2020 is over, huzzah! December was yet another quiet month in lockdown. I read fifteen books.
From All False Doctrine, Alice Degan (2014)
This was recommended to me by a friend, and looked fascinating. It is brilliantly written. Set in Toronto in the 1920s, it’s about a woman who wants to be a scholar, and turns out to be Christian horror. It’s very well done, but gave me nightmares, especially as I had not realised the genre until half way through—I assumed the weird cultists were not actually messing around with actual Hell. Perhaps I should have read the blurb. So, excellent book, very good, very not for me.
From Rome With Love, Jules Wake (2017)
A romance novel set in Italy, totally comfort reading. Two people with things to keep them apart spend time in Rome together and discover all the obstacles go away, but there’s a weird, obviously fake obstacle towards the end that keeps them apart a little longer.
Chanur’s Homecoming, C.J. Cherryh (1986)
Re-read. Completing my re-read of Cherryh’s rivetting Chanur series, of which I read the first three in November. This is the end, don’t start here, but it’s absolutely wonderful when you come to it through the others. The theme of these books is betrayal of species and overcoming what you’ve always thought was nature, and it’s edge-of-the-seat tense, even on a re-read. There are some things that can’t be done at short length, and here we can see some of them.
The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang (2018)
Gosh this was great. An American-Chinese woman on the autism spectrum decides to hire a professional to practice sex and relationships, and of course they fall in love. Terrific book, funny, clever, real. Highly recommended if you like romance at all.
Masquerade in Lodi, Lois McMaster Bujold (2020)
New Penric novella, lots of fun. Lodi is Five Gods World Venice, with masks and gondolas, but the plot couldn’t happen anywhere else with a demon possession and a young woman saint.
My Venice and Other Essays, Donna Leon (2007)
Essay collection by mystery novelist Leon. I’ve read all her mysteries, and now I’m down to this—parts of it were fun and parts of it were interesting but most of the essays were very short so it was oddly insubstantial. I much prefer her fiction.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
Many years ago I realized that I didn’t like reading Shakespeare half as much as I liked seeing the plays unspoiled, and so I stopped reading any I hadn’t seen. Then in 2012 when I started my Goodreads account I wasn’t sure whether to put the Complete Works as read or unread, so I put it as “currently reading,” where it has sat ever since, as many other books have come and gone. During this long strange year of Pandemic, we have been reading Shakespeare aloud every Saturday evening on the Scintillation discord, and in December we read Timon of Athens which was the last Shakespeare play I hadn’t seen or read—so I decided to mark the Complete Works as read. Gosh they’re good, even Timon of Athens which is a little weird, and Pericles which makes no sense. Bur Cymbeline is great! Go see them when theatres are open again. Lots of them are genre, and even the ones that aren’t often take place in fantasy Italy.
From Venice With Love, Rosanna Ley (2020)
Romance novel set in Italy—but only about a quarter of it is; much of it is set in England, Lisbon, and Prague. It’s largely about the relationship of two sisters and their mother, and while it’s ridiculous of me to whine that not enough of it is set in Italy it does actually suffer from trying to do too many things that are too complicated. Yes, you can have mysterious letters from another century, and you can have ghostly visions, and you can have lots of locations, and you can have online dating, and you can have long-lost relatives, but if you have all of them then they need to connect better.
Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold (2003)
Gosh this is good, and doing so many things so well. It’s funny though, on this re-read I was almost sorry when the plot started, because Ista going on a pilgrimage was appealing enough on its own. Older woman protagonist, well-thought-through world, fascinating mystery, all characters have the virtues of their flaws, and though people do bad things nobody is a shallow villain.
How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler, Ryan North (2018)
This is really a book about how everything works, but the conceit is nifty. Buy it for all the twelve-year-olds you know. Fun to read and informative.
Fleet Elements, Walter Jon Williams (2020)
The new Praxis book—don’t start here, start with The Praxis but do start with the series, because these books have everything: aliens, weird cultures, battles, star-crossed lovers—and they’re tons of fun. This is long and absorbing and exactly what I wanted.
The Complete Stories, Evelyn Waugh (1953)
This book is an odd mix—many of these stories are what I think of as like Waugh, funny, delicate, and much more deeply observed than you’d expect. Others are catty fluff. A few are just silly. But on the whole I enjoyed re-reading the ones I’d read before and most of the ones I hadn’t.
Gently, Jolene, Angela Scipioni (2018)
Yes, another romance novel set in Italy. This one was a bit overwritten, but it was 100% set in Italy, it had great food, and the bumbling heroine does finally find happiness. Also, a book about an American that was not giving the elite experience or about rich people, so good. But am I scraping the bottom of the barrel of romance novels set in Italy? It seems I may be. Oh dear.
On The Clock, Emily Guendelsberger (2019)
This is a book about low-wage work in America—the author worked for Amazon, Convergys and McDonalds and writes about it personally and perceptively. This was an honest book, in which she puts herself and direct experience solidly in the heart of what she’s writing about, while also going wider to the economic and historical context. Very readable, highly recommended. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one anything like as much as I did.
Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh (2019)
World Fantasy Award-winning novella, almost perfect—lovely work, beautifully blending folklore and realism, complete and just right. I’d be giving this my highest recommendation, but my heart sank when I heard there was a sequel, and especially when I read the description of it. This is complete and needs no more, and I very much fear more will just be… further adventures. I really hope I’m wrong, and I hope even more that when I next hear of something from Tesh it will be in a different universe.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two collections of Tor.com pieces, three poetry collections, a short story collection and fourteen novels, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Among Others. Her previous novel, Lent, was published by Tor in May 2019, and her fifteenth novel, Or What You Will, came out on July 7, 2020. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. She plans to live to be 99 and write a book every year.