Here we are! It’s the end of 2019, and now’s a great time to look back and reflect on the books I’ve read (or listened to) in the past 12 months. Once again I’ve finished 50 titles (at least by some methods of counting), so let’s get to it!
As I’ve read more and more, I’ve found that I watch less and less TV, and somewhat fewer movies as well. Honestly, if I’m not working, cooking, or playing video games, I’m very likely to be found with my Kindle in hand during my downtime. I’ve found reading to be truly a relaxing and rewarding pastime. So, as always, here’s my book reviews for all of the books I read during 2019. Since I’ve read so many, I figured I’d break them up a bit into arbitrary sections.
For one thing, 2019 was definitely a year full of sequels. So, I’ve chosen to group them all here. You can go back to my previous reviews to find more information about each series, but these are my general thoughts for each sequel!
Interference (Semiosis Duology) by Sue Burke
The Semiosis Duology has really been an interesting read, because unlike a lot of the sci-fi I read the main character is truly a unique organism (spoilers - it’s a tree). This story takes place quite a while after the first, and gives a really unique view into how the human’s culture has changed over the years. They also have to deal with yet another unknown species! Part sci-fi, part study of human society in isolation, but a very fun book to read. Thanks to my aunt for the suggestion!
Starsight (Sequel to Skyward) by Brandon Sanderson
Let’s see… Brandon Sanderson. Check. Sci-fi. Check. Strong characters. Check. Unexpected adventures. Check. Starsight picks up right where Skyward left off, following our main character out into the larger world and peeling back all of the layers. I love how Sanderson always is able to slowly direct his readers toward the bigger picture, but each time he does you know that he’s been thinking at that level since day one. Nothing feels retconned in. While I always get frustrated when I see Sanderson working on literally anything outside of the Cosmere, it’s these little stories that show his depth as a writer.
The Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons) by Jenn Lyons
No, this is NOT the long awaited book from Patrick Rothfuss (seriously, still waiting on that one too). This is the second entry in the A Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons, and it is a doozy. I ended up speeding through the first book again over Thanksgiving week before I read this one, and I’m so glad I did. This story is chock full of interesting characters, and the interweaving “story within a story within a book within a book” structure is so exquisitely done that it is hard to put down. I always found myself wanting to read just one more chapter! I really hope that this series starts getting some publicity soon - it is really great! If you like Wheel of Time, you’ll probably like this, too.
Knights Shadow (The Greatcoats) by Sebastien de Castell
Once again, Miriam and I slowly worked through another of The Greatcoats books as an audiobook during our many hours on the road. Clocking in at over 25 hours, this book is long, but the story never feels like it bogs down. In fact, it moves so fast that it is hard to believe how far the story went in just one short book. The writing is great, the characters are memorable, and the performance of the narrator is fantastic. I really can’t wait to finish this series, even though it may take us another couple of years worth of road trips.
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells
Another year, another entry in the popular Murderbot series. We can follow along as our favorite rogue security bot explores the world on his own while figuring out how to stay undercover in a human world. It is a great read, even though it is a little short. If you can pick this one up on sale, I recommend it, but the base price of nearly $10 for just a few hundred pages seems high to me. There is a novel coming in 2020, so it’s a great time to get caught up on Murderbot!
Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers) by Becky Chambers
The last entry of the Wayfarers series is a standalone novel exploring cultural and societal clashes in space. Told from many different points of view, this book is yet another example of how Becky Chambers is really able to bring a fresh and progressive look at how humans would fare in space. It maybe isn’t all doom and gloom as some modern sci-fi would like us to think!
Out of Spite, Out of Mind (Magic 2.0) by Scott Meyer
The Vexed Generation (Magic 2.0) by Scott Meyer
Finally, I was able to finish the most recent two entries in the Magic 2.0 series. I really recommend the audiobooks for these. They are a fun and lighthearted listen, and the characterizations are so well done that you don’t even have to think about who is talking. Short version - magic is real, but handled by computers. Imagine a bunch of computer nerds figure it out, time travel to medieval Europe to pass themselves off as wizards, and then discover they aren’t the only ones to have that idea. Of course, hijinks ensues, but it is replete with pop culture references, nerdy humor, dungeons and dragons tropes, and more. I think my background in programming really helped me appreciate some of the more subtle humor in the books, but there is something for everyone. The anti-villain Jimmy is one of the most interesting and hilarious characters I’ve seen in quite a while. Seriously, I hope someone is optioning these for a movie or TV series!
Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
White Knight by Jim Butcher
Small Favor by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Changes by Jim Butcher
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
Whew, did I really read that many Dresden Files books this year? I guess I did. Chicago’s very own practicing wizard and private investigator finds himself becoming slowly and more firmly pulled into the larger conflicts between different factions in his world. You can definitely feel that the story takes on a much larger scope after the first few books, and toward the end it go so good that I was reading each book in under a week. The next book is finally on the slate for 2020, and I’m glad I’m all caught up and ready to go.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Of course, one of the biggest genres on my reading list is always sci-fi and fantasy. I covered quite a few series this year, so I’ll group them all together here in one easy to read place.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My friend Charlie recommended this series to me in late 2018, and it was definitely a classic that I had missed. The first book follows seven travelers as they tell their respective life stories all culminating on how they ended up on this trip that apparently leads to nothing but failure and probable death. Each story is unique and well described - the book could also be seven short stories combined into one overarching narrative.
The sequel continues the story, taking you on a mind-bending journey through space and time that is at times heartbreaking and exhilarating. I decided to end the series there due to lackluster reviews of the last two books, but it is definitely on my list for something I’d come back to in the future.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
This one was a recommendation from Dan, my major professor, and it was definitely a highlight of my summer. Part Three Musketeers, part Ocean’s 11, this story follows one Locke Lamora and his band of thieves, the Gentleman Bastards as they generally eke out a living by swindling those who can afford to have their purses lightened a bit. Of course, it is never that simple, and they quickly find themselves the targets of more than a few people who’d like to see them gone.
From there, the story takes so many twists and turns it is hard to count. By the third book, they are trying to rig an election. (Seriously, it makes sense when you get there). I read the first one, then bought the audiobook for the other two so I could listen to them while I worked around the house.
One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence
Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence
A great series of stories involving time travel and a bit of lore from Dungeons & Dragons (if you didn’t guess already based on the titles). These were recommended by Amazon, and honestly I was surprised how much I enjoyed the series. As Amazon states, this series is like “Ready Player One meets Stranger Things,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Thankfully, these books are all pretty short and easy to consume in a few sittings, and I’m really interested in exploring more by this author to see what else he has done.
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
For some reason I drug my feet on reading this Sanderson novel - it was one of his first, and widely regarded as a bit more dry and hard to get into than his more recent work. I ended up listening to the audiobook for this one, which really helped with many of the strange words and pronunciation (it does suffer a bit of that fantasy trope where strange words can make reading a bit difficult at first). Honestly, the best way I can explain this book compared to his other books is that Elantris doesn’t do a good job of following the “show, don’t tell” paradigm - he’ll have his characters clearly state their thoughts and opinions instead of leaving it open to interpretation based on actions.
That said, this is a great example of Sanderson’s fantasy work, especially showing how he builds his magic systems and integrates them into the world. Now that I’ve read most of the Cosmere, this world is definitely one that I hope to see him feature more as the series grows.
The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay
Randomize by Andy Weir
Ark by Veronica Roth
Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin
Summer Frost by Blake Crouch
You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles
This is honestly one of the best collections of short stories I’ve ever come across, and I’m so glad I picked them up when I did. Seriously - look at the list of authors!
If you are a fan of things like “Love, Death, and Robots” on Netflix, or some of the other progressive science fiction shows out there today, this collection fits right in. Again, I listened to the audiobooks on these (with excellent narration by folks such as David Harbour, Steven Strait, Evan Rachel Wood, and more), and it was definitely a great experience. Each one is short (probably 3-4 hours), and tells a tightly wound story that kept me wanting more.
I wish I could gush about each book I read last year, but honestly there are so many that I can’t give them all the time they deserve. So, here is the rest of the list with short comments on each.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Another Discworld novel focusing on Sam Vimes and the Watch. Always excellent!
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
What if Discworld’s Death was Santa Claus? This book asks (and answers) that provocative question.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Near perfection from Gaiman and Pratchett - absolutely hilarious, and now an amazing TV show. I’m curious to see what Season 2 will bring.
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson
God-Emperor Kai has to go on a date with a woman who is his equal - surprises ensue, as only Sanderson can produce. Great story!
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson
A great set of short-ish stories from Sanderson about a character who has manifested multiple mental characters to store and process information and skills. Very creative!
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Time travel and memories - a good read that always kept me guessing.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A great, quirky read with lots of science and fantasy elements.
Renegade Star by JN Chaney
I listened to the first audiobook in the series - it was OK, but mostly a light sci-fi adventure built to be serially expandable IMHO (there are now 16 books in the series). I liked it, but didn’t feel like I had to continue onward. We’ll see if I end up revisiting it later.
More Bedtime Stories for Cynics by Scott Meyer
A set of snarky stories read by amazing actors - worth a listen if you like dark humor read in a soft, reassuring voice.
Unused Material from Wheel of Time (in Unfettered III) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
A great excerpt from a cut chapter at the end of the Wheel of Time - even though it is non-canon, it does give Perrin a bit of the proper ending he deserved. It’s also interesting to see the discussion of why it was cut.
I also try to read some non-fiction books each year, and here are short thoughts on books from this year’s list:
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
A great overview of the Danish art of hygge and how to make your home feel more warm and cozy.
Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman
A good challenge to the mindset that the world cannot be changed or made better - there are things we can do, but we must take them seriously.
Coders by Clive Thompson
Definitely required reading for anyone in the technology field - a deep dive into the worldview of coders from an outsider. A big takeaway for me - good programmers thrive on frustration, seeking those short moments of “eureka!” when a problem is solved before diving back into frustration again.
Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
The internet is definitely changing how we communicate, but what impact does that have on language in general? This book explores that topic with surprising insights.
The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money by Jill Schlesinger
A recommendation from NPR’s Indicator Podcast, a good discussion of ways to rethink money, investing, and how to avoid some common pitfalls.
The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester
Another Simon Winchester book, this time exploring how the United States was built, following Lewis & Clark, telegraphs, interstate highways, and more. This is a good read for folks interested in engineering and history.
Ahh! The rare don’t read this book section… there are very few that make it down here, but they are worth sharing just to save everyone else the headache.
The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia
Ugh - where do I begin with this one? On the surface, this sounds like a great sci-fi adventure - an inter-dimensional insurance agent traveling throughout the galaxy assisting customers and solving problems. What it is, however, is a thinly-veiled political rant with a conservative or libertarian slant. The story is good, the author is mediocre, but I just couldn’t get over the politics of this book and the attitude of the main character. Unless you have a collection of MAGA hats at home, don’t bother with this one.
There we go! That’s my reading list from 2019 (and I’m only posting it a year and a half late). It’s really surprising how many of these books I remember clearly, and how many of them have blended into the background, if I even remember reading them at all. Here’s hoping I can keep up the pace in the future!