Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hello and Goodbye 2016

Not much blogging happened in 2016 -- a whopping one book review! And I am not even sure that I'll be back for that much more in the next year. But I figured it'd be nice to talk about the books I did manage to read this year.

In order of enjoyment:
1. Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
He's becoming one of my favorite science fiction writers. I've really enjoyed everything I've read by him so far. This one is a bit of a departure into almost YA sci-fi, but it's a new world with a cool magic system (you can search for spheres and use them to augment your abilities) and lots of action. Maybe not as strong as The Defenders, but I liked the characters and the twist at the end.

2. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
This is both chick-lit and a suspense novel in one. I like the characters in Moriarty's novels: moms, women who know their mind, capable and strong. In this novel, Cecilia finds a letter that she wasn't supposed to find, written and lost by her husband, confessing to a secret that should maybe stay secret. There are other characters too, each with her own burden, and their lives end up entwined in funny ways. I enjoy the way Moriarty resolves the conflict, sometimes it's a little too neatly tied to be realistic, but it's a good escapist type of read.

3. Red Rising / Golden Son / Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Yet another series in the spirit of Divergent and The Hunger Games. This futuristic YA takes place on colonized Mars, where a group of workers live underground for generations, mining the ore needed to fuel the planet -- except no one has told them that the planet has long been populated. In a strict caste society, a hero arises from the miners, and leads the revolution. While the premise is familiar, the execution is excellent and the books are quick and fun reads.

4. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Another installment in the Inspector Gamache series. In this book Gamache takes a posting at the Police Academy to root out the residual corruption there. A professor is murdered and four students are suspects. Still, lots of scenes are set in Three Pines and we get to see the usual gang of characters as well as learn some pieces of history of Quebec. Cozy mystery at its best.

5. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Laurel lives idyllic life on a remote English farm until one day she witnesses her mother murdering a man. Fifty years later she resolves to discover what exactly happened that day and begins digging into her mother's past. The story takes us to WWII and follows Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy as they make their way in the world and then ties their stories together to the present. I did not see the twist coming (though maybe I should have) and I love the WWII narrative part of the story -- lots of rich detail and drama. Overall, an enjoyable read.

6. The End of All Things by John Scalzi -- review

7. Big Little Lies / What Alice Forgot / Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Three different novels -- these are not a series, but they all have similar themes. They happen in Australia, the main characters are women, the characters' relationships play a major role. Moriarty has a certain style that I was in the mood for this year -- I would call it "mom-lit" more than "chick-lit". 

8. Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs
I am not even sure why I started reading this novel, but it turned out better than I expected. Amy grows up in a poor neighbourhood with her half-crazed paternal grandma. Her father is in jail most of her formative years and her mother left when she was a baby. Using scholarships, she graduates from a prestigious private school and then an Ivy league university and ends up a successful journalist. The book is her quest to find herself by looking for her mother and discovering what really happened.

The characterization in the novel was good and there were interesting, smart points to the novel, and clear character growth. There were also some frustrating parts where Amy is just the most oblivious person in the universe. Overall it's a good read, though slow in some parts.

9. The Girl on the Train by Pawla Hawkins
This book seemed to pop-up all around in blogs and conversations. I decided to give it a go, but wasn't blown away. A mystery told by several women in 1st POV with some elements of unreliable narration. A woman taking the train oversees something that may hold a key to the disappearance of a young woman. At the beginning the story held my attention well, but half-way through I somewhat lost interest and the book dragged its feet for awhile. I wasn't surprised by the ending, except for the part where the main character does something so incredibly stupid (and unnecessary) to bring the book to resolution. Overall, meh.

10. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My local bookstore's employees post little cards with comments next to the books they've enjoyed and this was one of them. The main character is a rather dull and plain young woman who needs a new job and gets hired to look after a quadriplegic adult son of a prominent family in her town. He's bitter and she just suffers it for the money until one day she discovers that he plans to get himself legally euthanized.  Then she decides to do everything in her power to change his mind -- and falls in love in the process. This book would have been better if I didn't dislike the main character. Overall, a quick read, but I wouldn't gush about it in a bookstore. Lesson learned.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The End of All Things

Title: The End of All Things
Author: John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2015
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: The End of All Things is comprised of four novella-length interrelated stories. These events continue the story started in The Human Division. We learn what happens to the Colonial Union, the Earth, and the Conclave after the Earth Station is blown up.

Each one of the stories is told from the first person perspective by four different narrators. The first narrator is new to us, his name is Rafe Daquin and he tells a story of how he becomes a brain in a box. I rather like him as a character and this was perhaps the most interesting part of the story.

Next, there is a novella from the perspective of The Conclave with the first person narration by Hafte Sorvalh, an adviser to General Gau. It's a neat look into a different world, but perhaps less interesting. I did like a story about the reason Lalans let their young brutally murder each other.

Next, we return back to the Colonial Union with Heather Lee's POV on settling unrest among the colonies that are trying to separate. This is more reminiscent of the Old Man's War type action. Lots of jokes, running around, and kicking butt.

And the final story brings it all together to finish the story arc which begins with Rafe and is narrated by Harry Wilson. The story is wrapped up quite neatly, but it's a little unbelievable how prettily all the bows are tied and i's are dotted. Still, it's a good quick read that anyone who enjoyed The Human Division wouldn't miss.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap-Up

It's been a long and eventful year for me. Being pregnant and having a kid will do that to you. I finished fewer books than in previous years -- only 24. However what this year lacked in quantity was made up in quality as I discovered several books I really loved. Here are my favorite reads of 2015.

1. Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie.
This science fiction trilogy was one of the better sets I've read in a long time. With a unique protagonist (she is a ship!) and unique treatment of genders (everyone's a she!) and tea drinking culture, Ann Leckie is a new favorite of mine.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
As expected of Murakami, this book is full of weird unexpected twists, odd characters, and strange coincidences. I also learned a lot about the second Sino-Japanese war after reading this book since some of the events are mentioned and got me curious to learn more.

3. Defenders by Will McIntosh
Fast paced and well-plotted, Defenders takes a cliched premise of alien invasion and builds a unique and gripping story. Vivid and brutal, it explores the question of what it means to be human.

4. The Martian by Andy Weir
Since it was made into a movie this year, Martian probably requires no introduction. Still, if witty first person narration and mind-blowing problem solving is your thing, I would highly recommend this novel.

One of the things I am proud of this year is that out of 24 book I read, only 5 were by authors whom I have read prior to 2015, the rest were new to me. Discovering new authors is something I am very happy about and hoping to continue doing in the future.

Now I am off to read everyone else's best of 2015 lists and get excited for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Abundance of Katherines

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2006
Rating: 7/10

Review: I would say that John Green is one of my indulgences. So far, all of his books have been easy, fun, enjoyable reads. So I picked up this novel on a whim at a local bookstore and had a fun few hours reading this novel.

Colin Singleton is a child prodigy who feels like he hasn't amounted to much. Together with his best (and only) friend Hassan he goes on a road trip without any particular destination in mind. Luck would have them meet Lindsey and her mother Hollis in the middle-of-nowhere town and they end up staying with the two women, having been offered a part-time job collecting stories from local residents.

It's probably also worth mentioning that the title refers to the fact that Colin will only date women named Katherine. At the start of the novel, 19th Katherine has just dumped him and he is still dealing with the break-up. Part of the story deals with Colin trying to create a dumper/dumpee formula that would explain all his relationships with Katherines over the years. It's a neat concept, but also quite silly at the same time.

Colin's friend Hassan is an unusual character. He's an overweight Muslim boy with a forthcoming personality and a wacky sense of humor. Colin's dorky seriousness contrasts well and makes them an interesting pairing. Either one of them would not have been as interesting a character by themselves. On the flip side, while they are quite colorful, I wouldn't want to be friends with either of them. Both of them have somewhat annoying personalities, which I think made the book slightly less enjoyable for me.

An Abundance of Katherines was a quick read. And while I didn't think this book was as good as other John Green books, at least it didn't make me cry uncontrollably. And it definitely fulfilled the function I bought it for, which is good writing, unique characters, and good story.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Little One

In November, there was an addition to my family. My son came a few weeks early and has made life pretty busy around here. It remains to be seen whether I'll have time for the blog going forward -- but for now I've actually caught up on writing reviews for the books I've read in November and December.

It's worth mentioning that I've read some pregnancy and parenting books this year that I didn't review on this blog. I don't think there would be much interest in that sort of thing, so I am not planning to post any reviews for them.

It's quite possible that my book reviews may stray into young children lit category soon-ish. But for now, I just read him whatever I am reading and he seems to like it just fine.

Happy holidays, everyone!


Title: Defenders
Author: Will McIntosh
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 9/10

Review: About a year and a half ago I read Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh and absolutely loved it. So when Defenders came out with some raving reviews I bought the book... and proceeded not to read it. I recently found it on my Kindle and enjoyed it a whole lot while wondering what took me so long to actually get to it.

Defenders is a science fiction set in the near future. An alien race of mind-readers called Luytens is attacking humanity and humanity is losing the war. After all, how do you fight the enemy who knows what you are going to do before you even do it yourself?

In a last ditch effort to defeat the Luytens, humans develop a genetic engineering program where they design a new race of beings called the Defenders. The Defenders are made to fight and their brains don't contain serotonin, which prevents the Luytens from reading their minds. Very soon after they are created, the Defenders gain an upper hand in the combat against Luytens and the aliens surrender. However, this is not quite the end of humanity's trouble...

I thought Defenders was brilliantly plotted. You can see the gears turning and one set of problems replacing another. I also enjoyed the characters, Oliver, Lila, and Kai are all quite interesting in their own way and best of all are transformed through the events of the book.

The book is really brutal in many parts. There's blood, gore, and atrocity aplenty. There are also more subtle psychological horrors forced upon the characters. I thought it was very effectively done. There's also love, kindness, humor, which make the book not as grim as it could have been.

There are some small issues with the plotting of the book. For example, the fact that everyone speaks a different language is ignored -- the world is magically united against Luytens with perfect understanding of one another. I also found the Defenders program rather short-sighted. It seems so obvious to think of what would happen next, but no one seems to.

All in all, Defenders is fast-paced, thought-provoking and visceral. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I am looking forward to reading more Will McIntosh.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ancillary Mercy

Title: Ancillary Mercy
Author: Ann Leckie
Series: Ancillary Justice, book 3
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2015
Rating: 8/10

Review:  I've been looking forward to the last book in the Ancillary Justice series since the previous two books were just excellent.

The book continues with the events on Athoek Station following the second book in the series. A new Presger translator arrives to take place of the killed translator Dlique and her behaviour is both curious and odd. The conflict between different races on Athoek station continues as the underground floors are evacuated following the events in book 2. And to add to it all Anaander Mianaai arrives to the system and it's not the one that favors Breq.

Overall, there's a lot of strategy and maneuvering in this book that make it not my favorite in the series, but still enjoyable. I liked the relationship bits between Breq, Seivarden, and the ship. Some of the things that were new and interesting in Ancillary Justice just sort of blended in the background in this novel (e.g. the non-gendered pronouns). I did find that the emphasis of the tea culture in the books was starting to get a little too overstated. One needs to hear only so many times that a particular character is regaining their composure by drinking tea from a particular tea set.

I did like how Leckie chose to close off the series. I didn't see Breq's request to Presger coming, though perhaps I should have. Leckie definitely brought Breq's motivations together quite well in this book -- Breq is no longer just trying to die while killing Anaander Mianaai, but it takes some time to see that. I thought it was a solid conclusion with a good twist. Overall, it's an excellent series and one I would definitely recommend to anyone.