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 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.


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