Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recommended Reads, January 2016

Jumping right back into the blogosphere with my recommended reads from this month, in the order I read them. (Note that only one is actually a January 2016 release--I'm rarely quite that timely in my reading. But in a world of ebooks and libraries, all of these should still be readily available for your reading pleasure.)

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu.

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys epic fantasy about the fall and rise of kingdoms, especially if they like settings outside the standard medieval European-ish swords & sorcery. (Which, thankfully, is becoming less standard. Though I enjoy a good faux-Western medieval fantasy as much as the next reader, I also enjoy variety in the genre.)

While this isn't an all-time favorite for me--I tend to prefer a somewhat tighter POV approach, either first-person narration or a limited third person with an intimate focus on just a few characters (think Jacqueline Carey, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Naomi Novik), I loved the world-building and setting, which is based on the rise of the Han dynasty and China with elements of other cultures, including Japan and Polynesia, and I plan to read more in the series as it comes out.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Recommended for: Readers of YA and fantasy who like strong world-building, strong women and girls, and fairytale and legend retellings. (And also beautiful covers. Isn't that just gorgeous?)

I noticed a couple chapters in that I didn't know the first person narrator's name, nor that of most of the other characters--it was all my sister, my mother, my great-grandmother, etc. You'd think that would make it hard to keep track of characters or feel connected to them, but it didn't at all.

I enjoyed the heroine and her sister's resilience and determination. And the part of the world-building that stood out most to me was the character's form of ancestor worship where notable ancestors were set up as "smallgods," who both answered their family's prayers and drew power from being worshipped.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Because of the subject matter, I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, exactly, but I found it readable and engrossing, and alternately encouraging and infuriating.

I followed Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath as closely as anyone living far away from New Orleans, and I thought I knew a decent amount about the recovery and the current state of the city. This book showed me how much I didn't know, and made me think long and hard about how we as a nation handle disaster and recovery--and how our culture's biases with respect to race and class come out all the more strongly in the face of disaster. Have we learned anything that will make us better prepared the next time a major hurricane or big earthquake hits the US? I'd like to think so, but I have my doubts.

New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else) by Fay Wolf

I heard about this book on a recent DBSA podcast. Since I am eternally looking to improve my level of organization and time management, I decided to give it a try, especially given that bringing my house's chaos level down to something more manageable is one of my chief goals for 2016. (So far my clothes, bookshelves, and pantry have been decluttered, and it really does make me feel better about life.) This book gave me some great new ideas as I start to tackle some of the tougher projects, like kitchen tools, all the stuff we've shoved into our closets, the piles and boxes of papers, most of which are probably past their retention periods, etc.

Why, hello, cobwebby blog!

I hadn't realized it had been quite THIS long since I'd updated this blog. I somehow never got up the time and energy to do an update of everything I'd read on the Europe trip, including ALL the Amazon  buy links...and since I've been reassessing my writing career and goals, it didn't seem as critical to be putting fresh content online every single week.

But now I'm writing with the intent to publish again (as opposed to writing with the intention to entertain with fanfic, which I did while reassessing my career goals and will probably continue to do on a small scale, because it's so fun to participate in fandom, not to mention put up a piece of writing and get near-instant feedback). I'm just starting one new project with another further down the pipeline, both in new-to-me genres--contemporary romance and urban fantasy. It may be a year or more before I have a new release to talk about, but I wanted to go ahead and revive this blog.

I won't be logging every book I read, however. I already do that over at LibraryThing, and I don't want to fuss around copying and pasting and looking for Amazon links instead of LibraryThing ones to put the exact same content here. But if you're interested, please do check it out! I enjoy the LibraryThing community and taking part in some of their reading challenges.

What I'm going to do instead is a monthly post recommending whatever I read in the past month that I think is especially notable. There won't be a set number of books, though I can't imagine going a whole month without reading ANYTHING that makes me think, "Hey, some of my friends/readers would think this was awesome, too."

I'm also going to shoot for two weekly posts: 1) a Wednesday recipe post, since I love cooking, talking about food, and finding/helping others find good recipes, whether they're elaborate weekend productions or quick work night dinners; and 2) a Friday "What's Making Me Happy This Week" post, inspired by the good people at Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Beyond that, maybe I'll find time to write occasional commentary on how my writing is going, what's going on in the writing world, etc. Or I may not! Because while I enjoy blogging, it's a lower priority than writing, reading, cooking, or, you know, family, friends, and the job that pays the bills.