the Little Red Reviewer

The Best Books I read this year (2019)

Posted on: December 26, 2019

Behold! my favorite things of the year!  I didn’t formally review most of these items,  my brain just hasn’t been wanting to write reviews for a while.   But I read (or watched) them!  And loved them!  and maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too.

 

The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019), by Derek Künsken.  Space opera, con artists, human asshole-ness and hubris write large, genetically modified sub-species, and really old anger, what’s not to love?  The Quantum Magician got such an emotional reaction out of me (the kind of reaction that makes me want to hug the author because they are brilliant!) that beyond the review I had some shit I needed to unpack. After that first volume, I wasn’t sure the author could top it, so I went into the sequel, The Quantum Garden with worries it would just be more of the same.  Spoiler: the second book is even better than the first! it is super different than the first,  it’ll blow up your brain in the best way possible. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series, but these first two remind me a little of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard books. the first book focuses on the con and the crew and their mission, and has you cheering on every page. The second book has a tighter focus, and that “I thought winning would taste better” moment, and it hits you smack in the feels the whole way. And then holy shit that twist!!!!     Anyway, if you like books that are smart AF, this is your series.

 

 

And Shall Machines Surrender (2019) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Apparently I like quiet stories.  I don’t know if this novella is meant to be a quiet story, but it was lovely and quiet for me.  AIs don’t have to raise their voices to show you how powerful they are, you know? An ex-lover doesn’t have to raise her voice to tell you she’s sorry, or that maybe she isn’t, right?  I like the idea of a city that is run by and designed for AIs, and they let humans live there because, I dunno, they think we are entertaining? Oh yeah, and they like to become hybrids with us, sometimes.  It’s the highest honor to become a haruspex – a person who is a physical host for an AI mind.  So why are haruspices committing suicide?  Orfea came to the AI city to start her life fresh. All she wants to do is get a job, pay her rent, and live a quiet life. And how is she supposed to do that, when the two people who know all her secrets waltz back into her life?  If you like quiet romance / mysteries that are beautifully written, this is the novella for you.  Yes! this is a romance! and a very hot one at that.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis – If you remember the entire scifi community screaming their heads off in spring of 2010, it’s because Connie Willis published Black Out in February of that year.   It ended on a cliff hanger.  There was no way of knowing if anyone was going to survive the next few chapters, and people were apparently, super pissed.  In October of 2010, the 2nd part of the duology, All Clear, was published.  I like to imagine that the world was quiet for a week or two, as scifi fans devoured All Clear, and laughed at their friends who were fans of the show “Lost” (oh, you think that’s a cliffhanger?).  After that week, after everyone read it,  everyone wept.   All Clear had me so pissed off. not because i had to wait to read it, but because of that never-ending chase around the church / drive to the hospital / what other stupid things can get in our way because this is starting to feel like a farce scene.  it couldn’t have been more than 50 pages but it felt like forever.  And then at the very end, at the museum.  I cried buckets, it was like I was gripping this stuff so inside me, and then it all came rushing out and I couldn’t control it.  I was also really mad at myself for getting all worked up over that scene that had annoyed me so much, I felt like by complaining about it, I was shitting on someone’s memory.  Anyway, if you love perfectly researched history, beautiful writing, characters you will care about so much that you get pissed off when things get in their way, if you crave stories that show you how wonderful humanity can be, Blackout / All Clear is for you.  Did you read Willis’s The Doomsday Book? Did you cry at the end? You’ll cry more at the end of All Clear.   Oh, you read all of those books and didn’t shed a tear? um, ok.

 

The Poppy War (2018) by R. F. Kuang –  Little orphan girl qualifies to attend an elite school where a)she won’t have to see her awful adoptive parents ever again if she doesn’t want to and b) she gets to learn magic and how to fight her country’s enemies.  What is this, Harry Potter? or maybe Name of the Wind? hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!  oh, that was a good joke!   Poppy War was my Baru Cormorant, my Machineries of Empire of this year.  That it to say, this is the book that broke me.   I appreciated the super fast pace of the book,  that every scene, every sentence moves the story forward in a meaningful way. Doesn’t hurt that I loved the characters and loved the world. This book is brutal, in every sense of the word.  The beginning got plenty of chuckles out of me, the end made me want to puke and crawl into a cave and never come out.  If you’re a Rin who wants to grow up to be a Jiang, this is the book for you.  if that made no sense at all, go read my review.  If you’re interested in knowing what my reviewing style is, that review will show you.  There is a sequel!  One day I’ll  be ready to read it.

Ivory Apples (2019) by Lisa Goldstein – This was one of my feel-good books of the year.  well, it isn’t a “feel good” book, but I felt really good while I was reading it.   Eldest sister Ivy is barely a teenager when her father dies,  and she and her sisters are given into the care of her father’s friend Kate. Ivy and her sisters know their family harbors a secret, they were just so young when they learned about it that they don’t really understand what the secret is. Kate will do anything to learn the family’s secret.  I’m purposely being super vague, can you tell?  If you like mythology, and stories about sisters, and magic that can be beautiful ,and gorgeous storytelling, if you want a story that leaves you feeling better about the world instead of worse, Ivory Apples is for you. I had fun with hot takes in my review, too.  I must have been feeling very snarky that day!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist (2005, translated to English in 2016) by Lola Robles – I love language.  I love how we shape how we communicate, and how our languages shape us.   This short novella is basically a plot that has been written around a thought experiment.  Rachel Monteverde, a terran linguist, is sent to visit a colony planet that was separated from the rest of human civilization for generations.  There are two human cultures on the planet,  one of whom revels in the bright colors of foliage and nature patterns and have the verbal mannerisms to match, and another culture where everyone is blind due to a genetic defect.  The groups just do not understand each other at all!  Rachel doesn’t care about their trade squabbles, what she does care about is getting recordings of their languages, and thinking about how and why the two groups have such different languages and experience the world in such different ways.    If you are a language and communication nerd like me, this is the book for you. I even reviewed it for you!

 

 

Vigilance (2019) by Robert Jackson Bennett – Gah, this is a hard book for me to talk about, even though I reviewed it.  It’s everything I hate about violence stories,  turned on it’s head (which is a good thing), and talking about this book gets me too close to the knife’s edge of getting pulled into political conversations. (but it’s just a book! Andrea, why are you getting so worked up about this?? Can’t you just enjoy things for once?)  Vigilance is what happens when businesses realize they can monetize fear and mob mentalities.  Where Capitalism and “you too could be the star of a reality show!” meet, you have Vigilance.  This novella is vicious, you should read it.  I really hope that reality tv producers and tv network head honchos never get their hands on this book.  Because then they’d make a movie out it.  And then someone else would be like “this is a damn brilliant idea! Let’s make this a real TV show!”, and that would, um, not be good.

Death’s End gets an honorable mention for the last hundred pages or so. It was SUCH a slog to get there, but the end really was so, so, SO, amazing.

 

Another last minute honorable mention is Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection  Conservation of Shadows.  I’m only about half way through the collection, but damn, every page is perfection and I’ve already come across stories I can’t wait to read again.  Also, the word escritoire needs to come back into fashion.

 

And here is my Favorite non-book stuff of this year. Also, I watched  a lot of Netflix this year.

 

The Politician (tv show) – ah, this show is so ridiculous and so over the top!  it makes fun of soap opera tropes, it makes fun of how in tv shows high school students never seem to have homework or classes, it makes fun of rich California kids, and the best part?  Ben Platt singing.   Also? the art direction (i don’t know if that is the right word) was pure perfection.   If you’ve got Netflix, watch this show.  After the first episode you’ll be like “what the hell did I just watch?”.  keep watching.

 

The Good Place – Season 3 hit Netflix this summer, and you bet I binged it.  Janet and Jason forever! thanks to this show, I’m now more than a little obsessed with The Trolley Problem.  This is my fave show because when I saw the first season, I badgered my parents to get the discs on Netflix, and they did.  and then because they have cable, they got to see the 3rd season on tv before I did, and we badgered each other about it and teased each other about episodes we hadn’t seen yet.  My parents have drastically different tastes in what kind of TV shows they like to watch,  so I loved that this show let me bond with both of them.

 

Dark – if you want a time travel thriller that might also give you nightmares, or if you want to scare your kids into never going into dark caves by themselves, this is the TV show for you. An import from Germany, the dubbing is just so-so, but I was able to get used to it pretty quickly.  Now that I’ve seen both seasons and am reminiscing on the first few episodes of season 1,  the only spoiler I’ll give you is the people who are quietest, those are the people you should be listening to.   The characters who seem to be in love with the sound of their own voice?  don’t listen to them.

 

Into The Spider-Verse – So far I’ve only gotten to see this movie once, it’s gonna be one of those movies that I just keep adding back to my Netflix DVD queue. I should remind everyone that I’m not into Superhero stories or Marvel or DC stuff,  that stuff just isn’t my thing.  That said, I loved every single thing about Into The Spider-Verse.  Every scene,  every line,  every detail, even the references that I didn’t get, even the famous people whose voices I didn’t recognize, I loved every second that I got to spend watching this movie.   Also?  OMG the visuals and the music and how perfectly it worked together.   That scene at the end?  It was a supernova ballet, and I loved it and I can’t wait to watch this movie again!  I don’t even care about Spiderman, and I loved this movie!!

There you have it!  That’s my favorite stuff that I consumed this year.

Can’t wait to see what 2020  brings!

 

 

11 Responses to "The Best Books I read this year (2019)"

Thanks for your great suggestions, but I was wondering if you’ve read Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S.A. Corey, yet? I searched but did not find your review. There’s one scene that just had me gasping. I know, there are a lot of scenes, but this one was so unexpected and may play into the next – and last – book of the series, due in 2020. Can’t wait.

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I’ve not! I am super far behind in that series. I’ve only read up to I think book 5.

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I need to re-read both Poppy War and Baru. I’m ready for some tough reads.

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they are the kind of books you need to psych yourself up for, aren’t they? Like, i enjoy reading them, but they are so emotionally exhausting for me that I need a long break in between stuff like that.

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Honesty I skimmed the hell puta Baru the first time because I wasn’t ready. I need to actually deeply read it the next time through.

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Good to see you mention that Yoon Ha Lee, I’ve got it lying around and thought of reading it before the last book of the trilogy, but somehow I think I’m overdosed on it. Your mention might prod me. Same goes for those Kunskens. Thanks!

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do you have Conservation of Shadows, or Hexarchate Stories? Hexarchate Stories is all short fiction that takes place in the Machineries of Empire universe, Conservation of Shadows only has 1 or 2 Machineries stories. reminds me, I really do need to buy Hexarchate Stories.

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Ah, I have Conservation of Shadows, I thought it had a bit more Hexarchate stories than 2? When I bought it, I don’t think Hex Stories was out yet… Oh well, it will be nice to read some of Lee outside that universe.

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Agreed one Death’s End btw!!

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had Death’s End not been part of my family’s book club, I probably would have put it down after 50 pages.

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A powerful argument against DNFing 😉

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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