2015 Reading Retrospective

Now that spring is almost over, dear readers, I have taken the time to reflect on all the adventures in books that I enjoyed in 2015. In a lot of ways, 2015 was a difficult year for me, the hardest for me since 2013. I faced some highs and I faced some terrible lows of loss. I breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight on December 31st, eager to start a fresh year here on planet Earth.

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Skeptical baby bunny is skeptical by E.A. Schneider

Per usual, I rode the swells of corporeal existence clinging to the pages of tremendous books. When I think of 2015, so much is a blur that I can’t do my usual seasonal breakdown of books. Looking back, I realize that I spent a lot of time reading series rather than stand-alone novels, which might contribute to the blurred feeling. The year had some standout authors for me including Jim Butcher, Jim C. Hines, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel R. Delaney, Agatha Christie, Lord Dunsany, and Neal Stephenson. Their books pop in my memory the most. I’m grateful that their books were there to read when I desperately needed sanctuary in a good book. Below I have made a list of everything I read in 2015 in no particular order with a short capsule review on my thoughts. Also, you will find some of my favorite pictures from 2016 so far. Enjoy!

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    1. I can see the appeal of this book. The prose is well written and the relationship between Jaime and Claire is compelling but the book is 250-pages-too-long with excessive sexual violence. By the end, I did not feel invested enough to read more of the series; just relieved the story had reached a stopping point.
  2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
    1. This book is incredibly beautiful, complex, and utterly fascinating. I will be re-reading this for years to come I’m sure. The way LeGuin depicts marriage, society, and all the bittersweet trade-offs of both is compelling with the sweet tang of truthful reality that good sci-fi can deliver.
  3. Ubik by Phillip K. Dick
    1. Another story where Dick messes with your mind’s perception of life, the universe, and everything. Reading this left me feeling small, powerless, and overall kind of dumb which is rather typical for Dick’s stories. That said, the portrayal of women was not incredibly offensive and I found his exploration of the twilight realm of life vs. death a page-turning experience.
  4. A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley
    1. I know that I will re-read this book, that it will be part of the regular rotation of comfort reads for me moving forward. McKinley re-interprets fairy tales and their heroines in innovative ways in this collection. My favorite heroine was McKinley’s Rapunzel with her heroic nature and unabashed love for her foster mother. I really appreciated McKinley’s way of obliquely mentioning magic and leaving so much so tantalizingly off page. That takes a deft touch that I hope to master in my own fiction someday.

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      Lake Michigan wave by E.A. Schneider

  5. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    1. This book was very readable with a dry, bleak sense of macabre humor. I couldn’t stop reading and even though I finished it a year ago, passages still come to mind occasionally. So it goes.
  6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
    1. This book is magic. I love the story of Nobody Owens and his graveyard family. Gaiman has a real knack for repurposing monsters without losing sight of their monster nature. I copied out so many quotes from this book. I like the emphasis that Gaiman puts on the way life is defined by making choices, mistakes, and by the possibility of change whereas the dead are over, their story is done and no changes are left. Of course, he does play with that, too. How over can things be when the dead adopt a boy? It is a wonderful fairy tale and this book might be my new favorite Gaiman creation.
  7. The Story of the Treasure-Seekers by Edith Nesbit
    1. A fast, diverting read filled with all the sexism appropriate to the 19th century, especially since the narrator is one of the Bastable family’s boys. I will probably read more of the Bastable’s adventures when I need a light read.
  8. The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick
    1. Once again, a compelling read with tantalizing, mind-bending moments. I liked the characters of Tagomi and Julianna the most. I don’t know what Dick was speaking to with this story or if he was speaking to any particular thing. Pondering the ending, I feel like Tagomi pondering the pin and seeking transcendental answers to universal questions in a small, physical artifact.
  9. Moon Over the Back Fence  by Esther Carlson
    1. This was an odd story. At times the vignettes between Ellen and her Uncle George are absolutely charming and sweet while at others they are very strange with some disturbing gender/sexual politics. In the end, this is a poignant story of the end of childhood through the lens of magic realism/surrealism and, weird as it was sometimes, I’m glad that I read it.
  10. The Stepsister Scheme  by Jim C. Hines
    1. This book totally kicks all expectations to the curb and is absolutely amazing. I am a big fan of fairy tales and Hines mines all the best old ones to craft incredible heroines with character and humanity. It will take all my self-control to not blitz through this series too fast; I want to savor every page.

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      Lake Michigan shore by E.A. Schneider

  11. Nova by Samuel R. Delaney
    1. This is a rip-roaring space adventure with terrific prose and a page-turning story featuring colorful characters that were a delight to read. I found the galactic scale of political maneuvering tempered by the close human scale of the ship crew and I loved the ending. It’s a great book.
  12. Star Trek Vanguard #1: Harbinger by David Mack
    1. This was really fun just when I needed something light and fun and Trek. I liked that with Harbinger Mack came up with a new crew and a new station rather than trying to capture and sustain the unique vibe of the Enterprise officers. The Vanguard station crew is amazing with fun characters and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
  13. Around the World in 72 Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly
    1. Nellie Bly has been one of my heroines since I was a little girl. I admired her story of pluck and courage but I confess that I was always afraid to read her actual writing. What if she was terrible? How crushed would I feel? Well, come to find out, she’s not a terrible writer or a particularly extraordinary one, but a good writer of readable stories. The book proved to be a great time capsule of America on the verge of greatness from the POV of one of its great characters who reveled in being the star of the story. I found a lot of fun, quotable passages and, despite Bly’s incredible racism typical for her class and time period, there is still much that I can admire in her work. She was so brave and her persistence in the face of emotional and financial hardship is inspiring. I have no doubt that I will re-read the book and, warts and all, Nellie Bly is still my heroine.

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      Spider monkey by E.A. Schneider

  14. Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline
    1. This book is a terrifically fun, entertaining story. I get all the references but the references at times feel like the real star of the story with the narrative a stage on which they can shine. Ready Player One has a lot to say and I feel like I’m going to be talking about it and thinking about it for a long time to come, I will probably even re-read it at some point. It also has some profoundly troubling things to say about race, gender, and identity. Sadly, the future world Cline describes seems all too plausible and very frightening from my POV, I hope it doesn’t come to pass.
  15. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
    1. This book is fantastic. I loved it and will no doubt re-read it someday. The prose, particularly the prose to describe the metaverse, is beautiful. The dystopian world is complex and feels so plausible, so real in its slippery slope description of public-private partnerships, that it’s scary. The characters, particularly Hiro and YT, are definitely the best part. I like the fact that no matter how extraordinary our technology becomes, Stephenson thinks that personal relationships are what will really make the difference. I’m inclined to agree.

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      Flying together by E.A. Schneider

  16. Thirteen at Dinner by Agatha Christie
    1. One of the cleverest murders that Christie wrote, this is an old favorite of mine. Captain Hastings helps save the day with his everyday knack for the obvious that makes him a great foil for Hercule Poirot.
  17. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
    1. Hercule Poirot is in his element with this story. No clues, no evidence, and no cigarette ash but rather five different interviews recalling the misty events of 20 years ago. Only Poirot and his little grey cells could make sense of this story and I love it.
  18. Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie
    1. I read this because I had re-read the play based on this novel a few months previously and I wanted to compare the two. I like how Christie plays with the cast of characters even though Poirot lifts right out, and she gets to set it in the Middle-east spots she loved so much.
  19. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
    1. It’s still fabulous, even with its flaws. I love re-reading this book. I read it again in 2015, after listening to a Radiolab discussion of memory and Agatha Christie. That definitely added another layer to the experience with a slightly more poignant edge. Like Five Little Pigs this story features detective work based solely on recollection and showcases dialogue. Ariadne Oliver steals the show from Poirot, too, which is always a treat.
  20. Tuesday Club Murders  by Agatha Christie
    1. I bought the edition I read because the cover art was fantastic and I was craving some Marple short fiction. This anthology is a treat filled with Miss Marple’s wonderful brand of pessimistic detection based on her understanding of human nature. Terrific stuff.

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      Massasaugas resting by E.A. Schneider

  21. Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
    1. Hercule Poirot talks to people to solve an unsolvable psychological murder per usual but the cast of both sleuths and suspects are a delight and I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this story. I particularly like that my beloved Ariadne Oliver gets to be both a first rate sleuth and the comic relief. Oliver also gets the chance to talk a bit about the hum drum work of writing to dispel some of the romantic illusions people, especially fans, might hold.
  22. The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and “Agatha Christie”
    1. Having re-read some Christie before this book, reading Sophie Hannah’s interpretation of Poirot did spur me to re-read some more Poirot afterward. Hannah’s interpretation was pretty okay. I think she did a good job capturing Poirot but I found the detective he works with, Catchpool, a rather unappealing fellow but I suppose not everyone can be Captain Hastings.
  23. Cradle in the Grave by Sophie Hannah
    1. An entertaining read with good dialogue. I can understand why the Christie estate chose Hannah to carry the dame’s characters forward.
  24. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas
    1. I am a big fan of Barker & Llewelyn and this adventure is a splendid read. I could not put the book down except with the most grudging feelings. I believe I finished it in less than 72 hours, which is some kind of record for me given how busy I was at the time.
  25. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines
    1. The second in Hines’ Libriomancer stories, this book really spotlights the incredible character of Lena Greenwood, book born dryad who is so much more than the ink and words that created her. I don’t know what to say about this book without spoiling things but this series is amazing and Greenwood is a complicated heroine who rocks this book.
  26. The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde
    1. This is third in the Last Dragonslayer series featuring heroine, Jennifer Strange, and the magicians of Kazam. The book is terrific; a page-turner that drew me in and gripped me and then had the temerity to end on a cliffhanger. Fforde had better take his vitamin, that’s all I have to say about that.

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      Whooping Crane portrait by E.A. Schneider

  27. Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
    1. The book started out strong then took a 90-degree turn into shallow waters and left me feeling rather disappointed. It features interlocking narratives of past and present in the Netherlands. The narrative of the past by Gertruui was wonderful and the prose overall was lyrical with some very quotable passages but the modern narrative left me feeling cold. Maybe it just needed a second draft? It was pretty okay but I don’t need to re-read it or more from this author.
  28. More Valley Cats: Fun games and new friends by Gretchen Preston
    1. A charming book and a great sequel to the first Valley Cats adventure with gorgeous art featuring some fun new characters.
  29. Mangaboom by Charlotte Pomerantz
    1. I heard about this picture book because of the efforts of someone who tried to ban it from a library. It is a charming picture book with a good story about being true to oneself and being able to find others just the way you are. The dope who tried to ban the book missed the entire point of the story but since the person probably stopped reading on page two I suppose that is hardly surprising. I’m glad I’ve read it and that it is in my library now.
  30. Something Rich and Strange by Patricia McKillip
    1. McKillip’s language is lovely, I can only quibble with some of her lack of narrative clarity but I do enjoy her prose to the point that I don’t care so much about a few fudged descriptions. McKillip creates an enchanting world that draws you in and grips your imagination with her imagery.

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      Inca tern by E.A. Schneider

  31. Growing Up Lutheran: What does this mean? by Janet Letniss Martin
    1. I did not grow up Lutheran. I heard a lot of stories of the Lutherans growing up from my mom as well as A Prairie Home Companion. I did marry into a Lutheran family and I feel welcomed by the tribe. Reading this book explains so many of the stories I have heard with so much loving good humor that it was an absolute treat to read. I highly recommend the book to all who love Lutherans or have been curious about their ways.
  32. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
    1. This is the Austen that I re-read the least. In fact, my re-read this past summer might have been the first time that I re-read it in many years. Yet, I think that will change. Re-reading Fanny Price’s story this last summer, I found so much more to empathize with and admire than I had before. Fanny Price is an underrated heroine with her own brand of implacable courage that I found very comforting to read this past summer. Also, Mrs. Norris is such a terrific villain, she made me laugh when I needed a laugh.
  33. Persuasion by Jane Austen
    1. Second chances, wonderful humor, and a beautiful romance who could ask for more? I have frequently said that Persuasion is my favorite Austen over the years and I know that that will continue to be true. There’s just something about the steadfast relationship between Wentworth and Anne that gets my heart beating every time.
  34. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    1. Every re-read of this book I notice some nuance that I either never noticed before or am struck anew by some layer to the story that never used to catch my notice. This time, I was very struck by the discussions of mercenary vs. prudential motives for marriage and the double standards we put on the sexes. Reading this after having re-read Persuasion I was struck again by the second chance that Darcy and Elizabeth get against all probability or social expectation. While Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite of her novels it is a nonetheless treasured friend, I look forward to getting to know it all over again the next time I re-read it.
  35. Macbeth by Shakespeare
    1. This is my favorite of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I have read it many times and every time I notice things anew. This time I read a scholarly edition that I hadn’t read before with some fascinating annotations. The tragic end of the Macbeths is still a compelling story that sucks me in and spits me out every time.

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      Vulture by E.A. Schneider

  36. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    1. This book is absolutely fantastic in the most gut-wrenchingly real way. I love it. Junior’s story is powerful, charming, and a poignant look at growing up different. I find snatches of this story popping to mind so often, especially his way of talking about his brain damage when my brain is doing less than awesome things; it has really stuck with me. I look forward to reading more Alexie.
  37. The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway
    1. At first, I thought this was the dullest book in the world. After awhile, I began to see an austere poetry to the prose and the descriptions pop more because they are so few and far between. I found myself empathizing with Santiago and his need to think everything out step by step and endure everything through good-humored suffering. Still, the macho bullshit about the brotherhood between Santiago and the incredibly noble fish was super irritating to me. While the prose was clear and memorable, I don’t see myself re-reading this book.
  38. The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
    1. The language is incredibly beautiful in this book. The prose is lyrical with syntax that just makes me want to seize my fountain pen and paper to write and write and write the most incredibly fabulous tales ever dreamed in my fancy. I can see why this book inspired so many authors. All in all, The King of Elfland’s Daughter is enchanting, succinct, and certainly the most delightful cautionary tale that I have ever read.

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      Portrait of a greater kudu by E.A. Schneider

  39. The Suspicion at Sanditon by Carrie Bebris
    1. Bebris really gets Jane Austen’s dialogue and style more than any other Austen inspired author I’ve read. The story is delightful with an almost Shakespearean comedy vibe to the mystery that is funny even as it is also kind of suspenseful in a gothic way. Now that Bebris has run through everything that Austen left besides the Juvenilia, I’m not sure where she can go next with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Personally? I think Bebris and her characters are good enough that she can take them somewhere entirely new and it would be fantastic.
  40. Unbound by Jim C. Hines
    1. A splendid end to a splendid fantasy series, I highly recommend both this book and the Libriomancer series. I particularly like that Hines lets his characters make unconventional, difficult choices. A lot of things in this story surprised me and I feel like that doesn’t often happen to me as a reader anymore. I really like this series and am positive that I will re-read Isaac Vainio’s adventure.
  41. Anatomy of Evil by Will Thomas
    1. A fascinating interpretation of the Jack-the-Ripper case by two of my favorite private inquiry agents, I would definitely recommend both the Barker and Llewlyn series and this book. I sincerely hope that Will Thomas has more of these stories ready to publish because I am eagerly looking forward to the continuing adventures of these enquiry agents. I do hope that Thomas sends them to America in the next book; it would be a treat to see how they would do outside of their comfort zone in London.
  42. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
    1. An adventure of derring-do that had just the right amount of romance, I thoroughly enjoyed this diversion. I kind of bought it for the cover art based on fond memories of watching the movie on PBS with my dad when I was a kid. I honestly had no clue that it was based on a book. Now that I know Anthony Hope apparently wrote a series starring the Rasendyll’s I will definitely have to investigate the sequels.
  43. The Cinder Spires: the Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
    1. A new series by Butcher gets off to a great start with this book. I can hardly wait to see where he goes with this story. I like the eclectic characters that he has assembled and am delighted with the steampunk style of the world of spires he describes.

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      Boat billed heron and Ibis by E.A. Schneider

  44. The Little World of Liz Climo by Liz Climo
    1. This book is whimsically delightful. It is charming, beautifully illustrated, and the humor really speaks to me. Also, there are sloths and honey badgers and snakes. You can’t go wrong with characters like that.
  45. The Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher
    1. The five books of the Codex Alera series are amazing. I devoured these books and reading them was good medicine when I really needed some. This series has everything: strong characters, amazing heroines, complex politics, fantastical magic, a brilliant love-story, machinations within machinations, and probably the best depiction of non-human species that I have ever read. I will re-read this series I’m sure.
      1. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
      2. Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      3. Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      4. Captain’s Fury by Jim Butcher
      5. Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher
      6. First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher
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White headed laughing thrush by E.A. Schneider

All told, 2015 was quite a year for reading. I got to spend a lot of nights up late with a good book, I met some incredible characters, and I got re-acquainted with characters that I thought I knew. What about you, dear readers, what stands out to you when you think about the books you read in 2015? Are any books making an impression on you in 2016? Please, leave a comment below with your thoughts and thanks for stopping by the pond today.

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Inca tern in flight by E.A. Schneider

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3 thoughts on “2015 Reading Retrospective

  1. Astonished and overwhelmed by your reading prowess as usual. Also, you are not alone on the 2015 thing. It was a rough year for nearly everyone I know, with death, injury, and pain abounding. None of us were sorry to see that clock strike midnight. 😛

    On a completely unrelated note… Why, oh why, are baby bunnies so darn cute?

      • I was relatively unscathed. Unlike several of my close friends, I lost no one and suffered no grievous injury. But the pain of my friends was enough for me to be glad the year ended. In the words of one of them, “**** 2015.”

        I just finished listening to G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (which is much more entertaining than the title sounds), but between house-work, pet-care, and trying to write, I’ve been reading even less than usual lately (unless you count reading my own work in order to edit, which I don’t think counts…)

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