1 Empire of Ivory—Naomi Novik.
Flintlock fantasy set in the Napoleonic era, this continues the saga of Laurence and Temeraire, picking up pretty much directly after the 3rd book, Black Powder War. This series has taken an interesting spin on the dragon-rider trope, characterized by Temeraire's own character growth. It also showcases more of the world, which makes it feel very real and lived in, depicting other societies and their dragons in many different lights, adding a sense of realism that makes this fantasy series a little more gritty. (This world has a lot of sustenance.) Naomi Novik captures the sense of the era and the people within it so that a reader can actually feel the sense of history. However, be warned this is, again, not a stand-alone book. Though you can certainly read them out of order, it will have a lot more impact if you know what came previously; and don't expect a concrete ending—Naomi Novik has a talent for ending each book on enough of a cliffhanger to make a reader itch for more.
2 Laughing Gas—P.G. Wodehouse.
Another example of prime comedy from that genius of writers, P.G. Wodehouse; this was quite a funny read, with a set of hilarious circumstances set in motion that built to a satisfactory ending. Will definitely keep an eye open for any more books by him. He's considered a classic in his genre for a reason.
3 The Golden Spiders—Rex Stout. [RE-READ]
Revisiting one of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. They all are exceptionally good and highly recommended for one seeking a mystery. Rex Stout doesn't usually play any tricky games with readers, and one doesn't mind if they don't quite know where the twist lies, since the narrator of the story, Mr. Archie Goodwin, is also left in the dark more often than not. (Much to his frustration.)
4 Memoirs of a Dance-Hall Romeo—Jack Higgins.
It was recommended to me that I try a Jack Higgins novel, as I'm told he's a very able author in the thriller genre. But rather than start out with one of his thrillers I (for no reason that I can name) decided to go with a short book that is best described as...a slice-of-life character drama set in a love letter to an age gone by. It was a quiet look on the reflections of a self ascribed paramour.
5 Rubyfruit Jungle—Rita Mae Brown.
It's interesting that I should choose to read this one following on the heels of the last book, since it's much in the same vein, though from an entirely different perspective of course. I understand this is considered something of a classic, and in some schools, required reading...I think I can certainly understand that. There's a lot of uncomfortable honesty to it. Raw, melancholy feeling. Perhaps my enjoyment of it was tinged by personal feeling. I thought there was a lot in the character of Molly that could speak to me. It was a book I found hard to put down, so I read it in one day.
6 Killer in the Rain—Raymond Chandler
This was a collection of short stories Chandler recycled for some of his full-length novels. I'd only read one of the novels mentioned, but I could clearly pick out the pieces used from the short stories, and, though I should hate to say it...I prefer the shorter versions of the stories. I like his novels well enough (the two I've read), but I don't feel they hold up as well as his shorter works. These stories were perfect in length, whereas it felt rather like some parts in his novels dragged on needlessly. I enjoyed his very hard-boiled detectives—yes, they might as well have been the same character, but I don't care. I like Philip Marlowe. He's a favorite for me. A tough man, working and living in a hard world, yet he remains true to himself. Chandler's detectives aren't that quick to go in guns blazing, they'll often try to talk down the opposition if they can. They live in the shadows, watching the seedier aspects of life, but not giving in to it themselves.
7 Turn Coat—Jim Butcher
Popcorn reading! I can't truly help myself...much as I'll lament the Dresden Files as being an insubstantial series of silly fluff, I'll keep reading them. This one was marginally better than a few of the others—I didn't find myself rolling my eyes and the side characters, while still mostly insignificant, were handled well enough I didn't mind them being there. (Normally the side characters serve as an annoyance because they are too obviously side characters and don't have much impact on plot or...well, anything really.) The “twists” were, as usual, wholly transparent (watch TV shows to be trained in spotting Chekhov's Gun), but I didn't mind.
8 Ghost Story—Jim Butcher
Ah! This one takes up after the rather cliff-hanger ending of Changes, which I read...um. Some years ago now. I'd forgotten the ending until I picked up this book. (Hey, I collect books slowly, okay?) Again, the “twists” weren't TRUE twists—they're either hidden by author subterfuge (and thus annoying), or they're pretty damn predictable just because you can do basic addition. But Mr. Jim Butcher must do something correct in his writing, because I can't quite put his books down once I've picked them up. They aren't usually BORING, something is always happening. Even if that something is somewhat nonsensical. I can't rightly understand it, since I freely concede the Dresden Files are little more than pulp urban fantasy novels, skating the outskirts of men's action adventure novels...there's nothing of substance. So why do I keep reading them? It's one of those mysteries.
9 Victory of Eagles—Naomi Novik
I was super happy to find this book at our local 3-Day Stampede...I mentioned collecting books slowly and normally that doesn't bother me, but this fantasy series has fast become an absolute favorite, waiting isn't easy. (I'm more than happy to rejoin Temeraire and Laurence in their war against Napoleon!) I believe someone once mentioned something about the series having a certain Jane Austen-ness in the characters and the drama of their lives...having not read anything by that worthy as of yet, I can't say how accurate an overview that is. But if this is any indication of the sort of writing one might expect of Jane Austen, well...I must surely seek her titles out. The characters are rich in personality and personal growth in this series. Watching Temeraire particularly as he learns and matures has been very rewarding.
10 Tongues of Serpents—Naomi Novik
I couldn't even be bothered to try and drag this one out...it's the one Temeraire book I had left (I must seek more!!), and I blasted through it upon finishing the previous book. This one shows a marked change in Laurence that makes one feel the terrible strain that's been upon him during this whole war with Napoleon. It makes me wonder just where this series is going and when it will end...
11 Night Life—Rob Thurman
Pretty typical Urban Fantasy fare here; if you're familiar with any of the supernatural themed “Teen” shows (the legacy that started with the success of Buffy) you'll know what I mean. You get a passel of ridiculously young characters and hordes of supernatural beings that aren't wickedly original. Though I have to say some of Thurman's technical success in his writing surprised me: such as when the main character (it's also told from the first-person perspective, as most Urban Fantasies are) has his body taken over by an evil entity and the narrative shifts to showcase this. He did this surprisingly well, especially being from a first-person perspective, and the fact that I found his writing lukewarm throughout. It caused me to consider that I may have underestimated Rob Thurman's abilities...
12 Moonshine—Rob Thurman
The second book in Thurman's Cal Leandros series! It was, again, super typical of its genre. The recap bits in the beginning were fairly tedious--also: why are his titles so generic?--and overall there was little of actual “substance”. Enjoyable enough in their own way, but completely mindless. Popcorn reading. Empty calories. Fun junk food, but not a diet one can live off of. This one did surprise me in that I did NOT spot Chekhov's Gun...I suspect if I'd been paying more attention I would've picked up on it. (If your brain is hardwired to pick out those little “inconsequential” scenes, you'll likely predict it.) Some of the relationship drama is annoying because it follows typical tropes to a T, and some of the characters felt very inconsistent with their bloodthirsty actions.
13 Madhouse—Rob Thurman
I picked up the first three Cal Leandros novels as a set. This one was, again, typical of its Urban Fantasy genre. Nothing terrible, but nothing “great”--I can't be disappointed since I knew what I was getting into when I picked up these books. Although this one reused the “unpredictable” Chekhov's Gun AGAIN, so I suspect that if this becomes a reoccurring theme with Thurman's writing, I'll get to the point of prediction. Sadly, Thurman gives the impression of a lazy, uninspired writer. He's good at pacing, knowing that he HAS to keep the action moving, because frankly he's not really that good at resolving a lot of issues with his plots/characters. And this one ended on a cliffhanger, which I find tasteless. Look, it's bad writing in TV shows to do that (you can't GUARANTEE you'll be picked up for another season), so why should I feel differently about authors? It's a lazy move. It's as bad as having a character share a vital piece of information OFFSCREEN. It's lazy, and gives an audience nothing to chew over. I'm not saying “soft” cliffhangers are bad: where you have a situation seemingly “resolved” but then there's a little twist at the very ending that makes you eager to see what happens next. However, the big ones, the ones that end with that very obvious TO BE CONTINUED, DUN DUN DUUUN (like where, at the end of your book, after the baddies have been defeated, the good guy steps onto the dock and is THEN SHOT TO DEATH *cough* JimButcher *cough*), are kinda annoying.
14 The Mother Hunt—Rex Stout
Someone picked up a couple Nero Wolfe mysteries I HADN'T read!! <3 <3 <3
15 Death of a Doxy—Rex Stout
Nero Wolfe mysteries are superb comfort food. They're incredibly intelligent. While you have some mystery authors that tried to be really clever with their twists, Rex Stout was actually just a brilliant writer. He gave the readers the same information he gave his characters, and didn't have to withhold information to prevent spoiling the ending. Often Nero Wolfe, being the maddening sort of genius he is, would puzzle something out from all the facts relayed to him, and he would refuse to tell us readers until he could stage his big reveal. But this NEVER felt like cheap writing. Archie Goodwin was left in the dark just as often as us readers. It wasn't the writer being whimsical, this was a personality trait of Wolfe's. (And it doesn't help to get sore at him, because it won't make him tell it any faster. As Cramer had to learn often enough.) So if anyone is ever seeking a good, smart mystery, I will point them in the direction of Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe series.
16 Soul Music—Terry Pratchett
This was a good introduction to Susan. I'd only been familiar with her through reading A Thief of Time. This one was definitely a better book to represent her character. Ah, it is a great shame that Terry Pratchett is no longer around to gift the world with his stories. He was a wickedly smart, funny man. Reading about Discworld's introduction to Music With Rocks In was hilariously good fun. (And like Moving Pictures, it just goes to show that there are some magicks that are too powerful to have a home in Discworld...)
17 Golden Fool—Robin Hobb
The second book in the Tawny Man Trilogy. Robin Hobb continues to impress with the sense of realty she infuses in her characters. A LOT of time has passed between this trilogy and her Farseer books, but as a reader we can go through them very quickly. Robin Hobb keeps the characters' perceptions believable in the sense that they don't remember things as freshly as WE the readers do. Her characters are all human, and err in believably human ways. She also has an interesting world in which her characters live.
18 Cold Days—Jim Butcher
Another in the Dresden files...what to say? Jim Butcher's writing remains as typical as ever. Nothing terrible, but nothing great. With the usual TWIST twist at the end. I also don't know if Butcher himself thinks he's a clever “mystery” writer or if Harry Dresden is just as dense as a sack of rocks. Seriously, the dude makes more headaches for himself by over-thinking the simplest of things. These books constantly make mountains out of molehills, with painfully illogical misdirection to help drag the plots out. And this one was not as engaging as some of the previous titles. Took me much longer to finish.
19 Castle in the Air—Diana Wynne Jones
A “sequel” to Howl's Moving Castle. It's a sequel in the sense that the characters from the first book show up when most of this book is over. This is all right though, because Diana Wynne Jones was very masterful at spinning a compelling plot, and I'm not really sure that SHE had titled it as a sequel in so many words. It's not a straight sequel in the usual sense, just keep that in mind.
20 Salamandastron—Brian Jacques [RE-READ]
It was years since I last read this one. I...remembered it differently. For one thing, I didn't find it as tedious as when I first read it, I recall this one being one of my least favorite Redwall novels, but my opinion has changed with age. For another thing, I rather thought a scene came out differently than it did, and now I fear I must be thinking of a different Redwall book entirely...
21 Storm Warning—Mercedes Lackey
22 Storm Rising—Mercedes Lackey
23 Storm Breaking—Mercedes Lackey
Another trilogy set in her Valdemar world...I tend to find her writing hit-and-miss. The character drama, while compelling enough in its own way, can sometimes seem somewhat juvenile, with characters that either get along ridiculously well, or NOT AT ALL. (Characters often end up with a bit of Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu syndrome.) This trilogy showed a nice scope at the wider world around Valdemar that I didn't feel as strongly with some of her previous books. However, the ending felt just a little too pat. Things were wrapped up almost too well, or perhaps too quickly. Like a show that found it had run out of budget and had to finish with what was left. After the high-stakes struggle (which mostly involved characters researching and thinking, but oddly I didn't mind) it seemed like the ending that came out happened with shockingly little effort. It was...well, sort of anticlimactic.