Maribou (maribou) wrote,

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books I loved in 2015

Here are the books I most loved in 2015 (not counting rereads). 40-ish, if you count series as one thing. Also, these are all the original reviews, unedited, so they don't always make sense out of their original context!

The Just City, by Jo Walton
This is a wonderful book, so much so that I had to keep reading it even though some things come up, having to do with sexual consent, which are *really* not what I need to be thinking about just at present - they were very well-handled and relevant to both the plot and (especially) the underlying questions of the book. I'm already looking forward to rereading it once my current problem is not so much the case. And it was quite splendid - I'm not even sorry I read it at this inopportune time, because I loved it so much, just sorry that my experience of it was fettered on this first read. It's earnest and witty and warmly intelligent and running in many parallel tracks, all of which were compelling. Plus it's a rare and good thing when someone imagines a god's perspective and I think "Oh, yes, that's how I would expect him to behave" AND "Oh! That's rather surprising, but I suppose he *would* think that, wouldn't he?"
(15, O8)

Tomboy, by Liz Prince
Practically perfect from stem to stern. Simple, compelling art, interesting episodes, and it had its hooks in me emotionally from the get-go.

The Graphic Canon of Children's Literature, edited by Russ Kick
A splendid, splendid collection of artistic (sometimes comic-strippy, sometimes not) interpretations of children's classics. A few of the pieces didn't really work for me, but even those I appreciated as part of the whole.

(secrit book goes here, but stays secrit as it was written by someone very related to me and thus cannot be posted without a) revealing to her where my blog is and b) revealing my real life name info to the rest of the world)

The Blythes Are Quoted, by L. M. Montgomery
The Road to Yesterday always felt... lacking to me, and now I know why. This is (as far as a dedicated editor can tell) how that book was meant to go, with extra stories, tons of poetry, and not-very-important-and-yet-truly-important tiny asides by all the Ingleside folks. I loved this so much. I really should go back and read all the LMM books - as a kid I reread them even more than I did Tolkien.
(67, O30)

This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki
So so so much love for this book. Captures the splendor and awkwardness of summer friends on the edge of puberty nigh perfectly (to the point of stirring up my own memories). Plus the art is incredible. <3 <3 <3 <3 (x 500).

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman
I loved everything about this sequel to Seraphina - but you really should start with Seraphina, rather than this one. That said, I loved how the already-rich world Hartman had shown us became richer and more interesting, and a lot of the world-building in this one resulted in "OH THAT *IS* WHY THAT WORKS THAT WAY" from me. Plus the characters also evolve, in a similar fashion. Really enjoyable. I'd read a Rachel Hartman novel every week, in some alternate universe where that could be possible.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers
OMG OMG OMG. I loved this book so much. The art is weird and interesting and the story is the best. I read it twice and then I bought two copies so that after I give one to a kid who is about to have a birthday, I still have one around in case other kids seem to need a copy. 6 year old me would have EATEN THIS BOOK. <3 <3 <3 <3.

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (complimentary copy)
Sometimes when I am all excited about a book because I love the look of it and I love the description of it and I love the press that published it and I squealed when I opened up the envelope the publisher sent it to me in and the last time I read a book by this author I read it all in one day and then bought copies for several friends... I worry that the book itself cannot possibly live up to the level of my hopes for the book.

In this case I needn't have worried.

It's a deeply odd book, intellectual and earthy, crisp and messy, abstract and personal, and lots of other binary pairs and in-betweens. It sometimes made me uncomfortable, and it's not as accessible as Bluets (the book I bought lots of copies of). It's not for everyone. But it was oh so very much for me. What it reminds me of is how when I was 18 and 19 and 20, I would often spend ALL DAY reading nearly-randomly in the stacks of 3 different McGill libraries, and then I would go find one of my friends who, while they'd not usually spent all day reading, were mostly better-educated than I was, and we would bounce ideas and personal stories off of each other until we got all muddied together and tired, at which point we would do something else - fall asleep, cook dinner, get in a laundry fight, cuddle on the couch while looking at Mapplethorpe photos... the options were multiple, and splendid. Anyway, this book makes me feel like I felt on those days, and that is a most welcome thing. It's also one of only a few books I've read that talk about womanhood and motherhood in ways that make me feel more affinity for my mostly-gender, rather than less.

My only regret is that, even though I tried REALLY hard to wait to read it until I could read it all in one day, I instead gave in to temptation and read it in bits and spurts when I didn't really have much time to read. I could occasionally tell that I wasn't as gloriously immersed in the interconnections and callbacks as I would've been if I hadn't had to interrupt myself. Next time I read it, it will be on a day when I don't have to put it down.
(102, O38, A3)

Open This Little Book, by Jesse Klausmeier
I was delighted by this book. As in I sat there and reread it 4 or 5 times in succession. If I were still a little kid I would've literally been clapping my hands with glee. I came close, even now. I made birdmojo read it, and he made a joke about changing it just to get a rise out of me, and even though I knew he was deliberately provoking me, I STILL got indignant. Because this is one of those books that is perfect exactly as it is. Oh, I should tell you something about it. It's a whole bunch of stories tucked inside each other, and each story is in its own progressively smaller book... though ti gets a bit more complex. And every story is both a splendid example, but also slightly mocking, a particular type of somewhat old-fashioned children's book that I read many of as a kid. So, you know, EEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Princeless, vol. 1: Save Yourself, vol. 2: Get Over Yourself, The Pirate Princess, and Short Stories, vol. 1, by Jeremy Whitley et al I am totally in love with this kids' comic book series! I love it almost as much as Rat Queens (though for only partially overlapping reasons) - it is funny, the characters are endearing, believable, and their stereotypical aspects are nicely complicated. Also the plot hums along.
(142; 151; 155, O42; 160)

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, by Peter Sís
This was so utterly splendid that I am afraid to read any more of Sís' children's books for fear of spoiling how completely delighted I am with him at the moment. I spent ages just looking at every single little element of every single beautiful drawing.

Fairest, vol. 4: Of Men and Mice, by Bill Willingham et al This was exactly all the things I want from a volume of this series. Adventurous and spy-y and funny and full of allusions. And also female-focused, which I am glad they remembered.
(133, O40)

Giants Beware!, by Jorge Aguirre et al
One of my favorite single-volume graphic novels EVER. Derring-do! Cuteness! Non-obnoxious life lessons! Complex but loveable characters! Also there is backstory! And probably anyone from ages 8 to 99 could enjoy it.
(157, O43)

March: Book One and Book Two, by John Lewis et al
Incredibly powerful and well-presented memoirs of the Civil Rights movement. Absolutely worth tracking down.
(173, 230)

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
I love this series so much. I voted for Ancillary Sword for the Hugo (though I was fine with the eventual winner) and I am SO EXCITED about the third one. I can't believe I'm not already reading it, actually. *gets on that* Anyway, the writing is fluid, the characterizations are compelling, and the world is that delightful mixture of strange and familiar that one chases in this sort of SF. Even though she reads nothing like Le Guin, they are alike in that way. "Yes, given those new circumstances, people WOULD be like that, wouldn't they, though I'd never have thought of this on my own," sort of a thing.
(189, 200)

Letters of Note, edited by Shaun Usher
I have loved this website for years, but the letters / explanations are often long enough and compelling enough that I fell out of the habit of reading it while in grad school. Rabbit holes are dangerous when you don't have any free time. So I was exceptionally excited to see that it had come out as a book, and I gloried in reading it. Letters are basically my FAVORITE literary form, and it's exceptionally well laid out, too.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
And another Hugo nominee! This book was incredibly immersive and quite beautiful. There are bits of it stuck in my head that won't be unsticking themselves any time soon. Am kicking myself for not having read more of Sarah Monette before, because this book was so good that my subconscious has now gone into hoarding mode and will find ways of avoiding reading her stuff henceforth (because, you see, omg what if we RAN OUT???). Le sigh. It really is awfully good. Were I not so in love with the Ancillary series, this would've had my Hugo vote.

El Deafo, by Cece Bell
OMG LOVE LOVE LOVE for this book. A graphic memoir of the author's childhood that focuses on her experiences as a Deaf person in public schools (and non-academic social situations). So particular and yet so good at contextualizing her own experiences in the bigger picture. AND it was cute and funny. AND it was trenchant and didn't pull punches. Wow.

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby
A sharp, funny, quick read that broke my heart and put it back together. Juby is definitely going on the "yes, please, more like this" list.

Creature, by Andrew Zuckerman
Sooooooooo pretty. I'd been craving this book of animal photos for so long that when I finally bought it, I read it THE SAME DAY. <3 <3 <3.
(216, O45)

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, by A. S. King
This YA novel exploded my brain. So so so so good. Just weird enough, just grounded enough, just bitter enough, just sweet enough.... I loved it start to finish and will probably reread it in the next couple of years, because here it is six months out from when I read it and I am remembering specific images from the story and I can almost *taste* how good it is, all over again!

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (ARC)
I loved this book so much and it made me think so much. And feel so much for that matter. We ended up buying THREE copies of it at my tiny academic library where we almost never buy 3 copies of anything, just to keep up with the demand. (Seriously, I could count the number of things we have more than 2 copies of without running out of fingers and toes!) It has flaws, but the flaws feel like an inextricable part of the whole package. Love. Love love love.
(251, O49, A5)

The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton
Absolutely and utterly as wonderful as I was hoping it would be; I'm still all warm and fuzzy just remembering reading it, months later (and also heartbroken / angry / intrigued / intellectually engaged / etc, depending on which part of the story I am remembering reading). AND she pulled off that thing I was lamenting a lack of in another author, earlier today - the thing where I can kind of see how things ought to end but I am hoping for a miracle different ending anyway? She managed said miracle *splendidly* in a way that reframes the whole trilogy, and left me so very eager for the third book, and retrospectively thinking it wasn't a miracle at all, but rather precisely what *would* happen, given all the givens. I am rather lucky, to have more than one ideal author - authors who actually write exactly the books I want to read - and even more lucky that more than one of them are still writing (as opposed to decades or centuries dead). But if I did have to pick *just* one to be able to keep reading - at least just one of the living ones - it might well be papersky.
(257, O50)

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson
It was very weird to read this book while attending a fantasy convention, because it is so relentlessly sfnal in rather an old-fashioned way. I started to talk about its bleakness or pessimism because it is, fundamentally, a "your dreams are a crock and won't work" kind of a book - but actually I don't think it *is* bleak or pessimistic. The characters are loved by the narrator (and, I infer, the author), and the ending is full of hope. Just a retargeted hope. Plus I'm enough of a dreamer that I don't actually see this as an end to anything - more the antithesis that comes before a synthesis. (Which I realize wasn't even really Hegel and also is more memelike than is trustworthy - but I'm still fond of thinking of the world that way.) I really really love the narrative voice - I think it's fresh and original and makes a virtue out of the infodumping that you just KNOW is always going to be part of any KSR book - and I was fond enough of several of the characters that I kind of wish I knew them and kind of feel that I *do*. I also wish I could quit hoarding-instead-of-reading Robinson's books. I have 3 or 4 stashed away in my house in various places (including the extremely obvious R's-of-hardcover-fiction shelf) that I would really like to read.
(260, O52)

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Now this! This I am MADLY in love with. Start to finish, it could not have been more perfectly perfect for me. If I had to do the "it's like X and Y" thing, I would say it's like Lifelode mashed up with Wrede's Forest Chronicles with a dash of Zelazny's Amber thrown in for good measure, spiced by having had some of Theodora Goss' more folkloric writings waved in its general direction. But really it's not like any of those equally splendid things, it's its own, newish thing, that is also an oldish thing, and which (evidently) I loved so very much that I can't really explain my feelings.

Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash
Astoundingly good. A relatively quiet graphic novel memoir about summer camp and figuring out you might like like girls and growing up and ... wow. Seriously, I want to read everything Maggie Thrash ever publishes now.

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon
OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. URSULA VERNON IS THE BEST. SO MUCH SO THAT I CAN'T STOP WRITING IN ALL CAPS. *deep breath* Seriously, I have recommended and given away this book so many times already, and I only read it this fall. The ONLY middle-grade novel I have found that challenges the *assumptions* of princess culture without denigrating princesses. The protagonist is perfectly happy being a princess, she just figures that if SHE likes doing something, it is thus included in the set of "things princesses like to do" and thus refuses to have limitations imposed upon her. But!! The book accomplishes this without being obnoxiously didactic. Mostly by being very funny. AND the illustrations are awesome, often doing that thing I particularly loved as a kid where they are commenting directly or indirectly on the text. AND the story is a ripping adventure yarn. Love love love.

Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt and Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Both of these stories tell kids what is going on above and below the titular substrate - at different times of year obviously. Both are beautifully illustrated and factually based, and both are a joy to read. I preferred the story of Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt - there was more there there - but either one would make a great gift for a curious kid. I especially liked that they went further into the ecosystem than just the cheerfully bland part.
(348, 373)

Reading Writers Reading, by Danielle Schaub
Such a very very splendid book. Coffee-table sized, with one page a photo of some or the other Canadian writer (ranging from the even-famous-in-the-US to the totally-obscure-everywhere-including-Canada) caught in the act of talking about writing and reading -- and the facing page an essay about a page long by that writer, discussing the impact that books had on their lives. I say essay, but a few of the entries are poems or short stories. I do so love it when the books my brain demands exist do, in fact, exist, and I can find them and read them.

Zen Socks, by Jon J. Muth
I so love these books about Stillwater the Panda, and this is definitely a major entry in the series. The books themselves create a zen space while you are reading them, in the way that the words and pictures and your heart combine into peaceful equanimity. It's quite glorious.
(358, O77)

The King and the Sea, by Heinz Janisch
This is a wonderfully absurd and strange series of fables that manages to be koan-like for adults and also make sense for kids. Plus the illustrations are very perfectly child-like (which is harder than it sounds!).

Inch by Inch: The Garden Song, by David Mallett, illustrated by Ora Eitan This was my favorite song as a little kid so I thought I would explore some different ways of enjoying it. This picture book was among my favorites. Bright, potent pictures accompany the text of the song, and then at the end there's a musical setting so folks can learn to play/sing it. Absolutely excellent.

This Is Sadie, by Sara O'Leary
What a splendid, splendid book. The story is inspiring (which is what I call didactic stories which a) I like and b) I don't find heavy-handed), and the illustrations fly and sparkle. Bought a copy for each of my nieces for Christmas and the jury's still out on whether I will buy myself a copy too. I hope eventually I will get to read it to both of them.

M Train, by Patti Smith
I absolutely loved this book. It's very internal, but also very interested in the world. She writes so sparingly, but every word is there for a reason. And her life has been rich, and full, and she skims around over top of it in a way that should be confusing but actually just helps you to pay closer attention. And it was so WORTH the attention I paid it. I'll definitely reread this some day, and I hope she writes another one this good soon.

Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett
Probably my favorite of all the picture books I read this year. The illustrations and the text are very old-school but also very fresh and the story and the word choice are so darn good. Gnah! Why are the best picture books always the hardest to talk about? Even though it was published this year, I felt like I was discovering a lost classic from Crockett Johnson or something, like it had just been part of the Ursula Nordstrom canon since long before I was born and I had never happened to come across it before. LOVED it.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015, edited by Tim Folger and Rebecca Skloot NO content-less polemic! Only a BIT of content-full polemic (and it was good)! More nature writing than technology writing (O.O)!! I liked, or more than liked, every single essay!!! BEST AM SCI NAT EVER!!!!!

The Whisper, by Pam Zagarenski
A strong contender for Favorite Picture Book of the Year. Not, this time, for what it does for my little-kid side (though she approves), but instead because it makes grown-up me so happy. Inspiring text that does not set off my cynic alarms, beautiful art that is delightfully strange and just a tiny bit uncomfortable. I checked it out from the library, read it twice, and then purchased one copy for me and one for my oldest niece.

Two Mice, by Sergio Ruzzier
Such a perfect counting book. Funny, sweet, unusual. Really great.

In a Village by the Sea, by Muon Van
This was a truly stellar picture book! Great structure, AMAZING illustrative work, and a touch of the fantastic to boot. There are a lot of different rhythms an excellent picture book can take, but it's still a huge relief when I can tell the author has found one of them, and the book won't be full of that jostly unintentionally-arhythmic business.

Fixing Up the Farmhouse, by Dianne Hicks Morrow
I absolutely loved this memoir-in-essays-and-a-few-poems about an old country house and the people who've lived in it over the last 40 years - but since I had more than a few playdates in said house, I may be biased. (But even if I wasn't biased, I'd probably love it, she said stubbornly.)
(457, O81)
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