I love reading, but the time I have to sit down and dive into a book is severely limited. When I started working from home, I lost the two hours on the train that used to be dedicated to reading. I tried blocking out that time again, but it never quite worked. I'd fall asleep with the book on my chest, or the kids would need me, or I'd get distracted by some task that really needed doing. Last year, I finally moved over to audiobooks. Here's some quick reviews of what I read.
Note: Trigger warnings are on this post, which is only on my personal blog. Some of them are spoilery.
The Glamourist Series
(By Mary Robinette Kowal) Initially, I only started this series out of loyalty to Kowal. I love her on the Writing Excuses podcast, and I wanted to support her work. The audiobook for her first book was short, so I figured I'd give it a go. I mean, Regency stuff isn't my thing, but whatever.
I ended up loving it. Yes, the series is set in Regency England, but what's awesome is that you don't need to be an Austen nerd to understand what's going on. She doesn't drone on about countless details, closing instead to focus on the things that are important to the plot or characters. She explains social customs. And the magic system is really, really neat.
Another secret to the series is that each book is actually in a different genre. One is a spy novel. One is a heist. Only the first one is a traditional Regency novel. It helps keep the series fresh, because I know I would have gotten bored with tea and dinner parties really fast.
Kowal is the narrator. She has stage experience, so this works really well. I can't imagine anyone else narrating it.
(By Carolly Erickson) I got this during a sale on non-fiction audiobooks, and I'm so glad I picked it up. It's a biography of Catherine the Great, and I ended up enjoying it immensely. It had a gossipy, coy tone that kept me (someone who gets bored with lists of dates or names) engaged.
Historians seem to turn their nose up at the book, but honestly, I don't think this is written for the history buff. It's approachable, yet well-researched. It focuses on concrete events rather than trying to give a blow-by-blow of every year of Catherine the Great's life.
The Shambling Guide to New York City
(By Mur Lafferty) Small town girl moves to the Big City. Gets hired by supernatural publishing house. Hi-jinx ensue.
I enjoyed this book, though sometimes the tone made me cringe. It's the first in a series, so Lafferty was probably just running into the usual Book One issues: Hitting the same tone too often, introducing too many characters, being a bit too heavy-handed about painting the world, breaking the cutie. This is really common in most Book Ones, though, and the setting was unique and enjoyable. I just got a bit tired of some of the repeated refrains. I also felt like the tone was a bit too light, given the plot.
That said, I'll probably pick up her second book in the series soon. I enjoyed the protagonist, I love the premise, and I do love some Urban Fantasy.
Who Fears Death
(By Nnedi Okorofor) After Shambling guide, I decided I wanted something a bit more somber. I got that with Who Fears Death.
This book was amazing. It's set in a future where society has broken down and then reformed somewhere on the continent of Africa. There's lost technology and magic and wars and oppression and love and coming of age.
There were times when it was hard. It's an emotional book. Okorofor pulls no punches. There was one chapter where I had to move to the next chapter because I just couldn't take it. It was worth it, though. The book was immensely satisfying, and became my bar to pass for the year.
(By Jo Walton) I wanted something lighter after Who Fears Death, so I picked up Among Others. This book is a diary of a young woman who, after fleeing her mother, goes to live with the father she never knew. It's set in the late seventies in England, and is utterly charming.
The protagonist is a book-lover who is obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy. There are hints of magic in her life, but these are mostly glossed over until the last third of the book. She talks about making friends at school, joining a book club, and young romance. She's frank and funny, and there are lots of entries that are just what I would have written at that age.
The plot meanders, but it works, because this is a diary. She might be talking about getting ice cream and putting in orders for interlibrary loans in one entry, then about changing reality with a wish in the next. You have to pay attention to piece together certain parts of the plot (though it is all pulled together in the end).
The narrator for this one has a lovely Welsh accent, so after listening to it I had to work hard to not sound like an ex-pat.
Bloodchild and Other Stories
(By Octavia Butler) This is, as the name suggests, a series of short stories.
The stories are almost all set in the not-so-different future. Butler talks about each of the stories after they're read, which is just as enjoyable as the stories themselves. She talks about the inspiration for them, or how they were misinterpreted by some, or little tidbits she put in that only meant something to her and a few others.
The stories are all self-contained and immensely satisfying. I also enjoyed the fact that they were all of similar lengths. I know it's a foible, but it really bugs when when I read a collection of short stories, and most of them are ten pages long, and one of them is thirty. Screws up my rhythm.
Magic for Beginners
(By Kelly Link and Shelley Jackson) Bloodchild wasn't that long, so I decided to pick up some more short stories. Magic for Beginners is about as opposite from Bloodchild as you can get.
Bloodchild strove for a sense of realism. Magic is surreal, with every story taking place in a reality that is a strange mirror of ours. The logic is dream logic, where things happen because sometimes that's what happened. In fact, much of the book reminded me of some weird and vivid dreams I've had.
The stories were all quite enjoyable, but I'll warn you: If you want your plots tied up, this may not be the book for you. All the stories (if I recall correctly) end on an extremely ambiguous note.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe
(By Charles Yu) I bought this one for the title. I mean, come on! How fun does that look? And the description referred to a time-travelling repairman, so how can it not be a romp?
It was not a romp.
The book, in spite of its cheery title, is about a dude who travels through time feeling badly about how he didn't get along well with this dad. The dialogue, when it happens, is lively and interesting and funny, but most of the book isn't dialogue. You're in this dude's head as he thinks about what a cruddy relationship he had with his dad.
The plot doesn't even meander. It gets recursive. I wish I were kidding, but that's the god's honest truth.
Also, he's shitty towards his woman AI unit, which made me wish he'd just get stuck in a paradox so that we'd get a better narrator.
If you like convoluted time-travel plots and like reading fictional science then you may enjoy this one. I got through it, but it wasn't for me.
Rosemary and Rue
(By Seanan McGuire) Another first book in a series, I enjoyed this one, and may pick up more of them (this one, at least, has more in the series than Shambling). It suffered from the same shortcomings as Shambling as well: Too heavy handed in creating the setting, SO MUCH BREAKING THE CUTIE, got a bit one-note at times.
Basically, a half-blood woman (half-human, half-fey) is pulled back into fey politics to play detective. I like the premise, and the rules for the world are interesting, as are the politics. I did find myself rolling my eyes a few times (how many times can a person run round town after being shot?!), but for the most part, I enjoyed the characters, was drawn in by the plot, and will probably check out other books in this world.
Backout and All Clear
(By Connie Willis) After Science Fiction Universe, I did not expect to enjoy two HUGE books about time-travelling historians. I was wrong. I loved them both. In fact, even though these were the longest books on my list, I got through them the fastest. I had these playing at practically every moment I wasn't working on something else.
A trio of time-traveling historians from Oxford find themselves stuck in England during WWII. They have no idea why they're stuck, and they spend most of the book trying to find a way back while NOT getting hit by bombs.
The research that must have been done for this book was nothing short of amazing. Seriously, Willis nails the setting. Even during parts where the plot of the individual characters wasn't grabbing me, the details about the world were.
I found myself truly caring about each of the characters, and though sometimes it got a bit repetitive with the whole "just barely missed it!" bit, everything was tied up a hugely satisfying way by the end of the second book. There was even a bit of romance that had me sighing happily.
There are four books in this series, with these being the last two. You don't need to read the first two, though. These stand on their own completely.
(By Ilona Andrews) This is set in a universe that Andrews writes in, but is completely independent of it. I'm delighted to see that she's going to keep adding to this aspect of the world, because honestly, I'm into it.
The protagonist is an Innkeeper. I... I actually don't want to say more than that, because I enjoyed finding out what exactly she was though the story. Let's just say it's like urban fantasy turned on its ear.
And that's it! Altogether, that's around 161 hours of listening, which is not too shabby considering I do most of my listening on dog walks!