Favorite Reads of 2010 and plans for 2011

First, the stats:

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books
  • 2010 – 82 books

As you can see, I still haven’t made my yearly goal to read 100 books, but the number is climbing upwards! The problem is that reviewing books (2006 and 2007 I didn’t review as I do now), cuts into reading time. Oh well, I won’t stop reviewing!

Out of those 82 books, these were my favorites (click on the book to see my review):

Blew me out of the water – Two books this year just had the perfect mix that made me feel like I was in utter love from start to finish. Unless I don’t feel consumed to a semi-obsession, a book won’t get on this list.

 

These books I loved and came close perfect (and wow, I had 9 of these this year. Up from 5 last year)

(Note: The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is the repackaged mass market version of Pemberley by the Sea and Cordelia’s Honor is actually 2-books-in-one – I linked to the first book)

Goals for 2011:

1) Keep working on the TBR but don’t worry so much about how many books I buy. Last year I held back on buying books when I wanted to because I was concerned about the size of my TBR (it was 190, now it’s over 250). I’ve decided not to do that – if the TBR grows, it grows. Instead I think I’ll focus on trying to read more often than I have been (this year I often had rows of days where I read nothing. I’d like to read even a few pages a day as long as I read something)

2) Try to read 100 books – this is a long standing goal, just for a number to aim for. I don’t think it will ever not be a goal!

3) Be better about reading challenges – I sign up for online book clubs and challenges and I pretty much NEVER complete them. I suck at it. I’m going to try to read books for book clubs and challenges early this time. And oh man, I’d love to complete the Everything Austen challenge for once. Both times I joined, I got 4 out of 6 Austen related books/movies read and watched, then ran out of time. In 2011.. oh, I will get 6 out of 6. I WILLLLL!!

4) Stay easy going in this blogging thing. I think that will all the book blogs out there, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and lose perspective. I want to make sure to remember that I do this because it makes me happy.

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos
Lois McMaster Bujold

My plan is to slowly make myself through the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Ethan of Athos was a purchase at a used bookstore when I realized that it was a standalone indirectly related to Miles Vorkosigan which could be read out of chronological or published order. Yay, sort-of-standalones! I try to read things chronologically because I’m OCD like that, although I did read that most of the Miles Vorkosigan saga was written so that they could be read at any point.

The Premise: Athos is a men-only planet. The first settlers wanted to be completely independent of females, and reproduction is done through fertilization in Rep Centers which eligible fathers can have done after they’ve accrued enough points in a system based on their contributions to society. Dr. Ethan Urquhart is a obstetrician in Athos, so he is one of the first to be aware that his planet’s stock of viable female ovarian tissue has begun to deteriorate and they need a fresh supply. The problem is that the tissue they were promised from a supplier is a bunch of trash, and someone needs to leave Athos and straighten things out or there will be a huge population problem. Ethan is “volunteered” to be sent to Kline Station and retrace the path of the shipment of ovarian tissue to find out where things went wrong, and fix it.

My Thoughts: Ah, mono-gendered planets. This is an interesting take on that trope. I think the author could have easily made Ethan someone who has a prejudice against women because of his upbringing but instead he has  a rather endearing innocence. Ethan was raised in a world where their religion equates women to demons and men are either gay or celibate, so when he leaves the rest of the galaxy is a huge culture shock. It’s sort of funny to read how he has problems recognizing what a woman looks like, shirks away when he figures it out, and is completely clueless when a woman flirts with him. He’s also baffled when he can’t find any men who’d like to get away from women and immigrate to Athos. Yet at the same time he treats the women he encounters like people, albeit alien-like ones. I liked his character but I couldn’t help comparing him to Cordelia Naismith in the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus I just finished. In comparison he’s a nice guy but so naive. He survives and does well yet you can’t help suspecting he’d be dead if it wasn’t for the people he encounters on Kiline Station who help him out.

Elli Quinn is the first person Ethan meets.  Elli is a beauty with a rather swash-bucking devil-may-care persona, and many friends, but she’s also a mercenary with ties to Admiral Naismith and she has a hidden agenda. She pulls Ethan out of a couple of jams, and I imagine that’s her on the cover of the book with Ethan in the background. When I first bought this book they looked like they were working together, now I think that additionally Ethan is hiding behind her! (Also: he is Lee Majors’ twin). Ethan gets captured by Cetagandians who think he knows some information that they want about someone who is somehow linked to the missing Athos ovarian cultures. Elli wants to find out what the Cetagandians are up to. Each group thinks that the other knows more about what’s going on, and Elli and Ethan just have to stay alive long enough to get to the bottom of things. The story is sort of an action mystery set on a space station, with a little bit of humor thrown in. I began to suspect that the intent was to have Ethan and Elli fall in love, but despite a blurb that suggests that (describing Elli as an “utterly gorgeous mercenary intelligence officer” that Ethan allies with), Ethan is homosexual and there is no chemistry between them other than as friends.  This actually works better for the book I think, and it leaves us with an ending that has much better possibilities (I would love to know what happens to Athos as a result of this ending), and an implied HEA for Ethan at least.

Overall: Not bad. This felt like a straightforward science fiction romp. I didn’t connect with this protagonist as much as I did with the last Bujold I read, but I did enjoy the ideas about gender, population, and genetics in this one. In terms of the Miles Vorkosigan saga, this is indirectly related – Elli Quinn, a character in this book, mentions him, but that is all.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – reviewed as part of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus which was generally a positive review

Cordelia’s Honor (Part 2: Barrayar) by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the second half of the omnibus, Cordelia’s Honor. I read the first half, which was Shards of Honor, earlier this year.

That review is here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

Now it’s taken me a while to read the second half but it is eligible (sort of) for Avid Book Reader’s TBR challenge. This months theme was “Unusual pro­fes­sions or not your usual setting.” Yeah, sure, this counts..

**** There are some SPOILERS for the end of Shards of Honor in describing the premise for Barrayar! If you want to stay completely unspoiled, leave now. Go look at the Shards of Honor review (see links above) *****


Falalala, waiting for people to leave…OK here goes


The Premise: This continues the adventures of Cordelia Naismith after the events of Shards of Honor. After the reception on her home planet Beta Colony and the events in stopping a galactic war, Cordelia has married and settled down with Admiral Aral Vorkosigan in happy retirement on Barrayar. Their retirement is short-lived however when Aral accepts a position as Regent to the infant prince, Gregor Vorbarra, and Cordelia discovers she is pregnant. That’s what happened at the end of Shards of Honor. Now Cordelia learns the true price to her husband’s regency as they become political targets and Aral’s position is threatened by assassination attempts and coups.

My Thoughts: This half of the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus was very hard to get into compared to the first half. After finishing up Shards of Honor (which I loved), I immediately began Barrayar, but the first one hundred pages felt slowly paced. What happens is essentially Cordelia’s acclimation into Barrayaran life and as Regent-Consort. We revisit familiar Barrayarans from the last book – her bodyguard Drou, her husband’s secretary Koudelka, and Sgt. Bothari. A lot of this was just settling in and reminders of what had happened in Shards of Honor as well as introducing the reader to Barrayar. Unfortunately all of this was really dry, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to keep reading. Even the threat of looming danger, and the decisions of the new Regent didn’t really keep my interest because after a third of a book is done and hardly anything has actually happened, you begin to suspect nothing ever will. I kept trying but ended up putting the book down for a few months. Finally I picked it up again, and I must have chosen a bad place to stop because only a couple pages later did things start to get interesting.

The big instigator for much of what happens is of course now Regent Vorkosigan’s controversial political assignment. I think this book may be a little darker than Shards of Honor, but maybe it’s a bit of a toss up, depending on what affects you more. Cordelia and Aral become targets of terrorists and so to the people near them. The plots and political as well as military maneuvering and strategy, seen sort of after the fact were rather fascinating. Sometimes they were heartrending too. Cordelia is the anchor who sees what her husband has to go through knowing that his decisions have far reaching consequences.  The most personal of these is the fate that befalls their son, who is still a fetus.

In the tumultuous events that happen, it becomes clear that the strength of mothers is a reoccurring theme, which the author reiterates in the Afterword. There are a few examples in Barrayar, with the obvious case being Cordelia and her protectiveness of her son. I loved how her concerns as a mother butted against Aral’s position as the Regent, and how this problem was solved. I also liked how Aral had to make decisions that Cordelia did not like, but she still understood him and vice versa. They really compliment each other in the best way, and this is a couple that I really liked reading about beyond their initial romance and wedding and into their day-to-day marriage.  Cordelia is the character that the book focuses on and she continues to be a heroine I root for – smart and resourceful, but it’s clear that even in the male dominated Barrayaran society, there are women who are just as strong if not stronger than their male counterparts.

Overall: Barrayar started slow as molasses for me, and I almost gave up on it, I’m sorry to say. Happily, the last two thirds of the book were excellent. That’s when there was plenty of action and the character development I had come to expect. I continue to love Cordelia Naismith (she’s a delightfully strong female character) and look forward to reading the adventures of her son.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find any, although I did find many posts referencing Barrayar.
Please let me know if you have reviewed this and I’ll link to it.

Cordelia’s Honor (Part 1: Shards of Honor) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’d never read any of Lois McMaster Bujold’s work before but was told that this is a science fiction author I’d probably like. Cordelia’s Honor is an omnibus with Shards of Honor and Barrayar in it. They were published in the late 80’s and are the prequels to Bujold’s longer Miles Vorkosigan series.

The Premise: Cordelia Naismith is on a survey mission on a previously unexplored planet when suddenly she and her companion realize that their base camp is on fire. They rush back to see their survey ship flying off without them and one of the other members of their team dead. Cordelia realizes they’ve been ambushed by the Barrayarans, but not all of the enemy race is in accordance. She’s stumbled into a mutiny in the ranks and soon is a well-treated hostage in the hands of Captain Aral Vorkosigan who has a stash of supplies hidden some distance away.

My Thoughts: I hadn’t realized that Bujold’s work had romantic elements although I was familiar with her name. This book reminded me a little of Linnea Sinclair’s Finder’s Keepers, because the two books feature a hero and heroine meet while stranded on a planet together and work as a team to survive. I like that situation — throwing two different people together and seeing what happens 🙂 . In this book, Naismith quickly realizes who Vorkosigan is — also known as The Butcher of Komarr, who is reviled amongst the galaxy, and her academically-inclined world of Beta Colony, so of course, her initial reaction is not favorable, but as they warm to each other she finds out the real story behind his name and a romance soon blossoms. But their time alone together is interrupted by military skirmishes between their two planets as the Barrayarans make a bid for another planet’s resources.

What I liked about this book was that the couple was a little bit older and neither Cordelia or Vorkosigan expected to find someone at that point in their lives. They had both been burned in some way by past relationships and had become accustomed to the idea of being alone for the rest of their lives when they happened to stumble on each other. I thought that their experiences and age meant the protagonists had a dignified air in their declarations and they were both aware of who they were and what others would think of their union. Cordelia is particularly practical about it, but at the same time, the depth of their feelings is not small and I really wanted them to have a happy ending.

I liked Cordelia’s character. She has a calmness in the face of calamity that I enjoyed reading. It’s Vorkosigan who first points it in the book, and afterwards I had to agree. Sometimes she surprised me with her quick thinking, and there is plenty of action going on in this book where she has to use it. Vorkosigan is likeable too but is less a focus. My impression is of an honorable military leader and member of the ruling class who is good at what he does and isn’t always popular with the politicians in his homeland.

There was plenty of quiet moments between the hero and heroine, but then there are also military skirmishes, space flights, chases and escapes. It is full of action and moves forward without me feeling either bored or too flooded by action; there was an excellent balance which made the plot engrossing.  There is also some interesting ideas about politics and war and some grey areas like how perception may be skewed by expectations and prior beliefs, then compounded by limited knowledge of the truth. The science fiction aspects are also there in terms of medical advances, transportation, weapons and transportation, but it doesn’t either overwhelm the reader. It’s part of the setting and used in daily life, and as in our lives, some places are more technologically advanced than others.

Overall: Recommended for SFR fans. If all Bujold’s books are like this, I think I’ve found another SFR author to glom onto. There’s a perfect balance between action and character development that I like, and I plan to make my way through the rest of this omnibus and then onto the Miles Vorkosigan saga.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Jo Walton @ Tor.com (positive. She has a series of posts on this saga)
Guest review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (B)
Guest review at Dear Author (A)

Links:
Interview with Lois McMaster Bujold about writing the Vorkosigan Saga @ Tor.com
Danger Gal Friday: Captain Cordelia Naismith @ Lisa Paitz Spindler’s blog
First sale story at Dear Author