Saturday, November 18, 2023

Best Books 2023 (that I read)

I'm going to go ahead and put this list up now, partly because I don't have a lot of stuff slotted to read the rest of the year that I think is going to add another entry to the list, and partly because I can always edit the post.

I haven't read as much this year as I did last year; I've felt busier, but I don't know that that's objectively true.  I have been consciously making an effort to play piano most days, but I don't know if that's where the time is going.

Anyway, I've still read some good stuff this year; this is basically everything I've read from this year that I actively recommend to people.  I'm linking out to Goodreads for them since that's where I track my reading.

  • The River of Silver (the Daevabad Trilogy #4) S.A. Chakraborty:  This is an epilogue to the trilogy that gives most of the main characters a chapter or two.  It was an extremely satisfying read after the trilogy, because it wrapped some things up for some characters that there wasn't room to in the trilogy itself.  You'll definitely want to read the trilogy first, or a lot of them won't make sense.  The trilogy itself starts off like you're going into a historical fantasy (French-occupied Egypt with some subtle magic undertones) and then tilts full into fantasy by like, chapter 3 (djinn kingdom political intrigue).
  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, Shannon Chakraborty:  This is the author's next series after the Daevabad trilogy; it's about a middle-aged retired pirate who gets pulled back into the pirate life by a mystery that involves her old crew.  I'd still call this historical fantasy, but the layer of magic isn't as thick as it is for the other series.  This one is independent of the other books in that you don't need to have read them for it to work, but there is a character who appears in the later half that makes you realize it's the same setting (but about a thousand years earlier) if you have read it.
  • The World We Make (Great Cities #2), N.K. Jemisin:  The second half of the Great Cities duology (I've started reading the afterwards in books, which is weird to me? But she explains why it's a duology and not a trilogy in it), this was a solid and satisfying follow-up to the first.  The general idea of the books is that cities, at a certain point in their development, become living entities, embodied in avatars, and since this is about New York, it's somewhat complicated in that each borough has one.  I think I've mentioned before that I love the way the author draws off Lovecraft for this while acknowledging and critiquing the racism in his work.
  • Strong Women Stay Young, Miriam E. Nelson:  I heard about this book from the menopause subreddit, where I've been lurking for a while now as I approach the age where perimenopause could just show up one day and not be unexpected.  They recommended it because strength training is especially important for countering some of the loss of bone density from aging, and I had been looking for a sustainable weight training program I could do at home, so I got a copy from the library to see if it would work for me.  The first half of the book, originally out in the 1990s, is just trying to convince you with the author's scientific research that weight training is beneficial for women's long-term health, with some of the how's and why's that she had discovered.  So that part I mostly skimmed because, yes, I know I need to do this and it's helpful, just tell me how.  The second half of the book is how.  It is, indeed, an easy weight training program that I can do at home.  I've been getting pairs of dumbbells off Amazon as I work up to them, and I finally picked up a single adjustable 20-lb. ankle weight (they're expensive!).  The copy I got from the library was the original edition, and the paperback I got used for like $4 was a revised edition with updated exercises.
  • His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik:  I forget where I heard about this book, since it is not new, but it was only recently on my radar.  It is basically the Napoleonic wars, with dragons.  So I read it, and then I realized, crap, this is like, a nine book series, which I do not currently have time for.  So I've only read the first two so far, but I'll probably get through the rest of the series sometime next year.
  • The Singing Hills Cycle, Nghi Vo:  I got the 2nd book in this series free from Tor in one of their ebook giveaways, and as I was working through my ebook backlog last year, I realized it was the second book and got the first one from the library.  It was, easily, the best book I had read in at least two years, and it felt like I was exactly in the middle of whatever Venn diagram of target audience groups the book might be considered for: the main character is a historian; it's somewhere on the line of fantasy history/magical realism (it's in a fictional empire with the essence of parts of south/east Asia, but not Earth, or at least, not our Earth); and it looks at the blurred lines between history and legend that I have an unwritten essay about floating around in my head.  I read the first two last year and pre-ordered the third (and sent in my pre-order receipt to get the pre-order incentive pin of the bird character in the series), then pre-ordered the fourth after the third came out this year, and then I read the fourth the day it came out.  I've pre-ordered the fifth book.
  • System Collapse (the Murderbot Diaries #7), Martha Wells: I got the audiobooks of the Murderbot Diaries this summer (I had read them all before, from the library), and I don't know how far down the hold list I am for the print copy of the seventh book, but my husband pre-ordered me the audiobook of it, so I listened to that rather than wait for the print.  (I'll still read it in the print, again, when my hold comes up, partly to clarify the internal monologue/dialogue distinctions that are sometimes confusing in a first-person perspective book.)  The short version of "what is Murderbot" that I've been giving is that it's about an android with anxiety that works security.  It is far-future space-based sci-fi (Earth doesn't ever come up as far as I recall) which is more in the speculative fiction realm of "what does it mean to be human" than it is in the crunchy sci-fi realm of "how does terraforming work" and the like.  Eventually I'll get print copies of this series, too, but most of the books are novellas and only 3-4 hours in length, so I can easily listen to one in a week of commuting.

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