Monday, October 23, 2017

Brisk Book Reviews: 2016 Reads I Never Reviewed, Part One

Okay, since it's really clear I'm not going to power through and write the fifteen plus reviews for my unreviewed 2016 reads, I'm going to attempt some mini-reviews because honestly, these books shouldn't linger here un-reviewed. They're all so great! I might try longer reviews once I get past this block, but in the meantime, quick thoughts about some of the books I read last year.

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library

Literally an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink kind of fantasy book: an otherworldly Library where librarians try to collect one copy of every book from every universe/world.

Amazing premise, but between the overloaded plot and annoying lead characters, I was pretty ambivalent the entire time I was reading (also I'm not into men so pale you see veins; why is this a thing??). It was okay-to-good upon finishing, but despite having books two and three on hand, I've not bee interested enough to pick 'em up, so I guess that says everything.

Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone

I picked this up solely because of the A prehistoric fantasy—with allusions to Pride and Prejudice. tagline, and it is pretty accurate. This quick and fun YA novel is set in some ambigu-prehistoric era/place, with a P&P-esque plot and slightly more serious ends. I read it over a weekend while camping, and it was the perfect thing to settle in with in front of a campfire.

Our hero, Kol, was a cutie, and refreshingly, not an alpha male or messiah figure or anything like that. His mother wasn't Mrs. Bennett, altho she had five sons she was frantic to marry. Cute, fun touches like that made this story a fun escapist read.

My only complaint is that the buildup to the conflict was so long that the gasp! moment and everything following it just tumbled along too quickly. I wanted a little more lingering.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Un-cynical, relentlessly cheery, brisk and bouncy. Following the Pulse shooting, I found her voice and this book a relief, to my surprise. A pep talk about my value as a creative person. That she slogged so much herself before her success with Eat Pray Love is one of main reasons I found her advice, cheerleading, and you're-a-child-of-the-universe affirmations tolerable. She's done the work, a lot of it, without success, and if she can still feel chirpy about the creative process, then I'm going to listen.

Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

I started a book club at work and this ended up being the first pick. It's a book I'd never have picked up on my own, so I already love my book club. A brief, powerful read, mild in many ways and surprisingly intense in others, this story of two people who decide to share a bed for platonic comfort and the way this simple decision rattles everyone around them was a surprising, moving story. I don't have enough swear words and insults for Addie's son Gene; otherwise, I adored all the characters.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity

Enjoyed this one the most of the four previous Jane and Vincent novels I've read. I feel like Kowal has done the things I'd been yearning for: gone deeper with the characters, settled longer with descriptions of things, lingered on moments.

I appreciated, too, the way she really addressed one of the major events from the second book (which I thought was ignored too much in the third). I also appreciate her clear desire to include POC characters as much as possible -- in both this one and the 3rd book, she included a POC character. Tertiary, true, but it was nice to see her name that POC existed in the Regency world.

Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

A haunting, intense, moving collection of poetry, both personal and political. The title piece is composed solely from titles and descriptions used in Western museums to describe art/art objects depicting women of color. When I heard about it, I thought it would be hokey, but it was a staggeringly good/depressing/painful/shocking/illuminating piece.

In this political climate, when an elected official huffily asks what other "subgroups" contributed to civilization more than whites, and in this era of the #blacklivesmatter and #sayhername movements, this collection feels especially prescient.

Richard McGuire, Here

Embarrassingly, I had no idea the groundbreaking background of this graphic novel (or at least, the panel that started it all). I picked it up on the recommendation of a fellow blogger, and I was dubious that a graphic novel about a room could be all that interesting. Well, perhaps interesting, but not moving. But I was wrong. There's humor and tenderness, a few narrative threads, and an incredible sense of place and time (you know, a billion years or something). I inhaled it in about an hour, then reread it twice. A fascinating, magical, pragmatic, depressing, inspiring read.

Rena Olsen, The Girl Before

Read this is one evening -- started it when I came home from work, and finished it around midnight-ish. Easy, quick, compelling -- horrifying -- read of human trafficking. Alternating timelines -- then and now, essentially -- the tension comes from seeing the horror our "heroine" has experienced and worse, the horror she's inflicting on other girls. The author is a therapist, and that, sadly, is where the book suffers -- the scenes involving any sort of therapy are too earnestly accurate. They read like an after school special and pulled me from the story.

Patricia Park, Re Jane

Pitched as a kind of retelling of Jane Eyre from the viewpoint of a young Korean-American orphan in Queens, New York, I found this book unsatisfying in that sense but brilliant and delicious as a kind of coming-of-age story. Jane's journey in finding herself -- as a Korean-American, woman, lover, professional -- was captivating. A top 10 read of 2016.


  1. I need a compelling book like The Girl Before in my life right now. I love the "brisk" reviews!

    1. Thank you! i'm going to try to keep up with them!

  2. I am adding Ivory and Bone to my wish list along with that poetry collection.

    1. Yessssssssss!! I hope you enjoy them both!