The Great Book Sort (Part 1)

July 26, 2022 at 12:18 am (Advanced/Publication, All Steampunk Fiction, book reviews)

I’ve been reading mainly ebooks for many years, and now have over 700. I only recently realised I could and should sort them. The main categories I am now using are “Favourites” (happy to re-read frequently for the rest of my life), “Nah” (books that are good, but I dislike them for one reason or another—but if I get desperate I could still potentially re-read them). I also have categories for research (mainly non-fiction), and for “People I’ve Met” (mainly so I can quickly glance at them when I’m on a panel with someone, to remind myself of their books—but also so that if I hate a book by a friend, I can put it there rather than in the “Nope” section).

Here are some samples from the main three.

Favourites (currently 249)

“Notes From A Small Island” by Bill Bryson. It’s very rare for non-fiction to be so entertaining that it’s worth a regular re-read, but Bryson’s travel books are brilliant (and hazardous, because if I try to read one before I go to sleep I laugh so much I end up feeling more awake than when I started). Other than his travel books, I also love “At Home”, his book about his house and by extension the history of the home in the Western World. Highly recommended for historical authors, even though I don’t own a digital copy. His book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” isn’t nearly as fun (although definitely more fun than a textbook).

“Minimum Wage Magic” by Rachel Aaron. An incredibly relatable heroine fighting seemingly impossible odds to make rent. I like it. Haven’t bought the next book in the series, but I think that has more to do with cashflow than anything else. Or possibly because it wasn’t quite good enough to make me want to keep going and risk the quality falling in the sequel.

“Mr Malcolm’s List” by Suzanne Allain. Delightful and witty Austen-esque romance. I’ve been recommending it for years and now it’s getting made into a movie.

Nah (currently 89)

“Nice Dragons Finish Last” and “One Good Dragon Deserves Another” by…. Rachel Aaron. It’s rare for a writer to fall into two categories, but clearly these books were “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. Maybe I won’t buy the second “Minimum Wage Magic” book after all. Sometimes it’s nice to take your reasonably-happy ending and pretend nothing of interest ever happened to the character again.

“Children of Blood and Bone” and “Children of Virtue and Vengeance” by Tomi Adeyemi. Really well written, but just a few shades too dark for my readerly palate.

“The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Really well written; very violent. It’s science fiction (my preferred reading genre is ‘YA fantasy that doesn’t go on and on excessively about how hot the romantic interest/s are’) and climate fiction, set in a very dry USA.

Nope (currently 116)

“The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. This was recommended to me by a friend, and I can definitely see why. It is heart-rending and has a lot of kindness in it, and a very interesting exploration of faith. But some really bad stuff happens—too dark for me to stomach. TW: rape.

Almost all stories with rape in them (including flashbacks, spousal rape, or statutory rape) will go in the “Nope” pile for me. This book definitely earned its rape scene, but even so…. way too many writers think, “What shall I put in this female character’s backstory?” and go straight to sexual violence. I’ve done it myself (once, out of hundreds of stories). As someone with a vivid imagination and strong empathy, it is often traumatising for me to read. I am extremely fond of trigger warnings for this reason, and wish all books with sexual violence had them.

“The Wandering Inn” by Pirateaba. Great cover, terrible writing. I never read past the opening few pages. (If you think publishers are harsh for rejecting books based on a few pages, you should try giving a book to actual readers. We’re not here to find your diamond in the rough. We want diamonds from page one, sentence one.)

“Brilliant Devices”, “Her Own Devices”, “Lady of Devices”, and “Magnificent Devices” by Shelley Adina. This is light-hearted steampunk, and I obviously liked it enough to buy all four books the first time around. But the second time around the author’s admiration for the heroine was too grating, and the way she won over a bunch of streetkids struck me as both unrealistic and patronising. And yes, I know books aren’t meant to be exactly like real life, but the mix of dark problems and comical solutions bugged me so much I don’t want to go back.

7 Comments

  1. Neil@kallaroo said,

    Gobbled up “Mr Malcolm’s List”. Great story. Now I’ll have to try some of your other recommendations!

  2. Neil@kallaroo said,

    Agree with you on “Minimum Wage Magic” as well. And the two follow up stories to complete the trilogy are quite strong (you’ll need both).

  3. Neil@kallaroo said,

    I can see why you like “Notes From A Small Island”. Bryson is very glib, especially with the insults. I enjoyed reading it, but not sure I’d put it on my reread list.

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