's Type has books and a sword on it and it's teal, which is my favourite colour. What else can you ask for?



I don't loooove the cover for Truthwitch, but I do like it a lot. That surprised me a lot because it's a live girl on the front with lots of CGI-type looking stuff, which is pretty much my least favourite type of cover (if you don't include bare-chested romance covers). But--I do like it. Maybe it's the blue colour, maybe it's how everything is arranged, the shape of it.



Catch & Release has the type of simplicity/minimalism I love. Also the colour's nice. And those hooks! Eye-catching. Good stuff.

Runners Up (in No Particular Order): The Keeper of the Mist because it's just really pretty; And All the Stars because the girl on the front actually suits the description in the book (that doesn't seem to happen often), plus it just looks kind of cool; Ink and Bone because it's pretty too; The Return of the Prodigal Son because that painting is fantastic, and the cover couldn't really be anything else; Miss Pym Disposes because the whole feel of reading the book was so great, and this includes seeing the cover.

P.S. See also my previous lists: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 3

During the four months of reading the below books, I've been at a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the third set of three:

"Poustinia" by Catherine Doherty
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
I love the idea of Poustinia--it's epic. And some of Catherine's ideas are just so true and beautiful, and not something you see talked about anywhere else (at least in our culture). But I struggled a lot with her style, especially her seeming anti-intellectualism. This was a very up-and-down reading experience for me because of that. But I recommend this heartily! I think almost anyone could get something new and helpful out of it, at least.




"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene
Grade: 5 stars
SO Catholic, in the best possible sense of that phrase. Greene gets so many things--what real sanctity is, the silliness that is sin, and how people think deep down to themselves. He reminds me of a grittier version of C. S. Lewis in those ways. This is a book worth a good, long sit-down discussion over beer or hot chocolate. Yet all this might give the impression that it's a "difficult" book, or preachy, or only relate-able to Catholics or something, but that's totally false. It's easy to read, excellently written, brilliant characters, gets to the bottom of LIFE. Man, I don't even know how to describe my thoughts properly, but I am so glad I finally got around to reading this.


"In the Night Garden" by Catherynne M. Valente
Grade: 4 stars
The structure of this book! It totally thrilled me. A layered, interlocking series of tales and stories, with unexpected connections and call-backs and Inception-like depth. The unending nature of the structure was a little annoying for me personally, though. I wanted everything wrapped up in the end, in an incredibly complex bundle of imagination and creativity. Instead it emphasizes the fact that stories don't really have a beginning and end, which is probably actually the best route to take, despite my personal preferences.



"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Henri Nouwen
Grade: 4 stars
A beautiful little book that gives you a new appreciation for Rembrandt's famous painting. I didn't find it quite as helpful as the last Nouwen I read, but excellent none the less.







"Shirt of Flame" by Heather King
Grade: 5 stars
Profound and difficult and consoling simultaneously. It came at an absolutely perfect time in my life, and gave me a relationship to St. Therese for which I'll be forever grateful. Also good coming so soon after The Power and the Glory, since King also get the grittiness and paradox and beauty of Catholicism.






"Paladin of Souls" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 stars
The gods in this series! With the religion in this series, and how Bujold presents the theist character of Cordelia in the Vorkosigan saga, I can't help but think she's had some experience of Faith. She just seems to get how it works (though the Bastard weirded me out a bit...). The rest of the aspects of this story were good enough, and entertaining, but I think the first book, The Curse of Chalion, remains my favourite by a large margin.





(There are some personal notes below this break. Feel free to skip them; they are pretty unintelligible anyway.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 2

The last four months or so, I've been at a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the second set of three:

"Discovering the Feminine Genius" by Katrina J. Zeno
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
It was a little simplistic for where I'm at right now--or perhaps it's complex enough but just made for a different sort of person? Despite the fact that she and I have a fairly similar background in some ways (Catholic upbringing, down to the playing spoons till midnight). Most of the book didn't seem to relate to me or be that helpful. Yet... a few key points in it were the starting off points for some major growth these last few months, so I can't help but recommend it.




"Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler
Grade: 4 stars
A fairly different feel to this book than what I'm used to. Quite intensely personal for a speculative fiction book, without being overly emotional or having that "literary fiction" style that isn't my thing. Don't really know what else to say about this book, but it was good stuff. Hopefully I'll get to more Butler soon.





"Spiritual Formation" by Henri Nouwen
Grade: 4 1/2 stars
This book helped me a lot. Nouwen has such insight into the human journey. Also there are some cool new ideas to try for me, like "Visual Divinia". I just wish I'd gotten around to studying my notes (found below) properly when the book was still in my possession and fresh in my mind...






"Fortress in the Eye of Time" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Entertaining and atmospheric with some great relationships of all sorts. The central friendship was my favourite (Tristen and Cefwyn), but there was a small element of romance that was really great too (Cefwyn and .... I forget her name). The Tristen & Mauryl and Cefwyn & Idrys (Master Crow!) relationships were also great. The main issue is that it wasn't quite gripping enough to make me seek out the sequels immediately, and I'm going to forget the myriad names and world-building details that are necessary to understand even a little bit of what's going on. Cherryh is not someone who explains things unnecessarily--one of my favourite things about her, but still, it's going to make this difficult...


"The Psalms Are Our Prayers" by Albert Gelin
Grade: 3 stars
If I hadn't read The Case for the Psalms by N. T. Wright earlier in the year and loved it, I might have been more impressed by this. As it was, it was good but not particularly new or striking. I also found the style a bit disconcerting--perhaps it was the translation? My spiritual director recommended this book and this author, though, so I'd like to try another book by him at some point.




(There are some personal notes below this break. Feel free to skip them; they are pretty unintelligible anyway.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 1

After my trip home to BC, I went to a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the first set of three:


"The Man in the Queue" by Josephine Tey
Grade: 3 stars
Entertaining Golden Age British mystery story, with some delightful but spoilery twists on the usual outcomes of such mysteries. I didn't enjoy this as much as some of Tey's other works, though. Her tendency towards atmospheric description I found a little more boring, rather than breathtaking and claustrophobic, as in The Singing Sands, or than entertaining and intriguing, as in Miss Pym Disposes. And although I loved to a surprising degree some of the secondary characters ([Raoul Legarde, Miss Dinmont, even Ray Marcable--Tey really has a strength with fascinating characters you want to know more about), they weren't as impactful as MPD, The Daughter of Time, or The Franchise Affair. In general, it seemed a little less well written. But it was her first book, after all.


"The Paladin" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Retired general in east Asian inspired land reluctantly takes on a young and passionate-for-revenge girl as a student. The ending felt a bit rushed, and there was too much emphasis on how much the older guy wanted to sleep with his student. Cherryh is great at a properly limited third person view, but in this case I would have liked the romance better if it had more of the girl's perspective. Especially because it was so much more central than expected. It didn't throw me off Cherryh, though. I found her writing both excellent and entertaining, and I'm looking forward to reading her more well-known works.


"Lost in the Labyrinth" by Patrice Kindl
Grade: 2 stars
Retelling of the Minotaur story. I think it is too young for me at this point in my life, and I didn't find it as unique as some of her other books, so not my favourite read of the year. It would be good for teaching kids about myths though, I think.






"Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
Grade: 3 stars
Had a bunch of notes on this, but I lost them. Will update this if I find them. It was too long ago to remember most of what I thought, but it wasn't as good as I was hoping. Still good, though.







"A Confusion of Princes" by Garth Nix
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
The first half was pretty cool because of Nix's worldbuilding (which he always does awesomely), of the scifi future-y sort, and his secondary characters, of the distinct and memorable sort. But the second half, with the romantic relationship and the sudden resolution seemed a bit simplistic. Also, why is Khenri so special? He didn't strike me as being particularly special... The characterization could have used a bit of work, think. Anyway, ultimately it was fun but too light.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Travel Reading: BC Summer

It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews when I've been away from regular internet access for extended periods of time. Thus I started this Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. So from a trip home to my family and friends in BC comes the following:


"Owl in Love" by Patrice Kindl
Grade: 3 stars
Strange little book, which seems to be Kindl's style. I like her best in fairy tale land, where strangeness doesn't seem unusual (Goose Chase made me very happy). But this one was surprisingly entertaining. The strangeness was less disconcerting than in The Woman in the Wall. Owl's voice is unique, even from Kindl's other heroines; her inhuman-ness was treated well. And I still want to read every one of the rest of her books, if only for curiosity's sake. 2 1/2 stars because I think it was a little young for me, but then an extra 1/2 star for the fact that I couldn't really stop reading it.



"A Coalition of Lions" by Elizabeth Wein
Grade: 3 stars
A sequel to the Arthurian retelling The Winter Prince, but not nearly as heart-wrenching and impactful. I still enjoyed it, especially in the enormous potential for a favourite new character that was young Telemakos (the future books follow him as a protagonist). The setting and politics were cool as well. But it felt too short, and like some of the relationships (especially Priamos and Goewin) and characters needed more background and build up.





"Port Eternity" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Not as good as the other Cherryh I read (Cuckoo's Egg) but that was expected. I'd read reviews beforehand that indicated this. I only read it as my next Cherryh because it was an Arthurian retelling of sorts, and I've been on a bit of an Arthurian kick recently (see A Coalition of Lions above and the Top Ten (Or So): Arthurian Retellings list). I think I would have preferred even more character development, though maybe that wouldn't be possible with the kind of characters these "people" were. Or maybe what I wanted was more action... It happened at the end, but there seemed to be a big, slow build up to some large character explosion, and that never happened as much as I expected. The mythic, idyllic ending seemd to suit more conflict and events than actually happened.



"The Curse of Chalion" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
It was a little slow to start out with, but once I got far enough through, the Bujold-ness showed up, especially with the main character, Cazaril. The interaction between gods and men was great. There are certain elements of theism that Bujold seems to understand much better than most people (this also showed up in the Vorkosigan saga with Cordelia's beliefs).
Note: everything about this edition (the back cover text, the inside cover picture) indicates there's a cliched main romance, which there isn't. Just putting that out there because it turned me off for a while.



"Tomorrow When the War Began" by John Marsden
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
I appreciated the realism of this YA post-apocalyptic Australian survival story. The teens seemed to me to act and think much like real teens. There was even a religious (not just "spiritual") girl who wasn't stupid or puritanical! That was hugely refreshing. The Australian element also gave it a bit of exciting exoticism for me as a Canadian. I think I'd like to read the sequels, once I come back from my travels and adventures and start a normal life again. It won't be that high on my list, since I didn't become passionate about any particular element. But it was a great and exciting and highly readable start to a series, and I'd recommend it to people who were mature enough for the small amount of sexual content.

Romeo and/or Juliet

by Ryan North

Story summary: Two households, both alike in dignity... an ancient grudge and parent's strife... a pair of star-cross'd lovers... a battle with giant robots...

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • It's so funny.
  • The clever Shakespeare references!
  • The clever geek references!
  • It's Romeo and Juliet as a choose-your-own-adventure. How much more awesome can you get?*

And Why You Might Not:
  • Some Christians could be bothered by some of the dislike of marriage that appears. It's not all like this, but there's enough that it's not just a passing remark one can ignore easily.
  • If your sense of humour isn't the sort of self-referential nerdiness often seen on the Internet and such places, you're likely not going to get much out of this. (On the other hand, if it's not your thing, maybe this would the perfect introduction to just how funny it can be!)