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williamjm

Top books of 2019

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What are your favourite books that you've read in 2019?

I've listed my 10 favourite below (only picking one for each author).

Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. An excellent SF story which packs a lot of ideas into a relatively short novel. The characters (including a giant genetically engineered dog and a sentient swarm of bees) were unique and memorable. I also enjoyed Tchaikovsky’s “Children of Ruin” and “Cage of Souls”.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay definitely has a formula for his historical fantasy stories and this one doesn’t deviate too much from it, but it’s a formula I always enjoy.

Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman. Finally getting round to reading this, I think it did live up to its reputation.

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercombie. A welcome return to the First Law world that introduces some interesting new characters struggling to avoid making the same mistakes as their parents’ generation.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells. A very entertaining novella about a cyborg soldier with more independence than their creators intended.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett. Perhaps slightly more conventional than City of Stairs, but this is a good start to a new fantasy series.

Luna : Moon Rising by Ian McDonald. A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, the lunar society continues to be fascinating.

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey. An improvement on the previous book that sets things up nicely for the endgame.

The SecretCommonwealthby Philip Pullman. The return to Lyra’s story isn’t lacking in ambition, I like that ambition and it does bring some interesting new ideas into the world. I think it’s not without it flaws and the end is very abrupt, but still a worthy sequel.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. An entertaining urban fantasy that felt reminiscent of Tim Powers’ ‘Secret Histories’. The gradual reveal of information about the central mystery and the protagonist’s background works well.

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Do Books Still Being Read count? Because I'm about half-way through How to Plan a Crusade and will no doubt finish it before the year ends. 

But in no particular order, the ten best books I've read this year. 

The Big Short by Michael Lewis. The GFC is hard to understand. The financial services industry (in which I work) is hard to understand. Lewis makes it at least a bit easier to understand to external observers. And makes it startlingly entertaining as well. It's no easy feat. Lewis also nicely provides interesting references to other works that he feels might be of interest to readers along the way, including a Harvard university thesis paper on collateralised debt obligation. 

Wampum and the Origins of American Money by Marc Shell. A fascinating insight into the many uses and application of wampum, as well as its aesthetic properties, designs, and and cultural contexts. Hugely interesting anthropological text.

The Silk Road: A New History by Valerie Hansen. Tales of the Roads to Samarkand, road-side towns and markets, how texts were preserved, and so much more, as well as a bit of an exploration into the Sogdian civilisation.

The Earliest English Poems by Michael Alexander. Hugely interesting as someone who learned English as a second language and is forever fascinated by the way in which English evolved.

Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won World War II by Jim Lacey. Not as exciting as it sounds, and generally a bit of a slog, I found, but with nuggets of interesting information on how national accounts data influenced armament production and distribution in the US during the second world war. 

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. Daniel Abraham's second brilliant series. I read The Dagger and Coin series first, which completely upended what I could expect from fantasy. Then I finally got my hands on the Long Price Quartet, which put my emotions through the wringer, rattled my brain around in my skull, and again showed me how a different way of writing fantasy. Fans of Sean Russell will find much to like here.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier. Having had a brief stint in the videogame industry over ten years ago, I was curious to learn more about the current state of videogame development. There are some good takeaways here about the value of development roadmaps, dynamic management, regular catch-ups ("scrums", if you prefer), and much, much more. This was clearly a labour of love for Schreier.

GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History by Diane Coyle. Contentious for reasons that bewilder me, some readers have had very strong negative reactions to this book, which looks at the history of GDP, acknowledges its status as the criteria (or benchmark, if you prefer) around which we determine a healthy economy, and then posits whether other criteria might be better suited for such benchmarking in the 21st century, in the place of GDP. (Reactions to the text tended to reveal more about the readers, I've found, than the book itself.)

Beneath a Starless Sky: Pillars of Eternity and the Infinity Engine Era of RPGs by David L. Craddock. Originally published as a massive, super-hella-epic-long read on Shacknews, Craddock ended up publishing this gorgeously and intimately researched text on the Kindle store, which is where I picked it up. If you can get past the occasionally munted formatting and weird typos (a by-product of converting the text to the Kindle format, from what I can tell), there's a lot to be enjoyed here. Entire chapters on the creation of Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, the history of Obsidian Games, and much, much more. This is a massive, amazing, and unique undertaking and Craddock's effort and scope deserves all the praise it's received.

How to Plan a Crusade: Reason and Religious War in the High Middle Ages by Christopher Tyerman. Caveat: I'm about half-way through this book, having blown through about 178 pages in a day-and-a-half. Ever wondered how armies amassed soldiers? Curious about how the crusades were funded? Interested at all in debt and how it relates to war? Well - Tyerman does his very best to lay it all out, as it pertains to the Crusades that took place during the High Middle Ages. The level of research undertaken itself merits mention. That he makes it all interesting is all the more impressive. That it's written in an accessible style is further appreciated. 

There you have it. My top 10 for 2019.

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1) Dogs of War - was the first book I read in 2019 and emotionally hooked me throughout but I guess it's because I'm a sucker for dogs.

2) Impossible times Mark Lawrence. It's not often you get an entire trilogy in the space of a year but it's a nice treat when it happens. "Dark" meets "Stranger things" and the time travel rules are consistent. I think it might be my favourite work from the author. Odd how two of my favourite books are by fantasy authors switching to SF.

3) A little Hatred. Joe's back and so are some of his favourite characters after nearly a decade's absence. I was a little wary that having Glokta, Jezal and co take a backseat would be frustrating but the new cast are very strong and several unique to his books so far. 2-3 of the new characters already feel strong enough to hang a series off so I'm looking forward to how it develops

4) Step by Step Simon Reeve. I've enjoyed his documentaries but didn't realise how fascinating and surprising his life has been. From the shock that he never attended university and learnt "on the job" to him being a reckless youth to the fact he happened to be calling out Al-Quaeda and Bin Laden as major threats before 9-11 there's a lot to enjoy here.

5) Tiamat's wrath. The stakes are clearly being upped as the series draws close to the finish line. Weirdly Holden has the best arc he's had as a non-POV character and all the characters across the board have a hardened edge reflecting the status quo of the series. The Auberon short story was also solid.

6) Mr Miracle Tom King DC comics. At first this collection didn't reach the heights that "Vision" had but it's one of those comics that stay with you and encourages thought about the wider themes/

7) House of X/Powers of X Jonathan Hickman. I read this as a weekly series but enjoyed it so much that I bought the hardcover collection. The follow up to these series have so far fell short of maintaining the momentum but these two series (telling a joined tale) are the best thing that's happened to the X-men franchise in 20 years. Hickman somehow manages to make things seem fresh, exciting and dangerous while finding a clever way to streamline some of the continuity. It's not a character piece but the plotting and ideas are great - especially for a long time X-men fan.

8) My sister, the serial killer. I might not get this finished before 2020 but it's some of the best lean writing I've read in a long time

 

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best without doubt is swann's way

runners up: ondaatje's english patient, burckhardt's civilization of the renaissance in italy, o'brien's third policeman, marcuse's reason and revolution, bolano's 2666, and the complete anne sexton.

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The best book I’ve read this year, probably the best book I’ve read this decade, is Milkman by Anna Burns. Amazing story, amazing structure, amazing prose, hugely funny and profoundly sad.

Other great books I’ve read this year include: Duong Thu Houng’s Novel Without a Name, Shiva Naipaul’s The Chip-Chip Gatherers, Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Marin Amis’ Money, Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, Julia Elliott’s The Wilds, Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, and a whole bunch of Tin House, Ploughshares, and Kenyon Review lit magazines, which are always worthwhile.

Currently reading, and should be finished with before he year is out, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, which is exceptional so far.

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I think I say this every year but I'm rubbish at both ranking how much I've enjoyed books I've enjoyed and remembering when I read books.

Looking at the books I downloaded to my kindle in 2019 though Foundryside and A Little Hatred were both really good, I suspect they might get a few mentions. I also tend to really enjoy all the Adrian Tchaikovsky books I read but unlike williamjm and red snow I think Cage of Souls was his best book this year. One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence was pretty good too. Apparently I read the last two of Miles Cameron's Masters and Mages trilogy this year, I probably preferred the second book Dark Forge.

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My totally subjective pick for top three (out of 70) read in 2019 would be:

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I'm not much of a reviewer. I just like what I like. My 5 star reads of 2019 (* audiobook):

Circe by Madeline Miller *

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid *, I fully believe the cast is what made it so enjoyable though the story style was quite engaging

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo *, read by the author and full of impact

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden *, Winter of the Witch being my favourite of the three 

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner*,  book three of the series

I also quite enjoyed Melmoth by Sarah Perry 

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Circe was in my 'very good' list for 2019. I liked it way better than I did A Song of Achilles (or whatever it's called). Maybe in the top 10% of my reading. 

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I really liked Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker. One of his best novels yet, very funny and on point.

Out of the older novels I've read last year, Vance's Durdane trilogy impressed me the most. The books felt fresh and original despite being almost 50 years old (which also shows, in some ways). I think it's mostly because of Vance's economic writing style; lots of ideas and very little bloat compared to modern fantasy.

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Took a look at what I read in 2019, ignored rereads, and picked ten that jumped out as the ones I remember enjoying the best.  Here they are, alphabetically by author:

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, Hanif Abdurraqib

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo

Ninth House, Leigh Bardugo

Tiamat's Wrath, James S. A. Corey

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

Bright Dead Things: Poems, Ada Limon (No contest, this was my favorite thing I read last year.)

Circe, Madeline Miller

There There, Tommy Orange

Cannibal, Safiya Sinclair

Educated, Tara Westover

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My top non-fiction for the year was Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber. I also really enjoyed Bullshit Jobs, but that's ultimately a much more lightweight work. Debt had a much greater influence on my subsequent thinking; about money, about markets, about morality, and about they ways we relate to each other as people. Also, for such hefty book with such a dry subject matter, Graeber is a very engaging writer. I didn't once get bored reading this.

My top fiction was Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. One of the things I love about her five gods books, and this one in particular, is how she deals with magic not just mechanistically, or as an unassailable mystery, but as well-developed theology. Also, no other contemporary mainstream fantasy writer can get you inside their characters' heads the way Bujold can. She creates characters with very realistic and sympathetic inner lives.

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I had little time to read in 2019, but listened to a lot of audio books (a lot of very good audio books) while commuting to and from work. Of the books I actually managed to read:

A Brightness Long Ago GGK (half 2019, half 2020)

Sharp Ends Joe Abercrombrie

A Little Hatred Joe Abercrombie

1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West Roger Crowley (mostly 2018, but finished in 2019 and will never pass up an opportunity to mention Roger Crowley)

A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of The Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland John Mack Faragher

Winding Stair Douglas C. Jones ( I make sure to read at least one Western per year.)

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West Wallace Stegner

Massacre at Montsegur Zoe Oldenbourg

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On 12 January 2020 at 8:47 AM, kiyoaki said:

I really liked Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker. One of his best novels yet, very funny and on point.

Out of the older novels I've read last year, Vance's Durdane trilogy impressed me the most. The books felt fresh and original despite being almost 50 years old (which also shows, in some ways). I think it's mostly because of Vance's economic writing style; lots of ideas and very little bloat compared to modern fantasy.

One of the few books by K J Parker that did not leave me wanting to cut my wrists.

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5 star reads out of 38 books read:

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale

The Silkworm by Robert Galbreath (aka J.K. Rowling)

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On 1/13/2020 at 10:37 AM, Liffguard said:

My top non-fiction for the year was Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber. I also really enjoyed Bullshit Jobs, but that's ultimately a much more lightweight work. Debt had a much greater influence on my subsequent thinking; about money, about markets, about morality, and about they ways we relate to each other as people. Also, for such hefty book with such a dry subject matter, Graeber is a very engaging writer. I didn't once get bored reading this.

*Such* a good book. Glad to see that it's found an audience! 

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