A Dozen Books

A stack of hardcover books with the top one open, plus some ceramic roses. Text: Something for Sunday; December 1, 2019; A Dozen BooksNow that we’re into December, I’m taking time to look back at 2019 in various ways. This week I begin by listing a dozen books I read this year that I really enjoyed. I found I couldn’t rank them from most to least favorite, so they’re in the order in which I read them.

  1. All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault (James Alan Gardner) In this world, Superheroes and Creatures of the Night (vampires, ghosts, demons, and the like) don’t mix well together. This delightfully geeky story throws them into a pot, stirs in a pile of snarky humor and a dollop of pop-culture references, mixes well, and makes it all work. I love characters who are sometimes unsure or confused but always smart and determined, and I give props to the book for featuring a gender-fluid Asian Canadian hero.
  2. Blackbirds (Chuck Wendig) Miriam Black has a horrible magic power. When she touches someone’s skin, she immediately sees a vision of their death. She initially tried to prevent those deaths, but concluded that it was impossible. As you might expect, this made her emotionally unstable, and she’s a difficult character to like: vulgar, violent, and self-destructive. Though her story took me into some uncomfortable places, it was compelling and pulled me right along to a conclusion that was satisfying to a degree but leaves loose ends that pull me into the next volume in this series, where there is now some hope for her redemption.
  3. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America (Beth Macy) This is detailed, exhaustively researched look at the opioid epidemic that’s killing thousands and tearing apart families and communities. You can’t read it without becoming depressed and infuriated, which is right and proper. You also leave it encouraged by the tireless work of those trying to fight the menace.
  4. Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway) The son of a legendary small-time gangster in London is trying to live a quiet, upright life as a clockmaker, but he gets dragged into a web of intrigue dating back to the 1950s and a near-mythical doomsday device. I loved the humor and the characters, who were simultaneously quirky and realistic. It sometimes slowed down a little too much, sometimes felt a little too tricky, but it always managed to pull itself together in the nick of time, rather like its protagonist.
  5. Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik) In this lyrical fairy tale, two women from opposite ends of their social world must learn to navigate the treacherous magic they’ve been drawn into, to save not only themselves, but those they love and two kingdoms besides. Though it focuses on these two women, each strong and capable in her own way but facing tough challenges, it’s populated by a whole stable full of other characters, with chapters and scenes from a variety of points of view, so that occasionally I lost track of whose head I was in for a moment. It was worth that small degree of fumbling, though, for the rich, deeply explored worlds and compelling characters.
  6. Flex (Ferrett Steinmetz) This is the first of a fantasy series with a fascinating magic system. When someone becomes completely obsessed with anything, from anime to zoos, their passion can grow so great that it deforms reality, and they become ‘mancers. However, the universe objects, and something somewhere else in the fabric of reality has to shift to compensate. For this reason, using magic in this way is forbidden, and ‘mancers are hunted down and “corrected.” This book is a galloping, fun ride through this alternate world, where ‘mancers fight for survival. It’s packed with pop culture references, especially relating to video games, and some wonderful characters who are not stereotypically white, thin, and rich.
  7. An Unkindness of Magicians (Kat Howard) This fantasy about a society of magic users hiding in plain sight in our contemporary world is dark, twisted, and lovely. It explores the nature of power and what some people do to collect it and keep it, and how each person has to decide how far is too far. This world is intricate, with families that intertwine and compete, and by the end of the first chapter I’d gone back to create a web giving all the many, many characters and their relations with each other. It was packed, almost overpacked, like a whole season of Game of Thrones in one book, and rushed through the end, but I loved it.
  8. Spoonbenders (Daryl Gregory) A complicated but ultimately very rewarding story about several generations of a family of people with paranormal powers. They start out as carnival acts, complete with an appearance on Johnny Carson that goes badly, and things go downhill from there. Their powers are the class example of a blessing that’s also a curse, and their attempts to work through how to use them and live with them in the real world is touching, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Some of the reveals I figured out early, but nothing fully prepared me for the stunning three-ring circus of a finish.
  9. Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (Kory Stamper) The author is a long-time editor at Merriam-Webster, and digs deeply into how dictionaries reflect language. She give an intimate picture of what it’s like to think deeply about how a word is used, the kind of person who spends a life doing that, and what dictionaries do and do not tell us. Stamper is brilliant, funny, and down-to-earth. Recommended for anyone who loves words and English.
  10. Fall, or Dodge in Hell (Neal Stephenson) This is a sprawling story about many aspects of how people relate to technology, focusing largely on a future technology that will allow people to have their brains scanned on their death and uploaded into a virtual system where they can live on in a digital reality. It takes a lot of detours getting there, including a gripping but ultimately unrelated side trip into a future of social media and information feeds, and makes some unquestioned assumptions that don’t always work for me, but it still had me turning pages to find out what happens next.
  11. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Joseph Balkoski) This nonfiction book details in gripping detail the events of that historic day, starting from the planning and preparations and up through that night and into the following morning. It is a closeup look at one small but pivotal piece of the Normandy Invasion that marked the turning point in World War II, focusing on the mostly-American fight for this one particular beach. I’m not a huge fan of military history, but this story was fascinating.
  12. The Curse of Chalion (Lois McMaster Bujold) This is the first in a Hugo Award-winning series of fantasy novels, set in the World of the Five Gods. I loved the world-building, the realistic and distinct characters, and the sense of humanity struggling against great odds to do the right thing. I will definitely read the others in this series.

    ON ANOTHER NOTE: Starting in January 2020 I’ll be posting only on my official author website. If you enjoy my content, please start following me there: www.celiareaves.com. I value every one of my followers, and I hope you stick with me!

Magical Books

For this week’s Lens Artist challenge, Ann-Christine asks us to show what we find magical. My answer: Books.

What an astonishing thing a book is….An author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head….A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
~ Carl Sagan

A hardcover book, opened on a marble table, with a leather bookmark, against a blue-green wall. There's a ceramic pot of blue and white flowers, a stone containing white and purple crystals, and a little owl sculpture with large eyes.A stack of hardcover books on a blue cloth, with a dried white rose in a glass dish and some rose buds and leaves on the top bookPosted in response to Lens Artists Photo Challenge #63: Magical, with thanks to Ann-Christine for posting this week’s challenge.



Book Quest: A Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt

Some shelves with books. Text: Something for Sunday; September 1, 2019; Book QuestI follow a blog called the Secret Library Book Blog, and this week they posted a challenge: the Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt, which they traced back to another site called the Book Nut (which I now follow: thanks!). The challenge is to find books on your own book shelf that fit 20 categories. Some of my answers are a bit of a stretch, but here’s what I found on my own shelves. My collection slews heavily toward science fiction and fantasy, so that’s most of what you see here.

1. An author or title with a Z in it.
Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja. Funny science fiction.

Cover of "Mechanical Failure" by Joe Zieja2. A classic
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Atmospheric and creepy, and my all-time favorite opening line.

Cover of "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier3. A book with a key on it
Dave Barry in Cyberspace. This is a stretch, but I didn’t have any books with actual door keys. This collection of funny essays about computers has a keyboard on the cover.

Cover of "Dave Barry in Cyberspace" by Dave Barry4. Something on your bookshelf that’s not a book
One of the many fish in my collection, swimming among my books.

A carved wooden fish5. The oldest book on your shelf
I picked two answers here. Iceworld by Hal Clement is my oldest physical volume (held together with a rubber band). My parents owned this copy from when it was new, in 1953, and I inherited it. My copy of The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie is only a couple of decades old, but the book’s copyright is 1922, making it the oldest one by that metric.

Two book covers. "Iceworld" by Hal Clement and "The Secret Adversary" by Agatha Christie6. A book with a woman on it
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I have lots of books with women on the cover, but this one is all about bringing women front-and-center.

Cover of "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly7. A book with an animal on it
Watership Down by Richard Adams. The richly imagined life of rabbits.

Cover of "Watership Down" by Richard Adams8. A book with a male protagonist
There are so, so many books I could have picked for this, but I chose Unbound by Jim C. Hines. There is an epic magical battle between good and evil, but there is more. Isaac, the protagonist, deals with issues of depression, and his friends try to understand and help him. I love that the author gave equal weight to both the inner and the outer struggles.

Cover of "Unbound" by Jim C. Hines9. A book with only words on the cover
Just My Type by Simon Garfield is a delightful look at fonts and type faces.

Cover of "Just My Type" by Simon Garfield10. A book with illustrations in it
Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools by Rich Burlew is the first in a series of print version of Burlew’s wonderful comic about self-aware characters in a Dungeons and Dragons world, the Order of the Stick.

Cover of "Dungeon Crawlin' Fools" by Rich Burlew11. A book with gold lettering
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, they book on which the TV miniseries is based. Just having fun with demons, angels, and the end of the world.

Cover of "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett12. A diary, true or fictional
I couldn’t find any books that could be described as diaries, so I took a picture of one of the journals I use to plot out new stories. It includes dated entries in which I ramble on about my thoughts, which is as close as I could get.

A green-and-black composition notebook13. A book written by an author with a common surname (like Smith)
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. According to Google, Anderson is the 11th most common name in America, so I think this one counts. It’s an intriguing exploration of life in a relativistic universe.

Cover of "Tau Zero" by Poul Anderson14. A favorite childhood book
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. I no longer own any books I myself read as a child, but this is one I read to my children and loved.

Cover of "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkein15. A book that takes place in the earliest time period
I decided not to use anything where the time period is uncertain or where the location is fictional, such as a different world. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis because much of it takes place in our real world in the 14th century, during the Black Plague. My copy is signed by the author!

Cover of "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis16. A hardcover book with no dust jacket
I couldn’t resist choosing Quantitative Research for the Behavioral Sciences by Celia Reaves. Yes, that’s me. I published this college textbook back in 1991, and though it never really took off it was modestly successful for a few years.

Cover of "Quantitative Research for the Behavioral Sciences" by Celia Reaves17. A teal or turquoise colored book
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke. Classic science fiction.

Cover of "The Fountains of Paradise" by Arthur C. Clarke18. A book with stars on the cover
Death by Black Hole presents a series of essays on all matters astronomical written by Neil deGrasse Tyson for Natural History magazine. Another copy signed by the author!

Cover of "Death by Black Hole" by Neil deGrasse Tyson19. A non-YA book
Most of my books are not for Young Adults, so I had lots of choices here. I picked M is for Malice, one of the alphabet murder mysteries by Sue Grafton, partly because the big M on the cover seems to mark it as Mature!

Cover of "M is for Malice" by Sue Grafton20. A book with a beautiful cover
Far Horizons is a collection of science fiction/fantasy stories from 1999, edited by Robert Silverberg. The cover has a surreal painting of flying dolphins and is unusual in that the only words on the cover are the title: no author or editor, no publisher, no blurbs.

Cover of "Far Horizons" edited by Robert SilverbergSo that’s my scavenger hunt. It was a lot of fun to do! By the way, the shelves in the image at the top of this blog were designed and built by my husband, and allow me to fit hundreds of paperback books into a closet. Brilliant!

Try the challenge yourself. I invite you to check out your own bookshelf and see what you can find!