I’m 60+ books behind with these, so expect more regular updates – I’d love to start 2012 without a backlog!
- Heir to the Shadows, Anne Bishop
- Daughter of the Blood, Anne Bishop
- Queen of the Darkness, Anne Bishop
- Stories, ed. Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio
- Fatherland, Robert Harris
- The Cypress House, Michael Koryta
- Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, Sam Gosling
- Incarceron, Catherine Fisher
- Sapphique, Catherine Fisher
- Second Son, Lee Child (bonus!)
I’m not ordinarily embarrassed about anything I read. Sometimes I just want a nail-biting thriller, even if it’s terrible; sometimes I like going back to old favorites. I read strange stuff for projects, like the parenting memoirs I’ve been picking up periodically since reading Lareau. Plus, you find great work everywhere; I’ll defend Lee Child or Stephen King against all comers!
I am, however, embarrassed to admit that I voluntarily read Anne Bishop – or, more accurately, re-read her. Yes, I should have known better! But I’d just discovered Requires Only That You Hate, and I came across the Black Jewels review, and I said to myself, “Really? I don’t remember them being that bad.” Sadly, they are. These books would make a great gift for the aspiring writer on your list, so he or she can figure out just how low the bar to publication can be. Please feel free to use my copies for this purpose!
Fortunately, Gaiman and Sarrantonio washed that taste right out of my mouth with some good old-fashioned storytelling. The stories in the collection more or less ignore genre, though most have some kind of fantastic element. There’s Mosley doing vampire noir, Jones with far-future romantic comedy, Picoult dancing along the edge of realism to bring you heartbreak. My only complaint is that the collection includes a few too many one-trick-pony stories, where once you’ve read them once they just aren’t much fun. Harris, for example – if you’re going to do a “Ancient Pantheons Living In New York City!” bit, the bar’s got to be higher than the initial gimmick suggests. Smith: cute, but once you figure out what the assassination is about, there’s not much else to the piece. Enjoy the hell out of Stories the first time you read it, because you only get to enjoy it that much once!
Harris and Koryta do some good strong storytelling too. Harris does a classic detective thriller (screwed-up cop discovers a dark secret in the course of an apparently unrelated investigation!) with a twist: it’s set in a world where Germany won World War II. I particularly enjoyed his light touch with the world-building; it’s a detective novel set in that world, not a detective novel that’s about being set in that world. Koryta also creates a gorgeously detailed world, but in his case it’s largely historical. His protagonist is a WWI vet, working in the Civilian Conservation Camps during the Great Depression, who also happens to be able to see when people are going to die. This, as you might imagine, gets him into (and out of) rather a bit of trouble. It’s a tight and well-characterized suspense novel with a supernatural twist, but once again the world-building is the most unexpected delight. Recommended!
Snoop is a deeply entertaining book about the psychological implications of what you own and how you arrange it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend three-quarters of the book trying to apply the lessons to your own belongings in order to see what they say about you. I’m not sure this works particularly well, but trying is quite fun! Gosling uses the Big Five / OCEAN model of personality, and looks both at how well your stuff reflects who you actually are, and how others perceive you to be. It turns out that your stuff reflects some things quite well, but it’s not the parts of your personality that other people think they can predict by looking at your belongings. This was a fun, short read and I’d definitely recommend it to the psychologically (or interior decorating-ly!) inclined.
Finally, Fisher turned out a workmanlike duology. I liked the all-consuming prison as a setting; the female lead was believable without being an idiot and likable without being perfect; the male lead’s self-doubt in the second book was well-executed and satisfying. I just … didn’t care all that much. Also, you can’t name a book Sapphique without making me wonder when it gets Sapphic. Hint: it never does.
(I’m including Second Son because I read it, and I like Lee Child, and I had a lot of fun reading about Jack Reacher solving crimes on an Army base as a kid – but it was a Kindle Single and I’m not counting it as part of my reading for the year. I just don’t want to forget about it!)