What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2015

So far this year I’ve read 26 books. Some of them were okay, a few were kind of shitty, and then there were the other ones — the ones I absolutely loved and think everyone should run out and read right the fuck now.

These are those books, in no particular order except the one I read them in.

1. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

Monumental is the right word. This book alone contains three books and two interludes, but it's so worth it. This is 1920s writing at its best, and it's a family saga that it pretty fucking epic.  Also, everyone needs therapists.

Monumental is the right word. This book alone contains three books and two interludes, but it’s so worth it. This is 1920s writing at its best, and it’s a family saga that it pretty fucking epic.
Also, everyone needs therapists.

The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the strongest members of the Forsyte family.

2. The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo

This was a lot of fun to read -- the bio section won't be any particular surprise to anyone who has a passing familiarity with Tudor history, but what really gets fun is when Bordo starts analyzing the progression of the *presentation* of Anne Boleyn in plays, books, movies, TV, and so forth. That's when things get FUN.

This was a lot of fun to read — the bio section won’t be any particular surprise to anyone who has a passing familiarity with Tudor history, but what really gets fun is when Bordo starts analyzing the progression of the *presentation* of Anne Boleyn in plays, books, movies, TV, and so forth. That’s when things get FUN.

A groundbreaking retelling and reclaiming of Anne Boleyn’s life and legacy puts old questions to rest and raises some surprising new ones.

Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first century portrayals? (Answer: neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Susan Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships.

Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and reimagined Anne: whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto-“mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively book, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.

3. The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig

Amazing piece of non-fiction and an incredibly pivotal history -- the pill might be a given right now, but when Margaret Sanger was hunting for researchers willing to turn her lifelong dream into a reality (with the able assistance of Katherine McCormick, who used her personal fortune to bankroll the project), they were breaking laws and taking huge risks. Incredible.

Amazing piece of non-fiction and an incredibly pivotal history — the pill might be a given right now, but when Margaret Sanger was hunting for researchers willing to turn her lifelong dream into a reality (with the able assistance of Katherine McCormick, who used her personal fortune to bankroll the project), they were breaking laws and taking huge risks. Incredible.

The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

4. The Martian by Andy Weir

Okay, so maybe I was the last person to check this book out. (Second-to-last -- I gave it to my husband after I finished and he loved it. Wait, maybe third-to-last -- I promised to lend it to my brother next)  But who cares? It's awesome. Science + humor + castaway on Mars = awesome.

Okay, so maybe I was the last person to check this book out. (Second-to-last — I gave it to my husband after I finished and he loved it. Wait, maybe third-to-last — I promised to lend it to my brother next)
But who cares? It’s awesome. Science + humor + castaway on Mars = awesome.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, tho, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

5. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Steampunk can be a bit hit or miss with me, but this one was definitely a hit. Diverse characters, a great storyline, fantastic writing, and the best impromptu deputization I've ever had the pleasure of reading -- and I love an impromptu deputization.

Steampunk can be a bit hit or miss with me, but this one was definitely a hit. Diverse characters, a great storyline, fantastic writing, and the best impromptu deputization I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading — and I love an impromptu deputization.

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

6. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, believe me, you are missing some Grade A poo jokes) you know that Lish McBride and I are basically mayhem in 180 characters. So I was friends with her before I picked up this book -- but I can say with utter honesty that as much fun as Lish is on Twitter (and she is SO MUCH FUN), this book is even better.  For one thing, Sam and Fort would absolutely hang out for a day while their significant others went out and caused mayhem.

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don’t, believe me, you are missing some Grade A poo jokes) you know that Lish McBride and I are basically mayhem in 180 characters. So I was friends with her before I picked up this book — but I can say with utter honesty that as much fun as Lish is on Twitter (and she is SO MUCH FUN), this book is even better.
For one thing, Sam and Fort would absolutely hang out for a day while their significant others went out and caused mayhem.

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

7. White Fang by Jack London

Other than seeing the Ethan Hawke movie when I was younger, I actually didn't have much exposure to London, beyond basic pop culture knowledge. But I taught  "How To Build A Fire" to my Short Story students this year, and I enjoyed it a lot, so I picked up his best known novel -- and loved it. White Fang is like Black Beauty in terms of its activist roots, but with a lot more dog and human murder. Good times!

Other than seeing the Ethan Hawke movie when I was younger, I actually didn’t have much exposure to London, beyond basic pop culture knowledge. But I taught “How To Build A Fire” to my Short Story students this year, and I enjoyed it a lot, so I picked up his best known novel — and loved it. White Fang is like Black Beauty in terms of its activist roots, but with a lot more dog and human murder. Good times!

In the desolate, frozen wilds of northwest Canada, White Fang, a part-dog, part-wolf cub soon finds himself the sole survivor of a litter of five. In his lonely world, he soon learned to follow the harsh law of the North—kill or be killed.

But nothing in his young life prepared him for the cruelty of the bully Beauty Smith, who buys White Fang from his Indian master and turns him into a vicious killer—a pit dog forced to fight for money.

Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce deadly killer?

A classic adventure novel detailing the savagery of life in the northern wilds. Its central character is a ferocious and magnificent creature, through whose experiences we feel the harsh rhythms and patterns of wilderness life among animals and men.

8. Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

You would think that because Anne Bishop and I share the same Hugo-nominated editor that I would be able to get my grubby little hands on her books before the rest of the unwashed masses. You would be wrong. *siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh* How much longer until #4 hits the shelves?

You would think that because Anne Bishop and I share the same Hugo-nominated editor that I would be able to get my grubby little hands on her books before the rest of the unwashed masses.
You would be wrong. *siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh*
How much longer until #4 hits the shelves?

The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Four years of undergrad, two years in an MFA program, and six years teaching college -- and let me tell you, I have barely even brushed the surface of Great Literature. Just like with everything else, there's just no way to read it all. But I was introduced to Chopin's short work when I began teaching it (hah, yes, that happens), and I absolutely love it. Funnily enough, my interest in reading her masterpiece was triggered when a student of mine asked me, in all seriousness, "What the hell is wrong with Kate Chopin? Why is all her stuff so weird?" So I picked up The Awakening -- and also was lucky enough that the bookstore sold me possibly the most gorgeous edition I've ever seen of any book. Seriously, if you want to check this book out, buy THIS edition. It's intoxicatingly beautiful. And the text?  Amazing.

Four years of undergrad, two years in an MFA program, and six years teaching college — and let me tell you, I have barely even brushed the surface of Great Literature. Just like with everything else, there’s just no way to read it all. But I was introduced to Chopin’s short work when I began teaching it (hah, yes, that happens), and I absolutely love it. Funnily enough, my interest in reading her masterpiece was triggered when a student of mine asked me, in all seriousness, “What the hell is wrong with Kate Chopin? Why is all her stuff so weird?”
So I picked up The Awakening — and also was lucky enough that the bookstore sold me possibly the most gorgeous edition I’ve ever seen of any book. Seriously, if you want to check this book out, buy THIS edition. It’s intoxicatingly beautiful.
And the text?
Amazing.

First published in 1899, The Awakening is widely regarded as one of the forerunners of feminist literature alongside Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Over one long, languid summer Edna Pontellier, fettered by marriage and motherhood, gradually awakens to her individuality and sexuality and experiences love outside of her passionless marriage. But as she discovers emotional freedom, so she comes to realize the true extent of her psychological and social confinement, and its terrible consequences for her future. This tender, brilliant, seductive, and devastating novel is as beautifully written as it is politically engaging. The Awakening is as relevant today as when it was first published two centuries ago.

10. The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The problem with Marie being so talented is that people look so fucking bummed when they ask me to sign her books and I have to admit to being the Lesser Brennan.  DAMN YOU, MARIE! DAMN YOUR TALENT AND INCREDIBLE RENDERING OF HISTORICAL VOICE, AMAZING WORLDBUILDING, AND AWESOME CHARACTERIZATION.

The problem with Marie being so talented is that people look so fucking bummed when they ask me to sign her books and I have to admit to being the Lesser Brennan.
DAMN YOU, MARIE! DAMN YOUR TALENT AND INCREDIBLE RENDERING OF HISTORICAL VOICE, AMAZING WORLDBUILDING, AND AWESOME CHARACTERIZATION.

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents . . .

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.

The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

11. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Max Gladstone recommended this book (okay, more like he gushed over it like a besotted eight-year-old who'd just gotten to ride a pony), and you know what? Judging by this book, Gladstone knows what he's doing when it comes to recommendations.

Max Gladstone recommended this book (okay, more like he gushed over it like a besotted eight-year-old who’d just gotten to ride a pony), and you know what? Judging by this book, Gladstone knows what he’s doing when it comes to recommendations.

In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages. Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read in fantasy.”

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

12. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I've given this a great deal of serious thought, and I have decided: Yes, I still like the goose section more than the arctic fox portion. It was a tough decision, but ultimately I just have to go with my heart.  This is a book aware of every one of its influences, and it takes them head-on. It was such an incredible pleasure to read.  (also, Lev, seriously -- who the hell did you pay off to get such an incredibly beautiful cover? is there such a thing as cover karma?)

I’ve given this a great deal of serious thought, and I have decided:
Yes, I still like the goose section more than the arctic fox portion. It was a tough decision, but ultimately I just have to go with my heart.
This is a book aware of every one of its influences, and it takes them head-on. It was such an incredible pleasure to read. (also, Lev, seriously — who the hell did you pay off to get such an incredibly beautiful cover? is there such a thing as cover karma?)

Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the #1 bestseller The Magician’s Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren’t black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.

13. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Sweet mother of FUCK was that epic. I mean, heavenly god, that is some master-class worldbuilding. With extra points for the sharks. But it's the humor and Lynch's willingness to have his protagonists suffer real and painful losses that makes it work. And also his impressive cross-cutting. And also a final reveal that actually made me fist-pump. (my cats regarded me judgementally, but yes, I did that)

Sweet mother of FUCK was that epic. I mean, heavenly god, that is some master-class worldbuilding. With extra points for the sharks.
But it’s the humor and Lynch’s willingness to have his protagonists suffer real and painful losses that makes it work. And also his impressive cross-cutting. And also a final reveal that actually made me fist-pump. (my cats regarded me judgementally, but yes, I did that)

In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood”, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.

Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…

14. Undercity by Catherine Asaro

I'll never quit you, Asaro.

I’ll never quit you, Asaro.

BOOK ONE IN A BRAND NEW SERIES by Nebula and Hugo Award Winner Catherine Asaro set in the world of her Skolian Empire universe. In the galaxy-spanning future, Major Bhaajan is a tough female P.I. who works the dangerous streets of Undercity.

Major Bhaajan, a former military officer with Imperial Space Command, is now a hard-bitten P.I. with a load of baggage to deal with, and clients with woes sometimes personal, sometimes galaxy-shattering, and sometimes both. Bhaajan must sift through the shadows of dark and dangerous Undercity—the enormous capital of a vast star empire—to find answers.

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About M. L. Brennan

Author of the Generation V urban fantasy series, published by Roc Books. Not your usual vampires, kitsune shapeshifters with attitude, Doctor Who jokes, and underemployment. GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT, available wherever books are sold. Third installment, TAINTED BLOOD, to be published 11/14.

Posted on April 9, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. So you know the sequel to Seraphina came out so now you have to read that one too!!

  2. Yes, Anne Sowards definitely works with my favorites. 🙂
    I second on…practically everything:
    Loved Karen Memory, loved Scott Lynch, liked Asaro.

  1. Pingback: What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2015, Second Quarter | M. L. Brennan

  2. Pingback: What I Read (and loved) So Far in 2015, Third Quarter | M. L. Brennan

  3. Pingback: What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2015, Fourth Quarter | M. L. Brennan

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