Year in Review III

The concluding post to my review of books read in 2016. See Part I for pretty charts and Part II for boring methodology.

Major Takeaways

Let’s review the most significant conclusions from Part I:

  • I read a lot of women
  • I don’t read a lot of nonwhite authors
  • I don’t read a lot of books with LGBTQ+ authors or characters

And let’s also recall the following chart, which demonstrates my clear and obvious preference for female characters written by female authors:

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Female Bias

Of the 110 books I read last year, 85 were written by women and 25 were written by men. However, once I account for series books written by the same author, I am left with 76 individual authors, of whom 51 are female (67%) and 24 are male (33%).

Considering that I make a deliberate effort to seek out work by female authors, I’m not at all surprised to see that they make up a majority percentage of my reading material. In fact, I almost expected the percentage of female authors to be higher. I can think of one possible reason why that was not the case… Continue reading

Year in Review I

Don’t worry, this isn’t another retrospective on how much this year sucked (though it did). I’m actually here to take a look at the books I read over the past year and look at some of the demographics of their authors and main characters.

Yes, I am voluntarily doing stats.

Nothing complicated, just some percentages. Maybe a pie chart. But I figure these sorts of conversations (I’ll elaborate in just a moment) are best had with actual numbers attached.

“I only read good books”

This idea has been in my head for a while; every so often someone brings up diversity in reading habits and the internet explodes with the same arguments. “I don’t care if the author is male or female or black or white or purple, if it’s a good book I’ll read it”. (Never mind that the majority of the time this approach results in a reading list full of white men). Right around the time that I started working, r/fantasy provided me with another such conversation, with all the predictable attendant criticisms.

I feel very strongly that if one wants to cultivate a diversity of perspectives in their reading list, one has to deliberately counteract the systematic bias that is present in the publishing industry. But while I talk the talk, do I walk the walk? I have long made a deliberate effort to seek out female authors, but how successful was I really? And what about other measures of diversity, like race or identity/orientation?

The Project

In brief: I made a spreadsheet of all the books I read in 2016 and looked at the demographics of the authors and the main characters. How many women? How many men? How many nonwhite authors or characters? And so on. If you’re interested in the details, there will be another post breaking down my methods (and my methodological problems), and another discussing interpretations, implications and next steps for 2017. For now, I’ll just present the basic results and a pretty chart or two… Continue reading

Hugo Thoughts

I would have had to be living under a rock to avoid the fracas surrounding last year’s Hugo Awards. I read a lot of author blogs, and follow a lot of writers on Twitter, and let me tell you the anthill was SEETHING when the nominations were announced.

I’m not going to publicly stick my oar in on one side or the other (although I’ll talk about it privately, I suppose, if anyone cares)…but one good thing that came out of the mess is that it got a lot of people talking about the Hugos. Continue reading

Review: Company Daughter by Callan Primer

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A girl. A saucepan. A plan to conquer the universe.

Aleta Dinesen doesn’t see the point of hanging around home, not when she can cook a mean paella. But her plan to conquer the universe one meal at a time runs afoul of her overprotective father, commander of a tough mercenary company. And when he puts his foot down, he’s got the firepower to back it up.

Undeterred, Aleta escapes the dreadnaught she calls home one step ahead of the gorgeous, highly disapproving Lieutenant Park, the unlucky young officer tasked with hauling her back. But the universe isn’t the safe place she thought it was. Stranded in a dangerous mining community, she clings to survival by her fingernails. Only by working with someone she can’t stand will she have a chance to escape, proving to everyone that a teenage cook can be the most dangerous force in the universe. Continue reading

Review: The Black Swan

I waited too long to review this one! Now I’m not sure I have a good enough memory of the details to write a good review. But I’ll give it a shot.

There’s definitely stuff to like. The Black Swan is essentially a fairytale retelling – it’s based on a ballet but there is a lot of similarity between the way a ballet plot works and the way a fairytale plot works (and for that matter, a lot of ballets are themselves based on fairytales….). The book does a decent job of filling in the back story and rounding out the characters of one of my favorite ballets ever.

The problems arise when you consider who the main characters of the book are versus who the main characters of the ballet are. Lackey stays extremely close to the plot of the ballet – most of her additions come in terms of characterization, or actions that occur before the ballet takes place. But Odile, the main character of the book, is barely involved in that plot at all. So the protagonist of the book is at best tangentially involved in its plot.

I liked that Siegfried started out as not a nice guy, but I’m not sure I bought his transformation completely. Plus, it took up a lot of the book and was over even before he met Odette, so…it just slows the pace.

Clothilde was sort of interesting. I liked her machinations with Uwe (actually, Uwe was very interesting. There was a lot of potential for good story there, and then…it didn’t go anywhere).

Hardly any time was spent on Rothbart – he was just as important an antagonist – if not more- but we spend a lot of time getting to know Clothilde and not him, and he comes across as a bit flat.

I also liked that Odette wasn’t innocent, but her backstory didn’t really have any consequences, as Siegfried forgives her pretty much immediately after learning about it. What, then, was the point?

Actually, all of the conflicts that could have arisen in their relationship are waved away. Siegfried is a jerk? He reforms before he meets Odette. Siegfried has other suitors? He never likes any of them as much as Odette. Odette has a dark secret in her past? Siegfried forgives her as soon as he hears it. Boring!

Odile had the most interesting treatment by far. I liked how she came to sympathize gradually with the swans (the back of the book lies, by the way). But she definitely spent too much time defending Rothbart/making excuses for him, past the point where I thought that was realistic.

I was really more interested in her and her magical growth and personal growth than I was in the whole Siegfried/Odette plot. I wish that Lackey had strayed a little more from her inspiration and somehow made Odette’s trial really some sort of test for Odile. If it had been Odile vs. Rothbart from the beginning I think that would have worked better. Or if not, then having Odile be the main character really doesn’t work.

And while there were moments that moved along quickly, there were too many others that dragged. I like a good dress description as much as the next girl, and I’m maybe even a little more tolerant in that regard than some readers. But there were so many long descriptions of medieval castle life…did we really need to know the sleeping arrangements of every single member of the castle’s household? Or a step-by-step description of the peasant dances for the hunting party?

There was a lot of potential, here. I just don’t think the book was as successful as it could have been.

3 stars. A decent book, but not one I think I’ll reread.

Review: Relic by Renee Collins

Relic is a fantastic, fun read from a talented new author, Renee Collins. The plot is fast-paced from the first page, and there wasn’t a moment that dragged. For the most part the characters are vivid and realistically written, and the dialogue was western-flavored without being overwhelming. In fact, it was a serious contender for my best-of-2013 shelf.

One of the strongest aspects of Relic was the setting. The Western spin is an angle that’s not too common in fantasy, and it provided a rich backdrop for the action of the novel. I loved the atmosphere of the book – Collins did a great job.

I was also glad to see a premise/magic system that hasn’t been done before. The idea of Relics (bones of magical creatures) providing people with magical abilities is – as far as I know- unique. Considering how much they featured in the plot, however, I would have liked a little more explanation as to how exactly they worked – it seems to vary based on what’s needed for the plot. Individual relics seem to work on contact, or by ingestion, but there are also guns which are somehow powered by relics, and that’s never really explained at all.

Considering he was the major love interest, I would have liked to have seen more of Landon. I also would have liked him to be a bit more involved in the investigation of the burnings/mystery of the unknown relic/something! There’s a scene were he chastises Maggie for getting caught up with Alvar and life at the hacienda, but it’s not like he’s doing much of anything either…plus, his relationship with Maggie felt a bit rushed.

There were a few hints that Maggie might see Yahn as a potential love interest as well, which I thought was silly and unneeded, but that’s probably just my bias (I strongly dislike multiple love interests).

I liked that I couldn’t figure Alvar out – one moment he was kind, the next entitled and demanding. However there were some moments where I felt his characterization was a bit too inconsistent…and the explanation felt like a bit of a cop-out.

I prefer my villains not to be ‘evil’…to have some sort of motivation, however twisted, for what they are doing. That doesn’t appear to be the case for the ultimate antagonist of this book.

Despite these nitpicks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Relic, and if there is a sequel – the ending seems well set up for one – I will certainly read it!

Full disclosure: I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.