Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year in Review

New Year's Eve, and time for the reading year in review.

January started with the inspirational picture book I Am A Story, by Dan Yaccarino, a timely reminder that dark times can be endured. A little Terry Pratchet livened things up, with Only You Can Save Mankind. A few disappointments, such as Beatrice Vine's animal adventure The Hunt for Elsewhere, but overall January was a good month.

February began with another empowering picture book, Innosanto Nagar's A is for Activist, but took a nosedive with a sadly disappointing return to Tad Williams's Osten Ard in his bridge novel, The Heart of What Was Lost. (Zombies in Osten Ard? Really? I still have not bought The Witchwood Crown, the first in his new Osten Ard trilogy, and don't intend to until I find it in paperback - or even used.) The short month was unexpectedly ill-conducive to reading; I only got four titles in, including the classic science fiction tale Wild Seed by Octavia Butler and John Leland's intriguing (if sometimes wandering and scattered) examination of imported species, Aliens in the Backyard.

March, for once, didn't open with a picture book, but with actor David Duchovny's bovine adventure Holy Cow. I also finally cracked open the first book in James S. A. Corey's Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes, having been impressed with the first season of the SyFy TV show. Sara Pennypacker presented a timeless tale of war and friendship between a boy and a fox in Pax, while historical author Amy Stewart's first novel (based on real-life people and events), Girl Waits With Gun, proved immersive and impressive - which is saying something for a person to whom history was traditionally the most boring subject in school. I encountered disappointment with Jeremy Whitley's once-amusing Princess series in Make Yourself, Part 1, but overall I liked what I found in March.

April began with a pocket guide to mythology by Philip Wilkinson, but the real high point was Stephen King's time travel tome 11/22/63 - which I hadn't really expected, given my iffy reaction to the author in the past. Another month with fewer reviews than I would've preferred, but so goes life.

May brought me outside my usual geographic comfort zone with Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem, a Chinese import, which intrigued me even if it wasn't ultimately quite my cup of cocoa. High hopes for Jodi Taylor's humorous time travel series were quickly dashed when Just One Damned Thing After Another failed to deliver. I hit a couple classics with the third collection of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sword-and-sorcery tales, Swords Against Death, and Terry Pratchett's first Tiffany Aching tale in his expansive Discworld universe, The Wee Free Men. Three picture books - Rebecca Young's Teacup, Sarah L. Thompson and the late Robert Gonsalves's Imagine A World, and Caroline McAlister's story of a young Tolkien, John Ronald's Dragons - impressed both visually and emotionally.

June had more picture books and graphic novels, including a return to Jim Henson's Storyteller tales in Daniel Bayliss's Dragons, but it was a fairly mixed bag of a month. On the one hand, Seanan McGuire's award-winning deconstruction of portal fantasies, Every Heart a Doorway, blew my mental socks off. On the other, much-vaunted author Louis L'Amour's The Haunted Mesa failed to impress, and Tamara Morgan's initially-witty romance Stealing Mr. Right set up a great heroine only to undercut her at every opportunity. The month wrapped up with the hilarious graphic novel spoof of old B-grade sci-fi flicks, Dan Boultwood's It Came. This was also the month when I stopped updating the old site to focus on the new one I'm building from scratch - a process that, due to numerous delays, is still ongoing, and not likely to be finished before the first half of 2018.

July was another mixed bag. Pierce Brown's Golden Son, the second in his Red Rising series set in a dystopian interplanetary future, was among the highlights, if a harrowing read. Rebecca Stead's classic When You Reach Me offered a small-scale tale with big-scale ideas. But other titles failed to live up to their potential, and while none were outright bad, few were outright good.

August kicked off with a disappointing graphic novel, Skottie Young's gory (and largely one-trick) twist on children's fantasy adventures I Hate Fairyland. It was a graphic novel heavy month, with Jim Henson's A Tale of Sand, the fourth in Joshua Williamson's Birthright series, and three volumes of Brian K. Vaughan's Paper Girls. Shawn Lawrence Otto's Fool Me Twice brought some needed perspective (if somewhat depressing perspective) on the ongoing assault on facts and science, and Tim MacWelch's How to Survive Anything offered practical tips for enduring the likely fallout of this assault. For fiction, my favorite would be Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons, set in an alternate world with a Victorian flavor. I wrapped up August with a Puerto Rican-flavored middle grade fantasy, Shadowshaper.

September began and ended with a couple of the strangest novels I've read in some time, starting with David Wong's surreal John Dies at the End and ending with Edgar Cantero's Lovecraftian spoof on Scooby-Doo and other kid mystery series, Meddling Kids. I ventured into classics with Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book and Guy Gavriel Kay's portal fantasy The Summer Tree, and if Andrew Clements's examination of word origins and challenging authority in Frindle doesn't count as a modern children's classic, maybe it should. Spencer Ellsworth brought the old-school Star Wars-inspired space opera back to life in Starfire: A Red Peace.

October kicked off with a great examination of animal intelligence (and human resistance to the idea of animal intelligence) in Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?. A couple more classics - Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree and Ruth Stiles Gannett's My Father's Dragon - made it into my reading list, along with John William Polidori's The Vampyre. Seanan McGuire returned to the world created in Every Heart a Doorway with a beautiful, bleak prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and Drew Daywalt offered a hilarious backstory for the classic children's hand game in The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors. On a down note, I found myself disappointed by Jeremy "CinemaSins" Scott's fiction debut, The Ables; if it had been a movie, ironically, I think he would've had little trouble picking out flaws. The popular author Connie Willis also disappointed with her telepathy-based Crosstalk.

November brought two Stephen King reviews, the classic horror novel It and his memoir/writing advice book On Writing. I laughed my way through D. C. Pierson's take on portal adventures and adolescent failure in Crap Kingdom, and got several chuckles out of Rachel Hoffman's blunt (but very useful) book on cleaning, Unf*ck Your Habitat. I also finally ventured into E. L. Konigsburg's classic From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, with a mixed-up reaction. Three volumes of James Tynion IV's sci-fi graphic novel series The Woods filled out the month.

December began with yet another graphic novel (blame Hoopla), Marjorie Liu's Monstress, which was visually impressive but a bit jumbled in the telling. Another mixed-bag month, I had high hopes dashed with Robert Repino's Mort(e) and a picture book cash-in - er, tie-in - to the X-Files, Earth Children Are Weird. But I got a great many chuckles out of Pseudonymous Bosch's Write This Book: A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, and enjoyed the throwback feel of Dennis E. Taylor's story of space exploration and artificial intelligence in We Are Legion (We Are Bob).

So, as with most years, it's had its ups and downs, its surprises and disappointments. Here's hoping 2018 brings many more adventures... and maybe, at long last, the debut of the new review site!

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