Stef (firecat) wrote,

Notable books and audiobooks consumed in 2016

Comment if you want further thoughts on any of these. Some general descriptions of settings and characters, but no other spoilers.

Notable 2016 audiobooks

Rhys Bowen, Royal Spyness series
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren. Gave up on it after #4 because I didn't like the punching-down humor.
Fiona Buckley, Ursula Blanchard series
I listened to the first 4 and then switched to reading them. The audiobooks are narrated by Nadia May and Wanda McCaddon. Historical fiction about a woman who is sent on espionage missions by Queen Elizabeth I. It's well written and I really like the complex moral choices that the protagonists are faced with in each book. And relationships are also complex and well done, for the most part, although sometimes they go a little ways into "Oh, come ON" territory.
Andrea Camilleri, Inspector Montalbano series
Grover Gardner always does a great job of narrating these books. They are about the police in a small town in Sicely, and they are hilarious. I like the relationships among the regular characters, and there's also a lot of loving description of simple food. And usually something serious is addressed. But they are usually pretty sexist, so it's taken me about six years to read 13 of the 20+ books in the series.
Tina Connolly, Ironskin trilogy
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor. The first book in this series borrows a lot from the plot of Jane Eyre. They are set in a universe where humans and fey used to be economically tied but then went to war against each other. Each book in the trilogy has a different protagonist and she develops different characters well. Themes include racism, sexism, beauty, and control. Sometimes the villains are overdone. The third one, Silverblind, has a queer character and some interesting gender-bending.
Charles Dickens, Hard Times
Narrated by David Case. If you like Dickens or fiction about class issues, you'll like it.
Elizabeth Edmonson, A Man of Some Repute (Very English Mystery #1)
Narrated by Michael Page. Historical fiction set just after WWII.
P.N. Elrod, ed. Hex Appeal
Short stories about witches, mostly set in worlds that appear in the authors' other series. Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Simon R. Green, P.N. Elrod, Lori Handeland, Carole Nelson Douglas, Erica Hayes, Carrie Vaughn
Lyndsay Faye, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
Narrated by Simon Vance. Holmes/Watson "fanfic." Faye gets the Conan Doyle tone and language mostly right and I enjoyed it a lot. Faye's first novel, "has the blessing of Conan Doyle's heirs."
Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next series
Fforde has more weird, intriguing ideas per page than most authors. Also he has the knack of making puns that I actually enjoy. I think he's the only sentient entity in the universe who can do this.
Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey
Narrated by John Lee. Funny but also deeply dystopian. Any description beyond that would spoil it too much. Published in 2010 and was supposed to be part of a series but no other books in the series have been published. I loved how he dropped little surprises into it all the way through.
Ian Fleming, Moonraker
Narrated by Bill Nighy. If you have any interest in Ian Fleming's Bond or in Ian Fleming's talents as a writer, this is a good one to read, and if you like Nighy, it's a good listen. It's not as sexist as the movies. Bond doesn't get the girl. [oops, sorry for the spoiler.] And the "girl" is extremely competent. Fleming has great powers of description.
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
Narrated By Richard Ferrone. Hammett's first novel. Features The Continental Op.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Beautiful language. Ruby Dee is a stellar narrator, although some of the voices were hard to understand (but I expect the written dialect would be even harder to understand).
John McWhorter/Great Courses, The Story of Human Language
Huge survey course that discusses languages all over the world, the history of various language families, how sounds morph into other sounds and words change into other words over time, what happens when people who speak different languages have to interact a lot, spoken vs written language, why some languages are a lot more complex than others, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, why some concrete words turn into grammatical markers, how little is known about some aspects of even languages that are widely used, why languages die, etc etc etc. It's very loosely organized and McWhorter goes off on all sorts of tangents and frequently breaks into silly little stories; he makes a lot of minor mistakes (to my ear); he's super opinionated. I don't know what other linguists think of him but I really like his audiobooks and lectures a lot.
John Mortimer, Rumpole & the Golden Thread (Rumpole #7)
Narrated by David Case/Frederick Davidson. The Rumpole stories are pretty sexist but otherwise enjoyably liberal.
Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King (Raven Cycle #4)
Narrated by Will Patton, who is close to perfect. I liked this almost as well as the first three books of the series, but I thought it was a bit too long, and I also thought that Patton overacted sometimes.

Notable 2016 books

Agatha Christie, A Murder Is Announced (Miss Marple #5)
I love Miss Marple.
Charlaine Harris, Midnight, Texas series
This is a new series that includes various characters from previous series. Of Harris's previous series I only liked one (Harper Connelly), so I am not familiar with most of the characters in this. But I like it a whole lot. I love how Harris' writing can seem very sweet and then suddenly turn reeeally nasty.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen
I liked the relationships. I liked the competence porn. I liked that it showed successful people winding down their careers for new, more domestic adventures. But I didn't really *enjoy* it. Bujold has always included domestic/relationship stuff in her books, but in her earlier books there was a different ratio of adventure and high drama to domestic stuff, which I guess worked better for me. And for me, Bujold was one of the best adventure writers, with great pacing and plotting, and I miss that in this book. It kind of felt like 'fanfic' to me, where 'fanfic' means behind-the-scenes domestic stories of characters we have seen running around and having adventures in whatever their main stories were.
Faith Hunter, Jane Yellowrock series
Jane Yellowrock is a shapeshifting Cherokee human/mountain lion and a vampire hunter. I'm pretty sure there is inappropriate cultural appropriation going on here, although some effort has been made to be respectful. It's well written and hits a bunch of my urban-fantasy buttons (I love shapeshifters and vampires).
Laurie R. King, Justice Hall (Holmes & Russell #6)
This is a Holmes fanfic / historical fiction series where Holmes is partnered with a young Jewish woman, Mary Russell. King writes extremely well and also researches her history very well as far as I can tell (not much of a history person myself). This one particularly has great female characters.
Justine Larbalestier, How to Ditch Your Fairy
YA fantasy. I liked reading a story about a kid who likes being at a strict school and who likes sports, possibly because I was never the least bit like that, and I'm old enough to not resent it now.
Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch series
. This is a space opera series that features sentient warships. The second two books are not as mind blowing as Ancillary Justice but the new plot twists and ideas keep coming. The ending is quite satisfying.
Seanan McGuire, InCryptid series
This is a series about people whose job it is to research and manage cryptids (supernatural beings). Seanan is pretty brilliant at coming up with ideas for the various cryptids, and the protagonists are very highly trained and fairly competent, and this series doesn't rely much on extremely annoying paternalistic male villains (something I don't like about some of her other works). The October Daye series is a lot better, though.
Walter Mosley, Leonid McGill series
5-novel series about an African-American ex-gangster PI in modern-day New York City. Complex both in terms of the relationships the characters have with each other, and in terms of plot.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
In the Jane Eyre universe, the woman who is called "Bertha" in Jane Eyre tells the story of how she ended up married to Rochester. She is Creole, so it's a story about imperialism and racism. I see why it's highly regarded but I didn't really like it that much.

Notable quotes:

"They are children - they wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Unhappily, children do hurt flies," said Aunt Cora

"I am not used to happiness," she said. "It makes me afraid."

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria
Fantasy. Won all the awards. The writing is absolutely beautiful, like a long poem. She can write fluently in so many styles.

But...I didn't like it very much.


  • Books/elitism vs illiteracy/working people
  • How childhood experiences and culture shape a person)
  • Illness, death, and madness
  • How people of one culture think about people of another culture
  • The experiences of all the senses
  • The kind of love that one has for a person one has lost
  • The experience of traveling to another place
Karl Schroeder, Virga series
Space opera set in a universe where there are artificial suns and ringworlds and such inside a huge bubble of air. Lots of great ideas and hard SF and swashbuckling and interesting characters. But overall the series felt kind of jumbled and confusing to me. Maybe that's because it took me so long to read the whole series I didn't remember what had happened in previous books.

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