What I Read (and loved) So Far in 2015, Third Quarter
How the hell is it October already? That’s kind of disturbing. Anyway, happy third quarter, everyone! In the first half of this year, I read 48 books (26 in January – March, 22 in April – June). Over the last three months I added 25 more books to that total (I’m sorry, I just love the analytics buttons on Goodreads — be glad that I’m not subjecting you to my ongoing page counts for the year), of which 7 were so good as to blow my mind and be included in this quarter’s update!
The order is not in terms of the magnitude of my affection for each book, but just the order that I read them.
1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Naomi Novik, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
2. The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery
The story of two women whose lives intersect in late-nineteenth-century Japan, The Teahouse Fire is also a portrait of one of the most fascinating places and times in all of history—Japan as it opens its doors to the West. It was a period when wearing a different color kimono could make a political statement, when women stopped blackening their teeth to profess an allegiance to Western ideas, and when Japan’s most mysterious rite—the tea ceremony—became not just a sacramental meal, but a ritual battlefield.
We see it all through the eyes of Aurelia, an American orphan adopted by the Shin family, proprietors of a tea ceremony school, after their daughter, Yukako, finds her hiding on their grounds. Aurelia becomes Yukako’s closest companion, and they, the Shin family, and all of Japan face a time of great challenges and uncertainty. Told in an enchanting and unforgettable voice, The Teahouse Fire is a lively, provocative, and lushly detailed historical novel of epic scope and compulsive readability.
3. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
Follow Lois McMaster Bujold, one of the most honored authors in the field of fantasy and science fiction, to a land threatened by treacherous war and beset by demons — as a royal dowager, released from the curse of madness and manipulated by an untrustworthy god, is plunged into a desperate struggle to preserve the endangered souls of a realm.
4. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has traveled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us, people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly or made a mistake at work. Once the transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know, they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice, but what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws and the very scary part we all play in it.
5. Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier by Masha Gessen
In 2004 genetic testing revealed that Masha Gessen had a mutation that predisposed her to ovarian and breast cancer. The discovery initiated Gessen into a club of sorts: the small (but exponentially expanding) group of people in possession of a new and different way of knowing themselves through what is inscribed in the strands of their DNA. As she wrestled with a wrenching personal decision—what to do with such knowledge—Gessen explored the landscape of this brave new world, speaking with others like her and with experts including medical researchers, historians, and religious thinkers.
Blood Matters is a much-needed field guide to this unfamiliar and unsettling territory. It explores the way genetic information is shaping the decisions we make, not only about our physical and emotional health but about whom we marry, the children we bear, even the personality traits we long to have. And it helps us come to terms with the radical transformation that genetic information is engineering in our most basic sense of who we are and what we might become.
6. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman’s mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.
7. Against A Brightening Sky by Jaime Lee Moyer
A ghost princess and a woman with nothing but a name to her fortune might change the course of history.
By 1919 the Great War has ended, peace talks are under way in Paris, and the world has been forever changed. Delia Martin, apprentice practitioner of magical arts, and her husband, Police Captain Gabriel Ryan, face the greatest challenge of their lives when fragments from the war descend on San Francisco.
As Delia prepares to meet friends at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the strange ghost of a European princess appears in her mirror. Her pleasant outing becomes a nightmare as the ghost reappears moments after a riot starts, warning her as a rooftop gunman begins shooting into the crowd. Delia rushes to get her friends to safety, and Gabe struggles to stop the killing—and to save himself.
Delia and Gabe realize all the chaos and bloodshed had one purpose—to flush Alina from hiding, a young woman with no memory of anything but her name.
As Delia works to discover how the princess ghost’s secrets connect to this mysterious young woman, and Gabe tracks a ruthless killer around his city, they find all the answers hinge on two questions: Who is Alina…and why can’t she remember?
Against a Brightening Sky is the thrilling conclusion to Moyer’s glittering historical fantasy series.