Friday, December 31, 2010

The End of Year Wrap Up

It's the New Year's Eve and I am finally ready to look over the year of reading and see what happened.

In January, I set myself 4 reading goals. The first one was to read 45 books this year and I almost met it with a grand total of 44 books read. The second goal was to read at least 2 non-fiction books and I accomplished that with Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Food Rules by Michael Pollan being two such books. The third goal was to read more science fiction. I ended up reading about the same amount as last year ending with 6 science fiction novels this year. And the last goal that I met wholeheartedly -- having fun reading is not too difficult :)

Out of the 44 books I read, the following 6 are the ones I enjoyed the most:

1. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
I've read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest this year. The last book in the series actually ended up being my favorite out of the three and probably out of all the books that I read this year. I would certainly recommend this series to anyone who hasn't read it yet. The movies are very well done too, I watched the first two and will be looking out for the third one in January on Netflix.

2. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi - review
Unsurprisingly, this dark futuristic science fiction novel got both Hugo and Nebula awards. A very well written apocalyptic fiction that mesmerized me and had everyone else raving about it too.

3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery - review
It may be a little strange to put a book I have read before into my top reads, but re-reading the Anne of Green Gables novels was such a pleasure that I want the books to be on the list. These books are so simple and charming that reading them is just like drinking a big cup of hot chocolate in a warm snuggie on a snowy day. Mmm.

4. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey - review
An outstanding coming of age story by Jacqueline Carey who just doesn't disappoint with a new world and a new interesting heroine. At this point, I just buy any book with Carey's name on it.

5. The Magicians by Lev Grossman - review
A powerful fantasy debut novel -- at the start it is very reminiscent of Harry Potter with a rather adult continuation. It may have been my favorite book this year if I had enjoyed the second half of the story as much as the first half. Nevertheless, definitely a very well written and impressive fantasy novel.

6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - review
My favorites list would have only been 5 entries long if I hadn't stayed up till 6:30 in the morning reading The Hunger Games. A fun fast read for YA, but I have seen many other book reviewers read it and enjoy it.

Most disappointing book this year was actually Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison. It was one of the books I was looking forward to reading at the beginning of the year. However the repetitive nature of Rachel's misadventures and her deteriorating morals have sent me in somewhat of a funk over the series. I am not sure I will be picking up any further books unless there's a shift to this series.

Some more random statistics on this year's reading:

I've read books by 17 female authors and 16 male authors. A pretty even ratio this year! Last year, the ratio was heavily skewed towards the women.

I ended up reading 13 2010-releases, 9 2009-releases, and 8 2008-releases. The oldest release I've read was Anne of Green Gables which was first published in 1908.

I've distributed my reading across genres quite a bit with the following counts:
- 10 fantasy novels
- 6 mystery novels
- 6 science fiction books
- 5 young adult books
- 4 children books
- 3 steampunk novels
- 3 nonfiction books
- 3 urban fantasy novels
- 2 historical fiction books
- 1 romance
- 1 horror novel

I wrote a total of 61 blog posts including this one. And according to analytics had 1,946 unique visitors on the site.

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by this year and happy new year to you all!

Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games, book 2
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: If you liked The Hunger Games, you will want to read this.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 and to their new lives as the game victors. While Katniss tries to figure out her relationship with Peeta and Gale, a discontent is brewing among the districts. Katniss and Peeta witness the life in other districts on their victory tour and District 12 may be the next to follow into the rebellion.

Reactions: Following closely on the heels of the first book, I enjoyed Catching Fire almost as much as the first book. All the characters (who didn't die in the first book) are in this book again, so there's a lot of familiarity with them. It was also interesting to see the progression of Katniss's relationship with Gale and Peeta.

On the other hand, I had a few issues with the plot of the book. There are some rather unrealistic political moves that I felt didn't make too much sense. And the author's choice of mirroring in some ways the plot of the first book was somewhat disappointing. On the other hand, Suzanne Collins managed to one up the plot and I certainly spent most of the book in suspense of what was going to happen or applauding the characters. There are also some new colorful additions to the gang whom I liked.

Finally, the ending of the book seemed a bit rushed and not nearly as well tied off as the ending of The Hunger Games. Despite that, definitely an enjoyable read and I am certainly planning to finish the series shortly.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: Hunger Games Trilogy, book 1
Genre: YA fiction
Published: 2008

Recommendation: An excellent YA book that will keep you reading late at night.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: From each of 12 districts a boy and a girl are chosen at random once a year to participate in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games consist of an arena where the 24 participants are placed, but only one can come out alive.

Reactions: The mentions of this book have been appearing all over blogosphere and with the plot piquing my attention, I decided to give the first book a try. As you can tell from my rating, the book didn't disappoint me in the least.

The language of the book is quite straightforward. It's aimed at teens and it's written in the style I usually associate with YA fiction. We get introduced to Katniss and her life in one of the poorest districts of the country. We learn how she survives by hunting in the forest, which is forbidden, and how unfairly the Capitol treats the Districts. All of this in open prose. The reading is easy, but I do feel the author could have been more effective with a more subtle political commentary.

Then, as one can probably guess from the start, Katniss becomes the Hunger Games participant and we follow her to the Capitol and to the Games. This part is pure adrenaline. I could not put the book down and read late into the night. There is just the right amount of politics, romance, sentiment, action, and violence to keep the reader wanting more. The violence is actually a little appalling, but that's precisely the point and the book gets the message across really well without being overly depressing.

For a smart and strong heroine, Katniss can sometimes be rather daft, which irritated me at several points in the book. But I guess everyone needs faults and I can stomach the lack of social intelligence better than some other traits. Overall, a really strong YA book, one I definitely enjoyed reading and I'll be sure to pick up the next book in the series too.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2nd Chance

Title: 2nd Chance
Author: James Patterson with Andrew Cross
Series: The Women's Murder Club, book 2
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2002

Recommendation: A mystery novel, fairly similar to the first book in the series.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Lindsay is called to investigate a shooting at a church where a child is killed. Soon the murder is tied to another one and the two ties seem to be that all victims are black and related to SF police department. At the same time, Lindsay's father reappears after 20 years and invites himself back into her life.

Reactions: I picked up the next book in the series -- seems like I've got a taste for mysteries lately. The book starts up a few months after the first book with Lindsay already promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and recuperating from the last ordeal.

All in all the second novel in the series turned out to be very similar to the first one. So similar in fact, that it's a little disappointing. There is a thoroughly perverted killer once again and the twist at the end seems pretty similar to the plot of the first book. At the end of it all, I didn't even feel like the motive was really there.

The plot is still interesting and following the investigation was fun, but I found there was too much drama in everyone's life at the same time. All these events occurred way too often and I still don't feel like I can entirely relate to the character ensemble. I like the main character, but the rest of them still don't come off as realistic people to me. But now that the main character is interesting, I am somewhat tempted to keep reading to see what happens to her next.

All in all, a decent fast read with all the required mystery, drama, and romance. Yet somewhat disappointing in its formulaic story telling and places where the suspension of disbelief failed me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

1st to Die

Title: 1st to Die
Author: James Patterson
Series: The Women's Murder Club, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2001

Recommendation: A solid mystery thriller with turns and twists.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide detective who is investigating the murders of newly married couples. The high profile case brings her a new partner and a lot of media attention. Still the murders continue and the case is not easy to crack. She starts to regularly meet with a couple of other women peripherally involved in the case: a medical examiner, a journalist, and a prosecutor. Together their logic and intuition may be able to solve the case.

Reactions: After finishing the previous book, I wanted to give Patterson another try, but wasn't sure which of his novels to pick up. This one appealed to me due to the female protagonist and San Francisco setting, so I settled on reading it. Overall it was a better book than Don't Blink, but not nearly as big a difference as some reviews claimed.

I think that the best part of the book was the plot and the investigation itself. It kept me in suspense and kept me reading late at night to find out who the killer is. The plot twists were pretty cool and I thought the ties back to the clues were well done. I had a bit of a problem with how one of the plot lines was wrapped up at the end, but overall the ending wrapped the case up pretty well.

I liked the main character, Lindsay. She is smart and tough without being completely bitchy or too cliche. Her friend, a medical examiner, is also a character I enjoyed. In fact the pair strongly reminded me of the cast of the TV show Castle. The other two women in the club didn't really come alive for me in the book. Overall, it was an interesting cast, but there was just something elusive missing. That something makes a reader fall in love with the characters and that something was missing here. Perhaps it'll happen after a few more books.

Of course the book wouldn't be complete without some romantic plot. In a way, the romantic story line felt like it didn't need to be there. I suspect it attracts a certain audience to have this type of plot and it's clear Patterson writes the sort of books that sell. The romance wasn't badly written, but ran on the cliche side and I would consider it the weaker part of the book.

All in all I enjoyed the reading and recognizing the geographical landmarks mentioned in the book made it more fun. Would definitely consider picking up more of the books in the series.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Blink

Title: Don't Blink
Author: James Patterson and Howard Roughan
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A quick and enjoyable mystery read.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Nick Daniels is a journalist working for Community magazine in New York. He is contacted to do an interview with Dwayne Robinson, a baseball star who ruined his career by not showing up to a key game. During their lunch they witness a murder and Nick's recorder picks up a scene that may be key to the case.

Reactions: I have picked up this book almost accidentally. It was yet another free sample offered by iBooks store that I started reading. The free sample gives you about half the book and then of course you are too hooked not to pay for the rest of it. A pretty smart strategy vs. just giving the first chapter if you ask me.

I am not all that well-read in the mystery genre and James Patterson's name didn't mean anything to me when I picked up the book. Having finished the book I found his biography and was impressed by the long list of publications and his Guinness World Record in the number of New York Times bestsellers.

I was even more impressed with how many people on Amazon.com gave this book a one-star review. Fans of Patterson found this a big let-down apparently. Having found the book decently enjoyable, I am now rather curious to pick up another Patterson novel to see what is it he wrote that's considered so much better.

The book itself, while as I mentioned enjoyable, is not by any means brilliant or outstanding as far as mysteries go. I liked the main character and the twists and turns he encounters in the search for truth. I suspected who the villains were and at the end I was correct in my suspicions, even though I almost got dissuaded from my hunch by the author.

It's a fun beach-type read book with some gore, mafia connections, and car chases. If anything, I can easily see this being made into a Hollywood action film. The plot flowed well and I liked the characters of the novel. Overall, time well spent.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shades of Milk and Honey

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Victorian-era novel in the style of Jane Austen with an addition of magic.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Jane Ellsworth starts to reconcile herself with becoming an old maid. She is talented in the way of painting, music, and glamour, but is rather plain in appearance. Her sister, Melody, is much younger and prettier social butterfly who attracts men. With the arrival of new guests to the country, the Elsworth sisters' lives become much more exciting.

Reactions: This book has been mentioned to me as similar to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and having seen several good reviews for it, I decided to give it a try.

Overall, it was a quick and easy read for me. I enjoyed the quick prose and the Victorian atmosphere of the novel. There is banter, balls, gossip, and scandals as any might expect of such a book. The only reason this book is marked fantasy is due to its introduction of glamour: a magic used primarily by women to enhance room decor, music, lighting, and art. In all other ways, this is a Victorian romance.

I think the only reason I did not wholeheartedly enjoy the novel were some of the problems with characters. Jane is obviously accomplished and talented, but spends all her time wishing for her sister's beauty, blind to attentions of others. Her sister mostly acts as a reasonable person, but every so often turns into a complete fool without any reason. Beth is not the brightest bulb in the bouquet either. Overall, none of the characters felt satisfying to me and all of them did something completely out of character at one point or another. It felt like the novel was just a hair breadth away from being excellent, but didn't quite get there.

The ending, while satisfying, was somewhat unexpected and left some points of matter unanswered. It also came about somewhat quickly and I thought the author should have put in a better groundwork for the romance.

Nevertheless, it's a solid Victorian romance, easy to read and with good dialogue that I would recommend as light reading to fans of authors such as Austen or Bronte. It's much lighter on fantasy than The Magicians and Mrs. Quent though and the whole fantasy aspect while solidly introduced into the world could be easily digested by a non-fantasy reader

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Needing Nita

Title: Needing Nita
Author: Norah Wilson
Genre: Romance
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Meh... What you see is what you get: a contemporary romance with no plot.
Rating: 5/10

Summary: Nita is an attorney who finds out that she has a brain tumor and decides to call up detective Craig Walker and fulfill some of her fantasies before its too late.

Reactions: While I enjoy romance in books I read, I rarely read the books slotted under the romance section because they tend to be rather formulaic and not particularly interesting in general. However, when I was loading up my iPad with books to read on the trip, I added this book since I figured I might want some easy reading on the plane, it was free, and it was one of the top downloads in the store.

I didn't notice that this was a novella rather than a novel at the time and even if I have, I wouldn't have thought that novella means that there's too little space to get to the actual plot. The plot is so simple that a 5-th grader could have written it. The ending is rushed and unconvincing. On the last page of the e-book they tell you that if you actually wanted plot, you should have read the other books by this author.

On the redeeming side, the book is good at being what it's supposed to be. It's easy to read. It has attractive characters with lots of chemistry and at least half of the book is dedicated to them having sex. Despite that it keeps pretty well to the romance line rather than moving to erotica land and everyone lives happily ever after.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anne of the Island

Title: Anne of the Island
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, book 3
Genre: Children lit
Published: 1915

Recommendation: A great companion to Anne of Avonlea.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Anne Shirley goes to Redmond to study for her BA. She goes there knowing no one except for Gilbert and Charlie Sloane from Avonlea but soon she makes new exciting friends there.

Reactions: The ending of the previous book in the series just left me wanting more of Anne's story, so I began this book immediately after finishing the last page of the previous one. The story continues where the previous one left off without any interruption though there's quite a bit of time between the actual publication dates of these books.

Anne goes off to live and study in Redmond and we meet a new character whom I enjoy very much, named Philippa Gordon. It's a terrible name, but the girl is amusing, confident to the point of conceit, likes to party and has a head for mathematics. I enjoyed reading about her and she makes the story quite lively.

In this book we also finally get to witness Anne's and Gilbert's romantic relationships and there are both surprises and frustrations there. I find Anne surprisingly daft when it comes to listening to her heart, but there is a good resolution at the end of the book, so I finished the book satisfied with the ending.

There are more books in the series, but I am not yet sure whether I'll be re-reading the rest this year. However, I do have a feeling this is not the last time that I am re-reading the beginning of this series.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November Recap

November was actually quite a good reading month. I didn't quite get to publishing all the reviews yet, but I did finish 4 books within one week November that I spent on vacation away from the Internet, but armed with my iPad. I am now completely sold on an iPad being the traveler's best friend. Switching between reading and mindless games is all I can ask for during a long flight. My only reservation is that it cannot be used during take-off and landing.

I would have gotten more reading done during the Thanksgiving, but instead I found a new show to watch. Two seasons of Lie to Me through Netflix streaming went pretty fast. I need to find some more books that I am excited about to continue the reading streak in December. Guess we'll see how it goes.

Reading

Books Read: 4
  1. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  4. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Favorite book: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Anne of Avonlea

Title: Anne of Avonlea
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, book 2
Genre: Children
Published: 1909

Recommendation: A decent series continuation for those who want to find out about Anne's further adventures.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Anne takes a teaching position in Avonlea and goes through ups and downs of practical teaching. Marilla brings home twins, Dora and Davy, whose parents died and adopts them. Anne makes some new friendships.

Reactions: I picked up the second Anne book immediately after finishing re-reading the first one. I have also read this one before, but its events were less clear in my memory than those of the first book.

To me, the sequel doesn't quite measure up to the original story. There's something about boisterous, naive Anne that is so charming in the first book that's no longer present here. Nevertheless, it's fun to continue following Anne's life in Avonlea after college.

These are still children books despite the now grown protagonists, so the language and the plot remain uncomplicated and charming. Anne goes through some difficulties, but she also makes new friends, tests some of her theories on teaching, and earns respect of her students.

I felt the conclusion of the book, while wrapping up a chapter of Anne's life didn't give me any particular feeling of closure. More books were being written and many of Anne's adventures were just starting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anne of Green Gables

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, book 1
Genre: Children Lit
Published: 1908

Recommendation: An excellent nostalgic read for children or adults.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Anne Shirley is a red-headed orphan who comes to live on Prince Edward Island, adopted by a brother and a sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. The book tells the story of Anne's childhood, her life in quiet Avonlea and her endless endearing mischief.

Reactions: This is not my first time reading this book. I have read it as a teen and enjoyed the adventures of Anne Shirley very much. Despite knowing the plot of the book quite well, I found this re-read to be touching and highly enjoyable as well.

In the center of the book is Anne who is a smart, funny, compelling character that one can't help but fall In love with. She is sassy, full of imagination, and is getting into scrapes all the time, but at the same time she is good-natured and touching in her affection for others.

The beginning of century rural Canada is a compelling setting with beautiful and peaceful scenery, small-town politics, and simple views. The descriptions of the place make me want to book my vacation there. The book is sappy in places and is clearly missing people with malice or bad intentions. The worst people get up to is telling gossip; but this dream world weaves a net and it's fun to get caught in it.

This is as fun as it gets. Absolutely recommended.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time

Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeline L'Engle
Genre: Children Lit
Published: 1962

Recommendation: Better appeal to teens than adults.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Meg and Charles Wallace are very close as brother and sister. Their father has been missing for over a year and they haven't heard from him. Then Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which appear and take the children along with their friend Calvin on the adventure to find the missing father.

Reactions: A Wrinkle in Time is a classic children novel that I have heard mentioned many times, but have never had a chance to read before. Partially, I wish I had read it earlier because of it's teenage themes of fitting in and finding oneself that probably resonate better with the younger audience. As an adult I found Meg's overly quick friendship with Calvin surprising and Meg's angst over her appearance overly dramatized.

The plot is fairly simplistic as befits a children's book and the ending I found to be a little anti-climatic. Still it's cute and warm in it's own fashion and has that "everything will be ok feel" towards the end. However, I didn't find myself getting particularly warmed up to the characters in the book. Charles Wallace acts too old for his age, Meg is much too angsty, and Calvin barely has any role besides raising Meg's self-esteem.

Overall, I didn't end up enjoying the book as much as I hoped to, partially perhaps because of it's outdated feel and somewhat moralistic overtones. But it was good to get acquainted with children classic lit and I do think it would still be an interesting read for someone of a more suitable age.

Cryoburn

Title: Cryoburn
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Miles Vorkosigan
Genre: Science fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A fun and touching adventure with Miles & co. taking on the world.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Miles and Roic are attending a conference on cryo-revival in Kibou-daini. The conference is disrupted by armed protesters who kidnap some of the attendees. Miles escapes the attack but gets lost in the city's catacombs as a result. Eventually he is helped by a street boy whose mother is the key to the mysteries of CryoCorps politics.

Reactions: Having read all Miles Vorkosigan novels in one summer many years ago, I didn't remember much beyond the basic premises of the books and my sheer enjoyment of the novels back then. I eagerly picked up the latest book in the series.

There are several other recurring characters in the book besides Miles. There's his Armsman Roic, clone brother Mark, and Lisa Koudelka. However, most of the book is spent with Miles investigating CryoCorps and getting away with rather crazy plans. The plot is not too intricate, but it's well-paced and entertaining throughout.

Cryoburn barely requires having read previous books in the series, except for a few references to the past and for a better understanding of relationships between characters. I think some of the earlier books were better, but one could certainly jump into the series at this point if so desired. I would recommend starting with Shards of Honor though.

The book is not particularly deep, but it's a fun one. I enjoyed the mayhem around Miles as well as the younger characters of the novel. My book also came with a CD containing an e-book version, which came particularly handy as I started reading the paper copy but switched to the e-book version when I left for my vacation. It seems very generous to release the ebook version for free (the note on the CD states that the book can be shared) and I would be very excited to see more authors doing this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

October Recap

Happy Halloween, everyone! Well, I am late with that, but better late than never. I didn't end up reading any horror this month, but I did see lots of fun costumes on Sunday. I think my favorite was a group of people dressed up as plants and zombies from "Plants vs Zombies" game. If you haven't played it yet, then I totally recommend you download it now and clear the rest of your day :)

As to the reading, I am falling behind my reading goal. Only 3 books this month. I do go on a vacation in a week, so perhaps my reading will pick up then.

Reading

Books Read: 3

  1. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman
  3. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
Favorite book: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

Title: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
Author: Galen Beckett
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2008

Recommendation: For those who like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and magical fantasy novels.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Ivy, Rose, and Lily are three Lockwell sisters living in Victorian-esque alternative universe with their mother. Their father is turned mad while practicing magic and now is taken care of by the family which is struggling to make the ends meet. Mr. Rafferdy and Mr. Garrit are friends from different walks in life who will find out more about magic than they expect.

Reactions: Overall this novel was a pretty good mix of Victorian romance and fantasy. The Victorian setting comes through from the first page in manners, setting descriptions, and the writing style. Charlotte Bronte was a rather obvious inspiration as part of the book's plot greatly resembles Jane Eyre. The major differences are the modern prose and a more likable heroine. Fortunately, despite the resemblance, there is still a large part of the plot that is quite different.

There are also plenty of witty dialogues, family relations, and society scenarios explored during the book. Those who look strictly for action, may not find this the most enjoyable novel (nor would I recommend any Victorian novels to action-seekers). However, this is not to say that the plot dragged on. I found myself reading the book quickly and sometimes late into the night. The ending tied some lose ends, but clearly this is meant to be a part of a longer series as many questions remain unanswered at the end.

Overall, I enjoyed the reading experience and I think I would consider picking up the next book of the series and seeing where the characters will go. I have certainly discovered an interesting new author in Galen Beckett.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Title: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Author: Chris Fuhrman
Genre: Fiction
Published: 1994

Recommendation: A rather adult-themed YA fiction novel, well written, but not for everyone.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Francis is a 13-year old boy in 1970s who goes to a Catholic school in Savannah. The book is a story about him and his friends going to school, getting into trouble and growing up.

Reactions: I spent some time trying to decide who is the intended audience of this book. A book full of 13-year olds suggests YA, but the themes present in the book are rather adult and in some ways it seems more of a reminiscence type story.

In some ways this was a fascinating book due to its exposition of life in Savannah in 1970s. The typical life of a family in that time, the religiousness, the racial politics of that time are all present on the sidelines of the book and paint a vivid picture.

At the same time I had trouble connecting to the characters of the book, most of them being adolescent boys. The only girl in the book was probably the hardest to relate to, actually. Also in spite of the upbeat tone of the book, the events of the book often conveyed a rather depressing feeling. Francis drinks non-stop, gets beaten by his father with and without cause, and deals with some rather unpleasant facets of life.

Overall, I did enjoy the reading and I can see how someone whose childhood resonates more with the characters' could really like the book. I did find some of the more adult things that happen in the book a bit disturbing and I think enjoyed it less overall for the lack of a personal connection to the events. Still very well written and I would recommend it to those who can connect to teen boys better than I can.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

An Echo in the Bone

Title: An Echo in the Bone
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander, book 7
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A worthy successor to the series for those who enjoyed the books so far.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: American Revolution has started. Jaime and Claire head to Scotland to pick up Jaime's printing press, but their trip there is more dangerous than they expect. Roger and Brianna are back in the 1900s trying to re-establish their lives. The book also follows William, fighting on the British side of the revolution.

Reactions: I bought this book shortly after it came out. Diana Gabaldon was on a post-release tour and came to my town, telling stories about her characters and reading an excerpt from the book. It was a good author event, though I felt conspicuously 30 years younger than the average fan in the room. When I finally decided to tackle the 800-page hard-cover, I found that my tome says "2 Maria" and that was a nice touch.

I was also somewhat prepared to lower my expectations for this book. The previous novel tied off a lot of loose ends and I saw a number of reviews complaining that not enough of the story was focused on Jamie and Claire. To my relief, I found the book format worked very well for my tastes. The story indeed switched between 3 narratives: Jamie and Claire's, Roger and Brianna's, and William's. However, the large portions of the book still followed Claire, and even the parts that didn't were pretty interesting and tied into the rest of the book quite well.

The book also suited my mood quite well. I picked it up just prior to a camping trip, which made me reflect on the conditions of life in the 1700s and just tied into the rustic feeling very well. As in many other Outlander books, there's plenty of tone-setting and descriptions of the historical events, but at the same time the plot flowed quite well and I spent more than one night reading late.

To sum it up, I suggest the fans of the series should definitely give this book a go. The only downside is that now we have another 3 year wait for the next sequel to come out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September Recap

In a blink of an eye, September is over. I actually read quite a bit this month, but didn't get a chance to write my review for An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, which I have been reading for the past few weeks and finished yesterday.

I've also bought a couple of new books to boost my dwindling reading pile. The first purchase is Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman, which was recommended to me in the comments on this blog. The other one is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett which I bought based on a positive review.

Since I didn't write the review yet, the latest book will go into October counts, but for September we have:

Reading

Books read: 2
  1. Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks
  2. Food Rules by Michael Pollan
Favorite book: Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Food Rules

Title: Food Rules
Author: Michael Pollan
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A few quick rules on eating healthy.
Rating: 7/10

Summary + Reactions: The book is really tiny. It literally took me an hour to read the whole thing aloud. And in general it tries to bring across 3 ideas: one that you should eat non-processed foods, second that you should emphasize veggies and healthy foods in your diet, and third that you should eat slowly and avoid snacking too much.

I don't feel that any of the three rules are universally true or should be taken literally. Fortunately the book says as much itself, telling the reader to take the message to heart and not saying that unhealthy food will kill you at the first bite.

Still the book expounds on buying fresh fruits, vegetables, meats in a store (or even better at a local farmers market) and cooking them yourself to avoid preservatives and in general other things you wouldn't typically find in your pantry. One of the first rules of the book is "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food". There are also some interesting and perhaps less intuitive rules for staying away from low-fat food alternatives because they often make up for the lack of fat with carbohydrates and it's actually more healthy to eat the regular version in moderation. They bring up margarine as one such example.

I think it's actually pretty difficult for a modern American person to change their diet to the extent where they could avoid all non-processed food. Some things are just too darned convenient (e.g. canned chicken broth), but I do find that I can often cook meals out of raw ingredients at home that taste much better than anything I've ever bought as a prepackaged meal.

Eating in moderation, chewing slowly, stopping before you are full, and avoiding snacking is also advices we've all heard before, but often they are easier said than done. Even though I felt the book relied quite a bit on the arguments of the type "our ancestors did it and they didn't get cancer", there are some interesting studies quoted as well to support the claims. I do wish more of the research was cited, it's not a particularly in-depth study.

Overall, an interesting quick book on healthy eating that gives some practical suggestions that are easy to incorporate at least to some extent in your daily eating habits.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Against a Dark Background

Title: Against a Dark Background
Author: Iain M. Banks
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1993

Recommendation: Well written space opera slightly reminiscent of Firefly.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Lady Sharrow is a leader of a once-military team that re-assembled to help her escape the persecution by the Huhsz. The latter is a military religious order that is given a one year hunting license for Lady Sharrow, unless she can return to them the last Lazy Gun stolen 6 generations ago by her great-great-great-grandmother.

Reactions: I came across this book because Lady Sharrow was mentioned as one of the most memorable heroines and I decided to give it a try since I've heard of Iain M. Banks, but have never read any books by him previously.

Overall, there is a surprisingly poetic tone to the book. Banks inevitably spends the first page of every chapter describing the setting and the atmosphere. The language is well-used, but eventually I found myself skipping over the descriptive parts. Here's one such beginning:
The antique car hissed every now and again and leaked steam. Behind it, beyond the shells of the ruined warehouses, mists rose perpetually from the warm waters of the inlet, climbing and re-climbing the frost-gray planes of a lifeless sky. Thrial was a red fruit wrapped in tissues of mist.
The plot itself progressed pretty well. There were a number of dark and even depressing parts to the story, but there was plenty of upbeat action and dialogue as well. Banks deals very ruthlessly with some of the characters, but that only adds to the suspense of the book. Overall the plot flowed quite well, except perhaps for the ending which was rather abrupt and didn't tie up the story as well as I hoped.

Upon finishing the reading and searching the web, I found many other readers found the ending less than satisfactory as well and that an epilogue to the book has been published separately a year later. If you end up reading the novel, I also recommend reading this epilogue.

Lady Sharrow's character, as promised, was rather unique. She is the heroine of the book, but at the same time very flawed. It made her feel very realistic even if I didn't feel sympathetic with her all the time. Other characters were a pretty colorful set also. My favorite was an android named Feril who joins the crew later in the novel. Here's a sample of Sharrow's dialogue with Feril:
She put her hand out to the machine. "I hope you will not have cause to regret this," she said, smiling.
It gripped her hand gently. "Regret is for humans," it said.
She laughed. "Really?"
The machine shrugged and let go of her hand. "Oh, no. It's just something we tell ourselves."
Overall, it was a good read that I have enjoyed despite some slowness in parts of the book and a somewhat disappointing ending. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who likes these types of stories.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

August Recap

And the summer is almost over. August was a pretty non-eventful month reading-wise. I spent most of my time slogging through the beginning of Before They Are Hanged and didn't get a whole lot of reading done overall. I did watch 3 seasons of Nip/Tuck instead on the Netflix. That show started out quite interesting, but has been going downhill as the seasons progressed. Still it's entertainment while I am waiting for the fall shows to come back.

I hope in September I'll catch up on some book reading and do less TV watching. My reading pile is running dangerously low now, anyone got good suggestions for fun books to read to get back into the reading gear?

Reading

Books read: 2
  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  2. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
Favorite book: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Before They Are Hanged

Title: Before They Are Hanged
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Series: The First Law, Book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2008

Recommendations: Read it if you liked the first book and still remember what happened.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: The epic story of various heroes continue unfolding. Bayaz and his company travel to the edge of the world through various dangers. Glokta is appointed the Superior of Dagoska, which is besieged by King Bethod. Colonel West and others continue fighting against Bethod's army in the north.

Reactions: I've read the first book of this series in 2008 and managed to forget almost everything about the first novel other than the unforgettable characters of Glokta and Ninefingers and the fact that I enjoyed reading it. However, picking up Before They Are Hanged in early August proved to be slow reading. It was difficult to get back into the story since I didn't remember what happened before and I must have spent almost 3 weeks just getting through the first 100 pages of the book.

Eventually I picked up on the thread of the story and the reading went much livelier. The highlight of the story are definitely the characters. They are bright, individualistic, and unusual. Several of them end up transforming quite remarkably throughout the book and such changes in character I find interesting to read about. Their rather complex relationships are fun to follow as well.

Plot-wise though, not a whole lot happens in the book. Some progress is made in all story lines, but nothing resembling the conclusion has been reached. The events will definitely continue unfolding in the final book of the series.

Overall, it's a well written fantasy, which I had some trouble getting into as a stand-alone book. I haven't quite decided yet if I want to pick up the next book either. We'll see.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Passage

Title: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Genre: Horror
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A long meaty read for those who enjoy character-driven stories and apocalyptic fiction.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: In the uninhabited jungles of Bolivia, American military discovers a virus that would make a person stronger, more long-lived, but sensitive to light and with an appetite for blood. The virus is tested on 12 convicts from the death row and finally on a little girl, named Amy. The "virals" escape into the wild, killing and infecting the world that quickly succumbs to the virus. What follows is the story of the survivors.

Reactions: Every review I've read mentions one fact upfront. This book is heavy. It's heavy in two ways -- one literal -- the tome of almost 800 pages must weight a few pounds at least. It's heavy with suffering and despair and conflict too, though not as grim as it could be given the contents of the book.

The book starts out with introducing a number of characters, all moving along their paths which soon become mingled together leading to the escape of the virals. The narrative is fairly wordy, but it doesn't bore. There is plenty of action alongside with descriptions and characters' backgrounds. The reader has plenty of time to learn all about the characters, the what's and the how's and the why's. The book splits off into 2 parts, the second taking place almost 100 years later where virals have overrun the world and a small colony of surviving humans are living under the lights still powered by wind turbines as long as their batteries hold.

What I did not expect was the lack of conclusion to the book. Only a small part of the story is resolved at the end of it and plenty of questions left unanswered. After finishing the book I learned it was the first book of a planned trilogy. The ending now makes sense, though it's still rather disappointing given the length of the book, I'd have hoped more of a story arc could have been covered.

Overall, it's an enjoyable read with rich characters and heart-wrenching narratives. There are parts of the book where the events feel as somewhat of a stretch, but overall it flows rather well. Yet, I have seen the overly-glowing reviews of the book, calling it the book of the year, but for me it's not. Enjoyable, but it didn't quite cut through the way my previous read The Windup Girl did.

Still, highly recommended to everyone looking for a good read.

July Recap

And the summer is flying by oh-so-quickly. I am reading The Passage by Justin Cronin right now and enjoying it, but that will be a book to discuss in August. I finished July with only 3 books completed, but the last one took some time to read.

Reading

Books Read: 3
  1. Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti
  2. Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
  3. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Favorite Book: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Overall, it was a good reading month. All three of the books being quite enjoyable in different ways. The Windup Girl was without doubt the best book I've read last month. Waiting to see if The Passage will top it with its own post-apocalyptic adventure.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Windup Girl

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: An apocalypse novel of great strength.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Oil has been all used up and a series of plagues left the world grasping for every possibility of growing food and looking for energy resources. After the Contraction and ethnic purges, economy is looking to expand once more. In the Kingdom of Thailand a group of people may change the country's course.

Reactions: I have seen many positive reviews of The Windup Girl prior to picking up the book. The novel has definitely lived up to it's hype. The Windup Girl places the reader in a very atmospheric post-apocalytpic world of Thailand and introduces you to a wonderfully real and diverse cast of characters.

The characters in this book are probably my favourite aspect of it. We first meet Anderson Lake who is an American "calorie-man". He lives in Thailand undercover as a factory owner, but in reality he is searching for a way to access Thai's innovations in plague-resistant food production. From the very first pages his behaviour showcases that he is not a nice man, but as the book goes on, he actually becomes the anti-hero against a backdrop of characters who do some very questionable things.

The title of the novel refers to a genetically engineered human girl. Her kind is despised and feared in Thailand, while being cultivated in Japan. She has been abandoned in Thailand by her Japanese master and is now kept as a novelty in a brothel.

There are several other rather unique characters whose lives end up connected throughout the book. The plot involves political upheaval as well as personal struggles by many of the characters. The book is very well paced and kept my attention very well despite its considerable length.

The world that Bacigalupi draws feels surprisingly real and possible. There's depth to the narrative and twist of the story. The mood of the story is grim and there are many rather gritty scenes in the book, not to mention adult content. However, none of it is gratuitous and together it presents a powerful message. Definitely a book with a punch behind it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

SF Masterworks Meme

Picking up the meme from OF Blog of the Fallen, the following is a list of books published by Gollancz as a list of science fiction classics.

Bold means I read it.

I - Dune - Frank Herbert
II - The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
III - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
IV - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
V - A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
VI - Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
VII - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
VIII - Ringworld - Larry Niven
IX - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
X - The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham

1 - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
2 - I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
3 - Cities in Flight - James Blish
4 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
5 - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
6 - Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany
7 - Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny (One of my favorites)
8 - The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe
9 - Gateway - Frederik Pohl
10 - The Rediscovery of Man - Cordwainer Smith

11 - Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon
12 - Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
13 - Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick
14 - The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
15 - Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
16 - The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
17 - The Drowned World - J. G. Ballard
18 - The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
19 - Emphyrio - Jack Vance
20 - A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

21 - Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
22 - Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock
23 - The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg
24 - The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
25 - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
26 - Ubik - Philip K. Dick
27 - Timescape - Gregory Benford
28 - More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon
29 - Man Plus - Frederik Pohl
30 - A Case of Conscience - James Blish

31 - The Centauri Device - M. John Harrison
32 - Dr. Bloodmoney - Philip K. Dick
33 - Non-Stop - Brian Aldiss
34 - The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke
35 - Pavane - Keith Roberts
36 - Now Wait for Last Year - Philip K. Dick
37 - Nova - Samuel R. Delany
38 - The First Men in the Moon - H. G. Wells
39 - The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke
40 - Blood Music - Greg Bear

41 - Jem - Frederik Pohl
42 - Bring the Jubilee - Ward Moore
43 - VALIS - Philip K. Dick
44 - The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin
45 - The Complete Roderick - John Sladek
46 - Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick
47 - The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells
48 - Grass - Sheri S. Tepper
49 - A Fall of Moondust - Arthur C. Clarke
50 - Eon - Greg Bear

51 - The Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
52 - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick
53 - The Dancers at the End of Time - Michael Moorcock
54 - The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55 - Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick
56 - Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg
57 - The Simulacra - Philip K. Dick
58 - The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick
59 - Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg
60 - Ringworld - Larry Niven

61 - The Child Garden - Geoff Ryman
62 - Mission of Gravity - Hal Clement
63 - A Maze of Death - Philip K. Dick
64 - Tau Zero - Poul Anderson
65 - Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
66 - Life During Wartime - Lucius Shepard
67 - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
68 - Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69 - Dark Benediction - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70 - Mockingbird - Walter Tevis

71 - Dune - Frank Herbert
72 - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
73 - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
74 - Inverted World - Christopher Priest
75 - Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
76 - H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau
77 - Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
78 - H.G. Wells - The Time Machine
79 - Samuel R. Delany - Dhalgren (July 2010)
80 - Brian Aldiss - Helliconia (August 2010)

81 - H.G. Wells - Food of the Gods (Sept. 2010)
82 - Jack Finney - The Body Snatchers (Oct. 2010)
83 - Joanna Russ - The Female Man (Nov. 2010)
84 - M.J. Engh - Arslan (Dec. 2010)

Clearly, I still have ways to go on my classic science fiction reading resolution for this year. Perhaps, I'll pick up one of the books above next time I go book shopping.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Naamah's Curse

Title: Naamah's Curse
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Naamah Trilogy, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Not as good as Naamah's Kiss, but don't let that stop you.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Moirin leaves Ch'in in search of Bao, who went to find his biological father among the Tatar. However a cold winter is coming to the steppes and Moirin will need to survive it before figuring out her relationship with Bao.

Reactions: Naamah's Kiss was one of my favourite books last year, therefore Naamah's Curse was on my to-read list without any doubts. I did see a somewhat negative review of the book on Amazon prior to buying it that left me worried, but I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy my reading. The review turned out to be wrong (in my humble opinion), but I do have some comments of my own.

As everything else I've ready by Jacqueline Carey, this book is easily readable and plainly enjoyable. I read through it in a day's time (nice to have time off for the Independence Day), but despite the attraction of the book, I didn't like it as much as the first book in the series.

The weakness of Naamah's Curse is definitely its plot. There isn't a full arch to the story in the book, but rather several separate plot arches connected by "and then Moirin did this..." type of narration. I also don't feel there was a whole lot of character development or overall plot development in this book. Other than re-uniting Morin and Bao, the rest of the plot could probably be skipped. And while there are lots of emotional moments in between, none of them seem to be tied together. Why does Moirin's destiny want her to be in some particular place at a particular time and then leave it behind with nothing more than a few new scars? The progress and the motivation behind the story leave some to be desired.

However, the story is made more interesting by description of different cultures and religions that Moirin encounters on her journey. I particularly enjoyed the character of Rani, who is almost as a compelling a heroine as Moirin herself.

I will without doubt pick up the next book in the series to find out the conclusion of Moirin's story. But I do hope that Carey will pull her plotting together to write a satisfying ending to this epic.

Clockwork Heart

Title: Clockwork Heart
Author: Dru Pagliassotti
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Decent steampunk romance.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Taya is a winged courier, one who can move between all castes of Ondinium. It begins with her saving a noblewoman and her child but becomes a web of intrigue and mystery she will solve.

Reactions: Clockwork Heart is a combination or a mystery, romance, and steampunk. I wouldn't say it excels at any one of the above categories, but I've formed a positive impression of the book overall.

The romance part of the novel involves a love triangle between Taya and two nobleman brothers Alister and Cristof Forlore. Alister is handsome and charming and paying special attention to Taya. Cristof lives as an outcast in the poorest section of the city and mends clocks for a living. He is serious, grouchy and described resembling a crow. It's not hard to guess who ends up being the good guy in the book, but unfortunately Cristof is not a terribly appealing character which was a drawback for me.

The mystery begins with a sabotaged ferry car and several acts of terrorism follow while Taya and Cristof investigate. There is a political background to the story centering around access to the technology of Ondinium. There are punch-card computing mechanisms the programming of which were rather entertaining for me to read about. The political background is fairly well done, though the mystery itself was fairly straightforward although with some minor twists.

The least satisfying part for me was the relationship resolution. In a few places, I felt things worked out too nicely to be realistic and I was not quite satisfied with the ending. Despite that, the book made for a fun read and I wouldn't dissuade anyone from picking it up.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mid-Year Recap

Happy Canada Day everyone! And so without much ado we are half a year into 2010 and I barely noticed how the time went by.

Time to reflect on half a year worth of reading and point out my favorites so far.
First place goes to *drumroll*

1. The Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson
I've read (and watched in the case of the first book) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and enjoyed the books immensely.
See reviews here: book1, book2, book3. Definitely recommending these books to everyone.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A book that has been spoken of a lot and that I have held out reading for so long finally had the chance to sweep me off my feet in this atmospheric, Gothic tale of two magicians.
Full review here.

3. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Carey is a long-time favourite author whose books I just generally enjoy. (Speaking of which, Naamah's Curse is sitting on my table waiting for me to read it as I type). Santa Olivia, though not part of D'Angeline world was a touching story in a modern setting. Both fantasy and post-apocalypse fans will enjoy this one.
Full review here.

4. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
An outstanding fantasy debut that has been topping all the favorites lists in the past year. I loved the magic school idea taken on with a much more adult approach to story telling and characterization.
Full review here.

In total, I read 23 books this year which puts me on track for my 45 books goal. I also did pretty well on my other goals (I already read and reviewed 2 non-fiction books and several science fiction novels). And the having fun goal has been the easiest so far.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dragon Haven

Title: Dragon Haven
Author: Robin Hobb
Series: Rain Wilds Chronicles, vol 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A fitting continuation to the Dragon Keeper's adventures.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: The dragon keepers, hunters and the ship continue up the Rain Wilds river looking for the long-lost city of Kelsingra, overcoming trials, and learning more about each other and the dragons.

Reactions: Dragon Haven is the second part of Dragon Keeper, which I read and reviewed in February. I've been looking forward to seeing some of the plot threads resolved in this book. The results are somewhat mixed. Some of the secrets became known and relationships evolved, but far from everything got resolved within the book. In fact new conflicts have been introduced and clearly there are more books coming in this series.

The most enjoyable part of Robin Hobb's books for me is not the plot, but rather the character development within each book. Her ability to introduce a character and then keep making subtle changes to them until at the end of the book they've changed quite significantly is remarkable. I've seen this happen in her previous series and The Rain Wilds Chronicles is no exception. I enjoyed following Alice's and Sedric's transformations in particular, though the dragon keepers undergo a number of changes as well.

Following character development and changes in their relationships with each other and the dragons kept me engrossed throughout this tome. I wish more got resolved at the end, but nevertheless the book was enjoyable with some interesting twists and I am looking forward to seeing where this series will be heading next.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Song of Scarabaeus

Title: Song of Scarabaeus
Author: Sara Creasy
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Solid sci-fi adventure with a strong heroine to boot.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Edie is a cypherteck, a person able to interface with biocyph technology that controls terraforming of new planets for humanity. The technology allows to create habitable worlds and is controlled by the all-powerful Crib. A band of rovers kidnaps Edie to steal some of the technology from Crib and attaches a bodyguard to her who is leashed to her side. Together they will travel to her first mission world, Scarabaeus.

Reactions: I received Song of Scarabaeus from Carl, who kindly offered to send me a free copy of the book. I rarely pick up books I haven't heard much about, but the description sounded sufficiently interesting to give the book a try. I am glad to report that this debut didn't disappoint.

I like picking up books with strong heroine leads and this one certainly fits the criteria. The main character is smart, resourceful, strong, and likable if naive at times. Getting ahead of bad guys by outsmarting them rather than by brute force is certainly something I like to see. The male lead is a somewhat stereotypical bad-ass on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside, type of guy. The author does a pretty good job with the fairly minor romance portion of the novel, so overall interaction effect is quite enjoyable.

The book is plotted fairly well. I had some trouble putting the book down and going to sleep last night and I finished it the first thing this morning. Throughout the author keeps the action going fast and there is a pretty good twist towards the end of the book. It also becomes apparent at the end that this is planned as a first book in series. There is some feeling of closure, but plenty of things are left unresolved and I expect there will be more action to come.

Overall, Song of Scarabaeus is an enjoyable space opera with plenty of action and a compelling main character. It's entertainment pure and simple, but of good quality. I will certainly watch out for Sara Creasy's future novels.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Changeless

Title: Changeless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Alexia Tarabotti, book 2
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2010

Recommendation: An easy read for those who enjoyed the first book.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: Something strange is happening in London, where part of the city turns all supernatural creatures into humans. Alexia and Conall Maccon travel to investigate the strange occurrences.

Reactions: I imagine most readers who enjoyed the first book of the series would also enjoy this one. The atmosphere, humour, and characters are mostly unchanged and a few interesting additions have been made. There is adventure, Alexia solves a mystery (though a rather obvious one) and there is a resolution.

There were two things I disliked about the book. The first was that throughout the book Alexia and Conall call each other husband and wife as part of the dialogue. It's like they forgot each other's names upon getting married. There's plenty of: "What are you doing here, wife?" or "Husband, don't be alarmed" style dialogue that I found pretty irritating. My second gripe with this book is its ending. Firstly, I dislike that the author felt the need to start a new story at the end of the book. Secondly, Conall's reaction to the event is poor and there's quite an obvious explanation to the phenomenon that someone should have thought of pretty much immediately.

Changeless is a quick and entertaining read, but somewhat formulaic and predictable overall.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Author: Stieg Larsson
Series: Millenium Trilogy, book 3
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2010 (US)

Recommendation: Vivid. Gritty. Intense. Will not disappoint.
Rating: 10/10

Summary: Lisbeth Salander and her father Zalachenko are both brought to the hospital in critical state. Blomkvist and other friends of Lisbeth group together to prove her innocence at the upcoming trial, while a group at Sapo, Swedish secret police works very hard to cover their tracks and send Salander back to a mental institution. Who will prevail?

Reactions: I have been looking forward to this book ever since reading the first two books of this trilogy in February. There are many ways to describe this book, but disappointing isn't one of them. In fact, Larsson makes a come back and I would call this the strongest book of the whole series.

For one, the ends get wrapped up to my satisfaction, but at the same time the plot doesn't sizzle out early the way it happened in book one of the series. My only disappointment is that there aren't any more books with the same characters I grew to enjoy so much.

There are a few new players in this book, but mostly we see the characters we've met before. There are large parts of the book devoted to Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, Erika Berger and other major players we've met in The Girl Who Played With Fire. Their interactions with each other and the connected whole they create in this book made for very fun reading.

The plot follows the steps of two factions. One faction trying to tell the truth about Lisbeth, and The Section who are trying to clean up after themselves and Zalachenko. There are a few unexpected twists and turns the story takes early in the book that I very much enjoyed. There are several major surprises towards the end of the book as well. I had trouble putting the book down and finished all the reading within a couple evenings of reading late.

Overall, I really wish I could pick up more books by Stieg Larsson, but sadly this is all there is. I do encourage everyone to pick up this book or the first book in the series if you haven't read it yet. Stieg Larsson will blow you away.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

User Interface Design for Programmers

Title: User Interface Design for Programmers
Author: Joel Spolsky
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2001

Recommendation: A very simple introduction to UI design with amusing anecdotes.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: An 18-chapter explanation of various UI design principles with examples.

Reactions: This is the first book review on this blog dealing with a computer science publication. I don't necessarily think this would be interesting for the general readership, but the blog is all about what I read, so I decided to include the technical reading.

It actually amazed me that this is the first computer-related book I have actually read from beginning to end in last year and half. There are two reasons for it. First is that I get bored half-way through many books and stop reading them and if applicable start using them as references instead. Second is that it's much faster to learn whatever you are trying to learn from Internet articles, code samples, and documentation than by reading a book from cover to cover.

I was only able to finish reading User Interface Design for Programmers because it's thin, has high picture to words ratio, and has plenty of amusing anecdotes. On the other hand, I am straining to think what I learned from the book that I didn't know about before and I am coming up short.

There is some useful information on UI design in the book, but it's very very basic. Rules such as "A user interface is well designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would" and "When you try to use metaphors, try to make them behave in predictable ways like objects in the real world." are not exactly earth-shattering revelations. In many situations the rules are just difficult to implement for your current problem.

Overall, if you've read about any basics of UI design, you can probably pretty safely skip this book unless you are interested in Joel's anecdotes about how various Office UI features and mishaps came around. It might be almost worth reading the book just for that.