Book Reviews 2020

Reading books to escape the pandemic!
Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

So, 2020, was a year, amirite? Lots of changes, both big and small. We bought a house, did some travelling, and, oh, a massive global pandemic started (and, as of this writing in August 2021, is still going on).

Of course, all that time spent at home means even more time to read, and this year I once again did quite a lot of it. I didn’t finish nearly as many books this time, and actually ended up re-reading a few for the first time in a while. So, you’ll see a few repeats on this list, and I think I focused on just a few big series this time instead of jumping all over. I’ll break it into arbitrary sections below, just because I can.

As always, I still highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite as my e-reader of choice. The Wirecutter agrees. There is even a new version that is waterproof! It’s still on my wishlist!


Series


In 2020, I ended up reading large chunks from several different series. So, let’s address them first.

A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons

The Ruin of Kings

The Name of ALl Things

The Memory of Souls

A Chorus of Dragons is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, but I really can’t put my finger on exactly why I like it. The characters are well developed and interesting, the story keeps taking twists and turns that I don’t expect, the worldbuilding is vast and deep (and I feel like we’re only scratching the surface), and the author’s use of a unique framing device makes it all worth reading.

Unfortunately, due to the dense nature of the story and intermingling family trees (I’m not sure, but I’m guessing somewhere in all of this is an “I’m my own grandpa” situation), it is hard to pick up the story after a break. So, in preparation for the 3rd installment (and the 4th, released in early 2021), I reread the first two books to refresh my memory. It didn’t disappoint, and like any good, deep fantasy story, the second read really helps you better understand the motivation of characters that only become important later, and give you some fun “aha!” moments as you uncover hidden levels of foreshadowing.

I don’t think Jenn Lyons' prose is quite at the level of Rothfuss, but excepting that one difference, I really don’t see any reason why this series couldn’t be as popular or well-known as The Kingkiller Chronicles. It is my quest to try and introduce other readers to this series and see if it holds up to their standards as well. If you are reading this and want to try it out, message me!

Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures

Jingo

The Fifth Elephant

The Truth

Going Postal

Making Money

Raising Steam

Once again, this year I found myself constantly going back to the world of Discworld for great palette cleansers between big series. I jumped around a bit, following a few different threads of the story across many different novels.

Moving Pictures is basically a satire of Hollywood and the “get famous or die trying” mantra, and our good friend CMOT Dibbler is right there looking to make it rich. Jingo and The Fifth Elephant continue the adventures of the Watch and Sam Vimes as he dives deeper into world politics while trying to stay humble. The Truth explores the role of journalism and newspapers in society, often with hilarious results.

And, of course, we have Moist von Lipwig, a criminal with a most unfortunate name who finds himself at the mercy of Lord Vetinari. In Going Postal he finds himself in charge of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office, charged with bringing it back to live. Based on his success, Making Money finds him doing the same at the Royal Mint. And finally, Raising Steam challenges him with bringing an industrial revolution to the city, all without it blowing up in his face.

At this point, I’m well over halfway through the entire set of Discworld books, and I’ll probably finish them in the next few years. They are all fantastic, and you should definitely read them.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem

The Dark Forest

Death’s End

The Three-Body Problem is one of the sci-fi books on Barak Obama’s List, and for good reason. It explores lots of big, earth-shattering ideas of how we’d interact with an alien species (or several) that might want to see us dead, and gives us a great look into how we as a society might react to that situation. Couple that with some cutting-edge science fiction based in a world that isn’t America-centric, and you have an interesting story.

The story was originally written for a Chinese audience, but the translator Ken Liu does a great job adapting where needed, or adding additional footnotes to explain the cultural relevance of a particular topic or location. It is a fantastic translation and easy to follow.

The story itself is deep and engaging, and constantly shifts your perspective as more background is revealed. I’ve never really read anything like it, and I am excited to see how Netflix’s adaptation turns out. Here’s hoping it inspires a whole new generation of sci-fi fans!

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes

Caliban’s War

Abbadon’s Gate

Cibola Burn

Nemesis Games

Babylon’s Ashes

Persepolis Rising

Tiamat’s Wrath

What can I say - The Expanse is one of the biggest sci-fi series out there right now, especially given the immense popularity of the TV show now on Amazon. I’ll admit that I had seen Leviathan Wakes on store shelves for years, but for some reason I never picked it up until it was recommended to me directly by a friend. After reading just a few pages, I was hooked, and I quickly burned through all 8 books in the series (the 9th is slated to be out sometime in 2021).

The Expanse starts out almost as a noir detective story with horror elements, but over the series it morphs into a first-contact situation, some heavy political strife, xenobiology, and eventually a struggle between the belters and the rest of humanity that starts as a deep subplot that quickly erupts into the main story. It’s great sci-fi and space opera, and the characters have quickly become some of my favorites, no doubt helped by their amazing portrayal in the TV show.

If you like large-scale sci-fi operas, this is definitely a series to get started with ASAP!


Quickies


Some quick thoughts on the rest of my list, in no particular order.

Peace Talks (Dresden Files 16) by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground (Dresden Files 17) by Jim Butcher

Two more amazing entries in the Dresden Files series. The world is feeling bigger than ever, and I am really excited to see how this story culminates in the next book. Who knew that a simple noir-style novel about a wizard detective in Chicago would turn into what this series has become?

Axiom’s End (Noumena 1) by Lindsay Ellis

An interesting novel about first contact and interaction between an alien being and a normal human. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure if I want to pick up the sequel that is out in 2021. We’ll see if I do.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (The Carls 2) by Hank Green

The second book in Hank Green’s series The Carls continues that saga, and once again is full of very prescient looks at modern society, social media, fame, influence, and more. His writing is surprisingly spot on, no doubt because of his own deep experience with many of these topics.

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries 5) by Martha Wells

The fith book in the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. Good as always - and I feel like this is hinting at a larger world going forward, but as always these stories are released a little bit at a time. I still stand by my beef from earlier that the short stories are not worth $10 but grab them when they are on sale.

The Last Emperox (The Interdependency 3) by John Scalzi

The conclusion to the Interdependency series by John Scalzi did not disappoint in the slightest. This is now two great series (and several independent stories) by Scalzi that I’ve enjoyed, and I look forward to his upcoming novel in 2022.

A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi

A bunch of hilarious short stories by Scalzi that revolve around Christmas. I listened to the audiobook and laughed out loud many times - you’ll probably love it, too!

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, & George Spafford

This book was constantly recommended by my friends in IT and management, and I can totally see why. Told through the lens of a company dealing with a major project, this book helps evaluate a company’s processes by showing what works, what doesn’t, and how to avoid having one superstar programmer become both the saving grace, and the unstoppable bottleneck in your process.

Spellslinger (Spellslinger 1) by Sebastien de Castell

We’re slowly working through his other series, The Greatcoats, and loving it, so I decided to give his other series a try. I don’t think it is truly YA, but it feel like it. I listened to the audiobook for this one, and it was quite good. I have this series on my “to read” list, and I’ll probably pick it up again soon.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This is a pretty famous book that I, for some reason, had completely missed out on. A very tragic and yet heartwarming tale at the same time. I won’t spoil this one, but I think it belongs on that short list of books that everyone should read at least once.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth 1) by N. K. Jemisin

This was another audiobook that my wife and I listened to while on the road. It was a bit tricky to follow in audiobook format, especially because of how it jumps between stories, POVs, and even from first-person to third-person. I feel that this one might be better read than listened to, but it was still good.


2020 was another great year for reading, and I’m finally getting this posted in August. Here’s hoping I’m not so lazy next year!

take a look, it's in a book!