2016 Reading Challenge

About a year ago, I posted a run-down of the books I read in 2015, as well as three separate posts detailing my reading plans for 2016. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is not the soul of this blog.

That was early January, but since it feels unlikely that I’m going to finish anything tomorrow, I thought I’d get a jump on the reflecting. This year, I made myself a spreadsheet to track my reading (my engineer husband is so proud). I finished 87 books. Of those, 42 were written by people of color, which is a drastic improvement from my mostly-white 2015 reading list. The breakdown of author gender was pretty similar, with about 2/3 female authors and only one non-binary author.

Wiser people write about the issue of diversity in publishing every day, but here’s my two cents: I had a harder time finding new fiction by people with backgrounds different from my own. These books were not always on library or bookstore shelves. Many of the ones I did find were indie or self-published, rather than from a major publishing house. The discrepancy has certainly made me more conscious about where I spend my book-buying dollars.

I read more nonfiction this year- thirteen books total. A good percentage of those were writing books that I read in an effort to improve my own craft, or maybe figure out what genre the book I’m writing is (With some help from friends and books, I’ve settled on calling it paranormal suspense). Reading with a goal in mind helps decrease the feeling that I’m doing pointless homework.

There was less fantasy this year, or maybe it just looks that way because I stopped lumping “paranormal” in with “fantasy.” There were a lot more romances this year—I was craving happy endings, for sure. According to my lovely spreadsheet I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 24,600 pages total, which is a basically meaningless number because of font sizes and different editions and illustrations and such, but still fun to look at.

I’ll be back sometime next week to let you know what to expect from this blog in 2017 (hint: it is mostly books and yelling about The Magicians). In the meantime, here are my favorites from the past twelve months:

Favorite New Series: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. I picked up Soulless back when it first came out in 2009. I can’t remember if I was having paranormal burnout or het romance burnout or what, but I didn’t finish it then. I’m so pleased I got it out of the library again. I’ve never purchased a box set that fast.

Favorite Continuing Series: The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy. N.K. Jemisin continues to break my heart in new and creative ways.

Favorite Re-Imagined StoryThe Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I love a good fairy tale retelling. Even though I’ve never read Hale before, this felt like coming home.

Favorite Classic That I Finally Got Around ToKindred by Octavia Butler. Newer, as “classics” go, but wrenching and still so necessary.

Favorite Comic: I am a little sad to be coming to the end of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which gets better and better as it goes.

Favorite Surprise Discovery/Debut Author: I’ve already written about how much I found Mishell Baker’s Borderline thanks to a bookstore staff recommendation. It’s a stunning paranormal mystery full of complex characters, fairies, and modern Hollywood intrigue, and I’m so so happy I picked it up.

Favorite Overall: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the 16th book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Bujold has incredible range as a writer, but this is how I like her best—sci-fi with a twist of family drama, romance, and comedy.

What other excellent and life-changing literature did you experience this year? Tell me in the comments, and have a safe and happy new year.

Bookstore and Borderline

These days I do most of my reading on my Kindle. It’s portable and easy to support when I’m lying on my side in bed (which is where I do a lot of my reading). The only downside is that for convenience’s sake, I wind up giving a lot of my book budget to Amazon. So, in the name of supporting local businesses, I do try to buy something whenever I find myself in an actual bookstore.

Even big box stores like Barnes & Noble won’t always have exactly what I’m looking for, so I feel like it’s best to go in without specific goals. Almost anywhere will order a book for me if it’s not on the shelves, of course, but I find joy in aimless browsing.

I love it when stores have displays that highlight the employee’s favorites. Who better to recommend a book that the people who work in the bookstores? A couple weeks ago a placard caught my eye at the Savoy Bookshop. I don’t recall the name of the staff member, but the novel was Borderline by Mishell Baker. The description seemed to be full of things that I like—urban fantasy, adventure, fairies—so I bought it.

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I was and still am immensely pleased with my decision. Borderline isn’t a short book (around 400 pages) but I tore through it in less than two days. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

The story centers on Millie, a former film student and double amputee with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) living in Los Angeles. A year after the suicide attempt that cost Millie her legs, she gets offered a job with the mysterious Arcadia Project. Enticed by the prospect of re-entering the world and possibly the film industry, she accepts.

The Arcadia Project is a pseudo-governmental agency that regulates traffic between the human and fairy worlds. A gate hidden in Los Angeles allows fey creatures to travel to the human world, but there are strict rules about what they can do while they’re here. The fairies in Borderline play to a lot of the same tropes that we’ve come to expect. They’re sensitive to iron, they can’t lie, they’re functionally immortal and can change their appearance at will. Still, most of them move effortlessly in the modern world, moonlighting as movie stars or bartenders without humans catching on.

The plot is twisty, fast-paced, and fun. Millie and her new coworkers are assigned to track down a missing member of the fey nobility, which leads them to a deeper conspiracy involving both fairies and humans. Millie’s narrating voice really shines. She’s self-depreciating but smart, capable in many ways but vulnerable in others. Her disabilities aren’t just set dressing, nor are they treated as blessings in disguise. They’re indelible parts of her life, and they create challenges that need to be considered just as seriously as any supernatural threats.

One of my favorite things was the interaction between Millie and the other members of the Arcadia Project—her enigmatic boss Caryl, her cranky idealistic partner Teo, and her delightfully catty rival Gloria, among others. They come this close to being a heartwarming found family, but the book doesn’t give them quite enough time to get past their own emotional baggage. The opportunity to learn more about the whole cast is one of the reasons I’m glad to hear there’s a sequel scheduled for 2017.

That was my discovery this month. What’s been your best bookstore find recently? Let me know in the comments, and have a great week!